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tsunamihazardThe Trump administration would imperil people from escaping the devastating effect of tsunamis. (Photo: hansol)

The Trump administration budget proposal would put large numbers of people at risk by reducing funds for Tsunami warnings, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) -- an advocacy group representing staff members of government agencies that are responsible for preserving the environment. A recent PEER news release states:

Proposed budget cuts by President Trump would compromise the timeliness and accuracy of tsunami forecasting and warnings, thereby putting thousands of coastal residents at needless risk.... The budgetary reductions unveiled last week would also negate key provisions of the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act which Trump signed into law on April 18th.

According to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration experts, the cuts will significantly reduce warning time of an incoming tsunami to coastal populations, especially in Alaska and Hawaii. In addition to eliminating over 60% of the staff for the NOAA Tsunami Warning Center (from 40 positions to only 15), the Trump budget would terminate funding for three separate tsunami detection systems:

  • Land-based seismic sensors;

  • Coastal water level sensors; and 

  • Deep-ocean buoys (the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis or DARTs).

A PEER fact sheet details the impact of the proposed reduction in tsunami forecasting and advance alert funds. In particular, it warns against the termination in funding for seismic sensors, noting, "Eliminating these seismic sensors will dramatically decrease the lead time (from about 25minutes on average, to 0) for the most vulnerable Hawaiian, and Alaskan coastal populations,because over 90% of the casual ties occur on the closest coasts to a Tsunamigenic Earthquake."


parisaccord2The poster above may be the epithet of the Trump administration. (Photo: Victoria Pickering)

Resistance is an imperative response to "Trumpism." However, in addition to pushing back, it is important for individuals, ad hoc advocacy groups, activist organizations and local governments to advance progressive goals in innovative ways.

This week brought us Trump's decision to remove the United States from the Paris Accord. This makes the United States one of only three nations that did not sign the Accord. (The others are Nicaragua, which did not sign it because the political leaders of that country felt it was not strong enough, and Syria, which was in the midst of civil war and whose leaders were hardly in a position to engage in international talks.) Beyond the wholly understandable outrage, can there be positive progressive action to counter Trump's pernicious abandonment of the people of the planet?

The answer that California, New York and Washington have offered is "yes." Yesterday, the three states announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, which will be composed of states that want to commit to the Paris Accord, bypassing Trump's withdrawal. The alliance was described on the website of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo:

In response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., and Washington State Governor Jay R. Inslee today announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will convene U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.


wallstreet333The Trump administration continues turning its revolving door to deregulate Wall Street. (Photo: South Bend Voice)

 The Trump administration has been eager to fill the office of comptroller in order to pave the way for easing the regulation of Wall Street. However, if Trump had nominated someone directly, his nominee would no doubt have faced contentious confirmation hearings in the Senate. So, the administration needed a plan to bypass that legislative body for the time being. An article this past month in Vanity Fair presents part of the Trump strategy to accelerate the deregulation of Wall Street:

The story begins here: Donald Trump has promised his friends in the banking industry that he will gut financial regulations. But one thing that’s prevented him from doing so, thus far, has been the head of the Office of the Comptroller, Thomas Curry, who was appointed by Barack Obama and was thus a killjoy who made it his job—because it kind of was his job—to impose tough rules and big fines for wrongdoing in the industry. It was clear, given Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Munchkin's pledge to unshackle Wall Street from financial-crisis-era regulations, that Curry not only had to go, but be replaced by someone with a more friendly relationship with the banks, like [Keith] Noreika.

Unfortunately, there was a problem with the longtime financial services attorney: Noreika, who reportedly worked closely with the same Wall Street companies that are overseen by the O.C.C., would have to be approved by the Senate—a process that would involve airing all of Noreika's financial conflicts of interest. So the Trump administration devised a plan to avoid that particular obstacle.

A ProPublica report details how Noreika successfully fought -- on behalf of Wall Street clients -- many strong pro-consumer state regulations.


pentagonbudgetMost Americans have to keep a tight budget, why not the Pentagon? (Photo: David B. Gleason)

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If you, like most people, feel bad if you lose your wallet with a few dollars in it, imagine what it would be like to lose track of more than a billion dollars. The latter is the reality for the Pentagon, which has lost track of at least $1 billion in military equipment and weapons in Iraq. A May 24 article in Mother Jones states:

In June 2014, Iraqi forces dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms, and abandoned their posts as ISIS militants stormed into and captured Mosul. More than a year later, the United States began funneling $1.6 billion worth of new weaponry and other support to the beleaguered Iraqi army. The arsenal included tens of thousands of assault rifles, hundreds of armored vehicles, hundreds of mortar rounds, nearly 200 sniper rifles, and other gear.

What happened to much of it is now a mystery. According to a government audit obtained by Amnesty International, the US Army admits that it failed to accurately track this recent infusion of arms and other military supplies.

The now-declassified Department of Defense audit, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveals that efforts to keep track of weapons being sent to Iraq have been plagued by sloppy, fragmented, and inaccurate record keeping. The audit concluded that the Army unit in charge of transferring materiel to the Iraqi government "could not provide complete data for the quantity and dollar value of equipment on hand"—including large items such as vehicles.

 This isn't the first time US taxpayer-funded military aid has been unaccounted for. Mother Jones quotes an Amnesty International researcher.


singlepayer56Single-payer legislation is brewing at the state level. (Photo: Juhan Sonin)

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A single-payer health care bill passed the New York State Assembly for the fourth time on Tuesday, and is headed for the State Senate. The Senate has turned down the bill before, but according to The Village Voice, its prospects are growing more favorable this year:

Currently, the bill is only two votes shy of passing in the 63-seat state senate. It recently picked up the support of the influential Independent Democratic Conference, buoying its number of supporters to 30.

A special election on May 23 to fill an assembly seat vacated by now-council member Bill Perkins is all but guaranteed to go to real estate developer Brian Benjamin, who has vowed to support the bill, Rivera told the Voice. The only hurdles now include the conversion of just one more holdout — the most likely target is Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans — plus a small pile of procedural battles. Felder, who told the Guardian in April that he had no position on the bill, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails from the Voice.


wealthfareIn the United States, wealth is heavily subsidized. (Photo: duncan c)

More than 20 years ago, long before the experts caught on, the writers Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman zeroed in on the upward redistribution of income in the United States. They called it "wealthfare," and used the term to open their 1996 book Take the Rich Off Welfare. Here's the first sentence: "Wealthfare -- the money we hand out to corporations and wealthy individuals -- costs us at least $448 billion a year."

It's no exaggeration to say that the book predicted the US's fortune (or, more accurately, misfortune). Government actions to make the rich richer have become standard fare. There's more allegiance to corporate profits than there is to the common good. "Wealthfare" is the ruling national ethos -- economically, politically, even in the courts; at bottom, Citizens United is a Supreme surrender to the supremacy of money.

Let's explore the first "wealthfare" total of $448 billion in "subsidies, handouts, tax breaks, loopholes, rip-offs and scams." To begin with, the number looks almost puny today. Total tax expenditures (a.k.a. tax breaks) in fiscal year 2018 are expected to cost the federal government more than $1.5 trillion; most Americans will get at least a dollop, but the lion's share by far will line the pockets of people whose pockets are already bulging.

That $1.5 trillion easily tops what the country spends for any other single purpose. In fiscal 2015, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, tax breaks on the federal income tax alone "cost more than Social Security, or the combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid, or defense or non-defense discretionary spending."


wvcapitolWest Virginia capitol, site of journalist's arrest for asking questions. (Photo: David Wilson)

 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported yesterday about an egregious example of the criminalization of journalists performing their job in the age of Trump:

West Virginia state police arrested Dan Heyman, a veteran reporter with Public News Service, for repeatedly asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whether being a target of domestic violence would be considered a "pre-existing condition," allowing health insurance to be denied, under the new Republican healthcare bill.

The charge: "willful disruption of governmental processes."

Capitol police "decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me," Heyman told reporters (The Hill, 5/9/17). "First time I've ever been arrested for asking a question. First time I've ever heard of someone getting arrested for asking a question."

It's not surprising that this would eventually happen, and likely not coincidental that it involved two senior officials in the Trump campaign. After all, the media was a primary target of Trump's during both the primary campaign and the general election season. Trump openly mocked, derided and berated journalists and news outlets that he felt were unfavorable to him. His campaign generally kept the press in pens at campaign events for two reasons: First, to keep them from asking questions of Trump backers that might prove embarrassing to the campaign. Secondly, to serve as an easy target for Trump, as he threw red meat to his followers by attacking the press and pointing to where reporters were confined during campaign rallies. Then, of course, there are his infamous ongoing tweets against specific journalists and news outlets.


nestlewaterNestlé is still pumping water from a public spring in California while it uses legal delays to stop opposition. (Usman Ahmed)

 A recent email from the Courage Campaign, a California citizens advocacy group, reveals that Nestlé is still pumping spring water out of public land, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service:

For 38 years, Nestlé has used an expired permit to pump millions of gallons of water a year out of California's San Bernardino National Forest virtually free of charge.... 

We sued to stop this outrageous water grab, but even though the law is on our side, going up against Nestlé's army of lawyers is a huge fight.

The latest input from our attorneys is that this case could drag on for another two years or more.

The Courage Campaign warns that Nestlé is benefitting from the fact that deep corporate pockets are outlasting citizen advocacy legal funds in court:

In 2015, Courage Campaign joined with our allies at Story of Stuff and Center for Biological Diversity in a lawsuit to stop Nestlé's water grab in the San Bernardino National Forest. And ever since, Nestlé's army of lawyers has used an endless series of delay tactics and frivolous motions to drag the case out.

Their strategy is obvious: to drive up our legal bills in hopes that eventually we'll give up. But because of you, our members, their strategy hasn't worked yet and it never will.


SEC22A Wall Street attorney is now in charge of "regulating" Wall Street. (Photo: ebayink)

There Trump goes again, continuing his mission to deregulate Wall Street. As The Washington Post reported on May 2:

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed the nomination of Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer with decades of experience helping companies to weather regulatory scrutiny, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission.

As chairman of the SEC, Clayton will police many of the same large banks that he has spent decades representing, including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. He also would play a key role in President Trump's efforts to roll back the 2010 financial reform legislation known as the Dodd-Frank Act....

Clayton’s nomination continues Trump's track record of nominating Wall Street insiders for high-level positions, despite Trump's criticism of the industry during the presidential campaign.

As for Clayton's credentials to head the agency that is in charge of implementing many Wall Street regulations -- including major sections of the Dodd-Frank Act that modestly increased reporting requirements and transaction regulations -- The Post notes:

Clayton, who made more than $7 million last year, is also among six people with ties to Goldman Sachs chosen by Trump to serve in his administration. Clayton's 15-year relationship with the bank includes advising Goldman during some of its most troubled moments. (He is also married to a Goldman Sachs wealth manager.)


wallstreetWhy aren't individual bankers accountable for massive fraud on Wall Street? (herr_hartmann)

Over the years since the financial meltdown of 2008, BuzzFlash has published numerous commentaries about banks being fined for deceptive practices relating to subprime mortgages. Here we are in 2017, and banks are still being fined for illicit activity dating back 10 or more years. A May 3 Reuters article reports:

Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.S) paid $400 million to settle claims that the Swiss bank sold toxic mortgage securities that contributed to the demise of three federal credit unions, a U.S. regulator said on Wednesday.

The National Credit Union Administration said the settlement resolves the 19th of 20 lawsuits it filed in the last six years against banks over their underwriting or sale of securities to five credit unions that failed in 2009 and 2010.

Including a $445 million accord with UBS Group AG (UBSG.S) announced on Monday, the NCUA said it has recovered roughly $5.1 billion from the banks from these lawsuits.

The collapsed credit unions were persuaded by the banks to invest in high-risk mortgage securities in the years before their demise. In fact, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) has successfully argued that the banks' insidious profiteering off of knowingly distressed securities led to the failure of the credit unions.

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