Maryland could host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm

Washington Post

Maryland could host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm

By Cara Newcomer | AP April 26, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produce a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “.We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

What Trump has done for, and to, the environment in his first 100 days

Yahoo News

What Trump has done for, and to, the environment in his first 100 days

Michael Walsh April 26, 2017

Donald Trump’s election victory, after a campaign characterized by railing against environmental regulations and dismissing the work of climate scientists, sent shivers through the environmental and scientific communities. During his first 100 days in office, the brash and unpredictable president has been following through on his campaign promises to bolster the oil, coal and natural gas industries and reverse the eco-friendly policies of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

Nearly every step President Trump has taken to enact his vision for the country has sparked a swift backlash. Shortly after Trump’s win, scientists took steps to back up environmental data that was stored on government servers, fearing it might be scrubbed under a Trump administration.

After Trump took office on Jan. 20, scientists at various federal agencies — including the National Park Service (NPS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — launched a batch of “rogue” Twitter accounts in defiance.

The scientific community and its allies organized a March for Science scheduled for Earth Day, April 22, inspired by the enormously successful Women’s March on Washington. They are pushing back against what they see as Trump’s attempts to suppress federally funded research on the link between human activities and climate change, part of a larger trend of political attacks on scientific consensus.

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, pointed out that almost all of the steps Trump has taken regarding the environment so far have been announcements of plans rather than concrete actions. Still, Brune says he is deeply troubled by the direction Trump is taking the country in.

“As a father of young children, I’m angry at what he’s been doing with the EPA and our commitment to the environment generally. At almost every opportunity this administration has increased the risk to the quality of our air and water and our climate. That’s just wrong,” Brune told Yahoo News. “Protecting the environment creates jobs, it saves money and improves the quality of every American’s life. Trump is undermining the progress that we’ve made, not just in the last administration but under Republican and Democratic administrations for the last 40 years.”

Below are the major actions taken by the administration on environmental issues during Trump’s first 100 days in office:

America First Energy Plan excludes renewables

The White House unveiled Trump’s America First Energy Plan on Inauguration Day. It does not mention renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar.

Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines advanced

On Jan. 24, Trump signed two executive actions advancing the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Earlier that day, during a meeting with CEOs for three automobile manufacturers, Trump said, “ I am to a large extent an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it’s out of control.”

The Dakota Access pipeline is a 1,172-mile underground crude-oil pipeline that will stretch from northwest North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. A number of Native American tribal nations are protesting the pipeline, which will pass within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The protesters argue that it could pollute the tribe’s only water source, Lake Oahe, and damage sacred and cultural sites.

The Keystone XL pipeline would be an expansion of the existing TransCanada infrastructure that transports oil from tar sands in the energy-rich province of Alberta to refineries in the United States. The Obama administration had blocked a proposed 1,179-mile pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about both pipelines’ necessity and their potential impact on the surrounding areas.

On March 24, the under secretary of state for political affairs granted a permit authorizing TransCanada to construct and maintain the Keystone XL pipeline.

EPA hiring and grants reportedly frozen

In the first week of the administration, officials reportedly directed the EPA to freeze its grants and contracts and to remove a page dedicated to climate change from its website.

New regulations require repealing others

Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 30 stipulating that two federal regulations must be identified for repeal each time a new one is established.

ExxonMobil CEO becomes secretary of state

Trump chose Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, as secretary of state. Environmentalists were outraged that Trump nominated a lifelong oilman to represent the U.S. to the international community. There has also been widespread concern over Tillerson’s close ties to Russia.

Tillerson was confirmed on Feb. 1 by a 56 to 43 vote. It was one of the closest confirmation votes in at least 50 years.

Stream Protection Rule revoked

Shortly before Obama left office, the U.S. Department of the Interior established the Stream Protection Rule, which forbade coal companies to dispose of mining waste and debris in rivers and other waterways near mines.

On Feb. 16, Trump signed a joint resolution by Congress rescinding the rule. Republicans argue that the regulation was redundant and made it extremely difficult for coal companies to operate. This was one of several ways Trump followed through on his campaign promises to be a champion for the coal industry.

Longtime adversary of EPA becomes its leader

On Feb. 17, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 46 to confirm Scott Pruitt, who denies the scientific consensus on climate change, as EPA chief. Critics said this was a classic instance of the fox guarding the hen house; Pruitt, in his previous position as Oklahoma attorney general, sued the EPA more than a dozen times and played a major role in undoing various environmental regulations that he considered government overreach.

More than 770 former EPA officials had signed a letter urging every member of the Senate to oppose Pruitt.

A few days after his confirmation, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national watchdog group, published thousands of pages of emails showing how closely Pruitt worked with the fossil fuel industry in challenging EPA regulations.

Environmentalists expect Pruitt to pursue his pro-oil and gas policies as head of the EPA.

Waters of the United States placed under review

Trump signed an executive order on Feb. 28 directing environmental regulators to review the controversial Obama-era Waters of the United States Rule, which expanded the number of waterways protected under federal law. The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the rule in 2015.

“The EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land,” Trump said at the signing. “It’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s been a disaster.”

Republicans, farmers and energy corporations argue that the rule places unnecessary burdens on businesses and subjects them to pointless fees.

Lead ammunition approved for federal land and water

A day before Trump’s inauguration, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued Director’s Order 219 banning lead ammunition or fishing tackle from federal land and water in an attempt to shield birds, fish and other wildlife from lead poisoning. The ban was unpopular with the National Rifle Association and groups representing hunters and fishermen, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which expressed “utter dismay” at the Obama-era directive’s “unacceptable federal overreach.”

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke revoked the ban on March 2 — his first day as part of Trump’s Cabinet.

EPA withdraws information request from energy companies

EPA announced on March 2 that it was withdrawing a 2016 request for information from the oil and gas industry intended to help the agency determine the best ways to reduce emissions of substances such as methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

EPA chief says carbon dioxide is not primary cause of global warming

During an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” administrator Pruitt rejected the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and said the scientific evidence linking carbon dioxide emissions with global warming is still inconclusive.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and many other leading scientific organizations have issued statements saying the main cause of the rapid climate change of the past half-century has been the release of atmospheric greenhouse gases as a result of human activity.

“The most important of these over the long term is CO2, whose concentration in the atmosphere is rising principally as a result of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation,” the AMS statement reads. “While large amounts of CO2 enter and leave the atmosphere through natural processes, these human activities are increasing the total amount in the air and the oceans.”

Later that month, in response to requests from the Sierra Club, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General referred Pruitt’s CNBC interview to Francesca Grifo, the EPA’s scientific integrity officer, to review his statement and determine whether he violated any agency policies.

Trump proposes gutting the EPA budget

The White House’s first budget proposal for 2018, released on March 13, slashes funding for the EPA by 31 percent. Trump said he intended to cut climate change programs and efforts to protect water and air from pollution, which he says are harming coal miners, oil company employees and other workers in the energy sector.

The budget also called for a 17 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal government’s leading climate science agency.

Emissions standards for vehicles reconsidered

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Pruitt announced March 15 that the Obama administration’s standards for emissions from cars and light duty-trucks manufactured between 2022 and 2025 would be reconsidered.

“Today’s decision by the EPA is a win for the American economy,” Chao said in a statement. “The Department of Transportation will re-open the Mid-Term evaluation process and work with the EPA to complete the review in a transparent, data-driven manner.”

The Midterm Evaluation process was established in 2012 to set standards for vehicle models from 2017 until 2025.

EPA continues to fund drinking water upgrades for Flint

In a win for the environment, EPA announced March 17 that it would provide a $100 million grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to upgrade the water-supply infrastructure in Flint, Mich., where high levels of lead caused a public-heath emergency last year. The money is provided by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, which Obama signed into law.

“The people of Flint and all Americans deserve a more responsive federal government,” Pruitt said in a statement. “EPA will especially focus on helping Michigan improve Flint’s water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America’s water infrastructure.”

Executive order targets climate regulations

Trump’s most concerted attack on Obama’s climate legacy came in the form of his Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth executive order on March 28. It essentially started the process of dismantling Obama’s signature climate legislation: the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which placed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants.

“The action I’m taking today will eliminate federal overreach, restore economic freedom and allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time,” Trump said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not just talking about eight years. I’m talking about a lot longer than eight years.”

It also directs all agencies to review their regulations and guidance documents to determine and end any that could potentially “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”

EPA chief rejects pesticides ban

On March 29, Pruitt signed an order rejecting a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that’s been in use since 1965. He argued that the insecticide is essential for U.S. agriculture.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in a statement. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”

Under the Obama administration, the EPA had begun the process of banning chlorpyrifos in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America, which said the step was necessary to protect children’s health.

Recent scientific research links chlorpyrifos exposure with several health risks, including brain damage in children. The neurotoxic chemical is sprayed on crops that are commonly consumed by children, such as apples, strawberries and oranges.

“EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism and ADHD,” Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at NRDC, said in a statement. “Today’s decision means children across the country will continue to be exposed to unsafe pesticide residues in their food and drinking water.”

Sheryl Kunickis, the director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, applauded the decision not to ban this “important pest management tool” that ensures an “abundant and affordable food supply.”

The EPA had already banned chlorpyrifos in household settings in 2000, but it is still used in agriculture.

Trump donates part of salary to National Parks

The White House announced April 3 that Trump will donate his first-quarter salary of $78,333 to the U.S. National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior dedicated to maintaining parks and monuments. It was a step toward fulfilling his campaign promise of donating his presidential salary to charity.

But environmentalists largely dismissed the donation as a publicity stunt, pointing out that he had proposed cutting the Department of the Interior’s budget by $1.5 billion.

Pruitt calls for leaving the Paris Agreement

During an April 13 appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Pruitt said the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

“It’s something we need to exit, in my opinion. It’s a bad deal for America. It was an America second, third, forth, kind of approach,” Pruitt said.

EPA unveils Back-to-Basics agenda

During a meeting with coal miners at Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., on April 13, Pruitt announced the EPA’s “back-to-basics” agenda of handing power to the states to create “sensible regulations” that allow economic activity to flourish.

“What better way to launch EPA’s Back-to-Basics agenda than visiting the hard-working coal miners who help power America,” Pruitt said. “The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hard-working Americans.”

EPA to review ELG Rule

The EPA announced April 13 that is intends to reconsider the ELG rule (effluent limitations guidelines) for steam electric power under the Clean Water Act. The rule, which was finalized by the Obama administration in 2015, places the first federal limits on toxic metals from the wastewater of steam electric power plants.

“This action is another example of EPA implementing President Trump’s vision of being good stewards of our natural resources, while not developing regulations that hurt our economy and kill jobs,” Pruitt said in a statement.

According to Pruitt, some of the country’s largest job producers have objected to the rule, saying it includes economically or technologically unfeasible requirements.

Former Georgia governor becomes secretary of agriculture

The U.S. Senate confirmed former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 24 with a strong bipartisan vote: 87 to 11.

Along with overseeing farming and food programs, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for the country’s forestry and is the parent agency of the United States Forest Service.

Perdue found success in the agriculture business before entering politics. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, he stepped down from several businesses before he was confirmed as agriculture secretary.

Brune released a statement denouncing what he called Perdue’s history of “crony capitalism, indebtedness to big agribusiness and denial of climate science.”

“We will be closely watching Secretary Perdue’s actions on land conservation, forest management, and funding for forest fire fighting,” Brune said. “We stand ready to resist attacks on our food, our forests, and our families.”

Trump advisers to discuss future of Paris Agreement

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement” within his first 100 days in the Oval Office, but he’s said little on the subject since his victory.

The New York Times reports that Trump’s advisers disagree on whether the U.S. should stay in the climate accord. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly advocate staying in the Paris Agreement, over the opposition of senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, whose influence within the White House has waned in recent weeks.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Trump plans to make his final decision concerning the Paris Agreement before a meeting with the Group of Seven at the end of May. The group consists of the world’s seven major advanced economies: the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Brune told Yahoo News that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a blow to the global effort to fight climate change and an even more significant blow to American leadership.

“China is going all in on clean energy, as is South Korea, India and other rising world economics,” Brune said. “If we forgo the leadership opportunity in the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, much less the global economy, our competitive position will suffer as will the air and water quality of all Americans. It would be a boneheaded move by a president who isn’t fit for the job.”

The Kochs have already spent over $3 million lobbying for Trump’s anti-environmental agenda

ThinkProgress

Samantha Page, Climate Reporter at @ThinkProgress.  April 25, 2017

The Kochs have already spent over $3 million lobbying for Trump’s anti-environmental agenda

Fossil fuel spending swamps environmental efforts.

New filings indicate that Koch Industries, the primary company of petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, spent $3.1 million on congressional lobbying efforts in the first quarter of 2017, according to its disclosure report. Much of that money went towards anti-environmental initiatives, where the Kochs have found an ally in the new president.

Lobbyists for Koch Industries worked on convincing congress to repeal the renewable fuel standard; to repeal requirements for vehicle efficiency, known as the CAFE standards; to repeal a Clean Air Act provision to decrease the risk of chemical accidents; to stymie the Clean Power Plan, an EPA rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; and on various budgetary allocations.

In addition, the company lobbied senators to confirm former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is just one of several cabinet members with ties to fossil fuels.

“The dirtiest corporate polluters in the country spent big to get a cabinet that puts their profits before the health of the public, and they are getting what they paid for,” the Sierra Club’s Adam Beitman told ThinkProgress.

The Koch brothers declined to back now-President Trump during the election, but it seems that now they are finding significant overlap between Trump’s anti-environmental agenda, including getting rid of the Clean Power Plan and rolling back regulations, and the Koch brothers’ top agenda items.

Koch Industries wasn’t the only fossil fuel company to spend significantly on lobbyists in the first quarter of the year. The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and natural gas industries, spent an additional $2.7 million in the first quarter of the year. ExxonMobil spent $3.4 million; Shell Oil Company spent $2.3 million; Chevron spent $3.3 million; and BP spent $1.7 million. In contrast, the Sierra Club spent $290,000, the most out of any of the “Big Green” groups.

See: 6 times Trump’s EPA head did exactly what industry told him to do, The Environmental Protection Agency has gone pro-business. thinkprogress.org

Overall, the interests of the environment are significantly less represented than the interests of the fossil fuel industries. The Outdoor Industry Association, whose members depend on a healthy environment, spent only $80,000, while the American Wind Energy Association spent $170,000 during the same time period. SolarCity, the biggest residential solar installer in the United States, spent $190,000.

But the fossil fuel industry is notorious for its outsized — and effective — lobbying efforts. According to analysis by Oil Change International, the oil and gas industry gets $119 in tax breaks and other benefits for every $1 it spends on Congress.

“Influence is a tricky thing to measure,” the group writes. “It is obvious to anyone that pays attention to U.S. politics that the oil and gas industry is one of the most influential industries on Capitol Hill. But quantifying that influence is not always straightforward.”

It’s not surprising that now-EPA Administrator Pruitt’s nomination got the attention major fossil fuel interests. Pruitt has longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry and, prior to his appointment to the agency, was a well-known opponent of the EPA. As attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA numerous times, including over the Clean Power Plan and other Clean Air Act provisions. He was on the same side as oil, gas, and coal companies for many of those lawsuits.

One of the companies Pruitt has been closely entwined with is Devon Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company. In the first quarter, Devon spent $390,000 towards lobbying on a few specific issues, all related to the environment. The company filed lobbying disclosures on methane emissions regulations, “limitation guidelines” on fracking wastewater disposal, air quality standards, and endangered species protection measures. The company did not directly lobby for Pruitt’s confirmation.

Since taking a position in the Trump administration, Devon and the rest of the fossil fuel companies have seen a good return on their investment. Pruitt has — at the admitted behest of industry — repealed and delayed numerous rules intended to protect the nation’s environment, including some of the regulations specifically targeted in Devon’s lobbying efforts.

Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate by a narrow margin: a vote of 52-46, with 51 votes needed for confirmation. It’s impossible to say — without direct confirmation from a senator — whether the activities of the Koch brothers affected any of those votes or not.

Other groups that lobbied on the Pruitt confirmation included the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Wildlife Association, the Michigan Farm Bureau, the League of Conservation Voter, and the American Coalition for Ethanol, to name a few.

Thanks to Kiley Kroh.

Samantha Page, Climate Reporter at @ ThinkProgress

 

Chicago Sun Times

Big oil spill a silent threat to Lake Michigan, Great Lakes

Sun Times Editorial Board,  April 25, 2017
A study released Tuesday has ratcheted up worries that a 64-year-old mussel-encrusted oil pipeline in northern Lake Michigan threatens an ecological catastrophe.

The study by the National Wildlife Federation said the Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline has had nearly double the number of spills that were previously known. Nor were most of the leaks discovered by Enbridge’s remote pipeline detection system, the federation said.

Environmentalists are concerned because 4½ miles of the pipeline lies mostly exposed on the bed of the Straits of Mackinac, at the northern tip of Lake Michigan, where it joins Lake Huron. Over the years, pressure inside the pipeline, which is split into two separate pipes as it goes under the straits, has been increased so that it can move more oil.

EDITORIAL

If the pipeline starts leaking large amounts of petroleum, hundreds of miles of shorelines would be fouled and drinking water for thousands of people would be at risk. So would the commercial fishing, tourism and boating industries. Strong currents could spread the oil over a great distance.

Environmentalists warn that the damage could linger for decades in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In 2014, University of Michigan hydrodynamics expert David Schwab said the Straits of Mackinac is “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.”

That’s a huge concern in a region that depends on its lakes. Regional officials should accelerate an existing investigation into the safety of the pipeline, and local authorities should start planning now — while they have time — for how they will ensure the safety of their communities if closure of the pipeline means more oil must be piped or transported by rail through the Chicago area, which already is home to major pipelines.

The Great Lakes region is an important North American hub for transporting and refining oil. The Enbridge pipeline is part of a 16,000-mile network that transports oil to 21 refineries, as well as natural gas and propane. If the line across the Straits of Mackinac is shut down, the nearly 23 million gallons of oil it moves each day — more than that planned for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline — would have to be transported by other pipelines or by rail. Environmentalists say that can be managed with existing infrastructure.

A sign is posted on a bridge to indicate water contamination after an oil spill of approximately 800,000 gallons of crude in the Kalamazoo River July 28, 2010 in Marshall, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Enbridge and the Illinois Petroleum Council say oil pipelines have an excellent safety record, and Enbridge says new safety measures it has put into place guard against a disastrous spill. But that’s what Enbridge said before one of its pipelines ruptured in 2010 in Michigan, dumping more than a million of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. Even after three years of cleanup, oil remained in the river. Forgive us if we are skeptical.

An advisory board in Michigan, which has regulatory authority over the pipeline, is assessing the risks of the pipeline and weighing alternatives. A draft report is scheduled to be released this summer.

Clean energy may be America’s future. But transporting oil will remain an important part of the region’s economy in the foreseeable future. Officials should make the safety of the lakes paramount.

 

ThinkProgress

Dr. Joe Romm is Founding Editor of Climate Progress, “the indispensable blog,” as NY Times columnist Tom Friedman describes it. April 24, 2017

Climate change poses ‘nightmare scenario’ for Florida coast, Bloomberg warns

America’s trillion-dollar coastal property bubble could burst ‘before the sea consumes a single house’. Here’s why.

Donald Trump’s presidency may make this future for South Florida and “Miami Island” unstoppable.

“Pessimists selling to optimists.” That’s how one former Florida coastal property owner describes the current state of the market in a must-read Bloomberg story.

Right now, science and politics don’t favor the optimists. The disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is speeding up, providing increasing evidence we are headed for the worst-case scenario of sea level rise — three to six feet (or more) by 2100.

The impacts are already visible in South Florida. “Tidal flooding now predictably drenches inland streets, even when the sun is out, thanks to the region’s porous limestone bedrock,” explains Bloomberg. “Saltwater is creeping into the drinking water supply.”

See: Rapid warming and disintegrating polar ice set the stage for ‘societal collapse’ Carbon pollution is destabilizing both the Arctic and Antarctic. thinkprogress.org

At the same time, President Trump is working to thwart both domestic and international climate action while slashing funding for coastal adaptation and monitoring. E&E News reported earlier this month that the EPA has already “disbanded its climate change adaptation program” and reassigned all the workers.

Faster sea level rise and less adaptation means the day of reckoning is nigh. Dan Kipnis, chair of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority — who has failed to find a buyer for his Miami Beach home for nearly a year — told Bloomberg, “Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is.”

See: Florida’s Climate Denial Could Cause Catastrophic Resession. thinkprogress.org

But this is not just South Florida’s problem. The entire country is facing a trillion-dollar bubble in coastal property values. This Hindenburg has been held aloft by U.S. taxpayers in the form of the National Flood Insurance Program.

A 2014 Reuters analysis of this “slow-motion disaster” calculated there’s almost $1.25 trillion in coastal property being covered at below-market rates.

When will the bubble burst? As I’ve written for years, property values will crash when a large fraction of the financial community — mortgage bankers and opinion-makers, along with a smaller but substantial fraction of the public — realize that it is too late for us to stop catastrophic sea level rise.

When sellers outnumber buyers, and banks become reluctant to write 30-year mortgages for doomed property, and insurance rates soar, then the coastal property bubble will slow, peak, and crash.

The devaluation process had begun even before Trump’s election reduced the chances we would act in time to prevent catastrophic climate change. The New York Times reported last fall that “nationally, median home prices in areas at high risk for flooding are still 4.4 percent below what they were 10 years ago, while home prices in low-risk areas are up 29.7 percent over the same period.”

Sean Becketti, the chief economist for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, warned a year ago that values could plunge if sellers start a stampede. “Some residents will cash out early and suffer minimal losses,” he said. “Others will not be so lucky.”

As this week’s Bloomberg piece puts it, “Demand and financing could collapse before the sea consumes a single house.”

So here’s a question for owners of coastal property — and the financial institutions that back them — as they watch team Trump keep his coastal-destroying promises: Who will be the smart money that gets out early — and who will be the other kind of money?

 

Business Insider

Arctic thaw quickening threatens trillion-dollar costs – report

Reuters        By Alister and Doyle

OSLO, April 25 (Reuters) – The Arctic’s quickening thaw is melting the permafrost under buildings and roads from Siberia to Alaska, raising world sea levels and disrupting temperature patterns further south, an international study said on Tuesday.

The frigid region’s shift to warmer and wetter conditions, resulting in melting ice around the region, may cost the world economy trillions of dollars this century, it estimated.

The report by 90 scientists, including United States experts, urged governments with interests in the Arctic to cut greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. President Donald Trump doubts that human activities, led by use of fossil fuels, are the main driver of climate change.

“The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth, and rapidly becoming a warmer, wetter and more variable environment,” according to the study, which updates scientific findings from 2011.

“Increasing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the primary underlying cause,” they wrote in the study commissioned by the Arctic Council grouping the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

Arctic warming could have cumulative net costs from 2010-2100 of between $7 trillion and $90 trillion, it said, with harm exceeding benefits such as easier access for oil and gas exploration and shipping, it said.

The period 2011-2015 was the warmest since records began in 1900. Sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, which shrank to a record low in 2012, could disappear in summers by the 2030s, earlier than many earlier projections, it said.

ACCELERATING MELT

“The Arctic is continuing to melt, and it’s going faster than expected in 2011,” Lars-Otto Reiersen, head of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) which prepared the report, told Reuters.

Among signs of harm, thawing permafrost has triggered more landslides at Russia’s Bovanenkovo gas field in Siberia. Rare warmth and spring floods closed the highway to Alaska’s North Slope oilfields for three weeks in 2015.

Further inland in Alaska, though, there have been drier conditions, meaning wildfires were worse there now than at any time in the past 10,000 years, it said.

Rising temperatures are threatening livelihoods of indigenous hunters and thinning sea ice vital to wildlife such as polar bears and seals.

The Arctic is warming fast partly because snow and ice reflect the sun’s faint heat into space. The thaw exposes ever more party-coloured sea water and ground that absorb more of the sun’s heat, in turn accelerating the melt.

Walt Meier, a NASA scientist who was among the authors, said there was also new evidence since 2011 that the thickest Arctic sea ice, which survives multiple summers, was breaking up.

“Multi-year ice used to be a big consolidated pack. It’s almost like a big thick ice cube versus a bunch of crushed ice. When you warm the water, the crushed ice melts a lot quicker,” he told Reuters.

Among recommendations, the report said Arctic states and those interested in the region “should lead … global efforts for an early, ambitious and full implementation” of a Paris Agreement in 2015 among almost 200 nations to limit warming.

Reiersen at AMAP said that appeal for action was similar to ones issued in the past by Arctic governments. The eight Arctic Council nations are due to hold a meeting of foreign ministers in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 11.

But it is unclear if the scientists’ advice will be heeded in the conclusions of the U.S.-led meeting.

Trump threatened in his campaign to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and has sometimes tweeted that global warming is a hoax, preferring to bolster the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Earth Day 2017, A Turning Point?

April 22, 2017    John Hanno

Earth Day 2017, A Turning Point?

At this time last year, many of us concerned with the survival of the planet, saw a faint light at the end of the apocalyptic global warming tunnel. President Obama was in charge and the White House was full of climate change true believers; deniers were relegated to Fox News and the Republican fossil fuel panders in Congress.

The Paris Agreement, under the authority of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, negotiated by 195 countries, was opened for signatures on Earth Day last year at a ceremony in New York. As of April 2017, 195 members have signed the treaty, and after enough (143) countries ratified it, it went into effect on November 4, 2016.

Also last year, the Standing Rock Nation Earth Protectors and millions of supporters and environmentalists around the world, were stopping Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines in their dirty tracts. This valiant opposition convinced President Obama to deny approval for the Keystone and order the Army Corp to reevaluate the DAPL.

But what a difference a year makes. Trump had barely been sworn in when he approved both Keystone and Dakota Access. And with the installment of fossil fuel panderer and climate denier Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump began paying back the fossil fuel polluters who helped get him elected.

With Trump in the White House and the Republi-cons in control of Congress, this Earth Day is fraught with ominous clouds. The Donald wants to slash the EPA budget by 30%. He also wants to make steep cuts to the Energy Departments environmental programs designed to shift America’s dependence on fossil fuel to primarily supporting renewable energy. This budget could effectively eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, clearly antithetical to ‘true’ conservative governance. It would also strip $1 billion from the Office of Science. And of course, Trump and his fossil fuel and polluter friends, have proposed eliminating any and all environmental regulations as a top priority.

Unfortunately, the one consistent thing we can count on concerning our climate, is that every month and year establishes more extreme weather records. But no matter how many obstacles Trump and his cast of anti science, oil, gas and chemical pandering cabinet deniers, along with the Repubs in Congress, place in the way of the undaunted march of sustainable alternative energy progress, rational folks will not be deterred. Tomorrow, more than 1 billion earth protectors around the world will celebrate Earth Day 2017.

The original environmentalists, our Native American Standing Rock Earth Protectors, are regrouping and joining Bold Nebraska and the landowners standing in the way of Trans Canada’s plans to build the Keystone pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Texas refineries, for the sole purpose of exporting tar sands to the world markets. These tar sands are the dirtiest oil on the planet. This dilbit (tar mixed with sand), must be melted with steam and mixed with cancer causing diluents so it can be transported in a pipeline. This process is the most devastating to the environment. This dilbit is also extremely corrosive to pipelines and runs the risk of leaking and contaminating the Nebraska sand hills and the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to eight states and 10’s of millions of Americans.

This isn’t about American energy independence, its about the greed of Canadian pipeline companies and the oil industry they serve, and their indifference to the health and safety of families, farmers and Native American tribes in the middle of America. It’s just not worth the risk to only benefit greedy oil interests and their political benefactors.

Investment in these dirty tar sands has been cut by two thirds. Di-vestments by cities, universities, green funds, pension funds and others has made a difference and has put pressure on the banks funding these toxic pipelines and tar sand extraction interests to withdraw funding or sell their interests.

Earth Day’s ‘Marches For Science’: “Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, DC, but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the Peoples Climate March on April 29—also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world. The March for Science website says organizers are ‘advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.’ ” Dr. David Suzuki

Responsible politicians and business leaders in America and around the world are joining the inevitable switch to a sustainable future for mankind. Donald J. Trump is unfortunately not one of those forward thinking leaders. Hundreds of corporations have pledged to switch to 100% renewable energy. Some have already achieved their lofty goals. Apple already uses 96% renewables for its manufacturing processes and has pledged to use 100% recyclables for it products. China is now the largest user of solar energy and India has also gone all in on solar, having gone on line with the largest solar array in the world. Every day brings a new chapter in the fight to save our planet and some amazing story about alternative energy progress. The Smithsonian will present its series on the fight to save animal species on the National Geographic Channel.

RE100 is a global campaign of The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, to promote and support businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity. Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, Voya Financial, and Walmart have joined RE100 and pledged to source 100% of their electricity from renewable energy in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

When RE100 was launched in 2014, there were 13 original corporate partners: IKEA Group, Swiss Re, BT Group, Formula E, H&M, KPN, Nestlé, Philips, RELX Group, J. Safra Sarasin, Unilever and YOOX Group. Mars, Inc. was the first US business to join. 36 major businesses from around the world have since joined the campaign. Elion Resources Group was the first Chinese company to join in 2015 and Infosys Technology company was the first Indian company to join the group. Swiss financial company UBS and Dutch Life Sciences and Materials sciences company Royal DSM have also joined and pledged.

Voters must ask themselves why our current President, self described as the “greatest businessman,” is refusing to join these concerned, responsible and true conservative world leaders, attempting to save the planet.

Check out two recent books helpful to understanding the fight to save our environment. The 2016 book “Getting to Green”: A bipartisan Solution, by Fredric C. Rich.

And “Climate of Hope,” a new book released last Monday, co-authored by Carl Pope and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

During the long campaign, Mr. Trump asked desperate voters in America’s rust belt, and in rural, mostly red states, many who have long ago fallen out of the middle class, to trust him. They overlooked his long history of cheating business partners, denigrating women, playing fast and loose with our “on your honor” income tax system and his single minded obsession with only doing what’s best for Trump. I guess they thought somehow, there was a slim chance he wouldn’t let them down like other politicians had done before. But they have only themselves to blame. He made a long list of totally unrealistic promises that only a mother would believe. He lied so much, it would have been easier just to highlight the rare occasion when he actually told the truth. He consistently lied about his tax returns and his business dealings with the Russian oligarchs. He insisted voters really didn’t care. It’s not surprising that the latest Gallop poll claims only 36% believe Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”

And this past weekend, on traditional income tax day April 15th, saw more than 120,000 folks take to the streets demanding that Mr. Trump produce his tax returns. Poll after poll reveals 75% of us, including many Republicans, want to see those returns. These tax records will be helpful in showing who Trump is loyal or beholden to and may explain the reasons he’s willing to forsake the survival of the world and future generations, even his own grand children, in order to reward the fossil fuel industry and polluters. His explanation, that he’s trying to create jobs, is an easily proven line of bull. More jobs have been created in the  alternative energy industry than all jobs in fossil fuel combined. Jobs in the wind industry, which have just surpassed 100,000 are growing 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Even though 75% of voters want to maintain or improve the EPA, these Republi-cons in charge would like nothing better than to neuter the whole department; and will try to reverse the progress made by the Obama administration in protecting our air, land and especially our precious water. Concerned Americans must do their part to make sure that doesn’t happen. A good time to start is tomorrow, Earth Day. Join your friends and neighbors in one of the marches or demonstrations. Or just plant a tree. Although a large majority of Trump supporters are incapable or simply refuse to use scientific reason or engage in critical thinking when it comes to the environment and climate change, Republicans who consider themselves ‘True Conservatives,’ must speak truth to power to this uncurious, anti-science president.       John Hanno

ecosolutions

What is Earth Day, and what is it meant to accomplish?

By Kathleen Rogers, for CNN   April 21, 2017

Kathleen Rogers is President of Earth Day Network. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Forty-seven years ago, on 22 April 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly. In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clear Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

One billion people

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and we believe that more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

It is a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations, humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.

In the lead up to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in 2020, Earth Day Network launched a campaign to bring climate and environmental literacy to the world.

Climate literacy is now recognized universally as the engine for driving individual behavioral change, building consumer support for a green economy, creating green technologies and jobs, and promoting policy reforms at all levels of government.

Recognizing the importance of an educated global population, the authors of the Paris Climate Agreement put climate education at its heart, calling on national governments to cooperate in taking measures to enhance climate education, training and access to information.

Environmental education has evolved since 1970, and new models are gaining traction. Once focused solely on teaching the science of the natural world, environmental education has since embraced the concepts of sustainable development, promoting the economic values associated with the transition to the green economy – including jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship. These attributes are becoming part of a continuum of environmental learning.

An uphill battle

Different models for formal and informal climate education are sprouting around the globe. Some countries internalized the values of climate and environmental education years ago, recognizing that the jobs of the future belong to those who understand not just information about the environment, but also the potential for economic growth.

Finland, for example, already recognized for its top educational system, has been teaching environmental education and climate risks and opportunities for more than a decade.

More and more countries around the world, including Italy, Morocco, and Nicaragua, are now passing laws that will create a new generation of skilled green energy jobs in a way that we have never seen before.

At the same time, climate and environmental education face an increasingly uphill battle in the US.

Unlike many countries, the US allows individual states to control their own curricula. The result is 50 separate climate and environmental literacy plans, some of which avoid teaching about climate change at all.

Given the uneven landscape of political support for protecting our planet, Earth Day remains a critical point in time. Not a day of remembrance but a day of action.

Forty-seven years after the first Earth Day, the jury is still out on whether we will take the actions that are necessary to save ourselves. Education and action are the two most valuable steps we can take to protect our planet. Earth Day is the day to start.

 

EcoWatch

How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet

Carl Pope April 19, 2017

It’s a big week for me. Monday was the official publication date of “Climate of Hope,” my new book co-authored with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The book’s premise is that climate solutions now constitute an enormous short term opportunity—healthier communities, greater prosperity, enhanced security—for both the U.S. and the world community. The key to seizing that opportunity is to understand that the climate crisis is a symptom of multiple market failures and political follies, not a single free-standing “problem;” that leadership in implementing solutions is already emerging not so much from national governments as from cities, businesses and citizen activists; and that this bottom up leadership is the key to continuing to accelerate the pace of progress and the prospects for avoiding catastrophic risks to the climate.

Climate of Hope is now out there being reviewed – not always favorably – so I thought I’d use this blog to give my perspective on why Mike and I believe this approach does, in fact, offer a solid pathway out of the climate crisis.

The main criticism thus far—and I expect this to continue—is that we are wrongly arguing that national governments don’t matter, and that cities and businesses alone can correct our climate follies. We don’t, make that argument, and they can’t do it alone. A number of our key approaches clearly require national action—like redirecting agricultural subsidies away from encouraging overproduction of cotton and corn towards supporting regenerative agriculture which can suck carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is a climate threat, and into the soil, where it becomes a fertility and water storage enhancing asset.

But others, like modernizing building codes to ensure that any house built after 2020 is hyper-efficient, powered by its own renewable generation, so its owners don’t have to pay a utility bill and don’t pollute the atmosphere when they turn on the lights, are intrinsically the business of local (and state) governments.

And in the U.S. political context some that sound national—like encouraging the rapid replacement of internal combustion cars with electric drive—may actually emerge from a combination of city and state action. Led by Los Angeles, a coalition of 30 U.S. cities recently announced they would jointly bid out purchase orders for up to 114,000 electric drive vehicles at a cost of $10 billion, while California and 12 partner states made clear they would move forward with their zero emission vehicle mandate. So the cities are providing electric-drive vehicles with the scale needed to bring down prices and improve performance, while the states are guaranteeing that the market for these vehicles will continue to grow far beyond what city fleets alone could guarantee.

Similarly, the center piece of the Trump administration assault on President Obama’s climate legacy, the suspension of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), assumes that the future of America’s electric sector depends on a top-down national mandate, because utilities will otherwise cling to their existing fossil fuel dependent facilities. But while the CPP envisaged cutting utility emissions by only 30 percent by 2025, citizen action and market forces had already slashed power plant carbon pollution by 25 percent at the end of 2016, and we are on track to cut these emissions by almost 50 percent, not 30 percent, by 2025, through market forces and public pressure.

On the other hand, cleaning up methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands, another Obama rule Trump would like to quash, can’t be replaced by state and local initiatives—the federal government ultimately must become part of the solution. But just as during the Progressive era at the start of the 20th century it was cities and states and forged the new policy instruments that eventually became the New Deal, rather than waiting for Washington, just so Mike Bloomberg and I believe that political leadership on climate in the United States, and elsewhere, will come from below, not from national elites which remain in thrall to the fossil lobby and other entrenched interests. (Remember those crop subsidies? Shifting them to protect the climate would be good for farmers, but bad for pesticide and fertilizer interests.)

The essential message of Climate of Hope, however, is that every one of the separate market and political failures that threaten the climate has its own unique source and solution—each requiring a different approach and reform, all making us better off. CFC’s, for example, cooling and refrigeration chemicals were deployed to replaced ozone depleting predecessors with inadequate testing. Because of their extraordinary ability to prevent solar radiation from bouncing back into space, they loomed as a huge future climate risk. But just as an international treaty—the Montreal Protocol—got rid of the risk of ozone depleting chemicals—the ozone layer is now healing—an amendment to that same treaty is now going to replace HFCs with climate safe alternatives.

Carbon emissions from deforestation mostly stem from illegal logging—so ending corruption and cracking down on the trade in contraband timber are key climate solutions. Methane emissions from rice paddies require better irrigation and cropping practices in rural areas, while methane from urban trash can be prevented by cities deciding to compost garbage instead of dumping it in landfills. Nitrous oxide emissions are soaring because nations subsidize over-fertilization instead of helping farmers figure out how much fertilizer their crops can really utilize. Black carbon from diesels will end as soon as we require all the world’s fuels to be refined to eliminate sulfur contamination, something cities and ports are initiating. But black carbon from biomass cooking in developing countries demands giving poor families access to clean cooking fuels—either ethanol from crop wastes or LPG gas currently being wasted and flared.

That diversity of solutions requires a diversity of leaders—yes, presidents, prime ministers and diplomats, but also mayors, CEO’s, school board members, architects, procurement officers, rural co-op directors, governors, municipal utility executives, hedge fund managers, college trustees and rear admirals. And properly chosen climate solutions will make each of those jobs easier, and enable those who hold them to deliver better results.

 

EcoWatch

American Wind Energy Association  

11 Reasons to Celebrate Wind Energy’s Record Year

By John Hensley April 19, 2017

http://www.ecowatch.com/wind-energy-record-year-awea-2368584092.html?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=d465ea9305-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_04_21&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-d465ea9305-85948657

AWEA released its U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2016 today, which showcases strong, steady growth throughout the year.

Wind power became the largest source of renewable generating capacity and supplied record amounts of wind energy to many parts of the country. Strong wind project construction, a growing manufacturing sector and the increasing need for wind turbine technicians and operators allowed the industry to add jobs at a rate nine times faster than the overall job market, as wind employment grew to a record 102,500.

Technology advances resulted in more productive turbines, with recent generations achieving average capacity factors more than 40 percent, all while costs continued to fall. And the industry saw the installation of the country’s first offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island.

Here are the top 11 wind industry trends in 2016:

  1. Record Wind Jobs

For the first time in history, there are more than 100,000 Americans employed in the U.S. wind energy industry. Strong wind construction activity throughout the year, combined with a strengthening wind manufacturing sector and growing need for personnel to operate and maintain more than 52,000 wind turbines, allowed the industry to add nearly 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2016.

That brings total U.S. wind industry jobs to 102,500. Impressively, the U.S. wind industry added jobs more than nine times faster than the overall economy. Strong wind project installation, construction, and development activity, combined with strong wind-related manufacturing activity, and over 52,000 wind turbines to operate and maintain, led wind jobs to grow 16.5 percent. That’s compared to 1.8 percent for the overall U.S. job market.

  1. Wind #1 Source of Renewable Generating Capacity

Wind energy passed hydroelectric power to become the number one source of renewable generating capacity in 2016. With federal policy stability secured, the U.S. wind industry installed 8,203 megawatts (MW) in 2016 and the industry now has 82,143 MW installed overall, enough wind power for the equivalent of 24 million American homes.

  1. Generation Records Set

Wind energy delivered more than 30 percent of the electricity produced in Iowa and South Dakota in 2016. Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota generated more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, while 20 states now produce more than five percent of their electricity from wind energy. ERCOT, the main grid operator for most of Texas, and SPP, which operates across parts of 14 states, competed for new wind power penetration records throughout 2016, both topping 50% wind energy on several occasions.

  1. U.S. Manufacturing Sector Growth

Wind energy continues to fuel the domestic manufacturing sector, with more than 500 factories across 41 states producing components for the U.S. wind industry in 2016. Domestic wind-related manufacturing jobs grew 17 percent to more than 25,000 as three new factories began supplying the wind industry and five plants expanded production.

  1. Technology Boosts Productivity

Technological advances allow wind turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds, and more sophisticated control systems are increasing the amount of electricity modern wind turbines generate. Wind turbines built in 2014 and 2015 achieved capacity factors more than 40 percent during 2016. At the same time, the cost of wind energy dropped more than 66 percent between 2009 and 2016.

  1. Corporations and Utilities Want Wind

Fortune 500 companies, electric utilities and others signed 47 power purchasing agreements totaling more than 4,000 MW during 2016. In doing so, they cited the declining costs and stable price of wind power as factors. Utilities submitted Integrated Resource Plans detailing at least 14,000 MW in wind power additions in the past two years.

  1. Record Wind Enters Queue

67 gigawatts of newly proposed wind projects were added to interconnection queues in 2016, the largest since the addition of 67.3 GW in 2009. This brings total wind capacity in the queues to 136.8 GW, the highest level in five years.

  1. Improving the Transmission Grid

Transmission expansion to serve wind continues, particularly in MISO and SPP. A number of proposed interregional Direct Current transmission lines have now also cleared final permitting hurdles. In total, transmission projects that could support the delivery of nearly 52,000 MW of wind energy over the next five years are currently under development, though not all are likely to be built.

  1. Wind Benefits Every State

More than 74 percent of U.S. congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities, including 77 percent of Republican districts and 69 percent of Democratic districts. The industry invested more than $14.1 billion in new wind projects and supported 102,500 jobs across all 50 states.

  1. Wind Reduces Emissions and Saves Water

Operational wind projects avoided 393 million pounds of sulfur dioxide and 243 million pounds of nitrogen oxide. These pollutants create smog and trigger asthma attacks, so reducing them saved $7.4 billion in public health costs last year. Meanwhile, operating wind projects avoided the consumption of 87 billion gallons of water, equivalent to 266 gallons per person in the U.S.

 

  1. Offshore Wind Debut

The first offshore wind project in the U.S. began operating in late 2016. The five turbine, 30 MW Block Island wind farm is located three miles off the coast of Rhode Island, near Block Island.

 

DeSmogCanada

It’s Still Unclear How Alberta’s Tailings Will Be Cleaned Up Or Who Will Pay For It

By James Wilt   April 21, 2017 

For years, Alberta’s government has reassured the public that it has a plan to ensure the oilsands’ 1.2 trillion litres of hazardous tailings are permanently dealt with after mines shut down.

That assertion is becoming less convincing by the day.

Industry still hasn’t decided on a viable long-term storage technology to begin testing. The fund to cover tailings liabilities in case of bankruptcy is arguably extremely underfunded. And there are concerns from the likes of the Pembina Institute that the future costs for tailings treatment will be far greater than anticipated.

Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary, told DeSmog Canada such questions simply can’t be left unanswered.

“It would the height of unfairness if at the end of all this massive profit and wealth generation, Albertans were left on the hook for what will be landscape-sized disturbances that are potentially very harmful and hazardous to humans and wildlife,” he said.

Oilsands Tailings Plans Nonexistent

The history of tailings regulations is a short one in the province: there simply hasn’t been anything binding. Toxic tailings have been allowed to expand for decades without any real constraints. The last attempt by the province’s energy regulator to require companies “to minimize and eventually eliminate long-term storage of fluid tailings in the reclamation landscape” completely failed.

Every single company breached their own targets.

Directive 085, introduced by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in July 2016, is intended to rectify that.

On March 17, the AER somewhat surprisingly rejected the first tailings management plan that was submitted under the new rules by oilsands giant Suncor for a series of reasons, including its uncertain timelines and reliance on the “unproven technology” of end pit lakes or water capping (the practice of sealing fine tailings under freshwater with the expectation ponds will evolve into healthy aquatic ecosystems).

“What this most recent rejection of Suncor’s proposal suggests to me is they haven’t done the work, and they’re not yet doing the work,” Olszynski says.

“And they need to do the work.”

Provincial Auditor General Warned of Risk of Oil Price Drop

In July 2015, provincial auditor general Merwan Saher issued a harsh indictment of the fund intended to ensure that Albertans won’t be on the hook for reclamation expenses when oilsands and coal mines shut down.

At the time, only $1.57 billion was held as security deposits in the Mine Financial Security Program for all of Alberta’s reclamation liabilities, worth an estimated $20.8 billion.

As of September 2016 that total is now $1.38 billion with oilsands companies responsible for $940 million of the total. The other $19 billion or so is expected to be paid by companies in the last 15 years of a project’s life, with reserves effectively serving as collateral — but that’s a risky approach, especially with declining oil prices.

There is a “significant risk that asset values…are overstated,” Saher said..

“If an abrupt financial and operational decline were to occur in the oilsands sector,” wrote the auditor general., “It would likely be difficult for an oilsands mine operator to provide this security even if the need for the security was identified through the program.”

Oilsands Accounting Expert Says Situation Is “Major Concern”

That very thing has happened.

Thomas Schneider, assistant accounting professor at Ryerson University who has written extensively on oilsands liabilities, said in an interview that “it’s a major concern” given the recent decline in asset values.

“The main asset securing the liabilities now as per the government and people of Alberta — and ultimately Canada I guess as I don’t know who’s going to have to pay for it if it doesn’t get cleaned up — are supposedly the assets in the ground,” he told DeSmog Canada. “That’s where it stands right now.”

The province’s $20.8 billion estimated liability is already based on shaky market grounds; the asset-to-liability approach considers “proven” (90 per cent likely to be commercially viable) and “probable” (only 50 per cent likely to be commercially viable) reserves as equally valuable, allowing companies to avoid putting in additional securities to the fund so long as assets are assessed at three times that of liabilities.

It’s a potentially troubling prospect in the era of massive write-downs of reserves by the likes of ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Schneider says at this point in time, the government is supposed to re-evaluate the asset-to-liability ratio and require companies to cover off any missing securities with letters of credit or other financial instruments.

A government spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about whether the government has taken a recent look at the ratio.

No Definite Plan A and Definitely No Plan B For Oilsands’ Tailings

Companies and industry groups are putting a lot of work into developing new technologies to deal with tailings.

Nina Lothian, senior analyst at Pembina, said in an interview with DeSmog that there are pros and cons to every tailings technology — end pit lakes, centrifuges, atmospheric fines drying, consolidated tailings — with no clear best choice. Based on the recent rejection of Suncor’s plan, it’s clear the AER is expecting more from companies.

However, there’s the obvious related problem of if those plans fail.

The AER has established an unfortunate reputation in some circles for failing to implement required monitoring and enforcement actions to ensure compliance when it comes to pipeline safety and orphaned wells.

Lothian says that end pit lakes are considered a bit of a “silver bullet” by industry.

The Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, a joint effort by 13 companies, has long planned to build a Demonstration Pit Lakes Project, made up of over a dozen test water bodies and based off of learnings from Syncrude’s Base Mine Lake. The alliance’s website still notes that “phase one of the project could move to construction with potential operation by 2017.” However, when contacted by DeSmog, a spokesperson was unable to provide any information on the status of the Demonstration Pit Lakes Project.

Olszynski says that it will likely require 15 years of monitoring data to know if any particular plan worked. He says that as a result, we wouldn’t have solid results until 2032. But the alliance hasn’t even started building the project.

“For me, the big problem here is we’re well into 2017 at this point, we’re staring down the productive life of some of these sites, and we do not yet have a proven tailings mitigation technology,” he says.

Recent Mining Disasters and Abandonments Point to Potential Dangers

As to whether or not security deposits are meant to include the treatment of tailings, Lothian says Pembina has had no success in answering that question.

Neither Alberta Environment and Parks or the AER have provided clear responses to Pembina. Lothian says that submissions from companies under the Mine Financial Security Program include related reclamation costs like land contouring and revegetation, but there’s no indication of whether funds have been set aside explicitly for tailings treatment.

“We know from all this work with the tailings management plans how many billions of dollars are associated with the treatment side of things,” she says.

In 2011, University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach wrote in an Alberta Oil article: “As long as companies expect to pay the full costs of reclamation, there’s no reason to expect that deferring environmental security payments will appreciably increase investment.”

In other words, the “asset-to-liability approach” might not even have notably increased investments, and instead exposed Albertans to serious costs down the road if companies go bankrupt.

That’s assuming companies expect to pay the full costs of reclamation.

There have been numerous examples in recent years that indicate mining companies can get away without fines or charges for catastrophic tailings breaches, most notably the Mount Polley mine disaster in B.C. and Peabody bankruptcy in the U.S. (the latter of which left around $2 billion in unfunded liabilities).

Provincial Regulator Has Variety of Options to Pursue, Critics Say

But regulators like the AER could take a different approach to avoid such financial disasters.

That could include providing clarity around what the Mine Financial Security Program actually covers, revoking leases for non-compliance, update calculations to acknowledge the distinction between “proven” and “probable reserves” and tap into financial instruments such as letters of credit which Olszynski describes as “bankrupt-proof.”

It would ultimately be up to the AER as an independent agency to craft new calculations for required security deposits or improve communication of the scope of the Mine Financial Security Program. But such shifts would likely require pressure from the government.

In fact, Premier Rachel Notley appeared reasonably convinced of that fact when serving as opposition environment critic, asking during Questioning Period in 2010: “will this government commit to eliminate the existing lakes of poisonous sludge within 20 years and to exercise all authority necessary to make sure it happens?”

However, since forming government the Alberta NDP has said little publicly about tailings management that served as contrast to previous decisions; Environment Minister Shannon Phillips responded to the 2015 report by the auditor general by stating: “We need to analyze whether the asset calculation needs to be changed. We need to update this security program and conduct that detailed risk analysis.”

Nothing appears to have been changed or updated since then.

“This is a really common strategy, where industry just kicks the can down the road over and over again until they are able to get out of cleaning up the waste themselves at the end of operations,” said Jodi McNeill, policy analyst, from the Pembina Institute, in a recent webinar.

“There’s a lot of reason for us to be very concerned.”

 

EcoWatch

Why We Must March for Science

Dr David Suzuki April 20, 2017

Science isn’t everything. But it is crucial to governing, decision-making, protecting human health and the environment and resolving questions and challenges around our existence.

Those determined to advance industrial interests over all else often attack science. We’ve seen it in Canada, with a decade of cuts to research funding and scientific programs, muzzling of government scientists and rejection of evidence regarding issues such as climate change.

We’re seeing worse in the U.S. The new administration is proposing drastic cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and others. Information about climate change and environmental protection is being scrubbed from government websites, and scientists are being muzzled. Meanwhile, the government is increasing spending on military and nuclear weapons programs.

There’s nothing wrong with challenging research, developing competing hypotheses and looking for flaws in studies. That’s how science works. But rejecting, eliminating, covering up or attacking evidence that might call into question government or industry priorities—evidence that might show how those priorities could lead to widespread harm—is unconscionable. It’s galling to me because I traded a scientific career for full-time communication work because good scientific information helps people make the best decisions to take us into the future.

Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, DC, but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the Peoples Climate March on April 29—also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world.

The March for Science website says organizers are “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

The group’s 850,000-member Facebook page is inspiring, with “advocates, science educators, scientists, and concerned citizens” sharing personal testimonials about their reasons for marching and why science is important to them, along with ideas for posters and slogans, questions about the march, articles about science and exposés of climate disinformation sent to schools and science teachers by the anti-science Heartland Institute.

March participants are a wide-ranging group, from a neuroscientist who is marching “for the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury” to sci-fi fans who are marching “Because you can’t have science fiction without science!” to a scientist marching to honor “the many, many women and young girls interested or involved in science” to those marching “because we know climate change is real.”

Celebrating and advocating for science is a good way to mark Earth Day. I’ll be in Ottawa, where a march is also taking place. David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington and I will launch our new book, Just Cool It!, at an Ottawa Writers Festival event that also features award-winning Nishnaabeg musician, scholar and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions at the highest levels of society are endangering human health and survival. Our book is a comprehensive look at the history and implications of climate science, the barriers to confronting the crisis and the many solutions required to resolve it.

It’s discouraging to witness the current attacks on science, and the ever-increasing consequences of climate change, diminishing ocean health and other human-caused problems, but seeing so many people standing up for science and humanity is reason for optimism. Of all the many solutions to global warming and other environmental problems, none is as powerful as people getting together to demand change.

Every day should be Earth Day, but it’s good to have a special day to remind us of the importance of protecting the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we all depend on for health and survival. Politicians are supposed to work for the long-term well-being of people who elect them, not to advance the often short-sighted agendas of those who pay large sums of money to get their way regardless of the consequences. Standing together to make ourselves heard is one of the best ways to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.

 

EcoWatch

Climate Nexus   April 20, 2017

We Now Know Who Funded Trump’s Inauguration

Exxon,  Chevron and other fossil fuel interests wrote big checks to fund President Trump’s inaugural festivities, according to Federal Election Commission filings released Wednesday.

Contributions from the energy industry totaled more than $7 million, with Hess Corp CEO John Hess donating $1 million, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Citgo Petroleum each chipping in $500k. Coal company Murray Energy, which gave enthusiastically to the Trump campaign while simultaneously laying off workers, threw in $300k.

For many of these donors, the early months of the Trump administration have been particularly fruitful: Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, who donated $250k, saw the president sign an executive memo ordering the construction of the ETP-owned Dakota Access Pipeline merely four days after the inauguration.

More than 1,500 corporate and individual funders for the inauguration raised $107 million all together—twice as much as Barack Obama’s inauguration raised in 2009, and more than any other inaugural event in history.

For a deeper dive:

New York Times, AP, InsideClimate News, The Hill, Politico

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

 

DeSmog

Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science

One Community’s Fight for Clean Air in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

By Julie Dermansky April 19, 2017

It doesn’t take carefully calibrated measurements to realize there is something wrong with the air around the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana.

From a small plane, I photographed the petrochemical manufacturing facility, until recently owned by DuPont, noting its proximity to the community around its fence line. The emissions were horrible. Breathing them while circling the plant twice left me with a headache that lingered for hours.

The surrounding communities and I were inhaling emissions of chloroprene and 28 other chemicals, which the plant uses to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene.

Chloroprene is nasty stuff. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2010 toxicological review of the chemical resulted in the agency reclassifying chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen. Also according to the EPA, short term exposure to high concentrations of chloroprene can affect the nervous system, weaken immune systems, and cause rapid heartbeat, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes, among other health issues.

From Petrochemical Corridor to Cancer Alley

St. John the Baptist Parish lies in the middle of a stretch of land along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which contains more than 100 petrochemical factories. Once known as the Petrochemical Corridor, the area is now referred to as “Cancer Alley.”

According to the EPA’s latest National Air Toxics Assessment, which evaluates air contaminants and estimates health risks, residents near Denka’s plant in the town of LaPlace have a lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution 800 times higher than the national average. The population in six St. John the Baptist Parish census tracts closest to the Denka facility have the highest risk of air pollution-caused cancer in the country.

The DuPont plant emitted chloroprene for more than 40 years before selling the facility to Denka Performance Elastomer LLC, which continues to produce Neoprene. The only other plant in the United States that made Neoprene was another DuPont facility in Rubbertown, a heavily industrialized neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. It closed in 2008, moving its remaining production to the LaPlace plant in Louisiana, after pressure from workers and environmental groups.

Emissions Reductions Not Enough

Robert Taylor, a homeowner, lives in Reserve, a small, predominantly African-American community adjacent to the plant. He is one of more than 32,000 people who have possibly been exposed to chloroprene emissions from the plant for decades. He founded Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, and is a spokesperson for the group.

In January, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with the EPA, issued an Administrative Order on Consent to which Denka agreed. It requires Denka to install emissions-reduction devices by the end of this year that are expected to decrease the plant’s chloroprene emissions by 85 percent. Yet that reduction will still fall short of bringing its chloroprene emissions to the level recommended by the EPA.

The Concerned Citizens group doesn’t believe the measures settled upon go far enough. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), which is helping the group, concurs.

The group wants Denka to ensure emissions will not exceed the standard recommended by the EPA. It also wants Denka to cut production while the new devices are installed.

Marylee Orr, LEAN’s director, thinks the requests are reasonable. “The community has already been subjected to the chloroprene emissions for over 40 years,” she said. “How much longer should they have to wait to get clean air?”

While Denka has agreed to make some changes to reduce its chloroprene emissions before the end of 2017, which the company said would cost $17.5 million, it has not cut production. That would lower chloroprene emissions right away.

Denka emphasized that its operations are in compliance with its existing permit, which is true. However, the permit the company took over from DuPont was granted long before the EPA classified chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen.

Wilma Subra, LEAN’s technical advisor, meets regularly with Concerned Citizens of St. John to go over the results of air monitoring tests that EPA started six months ago. The results show that Denka’s emissions have increased since the monitoring began, with emission spikes that are hundreds of times greater than EPA’s standard.

State Downplays Concerns About Emissions, Health Effects

DEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown presented on the Denka plant situation at a St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting last December. Brown told the council that he came to bring them facts and to clear up fear-mongering surrounding the plant’s emissions.

The Concerned Citizens group worries that despite the measures Denka is taking, by not meeting the EPA recommended 0.2 milligram standard for chloroprene emissions, the air quality would not reach an acceptable level. Brown took aim at these concerns.

“That number was set for guidance,” Brown stressed. Only after all Denka’s emission-cutting measures are operational will it be possible to determine what the limit should be, he said.

Brown went on to downplay the significance of the air monitoring tests. He pointed out that spikes in emissions don’t reflect long-term exposure.

”It’s not like there’s a smoking gun somewhere in St. John Parish,” Brown said. “Believe me, if we felt there was an imminent threat, we would be taking the appropriate measures to deal with that threat. We’ve got these measures in place. We’re going to evaluate effectiveness. We’re going to continue to go through this together.”

He expects the emissions levels to start trending downward soon.

Brown also downplayed the risk of cancer. Chloroprene, he told the council, is a “probable” — not a proven — carcinogen. The Louisiana Tumor Registry, the state’s cancer registry, “doesn’t show any elevated levels of cancer at all in any group of people,” Brown said.

Louisiana’s state health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, followed Brown’s presentation at the council meeting. He called it promising news that the area doesn’t have an elevated cancer rate, and he doesn’t think the situation in the parish is a health emergency. Guidry did, however, acknowledge that “no one should have to breathe chloroprene.”

“They lie on people’s death certificates all the time”

But some contend that holding up the tumor registry’s results doesn’t give an accurate picture. “It’s impossible to tell from that data whether there is any increase in liver cancer, which is the type of cancer most clearly linked to chloroprene,” Sharon Lerner, The Intercept’s environmental crime reporter, wrote. Unless data is reported by zip code or census tract, detecting increases in particular types of cancer within the county is virtually impossible.

A new bill sponsored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson and supported by the Louisiana coalition known as the GreenArmy, could change that. The bill would require the state to track cancer by zip code and census tract.

“You can’t go by what the tumor registry says,” Geraldine Watkins, a member of the Concerned Citizens group who lives close to the Denka plant, told me.

“They lie on people’s death certificates all the time,” she said. “They will put down that someone died of pneumonia or a heart attack when they were in the hospital for cancer.” Watkins couldn’t think of a single household in her neighborhood where cancer hasn’t struck.

Members of the Concerned Citizens group who attended the council meeting were outraged by Brown’s presentation. “Brown mentioned Denka is spending $50 million, far more than what Denka has said it is spending,” Robert Taylor said. “Why is how much money Denka is spending a concern of Brown’s anyway? Shouldn’t his concern be the community’s well being?”

The Concerned Citizens group countered Brown’s presentation by making one of their own at a parish council meeting on March 28. They arrived wearing red t-shirts printed with “Only 0.2 will do,” emphasizing their point that chloroprene emissions not exceed the EPA’s recommendation.

While the parish council expressed support for the Concerned Citizens group, it passed a memorandum endorsing the agreement signed by the EPA, DEQ, and Denka, which ignored the group’s concern that the emissions measures don’t go far enough.

Uncertain Futures for Cancer Alley Communities, EPA Programs

Concerned Citizens member Kellie Tabb was disappointed with the council’s move, but not surprised. Tabb has suffered her share of health issues: part of one lung removed, a carcinoid tumor, and a rapid heartbeat. “For the council to acknowledge that the measures being taken don’t go far enough to protect us would mean they’d have to do something,” she said.

Tabb had hoped that once the EPA stepped in, the community would be protected. But at this point her hope for clean air in LaPlace has evaporated. Now she says she is searching for the means to leave the area before the chloroprene causes her cancer to return and kill her.

The group worries that proposed EPA budget cuts could end the area’s air-monitoring program. The agency did not respond to my questions about how those cuts might impact that work or its programs that exposed the chloroprene emissions issue in the first place.

It is no surprise that the EPA program reviewing the health risks of chemicals is unpopular with industry and that it is one of the programs likely to be on the EPA chopping block. Without it, the EPA will no longer be making sure chemicals on the market and in the air — deemed safe by their makers  — are, in fact, safe.

Taylor told me the group isn’t done fighting back by a long shot, though it is clear the odds are stacked against them. The Concerned Citizens group is considering taking legal action.

Taylor likened the gas attacks in Syria to what is happening to his community. He understands the outrage against people being attacked with chemical weapons, but doesn’t understand the lack of outrage over communities like his being slowly poisoned.

At one Concerned Citizens group meeting, a member left in frustration after stating that she thinks it will take people dying in the streets before they get clean air. At this point, Taylor isn’t even sure that would be enough.

 

DeSmog

Destroying EPA Protections Will Disproportionately Hurt Children

By Farron Cousins     April 18, 2017

President Donald Trump’s proposed 31 percent budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is devastating for anyone who isn’t financially connected to the fossil fuel industry. Reversing the course on projects that include reducing carbon emissions, protecting rivers and streams from industrial pollutants, and investments in renewable energy is not only bad for the planet, but it is a disaster for human health. And those most at risk of a potentially more toxic environment are children.

There are several reasons why children are more susceptible to pollution than adults, with the most obvious being that they spend more time outdoors and are more likely to come in direct contact with dirt, water, and plant life.

But the real danger to children lies in their biology.

As the Center for Disease Control explains, children require more food, oxygen, and water than adults in comparison to their body size. This means that a contaminant in any one of those areas will have a greater presence in the body of a child compared to the body of a full grown adult.

The CDC also says that some organ systems within the body do not fully mature until a child is in their teens, and a developing system is far more susceptible to pollutants than an established organ system, as different pollutants can delay or alter development.

The CDC lays out how different types of environmental contaminants effect children differently than adults:

“Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcomes in children compared with adults. A well-known example is the effect of lead on young children’s developing nervous systems. Lead does have effects on the nervous systems of adult workers, which result in peripheral neuropathies. For children, however, intellectual development is exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of lead; this sensitivity is not seen in adults.”

The last few decades have seen a reduction in the amount of environmentally induced illnesses in children as a result of stronger federal safeguards to reduce pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals. As CNN notes:

“The Children’s Health Study, one of the largest and most extensive studies of air pollution’s long-term effects, found that living in areas with higher pollution levels caused measurable damage to children’s lungs including respiratory infections, higher risk for asthma and reduced lung growth and function.

But it also found that children’s lungs have improved over the past two decades as pollution levels in the study area have decreased. The ongoing study, conducted by the University of Southern California, has involved more than 11,000 area schoolchildren since 1992. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, enforced and regulated by the EPA, has helped cut ground-level ozone — a component of smog — by more than 32 percent nationwide since 1980, according to the agency’s air trends data.”

These advances in child health could be undone if Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the EPA become reality.

However, it is important to also understand that the proposals do not necessarily do away with environmental protections (with the exception of gutting the Clean Power Plan). Instead, the budget and staffing cuts at the agency will prevent the EPA from effectively monitoring health and safety issues and governing corporate compliance with existing laws.

To put it bluntly, most of the safeguards will still be in place, we just won’t have anyone looking over the shoulders of a corporation to make sure they are obeying the law.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have pointed out that the majority of studies on the effects of things like air pollution and other forms of toxic exposure have focused only on adult populations or the effects on developing fetuses, leaving the area of childhood and adolescence inadequately studied to determine the full effects that pollution has on this population.

Unfortunately, the health-related costs (both in terms of money and life) are often omitted from discussions of environmental safety regulations. Instead, the conversations tend to focus solely on the compliance costs that businesses face.

This is why the conversation has to change.

The health-related costs of addressing pollution and climate change far outweigh the economic costs that businesses face, and a far greater number of people will be affected if these budget cuts become a reality. Public health is more important than corporate profits, and the collective health of the public will always suffer when the environment isn’t properly protected.

 

ABC News

Overflowing landfills choke Puerto Rico amid economic crisis

By danica coto, associated press

TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico — April 21, 2017

At first glance, it looks like people have abandoned this rural community tucked into Puerto Rico’s soft rolling hills: the windows are shut, the doors closed and the gates locked.

But everyone is still here, just sealed inside their homes to shield themselves from the stench, flies and feral dogs of the nearby landfill that has expanded so much it is now just steps away their front doors in Villa Albizu near Puerto Rico’s north coast.

“You have no idea what it’s like to gulp in that smell 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Yahaida Porrata, whose house is roughly 10 steps from the landfill. “You have to shutter the house completely because you can’t breathe … If I had the money, I would have moved a long time ago.”

The majority of landfills across Puerto Rico are over capacity and groaning under tons of liquefied garbage seeping into the tropical soil and posing threats to people and the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nineteen of the island’s 29 landfills are violating federal laws, yet they still accept a large portion of the 8,500 tons of garbage that Puerto Ricans generate daily. The EPA has ordered local officials to close 13 of those landfills including the one in front of Porrata’s home because of the health risks they pose, but a decade-long economic crisis has prevented that from happening.

Puerto Rico is struggling to restructure a $70 billion public debt load that has forced the government to declare a state of emergency as its revenues dwindle. Officials say they are barely covering the costs of essential services such as education, health and public safety.

Municipalities say they simply don’t have the $3 million to nearly $30 million needed to implement the environmental and engineering measures to close a landfill. The government never required municipalities to set aside money for closures, according to the EPA. As a result, landfills keep expanding beyond their capacity as garbage piles up.

“This is a crisis,” said Carmen Guerrero, director of the EPA’s Caribbean environmental protection division. “This is one of the agency’s environmental priorities in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.”

The EPA has the authority to intercede when there’s an emergency situation, but it is Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board that is supposed to ensure that landfills comply. It is not clear why this hasn’t happened. Spokesman Aniel Bigio did not return multiple messages seeking comment.

Only two of the 13 landfills the EPA ordered closed have done so, while two others including the one in Toa Baja, where Villa Albizu is located, opened new areas that meet federal requirements. The EPA filed its most recent order of closure this month, and for the first time it was done unilaterally, meaning there is no room for negotiation with the municipality like in previous cases.

“The conditions are so critical and the threat so great to the population and environment that there was no other choice,” Guerrero said.

The order states the landfill in Toa Alta, just south of Toa Baja, must close by year’s end, something that residents there are celebrating. There are more than 100 homes and businesses within 400 yards (meters) of the landfill, which was originally built in a sinkhole that forms part of one of the largest and most productive groundwater sources in Puerto Rico. The landfill has since expanded 3 acres (1.2 hectares) outside its boundaries and lacks a system to collect liquefied garbage, control storm water runoff or monitor the groundwater to ensure it is not contaminating drinking water.

A water treatment plant that lies downstream from the landfill draws some 2 million gallons of water daily from a nearby river. The plant is closed and being renovated so it can draw up to 3 million gallons a day, raising concerns among residents in that area.

“This is the biggest environmental disaster I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Concetta Calise, who lives near the landfill and recently fought off a plague of flies. “I could not even open the door. It was horrible. I’ve never seen it like that before.”

But the mayor of Toa Alta, Clemente Agosto, told The Associated Press that he can’t meet the EPA’s deadline because the municipality can’t afford the estimated $15-$20 million to close the landfill. In addition, he said the municipality doesn’t have the money to pay for its garbage to be taken elsewhere if their landfill closes.

“We want to follow the law, but they have to give us time to find the economic means,” he said. “You just don’t throw a lock on it and that’s it.”

While he understands people’s frustrations, he said the municipality is in such dire financial straits he had to establish a four-day workweek to cut costs.

“We’re going to do everything in our power so that no one is affected by garbage collection or by operations at the landfill,” he said.

Residents in Toa Alta worry they will soon encounter worse problems than those Porrata faces in Toa Baja.

Porrata has a deep cough she can’t shake and her two teenage children have skin ulcers. They visit the doctor at least once a month, and Porrata has to wash dishes before and after using them because of the amount of dust that settles inside her house. Recently, she thought one of her children left powdered chocolate milk inside a cup only to find out it was dust.

She is forced to buy bottled water after the island’s water and sewer company warned them the tap water was not safe to drink.

“This has been a living hell,” she said. “I never saw this coming.”

 

Independent

Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has run out of rubbish

Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has to import rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. What lessons can we learn, asks Hazel Sheffield

Hazel Sheffield December 8, 20116 

Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than 1 per cent of Swedish household waste was sent to landfill last year or any year since 2011.

We can only dream of such an effective system in the UK, which is why we end up paying expensive transport costs to send rubbish to be recycled overseas rather than paying fines to send it to landfill under The Landfill Tax of 1996.

The UK has made strides in the proportion of waste recycled under an EU target of 50 per cent by 2020. This has underpinned hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into recycling facilities and energy recovery plants in the UK, creating many jobs. We’re not quite at that target yet. Recycling in the UK peaked at around 45 per cent of all waste in 2014.

Since then, provisional figures from the ONS have shown that figure has dropped to 44 per cent as austerity has resulted in budget cuts. The decision to leave the EU could be about to make this situation worse. While Europe is aiming for a 65 per cent recycling target by 2030, the UK may be about to fall even further behind its green neighbours.

Why are we sending waste to Sweden? Their system is so far ahead because of a culture of looking after the environment. Sweden was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels in 1991 and now sources almost half its electricity from renewables.

“Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse,” says Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association.

Over time, Sweden has implemented a cohesive national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, the energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes through the freezing Swedish winter. “That’s a key reason that we have this district network, so we can make use of the heating from the waste plants. In the southern part of Europe they don’t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel,” Ms Gripwell says.

Sweden’s heating network is not without its detractors. They argue that the country is dodging real recycling by sending waste to be incinerated. Paper plant managers say that wood fibre can be used up to six times before it becomes dust. If Sweden burns paper before that point it is exhausting the potential for true recycling and replacing used paper with fresh raw material.

Ms Gripwall says the aim in Sweden is still to stop people sending waste to recycling in the first place. A national campaign called the “Miljönär-vänlig” movement has for several years promoted the notion that there is much to be gained through repairing, sharing and reusing.

She describes Sweden’s policy of importing waste to recycle from other countries as a temporary situation. “There’s a ban on landfill in EU countries, so instead of paying the fine they send it to us as a service. They should and will build their own plants, to reduce their own waste, as we are working hard to do in Sweden,” Ms Gripwall says.

“Hopefully there will be less waste and the waste that has to go to incineration should be incinerated in each country. But to use recycling for heating you have to have district heating or cooling systems, so you have to build the infrastructure for that, and that takes time,” she adds.

Swedish municipalities are individually investing in futuristic waste collection techniques, like automated vacuum systems in residential blocks, removing the need for collection transport, and underground container systems that free up road space and get rid of any smells.

In the UK, each local authority has its own system, making it difficult for residents to be confident about what they can recycle and where. “We need more of a coherent national strategy in England to the collection of recyclable materials, rather than the current approach, whereby it is largely left to individual local authorities to determine their own collection policies,” says Angus Evers, partner at Shoosmiths and a convenor of the UK Environmental Law Association’s Waste Working Party.

Local authorities will often start by recycling the highest volume materials because they are measured according to the proportion of waste recycled, so bigger items count for more. “Whatever we end up with in the UK, we need a system which collects all recyclable materials rather than cherry-picking the easiest and cheapest,” says Richard Hands, chief executive of ACE UK, the drink carton industry’s trade association.

Mr Hands points to his own drinks carton industry, which includes Tetra Pak, SIG Combibloc and Elopak. Through ACE UK, these brands have driven up carton recycling, more than doubling the number of local authorities collecting cartons from 31 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent in 2016.

He says that the UK needs to build infrastructure around recycling plants so that it can stop sending waste overseas. Some local authorities already have a “no export” policy to achieve this. “Growing the UK waste industry will create jobs and generate UK-based revenue for the economy,” Mr Hands says.

Angus Evers says a better domestic recycling system should be a part of our strategy for leaving the EU. “The materials we currently export represent a huge drain of valuable resources going out of the UK that could be used in the UK economy to make new products and reduce our imports of raw materials. If we have aspirations to be less dependent on Europe, then we need to be more self-sufficient and recycle more,” Mr Evers says.

And what will Sweden do if we stop sending it rubbish to feed its heating system? Ms Gripwall says the Swedes will not freeze – they have biofuels ready to substitute for our exported waste.

 

The Nation

120,000 Americans Demanded Trump’s Taxes This Weekend, Organizers Say

Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns was his biggest violation of norms of conduct for presidential candidates—and most Americans are still mad.

By Joshua Holland April 15, 2017

On Tax Day, April 15, protesters in Goshen, NY, marched in a rally organized by the Orange County Democratic Women to demand that President Trump release his tax returns. (Courtesy of Orange County Democratic Women)

Donald Trump and his surrogates claim that the public doesn’t care about his tax returns. Polls consistently find that they’re dead wrong, and even most Republicans think he should release them.

On Saturday, at least 120,000 people took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities across the country to drive that point home, according to an unofficial estimate provided to The Nation by Joe Dinkin, national communications director for the Working Families Party, one of a coalition of 69 groups behind the protests.

As one might expect, there were big crowds in New York and DC and Los Angeles and in other big blue cities. But forecasts calling for scattered showers didn’t keep around 350 protesters from coming out in Goshen, New York, a bedroom community of around 15,000 mostly white people, 65 miles or so north of Manhattan.

In a scene that played out in small towns across the country, residents marched with homemade signs down Goshen’s main street, which is called Main Street and is lined with American flags and blooming fruit trees. Goshen’s no liberal enclave–it’s located in Orange County, which went for Trump by six points in 2016, and there’s only one Democrat on the town council. (One marcher told me that the community is more or less equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, “but Democrats don’t vote.”)

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that “someone should look into who paid” for the rallies–likely referring to a popular conspiracy theory on the right which holds that protests against Trump are funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. But in Goshen, that someone was a middle-aged woman named Joan Hutcher, treasurer of Orange County Democratic Women, who was passing around a jar stuffed with coins and crumpled bills to support the group’s work. She wore a t-shirt which read, “And You Thought I Was A Nasty Woman Before? Buckle Up Buttercup.” Before I could finish asking if her organization has seen an uptick in enthusiasm since Trump’s win, Hutcher cut me off by saying, “It’s been tremendous.”

“People are really wound up,” she said. “What you hear over and over again are things like, ‘I’ve never been active in politics but this is just not acceptable,’ or I’ve never done anything like this but I can’t take it anymore.’ People are really angry and really frightened.” She said that the Tax March was especially important to her “because his conflicts of interest seem overwhelming but we don’t really know. We have no idea.”

In one sense, the Tax March was narrowly focused, but the salience of Trump’s refusal to release his taxes goes beyond what they might reveal about his net worth or potential conflicts of interest. It was his biggest violation of long-agreed-upon norms of conduct for presidential candidates—as Kevin Kruse wrote for Esquire, he was the first candidate to refuse to release a detailed accounting of his finances since Watergate—and he got away with it. The same media that reported almost obsessively on Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server, another process story, largely forgot about Trump’s taxes. We can’t know what’s in Trump’s head, but having gotten away with being the least transparent candidate in modern presidential history signaled that he could run the least transparent administration –and continue profiting from the family business–with impunity.

Legal experts say that his refusal to divest from the family business almost certainly violates the constitution’s emoluments clause. As David Cole wrote in The New York Review of Books:

Trump has somewhat gleefully asserted that the conflict-of-interest rules don’t apply to the president. He mixed together personal business and official diplomacy during several meetings and conversations with foreign officials during the transition. And despite his widespread private holdings in commercial real estate, condominiums, hotels, and golf courses here and around the world, he has refused to follow the lead of his predecessors by selling his assets and placing the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, he has transferred management, but not ownership, of the Trump Organization. He retains his ownership in full. And he has assigned operational responsibility not to an independent arm’s-length trustee, but to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

And just this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s re-election committees “continued to direct funds to his companies in the first quarter of the year, paying close to $500,000 to Trump-owned hotels, golf clubs and restaurants.”

THE STAKES ARE HIGHER NOW THAN EVER. GET THE NATION IN YOUR INBOX.

In all likelihood, what we know of these kinds of conflicts barely scratches the surface. One thing that makes it difficult to hold Trump accountable is the opacity of his holdings. In December, The Wall Street Journal offered an example of the labyrinthine nature of Trump’s holdings in the form of a helicopter Trump owns in Scotland. “To be more precise,” wrote Jean Eaglesham, Mark Maremont, and Lisa Schwartz, “he has a revocable trust that owns 99% of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99% of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red ‘TRUMP’ on the side of its fuselage.”

Trump’s taxes would probably reveal more hidden conflicts. Perhaps more important, enforcing the norm that presidents must be transparent about their personal finances—and the law barring them from profiting from the office—would signal that Trump isn’t an emperor and can’t just operate above the law with impunity.

After promising repeatedly to release his taxes at some point in the future, Trump’s made it clear that he never will. Congress has the power under a 1924 law to force his hand, but in February, 229 House Republicans voted to keep his tax returns from the public. Their refusal to provide oversight is why Democrats winning back the House in 2018 is so important. Ultimately, it’s also why tens of thousands of Americans felt that they needed to take to the streets last weekend.

Chicago Suntimes Editorial

Because of EPA, Chicago is cleaner and safer — let’s not go back

Chicagoans today, compared to our grandparents’ generation, can breathe a lot more easily because of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Our air is clearer. Our water cleaner. Our children healthier.

The battle over the EPA’s budget may be waging far away in Washington, but many of the agency’s big success stories can be found right here in the Chicago area. To go back now on that commitment to a cleaner environment would be foolish. To return to the days of ozone alerts and children eating peeled lead paint would be unconscionable.

In Washington, President Donald Trump wants to cut the EPA budget by 31 percent, hobbling an agency we rely on every day, even if we don’t know it. A fifth of the agency’s positions would be eliminated, and Trump wants to slash scientific research.

That would matter plenty to Chicago, a city on the precious Great Lakes that has moved on — but is still cleaning up — from a heavily polluted industrial past. A city that likes its fancy new Riverwalk, which would be folly if the Chicago River were still the open sewer it once was.

EDITORIAL

Reminders of why Chicago should support a fully functioning EPA are all around us.

  • Municipal sewage treatment plants throughout the region have been updated to EPA standards, making water cleaner. The EPA also took a lead role in ensuring that wastewater from sewage treatment plants is disinfected before it is discharged into Chicago area waterways.
  • The EPA has coordinated a multiyear effort to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The EPA also plays a role in preventing new invasive species from being dumped into the lakes from the ballast water of oceangoing ships.
  • When the operators of BP’s oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, wanted send more toxic pollution into the air, that was OK with the State of Indiana. But the EPA stopped it. In 2007, when the refinery got a permit to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids into Lake Michigan each year, the EPA stopped that, too.
  • Dangerous heavy metals from an H. Kramer and Co. smelter that got into residential yards in Pilsen will be cleaned up because of an EPA investigation. The EPA also cleaned up the site of the former Loewenthal Metals in Pilsen.
  • The EPA provides funding for beach monitoring, so we all know when it is safe to swim.
  • The EPA did a study showing mountains of petcoke stored on the South Side were causing chronic health problems. Only the EPA has the authority to install the monitors that measure the petcoke on surrounding neighborhoods.
  • The EPA played a major role in detecting lead in the municipal water supply of Flint, Michigan – work that led to a program to get lead out of drinking water in Chicago’s schools.
  • The EPA won a court fight in 1977 to reduce the amount of industrial waste getting into Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River from U.S. Steel’s Gary Works.
  • The EPA runs the Great Lakes National Program Office, which plans for the protection and restoration of the lakes for years to come.
  • With the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA is paying to dredging and remove toxic sediments in the heavily polluted Grand Calumet River in Indiana. If not removed, those pollutants eventually will move into the lake.
  • It was the EPA that found that residents of East Chicago, Indiana, had lead in their drinking water. The EPA put 30 people on the ground to investigation environmental contamination from the former USS Lead site in East Chicago.

The U.S. EPA’s budget already has been squeezed in recent years. If its budget now is decimated, that will hobble the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, too. The IEPA gets a fifth of its funding from the U.S. EPA.

Our city, region and state cannot afford such cuts. Too much work remains undone throughout the region.

As Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, put it: “Everybody has a basic belief they will have clean air and water without having to wake up in the morning wondering if that is going to happen.”

The proposed cuts to the EPA are huge. If they go through, you can bet Chicago will be wondering what might happen again.

The Verge

Inside the renegade Republican movement for tackling climate change

Will the GOP listen?

by Alesandra Potenza April 7, 2017

 

When Alex Bozmoski was in college, he didn’t believe climate change was real. He was “a very active conservative Republican,” he says, who “loved making noise.” In high school, he started a newspaper called The Right Idea; the logo was an eagle gripping a Christian cross. And at Georgetown University, after George W. Bush won the election in 2004, he carried a cardboard cutout of the president around campus until he was tackled by a liberal student and Bush was broken in half.

So when Bozmoski enrolled in a climate science class taught by Nathan Hultman, his primary goal was to heckle the professor. But every time he brought up something he had heard on a conservative radio talk show, Hultman asked him to back up those claims with actual scientific evidence. Soon, Bozmoski realized climate skepticism was unfounded, and that climate change is a very serious issue that his own political party was completely ignoring.

“I felt alienated that my tribe has been so out of the loop and not even working on it,” Bozmoski says. “To me, it seemed like just an easy way out, like a coping mechanism more than a governing strategy.”

“I felt alienated.”

So a few years after his college graduation, Bozmoski began traveling around the country, speaking to conservatives about climate change and free-market options to tackle it. He visited church groups, federalist societies, chambers of commerce, universities — alone or together with Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who introduced a bill to tax carbon emissions. (Inglis’ views on climate change cost him his House seat in 2010.) As Bozmoski did more of these talks, he says, “it became pretty clear that when people heard from us, a lot of conservatives were very motivated to get involved.”

In 2014, Bozmoski and Inglis founded republicEn, a group of about 3,000 people all over the US trying to create a grassroots movement of “conservative climate realists.” “We want to give them a voice,” Bozmoski says. “We want members of Congress to see that big chunks of their conservative constituency are deeply passionate about the environment and care deeply about taking responsible action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

It’s not just Bozmoski and Inglis — or even just their group. Around the US, conservative leaders and organizations are trying to get people on the right involved in conservation, renewable energy, and climate change action. They do it by appealing to whatever it is these constituents care about: economic growth, hunting wildlife, or national security. The goal is making sure the US is prepared to tackle one of the most serious challenges facing our country and our planet — global warming.

Some in the GOP are taking notice. In February, a group of Republican elder statesmen released a proposal to tax carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. And in March, a group of more than a dozen GOP lawmakers introduced a climate change resolution to the House of Representatives, calling for action against the looming threat of rising sea levels and warming temperatures. “It’s important that we take climate change very, very seriously because the threats that are posed by that are very serious,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), who signed the resolution, told The Atlantic. “I’m just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it.”

“I’m just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it.”

Unfortunately, many other Republicans are turning a blind eye to it. The GOP has a track record of opposing environmental regulation and a party platform that supports burning fossil fuels. Certain Republican members of Congress don’t even believe that global warming is caused by human activity. (It is, according to the vastest majority of scientists.) At the same time, Republican president Donald Trump, who called climate change a “hoax,” ran a campaign on the promise to bring back highly polluting coal. Last week, he signed an executive order to start dismantling the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. And his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is a known climate change denier.

The GOP’s stance is at odds with what many Republicans feel. A poll from last year showed that 71 percent of liberal / moderate Republicans and 47 percent of conservative Republicans believe that our planet is warming — and that number is increasing. (The percentage of conservative Republicans who believe in climate change has jumped 19 percentage points since 2014, more than any other group.) The majority of Republicans also support more funding for energy sources like wind and solar, and believe heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide should be regulated.

So why are Republican lawmakers looking the other way when it comes to global warming? They don’t live in Miami, says the city’s mayor Tomás Regalado, a member of the Republican Party. Residents there experience regular flooding from rising sea levels, and certain banks are very hesitant about granting loans for mortgages for 30 years, he says. “This is a real issue that people have experienced here,” Regalado says. “We have a problem, and [Republicans] have to recognize that this is not only a philosophical debate, it’s a real economic issue.”

The next town over, called Coral Gables, is facing similar problems. Streets and parks are flooded during high tides. “You look out your door, you see an octopus in your basement … or the mullets swimming around our parking lots, you get it,” says Mayor Jim Cason, also a member of the Republican Party. Cason isn’t waiting for Washington to step in — his administration has already been working on a sustainability plan for the town, and is updating building codes to increase the height of the most vulnerable facilities when they need repairs. But when I ask him whether he’s doing all this because his constituents are worried about climate change, and demanding action, Cason says residents actually aren’t expressing much concern. “Basically silence,” he says.

“you see an octopus in your basement”

Bozmoski believes that’s exactly why Republican lawmakers aren’t acting on climate change. “I think the answer boils down to one phrase that we hear over and over from members of Congress: ‘My constituents rarely call me about climate change. I rarely get phone calls about this. It is not on the mind of our constituents,’” Bozmoski says. It’s also true that the fossil fuel industry overwhelmingly gives campaign donations to Republicans rather than Democrats. But in poll after poll, climate change does seem to be at the bottom of the list when Americans wonder what to worry about. And for conservatives, “it’s not a national movement right now,” Bozmoski says. So that’s the movement he’s working to create.

He travels around the country, telling people about global warming and ‘republicEn’s’ free-market vision for tackling it: no to subsidizing renewables; yes to a carbon tax; no to American export taxes; yes to government’s investment in basic research to find new forms of energy. To energize this still-infant grassroots movement — “we’re a scrappy bunch” — Bozmoski also talks about the science of climate change. If you don’t believe in the science, you’re out. “Moving past the science is not how we’re going to deal with this,” Bozmoski says. “The climate science is so central to the urgency of action that you can’t lose it and not lose the urgency.”

Other conservative groups, however, try to steer away from talking directly about climate change. “With older conservatives, if you say anything about climate, they immediately shut you down,” says Michele Combs, the founder and chair of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. “The younger generation do not feel that way; they grew up recycling. It doesn’t have that stigma.” So Combs approaches the problem from another angle: energy reform. Her group, which counts 100,000 members, hopes to sway the national discourse over energy policy, by encouraging the use of renewable energy. To help conservatives embrace renewables, she often invites retired military generals to speak at her events.

The US Army has been vocal about wanting to boost clean energy. The advantage is twofold: US troops who rely less on oil can spend less time convoying that oil in foreign countries and risking to be blown up; and reducing greenhouse gases is paramount for addressing climate change, which the military sees as a serious national security threat. (Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events will lead to a more unstable, conflict-prone world, according to a Defense Department report.) When these respected military leaders speak to conservatives, it generally works, says Brian Smith, who used to work on renewable energy for the Defense Department and now volunteers at Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. “I think it resonates with most people,” he says.

Combs says that climate change action is not the end goal of her group, but more of a side effect. “We come in with the clean energy, because cleaner energy is going to take care of the problem,” she says. A similar approach — when it comes to conservation — is taken by some conservative groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. The sportsmen’s organization focuses on preserving wildlife habitats, and protecting clean air and water on public lands, but it doesn’t address climate change directly. Conservation is what hunters have been doing for more than 150 years, says Land Tawney, the president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, it resonates with hunters much more than a politicized term like climate change.

“I call them the flat-Earth society.”

The group works for keeping public access to public lands, so they’re not sold for private development. It also advocates for oil and gas development to be done in a safe way, so that core habitats and migration routes are kept pristine. If animals can move more freely and expand their ranges, they will be able to better adapt to warming climates, by moving to higher latitudes for example. This is, of course, just a step toward addressing climate change. “All the conservation work that we’re doing has an effect on that,” Tawney says. “You’re really still working on it but you’re not directly working on it.”

That’s not how all hunters approach climate change. Randy Newberg, a hunter and advocate for hunting on public lands, has no qualms about acknowledging the problem. “If you spend as much time in the hills as I do, I don’t know how you could deny that climate is changing,” he says. Deniers exist, “but honestly, I call them the flat-Earth society,” he adds. Many hunters see climate change as a serious threat to the wildlife and public lands they want to protect for future generations. That’s what’s been driving the conservation movement for decades in the US, and it should not be a liberal or a conservative issues, says Newberg, who identifies as an Independent. “Maybe I’m naive and too idealistic for today’s political world,” he says, “but I struggle to understand how is it that clean air and clean water and productive lands are a partisan issue. To me, they’re an American issue.”

For now, the White House hasn’t been very responsive, but it might be just too early to tell, says Bozmoski. Some proposals coming out of Washington — like the carbon tax and the climate change resolution — seem to bode well. “It really stokes our optimism on the Eco Right, that our family has gotten bigger and more powerful,” Bozmoski says. At the same time, he says, it will take time for Republicans to come together and put forward a climate change policy — they will need to get over the divisions within their own party and develop an actual policy. That’s what groups like republicEn are there for, Bozmoski says. And he has high hopes. “The prospects for a coalition of lawmakers moving forward with a solution is better now than it has been in any point since 2010,” Bozmoski says. “There’s no more pussyfooting around climate change out of fear.”

 

 

Huffington Post Politics

REUTERS April 17, 2017

Trump Advisers To Meet Tuesday To Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Trump in the past has said the United States should “cancel” the deal.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to recommend that he withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, a White House official said on Monday.

The accord, agreed upon by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015, aims to limit planetary warming in part by slashing carbon dioxide and other emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. As part of the deal, the United States committed to reducing its emissions by between 26 and 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Trump in the past has said the United States should “cancel” the deal but he has been mostly quiet on the issue since he was elected.

A White House official said Trump’s aides would “discuss the options, with the goal of providing a recommendation to the president about the path forward.”

White House officials, led by the National Economic Council, have recently been asking publicly-traded energy companies for advice on whether to stay in the agreement.

Major publicly traded coal companies such as Cloud Peak Energy and Peabody Energy confirmed to Reuters that they have told White House advisers it is in their interests for the United States to remain in the Paris agreement to ensure there was a global role for high-efficiency coal plants.

“By remaining in the Paris Agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy,” Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall wrote in the letter dated April 6.

The advisers expected to attend Tuesday’s meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Perry, a former Texas governor, at his confirmation hearings in January softened a previous position that the science behind climate change was “phony.”

Last week, Pruitt, a former Oklahoma Attorney General, said the United States should “exit” the agreement because it was a “bad deal” for the country.

The meeting comes ahead of a summit of the Group of Seven wealthy nations in late May, which White House spokesman Sean Spicer said was the deadline for the decision.

Politico on Friday first reported a possible meeting of Trump advisers.

 

Change.org

An interview with Earth Day Initiative — and what you can do to help the planet.

Since its beginnings in 1970, Earth Day has become an annual to protect and consider the welfare of the planet on which we all live.

But we all know that concern for and commitment to the planet calls for more than one day. It takes sustained dedication and hard work — by environmentalists, elected officials, and everyday people who want the Earth and other non-human animals to prosper.

That’s why we recently sat down with John Oppermann, the Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative  — an organization that promotes year-round environmental awareness and solutions through partnerships with schools, community organizations, businesses, and governments — to chat about the current state of environmental issues, how civic engagement has changed over the last few months, how we can all positively contribute regularly, and much more.

Check out the interview below, and be sure to check out environmental related petitions on Change.org, in addition to looking into the ways you can participate in Earth Day activities this Thursday, April 20th — and year round!

A.J. — ​Barack Obama and Donald Trump differ on their understanding and approach to environmental issues. What’s your take on the new administration, and how do you understand Earth Day Initiative’s role in this current milieu?

John Oppermann — There’s obviously a big divide in the two administrations’ views on the urgency of our environmental challenges. The Obama administration recognized the importance of coordinated action, working with businesses, government, and civil society to address our looming challenges, which obviously includes climate change. Obama also took a more global perspective of the issue,saw what was happening around the world, and made efforts to place America as a leader in the transition to clean energy and the fight against climate change. He made sure that we as a country were placed in the driver’s seat on a movement that he recognized was moving forward with or without us.

I think the current administration lacks an understanding of both the challenges that face us and the gift we’ve been given in the form of functioning institutions set up to protect our natural resources and environment. We’ve seen a lot of discussion on the lack of respect for science and the use of alternative facts to support one’s alternative reality. But I think equally important is the lack of respect for what we have done as a society. Fifty years ago we set up an institution to protect the environment we live in and depend on. We now take for granted the fact that we have clean air, clean water, and mechanisms for addressing environmental disasters as they arise. The rest of the world does not necessarily have that. Other countries are suffering from the terrible effects of uncontrolled pollution and mismanagement of natural resources. Just as some of these countries are waking up to the importance of protecting the environment, we’re at risk of forgetting what we came to realize 50 years ago.

Across the globe, particularly in the West, we’ve seen an increase in civic engagement around a host of issues. Will you say more about the changes you’ve noticed as it relates to the environment, and how is engagement different now than in the past?

It’s also an interesting time in that I see a lot of parallels to the time around the first Earth Day in 1970. A sort of perfect storm came together around that time with a mix of widespread activism, high-profile environmental disasters, and a general heightened awareness of humankind’s place in the global ecosystem. Just as that perfect storm helped turn out 20 million people for the first Earth Day and very quickly led to sweeping efforts to address environmental issues, including the creation of the EPA, I think the perfect storm of increased public engagement, high-profile climate-related natural disasters, and heightened awareness of our environmental challenges could lead to real progress in addressing those challenges. As scary as some of the latest headlines are, in terms of both environmental catastrophes and policies, we have reason to be hopeful that those headlines will push us to real positive action.

What are some of the biggest challenges you all face at Earth Day, and more generally, what do you think are the most pressing issues we face on a global scale?

The biggest challenge we face is complacency. While people seem to be very engaged right now, we must stay engaged all the time. People tend to get engaged in fits and starts. Environmental catastrophes spark people to take action. We should absolutely use those moments to galvanize people to do good on a broad range of environmental issues, but we really need people to be engaged all the time — not just in the wake of a catastrophe. Otherwise we risk backsliding into our past mistakes. We see this not just in the environmental field but across a broad spectrum of issues. We forget the constant threat of letting xenophobia go unchecked, of not standing up for the most vulnerable communities in our society, or letting powerful interests capture our governing institutions so that they start to serve their own interests more than society’s. The cliche that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it is a cliche for a reason. The reason is because it’s true. So if we don’t constantly keep in mind the lessons of history and appreciate that we have environmental protections in place for a reason, we really are at risk of losing those protections.

Will you say more about the ways environmental issues intersect with other social concerns?

Environmental challenges and the way we address them definitely intersect in predictable ways with socioeconomic factors. Powerful and influential people are able to manage environmental challenges in ways that people who are less powerful and less fortunate are not able to. One thing that I think very much sets the current climate movement apart from the earlier environmental movement is that activists are making a conscious effort to build more inclusive coalitions. Climate activists are trying to make sure that the movement takes on more environmental justice issues that affect minorities, as well as traditionally disadvantaged groups. The earlier environmental movement was criticized for very quickly becoming a white and upper middle class movement, and the hope is that that mistake is not repeated.

You’re a professional activist and environmentalist, but how might the everyday person — the armchair environmentalist — play a role in bringing about substantive change in their own communities?

Every year the most common question we get is “What’s one thing I can do for the environment?” Earth Day acts as an annual touchstone for people to think about how they can do something to green their lifestyles, support an environmental cause, or just somehow make a positive impact. I think the challenge is people get bogged down by lists of dozens of things they could do to green their lifestyles. So we’re making it simple with a new campaign that we’re launching as a countdown to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s aimed at cutting through the noise by asking people to do just one thing. We’re focusing in on the intersection between impact and convenience by asking people to sign up for clean energy via their utility bills. In some states you can sign up without even entering credit card information — you just enter your utility account number. It’s incredibly easy. By taking just a few minutes to sign up, you then have an ongoing impact, as every month your utility bill goes to support clean energy. You’re making a micro investment from dirty energy and supporting clean energy on an ongoing basis. And the way things are going right now, clean energy can use all the help it could get. People can check it out at countto50.org.

Earth Day is coming up. What’s on your agenda?

We’re looking forward to a few high-profile efforts to galvanize people around environmental action with the launch of our own Count to 50 campaign, the March for Science on April 22, and the People’s Climate March on April 29. It’s a lot of energy packed into the span of a couple of weeks. The fact that so much of this centers around Earth Day is heartening. It illustrates just what a pivotal moment that first Earth Day in 1970 was when people stood up and called for real action to protect our communities and the ecosystems we rely on. The fact that, 50 years later, this is the one time of year when such a broad swath of people take a moment to think about how we can live more sustainably together shows what a difference those organizers and environmentalists in 1970 made. It was the birth of the modern environmental movement. Now it’s time for the next movement.

A.J. Walton is the Senior Communications Manager at Change.org

 

ThinkProgress

 Natasha Geiling, Reporter at ThinkProgress   April 20, 2017

Scalia returns from the grave to pollute America’s water

A leaked draft of the Clean Water Rule rewrite circulating around Washington has Scalia’s legacy all over it.

On Tuesday, February 28, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the process of rolling back the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.

That rule was finalized in 2015, so Trump couldn’t unilaterally undo it with the stroke of a pen. Instead, he asked the appropriate agencies to rewrite the rule and redefine “navigable waters” — a term that has plagued courts for decades — according to the definition put forth by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2006. And while that might seem like a small change, legal experts say that directive could vastly reduce the federal government’s ability to protect the nation’s streams, rivers, and wetlands from pollution.

A draft of the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of the rule obtained by ThinkProgress confirms it is indeed taking an extremely narrow position in its definition of “navigable waters,” by applying Scalia’s opinion almost word-for-word to the rule rewrite. The draft, which has been circulating throughout the EPA and Capitol Hill for weeks, defines waters of the United States to mean only waters that have been used for interstate or foreign commerce, or interstate waters and wetlands, and requires such waters to be “relatively permanent.”

That would break considerably from a different opinion, also offered in 2006, by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who argued that waters could fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act if they have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters.

“There is no way to quantify the impact except to say it would represent the most dramatic reduction in federal protection for streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes and other water bodies in the history of the Clean Water Act,” Pat Parenteau, a professor at the Vermont Law School, told ThinkProgress in an email, after reviewing the draft. “It has no basis in science, law, history or sensible water quality policy.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government can regulate pollutants from “point sources” into “navigable waters,” though Congress did not explicitly define what constituted navigable waters. That lack of definition has created a regulatory vacuum, especially in situations where it’s not clear whether a particular body of water is “navigable” in a literal sense — wetlands, seasonal streams and rivers, or tributaries. Courts have attempted to fill that gap through their own interpretation of the phrase, but a mishmash of rulings has left courts and the government without a universally agreed upon definition.

Instead, regulatory bodies and lower courts have relied on two opinions from a 2006 court case, Rapanos v. United States, which pitted a Michigan developer, John Rapanos, against the federal government. Years earlier, the government brought criminal charges against Rapanos, alleging that he had violated the Clean Water Act by dumping sand into wetlands without a permit. Rapanos was convicted, but appealed, arguing that the wetland was miles from anything that could be considered a “navigable waterway” under the Clean Water Act.

The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where a plurality of justices sided with Rapanos, denying the EPA’s interpretation of navigable waters as any waters that connect to traditionally navigable waters. That decision produced two opinions that have shaped water law and policy for almost a decade. Scalia’s interpretation, on one hand, relied on a dictionary definition of “waters” to define navigable waters as being relatively permanent waters, or having some kind of continuous surface connection to permanent waters.

Kennedy’s interpretation, on the other hand, defined waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act as waters that had a significant nexus to traditionally navigable waters. Kennedy also took issue with Scalia’s requirement that bodies of water be relatively permanent — under that definition, he argued, a number of rivers in the Western part of the country, which run dry for part of the year, would not qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.

“It would represent the most dramatic reduction in federal protection for streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes, and other water bodies in the history of the Clean Water Act.”

Several legal experts told ThinkProgress that the leaked draft of the rules would constitute an unprecedented reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act. In addition to codifying Scalia’s opinion that the Clean Water Act should only apply to permanent and continuous waters, the Trump administration’s rewrite of the rule also explicitly defines what counts as a tributary, something that was not spelled out in the Clean Water Rule. According to the draft rule, the Trump administration considers tributaries a continuously flowing body of water that has “relative permanence” — a fairly vague term that could open the rule up to legal challenges if it were finalized.

“If this rule were adopted, it would be an outrageous contraction of the scope of the Clean Water Act that is contrary to Congress’ clear intent, and this arbitrary reversal would never withstand review in court,” Karl Coplan, a professor at Pace Law School, told ThinkProgress.

But finalizing a rule based on Scalia’s interpretation in the Rapanos case could lead to legal trouble down the road for the administration. Lower courts have generally been split in their decisions about giving deference to Kennedy’s definition, or Kennedy and Scalia’s definition together. No court has upheld the Scalia opinion on its own — it’s always been taken in conjunction with the Kennedy test.

Read: Why the EPA’s clean drinking water rule is so controversial thinkprogress.org

That means the Trump administration’s rewrite directly contradicts how the Court of Appeals has been interpreting the Rapanos decision, and throws into question how favorably the Court of Appeals would view the Trump administration’s rule if it were ever challenged in court. And if the challenge were to reach the Supreme Court while Kennedy was still on the bench, convincing a majority of justices to side with the administration’s rule would mean convincing Kennedy to disagree with his own opinion in favor of a definition he rejected more than a decade ago.

“If the Trump administration proposes a new rule along the lines of what is in the current draft I would bet good money that it would be overturned in court, and I say that without even knowing how they might embellish the record or try to defend this new approach,” Mark Squillace, professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told ThinkProgress in an email after reviewing the draft.

Perhaps further complicating matters concerning the Trump administration’s rewrite of the rule, industry groups close to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are reportedly pushing for the EPA to outsource rewriting the rule to private law firms. That would allow Pruitt to bypass career EPA employees who worked on promulgating the Obama administration rule, and would mean less public scrutiny of the decision-making process. Legal experts told Politico that such a move would be “likely legally doable,” but “almost unheard of.”

On April 19, amid rumors of outsourcing the rule-making process and Pruitt’s reported intention to rewrite the rule as quickly as possible, 26 environmental and conservation organizations sent Pruitt a letter asking the agency to reconsider basing the rewritten rule on Scalia’s opinion.

“We especially fear the damage that a final rule would inflict on the nation’s waterways if, as Executive Order 13,778 forecasts, it relies on a legal test that a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court rejected and that would weaken the federal rules so that they protect fewer resources than they have in several decades,” the letter read.

If the Trump administration moves forward and finalizes a rule based on Scalia’s opinion, the rule is certain to face a suite of challenges from environmental groups in court. And while the draft of the rule could certainly change before being finalized, Ann Powers of Pace Law School said that drafting a rule based on Scalia’s opinion certainly represents a step towards rolling back clean water protections for much of America’s wetlands and waterways.

“This is not a done deal tomorrow, but it is certainly a critical step in the path to undoing a great deal of protections for our national wetlands,” Powers said. “It would be very unfortunate if this were to be implemented.”

Thanks to Kiley Kroh.

 

Popsugar

Trump Office of Science and Technology Policy Jobs

Trump Doesn’t Appear to Be Hiring Anyone Who Studies Climate Science

Eleanor Sheehan April 20, 2017

President Donald Trump is demonstrably unconcerned with the environment. Following through with his campaign commitment to discrediting climate science to promote the fossil fuel industry, Trump’s administration has yet to fill the majority of positions at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The ofice currently employs only 44 out of the 114 positions that it did in Barack Obama’s administration, according to a list obtained by Motherboard — and none of them are climate scientists.

The OSTP was established in 1971 to encourage the president to make more informed policy decisions about science. While Obama was president, the office was responsible for orchestrating the administration’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, reports The New York Times. However, in President George W. Bush’s administration, the office only employed 50 people.

Related
Read: New Head of the EPA Does “Not Agree” Humans Have Led to Climate Change

Of the positions Trump has filled at the OTSP, none of those include titles with the word “climate.” The positions at the OTSP center around technology and assist Trump’s innovation effort, which is currently spearheaded by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. There are a few positions that employ scientists, but the titles are vague and it’s unclear what they do. Some of those jobs include “natural disaster resilience assistant director” and “senior policy adviser for oceans and the environment.”

Though Trump’s team has been atypically slow in staffing the White House, the OSTP’s vacancies seem to be intentional considering his stance on climate change. If Trump’s climate-science-denying Environmental Protection Agency director is any indication of how his administration plans to address global warming, it’s safe to say those positions will not be filled any time soon — if ever.

 

Salt Lake Tribune

Letter: Toward a safer, cleaner future

April 19, 2017

More scientists seem aware of the political reality of climate change, as there’s a March for Science this Earth Day. Why have they waited until the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is over 400 parts per million, while the threat has been known since before it was 300 ppm? Don’t get me wrong, protest has a role in policy debate. A huge effort was required to change the previous administration’s stance on Keystone XL, but most scientists were silent. Many said they didn’t want to jeopardize funding.

The March for Science’s stated mission is championing for robust funding, but time is up for researching climate change. There’s a scientific consensus. When James Hansen addressed Congress in 1988, we could have protected our planet by reducing emissions 1 percent per year, but after decades of silence, it’s increased to 7 percent. To safely make this transition, many economists and politicians support legislation putting a modest price on greenhouse gas pollution that steadily rises and to refund the collected fees equally to every American citizen.

Perhaps the marchers could take public stances by sending letters to the editor and to our representatives to generate the political will for this step towards a safer, cleaner energy future.

Kevin Leecaster     Salt Lake City

 

ThinkProgress

Kiley Kroh  Senior Editor at ThinkProgress. April 20, 2017  

Dow Chemical gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, now wants pesticide risk study buried. The chemical manufacturer also pushed for a potentially dangerous insecticide not to be banned.

 

Andrew Liveris, president and CEO of Dow Chemical Company, is quite pleased with the new atmosphere in the White House. Liveris, who also heads Trump’s American Business Council, has praised the president’s business sense and cheered the administration’s regulatory rollback, saying Trump and his team have “managed to move the ball in 45 days on regulatory reform more than in the previous eight years.”

Dow Chemical also joined several other major corporations in ponying up for Trump’s inauguration — giving $1 million to the organizing committee. Donors at that level “received tickets to a luncheon with Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders,” CNBC reported.

Two months later, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, announced that he would not follow the recommendation of the agency’s own scientists to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that has been linked to severe health consequences, particularly in children and farm-workers.

Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical. Dow has argued against a ban, claiming the science regarding potential health impacts is inconclusive. In announcing his decision to reject the ban, Pruitt said his agency was “returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”

Since then, Dow has already moved on to its next request. Last week, lawyers representing Dow sent letters to three of Trump’s cabinet heads asking them to ignore government studies regarding the harmful effects of a group of pesticides on endangered species, according to an Associated Press exclusive published Thursday.

“Over the past four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages indicating the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied,” the AP reported. “Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.”

Read: EPA rejects calls to ban pesticide linked to brain damage, the agency sided with the chemical company manufacturing the product, putting farmworkers most at risk. thinkprogress.org

As with its fight against the potential human health impacts of chlorpyrifos, Dow sought to cast doubt on the scientific findings regarding the threat its pesticides pose to endangered species. For years, environmental groups have pressured the EPA to more closely scrutinize the harmful effects of pesticides on humans and endangered species.

“Dow Chemical wants to suppress the science showing that chlorpyrifos is harmful to everything it contacts. It damages children’s brains, contaminates drinking water, poisons workers, and threatens to wipe out Pacific salmon and other endangered species,” Patti Goldman, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Northwest regional office, said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “Each time independent scientists reveal the dangers of this pesticide, Dow commissions its own ‘science’ and tries to delay the inevitable — banning this outdated and harmful pesticide.”

Dow Chemical has devoted a significant sum of money to influencing policy and lawmakers — spending $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016 alone, according to the AP report. The chemical giant gave $250,000 to both the Republican and Democratic party conventions last year, according to Federal Election Commission records, and its corporate PAC spent more than $1 million in the 2016 campaign cycle, acording to OpenSecrets.

“Dow actively participates in policymaking and political processes, including political contributions to candidates, parties and causes, in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws,” Rachelle Schikorra, director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, told the AP. “Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity.”       Thanks to Ned Resnikoff.

 

Business Insider

An infamous chemicals company wants Trump to kill a pesticides study that’s bad for business

Michael Biesecker, Associated Press   April 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dow Chemical is pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.

The letters, dated April 13, were obtained by The Associated Press.

Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities.

Over the last four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages showing the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied. Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.

The industry’s request comes after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last month he was reversing an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children’s brains. In his prior job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt often aligned himself in legal disputes with the interests of executives and corporations who supported his state campaigns. He filed more than one dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.

Pruitt declined to answer questions from reporters Wednesday as he toured a polluted Superfund site in Indiana. A spokesman for the agency later told AP that Pruitt won’t “prejudge” any potential rule-making decisions as “we are trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.”

“We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic and we are reviewing petitions as they come in, giving careful consideration to sound science and good policymaking,” said J.P. Freire, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs. “The administrator is committed to listening to stakeholders affected by EPA’s regulations, while also reviewing past decisions.”

The office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Natural Marine Fisheries Service, did not respond to emailed questions. A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, referred questions back to EPA.

As with the recent human studies of chlorpyrifos, Dow hired its own scientists to produce a lengthy rebuttal to the government studies showing the risks posed to endangered species by organophosphates.

The EPA’s recent biological evaluation of chlorpyrifos found the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” 1,778 of the 1,835 animals and plants accessed as part of its study, including critically endangered or threatened species of frogs, fish, birds and mammals. Similar results were shown for malathion and diazinon.

In a statement, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos said its lawyers asked for the EPA’s biological assessment to be withdrawn because its “scientific basis was not reliable.”

“Dow AgroSciences is committed to the production and marketing of products that will help American farmers feed the world, and do so with full respect for human health and the environment, including endangered and threatened species,” the statement said. “These letters, and the detailed scientific analyses that support them, demonstrate that commitment.”

FMC Corp., which sells malathion, said the withdrawal of the EPA studies will allow the necessary time for the “best available” scientific data to be compiled.

“Malathion is a critical tool in protecting agriculture from damaging pests,” the company said.

Diazinon maker Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., which does business under the name Adama, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Environmental advocates were not surprised the companies might seek to forestall new regulations that might hurt their profits, but said Wednesday that criticism of the government’s scientists was unfounded. The methods used to conduct EPA’s biological evaluations were developed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Dow’s experts were trying to hold EPA scientists to an unrealistic standard of data collection that could only be achieved under “perfect laboratory conditions.”

“You can’t just take an endangered fish out of the wild, take it to the lab and then expose it to enough pesticides until it dies to get that sort of data,” Hartl said. “It’s wrong morally, and it’s illegal.”

Originally derived from a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany, chlorpyrifos has been sprayed on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops for decades. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.

As a result, traces of the chemical are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

In 2005, the Bush administration ordered an end to residential use of diazinon to kill yard pests such as ants and grub worms after determining that it poses a human health risk, particularly to children. However it is still approved for use by farmers, who spray it on fruits and vegetables.

Malathion is widely sprayed to control mosquitoes and fruit flies. It is also an active ingredient in some shampoos prescribed to children for treating lice.

A coalition of environmental groups has fought in court for years to spur EPA to more closely examine the risk posed to humans and endangered species by pesticides, especially organophosphates.

“Endangered species are the canary in the coal mine,” Hartl said. Since many of the threatened species are aquatic, he said they are often the first to show the effects of long-term chemical contamination in rivers and lakes used as sources of drinking water by humans.

Dow, which spent more than $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016, has long wielded substantial political power in the nation’s capital. There is no indication the chemical giant’s influence has waned.

When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.

“Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,” Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir.

Rachelle Schikorra, the director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, said any suggestion that the company’s $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee was intended to help influence regulatory decisions made by the new administration is “completely off the mark.”

“Dow actively participates in policymaking and political processes, including political contributions to candidates, parties and causes, in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws,” Schikorra said. “Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity.”

Associated Press reporters Jack Gillum in Washington and Sophia Tareen in East Chicago, Indiana, contributed to this story.

 

MSNBC

The Rachel Maddow Show/ The MaddowBlog

Debate over pesticides enters Donald Trump’s ‘swamp’

By Steve Benen April 20, 2017

At first blush, it may seem like an obscure, technical debate. The Associated Press reports that a four-year review conducted by government scientists of three pesticides – chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion – found that they “pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied.” Federal agencies are poised to issue findings on how to limit use of these pesticides.

The story takes on a broader political significance, however, when we consider what one of the pesticide manufacturers is up to. The AP explained:

Dow Chemical is pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.

As one might imagine, Dow is pointing to its own research, which is in conflict with the information compiled by government scientists.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s controversial far-right choice to lead the agency, decided two weeks ago to side with Dow Chemical – against the advice of the EPA’s researchers – on the use of chlorpyrifos, one of the insecticides in question.

Now, apparently, Dow Chemical wants Team Trump to side with the company once more.

And while I’m not privy to the administration’s deliberations, it seems Dow Chemical has reason to be optimistic about its chances. Not only is the Trump administration ideologically predisposed to agree with corporate interests over environmental interests, but in this case the ties between the company and the president run deep.

The AP reported added, “Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities…. When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.”

At a certain level, this is a classic elections-have-consequences moment. American voters were given a choice in presidential candidates, and just enough of them sided with the Republican who’d create conditions like these. The country is now stuck, at least for four years, with the consequences.

But stories like these also shed new light on what Trump meant when he vowed to “drain the swamp.” The phrase, a staple of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, has become a laughable cliché, but let’s not forget its purpose: the GOP candidate took aim not only at D.C., but also at the city’s culture and legal corruption. Trump assured voters that he – and he alone – would change how the system in the capital worked.

We now know that meant making things quite a bit worse. Dow Chemical wrote a $1 million check to Trump’s shady inaugural committee; Dow Chemical’s CEO became a presidential adviser; and now Dow Chemical wants its friends on Team Trump to “set aside” scientific research.

I’d recommend caution before entering Donald Trump’s Swamp. It’s likely to soon be filled with some potentially harmful pesticides.

Explore: The MaddowBlog, Culture of Corruption and Donald

 

EcoWatch

Lorraine Chow April 19, 2017

Widely-Opposed Pipeline ‘Confirms Worst Fears’ After Two Spills Into Ohio Wetlands

Energy Transfer Partners’ new Rover Pipeline has spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio’s wetlands. Construction of the $4.2 billion project only began last month.

According to regulatory filings obtained by Sierra Club Ohio, on April 13, 2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled into a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The next day, another 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids released into a wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline’s installation.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the same operator behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Rover Pipeline’s construction in February. The 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.

Completion of the Rover Pipeline is planned for November 2017. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told Bloomberg that the spills will not change the project’s in-service date.

“Once the incidents were noted, we immediately began containment and mitigation and will continue until the issues are completely resolved,” she said.

Environmental groups are fighting to stop the pipeline’s construction.

“Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation,” said Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We’ve always said that it’s never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.

“Construction on the Rover Pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer’s total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted.”

 

LA Times Editorial

Surprise us, Mr. President, and embrace the Paris climate agreement

Donald Trump has been president for only three months and already he’s given up or reversed course or been stymied on a wide range of campaign promises. Given how awful some of those ideas were — ending Obamacare, declaring China a currency manipulator, ordering a blanket federal hiring freeze (done, but since lifted) — it is not necessarily a bad thing for the country that he’s fallen down on the job.

Now, we’re mildly heartened to learn that Trump also may be moving away from his ill-advised campaign pledge to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement of 2015, under which nearly 200 nations pledged to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Climate change, of course, is viewed skeptically by the new president. He once described the idea that human activity is heating up the oceans and atmosphere in potentially catastrophic ways as “a total, and very expensive, hoax” that was “created by and for the Chinese” in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He appointed a climate skeptic, Scott Pruitt, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, a department Trumps hopes to reduce by 31%, according to the budget proposal he sent to Congress. The administration also is pushing plans to roll back Obama-era limitations on methane emissions from oil and gas wells on public lands (an effort that, fortunately, may die in the Senate), and to consider weakening the aggressive fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles established under Obama.

Trump also has drawn a target on the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to significantly reduce emissions from primarily coal-fired power-generating plants responsible for a third of the nation’s greenhouse gases.

That the Trump administration is even debating the issue rather than blindly carrying out its ill-conceived campaign promise offers a hopeful sign.

His hostility to the science of climate change poses a global risk. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter of carbon and other greenhouse gases. It was instrumental in crafting the Paris agreement, a milestone in international environmental cooperation even if experts say its goal of capping the rise in temperatures by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius isn’t ambitious enough if the world is to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

It’s slightly encouraging that there seems to be an internal debate underway between a set of Trump advisors who want the president to keep his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement and another set urging him to stick with the pact but loosen the Obama goal of reducing by 2025 U.S. emissions by up to 28% of 2005 levels. That the Trump administration is even debating the issue rather than blindly carrying out its ill-conceived campaign promise offers a hopeful sign that the president’s position could change, and that he might still join the rest of the world in trying to address the potentially existential threat of global warming. For the United States to back off from the Paris accord now not only would imperil the chances of global success, but would marginalize the U.S. as a leader in a defining issue of our era.

At the same time, if the U.S. were to stay in the Paris agreement while weakening the United States’ commitments, that still would be a losing proposition for the nation, and the world, given that emissions need to be even more sharply curtailed than already planned. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is a difficult challenge, but it needs to be done. Yes, there will be economic hits to the oil and gas industries, but alternative renewable energy already has become a significant part of the global economy and it is growing quickly. Given the worldwide damage that will be caused by rising seas — one estimate puts it at $1 trillion a year by 2050 — insuring jobs today at the expense of the future is the definition of penny-wise, pound-foolish.

The president is in a position to prove his critics wrong — to demonstrate that he can weigh (actual, not alternative) facts and frame positions based on reality and in the best interests of the nation. We invite him to do so by sticking with the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan, and by directing the government to find ways to reduce U.S. emissions even further. Those are steps that a sagacious and respected world leader would take. We hope Trump moves in that direction, away from his reckless campaign stance on this enormously important issue.

 

The Buffalo News

Even at Wyoming County food bank, unwavering support for Trump

Jerry Zremski  April 16, 2017

PERRY – The crowd at a monthly food pantry in this Wyoming County town of about 4,500 turned out to be a perfect microcosm of the most pro-Trump county in New York, where 72 percent of voters pulled the lever for the rebellious Republican candidate for president.

Waiting to gather their food from a nonprofit that might have to shut down if President Trump’s budget becomes law, seven out of 10 people interviewed last week said Trump was still their man, their president, no matter what his budget says.

“I’d vote for him again 20 more times if I could,” said Hal McWilliams, 59, a self-employed contractor from Portageville. “Build the wall! …Democrats do everything in their power to destroy this country. Hillary Clinton was everything I am against. She was out to destroy the culture that made this country: Hard work, guns, freedom.”

Voters talk like that in every corner of this county of rolling farmland just east of East Aurora, where the 40,000 human residents are, according to federal statistics, outnumbered by the cows by a margin of about 2 1/2 to 1.

You will hear some strikingly different comments, though, from the people who run that food bank, from some of the county’s 16 town supervisors – all Republicans –  and from some of the farmers who tend to those cows.

Many of them speak of Trump’s actions as president with varying measures of concern, none more so than Connie Kramer, executive director of Community Action for Wyoming County. The nonprofit, which runs that monthly food bank, projects it would lose about 90 percent of its funding if Congress were to approve Trump’s proposed budget.

“That is our core funding, and that definitely would cause us to look at the viability of the agency and whether it could continue,” Kramer said.

Praise for the president

Community Action runs a host of programs, from job training to rental assistance to housing weatherization, all funded by the Community Services Block Grant and other federal programs that Trump wants to eliminate or dramatically cut.

That seemed to be of little concern to most of the people packing their pickups with fresh produce and other items at last week’s food bank.

Told that the food bank was in danger, McWilliams shrugged and said: “I grow most of my own food anyway.”

Meantime, Reggie Clark, a 51-year-old chef from Castile, said he thinks Trump will back off from his budget cuts, which is possible, given that members of Congress oppose many of them.

What matters more to Clark is what he sees from the new president day in and day out.

“He’s about action,” said Clark, who didn’t vote for Trump but said he would do so if he could vote again now. “I believe he’s doing pretty much everything he promised to do.”

That’s what Keith and Bobbi Muhlenbeck think, too.

“We love him,” said Keith Muhlenbeck, 46. “We support him in everything he’s doing. He’s a businessman who knows how to get things done, and you can tell he has America’s best interests at heart.”

Washington pundits might be criticizing Trump for his recent reversals on a number of policy issues, including trade with China and the future of the Export-Import Bank. But Bobbi Muhlenbeck sees the president as a tough talker who stands his ground.

“I like that he doesn’t back down,” said Muhlenbeck’s wife, 49.

Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad found that out the hard way, her husband noted, citing Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian air base to retaliate for Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people.

“This country used to stand for something, and now we’re a joke,” he said, arguing that former President Barack Obama projected weakness – something Trump obviously doesn’t do.

“There’s iron in the glove now,” he said.

As for Trump’s proposed budget cuts, Muhlenbeck doesn’t worry that the food bank his family depends on will be forced to shut down.

“I’m sure they’ll find the money somewhere,” he said.

A troubled county

The Muhlenbecks, who live on government disability payments due to assorted ailments and injuries, were among about 200 people who lined up in a parking lot outside the Cornerstone Outreach Center for free groceries last week.

The line at the food bank should come as no surprise, given the state of the Wyoming County economy. Heavily dependent on agriculture, the local job market swings with the seasons. The unemployment rate sank to a mere 4.3 percent last August, but then shot up to 7.7 percent in February.

Beyond the farms, the county lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs over the past decade, and locals complain that young people continue to move away in pursuit of the jobs they can’t find here. The Census Bureau estimates that the county has lost 3.3 percent of its population in this decade alone, continuing a 20-year trend that has seen the county shrink by 7.2 percent.

In other words, Wyoming County is much like the struggling rural counties of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin that made Trump president.

While Wyoming County has long been heavily Republican, Trump exceeded the vote total of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, by 8 percentage points here, as voters embraced his promise of bringing back jobs that had disappeared.

Locals – especially farmers – came to see Democrats as job-killers, several Wyoming county residents said last week. Farmers in particular pointed to an Obama-era regulation that expanded Clean Water Act protections to small wetlands and streams, a move that could have limited how farmers use the ponds and creeks on their own property.

“When you talk about why Trump did so well here, it’s things like that,” said Daniel Leuer, supervisor of the Town of Middlebury.

Trump quickly moved to repeal that Clean Water rule, and it’s those sorts of moves that make him popular here, said Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, whose district includes Wyoming County.

“These folks don’t like government,” said Collins, a strong Trump supporter who himself fought that Clean Water rule for years.

Besides, people in Wyoming County could relate to Trump far better than they could Clinton, his Democratic opponent, said Tom Marquart of Marquart Brothers Farming, a dairy and produce farm in Gainesville.

“Hillary and Trump, they live in a different world, but at least he knows what the other world is,” said Marquart, who thinks Trump inherited “a big mess” and is doing his best to clean it up.

Despite Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, even some of the Bhutanese refugees who work as farm laborers here voted for Trump, said Pat Standish, founder of Angel Action, a Community Action effort that enlists volunteers to work on everything from early childhood education to emergency help for families in need.

“One of them told me that Trump loved the country more than his party,” Standish said.

Concerns about Trump

Now, though, the reality of the Trump presidency is starting to shake some Wyoming County community leaders.

The failed Republican health care bill would have cost the Wyoming County Community Health System $800,000 a year, the state hospital association projected, making matters far worse for an already-strapped rural hospital.

“We’re just hanging by a thread here,” A.D. Berwanger, supervisor of the Town of Arcade and the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said of the local hospital in Warsaw.

Meantime, Supervisor James R. Brick of the Town of Perry noted that his town and others could benefit from federal funding to expand their water systems. That’s something that could be included in the billion-dollar infrastructure bill Trump promised but hasn’t delivered.

Trump has, however, moved forward with plans to build a wall at the Mexican border. That could be troublesome, said Leuer, the Middlebury supervisor, because Mexico is a huge trading partner that buys dairy products from Wyoming County.

That’s just one reason some local farmers are starting to worry a bit about some of Trump’s policies.

Pat McCormick, a Wyoming County farmer who serves as a top official with the New York Farm Bureau, said farm labor shortages – a growing problem for several years – could grow worse because of Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrant workers. He also worries that Trump’s Department of Agriculture is not fully staffed and not prepared to deal with a Canadian government action that’s limiting the shipping of milk north of the border.

“I don’t agree with everything he’s done,” McCormick said of the new president.

Then there’s the matter of Trump’s budget cuts, which would cost 5,302 families in the county their home heating aid while probably shuttering Community Action, a nonprofit that essentially serves as an adjunct to the county Department of Social Services.

“Community Action is a key human services agency for us,” said Ellen Grant, supervisor of the Town of Bennington. “If they don’t have the funds to continue to operate, a lot of the services are going to fall back on our Social Services office.”

“Trump is a go-getter”

Those realities seemed not to matter much to the Trump supporters at last Thursday’s food bank.

Frances Daley, 90, of Castile, said she doesn’t agree with some of Trump’s budget cuts. But she quickly added: “I think he’s doing a good job. He’s more down to earth and speaks to the people. The Congress needs to cooperate with him more.”

A middle-aged woman, who identified herself only as Sherri, agreed that Trump is doing well – despite the roasting he’s taken in the mainstream media for the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, the palace intrigue inside the White House and a continuing stream of controversial tweets.

A resident of Java, Sherri complained that the Obama administration fought her effort to get Social Security disability payments and otherwise produced a stagnant economy all across the nation.

In contrast to Obama, “Trump is a go-getter,” she said. “There’s no bull … with him. He’s up front on everything.”

Not everyone in line at the food pantry agreed.

“I think he’s going to ruin the country,” said Carol Green, 53, a Clinton voter from Warsaw who worried that Trump sets a poor example for young people.

Yvonne Barnhardt of Silver Springs, who was collecting groceries for her 87-year-old mother, was fully aware of Trump’s budget cuts.

“He’s taking away stuff we might need,” said Barnhardt, 55.

Barnhardt didn’t do anything to stand in the way of a Trump presidency, though.

She’s not registered to vote. “I never thought about it,” she said as people in front of her in the line snagged their free groceries.

The Grand Old Party’s ‘Tarbaby’ in Chief, Donald J. Trump, Gets Stickier Every Day.

April 4, 2017   John Hanno

The Grand Old Party’s ‘Tarbaby’ in Chief, Donald J. Trump, Gets Stickier Every Day.

What does this collection of Trump Administration cabinet members, advisors, consultants, close associates, confidants, immediate and extended family members and hangers on, all have in common? Its surly not their competence; all they’ve accomplished so far is to embarrass themselves and our country. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, only 35% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing and 52% of voters now say they’re embarrassed to have Trump as president.

The ‘Signer in Chief’ has orchestrated a b-grade primetime show in the oval office every day but it’s just a reality show con. The executive orders stuck under his nose for approval do nothing to raise America from its deeply divided malaise or solve any real problems; but do give us a hint at the GOP’s script for their new America. So far, it’s a remake pieced together from “Places in The Heart,” “O Brother Where Art Thou,” “Our Daily Bread” and of course, the “Grapes of Wrath.”

The Koch brothers HR department exerted their influence assembling this wrecking crew, with their single minded obsession with totally eradicating any hint of common sense Federal regulation. The Kochs and the fossil fuel and chemical industries have already begun stockpiling rewards (and presidential signing pens) for their campaign investments. The Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, reported on new EPA memos that explain the new system for eliminating environmental regulations; maybe that’s why only 29% of voters approve of the way Trump is handling the environment. Watch the video at theMaddowBlogonMSNBC.

And the gambling addicted banksters have been chomping at the bit ever since Barack Obama and the Dems installed watered down Dodd Frank regulations designed to reign in the worst excesses that caused the financial collapse and great recession. They’ve already begun dismantling what’s still in place.

It’s not this cast’s lofty credentials, or years of governing experience; no, that was the Obama Administration’s forte. This crew has little if any government expertise, and it shows in the floundering attempts at responsible governance.

Is it their political instincts and ability to compromise to get things done? No, these Winuts think any hint of compromise will be interpreted, by the Trump base and tea party voters, as total capitulation. The “Art of the Deal” is as credible as Trump University.

When Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court instead of healing the political divide by re-nominating Merrick Garland, he betrayed the American workers who voted for him and who will be harmed for decades by the extreme right anti-worker, pro business Gorsuch. Democrats are united in their opposition and the Republicans in the Senate threaten the nuclear option. But considering the quickly changing American demographics, Republicans should think long and hard about giving up legislative safeguards that protect minority interests.

Is it their sense of duty to serve their country during troubled times? No, what all these folks (with a few exceptions like General’s Mattis, Kelly and McMasters) have in common, is their unfailing and single-minded preoccupation at self dealing and self aggrandizement. They will forsake every ounce of empathy, decency, integrity, concern for the environment and American’s health and safety, and any sense of duty, patriotism or national pride, to enrich themselves and their families. That’s why 61% of American voters believe Trump is not honest.

It also appears that Trump, his family and everyone associated with him, were pliable dupes for Russian intelligence operatives bent on undermining American democracy and installing a compliant comrade in the White House.

Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hayes, Joy Reed and others at MSNBC and NBC, nightly untangle the intricate web of characters embroiled in Trumps conflicts of interest, their conduct bordering on treason, and the kompromat collected by Putin and his Russian operatives when they dangled fame and fortune in front of these nefarious profiteers.

Trump’s total dismantling of America’s diplomatic corps, lack of interest in manning up the State Department with peace makers, and throwing pallets full of money at the Pentagon, who already squander too much of America’s treasure, will do untold harm to American leadership in the world.

This administration has so far dodged the foreign affair crisis bullet, but that can’t last forever. Russia’s westward encroachment, China’s South China Sea incursions and North Korea’s resident crazy man, are dark clouds on the diplomatic horizon. Only 33% of voters approve of the way Trump is handling foreign policy.

I can’t even imagine what these Republi-crits would be doing if this soap opera was being orchestrated by Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I’m sure every congressional committee with office space, would be holding impeachment hearings, attempting to “lock him/her up.”

This unprecedented tragic epic will not end well for all the folks who reluctantly jumped on the Trump train. Self identified conservatives and evangelicals have lost what little credibility they still had, when they sold their souls to these Kleptocratic devils.

The uneducated white men entertaining suicidal tendencies, white women who ignored Trumps misogynistic treatment of their sisters, and workers left behind in the new world order (especially union labor) will not be rewarded for their misguided fealty. Workers who’ve dropped out of the work force long ago and who believed Trumps promise of living wage jobs, will only be let down again. Those won over by the promise of trillions in infrastructure spending will be disappointed, unless they hold campaign contribution IOU’s from Trump and the Republi-cons. Only 41% of voters believe, self described business superstar, Trump is doing a good job handling the economy.

Taxpayers who were counting on Trump for leveling the playing field, with comprehensive tax reform, will not be happy unless they’re in the same tax bracket neighborhood as the Donald and his hedge fund billionaire buds.

And since the ruse to fashion a tax cut for the rich and powerful by repealing Obamacare, failed to pass muster, Trump will need to raid the social programs his red state voters depend on for their bare existence, if he and Ryan are to make good on their promise to cut taxes for their corporate and wealthy benefactors. Trump’s approval rating on health care is 28%. And if Trump goes along with Ryan’s plan to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, seniors who believed Trumps insane promises, should finally be shocked from their deep sleep. 61% of voters believe Trump does not share their values and 57% believe Trump doesn’t care about the average American. Dah! This new White House and the Republi-con controlled congress have, and will continue to hoodwink their loyal voters and reward only the rich and powerful.

The din of American Democratic resistance from the left and center grows louder and more defiant every day. But so far, that principled resistance includes no one with a Repub in front of their name. It’s not surprising only 21% of voters approve of the job Republicans in congress are doing and 70% disapprove. How long will the party faithful stay stuck to this Trump Tarbaby? How long can this political house of cards survive?

Organizations like Indivisible, and others, might want to watch, and modify, the powerful speech of Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in “The Grapes of Wrath.” He tells his mother:

“I’ll (we’ll) be all around in the dark. I’ll (we’ll) be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll (we’ll) be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin up a guy, I’ll (we’ll) be there. I’ll (we’ll) be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll (we’ll) be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll (we’ll) be there too.”         John Hanno

 

EcoWatch

How the Koch Brothers Won the White House

By Lee Fang April 4, 2017

If the billionaire Koch brothers turn to the White House for favors, they will see many familiar faces.

Newly disclosed ethics forms reveal that a significant number of senior Trump staffers were previously employed by the sprawling network of hard-right and libertarian advocacy groups financed and controlled by Charles and David Koch, the conservative duo hyper-focused on entrenching Republican power, eliminating taxes and slashing environmental and labor regulations.

Some of the relationships were well-known. Marc Short, for instance, now Trump’s chief liaison to Congress, previously led Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the dark money nonprofit used by the Koch brothers and their donor cohort to dispense money to allied groups. Freedom Partners, which maintains an affiliate Super PAC, was at the center of the Kochs’ $750 million election effort during the campaign last year.

But the ethics forms, made available to the public on Friday evening, reveal a number of previously undisclosed financial ties between the Koch network and Trump’s inner circle of political aides.

Donald McGahn, Trump’s campaign attorney turned White House counsel, provided legal services to a range of outside Koch groups working to influence the election. McGahn, through the law firm Jones Day, advised Freedom Partners, as well as i360, the Koch’s big data firm set up to identify and target voters and Americans for Prosperity, the election advocacy and grassroots lobbying organization run by the Koch brothers. Ann Donaldson, McGahn’s chief of staff, came to the White House from McGahn’s law firm. Her financial disclosure shows that she also provided legal services to Freedom Partners and i360.

Kelleyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager turned close White House advisor, consulted over the last year for Americans for Prosperity’s national foundation, as well as for the Michigan and Ohio chapters of the group. Conway served as a board member for the Independent Women’s Forum, a Koch-backed group whose goal is “increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”

The fact that Trump’s political team worked for the Koch network during the campaign adds a new wrinkle to the relationship between the president and the most well-known pair of Republican billionaires.

The Koch network has long pioneered a strategy of backing GOP campaigns by using seemingly independent nonprofits and outside election groups. Election law prohibits organizations that raise and spend unlimited funds, such as the Freedom Partners’ Super PAC and Americans for Prosperity, from directly coordinating with candidates.

But those rules are rarely enforced. Moreover, campaigns and Super PACs have danced around the coordination prohibition by employing individuals who split their time between candidates and outside groups, making them a crucial conduit for potential coordination.

Despite the common myth that the Koch network, in the words of Politico, “sat out” the presidential campaign, Koch groups were active in battleground states that proved critical to Trump’s victory. Americans for Prosperity employed 650 staff members during the campaign, with many stationed in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri. The field staff, using the new data tools from i360, focused on making sure Republican voters made it to the polls.

In the aforementioned states, Americans for Prosperity also aired negative ads attacking Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of the campaign, linking her to Democratic candidates and problems allegedly caused by the Affordable Care Act. The ads, which blanketed swing state television stations, held Clinton responsible for healthcare with “higher cost, lost coverage, lost doctors.”

The election effort swept the GOP to a level of national power not seen since the 1920s. And the Koch network has been quick to seize upon unified Republican control of Washington to quickly score a range of policy and political victories.

Freedom Partners Vice President Andy Koenig told the Los Angeles Times after the election that his group hoped Trump would “walk in with an eraser” and wipe out as many Obama reforms as possible. The group formulated a “Roadmap to Repeal,” a memo calling for the administration to prioritize revoking the Paris climate change treaty, repealing clean water rules and eliminating limits on pollution from coal-fire power plants.

In recent weeks, Trump and congressional leaders have used a little-known procedure called the Congressional Review Act to swiftly roll back the very regulations identified by the Koch memo. And they have been aided by a team that came to the White House policy staff directly from the Koch network.

Koenig, the former Freedom Partners vice president, is now working in the White House as a policy assistant. Koenig’s financial disclosure shows that he made $320,000 at the group before moving through the revolving door.

In addition, Andrew Bremberg, now the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Betheny Scully, an official working in Trump’s Office of Legislative Affairs, both worked for Freedom Partners. Bremberg’s disclosure shows that he consulted for the group through a consulting firm he owns called Right Policy LLC.

The Trump policy team includes Brian Blase, a special assistant to the president working on healthcare issues, who came to the White House from the Mercatus Center, the Koch network think tank at George Mason University.

A number of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff also came directly from Koch organizations. Andeliz Castillo, named earlier this year as a Pence senior aide, came from the Libre Initiative, the Latino outreach arm of the Koch network. Stephen Ford, Pence’s director of speechwriting, previously worked as a speechwriter for Koch’s Freedom Parters.

To be sure, there is not perfect harmony between the Koch brothers and Trump. The Koch network harshly criticized the American Health Care Act, attacking it for not doing enough to repeal Obamacare. And the groups have lobbied against the so-called border adjustment tax, a proposal favored by some in the Trump White House.

But if the latest member-wide email from Americans for Prosperity is any indication, the Koch brothers have much to celebrate with Trump in the White House.

The email, titled, “Thank you, President Trump,” hails the president for issuing an executive order to repeal of Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” the biggest pillar in the previous administration’s climate change strategy. The message goes on to boast that Americans for Prosperity is providing the lobbying muscle, along with paid advertisements and mobilizing calls to Congress, to help confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.

Newsweek

Meet the Billionaires Who Run Trump’s Government

By Nina Burleigh      April 5, 2017

They’ve been coaxed out of their mansions and off their yachts by President Trump to make America great again—for the very, very rich.

Mr. Monopoly, that mustachioed fat cat with the Taftian profile, was about as close as most Americans got to a New York City billionaire until candidate Donald Trump started flying his jet to their cities and villages last year. Now they are practically an everyday sight, because President Donald Trump has coaxed a pack of them out of their penthouse triplexes, yachts and private jets to either join his Cabinet or sit on his councils and advisory boards. Trump voters know they’ve had a government for billionaires—that’s one reason they’re so mad—but to have one by billionaires means the Mighty Oz is now setting the nation’s agenda, and there is no curtain.

Anybody with $1 billion in net worth possesses a tranche of wealth greater than the gross domestic product of 60 nations. So what can a president give to these men who have everything? And what can they do for him and to the rest of America? The answer may be found in the most famous line from the Italian classic novel The Leopard, about the decaying Sicilian aristocracy: “Everything must change so that everything can remain the same.” The best gift Trump can give his rich friends from Manhattan is to appear to be shaking up the system while leaving their myriad tactics for manipulating and amassing capital unaffected by federal regulation and higher taxes. Less than three months into his presidency, Trump is well into that agenda—quietly deregulating the financial industry, stripping Barack Obama’s climate change rules from fossil fuel producers and promising to lower taxes on the very rich.

A billionaires’ takeover of the U.S. government was not one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, but in retrospect it was obvious he wasn’t going to bring in the sustainability MBAs—he doesn’t know any. Instead, he set up a government of, by and for his peers (or men the famously insecure Trump wishes to call his peers). His Cabinet of millionaires and billionaires is the richest in American history. The New York billionaires, though, have more in common with Russian oligarchs and Nigerian petro-magnates than with almost any other Americans—whether they are flipping burgers at McDonald’s or performing heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic. They have been sold to the public as men who will help Trump run the country “like a business,” in which the public is the consumer. After careers in which they put growing their colossal bank accounts ahead of the interests of small towns, working stiffs and the common weal, there is no reason to believe they will worry about how predatory lending or letting Obamacare “explode” affects real people. Trump’s billionaires are not government-hating ideologues like the Koch brothers or mega-donor Robert Mercer. They are more like what Trump used to be—unaffiliated centrists. And their agenda—and now the country’s agenda—is defined by those matters that affect their wallets.

Pity the Poor, Misunderstood Billionaire

“The rich aren’t rich anymore,” says society writer David Patrick Columbia. “My friend inherited hundreds of millions. She said to me, ‘I’m not rich anymore.’ They didn’t lose their money, but these other people make billions—some of them make a billion dollars a year. And that’s all they really care about. All those guys love talking about how much money they have. It’s what they like to do.”

Most of the billionaires Trump has lured to D.C. are, like him, members of the 1980s generation of leveraged-buyout tacticians, junk bond kings, corporate raiders and vulture capitalists. They got rich off of emerging financial tactics crafted to take advantage of Ronald Reagan’s great gift to Wall Street—ripping up the regulations put in place after the Great Depression. Trump adviser and corporate raider Carl Icahn (net worth $16.6 billion) is said to have been a model for Michael Douglas’s “Greed is good” character in Wall Street. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ($2.5 billion), policy adviser Stephen Schwarzman ($11.8 billion) and unofficial intel adviser Stephen Feinberg ($1.2 billion) all made their fortunes in the kind of investment banking that came into vogue after Wall Street decreed that social responsibility and business—the Jimmy Stewart banker model—were antithetical.

The New York real estate developers now advising the president—Steven Roth (net worth $1.1 billion) and Richard LeFrak ($6.5 billion)—spent their professional lives (as did Trump) in a mosh pit with politicians, city regulators, 50-story crane operators, cement mobsters and the motley crew of characters, unsavory and otherwise, responsible for the New York skyline and the surrounding area’s malls, golf courses and housing developments.

Whether they earned their money in investment banking or New Jersey strip malls and high rises, Trump’s billionaires have much in common with the rest of the New York’s 1 percent. They don’t pay much in taxes, and most don’t think they should pay much more. They loathe government regulations, and they are ferociously competitive. “They all know each other. They finance each other. And they all compete with one another,” says Holly Peterson, journalist, author of It Happens in the Hamptons and daughter of Peter Peterson, one of the New York billionaires who is not in Trump’s camp. “They sniff each other like dogs.”

But none of them are—again, like the president—burrowed into New York high society. In 1983, when Paul Fussell wrote his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, examining class in the U.S. from top to bottom, he described how one sign of top status was inherited wealth, and another the discreet display of that wealth. Those rules don’t apply anymore, at least not in New York society. Trump and his billionaires are elaborately and publicly rich, and while some of their dads were wealthy, they didn’t all start out that way. Schwarzman, the chairman of Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, is the son of a Pennsylvania dry goods store owner, and he now divides his time between a 37-room Park Avenue triplex, a Hamptons estate and villas in Palm Beach, Florida, and Jamaica. He is famous for blowing millions on his birthday bashes. Icahn went to a public high school in Far Rockaway, long before he bought himself a 177-foot yacht.

With the exception of Ross and his $250 million art collection, they aren’t aesthetes—even if their names are sometimes chiseled into the granite of gracious old public properties like main building of the New York Public Library (Schwarzman) or embossed in brass on the soaring buildings that house their companies. Trump famously smashed precious historic Bonwit Teller building’s architectural elements—coveted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art—to bits because to preserve them would have delayed work on Trump Tower by two weeks. Roth once left a massive eyesore of a hole in midtown Manhattan for nearly 10 years at the site of a department store he’d bought and demolished, in part to gain more city incentives to develop it.

New York billionaires are sometimes known for their noblesse oblige or devotion to civic causes, but not this crew. They are social-circuit philanthropists. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (the eighth richest man in the world, net worth $47.8 billion) invested his name and money advocating for gun control and famously pushed for a more environmentally friendly New York City while he was in office. New York billionaire Peter Peterson, Schwarzman’s former partner, put $1 billion into an economic think tank. And, along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 40 other billionaires, he signed the Giving Pledge, in which all promised to donate the majority of their wealth to charity. Schwarzman gave the New York Public Library $100 million, but only after being mocked a month before in The New Yorker for stinginess. (“He has given, but not remotely what he could,” sniffed one anonymous critic in that article.) Financial writer James B. Stewart has described how Schwarzman had trouble booking a prime table in the Grill Room at the Four Seasons, a high-society lunchtime scene. Schwarzman asked his then-partner, Peterson, about it, who explained, “It takes more than just money.”

Trump’s billionaires, while the richest men in New York City, are a tier below the cultural-financial establishment, the aristocracy. “I think the nature of all these guys is that they are not a part of a power or moneyed establishment,” says one Manhattan private equity investment banker who knows most of them. “You can be very, very rich without being terribly important here. It’s not like [Trump] has assembled a cabal of pathbreakers who disrupted the 21st century.”

They have been disruptors of another sort—as vulture capitalists or, more euphemistically, investors in distressed companies. Icahn was one of the first corporate raiders, and he invented “greenmail,” a now-outlawed 1980s practice in which big New York money would swoop in, buy up a block of stock, then force a company’s board to buy it back or risk a takeover. Among his many pelts in a career of corporate raiding, Icahn gets credit for killing the airline giant TWA.

Like Icahn, but of a generation younger, Feinberg made his name buying up and reorganizing companies. He founded the ominously named Cerberus Capital (in Greek mythology, Cerberus was the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of hades), which picked apart companies like Anchor Hocking, a glass factory in Ohio, bringing down a small town of Lancaster with it—a community tragedy told in the best-seller Glass House. Feinberg’s real passion is weaponry and military contracting; he bought up American gun companies and founded a weapons conglomerate called Freedom Group that, among other offerings, produces automatic weapons favored by the likes of the Sandy Hook school shooter. He also owns a private military training site, and his DynCorp is a leading defense contractor. Feinberg’s name is rarely published without the qualifiers “mysterious” or “reclusive.” Last year, a corporate spy reported to The New York Observer that Feinberg warned his Cerberus shareholders to stay out of the news. “We try to hide religiously,” he said. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” (None of the billionaires in this story responded to requests for comment, but only Feinberg’s office called back and verbally declined.)

New Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth $500 million), though not a billionaire, is another profits-over-people legend. He bought a California bank after the 2008 housing crash, and rehabilitated it by evicting tens of thousands of people, including many elderly and veterans. The subsequent protests—the newly homeless set up camp around his Los Angeles mansion—contributed to the demise of his second marriage.

Retired New York Post society columnist Liz Smith has known Trump since his first marriage, to Ivana, in the 1970s, and she watched New York society at first recoil from him, and then simply give in, as the corporate raiders who became Trump’s billionaire buddies took over Manhattan. “The current importance of money and big business and no ethics is discouraging,” she says. “In the beginning, the upper crust were all looking at the fact that he was a rich man, and they thought they could extract money from him for their charities. They found out fairly quick he was stingier than they were. I think the billionaires are supporting him with trepidation. They are nervous. They depend on the presidency for stability. They are patriots, most of them. They can’t help it if they’re rich.”

What Do You Give to the Man Who Takes Everything?

Trump’s billionaires share his two chief goals: a massive tax overhaul and deregulation, allowing them to make even more money, unimpeded by government intervention. The 99 percent have only the dimmest understanding of the strategies by which the 1 percent operate and profit. To most Americans, for example, bankruptcy is a disaster, a catastrophic credit rating hit, a personal failure and embarrassment suggesting sleeping in one’s car or moving back home with mom and dad. For Trump’s billionaires, bankruptcy—or as Trump put it, “the chapter laws”—is just another tool in the capitalist box, which includes various legal forms of stock manipulation, shorting pensions, crafting commercial building exchanges to avoid taxes and forcing a distressed or targeted company to buy back its own stock to raise its price.

Another magic trick of billionaire-dom is not paying taxes. Warren Buffett has pointed out that he and other billionaires pay lower taxes than a school teacher. Trump’s posse doesn’t share Buffett’s horror. Trump has avoided paying hundreds of millions in taxes over the years—legally—and so have his billionaires. Trump’s administration has made it very clear that it will expand tax benefits for billionaires. Mnuchin promised during his confirmation hearing that “there would be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” But lower taxes for the rich was always behind the Republican rush to repeal Obamacare and replace it with their still-born Trumpcare bill. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the proposal would have left 24 million people uninsured, mostly older and poorer Americans, while giving top earners a $158 billion tax savings on investment income. Trump blurted out the truth in a campaign style speech in Louisville, Kentucky, a week before the plan failed. “We’ve got to get this done before we can do the other,” Trump told the crowd. “In other words, we have to know what this is before we can do the big tax cuts.”

Trump’s tax overhaul plan, touted as the first real reform in 30 years, remains short on details, but one version gives the top 1 percent of Americans a 6.5 percent tax savings, compared with savings of 1.7 percent or less for middle and lower earners. Trump has promised to kill the alternative minimum tax levied on people like him, when their deductions can zero out their tax bill. According to his 2005 tax bill, Trump was taxed at 24 percent, thanks to the AMT.

The top executives of private equity firms—like Schwarzman, Icahn, Feinberg and, until he divested, Ross—all theoretically qualify for the carried interest deduction, which halves their tax rates. When Obama was stalking the carried interest deduction in 2010, Schwarzman nearly wet himself. “It’s a war,” he said at a July 2010 board meeting. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” He later apologized.

Special tax deals aren’t just for Wall Street tycoons. Real estate magnates like Trump can take advantage of a deduction Congress carved out for them in the 1990s. While average joes who lose money on real estate deals can no longer take full deductions, people who qualify as “real estate professionals” (Trump, LeFrak and Roth) can deduct their losses. Congress also allows developers to deduct the supposed depreciation of their property values over the course of 27 to 40 years, depending on the property type, despite the fact that real estate generally increases in value over time. That means, according to Morris Pearl, formerly managing director at the BlackRock Fund and director of the pro-tax Patriotic Millionaires, developers—and their heirs—never have to pay tax on property. “There are certain things the free market cannot do,” he says. “If you prefer a safer society over the long term, you want regulations. But the billionaires have a different perspective on things than other people. If you are Steve Schwarzman and your insurance company goes out of business because of shady deals, you don’t need the insurance regulator, you just find other insurance. If you are Steve Schwarzman, you pay about half the amount of taxes as other well-paid New Yorkers. Very few people care about carried interest tax deduction, but Schwarzman thinks he deserves it. Maybe he thinks there is a shortage of people willing to be fund managers, so we need to offer them special tax incentives.”

In addition to slashing their tax bills, some of the Trump billionaires have very specific requests and are not shy about expressing them. Special regulatory adviser Icahn is a majority investor in a Texas oil refinery that could have saved $205.9 million last year were it not for the Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable-fuel standard, which requires refiners to ensure that corn-based ethanol is blended into fuel. Since Trump’s election, Icahn has engaged in a lobbying blitz to change that rule, personally vetting EPA Director Scott Pruitt on it, and urging Trump to dump it.

Trump is also looking to tear up the Dodd-Frank financial reform law with its raft of regulations on the financial industry, and he announced it while sitting beside Schwarzman. Trump referred to discussions with “Steve” about the hated regulatory framework and said he looked forward to Schwarzman’s advice on how to improve the economy “for all Americans.” He then announced plans to roll back the work of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which lawmakers passed to protect consumers from predatory lending practices after the ’08 crash. He also signed an executive order that set the stage for rescinding the fiduciary rule, ultimately allowing financial advisers to again sell plans to clients that benefit the advisers themselves.

Trump’s billionaire boys club is theoretically on board with his anti-globalist stand. Commerce Secretary Ross announced in March that the formal process of renegotiating North American Free Trade Agreement was imminent. He has also announced plans to collect billions of dollars, mainly from China, in fines for breaking U.S. sanctions and other global trade rules. But nationalism is only a billionaire’s concern in the limited ways his holdings are affected by international affairs or global trade wars. While Trump’s alleged ties to Russians could prove his political downfall, in the world he and his billionaire posse inhabit, national borders are much less important than the relationships between multinational fiefdoms and the banks that back them.

The Trump Organization does deals all over the world, from Dubai to Istanbul to Moscow, but the president’s global branding operation is capitalism lite compared with, say, Ross’s multinational empire. Before his confirmation hearing, Ross agreed to divest hundreds millions of dollars in assets, including his piece of the Bank of Cyprus, which the Russian mob has reportedly used for money laundering. He is keeping his stake in a transoceanic tanker giant called Diamond S Shipping Group Inc. The Center for Public Integrity looked at that company’s operations and found its vessels sail under Chinese flags, and one of its ships has traveled to an Iranian port—which Diamond S has said was legal. Ten percent of its business comes from a Swiss company with stakes in Russian national oil giant Rosneft.

Ross’s internationalism is hardly unique. Feinberg’s DynCorp has reportedly trained Afghan police and has contracts in Saudi Arabia. Roth is building a New York apartment tower for the über-wealthy, with one of its units reportedly priced at a record $250 million—and the project is financed by nearly a billion dollars in Bank of China loans. It’s a good bet that the billionaires will probably see to it that Trump’s xenophobia doesn’t interfere with business.

If there’s one issue that binds almost all New York billionaires—even those who don’t support Trump—it’s a loathing of federal regulations, especially on the financial industry but also on commercial developments and industry. While not as historically active fighting regulations as, say, the Koch brothers, Icahn can’t wait for Trump to deregulate everything. He hailed his friend’s inaugural speech as a sign that “our dangerous slide towards socialism is over.”

In the chaotic first few months of his presidency, Trump’s signature achievement has been rampant deregulation. He has been ripping out, at a record pace, regulations covering everything from the financial industry to pollution to food safety to firearms. His billionaires and their accountants already know how this activity can improve their bottom line. What remains to be seen is whether average Americans will reap any collateral benefits, besides the newly won freedom to drive cars without mileage or emissions standards, take medications for off-label uses, drill for oil in national parks and, if mentally ill, buy a handgun.

 

Newsweek

Trump’s Billionaire Boys Club Directory

By Nina Burleigh   April 5, 2017

Trump’s Cabinet and squadron of advisers is the richest in American history. They have been sold to the public as men who will help Trump run the country “like a business,” in which the public is the consumer. Here is a handy guide to their net worth, habitats and evil deeds.

Carl Icahn, $16.6 Billion

Provenance
Queens, New York, 1936. B.A., Princeton University.

Company
Icahn Enterprises LP, a conglomerate with more than 90,000 employees and a wide array of investments, from auto parts to casinos to food packaging, fashion and real estate.

Famous Evil Deed
One of the original 1980s corporate raiders, he gets credit for killing TWA, but perhaps Icahn’s dirtiest claim to fame was masterminding the now-illegal practice of “greenmail,” buying blocks of stock in companies and then forcing those companies to buy them back at inflated rates as ransom to save themselves from takeover.

Stephen Schwarzman, $11.8 billion

Provenance
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, 1947. Son of a dry goods store owner. Undergrad at Yale where he was in Skull and Bones with George W. Bush. MBA, Harvard.

Company
Co-founder of Blackstone Group, a multinational private equity firm and one of the largest alternative investment outfits in the world. Alternative investments include real estate, precious metals, commodities and art. It has $367 billion in assets.

Famous Evil Deed
He has been accused of being kind of a jerk, who says things like raising taxes on the working poor would make them try harder because they’d have “skin in the game,” and objects to his servants’ squeaky shoes. In 2008, when he was worth only $8 billion, he complained to a New Yorker writer that he didn’t feel rich.

Stephen Feinberg, $1.2 billion

Provenance
Bronx, New York, 1960. B.A., Princeton.

Habitat
Divides his time between a $50 million Manhattan townhouse (the former Egyptian Embassy, which boasts its own movie theater) and a 2,500-square-foot home in Connecticut.

Company
Cerberus Capital Management LP, a hedge fund, private equity shop and investment bank with assets of $120 billion and stakes in at least 50 companies, including a grocery store chain, Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental concerns, Burger King and Air Canada, and the $1 billion defense contractor DynCorp. At one time, it also owned a piece of General Motors, and it profited from the taxpayer-funded bailout of the auto industry.

Big Toy
He owns a private 800-acre military site outside Memphis, Tennessee, called Tier 1, which has shooting ranges, on-road and off-road driving courses, and a parachute-drop zone, as well as an “urban-combat compound” designed to look like an Afghan village. He is also an avid big-game hunter.

Famous Evil Deed
He named his private equity company after the mythical three-headed dog at the gates of hades, so you know the list is too long for the brief entry in this taxonomy. To pick but a few, after his Cerberus Capital played a big role in gutting Ohio’s Anchor Hocking Glass Co. (the sordid details of that saga are laid out in Brian Alexander’s book Glass House ), he turned to collecting gun companies, and his Freedom Group now controls at least a dozen gun manufacturers, including companies that make the assault rifle used in the Sandy Hook school massacre and other mass shootings.

Trump Post
An unofficial adviser on the intelligence community. Donald Trump at one point suggested he would assign him to investigate intelligence leaks. Recently photographed with Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis on an aircraft carrier.

Wilbur Ross, $2.5 billion

Provenance
Weehawken, New Jersey, 1937. Undergrad at Yale. MBA, Harvard.

Company
Founded WL Ross & Co. LLC.

Big Toy
Maintains a $125 million art collection with his wife.

Famous Evil Deed
His Cabinet confirmation was nearly derailed over his partnership with Russian oligarchs in the Bank of Cyprus, which is believed to be a money-laundering hub.

Trump Post
Commerce secretary.

Steven Roth, $1.1 billion

Provenance
Bronx, New York, 1941. Undergrad at Dartmouth, Tuck School of Business MBA.

Company
Chairman and CEO of Vornado Realty Trust, which, according to Crain’s, holds 50 buildings and is New York’s largest commercial landlord. Until last year, it also had a giant portfolio in Washington, D.C.

Trump Post
Co-chairman, Trump’s infrastructure committee.

Richard LeFrak, $6.5 billion

Provenance
New York City, 1945. B.A., Amherst College. J.D, Columbia University.

Habitat
Manhattan and Southampton. He’s super-private, so details are sketchy.

Company
Like Trump, LeFrak is the son of a real estate magnate who inherited and expanded a large New York family brand. LeFrak’s father, Sam, came to America as a designer for Tiffany’s and started a company in 1905 that (like Trump’s father) built middle-class housing in Queens. The LeFrak Organization is now one of the biggest landlords in the tristate area, with some 94,000 rental units. It also owns oil companies and operates as a private equity investor.

Favors to Trump
After Trump’s inaugural address, LeFrak went on CNBC and tried to calm the public, claiming his friend has “more good sense” than he gets credit for. “There’s always a bit of negotiating posture in a lot of the things he says.”

Trump Post
Co-chairman, Trump’s infrastructure committee.

Robert Woods “Woody” Johnson IV, $6.3 billion

Provenance
New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1947. Undergrad at University of Arizona.

Company
Johnson Company Inc. a private investment firm. But his real fortune derives from his inherited piece of the Johnson & Johnson global medical products multinational, founded by his great-grandfather Robert Woods Johnson in 1885.

Big Toy
The New York Jets.

Famous Evil Deed
Not known around Manhattan for doing evil (unless you’re a Jets fan) but thought to be a little “mellow.” He was such a stoner in college that he once took a break from a party in Arizona to urinate and fell off a cliff, breaking his back.

Trump Post
Ambassador to the U.K., a position once filled by the likes of Joseph Kennedy and five men who later became president. His only known connection to Britain is that the Jets once played a game in London.

 

Raw Story

Evangelical slams Trump voters for accepting his ‘warped morality’ in jaw-dropping Christian magazine essay

Sarah K. Burris  April 5, 2017                 

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laughed at a video of President Donald Trump praying for an increase in ratings for “The Apprentice” earlier this year during the National Prayer Breakfast. But many evangelical Christians aren’t laughing at Trump’s “warped morality” and casual Christianity.

In an op-ed for the Christian Post, Marvin Thompson, a former missionary who spent 25 years in Africa, called out hypocritical Evangelical Christians who continue to support Trump.

He began by citing an April editorial in the Los Angeles Times that called Trump “a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters.” He emphasized the “worst in American voters,” noting the “gravity of the situation for a community that professes to stand on the infallible truth of the Gospel and on immutable biblical principles.”

Trump overwhelmingly won the Christian evangelical vote in November, according to exit polling data. In fact, Trump has the voting block to thank for ensuring he made it through the Republican Primary elections.

“Consider, further, what we know about Trump, about his lack of a moral compass and his unabashed embrace of it,” he wrote, citing Trump’s many attacks on women, the disabled and what he called Trump’s “contempt for God.”

“Nothing has changed since his election as President,” he continued. “Except, he now has the power to propagate his warped morality. This power was given to him by the evangelicals.”

Thompson wondered if evangelical Christians have somehow decided it was morally acceptable behavior or that they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. If it’s the latter, he believes it calls into question whether evangelicals actually have a grasp on the meaning and understanding of the Bible, to begin with. He goes on to take the “charitable” position that Trump-supporting evangelicals lack the knowledge of God and what is actually required for Christians to maintain “godly integrity in a morally corrupt society.”

“Just like elections have consequences, there are consequences for evangelicals’ lack of knowledge,” he went on.

After citing scripture, Thompson closed by warning evangelical Christians that the only thing to come of an alliance between good and evil “is the dissolution of the good.”

“The worst in American voters speaks of those who empowered Trump,” he concluded. “What made evangelicals bypass candidates with obvious biblical principles and more godly character for a man so devoid of those virtues? Alas, he appealed to their core values of character and morality. That is an indictment on evangelicals because their overt support validates and elevates his crassness and gutter character. The problem for evangelicals and the Church is convincing the world of sinners, skeptics, and cynics that there remains any abiding morality.”

 

ProPublica

Trump Can Pull Money From His Businesses Whenever He Wants — Without Ever Telling Us

Previously unreported changes to President Trump’s trust stipulate that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request.”

by Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw    ProPublica, April 3, 2017

When President Donald Trump placed his businesses in a trust upon entering the White House, he put his sons in charge and claimed to distance himself from his sprawling empire. “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh you did a good job,’” Trump said at a Jan. 11 press conference. Trump’s lawyer explained that the president “was completely isolating himself from his business interests.”

The setup has long been slammed as insufficient, far short of the full divestment that many ethics experts say is needed to avoid conflicts of interest. A small phrase buried deep in a set of recently released letters between the Trump Organization and the government shows just how little separation there actually is.

Trump can draw money from his more than 400 businesses, at any time, without disclosing it.

The previously unreported changes to a trust document, signed on Feb. 10, stipulates that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request” or whenever his son and longtime attorney “deem appropriate.” That can include everything from profits to the underlying assets, such as the businesses themselves.

“It’s incredibly broad language,” said Frederick J. Tansill, a family estate and trust attorney outside Washington, D.C., who reviewed the documents for ProPublica.

There is nothing requiring Trump to disclose when he takes profits from the trust, which could go directly into his bank or brokerage account. That’s because both the trust and Trump Organization are privately held. The only people who know the details of the Trump trust’s finances are its trustees, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer. Trump’s other son, Eric, has been listed as an adviser to the trust, according to this revised document.

The Trump Organization did not answer detailed questions about the trust. In a statement to ProPublica about the companies’ corporate structures, a Trump Organization spokeswoman, Amanda Miller, said, “President Trump believed it was important to create multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decision.” (Sic.)

There is a chance Trump will list his profits in his next federal financial disclosure, in May 2018, but the form doesn’t require it. The surest way to see what profits Trump is taking would be the release of his tax returns — which hasn’t happened. Income has to be reported to the IRS, whether it comes from a trust or someplace else.

“For tax purposes, it’s as if the trust doesn’t exist at all,” said Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It’s just an entity on paper, nothing more.”

It’s not clear why Trump added the language to the trust document. His original trust document, which ProPublica obtained in January, designated Trump as the “exclusive beneficiary.” It did not include any restrictions on when Trump could get the money.

Taking profits regularly could benefit Trump in a variety of ways. It would give the president yet more details on the ongoing finances of his businesses. Trump’s son Eric recently told Forbes he plans to update his father on the company regularly, though the revised trust document states that the trustees “shall not provide any report to Donald J. Trump on the holdings and sources of income of the Trust.”

Trump could also simply find the income helpful, even as president. The trust document shows that Trump has “broad rights to the trust principal and income to support him as necessary,” Tansill said.

The General Services Administration released the document last week when it approved the Trump Organization’s plan to address conflicts involving the Trump International Hotel in D.C. (The GSA, which handles procurement for the government, owns the land and Trump has a 60-year lease for the building.) In response to criticism about Trump being, in effect, both tenant and landlord, he agreed to not take any profits from the hotel while in office.

The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust

DJT Holdings LLC

Money flows

Trump National Golf Club, Philadelphia

(TNGC Pine Hill LLC)

Profits will go into a separate company account, which can only be used for hotel upkeep, improvements or debt payments. Watchdog groups have derided that deal as insufficient, noting that pouring profits back into the hotel will make it more valuable in the long term.

With Trump’s hundreds of other businesses, including golf courses, hotels and branding deals, profits from each go to a holding company and eventually into Trump’s trust. Other corporate documents we obtained, reflecting changes made after President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, show how money flows from a golf club outside Philadelphia to the president’s trust (as shown at left).

There soon could be many more Trump family businesses.

The Trump Organization has recently touted plans to open hotels across the country, including a second one in Washington, D.C. “It’s full steam ahead,” Trump Hotel CEO Eric Danziger said recently. “It’s in the Trump boys’ DNA.”

Derek Kravitz is the research editor at ProPublica.

Al Shaw is a news applications developer at ProPublica.

ProPublica

Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock

While in Congress, HHS Secretary Tom Price acted to help kill a rule that would hurt drug company profits shortly after his broker bought him up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stock.

by Robert Faturechi    ProPublica, March 31, 2017

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On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.

Stock trades made by Price while he served in Congress came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The lawmaker, a physician, traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry, but Price has said his broker acted on his behalf without his involvement or knowledge. ProPublica previously reported that his trading is said to have been under investigation by federal prosecutors.

On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. Previous reports have noted that, a month later, Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration, which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t necessarily improve patient outcomes.

What hasn’t been previously known is Price’s personal appeal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the rule, called the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model.

The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.

“Chairman Price may briefly bring up … his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”

The call was scheduled for the following week, according to the emails.

An HHS spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment from Price. DiBlasio and Conway didn’t respond to questions about the phone call.

Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services traded stocks of health-related companies while working on legislation affecting the firms. A source says Bharara was overseeing an investigation. The White House didn’t immediately comment.

The proposed rule drew wide opposition from members of both parties as well as industry lobbyists and some patient advocacy groups. It was meant to change a system under which the government reimburses doctors the average sales price for drugs administered in their offices or inside clinics, along with a 6 percent bonus. Some health analysts say that bonus encourages doctors to pad their profits by selecting more expensive treatments.

Critics argued that the rule might cause Medicare enrollees to lose access to lifesaving drugs. Lawmakers worried the federal government was potentially endangering patients and turning them into guinea pigs in a wide-scale experiment in cost savings.

However, supporters of the rule said the experiment in payments was the kind of drastic action needed to rein in soaring health costs. “We are actively reforming every other aspect of our health-care system to pay for value except pharmaceuticals,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said at the time. “Drug manufacturers are the only entity that can charge Medicare anything they want.”

The six companies that Price invested in were steadfastly opposed to the rule. McKesson formally warned investors in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that such a change could hurt share prices. The firms lobbied the government to kill the plan.

And at two of the six companies Price invested in, people who used to work for the congressman were part of the lobbying effort.

Price’s former chief of staff, Matt McGinley, lobbied House members for Amgen, disclosure records show. Another former Price aide, Keagan Lenihan, lobbied on behalf of McKesson, where she was director of government relations at the time. Lenihan has since reunited with Price, returning to government to work as a senior adviser to her old boss at HHS.

Neither McGinley nor Lenihan responded to requests for comment.

Although Price said he wasn’t aware of his broker’s trades at the time they were made, he would have learned of his holdings no later than April 2016 when he signed and filed his latest financial disclosure forms. In earlier disclosures, Price signed forms listing his other health-related holdings, which included some drug stocks.

Price’s personal intervention raises more questions about the overlap between his investments and his work as a member of Congress.

According to House ethics guidelines, “contacting an executive branch agency” represents “a degree of advocacy above and beyond that involved in voting” on legislation where a financial conflict of interest may exist.

“Such actions may implicate the rules and standards … that prohibit the use of one‘s official position for personal gain,” the guidelines state. “Whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests, the Member should first contact the Standards Committee for guidance.”

Tom Rust, chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment, saying any consultations with members of Congress are confidential.

In December, after Trump was elected and named Price as his choice to lead HHS, Obama administration health officials scrapped their plan to change the drug reimbursement system. “The complexity of the issues and the limited time available led to the decision not to finalize the rule at this time,” a spokesman said.

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica.

 

Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price

Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services traded stocks of health-related companies while working on legislation affecting the firms. A source says Bharara was overseeing an investigation. The White House didn’t immediately comment.

by Robert Faturechi   ProPublica, March 17, 2017

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Update, Mar. 19, 2017:

Asked about this report during an appearance today on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he and his lawyers haven’t received any indication of a federal investigation into his stock trades. “I know nothing about that whatsoever,” Price said.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.

Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.

Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.

The investigation of Price’s trades by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, said the person.

Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara’s firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.

When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara’s resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.

“I did not resign,” he wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Moments ago I was fired.”

“By the way,” Bharara said in a second tweet, “now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.”

Bharara was referring to a commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission’s work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.

Bharara referred questions from ProPublica to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson there declined to comment. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price’s trades.

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while taking actions that could have affected those companies. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee and sat on the Ways and Means Committee’s health panel.

In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics — a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted “investigational new drug” status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process.

Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA. As ProPublica has reported, Price’s office has taken up the causes of health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.

Innate Immunotherapeutics’ CEO Simon Wilkinson told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and have no knowledge of authorities looking at Price’s stock trades.

Another transaction that drew scrutiny was a 2016 purchase of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet.

Price has said that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker.

After hearing from a company whose CEO was a campaign contributor, a congressional aide to Donald Trump’s HHS nominee repeatedly pushed a federal health agency to remove a critical drug study from its website.

In a third case, reported by Time magazine, Price invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading a legislative and public relations effort that eventually killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those companies.

Louise Slaughter, a Democratic Congress member from New York who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price’s stock trades. “The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge,” she wrote.

What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is not known.

Along with the Price matter, Bharara’s former office is investigating allegations relating to Fox News, and has been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump has received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business. Bharara’s former deputy, Joon Kim, is now in charge of the office, but Trump is expected to nominate his replacement within weeks.

ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and research editor Derek Kravitz contributed to this story.

For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on how Tom Price’s office went to bat for a pharma company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica.

 

BuzzFeed

A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy

Carter Page told BuzzFeed News that he had been in contact with at least one Russian spy working undercover out of Moscow’s UN office in 2013.

Ali Watkins BuzzFeed News Reporter, Posted on April 3, 2017

NEW YORK — A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013.

The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.

A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed News has confirmed that “Male-1” is Page.

The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence — which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump — is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump’s campaign-era associates — including Page — had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the course of the election. Page has volunteered to help Senate investigators in their inquiry.

It remains unclear how connected Page was to the Trump campaign. He rose to prominence seemingly out of nowhere last summer, touted by then-candidate Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page was quickly cut from the Trump team following reports that federal investigators were probing his ties to Russian officials. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last month that the campaign had sent Page cease and desist letters last year, demanding he stop associating himself with it.

A US intelligence official said that investigators intend to question Page eventually, but that he was not considered a high priority. “There’s so many people that are more relevant,” the official said.

The court filing includes a colorful transcript of Podobnyy speaking with Sporyshev about trying to recruit Page.

“[Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. … He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up,” Podobnyy said. “I also promised him a lot … This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself.”

Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Monday that he is “Male-1” in the court filing and said he had been in contact with Podobnyy, who was working at the time at Moscow’s UN office in New York City under diplomatic cover, although he was really an SVR agent. Pressed on details of his contact with Podobnyy, Page said their interactions did not include anything sensitive.

According to the complaint, Page met Podobnyy in January 2013 at an energy conference in New York. It says that from January to June of that year, Page met with, emailed with, and “provided documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business.”

After federal investigators were looking into the ring, focusing on Podobnyy, Sporyshev, as well as a third man, Evgeny Buryakov, Page was interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agent Gregory Monaghan and another unnamed FBI agent in June 2013, the filing reads.

Podobnyy and Sporyshev were charged in absentia — working under official cover positions, they were afforded diplomatic immunity and were whisked out of the country. Buryakov, who worked under unofficial cover as an employee of state-controlled Vnesheconombank in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was due to have been released from a federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, on Saturday, and returned to Moscow.

Speaking with BuzzFeed News, Page suggested that the complaint was written so that it was obvious he was the Gazprom-connected man Podobnyy talked about recruiting.

“In this city? Give me a break,” he said. “It is so obvious.”

In a previous conversation, when asked if he had ever met with Russian intelligence operatives, Page told BuzzFeed News in a message on the Telegram messaging app: “I’M VERY CAREFUL WHEN I SAY ‘NEVER’ BUT EVEN IF I HAD INADVERTENTLY HAD ‘CONTACT’ SUCH AS BRIEFLY SAYING HELLO TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT FALL UNDER THAT LABEL IN PASSING NOTHING I EVER SAID TO THEM OR ANYONE ELSE WOULD’VE EVER BROKEN ANY LAW.”

A dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, used to brief then-president Obama, then-president-elect Trump, and Gang of Eight congressional leaders in January, cited a Kremlin official as saying that the Kremlin had sought a relationship with certain figures in the US, including Page, and had indirectly funded some of their visits to Russia. Page denied playing a role in the Kremlin’s attempt to undermine the US election in conversations with BuzzFeed News.

“I didn’t do anything wrong…. including meeting with any of those people I’m falsely accused of in that Dodgy Dossier,” Page told BuzzFeed News in a message last month.

Ali Watkins is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.

 

The Nation, Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement

An explosion of new activism offers a ray of hope in these dark political times.

By Joshua Holland     February 6, 2017

The election of Donald Trump was a catastrophe for progressive America, but the damage may be mitigated over the long term by a remarkable surge of energy on the left in response to his election. As many as 5.2 million people participated in hastily organized Women’s Marches across the country, senators’ phones have reportedly been jammed with calls protesting Trump’s cabinet nominees and other early moves, and, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, more than one in three Democrats say they plan to become “more involved in the political process in the next year” as a result of the election. That’s true of 40 percent of Democratic women, and almost half of self-identified liberal Democrats.

The widely held view that Trump is an illegitimate president who’s poised to enact an agenda combining the worst of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “granny-starving” fiscal conservatism with White House consigliere Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalism has fueled the formation of dozens of new grassroots resistance groups. Some were launched by seasoned political operatives, others by people who hadn’t engaged in activism in the past. Some were germinated during chats on long bus rides to the Women’s March. Not all of them will succeed—some false starts are a given—but like any collection of innovative start-ups, it only takes a few successes to change the landscape.

Here’s an overview of some of the new efforts launched since November 9. It’s by no means comprehensive, but we started with a list of 75 new groups and whittled them down to some of the most interesting or promising. They’re not presented in any kind of ranked order. Our hope is that knowing how others are standing up to Trump will inspire more readers to get involved.

Indivisible

When a handful of current and former congressional staffers posted a guide on Google Docs outlining the most effective ways for ordinary people to lobby their representatives, they had no idea it would blow up the way it has.

“We believe that Donald Trump’s agenda does not depend on Donald Trump–it depends on members of Congress rubber-stamping that agenda,” says Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project. “And perhaps the only great thing about Congress is that members are responsive to their constituents. Every member of Congress wakes up thinking about re-election.”

Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of “practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.” This, he adds, “was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff—going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”

Within hours of posting the guide, the website crashed under the weight of traffic—Levin says that 1.5 million people have downloaded it so far. “Blown away” by the response, they decided to expand the project with a local focus. “The really exciting thing that’s happened is the emergence of Indivisible groups across the country,” says Levin. The website allows you to enter your zip code and connect with like-minded people in your community. Levin says that 5,300 groups have registered so far, and 200,000 have signed up to participate. “And what’s so exciting is that the majority are brand new people who are coming together post-election to figure out what to do.”

#KnockEveryDoor

#KnockEveryDoor co-founder Zack Malitz says that “in the 2016 election, Democrats didn’t invest enough in going door to door and talking to voters. And where they did, they didn’t reach out to people who needed to be persuaded or who were perennially discouraged from voting.” So he and some other former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers and volunteers got together and decided to organize canvassers to…knock on every door in the country.

“Talking to every voter requires a new approach to organizing,” says Malitz. “You’ll never be able to hire enough field organizers to support that kind of effort if you assume that a volunteer has to be directly in touch with a campaign staffer before they can get to work. So our approach is radical trust in volunteers—not just to knock on doors, but to organize their neighbors to knock on doors, to lead canvassing trainings, to barnstorm their communities, and even to run critical pieces of campaign infrastructure and technology. That’s the only way you can organize at a scale where it really is possible to knock on every door.”

The group launched just two weeks ago, and 2,000 people have already signed up to participate. Last weekend, they held 17 canvassing events around the country. You can join the effort at the link above or chip in a few bucks to support this work.

Swing Left

Swing Left was launched by a small group of friends who had little experience with political activism. The goal is to sign up progressive activists in safe congressional districts to canvas in the nearest swing district and ultimately flip the House to Democratic control in 2018.

“Voters in ‘safe’ districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions,” says co-founder Miriam Stone. “At the same time, House midterm elections, including in swing districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of swing districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races. We believe there’s something powerful in the idea of individuals personally connecting with each other and rallying around specific, local Swing Districts.”

Over 280,000 people have signed up so far, according to Stone. So far, the organizers have covered the costs of the operation out of their own pockets, and they’re now looking for funding as well as volunteers.

Run for Something

This organization, launched January 20, is committed to recruiting and supporting millennials running for down-ballot offices. “If you’re a young progressive who’s not necessarily part of the system or familiar with politics, there was really nowhere for you to go to ask for help if you wanted to run,” says Amanda Litman, a former Clinton campaign staffer and co-founder of the group. “Candidate recruitment is a time-intensive activity that requires a lot of manpower and resources, and it’s something that the state parties and state committees just couldn’t do properly because they’re already doing so much. So we’re trying to fill that gap.”

Millennials who want to get into electoral politics will be able to access training, pick the brains of experienced mentors, and in some cases get help with funding and staff. Litman says that in less than two weeks since the project’s launch, they’ve signed up almost 3,000 young candidates to run for local office. She says that the group didn’t expect the response they’ve gotten, and are now building out infrastructure to handle the demand.

Operation 45

Freedom of Information Act guru Ryan Shapiro, who has been a thorn in the side of both the Bush and Obama administrations, calls FOIA a “radical experiment in transparency,” at least in theory. In practice, government agencies have become adept at deflecting or deferring FOIA requests, and it takes a special skill set to navigate these bureaucracies.

Shapiro and attorney Jeffrey Light, a specialist in FOIA litigation, had been doing their work part-time, but, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the duo decided that they needed to redouble their efforts. “Jeffrey and I have been doing this work for years,” says Shapiro. “We have thousands of FOIA requests in motion with various federal agencies. We currently 15 fifteen active FOIA lawsuits against the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, and other agencies, as well as numerous additional lawsuits in the pipeline.”

Shapiro says that he and Light had “expected to continue fighting government secrecy under Hillary Clinton. But on November 9, faced with Donald Trump’s overt contempt for transparency, freedom of the press, and the Constitution itself, we realized we now needed to significantly expand our efforts. We founded Operation 45 so we can focus on this work full-time, as well as bring on other people to assist as we scale up to take on the Trump administration. We have the expertise and the vision, now it’s just a question of resources.” You can get more information at the link above, or chip in a few bucks toward their efforts at GoFundMe.

Movement 2017

Technically, we’re cheating here: There was a #Movement2016 website, but it was sort of a work-in-progress. After the election, organizers revamped the project and relaunched it as #Movement2017, and it’s a useful tool for those who want to offer financial support to lesser-known organizations in their communities.

Veteran organizer Billy Wimsatt, who launched the effort, says that while the big progressive advocacy organizations will play an important role in the resistance, the idea behind Movement 2017 is that small-dollar donations to local grassroots groups can often make the difference between their succeeding and fizzling out.

But how can one know that one of these groups is using its resources wisely and doing valuable work? Movement 2017, says Wimsatt, is “a platform to donate to the resistance in a vetted way. We feature 200 of the best, local progressive vote groups in key 2018 states, along with selected national groups. There are a zillion donate lists floating around, but most aren’t vetted and they tend to focus on large brand names. We focus on scrappy groups that offer the biggest bang for the buck.”

The Pussyhat Project

Who would have thought of knitting as a vehicle for defending women’s rights? Two erstwhile non-activists from Los Angeles—architect Jayna Zweiman and screenwriter Krista Suh. And they appear to have hit on something, given how rapidly the Pussyhat Project has taken off.

The idea was to bring people together in knitting circles, where they would produce handmade pussyhats for participants in the women’s marches, as well as family and friends, and while they’re at it, plot the resistance.

“The traditional knitting circle is a fantastic opportunity to have discussions,” says Zweiman. “People are coming together to create something, but they’re also there with a group of like-minded people, often for several hours, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about women’s rights and come up with ideas about what we can be doing—for creating a community around activism.”

The other goal was to give people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a protest an opportunity to participate in the movement. Zweiman was recovering from a concussion during the Women’s March, and couldn’t deal with large crowds. She says that, “when you see that sea of pink hats, you understand that it’s not just about the people out in the street marching, but also those supporting the marchers.”

Movement Match

In November, a group of friends–most of them longtime activists–got together to console one another in aftermath of the election. “We started talking about what keeps us going in the face of hard realities. We realized that what gives us hope and energy to keep going with our work is the fact that we are members of activist groups,” says Talia Cooper, who co-founded the project with Pippi Kessler, Sonia Alexander, and David Mahfouda. “We realized that a lot of people got activated since the election, and some of them say that they’re not sure what to do. So we’re working to direct people who are new to the movement to organizations led by experienced activists and seasoned organizers.”

They developed a quiz to help match newly hatched activists with the right organization, and what began as a six-week project has now expanded into something more, with 70 volunteers working on one aspect of the campaign or another. Cooper says that over 10,000 people have taken the quiz so far. At this point, they’ve focused primarily on groups working in the New York–Philadelphia region and the Bay Area, but the group plans on taking their database nationwide.

It’s been an all-volunteer effort so far, but Cooper says, “we’re realizing that this might start to cost us some money. If people want to support us in that they can donate.” You can also suggest worthy groups to include in the campaign.

Some other noteworthy groups and campaigns…

Brought to you by the scrappy organizers behind what’s been described as the largest march in US history, the Women’s March 10/100 Campaign is trying to keep the momentum going. Sign up and commit to participating in ten concrete actions during the first 100 days of the Trump regime.

THE STAKES ARE HIGHER NOW THAN EVER. GET THE NATION IN YOUR INBOX.

The Town Hall Project is an unfunded, crowdsourced, Facebook-based project that researches “every district and state for public events with Members of Congress,” and makes the info available via a Google spreadsheet in the hope that people will engage their representatives face to face. They also “have a team of organizers that works with local groups on the ground to coordinate efforts and encourage citizens to amplify their voices,” according to their “about” page.

#ResistTrumpTuesdays is a joint project of The Working Families Party, MoveOn, and People’s Action. Its goal is to turn large numbers of activists out every Tuesday to fight back against a different element of Trump’s agenda. You can follow the action by clicking on the Twitter hashtag above.

Co-founded by The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, Justice Democrats is recruiting progressive candidates to challenge “corporate-backed Democrats” in primaries and “rebuild the party from scratch.”

Millennials for Revolution, a group of former People for Bernie organizers, wanted to “take the opposition to DC,” but realized that activists, especially younger ones, need a base of operations in the belly of the beast—a place to strategize and if necessary stay for a few nights. They’ve neared their goal of raising $50,000 to cover rent on a space near the Capitol for a year—90 percent of their donations turned out to be $27—and signed a lease on a property this week. For more info, or if you want to support their effort, check out District 13 House.

You can sign up for a weekly “act of resistance,” and pledge to follow through, at wall-of-us, another new effort to capitalize on the energy of the Women’s March.

Organizers are planning a Scientists’ March on Washington, DC, on April 22.

The ACLU reportedly raised $24 million during the weekend following the announcement of Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” but there are dozens of local legal aid groups that will also need support as the resistance spreads. Rewire compiled a list of 24 of these smaller legal-aid organizations, with brief descriptions of each.

Concerned about the spread of fake news? It’s a difficult problem to tackle, but Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy and author of The Filter Bubble, launched a humble spreadsheet to crowdsource ideas, and it has since “become a hive of collaborative activity, with hundreds of journalists and other contributors brainstorming strategies for pushing back against publishers that peddle falsehoods,” according to Fortune. The spreadsheet, titled “Design Solutions for Fake News,” is here.

You can also hit Breitbart News and other sites that peddle in bigotry and white nationalism in their pocketbooks by getting involved with a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants. Their strategy is simple: Make sure that corporations are aware of the kind of content that appears alongside their ads. This New York Times story offers more detail about the campaign.

Feeling overwhelmed by the rush of real news about the Trump regime? Matt Kiser, a tech writer by day, launched a side project chronicling “the daily shock and awe in Trump’s America.” The goal of whatthefuckjusthappenedtoday.com, according to the site’s “about” page, “is to capture the most important news in a digestible form.”

It may be a Hail Mary pass, but the organizers behind ImpeachTrumpNow, John Bonifaz, and Norman Solomon, are veteran progressive activists who lay out a compelling case at the link above.

Buycott Trump is trying to get people to vote with their dollars. Organizers have launched a new campaign on top of an existing app that allows you to scan barcodes and QVCs, and offers you information about the politics of the companies who make the products you see on store shelves. You can find links to download the app at the link above.

You can also enter your phone number at White House, Inc. or DialItUpNow.com, and be randomly connected to a Trump property somewhere in the world, where you can politely discuss the issues that matter to you—and in the process keep their lines tied up.

With Trump in the White House, and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, popular resistance has never been more important. It’s too soon to tell which of these groups will take off and succeed, but it’s not too early to throw yourself into one of these worthy efforts. And if we’ve overlooked a new effort that you think is important, let other readers know about it in the comments.

Listen to Joshua Holland on the growing resistance to Trump on the Start Making Sense podcast.

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Our Dishonest President, ‘Nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this trainwreck’:

Business Insider

‘Nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this trainwreck’:

Los Angeles Times editorial tears into Trump

Sonam Sheth, Business Insider, April 2, 2017

The Los Angeles Times skewered President Donald Trump in an editorial on Sunday, calling him “untethered from reality” and “full of blind self-regard.”

The editorial was the first of four the paper plans to run in a series called “The Problem with Trump.”

On Sunday, the paper slammed Trump for his crackdown on immigration and so-called sanctuary cities, his repeal of President Barack Obama’s regulations aimed at curbing climate change, his failure to push the GOP’s replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act, and his proposed inflation of the Pentagon’s budget despite a promise to reduce the country’s role in international conflicts.

But the editorial board’s criticism went further in focusing on Trump personally.

“What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself,” the editorial said. “He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation.”

It added: “His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation,” while effective on the campaign trail, were “nothing short of disastrous” in the Oval Office.

The editorial said that while many traditional conservatives favor often-touted Trump policies like stricter immigration laws and tighter border security, “Trump’s cockamamie border wall, his impracticable campaign promise to deport all 11 million people living in the country illegally and his blithe disregard for the effect of such proposals on the US relationship with Mexico turn a very bad policy into an appalling one.”

The paper also ripped into what it described as “Trump’s shocking lack of respect” for longstanding pillars of American democracy, like judicial independence, the free press, intelligence agencies, and the electoral system itself. “His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable,” the editorial said.

The editorial also challenged Trump’s honesty, saying, “Whether it is the easily disprovable boasts about the size of his inauguration crowd or his unsubstantiated assertion that Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, the new president regularly muddies the waters of fact and fiction.”

It added that Trump further encouraged his supporters to thumb their noses at fact-based evidence, science, nonpartisanship, and the media and to reject those institutions in favor of ideology and conspiracy theory.

Despite saying “nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train-wreck,” the editorial expressed hope that Trump would be reined in and urged members of Congress – particularly Republicans — to stand up to what it called Trump’s “reckless and heartless agenda,” adding that “everybody has a role to play in this drama.”

The Los Angeles Times

The problem with Trump

A series of Times editorials

  1. Our Dishonest President  
  2. Why Trump Lies  
  3. Trump’s Authoritarian Vision
  4. Trump’s War on Journalism
  5. Conspiracy Theorist in Chief
  6. California Fights Back

Part I  Our Dishonest President

By The Times Editorial Board    April 2, 2017

It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a “catastrophe.”

Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.

Instead, seventy-some days in — and with about 1,400 to go before his term is completed — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.

In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

His attempt to de-insure millions of people who had finally received healthcare coverage and, along the way, enact a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich has been put on hold for the moment. But he is proceeding with his efforts to defang the government’s regulatory agencies and bloat the Pentagon’s budget even as he supposedly retreats from the global stage.

“ It is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. ” Share this quote

These are immensely dangerous developments which threaten to weaken this country’s moral standing in the world, imperil the planet and reverse years of slow but steady gains by marginalized or impoverished Americans. But, chilling as they are, these radically wrongheaded policy choices are not, in fact, the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency.

What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

Although his policies are, for the most part, variations on classic Republican positions (many of which would have been undertaken by a President Ted Cruz or a President Marco Rubio), they become far more dangerous in the hands of this imprudent and erratic man. Many Republicans, for instance, support tighter border security and a tougher response to illegal immigration, but Trump’s cockamamie border wall, his impracticable campaign promise to deport all 11 million people living in the country illegally and his blithe disregard for the effect of such proposals on the U.S. relationship with Mexico turn a very bad policy into an appalling one.

In the days ahead, The Times editorial board will look more closely at the new president, with a special attention to three troubling traits:

(1) Trump’s shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based. Since Jan. 20, he has repeatedly disparaged and challenged those entities that have threatened his agenda, stoking public distrust of essential institutions in a way that undermines faith in American democracy. He has questioned the qualifications of judges and the integrity of their decisions, rather than acknowledging that even the president must submit to the rule of law. He has clashed with his own intelligence agencies, demeaned government workers and questioned the credibility of the electoral system and the Federal Reserve. He has lashed out at journalists, declaring them “enemies of the people,” rather than defending the importance of a critical, independent free press. His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.

(2) His utter lack of regard for truth. Whether it is the easily disprovable boasts about the size of his inauguration crowd or his unsubstantiated assertion that Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, the new president regularly muddies the waters of fact and fiction. It’s difficult to know whether he actually can’t distinguish the real from the unreal — or whether he intentionally conflates the two to befuddle voters, deflect criticism and undermine the very idea of objective truth. Whatever the explanation, he is encouraging Americans to reject facts, to disrespect science, documents, nonpartisanship and the mainstream media — and instead to simply take positions on the basis of ideology and preconceived notions. This is a recipe for a divided country in which differences grow deeper and rational compromise becomes impossible.

(3) His scary willingness to repeat alt-right conspiracy theories, racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas. Again, it is not clear whether he believes them or merely uses them. But to cling to disproven “alternative” facts; to retweet racists; to make unverifiable or false statements about rigged elections and fraudulent voters; to buy into discredited conspiracy theories first floated on fringe websites and in supermarket tabloids — these are all of a piece with the Barack Obama birther claptrap that Trump was peddling years ago and which brought him to political prominence. It is deeply alarming that a president would lend the credibility of his office to ideas that have been rightly rejected by politicians from both major political parties.

Where will this end? Will Trump moderate his crazier campaign positions as time passes? Or will he provoke confrontation with Iran, North Korea or China, or disobey a judge’s order or order a soldier to violate the Constitution? Or, alternately, will the system itself — the Constitution, the courts, the permanent bureaucracy, the Congress, the Democrats, the marchers in the streets — protect us from him as he alienates more and more allies at home and abroad, steps on his own message and creates chaos at the expense of his ability to accomplish his goals? Already, Trump’s job approval rating has been hovering in the mid-30s, according to Gallup, a shockingly low level of support for a new president. And that was before his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, offered to cooperate last week with congressional investigators looking into the connection between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

“ Those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard. ” Share this quote

On Inauguration Day, we wrote on this page that it was not yet time to declare a state of “wholesale panic” or to call for blanket “non-cooperation” with the Trump administration. Despite plenty of dispiriting signals, that is still our view. The role of the rational opposition is to stand up for the rule of law, the electoral process, the peaceful transfer of power and the role of institutions; we should not underestimate the resiliency of a system in which laws are greater than individuals and voters are as powerful as presidents. This nation survived Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. It survived slavery. It survived devastating wars. Most likely, it will survive again.

But if it is to do so, those who oppose the new president’s reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard. Protesters must raise their banners. Voters must turn out for elections. Members of Congress — including and especially Republicans — must find the political courage to stand up to Trump. Courts must safeguard the Constitution. State legislators must pass laws to protect their citizens and their policies from federal meddling. All of us who are in the business of holding leaders accountable must redouble our efforts to defend the truth from his cynical assaults.

The United States is not a perfect country, and it has a great distance to go before it fully achieves its goals of liberty and equality. But preserving what works and defending the rules and values on which democracy depends are a shared responsibility. Everybody has a role to play in this drama.

This is the first in a series.

Part II   Why Trump Lies

By The Times Editorial Board    April 3, 2017

Donald Trump did not invent the lie and is not even its master. Lies have oozed out of the White House for more than two centuries and out of politicians’ mouths — out of all people’s mouths — likely as long as there has been human speech.

But amid all those lies, told to ourselves and to one another in order to amass power, woo lovers, hurt enemies and shield ourselves against the often glaring discomfort of reality, humanity has always had an abiding respect for truth.

In the United States, born and periodically reborn out of the repeated recognition and rejection of the age-old lie that some people are meant to take dominion over others, truth is as vital a part of the civic, social and intellectual culture as justice and liberty. Our civilization is premised on the conviction that such a thing as truth exists, that it is knowable, that it is verifiable, that it exists independently of authority or popularity and that at some point — and preferably sooner rather than later — it will prevail.

Even American leaders who lie generally know the difference between their statements and the truth. Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook” but by that point must have seen that he was. Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” but knew that he did.

“ He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. ” Share this quote

The insult that Donald Trump brings to the equation is an apparent disregard for fact so profound as to suggest that he may not see much practical distinction between lies, if he believes they serve him, and the truth.

His approach succeeds because of his preternaturally deft grasp of his audience. Though he is neither terribly articulate nor a seasoned politician, he has a remarkable instinct for discerning which conspiracy theories in which quasi-news source, or which of his own inner musings, will turn into ratings gold. He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. If one of his lies doesn’t work — well, then he lies about that.

If we harbor latent racism or if we fear terror attacks by Muslim extremists, then he elevates a rumor into a public debate: Was Barack Obama born in Kenya, and is he therefore not really president?

An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012  

Libya is being taken over by Islamic radicals—-with @BarackObama’s open support.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2011  

If his own ego is threatened — if broadcast footage and photos show a smaller-sized crowd at his inauguration than he wanted — then he targets the news media, falsely charging outlets with disseminating “fake news” and insisting, against all evidence, that he has proved his case (“We caught them in a beauty,” he said).

If his attempt to limit the number of Muslim visitors to the U.S. degenerates into an absolute fiasco and a display of his administration’s incompetence, then he falsely asserts that terrorist attacks are underreported. (One case in point offered by the White House was the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, which in fact received intensive worldwide news coverage. The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the subject).

If he detects that his audience may be wearying of his act, or if he worries about a probe into Russian meddling into the election that put him in office, he tweets in the middle of the night the astonishingly absurd claim that President Obama tapped his phones. And when evidence fails to support him he dispatches his aides to explain that by “phone tapping” he obviously didn’t mean phone tapping. Instead of backing down when confronted with reality, he insists that his rebutted assertions will be vindicated as true at some point in the future.

Trump’s easy embrace of untruth can sometimes be entertaining, in the vein of a Moammar Kadafi speech to the United Nations or the self-serving blathering of a 6-year-old.

“ He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief. ” Share this quote

But he is not merely amusing. He is dangerous. His choice of falsehoods and his method of spewing them — often in tweets, as if he spent his days and nights glued to his bedside radio and was periodically set off by some drivel uttered by a talk show host who repeated something he’d read on some fringe blog — are a clue to Trump’s thought processes and perhaps his lack of agency. He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief.

He has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy. He is a stranger to the concept of verification, the insistence on evidence and the standards of proof that apply in a courtroom or a medical lab — and that ought to prevail in the White House.

There have always been those who accept the intellectually bankrupt notion that people are entitled to invent their own facts — consider the “9/11 was an inside job” trope — but Trump’s ascent marks the first time that the culture of alternative reality has made its home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

If Americans are unsure which Trump they have — the Machiavellian negotiator who lies to manipulate simpler minds, or one of those simpler minds himself — does it really matter? In either case he puts the nation in danger by undermining the role of truth in public discourse and policymaking, as well as the notion of truth being verifiable and mutually intelligible.

In the months ahead, Trump will bring his embrace of alternative facts on the nation’s behalf into talks with China, North Korea or any number of powers with interests counter to ours and that constitute an existential threat. At home, Trump now becomes the embodiment of the populist notion (with roots planted at least as deeply in the Left as the Right) that verifiable truth is merely a concept invented by fusty intellectuals, and that popular leaders can provide some equally valid substitute. We’ve seen people like that before, and we have a name for them: demagogues.

Our civilization is defined in part by the disciplines — science, law, journalism — that have developed systematic methods to arrive at the truth. Citizenship brings with it the obligation to engage in a similar process. Good citizens test assumptions, question leaders, argue details, research claims.

Investigate. Read. Write. Listen. Speak. Think. Be wary of those who disparage the investigators, the readers, the writers, the listeners, the speakers and the thinkers. Be suspicious of those who confuse reality with reality TV, and those who repeat falsehoods while insisting, against all evidence, that they are true. To defend freedom, demand fact.

This is the second in a series.

Part III  Trump’s Authoritarian Vision

By The Times Editorial Board    April 4, 2017

Standing before the cheering throngs at the Republican National Convention last summer, Donald Trump bemoaned how special interests had rigged the country’s politics and its economy, leaving Americans victimized by unfair trade deals, incompetent bureaucrats and spineless leaders.

He swooped into politics, he declared, to subvert the powerful and rescue those who cannot defend themselves. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

To Trump’s faithful, those words were a rallying cry. But his critics heard something far more menacing in them: a dangerously authoritarian vision of the presidency — one that would crop up time and again as he talked about overruling generals, disregarding international law, ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, jailing his opponent.

Trump has no experience in politics; he’s never previously run for office or held a government position. So perhaps he was unaware that one of the hallmarks of the American system of government is that the president’s power to “fix” things unilaterally is constrained by an array of strong institutions — including the courts, the media, the permanent federal bureaucracy and Congress. Combined, they provide an essential defense against an imperial presidency.

Yet in his first weeks at the White House, President Trump has already sought to undermine many of those institutions. Those that have displayed the temerity to throw some hurdle in the way of a Trump objective have quickly felt the heat.

Consider Trump’s feud with the courts.

He has repeatedly questioned the impartiality and the motives of judges. For example, he attacked the jurists who ruled against his order excluding travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, calling one a “so-called judge” and later tweeting:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017  

It’s nothing new for presidents to disagree with court decisions. But Trump’s direct, personal attacks on judges’ integrity and on the legitimacy of the judicial system itself — and his irresponsible suggestion that the judiciary should be blamed for future terrorist attacks — go farther. They aim to undermine public faith in the third branch of government.

The courts are the last line of defense for the Constitution and the rule of law; that’s what makes them such a powerful buffer against an authoritarian leader. The president of the United States should understand that and respect it.

Other institutions under attack include:

(1) The electoral process. Faced with certified election results showing that Hillary Clinton outpolled him by nearly 3 million votes, Trump repeated the unsubstantiated — and likely crackpot — assertion that Clinton’s supporters had duped local polling places with millions of fraudulent votes. In a democracy, the right to vote is the one check that the people themselves hold against their leaders; sowing distrust in elections is the kind of thing leaders do when they don’t want their power checked.

(2) The intelligence community. After reports emerged that the Central Intelligence Agency believed Russia had tried to help Trump win, the president-elect’s transition team responded: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” It was a snarky, dismissive, undermining response — and the administration has continued to belittle the intelligence community and question its motives since then, while also leaking stories about possibly paring and restructuring its ranks. It is bizarre to watch Trump continue to tussle publicly with this particular part of the government, whose leaders he himself has appointed, as if he were still an outsider candidate raging against the machine. It’s unnerving too, given the intelligence services’ crucial role in protecting the country against hidden risks, assisting the U.S. military and helping inform Trump’s decisions.

(3) The media. Trump has blistered the mainstream media for reporting that has cast him in a poor light, saying outlets concocted narratives based on nonexistent anonymous sources. In February he said that the “fake news” media will “never represent the people,” adding ominously: “And we’re going to do something about it.” His goal seems to be to defang the media watchdog by making the public doubt any coverage that accuses Trump of blundering or abusing his power.

(4) Federal agencies. In addition to calling for agency budgets to be chopped by up to 30%, Trump appointed a string of Cabinet secretaries who were hostile to much of their agencies’ missions and the laws they’re responsible for enforcing. He has also proposed deep cuts in federal research programs, particularly in those related to climate change. It’s easier to argue that climate change isn’t real when you’re no longer collecting the data that documents it.

In a way, Trump represents a culmination of trends that have been years in the making.

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Conservative talk radio hosts have long blasted federal judges as “activists” and regulators as meddlers in the economy, while advancing the myth of rampant election fraud. And gridlock in Washington has led previous presidents to try new ways to circumvent the checks on their power — witness President George W. Bush’s use of signing statements to invalidate parts of bills Congress passed, and President Obama’s aggressive use of executive orders when lawmakers balked at his proposals.

What’s uniquely threatening about Trump’s approach, though, is how many fronts he’s opened in this struggle for power and the vehemence with which he seeks to undermine the institutions that don’t go along.

It’s one thing to complain about a judicial decision or to argue for less regulation, but to the extent that Trump weakens public trust in essential institutions like the courts and the media, he undermines faith in democracy and in the system and processes that make it work.

“He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.” Share this quote

Trump betrays no sense for the president’s place among the myriad of institutions in the continuum of governance. He seems willing to violate long-established political norms without a second thought, and he cavalierly rejects the civility and deference that allow the system to run smoothly. He sees himself as not merely a force for change, but as a wrecking ball.

Will Congress act as a check on Trump’s worst impulses as he moves forward? One test is the House and Senate intelligence committees’ investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election; lawmakers need to muster the courage to follow the trail wherever it leads. Can the courts stand up to Trump? Already, several federal judges have issued rulings against the president’s travel ban. And although Trump has railed against the decisions, he has obeyed them.

None of these institutions are eager to cede authority to the White House and they won’t do so without a fight. It would be unrealistic to suggest that America’s most basic democratic institutions are in imminent jeopardy.

But we should not view them as invulnerable either. Remember that Trump’s verbal assaults are directed at the public, and are designed to chip away at people’s confidence in these institutions and deprive them of their validity. When a dispute arises, whose actions are you going to consider legitimate? Whom are you going to trust? That’s why the public has to be wary of Trump’s attacks on the courts, the “deep state,” the “swamp.” We can’t afford to be talked into losing our faith in the forces that protect us from an imperial presidency.

This is the third in a series.

Part IV Trump’s War on Journalism

By The Times Editorial Board      April 5, 2017

In Donald Trump’s America, the mere act of reporting news unflattering to the president is held up as evidence of bias. Journalists are slandered as “enemies of the people.”

Facts that contradict Trump’s version of reality are dismissed as “fake news.” Reporters and their news organizations are “pathetic,” “very dishonest,” “failing,” and even, in one memorable turn of phrase, “a pile of garbage.”

Trump is, of course, not the first American president to whine about the news media or try to influence coverage. President George W. Bush saw the press as elitist and “slick.” President Obama’s press operation tried to exclude Fox News reporters from interviews, blocked many officials from talking to journalists and, most troubling, prosecuted more national security whistle-blowers and leakers than all previous presidents combined.

But Trump being Trump, he has escalated the traditionally adversarial relationship in demagogic and potentially dangerous ways.

Most presidents, irritated as they may have been, have continued to acknowledge — at least publicly — that an independent press plays an essential role in American democracy. They’ve recognized that while no news organization is perfect, honest reporting holds leaders and institutions accountable; that’s why a free press was singled out for protection in the 1st Amendment and why outspoken, unfettered journalism is considered a hallmark of a free country.

Trump doesn’t seem to buy it. On his very first day in office, he called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”

Since then he has regularly condemned legitimate reporting as “fake news.” His administration has blocked mainstream news organizations, including The Times, from briefings and his secretary of State chose to travel to Asia without taking the press corps, breaking a longtime tradition.

“ He apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. ” Share this quote

This may seem like bizarre behavior from a man who consumes the news in print and on television so voraciously and who is in many ways a product of the media. He comes from reality TV, from talk radio with Howard Stern, from the gossip pages of the New York City tabloids, for whose columnists he was both a regular subject and a regular source.

But Trump’s strategy is pretty clear: By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know who to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration’s far-fetched storyline.

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It’s a cynical strategy, with some creepy overtones. For instance, when he calls journalists “enemies of the people,” Trump (whether he knows it or not) echoes Josef Stalin and other despots.

But it’s an effective strategy. Such attacks are politically expedient at a moment when trust in the news media is as low as it’s ever been, according to Gallup. And they’re especially resonant with Trump’s supporters, many of whom see journalists as part of the swamp that needs to be drained.

Of course, we’re not perfect. Some readers find news organizations too cynical; others say we’re too elitist. Some say we downplay important stories, or miss them altogether. Conservatives often perceive an unshakable liberal bias in the media (while critics on the left see big, corporate-owned media institutions like The Times as hopelessly centrist).

“The news media remain an essential component in the democratic process and should not be undermined by the president.” Share this quote

To do the best possible job, and to hold the confidence of the public in turbulent times, requires constant self-examination and evolution. Soul-searching moments — such as those that occurred after the New York Times was criticized for its coverage of the Bush administration and the Iraq war or, more recently, when the media failed to take Trump’s candidacy seriously enough in the early days of his campaign — can help us do a better job for readers. Even if we are not faultless, the news media remain an essential component in the democratic process and should not be undermined by the president.

Some critics have argued that if Trump is going to treat the news media like the “opposition party” (a phrase his senior aide Steve Bannon has used), then journalists should start acting like opponents too. But that would be a mistake. The role of an institution like the Los Angeles Times (or the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or CNN) is to be independent and aggressive in pursuit of the truth — not to take sides. The editorial pages are the exception: Here we can and should express our opinions about Trump. But the news pages, which operate separately, should report intensively without prejudice, partiality or partisanship.

Given the very real dangers posed by this administration, we should be indefatigable in covering Trump, but shouldn’t let his bullying attitude persuade us to be anything other than objective, fair, open-minded and dogged.

The fundamentals of journalism are more important than ever. With the president of the United States launching a direct assault on the integrity of the mainstream media, news organizations, including The Times, must be courageous in our reporting and resolute in our pursuit of the truth.

This is the fourth in a series.

Part V Conspiracy Theorist in Chief

By The Times Editorial Board      April 6, 2017

It was bad enough back in 2011 when Donald Trump began peddling the crackpot conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not a native-born American. But at least Trump was just a private citizen then.

By the time he tweeted last month that Obama had sunk so low as to “tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump was a sitting president accusing a predecessor of what would have been an impeachable offense.

Trump went public with this absurd accusation without consulting the law enforcement and intelligence officials who would have disabused him of a conspiracy theory he apparently imbibed from right-wing media. After the FBI director debunked it, Trump held fast, claiming he hadn’t meant that he had been literally wiretapped.

Most people know by now that the new president of the United States traffics in untruths and half-truths, and that his word cannot be taken at face value.

Even more troubling, though, is that much of his misinformation is of the creepiest kind. Implausible conspiracy theories from fly-by-night websites; unsubstantiated speculations from supermarket tabloids. Bigoted stories he may have simply made up; stuff he heard on TV talk shows.

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012  

In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016

This is pathetic, but it’s also alarming. If Trump feels free to take to Twitter to make wild, paranoid, unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor, why should the nation believe what he says about a North Korean missile test, Russian troop movements in Europe or a natural disaster in the United States?

Trump’s willingness to embrace unproven, conspiratorial and even racist theories became clear during the campaign, when he repeatedly told tall tales that seemed to reinforce ugly stereotypes about minorities. Take his now famous assertion that he watched thousands of people in “a heavy Arab population” in New Jersey cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11, an astonishing account that no one has been able to verify. PolitiFact rated that as “Pants on Fire.”

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Or his retweeting of a bogus crime statistic purporting to show that 81% of white homicide victims are killed by blacks. (The correct figure was 15%.)

On several occasions he retweeted white nationalists. (Remember the image of Hillary Clinton and the star of David, for instance?)

His engagement with, to put it politely, out-of-the-mainstream ideas has attracted some strange bedfellows. It may not be fair to attribute to his senior aide, Steve Bannon, all the views that were published on the controversial alt-right site Breitbart.com, of which Bannon was the executive chairman. But it is certainly fair to wonder why Trump has elevated to a senior West Wing position a man who has trafficked in nonsense, bigotry and rank speculation.

Of course it was widely hoped that when Trump came into office he would put the conspiracy theories and red-meat scare stories behind him. Perhaps the “lock her up”  mantra and the fear-mongering about Mexican rapists and the racial dog whistles and the assertions about Ted Cruz’s father’s connection to Lee Harvey Oswald — perhaps all that was just part of a cynical bid for votes, and it would go away when the election was over.

“He is allowing the credibility of his unimaginably powerful office to be exploited and wasted on crackpot ideas.” Share this quote

But there’s no sign of that. Trump seems as willing to mouth off today as he was on the campaign — about wiretaps, inauguration crowds, fraudulent voters, you name it. And the problem with that is that he is no longer a blowhard TV personality or a raunchy guest on Howard Stern or a self-promoting real estate magnate or even a long-shot candidate for the Republican nomination. He’s now the president of the United States, and he is allowing the credibility of his unimaginably powerful office to be exploited and wasted on crackpot ideas that have been rightly discredited by politicians from both parties.

This is the fifth in a series.

Part VI  California Fights Back

By The Times Editorial Board       April 7, 2017

When Donald Trump threatened on the campaign trail to deport every single immigrant living in the country illegally, bring back offshore drilling and reverse the anti-pollution policies that help clear smoggy skies, Californians immediately understood that our state would be disproportionately affected — and disproportionately harmed — by the reckless policies he was hoping to enact.

After he was sworn in, he went further, singling out the state for attack. “California,” Trump declared in February, “in many ways is out of control.” In one overwrought tweet, he suggested that the federal government should cut all funding for UC Berkeley because a protest against a conservative guest speaker had turned violent. A few days later, he declared — even more irresponsibly — that he would “defund” the entire state if he felt it wasn’t cooperating sufficiently in his efforts to root out undocumented immigrants.

Trump had already alienated many state voters with his plans to build a costly and unnecessary border wall, revoke the health insurance of millions of low-income people and gut climate-change policies. Now, he was taking on California itself, a state in which more than one out of 10 Americans live, and which sends more than $350 billion to Washington each year in federal taxes (and gets substantially less than that back). A state with strong progressive values that it will not happily see undermined.

To express their dissatisfaction, hundreds of thousands of people gathered at rallies in the state’s major cities. One man’s quixotic California secession campaign became a cause célèbre. And California’s political leaders vowed to fight back.

Gov. Jerry Brown grumbled that if Trump cut climate data-gathering efforts, California would launch its “own damn satellite.” Legislators put former U.S. Atty. Gen Eric Holder on a hefty retainer to help challenge Trump’s initiatives in court even before he’d announced any. They filed a mountain of bills reacting to an array of reprehensible policies that the new president was thought to be considering. “We’re going to do what we need to do to protect the people of California,” said state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.

An all-out war with the federal government is neither sustainable nor wise. The state will have to choose its battles. ” Share this quote

The initial response of state leaders — which included some good ideas along with a bit of flailing and a touch of panic — was understandable given the enormity of the threat. But as we settle in for the next four years, California needs to be clear-eyed about the challenges it faces and strategic about how it responds. An all-out war with the federal government is neither sustainable nor wise. The state will have to choose its battles.

For starters, California should continue to pursue its agenda on human and civil rights, on clean air, water and climate change, and on equality. Trump can dismantle the federal Clean Power Plan, but he can’t stop the state from moving toward its renewable energy goal of 50% by 2030 as laid out in SB 350 two years ago. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can reduce national fuel efficiency standards, but if it seeks to revoke California’s waiver that lets the state set its own, tougher rules, state lawmakers should fight back, including taking the agency to court if necessary. Trump can continue his counterproductive and mean-spirited efforts to deport non-criminal immigrants living in the country illegally, but the state’s local law enforcement agencies are not legally required to do the feds’ job for them; they should not.

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California’s political leaders should reach out to other states — including red ones — to develop alliances on issues of common concern. Trump’s contempt for renewable energy resources, the reform of marijuana laws and the expansion of Medicaid, for instance, will surely alienate officials in other state capitols. Smoggy skies aren’t unique to Los Angeles, and western states have already shown interest in investing in renewable energy.

However, California lawmakers must also be careful about allowing the “resist at all costs” mentality to push them further than they ought to go.

Consider the biggest California vs. Trump fight so far: immigration. It is true that local police and sheriff’s deputies should not be turned into immigration agents, doing work that properly belongs to the federal government and which would hamper their ability to work effectively with immigrant communities. But neither should the state, in its zeal to resist Trump, throw up obstacles to cooperation that would protect serious criminals from deportation. Early versions of SB 54 — the so-called sanctuary state bill that would spell out how local police agencies should work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — allowed the state to make policing decisions that have traditionally been made locally, could have goaded ICE agents into even more harmful immigration sweeps and, potentially, made it harder to keep violent criminals off the streets.

Many Californians are extremely — and rationally — pessimistic about the next few years under President Trump. But here’s another hard truth: If and when there are opportunities for reasonable collaboration with the new administration, the state must be prepared to take them. California relies on the federal government for $105 billion in aid each year, money it badly needs. Total noncooperation is not an option. Besides, Sacramento and Washington, D.C., have certain mutual interests: If the president wants shovel-ready infrastructure projects to fund, we have plenty.

That means keeping open the lines of communication, as both Gov. Brown and Mayor Eric Garcetti seem eager to do. With luck, Trump will in turn recognize that the state’s big industries — tech, agriculture, entertainment, tourism — are immensely important to the national economy. If California suffers at the hands of Trump’s policies, so will the rest of the nation.

California is an integral part of the United States, where it should remain, staying actively engaged. ” Share this quote

The reality is that California cannot go it alone. Let’s stop fantasizing about “Calexit.” As fun as it may be to imagine California taking its giant, job-creating, climate-protecting, immigrant-friendly economy and building its own nation, history suggests that would be neither wise nor feasible. California is an integral part of the United States, where it should remain, staying actively engaged.

In the days ahead, we Californians must stand up to protect our nation and defend our state. We must read, write and protest. Attend meetings and speak out honestly to those in power. We must vote. Not just for president, but for school board as well. Stand up for the rule of law and the democratic process while also opposing the dangerous policies of America’s new leader.

For the next four years, we must cooperate when it is possible, but fight back when it is necessary in the interests of our state and the union to which it belongs.

There’s only one way to end the opioid epidemic, and the White House isn’t talking about it

Business Insider

There’s only one way to end the opioid epidemic, and the White House isn’t talking about it

Linette Lopez March 29, 2017

There’s only one way to end the opioid epidemic, and so far – despite all the noise around Wednesday’s meeting of a White House commission on the issue – it doesn’t look as if the White House wants to touch it.

You see, what was discussed by the commission isn’t just a plan in its early stages; it’s a clear step in the wrong direction.

In a Wednesday press briefing following a meeting of this White House commission, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, blamed the crisis on “cheap heroin” flooding the market, and he credited President Donald Trump with already taking action against drug cartels. He framed the battle against the epidemic as one for the Drug Enforcement Administration and law enforcement.

If that’s what the White House is focused on, it has the situation all wrong.

The problem here isn’t with drug cartels; the problem is big pharma and its multidecade campaign to normalize the prescription and sale of highly addictive opiate pain medication. It’s usually only after prescriptions for this medication run out, or become too expensive, when addicts turn to cheap heroin.

If Trump isn’t going after big business, he’s not going after this problem. Period.

Serious

Since the 1990s, big pharma has paid off doctors to encourage them to write prescriptions for opioid painkillers, it has generated studies that made the effects of these drugs seem way less destructive than they are, and it has greased the wheels of the US healthcare system to make insurance payments easier to collect.

Here’s an example of this behavior. Last month two Alabama doctors were found guilty of making millions by running an opioid “pill mill.” They were getting patients addicted, overcharging them and their healthcare providers for treatment, and accepting payments from Insys Therapeutics, a maker of fentanyl.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Another one: In 2009, the American Geriatrics Society created guidelines recommending that doctors use opioids to treat all kinds of pain. Of the 10 experts on the panel, however, at least five had ties to big opiate producers.

More serious

You may recognize some of the names in this game, and you might not: Purdue, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Insys, Mylan, and Depomed, to name a few.

More companies are involved in the rise of the opiate crisis, but those five are a start. At least, they’re a starting point for Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who on Tuesday announced an investigation into the marketing practices of companies that manufacture opioids and the drugs that are meant to treat opioid overdoses. According to the press release announcing the investigation, McCaskill requested from those five companies:

  • Documents showing any internal estimates of the risk of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, diversion, or death arising from the use of any opioid product or any estimates of these risks produced by third-party contractors or vendors.
  • Any reports generated within the last five years summarizing or concerning compliance audits of sales and marketing policies.
  • Marketing and business plans, including plans for direct-to-consumer and physician marketing, developed during the last five years.
  • Quotas for sales representatives dedicated to opioid products concerning the recruitment of physicians for speakers programs during the last five years.
  • Contributions to a variety of third-party advocacy organizations.
  • Any reports issued to government agencies during the last five years in accordance with corporate integrity agreements or other settlement agreements.

AP Photo/J. Scott ApplewhiteSen. Claire McCaskill.

“All of this didn’t happen overnight – it happened one prescription and marketing program at a time,” McCaskill said in the statement. “The vast majority of the employees, executives, sales representatives, scientists, and doctors involved with this industry are good people and responsible actors, but some are not. This investigation is about finding out whether the same practices that led to this epidemic still continue today, and if decisions are being made that harm the public health.”

Not serious

Of course, the ways a White House policy could deflect blame for the opioid crisis away from the pharma companies have been out in the ether for a while, and no one has articulated them better than Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin, a Democrat, would have the government focus on the Food and Drug Administration’s classification of opioids, maybe have the agency slow down approval for new opiates, and have a “one-penny fee on every milligram of opiates that are produced and sold in America” to be collected for treatment.

As a side note, Manchin’s daughter Heather Bresch is the CEO of the drug company Mylan, one of the five companies McCaskill is going after.

Manchin also called marijuana the gateway drug to opioids.

This is a joke, and it’s an insult to the people whose “gateway” to addiction was a doctor who said these medications would be safe.

Please stop joking.

The Senator from ground zero of the opioid crisis has no idea what he’s talking about

Linette Lopez March 28, 2017

In fighting the opioid crisis that is taking lives across the country, it would be helpful if the Senator from ground zero of the crisis, West Virginia, knew what he was talking about when it comes to solving it.

But sadly, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has demonstrated that he has little to no grasp of what’s causing and exacerbating the problem.

In an interview with STAT News, Manchin offered nothing but pithy solutions and ideological dog whistles to the White House. He talked about educating people about the dangers of the drug, decried marijuana as a gateway drug, and called for a “one-penny fee on every milligram of opiates that are produced and sold in America” to be collected for treatment.

That’s all very nice. But that’s all it is — nice.

Manchin said nothing of the true driver of the opioid crisis — the pharmaceutical industry’s greed and the lack of transparency in our healthcare system. What this requires is regulation, and there was none of that talk in Manchin’s interview.

And that’s sad, because West Virginia is the poster child for how big pharma used its power and influence to shove drugs down people’s throats. Addiction to opioids doesn’t start with marijuana. It starts with a doctor’s prescription, and in West Virginia, that has been all-too readily available.

Back in October, David Armstrong of STAT News wrote a mind-blowing report detailing how West Virginia health and insurance officials tried to slow the pace of prescriptions in their state, but were thwarted at every turn thanks to collusion between Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and pharmacy benefits manager, Merck Medco (which is owned today by PBM giant, Express Scripts).

Here’s the short version of events: In early 2001 West Virginia coroners noted a big uptick in deaths related to Oxy. Since 1996 state spending on the drug had jumped from $11,000 to $2 million in 2002 as Purdue and its partners used office meetings, lunches and dinners to convince doctors of the wonders of the drug. Court records show that one surgeon was won over by a bunch of donuts and snacks arranged to spell OxyContin.

By 2004 officials had had their fill. So they asked their pharmacy benefit manager to limit prescriptions or slap a prior authorization on the drug. They were refused.

Merck would ultimately claim that it was trying to help officials, but internal memos from the company and from Purdue told a different story. The two companies were in league together.

From STAT:  “Contrary to the picture of helpfulness and cooperation Purdue attempts to paint, Purdue’s employees were actively and secretly trying to prevent West Virginia from imposing any control on the sale of OxyContin,” the state claimed. The case with Purdue was settled in 2004 when the company paid $10 million to West Virginia. Portions of the case file, including documents about marketing of the drug and Purdue’s attempts to ward off limits on prescribing, remained sealed until STAT filed a motion in May to open the records.

Senator Manchin, this isn’t about marijuana, and it’s not about how opioids are classified by the federal government, but it is about pennies — a lot of them. It’s about greed.

He should be more familiar with the business. Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch, is the CEO of Mylan. Her company is best known for jacking up the price of life-saving EpiPen anti-allergy medication, but it also manufactures naloxone, a drug meant to treat opioid over-doses. In June, the Senate Committee on Aging demanded that Mylan explain eye-popping price moves for that drug.

So maybe Senator Manchin does know more than we’re giving him credit for. If he does, though, he’s holding it really close to the vest.

Primary Care Doctor Explains: “The Problem Isn’t Obamacare…It’s The Insurance Companies”

Blue Dot Daily

Primary Care Doctor Explains: “The Problem Isn’t Obamacare…It’s The Insurance Companies”

By cpowell   Posted on March 28, 2017

With premiums increasing for those with coverage through the ACA marketplace, a lot of people are criticizing Obamacare. But many doctors and healthcare professionals are saying that isn’t really the problem.

Cathleen London is a primary care physician in Milbridge, a rural town in Maine. She claims the problem isn’t Obamacare itself, but rather, the entire health insurance system and insurance companies are to blame.

Writing for the Portland Press Herald, London explains she is a a primary care physician who is on the front lines every single day, as  her town is very remote, which means it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get to the emergency room, which is why her office operates as an urgent care facility as well as a family medical practice.

It’s takes an ambulance about 20 minutes to get to her clinic and specialist care about 2 hours away, so Dr. London is trained to handle about 90 percent of medical problems.

Dr. London explains the following, which will show you exactly what’s wrong with health care:

One evening I was almost home after a full day’s work. Around 7:30, I got a call on the emergency line regarding an 82-year-old man who had fallen and split his head open. His wife wanted to know if I could see him, even though he was not a patient of mine.

Instead of sending them to the ER, I went back to the office. I spent 90 minutes evaluating him, suturing his wound and making sure that nothing more sinister had occurred than a loss of footing by a man who has mild dementia. When I was sure that the man would be safe, I let them go.

I billed a total of $789 for the visit, repair, after-hours and emergency care costs. Stating that the after-hours and emergency services had been billed incorrectly, Martin’s Point Health Care threw out the claims and reimbursed me $105, which does not even cover the suture and other materials I used.

I called them about their decision, said that it was not right and let them know they’d lose me if they reimbursed this as a routine patient visit. They replied, “Go ahead and send your termination letter” – which I did.

The same day, Anthem Blue Cross kept me on the phone for 45 minutes regarding a breast MRI recommended by radiologists on a woman whose mother and sister had died of breast cancer. She’d had five months of breast discharge that wasn’t traceable to anything benign (and it turns out the MRI is highly suspicious for cancer).

Anthem did not want to approve the MRI unless it was to localize a lesion for biopsy, even though the mammogram had been inconclusive! This should have been a slam-dunk fast track to approval; instead, dealing with Anthem wasted a good part of my day.

Then Aetna told me there is no way to negotiate fees in Maine. I was somewhat flabbergasted. I do more here than I did in either Brookline, Massachusetts, or New York. The rates should be higher given the level of care I am providing. I have chosen not to participate with them. This only hurts patients; however, I cannot keep losing money on visits.

I do lose money on MaineCare – their reimbursement is below what it costs me to see a patient. For now, that is a decision that I am living with.

I had thought those losses would be offset by private insurance companies, but their cost shifting to patients is obscene. I pay half of my employees’ health insurance, though I’m not required to by law – I just think it is the right thing to do.

My personal policy costs close to $900 a month for me and my sons (all healthy), and each of us has a $6,000 deductible. This means I am paying rack rate for a policy that provides only bare-bones coverage.

Something is wrong with the system. In one day, I encountered everything wrong with insurance. I am not trying to scam the system. I am literally trying to survive. I am trying to give care in an under-served area.

This is not the fault of Obamacare, which stopped the most egregious problems with insurance companies. Remember lifetime caps? Remember denials for pre-existing conditions? Remember the retroactive cancellation of insurance policies? Returning to that is not an option.

Indeed it is not an option, Dr. London.  If Republicans get their way eventually by repealing Obamacare, it may be where we end up again. If Republicans really get their way, it’ll be even worse than it was before.

‘The Great, Bait and Switch, Flim Flam, American Not So Healthy Care Act’

John Hanno,      March 23, 2017

‘The Great, Bait and Switch, Flim Flam, American Not So Healthy Care Act’

Trump and the Republi-cons have finally been forced to put their health care cards on the legislative table. The Donald trumpeted countless times, that his health care plan would be a “beautiful thing,” that “everyone would be covered,” even the poorest 25% who can no way afford health insurance; and that his plan would be “much better” and “much cheaper” than Obamacare.

We’ve all been subjected to the typical bait n switch tactics salesmen use to hawk their products. Ryan and the Republi-cons were forced to divulge some of the fine print in the deal; America donned it’s reading glasses but don’t like what they see. “Everyone would be covered” has morphed into, minus 24 million and eventually 52 million desperate souls, who for the first time, have life saving health care through Obama’s ACA. A “much better plan” changed into, except for the 10 basic T1 Article requirements now covered under Obamacare, including outpatient care, emergency room trips, in hospital care, pregnancy, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse care, prescription drugs, emergency services, rehabilitation and habilitative services, lab tests, preventative care and pediatric services. In other words, this plan basically provides no health care at all. And thrown in for good measure is the speedup of the tax cuts for healthcare executives making over $500,000 and on tanning beds and also shifting to block grants for Medicaid.

But the fish are balking at this boondoggle, so Paul Ryan has turned the buyer over to his sales manager, Art of the Donald, to try to close the deal.

Everyone will lose on this deal except for the dealership owners (er insurance companies, millionaires and billionaires).

Hospitals, nursing homes, cities, communities, states and most importantly, the American health care consumer will all be stuck with a clunker that will break down before the first oil change. Even the Republi-cons in congress with Trump blinders on realize they must walk away from this bad deal.

And the bottom line reveals that much cheaper, actually means, America will be paying for decades on a piece of crap they can’t use, can’t trade in and will steer them towards default, repossession and bankruptcy.

And anyone in congress who votes for this bill will suffer at the polls in the next election. American’s have seen this Insurance Industry Health Care Act sham before; been there – done that. President Obama and the Democrats, threw the un-insured and the under-insured a credible lifeline in 2010; 63% of America favors sinking some cash into the old model to bring it up to snuff; 60% of the buyers don’t want to trade Obamacare in on a shinier new pig in a poke. Only 17% of America (and only 7% strongly) believe TrumpCare is a viable plan; I’m guessing most of them work in the health insurance industry.

Some Republicans have stated they will stand firm because it’s a bad deal for those who elected them. They’re under a lot of pressure; we’ll have to see how much integrity they really have. I think the Donald and Paul Ryan will come to the conclusion that, President Obama and Speaker Pelosi were the real closers.     John Hanno

Update!    America 1 – Trump/Ryan 0.

It’s not surprising that the Trump/Ryan American Health Care plan went down in flames. The Republi-cons were never in favor of crafting a health care plan that would improve on Obamacare, only in fostering another tax cut for millionaires and billionaires. They don’t believe in giving poor folks health insurance; never did, never will. But after 7 years, and thanks to President Obama and the Dems, America has come to the conclusion that health care for everyone is a right, not a privilege. Obamacare gets more popular every day because real people are being favorably impacted by life saving care. And they refuse to go back to what we had before the ACA.

Thanks to everyone who stood up to Trump and the Republicans in Congress, and especially to all the folks who showed up at the Republican town hall meetings and demanded to be heard. It made all the difference. Real folks telling their real stories. America is closer to universal, single payer healthcare than anytime in our history.

So we can take a little time to celebrate; but this is not over. The Repubs in charge will do everything they can to cripple and defund the ACA, attempting to prove their wild claims that Obamacare is failing.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act attempted to nudge the American Health Care System into the 21st Century. These Republi-cons are pulling back on the reins with all their misguided might. Stay informed and engaged. Our job now (as Bernie keeps preaching) is to improve the PPACA by making it Medicare for all single payer, just like the rest of the developed world.    John Hanno

Reuters

How Republicans can hobble Obamacare even without repeal

By Julie Steenhuysen,  March 26, 2017

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Republicans may have failed to overthrow Obamacare this week, but there are plenty of ways they can chip away at it.

The Trump administration has already begun using its regulatory authority to water down less prominent aspects of the 2010 healthcare law.

Earlier this week, newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stalled the rollout of mandatory Medicare payment reform programs for heart attack treatment, bypass surgery and joint replacements finalized by the Obama administration in December.

The delays offer a glimpse at how President Donald Trump can use his administrative power to undercut aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion that Republicans had sought to overturn.

The Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare, at least for now, means it remains federal law. Price’s power resides in how to interpret that law, and which programs to emphasize and fund.

Hospitals and physician groups have been counting on support from Medicare – the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled – to continue driving payment reform policies built into Obamacare that reward doctors and hospitals for providing high quality care at a lower cost.

The Obama Administration had committed to shifting half of all Medicare payments to these alternative payment models by 2018. Although he has voiced general support for innovative payment programs, Price has been a loud critic of mandatory federal programs that dictate how doctors should deliver healthcare.

Providers such as Dr. Richard Gilfillan, chief executive of Trinity Healthcare, a $15.9 billion Catholic health system, say they will press on with these alternative payment plans with or without the government’s blessing. But they have been actively lobbying Trump officials for support, according to interviews with more than a dozen hospital executives, physicians and policy experts.

Without the backing of Medicare, the biggest payer in the U.S. healthcare system which Price now oversees, the nascent payment reform movement could lose momentum, sidelining a transformation many experts believe is vital to reining in runaway U.S. healthcare spending.

Price “can’t change the legislation, but of course he’s supposed to implement it. He could impact it,” said John Rother, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, a broad alliance of healthcare stakeholders that has been lobbying the new administration for support of value-based care.

The move Friday to pull the Republican bill only reinforces the risk to the existing law, which Trump said on Friday “will soon explode.”

“It seems that the Trump Administration now faces a choice whether to actively undermine the ACA or reshape it administratively,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter.

“The ACA marketplaces weren’t collapsing, but they could be made to collapse through administrative actions,” he added.

NEW PAYMENT PLANS AT RISK

The United States spends $3 trillion a year on healthcare – more by far than 10 other wealthy countries – yet has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate, according to a 2013 Commonwealth Fund report. Link to Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2nkTWoC

Health costs have soared thanks in part to the traditional way doctors and hospitals get paid, namely by receiving a fee for each service they provide. So the more advanced imaging tests a doctor orders or pricey procedures they perform, the more money he or she makes, regardless of whether the patient’s health improves.

“We have a completely broken economy in healthcare,” said Blair Childs, senior vice president at hospital purchasing group Premier Inc. “Literally, all of the incentives in fee-for-service are for higher cost.”

Alternative payment models are designed to remove incentives that reward overtreatment of patients. Private insurers are on board, with Aetna Inc, Anthem Inc, UnitedHealth Group and most Blue Cross insurers announcing plans to shift half of their reimbursement to alternative payment models to control costs.

To promote the shift to alternative payments, the ACA created an incubator program at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS innovation center is funded by $10 billion over 10 years to test payment schemes aimed at improving quality and cutting the cost of care.

The Obama administration’s decision to make some of these payment programs mandatory has drawn the ire of Price, a former U.S. senator and orthopedic surgeon. In response to a mandatory payment program for joint replacements last September, for example, Price charged that the CMS innovation center was “experimenting with Americans’ health.”

In his January 17 confirmation, Price said he was a “strong supporter of innovation,” but said he believed the CMS innovation center “has gotten a bit off track.”

TRUMP SETS WHEELS IN MOTION ON DAY 1

President Trump has already signed an executive order directing the HHS to begin unraveling Obamacare. In the early hours of his presidency, Trump directed government agencies to freeze regulations and take steps to weaken the healthcare law.

The order directed departments to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of provisions that imposed fiscal burdens on states, companies or individuals. These moves were meant to minimize the costs and regulatory burdens imposed on states, private entities and individuals.

David Cutler, the Harvard health economist who helped the Obama Administration shape the ACA, said Price could do all sorts of things to undermine the law.

“If he wants to blow it up, he can,” Cutler said in an email. But if they do, he added, “they alone will own the failure.”

 

Politico

Will Obamacare Really Explode?

Health-care expert Larry Levitt says it’s the Republicans who own Obamacare now—and here’s what they can do with it.

By Katelyn Fossett     March 24, 2017

“Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode,” President Donald Trump said on Friday afternoon after House Republicans pulled their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a stunning defeat seven long years—and 18 sudden days—in the making. A glum House Speaker Paul Ryan, the architect of the doomed bill, was forced to acknowledge “Obamacare is the law of the land,” but likewise warned that the current system is unsustainable.

But is it? It’s true that the big problems of skyrocketing premiums in certain states and insurance companies backing out of the exchanges set up under the 2010 law have yet to be solved. Even Democrats admit that. But will Obamacare really explode in one big death spiral? Trump has repeatedly said Republicans would be better off letting it fail in the hopes that votes will blame Democrats when they next go to the polls in 2018.

We tried to pare back some of the spin and grandstanding in the wake of Friday’s no-vote and talk to someone who knows health care inside and out: Larry Levitt, senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation and former senior health policy adviser to the White House. He told us what might really become of Obama’s signature health law in the months and years to come.

Politico Magazine: What do you think is next? Do you think they will just let Obamacare go, and what will that look like?

Larry Levitt: The Trump administration faces some tough decisions over what to do with the Affordable Care Act. The president has talked in the past about how the law is collapsing, and he has said maybe he’ll just let it collapse. The general consensus is that the law is actually not collapsing, and the Congressional Budget Office recently said that regionally, the insurance market would be stable under the ACA or the alternative the House GOP was considering. But the Trump administration could actively undermine the Affordable Care Act marketplaces or own them and work to improve them, from their perspective, and work to reshape it in a more conservative mold. I think the insurers are going to be watching very closely how the Trump administration approaches this in the next weeks and months.

Politico: You said they could reshape it. What would that look like?

Levitt: The administration has a lot of authority to reshape the law, both on the Medicaid side and the insurance marketplaces. There’s been this big fight over the essential benefits that insurers are required to provide, and the administration has some flexibility in altering those benefits administratively. There’s a lot the administration could do with state waivers, both to Medicaid and under the ACA.

Politico: So with the essential benefits, for instance, they could exempt some things from those?

Levitt: Well, so the statute lays out the 10 benefits that insurers have to provide, but within those broad categories, it’s up to the secretary of HHS to define the details. So HHS could allow insurers to set more limits on those benefits, could give states more leeway in defining them. There’s some limits to the authority: The benefits have to be comparable to a typical employer insurance policy, but you know, there’s still a lot they could do to alter the benefits. So the Pottery Barn rule does apply here: If they break it, they own it. From this point forward, anything that happens to the ACA belongs to the Trump administration.

Politico: So you’re saying, for instance, that they can’t take maternity care out of the essential benefits, but they can say what falls under that umbrella?

Levitt: Well, maternity care is a tough one. Prescription drugs, there’s probably a little bit more flexibility—allowing insurers more leeway in defining which drugs they cover. Or in some benefits being able to set limits on the number of physical therapy limits an insurer has to cover.

Politico: The case that Obamacare is collapsing is driven by this uncertainty, which is making insurers pull out. What does this fight do that uncertainty?

Levitt: The uncertainty insurers had been facing was what would come next after the Affordable Care Act, after this repeal-and-replace debate. It now looks like, for the foreseeable future, the Affordable Care Act is what’s coming next. So in some sense, there is greater certainty for insurers now in knowing that the ACA is here to stay. The big uncertainty has come in what the Trump administration may do administratively.

The most immediate risk is what happens with cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers. These are the payments that are at issue in the lawsuit that the House filed against the HHS, challenging their authority to make these payments. If the administration decides to stop those cost-sharing subsidy payments, you could see insurers running for the exits.

Politico: So there is a case that in some ways this uncertainty is at a new low after this. So that’s a case the marketplaces might do better, right?

Levitt: Right, so those insurers know that the ACA is here to stay. But what they don’t know is what the administration might do to undermine the law or allow it to collapse. This is a program that has to be operated for it to succeed. So, for example, for insurers to be profitable in this market, there has to be active outreach to bring in new customers. The Obama administration was active in doing that outreach, including the president himself. It’s hard to imagine President Trump going on “Between Two Ferns” to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance through the ACA.

Politico: So you mentioned the cost-sharing subsidies to undermine Obamacare. What other tools can the Trump administration use to undermine it?

Levitt: The individual mandate, as we heard recently from the Congressional Budget Office, is key to keeping insurance markets stable. And the Trump administration has a lot of administrative authority to undermine the individual mandate. They could grant waivers to large groups of people because they could lead to hardship under the individual mandate. They could announce they’re not going to enforce the penalties under the individual mandate, so there could be an open invitation for people to flaunt it. You know, it is the individual mandate that is the stick to try to get young, healthy people to sign up to balance out the sick people who know they need insurance.

Politico: So when you were looking at the disagreements that sank the bill, did you think there were any kind of creative workarounds or middle-ground options that you thought people had left unturned?

Levitt: There was this idea of a stability pool—the hundred million dollars in grants to states that would go a long way toward keeping some markets that are now fragile. That hundred-million-dollar pool could go a long way toward stabilizing fragile markets around the country. This was the kind of thing that Republicans in the past called a bailout to insurers, but was a part of their own bills. It’s hard to imagine any congressional action at this point to shore up the ACA, but a grant pool like that could shore things up.

Politico: So what problem would that get around?

Levitt: So, by and large, insurance markets are stable under the ACA, but insurance risk is pooled at the state level, and there are some states where the markets are fragile, where premiums have increased substantially and in some cases, enrollment has started to drop. These markets are still well short of a death spiral, but there could be bigger premium increases to come in these places. And a pool of money that states could use to help cover the cost of a very expensive and sick people could help stabilize those markets. This is what I think people will be watching for in how the Trump administration responds. For example, in Tennessee, which is one of those markets that’s fragile, [the insurance company] Humana recently announced it is pulling out, and it will leave a number of counties in the state with literally no insurers participating. Now, under the Obama administration, there would be a lot of jawboning going on to try to get an insurer to offer coverage there—it’s not clear that will happen under this administration. That happened in Arizona this past year when there was a risk there might be no insurers participating.

Politico: So let’s say the Trump administration pulls out all of its tricks and goes after Obamacare. Do you think it could collapse?

Levitt: The worst case is there are parts of the country where there are no insurers offering coverage, and that could certainly happen, but it’s not going to be the case in the vast majority of the country. I don’t think that in the vast majority of states there’s a risk of collapse. But things could absolutely get worse, with fewer people enrolled and premiums rising fasters.

That’s insurance markets, but with Medicaid—the Medicaid expansion continues as long as states continue to get federal money.

Politico: Would there be a Trump way of undermining the Medicaid expansion?

Levitt: Not so much undermine, but the Trump administration has already signaled it would grant waivers to states that want to experiment more broadly with how they run the Medicaid programs. So things like work requirements, things like requiring more low-income people to pay premiums to enroll in Medicaid. I think those are likely to change.

Katelyn Fossett is a web producer for POLITICO Magazine.

‘Republi-conicare’

John Hanno March 14, 2017

‘Republi-conicare’

Don’t be bamboozled; this ‘pig in a poke’ health insurance farce is not a ‘health care plan.’ It’s first of all, a ‘tax cut plan’ for the richest Americans and an ‘un-health plan’ for the rest of us. Senator Bernie Sanders believes this (1% er, American Health Care Plan) is simply a “$275 billion tax cut plan, transferring enormous amounts from the poorest and oldest Americans to the very rich.”

These Republi-cons have been lying to voters for the last 8 years. Obamacare is not collapsing; is not in a death spiral. 63% of folks think Obamacare is good, want to keep it and want to improve it, not destroy it. West Virginia, our poorest health care state went from 17.6% uninsured to 7%. A success by anyone’s standards. And dozens of other poor, particularly Red states, have also benefited from the ACA. 45 states had statistically significantly reductions in the uninsured. Arkansas dropped from 23% to 9.6%, Kentucky, with arguably the most successful ACA implementation, dropped from 20.5% to 7.5% and Oregon dropped from 19.5% to 7.3%.

The Republi-cons cried over and over that the Democrats pushed the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) through without any input from the Republicans; but President Obama, his experts and the Democrats worked extremely hard, through endless Republican obstruction, holding more than 70 meeting over 14 months to cobble together that bill. President Obama begged the Republicans to come up with credible amendments instead of obstructing the process. This high-pocritical Republican crew just held a couple of bull crap closed door hearings and are attempting to rush this bill straight to the House floor with not one hearing with the Democrats.

King Donald repeated throughout the campaign that he would repeal and replace Obamcare on his first day in office and that his replacement plan would be much better and far cheaper, “a beautiful thing.” He said he would do something “unlike any of the other Republicans running,” that “its a very un-Republican thing to say,” but he would make sure everyone was covered, even the bottom 25% of the poorest Americans who can’t afford private health care. He said no one now covered by the ACA would lose their coverage. But during the last few weeks, he’s flipped his rhetoric (no surprise) to now say everyone would have ‘access’ to his health care plan.

Having ‘access’ to health care is not the same as having health care. I have access to Four Seasons Hotels and many exclusive vacation resorts but the only accommodations I can afford is staying with Tom Bodett at the Motel 6 or in a tent at a State Park camp grounds. I have access to some really nice golf clubs, some of which Trump might own, but the only ones I can afford are run by our local park districts. I have access to cars at exclusive Mercedes and Audi auto dealerships, but with my budget restrictions, I shop for 5 or 10 year old used vehicles.

The 50% of American’s who live on $16,000 a year or less would not be able to purchase health insurance under any circumstances, whether they’re able bodied workers or not. They can’t afford even the cheapest insurance unless it’s heavily or fully subsidized.

We already suspected, that under this phony Paul Ryan Republi-con plan, millions of Americans would lose coverage or, as was common before the ACA, pay more for less and less care, while the wealthy haul in billions through tax breaks. Yet the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) analysis portrays even more punitive consequences than we imagined.

Under the Paul Ryan’s proposed American Health Care Act, supported by billionaire Trump, the CBO claims 24 million Americans would lose their health care by 2026 and 14 million by next year alone. Insurers would be able to substantially raise premiums on older enrollees and could charge them 5 times as much as younger folks. Premiums will rise between 120 and 125% for those between age 50 and 64. And because this plan would also defund Planned Parenthood, clinics that provide critical women’s health services throughout the country would have to close.

The experts believe up to 14 million folks dependent on Medicaid would lose their coverage. 1.5 million of those folks on Medicaid are cancer patients undergoing treatment. This plan will cut 25% ($880 Billion thru 2026) from Medicaid and limit it’s growth. Children, poor people, the elderly receiving long term care, folks with mental health problems and the disabled are the beneficiaries of Medicaid and will suffer so that billionaires and multi-millionaires can get their tax breaks.

More than 50% of American, those low income folks who don’t pay federal income taxes, would not benefit at all from health insurance tax incentives proposed by the Republi-cons.

The Republi-con, con job is in full spin mode, led by ‘Con Man In Chief,’ Donald Trump. The Donald promised the far right skeptics of his plan, that if they vote against Drumpf-care, he will let the ACA go down in flames. Typical Republi-con ‘my way or the highway.’

House Speaker Ryan claims he’s really encouraged by the CBO estimates (he’s the only one), and believes it’s actually better than he thought it would be. He’s become very adept at making these statements with a straight face.

And the Republi-con promise, that merely having the ability to purchase insurance policies across state lines, will make a big difference in costs, is another big lie! There are no Federal restrictions on companies selling across state line! The companies and the states control where they will sell. And the lack of competition, caused by insurance companies leaving the ACA in some states, is because of a backroom deal, by Sen. Rubio and other Republicans, designed to cripple the ACA by cutting reimbursements to insurance companies in the first 3 years of the plan.

The Republi-cons say this plan will reduce costs. Bull Pucky! The 10% reduction scored by the CBO means that policy prices will rise, as always, but the rise will be 10% less than under the ACA. But those savings will be more than offset by large increases in deductibles and out of pocket costs and by large losses in subsidies, especially for those between 50 and 64 years of age. Bottom line-Billionaires will reap a windfall of at least $275 billion (and much more in the future) on the backs of children, women, the poor, the elderly who need extended care, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the 10’s of millions of Americans addicted to legal and illegal drugs and who need life saving treatments.

The Nation’s John Nichols wrote on his Twitter feed about the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer press briefing spin job that went viral. “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to be imitating Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live imitation of him when he tried to make the argument for replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare by placing a copy of the final version of the 974-page law next to the sketchy Republican substitute. Forget about the contents, argued Spicer. “Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123—much smaller, much bigger—so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion. We’ll undo this. And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part. So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.”

“Say what?” said Nichols.

“[Look] at the size. This is the Democrats, this is us. You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not,” said Spicer during Tuesday’s press briefing, as he moved back and forth, hovering over the two stacks of paper. “And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.… I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.”

As if the most important thing about a bill passed by Congress is the number of pages. I’m so looking forward to this Saturdays SNL skit showing McCarthy’s version of Spicer’s PB. Please, Please, Please!

Alas, every credible health care expert, not paid by insurance companies and or big pharma, believes the only way to improve Obamacare is to make it single payer universal health care. No matter if these Republi-cons are somehow able to repeal the ACA, and against all odds, get some similar ACA replacement clone passed through congress, 5 or 7 years down the road, we will, no doubt, have universal healthcare. Every single developed country has universal health care except the U.S. There is no place in the world where a free market based health care system exists. We’re at the bottom of the list for health care outcomes considering the enormous money we spend. Most developed countries spend half as much with better health outcomes. In this category, America is in the third world neighborhood. The Republi-cons like to say that most Canadians come across the boarder to access health care. All big lies. Canadians love their system, live longer and spend much less for better outcomes.

Agreed, our health care system is too expensive. We have too many folks who must do a better job of staying healthy; they must eat better and stay more active. Obamacare made big strides in attempting to help by emphasizing preventative care. But make no mistake, unless we transition to universal health care, America’s economy will never recover. Living wage jobs will not spring forth in ‘Trump World’, because we will not be able to compete with the rest of the world on a level playing field. We must also force our elected officials, to demand fair treatment from the drug and health care industries benefiting from our out of control health care system, instead of demanding more campaign largess in return for their indifference. There are no checks and balances on drug and medical suppliers. America pays the brunt of these inflated costs for much of the worlds medical research.

Obamacare is not perfect, but an awful lot of smart folks spent a lot of time, effort and capital, on attempting to mitigate America’s bastardized health care calamity. It took a lot of compromise. The Dems had to give up on single payer, and a public option and had to incorporate the Republican idea of a mandate so that the plan wouldn’t blow up the national debt. They had to accommodate health care providers, the insurance industry and big Pharma, in order to drag the plan over the finish line. It wasn’t pretty but they passed a comprehensive health care plan, something most U.S. Presidents have been trying to accomplish since Teddy Roosevelt more than a hundred years ago. It was a start.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act focused on covering as many uninsured Americans as possible and also, at the urging of our best and brightest health care providers like the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics and others, finally focused on preventive health care. Since the ACA was passed, the customary double digit yearly insurance increases, slowed to the lowest rate in 2 decades. It also wrested the insurance industries stranglehold on consumers, which punished women and folks with pre-existing medical conditions and lifetime cap problems. It was a valiant beginning on the road to a universal health care system, already embraced by the rest of the developed world.

But this Republi-con crew in charge, don’t know how to govern. All the conservatives who knew how to legislate and compromise have been drummed out of the party. All that’s left are the bomb throwers who are only good at throwing sand into the gears of American progress.

The Donald finally realized that getting comprehensive health care passed is “complicated.” He could saved a lot of grief and simply placed a call to his predecessor. Trump vows to “come after” congress-folks who vote against Trump-Care. But the Koch brothers pledge to defend them against Trump’s retaliation. Even if this wounded duck stumbles through the House, the Senate will no doubt put it out of it’s misery. The only ones still pushing this bad bill, are those who lied to the voters about being able to fashion a much better alternative to Obamacare. Rubber, meet the road!

Even though this plan has Paul Ryan’s finger prints all over it, the blame will be heaped on Trump. He will, as usual, try to blame someone else, probably the Congress (or the media), but this bogus TrumpCare buck, passed or failed, will stop at the Donald’s desk for sure.                                        John Hanno

 

Medscape March 15, 2017

State of the Union and Healthcare:

100 Years of Good Intentions

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): The Origins of National Healthcare

We must go back more than 100 years to Theodore Roosevelt’s administration to find the nidus of national healthcare. In his 1907 address, he said, “There is a constantly growing interest in this country in the question of the public health. At last the public mind is awake to the fact that many diseases, notably tuberculosis, are National scourges. The work of the State and city boards of health should be supplemented by a constantly increasing interest on the part of the National Government. The Congress has already provided a bureau of public health and has provided for a hygienic laboratory. There are other valuable laws relating to the public health connected with the various departments. This whole branch of the Government should be strengthened and aided in every way.”

The following slideshow tells the very long, difficult story that defines American healthcare through 70 years of presidential State of the Union addresses, with a final bow to an earlier president. Beginning with FDR’s address, every US president (with one exception), whether Democrat or Republican, has communicated during a State of the Union address a proposal for improving the nation’s health. The purpose of this slideshow is not to debate whether such programs were achieved or are even achievable but to briefly illustrate the typically good — but usually thwarted — intentions of nearly all of our recent presidents and to demonstrate how long the Executive Office has wrestled with this massive challenge.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): Healthcare Is a Right

In his 1944 address, FDR announced “…a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.” Among these rights he included employment, housing, and good education. He also spoke of “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” Public health had been a major federal effort since Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, but with this proposal FDR became the first president to explicitly suggest that medical care itself was a right for each American and should be addressed by the federal government.

 

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): Advocates a National Healthcare System

During his administration, Harry Truman consistently advocated a national healthcare system, and it was during his time in office that Congress enacted new programs to improve mental health, the health of mothers and children, and hospital construction. In his 1948 State of the Union address, Truman said, “We are rightly proud of the high standards of medical care we know how to provide in the United States. The fact is, however, that most of our people cannot afford to pay for the care they need.” He went on to advocate a “national system of payment for medical care based on well-tried insurance principles. This great Nation cannot afford to allow its citizens to suffer needlessly from the lack of proper medical care. Our ultimate aim must be a comprehensive insurance system to protect all our people equally against insecurity and ill health.”

 

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): Establishes the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

Dwight Eisenhower continued to advocate for a more comprehensive national plan for healthcare. In his 1956 State of the Union address, he said, “We must aid in cushioning the heavy and rising costs of illness and hospitalization to individuals and families. Provision should be made, by Federal reinsurance or otherwise, to foster extension of voluntary health insurance coverage to many more persons, especially older persons and those in rural areas. Plans should be evolved to improve protection against the costs of prolonged or severe illness. These measures will help reduce the dollar barrier between many Americans and the benefits of modern medical care.” Although such efforts failed to materialize over the course of Eisenhower’s time in office, he strengthened the US Food and Drug Administration and increased funds for medical research.

 

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): Calls for Healthcare for the Elderly

Fifty years ago, in his 1961 State of the Union address, Kennedy said, “Medical research has achieved new wonders — but these wonders are too often beyond the reach of too many people, owing to a lack of income (particularly among the aged), a lack of hospital beds, a lack of nursing homes and a lack of doctors and dentists. Measures to provide healthcare for the aged under Social Security, and to increase the supply of both facilities and personnel, must be undertaken…” And he continued to advocate reform in his final address: “Our working men and women, instead of being forced to beg for help from public charity once they are old and ill, should start contributing now to their own retirement health program through the Social Security System.”

 

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): Enacts Medicare/Medicaid

It was in 1965, under Lyndon Johnson’s administration, that Social Security Act amendments were passed which resulted in the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Although snarled in Vietnam, Johnson made a case for health reform in his 1967 State of the Union address: “We have brought medical care to older people who were unable to afford it. Three and one-half million Americans have already received treatment under Medicare since July.” He also sought to improve global health in his 1966 address: “I will also propose the International Health Act of 1966 to strike at disease by a new effort to bring modern skills and knowledge to the uncared-for, those suffering in the world, and by trying to wipe out smallpox and malaria and control yellow fever over most of the world during this next decade.” (This bill was never enacted.)

 

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974): An Unexpected Reformer

Although not known for a stand on healthcare reform, in his 1971 address, Richard Nixon, a Republican, proposed major reforms that are echoed in today’s Affordable Care Act, including the following:

  • A program to ensure that no American family will be prevented from obtaining basic medical care by inability to pay;
  • A major increase in aid to medical schools;
  • Incentives to improve the delivery of health services, particularly in low-resource areas;
  • Greater use of medical assistants;
  • New programs to encourage better preventive medicine;
  • Incentives to doctors “to keep people well rather than just to treat them when they are sick”; and
  • An additional $100 million to find a cure for cancer.

During his address he asserted, “America has long been the wealthiest nation in the world. Now it is time we became the healthiest nation in the world.”

 

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977): Confronts the Growing Costs of Healthcare

Gerald Ford, who inherited the presidency after Nixon’s resignation, wrestled with the problems of illness and individual financial hardship in the face of rising healthcare costs, not only for patients but for the nation as well. In his 1976 address, Ford sought to deal with these issues by proposing “catastrophic health insurance for everybody covered by Medicare.” To finance it, he suggested raising fees for short-term care and lowering costs for senior citizens: “[N]obody after reaching age 65 will have to pay more than $500 a year for covered hospital or nursing home care, nor more than $250 for 1 year’s doctor bills.” But Ford also made clear in his speech that he did not support a national healthcare program, although he suggested that “we combine 16 existing Federal programs, including Medicaid, into a single $10 billion Federal grant. Funds would be divided among States under a new formula which provides a larger share of Federal money to those States that have a larger share of low-income families.”

 

James “Jimmy” Carter (1977-1981): Pushes Harder for Universal Healthcare Coverage

In his 1891 address, Jimmy Carter pushed even harder than his predecessors “to reach the goal of comprehensive, universal healthcare coverage.” Features that he proposed included:

  • Fully subsidized and comprehensive coverage for 15 million additional poor persons;
  • Prenatal and delivery services for all pregnant women and coverage for all acute care for infants in their first year of life;
  • A limit of $1250 on annual out-of-pocket medical expenses and no limits on hospital coverage for the elderly and disabled;
  • Mandated employer coverage of health insurance for all full-time employees and their families, at least for major medical expenses; and
  • Medicare and Medicaid combined and expanded into an umbrella federal program.

His proposals for healthcare cost control included voluntary hospital cost guidelines and moving away from the fee-for-service payment model “toward a system of prospective reimbursement, under which healthcare providers would operate within predetermined budgets.”

 

Ronald W. Reagan (1981-1989): Ignores Healthcare Reform and Focuses on Cost

Ronald Reagan raised the issue of healthcare in 3 of his 8 addresses, but only briefly, and mostly focused on cost cutting, without detailing any programs for extending coverage. His 1982 speech urged a need to reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs, with a focus on weeding out fraud. He also said, “I signed a bill to reduce the growth of these programs by $44 billion over the next 3 years while at the same time preserving essential services for the truly needy.” In 2 other addresses, Reagan briefly acknowledged the problem of catastrophic illness but without outlining any specific ideas. In his 1983 address, he said he would “submit legislation to provide catastrophic illness insurance coverage for older Americans.” And in his 1986 speech, he directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to recommend how the private sector and government could work together to address the problems of affordable insurance for those threatened with financially catastrophic illness.

 

George H. W. Bush (1989-1993): Re-Engages the Healthcare Reform Battle

The elder George Bush mentioned healthcare as a problem in 2 of his early speeches, and he tackled the issue in more detail in his last address, which was in 1992. Recognizing the need for reform, he said that there were 2 options: implementing a national healthcare system, which he opposed, or providing insurance security for everyone while preserving choice. To accomplish this, he proposed to make basic health insurance affordable for all low-income persons who were not currently covered by providing a health insurance tax credit of up to $3750 for each family, and to ensure that all Americans had access to basic health insurance even if they changed jobs or developed serious health problems.

 

William J. Clinton (1993-2001): The Attack Dog for Healthcare Reform

The movement toward true healthcare reform began under Bill Clinton, who proposed significant changes in the healthcare system in every one of his presidential addresses. Despite Hillary Clinton’s failure to achieve consensus on an enactable healthcare plan, Clinton pushed on. In his 1995 address, he said, “[L]ast year we almost came to blows over healthcare, but we didn’t do anything…Let’s do whatever we have to do to get something done. Let’s at least pass meaningful insurance reform.” Congress did extend health coverage to 5 million children, and Clinton ended his administration with a budget surplus, which he hoped would ensure the future of big entitlement programs like Social Security. In his 1999 address, he proposed, “Listen to this: If we set aside 60% of the surplus for Social Security and 16% for Medicare, over the next 15 years, that saving will achieve the lowest level of publicly held debt since right before World War I, in 1917.”

 

George W. Bush (2001-2009): Keeps the Healthcare Debate Alive

George W. Bush may have had his hands full with preventing terrorism and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he continued the discussion on healthcare in every presidential address with some very aggressive proposals. In his 2005 address, he urged Congress “to move forward on a comprehensive healthcare agenda with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health savings accounts, and medical liability reform that will reduce healthcare costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need.” He expanded on these ideas in later addresses and continued to push for major changes in healthcare.

 

Barack Obama has taken ideas from every past president — Republican and Democrat — to try to create a solution to the American healthcare challenge. His signing of the Affordable Care Act has been criticized by the left for not going far enough and by the right for going too far. In his 2011 address, he summed up the current situation: “Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new healthcare law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you…What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition…So I say to this chamber tonight: Instead of refighting the battles of the last 2 years, let’s fix what needs fixing, and let’s move forward.”

The Fight to Save the Affordable Care Act Is Really a Class Battle

Starting to mitigate America’s yawning class divide is exactly what the ACA did. And that’s exactly what the Republican plan would undo.

By Angela Bonavoglia   March 10, 2017

The escalating battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act—heightened now that House Republicans have released their Obamacare-repeal legislation—is revealing a fundamental fault line in American society. Even the most vociferous opponents of the ACA defend some features of the law, like parents’ ability to keep children under the age of 26 on their insurance and the ban on insurance companies’ refusing coverage for people with preexisting condition. Those defenders include Republican lawmakers, who incorporated both of those features in their repeal bill. What we rarely hear defended is the ACA’s role as an instrument of social justice. Yet, at its most basic, starting to mitigate America’s yawning class divide is exactly what the ACA did. With this proposed legislation, that is exactly what the Republicans are trying to undo.

Prior to passage of the ACA, most low-income adults could not receive Medicaid because income-eligibility limits were downright draconian in most states—well below the current federal poverty level (FPL) of $11,880 a year for an individual. In a blatant gesture of discrimination, federal law excluded non-elderly, non-disabled adults without dependent children entirely from Medicaid eligibility. How sick you were, what health crisis you were facing, did not matter. If you suffered, you suffered. If you died, you died, as an estimated 20,000 to 45,000 Americans did each year because they did not have health insurance. That had become the American way.

The ACA began to change that. With Medicaid expansion, the ACA went a long way toward increasing access to health care for many of America’s forgotten poor, near poor, and disabled. The expansion made 11 million non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,394 a year for an individual) newly eligible for Medicaid, with no or very-low-cost premiums, leaving them responsible only for other nominal health-care costs. It opened the door to Medicaid for adults who had no dependent children. And it expanded Medicaid eligibility for more people with disabilities. That not only made them healthier; it also protected them from lives of forced institutionalization. Medicaid is the primary payer for the cost of long-term support services that are critical to the ability of low-income people with disabilities to live, work, and be active in the community; private insurers and Medicare provide precious little support for these or related services.

The ACA also brought more of the uninsured into the health-care market by giving a financial leg up to people who earned too much to be eligible for Medicaid but still much less than would enable them to buy private insurance independently. It enabled those with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,880 to $47,520 for individuals, $24,300 to $97,200 for a family of four) to buy health insurance on the public exchanges with the aid of premium tax credits—as long as they didn’t have access to a qualified plan through an employer. An estimated 85 percent of the 11 million people who bought health insurance on the state or federal marketplaces did so with the aid of tax credits that lowered their premiums. In addition, more than 6 million of the lowest-income people, those with incomes from 100 percent to 250 percent of the FPL, also became eligible for cost-sharing reductions, which cap out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays.

The structure of the ACA extended health insurance to 20 million formerly uninsured low- and moderate-income people, sending our uninsured rate to a record low of less than 9 percent. While that has been an enormous achievement, controversy accompanied the law from the start. It was passed without a single Republican vote. Major computer snafus made the inaugural sign-up for individual policies on the federal exchange a disaster. In time, premiums rose for those buying without credits or subsidies, as high as 145 percent in one location. But premiums on the individual market had been rising pre-ACA too, up 20 percent in 2010 over the previous year. In fact, according an analysis by Brookings researches, average premiums in the individual market actually dropped significantly upon implementation of the ACA, even as coverage improved. The combined amount a person could be responsible for in deductibles and co-pays with the ACA climbed as well: In 2016, the ACA capped those out-of-pocket maximums for all insurance plans on and off the exchanges at $7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family. But deductibles had been on the upswing, too; Kaiser reported that more than a quarter (26 percent) of the people who bought their own insurance in 2010 faced a $5,000 or higher annual deductible. Finally, the number of insurers willing to participate in the exchanges dropped precipitously in many locations, and many people could no longer find the doctors they trusted in their networks.

With people just beyond the cutoff for Medicaid or premium subsidies being required to pay full freight for their health care, some resentment was inevitable. One Kaiser survey focusing on the experiences and opinions of those who buy their own health insurance within or outside the exchanges found that the majority of those who got a tax credit (58 percent) were more likely than those who did not get a tax credit to feel they benefited from the law (even though they did, from such features as no-cost preventive care and requirements that insurers cover 10 essential services). Another Kaiser poll found that, while 50 percent of the public thought low-income people were better off under the ACA, only 27 percent thought those who bought their own health insurance were better off.

Newly eligible Medicaid recipients came in for resentment, too. In late December last year, Kaiser held six focus groups with Trump voters in three Rust Belt states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan). Three groups were held with those on Medicaid and three with those who had marketplace insurance with subsidies. Some of those with marketplace insurance, especially those battling severe health problems, saw the subsidies as insufficient and felt left behind by the law. Some, wrote Kaiser President Drew Altman in The New York Times, “saw Medicaid as a much better deal than their insurance and were resentful that people with incomes lower than theirs could get it.” But, despite their resentment, reported Kaiser, those participants felt that expanded Medicaid coverage “was important and should be retained.”

An unanticipated consequence of the ACA may be a change in the American mindset about government involvement in healthcare.

In fact, an unanticipated consequence of the ACA may well be a change in the American mindset about government involvement in health-care provision. The American public’s position on Medicaid appears to be gradually shifting from a grudging acceptance of what has been seen as an expensive, unearned handout to a greater recognition of Medicaid’s crucial place in our social safety net. By 2005, pre-ACA, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of adults said Medicaid was a very important government program, ranking close behind Social Security (88 percent) and Medicare (83 percent). However, as the authors of a seminal review of 25 years of public opinion on health-care policy published in 2006 observed, “Medicaid is often discussed both positively and negatively. It is seen as the country’s safety net program for low-income people, but also a program that is becoming too expensive and is threatening the stability of future federal and state budgets.” As a result, they reported, polling in 2005 found that 61 percent of respondents believed that Medicaid was in a financial crisis or had serious problems; 44 percent favored reducing the number of people qualifying for the program as one solution.

Contrast that to the responses to the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid—a program that today covers over 70 million children, adults, people with disabilities, and seniors, one in five Americans. A just-released Kaiser tracking poll found that 84 percent of those polled believed it was important for states that expanded Medicaid with federal funds to continue to receive those funds, including 69 percent of Republicans. While only 12 percent of Americans said they wanted to see Medicaid funding decreased, nearly half (48 percent) wanted funding to stay the same and more than a third (36 percent) wanted funding increased. Faced with Republican proposals to replace open-ended Medicaid funding to states with limited block grants, nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) said Medicaid “should continue largely as it is today, with the federal government guaranteeing coverage for low-income people, setting standards for who states cover and what benefits people get, and matching state Medicaid spending as the number of people on the program goes up or down.”

As for those premium tax credits based on need, there have been complaints, both from those who make too much to receive them and from those who receive them but feel they are insufficient. Still, no one is suggesting abolishing them. A Kaiser poll from November of last year found that 80 percent of those polled favored providing financial help to low- and moderate-income Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage—including 67 percent of Republicans.

But an even more telling finding emerged in January from a Pew Research Center Survey. Asked if it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health-care coverage, 60 percent of Americans said yes, the highest percentage in nearly a decade. While far more Democrats than Republicans agreed with that statement, there were significant changes by income: A majority of Republicans (52 percent) with incomes under $30,000 agreed with the proposition (up from 31 percent in 2016), as did over a third of Republicans making $30,000 to $74,999 (up from 14 percent in 2016). Those making the most (over $75,000) agreed the least: 18 percent, up from 16 percent the year before. Even though a majority (67 percent) of Republicans said that the government does not have a responsibility to ensure health-care coverage, more than half (56 percent) said it should continue both Medicare and Medicaid.

Despite all of the controversy around the ACA, the most recent polls show that it has reached its highest approval level ever.

Despite all of the controversy that has grown around the ACA, the most recent polls show that the health-care law has reached its highest approval level ever, 54 percent in the latest Pew Research Center poll, and another high, 48 percent, in the latest Kaiser poll. The message may well be that, despite the ACA’s shortcomings, a growing group of Americans don’t want the federal government out of the health-insurance business; they want it to do a better job.

This picture speaks to a powerful coalition in the making. By guaranteeing coverage to a much larger share of the American public through Medicaid, and by convincing Americans of the justice implicit in providing financial assistance to those who cannot afford health insurance on their own, the ACA began to move us closer to a commitment to universal health coverage. While those words have become hopelessly politicized, what they refer to, according to the World Health Organization, is simply a system whereby “all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.” Ours is a patchwork system, but it is a system nonetheless. In terms of paying for that system, interestingly, while there is widespread resistance to the ACA mandate that fines those who don’t sign up for insurance—viewed favorably by only 35 percent of Americans—there has been widespread acceptance of the current system of paying taxes for guaranteed care under Medicare (70 percent in 2015 when the program turned 50).

The Republicans’ new American Health Care Act (contained in two bills, one from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the other from Ways and Means) would repeal major provisions of the ACA that made health insurance a reality for those 20 million people, while leaving an estimated 28.5 million people who still have no health insurance, mostly low-income families with at least one worker, untouched.

It would greatly diminish opportunities for people to receive Medicaid at all and for that coverage to be adequate. It would end the current federal support for Medicaid expansion in 2020. It would turn Medicaid into a one-size-fits-all program, replacing open-ended federal payments to states with fixed payments capped per person, which may or may not meet a person’s actual health-care needs. And it would make it impossible for Medicaid recipients to use their insurance at Planned Parenthood, because the legislation bans Medicaid payments to “prohibited entities,” a description tailored in the legislation, without naming it, to Planned Parenthood.

The proposed law would end the cost-sharing subsidies that help very-low-income Americans pay deductibles and co-pays. It would replace the ACA credits based on need with credits from $2,000 to $4,000 based on age alone, which would only begin to phase out for earners above $75,000. People could put more money into their health savings accounts, which benefit only higher-income people. Obamacare fees that helped support the health-care expansion would be repealed, like those on health-insurance companies and manufacturers of brand-name prescription drugs. And the legislation would eliminate the requirement that larger companies provide their full-time employees with affordable insurance as well as the individual mandate. However, it would replace the individual mandate with a back-door penalty—a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for anyone who lets their insurance lapse.

The stakes are higher now than ever. Get The Nation in your inbox.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet provided the numbers; we do not know how many people will gain or lose coverage as a result of this legislation or what the program will cost. Yet the two House committees reportedly plan to vote on the bill even without those estimates, and hope to get it to the full House for a vote before their Easter recess begins on April 7.

At their town-hall meetings and in the streets, Republican lawmakers have witnessed the angry backlash against their disorganized efforts to repeal Obamacare, which led some prominent Republicans these past few months to express grave concerns about the risks to consumers, the insurance industry, and their own political lives. “We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created,” Representative Tom McClintock of California was quoted in the Washington Post saying at a closed-door meeting back in January. “That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”

We cannot know now if the emerging cross-class coalition will hold, if ordinary people will challenge Republican efforts to protect the wealthy and corporate interests while leaving the poor, near poor, and struggling middle-class to once again fend for themselves. What we do know is that with the ACA we took a few small steps into a future inhabited by the rest of the developed world, which sees health care as a right. To go back to the bad old days when empty pockets meant living in terror of an unexpected illness, unrelenting suffering, and early, preventable death would be nothing if not a national shame.

Angela Bonavoglia, MSW, is a journalist and health communications consultant and the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church.

 

Yahoo News –

Why the Republican health care bill is doomed to fail — even if it passes

Matt Bai’s Political World March 16, 2017

The old Superman comic books used to feature a character named Bizarro, who looked exactly like the Man of Steel, except for his blocky, Frankenstein-like features and the fact that everything about him was reversed. Whereas Superman could burn things with his eyes, the lumbering Bizarro could freeze them; while Superman’s X-ray vision couldn’t handle lead, Bizarro’s could penetrate only lead. You get the idea.

That’s the image that kept popping into my head this week as I watched Republicans hurtle their way toward an ill-conceived overhaul of the health care system. In a sense, what Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan — a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

They now seem bent on making exactly the same mistakes Democrats did in 2009, but in exactly the inverse way.

At about this time eight years ago, I was hanging around Capitol Hill and the White House, putting together a preview of the looming health care fight for the New York Times Magazine. (The piece holds up pretty well, I think, but judge for yourself.)

The pivotal Democrat on the Hill then was Max Baucus, the Montana senator — and later President Obama’s ambassador to China — who chaired the Senate Finance Committee. Like Obama, Baucus thought CEOs, health care providers and politicians who had once opposed reform could now be persuaded to support it, as long as the plan promised to get soaring costs and federal spending under control.

And Baucus told me that any new law had to have at least some measure of bipartisan support, even if that required painful compromises. That’s because no piece of massive social legislation had ever been perfect from the start, and in order to preserve and fix it, you needed at least a few members of the minority to be invested in its success.

A transformational law of this size, Baucus said, would be “unsustainable” if one party decided to enact it alone.

What Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan – a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

The problem for Baucus was that most Democrats, especially in the House, didn’t care at all about corporate competitiveness and public debt. They cared about bringing down the number of poorer Americans who couldn’t afford insurance, and they weren’t open to painful fiscal choices in order to get that done.

So while Obama and his congressional allies sold their plan to industry and the public as an economically necessary reform that would “bend the cost curve,” the law they ultimately passed was really more a wealth transfer program that birthed new regulations and taxes in exchange for expanded coverage for the poor and some middle-class protections — a program very much in the tradition of the Great Society.

The most difficult decisions involving public spending were pushed off years into the future, for some other group of politicians to worry about. And of course, as it turned out, Democrats ended up passing the law along strictly partisan lines, using a budgetary gimmick known as “reconciliation” to help it along.

This wasn’t their call, to be fair; they really weren’t given a whole lot of choice. But what all of this meant, practically speaking, is that Baucus was right — the law was probably politically unsustainable from the start.

What came to be known as “Obamacare” was wildly successful in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by more than 20 million, but the public saw little of the economic benefit it was promised. (Although in truth, health care costs have risen more slowly than they might have otherwise.) Democrats couldn’t make necessary fixes in the sprawling law, because no one on the Republican side had any interest in seeing the law fixed.

Jump ahead now to where congressional Republicans are this week with their American Health Care Act — which is precisely the upside-down version of where Democrats were eight years ago. Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.

They may advertise their bill as a market-based solution to health care inequities, but in fact, what Republicans really care about right now is shedding the new revenue and spending in Obama’s health care law — specifically by repealing taxes and eliminating subsidies for the poor and the Medicaid expansion in the states.

President Trump has promised that “you’ll see rates go down, down, down and you’ll see plans go up, up, up,” and, in distinctly Trumpian terms, that the new system will be “a thing of beauty.”

But the Congressional Budget Office, which is led by a Republican appointee and has a slightly better record than Trump when it comes to veracity, estimates that the plan will cost 24 million Americans their health insurance while saving the government more than $300 billion over the next 10 years.

This time there’s not even a question of bipartisanship. Republicans have been plotting a three-stage legislative process, including a reconciliation measure of their own, to pass their plan without a single Democratic vote — although it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that they will settle anytime soon on a plan that wins over both House conservatives and Senate moderates.

The problem — especially if you’re one of those moderates who actually care about governing and have to get elected statewide — is that the Bizarro health care bill wouldn’t be any more lasting than its predecessor.

Before long, the public would figure out that the law isn’t going to do anything to make coverage more affordable or the choices more vast, as promised, but rather the opposite. Eventually, the popular protections that Republicans say they’ll keep are likely to become unworkable without mandates and subsidies.

Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.

Mostly the bill would spare some small businesses and wealthier Americans from paying additional taxes and cut back the Medicaid rolls. The issue of what to do about the uninsured would roar back into the public debate.

And good luck trying to amend the bill in ways that would mitigate its harshest effects, because Democrats may well gain seats in the ensuing elections, and they’re not going to feel the slightest motivation to help clean up the mess.

In some ways, Republicans are in a more precarious position with the Bizarro bill than Democrats were in 2009. Obama, at least, managed to cobble together support from insurers and providers, which muted some of the criticism when premiums started to rise. Trump and Paul Ryan, the House speaker, haven’t even tried to assemble a coalition.

You have to remember, too, that Republicans are playing with something here that neither party has ever attempted on such a scale before: a rollback of benefits the public already has. It’s one thing to ram through a program with lots of subsidies and new rights attached. It’s an untested proposition to unilaterally take that stuff away.

Here’s what we do know: With a policy area as complicated as this one, and as reliant on theories about how the markets and consumers will respond to various incentives, you’re never going to pass one law and be done with it. Responsible governing in Washington — if we can still conceive of such a thing — means being able and willing to reassess and adjust to reality as time goes on.

Democrats were never going to be able to do that because of the dubious ways in which they sold and enacted their law. And Republicans won’t have that option, either, even if they manage to come up with something that satisfies their dueling factions.

Superman and Bizarro never actually resolve anything. They just retreat to their parallel universes and live to fight again.

The Humanist.com

Christcare: What Would Jesus Do about the GOP Healthcare Plan?

by Patrick Hudson  March 15, 2017

“This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus said of his follower Lazarus, as he heard of the latter’s ailment. Lazarus had fallen ill and subsequently had passed away. Jesus—let’s call him the heroic symbol of universal healthcare—arrived in Bethany near Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead. After Lazarus did reportedly rise four days after his death, he surely never fretted over deductibles or co-pays, nor had he been forced to decide whether to feed his family or live.

The Lazarus tale is one of a number of parables in the Bible where Jesus heals the sick, cures the blind, and saves lepers, all at no cost. I would love to sit here and say that our government stands in agreement and that Jesus’s example of universal healthcare had ossified, but that’s simply not the case.

Just this week House Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act (AHCA), known in some parts as “Trumpcare.” Even though he jumps at the chance to plaster his name on just about anything, Trump distances himself from that moniker, while Breitbart News has nicknamed the plan “Ryancare.” No matter where you look, it seems as though this bill is so bad, its nickname is being passed around like a polio-potato. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that twenty-four million people will lose insurance in ten years under the AHCA, with the sixty-five and older age group standing to lose the most. The sad reality is that age group overwhelmingly voted for the individuals who introduced this bill, conned by lies that Obamacare was hurting them and wrapped up in the idea that their values were being attacked by non-Christians. The religious right ensured that Christians headed to the polls, fearful that their lifestyle was under attack from rabid secularists hell-bent on persecuting them.

What’s amazing to me is the religious right’s ability to dismiss certain parts of the Bible, while wholeheartedly accepting other passages. Last week in the Humanist.com we saw how sandwiched in between Leviticus’s two verses condemning homosexuality was a passage urging Christians to accept immigrants and refugees as if they were native-born. How many people were aware of that passage? How many times did conservative politicians and religious right leaders stand before their constituents and congregations and proclaim: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born”? Both the Freedom Caucus and the Liberty Caucus remained silent then, just as they remain silent now, as twenty-four million Americans face losing their insurance under the AHCA. As Liberty Caucus member and chair of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said, they’ll have to avoid getting an iPhone to pay for it. This fundamental detachment from the reality of the working class is what drives this bill. Health insurance costs roughly $10,345 a year (though the deviation is quite wide), while the cost of a brand new iPhone 7 costs $729. The reality that Chaffetz does not understand is that the choice is whether to get health insurance or put food on the table.

However, the most damning assertion came from Republican Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents Kansas’s First District (and is an embarrassment to my ancestral home). Marshall affirmed in full confidence that poor people would not only reject “free” healthcare, but would also reject health care altogether, “just like Jesus said.” Now, ignoring the grossly inappropriate manner in which Marshall invoked religion in his official capacity, this argument is fundamentally flawed. Marshall insultingly stated that poor people “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.” This is verifiably incorrect; as a Harvard study reported last August, Obamacare’s insurance and Medicare expansion led to more working-class people receiving primary and preventative care. Insurance incentivizes people to go to the doctor, as they don’t fear financial repercussions. But lo, Marshall says Jesus said, Harvard is but an academic institution! We must learn about our current system of healthcare from those who lived over 2,000 years ago.

While I won’t go so far as to say that everyone in the GOP holds such disdain for the working class, I do believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the working-class experience and a sickening amount of pandering from both political parties. Hillary Clinton attempted to link her father’s business to her understanding of the working-class culture, while Donald Trump feigned empathy. And the GOP has consistently conned the religious working class, pushing a fake “war” on Christianity and Christian values, and instilling a persecution complex within them, all while cutting taxes for the top 1 percent. The religious right will always exist—their fear tactics will always exist. It is up to all American citizens to demand a government that works for us all.

Patrick Hudson is the Communications Assistant at the American Humanist Association.

 

Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump’s Health-Care Debacle

The White House falsely claims the Trump/Ryan Obamacare replacement scheme is what “everyone has been asking for.”

By John Nichols Twitter March 2017

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to be imitating Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live imitation of him when he tried to make the argument for replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare by placing a copy of the final version of the 974-page law next to the sketchy Republican substitute.

Forget about the contents, argued Spicer. “Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123—much smaller, much bigger—so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion. We’ll undo this. And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part. So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.”

Say what?

“[Look] at the size. This is the Democrats, this is us. You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not,” said Spicer during Tuesday’s press briefing, as he moved back and forth, hovering over the two stacks of paper. “And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.… I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.”

Support for the Affordable Care Act has soared, as Americans say they want it expanded—not repealed.

Needless to say, the Spicer “size” video went viral.

But it was another Spicer statement—or, to be more precise, alternative fact—that should have gone viral, that should have been noted by the reporters in the room, and by the commentators on the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a scheme that Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva says “ends affordable healthcare,” and that Congressman Keith Ellison says “hurts nearly all working Americans by gutting Medicaid, defunding Planned Parenthood, stripping protections and benefits and increasing costs.” “At the same time,” notes Ellison, “it provides a huge handout to the wealthy and insurance corporations. Which begs the question: who exactly are the Republicans trying to help with this legislation?”

The Spicer alternative fact that ought to be reported, and addressed, is a repetition of the spin that has been used by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to peddle their latest scheme to redistribute wealth upward.

“This is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for, the plan that the President ran on, and the plan that will ultimately save the system,” the White House press secretary announced in the takeaway quote of the day.

Apart from the fact that the plan proposed by Trump and Ryan makes things worse (as opposed to saving the system), and apart from the fact that Trump ran on roughly a dozen different health-care platforms (flirting with everything from single-payer to survival-of-the-fittest, but always promising to make things “great”), there is no truth to the statement that “this is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for.”

To be clear, if Donald Trump “ran on” this plan, then it was not the choice of everyone. It was not the choice of the majority of voters. It was not the choice even of a plurality of voters. Fifty-four percent of American voters rejected Trump last November; his main opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, beat him by almost 3 million votes.

The claim that everyone was asking for this plan, or even for a replacement of the Affordable Care Act, is an alternative fact. It’s fake news. It’s a lie.

Poll after poll after poll provides an illustration of the truth. And so, since Spicer is so enamored of illustrations, let’s turn to them. Check out the headlines that appeared in the weeks before the Republican plan was released:

NBC News (January 17): “As GOP pushes repeal, Obamacare has never been more popular.”

CNBC (January 20): “New poll shows Obamacare is more popular than Donald Trump.”

Business Insider (February 2): “Obamacare getting more popular.”

Politico (February 22): “Support for Obamacare is rising.”

CNN (February 24): “Support for Obamacare at all-time high.”

The Hill (February 27): “More than 6 in 10 oppose Obamacare repeal.”

Survey research tells us that the popularity of the Affordable Care Act is rising. Rapidly.

New polling from the Pew Research Center finds that 54 percent of Americans approve of the ACA, while 43 percent oppose it. That, reported CNN, is the highest level of support for President Obama’s health care–reform measure ever recorded by Pew. The latest polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that the ACA has “the highest level of favorability measured in more than 60 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls conducted since 2010.”

Polling numbers fluctuate. But here is the interesting twist: Surveys frequently show that, among those who favor altering the ACA, most want it to be made stronger—not weaker, as Trump, Pence, Ryan, and Spicer propose.

The stakes are higher now than ever. Get The Nation in your inbox.

A new McClatchy/Marist survey, released a few days before Spicer’s press conference, found that 65 percent of Americans would like to see portions of the Affordable Care Act retained. According to The Hill, “Twenty percent say lawmakers should let the health care law stand as is, while 38 percent want any changes to enable it to do more and 7 percent hope alterations make it capable of less.”

Only 31 percent supported complete repeal.

Why would Spicer peddle the fantasy that Americans called for the Republican plan, when that is clearly not the case?

Maybe Spicer is lying because the truth is inconvenient.

Maybe Spicer is lying to himself.

Whatever the excuse, Spicer is peddling alternative facts and, as Chuck Todd so ably explained on the day that the Trump team first floated the phrase, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

John Nichols Twitter John Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent. He is the co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of  People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizens Democracy, published in March 2016 by Nation Books.

 

ABC  Good Morning America

Major health groups oppose proposed changes in ‘Trumpcare’ bill

GILLIAN MOHNEY, ABC News, March 9, 2017  

Physician and hospital groups are voicing opposition to the new health care bill, the American Health Care Act, over concerns that many patients could lose health coverage.

Those opposed to the bill include the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Dr. James Madara, the CEO of the AMA, said the bill could harm vulnerable patients in its current form, especially those covered by the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which provides federal matching funds for states who choose to opt-in and offer Medicaid to adults who are up to 138 percent above the poverty line.

“While we agree that there are problems with the ACA that must be addressed, we cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations,” Madara wrote on behalf of the AMA, the largest association of physicians and medical students in the U.S.

He cited concerns about the plan outlined in the AHCA to stop Medicaid expansion in 2020. Under the AHCA, states that offer the Medicaid expansion would continue receiving federal funds for those already enrolled, but would not receive federal funds as of 2020 for new candidates who only qualify for Medicaid under expansion rules.

“Medicaid expansion has proven highly successful in providing coverage for lower income individuals,” Madara said.

The American Hospital Association also sent a letter voicing “significant concerns” about the current bill. Specifically, it believes the bill could lead to “tremendous instability” for people seeking affordable health insurance.

“Absent Congressional Budget Office analysis, our assessment of this legislation as currently drafted is that it is likely to result in a substantial reduction in the number of Americans able to buy affordable health insurance or maintain coverage under the Medicaid program,” officials from the American Hospital Association said in the letter.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 physicians specializing in medical care for children, teens and young adults, opposed the bill in a letter to members of Congress, saying it would undo recent gains in health insurance coverage for children. The group estimated that 95 percent of children are now insured, including those covered through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act.

The AAP opposed Medicaid changes under the American Health Care Act, such as moving away from an entitlement program, with states receiving open-ended federal funds for Medicaid recipients, to block grants, with states receiving per person allotments that cannot exceed designated totals.

“Medicaid has been a crucial source of health care coverage for children for over 50 years,” the group said, reporting that 36 million children are currently covered via Medicaid. “Per capita caps would degrade the quality of care offered in the Medicaid program and would hinder the ability of states to respond to public health crises and other fluctuations in health care costs and the need for services.”

 

How Marco Rubio is quietly killing Obamacare

By Marc A. Thiessen December 14, 2015

There’s a Cuban American first-term senator running for president who has done more than any Republican to stop Obamacare.

No, I’m not talking about Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

I’m talking about Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The battle against Obamacare has been Cruz’s signature struggle. In 2013, Cruz took to the Senate floor and promised to speak out against Obamacare “until I am no longer able to stand.” To fill the time, he even read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” His filibuster, and the government shutdown over Obamacare it sparked, launched Cruz into the political stratosphere — inspiring conservatives eager for a principled fighter who does not back down.

But while the shutdown may have helped boost Cruz into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders, it had zero impact on undermining Obamacare.

Rubio, by contrast, didn’t read Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor, but he has quietly pushed Obamacare into what may prove to be a death spiral.

When the Obama administration was crafting Obamacare, it came up with a crony capitalist solution to entice reluctant insurers to join the exchanges. Many insurers worried that there would not be enough healthy people paying in to cover the costs of sick people. So the administration created a “risk corridor” program to help prop up insurers who lost money in the first three years of the law. Profitable insurers would pay some of those profits into a pool to help insurers who lost money. If the amount insurers lost exceeded what the companies paid in, the government would step in and make up the difference.

Calling this “a taxpayer-funded bailout for insurance companies,” Rubio last year quietly inserted language into the omnibus government spending bill that barred the Department of Health and Human Services from dipping into general funds to pay failing insurers. “While the Obama administration can still administer the risk-corridor program, for one year at least, they won’t be able to use taxpayer funds to bail out insurance companies,” Rubio said.

His provision sparked little opposition at the time, but it has proved to be a poison pill that is killing Obamacare from within.

Last year, insurers lost $2.9 billion more than expected on Obamacare. But insurers had paid only $362 million into the program — leaving it more than $2.5 billion short. Thanks to Rubio’s provision, the administration was allowed to pay only 13 cents of every dollar insurers requested. Without the taxpayer bailouts, more than half of the Obamacare insurance cooperatives created under the law failed. One, Health Republic of Oregon, was expecting a $7.9 million bailout from the government. Instead, thanks to Rubio, it got only $995,000 — not a penny of it from the taxpayers. The Oregon co-op announced in October it was closing its doors. Soon, two other insurers — WinHealth Partners in Wyoming and Moda Health in Washington state — pulled out of the exchanges. And United Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest insurers, announced that it may leave the Obamacare exchanges in 2016. If that happens, and other insurers follow United’s lead, that could spell disaster for Obamacare.

The Hill newspaper called Rubio’s provision “the biggest blow in the GOP’s five-year war against Obamacare.” The New York Times declared in a front-page story, “For all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican presidential hopeful has actually done something toward achieving that goal,” adding that Rubio’s provision has “tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law.”

Now that the Obama administration understands the grave threat Rubio’s provision poses to Obamacare, Democrats are pushing to block it from this year’s omnibus spending bill so that they can bail out the insurers. According to Politico, “HHS officials . . . maintained that insurers will eventually receive the requested payments during the next two years of the temporary program.”

The insurers are joining the fight. In talking points obtained by BuzzFeed, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s chief executive, Scott Serota, warned congressional Democrats that Rubio’s provision “will result in massive premium increases and could cause private insurers to become insolvent.” In other words, Rubio’s provision poses a mortal threat to Obamacare.

Rubio maintains that if it takes a taxpayer bailout of big business to save Obamacare, that alone proves the law is unsustainable. He is pushing to keep his bailout ban in the final bill. “Let’s be clear, the reason these health insurance companies are enduring a financial loss is that Obamacare is a disastrous law,” Rubio declared in a letter to House and Senate leaders. “It broke the promise to lower health insurance premiums . . . Now the very architects of this law are attempting to place taxpayers on the hook.”

He’s right — and now it’s up to GOP leaders to back him by refusing to agree to any omnibus spending bill that allows a taxpayer bailout for insurance companies that made a bad bet on Obamacare.

And Rubio deserves credit at Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate as the only candidate on the stage who has done more than talk about killing Obamacare.

 

Raw Story

Trump supporter credits Trumpcare — which hasn’t taken effect — for dramatically lower health costs

Travis Gettys March 17, 2017

A Tennessee woman who backs President Donald Trump credits God and the Republican health care bill — which hasn’t been voted into law — for her family’s dramatically lower insurance costs.

Charla McComic’s son recently lost his job, and his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to $88, which she described as “a blessing from God” and a gift from the new president, reported the Washington Post.

The 52-year-old former first-grade teacher thinks the change is due to tax credits that would be offered under the so-called “Trumpcare” law, if and when it’s approved by Congress and signed into law — but the price drop is actually a feature of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Workers who lose their jobs and employer-based health care coverage may enroll in Obamacare, which offers coverage based on income or possibly Medicaid for those with little or no income — like McComic’s son.

McComic, who attended Trump’s rally this week in Nashville with four family members, told the Post she’s not worried that her 33-year-old son or 3-year-old granddaughter will lose their Medicaid coverage under the GOP plan.

“So far, everything’s been positive, from what I can tell,” she told the newspaper. “I just hope that more and more people and children get covered under this new health-care plan.”

McComic, who campaigned for Trump with some relatives by forming a motorcade and driving through their hometown shouting his name, said she’s never trusted a president as much as the real estate developer and former reality TV star.

“We said: ‘Who else would we do this for, besides Trump?’” McComic said. “We agreed on the Lord. We would stand here for the Lord, but that’s about it.”

 

Trump Promises Tea Party Groups He Will Punish America: If TrumpCare Fails, He Will Let ACA Fail

By First Amendment March 9, 2017

Title of this diary is stark, but it’s true and we must frame our arguments in these stark terms. Donald Trump literally wants to harm Americans, by sabotaging it’s current healthcare system.

Truly unbelievable. Donald Trump is a President that is willing to harm millions of Americans, because he might not get his way on his disastrous TrumpCare plan.

What’s striking here, Trump has no problem punishing Americans for political gain and yet, he will never, ever criticize Vladimir Putin. He will go out of his way not to criticize his Putin. Even calling Putin “very smart”, yet he treats Americans like they were dumb. This is Trump at his elitist, narcissistic best. I got mine, so I could give a damn about you America.

He would allow our healthcare system to fail, so he can blame Democrats and in turn this would destroy the lives of millions and millions of Americans. Make America Great Again or screw it over constantly?

Make no mistake folks, Trump will attack America and Americans at will every single chance he gets. Whether it’s the enemy press, the enemy former President and now the enemy healthcare system, etc. No other way to put this, but Donald Trump is just pure evil and no other way to spin Trump’s response on healthcare.

This should be a huge story.

 

Raw Story

‘I grew up in Canada’: MSNBC host whoops GOPer for claiming people hate universal health care

David Edwards March 9, 2017

MSNBC host Ali Velshi clashed with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) over the popularity of universal health care systems.

Jordan argued during a Thursday interview on MSNBC that Republicans should do a “clean” repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law before trying to replace it.

“This is so logical,” Jordan insisted. “We know Obamacare is a mess: fewer choices, higher premiums, higher deductibles. It’s a complete disaster.”

“I hear this talking point all the time,” Velshi interrupted. “There have always been higher premiums. Higher premiums every year. And under Obamacare, the premium increase has been lower. I heard you guys at your press conference yesterday sort of mincing words with that one.”

“We do have to acknowledge that,” the MSNBC host continued. “There were higher premiums before Obamacare, there are higher premiums during Obamacare. But the rate of increase has been slower.”

Deflecting Velshi’s point, Jordan complained that the current law meant “more taxes, more regulations, drive up the cost of insurance, mandate people buy it, and if they don’t they get penalized.”

“There was never affordable insurance,” Velshi observed. “Nowhere on the face of the Earth is there a free health insurance market that works. If you could point me to one and say that a free market works — it’s just one of those areas that a free market doesn’t work.”

“It will work much better than it’s working now under complete government control!” the Ohio Republican promised. “Do you think that people are satisfied now? How about people in the individual market who went from paying $100-200 a month to paying $500-600 a month.”

Velshi, who is from Canada, stepped in to defend the success of universal health care systems throughout the world.

“You know, sir, in all those countries, in all those countries that have single payer systems or universal health care, happiness about health care is actually substantially greater than it is in the United States.”

“Then why do they all come here?” Jordan asked.

“They don’t all come here!” Velshi shot back. “Republicans say that all the time. They don’t all come here. People in Canada, people in Norway, people in the United Kingdom, people in Sweden, people in Denmark — they don’t all come to the United States for health care. Why do you say that?”

“Because you see it all the time,” Jordan opined.

“It’s just not true!” Velshi pointed out.

“People in Canada come her for extensive surgery,” Jordan said. “They come here and get it done in the United States.”

“I grew up in Canada,” Velshi revealed. “I lived in Canada, my entire family is in Canada. And nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I’m sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It’s not actually statistically true.”

“You think Obamacare is great?” Jordan quipped.

“No, I’m not arguing Obamacare,” Velshi noted. “I’m arguing the fact that you keep on saying that a free market works. Just name me one country, one country in the world where a free market system for health care works.”

Instead of answering the question, Jordan said that Republicans have a mandate from voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Watch the video below from MSNBC, broadcast March 9, 2017.

 

How the House Republicans’ proposed Obamacare replacement compares

On Monday, House leaders released legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. If it passes, here’s what would change.

By Darla Cameron and Leslie Shapiro  March 7, 2017

Who would be covered

Under two plans drafted by separate House committees, the government would no longer penalize Americans for failing to have health insurance.

OUT

Enforcement of the individual mandate requiring coverage

IN

30 percent surcharge on premiums that insurers would be able to impose on consumers who purchase a new plan after letting their previous coverage lapse — a strategy to encourage people to remain insured

OUT

Employer mandate on larger companies to offer affordable coverage

How they would pay for coverage

The plans would replace federal insurance subsidies with a new form of annual individual tax credits.

OUT

Income-based premium subsidies to lower- and moderate-income consumers would end as of 2020.

IN

Age- and income-based refundable tax credits

How the new tax credits would work

The new legislation would break people into five age groups, each receiving a different amount in tax credits to purchase health insurance: Age Tax credit 20 – 29: $2,000 30 – 39: $2,500 40 – 49: $3,000 50 – 59: $3,500 60 and older: $4,000

These credits begin to phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and joint filers making over $150,000. Other restrictions include:

  • For each $1,000 in additional income above the limits, a person would be entitled to $100 less in credit.
  • Credits would be limited to a maximum $14,000 per family.
  • Credits could be used for any health plan allowed in a state, including ones providing only catastrophic coverage.
  • Credits could not be used to buy health plans that cover abortion.

OUT

Insurers can charge older customers up to three times what they charge younger customers.

IN

Insurers would be able to charge older customers up to five times what they charge younger customers.

OUT

Individuals can contribute up to $3,400 and families up to $6,750 to pre-tax health savings accounts.

IN

Starting in 2018, individuals could contribute up to $6,550 and families could contribute up to $13,100 to pre-tax health savings accounts.

OUT

Cost-sharing subsidies, which were provided to insurers to help their ACA customers cover deductibles and co-payments (ending in 2020)

IN

States would receive $100 billion over 10 years through a new Patient and State Stability Fund for safety-net needs and possible “high-risk pools” for consumers with expensive medical conditions.

Proposed changes to Medicaid

Here’s how the legislation would address Medicaid.

OUT

Medicaid as an entitlement program with open-ended, matching federal funds for anyone who qualifies

IN

Medicaid would be funded by giving states a per-capita amount based on how much each state was spending for the fiscal year that ended in September.

How Medicaid expansion would be affected

Under Obamacare, 31 states broadened their Medicaid programs to cover people making up to 138 percent of poverty-level income.

Under the GOP plans, the states would continue getting enhanced federal funding until 2020. After that, the government would keep paying 90 percent for beneficiaries already on the rolls as long as they remain eligible.

After 2020, new beneficiaries would be funded at a lower level.

NM IN KY LA AR OH WV MI NJ CO MN IL NY IA ND MT WA OR CA AK HI AZ NV PA MA NH VT RI CT DE MD DC

Other key elements of the plans

The legislation would preserve some of the most popular features of the 2010 health-care law, while targeting Planned Parenthood.

IN

Insurers would still be banned from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

IN

Dependents would still be able to stay on parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

IN

Caps on annual or lifetime coverage would still be banned.

IN

Insurers would still have to cover certain categories of specified benefits first covered by the ACA.

OUT

Planned Parenthood is eligible for Medicaid reimbursements or federal family-planning grants (but federal money cannot fund abortions)

IN

Planned Parenthood would face a one-year funding freeze

Source: The American Health Care Act, House Republican briefing.

 

Business Insider

The GOP’s Obamacare replacement is going to disproportionately affect one group

Lydia Ramsey and Andy Kiersz, Business Insider  March 13, 2017

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its report on the American Health Care Act, the healthcare bill proposed by House Republicans.

The CBO estimated that under the Republican healthcare bill as many as 24 million more people could be uninsured and the federal budget deficit would shrink by more than $300 billion over the next decade.

As part of the report, the nonpartisan agency also detailed its estimates for what premiums might look like under the proposed legislation.

The net premiums — that’s accounting for tax credits — for different age groups might look quite different under the proposed AHCA compared to the Affordable Care Act.

Under the AHCA, premium tax credits would solely account for age, rather than factoring in both age and income as it exists under the ACA. The effect, according to the CBO, is that older people with lower incomes would see a significant increase in their net premiums.

(Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from CBO)

 

How the Republican plans to replace Obamacare could affect you

Michael Phelan  Social Security Works

Many analysts doubt whether the plans Republicans put forward would have provided coverage that was adequate or available to enough people.

More Americans are insured than ever before. But the political consequences for both sides may not have been worth it.

Republicans have wasted little time declaring war on seniors.

The new GOP plan to gut the Affordable Care Act will give massive tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, elderly and sick. It does this by raiding $346 billion from the Medicare trust fund to pay for giveaways to the wealthy, and in turn intentionally weakens Medicare’s finances.

Immediately after Election Day, Paul Ryan “justified” his plan to gut Medicare by saying, “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. ACA has in fact extended the lifespan of the Medicare Trust Fund. But the GOP’s plan is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Weaken Medicare in order to destroy the program through privatization.

The bill removes protections that limit the amounts health insurance companies can charge older Americans. This would be particularly devastating to people in their fifties and early sixties, who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare.

The bill also threatens the financial security of millions of families due to cuts in Medicaid. About 10 million seniors are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid―with Medicaid covering the majority of long-term nursing home costs for low-income seniors. Cuts to Medicaid would deprive millions of seniors of needed nursing home coverage, forcing families to scramble to either make up the difference or provide in-home care instead. The bottom line is that this bill would make insurance more expensive and lower quality for millions of Americansstarting with seniors.

Together we must fight any attempt to destroy Medicare and Medicaid―threatening the healthcare and financial security of millions of Americans.

 

The Independent

Texas woman changes homeless man’s life after he stood on same street corner for three years

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith,The Independent March 2017

A woman has helped to change a homeless man’s life in a matter of months by setting up a Facebook page, after discovering why he stood on the same street corner every day.

Ginger Sprouse, who runs Art of the Meal in Clear Lake, Texas, drove past 32-year-old Victor Hubbard on the corner of El Camino Real and Nasa Road 1 four times a day, no matter the weather.

The corner was the last place Mr Hubbard saw his mother and he would wait there for her to return. He was homeless and suffering from mental health issues when Ms Sprouse first started first started to offer him help, and had been waiting on the corner for three years.

“I began to get more and more concerned as I knew winter was coming and I thought, ‘So what’s going to happen now?’” Ms Sprouse told MyBayArea Radio, explaining that she had started visiting Mr Hubbard on her lunch break and they had struck up a friendship. “So he and I started talking about maybe how would he feel about sometimes coming to my house to get out of the bad weather, and that’s how we started.

“It’s been quite the journey,” she said.

She created a Facebook page called “This is Victor” as a way for the community to get to know Mr Hubbard better and to take part in getting him the help he needed. In her first post Ms Sprouse wrote: “I drove by Victor’s corner at least four times a day. I listen to people talking around town and keep hearing, ‘Someone needs to do something about that guy’. So, I will be the organiser and hope that we as a community can be ‘someone’ together.”

Since taking action in December, Ms Sprouse has managed to get Mr Hubbard into mental health clinics, helped him off the streets and has given him a job in her business’s kitchen. A GoFundMe page raising money to help with Mr Hubbard’s living costs has seen more than $15,400 (£12,700) donated and over 200 people showed up to a recent block party to show their support for the man they had seen on the same corner every day.

“She came around and she kind of saved me. It’s like grace,” Mr Hubbard said of Ms Sprouse on KHOU.com.  

The Facebook page has been liked by more than 15,000 people and has a stream of comments from locals expressing their relief that Mr Hubbard is receiving care, while updates are regularly posted by Ms Sprouse, including videos about his improvements and messages he has recorded for his friends.

The community has also responded by helping Mr Hubbard get clothes, eye tests and to be seen by doctors, and the local fire station has vowed to oversee his medication needs. Ms Sprouse and her family are currently working to get him sheltered accommodation.

Since the publicity of the Facebook page and community project, Ms Sprouse was able to get in touch with one of Mr Hubbard’s uncles and was eventually able to help him see his mother again.

“I got to talk to her and I really feel like I accomplished something,” Mr Hubbard told the TV station.