Our  Demeaner in Chief

John Hanno, www.tarbabys.com       March 18, 2018    

                Our  Demeaner in Chief

If anyone’s still hoping trump will somehow become “Presidential,” they’re as delusional as he exhibits daily.

If anything, he’s doubling down on pandemonium, by orchestrating chaotic episodes of the “Apprentice,” where at the end of the week, someone’s summarily canned and sent down the elevator to a waiting limo.

Unfortunately the impact of such fantasy playing out in the West Wing is not as benign as trump’s inconsequential reality show. Dedicated career employees like James Comey and Sally Yates, fired for refusing blind loyalty to king Donald, just fired Andrew McCabe, who backed up Comey’s narrative of his disputed encounters with trump, eminently respected business executive Rex Tillerson, unceremoniously fired by tweet after criticizing the Russians for dastardly deeds in Syria and in London last week, fired high level State Department official Steven Goldstein, who authored an official State Department statement that conflicted with White House accounts of how Mr. Tillerson was jettisoned, and countless additional federal career employees who’ve been fired, or have resigned like Gary Cohn, or retired in the face of trump administration discombobulation, are the intended consequences of trump’s scripted, bizarre notions of “Presidential” decorum.

trump’s done more damage to our institutions and  governing infrastructure than any president in history and couldn’t care less about the human flotsam.

We’ve witnessed an unprecedented (40%) turnover in trump administration employees. Granted, many of these employees should never have been allowed near the West Wing or even through the front gate of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, considering dozens couldn’t qualify for security clearances, but this isn’t normal by anyone’s standards.

trump hired Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, even though Pruitt spent decades opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate to protect America’s air, water and land; hired Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, even though she’s been described as the strongest opponent of public education; hired Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, even though he hadn’t a clue of what that job entailed; hired Ben Carson for Secretary of HUD because he once lived in an apartment; hired Wilber Ross for Secretary of Commerce apparently because he’s an expert at laundering Oligarchs money, hired Steven Munchin for Secretary of Treasury because he made a fortune foreclosing on Veterans and middle class mortgagees in distress after the financial collapse, hired Mick Mulvaney because he routinely railed against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and middle class entitlement programs; hired Tom Price, a staunch opponent of Obamacare and social safety net programs, for Secretary of Health and Human Services, before he was fired for insider trading in health stocks and squandering taxpayers money on extravagant travel expenses; hired Ryan Zinke for Secretary of the Interior because he, like trump, is bound and determined to turn over America’s National Parks and public lands to fossil fuel and mining interests.

I could go on and on but the point is, trump’s idea of “Best and Brightest” is in stark contrast to the Obama administration, who actually hired experts qualified and eager to improve their departments, not destroy them.

With a few exceptions, like Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson, and probably Generals Mattis and McMaster, would any respectable major corporation or organization hire for department level positions, any of the unqualified and flawed characters trump hired as his “best and brightest?”

We soon learned, trump’s main focus was not to find and assign the “Best People,” who might exhibit expertise for a particular position in his administration, but to appoint someone keen on undermining the basic institutions America relies on to effectively govern in a democratic society. Sadly, Democratic principles are foreign to trump’s business and ethical sensibilities.

Is it any wonder this cast of political misfits have run amuck. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show struggles to keep a running list of all the casualties of trump’s administration. The show had to reconfigure her set so that all three columns showing more than 50 names could fit in the screen.

Most of the people brought into trump world seem to have one thing in common. They’re either adept at sycophancy or are tarnished individuals previously engaged in all sorts of dubious or criminal conduct. Fraud, money laundering, insider trading, domestic abuse, tax fraud, gambling, unbound avarice, no holds barred self dealing, back stabbing, or any form of anti social behavior is a plus on their resumes.

In any other administration in America’s history, these tarnished miscreants would have never been considered, let alone employed. But trump views their moral character flaws as a badge of courage, examples of business genius and resourcefulness. Winning at all costs is integral to trumps idea of fairness and proof of a persons ideological bona fides.

Bad conduct seems a pre-requisite for entering trumps world, and unquestioned loyalty is required for staying there.

Once that loyalty fades for even a moment, the king issues the decree; “you’re fired!”

The list of casualties grows daily and is too numerous to mention here. But after the firing dust settles, trump moves people around like pieces on a chess board, not with any  consideration of talent or fitness for the job but with the main goal of securing loyalty.

trump’s only left with rearranging the human deck chairs on the Titanic because most potential qualified applicants have enough sense to steer clear of this toxic environment.

No one’s surprised trump’s engulfed in the Stormy Daniels reality show scandal. No one’s surprised he cheated on his wife while she was carrying his child, or that he tried to cover it up. We’re no longer surprised when the daily calamity and sleaze oozes from the White House.

No one’s surprised trump’s looking for his 5th communications director. Lying to the public and the press is the primary prerequisite. No one’s surprised he fired Rex Tillerson with a Tweet, or that he lied to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then bragged about it during a campaign stop, or that he’s been trying to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions for months, or that he browbeat Sessions into firing Andrew McCabe a day before he was to retire and collect a pension, or that he’s chomping at the bit, to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Special Investigator Robert Mueller, National Security Advisor McMaster and probably at lease a half dozen other employees Fox News implores him to ditch and demean.

trump now claims “he’s almost got the cabinet he’s always wanted.” Wow! Wow!

trump is the ultimate tarbaby, the pre-eminent Brer Rabbit like trickster, who schemes and connives and creates havoc all along his gold plated career paths and in every situation he engages, but then wriggles free at the last minute by turning the tables on acquaintances, employees and business partners. He employs the Midas touch in reverse. Yet he seems to escape every self imposed calamity unscathed, while those who pledged their allegiance, believed in his shtick, who fell for his cons, have crashed and burned.

trump lives to denigrate anyone and everyone at one time or another, except for the Russians and Vladimir Putin, who if you watch late night talk show satire and Saturday Night Live skits, would be an easy target for trump’s particular form of belittlement.

But trump refuses to criticize the Russians and quickly fires anyone, including Tillerson and maybe soon McMasters, when they speak out publically about Russian transgressions. Why isn’t trump troubled by Russian threats to world stability, to our democratic institutions, our critical infrastructure and our national security? It begs the question, what are the Russians holding over our Demeaner in Chief?

Progressive Americans yearns for normal, for a social community where folks sit down together, using facts and principles, and applies logic and critical thinking to solve problems. We now realize that’s foreign to trump’s realm of thought. He disregards most expert advise, embraces wild conspiracy theorists, promotes controversy, exacerbates solvable problems and takes delight in White House employee infighting.

What would trump’s unflinching base of enablers say if President Obama had done a fraction of what trump calls winning? When will the Republi-con controlled congress decide they’ve had enough?

JohnHanno, www.tarbabys.com

The Guardian – Video

The N.R.A. Lobbyist Behind Florida’s Pro-Gun Policies

The New Yorker

The N.R.A. Lobbyist Behind Florida’s Pro-Gun Policies

Marion Hammer’s unique influence over legislators has produced laws that dramatically alter long-held American norms.

By Mike Spies     March 5, 2018 Issue

In the past two decades, some thirty of Marion Hammer’s bills have become law. Illustration by Oliver Munday

Audio: Listen to this story. To hear more feature stories, download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Jared Moskowitz, a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, was debating tax policy on the chamber floor, in Tallahassee, last week, when he received a call from his wife, Leah. He was surprised to hear her crying. She was trying to pick up their four-year-old son, Sam, who attends a preschool in Moskowitz’s district, which encompasses two affluent communities about an hour north of Miami—Parkland and Coral Springs. Leah had seen a number of police officers outside the building. Moskowitz called the local sheriff’s office and learned that the preschool was on lockdown, because there was an active shooter at the nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Moskowitz, who graduated from Douglas in 1999, called Leah back, then walked over to Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the House, and explained that he had to leave. “I think people were still getting killed while we were talking,” Moskowitz told me.

Parkland is almost five hundred miles south of Tallahassee; by the time Moskowitz’s flight landed, he knew that nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from Douglas, had used a legally purchased AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to kill seventeen students and staff members and seriously wound more than a dozen others. Moskowitz drove to the Marriott Hotel in Coral Springs, a few minutes from Douglas. Law-enforcement officials had directed parents and family members of missing children to a ballroom there.

Some mothers and fathers were praying; others grew exasperated. “Just tell me!” one parent yelled at the F.B.I. agents and the police officers who were in the room. “Is he in the school?” After midnight, officials began to take families to an adjoining room, one at a time, where they were told whether their child was dead or in the hospital. “You could hear them screaming through the wall,” Moskowitz recalled.

Two days later, I joined Moskowitz on Coral Springs Drive, which runs alongside Douglas. The area was closed to traffic, and cordoned off by a length of police tape. TV-news reporters had camped out there, and Douglas students walked among them, placing flowers on an improvised memorial and demanding that lawmakers pass new gun-safety laws. One student, a solemn seventeen-year-old named Demitri Hoth, shared footage on his phone of his classmates just after the shooting. They were walking single file down Coral Springs Drive, with their hands over their heads. “I wanted to show the American public the true failure of our politicians,” Hoth said. “We all lost something—our friends, our loved ones, our security, our innocence.”

On the other side of the tape, public officials congregated. Normally, Moskowitz moves with the jumpy energy of a Hollywood agent, but now he was subdued. He wore a charcoal suit, and his hazel eyes were raw and red-rimmed. He had come from the funeral of Meadow Pollack, a senior at Douglas.

Moskowitz shook hands with Dan Daley, a young city commissioner in Coral Springs. “I was talking to one of the Douglas students,” Daley said. “His only words to me were ‘Do something.’ I had to tell him that I legally can’t do anything, because the governor could take away my job if I tried.”

Moskowitz turned to me. “That’s the legacy of Marion Hammer,” he said.

Hammer is the National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist. At seventy-eight years old, she is nearing four decades as the most influential gun lobbyist in the United States. Her policies have elevated Florida’s gun owners to a uniquely privileged status, and made the public carrying of firearms a fact of daily life in the state. Daley was referring to a law that Hammer worked to enact in 2011, during Governor Rick Scott’s first year in office. The statute punishes local officials who attempt to establish gun regulations stricter than those imposed at the state level. Officials can be fined thousands of dollars and removed from office.

Legal papers filed by the N.R.A. assert that the organization was “deeply involved in advocating” for the legislation. Hammer oversaw its development. When government policy analysts suggested even minor adjustments to the bill’s language, they made sure to receive Hammer’s approval. In an e-mail to Hammer about three draft amendments, an analyst wrote, “Marion, I’ve spoken with you about the first one,” and went on to note that a different staffer “said she’d spoken with you about the others.” The e-mail concluded, “Let me know what you think.” The amendments addressed matters such as where fines should be deposited.

The sponsor of the bill was Matt Gaetz, at the time a twenty-eight-year-old Republican state representative. “That’s the sequence of how each piece is done,” Representative Dennis Baxley, a close ally of Hammer, told me. On bills that he sponsors, he said, “she works on it with the analyst. Then I look it over and file it. I’m not picky on the details.” (Gaetz acknowledges that Hammer was a “significant contributor” to his bill but denies that she oversaw its drafting.)

Hammer is not an elected official, but she can create policy, see it through to passage, and use government resources to achieve her aims. These days, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature almost never allows any bill that appears to hinder gun owners to come up for a vote. According to Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Florida Republican strategist and lobbyist, Hammer is “in a class by herself. When you approach a certain level, where the legislator is basically a fig leaf, well, that’s not the rule.”

In Florida, ninety-one per cent of Republicans have a grade of A-minus or higher from the N.R.A.

Hammer is less than five feet tall and wears her hair in a pageboy style. She carries a handgun in her purse, and, when she conducts business, she usually dresses in a red or teal blazer. She once told an interviewer at the Orlando Sentinel, “If you came at me, and I felt that my life was in danger or that I was going to be injured, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you.”

Hammer works in Tallahassee, on a quiet downtown strip a few blocks from the capitol. Don Gaetz, Matt Gaetz’s father, who was a Republican state senator between 2006 and 2016, said that Hammer rejects the upscale trappings of other lobbyists’ offices. “There’s no fancy reception area, leather-covered chairs, or brandy decanters,” he said. “Just two or three rooms filled with paper, files, magazines, and a couple of older ladies clipping newspaper stories.”

From this office, Hammer has shepherded laws into existence that have dramatically altered long-held American norms and legal principles. In the eighties, she crafted a statute that allows anyone who can legally purchase a firearm to carry a concealed handgun in public, as long as that person pays a small fee for a state-issued permit and completes a rudimentary training course. The law has been duplicated, in some form, in almost every state, and more than sixteen million Americans now have licenses to carry a concealed handgun.

“I just hope one day I’ll be able to trust again.”

In the early two-thousands, Hammer created the country’s first Stand Your Ground self-defense law, authorizing the use of lethal force in response to a perceived threat. Some two dozen states have adopted a version of Stand Your Ground, giving concealed-carry permit holders wide discretion over when they can shoot another person.

In a recent book, “Engines of Liberty,” David Cole, the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, devoted an admiring chapter to Hammer and the N.R.A. As recently as 1988, Cole notes, a federal court maintained that “for at least 100 years [courts] have analyzed the second amendment purely in terms of protecting state militias, rather than individual rights.” The subsequent shift toward individual rights can be traced back to Hammer. “Florida is often the first place the N.R.A. pursues specific gun rights protections,” Cole explains, “relying on Hammer and her supporters to set a precedent that can then be exported to other states.”

This strategy is far more effective than trying to overhaul federal laws, a complicated process that draws the scrutiny of the national media. Since 1998, Republicans have had total control over Florida’s legislature. In that time, the state has enacted some thirty of Hammer’s bills. “Democrats don’t have anything close to combat her,” Moskowitz told me. In the executive and legislative branches, Republicans have been eager to work with her. Steve Crisafulli, a Republican who, between 2014 and 2016, served as House speaker, said, “Members will go to Marion. They’ll say, ‘I want to carry a bill for the N.R.A. this year. What are you working on? What are your priorities?’ ”

Moskowitz hoped that the shooting at Douglas might be a turning point. During an interview with CNN, Governor Scott, a Republican who has never taken a position contrary to that of the N.R.A., said, “Everything’s on the table.” Still, Moskowitz was keeping his expectations within reason. “They’re not going to ban assault weapons,” he said. “But I have to bring these parents something. I have to show them we didn’t ignore what happened.” Survivors of the shooting, along with thousands of other protesters, have travelled to Tallahassee to urge the governor and other elected officials to pass gun-control legislation. At a town hall convened by CNN, Senator Marco Rubio, who has received a grade of A-plus from the N.R.A., refused to stop accepting donations from the organization. He was loudly jeered. Some lawmakers questioned whether Florida was beginning to change, and if Hammer’s dominance might be threatened.

According to court documents filed by the N.R.A. in 2016, the group has roughly three hundred thousand members in Florida. They are a politically active voting bloc with whom Hammer frequently communicates through e-mail. Using supercharged, provocative language, she keeps her followers apprised of who has been “loyal” to the Second Amendment and who has committed unforgivable “betrayals.” “If you’re with Marion ninety-five per cent of the time, you’re a damn traitor,” Matt Gaetz said.

Gaetz said that one of her e-mails “packs more political punch than a hundred thousand TV buys from any other special interest in the state.” Hammer demonstrates a keen understanding of group identity. She and her followers are defending a way of life that is under threat. When a public official breaks ranks, Hammer exposes his “treacherous actions” and “traitorous nature.” She then invites her supporters to contact the official. “Tell him how you feel,” she advises. “please do it today—time is short!!!”

Greg Evers, a former Republican state senator who, before he died last August, worked closely with Hammer, estimated that her e-mails reach “two or three million” people. Florida has issued around 1.8 million concealed-carry permits, by far the most in the country, and there are 4.6 million registered Republican voters in the state. “The number of fanatical supporters who will take her word for anything and can be deployed almost at will is unique,” Stipanovich, the strategist and lobbyist, told me. For many Republicans, her support tends to be perceived as the difference between winning and losing.

Governor Scott is in the final year of his second term, and is expected to run for the Senate in November. Polls have him in a virtual tie with the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. In order to win, Scott will need ample monetary and grassroots support from the N.R.A. In October, 2014, he trailed in the polls for his reëlection, running behind the former governor Charlie Crist. According to a Web site with connections to the governor’s office, Hammer steered two million dollars toward the contest. The organization helped in less public ways as well. Curt Anderson, Scott’s chief political strategist, runs a consulting firm that exclusively services the N.R.A.; in the past two election cycles, campaign-finance records show, the N.R.A. paid Anderson’s company more than thirty-five million dollars to produce ads in support of Republican candidates. Scott eventually won reëlection by a single percentage point.

“If you’re the governor, and you’ve won by a handful of votes, and you’ve got great political ambitions, you’re going to take Marion’s call in the middle of the night,” Don Gaetz said. “And, if she needs something, you do it, and if you don’t think you can do it you try anyway.”

In the course of a year, in addition to interviewing dozens of Hammer’s allies and opponents, I obtained, through public-records requests, thousands of pages of e-mail correspondence and other documents that detail her relationships with officials in the highest levels of the state’s government. The breadth of Hammer’s power in Florida can be seen in the ways that state employees, legislators, and the governor defer to her—she gives orders, and they follow them. (Hammer refused to be interviewed for this story, but in response to queries she stated that “facts are being misrepresented and false stuff is being presented as fact.”)

“Elected officials have allowed her to own the process,” Ben Wilcox, the research director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said after reviewing the documents. “It’s an egregious example of the influence that a lobbyist can wield.”

When Marion Hammer was five years old, her father was killed in Okinawa, while fighting in the Second World War. Her mother sent her to live on her grandparents’ farm, in South Carolina, where she milked cows and fed the other animals. Within a year, Hammer’s grandfather decided that she was old enough to shoot a gun. He set up a tomato can on a fencepost about twenty-five feet away and then handed her a .22-calibre rifle. Hammer has said that she hit the can on her first try.

According to the Miami Herald, Hammer attended college for a year but dropped out after she met a man she later married. After he got out of the Coast Guard, they moved to Gainesville, where they had three daughters. Her husband got a degree in building construction, and for a while the family bounced around the country, following jobs to Atlanta and Chicago, among other cities. Hammer became a life member of the N.R.A. in 1968, and the family settled in Tallahassee in the mid-seventies.

In 1974, Florida lawmakers introduced a bill that sought to ban the possession of black powder, which is used in muzzle-loading firearms. Hammer joined a local N.R.A. volunteer in his successful fight against the legislation. The campaign occurred just before the launch of the Institute for Legislative Action, the N.R.A.’s lobbying arm, which transformed the organization from one primarily concerned with sporting and hunting into one that advocated for gun rights. In 1978, Hammer became the executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, and the N.R.A.’s top lobbyist in the state. Robert Baer, a former N.R.A. board member, compared her tactics to those of Lyndon Johnson. “She’s the same sort of operator,” he said. “She was a pro at political infighting—she understood how to get power.”

In the eighties, Hammer began to tell a story that she would repeat frequently in the years to come. One night, after leaving her office, she walked into a parking garage, where she was trailed by a carload of men. “They were yelling some of the most disgusting things you can imagine,” Hammer told the Houston Chronicle. “One man had a long-necked beer bottle, and he told me what he was going to do with it.” In those days, Hammer carried a Colt Detective Special six-shot revolver. “I pulled the gun out, brought it slowly up into the headlights of the car so they could see it, and I heard one of them scream, ‘The bitch got a gun!’ ” She added, “I could have been killed or raped, but I had a gun so I wasn’t. If the government takes away my gun, what’s going to happen to me next time?”

N.R.A. members elected Hammer to the organization’s board of directors in 1982. Five years later, Florida enacted her pioneering concealed-carry law, turning Hammer into a gun-rights star. In the early nineties, the board made her vice-president, and, between 1995 and 1998, Hammer served as the N.R.A.’s president, the first woman to head the organization. According to a former colleague at the Institute for Legislative Action, Hammer, who still sits on the N.R.A.’s board, has a “direct line” to Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s firebrand C.E.O. “Marion could do anything she wanted, and whatever she wanted she got,” the former colleague told me. “She would more or less single-handedly make legislation and push it.” In 2016, the N.R.A. paid Hammer two hundred and six thousand dollars, on top of the hundred and ten thousand dollars she earned from the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.

In Florida, when a gun-rights measure is introduced, it is often Hammer, and not a lawmaker, who negotiates with committee policy chiefs, the staffers who guide legislation through the House and the Senate. Chiefs assess whether the language of a bill is constitutional, and how it might affect the state economy. If there is a problem with the text, chiefs will judge whether it can be remedied, and they are supposed to work with lawmakers to make necessary adjustments. Chiefs are the right hand of committee chairs, helping to decide which bills are brought up for a vote and allowed to progress to the floor.

Katie Cunningham was the policy chief of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee during Governor Scott’s first term in office, and she spoke with Hammer often. When Cunningham discussed revisions to gun legislation with other government staffers, she would send e-mails that said things like “Would you like to call Marion and let her know you’ve got another change to her bill?”

Other lobbyists communicate with staffers, too. But Hammer consistently has the most powerful voice in the room. In 2012, the subcommittee received a bill establishing that a concealed-carry permit does not allow a person to bring a gun into a range of government buildings or a child-care center. Within days, Hammer had sent an e-mail to Cunningham, informing her that the “N.R.A. is opposed” to the bill. She continued, “Hope that it will not even be heard.” The legislation was left off the voting calendar, and died two months later.

In March, 2011, shortly after Scott took office, Hammer e-mailed Cunningham about a bill called the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, one of Hammer’s top legislative priorities for the year. Later dubbed Docs vs. Glocks, it prohibited doctors from asking patients if they owned guns. The question is one that some physicians pose, especially to parents of small children, when assessing potential health hazards. On an N.R.A. talk show, Hammer said that doctors were “carrying out a gun-ban campaign.”

Hammer reprimanded Cunningham for making a change to the legislation. “We need the bill to continue to say that asking the question is a violation of privacy rights,” Hammer wrote. “You are changing the whole thrust of the bill by gratuitously removing language that is important to purpose of the bill. Please, put the first section back as it was and amend it as I suggested.” Hammer did not copy any lawmakers on the e-mail—not even the chair of the subcommittee or the bill’s lead sponsor, Representative Jason Brodeur, a thirty-five-year-old Republican in his first term.

Cunningham was contrite. “Believe me—I had no intent to change the thrust of anything,” she replied, adding, “See attached and let me know if that’ll work.”

Ray Pilon was one of the Republicans on the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. He called the interactions between Hammer and Cunningham “improper.” (Cunningham could not be reached for comment.) “I had no idea they were working together,” he told me. “When we discuss a bill in committee, what the staffer says to members—what Katie would have said—winds up looking like a recommendation. In a vote, the analysis weighs heavily.”

Within weeks, the bill had cleared the subcommittee and the legislature and was headed to the desk of Governor Scott. On May 1st, Hammer prepared to celebrate. She e-mailed Diane Moulton, the director of Scott’s executive staff. “Please ask Governor Scott if we can have bill signing ceremonies for the following bills with the invitees listed,” Hammer wrote.

The next day, Hammer sent a follow-up e-mail about the event. “Please remember that since we use these photos in N.R.A.’s magazines, only the best quality photo can be used,” she wrote. “That’s why we always request E.T.”—a local photographer named Eric Tourney.

Tourney was hired. In photographs from the event, Hammer, dressed in one of her signature blazers, stands over Scott’s right shoulder as he signs her bill into law. Since then, at least ten states have introduced their own version of Hammer’s Docs legislation. In 2017, a federal court ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional.

Stand Your Ground was introduced in the Florida legislature in December, 2004. Though no one realized it at the time, it would become the N.R.A.’s most controversial law. “Marion was the ringmaster,” Dan Gelber, then the House Democratic minority leader, said. “It was her circus. She was telling everyone where to go and what hoops to jump through.” Before Stand Your Ground, Americans were forbidden to use force in potentially dangerous public situations if they had the option of fleeing. The new law removed any duty to retreat, justifying force so long as a shooter “reasonably” believed that physical harm was imminent. It was a radical break with legal tradition. Now a person’s subjective feelings of fear were grounds to shoot someone even if there were other options available.

The statute was supposed to be a bulwark against overzealous state attorneys, but Hammer and the Republican sponsors of Stand Your Ground could not point to a single instance in which a person had been wrongfully charged, tried, or convicted after invoking Florida’s traditional self-defense law. “There was no problem,” Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami, who has extensively studied Stand Your Ground, said. “There wasn’t a terrible epidemic of people getting prosecuted or harassed.”

“They don’t appear to want to take over. They just want to dance.”

Gelber said, “There were Republicans who, throughout the process, were expressing reservations to me about the bill. But their entire rationalization was that the legislation won’t have any impact, so we might as well just please the N.R.A.”

In April, 2005, Stand Your Ground passed easily; only twenty lawmakers voted against it, all of them House Democrats. Later that month, Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, signed Hammer’s proposal into law. He called the bill “common sense.”

On February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman, a twenty-eight-year-old neighborhood-watch volunteer, confronted Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black seventeen-year-old. After a scuffle, Zimmerman, who had a concealed-carry permit, pulled out a 9-millimetre pistol and fatally shot Martin. In April, after Governor Scott appointed a special prosecutor, Zimmerman was charged in Martin’s death.

Scott faced public pressure to reëvaluate Stand Your Ground, and two months later he unveiled the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which would hold public hearings across the state and publish an analysis of its findings. Its nineteen members included Dennis Baxley, the Hammer ally, who was one of Stand Your Ground’s primary sponsors, and four other legislators who had voted in favor of the law, including Jason Brodeur, who sponsored the Docs bill.

During the first week of June, just before public hearings got under way, the Tampa Bay Times published the results of its own investigation into Stand Your Ground. The paper found that, since the law had taken effect, nearly seventy per cent of those who invoked it as a defense had gone free. There was a racial imbalance: a person was more likely to be found innocent if the victim was black. Four days later, Hammer e-mailed John Konkus, the chief of staff for Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who was the chair of the task force. Hammer sent him contact information for seven pro-gun academics who she thought would make good expert witnesses. (She says she did this at his request.) She pointed out that two of the professors “are black.” Governor Scott’s office told me that it “took input from a variety of stakeholders” when selecting witnesses.

Though none of the people whom Hammer suggested appeared before the task force, Konkus did invite her to make a presentation of her own. On October 16th, in Jacksonville, Hammer delivered a long, vigorous defense of Stand Your Ground. She claimed that, before the law was enacted, innocent people were “being arrested, prosecuted, and punished for exercising self-defense that was lawful under the Constitution and Florida law.” Later, Hammer addressed the statute’s critics. “There have been claims that some guilty people have or may go free because of the law,” she said. “That may be an unintended consequence of the law, but history accepts that fault.”

In an e-mail, I asked Hammer if she could provide examples of people who had been wrongfully dragged through the legal system before Stand Your Ground. “Not relevant,” she responded. “And no.” Still, Hammer maintains that “there was a list of victims of overzealous prosecutors.”

In February, 2013, the task force released its report. It made some minor suggestions for improving Stand Your Ground, but it unequivocally reaffirmed the statute’s core principle: “All persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful manner have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be.”

Matt Gaetz told me that the task force “was largely window dressing. It was just an open-mike night for people’s views relating to gun laws.” Less than five months after the report was published, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Governor Scott’s office maintains that it regards Marion Hammer no differently from any other lobbyist or citizen in Florida. “Every governor’s office in the country hears from stakeholders and advocates on issues,” Lauren Schenone, Scott’s press secretary, told me.

But the efforts to satisfy Hammer’s demands can be seriously disruptive to the business of government. In 2014, when Scott was running for reëlection, Hammer was pushing a bill that would allow people without permits to carry concealed handguns during a mandatory evacuation. On the morning of March 19th, Captain Terrence Gorman, the general counsel for the Florida Department of Military Affairs (D.M.A.), testified at a Senate committee hearing about the legislation. Like everyone who speaks at a hearing, Gorman was required to fill out an appearance card. His said that he was there to provide “information”—neutral input—as opposed to lobbying for or against the legislation. “We are first responders to a lot of emergency-management situations,” Gorman explained to committee members early in his testimony.

Gorman was thirty-eight, a Bronze Star-winning combat veteran who had served multiple tours in Afghanistan. Throughout his career, he had received glowing performance reviews. Gorman testified that Hammer’s bill conflicted with “existing law.” He said that gun owners without concealed-carry permits would likely be ignorant of the state’s self-defense statutes; they wouldn’t know when they could and could not fire their weapons. And he asked the legislators to “weigh out the public-safety concerns for military and police as they respond and as they have to engage people in a somewhat chaotic environment.” After Gorman concluded his testimony, Senator Evers, the most pro-gun lawmaker on the committee, told his colleagues, “I think he did a wonderful job.”

Hammer did not. In the gallery, she turned to Mike Prendergast, the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who she incorrectly assumed was Gorman’s supervisor. “You’re on my shit list,” she said.

In Florida, the D.M.A. falls under the aegis of the governor’s office. A few hours after the hearing, Hammer e-mailed Pete Antonacci, Scott’s general counsel. She wrote that Gorman had lied on his appearance card and was “clearly there to kill” the legislation. She demanded to know “who, specifically, asked him to lobby against the bill,” and what was “being done to undo the harm he has caused with his actions.”

Later that day, Hammer met with Antonacci and Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s chief of staff. “Because it was an election year, there was heightened sensitivity in the office,” a former administration staffer said. “The campaign team wanted this resolved as soon as possible.”

On March 20th, Antonacci informed Hammer that the governor’s director of legislative affairs had been “dispatched to Senate to express Scott administration support for the bill.”

The governor’s office had also directed Emmett Titshaw, then Florida’s adjutant general, to write a letter to Thad Altman, the chair of the Senate committee that oversaw the D.M.A. The letter was terse. “Captain Terrence Gorman is not authorized to speak for the Department of Military Affairs on legislative issues,” it said. “Department of Military Affairs supports Senate Bill 296,” a reference to the numeric title of Hammer’s legislation.

Titshaw, who was on vacation with his family in British Columbia, notified a staffer that he had “approved” the letter’s language but was still “trying to [find] out why CPT Gorman appeared before the committee.”

Hammer was unhappy with Titshaw’s letter. In an e-mail to Diane Moulton, Scott’s executive staff director, and Melinda Miguel, his chief inspector general, she called it “woefully inadequate,” adding, “I do not accept this as part of the remedy to the damage done by Capt. Gorman.” Hammer wanted the letter to go further, and “apologize for any misrepresentations or inconvenience.”

“There weren’t negotiations going back and forth,” the former Scott staffer said. “It was one-sided. It was Marion saying, ‘Here’s what I want you to do to fix this problem. You’re going to do this, this, and this, and if you don’t do any of these things it’s going to be an issue.’ ” The staffer went on, “It speaks to the worst of the process—it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

On March 23rd, Hammer sent Titshaw’s letter to her followers. The subject line announced that the e-mail contained a letter from Florida’s adjutant general in “support” of the bill.

But the process of atonement was not yet complete. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. On March 24th, after Titshaw returned early from his vacation, he sent a letter to the committee’s chair, Dennis Baxley. “Every member of the Florida National Guard takes an oath of allegiance to the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Florida to defend the constitutional rights of our citizens,” it said, before stating that the D.M.A. “supports” Hammer’s legislation.

E-mails show that Hammer wanted Gorman fired. (“When rogue staffers deceive legislators, they should be fired,” she told me.) According to a former D.M.A. official, Titshaw had a meeting in Tallahassee with Hollingsworth and Antonacci. The official said that the two Scott administrators pushed Titshaw to remove the captain from his position. They delivered the instruction “without the input of the governor,” the official said, “in order to keep the governor’s hands clean.” Hollingsworth told Titshaw that “a head has to roll” and that Gorman had done “irreparable damage,” the official recalled. Titshaw said that he would resign rather than carry out such an order. Hollingsworth backed off, the official said, but Antonacci kept “pressing the issue.”

Hollingsworth did not reply to a request for comment for this story. Antonacci told me, “I didn’t ask that Captain Gorman be fired. That’s my recollection.” But, he said, Gorman “did not have permission from his chain of command” to testify.

Antonacci’s statement is contradicted by an internal D.M.A. memo, written by Gorman. According to the document, Glenn Sutphin, then serving as the director of the D.M.A.’s legislative-affairs office, had planned to represent the agency at the Senate committee meeting. The day before the hearing, he asked Gorman to analyze Hammer’s bill, flag any issues that he found, and report back to him.

The morning of the hearing, Sutphin determined that, owing to a scheduling conflict, he would not be able to attend the Senate meeting. “It’s standard operating procedure for the D.M.A. to attend all military subcommittees in the House and Senate,” he told me recently. “Since I was gone, I asked Gorman to attend the meeting. That’s it.”

The governor’s office told me that it was not influenced by Hammer or by Scott’s election campaign. But the former Scott staffer said, “This incident will go down as the worst I’ve ever witnessed by way of government. This is how important the N.R.A. is in an election year for statewide office. The administration got prostituted to keep Marion Hammer happy.” Six months later, the governor signed into law the bill allowing people without permits to carry concealed weapons during emergencies.

Unlike elected officials, who are limited to eight years in office, Hammer takes a long view of the legislative process. In the past few years, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been a persistent nuisance to her. Several of its legislators are Republicans from Miami, where an N.R.A. endorsement does not mean much, and may even harm a candidate. These lawmakers have blocked legislation that would sanction the open carrying of firearms in public and require state universities and colleges to allow guns on campus. Hammer sees such developments as temporary setbacks. “Eventually, everything passes,” she has said. “That’s why, when folks keep asking, ‘What if these bills don’t pass?’ Well, they’ll be back. If we file a bill, it will be back and back and back until it passes.”

“And now we just relax, settle down, and smother them until they crack.”

Oscar Braynon, the Democratic minority leader in the Florida Senate, said, “Marion’s just waiting us out. When the committees change, she’ll be there to pass that bill.”

Hammer often shepherds legislation over several sessions. In the summer of 2015, the Florida Supreme Court addressed one of Stand Your Ground’s core provisions, which provides a path to immunity from the legal proceedings that typically follow a charge of murder or assault. Under the law, a defendant is entitled to a special pretrial hearing, during which a judge can dismiss the case. The court ruled that in these hearings the burden of proof was on the person claiming the statute’s protections. To shift the onus in the other direction, the court said, would essentially require prosecutors to prove a case twice.

Later that year, Hammer began to push a bill that would place the burden on the state, making Stand Your Ground defenses nearly impregnable. In September, the legislation was referred to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, where Representative Dave Kerner, a Democrat, proposed two amendments that would gut the bill. Hammer knew that the committee’s chair, Representative Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, was against the measure; he felt that it would make the jobs of prosecutors excessively difficult. When the committee voted on the amendments, two Republicans were missing. Hammer believes that Trujillo had sent them out of the room to insure that the amendments would pass. She e-mailed her network to share her theory. “It is important to recognize and remember the committee members who were loyal to the Constitution and your right to self-defense—as well as it is the betrayers,” Hammer wrote.

One of the absent lawmakers was Ray Pilon, who was in his third term in the House. During his previous reëlection campaign, in 2014, he had received the N.R.A.’s endorsement and a grade of A-plus. He supported Hammer’s Stand Your Ground expansion but missed the vote on Kerner’s amendments because he had to attend a different committee meeting, where a health-care-related bill that he was sponsoring was coming up for a vote. According to Ben Wilcox, the Florida ethics watchdog, it would have been “really strange” for Pilon not to present his bill. “That’s part of the essential work of government that has to get done,” Wilcox said. “It’s standard.” Pilon tried to explain the situation to Hammer, but she wouldn’t hear it. “Marion crucified me,” he told me. “I said I would have voted against the amendments, but she didn’t believe me. She called me a liar. She said I did it on purpose, and that I had a choice. But I didn’t, unless I wanted to let my own bill go down in flames.”

That winter, Hammer revived the enhanced Stand Your Ground legislation. The bill cleared the Senate and went back to the House, where it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee. The chair was Representative Charles McBurney, a Republican, who had been a loyal ally to Hammer and, like Pilon, had received an A-plus during his most recent reëlection campaign. A lawyer by trade, he had reservations about the bill. In November, two months before the bill was resurrected in the Senate, Hammer had written to him that she was “distressed” to hear that he’d been working to undermine her efforts. McBurney told Hammer that the “rumors are untrue,” and that, while he had “concerns about aspects of that bill,” he had “too much respect” for her not to discuss them with her. But, in late February, 2016, with the bill back in the House, McBurney told the press that he did not plan to call it up for a vote. “I was concerned about the policy,” he explained to reporters, and thought it best to press “the pause button.”

McBurney, who was in his final term, was seeking an appointment to a circuit-court judgeship in the Jacksonville area. In the spring, just a few months after McBurney killed Hammer’s bill, a nominating commission placed him on a list of six finalists for the job. The list was forwarded to Governor Scott, who would decide which candidate should fill the vacancy. Shortly thereafter, Hammer warned her supporters that McBurney had “proved himself to be summarily unfit to serve on the bench of any Court anywhere.” She accused him of trying to “gain favor with prosecutors,” and claimed that he “traded your rights for his own personal gain.” Hammer ended her missive with a set of directions. “E-mail Governor Rick Scott right away,” she wrote. “Tell him please do not appoint Charles McBurney to a judgeship.”

Thousands of people complied with Hammer’s request, and, in early summer, Scott gave the job to one of the other candidates. (Scott’s office told me that he appointed the best candidate: “Any inference that he was influenced is false.”) Don Gaetz told me, “When Marion launched her campaign to pay McBurney back, whatever chances he had for that judgeship melted immediately.”

Meanwhile, Pilon was engaged in a highly competitive primary for an open seat in the state Senate. Hammer dropped his grade to a C and supported one of his House colleagues, a young, ardently conservative Republican named Greg Steube. In August, Steube won the primary. “She sent out thousands of cards telling people to vote for him,” Pilon, who is now retired, said. “She did for him what she once did for me.”

In January, 2017, Hammer returned to the business of legislating. The new session would not begin until March, but her Stand Your Ground bill had already been refiled. She sent out blast texts and e-mails to Republican lawmakers, urging them to co-sponsor it. One legislator who received a text was Representative Randy Fine, a Republican in his first year of office. “OK,” he answered. “Let me read the bill and talk to Bobby”—Bobby Payne, the primary sponsor in the House. He went on, “I’ve barely been able to figure out how to file my first bill,” adding, “Haven’t cosponsored anything yet.” Eventually, he joined forty-six of his House colleagues in co-sponsoring the bill.

When the legislature reconvened, the Stand Your Ground bill passed, despite vehement objections from prosecutors across the state. In early June, Scott signed it into law. Last fall, a study published in jama Internal Medicine revealed that, in Stand Your Ground’s first decade, the number of homicides ruled legally justifiable had increased in Florida by seventy-five per cent. In one notable instance, two boat owners got into a fight and fell in the water; as one attempted to climb out, the other fatally shot him in the back of the head. A jury found the killer not guilty.

Mary Anne Franks, the law professor from the University of Miami, told me that the number of justifiable homicides is likely to continue to rise. “The new amendment makes it even easier for killers who provide zero evidence of self-defense to avoid not only being convicted but being prosecuted at all,” she said.

After Charles McBurney learned that he’d been passed over for the judgeship, he published an op-ed on Jacksonville.com, arguing that Hammer’s bill had nothing to do with gun rights, and decrying her tactics. “It’s the message being sent to our legislators and elected officials that ‘you can be with me on virtually everything, but if you cross me once, even if the issue doesn’t involve the Second Amendment, I will take you out,’ ” he wrote. “It’s frightening for our republic.”

In June, 2016, when a shooting occurred at the Pulse night club, in Orlando, in which forty-nine people were killed and another fifty-eight wounded, the Florida legislature was out of session. Using a long-shot procedural maneuver, Democrats tried to convene a special session but were rebuffed by Republicans. At the time, Hammer told the Tallahassee Democrat, “I have not heard a single Republican say that they were interested in spending the taxpayer’s money for a special session that would achieve nothing but more publicity for Democrats.”

Months later, Representative Carlos Smith, a Democrat from East Orlando, introduced a bill that would have banned assault weapons. It never got a hearing. “The power of Marion Hammer dictated whether we could even have a conversation about what I was proposing,” he told me. “I lost constituents at Pulse. I lost a friend.”

This legislative session, he reintroduced the bill. On Tuesday, February 20th, as students from Douglas High School sat in the gallery, every House Republican voted against bringing the legislation to the floor. Smith said, “It was devastating to watch that happen, but the students aren’t kids anymore, and it’s important that we don’t shield them from harsh political realities.”

The next day, students and other protesters descended upon the capitol. They congregated outside the office of Governor Scott, chanting, “You work for us!” But Scott was not there. He was attending a funeral for a student. ♦

This story was published in partnership with The Trace, a nonprofit news organization covering guns in America.

This article will be published in its print form in the March 5, 2018, issue.

Donald Trump wants to bring coal back, even though it’s killing miners


Donald Trump wants to bring coal back, even though it’s killing miners

In his promises to bring back the coal industry, Trump has conveniently omitted his concern for miners’ health

 Charlie May     February 7, 2018

(Credit: AP/Steve Helber)

It’s no secret that President Donald Trump has vowed to revitalize the coal industry, an industry that has been on its last legs for probably far too long. But aside from all of the obvious flaws with the president’s logic to turn back the clock on fossil fuels and usher in an era of “clean coal,” one major flaw has been vastly overlooked: mining for coal is a fatally unhealthy means of employment.

In a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health confirmed “416 cases of progressive massive fibrosis or complicated black lung in three clinics in central Appalachia from 2013 to 2017,” NPR reported. The clinics are run by Stone Mountain Health Services, and they treat coal miners primarily from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia.

“This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,” Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist who was involved with the study told NPR. “We’ve gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990’s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen.”

Clinics would see roughly just under 10 cases per year, but are now seeing them as often as every two weeks — an unprecedented rate that has sparked concern, as well as calls for a national health emergency, NPR reported.

“We are seeing something that we haven’t seen before,” Ron Carson, who directs Stone Mountain’s black lung program, told NPR.

The only cure for the disease is a lung transplant, which is only applicable to miners who can safely undergo such a procedure. There is zero doubt that years of working in coal mines causes this type of lung deterioration, and the industry’s decline has played a significant role as well.

NPR elaborated: PMF, or complicated black lung, encompasses the worst stages of the disease, which is caused by inhalation of coal and silica dust at both underground and surface coal mines. Miners gradually lose the ability to breathe, as they wheeze and gasp for air.

The NPR investigation also found that the likely cause of the epidemic is longer work shifts for miners and the mining of thinner coal seams. Massive mining machines must cut rock with coal and the resulting dust contains silica, which is far more toxic than coal dust. The spike in PMF diagnoses is also due to layoffs and retirements brought on by the decline in coal mining. Miners who had put off getting checked for black lung earlier began streaming into clinics, especially if they needed the medical and wage replacement benefits provided by black lung compensation programs.

PMF cases are also affecting much younger miners. In the 1990’s, for example, PMF was diagnosed to miners who were typically in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while now miners who are in their 50’s, 40’s and even 30’s — all with much less mining experience — have been diagnosed.

The study showed that “a high proportion” of miners had the disease, even with a “coal mining tenure of less than 20 years, which are indications of exceptionally severe and rapidly progressive disease.”

In his pie in the sky pledge to bring the coal industry back to life, put miners back to work and massively produce “clean coal” Trump has utterly failed to acknowledge the health ramifications felt by the American workers he has championed. That’s because his outlandish promises have always been intended for fossil fuel corporations, not its workers.

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon.

At Davos, Rick Perry makes bizarre claim about U.S. fossil fuel exports


At Davos, Rick Perry makes bizarre claim about U.S. fossil fuel exports

Exporting climate-destroying fuels is not “exporting freedom.”

Joe Romm    January 25, 2018

Rick Perry wtih Kellyanne Conway March 2, 2017. CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rick Perry with Kellyanne Conway, March 2, 2017. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s big push to export fossil fuels should be seen as an effort to spread freedom throughout the world — since it gives countries another choice regarding where they get their energy.

“The United States is not just exporting energy, we’re exporting freedom,” Perry said during a Fox Business interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

For Perry, giving other countries a choice of who satisfies their addiction to climate-destroying fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas is somehow increasing their freedom. But it’s really exporting dependence and exporting carbon pollution.

If the U.S. were to promote zero-carbon fuels, like solar and wind power, however, that would free countries from dependence on anyone’s dirty hydrocarbons.

Indeed, the whole point of the landmark December 2015 Paris climate agreementis that more than 190 of the world’s leading countries unanimously agreed with the overwhelming science that says the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to leave most of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground.

Today, thanks to Trump, the United States literally sits alone as the only one of those countries now saying it will abandon this global deal, after the last two other holdouts, Nicaragua and Syria, signed on last fall.

“There’s no strings attached when you buy American LNG [liquefied natural gas],” Perry told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “So that’s world-changing.”

Well, American LNG is world-changing — or, rather, climate changing — but not in a good way.

Back in 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy released an analysis of total greenhouse gas emissions from LNG. One of the country’s top methane experts told me at the time, “a close reading of the DOE report in the context of the recent literature indicates that exporting natural gas from the U.S. as LNG is a very poor idea” from a climate perspective.

More recent research paints an equally grim picture. A study in the journal Energylast month on the overall emissions impact of “U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports,” concluded that “emissions are not likely to decrease and may increase significantly due to greater global energy consumption, higher emissions in the U.S., and methane leakage.”

Total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for LNG are much higher than they are for regular pipeline gas because the liquefaction process is so energy-intensive and because there are even more leaks from that process and from shipping the LNG overseas.

Remember, natural gas is mostly methane, and some 86 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. And earlier this month, a NASA analysis found that the jump in fossil-fuel methane emissions in the past decade “is substantially larger than in previous literature.”

And if fracked gas domestically is part of the climate problem, then liquefying that gas and shipping it to other countries is an even bigger problem.

When you add in our exports of coal and oil, then America is one of the biggest exporters of carbon pollution in the world. And that is not exporting freedom.

Trump Administration Repeals Obama Rule Designed to Make Fracking Safer 


Trump Administration Repeals Obama Rule Designed to Make Fracking Safer 

Lorraine Chow      December 29, 2017

                                                               Bureau of Land Management California / Flickr

The Trump administration is rescinding Obama-era rules designed to increase the safety of fracking.

“We believe it imposes administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified,” the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wrote in a notice published Friday in the Federal Register.

The 2015 rule required companies drilling for natural gas and oil on public lands to comply with federal safety standards in the construction of fracking wells, to disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process, and required companies to cover surface ponds that store fracking wastewater.

The regulation, however, never took effect after a Wyoming federal judge struck it down last year.

Fossil fuel groups, which sued to block the Obama regulation, unsurprisingly cheered the decision.

“Western Energy Alliance appreciates that BLM under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke understands this rule was duplicative and has rescinded it,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said in a release. “States have an exemplary safety record regulating fracking, and that environmental protection will continue as before.”

But environmentalists and public health advocates have long warned that fracking—which involves pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to extract oil and gas—causes groundwater contaminationputs human health at risk and releases the potent greenhouse gas methane.

“The Trump administration is endangering public health and wildlife by allowing the fracking industry to run roughshod over public lands,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Fracking is a toxic business, and that’s why states and countries have banned it. Trump’s reckless decision to repeal these common-sense protections will have serious consequences.”

Maryland, New York and Vermont have banned fracking. Ireland, France, Germany and Bulgaria have also banned the practice on land.

Here are some major findings of a 2016 study by Environment America Research & Policy Center on the impact of fracking on our environment:

  • During well completion alone, fracking released 5.3 billion pounds of methane in 2014,a pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years.
  • Fracking wells produced at least 14 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. Fracking wastewater has leaked from retention ponds, been dumped into streams and escaped from faulty disposal wells, putting drinking water at risk. Wastewater from fracked wells includes not only the toxic chemicals injected into the well but also naturally occurring radioactive materials that can rise to the surface.
  • Between 2005 and 2015, fracking used at least 23 billion pounds of toxic chemicals. Fracking uses of vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne.
  • At least 239 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005, an average of 3 million gallons per well. Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well—water that is often needed for other uses or to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Infrastructure to support fracking has directly damaged at least 675,000 acres of land since 2005, an area only slightly smaller than Yosemite National Park. Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure built for fracking turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.


Fracking Threatens Public Safety and Health | Debate Club | US News ›

Was 2017 the Year that the Tide finally Turned against Fossil Fuel Projects?


Building a world of resilient communities

Was 2017 the Year that the Tide finally Turned against Fossil Fuel Projects?

By Susanne Dhaliwal, originally  published by Open Democracy  December 21, 2017

The end of 2017 saw a rapid escalation of big divestment announcements, including from global insurer Axa. 2018 brings more opportunity – so long as campaigning prioritises the voices of those most impacted by climate change.

Last week AXA announced its sell off of €700m of tar sands investments from its balance sheets, covering 25 tar sands companies and 3 major pipelines projects. Thomas Buberl, the company’s chief executive, called the projects “not sustainable and therefore also not insurable.”

This was a significant win for activists like the UK Tar Sands Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who have been calling on financial institutions to end investments in the tar sands projects and pipelines since 2009, and who have most recently taken their campaigning efforts to the insurance industry.

The AXA decision comes just weeks after BNP Paribas broke the news that it will no longer finance new shale or tar sands projects, nor work with companies that mainly focus on those resources. Last Friday, Norway’s largest life insurer, KLP announced that it would exclude from its portfolio any firms that derive 30 percent or more of revenues from the extraction of tar sands. In the same week the World Bank announced it would cease financing upstream oil and gas after 2019.

It’s welcome news. Based on the financial risks, climate impacts and indigenous rights violations, we have seen a significant shift in financial institutions backing fossil fuels. The Bank of England now recognizes the monetary risks associated with climate change and is advising the central banks and governments to get out of highly polluting fuels due to the pending carbon bubble and the bad business associated with ‘extreme’ energy extraction. As a result BP, Shell, Exxon and others have pulled out of major tar sands projects and pipelines.

And now the insurance industry is beginning to act more meaningfully. As early as the 1970s, the insurance industry acknowledged the risk of climate change and the need for the sector to take meaningful action. Insurers have already seen the costs of climate related catastrophes and extreme weather events skyrocket, compelling them to be among some of the first movers divesting from coal and also develop policies to stop the underwriting of new fossil fuel projects. But they have massive holdings in fossil fuels. And so they need public pressure to push them to divest.

So despite last week’s news, we must be careful not to pop those champagne corks too fast. Significant action and commitment has yet to be seen by Asian and American insurers. Moreover, regenerative steps need to be taken to ensure that the communities whose livelihoods depend on fossil fuels benefit from the transition to the clean energy economy. Simply put, who will be responsible for the massive clean-ups of stranded projects and direct the green energy transition?

Activists say “no thanks” to greenwash

Indigenous Climate Action’s bold stance on Aviva points the way to a breakthrough on this front.

The Canadian-based Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) group is led by Eriel Deranger, one of the foremost leaders driving the discussion about divestment and just transition. ICA is a new organisation that brings indigenous voices and solutions to the climate movement.

ICA’s groundbreaking work caught the eye of the Aviva Community Fund who awarded them a $150,000.00 cash prize in early December.

But ICA found out that Aviva plc – Aviva Canada’s parent company – held major passive investments (over half a billion USD) in corporations operating in Alberta’s tar sands, including Teck Resource Ltd (Frontier Open pit mine), Encana, Exxon, Imperial, Suncor, Chevron, Cenovus, Kinder Morgan (TransMountain pipeline), TransCanada (Keystone XL pipeline), and Enbridge (Line 3 pipeline).

So ICA had only one option, to reject the prize.

Aviva invests in projects that are in violation of international human rights and Indigenous rights standards… Aviva needs to ensure they are on the right side of history, and to do that, they must divest from projects that violate our rights and threaten our survival,” Spokesperson Kanahus Manuel commented.

The Canadian government has done little to recognise indigenous land titles. Tar sands expansion continues at an alarming rate, with even more pipelines being approved. We cannot rely on Prime Minister Trudeau’s support to join the climate action force anytime soon.

Odd as it may seem, ICA’s rejection of the 150K award has opened an unlikely opportunity – to have a meaningful conversation with Aviva.

“ICA turning down the Aviva award drives home the urgency of the financial industry cutting ties with extreme fossil fuels. ICA’s bold stand should prompt insurers, investors and banks to drop tar sands and coal across the board and ensure their policies and practices fully respect Indigenous rights,” said Ruth Breech, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network.

Those impacted by climate change must be at the forefront of solutions

But it is not simply enough to applaud ICA for its bold stance. We need a rapid shift in funding structures in the non-profit world to support groups like ICA who have taken a moral stand against financial institutions like Aviva. We need to ensure that the people most impacted by climate change are also at the forefront and are involved in developing climate solutions. And we need to widen the community of actors in the divestment debate, as non-profits can act as gatekeepers to key corporate relations leaving out those most impacted by these decisions.

AXA’s new ground-breaking policy shows globally that tar sands and coal are becoming uninsurable, uninvestable and eventually unbankable. We also hope to hear from Aviva that they will be dropping their tar sands investments and have a firm commitment to stop underwriting future projects once we renew engagement in the new year.

2018 is going to be another massive year for divestment with an imminent decision from the Norwegian Wealth Fund to divest $35 billion from oil shares, from corporations such as Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Chevron and Norway’s own oil giant, Statoil.

All of these decisions and ‘wins’ need to be grounded in an intersectional divestment movement that takes the time to think about the reinvestment strategies, that is twinned with a just transition model and opens up the seats at the table for dialogue with those most impacted by climate change and holding the climate solutions. If we can do this, 2018 is going to be an incredible year for our movements and hope for the climate.

Teaser Photo credit: Former US tar sands test pit site, Flickr/BeforeItStarts, Creative Commons. 

Congressional Budget Office Says GOP Senate Tax Bill Hits Poor, Including Many Veterans, Harder


Lowest-income Americans would take bigger hit than first thought under Senate GOP tax bill, CBO says

Jacob Pramuk, CNBC    November 27, 2017 

Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images. The CBO report estimates that lower-income groups would foot a bigger bill from tax cuts than previously expected.

The lowest-income American households would take a hit while higher-earning taxpayers would see their burden reduced under the Senate Republican tax plan, according to the latest analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate proposal permanently chops the corporate tax rate and temporarily reduces individual income taxes, while changing numerous deductions . GOP senators hope to pass that plan this week and approve a final bill agreed upon with the House before the end of the year.

The CBO report, released Sunday, estimates that lower-income groups would foot a bigger bill from tax cuts than previously expected. In 2019, all income groups under $30,000 would have a bigger burden under the bill, the CBO projected.

In 2027, that would extend to all income groups under $75,000, as individual tax reductions expire.

The change largely stems from the bill effectively getting rid of the Obamacare provision requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Low-income Americans would receive fewer premium tax credits if more of them choose not to have insurance. The CBO estimate also includes the effects of changes to spending for programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

A previous Joint Committee on Taxation analysis that showed more modest effects on low-income Americans did not include the changes in those programs.

In a statement, Senate Finance Committee spokeswoman Julia Lawless criticized the CBO report, calling its logic related to the individual mandate “confusing and erroneous.”

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time CBO has vastly overestimated the impact of the deeply flawed individual mandate,” the statement said. “And, for members concerned about the sunset date for individual tax cuts, Democrats will have a chance to make these strong middle-class tax cuts permanent on the floor.”

Democrats, who oppose the GOP tax bill, have repeatedly cast it as a plan helping corporations and the wealthy at the expense of poorer Americans.
More From CNBC:

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Rand Paul: ‘I plan to vote for the Senate tax bill’ despite problems

Ken Griffin: We ‘probably’ don’t need to cut taxes as much as proposed

Donald J. Trump May Be Enshrined in American History as The Tarriest of Political Tarbabys


Donald J. Trump May Be Enshrined in American History as The Tarriest of Political Tarbabys

John Hanno           October 31, 2017


The list of folks who probably wished they never associated with Trump, his campaign, or his administration grows daily. The latest I’m sure, are Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. Trump’s entire administration and campaign team have had to hire personal legal defense. During the entire 8-year Obama Administration, not one single person was embroiled in scandal or had to hire defense lawyers.

During a news conference on July 22, 2016, Trump said Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and assistant chairman Rick Gates “were doing a fantastic job” and had earlier called Papadopoulos an “oil and gas consultant and an excellent guy.”

These first indictments appear just the beginning. The allegations against Manafort and Gates look iron clad and serious enough to induce their full cooperation in the possible implication and prosecution of others. And Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, in the works since July, ratted out other campaign operatives.

What implores these people to sell their souls to a devil like Trump? Is it the money; most of them are already wealthy beyond reason? Is no amount of wealth enough for them? Or are they attracted to the absolute power of the American presidency?

Trump’s stated goal is to “Make America Great Again” but everything he’s done, every executive order he’s signed has done just the opposite. He and the Republi-cons in congress have tried to make American’s sicker again by attacking the ACA and taking health care away from the 10’s of millions of poor Americans who finally acquired health insurance under Obama.

Its attack on the Consumer Protection Agency and its handouts to Wall Street will make most Americans poorer. They’ve made America’s air and water dirtier and more detrimental to its citizens. It works day and night proposing ways to plunder America’s natural resources and national treasures and turn them over to profit seeking fossil fuel and mining interests.

It’s proposed tax bill, will attempt to make incredibly rich people and corporations even richer. And it will starve the federal governments ability to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s policies will take power and resources away from workers, organized labor, consumers and anyone who supports the Democrats and their progressive agenda to rebuild our middle class.

Its obvious their main goal is to reverse every progressive accomplishment of the Obama Administration. And at the same time, to “Make Trump Inc. Great Again.”

Most of us, including progressive Democrats, critical thinkers, cheated business acquaintances of Trump, folks who bought into the bogus Trump University, women subjected to Trump’s sexual abuse, unrepentant Never Trumpers, and most of the rest of the entire world, saw the tar right from the start. Trump clearly showed us “who he really was”; and the dubious types he admired, praised and brought into his campaign and administration emphasized his flawed morality and character.

The swamp he promised to drain was obviously just another blatant Trump campaign lie. And the conflicts and mingling of his questionable business empire with his Executive Branch responsibilities, which he quite publicly promised to separate, was never perfected.

The Republican’s wholly tainted by Trumpism, are for the most part hanging on for dear life, hoping to rehabilitate their damaged reputations with their mythical tax reform legislation. They’re looking for a brier patch to escape into but the options are limited at this late date. A very few of the Republicans in Congress have managed to extricate themselves from the dirty tarbaby. Sen. John McCain, never a Trump fan, finally stood up and decided to make peace with his conscience before he meets his maker. Sen. Bob Corker, a principled conservative, decided that two 6-year senate terms were enough, and is attempting to clean his moral slate during the balance of his term. Sen. Jeff Flake, another principled conservative and very popular in his caucus, decided one term is all he could stomach when someone like Trump was steering the party into the abyss.

As the chips continue to fall, maybe others in congress will come to Jesus. There’s a good chance the promised monumental tax reform Trump and the Republi-cons promise will be as successful as their 7 year campaign to repeal President Obama and the Democrats efforts to heal our sick health care system.

Many of us, soon after Trump was elected but long before he took office, realized these Republi-cons would get drunk on their newfound power trifecta and couldn’t help but overreach. The insane promises this radical right cabal trumpeted during and since the campaign sealed their legislative fate long before the first vote was cast. The promises were so far removed from reality that even Trump’s bamboozled base supporters are even now beginning to drift back to Earth.

The Putinistic propaganda being spewed from the White House, from spokes-person Sarah Huckabee Sanders and from the ult-right media, rings more incredulous every day. Attempting to shift the focus from Trump’s Russia thing to Hillary’s Russia thing will fail on the facts Mr. Mueller and his team are uncovering by the hour.

Still, I can’t understand, that in spite of Trump’s historically low approval ratings, why are more than 80 percent of Republicans still solidly behind him. What will it take to finally turn his supporters from co-indicted treasonous co-conspirators into the courageous American patriots they pretend to be.

I can’t even imagine the hue and cry from the Republi-cons in congress if an Obama or Clinton Administration were implicated in 1/10th the scandals and conspiracies as Trump World. Articles of Impeachment would have already issued from every Republi-con controlled congressional committee.

When all is said and done, the list of criminal conduct and conspiracy will be impressive and substantial. But Robert Mueller may have a legal tight rope to walk, so that all the work his investigative team undertakes getting to the bottom of Putin’s attack on our Democracy, and the Trump campaign’s collusion, couldn’t be undone by pardons from Trump. Mr. Mueller may have to somehow slow-walk some of the prosecutions until after Trump is impeached, in order to bring all these criminals to justice.

John Hanno

The Old, Hidden Pipeline at the Bottom of the Great Lakes


By Sierra Club    October 12, 2017

The Old, Hidden Pipeline at the Bottom of the Great Lakes

By Conor Mihell

At dawn, I launch my kayak and paddle into a velvety expanse of turquoise water. Here, in northern Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, Great Lakes Michigan and Huron meet like the middle of an hourglass. To the east, the rounded form of Mackinac Island is the centerpiece of an archipelago in Lake Huron.

According to an Ojibwe creation story, this is Mishee Makinakong, the Great Turtle, whose surfacing shell became a refuge for plants and animals as floodwaters surged in the days before time. Today, droves of ferries buzz to and from the island, a bustling summer tourist destination replete with kitschy fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages.

I’m paddling south, dwarfed by the Mackinac Bridge, a monolithic five-mile-long ribbon of green steel and gray concrete that connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Lake Michigan sprawls westward. Its watery horizon shows the telltale dance of rising winds just as a wave splashes over my deck, reminding me to put away my camera. This isn’t a place to multitask.

Currents deflect my course as I approach a towering bridge support. It’s like paddling on the ocean, with steep waves and a strengthening tidelike flow. I angle my bow to compensate. Whitewater reflects from the concrete pillar, and eddies swirl in its wake. Even on this sunny June morning, the conditions hint at a destructive violence that makes me nervous.

Almost directly beneath my kayak runs Enbridge Line 5, twin 64-year-old pipelines at the bottom of the lakebed. Line 5 transports 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily for 645 miles through Wisconsin and Michigan to Canada. Enbridge, the Canadian oil transportation giant, operated Line 5 inconspicuously until 2010; that’s when its sister pipeline, Line 6B, ruptured, pouring a million gallons of tar sands bitumen into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. It was the largest land-based oil spill in U.S. history. Suddenly, the peril posed by vintage infrastructure carrying petrochemicals through the heart of North America’s greatest supply of freshwater loomed very large.

University of Michigan hydrologist Dave Schwab has concluded that the Straits of Mackinac is “the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes.” At any given time, one million gallons of petroleum products are contained in the 20-inch pipes that run along the lakebed. If one ruptured, oil would disperse with the currents that slosh back and forth through the straits. In Schwab’s worst-case scenario, 720 miles of lakeshore would be devastated.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts that in the event of a spill, no more than 40 percent of the oil could be recovered by deploying booms and “in-situ burning”—lighting surface slicks on fire, a technique used in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The success rate would plummet in the winter, when the Straits of Mackinac are sheathed in feet of ice. This apocalyptic vision was enough to convince more than 60 municipalities and all 12 of Michigan’s Native American tribes that Line 5 should be decommissioned. Even Republican state attorney general Bill Schuette called for a timeline to shut down the pipeline.

“We know that Line 5 will ultimately be decommissioned,” said David Holtz, the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter chair and the coordinator of Oil and Water Don’t Mix, a grassroots coalition of pipeline opponents with 30,000 supporters. “The only question is, will it be decommissioned before or after it ruptures?”

Line 5 is a product of the post–World War II construction boom, when oil companies installed pipelines across the country to fuel an increasingly global economy. “Michigan was the shortest path to get oil to market,” Holtz explained. “We get all the risk; Enbridge gets the reward.”

For Enbridge’s part, spokesperson Michael Barnes said that Line 5 is “vital to the people of Michigan, who need energy to heat their homes and power their industries.” (Holtz contends that the company has never documented this claim.) In the five years following the Marshall disaster, Barnes said, the company spent nearly $5 billion on maintenance, inspection, and leak detection: “This is the largest, most comprehensive and sophisticated maintenance and inspection program of any pipeline system in the world.”

As for the underwater pipelines at the Straits of Mackinac, Barnes said, “Recent inspection reports show that Line 5, from an engineering and integrity perspective, is like new and in excellent condition.”

Retired Dow chemical engineer Ed Timm has taken it upon himself to debunk such rosy claims. Timm, a resident of nearby Harbor Springs whose dark ponytail and youthful swagger belie his 72 years, started studying the pipeline and checking out Enbridge’s claims out of curiosity. He dug up early construction journals documenting the hasty process whereby pipelines were “pulled,” as the engineers called it, across the straits. He plotted modern imagery alongside original blueprints to show how lakebed sediments have shifted drastically over time, placing stress on sections of pipe. And he tabulated modern-water-current data to prove that the Straits of Mackinac are capable of producing double the 2.25-mile-per-hour currents envisioned by the original plans.

Timm also discovered a 2016 technical report that he calls a “smoking gun.” The operating-easement agreement for Line 5 between Enbridge and the state of Michigan mandates that there be no unsupported spans longer than 75 feet. According to engineer Mario Salvadori, who reviewed the design, “The pipe must not be allowed to span a valley of more than 140 feet.” But the 2016 report, conducted by the Ohio-based engineering firm Kiefner and Associates, mentions unsupported spans of up to 286 feet, indicating that over time the pipeline has shifted from its moorings. Timm showed me a graph of how the pipeline’s resiliency diminishes across increasing lengths of unsupported spans. Just like a bent paper clip, he said, a pipeline with inadequate support will become fatigued as it flexes back and forth in moving water. “At that distance a steel pipeline basically turns into a noodle.”

For Native Americans in the Great Lakes region, Line 5 touches a cultural nerve. The area a spill might affect coincides with tribal fishing areas and encompasses the watery heart of the indigenous creation story.

On Lake Michigan’s east shore, the Grand Traverse Band operates a couple dozen boats, whose captains and crews make their livelihoods fishing year-round, said Desmond Berry, the band’s natural resources manager. Fish is a staple of the indigenous diet and is recognized in the tribe’s traditional clan system. “We are a fish nation,” Berry said.

The Grand Traverse Band is one of five Chippewa and Ottawa tribes with commercial operations in the Mackinac Straits area. They harvest more than three million pounds of whitefish and lake trout annually. Commercial and recreational fishing on the Great Lakes contribute $2.5 billion to Michigan’s economy, with tourists spending $660 million annually in the counties straddling the Straits of Mackinac, supporting 7,500 local jobs. “If there were a spill,” Berry said, referring to the slogan on the state’s license plate, “‘Pure Michigan’ would cease to exist.”

Safeguarding freshwater was at the core of efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and is also at the root of Native American opposition to Line 5. Little Traverse Bay Bands member Jannan Cornstalk takes her responsibility as a water protector seriously. “Women have the ability to bring life into the world through our bodies,” she said. “An embryo is held in a sack of water inside of us. That’s our connection to the water.”

Cornstalk was shocked when she learned about the sunken pipelines at Mackinac Straits. Since 2015, she’s organized Labor Day demonstrations to coincide with a popular Mackinac Bridge walk, which includes canoe and kayak flotillas and, this year, an arts and culture festival. “I believe our water is in crisis,” she said, pointing to the contaminated drinking water in Flint, which led to a federal state of emergency in 2016. “Clean water is a basic human right. Without it we are nothing.”

The water calms and my mind wanders as I paddle back to shore. After the flood in the Ojibwe creation story, Sky Woman, the mother of humanity, settled on the Great Turtle’s back and summoned the animals to help rebuild the earth. One at a time, the strongest swimmers—Beaver, Fisher, Marten, and Loon—plunged into the water, diving deep in search of soil. Each returned to the surface empty-handed and ashamed.

Then diminutive Muskrat volunteered. The other animals snickered, but Muskrat dove in anyway and stayed underwater an exceedingly long time. “The Muskrat floated to the surface more dead than alive, but he clutched in his paws a small morsel of soil,” recounted the late Ojibwe historian Basil Johnston. “Where the great had failed, the small succeeded.”

Sky Woman spread the modicum of soil on the turtle’s back and infused the new world with the breath of life. Turtle Island grew, teeming with grasses, flowers and trees. Finally, Sky Woman gave birth to the first Anishnabeg—the people—whom she instructed to live in harmony with all of creation, living and yet unborn.

The Mackinac area exerts an energy that pulls at the conscience of indigenous people and newcomers alike. A 2016 poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of Michigan voters do not support oil pipelines in the Great Lakes. Holtz hopes the state government will soon have a moment of reckoning like he did five years ago, when he represented the Sierra Club in an initial meeting to discuss Line 5 with other environmentalists. Holtz had recently retired from a career in media and “wasn’t looking for a fight.” Then he spent an autumn weekend alone at the straits. “I drove across the bridge and looked over the water,” he recalled. “I decided I didn’t want to be responsible for not stopping an oil spill in a beautiful, wonderful place that I love. I don’t want that to be my legacy.”

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA magazine.

Harvey spells it out: markets alone won’t protect you

The Guardian

Harvey spells it out: markets alone won’t protect you

Joseph Stiglitz   September 8, 2017

We should have learned the lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy – we need political action to help prevent disasters

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/0a18bfbbe19beec30b1e5e4d4e3a1a4fb34e1150/415_0_6065_3639/master/6065.jpg?w=620&q=20&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&dpr=2&s=b5df99c1c88c2089a16b95b1b60cb7aeUS CBP Air and Marine Operations aircrew evacuate stranded residents trapped by flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Photograph: Donna Burton/Zuma/Avalon.red

Tropical Storm Harvey has left in its wake upended lives and enormous property damage, estimated by some at $150 to $180 billion. But the storm that pummeled the Texas coast for the better part of a week also raises deep questions about the United States’ economic system and politics.

It is ironic, of course, that an event so related to climate change would occur in a state that is home to so many climate-change deniers – and where the economy depends so heavily on the fossil fuels that drive global warming. Of course, no particular climate event can be directly related to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But scientists have long predicted that such increases would boost not only average temperatures, but also weather variability – and especially the occurrence of extreme events such as Harvey. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded several years ago, “There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences, including increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” Astrophysicist Adam Frank succinctly explained: “Greater warmth means more moisture in the air which means stronger precipitation.”

To be sure, Houston and Texas could not have done much by themselves about the increase in greenhouse gases, though they could have taken a more active role in pushing for strong climate policies. But local and state authorities could have done a far better job preparing for such events, which hit the area with some frequency.

In responding to the hurricane – and in funding some of the repair – everyone turns to government, just as they did in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Again, it is ironic that this is now occurring in a part of the country where government and collective action are so frequently rebuked. It was no less ironic when the titans of US banking, having preached the neo-liberal gospel of downsizing government and eliminating regulations that proscribed some of their most dangerous and antisocial activities, turned to government in their moment of need.

There is an obvious lesson to be learned from such episodes: markets on their own are incapable of providing the protection that societies need. When markets fail, as they often do, collective action becomes imperative.

And, as with financial crises, there is a need for preventive collective action to mitigate the impact of climate change. That means ensuring that buildings and infrastructure are constructed to withstand extreme events, and are not located in areas that are most vulnerable to severe damage. It also means protecting environmental systems, particularly wetlands, which can play an important role in absorbing the impact of storms. It means eliminating the risk that a natural disaster could lead to the discharge of dangerous chemicals, as happened in Houston. And it means having in place adequate response plans, including for evacuation.

Effective government investments and strong regulations are needed to ensure each of these outcomes, regardless of the prevailing political culture in Texas and elsewhere. Without adequate regulations, individuals and firms have no incentive to take adequate precautions, because they know that much of the cost of extreme events will be borne by others. Without adequate public planning and regulation, including of the environment, flooding will be worse. Without disaster planning and adequate funding, any city can be caught in the dilemma in which Houston found itself: if it does not order an evacuation, many will die; but if it does order an evacuation, people will die in the ensuing chaos, and snarled traffic will prevent people from getting out.

America and the world are paying a high price for devotion to the extreme anti-government ideology embraced by Donald Trump and his Republican party. The world is paying, because cumulative US greenhouse-gas emissions are greater than those from any other country; even today, the US is one of the world’s leaders in per capita greenhouse-gas emissions. But America is paying a high price as well: other countries, even poor developing countries, such as Haiti and Ecuador, seem to have learned (often at great expense and only after some huge calamities) how to manage natural disasters better.

After the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the shutdown of much of New York City by Sandy in 2012, and now the devastation wrought on Texas by Harvey, the US can and should do better. It has the resources and skills to analyze these complex events and their consequences, and to formulate and implement regulations and investment programs that mitigate the adverse effects on lives and property.

What America doesn’t have is a coherent view of government by those on the right, who, working with special interests that benefit from their extreme policies, continue to speak out of both sides of their mouth. Before a crisis, they resist regulations and oppose government investment and planning; afterwards, they demand – and receive – billions of dollars to compensate them for their losses, even those that could easily have been prevented.

One can only hope that America, and other countries, will not need more natural persuasion before taking to heart the lessons of Hurricane Harvey.

Joseph E Stiglitz is a Nobel prizewinner in economics, professor at Columbia University, a former senior vice-president and chief economist of the World Bank, and one-time chair of the US president’s council of economic advisers under Bill Clinton

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