Nel's New Day

May 3, 2020

DDT: Week 171 – Time for Good News

While the macho protesters threatened lawmakers with assault rifles and forced their way into the Capitol, a small virus (right) moved through the scene by remote control. Video here.

The Post Office will deliver all ballots without the correct postage.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that insurance companies should be provided $12 billion from the federal government in unpaid claims from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The mandated remuneration period was for the first three years of ACA’s startup, but GOP members of Congress capped payments from 2014 through 2016. Insurers argued that this was a “bait and switch”; except for Justice Samuel Alito, the court agreed. Alito called the ACA a “massive bailout” for companies that “bet unsuccessfully on the success” of the ACA. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the fund a “bailout” during when GOP began its efforts to eliminate the ACA in 2013. The ACA stated that the government “shall pay, and eight justices ruled that the government should honor its obligations.

The GOP refusal to obey the ACA for three years cost both people and the government a great deal of money. Paying the $12 billion on time would have restrained premium increases and health company failures. Republicans, however, wanted these problems to prove that the ACA was broken; unfortunately for them, the system stabilized and became popular.  

In another ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed a New York gun rights case because the law had been rescinded. Three justices—Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch—claimed that the case was not moot and that “the court permits our docket to be manipulated.” Four justices, however, want to examine whether lower courts have wrongly upheld gun control measures. The fourth justice is Brett Kavanaugh.  

The Supreme Court also decided, 6-3, that pollution discharged directly into navigable waters requires permits and returned the case to a lower court. The majority ruled that the Clean Water Act applies to some pollutants that reach the ocean and other protected waters indirectly through groundwater. DDT’s administration had filed a brief in favor of the Maui (HI) wastewater treatment plant that daily disposed of four million gallons of treated sewage by pumping it into groundwater a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean. The 9th Circuit Court ruled the the pollution was “fairly traceable” to the plant. Thompson, Gorsuch, and Alito all dissented.

A federal judge in California ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “identify and track” every person in ICE detention at an elevated risk of complications from COVID-19 and to consider releasing those detainees, regardless of their legal status. Risk factors include pregnancy, age over 55, and chronic health conditions. ICE reported 220 confirmed COVID-19 cases among custody and 20 among employees in detention facilities. The judge wrote, “[ICE has] likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of [detained immigrants at risk.] The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.’”

The 7th Circuit Court upheld two lower court rulings against DDT’s blackmail attempt to withhold millions of dollars from so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that don’t go above and beyond the law in helping to deport immigrants. DDT has said he might restrict COVID-19 aid to states and cities with “sanctuary policies.” Two of the three judges on the panel said the ruling is nationwide although one of them wanted it limited to Chicago, which brought the lawsuit. There may be an appeal to the Supreme Court.

A federal judge ruled last month that tens of thousands of immigrants denied medical care and disability accommodations by the federal government can proceed with their lawsuit against ICE. He also denied the separation of the lawsuit into 15 separate cases in eight different district courts and refused ICE’s motion to strike the 200-page complaint.

A federal judge ruled that DDT again violated the agreement requiring the government to release migrant children detained at the border and kept in unlicensed facilities within 20 days. The children were ordered released because the government had stopped allowing children to go to parents, relatives, or potential guardians in New York, California, and Washington. Plaintiffs also argued that delays endangered children from COVID-19.

People married to immigrants without Social Security numbers are suing DDT because the IRS mandated people living in a household with any person not having a Social Security number are not eligible for the $1,200 disaster relief checks. The plaintiff would have qualified for a $1,200 stimulus check, but he files taxes with his immigrant spouse, who uses an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The lawsuit also names Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as defendants. The couple’s children are also excluded because one parent is an immigrant. The lawyer presenting the case said:

“If you are discriminating on the basis of marriage, the government has to show there is a compelling government interest that justifies this exclusion. It’s a very high burden to meet.”

A federal judge blocked the government from giving $8 billion in COVID-19 relief funding designated as assistance for Native American communities to for-profit corporations owned by Natives. These corporations act as holding companies for businesses benefiting from Native lands. Alaska has about 237 of these corporations. Native American tribes need the funding to “continue essential government services,” according to Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). Judge Amit Mehta agreed no evidence exists that the for-profit companies provided public services during the health crisis and said it was “unlikely” that the Treasury Inspector General could just take back improperly distributed money, as the government claimed. People on one reservation, the Navajo Nation, test for the virus at a rate nine times more than people in Arizona, and medical supplies and care are woefully inadequate. 

Native Americans achieved another victory in North Dakota. Many of them lost the right to vote in the 2018 election because a new state law required everyone, including people living on the reservation, to have street addresses. They also lacked driver’s licenses, and the state disqualified IDs issued by the tribes. The state has settled two lawsuits because a federal court refused to dismiss one of the challenges; North Dakota will now guarantee that Native voters without a street address will be permitted to vote.

A panel from the 10th Circuit Court struck down a Kansas law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship for voter registration and delivered a rebuke to its creator, former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach who is now running for U.S. senator. The 2013 law, blocked by a federal trial judge, had no basis in accusations of voter fraud although DDT made Kobach in charge of his commission on voter fraud, disbanded in 2018. Kansas could appeal the case to the entire 10th Circuit Court. The Kansas GOP is so concerned about Kobach being the winner in the primary—and thus losing in the general election—that it has asked two of his five opponents to narrow the field by dropping out. The GOP primary for U.S. Senate is on August 4, 2020. In a crowded contest, Kobach won the party’s 2018 gubernatorial race but lost in the deep red state to Laura Kelly, a Democratic woman.

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities issued a ruling prohibiting all employers and insurers from denying coverage for transgender people’s health care needs relating to gender transition.

Republican senators aren’t abandoning DDT, but they understand that a connection to him may not help their campaigns. A memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee has contributed to DDT’s temper tantrums:

Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban—attack China.”

The memo came from a political consulting firm advising Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), unopposed for his 2020 re-election and aiming for the GOP presidential candidate in 2024. DDT’s political adviser Justin Clark told NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin that candidates following the memo’s advise won’t have the support of the reelection campaign. GOP candidates “who want to win will be running with the president.”

DDT’s justification for doing nothing about the health crisis for months is that he knew nothing about the problem. Yet in over a dozen classified briefings during January and February, U.S. intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in the President’s Daily Brief, designed to alert a president to the most significant global developments and security threats. DDT downplayed any problems from the virus until the middle of March, over two weeks after fatalities of COVID-19 were documented, and was outraged at the warning from Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, that virus was spreading so rapidly that “we need to be prepared for significant disruption in our lives.” He was worried that the news would adversely affect the stock market. Now people have proof the DDT did not take “early, aggressive historic action,” as DDT’s deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley claims.

As of May 3, the United State has at least 1,188,384 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 68,600 deaths in a little over two months. The numbers are much lower than reality because some conservative jurisdictions—including Florida—aren’t reporting the cases and deaths. In addition, these numbers apply only to tested people, and the U.S. has a severe shortage of testing supplies.        

April 22, 2020

You Can Save the Earth

Today in the midst of the worst pandemic for more than a century, Earth Day spent its 50th anniversary. For over three years, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), elected by a minority of the U.S. voters, has assaulted the environment to favor his friends. In the same way that prominent Republicans say that people should die in order to keep them rich, DDT pollutes and poisons the world. In his most recent efforts, the ones after he stopped the enforcement of most environmental regulations “indefinitely,” he now permits life-threatening chemicals on products used for cooking and argues that any control of mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants isn’t “appropriate and necessary.”

On April 22, 1970, twenty million people marched and rallied to clean up the country. Fifty years later, the destruction of habitats has displaced wildlife that brought viral outbreaks. Past ones such as AIDS, Ebola, and SARS have moderate control; with no leadership in the United States, the current one, COVID-19, has swept across the nation, infected millions and killing an unknown number because only a little over one percent of the people in the U.S. have been tested.

On Earth Day 2020, the entire leadership of the United States, including 75 percent of environmental managers working for the fossil fuel industries, promotes fossil fuel production at the loss of all alternative energies and roll back auto emissions standards. For example, Head of the BLM William Perry Pendley believes that the Endangered Species Act is “rural genocide” meant to drive residents off the land. For decades, the United States has seen the escalation of the militia movement that wants county sheriffs to arrest federal employees who enforce environmental rules and the purge of environmental Republican in Congress.

The one bonus of the current pandemic is the lessening of pollution which kills about 4.2 million people throughout the planet from stroke, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. In just New York, carbon monoxide from cars during the past couple of month has been reduced by nearly 50 percent compared from the same months last year. The massive decline of pollution and greenhouse gases in China for just two months probably saved the lives of 4,000 young children and 73,000 elderly adults in just China.

Seimologists from Belgium to New Zealand can better track tremors with people staying home. They determine the lessening of noise pollution means people can avoid stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, etc. The lack of noise pollution from cruise ships makes marine animals healthier and increases their reproduction by decreasing stress-hormone levels.

Other sea creatures may be making a comeback. For almost a decade, the sea stars, vital to preserving the kelp forests by eating sea urchins, have been wasting along the West Coast, possibly from a virus. One theory about the disappearance of sea stars is the large number of people on the beaches. Nature may have gotten to the tipping point of survival with the human invasion.

The frantic search for a solution to COVID-19 may lead to saving the environment. As researchers push to find information about pathogens and their human hosts may discover answers to the disappearing coral reefs, possibly from highly contagious bacterial diseases. The 50 percent of pathogenic bacteria and coral diseases in sea grass found in Indonesian waters could be from human sewage. Researchers are replicating the sea grass in Puget Sound for human defenses in medicines and diet. They already determined that mangrove sea squirts have antimicrobial agents and anticancer drugs. Algae and the blue blood from abalone can stop herpes and flu viruses.

The shrinking of the ozone layer over Antarctica shows that people can make a difference in climate change if they try. By 2000, the 1987 Montreal Protocol to stop ozone-depleting substances (ODS) reversed the jet stream direction to head back to the north. The change in the jet stream had pushed rain away from the coastal areas of Australia, causing drought and ensuing wildfires. The decreasing rainfall may change with the shift in jet streams and ocean currents.

After 50 years of honoring the environment on Earth Day, the majority of people say they take at least seven of 15 actions to help the environment during the past year, beginning with 85 percent who voluntarily recycle. Over half reduced use of energy, tried to use less water, used reusable shopping bags, avoided products harming the environment or bought products better for the environment, and replaced  incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent or luminescent ones.

Last month, people shared a poem that went viral across the internet. They claimed that it was written in 1869 by Kathleen O’Mara and reprinted for the 1918 flu pandemic. The author is actually a retired Wisconsin teacher and palliative care chaplain, Catherine O’Meara, who wrote it in March 2020 because of the current pandemic.  

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows.

“And the people began to think differently.

“And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

“And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

In 2017, Jane Hirschfield wrote this poem for Earth Day. Its prescience is even more important in 2020 when the anti-science leadership of the United States avoids finding solutions for the current health disaster.

“On the fifth day/the scientists who studied the rivers/were forbidden to speak/or to study the rivers.

“The scientists who studied the air/were told not to speak of the air,/and the ones who worked for the farmers/were silenced,/and the ones who worked for the bees.

“Someone, from deep in the Badlands,/began posting facts.

“The facts were told not to speak/and were taken away.

“The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

“Now it was only the rivers/that spoke of the rivers,/and only the wind that spoke of its bees,/while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees/continued to move toward their fruit.

“The silence spoke loudly of silence,/and the rivers kept speaking,/of rivers, of boulders and air.

“In gravity, earless and tongueless,/the untested rivers kept speaking.

“Bus drivers, shelf stockers,/code writers, machinists, accountants,/lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

“They spoke, the fifth day,/of silence.

Poet Lynn Ungar wrote her response to the current sheltering at home. The first few lines: 

“What if you thought of it/as the Jews consider the Sabbath—/the most sacred of times?

“Cease from travel.

“Cease from buying and selling.

“Give up, just for now,/on trying to make the world/different than it is.”

The United States is now facing an economic disaster over twice as bad as the one caused by George W. Bush in 2009—and it’s combined with a health disaster. During the Great Recession over a decade ago, people modified their buying habits—mending instead of trashing, cooking instead of always eating out, buying second-hand instead of from elite stores—trying to conserve because they had no money. President Obama pulled the United States people out of this disaster, but they went back to their wasteful ways. If only people will keep patterns of saving after COVID-19 is really under control instead returning to destroying the planet through their extravagant lifestyles.

[Thanks to Ann Hubard and Sue Hardesty for photos of an environment we need to preserve.]

On April 22, the U.S. has 849,092 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 47,681 deaths, as well as countless others who weren’t tested. That’s a 12-percent increase in deaths during the past two days.

January 30, 2020

Health on Downward Slide under DDT

While many people fixate on the impeachment trial of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), he is further destroying health care while causing illnesses. After polling shows that Democrats received higher approval for healthcare than Republicans, DDT attacked his HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Then he tweeted:

“I was the person who saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare. I will always protect your Pre-Existing Conditions, the Dems will not!”

DDT fought to take healthcare protections for people in his repeal-and-replace proposals and in his support for a federal lawsuit that removes pre-existing protections in healthcare. When DDT couldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he moved to take Medicaid from millions of people by giving states block grants for Medicaid that caps federal funding for coverage. The badly named “Healthy Adult Opportunity” allows states to turn away qualified applicants, deprive people of needed medication, and limit health benefits. Medicare/Medicaid administrator Seema Verma, who wants to remove as many people as possible from Medicaid, said, “This policy is about helping people achieve the American Dream.” Her argument is that people who can’t get Medicaid is a “good outcome” because “they don’t need the program anymore.” DDT’s plan will force many people out of nursing homes.

The GOP and DDT hope that they can wait until after this year’s election to deal with the Affordable Care Act so people won’t know that they will lose their health care with no replacement by electing GOP control. A majority of the Supreme Court has helped by denying a request to expedite the challenge to the ACA from the House of Representatives and Democratic-led states. 

A serious problem with current healthcare in the U.S. is that it allows health insurance that provides little more than “thoughts and prayers”—and the purchasers don’t know that the companies may not pay for their medical costs. “Traditional” insurance has legal requirements because of the ACA, but “alternative” coverage doesn’t have these regulations, many of them from “faith-based” providers. This fake insurance will expand with DDT’s possible new rules with workplace Health Savings Accounts. Denial of payment can come from “lifestyle” choices, “preexisting conditions” prevented in traditional insurance, and caps in coverage. For example, the Aliera plan requiring purchasers to belong to a religious group and oppose abortion, appears to have coverage. One client, however, was told to “trust in God” when the company refused to pay the $200,000 for back surgery after it told the purchaser that the cost was covered. “Faith-based” healthcare sharing “ministries” take monthly contributions from over a million people and work like GoFundMe programs. These inexpensive plans use misleading—sometime fraudulent—advertising because DDT’s executive orders give them that permission.

The religious plans were exempted from the ACA individual mandate to get votes from Democratic senators representing conservative states, and DDT succeeded in repealing the individual mandate in 2017. He also took executive action to promote insurance with substandard coverage, and the plans flourished with little or no oversight. They can refuse any claim and define “pre-existing” any way they wish, such as a broken arm. Preventative and mental health care are also not covered. Their customers lack any recourse because of no regulations and the contracts they sign.

Even people with traditional insurance pay higher premiums than anticipated from the ACA because the law lost the individual mandate that everyone have health insurance. “Healthy” people decide to not get health insurance, with their assumption that they will never need it. When they need care, they go to emergency rooms and leave the costs to the hospitals or the government.

An increasing number of people with traditional health care can’t afford medical care such as visits to doctors and medication. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that more people in the U.S. lack funds for medical care than twenty years ago. Problems come from the rise of “narrow networks, high-deductible plans, and higher co-pays.” Between 1998 and 2017, the share of adults 18-64 unable to visit doctors increased from 11 percent to 16 percent, and those with health insurance, the share rose from seven percent to almost 12 percent. Adult Canadians reported only 1 percent of adults over 45 with a chronic disease unable to meet medical needs because of high costs compared to 18.7 percent in the U.S.

Last year, 25 percent of people in the U.S. said that they or a family member postponed treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of cost, compared to 19 percent in the previous year. Another 8 percent reported a delay for a less serious condition, bringing the total to one-third of the U.S. population. The percentage tied that in 2014, the first year of complete ACA implementation.

Meanwhile, health insurance and drug industries make a huge profit. Insurance premiums increased 22 percent since 2014 and 54 percent in the past decade while wages remained largely flat. Deductibles increased by 36 percent since 2014 and 100 percent in the past decade. In 2018, people in the U.S. borrowed $88 billion for healthcare costs, and healthcare costs–the leading cause of bankruptcies–force 530,000 people to annually go into bankruptcy. 

Many people prefer for-profit “Medicare Advantage” plans because they get dental and eye coverage that people on traditional Medigap plans lack. This year, the program added even more “advantages” to help older people. Those who use these plans, however, may be unfamiliar with government audits showing that Medicare Advantage plans pose “an imminent and serious risk to the health of… enrollees” and overcharge taxpayers by $10 billion a year. Another report shows that the plans are not submitting accurate claims data, and they may be paid for services that they provide.  Last year, six senators described wrongdoings by several corporations including UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Cigna and Humana—tens of billions of dollars in overcharges, failure to cover required care, inaccurate provider directories, etc.

Conservatives argue against single-payer health care with two primary reasons—they want freedom to not have health care and the system costs too much. In just 2017, U.S. insurers and healthcare providers spent $812 billion on paperwork and other administrative activities, according to a study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine. These costs are 34.2 percent of U.S. total national health expenditures in that year and twice what Canada spends on healthcare administration in the same year. U.S. insurers and providers pent $2,497 per person on healthcare administration in 2017 compared to Canada’s cost of $551 per capita. The study found that “Medicare for All” could save over $600 billion per year, just on bureaucracy.

While DDT removes healthcare from people, he makes health worse in the United States. For decades, health professional believe that exposure to radiation can cause cancer; now DDT wants to “relax” regulations for radiation in the U.S. to “have a positive effect on human health.” According to a witness at a congressional hearing, exposure to radiation and other carcinogen that stress the body makes people healthier by putting bodies’ repair mechanisms work better, like exercise and exposure to sunlight. DDT’s transition team member Steven Milloy, who supports this idea, also denies human-made climate change and any health risks from tobacco. Milloy, a Fox consultant, also supports the use of pesticide DDT and asbestos.

DDT makes people sick in other ways. Anxiety, depression, and anger are the highest since 2007. People in the U.S. have a 20 percent higher stress rate than most of the 143 countries in the 143 countries in the Gallup poll, including Venezuela and Rwanda. For the first time, counselors see patients in therapy because of politics.

A report from the New York University Law Schools State Energy and Environmental Impact projects that the rollback of about 100 environmental protection rules will cause, in the next decade, “1,630 more incidences of premature deaths, 120,000 additional asthma attacks, and 140,000 missed school days and 48,000 lost work days.” The EPA estimates an additional 300 to 1,500 human death each year from air pollution.

A 2019 study shows that fracking is tied to skin, genital, and urinary diseases. Researchers theorize that drilling activity may be related to risky sexual behaviors. Disruptions to buried bacteria and chemical exposures in drinking water may be an affect. Other studies show links to cardiovascular and respiratory issues such as asthma.

DDT has also scrapped regulations to define “organic” beef, pork, and chicken and loosened inspections for pork which can also affect health.

A major problem from DDT’s focus rejection of education about sexual and reproductive health is the spike in rates of STI (sexually transmitted infections) within the United States. For example, gonorrhea infections increased by 82.6 percent within a decade. Almost half the states lack both sex education and HIV education, and Title X funding has been taken from many health care providers. DDT’s administration increased the budget for abstinence-only programs by 67 percent although these programs don’t work.

Much less health care with increased illness. What can go wrong?

January 25, 2020

DDT: Week 157 – Outside the Impeachment Bubble

Historic anniversaries this week:

January 21: Inauguration of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in 2016.

January 22: Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade permitting women to have abortions up the third month and in danger of being overturned.

January 23: Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that gave candidates $2.9 billion of dark money from Super PACs to influence elections with unlimited funds

This week DDT also announced he plans to cut Medicare and Social Security if he is re-elected because of his “great economy”:

“We have tremendous growth, we’re going to have tremendous growth. Next year, it will be towards the end of the year, the growth is going to be incredible….”

On the same day, the Dow dropped over 150 points. Economic growth is far below DDT’s projections for his tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and big business—not yet 3 percent–and the deficit spiked to $1 trillion. For next year, the Chicago Federal Reserve projects 1.9 percent economic growth, but DDT hopes to cut taxes again for more personal benefit. 

White House officials prompted DDT to cover up his statement that alienates his older voters, and DDT came out with the falsehood that Democrats will “destroy your Social Security” and that he will “save it!” Democrats created the program and spent almost a century protecting it. DDT already proposed tens of billions of dollars in Social Security cuts, and Republicans believe that “saving” Social Security can be done by “cutting” Social Security.

In his speech at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland), DDT called climate scientists “foolish fortune tellers,” “alarmists,” who want “absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.” After basing his two campaigns for president on fear, he said, “Fear and doubt is not a good thought process.” Then he repeated his lie that the U.S., which has seen worsening air quality, has “the cleanest air in the world.” DDT spoke an hour after 17-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, at a conference concerned with climate change. He dodged an onstage question-and-answer session after the speech.

The conference focus was on climate change.

Although red states in the South won’t acknowledge the existence of climate change, they will receive billions of dollars for “natural” disasters made far worse by the human-caused changes in climate. These states need a reason to get the money so they use terms such as “changing coastal conditions” and the “destabilizing effects and unpredictability” of being hit by multiple storms in a short time. A $16 billion fund will be distributed to prepare for future natural disasters in states most affected by disasters from 2015 to 2017—GOP-oriented states along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Of the eight states fitting the criterion, only California didn’t vote for DDT. Half the money was assigned to Puerto Rico, but DDT withheld the funding because of “corruption.”

In support for DDT’s climate denial, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that activist Greta Thunberg should go to college to learn about economics after she called for investors to take their money out of fossil fuel stocks. Mnuchin, known as the “foreclosure king,” made his money from unethical mortgage practices. Climate economist Gernot Wagner, who has gone to “college”—Harvard and Stanford—presented a letter from Larry Fink, chief executive of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management firm. Fink announced his company’s divestment of companies centered on fossil fuels and contribute to climate change. Wagner said that this decision came from the “scenario of having fossil fuels go the way of tobacco that makes fossil fuel execs the most nervous.” Divestment is economics, not politics.  

In his continued assault on the environment and people’s health, DDT has overturned or begun overturning 95 environmental regulations and is especially fixated on building pipelines. The oldest environmental law, created during Richard Nixon’s first year in the presidency as a response to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill, has been called the Magna Carta of environmental law. NEPA helps guarantee that the government considers development affects on climate and the affected local community by covering infrastructure such as highways and fossil fuel exploration. DDT’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposes horrific changes to NEPA after working for 2 years with those it considers is stakeholders, industry groups like electrical utilities, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Gas Association. New rules eliminate considering climate change in environmental impact reports, allow companies to conduct their own reviews, and limit public input. The rule changes, like all others, has a time for public comment, and like all other DDT rule changes, all public comments will be ignored if they disagree with DDT’s plans to help big business.

In another environmental change, DDT plans to pollute 60 percent of waterways in the United States by removing protections for streams, wetlands, and groundwater. Winners are real estate developers (including golf courses), fossil fuel producers, and farmers; losers are the rest of the people in the nation. His changes affect not only smaller bodies of water but also the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River, and the Puget Sound. Not only is protection set up by President Obama in 2015 rescinded but also protections from the 1972 Clean Water Act are also eliminated. The chemical discharged into all these bodies of water will then move into larger and larger bodies of water. Wetlands can no longer perform their jobs of filtering surface water, protecting against floods, and providing wildlife habitat.

Even DDT-appointed scientists disagree. The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board determined that DDT’s rule ignores science with “no scientific justification” for the devastating impact on the health of all water systems—and people.

DDT’s earlier deregulations have been on everything from chemicals in drinking and shower water to sprays on food and into the air. One Indiana town already experienced an outbreak of childhood cancers from chemicals. His rule changes also block the production of food. In 2018, the EPA allowed “emergency” approvals to spray the insecticide sulfoxaflor, highly toxic to bees, on over 16 million acres of crops that attract bees, vital to pollinating one-third of the food supply as well as other plants that animals need. The last decade has shown a drastic loss in the bee population.

Also at Davos, DDT tried to cover up his statement that “no Americans were harmed” when Iran retaliated to DDT’s assassination of Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani by firing over a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases where U.S. forces were housed. To avoid combat, DDT said that he wouldn’t counter-attack Iran because “we suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.” Yet 11 U.S. service members were sent to hospitals for treatment for concussions because of the strike, and more troops were transported out of Iraq for medical treatment and evaluations in Germany. The Pentagon said that more military members may need to be transported from Iraq in the next few days. Caught in his lies, DDT said that he “heard they had headaches and a couple of other things … not very serious.” To DDT, brain damage is far less severe than missing limbs. Thus far, 34 U.S. service members have been diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries after the airstrikes; 17 are back on active duty, according to the Pentagon.

In a speech to his donors at Mar-a-Lago, DDT admitted Soleimani presented no “imminent” threat to the U.S. and killed him because he said “bad things” about the U.S. DDT had planned to kill Soleimani months earlier because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton wanted a push-back against Iran. Once the murder was a fait accompli, White House, State Department, and Pentagon officials struggled to justify what DDT had ordered while other officials and the president daily changed the rationale to hide DDT’s sole concern about the killing’s impact on his election. Based on all the available intelligence, DDT’s “presentation” to private citizens, one he has not made to lawmakers, deserted his “rationale” for killing Soleimani of “imminent” threats on four U.S. embassies to just his being a “bad person.  

Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are so afraid of DDT that they asked Senate and House Intelligence committees to stop public hearings on the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. DDT has prevented these hearings since he moved into the Oval Office.

DDT also threatened Iraq that it could lose access to its central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York if U.S. troops were expelled from U.S.-occupied Iraq. That account is used for oil revenue and payment for government salaries and contracts. He also threatened to end waivers allowing Iraq to purchase Iranian gas for generators supplying much of Iraq’s power.

At Davos, DDT said that “we have to protect Thomas Edison—we have to protect all of these people that came up with originally the light bulb, and the wheel.” The message was that these inventors are still alive and that someone from the U.S. invented the wheel.

June 2, 2019

Catching Up on the Last Few Weeks

Looking through my files, I see information about events that has fallen through the cracks. Here’s a bit of “catch up” with links for readers who want to read more about the subject. 

Tariffs/Taxes:

Solar energy, responsible in 2016 for 43 percent of employment in electric power and twice as much as the fossil fuel industry, has lost almost 20,000 jobs since DDT’s inauguration, much of the loss from tariffs.

Increasing tariffs to 25 percent on some Chinese goods could annually tax a family of four $767 and destroy over 934,000 jobs. Tariffs on all Chinese imports, as DDT threatens, would annually tax families $2,294. The combined $72 billion for all DDT’s tariffs constitute one of the biggest tax increases since 1993, and that amount doesn’t include his new tax on all goods from Mexico. People, not companies or countries, pay for tariffs making them a tax increase, the equivalent of a ten-percent increase in Social Security tax for an average family. DDT plans to annually cost every family $100 annually and add to health problems and death rates with enhanced pollution by erasing efficiency standards for light bulbs and causing LED bulbs to be much more expensive. Since President Obama’s action, LED bulbs, which last ten years, dropped 90 percent in price to about $1.

According to DDT’s Commerce Department, the $891 billion merchandise trade deficit last year is the largest in U.S. history, and the trade deficit with China hit a record high of $419 billion after DDT’s tariffs. The 19-percent jump from November and December 2018 to $59.8 billion made the highest monthly trade deficit in 10 years.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), ready to declare war on Iran, told farmers that they’re making far less sacrifices by losing their farms from tariffs than soldiers “in Arlington” make. DDT calls farmers losing everything from his tariffs as “patriot farmers.” Did they know that they were signing up for the war by growing food? Meanwhile, GOP senators up for re-election in agricultural states are getting nervous.

DDT’s tariffs are closing down a South Carolina plant that assembles televisions using Chinese parts with a loss of 126 jobs.

Climate/Pollution:

Earth’s concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached 415 parts per million ( ppm). The first 280 ppm took 5,000 years until the Industrial Revolution; the last 5 ppm took two years. Ninety percent of all global fuel emissions have been released in the past 85 years. Excess carbon dioxide is causing men’s testicles to shrink from shortage of sperm. (Chemicals are also shrinking penises.)

The U.S. is one of two nations out of 189 to control movement of its waste across national borders, leaving the U.S. no place to send contaminated and plastic waste without other countries’ consent. 

Of the world’s 425,000 electric buses, China has 421,000. The U.S. has 300.

DDT may be able to escape any climate change penalties on the federal level, but New York is levying millions of dollars against his business because of pollution from DDT’s buildings. Without making improvements, DDT will pay annual fines of $2.1 million from 2030.

Not only has DDT failed to create more coal jobs, but he’s also losing the ones that existed when he was inaugurated. One-thousand jobs are at risk as the third-largest coal company declared bankruptcy because of a weak market, and over 50 coal plants closed under DDT’s leadership. A court ruling voided union contracts for another coal company, and lack of federal funding jeopardizes pensions of $600 a month for almost 100,000 workers. Transition to other jobs is highly problematic because coal workers aren’t well enough to work after leaving the mines.

Data:

DDT’s attempts to control the census by asking about citizenship isn’t the only way that he plans to skew information: poverty and pollution in the U.S. will be less severe once he changes all the numbers. After the EPA reported that DDT’s new energy policy to replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan kills an additional 1,400 people, DDT ordered the number to be fixed.

DDT will allow oil and gas industry to drill places not within the safe drilling margin through the draft of guidelines that weren’t included for public comment last year.

Legislation:

DDT and the GOP hate net neutrality, which keeps prices lower for internet use, but love the idea of 5G wireless phones to speed up all those tweets. The result may be a 30-percent inaccuracy of weather forecasts because of interference, taking predictions back four decades. That means fewer days to prepare for hurricanes and incorrect tracking of storms’ paths to land. NOAA reported that the proposed 5G system would lose 77 percent data from its satellite’s passive microwave sounders. The FCC continues to auction off wireless spectrum, already making almost $2 billion.

Without legislation, Congressional Republicans will cause these catastrophes: lack of disaster aid; budget caps starting on September 30; not raising the debt ceiling resulting in calamitous financial crisis by the end of summer; government shutdown without passage of 12 appropriation bills by October 1; continued disintegration of infrastructure; no funds for Violence against Women Act which expired three months ago; no defense authorization or flood insurance which depends on the disaster bill; and lack of surveillance from sunsets on gathering metadata on domestic text messages and “roving” wiretaps—which might not be too bad.

DDT doesn’t think his ideas to use public-private relationships for infrastructure improvement “will work.

When the House passed the Equality Act, 173 Republicans voted in favor of discriminating against LGBTQ people. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and house, and one of those states permits public accommodation discrimination. One Republican legislator compared LGBTQ people to Nazis.

IRS:

Every year, the IRS loses hundreds of auditing agents, so they pursue the poor rather than the wealthy. In 2018, millionaires were 80 percent less likely to be audited than in 2011, but the 43 percent of people receiving the earned income tax credit are audited at a higher rate than anyone except the richest. Highest audit rates are in poor, rural, mostly black, and Southern counties.

 Over 1.3 million college students on scholarships are taxed at higher rates than billionaires, including DDT, thanks to the new GOP “tax cut” law. High tax rates have also hit tribal funds paid to Native American youth for education or living expenses. Republicans have not only fixed the problem but seemed to have deliberately created it.

Education Department:

Republicans plan to renew investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for her emails although she recorded all of them. The GOP will undoubtedly ignore Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s use of personal email accounts for government businesses and her failure to properly save the messages. The practice is common for Republicans, and DDT fails to preserve public records.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that the Education Department is blocking efforts to police the student loan industry and costing borrowers thousands of dollars for those who owe over $1 trillion in these loans by refusing to share information.

As DDT wants to increase the charter school budget, the Network for Public Education reported how charter schools have scammed the federal government for over $1 billion in nonexistent or short-lived schools. With no adverse consequences, one in three schools that have received $4 billion closed, never opened, or hadn’t yet opened. Other charter schools fall short of the charter program’s promise of “high-quality” schools for disadvantaged students.

Ignorance/Bigotry:

Fifty-six percent of people reject the idea of teaching “Arabic numerals”—like 56.

DDT:

DDT likened himself to Hungary’s far-right authoritarian leader Prime Minister Viktor Orbán because of his being “respected all over Europe” and doing a “tremendous job.” 

At this time, 138 nominees are awaiting confirmation in the Senate, and another 132 positions have no nominees. The reason comes from overwhelming turnover in the past two years.

Condo sales in Trump Tower have plummeted, some of them as much as 20 percent, compared to 0.23 percent of Manhattan homes. Occupancy rates dropped even with lower than average rents; net income is 26 percent below banks’s expectations in 2012. DDT still made $434 million last year, especially from the D.C. hotel.

DDT said that he will not use any campaign dirt on his opponents from foreign companies—if he gets the opponents he wants.

DDT’s trial balloon of getting another two years with no election because he was treated “unfairly” has failed: 77 percent of the people don’t agree. Only seven percent of respondents think that he should ignore the 2020 election if he loses, and 90 percent believe that the “peaceful handover of power after elections” and “both parties respecting the results of elections” were essential for the “healthy functioning of American democracy.” Large majorities agree that DDT “does not respect the customs or traditions of the Presidency” and “the laws of the United States.”

May 5, 2019

DDT: More Week 119 – Make America Worse Unless Courts Help

Even in the “Kentuky Derby [sic],” Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) thinks that rules don’t matter. The first declared victor, Maximum Security, was subsequently disqualified because the horse tripped another horse. The runner-up, Country House, was then declared the winner. DDT tweeted that sticking to the rules is unfair “political correctness.” Those who held out hope that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wouldn’t be as bad as feared can follow these ways that he’s destroying the country.

April was the ninth-year anniversary of the biggest ocean oil spill in the U.S. when the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and cost $61.6 billion. DDT’s oil lobbyist/Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt plans to erase offshore drilling regulations designed to stop another Deepwater Horizon. The changes will annually save $98 million for the heavily subsidized oil and gas industry because they no longer will need to test blowout preventers for disasters. The word “safe” was also removed from standards in maintaining the level of down-hold pressure in wells to avoid accidents.

The EPA won’t update federal standards about toxic waste from oil and gas wells, including fracking waste. Companies allow the waste into drinking water, spread it on roads as a de-icer, use it to irrigate crops, and spray it into the air to evaporate. The same product from other industries is designated as hazardous waste and subject to highly regulated tracking and disposal rules. At least 55 chemicals released into the air and water are carcinogenic as well as being linked to asthma, low birth weights, and other health problems.

DDT’s new “healthcare” rule allows hospitals, pharmacies, insurance companies, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers to deny patients basic medical care because of personal beliefs. He bragged at the National Day of Prayer event how his new rule can allow anyone to refuse healthcare to anyone else for any reason. Those suffering from his decision include LGBTQ people, women seeking contraception, unmarried couples, and all children of couples who are considered unacceptable by healthcare workers. The rule means that taxpayers are required to pay for institutions and individuals who don’t have to provide any services to them.

Two days ago, DDT said that he was fine with Robert Mueller testifying at congressional hearings if his fixer AG Bill Barr agreed. Barr agreed, and Mueller is tentatively scheduled to appear before a House hearing on May 15. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the Senate is not interested. Now DDT says that Mueller should not testify. The question might be whether DDT can block Mueller’s testimony if Mueller no longer works for the government.

DDT brags about his economy, but his threat to more than double tariffs to 25 percent may drive the stock market down. Oil prices also dropped 2.83 percent in today’s Asian trading. Trade negotiations with China were scheduled to return on Wednesday, but DDT says that the process is moving “too slowly.” Threats of increased tariffs may cause China to cancel trade talks, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He may cancel his trip to the U.S.

DDT, members of his family, and his businesses are suing Deutsche Bank and Capital One to keep them from complying with congressional subpoenas. Deutsche Bank is already turning over DDT’s financial documents to New York’s state AG’s office. Among Deutsche documents are DDT’s tax returns.

Without congressional approval, the State Department allowed at least seven foreign governments to rent luxury condominiums in New York’s Trump World Tower in 2017, a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause. The monthly rent of $8,500 was over 2.5 times the median rent in the surrounding neighborhood. A federal judge turned down DDT’s request to dismiss a lawsuit accusing him of violating the constitution’s Emoluments Clause from over 200 congressional members. Also, another recent revelation is that the White House paid Mar-a-Lago $1,000 for DDT staffers’ alcoholic drinks—in addition to many more expenses.

In her acceptance for the conservative Manhattan Institute’s Alexander Hamilton Award, Secretary of State Betsy DeVos announced she would continue her fight for “freedom from government.” Hamilton fought for a strong centralized government control. The Institute might want to reconsider its award’s name.

On the campaign trail, DDT declared himself the “law and order” candidate. In Watertown (NY) a judge gave a man who raped a 14-year-old girl no prison time and ten years probation because he raped only one girl. A Georgia man who kept a teenage girl in a dog cage for over a year and raped her got off with the eight months he spent in a detention center before he was sentenced and ten years probation. Initially the sex between the man and the girl, 15 when she met him on a chat room for people with eating disorders; she was persuaded to live with the man when she turned 16, age of consent in Georgia.

DDT sometimes fails in his anti-immigrant attacks: 

Even non-citizens have the constitutional right to complain about the U.S. government, according to a panel of judges from the 2nd Circuit Court. ICE decided to deport Ravi Ragbir because he criticized their agency.

A federal judge gave DHS six months to identify thousands of children they kidnapped from families at the southern border instead of the two years the government wanted. The deadline is October 25. Emails show that the government cannot match children with their parents because it has no data about children and parents.

A unanimous federal appeals panel upheld California’s misnamed “sanctuary state” law, ruling that the law doesn’t stop enforcement of federal immigration laws or conflict with federal law. California state law requires employers to alert employees before ICE inspections and allows the state AG to inspect immigration facilities.

A federal judge ruled that ICE cannot use an immigration interview as a trap for deportation and ordered a Chinese man to be returned to the U.S. before the flight arrived in China. Wanrong Lin, 31, has lived in the U.S. for 17 years; his wife and three children are U.S. citizens. They own and operate a restaurant in Maryland.

ACLU is suing DDT for the new policy denying bond hearings to asylum seekers proving they face fear in their countries of origin. The new policy deports any arrivals through expedited removal proceedings or indefinitely detail them for years. The suit claims that the new policy denies up to 400,000 people Fifth Amendment due process rights.

Taxpayers are shelling out at least $40 million for two tent cities along the Texas border. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan calls them “soft-sided facilities.” Visitors to existing “facilities” report that people don’t get showers and live in dirty clothing.

Although cannabis is legal in many states and jurisdictions, green card holders can be banned from citizenship if they are suspected of its use, even for medical purposes.

Last year, DHS used a private intelligence firm, LookingGlass Cyber Solutions, to spy on and track 600 Families Belong Together protests in the U.S., Mexico, and the Netherlands. The data were shared with both DHS and “state-level law enforcement agencies.” The coalition organized over 750 events on June 30, 2018 with over 400,000 participants in all 50 states as well as European and Americas’ countries.

Other lawsuits oppose DDT’s efforts to destroy the United States:

Last month, a judge ruled that Michigan had to redraw its gerrymandered districts; this week a unanimous panel of judges ruled that Ohio’s districts were unconstitutional. That makes federal courts in five states striking down gerrymandered maps while the Supreme Court dithers about the issue. Like Michigan, Ohio must redraw its districts before the 2020 election.

A U.S. district judge has delivered an injunction against the Texas law barring the state from business with companies involved in the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. Bahai Amawi had lost her job as speech pathologist with a local school district because her contractor participated in the boycott. Similar anti-free speech laws have been passed in two dozen other states. Federal judges have also struck down laws in Arizona and Kansas.

Gabby Giffords’ gun-safety group is suing the Federal Election Commission for refusing to act on complaints about the NRA’s illegal coordination of political spending with DDT and other GOP candidates. The lawsuit contends that the NRA hid its illegal expenditure of $35 million for Republicans in three election cycles. Other groups have supplemented a July 2017 complaint against DDT’s 2016 presidential campaign committee for soliciting contributions from foreign nationals after the Mueller report supported their claims. The Mueller report stated that criminally indicting Donald Trump Jr. must meet a high bar, but the FEC has no such bar to level civil penalties against him. The Brennan Center has a new report on ways that the FEC employs a partisan gridlock to stonewall responses to complaints about candidates, parties, and super PACS.

The latest fashion in GOP state legislatures is the anti-abortion “heartbeat” approach, making abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat illegal. Laws would also be unconstitutional because they violate Roe v. Wade which permits abortions up to the viability of a fetus at 24 weeks. The law loses its support when people learn that these laws outlaw abortion before women discover they are pregnant. Twelve percent of those polled changed their minds when they discovered the truth, resulting in a majority of people—56 percent—opposing these laws. Laws use the term “heartbeat” to sound sympathetic although a sound at six weeks doesn’t match how people understand a “heartbeat.” About two-thirds of the public want to retain Roe v. Wade.

[Note: Those who wish to read more about the news above and/or factcheck the material may wish to use the links.]

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!

June 30, 2015

Last Week at SCOTUS: More Forward Than Backward

Two landmark cases came down from the Supreme Court last week—keeping health care for low-income people and granting marriage equality. Other lesser noticed cases, however, have influences on people across the United States. In seven other decisions last week, SCOTUS took at least five steps forward with two steps back, a better result than most progressive people expect from the current court.

The two steps backward were pollution and the death penalty:

pollution from power plantsPower plants can continue releasing unlimited mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants, in a step toward invalidating the first U.S. regulations to limit toxic heavy metal pollution from coal and oil-fired plants. The 5-4 conservative ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, accused the EPA of not  considering costs to the power industry before creating its regulation. The EPA actually estimated costs, but Scalia didn’t believe the agency’s calculations. Fortunately, the case was remanded to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration. If the lower court eliminates the regulations, pro-coal states have no arguments against EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions, perhaps leaving the EPA free to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA estimated that the new regulations would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year as well as increasing the IQ for children who survived.

Executions are still permitted to use cruel and unusual punishment because the conservative court didn’t stop the use of a drug that fails to sufficiently sedate the subject. Glossip v. Gross goes farther, however, because it makes the death penalty impervious to many constitutional challenges. In oral arguments for the court, the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, sneered at death penalty opponents and accused the drug companies refusal to sell products to kill people, a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”

A key declaration in the opinion is that the United States is required to have methods to execute inmates despite the fact that there is “some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution.” Another part of the opinion is that lawyers must help decide the method of execution for their clients: a lawyer challenging one method of execution must name another, alternative method to be used instead.

Alito’s opinion brought fiery dissents, two of them read from the bench. Supported by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer protested the argument that the death penalty is constitution, writing, “I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” Scalia went back to the bench to call Breyer’s opinion “gobbledygook.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was far more scorching when she wrote:

“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated.”

By refusing to hear a case preventing mandatory documentation for citizenship in federal elections, the Supreme Court blocked this requirement. Kansas and Arizona wanted a change in registration requirements to include proof of citizenship for these elections, but the 10th Circuit Court ruled that states cannot require this documentation.

 

Another step forward came from the Supreme Court decision to leave women’s clinics in Texas open until the court has heard the appeal about the state law to prevent abortions outside hospitals and “mini-hospitals,” ambulatory surgical centers. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the progressive justices in the 5-4 vote. Texas restrictions had already closed about half the state’s 41 clinics within the past four years, and the newest law shut down all but nine, concentrated in four urban, higher-income areas of the state.

Progressive voters in Arizona may also be rejoicing after a 5-4 Supreme Court vote ruled that a voter-approved independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Complaints of legislative partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts led to the law that a legislative-chosen independent commission of two Republicans and two Democrats with a chair who is not a member of either party make this decision. Although the ballot measure for a constitutional amendment to approve the commission went into effect 15 years ago, Arizona Republicans had no problem with the redistricting process until Democrats started winning more seats in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution states that the “times, places, and manner” of federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The minority argued that a ballot measure is not part of “the legislature” because it is determined by the people of the state although the court had earlier decided that “legislature” can refer to the process exercised by people through direct democracy. The losing lawyer, Paul Clement, failed to persuade the majority with his argument that those election laws didn’t take power away from the legislature but the creation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission did.

In arguing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan asked if all the voter ID laws created by ballot measures would then also be unconstitutional. Kennedy argued that a constitutional amendment had given power to the people by allowing them to select U.S. senators.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “What chumps!” in reference to the Congressional members who passed the 17th Amendment in 2012 that was then ratified by 41 states. The ruling was only for Arizona, but it may have far-reaching effects outside that state. Twelve other states also have commissions to assist in the redistrict process. The ruling also empowers voters in other states to reduce partisan control of the U.S. House. Studies show nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions leads to “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” According to Ginsburg, 21 states have created initiative or direct lawmaking power, and 18 states can adopt amendments to the state constitution.

Arizona redistricting will return to the Supreme Court in the coming year when justices will hear another case accusing the independent commission of using race and partisanship for the congressional boundaries.

The Supreme Court struck a blow against the prison industrial complex in Johnson v. United States with the ruling that part of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutionally vague. Passed in 1984, the law requires judges to sentence people to 15 years life if they have three prior convictions for “serious drug offense” or “violent felonies.” The law, however, had no concrete definition for a “violent felony.” A clause in the ACCA sends felons to prison for any crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” It could be drunk driving, fleeing police, failing to report to a parole officer, or even attempted burglary. Johnson’s prison sentence was extended because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun. Writing the opinion for the 8-1 decision, Scalia wrote that the clause in the law lacking a definition violates due process. Alito likes the law, and the ACCA was very popular with lawmakers because many states are required to fill up beds in private prisons.

prisoners

This room in the California Institution for Men four years shows how overcrowded that prisons have become. Photo by Ann Johansson for The New York Times.

A huge victory for civil rights came from the 5-4 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities. Kennedy again joined the four progressive judges to rule that a lawsuit under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated—only that the policy had a disparate impact which can frequently be shown with statistics.

The case came from Texas’ distribution of tax credits for low-income housing almost exclusively in racially segregated low-income areas, denying minorities few opportunities to move to integrated or wealthier areas. The opinion in this case also requires that decision-makers consider race to comply with the Fair Housing Act and design remedial orders to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means.

The typical 5-4 vote had one almost-silent justice writing the dissent. Clarence Thomas used an unfortunate example for his belief that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.”

“Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities.… And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black.”

Taxpayer funds for religious schools may be on the docket next year after Colorado’s supreme court ruled that conservative families in affluent neighborhoods can not use public funds to send their children to religious charter schools.  A big player in this area is the Koch Brothers, whose Americans for Prosperity PAC works to expand voucher programs and buy school board elections throughout the country. In just one Colorado county, AFP spent $350,000 to dismantle teachers’ unions and public schools. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush is also a big player in the school privatization program. Conservatives desperately need students in private religious schools to indoctrinate them.

November 13, 2014

President Strikes Deal GOP Wants; GOP Furious

President Obama cut a deal with China while the GOP was crowing about the election, and the Republicans are livid. Following nine months of discussion, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced a deal on carbon emissions.

The U.S. pledges to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025, building on its current target of 17 percent reduction below that baseline by 2020. China promises to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030 and peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. The country will also deploy an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy, approximately all the electricity generated in the U.S., by 2030. The U.S. part of the deal is doable under existing law. Emissions have already declined, and the president has created new rules on tailpipes and power plant rules. The European Union has also agreed to cut its emissions 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030.

The conservatives had argued that there was no reason for the U.S. to take action as long as China didn’t do anything. The president has argued that the U.S., as the world’s second-largest emitter, can’t expect other countries to step forward if this country doesn’t take action. Now China has stepped up, and the GOP lost its argument.

As both conservatives and environmentalists have pointed out, the language of the deal has wiggle room. These goals are statements of “intent”; the parties do not promise or even “agree” to accomplish these targets. The president can’t do anything on his own because foreign treaties require a two-thirds majority from the U.S. Senate for ratification.  The White House release refers to these goals as statements of “intent.” They don’t promise or even “agree” to hit these targets, they merely “intend” to.

Even before the president’s trip to China, members of the 114th Senate pledged to roll back the existing measures on the environment. The House has already voted to repeal the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and the new GOP senate will also pass the bill. It’s a guarantee that there could be no successful vote for an emission-reduction treaty.

The senate’s new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, was quick to criticize the Beijing pact. “This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” he said. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) followed the party line with complaining about loss of jobs, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the climate denier who will be head of the Environment and Public Works Committee in January, called the arrangement between the United States and China a “charade.”

Yet the senate cannot stop an announcement between China and the United States of this agreement of intentions.

Together, China and the United States produce over 40 percent of the carbon emissions for the entire planet. While China currently relies on coal and non-renewable energy to develop its economy, the United States is fighting against changing to alternative energy resources from traditional ones.

Global Carbon missionsByCountry

Republicans are already screaming about how the U.S. has to reduce emissions more steeply than previously planned while China does not have to immediately begin its reductions. Longstanding development and wealth in the United States, however, have caused this country to produce 29.3 percent of global cumulative carbon emissions, compared to only 7.6 percent from China. In the dea;, China’s plan is a model for emerging economies such as India, Brazil, and Indonesia.

cumulative pollutions

Watching the Fox network shows the real world what is being said in Conservativeland. The day before the president announced the deal, far-far-right Charles Krauthammer said that Obama should get a climate agreement with China. He said, “If we get one with China we have something real.” The week before, Krauthammer said, “If [President Obama] gets an agreement with China, which he won’t, but that’s the one area it would be historic.”

Immediately after the announcement from the president about the deal, Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy asked Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, “Is the agreement just a sign that China has a hold on us?” She said that the president is giving China a pass on important issues such as cyber attacks, bootleg software, and handbags. Doocy joined the China- and Obama-bashing. “You want to talk about climate change? First let’s talk about how you’re stealing everything from us!”

Later Doocy slipped when he said that China’s participation in cutting emissions might clean the air so “they might be able to breathe for the first time.” Bartiromo brought him back to the Fox message that cleaning air doesn’t mean cleaner air.

Fox Business commentator Stuart Varney led with “Climate Deal with China Blasted as ‘War on Coal.” He listed the year of 2030 as the peak in China’s carbon emissions as “a total cave on the part of President Obama.” Both Doocy and Varney blamed China for all the pollution. In addition to the U.S. history of emitting more pollution, we have only one-fourth the population as China but still produce almost the same emissions.

Reporter Ben Adler gave four reasons that the Republicans are in such a snit about the president’s climate deal with China:

President Obama shows that he’s not backing down on the climate issue, even after the GOP thinks its in control.

The GOP loses its “we can’t do anything because China won’t” argument

The deal is another death knell for the coal industry after China seems to want to see their sky rather than export coal.

The Republicans’ increasing isolation makes them appear increasingly foolish. Only the European Union has led the U.S. in carbon regulation until now. China’s decision might draw in other countries, leaving only Russia on the conservatives’ side.

 

Foolishness doesn’t concern Republicans, however. Almost two-thirds of them would rather destroy the country than have anything to do with the current president. After the election, 62 percent of Republicans said in a Pew Research poll that they didn’t want the Republican leaders to work with the president at all. This followed all the verbiage from next year’s GOP leaders that they were ready to “compromise.”

Satirist Andy Borowitz has a humorous—but accurate—take on the position of Republicans in Congress:

“President Obama is under increasing pressure to work closely and coöperatively with a group of people who are suing him in federal court, the people suing him confirmed today.

“ ‘Over the past six years, President Obama has been stubborn, arrogant, and oppositional,” John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said. “His refusal to work with people who are suing him is just the latest example.’

“Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, echoed the Speaker’s criticism, adding, ‘Time and time again, the President has refused to pick up the phone and talk to me, despite my saying that I was doing everything in my power to make him a one-term President.’

140316003WM001_BOEHNER_AND_ [The country’s new leaders: Boehner (left) and McConnell (right)]

“Other members of the G.O.P. caucus blasted the President for being aloof and frosty to Republicans who had questioned his American citizenship, the authenticity of his birth certificate, and the legitimacy of his Presidency. ‘That’s no way to get things done,’ Senator James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, said. ‘He’s got a real attitude.’

“Boehner concluded his comments, however, with an olive branch of sorts for Obama. ‘Mr. President, we Republicans are eager to sit across the table from you and get to work for the American people,’ he said. “Otherwise, get ready to be impeached.’ ”

Borowitz summarized the GOP position about China with the first sentence of today’s column:

“The election of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the Senate Majority Leader was announced on Thursday by a puff of toxic black coal smoke rising from the United States Capitol.”

Borowitz is right. We will surely see far more toxins in the environment with the GOP in control of Congress.

April 19, 2014

Saving the World, One Step at a Time

Climate change has arrived, according to most of the scientists in the world, and the gridlocked Congress ignores all the problems that it has already brought. Yet in the nation and other places around the world, large and small steps are helping to save the planet. Here are a few stories to illustrate Margaret Mead’s belief in people: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

Keystone_MapProponents of building the Keystone XL pipeline have hit another snag, at least temporarily. A decision was expected by the end of May, but this hitch may postpone any conclusion until after the November elections. In February a judge ruled that the transfer of approval of the revised route to the governor’s office from the Nebraska Public Service Commission is unconstitutional on the state level. The attorney general has appealed, but if the ruling is upheld, the commission could take seven months to a year to make a decision about the route. The original route went through ecologically fragile wetlands of the Nebraska sand hills, and environmental advocates and landowners objected to the revision.

Monsanto products may still be prevalent in the United States, but Chile has won out against them. The “Monsanto Law” there would have given big business “the right to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify.” In the U.S. that means genetically modified seeds that produce unlabeled unhealthy food. As in many other countries, farmers in Chile exchange seeds, but Monsanto would have forced all of them to purchase their seeds from multinational agribusiness companies every year. GMOs have already damaged farming in India after Monsanto promised magic seeds that increased productivity and profit with decreased labor. GMO seeds require more water, and the crops failed to grow at the same rate that the debt of farmers in India increased. About 200,000 of them committed suicide.

Chile still isn’t completely safe: the Monsanto could be reworded and resubmitted. Corporate lobbyists and corporate stakeholders don’t quit. Yet the people have defeated a massive corporation for now. The end result affects people in the U.S. because Chile imports food here.

The first three months of the year saw many articles from the South about the ways that the energy industries were destroying water quality. Duke Energy was the worst, and they fought to keep secret their coal ash dumps that spill arsenic and mercury into North Carolina’s drinking water.  Whenever Waterkeeper Alliance tried to sue Duke, the state’s Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) blocked or delayed the lawsuits. The state agency got support from Gov. Pat McCrory who worked at Duke for 28 years who appointed a secretary for DENR who described his job as being a “partner” to the companies that it regulates. That’s the agency with the responsibility for investigating and penalizing polluters.

Over a month ago, a Waterkeeper pilot flew over an abandoned Duke Energy plant and photographed workers running a hose for a pond of toxic coal ash into an adjacent canal. This was a site carefully watched because the banks of one pond had collapsed over 30 years ago and all the old ponds were poorly built. Peter Harrison and other riverkeepers took a boat up the canal to take water samples but faced a local deputy sheriff on the way back. Notified by the plant’s security guards, he let them go with a warning for being on the canal but told Harrison the next day that he would be arrested for trespassing if he came back.

The law persisted in insisting that the canal was private property until the sheriff consulted with the county attorney. Waterways are public property in North Carolina. As Harrison said, “If you can float a boat on it, it’s public.” And yes, Duke was illegally dumping coal ash—61 million gallons. The Waterkeepers garnered more public support after a video of the encounter with the deputy sheriff was on the The Rachel Maddow Show. DENR is under grand jury investigation for failing to regulate Duke Energy, and Waterkeepers are working to gain access to documents that Duke wants to keep secret.

While people in Beijing and Paris choke on pollution and have their photos taken in front of fake landmarks as the real ones are obscured, coal use in the United States is shrinking. Electricity production from coal has fallen from 53 percent in 2000 to under 40 percent.  The country has used so much of its resources that easily mined coal may disappear in about ten years.

Approximately 10 percent of the coal mined in the United States is exported, requiring terminals. Washington state has turned down a series of these projects after activists and potential neighbors defeated them in their worry about climate change and local air pollution and congestion. Last week developers turned to help from Montana industry after they lost the battle to build two coal ports. “Lots and lots of ground-level organizing. And I’ll tell you, the opposition is better at it than we are,” said Wendy Hutchinson of Millennium Bulk Terminals, which is seeking to build the $643 million Longview dock on the Columbia River.

While the GOP lawmakers remain ostriches by ignoring the danger of major U.S. cities disappearing under the water with climate change, one place in Great Britain is being proactive. New Jersey thinks that it can hold back the ocean with bigger sand dunes, but West Sussex decided to realign its coast, moving it several miles inland.  Instead of spending millions of dollars to annually repair the damage from ocean storms, they will have a one-time expenditure of $46.5 million to move a sea wall over a mile away from the ocean, leaving a buffer zone of marsh to absorb its energy just as it was hundreds of years ago. Those willing to spend the millions to move the sea wall know that the cost will continue to rise because climate change increases the sea level each year.

The project was finished only weeks before last December’s storms, and the idea worked. A developer of 308 vacation rental homes near the realignment said in amazement, “You can see that it is progress, not defeat…. It’s the first winter in years we haven’t had to deal with surface flooding,” he added. “We were all hoping the project just wouldn’t make it any worse, but it appears to actually be making it much better.” The project also added walking and bike paths for the tourists and extended the tourism season because of a decreased problem of flooding. The money also provided a bird habitat in accordance with the E.U. Habitats and Birds Directive which requires the country to compensate for wildlife habitat destroyed elsewhere along the coast.

In New York, an anonymous group called Rotten Apple is recycling objects by turning them into something useful.  A seat on a bicycle rack, a newspaper kiosk into a cold weather clothing bank, even directions on how to make composting bins out of abandoned wood pallets—these are just a few of their ideas. More photos of the projects are available here

pallet_2_720

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