Nel's New Day

July 6, 2020

Not All Bad in Week 180

Each year, the Supreme Court is usually finished by the end of June, having dropped all its bombs from the cases it hears. This year, however, the Supreme Court is waiting until July for the first time in 24 years. These are the five biggest ones still not released by July 5:

Subpoenas for Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) financial records: The House wants bank and accountant records to achieve its responsibility of oversight, and New York wants access to DDT’s personal and corporate tax documents. The decision determines whether DDT’s tax returns will see the light of day while he’s in the Oval Office. By denying the subpoenas, the high court will give presidents blanket immunity from criminal process.

Contraception Mandate in Affordable Care Act: The ACA requires most insurance plans and employer to cover preventative care, including contraception, without cost sharing. President Obama allowed religious nonprofits to claim an exemption, but DDT extended that exemption to all companies voicing religious or moral objections. The question is how far to allow Christians to control the U.S.

“Faithless electors” voting for their preference in the Electoral College: The question is whether electors representing their states should be required to select a president based on the states’ votes.

Religious exemptions from discrimination suits centering on parochial schools: Are Catholic schools immune from discrimination suits if they violate the First Amendment safeguards because of religious beliefs. One of the teachers was fired because she had breast cancer. Schools are declaring every employee—teachers, janitors, etc.—“ministers” so schools can claim “ministerial exception” in firing them.

Native sovereignty in Oklahoma: The case concerns whether the state can prosecute a crime by an enrolled member of another tribe on land that could still be classified as a reservation because the government never took action to take it away. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation maintains the reservation was never dissolved and Congress never transferred authority over its land, which includes Tulsa. If the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native Americans, other tribes could file lawsuits.

In other parts of the U.S., we the people are emerging victorious over fascist actions.

Two energy companies have dropped their six-year bid to build the 600-mile natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline tunneling under the Appalachian Trail because of uncertain investing after constant opposition. The company, Dominion, will sell other natural gas pipelines and storage assets to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy for $10 billion. Last week, Dominion completed the biggest wind farm project in the country, located 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. The pipeline had been stopped in courts for its hasty and slipshod federal permitting process.

With the signature of Gov. Tate Reeves, Mississippi has completed the removal of the Confederate emblem from its state flag, the last one to feature the Confederate battle flag. A commission will develop a new flag with the phrase “In God, We Trust.”

Thanks to state voters, Oklahoma became the 37th state to approve Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Coverage begins July 1, 2021. The act should drive down the state’s 14-percent uninsured rate, and the federal government covers 90 percent of the cost of newly-covered adults.

DDT lost a restraining order against his niece’s new book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Simon & Schuster may continuing and distributing Mary Trump’s explosive insider account. Although a state Supreme Court judge imposed an order against the book, but the New York appellate division lifted it, permitting the book’s release on July 28.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, appointed by DDT, struck down DDT’s 2019 policy blocking thousand of Central American asylum seekers who didn’t first request protections in a nation between their home and the U.S. Like the ruling against DDT’s anti-DACA policy, the anti-asylum policy unlawfully bypassed the Administrative Procedure Act, requiring people to be informed and opportunity to respond. DDT ordered the policy to go immediately into effect.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has openly come out against its chair, former private equity lawyer Jay Clayton, because of his decision to give private equity billionaires the opportunity to take advantage of people with 401(k) retirement accounts. Last week, DDT issued a letter permitting the savings of 100 million workers and retirees to be put at risk in high-risk, high-fee firms. SEC’s purpose is to police the financial industry, and it issued a damning report documenting privity equity crimes. One of the Supreme Court’s rulings last week had restricted SEC’s power to punish thee firms. The law may require restitution for criminal actions but not financial punishment. DDT now wants his good friend Clayton to become U.S. Attorney in Manhattan after firing Geoffrey Berman. Confirmation gives Clayton the ability to control prosecutors, the last line of defense, against private equity crimes. In 2014, a top SEC official reported legal violations or control weaknesses in over half the examined private equity firm, including fee gouging.

In a good news, bad news story, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who testified in DDT’s impeachment process, is currently being blocked from a promotion to colonel. That’s the bad news. The good news? Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is blocking all 1,123 military promotions to the rank of colonel or above until Defense Secretary Mark Esper guarantees in writing Vindman will not be punished for his testimony.

Dealing with DDT is becoming harder and harder for Senate Republicans. DDT has threatened to veto defense appropriations bill with an amendment to remove Confederate names from military bases. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), up for reelection, is particularly worried about a veto for the bill and said he hopes DDT doesn’t carry through with his threat. Removing the amendment before sending the bill on requires 60 votes—53 Republicans and seven Democrats. The popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for social justice could endanger congressional Republicans up for reelection—197 seats in the House and 21 in the Senate. Three of these senators up for reelection—Joni Ernst (IA), Martha McSally (AZ), and Mike Rounds (SD)—on the Armed Services Committee support the name changes. Ernst and McSally are in vulnerable positions.

Twitch and Reddit have joined Facebook and Twitter in removing DDT’s hateful rhetoric on social media. Among 2,000 subreddits, Reddit banned a longtime forum used by his supporters, The_Donald, for frequent rule-breaking, and video streaming platform Twitch temporarily suspended DDT’s channel for the same reason. Facebook also announced changes to ban hateful content and removed hundreds of boogaloo violent accounts. The decision came after several boogaloos were charged with crimes during the protesters. Facebook has already taken down accounts and pages from white supremacists Proud Boys, American Guard, and Northwest Front.

Facebook is most likely reacting to an advertising boycott quietly starting but reaching huge proportions. After only three days, 800 worldwide companies from Coca-Cola to Unilever pulled millions of dollars in advertising from Facebook. The visibility of the boycott also links Facebook with racism and hate with the hashtag #StopHateForProfit campaign. Facebook stock dropped 8.32 percent last Friday. Boycotters are still negotiating, with civil rights groups planning to meet with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. There may not be much success: Zuckerberg believes in free expression, no matter the lies and violence. Social media depends on engagement; Facebook’s business model uses controversy and outrage to get readers and thus ads. Yesterday, Zuckerman said he will make no policy changes.

Not all of DDT’s officials follow the party line. FDA Commissioner refused to comment on DDT’s claim that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are “harmless” and  would not predict a timeline for vaccine availability after DDT asserted a vaccine or therapeutic would be ready “long before the end of the year.”

DDT is showing his fear and desperation by recommending people wear masks—despite his promotion of maskless activities. Last month, he told the Wall Street Journal people wore masks only to demonstrate their disapproval of him; last week, he told Fox, “I’m all for masks.” He added:

“Actually, I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked, OK? I thought it was OK. It was a dark, black mask, and I thought it looked OK. Looked like the Lone Ranger.”  

A recent study shows a national mask mandate would save the economy from a five-percent GDP hit. But not if people wear them like the Lone Ranger.

July 5: The number of COVID-19 infections is due to top three million tomorrow. Today’s numbers: 2,982,928 – infections; 132,569 – deaths.

 

May 31, 2020

Week 175 – Sunday Good News

In the midst of protesting George Floyd’s killing throughout at least 75 cities where police attack and arrest law-abiding reporters, one place in the United States provides a model of reaction to demonstrations. In Flint (MI), a sheriff and his officers put down their riot gear and joined with protesters. Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson (left) told the crowd marching on the Flint Township police station he wanted to hear them. He added he and his officers are in service of their demands and their protest. The leaders talked with Swanson, and law enforcement joined with protesters to “make this a parade, not a protest.”

Local photographer Leni Kei Williams documented the event in a photo essay posted to Facebook. He wrote about the inception of the interaction:

 

“When we reached the police station, the officers were lined up and everyone immediately took a knee. The Sheriff asked one question… ‘We are mad too! What can we do?’ and the crowd responded, ‘Join us.’”

“You got little ones here, you got dogs,” the sheriff said to the crowd in remarks caught on camera. “So listen, I’m just telling you, these cops love you. That cop over there, hugs people. So you just tell us what to do.”

Later, Swanson said:

“We can’t forget on all our police cars across the nation it says, ‘protect and serve.’ That means all people, that means all people deserve the same dignity. If you can’t call out what’s wrong, try to make it right. And that’s the magic we saw tonight. Nobody’s arrested, nobody got hurt. This is how it’s supposed to be.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be—the police working with the community. When we see injustice, we call it out on the police side and on the community side. All we had to do was talk to them, and now we’re walking with them. … The cops in this community, we condemn what happened. That guy [who killed George Floyd] is not one of us.”  

More of Williams’ photographs.

Similar actions happened in Camden (NJ), Coral Gables (FL), Santa Cruz (CA), Norfolk (VA), and probably other areas.

As DDT grows more desperate in his opposition to mail-in ballots, including raving about bands of children stealing ballots from mail boxes to get them signed and mailed in, a large majority of people in the nation, including 57 percent of Republicans, want mail-in ballots. We all feel we can safely cast our votes without long lines or dangers of crowded places. A new Brennan Center poll finds 80 percent of U.S. people, 90 percent of them registered to vote, want all voters to have the option of mail ballots for the 2020 election.  A Reuters poll found 65 percent of Republicans want the mail ballot option. In addition, two-thirds of people in a poll want voting available for as long as two weeks to eliminate long lines. Republicans are also creating organizations supporting mail ballots, for example former Pennsylvania GOP governor Tom Ridge who has co-founded “VoteSafe.” 

Ridge’s definition of democracy differs from Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons who said, “If you don’t [feel safe], don’t go out and vote.” He’s the same guy who passed on the question about who was responsible for the massive crowds at the Lake of the Ozarks who kept gathering because the county said it was the state’s responsibility. With an answer fitting every question, Parsons said, “It is what it is.” And about the tragic death of George Floyd, Parsons said, “It didn’t look too good.” [Parsons may not fit the “good” part of Sunday’s blog post, but his comments are too good to pass up.]

The Texas absentee voting lawsuit is still ping-ponging through the courts. State AG Ken Paxton wants mail-in ballots greatly restricted, but people want to maintain social distancing by voting from home. The latest state Supreme Court ruling is that concern about COVID-19 is insufficient to obtain a mail-in ballot. But the news for people isn’t all bad. The court also decided voters can assess their personal health to see if they have a disability, defined as a “sickness or physical condition” preventing a voter from appearing in person without the risk of “injuring the voter’s health.” Voters are also not required to explain what their disability is; they just check the box on the application form. And Paxton cannot prevent local election officials from sending ballots to voters who cited lack of immunity to the virus.

In an attempt to exonerate Michael Flynn and DDT, Congress released what the media calls “transcripts” of Flynn’s communications with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak when Flynn personally negotiated with a foreign country while Barack Obama was president. The conversations followed President Obama’s sanctions on Russia because of the country’s interference in the U.S. 2016 election. Flynn asked Kislyak to be “even-keeled” about the president’s punishment because “we can have a better conversation” about the relationship between U.S. and Russia after DDT’s inauguration. What has been released is enough of a condemnation of Flynn, who lied to the FBI in denying details of the conversation and undercutting a sitting president. Rep. Adam Schiff (R-CA) said the conversations also prove Flynn liked to VP Mike Pence. DDT had fired Flynn for his lies and admitted Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The released material, however, is only a summary of the interactions with some quotation—transcripts of every part of their conversations. DDT’s allies are still claiming Flynn did nothing wrong, and AG Bill Barr called Flynn’s actions “laudable.”

After protests from media such as The Rachel Maddow Show and legislators including Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Gary Peters (D-MI) and Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Max Rose (D-NY), DDT extended the deployment of over 40,000 National Guard troops fighting COVID-19 through mid-August. He originally removed the deployment on June 24, 89 days, to refuse Guard troops any federal retirement and education benefits. Earlier deployment would also have caused problems for states depending on the Guard in new hot spots caused by reopening economies. Troops help understaffed and underfunded public health agencies with testing, contact tracing and other health services. Deploying on June 24 would have meant troops would leave by Jun 10 to quarantine for two weeks. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and National Guard Chief General Joseph Lengyel endorsed an extension last week, and 42 governors sent DDT a letter demanding continued federal support for the Guard.

Paul Manafort got out of prison because of COVID-19. So did Michael Cohen. But DDT wanted to leave all the other prisoners in danger of infection in place despite a virus hot zone in a federal prison in Ohio. For once, the Supreme Court disagreed—at least temporarily—with DDT. 

Late Friday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to reject a California church’s challenge to the restrictions intended to protect people’s health. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Gov Gavin Newsom could impose these restrictions because he didn’t single out specific places of worship. The court also turned down a request for Illinois churches to reopen. Both states had already removed some restrictions and permitted in-person services on last Sunday’s Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

In the midst of DDT’s fight with Twitter, one of his judges rejected a lawsuit alleging Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Google conspired to silence conservative voices. Right-wingers accused the four companies of stifling First Amendment rights. Washington, D.C. appeals court Judge Trevor McFadden said First Amendment rights regulates the government, not the private sector and the plaintiffs didn’t prove the companies are “state actors.”

Opponents of Keystone XL and other pipelines picked up another victory from the 9th Circuit Court in a ruling that upheld a lower court ruling suspending a federal fast-track permit for the tar sands project. The court’s ruling stated the government and fossil fuel companies behind the project “have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and probability of irreparable harm to warrant a stay pending appeal.” This decision followed a U.S. district court in Montana which ruled DDT’s Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act when it used the fast-track “Nationwide Permit 12.”

The League of Women Voters of Michigan has the right to be interveners in a lawsuit attempting to stop the mandate for Detroit to conduct an aggressive purge of voters, some of them most likely eligible because of the questionable and unsubstantiated data used in the process. The purge risks removing voters with similar names and allegedly “deceased” voters who are still alive. The League asserts federal law doesn’t require purges from third parties using questionable data, Detroit meets federal law requirements, and the process would threaten voters’ rights.

Twenty-three U.S. states, four cities, and the District of Columbia are suing DDT’s administration for weakening fuel efficiency standards. The lawsuit also pits auto manufacturers against each other: GM, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and others support DDT, and Ford, Honda, BMW, and other automakers oppose him.

President Trump’s job approval sank to 42 percent last week in a two-year low from the highly conservative Rasmussen poll. During several days of protesting, DDT’s rating dropped four points from the previous Friday.

March 28, 2020

DDT: Week 166 – Beyond Coronavirus

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/paulmcleod/coronavirus-aid-package-house-pass Congress has passed the $2.2 trillion bill, despite last-minute attempts from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) to block it, driving the U.S. into far more debt. Both chambers have left D.C.: the Senate won’t be back until after April 20, and the House return has not been announced.  

A few quirks in the bill:

Employers (but not employees) can defer paying their share of Social Security tax on wages for a couple of years, but employees have to pay it now.

It gives $16 billion to buy ventilators and other medical equipment so DDT told car companies to make ventilators although he doesn’t see any reasons for more.

Food stamps aren’t expanded in the bill.

Federal lenders must stop all payments for student loans through September 30 and cannot charge interest or nonpayment fees. Credit scores and loan forgiveness won’t be affected; also suspended are wage garnishment and tax refund reduction for people who defaulted on federal student loans. The bill has no affect on private student loans which comprise about 12 percent of all education loans in 2018-2019. 

Despite Democrats attempt to keep Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) from making a profit on the bill, he can find loopholes. He can use real estate losses to minimize taxes on profits from items such as investments in the stock market which had been limited by the 2017 tax-cut package. DDT has always kept his taxes secret.

DDT also said he would ignore the law’s provision requiring independent oversight of his desired $500 billion “slush fund.” That way he can give money to his favorite and biggest donors. He also wants his signature on the stimulus checks. After all, election is only 239 days away.

Cruise ships aren’t getting bailout although information changes day by day. DDT insisted that we “can’t let the cruise lines go out of business,” but not one major cruise line lies the U.S. flag because it avoids laws, regulations, and taxes. No environmental laws about ship “discharges,” no U.S. labor laws, minimized criminal and civil liability, and reduced taxes. And they aren’t an “essential” industry.

Surrounded by his wealthy white male loyalists, DDT signed the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the person who managed to get it through the House, received no credit from DDT and was not invited for the signing. He has not spoken to her for five months. [Republicans below from left to right: Economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), DDT, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA), and VP Mike Pence.]

Over 90 percent of people in the U.S. believe a recession is coming, with seven percent disagreeing.

DDT and Barr are attacking corruption and fraud—in Venezuela. Sweeping indictments against the country’s President Nicolás Maduro with a $15 million bounty on his head are DDT’s latest attempt at a coup in Venezuela. Charges were filed in New York and Florida, probably because of those states’ investigating the DOJ. The indictments cannot arrest Maduro in Venezuela because of a well-equipped military and strong Russian support for him. To make National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, indictments include the head of Venezuela’s legislature, defense minister, and Supreme Court chief justice. DDT’s oil embargo has made Russia a winner because of Moscow’s deals to produce, transport and sell Venezuelan oil to markets other than the U.S.

Information about DDT keep crawling out from underneath the rocks, including his late-2018 protection of Walmart’s criminality regarding opioid-dispensing after a four-year investigation. Investigators found that Walmart pharmacists in Texas, Maine, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Washington filled prescriptions not for legitimate medical purposes when company competitors had not. Walmart also failed to comply with an FDA deal to tell them about sending the federal agency any alerts about illegitimate practices. Prosecutors who tried to make a criminal case have left the DOJ, and new ones have no interest in forcing Walmart to meet the law. Details here.

During the health crisis, DDT continues his purge of “nonloyalists,” this time Heather Swift, deputy assistant secretary of public affairs in DHS, who has been moved to the National Endowment for the Arts. Heather Swift, the deputy assistant secretary of public affairs at DHS, was moved to a senior post at the National Endowment for the Arts. Earlier, Swift was press secretary for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke before he left in disgrace.

A victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota came from a federal ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The USACE moved forward with building the pipeline across the Missouri River without considering the environmental impact study from the tribe in 2017. The Obama administration had denied building permits in 2016.

A federal judge ruled that DDT must go to court over allegations of violating the First Amendment by revoking press badges and security clearances. The decision came one day after the D.C. Circuit Court considered DDT’s removal of the press badge for Playboy’s White House correspondent Brian Karem.

Before the $2.2 trillion congressional bill, the Federal Reserve tried to salvage DDT’s stock market by purchasing unlimited amounts of U.S. Treasury’s and mortgage-backed securities. In the last recession, the Fed put almost $4 trillion into the financial system over several years; the current action could exceed that amount in a few weeks. Economists described the Fed’s response as “throwing the kitchen sink” at markets. DDT is delighted, but the markets aren’t. All afterhours trading in the U.S. is down, and only Japan and Hong Kong markets are up in the world.

The U.S. has cut $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan, and ISIS is taking responsibility for killing 25 people in a Sikh religious complex in Kabul.

DDT made hundreds of calls to evangelical Christians across the nation and promised:

“It’s a big day, Nov. 3; that’s going to be one of the biggest dates in the history of religion….”

Losing national monuments can also destroy jobs—700 of them when DDT stripped Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah of their federal designations. Businesses do better after monuments become official, especially in areas of hotel and lodging (16 percent job increase) and construction (17 percent increase). Health services, finance, insurance, and real estate also benefit. Mining and forestry don’t lose jobs by keeping the monuments.

During the health crisis, ICE is stopping most deportations except for people who have committed crimes or pose a threat to public safety. HUD is suspending foreclosures and evictions until the end of April.

The majority of people aren’t swallowing DDT’s lies about the health crisis:

  • 73 percent, including 75 percent of Republicans, said that it was not true that “anyone who wants to get tested [for the virus] can get tested.” Just 17 percent said it was true.
  • 20 percent of the public, and just 25 percent of Republicans, said that they believed a vaccine will be available soon. Forty-two percent said that was false and 38 percent said they did not know.
  • 51 percent, including a plurality or Republicans (46 percent), said it was false that the virus would go away on its own in warm weather, while just 13 percent said that was true.
  • 61 percent said they believed covid-19 was more deadly than the flu; 22 percent said it was about the same; and 11 percent said they believed it was less deadly.

Confusion about whether the FDA approved anti-malaria drugs, which killed at least one person and put others into the hospital who took it without medical advice, still existed: 45 percent agreed the state was false, 22 percent said it was true, and 33 percent didn’t know. 

Within a month from the first confirmed death from covid-19 in the U.S., the total reached 1,000 before doubling in just two days. And that’s without testing most of the people who might have covid-19 and not reporting many of the confirmed cases and deaths. Today, the world’s death rate is 2,227 from 123,750 confirmed cases; the world’s death rate is 30,879 in 663,740 confirmed cases.

September 17, 2018

Court Rulings Mostly Right Wrongs

Election Day is only 50 days away, and the GOP continues its attempts at voter suppression. In an honest move that may cause them to lose the 2018 North Carolina election, progressive groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters that won the redrawing of gerrymandered districts said that there was not enough time to complete the task in the next two months. The contortions of district lines caused the state to have 10 of 13 seats in the U.S. House with only 53 percent of the vote.

The majority in a panel of three judges from the 9th Circuit, two appointed by George W. Bush, upheld Arizona laws that prevent anyone except a family member, caretaker, or postal worker from turning ballots into elections officials and blocked out-of-precinct voting. The decision is especially onerous for Native Americans who are many miles from both voting precincts and post offices. As usual, the fake reason for the law is to avoid voter fraud, but the rationale comes from white entitlement and lack of understanding about other cultures and living conditions. The decision will be appealed to the full court but stays in effect for the upcoming election.

A Missouri judge made Republicans happy when he removed a redistricting measure for this fall’s ballot.

Yet not all bodes well for Republicans in court decisions.

Federal prosecutors have postponed their demand that North Carolina state and local elections officials give them well over 20 million ballots, poll books, and voter authorization forms going back almost nine years by September 25. Subpoenas also required photo images of voters, and subpoenas to the state DMV required DMV voter registration documents and those completed in a language other than English from both citizens and people not born in the U.S. Almost 2.3 million absentee ballots could be traced back to individual voters which caused privacy concerns. The subpoenas for these records cited ICE and a grand jury in Wilmington as the source for the demand after U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon announced charges against 19 non-U.S. citizens for illegal voting. A state audit counted 41 non-U.S. citizens acknowledged voting out of 4.8 million ballots. Higdon hopes to get the documents in January 2019.

A court in North Carolina also ruled in favor of expanding Gov. Roy Cooper’s authority to make certain appointments, ruling that the legislators had overstepped their authority and violated the separation of powers’ requirement. When Cooper was elected, the GOP legislature immediately passed several laws to restrict his abilities compared to that of his GOP predecessor.

For the second time in four years, federal judges struck down the GOP Virginia General Assembly boundaries of 11 electoral districts that pack minorities together so that white candidates in adjacent districts can win elections. Little progress has been made before the October 30 deadline. With the GOP failure to more forward, the governor has asked the GOP speaker of the state house to turn the project over to the courts. The districts will be used for state elections in 2019.

A Virginia judge also removed an independent candidate from the ballot in the 2nd District congressional race because of “forgery” and “out and out fraud” on her petition. Staffers working for the GOP candidate had collected many of the signatures to get her onto the ballot to split the progressive vote and ensure a win for their boss. Of the 377 signatures that five of them put on petitions, at least 146 were false, some of them for people who had died.

Florida Republicans thought they could keep Puerto Ricans who had fled their island after Hurricane Maria from voting if they refused them Spanish-language ballots. A district judge disagreed and ruled that 32 counties across the state had violated the Voting Rights Act. He ordered them to provide bilingual voting materials, including ballots and poll worker support, for Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters. According to his ruling:

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Unique among Americans, they are not educated primarily in English — and do not need to be. But, like all American citizens, they possess the fundamental right to vote.”

The enactment is on an expedited basis to give Florida officials “ample” time to appeal if “they seek to block their fellow citizens, many of whom fled after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, from casting meaningful ballots,” according to the judge. “It is remarkable that it takes a coalition of voting rights organizations and individuals to sue in federal court to seek minimal compliance with the plain language of a venerable 53-year-old law,” he added.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the so-called “charity” Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation, linked to billionaire Charles Koch, must disclose its donors to California officials. The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court reversed a lower court ruling from last year.

A grand jury will be convened to investigate whether Republican gubernatorial candidate and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach intentionally failed to register voters in 2016.

The court woes of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) continue. He tried to get out of going to court over paying hush-money for a nondisclosure agreement with Stormy Daniels so that he and former attorney Michael Cohen don’t have to give dispositions. By not contesting the suit, DDT thinks that he has escaped, but Daniels still has a defamation suit against DDT.

The fate of DDT’s IRS returns is still in court, this time the Washington, D.C. Circuit. EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act case is arguing that IRS must release his returns to correct misstatements of fact about his financial ties to Russia in his tweets. At least two-thirds of people want DDT to release the returns. The 98-page financial disclosure that DDT is forced to make public shows that his biggest windfalls come from his property that he frequently visits. For example, he made $37 million from Mar-a-Lago, up from $15 million in 2015, and $20 from his nearby golf club.

A federal judge refused to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ruling that Texas and six other conservative states couldn’t prove irreparable harm from the program. He also stated that he believed the program is unconstitutional, but the time has passed to rescind it.

Cities can’t prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go because it amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, according to a 9th Circuit Court ruling in Boise (ID). Six homeless people sued the city in 2009. The judge also wrote:

“A city cannot, via the threat of prosecution, coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs consistently with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

A federal judge in Boston ruled that ICE should not remove undocumented people in the process of applying for green cards even if they have final orders of removal. The ruling may not require a penalty from the government or apply outside the New England area. Five couples are suing DHS, ICE, DDT, and law enforcement because spouses were detained by ICE when they went for marriage interviews with U.S.-citizen spouses, a requirement for the application process to prove they have legitimate marriages. Emails show coordination between ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services to coordinate interviews and arrests. The suit began with a woman who was brought from Guatemala when she was three years old and married U.S. citizen Luis Gordillo. They have two children.

A Canadian court unanimously overturned Ottawa’s approval of a pipeline project because the government failed to consider concerns of some First Nations and did not consider the impact of increased tanker traffic. The pipeline, almost 700 miles long, would take bitumen from Alberta to the western ports to ship to Asia. The ship traffic has already had a devastating affect on southern resident orcas which are almost extinct.

Parents of a Sandy Hook victim may continue its defamation lawsuit against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after his repeated lies that the 2012 massacre killing 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school was a “fraud.” Six other Sandy Hook families also filed a defamation lawsuit against Jones in May. Jones’ Infowars is also facing a lawsuit for misidentifying a person as the shooter at the Parkland (FL) school who killed 17 people and another defamation suit from the person who recorded the vehicular murder of Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville (VA) rally last year. Jones’ law firm is also representing the co-founder of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist website The Stormer.

An arbitrator has denied the NFL request to throw out Colin Kaepernick’s grievance that owners conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protests for social injustice. The ruling shows that Kaepernick has sufficient evidence of collusion for a lawsuit. Eric Reid’s grievance for joining the protests is still pending. The NFL had to put on hold its policy that would require players to stand if they are on the sideline during the national anthem because of problems that it classified protests as conduct detrimental to the team.

September 10, 2016

Good News While Congress Stays in Gridlock

The Obama administration made two monumental decisions this week.

Contractors building a pipeline attacked protesters with mace and dogs as they blocked construction on federal land and asked the company to suspend nearby work, and a federal judge refused to block the $3.7 billion pipeline crossing four states. Two hundred Native American tribes were joined by activists and celebrities to oppose the pipeline. The U.S. Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior stopped the pipeline, however, and said that “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects

With their tribal land a half-mile from the proposed pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux declared that the pipeline would desecrate sacred burial and prayer sites as well as leak oil into their water source of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers. The government will not authorize construction at Lake Oahe and asked the contractors to stop work on other land. The proposed 1,100-mile pipeline was to take crude oil from North Dakota, Montana, and Canada to the U.S. Gulf.

The company driving the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner, originally promised that all the oil would stay in the United States and lessen the nation’s independence on foreign fossil fuel, but they have withdrawn this guarantee after their successful lobbying to remove the 40-year ban on crude oil exports. The company’s filing with the SEC notes that “export projects” will “balance this market [with general oversupply] by 2018.” It also lists the pipeline as a “leader in the export of hydrocarbons.” In a presentation, Energy Transfer Partners stated that it is “exceptionally well positioned to capitalize on U.S. energy exports.”

The second welcome federal decision last week is a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would eliminate Title X funding to states cutting Planned Parenthood funding. PP uses about $70 million to serve over 1.1 million patients with incomes under $23,500 with contraceptives and screenings for cancer and STDs. Although none of the Title X funding can be used for abortions, 11 states have blocked PP funds. Congressional Republicans are also so intent on defunding PP that they won’t provide funding to protect people in the U.S. from the Zika virus.

PP is also attacking the Zika virus through the distribution of Zika prevention kits and education where the virus is shown to be spreading. Yet some high-risk states for the virus—Florida, Louisiana, and Texas—have blocked PP funds. In Florida alone, 84 pregnant women are currently infected with Zika. The most recent research shows that most of these women will give birth to infants with birth defects. About 84 pregnant women in Florida are currently infected with Zika, officials have said.

The 30-day public comment on this rule ends on October 7, 2016. Women who need the services of Planned Parenthood will appreciate all the support they can get. This is the link to the give a comment.  http://www.regulations.gov/document?D=HHS_FRDOC_0001-0645

Good things may happen in threes. This week, the House finally passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights after the Senate passed its version last May. The bill mandates that victims be informed of rape kits’ results and legal status as well as preventing victims from being charged for the processing the kits. The law applies only to federal cases, but it’s a start.

Otherwise, Congress has spent its first four days after a long session doing almost nothing. They did pass a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, but it could lead to retaliation against U.S. citizens by other countries. At this time, victims can sue a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism; this bill would allow citizens to sue countries without that designation. Although 15 of the 19 perpetrators of 9/11 tragedy came from Saudi Arabia, there is no proof that Saudi Arabia instigated the attack.

The problem about the bill comes from the concept of “sovereign immunity,” giving foreign governments immunity from prosecution in U.S. courts, according to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FISA).  As “state sponsors of terror,” Syria, Iran, and Sudan are the only exempt countries from FISA. Congress claims that the bill just passed would make only an exemption for this one lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, but legal experts have said that it would expand exemptions to any countries that commit the same terrorism defined in the legislation.

The bill may lead to other countries passing similar sovereign immunity exceptions, putting the U.S. at risk of being sued by their citizens. For example, Iraq could pass a law permitting its citizens the right to sue the U.S. government for damages during the Iraq War. If the U.S. lost its case in Iraqi courts, then the Iraqi government could seize U.S. assets in their country to pay the victims. Saudi Arabia has threatened that it would pull its assets out of the U.S. if the bill became law. The end result of this law might be to increase chaos in foreign policy process and undermines the ability of the president to craft a careful, cohesive foreign policy for all people in the nation.

The president has another nine days to make a decision on the bill.

As low as the bar has been put for Donald Trump, it’s even lower for Congress. Its only goal during September before they leave for another two months is “don’t close the government.” Even a stopgap funding bill has become difficult. The far-right Freedom Caucus wants one that goes into next year so that newly elected legislators can decide the budget. The others want one to end in December because they fear that next year will have fewer Republicans.

The first problem attacked on the first day of this session was the standoff in funds for combating the Zika virus. Republicans refuse to support the funding without eradicating all funds for Planned Parenthood. The Senate added more blackmail with demanding that environmental regulations on pesticides be loosened before granting Zika-related funds. The government has been taking anti-Zika funds from other areas, but all the funding is gone by the end of September.

A 52-46 procedural vote kept the Senate from moving forward to end debate on a conference report with the House about Zika funding, the third time that the proposal has failed because of targets against Planned Parenthood. The bill was attached to spending on military construction and veterans affairs, giving McConnell a chance to announce that Democrats opposed veterans. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said:

“Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the confederate flag. Can’t make that stuff up — that’s really the truth — than protecting women and babies from this awful virus.”

The White House asked for $1.9 billion, but the Senate offered only $350 million in new money and moved the rest of the proposed $1.1 billion from other health accounts, including the fund for fighting the Ebola virus.

While Congress dithered, “the number of Zika cases in the U.S. more than doubled to 2,700, and people infected with the virus turned up in every state,” an LA Times editorial. “A total of 17 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects, and about 1,600 pregnant women are known to have been exposed. And those are just the cases we know about; some 80 percent of those infected with the disease have mild or no symptoms.”

Another “big” issue in the House is an argument about impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for something done before he got the job. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has caved into the Freedom Caucus’ demand to put the issue up for a vote despite claims from GOP leaders and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that Koskin is guilty of incompetence, not a crime. Only once—in 1876—has the House voted to impeach a Cabinet member and never to an executive branch official below the Cabinet rank. Any action from the House would require a two-thirds majority from the Senate for conviction, an unlikely possibility.  Opposed to the impeachment is a group of 123 tax-law professionals, the American College of Tax Counsel, and a group of former IRS commissioners.

As Democrats pointed out, the House is pursuing what they see as “baseless attacks” while ignoring “urgent issues”—“Zika virus, the Flint water crisis, the opioid crisis, and gun violence.” Ryan has his own priorities: his next one is probably to “punish” the Democrats who held a 25-hour sit-in because he wouldn’t bring any gun legislation to the floor. The man in control of whether any bill ever reaches a vote in Congress said about the sit-in, “That’s not the way that a democracy works.”

A year ago, the Freedom Caucus got rid of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH); now they have their sights set on Paul Ryan when he comes up for speaker again in January. The 40-member group is even considering a departure from the 180-member House Republican Study Committee if the conservative group won’t let the far-right members of the House take over. A three-way split in the House could greatly benefit Democrats even if they don’t achieve a majority.

At least Congress will be gone in another three weeks. The question is whether the government will stay open after September 30.

February 28, 2014

Conflict of Interest, in the Eye of the Beholder

When is a conflict of interest not a conflict? Today it’s when the State Department says it isn’t. After the agency hired the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) as its consulting firm to review environmental effects of the Keystone XL pipeline, people complained about the connections of the consulting firm, but the agency’s inspector general investigated and found—no problem!

The State Department’s has again reported that the environmental impact study commissioned to ERM regarding the trans-country pipeline found no significant climate impacts. That’s the study from a company listing TransCanada as a client just a year before the Keystone contract while telling the State Department that it had been at least five years since ERM worked with the company building the pipeline. ERM didn’t mention that one of its divisions, ERM West, worked with TransCanada on the Alaska Pipeline Project until last summer—after ERM was hired to write the report.

Until the State Department was asked about the conflict of interest, ERM didn’t say anything about its bidding for contracts in Canada that could include two new TransCanada projects. As recently as 2010, ERM was part of a lobbying group, the International Carbon Black Association, that a subsidiary (Cancarb) of TransCanada owns—a company that includes major Keystone XL proponents and potential beneficiaries. ERM also failed to identify its membership in several trade organizations that support the pipeline, including the Western Energy Alliance, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

ERM must have understood its conflict of interest when the firm suddenly removed the names of subcontractors formerly working on TransCanada projects from its website. Later the names reappeared without their affiliations to TransCanada.

Although ERM was paid to prepare the environmental impact report, another firm, one that is outright owned by a tar sands developer, actually did the assessment. Jacobs Engineering’s most recent contract was with Canadian oil sands leader Suncor.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has asked the Government Accountability Office to do a separate investigation into State’s process for vetting contractors, and he says the GAO is planning to act on his request. He added that the inspector general’s report focused on “whether the State Department followed its own flawed process for selecting a third-party contractor. The fact that the answer is ‘yes’ doesn’t address any outstanding concerns about the integrity of ERM’s work, the State Department’s in-house ability to evaluate its quality or whether the process itself needs to be reformed.”

Supporters of the Keystone XL think that it will solve their dual needs for jobs and low-cost energy. The short film “Keystone PipeLIES Exposed” explains how the Keystone XL project fails to do either one. Big business has highly inflated the number of jobs created, and most of the smaller number of jobs disappears after construction ends. Even with a rosy view, the State Department concluded that 3,900 direct jobs would be created during pipeline construction; at its completion, there would be 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs.

The pipeline would most likely increase fuel prices in the United States while generating no taxes from TransCanada after it files a “Master Limited Partnership.” Tar sands oil shipped to the Midwest current sells for about $70 per barrel, much less than the $100 a barrel possible on the open market. As the map shows, the oil will move through the U.S., be refined, and then ship off to the international market which has a higher yield than in this country.

pipeline

The United States gets higher fuel prices and almost no jobs, but it does get leaking pipelines across the country that destroy the nation’s water, especially in the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater supply in the middle of the country. As the leaks devastate the U.S. agriculture, taxpayers pay to clean up the spills because tar sands oil is exempt from corporations having to pay into the oil spill liability trust fund.

In its environmental impact, the State Department certified that the pipeline’s additional carbon emissions would be the equivalent of an additional 300,000 cars on the road. The contractor most closely linked to TransCanada reported, however, that this was negligible because TransCanada wouldn’t stop drilling.

So who benefits from the United States destroying its food supply, water, and environment? China, according to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL). Now that the Chinese have our manufacturing jobs, they need raw materials and energy. Canada is the most stable country to provide energy, and people in the United States might be willing to let the oil pass through our country into China—all with no benefits for anyone in the U.S. China annually imports about $50 billion in goods from the United States and exports about $350 billion in mostly manufactured goods to the United States. Each year, China also buys about $300 billion in U.S. assets, mostly U.S. Treasuries.

China has put about $30 billion of the trade surplus into Canadian tar sands. All the oil that passes through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline has to be sold in the U.S., but the Keystone XL Pipeline is permitted a tax-free zone to provide Chinese energy independence. The Koch brothers, who own the refineries, benefit; the people of the United States don’t.

If people in the United States were intelligent and far-seeing, we would keep the environment clean and sell food to China when they can no longer grow it. Their air pollution is so bad that it is like a nuclear winter. The slowing photosynthesis in plants may greatly decrease the possibility of growing food. This week’s smog in Beijing and large parts of six northern provinces is so bad that the PM 2.5 particles can enter the bloodstream through the lungs. A safe level is 25. Flights are grounded, highways are closed, and tourists are kept at home. Air pollutants adhering to greenhouse surfaces have cut the light inside by 50 percent.

Buildings are seen through thick haze in Guangzhou

In a first for China, a man in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province near Beijing, is suing the local environmental protection bureau for failing to rein in the smog. Li Guixin is also asking for compensation because of economic losses.

The Keystone XL pipeline has received publicity because it goes from one country to another, requiring presidential approval. Within the United States, however, pipeline construction is not inhibited in the same way. In the five years since the first TransCanada application, the 589-mile Flanagan South, moving through about 1,950 wetlands and waterways including the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, has been approved because of a loophole allowing companies to fast-track pipeline projects and bypass environmental protection laws. About half the length of Keystone XL, Flanagan South carries tar sands and Bakken crude from Pontiac (IL) to Cushing (OK).

FlanaganSouth

Although each part of the pipeline could not exist without the rest of it, the Army Corps of Engineers allowed each water crossing to be separate for the purpose of permits, thus avoiding any environmental review. A federal judge who heard a lawsuit last week will decide within the next few weeks whether the Sierra Club’s claims have merit. The same loophole was used on the southern half of Keystone XL, which began shipping oil last month despite the pipelines’ leaks.

Enbridge, the company in charge of Flanagan South, was responsible for the 1,000,000-gallon spill in July 2010 when tar sands crude went into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. Oil is still being removed from the area after Enbridge missed its EPA deadline to finish cleanup by the end of 2013.

Even conservative Nebraskans understand the danger of pipelines crossing lands vital for agriculture and water. After Gov. Dave Heineman approved the Keystone XL route through the state, a judge struck down his decision because it forced landowners to sell their property. Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled that only the state Public Service Commission can give TransCanada eminent domain powers. The commission was created in the 1890s to stop governors from giving political favors to railroad executives.

Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, said,”TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: Never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water.” We need more Jane Kleebs to protect land and water across the United States.

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