Nel's New Day

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

January 31, 2014

State Department Dumps Pipeline on U.S.

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:55 PM
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Friday afternoon is known for “the dump,” when news is released to the media that the government would prefer that no one knows. Today’s Friday dump is the release of the State Department’s report indicating that the Keystone XL oil pipeline won’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, giving the disastrous project a stamp of approval. Their theory is that oil sands extraction will continue even without the pipeline so sending crude oil across the entire United States in shoddy, leaky pipes doesn’t make any difference.

The report stated that the transport of 830,000 barrels of oil daily would annually add an extra 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Headlines about the report, however, have ignored this disaster.

Today’s State Department statement concerns the 1,179-mile northern leg that would carry heavy crude from Canada into Montana and run to the small town of Steele City (NE). TransCanada started shipping oil through the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.

The decision is still not made, and people who think that future generations deserve a planet to live on, will loudly proclaim the worsening climate change caused by the pipeline project. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is one Congressional member who spoke out against the project, but the 20-term representative won’t be running again for the House again this year.

Eight government agencies now have 90 days to weigh in on the project; the public has only 30 days for comment. President Obama makes the final decision because it crosses a border from another country. He said that he would do this only if it would not “significantly exacerbate carbon emissions,” and he’s waited five years to make his decision.

The State Department also has a problem with the report that its Office of Inspector General is compiling regarding conflicts of interest with a contractor who helped develop the benign environmental impact statement. Some legislators asked the State Department to hold off on issuing its report until after the Inspector General had finished, but that didn’t happen.

During his presidency, Obama has displayed a quiet support for fossil fuels and their transport in the nation. During his second election year, the president issued an executive order that called for an expedited review of the southern half of the pipeline from Cushing (OK) to Port Arthur (TX).  Less than two years later, the segment opened, despite the multiple holes allowing leaks in the pipe. Last year President Obama appointed a former petroleum engineer for Mobil Oil Company as the Secretary of Interior.

Conservatives in the country demanding the pipeline for additional oil in the United States fail to understand that the tar sands sent across the nation and refined on the Gulf Coast will then be exported with most of it leaving the U.S. As a result, people in the U.S. will pay more for their gas, as much as $3 to $4 billion a year. Because the pipeline bypasses the Midwest, people there will be paying as much as $.40 a gallon more.

When the pipeline crosses land near them, however, some people grasped the seriousness of the situation and opposed it, with little effect. Michael Bishop (Douglas, TX) lives 120 feet from pipeline construction. Last year, he filed a lawsuit last year, claiming that the president’s fast-tracking broke environmental laws because Nationwide Permit 12 does not permit “activities that result in more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment.”

One little-considered impact from the pipeline is how it affects the people whose environments change from a stable community to the towns that pop up because of pipeline construction. The project will greatly impact Native American women in states with large Indian populations such as South Dakota. These women are two and a half more times likely to be sexually assaulted—many times from white men—than women of any other race. Groups trying to mitigate this violence are concerned that pipeline construction will endanger these women even more.

Native women are already considered easy targets for rapists, and men who know that they are not a permanent part of the community are even less likely to believe that they can be held accountable for their crimes. Spikes of violence in pop-up cities has already been documented in regions affected by resource booms. Large groups of men, for example in areas connected with the oil and gas industry, increase the incidence of sexual assault. Marginalized communities are frequently affect disproportionately by the crimes of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

South Dakota is currently a sex tourism destination and magnet for sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Native women are involved in approximately 40 percent of the cases because a “Wild West” culture combined with the gas and oil boom creates a defiant atmosphere of lawlessness. The pipeline will make this problem far worse.

Everyone will suffer, however, if the pipeline spills into the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 83 percent of Nebraska’s irrigation water. In addition, the Interior Department submitted a report to the State Department explaining how the pipeline would have “permanent impacts on wildlife” and seriously affect National Park Service lands and Historic Trails.

About two months ago, Milford (TX) was evacuated after a massive explosion of a 10-inch Chevron natural gas pipeline near a drilling rig. The fire, with an unknown cause, raged for over a day. A month later, a TransCanada natural gas pipeline exploded in Manitoba, shutting off gas for 4,000 residents in sub-zero Canadian temperatures. Sometimes explosions are the only way that gas leaks are discovered. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring leaks just 19.5 percent of the time, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

TransCanada forecast that its first crude oil pipeline, Keystone 1, would leak no more than an average of 1.4 times over a decade. Instead, it had 14 U.S. spills in a single year, and federal regulators had to temporarily shut it down. Since 1986, according to a ProPublica investigation, U.S. pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000, and cost nearly $50 billion in property damages.

That’s what the State Department says is appropriate for the United States.

September 7, 2013

House GOP Opposes Fracking Regulations

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:16 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

The House of Representatives used to spend its time passing bills to void Obamacare, thus continuing its threat to shut down the country by now raising the debt limit or deal with hungry people in the farm bill. Although the the GOP has scheduled a vote next week for avoiding the government shutdown in 23 days, they don’t have a draft for the bill. Maybe just kick the can down the road for another two or three months, but they don’t know. Right now, none of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the next fiscal year has been enacted, and that’s a lot of work.

The vote on attacking Syria might come to the House week after next, but they haven’t decided on that either. The House GOP leadership has a plan, however: they’re going to work to block new regulations on fracking. Lawmakers in the House will focus in coming weeks on a measure to combat new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) has a bill to force the Interior Department to give up regulation for fracking that already have their own regs. Cantor even has the gall to describe the disastrous bill as environmentally friendly.

Fracking is the form of getting fossil fuel from deep underground that destroys the water supply for the people in the United States, pollutes the water and land with unidentified chemicals, and sickens and kills people and animals with all the air and water pollution. To get an accurate description of fracking, people should watch this short video.

Although fracking has been around for quite a while, it didn’t become profitable until the last few decades. The George W. Bush administration (actually the Dick Cheney dictatorship) gave great latitude to oil companies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 when the Halliburton Loophole exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Act. Chemicals used in fracking fluid were declared a “trade secret”; the public aren’t allowed to know what oil companies inject into land, water, and air. The act also legitimizes nation-wide fracking. Complicating the protection of the country is President Obama’s appointment of Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy, who has worked for oil companies and has appointed others as assistants who have similar resumes.

The U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) is largely owned by oil companies.  Its research is also frequently done by oil company employees who work for higher education. Let’s call them “frackademics” who enrich politicians through “shalesmanship.” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) earned as much as $1 million since 2010 from the company holding mineral rights along the Barnett Shale, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Hall helped write the part of the energy bill allowing oil companies free reign to the countries land, water, and air.

In January 2011, Youngstown (OH) got its first earthquake ever, followed by 108 more in the next year. Studies show that these earthquakes came from fracking

North Dakota, Texas, and Pennsylvania have been overrun with frackers, and California may be the next victim in its Monterey Shale formation running in the state from the north-central to the southern areas. Even worse there, however, is “matrix acidization,” injecting high volumes of hydrofluoric acid (HF), a powerful solvent, into the oil well to dissolve rock deep underground and allow oil to flow up through the well. The system of fracking, using high pressure pumping of water and other chemicals to create rock fissures, doesn’t work as well in low permeable rock.

HF is one of the most dangerous fluids used in oil production and must be trucked into the state and mixed at oilfields. It’s also largely unregulated. Problems include severe burns to skin and eyes, damage to lungs not immediately painful or visible, deep-seated and slow-healing burns and ulcers, and, of course, death. Volatility at low temperatures is also a problem: at 67.1 degrees F, HF boils into a dense vapor cloud that, if released into the open, does not dissipate, hovers near the ground, and travels great distances.

In another problem, the California Coastal Commission recently discovered that its seafloor has been fracked for the past 15 years. Although these drilling operations are under federal jurisdiction, being more than three miles out, the state can reject federal permits in the case of water quality endangerment. New drilling leases in the Santa Barbara Channel’s undersea oil fields are banned, drilling rights at 23 platforms were grandfathered in because California wasn’t aware of these permits.

If the government won’t fight fracking, the people will. The first fractivist organization in northeastern U.S., Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, started in 2007. This summer the two major gas companies leasing land there canceled 1,500 leases covering over 100,000 acres of land.

In 2010 and 2011, Greenbrier (AR), a farming town, got more than 1,000 earthquakes. The quakes stopped when Arkansas Oil and Gas commission ordered the fracking shut down. Over a dozen Greenbriarites filed five lawsuits in federal court against Chesapeake Operating, in the first cases that people have sued gas companies for causing natural disasters. Earlier lawsuits focused on health and environmental concerns.

In Kentucky, the Sisters of Loretto are fighting the 1,100-mile Bluegrass Pipeline that would carry natural gas from the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia fracking fields to the Gulf Coast. The nuns refuse to allow company representatives to survey their 800-acre campus and are telling everyone who will listen, sometimes through singing. The Abbey of Gethsemani, with another 2,200 acres, have joined them.

In California, the legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that would regulate fracking within the state, despite frantic lobbying from the oil industry to destroy the bill. The U.S. government has a lawsuit against an oil company for contaminating water in Pennsylvania from fracking. The case alledges that XTO Energy allowed flowback fluid and wastewater byproduct to reach water supplies. The Exxon subsidiary had already agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and spend $20 million to improve wastewater management practices. Yet this amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the money that these companies make from fracking.

A $750,000 settlement for one family to relocate from their fracking-polluted home came with a strange proviso. The couple who owned the house were forbidden to talk about Marcellus Shale, not unusual. But the two children, ages 7 and 10, had the same restrictions against ever talking about their family’s experiences for the rest of their lives. Because of the gag order, there will be no public record of the serious health issues that the family endured. A 2012 Pennsylvania law requires companies to tell doctors the chemical contents of the fracking fluids. The catch is that doctors can’t tell anyone, even the patients who they are treating for fracking-related illnesses.

The drought in the Southwest, primarily Texas and New Mexico, has caused such dire financial problems for farmers that they are selling water to oil companies for fracking. The serious problem is that it’s the water from the aquifer that supplies water to everyone in the region. They can’t sell their primary water source via the irrigation because it’s a government project so they apply for a change of use permit to sell their well water for commercial use. If the entire water supply for the area disappears, the oil companies can just leave the people who live there without sufficient water for even personal use.

The EPA, sometimes at odds with the Interior Department, has tried to conceal the problems with fracking. In May 2012, it declared the water for wells at 61 homes in Dimock (PA) was safe, despite the presence of pollutants. A year later, however, whistleblowers broke news that the EPA had abandoned its investigation after they discovered the pollution was likely caused by pollution.  The EPA also dropped an investigation into water contamination in Texas and postponed another investigation in Wyoming.

When the House comes back, we can look forward to hearing the GOP representatives extol the virtues of contaminated water, polluted land, earthquakes, drought, and illnesses—all to give more money to oil companies. You an expect to hear the term “freedom” a lot. The GOP spends its time talking about leaving a debt-free nation to future generations, but they ignore leaving a country to them.

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