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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

driverslicenseYou can't drive to work if you don't have a driver's license. (Photo: Sam Cox)

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According to a Prison Policy Initiative analysis, "More than 191,000 driver's licenses are suspended every year for drug offenses unrelated to driving."

However, the Drug Policy Alliance reported this month that an effort is underway in Congress to repeal the onerous federal law that has caused this destructive process in a number of states: U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX-16) has introduced bipartisan legislation with Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI-3), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-8), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-5), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), and Mia Love (R-UT-4) that would repeal a 26-year-old federal law that mandates states to automatically suspend driver's licenses for anyone convicted of a drug offense or risk losing federal highway aid money.

Since this mandate was adopted in 1991, 38 states [and the District of Columbia] have opted-out, demonstrating that the policy is counterproductive.

A 2015 Boston Globe article describe the hardships the law has caused:

The 26-year-old law was designed, in part, to deter drug use.

There's little evidence it has served as a deterrent. However, it has left tens of thousands of former convicts struggling to find work and do other basic things, like get to the grocery store. On a snow-encrusted day last winter, [Edwin] Melendez had to bundle his infant son to his chest and set out to the hospital on foot when he feared the boy was catching pneumonia.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

carbonemissions(Photo: Walter)

The advocacy organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is attempting an innovative method of challenging the Trump administration's denial of climate change: It has filed a lawsuit against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, demanding that he produce one shred of evidence that climate change is not primarily caused by humans. PEER is simultaneously pursuing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for Pruitt to produce documents supporting his claims that global warming is "natural."

As quoted in a PEER news release announcing the actions:

"This lawsuit tells Mr. Pruitt to put or shut up – produce his evidence or stop spouting deceptive climate pseudo-science,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco who filed suit after EPA failed to produce the requested materials within FOIA’s statutory deadlines. “His confirmation as EPA Administrator does not entitle Mr. Pruitt to ignore existing agency research and proclaim his own set of alternative facts....”

“Mr. Pruitt spoke on television in his official capacity and must do so in a manner that honestly represents EPA’s scientific findings,” added Carlesco, noting that any other EPA employee would be subject to disciplinary action for presenting personal views as official policy. “Even if Mr. Pruitt is presenting his personal opinion, he must specify that he is not speaking for the agency – a disclaimer he did not make.”

In fact, Reuters reports that the EPA's own ombudsman is investigating a falsehood recently spewed by Pruitt.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

SEC22SEC let corporations off the hook for using conflict minerals. (Image: Wikipedia)

 Since April 7, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has no longer required corporations to publicly disclose the use of conflict minerals in their products. Reuters explained the action:

The conflict minerals rule was required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and is supported by human rights groups that want companies to tell investors if their products contain tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), in the hope that such disclosures will curb funding to armed groups.

Business groups have contended that it forces companies to furnish politically charged information that is irrelevant to making investment decisions and that it costs too much for companies to trace the source of minerals through the supply chain.

The National Center for Policy Analysis, a pro-business "free market" think tank, was thrilled that companies and shareholders will no longer have to reveal the use of blood-stained minerals to shareholders and the public.

BILL MCKIBBEN FOR ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Reposted from EcoWatch.com

justintrudeauJustin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada. (Photo: John McCallum)

Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it's hard to look away (especially now that he's discovered bombs). But precisely because everyone's staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don't believe me? Look one nation north, at Justin Trudeau.

Look all you want, in fact—he sure is cute, the planet's only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he's mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it's deserved: in lots of ways he's the anti-Trump, and it's no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over.

But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he's a brother to the old orange guy in DC.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

saveinternet(Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

Truthout reporter Mike Ludwig wrote an incisive piece on March 28, detailing how internet users were about to lose much of their privacy. He was right. President Trump recently signed a reversal of an Obama administration rule that would have, according to Ludwig, required "internet providers to explicitly ask for your consent before harvesting sensitive personal information and selling it to advertisers, according to privacy advocates." This requirement was promulgated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), but is now nullified.

Ludwig noted the high stakes of the rule reversal:

Besides preventing providers from selling data to marketers without explicit consent, the rules [kept] providers from "snooping" through your web traffic and injecting ads based on what you're browsing, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Providers could also preinstall software that tracks browsing on your mobile phone and "hijack" your searches on search engines, sending you directly to websites that pay providers to detour traffic in their direction instead of showing you the normal list of search engine results.

In other words, the repeal will block Obama-era privacy protections designed to prevent your personal online data from becoming an all-out corporate commodity.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

betsydevoss333Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (Photo: Gage Skidomore)

In a sweeping move this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put student loan debtors at greater risk of high-pressure collection tactics for government-backed loans, according to Bloomberg:

Obama issued a pair (PDF) of memorandums (PDF) last year requiring that the government’s Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt. But in a memorandum (PDF) to the department’s student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos.

According to the report in Bloomberg, the Obama administration had taken action through the Department of Education to protect student borrowers from predatory loan collectors:

A recent epidemic of student loan defaults and what authorities describe as systematic mistreatment of borrowers prompted the Obama administration, in its waning days, to force the FSA office to emphasize how debtors are treated, rather than maximize the amount of cash they can stump up to meet their obligations.

Obama’s team also sought to reduce the possibility that new contracts would be given to companies that mislead or otherwise harm debtors. The current round of contracts will terminate in 2019, and among three finalists for a new contract is Navient Corp. In January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.

Bloomberg notes the reaction to the move by the Illinois attorney general: "In a statement Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is suing Navient [a large student loan debt collector for the federal government], agreed: 'The Department of Education has decided it does not need to protect student loan borrowers.'"

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acaphoto (Photo: Ted Eytan)

The temporarily dormant GOP House proposal to restructure the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would result in large tax breaks being provided to for-profit insurance companies. That is the conclusion of a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive multi-issue research center in Washington, DC. An IPS news release states: 

The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would give health insurance companies a huge tax break on their executive compensation, encouraging them to dole out even larger pay packages to their already overpaid top managers.

The plan would re-introduce a tax loophole that allows corporations unlimited deductions for executive pay -- as long as the pay is in the form of stock options or other so-called “performance” compensation. Obamacare eliminated this loophole for health insurance companies, imposing a strict $500,000 limit on deductions for the expense of each executive’s compensation. This set an important precedent for reducing taxpayer subsidies for CEO pay.

Among key findings in the IPS report, "The CEO Pay Tax Break in the Republican Health Care Proposal," are:

  • The ACA deductibility limits generated an estimated $92 million in additional public revenue in 2015 from just these companies (Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealth). On average, these corporations owed an extra $3.5 million in taxes per executive.

  • This $92 million in savings from limiting pay-related deductions for just 26 executives is the equivalent of the average annual ACA premium subsidies for 28,500 Americans.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

beardenAn example of a bear den for cubs. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife)

An Associated Press (AP) article verifies that the federal government will no longer be able to prohibit the hunting of previously protected "predator" animals, such as wolves and grizzly bears, on federal reserves in Alaska. This effectively gives hunters permission to kill newborn animals asleep in their dens. The AP reports:

The state of Alaska's toolkit for increasing moose and caribou numbers includes killing wolf pups in dens, shooting wolf packs from helicopters, and adopting liberal hunting regulations that allow sportsmen to shoot grizzlies over bait.

But when state officials wanted to extend "predator control" to federal wildlife refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said no. And after years of saying no, the agency late last year adopted a rule to make the denial permanent.

Alaska's elected officials called that an outrage and an infringement on state rights. The dispute reached the White House.

President Donald Trump on Monday [April 3] signed a resolution approved by the U.S. House and Senate to revoke a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule banning most predator control on Alaska refuges.

According to the Alaska Daily News, Alaska still has some predator hunting controls, but the state will no longer be under a federal mandate to promulgate them. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

airforceone (Photo: gregde)

 Public Citizen, a progressive national citizens' advocacy group, recently issued a news release that noted:

President Donald Trump [is meeting now] with China's president, Xi Jinping, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. Trump has made five trips to Mar-a-Lago, totaling 17 days, since taking office in January. At an estimated $3 million per visit, Trump already has racked up at least $15 million in taxpayer expenses in three months alone. If he continues at this rate, Trump will spend $60 million in taxpayer money on Mar-a-Lago trips in just his first year in office. In contrast, President Barack Obama's travel was estimated at $85 million-$96 million over eight years....

Enhanced security requirements for this visit with the Chinese president undoubtedly are adding to the total [of the Mar-a-Lago visit]....

Trump harshly criticized President Barack Obama for the costs associated with his vacations, but it's obvious that Trump's vacations will vastly exceed what Obama spent. Trump could use Camp David instead, saving taxpayers.

The approximately $3 million cost per trip to Mar-a-Lago was confirmed by a February article in Politico.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trumpworkplace(Photo: DonkeyHotey)

Women and LGBTQI employees of federal contractors will become more vulnerable under the revocation of an Obama-era regulation that provides them with more protections in the workplace. Mother Jones reported on the lamentable irony Trump revoked "parental leave and sexual harassment protections the week before Equal Pay Day," along with other rollbacks of workplace equity and justice:

[The Obama order] required companies with federal contracts to heed 14 different labor and civil rights laws, including ones aimed at protecting parental leave, weeding out discrimination against women and minorities, and ensuring equal pay for women and fair processes surrounding workplace sexual harassment allegations.

Last week, Trump revoked this order, leaving workers at thousands of companies [with federal contracts] much more vulnerable to a host of abuses from their employers -- and undoing protections meant to create more equitable workplaces for women.

GOOD reported that Trump's action will significantly weaken the workplace rights of LGBTQIA workers.

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