Nel's New Day

March 2, 2017

Resist!

Filed under: protests — trp2011 @ 9:12 PM
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“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.”

May 24, 2012

Investors Upset about Facebook IPOs

Almost everyone I know seems to belong to Facebook; worldwide the number of members is up to 900 million. I belong only because I had to join in order for a conference get-together four years ago and I can’t get off after losing my password. Occasionally the desire from someone to “friend me” wanders into my email, and I just delete it with the resolution to get rid of my Facebook relationship.

There’s also been lots of discussion within the past year about whether teachers and students can be “friends” and whether employers can demand applicants and employees’ restricted Facebook passwords. Some schools are even asking students for their passwords. (They can look at my Facebook page if they’ll only take me off!)

Last week, however, media attention surrounding Facebook ratcheted up after the company decided to go public. As many people know, it began with the company belonging to the 28-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg providing something called “initial public offering” (IPO) and continued with the brouhaha surrounding the Brazilian co-founder Eduardo Saverin giving up his U.S. citizenship to take his $67 million—tax free—to Singapore where he maintains residency. Singapore doesn’t tax capital gains.

Initially Facebook stock soared from $38 per share to $45, before shooting down to $31, losing $2.9 billion for investors. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg walked off with over $1 billion dollars in his pocket before he got married last weekend.

The investment loss resulted in lots of finger-pointing. Facebook’s CFO David Ebersman decided to increase the number of shares offered to investors by 25 percent just days before the IPO. NASDAQ’s computer systems failed on the morning of the deal; investors couldn’t place orders or cancel orders or find out if their orders had been placed or canceled. A modest stock “pop” probably caused some institutional investors to immediately dump their shares, causing a greater price decline.

The biggest problem, however, may be that estimates developed by the underwriters to determine a fair price were cut partway through the debacle. Facebook told the underwriters, but not the investors, that its business outlook had deteriorated. Institutional investors were okay; individual investors weren’t.

Investors are not happy about the loss, but they’re really not happy about finding out that underwriter Morgan Stanley had cut revenue forecasts before the offering, an action that investors didn’t know until after the stock was listed. Underwriters JPMorgan Chase (of the famous multibillion-dollar losses this spring) and Gold Sachs also “selectively” changed their estimates early on, letting special clients know earlier than the others.

Yesterday, riled investors filed a proposed class-action suit in federal court against not only Zuckerberg but also Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and other underwriters of the IPO, arguing that they were not informed of the trim in revenue expectations. The state of Massachusetts issued a subpoena to Morgan Stanley for documents related to the IPO. Investors also sued the Nasdaq OMX Group because the exchange struggled to process orders during the first half hour of trading.

SEC is trying to figure out what to do: Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said that regulators are “looking into” the “issues.” Congressional lawmakers have raised questions about the deal. Chairs of both the Senate Banking and the House Financial Services committees are getting information about what happened  to see if they should have hearings.

Morgan Stanley has a history and a culture of tricking their own clients into making lousy investments. CNBC reports, “Morgan Stanley may have spent billions of dollars to support the [Facebook] stock price by buying shares in the market.”

Before losing up to $4 billion—so far—in its botched derivatives scam, JPMorgan Chase gave up billions more to settle charges stemming from its rampant foreclosure fraud, which involves mass perjury and forgery, and its bribing of public officials.

Goldman Sachs lied to prospective investors about mortgage-backed securities and illegally shared confidential information with its preferred clients.

Conservatives like to talk about the virtues of a “free market,” but the lack of regulations gives the entire game to the financial corporations. Investors can’t know until it’s too late what the banks are doing to take all their money. In summary, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how shady traders make money by hyping stock while secretly betting against it.

These huge financial corporations can break any law that they want. When they get caught, they just pay a fine that they can afford because they have stolen so much money that it isn’t a problem for them. Maybe losing money will teach Republican investors that their party doesn’t benefit them as individuals.

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