Nel's New Day

August 3, 2018

DDT: Week 80 – Lies, Disagreements, Attacks

As Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) becomes more unhinged, his administration disagrees with him:

  • DDT promotes a government shutdown this coming fall if he doesn’t get his border wall. Both congressional leaders, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), say there will be no shutdown.
  • DDT says he’ll talk to Iranian leaders any time with no conditions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out the conditions for any talks with Iran.
  • DDT says he’s doing fine with Kim Jong-Un, but Pompeo says North Korea is far from denuclearization and still violates UN Security Council resolutions. GOP congressional members doubt that DDT made a good deal with North Korea. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) pointed out that “these guys cheated on every single agreement,” and the nation is building at one or two intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) from his classified materials. Satellite images show North Korean construction of missiles.
  • DDT upped his trade war on China, increasing tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of goods because China wouldn’t do what he wanted. In order to impose tariffs, DDT must prove that they concern national security, according to a 1962 law because the U.S. Constitution put Congress in charges of tariffs. Some of the products in the tariff are dog food and furniture. A bipartisan group of senators led by Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced legislation to restrict presidential power to impose tariffs.
  • White House officials announced that Russian meddling in U.S. elections is serious and ongoing, DDT said it’s all a “witch hunt” and “hoax,” and GOP congressional members are trying to ignore the whole issue by refusing to provide funding to stop it. House members are gone for five weeks, and McConnell is fixated on approving Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court justice.

While Paul Manafort’s trial for money laundering and fraud finished its fourth day this week, Roger Stone’s longtime former aide Andrew Miller will be required to testify before Robert Mueller’s grand jury after losing his appeal and produce subpoenaed documents. DDT’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani gives DDT illogical arguing points to add to his ranting about witch hunts. He contends that obstruction of justice must be secret because no one would obstruct justice out in the open and that collusion is not a crime because the law doesn’t use that word. “Conspiracy to defraud the United States” and “Contributions and donations by foreign nationals” are crimes. This week, Giuliani obsessed between the words “should” and “must,” that DDT didn’t order AG Jeff Sessions to end Mueller’s investigation because DDT’s tweet said “should.”

DDT started waging war on the Koch brothers, maintaining “I never sought their support because I don’t need their money….” At the same time, he considers making them wealthier with his unilateral plan to cut $100 billion in taxes mostly for the rich by allowing people to figure their capital gains by adjusting the original price to inflation. The Koch brothers won’t support anyone who supports DDT. Two reasons: either they don’t like the possibility of a recession from DDT’s tariffs or they think that Democrats will win in the fall and are hedging their bets. Or both. In the last tax cut, no one got DDT’s promised $4,000 raise in wages, and his tariffs are destroying the economy for farmers.

During the last couple of week, DDT accelerated his war on the media, perhaps because of his new hire and confidante Bill Shine. Last week, Shine banned CNN Kaitlan Collins from a press conference because she asked questions—a reporter’s job—and then said that he had only “disinvited” her.

Fox network president, Jay Wallace, stated:

“We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press.”

DDT’s attacked the New York Times after he misrepresented a July 20 conversation its publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, after the White House told the publisher not to tell anyone about the meeting. Sulzberger set the record straight about the conversation in this article, and DDT became furious.

This week, CNN’s Jim Costa appeared to be threatened at one of DDT’s rallies where he added a few “fakes” to his statement about “fake media.” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended DDT’s treatment of the media, although she claimed it wasn’t violent, and lied about their reporting regarding Osama bin Laden. DDT also retweeted his “like” for a video showing Acosta’s mistreatment.

DDT hates CNN so much that he was furious at Melania Trump turning the television on Air Force One to the network. He ordered two additional televisions on the airplane with a streaming device that will permit himself and the first lady to watch TV in their separate hotel rooms when they travel. DDT’s television must be automatically turned to Fox; the first lady watches “any channel she wants,” according to her spokesperson.

Requests using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal past cracks in DDT’s administration. Last fall then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke that DDT’s cancelation of Temporary Protected Status for 300,000 Central American immigrants would “likely drive increased illegal migration to the United States and the growth of MS-13 and similar gangs.

Other newly released emails from FOIA expose Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ lies when she said that DDT had told the Pentagon about his red line for Syria last summer. He failed to communicate with the Pentagon before it issued a statement about a possible Syrian chemical attack.

A FOIA filing followed by a lawsuit disclosed that DDT lied to the public in an official speech to Congress in February 2017 when he claimed that the DOJ provided data that “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” The DOJ has no corroborating data.

DDT’s rallies are rapidly adding his daily average of lies, now up to 7.6. The increase of 978 in the past two months brought the total for his 558 days to 4,229 as of July 31, 2018. Immigration and trade top the subjects of lies, followed by taxes and NATO spending.

Despite media complaints, the White House failed for nine days to correct its “official record” of the Helsinki press conference to include the part in which Putin answered “yes” to questions about whether he directed officials to support DDT in his campaign. At least, the media nagged the White House into the correction; the Russian version left that part out.

Finished being a tool for right-wing union busters, Mark Janus, the central figure in a Supreme Court case, quit his job days after the decision was announced in late June that all workers receive union support whether or not they pay fees. Janus falsely claimed that his fees to the union, that protected his rights, would go to political activism. The ruling overturned the 1977 SCOTUS decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. 

The White House will no longer keep any record of DDT’s phone calls to foreign leaders.

The next time you hear that 80 or 90 percent of the Republicans support something—like DDT—remember that Republicans comprise only 24 percent of the nation, down almost 10 percent in a year. Ninety percent of the Republicans means under 22 percent of the nation. “Three-fourths” of Republicans means only 18 percent of the people in the U.S. Of the 42 percent independents in the U.S., only 36 percent approve of DDT, down seven points from June. The independents also prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by over 20 points, 48 to 26 percent. This article gives a number of charts showing the increase of disapproval for DDT and the GOP by the large voting block of independents. The GOP may like the idea of $1 trillion deficit this year with only 21 percent disapproving, but 56 percent of people disapprove the handling of budget deficit—81 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents.

The one piece of good news for DDT is the job market. Although July’s job increase was only 157,000, which was 37,000 under predictions, the Labor Department upgraded job additions for May and June to make the three-month average at 224,000. Wage growth, however, is still at 2.7 percent, and most of the jobs added are in low-wage sectors.

Good news for others is that the National Rifle Association has been unable to renew its media liability insurance which could force the group to close its TV network, NRATV, and a number of print publications. Lack of insurance would also mean that it “cannot maintain its physical premises” or “convene off-site meetings and events.” The NRA blames New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo for pressuring insurers. The state levied over $8 million in fines against the insurance companies supporting the NRA’s “Carry Guard” self-defense program in New York State by insuring participants for legal fees and liabilities caused by self-defense shootings. The NRA ended 2016 with a $43 million debt and an additional 40 million in pension liabilities because people are no longer afraid of federal gun control, and the NRA counted on “Carry Guard” to bail them out of their fiscal problems.

Best DDT quote of last week: “Just remember: what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Best quote of this week: In a GOP senators’ press conference whining about Democrats wanting to see paperwork on Brett Kavanaugh, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “Frankly, we didn’t treat their candidates for these positions the way [Democrats are] treating ours.” In one way, he’s right: Democrats are willing to talk with DDT’s nominee for Supreme Court justice; Republicans wouldn’t even speak to President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, let alone consider him for a hearing.

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!

March 15, 2016

Voter ID Laws, Solution in Search of a Problem

Pundits are calling today the “make or break” day for the GOP, depending on whether Donald Trump sweeps the five major states with primaries—Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Democrats are waiting to see if Bernie Sanders does better in these states than in the polls. People eligible to vote who can fill out their ballot are lucky. In the United States, GOP legislatures and governors have kept almost six million people from exercising this constitutional right.

Florida is a prime example. Over ten percent of adults—including one in four Blacks—are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Three-fourths of them are released from prison either under probation, on parole, and with completed sentences, but the law requires them to wait five to seven years after the completion of their sentences to apply to vote, a process that can then take eight to ten years.

Trump and other Republicans likely call these felons “bad, bad people.” Felonies in Florida, however, are very easy to come by. Offenses include disturbing turtle nesting eggs, driving with a suspended license, burning a tire in public, trespassing on a construction site, and releasing helium-filled balloons in the air, according to Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Released from prison in 2004, he cannot even practice law in Florida although 48 other states would permit him to apply to the bar.

In only one Tennessee county, 19,000 people were purged from the registered voter list because they had not voted for three years. Federal law allows purging but only after eight years. Voters won’t know they have been purged until they go to the polls when it’s too late for them to register to vote.

Georgia is being sued for illegally purging tens of thousands of voters from the rolls while it plans to eliminate hundreds of thousands of more legal voters. The National Voter Registration Act blocks states from purging voter rolls for failure to vote, but Georgia has put over 800,000 names on the inactive list with the intent to purge them.

This year’s presidential election is  the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the first since the Supreme Court destroyed major parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act intended to protect minority voters in states with racist election laws. Sixteen states passed restrictive voting laws starting an hour after the decision was released. During the March 1 Super Tuesday, over 500,000 Texans—mostly poor and minority—lacked the correct ID to vote. This restriction may have impacted the Democratic primary because the majority of “voters of color” will most likely register for this party.

Kansas got rid of voters by requiring either a birth certificate or passport in order to vote. Even a 13-year military veteran who owns his home and registers in Kansas lacked the appropriate ID. Brian Newby, the new executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and friend of the man who instigated the Kansas law, unilaterally changed the instructions for the online voting form in three GOP states–Kansas, Georgia and Alabama—without knowledge of the agency’s commissioners who chose him. Newby’s edict kept over 30,000 Kansans from voting. In 2014, Kansas spent $250,000 searching for voter fraud and found zero cases. It finally found three people who had residences in two different states and mistakenly voted in both states—although not for president.

North Carolina’s voter ID laws are now on trial after 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sued the state. The black woman voted in every election during the past 70 years since she had to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution after a two-hour trip to the county courthouse before she could be registered. To get registered for the current election she had to make ten trips to the DMV, drive over 200 miles, and spend over 20 hours to get the correct ID because her driver’s license didn’t exactly match her voter registration: the driver’s license omitted Rosanell Johnson Eaton’s middle name, and the license listed her birth date as 1921 instead of 1923.

Young registered voters are also negatively impacted by North Carolina’s voter ID law, used for the first time today. Of the 218,000 residents in the state, about five percent, many are college students blocked from the polls. They reported being forced to use provisional ballots which may not be counted. Law allows people who register to vote within 90 days of Election Day to use an out-of-state ID to vote, but the same policy does not go for those who register more than 90 days ahead. Black voters comprise 22 percent of North Carolina voters and 26 percent for those who have an impediment for not having the required ID. Today voters can use precincts outside their normal one because of a court injunction, but the same does not hold true in November because it was eliminated by GOP legislation. Same-day registration is also eliminated after today.

A Wisconsin woman couldn’t vote because she couldn’t use her hands to sign a document to get a voter ID. Wisconsin had seven cases of fraud among three million votes in 2004, before the voter ID law. In 2014, the state Supreme Court found the voter ID law imposes severe burdens on some voters, but Gov. Scott Walker has purchased new justices since then. The state, like South Carolina, adopted new procedures which on the face of the new law seem to help but are not widely known and do not provide any assistance. People simply give up in anger and frustration. These changes, however, are enough to keep the federal government from closing down the overly harsh voting laws.

Even poll workers don’t know the law. Texas allows identification from voters whose names on the rolls are “substantially similar” to photo ID, but misspellings on a voter registration card are enough to disenfranchise voters. The same poll workers also fail to offer provisional ballots.

A recent study found that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place” as opposed to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. Some Texans will have even more trouble voting  after the 5th Circuit Court, the most conservative federal appeals court in the U.S., vacated a three-judge panel decision that the ID law disproportionately targeted black and Latino voters in order for a full-court review. The long delay between the panel’s ruling and the court’s decision to hear the case may indicate that the ten GOP judges are worried about a U.S. Supreme Court decision after Antonin’s Scalia’s death. Without a SCOTUS decision, the 5th Circuit makes law for Texas.

Voting has been a contentious issue since the Founding Fathers allowed only land-owning white men to participate. As more and more people were permitted this constitutional right, conservatives became more and more nervous—claiming that not everyone should have this “privilege.” The Koch brothers, who plan to provide almost $1 billion to elect their private politicians, have collected hundreds of millions of dollars to suppress non-conservative voting. The charge to repeal the Voting Rights Act came from Koch-supported think tanks. The laws restricting voting came from and were underwritten by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

At this time, however, the Koch brothers has a serious problem—Donald Trump. They’ve managed to get rid of some Democratic voters, but the Republicans are gathering behind Trump. The brothers selected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as their choice for a few minutes but moved on after he made some ill-advised comments. Last summer, the Kochs refused to give Trump any of their data or let him speak at their gatherings. The big problem is that Trump doesn’t need the Koch brothers, and the masterminds behind voter restrictions have eliminated many people who would vote against them. In desperation, the Koch brothers assigned their top political operative, Marc Short, to Marco Rubio’s campaign last month. Too little, too late because Rubio dropped out of the race tonight.

Meanwhile the Koch brothers are intent on selecting the next Supreme Court nominee and destroying the nation, one state at a time, while crying that they want “civil justice.”

After President Obama criticized voting restrictions in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to defend the discrimination—like most other Republicans—by crying voter fraud. Yesterday, he tweeted a link to a Dallas Morning News article supporting his false claim. In fact, the report stated that of the 80 cases of voter fraud prosecuted in the past 14 years, “only a handful of those cases involved the kind of in-person voter fraud that Texas’ voter ID law aims to stop.” Its research shows that “fewer Texans commit in-person voter fraud than get struck by lightning.” A comprehensive study found there are “fewer than three” alleged instances of fraud for every 1 million votes cast in the Lone Star State since 2000.

Republicans would probably say “not my problem.”

January 27, 2016

Koch Brothers’ Underhanded Methods to Control U.S.

Jane Mayer, writer for The New Yorker, has just published Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Her personal adventure with the Koch brothers began five years ago when she learned about private investigators digging into her background. She had just published an in-depth piece chronicling the rise of the “Kochtopus,” headlined “Covert Operations,” which brought the Koch brothers in the limelight that they avoided for decades. Her depiction of them as secretive bankrollers warring against President Obama and environmental safety measures enraged the Koch brothers.

Mayer was first accused of plagiarism when David Strong, reporter at the conservative Daily Caller, asked David Remnick, New Yorker editor, this allegation and sent several pieces that attempt to back up his allegation. New York Post reporter Keith Kelly, who received the same allegations, asked the Daily Caller’s editor Tucker Carlson, about the origins. He couldn’t support the information and dropped it, but Strong refused to talk to Kelly about the story. When the purported victims stated that there was no plagiarism, the accusation collapsed. It took Mayer three years to track the origin.

The Koch machine had hired at least six people, working in borrowed space of the lobbying firm operated by former GOP Rep. J.C. Watts, to investigate Mayer . She noted that a source told her, “If they couldn’t find it, they’d create it.” An unnamed source also told her that the Koch operatives “thought they had you. They thought they were going to be knighted by the Kochs.” The accusation of plagiarism appeared after operatives failed to turn up anything “truly incriminating,” such as a friend from college who later had problems. As Mayer said, “It was 60 years ago.”

The general counsel of Koch Industries also sent a letter to the American Society of Magazine Editors tried to keep the New Yorker from receiving a National Magazine Award for Mayer’s writing about the Koch brothers. That also failed.

Another firm hired to investigate her was Vigilant Resources International, whose founder and chairman, Howard Safir, had been New York City’s police commissioner under the former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Two other people involved in the operation against Mayer were Philip Ellender, who heads Koch’s government affairs arm, and Nancy Pfotenhauer, who has served as president of a nonprofit advocacy group funded by the Kochs. The only person to speak on the record was Ken Spain, spokesman for Koch Industries, who claims that Mayer’s writings about Koch are “grossly inaccurate.” Asked about if he was saying that Mayer’s investigation had not happened, Spain answered, “We stand by the statement.”

It’s understandable why the Koch brothers would want to smear Mayer’s book. She tells about how their father helped build a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany. Fred C. Koch became successful in business in the years immediately preceding World War II. The oil refinery, third largest in the Third Reich and vital to Hitler’s war machine, came from his partnership with U.S. Nazi sympathizer William Rhodes Davis. Fred Koch admired German discipline so much in the 1930s that he hired a fervent Nazi as a governess for his eldest boys.

In 1938, the same year that Hitler’s new laws seized assets and confiscated property from Jews, Fred Koch said, “Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard…. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.” Conservatives can trace their current philosophy back to Nazi Germany.

Mayer also writes about the oldest Koch brother, William, participating in blackmail with Charles and David to force David’s twin, Frederick, to relinquish any claim to the family business. If he had not, the other three said that would tell their father that Frederick is gay. This information comes from the 700-page book Stealth: The History of Charles Koch’s Political Activities, that William commissioned to describe Charles’ secret plan to manipulate U.S. politics.

In the 1990s, Koch Industries admitted that it had pocketed millions and millions of dollars by mis-measuring oil from Indian reservations and stealing it. The Koch brothers said that it was an accident, but no other companies had this problem.

Twenty years ago, Koch Industries environmental technician Sally Barnes-Soliz revealed that their Texas refinery was releasing 15 times more than the legal limit of benzene into the atmosphere. When Koch falsified a report by 1/149th of the amount she calculated, she reported that also. Barnes-Soliz got an empty office with no email access, and Koch Industries paid $20 million. She quit in 1999 with an undisclosed settlement.

Dark Money chronicles how a small sect of the ultrarich—Richard Mellon Scaife (heir to the Mellon banking fortune) and Harry and Lynde Bradley (brothers wealthy from military contracts) among them—were largely creators of the current conservative movement, now controlled by Charles and David Koch. With others, these political donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars, usually with little or no public disclosure, into supposedly non-profit organizations for anti-government and anti-tax purposes under the veil of promoting public interest.

The Koch brothers are known for their heavy investment in fossil fuels and their leadership in funding climate change denial. Their “crown jewel” is the Pine Hill Refinery in Rosemount (MN), polluting the air with emissions from heavy “garbage” crude from Alberta’s tar sands by daily importing 25 per cent of the 1.2 million barrels of oil into the U.S.

Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute which issued reports such as “Apocalypse Not: Science, Economics, Environmentalism and the Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry about Global Warming.” A non-peer reviewed study claiming that climate change was not endangering polar bears came from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation with funds from ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. Other climate denial reports came from funding provided by Scaife, heir to the Gulf Oil fortune, and John Olin, whose companies have manufactured DDT.

The nucleus of the Koch donors comes from an owner of coal reserves, two fracking pioneers, and a variety of oilmen and coal company owners. Between 2003 and 2010, climate denial groups colleged over one-half billion dollars which came from self-identified tax-exempt, philanthropic endeavour,” according to Robert Bruelle, Drexel University professor of sociology.

The Koch brothers attack on climatologist Michael Mann was more successful than the one on Jane Mayer. Co-author of a 1999 study showing the way that the earth’s temperature shot up in the 20th century, Mann was briefly discredited by a hacker who gained access to internal emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Misconstrued wording in one email about Mann and his research led to congressional Republicans investigating Mann and sending threatening letters to Penn State about their tenured professor. A self-described CIA officer offered Mann’s departmental colleagues $10,000 for any dirt they could find on him. State GOP legislatures withheld Penn State’s funding until the university took action against Mann. He received death threats and opened a letter with white powder. Mann was exonerated, but the episode left a trail of terror for other researchers.

The Koch’s vast network was designed to persuade other wealthy business owners to donate to the Koch-controlled political groups. Scaife, who died in 2014, joined Koch’s cause with over a billion dollars to prevent his inheritance tax by donating its net income to charity for 20 years. Koch-financed groups provided strategies to oppose the Affordable Care Act and climate change mitigation while supporting cuts to Social Security. Mayer reports that in 2011 about then House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) visiting David Koch for help in resolving a debt ceiling stalemate.

The Koch brothers plan to spend almost $1 billion to elect a Republican president this year. And that doesn’t include all the “dark money” that they collect for their ultra-conservative efforts. Jane Mayer describes their recipe for doing this:

“The Kochs have built kind of an assembly line to manufacture political change. And it includes think tanks, which produce papers. It includes advocacy groups, that advocate for policies. And it includes giving money to candidates. And you put those three together, and they’ve pushed against doing anything about climate change on all those three fronts at once. So you get papers that look like they’re real scientific opinions doubting that climate change is real, you get advocacy groups saying we can’t afford to do anything about it, and you get candidates who have to sign a pledge that—their largest political group is Americans for Prosperity.

“They have a pledge that says that if you want to get money from this—from their donors, you have to sign a pledge saying that, if elected, you will do nothing about climate change that requires spending any money on the problem. And 156 members of Congress currently have signed that pledge. So, it sort of is a recipe for how to tie the hands of the country from doing anything on this.”

Charles Koch was a member of the John Birch Society that his father helped found, and both brothers thought that President Eisenhower was a communist and Ronald Reagan was too liberal to be a president. Their attempt to reform the criminal system is based on getting rid of crimes related to pollution, corporate crime, and tax crimes. And they control billions of dollars to push their agenda. That’s what the progressives are facing in this year’s election.

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.

June 21, 2015

Pope’s Climate Encyclical Enrages Conservatives

Just when it seemed that Pope Francis couldn’t do more to offend U.S. conservatives—including Catholics—after he argued for income equality, he tackled the environment. The opening lines of his new encyclical, “Laudato Si (Praised Be),” come from a 13th-century poem, “Canticle of the Creatures,” written by his namesake. “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs,” the saint from Assisi wrote. The current pope chose his namesake because of his concern for the poor, his love of peace, and his care for creation.

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” Francis wrote. “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environment change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable that it is, can only precipitate disaster.”

He closed with progressive ideas that conservatives hate: a commitment to renewable energy, a binding agreement on carbon emissions, and an economy that throws away less and recycles more.

These are five important arguments in the pope’s document:

Climate change is real and “disturbing,” and people are the primary cause of it, primarily from “the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”

Technology will not save the environment because “it’s based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.”

There is no excuse for denying reality or playing politics, especially from business-people and elected officials who use personal gain in “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” and “pretending nothing will happen.”

The Bible was written by an environmentalist, and “Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.”

Survival comes only from changing everything.

Pope Francis Climate

The 184-page encyclical infuriated 170 members of the House—56 percent of the entire membership—who oppose the belief from 97 percent of scientists that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it. In the Senate, 72 percent are climate deniers, including the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. After a draft of the text was leaked, members of the conservative Heartland Institute traveled to Rome for a “pre-rebuttal,” and GOP presidential candidates attacked the pope for being political instead of religious. Jeb Bush, the Catholic who said that religion would guide his presidency, stated. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” Another Catholic, Rick Santorum, who declared he was more qualified to discuss climate change than the pope, said,  “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”

Defacto GOP leader Rush Limbaugh complained that Francis “doesn’t even disguise” his Marxist beliefs about global warming. Fox nework Greg Gutfeld supported Limbaugh after Juan Williams tried to explain to Gutfeld that being better stewards of the planet isn’t political. Williams said:

“I think the problem for you is that you put it in a box of pure politics, left and right. What about if the Pope is simply saying… we should do all we can to support God’s green earth. Is that so radical?”

Gutfeld responded, “Um, he has a Marxist background.” That was after Gutfeld called Pope Francis “the most dangerous person on the planet.” He added, “[Francis] wants to be a modern Pope. All he needs is dreadlocks and a dog with a bandana and he could be on Occupy Wall Street.” Gutfeld is even angry about the pope believing “that the Earth is overpopulated.” He continued, “Remember he said Catholics have to stop breeding like rabbits? Do you remember where that came from? That’s a Malthusian belief. And Malthusians believe that the Earth is overpopulated and it would be nice if there were a few billion people less. How does that happen? Global warming.” Malthusian belief is that population will be controlled by famine and disease; it seems the Gutfeld opposes the pope in order to have the controlling influence of climate change on population control.

Scientists disagree with the conservative politicians about the pope’s encyclical. Deborah Huntzinger, an assistant professor of climate sciences at Northern Arizona University, criticized only one part of the encyclical because it was simplistic, that how greenhouse gases warm the planet is more complicated. She did say that “the pope captures the science quite well.” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, noted that the only problem is that “Pope Francis is overly conservative [with respect to] the science in the encyclical” and understated some of the problems. “All of the increase in the carbon dioxide is due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities,” Mann said. Anthony Broccoli, a professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, said:

“Pope Francis doesn’t have to be a scientist to arrive at these conclusions. All he would have to do is consult the extensive reports on climate change that have been written by the world’s climate scientists in a process organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These reports have been written to inform policymakers and stakeholders about the state of the science and they are a reliable source of information.”

Columnist E.J. Dionne addressed the fallacy of conservative arguments that Francis is ignoring the past and presenting “radical new doctrines.” The encyclical frequently cites Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, neither one known for being liberal, “on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship.” As the pope writes, “opinion makers, communications media and centers of power are far removed from the poor.” Hardly a radical statement or new to the Catholic religion. The focus of his paper is “that the world’s poor face the largest threat from climate change and that the world’s rich have a special obligation to deal with it.” In focusing on the “shared responsibility for others and the world,” he brings together the connection between the personal and the political.

If the Koch brothers succeed in buying conservative Catholics with huge donations to Catholic universities, conservative Catholics may turn farther away from the pope’s positions. In 2013 the Kochs give $1 million to launch the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America (CUA), dedicated to “principled entrepreneurship” where the school’s dean, Andrew Abela, opposes public-sector unions and argues that questioning global warming or climate change is a sin.” The donation brought a letter of protest from 50 Catholic educators regarding the ultra-conservative, anti-government, anti-workers-rights, climate-change-questioning, free-market-hyping tendencies of the Koch brothers. It read in part:

“The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship.”

CUA leaders released a press release calling the educators’ letter “presumptuous.”

Last December, the Charles Koch Foundation gave Creighton University (Omaha, NE) funds for the new Institute for Economic Inquiry. The next month, the Foundation pledged another $3 million to CUA. The Koch brothers’ donations to a secular university have allowed them to veto most of the professors that the school wanted to hire with the donation. The Catholic Church opposes the Koch brothers’ positions on shrinking the social safety net, cutting taxes, weakening environmental regulations, ending the minimum wage, and busting unions. Conservatives argue that Pope Francis is not talking about capitalism as it is practiced in the U.S., or that he simply doesn’t understand economics. David Koch supports marriage equality and abortion rights; critics of the CUA gifts have pointed out the irony of the school’s accepting massive support from him when Catholic charities are not allowed to take money from any person or group that supports abortion rights or gay rights.

There was a time when the Pope was infallible and the President of the United States deserved respect. Now conservative Catholics have set themselves above the pope’s teaching, following only the restrictive teachings against abortion, contraception, and marriage equality. They have tried to make themselves gods.

The pope says, “We are not God” and should not act as if we are “usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.”

 

June 16, 2015

Jeb for President? Part II

king bushJeb Bush’s plan for the half of 2015: raise tens of millions of dollars, separate himself from his brother’s presidency, win conservatives, and become the Republican who will win the GOP nomination. Thus far, he’s raised the money. Asked about his brother, he waffles between supporting him and trying to find a way to please people who disagree with George W. Bush’s Iraq War. Conservatives still don’t like him, and he has appeared incompetent through answers to questions and consistent flip-flopping.

Last week he changed his campaign manager to the more negative and conservative Danny Diaz, meaning that Bush may have reconsidered whether he’ll still campaign “joyfully.” Diaz’s participation in Bush II’s campaign is another connection between Jeb and Dubya. One Bush ally said that Diaz will signal that “the culture of the Bush operation will now be a Pickett’s Charge engagement campaign with his main opponents.” Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg lost most of its soldiers and contributed to the loss of the Civil War for the South.

The Bush name lacks the gleam it once had. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “He just hasn’t met the expectation level of what we expected of a Bush.” Sixteen years ago, Bush’s brother had over half the House GOP caucus—114 Republicans—on board with endorsements. The House has more GOP members in 2015, but Bush has only two dozen committed to him and no senators. Bush’s flip-flopping doesn’t seem to bother GOP congressional members, however, as much as his seemingly moderate views on immigration and education.

Bush may be sued for his fund-raising style.  He waited seven months after forming  a leadership political action committee in lieu of an “exploratory” committee to declare his candidacy while he’s acted like a presidential candidate. Without officially declaring as a candidate, he could send “anonymous donations” into his Super PACS, both named Right to Rise.

According to the New York Times, “federal law makes anyone who raises or spends $5,000 in an effort to become president a candidate and thus subject to the spending and disclosure restrictions.” Technically, Bush sidestepped that law, but unethical behavior has never bothered him. As Florida governor, he engineered a vast voter fraud and intimidation program to tip the scales in favor of his brother George W. Jeb, and Jeb is back gaming the system to make more money from corporate interests.

Jeb Bush has declared that brother, George W, is his senior advisor. That’s the Bush with a foundation accepting undisclosed donations from millionaires while he was president. One big donor, Dallas oilman and major SMU supporter Edwin L. Cox, had his son pardoned by former President George H.W. Bush. Other donations to the Bush Foundation come from foreign governments such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. With assets of $47 million and another $3 million a year from undisclosed donations, the George Bush Presidential Library can funnel campaign and influence money—even illegal donations from foreign governments—to Jeb Bush with no record or transparency.

Jeb’s past shows the same sort of dodgy dealings in politics:

1989: Bush successfully lobbied his father, then president, for the release of Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch, who allegedly orchestrated the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976 as well as other terrorist attacks. In a federal prison on an immigration violation and dubbed an “unrepentant terrorist” by then-Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Bosch was a cause célèbre for Miami’s influential Cuban population—a voting bloc that Jeb used to launch his political career.

1994: Despite Bush’s strident advocacy to keep people in a vegetative state alive and prevent abortion, his first campaign for Florida government promoted the acceleration of the death penalty enforcement in the state by limiting death row inmates to only one appeal.

1996: Bush pushed for charter schools in Florida. Providing money to religious schools was later ruled unconstitutional, but after he was elected governor, he made sure that public money went to developers to build schools, free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements, that drained money from public schools. Despite a law that charter schools had to be operated by non-profit groups, for-profit companies were managing three-quarters of the state’s newly approved charter schools by 2002. The next year he signed a bill that removed any cap on the number of charter schools. Although Bush claims to have no profit from these schools, his allies do. Bush sticks to Common Core because it makes money for his friends.

1999: In his first year as Florida governor, Bush signed an executive order to end affirmative action in education and business after calling these policies “stupid and destructive.” Since then, Black enrollment in universities has dropped by almost half in some of the schools while the Black population in the state remains stable at 20 percent.

1999: Bush signed a law making Florida the first state to fund anti-choice initiatives through the sale of “Choose Life” license plates. He also supported “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) that provide women with medically inaccurate information—for example, abortion makes people go insane—and fail to tell women about the full range of their reproductive health options.

2000: During the recount for the presidential election, Bush made 95 calls to the George W. Bush campaign while his secretary of state and George W.’s campaign co-chair, Katherine Harris, lost or spoiled ballots from hundreds of thousands of Black voters.

2001: Bush gave Bsafe Online, an American Family Association subsidiary, $600,000 of tax money to block Internet users from information about LGBT identities. Yet he invested $1.3 million in state pension fund money in Movie Gallery, a video rental company with a wide selection of pornographic films.

2003: Thirteen years and many court cases after Terri Schiavo went into a vegetative state, Bush was instrumental in passing “Terri’s Law,” demanding that her feeding tube be reinserted.  It was another two years before she was allowed to physically die.

2003: Bush initiated the dumping of tons of toxic waste by the Koch brothers company, Georgia-Pacific, into the Florida St. Johns River after he and his cabinet, over the objection of then Attorney General Charlie Crist, gave a preliminary approval to the GP pipeline from its Palatka paper mill to the river. Within the next two years, GP moved forward without a constitutionally-required notice and fair warning for a wetlands permit and an easement. Law required that the public Trustees carefully consider the costs and benefits and the money savings by GP from the river dumping, but it was never done. No compensation has been made for the areas covered with toxic waste and the diminished swimming and fishing use in the affected area. GP got its easement in 2009 with no notice to citizens and environmental groups. After citizens sued and a Bush-supported court rubber stamped Bush’s actions, the case went to the 1st District Court of Appeals.

2003: Bush asked a court to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled rape victim despite an earlier decision by the Florida Department of Children and Families to ask the court to appoint a guardian for the baby only after the woman gives birth.

2005: Bush is responsible for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law through his support of corporate-controlled ALEC. The media described it as a license to hunt and kill.

2006: Bush asked the Florida GOP legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot repealing a constitutional provision separating church and state. The legislature refused.

2009: Bush declared himself Hispanic on his 2009 voter registration. In 2012, Republicans accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of misrepresenting herself as Native American.

2010: Bush and his education reform organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, created a group of school superintendents and other high-ranking officials called “Chiefs for Change” to advance the Florida model of education, which emphasizes accountability and emphasized giving schools letter grades based on performance, especially standardized test scores. One of the original eight chiefs was accused of inflating the grade of a lackluster charter school funded by a Republican donor. The office of another was caught manipulating test score data.

In October, a New Mexico advocacy group filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education failed to disclose thousands of dollars it paid to bring public school superintendents, education officials, and lawmakers to the group’s events, where they had private “VIP” meetings with the foundation’s for-profit ed-tech company sponsors. The complaint alleges that Bush’s foundation disguised travel payments as “scholarships” to hide the fact that the nonprofit was facilitating lobbying between big corporations and public officials.

2015: Bush’s first fundraiser for his PAC was hosted by Charles Davis who held a top job at an insurance brokerage sued by the state of Florida for swindling clients while Bush was governor.

2015: One of Bush’s emails reveals that he closely coordinated with the Florida legislature to schedule Florida’s 2016 presidential primary in a way most favorable for himself.

2015: Bush’s hire for his PAC’s chief technology officer, Ethan Czahor, tweeted about women being “sluts” and joked about being ogled by gay men at the gym. Jeb solved the problem by having the tweets deleted.

Bush promises to deliver a four percent annual economic growth. He has no method; he said that 4 is “a nice round number.” He cited his record as governor—the one that ended just as the housing bubble popped and wiped out 900,000 of Jeb’s 1.3 million jobs created while he was in office. The bubble filled state coffers, Jeb took credit and left office before the disaster, and now the candidate wants to be viewed as an economic genius.

There’s much more here. The last part of the Jeb Bush iceberg tomorrow.

March 5, 2015

GOP Hopes for Death Spiral

Health care was the focus of the Supreme Court yesterday when nine justices heard King v. Burwell. If the court rules that the subsidies from Affordable Care Act (ACA) can be provided only by state exchanges, millions of people, including five million children, will lose their health insurance because they will no longer have subsidies. If the 7.5 million people from 34 states on the federal exchange lose tax subsidies—and thus their insurance—insurance will raise rates for other policyholders who may then not be able to afford it, etc., a sequence known as the ACA death spiral. The change may cause almost 10,000 annual deaths in the U.S. and destabilize the insurance market in many states.

ObamacareSubsidiesMap1

Charity may be the only solution if the Supreme Court rules against the federal exchange. For example, Richard Mack, a former Arizona county sheriff and Tea Partier opposing the ACA, is now begging the public for money to pay their health costs through a GoFundMe campaign. A board member of the right-wing fringe Oath Keepers, Mack gained fame by hiding behind women on the “front lines of freedom” at the Cliven Bundy Ranch last year.

Four Virginia plaintiffs are challenging the federal exchange on the basis of four words read out of context that were left in the law after a revision. The standing of these plaintiffs comes from the question of whether these four people suffer “grievous harm by being forced to either buy health coverage or pay a penalty”:

  • David King, 64, a limo driver and veteran who has both low income and a VA card making him eligible for free health care. People can opt out of the insurance mandate if they would have to pay more than 8 percent of their income for health care.
  • Douglas Hurst, 53, a Virginia Beach resident and veteran who would be eligible for large savings and probably veterans’ health care. According to bankruptcy filings, Hurst paid more than $600 a month for his insurance in 2010; with the ACA, he would pay $62 per month. His wife does his speaking for him, but she’s too old to be a plaintiff because she’s on Medicare—a government health care program.
  • Rose Luck, a woman who listed her address as a motel where she hasn’t lived since late 2013. She would also likely meet the low-income opt-out advantage. She thinks President Obama is the “anti-christ” who is only in office because he “got his Muslim people to vote for him.”
  • Brenda Levy, 64, a substitute teacher who couldn’t remember how she’d been recruited for the case and seemed unaware of the possible consequences. She said she doesn’t want anyone thrown off her health insurance. Because her employer listed her annual income as $10,000, she too would not have the mandate. (Her signed affidavit said that her 2014 income would be $45,000.) By the time of the decision, she will also be old enough for Medicare.

King and Hurst have declared that they were “not eligible for health insurance from the government or any employer.” King said he didn’t remember his lawyers’ asking him about his access to veterans care and said his only purpose is to bring down the ACA. One of the lawyers, Yaakov Roth, said the two men weren’t eligible under the legal meaning of the word because they hadn’t enrolled.

Spokeswoman Annie Dwyer for Competitive Enterprise Institute, the libertarian think tank that brought the suit and is bankrolling it, said, “The lawyers are not concerned about standing issues.” They might not be concerned, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is. She pointed out the legitimacy of the case depends on the plaintiffs having “a concrete stake in the question.” The plaintiff’s lawyer said that the lower courts had not raised any standing issue, but Ginsburg said that “the Court has an obligation to look into it on its own.”

The opposition to the ACA will also have trouble proving that a decision against the law would have minor repercussions. Lawyers have claimed that states will provide for those denied subsidies because the law was intentionally designed to deny subsidies if states didn’t create their own exchanges. They claimed that states refused to establish subsidies only because the IRS didn’t clarify “that subsidies were limited to state Exchanges.” It was actually the Supreme Court decision three years ago that allowed states to opt out. Even more chaos comes from some state laws preventing state exchanges.

During yesterday’s arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy recognized the seriousness of the situation when he warned that a decision siding with the challengers could lead to the collapse of insurance markets by creating an ultimatum for the states: “Either create your own exchange, or we’ll send your 17 insurance markets into a death spiral.”  He warned Michael Carvin, attorney for the plaintiffs, that “there’s a serious constitutional problem if we adopt your argument [against the ACA].” Protesters gathered in front of the Supreme Court building to show the horrifying impact of an adverse ruling by the court.

ACA Protesters

Chief obstructionist to the ACA, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) described a lawsuit seeing to gut the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court as “ridiculous.” He added, “We obviously meant that the subsidies would go to the federal exchange and not just the state exchange.” Steven Brill, veteran journalist and author of a recent book on the Affordable Care Act, said that he asked “all the Republican staffers” who worked on the bill about this suit, and “they laughed at it.” A short list of ACA opponents who previously indicated that the law provides tax credits regardless of who operates a particular state’s exchange includes Republican Govs. Dave Heineman (R-NE), Nikki Haley (R-SC), Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and Scott Walker (R-WI); Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT); former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI); and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The Republicans have no idea what they will do if they get their wish. In a Washington Post op-ed, three GOP senators–Lamar Alexander (TN), John Barrasso (WY), and Orrin Hatch (UT)–claimed that they would help everyone who lost their federal health insurance subsidies. They promised they would “provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period” and give states more flexibility to create their own health insurance marketplaces. Yet they had no answers to how much assistance, how long it would last, how they would pay for it, and—most important—how they would overcome GOP naysayers. They may have a plan, but they’re not sharing it.

These three senators aren’t the only ones who are panicking about the possibility of achieving their goal. Some GOP members of Congress are discussing a bill to take temporary care of the disaster, but that will most likely fail without Democratic help just as DHS funding demanded a bipartisan approach. Nine GOP states are talking about state exchanges. The GOP had promised “death panels” in the ACA, but now they are faced with voters knowing about the “death panels” of eliminating the ACA—not a good lead-in to the 2016 election.

Florida Republicans spent almost $1 million on its own alternative marketplace. It was a failure—perhaps because it didn’t include cover costs of hospital stays and limit out-of-pocket expenses for surgeries. Instead the Florida plan provided discount coupons for prescriptions and eyeglasses. Only 30 of 750,000 eligible people signed up within the first six months with the number swelling to 49 after a year. In comparison, 1.6 million in Florida—the highest number in any state—signed up for ACA during the 2015 open enrollment despite roadblocks set up by the Florida GOP.

Although not all supportive of President Obama, a coalition of state officials, insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, and nurses have filed briefs warning of the consequences if the subsidies are withdrawn. Sign-up for the current year shows the overwhelming impact of a decision against the ACA: about 11.2 million people went to the exchanges for insurance with 87 percent of them receiving subsidies.

As Ian Millhiser pointed out, a big predictor of a judge’s vote can be the political party of the president who appoints each one. Five of the nine justices came from Republican presidents—two from each of the Bushes and one from Reagan. The four justices appointed by Democrats will most likely follow Justice Elena Kagan’s statement from a recent ruling: “We do not ‘construe the meaning of statutory terms in a vacuum.’“  She repeated the sentiment during yesterday’s arguments: “We look at the whole text. We don’t look at four or five words.”

Three others—Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—are even more predictably on the opposite side. Scalia showed his opposition to the ACA in yesterday’s arguments when he assured Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. that Congress would take care of any problems. “This Congress?” Verrilli replied, bringing laughter from the gallery.

Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, was in favor of eliminating the law three years ago, but he is a federalist. King argues on the side of states rights. In addition, Kennedy is strong supporter of children’s welfare. John Roberts, the Chief Justice, voted almost entirely in favor of the ACA in the last go-round three years ago possibly because he was worried about the image of the court. He might not change his position in King to persuade people that the highest court is not a wing of the GOP.

Millions and millions of people may lose their health insurance thanks to the Koch brothers, who finance the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the organization that planned this debacle from the beginning. Yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments started almost five years ago at a conservative gathering when the wealthy decided that the poor didn’t deserve health care. Nine justices will now make a final decision.

November 14, 2014

Keystone Pipeline Passes House, Goes to Senate

The Keystone XL pipeline passed the House of Representatives today for a ninth time. The vote this time was 252 to 161 with 31 Democrats supporting the measure. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) voted “present.” The proposed 1,660 pipeline from Koch brothers tar sands in Canada to the refineries that will then ship the processed crude overseas has been touted as a jobs effort. President Obama described the project best:

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.”

The senate plans a vote on this coming Tuesday, November 18. Some Democratic senators think that voting for the pipeline will protect Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) position. On December 6, her state will decide between her and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), lead sponsor of the House bill. Landrieu is the underdog because her two conservative opponents collectively received more votes than she did in the November 4 election.

Newly elected Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the number of jobs created by the project is “stunning.” For once I agree with him. The pipeline will provide only 35 jobs after the two-year construction. Fox and Friends fill-in host Anna Kooiman followed the network’s message of “tens of thousands of jobs created” for the $8 billion pipeline, but the actual number is far fewer than that. The State Department estimates 10,400 seasonal workers for either four or eight months, a total of 3,900 “average annual” jobs over one year. That’s 3,900 full-time jobs each year for building the pipeline, a number which shrinks to 35 after two years when the pipeline is finished. The “related” 26,100 jobs may not add employees because these are in areas already filled—lodging, food, entertainment, health care, etc.

Canada is suffering from the concentration on oil extraction because it makes the economy dependent on the price of oil. Even worse, the oil industry has undermined democracy by insisting that anyone in opposition is unpatriotic. The system works the same in the United States as McConnell insists that this nation is dependent on the pipeline for jobs. In fact, McConnell is dependent on the pipeline for his job.

As in the United States, Canada’s federal conservative caucus is composed largely of politicians who deny climate science. They have slashed financing in that area, closed facilities researching climate change, and silenced government climate scientists.

Energy-East-PipelineA month ago, there was hope that Canada had decided to transport its Alberta tar sands east, avoiding huge aquifers in both the United States and Canada. The plan is to go east near Toronto and end before the Nova Scotia aquifer. The Energy East Pipeline could be effected by converting about 1,800 miles of existing natural gas pipeline to transporting the tar sands crude. Canada could benefit from taking this route because of Russia’s problems with the Ukraine. If the oil were sent east, it could be sold to Europe and Ukraine if Russia pulls its oil from that region.

Another argument against building the pipeline is the dropping cost of oil, down 25 percent from last summer to $74.42 a barrel yesterday. Anything below $65 will make production in Canadian oil sands infeasible.  New projects would require $85 a barrel.

In the United States, the pipeline will most likely drive up gas prices. The oil bypasses Midwest refineries to those in the Gulf, where it will be shipped to more lucrative markets overseas. That means less oil in this country and thus higher prices.

nebraskaAt this time, Nebraska may be the biggest block to the pipeline. In that conservative bastion of the USA, landowners sued to keep Gov. Dave Heineman from unilaterally approving permits and seizing their property through eminent domain. If they succeed in keeping the Keystone out of their state, the pipeline has nowhere to go. [map] Originally Heineman objected to TransCanada’s path through the Sand Hills region in the western part of the state that sits on top of the freshwater Ogallala Aquifer spanning eight states and providing drinking water for 8,000,000 people. A pipeline rupture, which could easily happen considering pipelines’ histories, would irreversibly pollute 30 percent of the U.S. irrigation groundwater for agriculture. The judge’s decision last February put the permits into the hands of Nebraska’s Public Service Commission. The case was argued before the state Supreme Court in early September with no indication of a decision.

Nebraskans are smart to worry about the aquifer. The tar sands crude has a peanut-butter consistency and must be diluted, generally with carcinogenic benzene, for transport. From 2006 to 2008, pipeline spills occurred at least once a month, and each one of these was worse than the oil train disasters that the media has publicized. Those monthly spills are the ones that people discovered, but there is an estimate that 95 percent of the spills are not identified because of no pipeline alarm systems.

In addition to the spills, new pipes are defective with cracks, pinholes, and dents through poorly welded seams. TransCanada had guaranteed that Keystone Phase I, already operational would leak once in seven years—still a disaster—but it had at least 12 leaks in its first year. Keystone leaks would be on some of the most important farms and ranches in the United States as well as freshwater sources.

The State Department reported that a pinhole leak could release enough benzene to contaminate drinking water for 2 million people for 425 days. A leak would cause farmers to lose everything they have. That’s what happened on March 29, 2013 in Mayflower, Arkansas. Lives of Michigan residents near the Kalamazoo River have been disrupted for years with cleanup costs in the billions after the rupture of a 30-inch diameter crude oil pipeline on July 25, 2010. The proposed Keystone XL uses a 36-inch pipe. In both cases the oil companies ignored any problems with the pipes. In the latter, engineers ignored the alarms for 17 hours until an outsider called to complain.

Tar sands oil companies are exempt from any insurance to cover the costs of cleanup. Companies with conventional oil are required to pay a pittance into a fund for cleanup; crude oil is exempt because it is not “conventional oil.” As people learned from the BP disaster, however, corporations never clean up their messes. Studies that try to show that the tar sands are not more likely to cause pipeline ruptures compared it to similar heavy crudes in Canada instead of the lighter oils previously sent through the U.S. pipeline system.”

Another problem with the tar sands crude is the petroleum coke, or pet coke, resulting from the refining process. Used as a cheap substitute for coal, pet coke sends massive amounts of carbon, sulfur, and other pollutants in the air. In Detroit, refineries just piled up pet coke, up to three stories tall and covering a city block. Nothing was done to control for wind and water runoff, and the company had no permits for the storage. The neighbors had their homes tested and found selenium and vanadium, both of which cause serious respiratory disease. No one took action, even when the water runoff went into the Great Lakes watershed until a plume of pet coke dust moved over Canadian territory in Windsor. Within a month, the pet coke moved to Ohio and also at a Koch brothers site in Chicago.

That amount came from one small refinery. Port Arthur (TX) will suffer 30 times that problem if the Keystone pipeline ships its tar sands crude across the United States. That city already has extremely high rates of cancer, asthma, kidney and liver disease, skin disorders, and other serious health issues because of the toxins that they are forced to breathe. Kids can’t even safely play outside.

In the House 221 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted to sicken and kill the people of the United States and pollute the nation’s land, water, and air. The Keystone XL pipeline is an indicator of the future. Either the United States further commits the country to taking every bit of fossil fuels out of the ground or moves forward on renewable energy.

Fortunately, the votes in Congress are not binding on the president. Because the pipeline crosses an international boundary, the president is the only decider.

August 29, 2014

Campaign Fever: Kentucky U.S. Senators

mcconnellJust 67 days before the general election, the U.S. Senate Minority Leader is blaming the tight race between him and Democratic contender, Alison Grimes, comes from all the donations she’s received. The race may go over $100 million, but Mitch McConnell has three times as much as Grimes. McConnell has a much greater problems now–a Mitt Romney experience of being taped while promising wealthy donors and corporate leaders all he will do for them (and against the country) if they just give him enough money.

McConnell’s promise to shut down the president’s legislative agenda—and maybe the country—was no secret. He had openly said this in an interview. He failed to mention that he had secretly made the same promises–and many more–two months earlier at a gathering called “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society” for conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers.

These are some of McConnell’s statements following his session entitled “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights”:

“In the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it…”

“And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.” [McConnell voted 17 times against the minimum wage for 16.5 million people and 12 times against extending unemployment benefits for 1.7 million people.]

“Not everybody needs to go to Yale.”

Students should look into for-profit colleges.

“All Citizens United did was to level the playing field for corporate speech…. We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.”

The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold [campaign finance] into law in the early part of his first Administration.” [Worse for McConnell than the deaths on 9/11 and the disastrous 2008 housing meltdown.]

“The best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory …. I’m really proud of this Supreme Court and the way they’ve been dealing with the issue of First Amendment political speech…. It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.”

“I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

Koch Industries executive Kevin Gentry assured those attending that their political contributions would remain secret. Gentry formerly served as an advisor to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, now on trial on charges that he failed to disclose gifts from a well-heeled supporter.

The Affordable Care Act, that McConnell has worked to repeal, dropped the uninsured in Kentucky more than any other state—almost by half to a little over 12 percent. Unfortunately, polls in that state show that while they love their state version they have “Obamacare,” which is nothing more than their state version.

None of the news above is suprising, but the news is about to get worse for McConnell. Kent Sorenson, the former Iowa state senator who pled guilty to taking $73,000 for switching from presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s campaign to the one for Ron Paul almost three years ago, has a McConnell connection. Dimitri Kesari, the man who literally handed Sorenson a check in a restaurant men’s room, is a political consultant for McConnell.

McConnell’s campaign chairman is Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s Deputy National Campaign Manager. Sorenson said that “Jesse knows” about the bribe; Benton says, “I don’t know anything about that.” If there’s a paper trail for Benton, and Kesari, the FBI may find it.  An FBI raid on Sorenson’s home likely turned up more information about Benton’s and Kesari’s involvement.

Then there’s the problem with the Rand family. Benton worked for Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign and lived in his basement. He’s also married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter. McConnell brought in Benton to satisfy Paulites and Tea Partiers in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s other GOP senator, Rand Paul, isn’t running for election for two years, but he’s recently raised a few eyebrows. Disagreeing with George W. Bush while he was president was “unpatriotic” and scandalous for legislators while traveling abroad, but disagreeing with President Obama is the “job” of legislators now. That’s Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) take about his meeting with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina when Paul condemned the U.S. president’s actions for the U.S./Mexico immigration crisis and undermined U.S. foreign policy. Paul’s condemnation of the president as the “abdication of responsibility for securing our border” comes after border security has improved to levels not earlier experience in U.S. history.

Rand Paul may not be tremendously popular in his home state. He’s made no secret of his hopes to run for president in 2016, but he wants to stay senator in case he loses to the dozens of other candidates. Kentucky, however, doesn’t let a person be a candidate for two separate political offices in the same election. Paul’s idea was to just change the law; after all, Lyndon B. Johnson did just that in Texas when he was John F. Kennedy’s running mate. Other VPs did the same thing, Lloyd Bentsen and Joe Lieberman for example. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) got to do it. Joe Biden got permission from Delaware to run for his senate seat in 2008.

Paul interpreted state law as two statewide offices, not national offices. The state GOP-controlled Senate passed the bill for Paul by 25-13. The Kentucky House, however, is controlled by Democrats. Speaker Greg Stumbo said, “We kind of take the position over here that a man (who) can’t decide which office he wants to run for isn’t fit to hold either office.” Instead of voting against it, House members just waited until the legislative session was done.

Like his father, Rand Paul thinks that the federal government is a tyrannical entity and firmly believes in state’s rights. Kentucky’s law is that a candidate can’t run for two different offices at the same time. Maybe it will stay that way.

As an addendum to yesterday’s blog about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the week got even worse. After bragging up the surplus, the state will most likely have a big deficit. Walker wanted people to think that they had a tax cut so he changed the amount of withholding in pay checks. He figured nobody would find out until after the fall election when they owed big bucks for taxes in the spring. The state also ran short after Walker refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion money and he had to pay state money for health care and to hospitals. Then there are the federal funds that never came to the state because Walker turned down a high speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison. The Potawatomi tribe is also withholding $25 million because of a casino dispute. Maybe he thinks he’ll approve the casino only if the tribe members vote for him?

The state’s rainy-day fund has enough money right now to pay for lagging taxes, but the state can’t use it without passing a law. Low taxes for a state is like low starting salaries for workers: it can hurt future growth in income. Walker should provide a fuller picture of Wisconsin’s fiscal woes on October 15—and that’s still before the election. Estimates for the two-year shortfall are projected at $642 million.

And those are only a few of the Republicans in trouble!

 

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