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Thursday, 19 October 2017 06:25

Trump Ratchets Up Tensions With Cuba


cubatrumpTrump wants to move backward on relations with Cuba. (Photo: Balint Földesi)

It did not receive prolonged coverage -- and you may not have noticed -- but over this summer Donald Trump announced that he was tightening the criteria for travel to Cuba. His overall objective was apparently his ideological opposition to the Cuban state, now under the leadership of Raúl Castro. According to a CNN article from June, Trump made the criteria for US citizens traveling to Cuba stricter:

Casting the Obama administration as people who looked the other way on the Castro regime's human rights violations, Trump said that he, as President, will "expose the crimes of the Castro regime."

"They made a deal with a government that spread violence and instability in the region and nothing they got, think about it, nothing they got, they fought for everything and we just didn't fight hard enough, but now, those days are over," Trump said. "We now hold the cards. The previous administration's easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime."

Although Trump said he was "completely" canceling Obama's Cuba policy, the change is posture is only a partial shift from Obama's policy....

The Trump administration will begin strictly enforcing the authorized exemptions that allow travel between the US and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services.

The Trump White House, however, is not severing embassy ties to Cuba or prohibiting Americans from bringing back goods from Cuba, including rum and cigars.


swamptrumpTrump is making the DC swamp even fouler. (Photo: James Loesch)

When Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he repeatedly promised that if elected he would "drain the swamp" in Washington, DC. Tuesday, October 16 is a regrettable example of how Trump is not only not "draining" the swamp, he is building his own deplorable swamp entirely centered around him.

Yesterday at a White House news conference, for instance, Trump asserted, "People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back.... it won't be pretty." What was Trump responding to? He was threatening Sen. John McCain for criticizing Trump's foreign policy earlier in the day at an awards ceremony, according to CNBC:

Republican Senator John McCain condemned rising nationalism and isolationism in the U.S. that has gone hand in hand with Donald Trump's presidency during an awards ceremony Monday.

"We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil," McCain said, after he was introduced by former Vice President Joe Biden while being honored with the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

McCain's use of the phrase "blood and soil" echoed a neo-Nazi slogan shouted during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August.

McCain, CNBC reported, went onto a more sweeping censure of Trump's foreign policy.


pruittstopThe EPA raises acceptable radiation exposure to toxic levels. (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

Scott Pruitt, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), isn't just going about destroying environmental safeguards; he has now issued a "guideline" document that states that excessive exposure to radiation is safe for human life. That means he's not only allowing more pollution that can contribute to ill health and degradation of the environment, but he is also putting us at risk when it comes to radiation. According to Bloomberg,

In the event of a dirty bomb or a nuclear meltdown, emergency responders can safely tolerate radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays, the Environmental Protection Agency said in new guidelines that ease off on established safety levels....

It could lead to the administration of President Donald Trump weakening radiation safety levels, watchdog groups critical of the move say.

"It’s really a huge amount of radiation they are saying is safe," said Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s program on environmental and nuclear policy. "The position taken could readily unravel all radiation protection rules."

The "guideline" doesn't have the standing of a regulation or law, but it is reflective of the EPA's thinking regarding radiation tolerance by humans and is, therefore, worrisome.


gerrymanderThe first image representing gerrymandering, from the early 1800s. (Photo: Kenny Cole)

The most significant recent case that will have an impact on whether or not we have a robust and fair democracy is before the Supreme Court this session. Oral arguments have already been heard on the partisan practice of gerrymandering.

An October 5 Fortune article defines the practice:

Gerrymandering occurs when voting districts are redrawn to benefit one party over another in elections, forcing the other side to “waste” votes. For example, someone drawing district lines might cluster opposition party voters together in one district in order to concentrate their votes so that they influence only a few seats. Or it could mean grouping those opposition voters into districts where the other party has a lock on power—making it very difficult for the opposing party to win elections there.

Achieving this normally means dividing districts up along highly irregular lines to ensure that voters from each party are concentrated in the right areas and spread thin in others, as the Washington Post illustrates using a popular explanation adapted from Reddit. Now, with the assistance of software, state legislators are able to control gerrymandering or who ends up in a particular district with more precision than ever before.

Although the Democrats sometimes engage in gerrymandering when they control legislatures and the governorship in a state, it is the Republicans who have mastered the technique. Furthermore, as I noted in a September commentary, there are 26 states in which Republicans run all three branches of state government -- a "trifecta" of governance. Only six states are completely run by the Democrats. As a result, the Democrats are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to creating state legislative and congressional districts when they are redrawn after a census.

In the case before the Supreme Court, Gill v. Whitford, the plaintiff attorneys argue that after the 2010 census the Wisconsin legislature created state legislative districts that were highly weighted toward maximizing Republican votes.


pollution32The EPA has become the Environmental Pollution Agency (EPA). (Photo: Billy Wilson)

It appears that the Trump administration has seriously underestimated the costly toll of climate change in its efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP) based on a new document released Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The 198-page proposed analysis shows the supposed costs and benefits of undoing the Obama-era climate policy. However, as the Washington Post reported, the document shows that the Scott Pruitt-led EPA puts the cost of one ton of emissions of carbon dioxide between $1 and $6 in the year 2020—a dramatic decrease of the previous administration's 2020 estimate of $45.

This figure is known as the "social cost of carbon"—or the public cost of burning fossil fuels—which guides current energy regulations and possible future mitigation policies.

So how did the Trump EPA get this tiny figure? Mostly by considering the cost of carbon within the U.S., rather than around the world, the Post reported.

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"Pruitt has tried to cook the books on science and economics to hide the Clean Power Plan's enormous climate and public health benefits," wrote Kevin Steinberger and Starla Yeh, analysts at the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate & Clean Air program.


supremecourtusIt's not just the Supreme Court, it's the entire federal bench that is under Trump attack. (Mitchell Shapiro Photography)

On October 7, HuffPost reported the advancement of Donald Trump's appointees to the Federal Bench:

Thursday was a good day for Amy Coney Barrett. A Senate committee voted to advance her nomination to be a federal judge.

It wasn’t a pretty vote. Every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee opposed her nomination. They scrutinized her past writings on abortion, which include her questioning the precedent of Roe v. Wade and condemning the birth control benefit underthe Affordable Care Act as“a grave infringement on religious liberty.” One Democrat, Al Franken (Minn.), called her out for taking a speaking fee from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that’s defended forced sterilization for transgender people and has been dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But Republicans don’t need Democrats’ votes, and now Barrett, a 45-year-old law professor at the University of Notre Dame, is all but certain to be confirmed to a lifetime post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit — a court one level below the Supreme Court.

Barrett is the model judicial candidate for this White House: young, conservative, and opposed to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

And there were more horrifying new judges coming down the pipeline, as HuffPost noted:


TRequalityAG Sessions removes workplace protections for transgender individiuals. (Photo: Tony Webster)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has revoked an Obama Department of Justice policy that prohibited workplace discrimination against transgender individuals. According to BuzzFeed, which broke the story,

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law, according to a memo on Wednesday sent to agency heads and US attorneys.

Sessions' directive, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says, "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status."

It adds that the government will take this position in pending and future matters, which could have far-reaching implications across the federal government and may result in the Justice Department fighting against transgender workers in court.

"Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se," Sessions writes. "This is a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress."

Of course, firing, harassing or not hiring a person because they are transgender clearly constitutes sexual discrimination in the workplace. However, Sessions' action is predicated on the notion that Title VII of the 1964 civil rights law exclusively covers cisgender individuals.

Wednesday, 04 October 2017 06:25

Gun Violence Created the United States


gunvnvmassThe foundation of the United States is embedded in gun violence. (Photo: Joe Loong)

It happens after every mass shooting. Corporate media outlets have a formula for coverage. They publish stories for a week or so ascertaining a "motive" for the shooter, talking about the details of high-tech -- usually military-style firearms -- used in the massacres and speculating on what gun control would have stopped the specific shooting of the moment. Of course, we can't forget the pro forma, with rare exception, neighbor or relative who can attest that the shooter "was a wonderful guy and always helped when you needed him."

According to the Guardian, there have been 1,516 mass killing sprees in the US in the last 1,735 days. That's a lot of fodder for the templated coverage of the mainstream media.

Generally, after a week or two, coverage fizzles out until the next mass shooting. Newspapers and other media generally accept the conventional wisdom that there is no one way the latest hideous outbreak of violence could have been prevented. Then, the business of protecting the manufacture and sales of any gun that the National Rifle Association (NRA) designates not only continues; it expands.

Right now, for instance, there is a bill before Congress that would allow the easy purchase of silencers without a special license. Yes, those are the mechanisms that muffle a gunshot so a person can be shot without making a loud noise. It was expected to pass Congress, but the GOP leadership has now "shelved [it] indefinitely" from consideration, fearing backlash after the Las Vegas massacre. However, it will be back, along with some other NRA wish list laws, when the Republican leadership believes massacres are crowded out by other news for a period, and they can slip it through.

The NRA must be held responsible for militarizing individual gun owners and creating the possibility for someone like the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, to amass the arsenal found in his room. Paddock owned over 40 high-tech guns, many (23) of which he had with him at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. He also had his sniper rifle equipped with a legal device, called a "bumper," which effectively turned his firearm into an automatic weapon.


starvationSculptures of famine. (Photo: provided by Kathy Kelly)

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Earlier this year, the Sisters of St. Brigid invited me to speak at their Feile Bride celebration in Kildare, Ireland. The theme of the gathering was: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak.”

The Sisters have embraced numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees and nonviolently resist wars. I felt grateful to reconnect with people who so vigorously opposed any Irish support for U.S. military wars in Iraq. They had also campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffered and died for lack of food, medicine and clean water. This year, the Sisters asked me to first meet with local teenagers who would commemorate another time of starvation imposed by an imperial power.

Joe Murray, who heads Action from Ireland (Afri), arranged for a class from Dublin’s Beneavin De La Salle College to join an Irish historianin a field adjacent to the Dunshaughlin work house on the outskirts of Dublin.

Such workhouses dot the landscape of Ireland and England. In the mid-19th century, during the famine years, they were dreaded places. People who went there knew they were near the brink of death due to hunger, disease, and dire poverty. Ominously, behind the workhouse lay the graveyard. 

The young men couldn’t help poking a bit of fun, at first; what in the world were they doing out in a field next to an imposing building, their feet already soaked in the wet grass as a light rain fell? They soon became quite attentive.


coloriverpersonWhat about river personhood? (Photo: Cathryn)

If corporations have personhood, based in part on the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, then why shouldn't rivers and other natural features? That's a question that a recent case filed in Denver asks, according to a September 25 New York Times article. In this case, the contention by the plaintiffs is that the Colorado River should have the rights of an individual to sue various governmental and private entities:

Does a river -- or a plant, or a forest -- have rights?

This is the essential question in what attorneys are calling a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit, in which a Denver lawyer and a[n] ... environmental group are asking a judge to recognize the Colorado River as a person....

The suit was filed Monday in Federal District Court in Colorado by Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver lawyer. It names the river ecosystem as the plaintiff -- citing no specific physical boundaries -- and seeks to hold the state of Colorado and Gov. John Hickenlooper liable for violating the river's "right to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve."

Because the river cannot appear in court, a group called Deep Green Resistance is filing the suit as an ally, or so-called next friend, of the waterway.

The Times notes that "several environmental law experts said the suit had a slim chance at best." However, just how extreme has the pendulum shifted toward businesses that they are considered to have rights that they share with individual people, but the natural environment upon which we depend and beautifies the earth is considered to have no legal standing? Isn't the Colorado River alive with fish and marine life as it rushes through bends and turns (including the Grand Canyon), traveling 1,450 miles across several states, supplying fresh water to millions of people?

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