Nel's New Day

January 21, 2021

Biden’s First Full Day at Repairing the U.S.

Last night, I had over six hours of uninterrupted sleep, the first time in many months that led up to the 2020 presidential election and the aftermath of election denial leading up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Instead of recording the horrific current acts of Deposed Donald Trump (DDT), I look forward to the chronicle of President Joe Biden and a Senate majority working for democracy.

As 34 agency acting directors (complete list) are in place, waiting the Senate to confirm the permanent appointments, Avril Haines is now National Intelligence Director, replacing the statutorily unqualified John Ratcliffe confirmed unanimously by the GOP loyalists. Biden may also leave Christopher Wray as FBI director. Both the House and Senate approved a waiver for Lloyd Austin, appointed for Department of Defense secretary, necessary because he retired from the military under five years ago instead of the required minimum seven years for the position.

On his first full day, Biden designated two more acting positions: Rebecca Kelly Slaughter to chair the Federal Trade Commission and Jessica Rosenworcel to head up the Federal Communications Commission. The FTC will be active in watching Big Tech such as Facebook and Google, and the FCC will address net neutrality with Rosenworcel’s support.

Biden also appointed Dr. Rachel Levin, currently Pennsylvania’s health secretary, to assistant secretary of Health and Human Services. Despite transphobic backlash, Levine pushed the state toward more responsible COVID-19 guidelines. If confirmed, she would become the first openly transgender federal official.

Working with other White House policy councils, the White House Gender Policy Council, co-chaired by Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso, will guide and coordinate government policy impacting women and girls in issues such as economic security, health care, racial justice, gender-based violence, and foreign policy.

Before Joe Biden became president, he and his transition team were not permitted to view the COVID-19 plan. Seeing the plans, they discovered there is no vaccine distribution strategy, according to Jeff Zients, Biden’s virus response coordinator. Instead, everything must start at “square one,” a CNN source said. Biden’s strategy can be found here.  Biden has already issued multiple executive orders to expedite the process:

  • He directed agencies to use wartime powers requiring U.S. companies to make PPE equipment such as swabs and N95 masks.
  • Mask usage is mandated in airports and on many planes, trains, ships, and intercity buses.
  • International travelers need to show a negative Covid-19 test before entering the U.S. and will have to quarantine upon arrival.
  • “A Sustainable Public Health Supply Chain” will “direct the development of a new Pandemic Supply Chain Resilience Strategy” in an effort to bolster domestic manufacturing of critical supplies.
  • The administration will try to accelerate more funding to local and state officials for vaccine distribution, creating more vaccination sites and launching a national public education campaign.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up 100 community vaccination centers in the next month.
  • The COVID-19 response office and all federal agencies will improve federal data collection and sharing; CDC will publish a dashboard of the coronavirus cases at the county level.
  • Continued treatment research emphasizing diversity in clinical trials will also expand in programs to support recovering patients and increase the healthcare workforce.
  • A new pandemic testing board is intended to discover new types of effective and rapid tests.
  • Schools, businesses, and other settings with gatherings will receive guidance about the best way for widespread testing.
  • HHS is directed to collect data on school reopenings and the spread of COVID-19 to minimize any problems of sending young people back to schools.
  • OSHA will provide clear guidance to employers about safe workplace practices and enforcement.
  • A “COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force” will ensure vaccines, treatments, masks, and other resources for everyone, including communities of color suffering high death rates.

Biden won’t enforce DDT’s lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions to places with coronavirus surges, lobbied by airlines.

Orders other than COVID-19:

  • Deportations for many undocumented immigrants with final orders of removal will be halted for 100 days. This order does not apply to those not in the U.S. before November 1, 2020, voluntarily waiving rights to remain, and having engaged in suspected terrorism. DDT deported over 185,000 people for the 2020 fiscal year. ICE officers are to focus arrests only against people who are national security threats, arrested at the border after November 1, 2020, and deemed public safety threats who have been convicted of an aggravated felony. Earlier, Biden rescinded DDT’s memo making almost every undocumented immigrant a deportation priority.
  • Agent officials will conduct a review and issue recommendations to “address aspects of immigration enforcement, including policies for prioritizing the use of enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal assets; policies governing the exercise of prosecutorial discretion; policies governing detention; and policies regarding interaction with state and local law enforcement.”
  • The rule reversing DDT’s discrimination against LGBTQ people states:

“It is the policy of my administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” 

Biden also plans to reverse DDT’s policy preventing U.S. funding for nongovernmental groups (NGOs) providing or referring patients for abortions. Dr. Anthony Fauci told the World Health Organization executive board that Biden will revoke the Mexico City Policy “as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world.” The Mexico City Policy increases the abortion rate because it reduces access to contraception. DDT had also cut off federal Title X family planning funding to domestic health care providers performing or referring patients for abortion.

Two weeks before the expiration of the New START pact with Russia, Biden is working on a five-year extension for the treaty limiting both countries’ nuclear arsenals. He also plans to impose new costs on Russia for their recent aggressive actions in the U.S. election interference, the poisoning of Vladimir Putin’s opposition leader Alexi Navalny, and bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. DDT had failed to reach any agreement because of his attempt to include China in the accord. Biden also asked new Intelligence Director Avril Haines for analysis of the massive cyberattack on the federal government blamed on Russia.

Biden will examine an agreement with the United Arab Emirates, signed an hour before his inauguration, selling them 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones.

In another focus, Biden began overturning over 100 of DDT’s actions damaging the environment. A new rule from the Interior Department orders sign offs from a top appointee for new oil and gas lease or drilling activity. With John Kerry as his climate envoy, Biden plans to go much farther than just reversing DDT’s aggressively prioritizing the fossil fuels industry at the cost of fighting climate change or protecting imperiled animals. During his term, DDT attacked over 200 environmental protections by trying to abolish or scale them back. Of DDT’s 64 policies weakening or overturning ways to curb air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, 1 has been overturned, 22 targeted, and another 41 not yet targeted. DDT also has 27 policies about wildlife and 23 relating to infrastructure and planning. Details about DDT’s orders are here. The day before Biden’s inauguration, a federal court struck down the DDT’s rollback of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Beginning on the day of Biden’s inauguration, the White House plans press briefings five days a week. Aaron Rupar described the first one by Press Secretary Jen Psaki as a “breath of fresh air.”

“There were no angry outbursts. No insults. No conspiracy theories pushed from the briefing room lectern. Just civil, if largely unmemorable, exchanges with reporters.”

He noted the “starkest possible contrast” with DDT’s first on four years ago when then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer lambasted reporters for “accurately covering the relative smallness of Trump’s inaugural crowd size.” Rupar described past briefings—when they occasionally occurred—as “more like professional wrestling events than they were good-faith efforts to inform the American public.” Major networks have assigned women to the White House beat: ABC, Cecilia Vega; CNN, Kaitlan Collins; CBS, Nancy Cordes, and NBC, Kristen Walker joining Peter Alexander. Sean Spicer has applied to be in the White House press corps because he has a show on the far-right Newsmax.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The day of the presidential inauguration was also the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. The night before, Joe and Jill Biden attended a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial with VP Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Looking at the 400 lights representing the 400,000 people who have died of the coronavirus in the past year, Biden talked about the importance of remembering in order to heal. Since the memorial, about 9,000 people have died in the U.S. of the virus, bringing the total to 420,285. On January 21, the day after the inauguration, the number of infections in the U.S. surpassed 25 million.

January 18, 2021

How Biden Can Overcome McConnell

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) Senate is on vacation, unlike four years ago when they were busy confirming the appointments of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). By his inauguration, McConnell had held Cabinet hearings on Jeff Sessions (DOJ attorney general), Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), James Mattis (Department of Defense), Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy), Tom Price (Secretary of Health & Human Services), John Kelly (Department of Homeland Security), Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing & Urban Development), Ryan Zinke (Secretary of Interior), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), Elaine Chao (Secretary of Transportation), and Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of Treasury.) Mattis and Kelly were confirmed on January 20, 2017—the day of DDT’s inauguration.  Only three Cabinet positions had no hearings by DDT’s inauguration, and one of them, Andrew Puzder withdrew his name in disgrace.

Hearings for only four President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet appointments may occur on January 19, 2021—Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury—but McConnell can drag his feet for weeks in the confirmation process. DDT came into the Oval Office at a high time of economy and safety with foreign countries. Biden, however, is facing 4,000 U.S. deaths a day from COVID-19, and the HHS Secretary submitted his resignation for the day of the inauguration after having lied to the nation about the shortage of vaccine doses. Domestic terrorists threaten more attacks after an attempted coup on the Capitol, breaching the building and coming within a minute of finding VP Mike Pence, who insurgents promised to kill, but DHS is being run by an acting-acting DHS Secretary, moved up with the ninth position of FEMA. State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo is driving hatred toward the U.S. from the world’s countries just to cause trouble for Biden.

The Constitution does allow ways for Biden to move ahead even with McConnell’s obstruction. A document from the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force reveals 277 policies Biden can immediately invoke. Although Democrats opposed DDT’s broad interpretation of executive power with legal and political evasion, the ideas, however, provide food for thought.

Filling the Executive Branch Positions:

In a constitutional alternative for confirmations, a president can make a “recess appointment” if the Senate adjourns for ten days. Appointments could last until the end of the congressional session, in this case the end of 2022. Republicans blocked any adjournments to keep President Obama from making any recess appointments, but the adjournment clause in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution has another option. Anticipating a “disagreement” between the House and the Senate about adjournment, the Constitution gives Biden the power to personally adjourn both chambers if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) cooperates, allowing Biden to appoint his Cabinet and the principal deputies on an acting basis until the Senate has a Democratic majority. Most of the other positions, lacking statutory authority or the ability to legalize policies, do not require confirmation.

According to Peter Shane, DDT’s practice of “acting” was to make “an administrative ‘delegation of authority’ from one agency official to a subordinate that allows the subordinate to do yet a third person’s job—to put officials in place who would presumably owe their political accountability solely to Trump and not to Congress.” Nowhere is the danger of this practice more obvious than at DHS: only two of the top dozen positions are filled by Senate-confirmed people. The remainder have an acting official or a senior official in a different post performing the duties of the vacant position. No president has ever followed this process of appointing a Cabinet, but no other person in the Oval Office has ever incited violence and been impeached twice.

 Reversing DDT’s Policies:

DDT’s loyalists are so embedded within the executive branch that getting rid of them will be a challenge, especially in the cases of DDT’s political appointees moving to senior civil service positions; i.e., Michael Ellis becoming top lawyer for the NSA just three days before Biden’s inauguration. But many of DDT’s recent regulation changes won’t be legally effective until after January 20, and Biden can direct administrative agencies to stop regulations not yet final and hold unpublished ones in abeyance. Those not yet effective can be postponed until consideration. With the addition of Georgia’s Democratic senators, the Senate can use the Congressional Review Act to void DDT’s regulations made as far back as last summer. 

The Congressional Review Act, used frequently by DDT’s GOP senators, applies whether a rule expands or rolls back regulations within 60 days of Senate session, going back to July, after a new rule is published. No filibusters are allowed, and debate is limited to ten hours. A disapproved rule cannot be reissued, and no rule can be issued in “substantially the same form” without additional authorization from Congress. The process could work for such recent DDT rules as requiring banks to make loans to firearms and oil industries and protecting industries other than electric utilities from climate change regulations. The law comes from Newt Gingrich’s deregulation “Contract with America.”

Another kind of executive order specifically authorized by statute and directly affect people’s legal rights or obligations includes DDT’s travel ban order. On his first day, Biden can issue an executive order repealing all DDT’s executive orders he considers bad policy.

Regulations ordering public behavior, called “substantive rules,” require a lengthy process—public comments, detailed explanation considering the comments, final publishing, and a wait for Congress to review the rule. These rules, such as DDT’s rollback of clean water protections or withdrawing safeguards of the Endangered Species Act, require a new substantive rule following the same process. Biden can find leeway by lightening or removing the requirement of regulatory cost-benefit analyses approval. With “good cause,” an agency can make a rule effective immediately after its publication. The agency is still required to follow the process, but the rule is binding before the process. An interim final rule can be carried out if an agency believes delay in revising DDT’s rule would be, according to the Administrative Procedure Act, “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest,” it could consider an interim final rule.

Many of the DDT’s agency rules are not substantive because they don’t impose new legal obligations or remove existing ones. Most of them tend to be informative statements about priorities or interpretive ones to clarify exiting policies under statutes or other substantive rules. These “guidance” orders can be revised or repealed with no elaborate procedures.

Senate Majority:

With 100 percent of the votes counted from the January 5, 2021, runoff election for two U.S. Georgia senators, the majority of almost 4.5 million voters picked Democrats Jon Ossoff (2,269,738 votes, 50.62 percent) and Raphael Warnock (2,288,923 votes, 51.04 percent) over GOP incumbents David A. Perdue (2,214,506 votes, 49.38 percent) and Kelly Loeffler (2,195,373 votes, 48.96 percent). Because both Ossoff and Warnock won by over one percent, there will be no recount. Both Perdue and Loeffler conceded the election and don’t plan to contest it in court. All the counties have certified the votes, and the state must finish the process by January 22, 2021. Georgia now has its first Black and its first Jewish senators. The runoff was forced by no candidate receiving at least 50 percent in the general election, required by a 1963 law, common in Southern states, to block Blacks from winning any contests after the Supreme Court struck down its earlier discriminatory law. 

At the swearing in of the 117th Congress on January 3, the Senate had 51 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents who vote with Democrats. Perdue’s term ended on January 3, but Loeffler stays until she is replaced because she was appointed a year ago. If Georgia certifies the election on January 20, the new senators can be sworn in the next day—unless McConnell decides to balk. With a 50-50 split, VP Kamala Harris will break any ties. Harris resigned her senatorial seat January 18, and appointed former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla replaces her. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will trade places with McConnell after the new senators are sworn in to become the Majority Leader.

The history of a 50-50 Senate split goes back to 2001, when Trent Lott (R-MS) and Tom Daschle (SD) negotiated equal membership on committees, equal budgets for both parties on committees, and the right of either party leader to discharge bills or nominations from deadlocked committees. The two former senators wrote an op-ed about the difficulty of sharing power in a highly-polarized society and giving recommendations for the process. McConnell’s behavior during the past six years has created a huge partisan distrust from the Democrats. This shift in Senate control influences the upcoming impeachment trial after the House approved the charges against DDT of incitement of insurrection connected to the January 6 attempted coup at the Capitol.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hasn’t yet said when she will send the article of impeachment passed by the House on January 13 to the Senate for its trial. Traditionally, all other business stops with an impeachment trial, but with Biden’s first 100 days plan, that process may be changed. Biden has asked for half days devoted to the trial proceedings with the remainder of the needs addressed in the rest of the time. A trial requires two-thirds of the Senators present for conviction. With everyone in attendance, the number is 67, but Republicans may wish to avoid making a decision about the impeachment and not show up for the trial.

Just 34 more hours until the inauguration.

July 20, 2019

DDT: Week 130 – Ethical Moves Backward from Space Race

Tweets from Republicans show how they think, and this one from Diamond and Silk, Fox Nation hosts and vloggers, have a doozey:

“Nancy Pelosi said the WORDS that the President used were racist. But those same words are in the Dictionary. Does that mean that the Dictionary is now racist? Should all Dictionaries be banned since Democrats are offended by words?”

When the sisters, strongly supported by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), saw Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) eating chicken to mock AG Bill Barr’s cowardice in not testifying before the House, they called him “racially insensitive.” Ladies, the word “chicken” is in the Dictionary (sic), and one white man was ridiculing another white man. In another foray into stupidity, D&S lambasted Beto O’Rourke for opposing a wall on the southern border because he lives in a house with walls

Dumbness predominates in about 16 million people in the U.S. who don’t believe that two U.S. men walked on the moon 50 years ago. Some of them go farther in a belief that the earth is a flat disc with the Arctic in the center and a 150-foot-tall wall of ice in the Antarctica surrounding the rim. NASA employees guard the wall to keep people from falling off. And gravity is an illusion.

While DDT diverted people with his racism:

The EPA will not ban a pesticide associated with developmental disabilities and other health problems in children, a pesticide banned before DDT was inaugurated. Now permitted for agricultural food use, chlorpyrifos was banned from residential use in 2000 because of causing memory problems, lower IQs, reduced breathing capacity, and increased risks of children born with autism as shown by a study of children living in California. The negative effects are permanent. Last year, a federal court said there was “no justification” for such a decision.

DDT rolled back programs to detect weapons of mass destruction by canceling training exercises and driving out scientists and policy experts. U.S. citizens now face greater risks from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks since DDT appointed James McDonnell as director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office before he was promoted to lead the new Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. Over 100 people who raised concerns about lack of readiness were taken out of their areas of expertise. Disbanded programs helped law enforcement officials detect potential threats and worked to detect foreign states trying to provide radiological or nuclear material to terrorists.

Not satisfied with getting rid of 80 percent of scientists in two USDA agencies by moving them to Kansas City, DDT has exiled one-fifth of the Interior Department, most of the Bureau of Land Management’s D.C. workforce further from Washington, D.C.—to west of the Rockies where they will be more susceptible to pressure from the fossil fuel industry. DDT is also trying to get rid of the government’s human resources agency, the Office of Personnel Management, planning to “furlough” up to 150 employees if Congress refuses to follow his orders.

The Pentagon tripled its presence on the southern border by sending 1,100 active-duty troops and 1,000 Texas National Guard soldiers to join 2,500 active-duty and 2,000 National Guard troops already there.

AG Bill Barr gave $51,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately before his Senate confirmation hearings for attorney general. Before that, Barr had only occasionally donated to the GOP.

The Agriculture Department blocked the release of a multiyear plan on how to respond to climate change finalized in the early days of the Trump administration. It showed ways for farmers to understand, adapt to, and minimize the effects of climate change.

A defense contractor employee with access to sensitive information threatened to kill Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) because she supported a bill to vaccinate school children. 

The Washington Post has a report on its investigation into how acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is working to create a fiefdom in his goal of deregulating the government. His primary goals are immigration and health care in his work to force out chiefs of staff in these departments. One senior official said that only economic advisor Larry Kudlow and national security adviser John Bolton are not under Mulvaney’s control. He is behind permission for health-care providers, insurers, and employers to refuse coverage for medical services with the excuse of religious and/or moral beliefs, including banning taxpayer-funded clinics from making referrals for abortions.

DDT’s immigration expands its cruelty. When Border Patrol separated parents in a Honduran family, sending one to Mexico and leaving the other in the United States, three-year-old Sofia, who has a heart condition even after surgery, was asked to pick which parent she wanted. The family had already been sent back twice to Mexico. The girl’s mother had seen her mother killed; her sister-in-law, also a witness, was later kidnapped, tortured, and murdered to keep her from testifying.  

U.S. citizen children—at least those appearing to be Latinx—can’t go anywhere without a danger of being kidnapped by the U.S. government.

Thirteen-year-old Heydi has died after hanging herself because her father was turned away from asylum three times. Her father was finally reunited with her daughter after she lay brain-dead in the hospital. 

This is in what some people call the greatest nation in the world. 

GOP quandaries:

DDT has claimed that the U.S. military shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, but Iran claims that all its drones returned to their home bases. Iran suggests that the U.S. might have shot down one of its own drones. Considering DDT’s history of lying, people might be more likely to believe Iran. The question might be whether DDT is ginning up a war after his week of criticism on his racist attacks.

Democrats took the House partly because they supported health care for people. After spending almost a decade trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Judge Richard Leon of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ACA doesn’t have to provide for pre-existing conditions. Watch for the Democrats’ campaign ads—and the GOP candidates lying about their positions as Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in her last campaign when she told people that she voted for pre-existing conditions. Democrats will likely appeal Leon’s decision. Wonder what Republicans will do.

After the House passed a bill by 402 to 12 that made permanent a compensation program for 9/11 responders who contracted diseases linked to exposure, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has tried to block presenting the bill with 75 co-sponsors in the Senate and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) demanded that all cost should be offset by cuts in spending. Paul called the bill’s supporter Jon Stewart, formerly of the The Daily Show, a “guttersnipe” and the legislation a “completely irresponsible” measure with support only because senators are “overwhelmed” by the comedian’s celebrity. The senator said, “If Jon Stewart could read, maybe he’d read the bill and say, ‘Oh my God, who would vote for a bill that doesn’t have a dollar amount in it?’ ” Bad press may have led McConnell to declare that a vote will take place next week. 

The Senate may need to deal with another bill passed by the House that raises the minimum wage to $15 over the next six years and takes between 27 million and 33 million people out of poverty. Accounting for inflation, the wage peaked at $11.79 per hour in 1968

Things for Republicans to deal with:

Texas may gain three to four congressional seats after the census, but only with an accurate count. The state is refusing to fund the census; just a one-percent undercount could cost Texas $300 million in federal funding a year. California, with a population of 40 percent more than Texas, is spending $154 million. Texas can lose billions of dollars with its short sightedness. 

A few positive things:

The House voted to block the sale of billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate. DDT had tried to use emergency powers to sidestep Congress for 22 deals worth more than $8 billion.

The 10th Circuit Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that San Juan County (Utah) had violated constitutional rights of residents with racially gerrymandered districts and affirmed the new court-imposed districts. Anglos were upset with new districts that gave the ability of Navajos to be elected after whites had put most of the Navajo residents, 52 percent of the county’s population, into one of the three districts. One of the whites plans to appeal to the entire circuit court.

DDT is at his Bedminster resort with no keepers. Tomorrow may be more tweet-filled. 

March 2, 2017

Resist!

Filed under: protests — trp2011 @ 9:12 PM
Tags: , , , ,

“Protests don’t do any good.” That’s what a progressive friend of mine said yesterday. I launched into my monologue, including the protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights which we’re both old enough to remember. By the time I finished, he agreed with me—although perhaps out of exhaustion. Earlier this week, “hundreds” of Trump supporters gathered across the country but failed to display much energy. At the same time, the Resistance Movement is overwhelming the nation.

Unlike the Vietnam War protesting, this activism is not around a single issue. The “women’s march” was about far more than women; it showed how all of us need to come together to fight back against the authoritarian regime from the federal government. Everyone needs to know that we are not alone while we are all at risk.

A question after that first march on January 21 was what would happen after the event that went around the world. The outrage demonstrated by hundreds of thousands of people is vital, and retention of that energy is crucial. While conservatives tell protesters to “get over it,” something they never did with Barack Obama, and others call for compromise, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has shown that there is no benefit in conciliation because Republicans consistently prove that they will settle only for their own way, always refusing to cooperate. They have zero interest in democracy.

One benefit for protesters is that DDT has made radical promises about finding jobs for people that he cannot possibly fulfill. The unemployment rate is down to 4.6 percent—in my state of Oregon, the lowest in 50 years at 4.3 percent. Another problem for conservatives is the false claim that GOPcare will give a better deal to people than “Obamacare,” which now enjoys a 54 percent approval rating. DDT supporters will have less money after the tax “reform” gives away the money only to the wealthy. Others will lose Social Security and Medicare if congressional Republicans get their way.

Until these disasters come to fruition, however, the United States is already on its way to an autocracy, Paul Krugman’s polite term for dictatorship, and our only path is fighting back:

“A crucial part of the story is that the emerging autocracy uses the power of the state to intimidate and co-opt civil society—institutions outside the government proper. The media are bullied and bribed into becoming de facto propaganda organs of the ruling clique. Businesses are pressured to reward the clique’s friends and punish its enemies. Independent public figures are pushed into collaboration or silence. Sound familiar?”

A great beginning was Indivisible, the grass roots movement that started with a guide to protesting. The presence of these people was noticeable whenever the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at the town hall meetings during the congressional recess as the crowd emphasized the word in “one nation indivisible.”

Michael Moore also has a “ten-step program” to rally people that echoes much of the Indivisible document. His first directive is calling Congress—every day! Dial 202-225-3121 (or 202-224-3121 if busy). Or directly call senators and representatives. There’s even an app called “5 Calls” that directly dials numbers. Make it part of your daily routine, Moore writes, just after waking up, brushing teeth, walking dog or staring at cat, and making coffee. Members of Congress are commenting on the number of calls they are receiving. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said that he received 20,000 in one week instead of the normal 2,500.

Item #9 is even easier for people who hate to make telephone calls. With the current DDT obsession on suppressing the media, do it yourself. Moore suggests that everyone establish their own “media empire” by sharing progressive articles on all their social media. Some of my favorite outlets are americanprogress.org (including thinkprogress.org), alternet.org, dailykos.com, truthout.org, readersupportednews.org, reprohealthwatch.org, and msnbc.com/maddowblog. You probably have other favorites.

The last item on Moore’s list feeds into DDT’s terror of being ridiculed. Share humor with people—all those clips from SNL, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Andy Borowitz, and your other favorites. Those of you think that mocking the president is not fair need to consider his greed, misogyny, bigotry, narcissism, authoritarianism, and ignorance that should remove his right to lead the nation.

Follow your congressional members by subscribing to these sites.

  • FiveThirtyEight, the respected blog that crunches political numbers for analyses of politics and economics, has the Trump Score to show how individual members of Congress compare to DDT’s positions. It’s a start.
  • GovTrack has more detailed information and provides alerts on individual congressional members’ votes and updates on bills that they sponsor. It’s a good way to look at voting records and follow bills and committees.
  • Countable gives pro and con positions about specific bills and stances from political organizations about specific issues.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, suggests boycotting retailers that carry Trump products as an act of protest. Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus have dropped Trump items, and Macy’s, which dropped DDT products, is now being pressured to eliminate the Ivanka Trump line. Activism caused Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, to resign from DDT’s economic counsel. This website contains telephone numbers for Trump-carrying businesses to call about dropping your purchasing power.

Immediately after DDT was inaugurated, people trying to call the White House comment line found it disconnected, but it seems to be operating now between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm EST at 202-456-1111. When it was not operating, White House Inc., created by Revolution Messaging, began connecting people to DDT’s businesses. The person may ask about making reservations or setting up a tee time, but you can still ask for management and talk about the issues.

DDT and the Republicans legislators claim that they have sworn off regulations, but they will certainly create ones that make lives worse. At this time, everyone can comment on proposed rules. After laws are passed, executive agencies can fill in the details within the boundaries of the law. These regulations must be shared with the public before public adoption in a comment period.

The first step is to go to the list of proposed regulations. For example, one of the ones listed is called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Market Stabilization.” Reading the draft rules shows that the government wants to reduce open enrollment for the ACA from two months to two weeks—November 1 to December 15. The end of the comment period for this proposed regulation is March 6, 2017. There are directions on how to comment.

Some organizations, for example the Sierra Club, have pages for its supporters to submit public comments on issues of their concern; signing up for email lists from the organizations that champion your causes is useful. This process goes beyond signing petitions because your comments must be reviewed. The most useful comments are those that provide facts, analyses, and impacts, and the number of voices always matters.

folding-chair

Why do protests make a difference? They make causes more visible, demonstrate power, give a sense of unity, build relationships, and provide a sense of energy and hope. If protests didn’t work, conservatives wouldn’t bother trying to make them illegal in at least 18 states. No significant social progress has ever occurred without protests. The most amazing part of Michael Moore’s ten steps is the Resistance Calendar with daily protest postings—almost 20 for just today, March 2. As Shirley Chisholm said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” Pick up your folding chair and join the resistance!

February 18, 2017

DDT: Week Four – Part 2

The news from the past week wasn’t all bad for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Some of it will make life more difficult and dangerous for the people in the United States.

Two-State Solution?: A future Palestinian state may have completely disappeared this week as Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) said during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he doesn’t care whether there is a two-state or a one-state solution. “I like the one that both parties like,” DDT said. The statement conflicts with a half-century of work for a two-state solution although he followed—albeit very mildly—the five-decade policy of presidential opposition to Israeli settlement on Palestinian land. The usual bombastic DDT was quite mild with Netanyahu, especially when he said, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

DDT also didn’t say he supported moving the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city that is partly Palestinian, but he has appointed David M. Friedman as Ambassador to Israel. Friedman has openly said that supporters of a two-state solution are worse than Nazi collaborators. He strongly supports the Israeli seizure of privately-owned Palestinian land and has financially invested in the illegal settlement enterprise in the Israeli-occupied, Palestinian-owned West Bank where Palestinians live under a half-century 50-year military occupation. DDT and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, along with Kushner’s family who are on the organization’s founding board of trustees, have donated to American Friends of Beit El Institutions, a group opposed to the two-state resolution. Kushner is in charge of peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel. “There’s no need to worry about the First Amendment,” said Friedman about the Muslim ban when he claims that immigrants applying for entry to the U.S. don’t have “the rights of free speech and privacy.”

DDT’s First Big Bill—Supporting Oil Industry: One in a series of regulatory rollback bills, a regulation requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments is the first to fall under the hatchet of DDT’s signature. The oil and gas industry, including Secretary of State and Exxon-wealthy Rex Tillerson, is delighted because they can hide their business in Russia. DDT claimed that the bill will bring back jobs, showing that he has no idea what he has signed. He had the same problem with the order he signed that allows financial advisors to steal from investors. In his written response to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson acknowledged:

“Part of my job…will be to make sure that because American companies, NGOs and development relief efforts are expected to play by the rules and abide by [the Cardin-Lugar rule]…and other laws, that foreign companies or investors do not get an unfair advantage by cheating or keeping to a lower standard.”

Now the oil industry–and Tillerson–will use its deep swamp to easily hide bribery from foreign countries.

GOP Promotion of Coal Mining Waste in Streams: In its enthusiasm to overturn everything that President Obama did to help people, Congress is using the Congressional Review Act to destroy the nation. The right-to-bribery oil bill was the first; the second is to allow coal companies to dump their debris in waterways. DDT said he will save “many thousands American jobs” by making water unusable. The plan doesn’t increase the number of jobs: it just allows miners to continue burying streams by blowing off the tops of mountains, causing higher rates of cancer and heart disease. Thus far, Appalachia has seen 2,000 miles of streams ruined; the new law will allow another 6,000 miles of streams to suffer from the debris. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “If you want to help miners, then come address their health and safety and their pension program.” There was no evidence that this help for miners will occur.

Guns for the Mentally Disabled: The next time that the NRA speaks about a high profile mass shooting, someone will say, “The problem isn’t guns, it’s mental illness. We just need to keep guns out of the wrong hands.” Four Democrats and an Independent joined GOP senators to reverse an Obama regulation that referred a small number of people to the FBI background check system to prevent them from buying guns. This population is composed of people applying for Social Security disability benefits because of a mental condition and incapable of managing their own finances. President Obama used George W. Bush’s National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 for the regulation. DDT will most likely sign this bill next week.

Russia Feeling Brave?:  The country’s recent deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile violates the Cold War-era arms control treaty. A Russian intelligence ship was also seen 30 miles from the Naval Submarine Base in New London (CT), 18 miles out in international waters. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has expressed concern about the ship in connection with Russia’s firing the missile and the Russian aircraft buzzing a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea. He tweeted, “Russia is acting like it has a permission slip to expand influence, test limits of reach. Questions are obvious: does it, and if so, why?”

House Oversight Committee Rejection of Flynn’s Possible Treason: Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), said that more information about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s talks with the Russians is upcoming and that these conversations are not covered by executive privilege. Flynn would have to answer questions in congressional investigations if Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) changed his mind about not investigating Flynn’s possible acts of treason. The GOP House just wants to “move on.” Chaffetz is now focused on investigating Sid the Science Kid. GOP senators appear to have more interest in investigations, but they have caved on issues before. Chaffetz did ask DDT for an accounting of security measures during his talk with Abe at Mar-a-Lago. (A few months back, Chaffetz said that he could never look his daughters in the face if he support Donald Trump.)

Immigration Abuse: DDT’s Muslim ban has been blocked, but border agents are still targeting people protected by the Dreamer act, falsifying records to keep innocent people in detention, targeting people from countries other than the “Muslim ban,” lying to get travelers to give up visas and green cards, hiding people in detention, detaining U.S. citizens who work for the government, etc. The new immigration tactics will vastly increase domestic abuse after officials detained an undocumented woman at the El Paso County Courthouse when she got a protective order against her abuser. In the past, the United States had given victims of domestic violence the option of protection through the U Visa if they cooperated with law enforcement. The officials picked up the woman on a tip from her abuser after he was arrested, creating a practice giving great control to an abusive person. DDT said he had promised “to get the bad ones.”

The Return of J. Edgar Hoover Tactics: DDT may be keeping dossiers on journalists, congressional members, and other influential people who don’t agree with him. White House reporter April Ryan stated that Omarosa Manigault, White House communications official “physically intimidated” Ryan as well as making verbal threats including the assertion that DDT officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information on her and several other journalists. White supremacist and DDT’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has asked people to dig for dirt on at least four Democrats who Bannon worries about participating in the 2020 presidential election: Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Murphy wrote that the White House “scouring my background” is a “compliment.”

japan-prime-ministerOne piece of humor from this past week was the look on Japanese Prime Minister Abe after an enforced 19-second handshake with DDT. Check the video out! People have started paying more attention to DDT’s handshakes than what he says. For example, the one with his Supreme Court Justice nominee made Neil Gorsuch look particularly pained. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was prepared: he strong-armed DDT and quickly took his hand back.

trump-to-great

You could also have gotten the above DDT inauguration print from the Library of Congress for only $16.95, but it’s been pulled—maybe because of the typo? The Internet, however, never forgets!

February 4, 2017

DDT: Week Two

 

The adults in the White House are gone, replaced by childish, vengeful adolescents coordinated by a white supremacist. It’s like a kid won president of the student council because he ran on overturning all school rules. Here are some actions from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) during his second seek of rule.

Much of the media concentration last week was on DDT’s ban on Muslims. It threw much of the nation into chaos, most probably its intent. After over 100,000 visas were overturned and far more innocent people, many of them U.S. residents, were kept from coming into the country, a George W. Bush-appointed judge in Washington state overturned the ban. The State Department, now with oil magnate Rex Tillerson at the helm, decided to reverse DTT’s ban, allowing those whose visas were not physically cancelled to come into the United States. People with those visas will have to go to an embassy or consulate to have them reinstated.

Other of DDT’s well known activities last week were firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates because she refused to violate the U.S. Constitution, alienating leaders in several allied countries while giving Russia a pass on illegal actions in Ukraine, and putting white supremacist Steve Bannon on the National Security Council while removing the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

These diversionary tactics kept many people from focusing on the other damage that he did last week. One major move was to put evangelicals in charge of the country; details of these actions are to be described tomorrow.

Allowing financial advisers cheat clients: DDT overturned an Obama regulation requiring investors to put their clients’ interests first. Financial advisors can return to getting the biggest commissions, even if the investments are not in the best interests of their clients. Experts say that this particularly damages economic situations for the elderly with limited retirement funds.

Trying to fake support for gender equality: When DDT appointed Gina Haspel as deputy director of the CIA, Kellyanne Conway bragged that this was the first woman in this position. She was wrong: President Obama appointed Avril Haines as the first woman for this post. Haspel also has a bad record of overseeing a “black site” prison in Thailand that used torturing and then ordered videos from the prison destroyed. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) wrote to Trump stating, “Her background makes her unsuitable for the position.”

Avoiding any mention of Jews: On the same day that DDT issued his Muslim ban, he gave out a statement honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention Jewish people—just all those people who perished. The omission was intentional, and there were no regrets from White House about the lack of “remembrance.” The State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues prepared a statement that mentioned the six million Jewish victims—two-thirds of the European Jewish population—but the White House omitted this part of the statement, possibly at the instigation of white supremacist Steve Bannon who writes DDT’s executive orders.

Killing citizens in Yemen: DDT’s first military raid as president ended badly when leaks about the operation resulted in the killing of a U.S. Navy Seal and an eight-year-old citizen of the U.S. as well as over 23 other civilians, many of them women and children. DDT’s administration bragged about the raid’s success, but the “intelligence” released to promote its “success” is ten years old. Al Qaeda leader Qassim al-Raymi called DDT “the fool of the White House” and reported that two U.S. helicopters were downed and tens of U.S. soldiers injured. Unnamed military officials said that “Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented the plan at a dinner with DDT, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, and Mike Pence who immediately approved it with no advice or vetting from intelligence officers or military commanders. A meeting the next day about the plan was “pro forma and irrelevant” because a decision had been made.

After press secretary, Sean Spicer, described the raid as “a successful operation by all standards,” he decided it was a disaster and tried to put the blame on former President Obama who had been briefed on the proposal and deferred any decision to his successor. Witnesses to the Obama discussions regarding the raid debunked the White House blame game. Colin Kahl, the national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, and Ned Price, a former White House spokesman, said that the botched raid was never approved by former President Obama.

Some members of Congress—even Republicans—want to look into the debacle, and the military has already announced that it would launch its own investigation. The villagers at the location of the raid have said that they were unfairly targeted by the United States, and IS in Yemen is now strengthened, according to an International Crisis Group report,

Ignoring home-grown counter-terrorism: DDT wants a program to exclude opposition to violent white supremacists and other non-Islam extremist groups to completely focus on Muslims. Spicer said that the White House will look at borders to investigate “homegrown” terrorist threats. The decision was announced three days after a white supremacist pro-Trump Canadian killed six people in a Quebec mosque. Reuters reported that the administration “would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.” People in America are seven times more likely to be killed by a right-wing extremist than a Muslim attacker as demonstrated by recent mass shootings.

Eliminating federal funding for “sanctuary” cities and states: DDT threatened last week to cut funding from areas that don’t hold undocumented immigrants in detention, but the number of those places is growing—and not just in blue states. This week Birmingham (AL) City Council voted unanimously to be a “welcoming and a sanctuary.” Recent data shows that sanctuary counties have lower crime rates, poverty rates, and unemployment rates than counties that fully cooperate with ICE. Overall, immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, has issued an executive order prohibiting the state from participating in the creation of a Muslim registry and called on the state’s AG to legally oppose DDT’s anti-immigration measures. Her order extends the state’s 30-year-old statute prohibiting law enforcement agencies from treating undocumented Oregonians as criminals to include all state agencies. Washington became the first state to file a lawsuit against DDT’s immigration ban, and four other states—Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia—have joined third-party actions.

Failing to record call with Vladimir Putin: DDT’s hour-long telephone call with Russia’s leader was taped in that country but not in the United States. The Kremlin’s detailed 10-paragraph cited “active joint efforts to stabilize and develop Russia-US cooperation on a constructive, equitable, and mutually beneficial basis” and quoted Putin as being pleased with DDT’s tone. The vague one-paragraph statement from the White House referred to a “congratulatory call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.” It has been suggested that the staff disabled the recording equipment.

Running from protesters: DDT canceled his trip to Wisconsin’s Harley-Davidson factor because of the threat of protesters.

Opening Black History Month in a bizarre speech: DDT’s first statement:

“Well, the election, it came out really well. Next time we’ll triple the number or quadruple it. We want to get it over 51, right? At least 51.”

He continued by rambling about a rumor that he had taken a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. out of his office and complaining about “fake news.” Then he said that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice.” He segued to the media, calling CNN “fake news” but complimenting the Fox network that “has treated me very nice.” He talked about the importance of good schools and inner-city violence. And then he was done.

Waffles on doing away with regulations: During his campaign DDT promised that he would eliminate two existing regulations for every new one, sort a cool “one in, two out” with no rationale. But this week’s executive order stated “identify,” not “eliminate.” The order doesn’t require that these “two regulations” be repealed for every one created.

Purging the State Department: Last week, it was announced that several top-level officials at the State Department resigned. DDT actually got rid of them, including one who was on his way to Rome for an international meeting on nuclear weapons. He was in charge of signing off on U.S. arms sales and security assistance abroad by negotiating, implementing, and verifying international arms control agreements and international security. No one has replaced him.

A piece of good news? By the end of PDT’s first week, alternative twitter accounts popped up for most federal agencies after PDT’s gag order on sending out information. Here’s a list. Even Oregon’s Crater Lake has an alt-twitter.

More coverage of DDT’s second week is here. Compare the reality with the fantasy from the White House.

March 17, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Government Isn’t a Business

The U.S. House actually did something today: they held committee hearings about the travesty in Flint with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifying. For those of you who lost track of Flint’s water problems in the midst of Trumpmania, a governor with no political experience who was hired on the basis of his “business” skills and anti-government policies said he saved money on the water supply to Flint’s citizens by poisoning them with lead and causing deaths from Legionnaires Disease. The brilliant minds behind the scheme that poisoned Flint residents were a think tank funded by the powerful, conservative DeVos family, owner of Amway marketing.

Leaked emails show that Snyder didn’t poison Flint residents to save money. He just wanted to privatize the utility.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal of $800 million over 30 years, 20 percent cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority. It also offered a 50 percent reduction over what Flint had paid in the past to stay with DWSD. By breaking up DWSD and starve it of the Flint customer base, DWDS would be forced to privatize, sold off by Snyder. Snyder refused to release the emails from 2013 which would confirm this information. The governor has also slashed corporate taxes while instituting a flat tax and crippling public schools with budget cuts.

Ironically, Michigan could have saved billions of dollars and thousands of people suffering from serious health issues and brain damage for only $50,000 a year. A city administrator refused to pay to add orthophosphate to the process, as is done in Detroit to Lake Huron sourced water. That chemical would have prevented the corrosion of lead pipes.

Snyder came into today’s hearing after ignoring the problems for almost two years and said, “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.” To Snyder, everyone else was responsible, and he is innocent, despite his appointment of an “emergency manager” instead of allowing elected officials to guide the city’s government processes. That was before he ignored all the complaints from Flint residents about the dangers of the water after his manager changed the water source and caused the disaster. According to Snyder, “Bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical competence over common sense.” He’s wrong only about his personal bureaucrats. No one valued “technical competence” and no one showed “common sense.”

The governor who believes in states’ rights—and would have screamed bloody murder if anyone had tried to violate them—blamed EPA’s Gina McCarthy for not fixing the problem while Snyder ignored it. McCarthy responded that Snyder’s people in Michigan’s DEQ told the EPA that they had done corrosion controls when they hadn’t done anything. She concluded, “We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively.”

After the EPA sent Michigan’s DEQ directives about the Flint water two months ago, the state agency’s director questioned the EPA’s “legal authority” to “order a state and its agencies” to protect the health of its citizens. EPA had told Michigan to inform the public about upcoming steps, but Michigan is one of two states in the nation where the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In that way, the state thinks that it can legally violate the state’s open meetings act as the governor meets with all his emergency managers behind closed doors. Before this order from EPA, the state supplied the federal agency with altered documents and purposely skewed test results to support the falsehood that there was no problem with Flint water.

Snyder also blamed federal regulations. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires chemicals to reduce corrosiveness in public water systems to keep water from leach lead from pipes. Michigan, however, misread the regulations.

With the disaster in the public spotlight, Snyder now feels really bad about what happened. Yet he refuses to provide any funding from the state’s surplus funds of $575 million to replace pipes and instead is spending $1.2 million on lawyers to deal with the crisis. Snyder’s AG, Bill Schuette, also appointed a special counsel, a donor to both Shuette’s and Snyder’s campaigns, to investigate whether anyone broke state laws. The governor also hired a public relations firm with no offices in Michigan in order to cover himself. Its senior vice president in the Florida office is married to Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

Today’s hearing was the second on the subject this week. On Tuesday, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), called the testimonies “sickening.” State-appointment Darnell Earley who switched the water moaned about how he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared.” He claimed that the water was safe even after GM refused to use it because it corroded its auto parts. “I’m not a water treatment expert,” he said. At the same time that he denied any problem with the water, state employees were receiving bottled water at their offices.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who largely contributed to exposing the sham, said, “Apparently being a government agency means never having to say you are sorry.” He said that the agency “covered up evidence of their unethical actions by authoring false scientific reports.”

The water is unusable, but parents were told that the state would take their children if they didn’t pay their water bills because they needed running water in their homes. Flint residents also pay more for unusable water than other U.S. communities pay for usable running water. Average  spending for each Flint household is $864.32—more than twice as much as homes served by public water utilities and ten times as much as Phoenix, Arizona. The average cost for private water utilities is $500, typically 58 percent more than other public utility systems and 2.7 times the average cost in Michigan. The cost in Flint skyrocketed after the emergency manager raised water and sewer costs by 25 percent. Over 40 percent of Flint residents live under the poverty line, and the media income is $25,000.

After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought Flint’s inexcusable condition to the media forefront—soon followed by Bernie Sanders–GOP candidates spoke up. Sen. Marco Rubio, now out of the race, praised Snyder for taking “responsibility,” and Sen. Ted Cruz offered to send water, but only through anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” He also single-handedly blocked an aid package of $850 million to help victims in Flint and other cities suffering lead crises.

This week, a resolution “recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the same group holding hearings on Flint.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said he did this as a matter of constituent services. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) tweeted, “The House GOP believes in magic but not climate change.” Evidently representatives don’t believe in constituent service for Flint. Instead of helping Flint and other communities with lead pipes, the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in the next ten years—and Israel wants that increased to $50 billion. House Democrats are pushing a bill to block the appointment of emergency managers instead of elected officials, but it’s an uphill battle.

Michigan’s governor is a Republican dream: Snyder is anti-government and anti-regulation while strongly states’ rights. He firmly believes that government should be run like a business. At least that’s his belief until he wants to blame all his problems on someone else and complain that the federal government didn’t solve his problems years ago so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a House committee hearing. In reality it’s a  nightmare–what happens when GOP leadership is allowed to run rampant over people’s rights.

This week’s test of water shows higher levels than earlier ones. Snyder refuses to replace the pipes until he does extensive studies. People are still without usable running water. That’s Flint under a small government, business plan.

September 7, 2013

House GOP Opposes Fracking Regulations

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:16 PM
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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.

April 24, 2013

No Outrage for Texas Explosion

If you were anywhere near a television set or newspaper last week, you would know that two young men set off a bomb at the Boston marathon and that they had been captured, one dead and the other in the hospital. The news about the three deaths caused by the bombs and the injured people dominated the media.

But fewer people knew about the 15 deaths and 200+ injuries in a little-known Texas town after an explosion at a fertilizer plant a week ago today. Yet the media largely ignored the explosion after the first day.

West Fertilizer’s function is to store, distribute, and blend fertilizer for farmers. The state has as many as 1,150 of these plants, all so small that they have few regulations.  Owned by Donald Adair, the plant had no sprinklers and no water deluge systems. There were no fire walls. With no fire suppression systems, there was no way to stop the fire after it started. It is also the reason that so many first responders died in the explosion.

The plant did have 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, the chemical used to build the Oklahoma City bomb in 1995 that killed 168 people, and 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, considered flammable and potentially toxic. EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) requires companies to submit plans describing their handling and storage of certain hazardous chemicals. Ammonium nitrate is not among the chemicals that must be reported. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave the plant a permit for handling anhydrous ammonia without checking to see if the company added the necessary safety equipment.

Last summer the plant was fined $5,250 for improperly labeling storage tanks and transferring chemicals without a security plan. Adair said that the plant had corrected the problems. The year before that, it was cited for not having an up-to-date risk management plan. The submitted plan said that the plant didn’t have any flammable substances. A citation in 2006 was issued after the complaint of a strong ammonia smell, the same claim as the night of the explosion.

The year 1985 was the last visit from the Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) inspection. It found one serious and two additional violations; the company was fined $30. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is so understaffed that a plant like West Fertilizer might expect a state inspection every 129 years. OSHA has 2,000 inspectors to cover the 7,000,000 workplaces in the United States. Yet the House 2011 budget, supported by Texas GOP representatives, would have reduced OSHA by $99 million.

Even seven years ago, Texas’ environmental agency knew that the plant was handling 2,400 tons a year of the explosive ammonium nitrate, deadly when heated to extreme temperatures or exposed to shock. Nobody seems responsible, however, for ensuring the safety of the people at and around the plant. The state environmental agency just makes sure that the blast doesn’t spread pollution; the federal pipeline agency governs only transportation, not storage; and the state chemist’s office, which came ten days before the explosion, has no legal authority in the arena of fire or explosive safety.

There are no uniform federal rules for ammonium storage. Fire safety experts have best practices for protection, but the company did not follow any simple safeguards such as storing the ammonium nitrate far away from other buildings and fire sources as well as installing a water system to cool the fertilizer before it could explode. Texas has learned nothing from the 1947 ammonium nitrate explosion at Texas City that killed at least 581 people.

West beforeEven without any inspections, common sense zoning might have stopped some of the carnage. Two of the three schools in the town were across the street from the plant. On the other side of the plant was a child’s playground and, behind that, a retirement home. The explosion could have very easily happened during school hours. Two months ago, a controlled brush burn near the plant evacuated the middle school. Recently West Fertilizer burned wooden pallets near the stockpiled explosive material on the site. [Photo: West (TX) before explosion)

West-texas-map

More photos are available here.

West afterThe explosion caused severe fire damage to the middle school and leveled an apartment building next to the plant as was a nursing home nearby. And of course, there were the 50 to 60 homes destroyed in this town of less than 3,000. The cost is estimated at over $100 million. [Photo: West (TX) after explosion]

All the federal representatives for the West (TX) area—Rep. Bill Flores, John Cornyn, and Ted Cruz—want federal aid for their suffering constituents. All three of them, Republicans, may have forgotten that they all voted against sending any aid to those suffering from Superstorm Sandy unless it was matched by federal cuts.

There is one regulation that Donald Adair and West Fertilizer ignored. Any fertilizer plants and depots holding 400 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate are required to inform the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, this one little plant in western Texas stored 270 tons of it last year, 1,350 times more than 400 pounds that should have been reported to DHS.

The Texas agency is not required to share this information with the DHS, and the company ignored the reporting requirement. Ammonium nitrate is a substance highly useful in making bombs, yet no one in Congress has evidenced any concern about what happened in West, Texas, and what this means for the safety of the country. At this time, companies are responsible to self-report the quantities of volatile chemicals that they have. Without doing this, facilities cannot be monitored in order to prevent sabotage and keep chemicals from falling into criminal hands.

Eighteen years ago, Timothy McVeigh and others put 2 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with racing fuel into a truck and blew it up in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City. Eighteen years later, they could still buy the same substance.

The media and Congress continue to rage at the 19-year-old young man and his connection to Muslims while exhibiting no outrage about the death and destruction in Texas and no concern about easily available chemicals for making bombs. At the same time, conservative lawmakers threaten the country’s security by shrinking budgets, opposing regulations, and fighting agency connections.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in the U.S. His “weapon” was a couple of pressure cookers, some gunpowder, and a batch of fireworks. Yet the media ignores a man who concealed the fact from the federal government that his company stores a massive amount of chemicals that killed at least 15 people, injured at least another 200, and caused more than $100 million of property damage.

June 2, 2012

Back to Reagan?

As people get older, they talk about the “good old days,” which always drives younger people crazy. When I started teaching, the older teachers talked about how much better the kids were when they started teaching. Now that we have such sophisticated technology, we talk about how kids were better off when they had to make up their own games rather than just facing a screen. And in politics? There is that worship of Ronald Reagan from the far-right conservatives. Do we miss Reagan? Maybe. Here are some of his quotes and actions, many of them from a Dana Milbank column:

Labor unions: “There are few finer examples of participatory democracy.” The right to join a union is “one of the most elemental human rights.” Collective bargaining “played a major role in America’s economic miracle.”

Regulations: Reagan signed a law establishing efficiency standards for electric appliances and an update to the Safe Drinking Water Act punishing states that didn’t meet clean-water standards.

Retirement: Reagan expanded Social Security in 1983 and imposed taxes on wealthy recipients. He also signed what was at the time the largest expansion of Medicare in its history.

Debt: Reagan increased taxes several times after his initial tax cut, embraced much higher taxes on investments than current rates, and signed 18 increases in the federal debt limit.

Tax Reform: Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986 shifted a large part of the tax burden from individuals to corporations and exempted millions of low-income households from federal income taxes. Reagan called it “a sweeping victory for fairness” where “vanishing loopholes and a minimum tax will mean that everybody and every corporation pay their fair share.”

Bruce Bartlett, a former domestic policy adviser in the Reagan White House, says fairness was the touchstone for the Tax Reform Act. “Ronald Reagan agreed to raise the capital gains tax rate from 20 percent to 28 percent, because he agreed with the Democrats that capital gains and ordinary income ought to be taxed at the same rate,” says Bartlett, author of The Benefit and the Burden.

Expansion of the federal government: Reagan enlarged the federal workforce and the federal budget, added the Department of Veterans Affairs (one of the largest Cabinet agencies), and pursued a military buildup that would be impossible under spending limits proposed by congressional Republicans.

Welfare: Reagan championed the earned-income tax credit, a program for the working poor that takes more children out of poverty than any other program. [Budgets proposed by today’s Republicans would cut or eliminate the credit.] He also said that bus drivers should not pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than millionaires, a precursor to President Obama’s “Buffett Rule.”

Compromise: Reagan compromised routinely on arms control, the size of government, taxes, and other matters. His autobiography criticized “radical conservatives” for whom “ ‘compromise’ was a dirty word.” He continued: “They wanted all or nothing and they wanted it all at once …. I’d learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for.”

“[The expansion of the Social Security bill is] a clear and dramatic demonstration that our system can still work when men and women of good will join together to make it work. In this compromise we have struck the best possible balance between the taxes we pay and the benefits paid back. Any more in taxes would be an unfair burden on working Americans and could seriously weaken our economy. Any less would threaten the commitment already made to this generation of retirees and to their children.

LGBT Teachers: “Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” [And that was when he was a governor before 1975!]

It’s time for conservatives to follow in the image of Ronald Reagan! Let’s follow these “Reagan Rules.”

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