Nel's New Day

July 19, 2018

The News for July 19, 2018

Today is the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, when about 300 people–mostly women–gathered to address “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” They persisted, and one of those who attended managed to vote for the first time when women gained the right to vote 72 years later. On this day 170 years later, the current administration is attempting to rapidly reverse the accomplishments of the 21st century.  Following is an overview of a few political highlights for today, July 19, 2018:

Once again, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has been forced to back down, this time from his anti-U.S. intention to turn U.S. government employees over to Vladimir Putin. As the Senate prepared to vote on a resolution opposing DDT’s honoring Putin’s request, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that DDT “disagrees” with the “proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin.” He had suggested swapping the 12 Russians indicted last week for 11 current former U.S. officials. The resolution stopping many government officials from being turned over to Russia for questioning passed the Senate by 98-0. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) were absent for the vote. Republicans did reject efforts to support the intelligence community’s assessment, Mueller’s probe, and implementation of congressional sanctions. None of these resolutions would have been binding on DDT.

Republicans plan to keep Russian meddling: the House refused to increase election security spending. The GOP prefers voter ID to stop non-existent voter fraud and repress non-GOP voting. The commission administering the election security grant program is missing half its four members. Without a quorum, it cannot approve testing of voting systems for required standards, and the patchwork of voting systems has differing degrees of reliability. It’s a policy to “Keep American Republican.”

Two years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stopped President Obama from making public the information about Russia’s hacking and election interference with accusations that it was a partisan move. No more. Despite the indifference of Republicans in Congress, DOJ’s Rod Rosenstein has a new policy to tell the U.S. companies, organizations, and others who are being attacked by foreign hacking and disinformation campaigns. He said, “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.” A Microsoft executive told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum today that Russia has target at least three candidates this year.

In another interview at the Aspen Security Forum, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained that removal of thousands of children from their parents is “to protect children.” She added that the courts—that actually require her to reunite children—are preventing families from staying together. In another noble move on her part, “we give a pregnancy test at DHS to every girl over 10.” It is her agency that imprisons pregnant girls to keep them from having any abortions unless courts manage to allow them to see doctors. Her claim that DHS gives aid to members of radical extremist groups who want to be non-violent is negated by her administration rolling back funds for this rehabilitation. The outstanding part of her responses was the support for “both sides” being to blame for the Charlottesville violence: “It’s not that one side is right, one side is wrong.” The official DDT administration position is that white supremacists are not wrong.

DDT has found another way to get rid of people he considers undesirable. Applicants for asylum visas no longer have 30 days to take care of missing or inaccurate information on their applications. The new policy is to immediately deport them with no advance warning—just a final statutory denial. They will be treated like criminals, who are also deported on a fast-tracked basis. [If only we could automatically reject DDT’s nominees who provide forms with missing or incomplete information!] The new policy politely states that it is “not intended to penalize filers for innocent mistakes.” AG Jeff Sessions also disallows domestic and gang violence claims as bases for asylum; those seeking asylum must provide evidence that they fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. Fear of death doesn’t count.

On Fox’s Tucker Carlson show, DDT accused Montenegro of being responsible for starting World War III if it joins NATO because its people are “very aggressive.” Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic came into the limelight a year ago when DDT aggressively pushed him out of his path at the 2017 NATO meeting. [Full video here.] The country of 630,000 alienated Russia because it planned to join NATO: the Kremlin may have meddled in its elections, and pro-Russian militants planned a failed 2016 coup. NATO has an agreement that the other 28 members will support any one member attacked from outside. In its 69-year history, that agreement has been invoked only once—when 28 members went to the aid of the United States after the 9/11 attack. NATO members are still in Afghanistan after 17 years of the U.S. war there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convinced DDT to drop out of the Iran deal, according to a video of Netanyahu’s speech to his Likud party.

Poverty is no longer a problem in the United States. At least, that’s what DDT’s administration claims. A few facts they missed:

  • About 40.6 million people—12.7 percent of the population—lived below the official poverty line in 2016.
  • The Supplemental Poverty Measure shows that 14.5 percent of people in the U.S. are impoverished.
  • Over 20 percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty.
  • The United States was second only to Israel of the richest countries with the percentage of people in poverty in 2014.

DDT maintains that income data doesn’t reflect poverty because poorer people underreport their income, and interviews about consumption make poverty in the U.S. disappear. In that way, DDT can declare “mission accomplished” on the War on Poverty and do away with the entire safety net. Refuting this claim is a study tracking economic adversity, including reports of difficulty in paying for food, utility bills, rent, or medical care that comes out about the same as official poverty rates. DDT’s method shows a decline in poverty as more households struggle with costs of food and shelter. The chart below shows the how DDT’s system skews the facts:

Reasons for the inaccuracy of DDT’s report:

  • Poor people finance their spending with debt—payday loans, second mortgages they can’t afford, etc.
  • The cost of living for DDT’s report is adjusted more slowly than the official Consumer Price Index, making household spending appear to be growing faster.

EPA Scott Pruitt and his corruption may be gone, but the United States still has Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. After several reports of his illegally using taxpayer money, his own department’s IG is investigating the man responsible for protecting public lands about his real estate deal with Halliburton Chair Davi Lesar. The foundation run by Zinke and his wife granted Lesar’s real-estate development the permission to put a parking lot on land donated to the foundation for a Veteran’s Peace Park in Whitefish (MT). Zinke is also under investigation for a violation of the Hatch Act after tweeting himself wearing socks with DDT’s face and “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Halliburton is one of the world’s largest fracking and offshore drilling companies; Zinke repeatedly opened up federal lands and coastal waters for fossil fuel drilling.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), known for his frequently obnoxious grilling of Hillary Clinton, John Brennan, Peter Strzok, and others regarding their possible connections with foreign countries, has been revealed as a beneficiary of foreign monies for his election from his superpacs, including Great America PAC, that may also fund Russia’s attack on the U.S. election. The PACs’ major donors have direct ties with Cambridge Analytic, now defunct, that helped elect DDT through data collection, hacking, and social media manipulation. As chair of the Oversight Committee, Gowdy refused members 52 times to request subpoenas for interviews in the Russia probe. He will not be running for re-election.

ALEC, the powerful organization that writes conservative legislation for lawmakers, has lost ExxonMobil after Ford, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and many others left the group. The biggest oil and gas company in the world followed BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips in abandoning the Koch Brothers’ group after a disagreement about an ALEC resolution that would ask the feds to reconsider its findings that greenhouse gasses are harmful to human health. A major contributor to the secretive organization since 1981, Exxon has given millions to promote the conservative corporate agenda. Its departure comes in the midst of state investigations into its connection with hiding evidence about its climate impact from its shareholders as well as the public.

The classic for today comes during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum when NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell tells Director of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats the breaking news that Vladimir Putin is coming to Washington this fall. The video is not to be missed. The best part may also be that McConnell said that Put will not be coming to Congress. I’m sure that DDT wants to be alone with Putin anyway. The question is how long Coats will keep his job.

And that’s just one day for DDT’s administration.

August 6, 2016

AARP Leaves ALEC; Trump Watch

Email petitions can be a nuisance for people, but there are good reasons that people who want to live in a democracy should pay attention. A week ago, a petition alerted millions of people about AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired People, being a dues-paying member of ALEC. AARP members were sending money to the right-wing Koch-founded American Legislative Exchange Council in which big corporations write legislation for conservatives legislators to restrict women’s rights, voting, and other civil liberties vital to an open, vibrant society.

ALEC wants to reduce, privatize, and perhaps even eliminate Social Security and Medicare as well as eradicate all pensions and any caps on prescription drugs. LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote:

 “ALEC has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has saved Medicare enrollees millions of dollars by closing the Medicare drug benefit ‘donut hole’…It has opposed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It has targeted public pensions, pushing to cap benefits and shift workers toward defined contribution plans, which layer more market risk on individual workers’ shoulders.”

A massive protest resulted in this post on AARP’s Facebook page:

“After hearing from many of you, we’ve decided not to renew our membership to ALEC. We would never work against the interests of older Americans and our engagement with ALEC was NOT an endorsement of the organization’s policies, but an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.”

Earlier this year, AARP drew criticism because of its neutrality in Social Security reform. Its “Take a Stand” initiative asked members to get presidential candidates to explain their policies in closing a long-term funding shortfall but didn’t “take a stand” on plans that cut benefits and those that do not.

AARP’s excuse for joining ALEC was to engage with conservative state legislators, but a powerful public interest with over 37 million members can find other ways. After consumer protests, at least 19 nonprofits and 108 corporations—including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Coca-Cola—dropped their ALEC memberships, especially after the ALEC promoted Stand Your Ground legislation that led to the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Google left ALEC in 2014 because of the group’s policy of “literally just lying” in denying climate change by opposing the Clean Power Plan.

AARP was forced to back down in one week by the grassroots campaign. AARP made its decision to disconnect from ALEC despite the push from huge companies in ALEC to keep AARP. The Center for Media and Democracy wrote, “The corporate bill mill had urged its members to call AARP and tell them to ‘remain strong.’”

Several groups joined CMD urged AARP to sever ties with ALEC:

“We are calling on AARP to withdraw all support for ALEC, a group that has consistently promoted policies that hurt seniors. By partnering with ALEC, you have allowed it to use the powerful AARP brand to lend credibility to legislation harmful to seniors that is introduced in statehouses across the country. ALEC has been at the forefront of protecting drug companies and their ability to charge unreasonable prices, has been a strong advocate against the Affordable Care Act and has opposed Medicaid expansion, forcing lower-income retirees to make terrible choices between paying medical bills and buying groceries. ALEC pushed voter ID laws that make it harder, not easier for seniors and people of color to vote. ALEC also blocks action on climate change, causing irreparable harm to the world we will leave our children and grandchildren.”

Mike Pence, GOP vice-presidential candidate, is an evangelist for ALEC, promising them at their meeting last weekend that “you are the model for Washington, D.C., after this election.” No stranger to ALEC, his focus has been to replace all public schools with corporate charter schools, an especially failed experiment in his state of Indiana shown by almost half of the state’s charter schools doing poorly or failing with the state’s new accountability standards. The law requires six consecutive years of failure before the state acts on behalf of the students. Many of the problems of these schools are cited here. Conservatives love charter schools because huge corporations massively profit from the money given to schools by government.

AARP dropped its membership to ALEC is just one week of complaints from thousands of people. Your voice can make a difference. Pay attention to those petitions you get in your email.

Trump Watch: “A lot of times, when you apologize, they use it as ammunition against [you].” That’s always been Donald Trump’s position, but last night he gave people a lot of ammunition, for example backtracking with his endorsements of GOP candidates Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and John McCain (R-AZ). Until yesterday, Trump had played the tease game with Ryan and glowingly talked about his opponent, Paul Nehlen, an unabashed Trump supporter. Last night he endorsed Ryan:

“He’s a good man, and he’s a good guy. And we may disagree on a couple of things, but mostly we agree.”

About Ayotte, facing a rough fight against Gov. Maggie Hassam, Trump had earlier said that he’s “beating her the polls” and asked “are these people that should be representing us?” Last night, Trump called her “a rising star” who does a good job for New Hampshire.

Trump saved his best words for McCain after a year of calling him a “loser” for being captured and tortured as a POW in Vietnam. Trump had also said that McCain did a “bad job” for veterans:

“I hold in the highest esteem Sen. John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office, and I fully support and endorse his reelection. Very important.”

Running neck and neck with Clinton before the Democratic convention, Trump fell as much as 15 points behind after he followed the attack on the family of a fallen soldier in Iraq with many more “mis-steps,” the polite term for total screw-ups. Things got so bad that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gringrich—both total screw-ups—were threatening an intervention with Trump.

Trump lost the Wisconsin primary to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) which might explain the tepid applause. Or that may have been that he delivered a “low-energy” speech read from teleprompters.

In addition to his other backtracking, Trump also told an audience that he was wrong about seeing video footage of stacks of cash being taken off an airplane. He also falsely claimed that the U.S. was paying ransom for U.S. hostages instead of paying back money that the U.S. had owed Iran for 37 years because the U.S. reneged on a deal.

In another part of Trump’s speech, he downplayed his rude treatment of a parent with a crying baby and accused the media of being dishonest. Unfortunately for the truth, a video of his tantrum exists, showing that the person wanting to be a president can’t handle a crying baby.

Cameron Kerr, a Purple Heart recipient who lost a leg in Afghanistan, is raising money to help Trump earn a Purple Heart after another veteran gave him one this past week. Trump said, “I’ve always wanted to get a Purple Heart. This was much easier.” Kerr wants Trump to get another Purple Heart—“the old-fashioned way” by earning it. Kerr said the money would be used to fly Trump into a war zone of Trump’s choosing but knows that Trump will not take him up on his offer. Instead the donations to the GoFundMe campaign will be used to help Syrian refugees because “they are much better people than Donald Trump.”

Trying to get media attention away from his gaffes and support for Russia, Trump announced a 13-member economic advisory council—“the most successful industry leaders in finance, real estate, and technology, according to Trump. His selections are notable because they are all wealthy men—many of them real-estate investors, hedge-fund managers, and bankers. They are a Wall Street dream machine—a batch of fraudsters like Trump who specialize in disaster financing, taking advantage of people who suffer losses.

Asked about female cabinet members, he could only think of his daughter Ivanka. At a loss, Trump finally told his interviewer, Algelia Savage who hosts The Chat on Florida’s First Coast News,  that he would pick her for his cabinet.

The GOP presidential candidate has a powerful ally in Julian Assange, responsible for damaging email leaks about Clinton—most recently the ones from the Democratic National Committee. Assange has promised more damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign but nothing about Trump. Bill Maher asked him about his approach, and Assange said that he is “working on” hacking Trump’s tax returns that the candidate refuses to release. WikiLeaks has since disavowed the statement saying that Assange’s statement was a joke. Assange did the interview from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he is fleeing extradition on rape and sexual assault allegations in Sweden.

Trump’s latest business failure is the indefinite closure of his Taj Mahal and Casino after Labor Day with a loss of 3,000 jobs. In 2014, a court for one of Trump’s four bankruptcies ruled the elimination of union members’ health insurance and pension plans, but the union wasn’t responsible for the financial problems as revealed three months later. The hotel failed to get state and local tax breaks and was also fined $10 million for “significant and long-standing money laundering violations.” After 18 months, the unions went on strike to protest the injustices, but Trump is no longer involved because he dumped the hotel onto personal friend multi-billionaire Carl Icahn—possibly Trump’s Treasury Secretary if the GOP candidate is elected.

The Trump Watch will continue in the future.

May 28, 2016

Environmental Hope for Movement from the Right

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 10:03 PM
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Is it possible that the political pendulum in the United States is swinging away from the ultra-right side back to the central? There are a few pieces of hope in the fight against ag-gag laws, Monsanto, and big corporations.

Thanks to conservative lawmakers and a ruling by U.S. Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill, Idaho taxpayers are stuck with paying $250,000 in legal fees for its unconstitutional “ag-gag” law. The law’s intent was to prevent people from filming the inhumane animal abuse on big agricultural farms. Idaho was the most recent state in the trend to outlaw undercover investigations, and the first to suffer the overturn of its law because of the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. An appeal for the Idaho ruling would go to the usually liberal 9th Circuit of Appeals.

The far-right group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), created by the Koch brothers, drafted a model bill so that conservative lawmakers could take it back to their legislation. These laws maintained that photographing the animal abuse was not only illegal but those convicted were listed on a “terrorist registry.”

Twenty-six states introduced these bills, and seven of them passed it into law. Because Idaho’s law was overturned on federal constitutional grounds, the ruling will most likely set a strong precedent for legal ag-gag challenges throughout the nation.

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Wyoming’s law made it illegal to collect data, outside of city boundaries, on all lands public, private or federal. “Data collection” means “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.” Warned that the law might be unconstitutional, lawmakers amended it this spring to just private lands where anyone in Wyoming, whether resident or visitor, who takes a photo of a polluted stream to report it to any agency can get a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The law is now in the courts.

The worst state law may be in North Carolina: it covers not only agricultural business but also all other workplaces in the state. According to the law, people secretly taping abuses of people in nursing homes, daycare centers, hospitals, group homes, medical practices, charter and private schools, veterans’ facilities, etc. can be sued for bad publicity and required to pay a fine of $5,000 each day that the person gathers and/or records information without the business owners’ authorization. The law exempts people who directly report abuses to owners or state authorities, but the information cannot be legally disseminated to the public. The law is being challenged, perhaps successfully. The Idaho judge wrote that activists who pose as employees to gain access to farming operations  “actually advance core First Amendment values by exposing misconduct to the public eye and facilitating dialogue on issues of considerable public interest.”

On the national level, agribusiness lobbyists have persuaded House Republicans to include an exemption of agricultural commodity groups from the Freedom of Information Act requests in its 2017 House Agricultural Appropriations bill.

Animals are not the only ones abused in agribusiness. Poultry industry workers are “routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom” in corporate efforts to optimize the speed of production. According to a new study, people avoid drinking liquids for long periods of time and wear diapers at work so that they can “urinate and defecate while standing on the line.” and “wear diapers to work.” Processing companies include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, and Perdue. The industry is also trying to increase the regulation of 140 birds per minute by another 35 birds per minute. OSHA mandates employee access to bathrooms, but some of them are forced to wait for over an hour to be relieved or not have any relief at all.

In the world of chemical pollution, Monsanto has been assessed $46.5 million in damages by a St. Louis jury because of the company’s negligence in handling toxic and carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs. PCBs were used to insulate electronics decades ago, and Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound from 1935 until 1977. Even after Monsanto learned about the product’s dangers, long before it was banned in 1979, the company told the public that PCBs were safe and continued to sell the compounds.

Lawsuits are piling up against Monsanto, the most recent from Long Beach (CA), the eighth city to sue the biotech behemoth after Portland (OR), Seattle, Spokane, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland. These cases are pending. Long Beach’s federal lawsuit states that Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs are “widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms” including marine life, plants, animals, birds and humans.” The complaint also stated:

“PCBs regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, causing runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events, after being released into the environment. The runoff originates from multiple sources and industries and enters Long Beach Waters with stormwater and other runoff.”

GOP lawmakers are trying to protect Monsanto with the “Monsanto Rider” in the Toxic Substances Control Act reauthorization bill that would give the chemical giant permanent immunity from liability for injuries caused by PCBs.

The conservative World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released a report stating that glyphosate, an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, probably causes cancer in humans. After WHO’s announcement, California plans to add glyphosate to its list of carcinogenic chemicals. Other bad news for Monsanto came from a 2014 Sri Lankan study showing a possible link between glyphosate and chronic kidney disease that killed thousands of farm workers in Central America. Monsanto not only produces Roundup but also adds the herbicide to its genetically modified seeds that cover the United States. Latvia and Greece have joined other European countries to reject GMOs.

In March, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a House bill that would have prevented all states from having GMO labeling laws. Almost 90% of people in the U.S. want GMO food to be labeled, but the agrichemical industry returned to the Senate with its zombie bill to pass the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act to nullify state labeling efforts. Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Bayer, and ConAgra are among the top ten donors spending over $100 million to defeat GMO ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon, and California.

A year ago Monsanto agreed to pay $600,000 for its failures to report the release of severe toxic chemicals from its Idaho plant between the years 2006 and 2009. The cost won’t be a problem for Monsanto: the company reporter $1.5 billion in profit during just 2013.

Voters in tiny Hood County (OR), population 22,675, scored a huge victory over Nestle, another international corporation  worth over $247 billion. The battle started eight years ago when the gigantic company tried to buy water rights to Oxbow Springs in a state sometimes suffering from drought. Protesting environmental groups were joined by four Indian tribes by claiming treaty rights and raising concerns about future salmon populations. The ballot measure crafted by Nestle’s opposition banning commercial water operations in the county passed with 70 percent of the vote in the May 17, 2016 primary election.

Nestle’s lure was 50 jobs at $10 per hour with no benefits; the company spent $105,000 fighting the initiative. If Nestle had won, it would have paid less than residents for the water. Julia Degraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch, said, “This is absolutely the first time a county has passed this kind of ballot measure prohibiting commercial water bottles. It really defines what is possible for communities who are serious about protecting their water.”

The town of Cascade Locks, population 1,148 and an unemployment of 19 percent, passed the measure by 58 percent. Nestle targets economically depressed areas to make billions of dollars in profit and leaves the area with environmental, infrastructure, and other costs.

April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016 – Keep What We Have, Make It Better

[Once again, thanks to Ann Hubard for the photographs, showing the benefits of Oregonians because we still have public land.]

Multinomah FallsEarth Day turned 46 today, and I went looking for some good news. These five items from Julia Whittey:

The huge drop of toxic PCBs and related contaminants in polar bears on the island of Svalbard shows that international agreements to ban PCBs are showing some success. As polar bears go, there go humans.

Wildlife preserves in Russia and China for highly rare Amur leopards show that the countries are working together to save endangered species.

Fog in WallowasForty individual projects and nine larger projects received almost one-half billion dollars since last November—the greatest amount of funding that it has provided. One is a proposal to protect at least 5 percent of Brazil’s ocean territory through marine protected areas, and another is a project to investigate the potential of creating ‘blue forest’ preserves in the ocean for the storage of carbon by mangrove and coral ecosystems.

Southern right whales, extinct from ancestral calving grounds off New Zealand for over a century, are finding their way home. Before the whaling industry, 30,000 whales lived in that area.

The  Arabian Oryx, thought to be extinct in the wild since 1973, has moved up to “vulnerable” since captive breeding efforts through Operation Oryx.

Ortho, a gigantic pesticide manufacturer, is stopping the use of neonicotinoids, known for killing honey bees. Europe banned these pesticides in 2013, and Ontario was the first North American region to ban them last year.

For the first time in a half century, greenhouse gas emissions are staying static while the economy grows.

For the first time in U.S. history, solar power increased more in generating capacity than natural gas. Over 29 percent of all new power capacity came from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in 2015, a 17 percent increase over 2014.

 

Mountain in WAArch Coal, one of the biggest in the U.S., will abandoned plans to build the biggest new coal mine in the U.S.,  the proposed Otter Creek coal mine, after Indigenous activists, ranchers, and landowners asked for prevention of permits. In Reno, no one showed up to bid at the federal oil and gas auctions. And in Oregon, the federal government denied an application for the proposed Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas terminal at Coos Bay. FERC said that there was no need for the project that takes fracked gas from Canada through a proposed pipeline before it is shipped out of the country.

Today’s Earth Day will also be known as the anniversary for the 170 world leaders who gathered at the UN to sign the Paris Agreement, bringing the nations together to tackle climate change. Countries have already been building programs to increase clean energy and stop the pollution. To take effect, 55 percent of the countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must ratify the deal. Both the U.S. and China, together representing 40 percent of global emissions, signed today.

An extra one: The earth’s protected areas cover eight million square miles of land and sea, over twice the size of Canada. Maps and charts since 1872 here.

Tom McCall PreserveUnfortunately, that number may shrink if the Republicans get their way. After the Bundy tribe threatened federal officials in Nevada a few years ago and occupied a bird sanctuary in Oregon last winter, more GOP legislators are talking about privatizing public land. If they don’t want to go that far, they want to log, drill, mine, bulldoze, and develop that lands available for everyone.

Federal land is used for camping, hiking, climbing, fishing, bird watching, rafting, bicycling, and just plain enjoying with over 600 million visits a year. In just 2011, federal lands provided two million jobs and $385 billion in economic development. National forests provide water—generally clean and pure—to 60 million people. Public land cuts down on pollution because it lacks industry and produces oxygen while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. I live next to the most beautiful beaches in the United States because they are not privately owned. Anyone can walk or run along the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, unlike in California which sells its beaches.

The land in the West has never been “private” land. The federal government took it from Native Americans, not the ranchers who claim that they should “take it back.” The Homestead Act gave away some of this land, but much of it was set aside as national forests and parks.

It’s not “we the people” who think that the public lands should be put into private hands; it’s the corporations and industries such as the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobile—the companies that own the GOP lawmakers. In their attempt to take over private lands, the Koch brothers directly funded the group that occupied an Oregon bird sanctuary earlier this year.

BeachThe move toward privatizing comes from federal government haters in Congress trying to turn federal lands over to the states because they would supposedly be the best to manage them. Of course, they would have to pay for the management, including paying for jobs, firefighting, roads, etc. Complaints about not having access to public land would vastly increase if these were managed by the states instead of the federal government. Many Western states don’t consider state lands to be “public” and thus make them off limits to recreation, trapping, and firewood cutting. Ranchers and farmers would lose grazing rights and federal water.

Former GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s top energy priority was to “work with Congress to ensure that states and tribes—and not the federal government—have the primary role in oversight of energy development within their borders.” He meant selling, transferring, or privatizing U.S. private lands and energy resources—and waive environmental protections. The RNC has officially endorsed efforts to force U.S. public lands to state ownership, and last year the Senate passed a budget proposal that would do just that. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has a group of House members, the Federal Land Action Group, with the goal of determining “the best congressional action needed to return these [federal] lands back to the rightful owners.”  The Koch brothers’ conservative network is lobbying Western state legislatures to demand state ownership of national forests and other public lands. Their supporters are anti-government activists, white supremacists, militias, and other extremist groups whose ideas are dribbling into the Tea Party that some people consider “mainstream” instead of fringe groups.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is aligned with Cliven Bundy and the land grab movement. No longer a presidential candidate, he’ll still be in the U.S. Senate and will surely continue to push legislation for the loss of federal lands. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), proud of his connection with the conservative ALEC, is right up there with Paul and will remain as senator or be president. As Ohio governor, John Kasich opened state parks to oil and gas drilling before reversing his position three years later because the state lacked “the policies in place yet to properly do it.” In a little over a century, the GOP has changed from the conservation party of Teddy Roosevelt to the takeover party that gives only to corporations and the wealthy.

Then states will sell the land that the federal government “gives” them. New Mexico has sold over one-third of its original 13 million acres, Nevada has just 3,000 acres left from its 2.7 million, Idaho sold 1.2 million acres, and Colorado and Arizona each sold off 1.7 million acres.

Earth Day is a time to appreciate what we have and fight for keeping it—and making it better!

December 17, 2015

Prison Reform: Don’t Trust the Koch Brothers

The United States is the largest police state in the world, with more prisoners than China or Russia both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population. Charles and David Koch, worth over $100 billion by ripping off the middle class and poor as well  as heavy investors in the oil industry, are now backing a bipartisan attempt to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the U.S. which has the highest imprisonment rate in the world, especially burdening the poor and people of color.

While the press has been complimentary about the Koch brothers’ efforts in this arena, the two wealthy men may have a nefarious motive—protecting their corporations to block prosecution of corporate violations of environmental and financial laws designed to protect the public. Their proposed changes would, at the public’s expense, effect more problems in holding executives and their employees responsible for violating U.S. laws while protecting financial interests of the wealthy and corporate leaders. For at least five years, the Kochs and their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have pushed to increase the “intent” standard for criminal violations, particularly for so-called “white collar” crime and executive suite criminals. The result would provide huge benefits for Koch Industries and their corporate friends.

After the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to make the criminal justice system fairer, the House took a Koch idea that has now passed its Judiciary Committee. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) bill fails to address mass incarceration but instead requires prosecutors to prove that a person or corporation “knowingly” engaged in illegal conduct and additionally “knew” or should have known that the conduct violated federal law. If passed, the bill “would make it much harder for prosecutors to criminally prosecute companies that swindle the public, endanger their workers, poison the environment or otherwise imperil consumers,” said Rob Weissman, President of Public Citizen. Koch Industries is one of Sensenbrenner’s top contributors in this election cycle.

An “intent” requirement called “mens rea” requires that prosecutors prove a person intended to cause harm and violate the law before imposition of long prison sentences. Criminal laws for acts of violence typically have this mandate, but federal law does not have to prove intent in many federal laws for white collar crimes such as environmental violations and financial crimes under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. For example, federal law does not require proof that a company or its leaders intended to violate the law by polluting waterways or crashing the economy. Just the existence of these acts can hold corporations and their leaders criminally liable because of complexity of hierarchy and authority.

The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killing 29 workers from cost-cutting led to an unusual criminal conviction for the former CEO of Massey Energy. This conviction could not happen with the Koch brothers’ bill in the House. Frank O. Bowman, law professor at the University of Missouri, explained:

“Requiring that prosecutors prove that a corporate executive is both consciously aware of the conduct of their subordinates and consciously aware that the conduct of those subordinates violates criminal law is very, very difficult. This would make [white collar] prosecutions more difficult than they now are, and they are already hard.”

Over-incarceration is not a problem for corporations and their leaders because the Justice Department has a large number of deferred prosecutions in exchange for defendants’ promises not to break the law in the future. Koch’s “intent” standard on all federal crimes would undermine the few corporate criminal prosecutions that could take place. Sensenbrenner’s bill prevents such guilty pleas as the one from Jensen Farms, that killed 33 people from a failure to follow food safety standards with its cantaloupe. The default intent requirement would lessen prosecutions of violations in the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Resource Recovery and Compensation Act (RCRA), etc.

Naturally the Koch brother’s bill protects the Koch Industries. In 2000, Forbes reported that “a federal grand jury indicted the privately held company and four of its employees in September on 97 related charges for alleged violations that took place at the company’s refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex.” The Koch brothers may not have deliberately intended to spew 91 metric tons of toxic chemical benzene into the air and water before hiding their actions from federal investigators. Yet the lack of protections and emissions monitoring resulted in 15 times the legal limit of benzene to be emitted from the refinery. Benzene is a Group 1 carcinogen causing acute myeloid leukemia, lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, reduced production of bone marrow, suppression of T-cells, chromosomal aberrations, reduction of birth weight, and other health problems.

The Koch brothers donated $378,500 directly to George W. Bush’s campaign and the GOP as well as unknown quantities of money to other groups. Bush’s AG, John Ashcroft, reduced the charges for violations, which could have cost the company over $500 million, and dropped all except one count for the Koch Petroleum Group. Koch paid only $20 million.

The Koch brothers said that this experience inspired their interest in criminal justice reform. For example, Koch Industries Associate General Council Marsha Rabiteau gave a presentation titled “Overcriminalization: Liberty, and More, At Risk for Corporations and Their Employees,” with the “intent” requirement to solve any prosecution of corporations. Heritage Foundation has an “Overcriminalization” project, and the Koch-backed National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has a report called “Without Intent: How Congress Is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law.”

Rabiteau also maintains that corporations cannot form any “intent” to be held liable for a criminal act—despite the Supreme Court’s declaration that a corporation is a “person” for the purposes of “free speech.” She argues corporate criminal justice law reform is vital to punish wrongdoers “with laws that are clear and adhere to our Anglo-American heritage.” This reference furthers separates white collar criminals from a criminal justice system that largely falls on non-Anglo-Americans.

The debate over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010 led to two Koch-backed groups, the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Heritage Foundation, issuing a comprehensive joint report and project, “Without Intent,” criticizing “overcriminalization” and the lack of intent requirements in the federal criminal code. The report’s co-author, Tiffany Joslin, is Deputy Chief Counsel for the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee—chaired by Sensenbrenner—and the report has been repeatedly cited in the congressional debate on criminal justice reform. Fortunately, even intense lobbying didn’t keep “intent” out of the Dodd-Frank Act criminal provisions–at least then. A large part of Koch brothers’ business comes from oil speculation; they created the first oil derivatives in 1986 and worked with then-Sen. Phil Gramm to deregulate energy speculation with credit default swaps in 2000 with the “Enron Loophole.”

Although the Koch brothers’ NACDL received positive press, the group has a large section focused on helping some of the wealthiest white-collar defense firms in the country and reshaping the law to address “overcriminalization” just for corporations. The current Director of NACDL’s White Collar Crime Project, Shana-Tara Regon (now Shana-Tara O’Toole), has testified on Capitol Hill in favor of an intent requirement for white-collar crimes. She has also co-authored op-eds with the Heritage Foundation favoring intent laws, and has represented the organization on the “Congressional Task Force on Overcriminalization.” In 2011, Regon testified before Congress to put “intent” into the white collar crime law, the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits U.S. corporations from bribing foreign public officials. The FCPA prosecutes an average of 14 cases per year. While Regon testified, the Kochs were involved in a bribery scandal in France.

The Koch-backed ALEC, which increased the number of prisoners and length of prison time through its success in “three strikes you’re out” and “truth in sentencing” bills, now criticizes the lack of intent for white collar crimes. An ALEC focus, however, is prison privatization to benefit its corporate funders such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). When Walmart started funding ALEC, the group pushed bills to create mandatory minimum sentences for shoplifting, enacted new penalties for retail theft, and even added sentencing enhancers for using an emergency exit when shoplifting to fill the private prisons. For corporations however, ALEC adopted the Criminal Intent Protection Act as a “model” bill for states to impose a strict criminal intent requirement.

At the same time as the publication of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, ALEC and other Koch-backed groups worked on voter suppression laws to greatly decrease voting power for people of color. The high-level Koch operative Mike Roman led the perpetuation of voter fraud myths through race-baiting after Barack Obama was elected president.

When the Koch brothers talked about incarceration reform, I had a slight ray of hope. It’s gone.

March 11, 2015

Walker Supports ‘Takers’ in Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker has created a new category of “takers” in his state of Wisconsin. Opposed to people getting something for free, he has signed the misnamed “right to work” law that allows people not to join the unions at their places of employment. To some people, this is “freedom,” but unions are not free to protect and negotiate for only their members. They must do this for all workers in places that unions cover. That means employees who don’t join unions but still benefit from the hard work of the organization are actually taking something free from the people who do pay for these services.

The law makes Wisconsin the 25th “right-to-work state” and the first state since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided wording, also used by Wisconsin, for this bill and those being pushed through legislatures in other states. The takers of Wisconsin are funded by ALEC backers such as the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and Exxon Mobile. This law follows Walker’s stripping collective-bargaining rights from many state workers in Wisconsin.

Although the ALEC-worded RTW bill may succeed in Missouri, it has run into problems in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Kentucky, and New Hampshire—at least for now. Michigan has introduced a RTW extension for police, fire, and public safety unions. Kentucky is passing RTW on the local level, and billionaire GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order for RTW in Illinois public unions. On the federal level, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a “National Right-to-Work Act,” and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced its companion act in the House.

Walker said, “This [law] sends a powerful message across the country and across the world.” His message is his move to the right as he prepares for a presidential campaign. His email message immediately after he signed the bill is that he wanted money for his campaign when he asked for donations of $10, $100 and $1,000.

Walker consistently reneges on his statements. Until a few weeks ago, he denied that he would make Wisconsin a RTW state and claimed throughout his reelection campaign, “Private-sector unions are my partner in economic development.” Before his 2010 election, he told newspapers that he would negotiate with public sector unions; his anti-collective bargaining bill was introduced immediately after he took office in 2011. Two years ago, he was in favor of giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship if they obeyed the law. Now he reversed that opinion to join another possible presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The governor’s position on abortion has also reversed. Before last fall’s election, he told voters, “I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.” He claimed he supported a bill that “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Now he plans to sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks in constitutional violation of Roe v.Wade and removing the decision from a woman and her doctor.

Wooing Iowa, he switched his opposition to mandating ethanol and other renewable fuels. Now he wants to continue the Renewable Fuel Standard. Iowans might want to use caution in believing him. Walker will no doubt flip his promises for any personal gain.

ALEC has been helped by the 60-year-old National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), led by fundamentalist Christian Greg Mourad, that also receives huge donations from the Koch brothers. The organization was co-founded by right-winger Fred A. Hartley, who co-sponsored the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricting unions and also co-founded the John Birch Society. The NRTWC has been behind the skyrocketing income inequality in the United States. CEOs who earned 20 times a worker’s pay 50 years ago, now receive at least 300 times the worker’s pay. Between 1973 and 2014, public-sector union membership dropped by 78 percent. Unionization and minimum wages helped equalize the distribution of wages. That’s why the Koch brothers are determined to get rid of both.

In a comparison of the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of population, the workers in the ten states with the lowest rates of union membership brought home 46.8 percent of total income, and the ten states with the highest rates of union membership brought home 47.4 percent of total income. It may sound like a small percentage, but the difference is equivalent to billions of dollars.

Abdur Chowdhury, professor of economics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, explained why Walker’s legislation could annually cost Wisconsin $4.5 billion in lost income and revenue: “If our income goes down, we spend less money on groceries.” Walker also loses money for his state: less income means less tax revenue, at least $234 million. The state won’t get this back from the wealthy and corporations because of the massive tax cuts that Walker gave them.

Despite claims from ALEC “economists” that RTW laws boost per capita personal income, average wages for all occupations in RTW states were about $4 an hour lower compared to non-RTW states in 2013. In RTW states, workers have $5,971 lower wages and fewer employers offering pension benefits or health care. Employers looking for skilled workers or a well-developed infrastructure will most likely not go to RTW states because these are less likely to have these advantages. That’s a reason that 400 businesses formed a coalition to oppose the law.

Oklahoma, the first state to pass a RTW law in 2001 for 25 years, was also the first state to do so in the post-NAFTA era of globalization. There has been no positive impact on employment in Oklahoma in the last 14 years. In addition, the number of companies relocating to the state and the number of manufacturing jobs both fell by a third in the first decade after the law was enacted.

Walker is not finished with trying to lower wages for workers. He’s trying to restrict the role of administrative law judges in workers comp disputes and take authority for the system away from the state Department of Workforce Development, a move that has been found unconstitutional in Florida. Also, Wisconsin is one of 32 states with a wage law to “prevent lowball bids from depressing wages,” something that Walker wants to repeal. The third reduction of wages would come from prohibiting “project labor agreements” that bars non-union contractors from working on publicly-funded projects.

Unions in Wisconsin are fighting Walker in creating his new category of takers. The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO with chapters from the International Association of Machinists, and United Steelworkers unions have filed a suit on the basis that the law “deprives the unions of their property without just compensation by prohibiting the unions from charging non-members who refuse to pay for representative services which unions continue to be obligated to provide.” In other words, Walker’s permission for employees to free-load off the unions is unconstitutional.

When Walker was elected, he promised a massive increase in jobs in his state. He failed. Since Walker became governor, job growth, GDP, and decline of unemployment have all lagged behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole. He may fail again with his new RTW law. Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW. After stopping RTW laws in 2012, Minnesota’s average weekly wage is $877.81, almost ten percent higher than its RTW neighbor Michigan that has a 6.3 percent unemployment rate compared to Minnesota’s 3.6 percent. Indiana, another RTW state, has an average weekly wage of $788.70 and a 5.8 percent unemployment state. Minnesota is one of the five fastest-growing states in the nation since 2012.

RTW Michigan also has a huge budget deficit and no industry coming into the state. Gov. Rick Snyder has had to lower the number of jobs that businesses need to create in order to receive massive tax credits. The worst is yet to come because workers are still operating on contracts made before the 2012 law, something that won’t happen in Wisconsin because the law goes into effect immediately.

Quality of life in RTW states is measurably worse with eight of the worst states in the nation having RTW laws, and eight of the best being non-RTW. RTW states have poorer life expectancy and infant mortality, higher homicide rates, worse pollution, lower voter turnout, less broadband access, lower educational levels, and poorer housing. The 24 RTW states have 34 percent higher rate of deaths on the job in the construction industry. During the 20th century, the middle class grew as unions grew; it began to shrink when unions were weakened through the so-called “right-to-work” laws.

Walker’s legacy will be the bodies that he leaves strewn along his path toward the White House.

August 6, 2014

Bills the House Blocked, ALEC Plans

Before they left for home last week, GOP members of Congress also blocked several bills. Senators can also go home and brag about how they blocked a bill to close the “corporate desertion” tax loophole. Thanks to these brave legislators, corporations that make most of their money in the United States can renounce their citizenship (remember that they are people?) by moving their address out of the country and thus avoid paying taxes to the U.S. The bill would have cost corporations an additional $14.3 million a year—yes, that’s just million—which shows how little taxes the companies already paid.

Walgreens, originally planning to dodge paying taxes, has backed down on that decision. Officials said that the IRS litigation would be a problem, but they admitted that the public outcry was also a difficulty. Almost 50 other corporations are not as “patriotic.” With the GOP senators stopping the so-called “inversion” (aka tax dodge) through filibuster, Democratic senators are asking President Obama to issue an executive order to prevent the loss of tax income. He could invoke a 1969 tax law to restrict foreign tax-domiciled U.S. companies from using inter-company loans and interest deductions to cut their U.S. tax bills.

GOP senators also blocked the Bring Jobs Home Act that would have provided tax credits for companies bringing jobs to the U.S. while eliminating a tax credit for companies to move jobs out of the country. At this time, companies can deduct the cost of moving people and equipment overseas from their taxes as their employees lose their jobs. The bill proposed to stop that tax credit and start a new 20-percent tax credit for all costs in moving jobs back to the United States. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “It is product of political rather than economic priorities.” That probably means that the president and other Democrats would get credit for creating jobs that the GOP has failed to deliver.

Also stuck in Congress is legislation to honor Pope Francis; the House Foreign Affairs Committee has refused to act on it. Apparently, even religion is partisan: only 19 of the 221 co-sponsors are Republicans. Fewer than one-third of the GOP Catholics want to honor the pope. The rest of them–and 193 others–think that the pope is “too liberal” because he talks about equality.

The House leadership blocked another jobs bill last week called Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act of 2014 (H.R. 1022). It would have increased exploration, research and development, and other means to secure critical minerals for use in electronic equipment. The conservative opposition to the bill came from the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth because, according to these groups, securing these materials for U.S. companies is “interference with the free market.” At this time, China, which subsidizes these efforts, provides 90 percent of the minerals for electronic manufacturing by underpricing, export controls, and other restrictions that drive up costs outside China. Even our military gets most of their electronics from China.

To make sure the bill was defeated, the House leadership put it under “suspension of the rules,” meaning that passing the bill required a two-thirds majority. The bill, one of the Make It in America series from House and Senate Democrats, did get a simple majority vote of 260-143. The “suspension of rules” designation is for noncontroversial bills; protecting China’s market seems to be controversial.

I cheered for one bill that failed under suspension before I researched it a bit further and discovered that it passed three days later. H.R. 935, The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, eliminates Clean Water Act protections for waterways that are sprayed with pesticides for algae, weeds, invasive species, and mosquitoes. The Act allows spraying but requires a permit to make sure that people know what’s going into local waterways. If there’s already a great deal of a particular pesticide in the water, then a person cannot use that particular pesticide in its spray. The bill has nothing to do with run off of irrigation water with pesticides; that’s exempt from the Clean Water Act. My representative, one of 37 Democrats voting with 230 Republicans in favor of the measure, justified his voting for the bill because it’s unneeded, a justification usually used by Republicans. The bill, which I call The Reducing Health Act, now goes on to the Senate.

You can track how members of Congress are spending their summer vacation at Party Time.  Thus far, it’s found almost 850 fundraisers thus far in 2014 including $1000/person golf event at Oxbow Country Club, the “Annual Newport Summer Weekend,” fundraisers at the Barefoot Bar,” the golf event in St. Michaels and at Apple Creek Country Club, hometown barbeques, the Chicago Cubs game, Laguna Beach trip, the “garden party’ in Kennebunkport, “Weekend in Beverly Hills Hotel,” the wine tour in Napa Valley, a fundraiser with singer James Taylor, and much more.

A 16-year-old old has made it easier for people to track donations to congressional members. Nick Rubin describes it this way: “A free browser extension for Chrome Firefox, and Safari that exposes the role money plays in Congress. Displays on any web page detailed campaign contribution data for every Senator and Representative, including total amount received and breakdown by industry and by size of donation.” He got interested in the subject after giving a presentation on corporate personhood—in the seventh grade! Rubin may be another Nate Silver in the making.

What can we look forward to? Rep. Louie Gohmert is not only calling for impeachment of President Obama but also demanding the invasion of Mexico to stop the flow of “radical Islamic terrorism” in to the United States. He used a reference to General Pershing’s response to Pancho Villa’s border attacks in the early 20th century but forgot that the U.S. Army failed to capture the Mexican rebel. Wacko conservatives have been calling for this action for years, but it’s the first time that a sitting representative said it was a good idea.

We know what GOP legislators plan by following the proceedings of American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC). That’s the organization run by big business that writes bills for legislators who present them to both federal and state legislatures. Big Oil and King Coal were heavily represented at last week’s conference in Dallas (TX), and lobbyists taught legislators who to “talk” and “think” about climate change after a briefing from “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change,” a denial organization that compares climate advocates with “murderers, tyrants and madmen.”

Other bills coming out of ALEC’s meeting are making it impossible to enroll in Medicaid, expanding charter schools to eradicate public schools, and undermining EPA’s Clean Air and Clean Water Act regulations. States will have bills to resist federal enforcement of protection for state waters, again benefiting companies such as Nestle that is taking water away from California residents during the third drought year.

Companies with online college degree programs and materials will benefit from the “Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Act.” Much more information about the corporate takeover of the United States is available here.

Maybe it’s a good idea that the House will be gone for over 100 days during the next four months.

July 14, 2014

ALICE, Throw ALEC Out

Filed under: Internet — trp2011 @ 8:26 PM
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The corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been active for over four decades. Businesses pay for conservative federal and state legislators to take copy-ready bills to Congress and state legislatures. ALEC has been responsible for lax gun regulations—including the infamous “stand your ground” laws—as well as laws that roll back civil rights, pollution regulations, unions while privatizing public services which costs taxpayers far more money. Thanks to ALEC, schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services have been taken over by for-profit businesses that only help the private owners.

Since  I learned about ALEC, I have longed for a way to fight back. Lo and behold, there is one! Meet ALICE, The American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange, that also provides “model bills,” ones free to state and national legislatures.

During the Occupy Movement about two years ago, New York City Councilman Brad Lander met with Seattle Councilman Nick Licata, Philadelphia Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., Chicago Alderman Joe Moore, and other progressive municipal elected officials in the United States to develop a national network for local progressive action. The goal was to coordinate ideas, narratives, legislators, and activists to build progressive strength.

Although Congress has demonstrated a never-before-seen inaction throughout the past few years, states and municipalities have shown a more progressive bent. Mississippi defeated “fetus personhood,” and Maine saved same-day voter registration. The movement for paid sick leave and higher minimum wage has gained momentum, and LGBT equality has advanced at both state and local levels. Lander pointed out that both large and small cities have sponsored legislation from responsible banking ordinances and local Community Reinvestment Act laws to anti-blight and foreclosure laws.

ALICE provides a link with existing organizations and networks such as New Bottom Line, Progressive States Network, Democratic Municipal Officials, PolicyLink, Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS, led by its director, Nation contributing editor Joel Rogers), Progressive Majority, Center for American Progress and the Working Families Party. As it grows, ALICE can be a one-stop web-based public library of progressive model law. Unlike ALEC, it won’t be hosting state legislators at all-expenses-paid retreats anytime soon, and as a 501(c)(3), it won’t be campaigning. It will, however, provide commentary, policy options, and written supports in argument for the proposed laws.

Currently, ALEC is battling the possibility that the Internet will have equal access to everyone using it. Tomorrow is the deadline for open comments to the Federal Communication Commission’s rulemaking about whether wealthy companies will be able to pay in order to download its product faster than poorer companies who can’t afford the fee. As of now, 677,000 comments have been submitted. Most of the cable, broadcast, and radio news haven’t covered the issue. When one program by John Oliver posted the email address for making comments, the website crashed from all the responses.

ALEC is also concerned that the FCC will stop restrictions on community broadband, allowing communities to create their own networks. ALEC-supported, corporate-friendly laws in 20 states stop this from happening through its model law, “Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act.” These safeguards are only for the companies that make money because they have a monopoly on Internet transmission while refusing to upgrade or even serve many rural and remote regions in the nation.

Boulder (CO) already has 100 miles of fiber-optic cable, but the state’s ban is keeping Google from developing a network in that city. To build its own network, city voters have to approve a ballot measure because of the state’s ban.

The most recent battle over these restrictions is in Chattanooga (TN). Officials plan to ask the federal government for permission to expand the super-fast Internet service it offers city residents by pre-empting state law restricting the city. The city’s Electric Power Board operates a fiber-optic Internet service that competes with companies such as Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc.

Over 130 cities operate their own Internet network, frequently with faster speeds than private service providers offer highly competitive in cost. AT&T gave almost $140,000 to Tennessee lawmakers’ campaigns in the 2014 election cycle, the most for any state. Comcast gave $76,800 during the same cycle, again more than to any other state.

GOP Sens. Deb Fischer (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL) wrote FCC Chair Tom Wheeler,  warning him not to act on the state laws began they were troubled by the agency “forcing taxpayer funded competition against private broadband providers.” Sixty House Republicans also wrote, criticizing Wheeler for his intention to pre-empt state broadband laws “despite the states’ determination to protect their taxpayers.”

The day after his meeting with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Wheeler wrote in his blog:

“I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to pre-empt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition.

“I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.”

Read anything about this in the mainstream media? No, I didn’t think so. We’ll see whether Wheeler or ALEC wins in this—and hope that ALICE can help us.

To learn more about ALEC, the laws that they have put through legislatures, and their members, go to ALEC Exposed.

 

April 17, 2014

Media Fails to Publish News

oregonianI tolerated The Oregonian, Portland’s newspaper, despite its conservative bent because I support newspapers. Founded in 1850, it’s the oldest continuously published newspaper on the West Coast. The newspaper went to delivery only four times a week in city areas and got thinner and thinner. I wondered why I was paying for it, but I’m a newspaper supporter. The last straw was when it switched to a tabloid image—or broadsheet format—with much more colored ink and much less news. [New format on right.]

To show my allegiance to newspapers I’ll keep Eugene’s Register Guard, but most of my news will come from the internet that gives me information that I don’t get anywhere else. Here’s a sample of news that doesn’t appear in my newspaper:

Outsourcing (or offshoring) is the biggest reason for unemployment. In 14 years, U.S. multinational corporations, accounting for 20 percent of the labor force, have cut 2.9 million jobs in this country while increasing overseas employment by 2.4 million. Offshoring is a bigger contributor to unemployment in the U.S. than laziness, the way that the GOP claims.

In 2010, the bottom 80 percent of the people had 12 percent of the net worth, two-thirds of the 18 percent they had in 1983. The top 20 percent had the remaining 88 percent in 2010, and the top 1 percent alone had 35 percent of all net worth.  This map shows the percentage of the United States that people own.

land mass

The corporate-controlled American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafts laws and passes them to lawmakers to implement. These are some of ALEC’s laws: Stand Your Ground, voter ID, right to work that eliminates unions, health savings account bills to benefit health care companies, and tobacco company privileges.

The United States has more people in prison than any other country. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. China, with a population four times the size of the U.S., has 1.6 million people in prison—700,000 fewer than the 2.3 in the U.S. That’s more than 6 and a half times the 350,00 prisoners in the U.S. 40 years ago

incarcerated_americans_zpsb7c891bd

In 2009, non-Hispanic blacks, 13.6% of the population, accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population. At the same time, whites accounted for 69.2 percent of arrests in 2011.

U.S. health care costs are the highest in the world at $8,233 per person. Norway is second at $5,388. The percentage of GDP is also much higher in the U.S., 17.6 percent in the U.S. with the next country, the Netherlands, at 12 percent.

After the Wall Street crash in 1929, the Glass-Steagall Act protected the people in the country for 66 years. It separated risky financial investments from government-backed deposits by stopping banks from using federally-insured savings to make risky investment. Without this separation, taxpayers cover the cost of losses from risky investments. In 1999, the Act was overturned in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Less than ten years later the country went into a deep recession that continues because of Wall Street’s control.

The GOP sweep of over half the states in the country allowed them to rearrange congressional districts after the 2010 census. The Republican Redistricting Majority Project was so successful that they could take over the House of Representatives with fewer Republican than Democratic votes. In 2012, 1.4 million more votes came from Democrats than Republicans, but the GOP took the House by 234 to 201 seats. Through gerrymandering, GOP state legislators redrew districts in Arizona, Florida, Michigan North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia with the goal of putting Democrats into just a few districts. In North Carolina, 51 percent of the state voted Democratic, but the state sent 9 Republicans to the House as compared to only 4 Democrats. In the same way, these Republican legislators keep their seat although the majority of voters oppose them.

votes

The new majority in a Senate of 100 is now 60. President Obama’s first term saw a record number of filibusters, and 375 bills didn’t even come to a vote in the Senate because GOP members just threatened to filibuster. During the first six months of 2013, Congress passed only 15 bills that were signed into law. This is 8 fewer than the first six months of 2012 and 19 fewer than 2011. When Senate Democrats threatened to reform the filibuster, the GOP had held up 79 nominees for the U.S. Circuit Court and Courts of Appeal despite their qualifications.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy was designed to gain political power by exploiting the greatest number of ethnic prejudices. In 1970, Kevin Philips, Republican and Nixon campaign strategist, believed that the GOP couldn’t get more than 10 to 20 percent of the black vote but that would be enough to elect Republicans. He said:

“Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

The GOP used this strategy in 2008 and 2012 when it attacked Medicaid, Social Security, labor unions, and Obamacare. These programs benefit more white seniors, retirees, women, and children, but Republicans have convinced many in the United States that they are handouts to lazy, undeserving blacks and minorities. That’s the reason that GOP legislators and candidates continue to fight these programs although the majority of their constituents benefit from them. 

GOP tax plans shift the tax burden from the wealthy and onto working people. For example, when Ohio repealed the estate tax, the only people who benefits were those with estates bigger than $338,000. GOP wants to change from income to consumption taxes because the latter are paid primarily by people who earn the least. The GOP keeps capital gain taxes low, 20 percent, instead of the 39.6 percent top rate of other income for the wealthy. Despite their belief that they refuse to raise taxes, Republicans were comfortable with letting the payroll tax expire because these are only for the first $117,000 of wages.

shares of taxes

The United States has lost 40-50 percent of the country’s commercial bee hives this year because of colony collapse disorder. This is important because one-fourth of food in the country depends on honeybee pollination. Instead, the media typically reports something like this: “Thousands of Bees Attack Texas Couple, Kill Horses.” The loss of bees is connected to toxic chemicals in pesticides from Bayer and Monsanto. Acting like a nerve agent, the main chemical compromises a bee’s ability to feed and make its way back to its hive. These chemicals have long been banned in Europe.

The number of temporary workers has grown by more than 50 percent to almost 2.7 million since the recession ended. Including freelancers, contract workers, and consultants raises the number to almost 17 million workers who not directly employed by the companies who hire them. That’s 12 percent of the workforce. Temporary workers receive low pay, fewer benefits, and almost no job security. Because they cannot spend as freely as permanent workers, the economy suffers.

In 2011, only 22 percent of the people had heard of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. A 2013 Gallup poll showed 79 percent of Americans want restrictions on campaign contributions to House and Senate candidates. Also 50 percent support a publicly funded campaign finance system with private contributions completely eliminated. The McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court decisions that put far fewer restrictions on campaign contributions was far more widely announced this spring. The media need to keep talking and writing about a decision that has made the United States an oligarchy, owned by the wealthy, just like Ukraine.

Six corporations–Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, Comcast, and CBS–control about 90% of the media in the U.S. They want to make money so they use the guidelines, “if it bleeds, it leads.” They print what Democrats and Republicans say but not any facts. They skip “dangerous” facts about global warming, peak oil, population growth, political lobbying, defense spending, etc. Public broadcasting, including NPR, is becoming farther right as people like the Koch brothers buy the media organization. When two comedy shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, have more news than the so-called news shows, people are not receiving the news.

January 4, 2014

Government, Culture – Pro & Con

This week has seen some peculiar positions on the law and cultural beliefs, both pro and con government positions.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials caused the horrifying destruction of 13 musical instruments after the agency identified them as “agricultural products.” Canadian citizen and U.S. resident Boujemaa Razgui, who was returning from visiting family in Morocco, had his luggage taken during a layover in New York on his way to Brockton (MA). When his bags were delivered to his home the following day, he was missing the flutes that he had made himself. The professional musician had intended to use the flutes in a performance in Boston. It appears he has no recourse for the loss of his livelihood.

Ohio now recognizes same-sex marriage but only after one of the couple is dead. Judge Timothy Black has ordered the state to recognize LGBT marriages on death certificates. The ruling came from a gay couple married in Maryland shortly before one of them died. Without the recognition of their marriage on the death certificate, the man who died could not be buried in the survivor’s family cemetery plot. Black said that the state cannot “discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004).” Black also wrote, “Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away.” Perhaps that will someday hold true for living same-sex couples in Ohio.

With 18 states and the District of Columbia recognizing marriage equality, Utah is in a quandary. Just two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state. The appeals went back and forth until the most recent one landed on the desk of SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She is assigned to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to handle motions such as emergency requests. She can either rule independently or refer the matter to the full court.

Same-sex couples are able to get married in Utah because acting attorney general Brian Tarbet didn’t file a pre-emptive stay against the marriages if the court found against the state’s ban on marriage equality. His failure meant that couples could marry between the time of the court’s ruling and the hearing of an appeal. The state is arguing that allowing same-sex marriage causes irreparable injury to the state and that the inability to be married in Utah causes no injury to gays and lesbians.

Yesterday, lawyers filed a request urging Justice Sotomayor to permit same-sex marriages to continue while the 10th Circuit Court considers the state’s appeal. There is no time limit in her issuing a decision. Meanwhile, same-sex couples are still marrying in Utah. During the first six days after the decision, over 900 same-sex couples received marriage licenses, including Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis.  

The argument about the Roman Catholic nuns in Colorado has gone to bizarre extents as they claim that the federal government is infringing on their freedom of religion. The crisis peaked on New Year’s Eve when Justice Sotomayor declared an injunction until the situation is settled. There’s no timeline.

The background: Little Sisters of the Poor objects to providing contraception insurance because of its religious beliefs. No problem—they don’t have to if they fill out the paperwork to say that they don’t want the insurance to include contraception.

Their current objection, however, is to completing the short form certifying their religious objections. The Affordable Care Act has already eliminated the requirement for religious groups to provide contraceptive insurance. Employers can provide a health care plan that doesn’t cover the medication, and then the employers’ insurance company creates a separate policy to cover contraception. The woman gets free contraception, and the employer is not paying for this part of health care. Paperwork from the employer, however, is required to start the process.

Even if the Little Sisters complete the form, the employees may not be insured for contraception. A district court in Colorado moved to dismiss the case, ruling that it lacks authority to require a “church plan” to provide contraception. The insurance plan is administered by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, exempt from ACA enforcement. Thus Little Sisters filed a federal lawsuit, refuses to sign any paperwork, and has no part in any requirement to provide contraception that most other women will receive.

When I read about Justice Sotomayor placing the injunction, I wondered why it was her responsibility. Further research shows that each Supreme Court justice is assigned to a circuit court. An appeal for emergency assistance goes first to the assigned justice. If the response is unsatisfactory, an appeal can go to another justice and, as a last resort, then to the entire court. [Map of the 13 circuit courts and their assigned justices]

  • District of Columbia Circuit: John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice
  • The First Circuit: Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice
  • The Second Circuit: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice
  • The Third Circuit: Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice
  • The Fourth Circuit: John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice
  • The Fifth Circuit: Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice
  • The Sixth Circuit: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice
  • The Seventh Circuit: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice
  • The Eighth Circuit: Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice
  • The Ninth Circuit: Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice
  • The Tenth Circuit: Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice
  • The Eleventh Circuit: Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice
  • The Federal Circuit: John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice

The Koch brothers, who control many GOP state legislators through ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), have decided that they can do the same to Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show. After her story about the brothers’ part in lobbying for state laws mandating drug testing for welfare recipients, they sent her a letter demanding a retraction and providing her with a script. This is Maddow’s response:

“I will not renounce or retract reporting that is true, even if the subjects of that reporting don’t like it. Being a political actor means being subject to political scrutiny. If you don’t want to be known for it, don’t do it. Don’t just complain when people accurately describe your actions. Your actions are what we are reporting on and we will do that on our own terms – as a free press. If you want to control the words that are used when your actions are discussed, then speak for yourself. I will renew my invitation now. Mr. Koch, or the other Mr. Koch, you are welcome on this show any time.”

In good news, Idaho has learned its lesson that privatized prisons don’t work: the corrections department is taking back operation of the biggest privately-run prison in the state because of the past decade’s mismanagement. This move shows that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter may be reversing his strong support for privatization after lawsuits about gang activity, contract fraud with Corrections Corporation of America, understaffing, and massive violence.

Because of a new law in California, 36-year-old Sergio C. Garcia, a Mexican immigrant without a green card, may be licensed as a lawyer. The legislature passed the law because the state Supreme Court had denied him licensing. Federal law keeps undocumented immigrants from obtaining professional licenses unless state governments denies the ban. Garcia can practice law free of charge, but the court questioned whether he could charge fees. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar.”

Garcia was brought to the U.S. when he was 17 months old. He returned to Mexico with his parents when he was nine and came back to the U.S. illegally at the age of 17 with his father who has permanent resident status. His father requested his green card at that time. The federal government approved the application the next year, but Garcia has still not received the green card. After earning his law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico, he passed the bar on his first attempt. He has waited four years for his law license. Two similar cases are pending in New York and Florida.

We’ll finish with an insane approach toward evaluating teachers. In 2009, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the D.C. public schools who is still widely appearing on talk shows, announced a numerical scale to either fire teachers or give them huge salary increases. During her term, there were allegations of cheating in schools where scores increased, only to fall back after security measures were employed. Despite the problems, schools across the nation have started to use the Rhee method.

“A very small typo” in the programming code last year led to mistakes in firing one teacher, keeping three teachers from receiving bonuses, and providing inaccurate job evaluations for another 40 teachers. After discovering the problems month later, the district tried to rectify the problems. The question is how many other mistakes in programming have destroyed teachers’ careers.

Idaho and California—becoming sensible; education—needs to focus on teachers for evaluation; religious groups—should get reasonable; Customs—pay for the destruction; Ohio—value the living as the dead.

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