What is the filibuster? A look at the Senate’s consequential quirk and debate on its future

USA Today

What is the filibuster? A look at the Senate’s consequential quirk and debate on its future

Matthew Brown                                   March 20, 2021

 

WASHINGTON – Democrats have unified control of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade, an opportunity the party wants to use to enact an ambitious agenda of stronger labor laws, expanded health care and sweeping packages on infrastructure, climate change and voting rights.

The fate of that agenda – and any legislation passed in Congress – hinges on a rule of the Senate that requires 60 votes to end debate before a simple majority can pass any bill.

The filibuster, once an obscure procedure, has been increasingly used to stall priorities of the majority coalition, most notably on issues relating to race and civil rights. When senators have been at their most intransigent, majority parties have created filibuster exceptions for key areas of legislating, including for executive and judicial appointments.

Now, as a 50-50 Senate split puts the fate of Democrats’ priorities in the balance, many in the party call on the Senate to abolish the practice .

“The filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said during a floor speech March 10.

“The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people,” he argued.

Joe Biden, a longtime senator before he was elected president, expressed openness to changing the practice, which allows senators to talk on the floor to delay legislation, often for hours.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it, what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden said Wednesday during an interview with ABC News. “You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.”

Defenders, including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., argued the supermajority rule requiring at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster encourages bipartisan compromise and general decorum of the Senate. Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the filibuster protects the rights of the minority party.

McConnell warned Tuesday that removing the filibuster would lead to a “completely scorched earth Senate,” cautioning that when Republicans again held the majority, they would pass an expansive conservative agenda, and Democrats would have little recourse to stop them.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warns Democrats not to tamper with the filibuster.

“If I became skeptical of the filibuster, it’s because of your use of it,” Durbin told McConnell, saying the Kentucky Republican “can’t have it both ways. It can’t be a rare procedure and be a procedure that dominates the actual business of the Senate as this has done for so many years.”

Much of the modern debate about the filibuster centers on the merits of different governing philosophies, long-standing norms and cold political calculus. The origins of the supermajority threshold were much more accidental.

Realized as a quirk of Senate rules, it has since been entrenched through precedent. Here is how American politics reached this pivotal moment.

What is a filibuster?

A filibuster is a practice whereby any lawmaker can stall action by extending debate or using other tactics. Such strategies are as old as representative democracy – in 60 B.C., Cato the Younger effectively filibustered the Roman Senate.

The word “filibuster” has its origins in piracy. Dutch, French and Spanish all share words referring to “vribuyter,” “flibutier” and “filibustero,” or pirates who would plunder ships and colonies. The word was eventually imported into English as “flee-booter,” meaning a pirate who steals loot or “booty.”

By the 19th century, flee-booters had become “filibusters.” The word became an insult in Congress, where politicians accused lawmakers who held up legislation with a filibuster of effectively raiding the Senate.

The American filibuster is 215 years old

The filibuster as a legislative tool was accidentally created in 1806,when the Senate, at the urging of Vice President Aaron Burr a year before, eliminated the “previous question” motion, a rarely used rule that allowed the Senate to vote to move on from an issue being debated. That unexpectedly opened the door for senators to continue debate on a topic indefinitely – the filibuster.

It wasn’t regularly used until the mid-19th century, when senators used the tactic to stonewall debate over the limiting or abolition of slavery. There was no procedure to end a filibuster, so pro-slavery politicians such as Sen. John Calhoun of South Carolina stifled abolitionist and “free soil” measures against slavery’s expansion with impunity.

The filibuster was effectively limited only by Senate norms and the personal relationships between lawmakers until 1917, when the Senate enacted the cloture rule. The rule, passed to support the American war effort in World War I, allowed two-thirds of senators to end debate on a topic.

Sen. Strom Thurmond set the record for longest filibuster in 1957.

The filibuster was infrequently used and often overruled by the governing coalition. The exception during the 20th century was civil rights law. Southern senators supportive of the Jim Crow system of racial segregation and white supremacy used the filibuster to vehemently oppose any expansion of educational, economic or voting rights for Black Americans.

The longest filibuster in U.S. history was South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957; he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition. Thurmond and other Southern senators stalled the bill’s passage from March to June 1957.

Senators also filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for two months until 71 senators came together for a cloture vote.

The evolution of the modern filibuster

Recent decades have seen the filibuster’s influence over all types of legislation grow, causing frustrated majorities to create exceptions for when the practice can be used.

In 1975, the number of votes needed to invoke cloture was brought down to 60 votes. Later years brought minor limits on debate after a filibuster was ended.

The 1970s also saw the Senate adopt rules that allowed a senator to filibuster one topic while the chamber moved on to different business.  The change, on top of the growing policy divisions between the two major parties and the increasing fragility of congressional majorities, caused the filibuster to be used for all types of Senate proceedings.

Starting in the 1990s, the filibuster progressively became a tool of the minority party to thwart the policy ambitions of the majority.

President Bill Clinton’s health care package was stalled by filibusters, frustrating the White House so much it debated ending the rule. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats used the filibuster to stop judicial nominees they saw as too radical.

In 2013, after Republicans stonewalled any judicial nominee from President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate eliminated the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold for the confirmation of lower court judges. Obama said the move was necessary to overcome “an unprecedented pattern of obstruction” from the opposition.

In 2017, Republicans expanded the judicial carve-out for the filibuster to include Supreme Court confirmations, clearing the way for Justice Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the high court.

The Senate has two ways to get around the modern filibuster: a “unanimous consent” motion and budget reconciliation. For a unanimous consent vote, all senators are asked if there are any objections to any debate on a given bill. If any senator objects, debate continues.

In budget reconciliation, a bill may be passed with a simple majority if all its provisions relate to the federal budget. This process was used to pass the American Rescue Plan, Democrats’ $1.9 trillion spending package to help people struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Future of the filibuster

At the start of 2021, McConnell pressured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to promise to protect the legislative filibuster before Republicans would approve the rules to govern the new Congress. McConnell did so by effectively filibustering the rules package.

Manchin and Sinema allayed McConnell’s concerns, when they promised they would not vote to abolish the supermajority threshold.

The episode summed up the current dynamic: Senior Democratic leaders see the rule as a stranglehold on their agenda, and governing in general. The pressure to pass at least some of the party’s top priorities pushes Democratic leaders to call for filibuster changes.

“There’s no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights. That just ain’t gonna happen. That would be catastrophic,” Democratic Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said March 7, directly calling out Manchin and Sinema.

Moderates have been difficult to read on the issue. Manchin, who briefly expressed openness to changing the filibuster, quickly backtracked and emphasized he would “never” change the rule.

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are biding their time, assuming Republicans will force the issue by not compromising on any of Biden’s policy priorities. “If the Republicans block S. 1, that will turn up the heat on taking away Mitch McConnell’s veto,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D- Mass., claimed, referring to the For the People voting rights bill.

Though the highly polarized Senate and anxious desire among many Democrats to fulfill their campaign promises point to a dim future for the filibuster, some senators have begun trying to pull the chamber back from the brink.

“It’s something the group of 20 of us, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, will discuss tomorrow and decide whether we take this up. Or whether instead, we focus on the minimum wage,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told Politico in his outline of a new centrist coalition trying to cooperate on bills.

Whatever senators conclude is the best path forward regarding the filibuster, the upper chamber has entered a political era reflective of the nation its lawmakers represent: closely divided, hyper-polarized and anxious about its future.

Could Rubber From Dandelions Make Tires More Sustainable?

Could Rubber From Dandelions Make Tires More Sustainable?

Deutsche Welle

Could Rubber From Dandelions Make Tires More Sustainable? - EcoWatch
Planting dandelions could help reduce deforestation caused by traditional rubber plantations. Tashka / Getty Images

 

In 1931, Soviet scientists were on the hunt for a natural source of rubber that would help the USSR become self-sufficient in key materials.

They scoured the vast and various territories of the Soviet Union and tested over 1,000 different species looking for an alternative to the South American rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensi. Eventually, on the steppes of Kazakhstan, they found one.

By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR’s rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber.

Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.

But now, with demand for rubber continuing to grow, there is renewed interest in the Russian dandelion, particularly from the tire industry, which consumes 70% of the world’s rubber supply.

Diversifying Natural Rubber

Overall, 65% of rubber consumed worldwide is derived from fossil fuels. This synthetic rubber is cheaper and more hardwearing than its natural counterpart. But natural rubber disperses heat better and has better grip, which is why tires are made with a mix of both.

Today, 90% of natural rubber comes from Havea plantations in Southeast Asia, which have been linked to deforestation. And there are commercial as well as environmental reasons the tire industry would like to find an alternative.

Havea rubber trees are vulnerable to a fungal leaf blight that has hit plantations in South America, making some in the tire industry nervous about such dependence on a single crop, with little genetic diversity, grown in a single geographical region.

Developing the Dandelion

Over recent years, projects in both Europe and the US have been taking a fresh shot at making dandelion rubber commercially viable.

Among them is Taraxagum, a collaboration between Continental Tires and the Fraunhofer Institute of Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Aachen, Germany.

“Continental Tires tested the performance of the material and said that it was brilliant — in some cases better than Hevea rubber,” said Dirk Prüfer, a plant biotechnologist on the Taraxagum team.

Both Continental and competitor Apollo Tyres have used dandelion rubber to manufacture bike tires, and Continental reports “promising” tests on dandelion truck tires.

Apollo was part of the EU-funded DRIVE4EU consortium, a project that ran from 2014 to 2018 and worked on developing the entire production chain for dandelion rubber, starting with cultivation.

Unlike the rubber tree, the Russian dandelion thrives in temperate climates.

“We cultivated the dandelion in Belgium, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan,” said Ingrid van der Meer, coordinator of DRIVE4EU, adding that other researchers had previously cultivated the crop in Sweden, Germany and the United States.

Fewer Chemicals and Poorer Soils

The Russian dandelion can also be grown on relatively poor soils, meaning it doesn’t have to compete with agriculture. Prüfer said his team was researching whether brownfield land — former industrial sites that may be heavily polluted — might even be suitable.

“There are big areas like this near Cologne or Aachen that could potentially be used for cultivation,” Prüfer said.

Once the dandelions are harvested “hot-water extraction” is used to separate out the rubber. “The roots are chopped up mechanically and water is added,” van der Meer explained. “It has to be heated up, but no large volumes of chemicals are needed.

This is in contrast to Hevea rubber extraction, which requires the use of organic solvents, resulting in chemical waste that poses an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly.

Environmental Problems Persist

But while the Russian dandelion could make the production of tires greener, it won’t improve their environmental impact once they leave the factory.

As tires are used, they shed microplastics, which are then carried on air and end up in oceans. A recent study found that this source of ocean microplastics amounts to 100,000 metric tons each year.

Then, at the end of their life, most tires finish up in landfill, in part because the mix of rubbers make them difficult to recycle.

“Tires are meant to optimize different kinds of properties, so it’s not easy to just use one kind of rubber,” said Francesco Piccihoni, an expert in rubber recycling at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

“You could make tires from only natural rubber but it degrades faster, meaning you would have to change the tires much more often,” Piccihoni added.

Even shifting rubber farming to European wastelands wouldn’t automatically avert deforestation in Asia. Georg Cadisch, an expert in tropical agronomy at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, says forests will continue to be felled as long as the land can be used more profitably for agriculture.

“Rubber farmers need to survive, so they would simply produce other crops,” he said, adding that rubber plantations in China and Thailand have already been replaced with crops like palm oil or bananas.

Bright Prospects?

Still, proponents of the Russian dandelion argue that as demand rises, we need a source of rubber that doesn’t rely on expanding into new areas of forest. Growing it close to European and US tire factories would also means fewer CO2 emissions from transport.

And as far as performance goes, tire makers are impressed.

“The moment natural rubber from the dandelion is available in significant quantities, Apollo will resume using the material and develop other tire products,” chief technical officer Daniele Lorenzetti said.

As things stand, though, the supply chain needs some work. “To compete with other rubbers, the production costs of dandelion rubber need to match the market price. This is not yet the case,” said van der Meer, who will continue working on optimizing Russian dandelion cultivation.

For now, Europe’s wastelands aren’t about to be swathed in sunny yellow. But there might just be a bright future for a material that had been consigned to Soviet history.

Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.

Opinion: My fellow Republicans, convicting Trump is necessary to save America

Washington Post

Opinion: My fellow Republicans, convicting Trump is necessary to save America

Opinion by Adam Kinzinger                          February 8, 2021

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, represents Illinois’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Opinion | My fellow Republicans, convicting Trump is necessary to save America              Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. Early on Jan. 6, The Post’s Kate Woodsome saw signs of the violence to come hours before thousands of Trump loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Winston Churchill famously said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” All Americans, but especially my fellow Republicans, should remember this wisdom during the Senate’s trial of former president Donald Trump.

I say this as a lifelong Republican who voted to impeach Trump last month. Virtually all my colleagues on the right side of the aisle took the opposite path. Most felt it was a waste of time — political theater that distracted from bigger issues. The overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans appear to feel the same way about conviction.

But this isn’t a waste of time. It’s a matter of accountability. If the GOP doesn’t take a stand, the chaos of the past few months, and the past four years, could quickly return. The future of our party and our country depends on confronting what happened — so it doesn’t happen again.

The immediate cause for Trump’s impeachment was Jan. 6. But the president’s rally and resulting riot on Capitol Hill didn’t come out of nowhere. They were the result of four-plus years of anger, outrage and outright lies. Perhaps the most dangerous lie — or at least the most recent — was that the election was stolen. Of course it wasn’t, but a huge number of Republican leaders encouraged the belief that it was. Every time that lie was repeated, the riots of Jan. 6 became more likely.

Even now, many Republicans refuse to admit what happened. They continue to feed anger and resentment among the people. On Jan. 6, that fury led to the murder of a Capitol Police officer and the deaths of four other Americans. If that rage is still building, where does it go from here?

Impeachment offers a chance to say enough is enough. It ought to force every American, regardless of party affiliation, to remember not only what happened on Jan. 6, but also the path that led there. After all, the situation could get much, much worse — with more violence and more division that cannot be overcome. The further down this road we go, the closer we come to the end of America as we know it.

The Republican Party I joined as a young man would never take that road. The GOP that inspired me to serve in uniform and then run for public office believed a brighter future was just around the bend. We stood for equal opportunity, firm in our conviction that a poor kid from the South Side of Chicago deserves the same shot as a privileged kid from Highland Park. We knew that if we brought everyone into America’s promise, we would unleash a new era of American progress and prosperity. Outrage and the fear of a darker future were nowhere to be found in that Republican Party.

When leaders such as Donald Trump changed that dynamic, many of my fellow Republicans went along without question. Many are still there because they believe the rank-and-file Republican voter is there, too. But I think that’s an illusion. The anger and outrage are drowning out the much larger group of people who reject that approach. Worse, many have gone silent because they assume the party’s leaders no longer represent them. They’re waiting for leaders who will say what they know is true.

Since my vote to impeach Trump, I’ve heard from tens of thousands of my constituents. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. Republicans of all backgrounds and outlooks have told me they appreciate my efforts to return the GOP to a foundation of principle, not personality. I’ve even heard from many Democrats. They don’t agree with me on a lot of issues, but they want the Republican Party to be healthy and competitive.

I firmly believe the majority of Americans — Republican, Democrat, independent, you name it — reject the madness of the past four years. But we’ll never move forward by ignoring what happened or refusing to hold accountable those responsible. That will embolden the few who led us here and dishearten the many who know America is better than this. It will make it more likely that we see more anger, violence and chaos in the years ahead.

The better path is to learn the lessons of the recent past. Convicting Donald Trump is necessary to save America from going further down a sad, dangerous road.

Read more:

Letters to the Editor: The choice for America: basic human decency, or Marjorie Taylor Greene

Los Angeles Times

Letters to the Editor: The choice for America: basic human decency, or Marjorie Taylor Greene

February 7, 2021

 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., goes back to her office after speaking on the floor of the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) returns to her office after speaking on the House floor on Feb. 4. (Associated Press)

 

To the editor: The stunning contrast in the stories on the front page of The Times on Friday could not have been clearer or more heart-wrenching. The luminous, inspirational and utterly humbling story of Stephanie Contreras-Reyes, showing us the best of what we can be, versus the grotesque, dispiriting and utterly despicable story of the “gentlewoman from Georgia,” should make us all stop in our tracks.

The choice, I pray, still lies before us. Will we be a country of grace, class, dedication to family and belief in a promising tomorrow, as Contreras-Reyes represents? Or will we be a country that is debased, crass, cynical and fear-mongering, as the Georgia lawmaker represents?

For my family and I, we cast our lot with Contreras-Reyes and her family — and all who, like she, demonstrate what true sacrifice and humility look like. May this country be guided by such examples.

Rabbi Shana Chandler, Reseda

..

To the editor: The search for the Republican Party continues.

I am mystified by the commentaries that followed the House of Representatives voting to strip freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of all her committee assignments in the wake of escalating controversy over her past support of conspiracy theories, her violent rhetoric and other behavior.

There is much handwringing and thoughts of the establishment Republicans reclaiming the heart of the Republican Party. This speculation is analogous to generals preparing for the last war.

There is no longer a Republican Party. What exists is a Donald Trump personality cult that has captured the GOP and is exploiting its administrative skeleton.

Richard Nelson, Thousand Oaks

..

To the editor: I’m sure I won’t be your only reader to implore the L.A. Times and all other media to stop covering Greene and her outrageous statements.

Now that she has been removed from House committees, there is no further reason to give this highly ambitious, ethically bankrupt politician any additional media attention. Her actions are straight out of the Trump playbook of using the media for personal aggrandizement and political gain.

Did the media learn nothing from the way that Trump used them to further his political career and ascendancy to the presidency? Greene is using the same tactics and she has so far been very successful in gaining recognition.

Carol J. Smith, Cerritos

..

To the editor: I am allowed to believe that the Republican Party, of which I once was a member, has become largely a group whose moral compass seems pointed only in the direction that might get them reelected.

I am allowed to believe that outrage over the insurrection at the Capitol can be easily forgotten.

I am allowed to believe that my former party will not avail itself of the opportunity to convict a former president who represents the racism, bigotry, unkindness and deceit that unfortunately lurk in us.

Please, Republicans, disabuse me of my beliefs.

Nikki Sandifer, Huntington Beach

..

To the editor: Please don’t silence Greene. Let her be the new face of the GOP. We need to hear her continue to espouse and spread her beliefs in hateful conspiracy theories.

To punish her will only make her a martyr in the eyes of her supporters.

David Hiovich, Canyon Country

South Korea unveils $43 billion plan for world’s largest offshore wind farm

South Korea unveils $43 billion plan for world’s largest offshore wind farm

Hyonhee Shin               February 5, 2021
General view of the Walney Extension offshore wind farm operated by Orsted off the coast of Blackpool. By Hyonhee Shin

 

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea unveiled a 48.5 trillion won ($43.2 billion) plan to build the world’s largest wind power plant by 2030 as part of efforts to foster an environmentally-friendly recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is a major component of President Moon Jae-in’s Green New Deal, initiated last year to curb reliance on fossil fuels in Asia’s fourth-largest economy and make it carbon neutral by 2050. [S6N29P01A]

Moon attended a signing ceremony in the southwestern coastal town of Sinan for the plant, which will have a maximum capacity of 8.2 gigawatts.

“With this project, we are accelerating the eco-friendly energy transition and moving more vigorously toward carbon neutrality,” Moon said at the event.

Utility and engineering companies also attended, including Korea Electric Power Corp, SK E&S, Hanwha Engineering & Construction Corp, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Co., CS Wind Corp and Samkang M&T Co.

The companies will provide 47.6 trillion of the required funding and the government the remaining 0.9 trillion, Moon’s office Blue House said.

It said the project would provide up to 5,600 jobs and help achieve a goal to boost the country’s wind power capacity to 16.5 GW by 2030 from 1.67 GW now.

The envisaged 8.2 GW amounts to the energy produced by six nuclear reactors, or the effects of planting 71 million pine trees, officials said.

To date, the world’s largest offshore wind farm is Hornsea 1 in Britain, which has 1.12 GW capacity.

($1 = 1,123.4000 won)

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Barbara Lewis)

The Polar Vortex Could Unleash the Coldest Air of the Season Next Week

The Polar Vortex Could Unleash the Coldest Air of the Season Next Week

Kelly O’Sullivan                        
Photo credit: RyersonClark
Photo credit: RyersonClark. From The Pioneer Woman
Get out your parkas, people!

Most of the country has enjoyed a relatively mild winter so far, but those cozy temperatures won’t last long. AccuWeather reports that the polar vortex could cause a “major shift in the weather pattern” during the second half of the season. In other words, it’s about to get very chilly.

While the phrase “polar vortex” sounds dramatic, it’s actually nothing out of the ordinary. This meteorological term describes the big mass of cold air that constantly hovers around the Arctic, spinning counterclockwise like a hurricane. The polar vortex usually remains above the North Pole, but occasionally it weakens. When that happens, it moves south and circulates above the United States—bringing a whole lot of Arctic air with it.

Photo credit: Courtesy of AccuWeather
Photo credit: Courtesy of AccuWeather

 

Meteorologists who have been monitoring the polar vortex predict that’s exactly what’s about to happen over the next few weeks. Oh, and it gets worse: The blast of cold air will pack some extra “shock value” because it’s following several weeks of “well-above-average temperatures” across the northern half of the U.S.

“The anticipated waves of Arctic air will have their cold tasks cut out for them at first, but once the pattern gets rolling, a major surge in heating demand is expected, and winter storms and lake-effect snow that become intertwined in the cold blasts can hit travel and daily activities hard in parts of the Midwest and East,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Samuhel.

So, when should you plan to bundle up? The initial rush of freezing air is forecasted to sweep the country before the end of the month.

“An Arctic cold front is expected to move through the northern Rockies and northern Plains on January 18-19 then the eastern and south-central parts of the U.S. between January 20 and 21,” Dave said. “Even though temperatures may remain above average in the wake of the leading edge of the cold air, it will bring a 10- to 20-degree Fahrenheit drop as the front passes through.”

Yes, he really did say an “Arctic cold front” is coming. Happy 2021!

Jon Tester: Members of Congress who incited Capitol riot must be held accountable

USA Today

Sen. Jon Tester: Members of Congress who incited Capitol riot must be held accountable

If traitors to our democracy aren’t held accountable, we will fall under siege again.
Jon Tester, Opinion contributor                         January 12, 2021
Sen. Jon Tester makes an opening statement during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing March 27, 2007 in Washington, DC. The committee...

Last week, as I worked in my Senate office, I watched in horror as terrorists ransacked our nation’s Capitol, where I represent Montanans in the U.S. Senate.

The Capitol is a beacon of hope, which I share with colleagues, staffers, custodial workers, reporters, woodworkers and law enforcement officials, among thousands of other Americans.

In the aftermath of that armed insurrection, it is our duty to hold everyone involved accountable to our laws and history — not just President Donald Trump and the violent rioters he incited, but also the members of Congress who enabled him.

A few days before the violent insurrection, as the president pressured Georgia’s Secretary of State to find enough votes to overturn his election loss, 13 of my Senate colleagues took the shocking step of announcing plans to challenge the outcome of the election.

Maybe they did it because they believe it will help them in their next election. Maybe they did it to raise money, or because it’s much easier to follow than to lead. Whatever their reasons, blame rests squarely on their shoulders, and history will never forget who they are — no matter how much they try to explain it away now.

If traitors to our democracy aren’t held accountable, we will fall under siege again. And if that happens, it will unfold with better planning and even bloodier results.

After President Trump urged his supporters to go to the Capitol, rioters stormed the building.

Millions of Americans watched as armed terrorists marched from the president’s rally to Capitol Hill, then smashed their way into our nation’s foremost symbol of freedom and democracy.

After officers regained control of the Capitol, some of those 13 senators quickly changed their tune, condemning the outcome they provoked — without taking any responsibility for their role in parroting, protecting and enabling the disaster 16 blocks west of Capitol Hill for years.

Trump mocks our democracy

For the past four years, this president has cheapened the institutions of our country, mocked our democracy, disposed of our allies and embraced dictators. He did it because too many politicians enabled his crusade for unchecked power, found an excuse for every lie, ignored every breathtaking tweet and pretended our fragile democracy wasn’t on the line.

On Wednesday, our democracy was on the line. Up close and on live TV for everyone in the world to see. The insurrection of the U.S. Capitol was domestic terrorism, plain and simple.

I represent a state whose early history was shaped by crooked, power-hungry politicians. More than a century ago, one of the wealthiest men on the planet, a mining magnate from Montana named William Clark, bribed his way to a seat in the U.S. Senate. In our state, a lot of powerful people looked the other way because they were afraid of him. But in Washington, the scandal was so concerning that the Senate initially refused to even seat Clark.

The people of Montana got fed up with all this unchecked power. Republicans and Democrats, and even socialists, teamed up to pass powerful reforms to put political power back in the hands of Montana’s people. This is history worth repeating.

Demand truth, accountability

Let’s declare war on unchecked power. Let’s demand courage, accountability and truth from our leaders. Let’s call phonies for what they are, including those who wrap themselves in flags before burning America down.

And to my colleagues who helped set off this tragic set of events: I urge you to take an honest look in the mirror and accept responsibility for the damage you’ve done.

The future of our fragile democracy depends on it.

Sen. Jon Tester is a Democrat from Montana.

Trump reportedly wants to ‘inflict as much pain on Congress as possible’

Trump reportedly wants to ‘inflict as much pain on Congress as possible’

Tim O’Donnell                        December 27, 2020

President Trump still hasn’t signed Congress’ $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, and the clock is ticking. Indeed, it’s looking more likely that he’ll veto it, or simply sit on it, unless lawmakers find a way to increase direct stimulus payments and cut some other items, like foreign aid, out of the package before a potential government shut down on Tuesday.

While Trump may genuinely want more significant individual payments, he’s faced criticism for waiting until after a bipartisan agreement was reached to make his opinion clear, surprising Congress and his own negotiating team led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the process. One source briefed by White House officials on the matter told The Washington Post, Trump — who has been frustrated by his election loss and the fallout from the coronavirus during his final year in office — is “just angry at everybody and wants to inflict as much pain on Congress as possible.”

Even Mnuchin, one of the few Cabinet members to make it all four years with Trump, seems to be on the outs with his boss. Per the Post, Mnuchin was excited about the agreement and believed the president would sign it, but was then reportedly blindsided by Trump posting a video last week in which he bashed the deal and its $600 checks.

“Loyalty and assistance to President Trump generally gets rewarded with humiliation,” Brian Reidl, a conservative policy expert at the right-leaning think tank, the Manhattan Institute, told the Post.

Defeated, lying, narcissist ex-President Trump will make a perfect ‘Florida man’ | Opinion

Defeated, lying, narcissist ex-President Trump will make a perfect ‘Florida man’ | Opinion

Fabiola Santiago                               December 9, 2020

 

Step aside Congressman Matt Gaetz, Florida man personified, you’ve got real competition now.

The cast of ding-a-ling characters in the state is getting a major infusion of fresh specimens as a result of the 2020 election.

GOP-friendly Florida, the big loser, inherits the Trumps as residents.

The ex-president (feels good to say that, exhaling) will reside in stately Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach and indications are that daughter Ivanka, husband Jared Kushner and their children have plans to head farther south.

Adiós, Donald Trump. I won’t forgive or forget what you did to my Miami | Opinion

They just plunked down $30 million for a plot of land on Indian Creek, an island village in Miami-Dade County.

It’s supposedly not only a move to be close to daddy.

CNN reported, quoting a source who works with the family, that the first daughter has big political ambitions — like a future run for the governorship of Florida, experience apparently not required although residency is, at least seven years.

President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach is now officially the president’s residence.
President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach is now officially the president’s residence.
Trump show in Florida

So brace yourselves, Floridians: Here comes “The Trumps Take Over Florida,” a new reality show starring the defeated, lying, narcissist ex-president and his entitled children.

We might as well laugh, people.

What’s the alternative?

Besides the sunny weather, the soon-to-be former occupants of the White House are attracted by the friendly accommodations made to conspiracy theorists, coronavirus deniers, and those with a healthy appetite for good old-fashioned corruption.

Your show host: The Republican Party of Florida.

The plot has been laid out well into 2024.

Supporting characters — filming location, Miami — are still auditioning.

But they will surely include, according to Facebook friends in-the-know: Lolita Caravana leading the red car, flag-waving caravan on the Turnpike from Miami to Palm Beach for a weekend bash at Mar-a-Lago and Pepe Ota at Versailles haunting for commie sympathizers, or Democrats, or anyone with a camera willing to turn a clown into an “influencer.”

Democrats laughed at these characters in 2020, but they made Trump’s victory possible, if only in very special Floriduh, which annexed territory in Miami-Dade during the last four years.

They’ll be good for a few more laughs in 2021 and beyond.

In Florida, Biden couldn’t shake Trump’s lie that Democrats are radical socialists | Opinion

Roles for DeSantis, Gaetz

Presiding over the made-for-TV show, master of ceremonies of the political revelry: Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has collected an impressive list of nicknames for his disastrous handling of the pandemic, the latest #DeathDeSantis, twice trending on Twitter this week.

Ron DeSastre also has unleashed an all-too-real plot to make Florida the first Fascist police state in the union, where protesters are criminalized.

His idol dethroned, Gov. Ron DeSantis is fashioning a fascist, gun-happier Florida | Opinion

He’s not funny at all, really, unless you count his campaign commercial using his small children, playing with toy blocks, to plug Trump’s wall — or his mask-less high-fiving Trump supporters at a Sanford rally then wiping his nose.

Come to think of it, DeSantis has outdone Gaetz, who cinched the No. 1 spot with his bizarre fixation on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Gaetz made his Bronx colleague a household name in Florida.

Then, he threatened Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who was spilling the beans on the president, and made fun of the coronavirus by wearing a gas mask on Capitol Hill.

Full disclosure: I’m partial to Gaetz’s leading man role as “Florida man” incarnate since he pronounced my name perfectly on Fox News.

But moving forward, between DeSantis, Gaetz, and the ex-president alone, the Trump show scenes will just write themselves.

Last but not least, there’s immigrant “be best” Melania, who will hopefully be happier now that her first lady contract expires. Pandemic or not, with her living in the state, the paparazzi won’t be filing for unemployment in Florida’s tightwad system.

See, the Trumps could even be a boon to Florida, no need to hire expensive Pitbull to do a commercial.

Be positive, Florida

There’s a handy expression in Spanish that comes to mind: “al mal tiempo, buena cara.”

It advises to put on a brave face in stormy weather.

The hurricane looming is that we’re far from done with the Trumps in the Sunshine State — or his influence on the Republican Party, the lasting ill.

The really, really good news is that the rest of the country knew better.

The White House is safe.

Florida, getting its just desserts, inherits the clown.

Showtime!

North American farmers profit as consumers pressure food business to go green.

North American farmers profit as consumers pressure food business to go green.

By Karl Plume and Rod Nickel                              December 3, 2020

The Co-op Farming Model Might Help Save America's Small Farms | Civil Eats

CHICAGO/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Beer made from rice grown with less water, rye planted in the off-season and the sale of carbon credits to tech firms are just a few of the changes North American farmers are making as the food industry strives to go green.

The changes are enabling some farmers to earn extra money from industry giants like Cargill, Nutrien and Anheuser-Busch. Consumers are pressuring food producers to support farms that use less water and fertilizer, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use more natural techniques to maintain soil quality.

Investments in sustainability remain a tiny part of overall spending by the agriculture sector, which enjoyed healthy profits in 2020. They may help to head off more costly regulations down the road now that Democratic climate advocate Joe Biden was elected U.S. president.

Some companies, like farm retailer and fertilizer producer Nutrien , are also opening new revenue potential for farmers by monetizing the carbon their fields soak up. The companies say technology is improving measurement and tracking of carbon capture, although some environmental activists question the benefit of such programs and how sequestered greenhouse gas volumes can be verified.

Sustainable techniques farmers are adopting include refraining from tilling soil at times to preserve carbon. Some are adding an off-season cover crop of rye or grass to restore soil nutrients instead of applying heavy fertilizer loads over the winter that can contaminate local water supplies.

A study conducted by agriculture technology company Indigo Ag estimated that if U.S. corn, soy and wheat farmers employed no-till and cover crops on 15% of fields, they would generate an additional $600 million by reducing costs, bolstering soil productivity or selling carbon credits.

Indigo has a partnership with brewer Anheuser-Busch Inbev NV, which plans to buy 2.6 million bushels of rice this year grown with less water and nitrogen fertilizer than conventional rice. Anheuser-Busch said that is up from 2.2 million bushels last year and accounts for 10% of its U.S. rice supplies.

Bill Jones, the brewer’s manager of raw materials, said farmers voluntarily growing rice with a lower environmental impact along the sensitive Mississippi River would be less disruptive to supplies than having local authorities require such practices by legislating changes to water and nitrogen use.

“We look at supply chain security. I see this gaining traction,” he said, noting that Minnesota and other U.S. states and conservation districts worried about polluting the Mississippi are already introducing limits on how much manure farmers can spread on fields. Arkansas farmer Carson Stewart used the program for the first time this year, earmarking his entire 340-acre rice crop to Anheuser-Busch. Depending on milling quality, his rice may earn up to $1.50 a bushel more than conventional rice, a premium of about 27%, he said.

10 MILLION ACRE SHIFT

While companies expect Washington and Ottawa to grow more committed to funding and regulating sustainable farming, industry sources and activists said widespread adoption remains far off.

“They come with high up-front costs,” said Giana Amador, managing director at climate-focused NGO Carbon180. “We’re seeing a huge differentiation in quality among all these corporate commitments. “In September, privately held Cargill Inc. said it would help North American farmers shift 10 million acres to regenerative practices during the next 10 years by offering them financial support and training.

Pushed by demand for greener foods from food companies that buy its products, Cargill has already signed up 750 farmers to green programs, representing 300,000 acres, said Ryan Sirolli, Cargill’s director of row crop sustainability. With projects like one that pays Iowa farmers to leave soils untilled or to create field buffers to prevent fertilizer runoff, Cargill hopes to cut 30% of its supply chain greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

“We’ve done a lot to stop soil erosion. And we’ve had a reduction of 538 tons of CO2, which is the equivalent of taking 104 passenger cars off the road,” said Iowa farmer Lance Lillibridge, who estimates he will earn about $37 an acre in a Cargill pilot project this year.

Environmental groups and consumer activists are skeptical about such corporate sustainability pledges, noting that Cargill has not made good on its promise to eliminate deforestation from supply chains by 2020.

As more premium-paying buyers emerge, more farmers will be enticed into sustainable growing, said Devin Lammers, CEO of Gradable. The unit of input dealer Farmers Business Network matches farmers using sustainable practices with buyers such as Unilever, Tyson Foods and ethanol producer POET.

CARBON CREDITS

Some farmers are making money by verifying the amount of climate-warming emissions their fields soak up and selling carbon credits to polluting companies seeking to reduce their net emissions. Agribusiness companies call that a double win for farmers as their fields become healthier and they earn extra cash.

This week, Saskatchewan-based Nutrien said it was launching a sustainable agriculture program on 100,000 acres in the United States and Canada, with expansion planned later in South America and Australia.

Nutrien Chief Executive Chuck Magro estimated that farmers will earn an additional $50 per acre in profits under the program – $20 per acre for carbon credits and $30 per acre worth of higher crop yields.

The announcement followed Nutrien’s 2018 purchase of digital farming company Agrible, which helps farmers log reduced emissions and water use. Magro said in an interview that the aim is to enable farmers to use that data to sell carbon credits. He noted that previous efforts produced meagre returns that were not worth the effort for farmers who had to wade through hundreds of pages of documents.

Agriculture accounts for 3% of the global carbon credit market, but that looks to grow to 30% by 2050, Magro said. “We see carbon being the next big agricultural revolution,” he said.

Matt Coutts, chief investment officer of 100,000-acre Coutts Agro in Saskatchewan, plans to sell carbon credits through Nutrien for up to 10,000 acres per year of canola, lentils and spring wheat. He expects they could eventually generate at least C$75,000 in annual additional revenue. Ohio-based start-up Locus Agricultural Solutions helped Iowa farmer Kelly Garrett create 22,400 tonnes in carbon credits by verifying his fields locked in about 1.4 tonnes per acre from 2015 to 2019. Garrett received a check for 5,000 of those credits in November, after e-commerce platform Shopify bought them on the carbon trading marketplace Nori for $75,000.

“The ability to sell our carbon credits through the Nori system and help the rest of the world be more green is a wonderful benefit to our economy and our finances,” Garrett said.

Still, Nori noted that Microsoft Corp passed on a deal to buy most of Garrett’s remaining credits because they were not verified by on-farm soil tests. Nori deems individual soil tests too costly, and instead verifies its credits based on soil type, crops planted and other data, said Alexsandra Guerra, the company’s director of corporate development.

Microsoft declined to comment. Few North American farmers have gone through the vetting process Garrett underwent, which also limits supplies of the high-quality carbon credits that some buyers seek. Some critics say carbon saved from no-till farming can easily escape if the soil is tilled again. “Statements that soils can sequester all of our emissions and more are overstated … There’s no way we could make that shift fast enough to address the climate crisis,” said Tara Ritter, senior program associate with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. PAYING UP FRONT Despite those doubts, food companies are banking more on carbon capture and regenerative agriculture. General Mills offers farmers technical advice while other companies pay growers up front to adopt greener practices. PepsiCo, maker of Quaker Oats and Frito-Lay chips, pays farmers $10 an acre to plant cover crops over winter, which can reduce erosion and control weeds and insects.

This helps PepsiCo meet its sustainability targets and secure its food supply, said director of sustainable agriculture Margaret Henry. PepsiCo subsidized cover crops such as rye and radish last year across 50,000 Midwest acres and plans to grow the program further.

Henry pointed to an added benefit: Cover crops soak up excess moisture, making many fields ready for spring planting two weeks earlier than fields that lay fallow.” We want this to be a win win for the long term,” she said.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Caroline Stauffer)