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  • 16 Interesting Photos From the Ferguson Grand Jury Files

    After St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced Monday that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, the county released a collection of documents from the grand jury proceedings. Among them were hundreds of photos from the investigation, depicting everything from the crime scene to Wilson at the hospital after the shooting. Here are just a few (all photos provided by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office):

    Wilson's police SUV after the shooting. Brown's hat lies next to it.
     
     
    Brown's hat.
     
    The inside of the police SUV where the initial encounter between Wilson and Brown took place.

     

    Shots were fired inside the car, and at least one went through the door.

     

    The driver's side door handle with what appears to be blood on it.

     

    Wilson's gun

     

    A closer look shows what appears to be blood on the gun.

     

    Blood on the street (presumably Brown's)

     

    Wilson, according witnesses and his own testimony, missed several times as he fired at Brown. Some of those bullets struck nearby buildings.

     

    Where one of Wilson's shots entered the wall of a nearby apartment building.

     

    This shot narrowly missed a window.

     

    There has been contention about the distance between Wilson's car and Brown's body. This shot shows Brown's body behind a screen with Wilson's SUV off further down the street.
     
    Here's the diagram of the entire crime scene. The New York Times created a color-coded version (see here).
    Wilson said in his grand jury testimony that he only went to the hospital because a superior told him to. Here he is during his examination shortly after Brown's death.
     
    The left side of Wilson's face.

     

    The right.
     
    A shot of Wilson taken Aug. 21 (according to the photo's metadata), less than two weeks after the shooting.


  • 6 Basic Assumptions About the Middle East That the Washington Consensus Gets Dead Wrong

    This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

    "Iraq no longer exists." My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It's been years since we've last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: "Iraq just doesn't exist."

    His is an opinion grounded in experience. As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus "surge." After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies. Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research. Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening. As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

    Few in Washington would endorse M's assertion, of course. Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq's existence for granted. Many can even locate it on a map. They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence. To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

    Continue Reading »



  • 6 Revelations from the Michael Brown Grand Jury Documents

    After Monday's announcement that a grand jury would not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch released the hundreds of pages of evidence that the grand jury considered. Following are six excerpts from the documents:

    When grabbing Brown, Wilson says he felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan:

     

    Wilson says Brown charged at him with the look of a demon:

     

    Wilson's emergency room medical report showed no sign of distress:

     

    Though much has been made of Brown's size, Wilson was not much smaller:

     

    A witness' journal entry recorded racist sentiment:

     

    The St. Louis County medical examiner didn't take photos of the scene because his camera batteries died:

     


  • Ohio Could Pass the Country's Most Extreme "Secret Executions" Bill

    The execution of Dennis McGuire on January 16 of this year did not go as planned. Injected with an untested cocktail of drugs, the Ohio death row inmate gasped, choked, and writhed in his restraints. McGuire was declared dead after 26 minutes, having endured the longest execution in the state's history.

    "To a degree of medical certainty, this was not a humane execution," an anesthesiologist testified in a subsequent federal lawsuit against the state's execution team. The lawsuit, filed by McGuire's children, declares the execution method used on McGuire cruel and unusual and seeks to block its further use in Ohio.

    Yet state lawmakers are now rushing to pass a "secret executions" bill that would make it harder to know what really happens in the death chamber. If passed, HB663 will drop a veil of secrecy over the death penalty by exempting anyone participating in a lethal injection from public records requests that might reveal their identities or duties. It would apply to medical and nonmedical staff, companies transporting or preparing supplies or equipment used in executions, and the providers of the drugs used in the lethal injection.

    Introduced just two weeks ago in a lame-duck session, the bill sailed through committee and was passed by the state House last Thursday, 62 to 27. The bill now moves to the Senate, which could vote on it as early as the first week of December. Most of the measure's support comes from Republicans, who control both chambers of the legislature. It is not clear whether Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who supports the death penalty but has been generous in granting clemency, will sign the bill if it comes to him. The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that the bill's sponsors have claimed that they have Kasich's support.

    After McGuire's botched execution, a federal judge issued a moratorium on capital punishment in Ohio until January 2015. The state's next execution is scheduled for February. This imminent deadline is part of what's driving the legislature's urgency to pass the execution secrecy bill. The European suppliers of the state's preferred execution drug, pentobarbital, now refuse to sell it for use in executions. Lawmakers hope that the promise of anonymity will goad local compounding pharmacies into providing the drug.

    If it goes into law, the bill would make it exceedingly difficult for the public or the press to investigate executions. Under the law, participants in executions may be sued if they reveal any confidential information or identities. The law also would undermine prisoners' due process rights, according to the ACLU: By exempting the participants in lethal injections from subpoenas and discovery proceedings, the law would make it virtually impossible for inmates' lawyers or courts to depose or question anyone with knowledge of a particular execution or death-penalty protocol. A late amendment to the bill does make limited room for disclosure through private judicial hearings.

    Thirteen other states have passed or tried to pass these sorts of gag rules. The bills are also growing more broad. "The trend we see in the more recent confidentiality statutes is an enhancement of both the breadth and depth of secrecy surrounding execution procedures," notes Megan McCracken, an attorney at the death penalty clinic at the University of California-Berkeley law school.

    But Ohio's bill goes even further. First, it would void any contract, domestic or international, that would hinder the state's ability to obtain execution drugs. It also extends professional immunity for participants in executions, stating that licensing organizations can not "take any disciplinary action against" physicians, pharmacists, or other staff. Many professional associations' codes of conduct prohibit participation in capital punishment, and the Ohio State Medical Association has expressed concerns about the bill's "intent to statutorily void" parts of the medical ethics code. "I think this is the most extreme lethal injection secrecy bill that we've seen nationwide," says Brickner.

    The original version of the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Buchy (R-Greenville), sought to ensure permanent blanket secrecy. An amended version requires individuals and companies involved in executions to opt-in for anonymity, and would make their identities public 20 years after they finish their business with the state. "20 years later is a rather pointless exercise," says Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio. "If the company has a 10-year contract, you wouldn't see that information in your lifetime."

    With four botched executions in the last eight years, Ohio's use of the death penalty has come under increasing scrutiny. Beyond practical considerations regarding lethal injection, the legislature's rush may also be an attempt to quiet the debate on capital punishment, notes Brickner. Yet it may have the opposite effect. "This bill is fundamentally broken," says Brickner. "There will be no shortage of lawsuits challenging it."



  • Chart: How Black Friday Invaded Thanksgiving

    Remember the holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving? It had a pretty good run for about 390 years—until around 2011, when it began to be replaced with a shopping extravaganza. In the past few years, the traditional dividing line between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the official start of the holiday retail season, has blurred. At many major retail stores, this Thursday won't be a day of turkey and family time but a mad rush for XBoxes and iPhones. Here's how Black Friday's Thanksgiving creep became a full-blown takeover:

     



  • This Is What Darren Wilson Told the Grand Jury About Shooting Michael Brown

    Here is Darren Wilson's testimony before the St. Louis County grand jury (St. Louis Public Radio has uploaded documents, here), starting on page 195. (His account of his encounter with Michael Brown begins on page 206.) Follow our coverage on what's happening in Ferguson, and how the grand jury decision fits a longstanding pattern in the St. Louis area.

     
     
     
     
     
     


  • Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson Will Not Be Charged for Killing Michael Brown, Grand Jury Decides

    Grand jury decides not to indict: The grand jury reviewing Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson's case in St. Louis County announced on Monday night that Wilson will not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The decision came more than three months after Wilson shot and killed Brown, the unarmed black teenager whose death on August 9 triggered weeks of protests that included sporadic violence and looting.

    Twelve jurors—nine whites and three African Americans—reviewed Wilson's case. Their decision continues a long-running pattern of police officers involved in fatal shootings going unprosecuted.

     

    Brown family issues statement: Mike Brown's parents released a statement following the grand jury decision asking protesters keep their actions peaceful:

     

    Wilson's lawyers issue statement: Wilson's attorneys also released a statement, saying that "Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions":

     

     

    Restricted air space: The Federal Aviation Administration confirms to Mother Jones that it restricted air space over Ferguson at 10:15 p.m. local time "due to gunfire." The resrtiction was in effect from the surface to 3,000 feet above sea level (about 2,500 feet off the ground), so that's why some news feeds were still working above the area.

    President Obama reacts: Shortly after 10pm Eastern time, the president spoke, urging a peaceful response to the news. "Michael Brown's parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes."

     

     

    Attorney General issues statement: Attorney General Eric Holder has released the following statement, saying the federal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing. (Read more about the Department of Justice's investigation here):

     

    Photos of Wilson released: Meanwhile, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Wilson suffered "some swelling and redness to his face":

     

    More reactions: Some reactions from around the Ferguson area:


    Several fires pop up: Multiple reports of fires started to roll in. Here are just a couple.

    Real-time footage: Watch a livestream from the streets of Ferguson captured by Bassem Masri here:



  • Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson Is Just the Latest to Go Unprosecuted for a Fatal Shooting

    After weeks of rising tension in Ferguson and the broader St. Louis region, the St. Louis County grand jury reviewing the death of Michael Brown has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown on August 9. Reported leaks during the grand jury proceedings suggested there would be no indictment—and that outcome fits a long-standing pattern. Few police officers who shoot and kill citizens in St. Louis have been investigated by a grand jury, let alone charged by one, according to data from city and county prosecutors.

    Between 2004 and 2014, there have been 14 fatal officer-involved shootings committed by St. Louis County PD officers alone, according to police data collected by David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. That does not include fatal shootings by Ferguson police or by officers from various other law enforcement agencies within the county. Many officer-involved fatalities likely were not subject to grand jury investigations because they were deemed justified by police internal affairs or the local prosecutor's office, Klinger says. Since 2000, only four cases in all of St. Louis County, including Wilson's, have been investigated by a grand jury, according to a spokesperson for St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch's office. McCulloch's office declined to provide details to Mother Jones on the three other cases, which it says are closed.

    In September, Heather Cole of Missouri Lawyers Weekly used news reports to identify five grand jury investigations of officer-involved fatalities prior to Wilson's that took place during McCulloch's tenure, which began in 1991. As with Wilson's case, none led to an indictment:

    Missouri Lawyers Weekly

    McCulloch's record and family ties to the police force sparked controversy in the wake of Brown's death.

    Statistics from the City of St. Louis paint a similar picture: A total of 39 people were fatally shot by police officers between 2003 and 2012; according to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office, only one police officer has been indicted in such a case since 2000, and that officer was acquitted.

    Roger Goldman, an expert on criminal procedure and constitutional law at the Saint Louis University School of Law, says that a long-standing Missouri statute gives police officers wide latitude to shoot to kill. The law states they are justified in doing so if they "reasonably believe" their target "has committed or attempted to commit a felony" and deadly force is "immediately necessary to effect the arrest." According to Goldman, the existence of this law—despite a 1985 Supreme Court ruling suggesting it may be unconstitutional—is one reason why "it's particularly difficult to get grand juries to indict or prosecutors to even take the case to the grand jury in the first place."

    But with a case like Wilson's, weeks of high-profile public protests likely pressured the prosecutor's office to present a case to a grand jury, says Delores Jones-Brown, a law professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "This way the prosecutor cannot be accused of having made a unilateral biased decision." Still, the prosecutor has a lot of sway in how a case is presented to the grand jury, she noted.

    Prior to the decision in Wilson's case, McCulloch said he would seek to release transcripts and audio from the grand jury investigation if it resulted in no indictment for Wilson. But it remains unclear whether a circuit court judge will approve that request for transparency.



  • Another Side Effect of Climate Change and El Niño Events? Shorter Kids.

    The weather pattern known as El Niño could be stunting kids' growth—even years after the extreme storms abate, a new study finds. Researchers at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, led by assistant professor of medicine and international health William Checkley, say they have conducted the first study on the long-term health consequences of El Niño weather systems. According to the paper published today in BioMed Central, children born around the time of the severe 1997-'98 El Niño living in coastal Peru, one of the regions hardest hit by the weather pattern, are significantly shorter for their age than children born before El Niño hit.

    El Niño weather patterns occur in the equatorial Pacific region, often off the northern coasts of Peru and Ecuador. During El Niño patterns, the region's warm water, which is usually skimmed away by the wind and pushed towards Asia and Australia, doesn't circulate like it's meant to. Instead, it builds up and heats the air above it, creating clouds. The changes in water temperatures and cloud formations lead to higher chances of torrential rains, inhospitably warm fish habitats, and intense flooding in the Americas. This tends to happen every three to seven years, and begins slowly in the summer, peaking in the winter.

    Recent findings suggest that climate change will not necessarily disrupt this cycle, but might increase the intensity of the weather events when they do occur. Checkley noted that climate change was not a focus in the study, but confirmed that its impact may worsen future El Niño events.

    Which is bad news for children living in coastal areas heavily affected by El Niño weather events. That's because this extreme weather can make food hard to come by, and increase the likelihood of infection. "Lack of food, food insecurity and increased infections are all likely drivers to a decreased growth in children," Checkley told me. The study zeroed in on children living in rural villages in coastal Peru, where food insecurity and poverty are at much higher levels than in places like California, where El Niño weather patterns can also settle.

    The team measured the height, weight, and fat, and muscle of a random sample of 2,095 children born between 1991 and 2001 in Tumbes, Peru—a city on the northwestern coast. A decade after the extreme '97 El Niño, in November and December of 2008 and 2009, they found that, on average, the children born during and shortly after El Niño were shorter and had less lean mass, or body weight minus fat, than children born before the event.

    The study mentions that in years following the extreme weather patterns, some children were able to gradually recover losses in height, but that children in homes that were heavily flooded were not able to catch up. "Even three years after the initial disaster, it still affected children's nutritional status," reads a press release about the study.

    Epidemiologists consider stature a "surrogate measure" of chronic malnutrition and disease for certain age groups and genders; stunted growth can be an early predictor of delayed motor skills, cognitive impairment, and higher risk pregnancies later in life. "Just as rings act as indicators of natural disaster experienced by a tree throughout its life, exposure to severe adverse weather events in utero or in early life can leave a long-lasting mark on growth and development in young children," the study reads.

    According to Madeleine Thompson, a scientist specializing in climate and health at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, it is "highly likely" that these results are "indicative of a large scale impact of an El Niño related disaster." She linked these results to a 2004 study of an El Niño related malaria epidemic in areas of Tanzania, where there was a "very significant impact" on infants' birth weights as a result of the disease—an immediate health impact of El Niño.

    Of course, the results are still too preliminary to indicate that El Niño alone stunted children's growth. But the authors note that in interviews with focus groups, "community members did not cite other events occurring during the same period as El Niño that had such a destructive impact on their lives." Checkley told me that his research squares with past studies of the public health consequences of El Niño events, which include increased risk of infection and social and emotional stress. Flooding and higher temperatures often lead to increased risk of contracting infectious diarrheal and respiratory diseases, especially in poor, overcrowded communities. These illnesses could prevent children from developing properly.

    The researchers emphasize the need for further study, especially in light of climate change and the possibility of more and more intense El Niño cycles. The researchers believe that these studies can better help aid workers develop prevention strategies and target aid and response during these types of events. "Given El Niño's cyclical nature this phenomenon may continue to negatively impact future generations," said Checkley.



  • A Thanksgiving Snowstorm Could Make America's Busiest Travel Day A Living Hell
    NWS Weather Prediction Service

    This story originally appeared in Slate and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    If you've ever wanted to make post-stuffing snow angels, this year could be your chance.

    Forget for a moment that Monday will feature near-record highs on the East Coast. (However, if you're in Washington or New York City, you should bask in this afternoon's highs in the low to mid-70s, if you can swing it.)

    Forget, too, that in my post on Friday I said not to worry (yet) about a looming Thanksgiving Eve nor'easter. At the time, weather models were all over the place, with only the ECMWF showing a direct hit. Some models didn't show a consolidated storm forming at all, just two separate weak weather systems: a minor storm over the Great Lakes and a stalled-out cold front somewhere between the East Coast and Bermuda.

    Since then, there's been growing consensus among the computers that those two systems will join forces. The National Weather Service has already posted winter storm watches for hefty snow totals just inland of the major Northeast cities along I-95. This storm is happening. And there's an increasing chance it'll force a change in your travel plans.

    For instance, Sunday's edition of the GFS model showed explosive storm formation on Wednesday—enough to qualify as a meteorological "bomb," which is a deepening of the storm's central pressure by more than 24 millibars in 24 hours.

    As the storm grows—starting off the mid-Atlantic on Wednesday morning and heading over Newfoundland on Thanksgiving afternoon—it's now a lock to produce heavy snows well inland and in higher elevations from North Carolina to Canada. The only real question remaining is, how much snow will fall in the major cities along the coast?

    Even the National Weather Service can't decide. The agency's local forecast offices—the ones with the most knowledge of small-scale idiosyncrasies of tricky snowfall forecasts—are downplaying the storm's potential to produce snow in the cities.

    Here's the local snowfall map from the Boston office, for example:

    One thing is certain: This storm will produce a very tight snowfall gradient along the coast, making an accurate forecast that much more difficult. NWS Boston

    On the low end, that means this storm will bring only an inch or two of messy slush to the major cities, while Grandma's house upstate gets the bulk.

    The agency's centralized forecast office—the Weather Prediction Center—is much more bullish.

    In a reasonable worst case put forward by the WPC, 10 to 12 inches could fall in every major city from D.C. northward, snarling traffic and canceling flights coast to coast. A more reasonable guess is 3 to 6 inches of snow in the major cities, with double that just 30 miles inland. But even that outcome is just a blend of two extremes. The most likely scenario is a sharp cutoff between heavy cold rain mixed with a few flakes, and an all-out snowstorm. All the local forecast offices mentioned this annoying feature in their discussions on Monday.

    There are still a few key unknowns, like the exact path the storm's center will take offshore, that will determine which possibility becomes reality. Ocean temperatures are still in the 50s, so even an hour or two of wind from a northeast direction rather than due north could warm the lower levels of the atmosphere enough to turn snowflakes into raindrops along the coast. Dynamical cooling—which happens when a storm strengthens at quick enough rates—could help tip the scale toward coastal snow.

    This map has about a 10 percent chance of panning out. NWS Prediction Center

    It would be just the second white Thanksgiving in New York City since 1938. The last one was in 1989, when the snowstorm's strong winds tore a hole in Snoopy's nose. In Washington, D.C., the storm promises an end to the longest November snowless streak since recordkeeping began in 1888. The last measurable snow during November in the nation's capital was in 1996, when a piddly quarter-inch fell. There was also a big Thanksgiving Eve storm just last year, but no snow fell in either city.

    In many ways, this is a weather forecaster/masochist's dream scenario: You've got a potentially high-impact weather event, on the highest-impact travel day of the year, with an unusually high amount of uncertainty. To my fellow forecasters: Good luck getting this one right!




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Green Facts

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your car’s tires fully inflated.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200—a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.