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octvotingrightsVoting rights are being taken in away en masse, denying the most fundamental right of US citizenship. (Photo: Lauren Shiplett)

 On September 15, I wrote a commentary about how the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law filed a lawsuit to prevent Georgia from implementing an onerous "voter registration verification process." From the title, it may sound sounds like a benign vetting process, but is actually one of the many laws and regulations that Republican-controlled legislatures and governors have been using to place obstacles in the place of non-Republican voters.

This particular voter suppression strategy in Georgia requires voters to show that all the data on four pieces of official state and federal identification match before they are allowed to vote. It sounds harmless enough, but remember that there is virtually no individual voter fraud in the United States involving the casting of a ballot by a person isn't eligible to cast one. There are, however, plenty of instances of voter suppression: denying eligible people the right to vote, along with the possible hacking of vote-counting software, manipulation of final vote counts after the polls close and more.  

Requiring a process such as a four-ID-card data match to be able to vote can be directly traced back to the post-slavery efforts to keep Black people from voting. It provides the opportunity to deny large numbers of people the chance to vote, while not holding other groups of people to the same ultra-stringent requirements.

I offer my wife's ID card situation as an example of the insidious nature of the Georgia regulation. Her legal name is Teresa, but she goes by the name of Terry.  Sometimes she includes her middle name on IDs; sometimes she doesn't. Her passport has her full formal name listed, while her driver's license has her name as Terry. This means that, were she to live in Georgia, she might not be able to vote.  Exactly how consistently such a regulation -- and other non-Republican voter suppression laws -- are applied has not yet been the subject of large scale studies. However, one could speculate that primarily white suburban and rural districts are perhaps less "rigorous" in enforcing voter obstruction laws.

As we've mentioned, there are a multitude of laws and regulations aimed at making it difficult for non-Republicans to vote in Republican-run states. There are, of course, many issues on which the two major parties work as a duopoly, but -- in general -- Republicans in Congress and state legislatures try to prevent people of color and others who are likely to vote Democratic or for a third party from casting a ballot. In general, Democratic legislatures and elected officials in the federal government are for broader suffrage.


praying in hell 1 opt(Photo: Courtesy of Rev. Billy Talen)Last summer, in Prospect Park near our Brooklyn home – two park workers sprayed a fire hydrant near a playground where our daughter Lena climbs monkey-bars for hours on end.   I walked up to the truck and saw Monsanto boxes ripped open in the back of their pickup.  One of the workers was pouring RoundUp into a white plastic barrel. That was the one who talked to me. His voice had a raw, low sound like he was saying confession. He began to recite a list of the organic herbicides that he wished he was using but wasn't.

The nano-commons around and within our bodies and our children's bodies is a dumping ground for corporate poison.  Some of us are vaguely aware of this molecular-level world. We have read a few summary sentences at the top studies that link Monsanto's RoundUp to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and other cancers, endocrine and immunity disruptions and birth defects.

The pollution that we cannot touch, see or smell does show itself this way: illness in ever-younger victims.  We have found from our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed with dozens of cities and towns – that the location of spraying is frequently near ball-fields, schools and park playground. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to glyphosates and the "inert" chemicals in the RoundUp mix, which help the toxin bind to target plants. Target plants!

The Glyphosates of Monsanto are banned throughout much of the world, like Bayer's Neonicotinoids. The mass-killing of beloved honeybees and songbirds by that powerful neuropath, a more lethal version of nicotine – has aroused a nightmare in the public mind. And now here comes Neonicotinoid and Glyphosate, the Big Merger. The communities that make these two famous toxins are joining up, the older company buying the newer one, in the biggest cash buy-out in history. Bernie Sanders called the merger, "A marriage made in Hell."


TrumpSimper 0921wrp opt(Photo: Gage Skidmore)There was a time – and it wasn’t all that long ago -- when “compassionate conservatism” was a bellwether term for conservatives. While some conservatives argued that they were always compassionate, Team George W. Bush made a special effort to emphasize the meme in the 2000 presidential election, going so far as to use it as a campaign slogan. In reality, however, “compassionate conservatism” never really translated itself into public policy – save for a deeply flawed faith-based initiative -- as such issues as income inequality, poverty, gay rights, and racial inequities, never rose to preeminence in the eight years of Bush – and fact were the subject of regressive policies. Nevertheless, in the late nineties, and early two thousands, “compassionate conservatism” was on the table as a political slogan. This of course was before the Obama administration, the Tea Party, the alt-right, and Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. In 2016, “compassionate conservatism” has morphed into “cutthroat conservatism.”

Over the past several decades, especially since the founding of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and its subsequent rise as a powerful political force, conservative Christian evangelicals have played a significant role in presidential elections. While many on the Religious Right were less than satisfied with either Senator John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012 and stayed home, those that did turn out to vote, basically closed ranks around both candidates.

The Pew Research Center pegs the number of born-again evangelical Christian American at around the 60 million mark.

This year, however, has witnessed a sort of breaking of the ranks amongst conservative evangelical leaders over whether to support Trump, and concomitantly encourage the troops to work for his election. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the nation’s most high-profile evangelical college, was an early and enthusiastic Trump supporter. Popular evangelist Paula White and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family are also on board the Trump train. On the other side, Michael Farris, a longtime conservative activist and home schooling advocate, isn’t convinced, and has steadfastly refused to endorse Trump, despite receiving a personal visit from Pence.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

octoberdicap33 copy

                      Photo courtesy of EcoWatch.

During an hour-long sit down about climate change at the inaugural South by South Lawn (SXSL) with President Obama and leading climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe on Monday, Leonardo DiCaprio made a clear dig at climate change deniers.

"The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over," the Revenant actor and environmental activist said in his opening remarks. "If you do not believe in climate change you do not believe in facts or science or empirical truths, and therefore in my opinion, you should not be allowed to hold public office."

Even though DiCaprio did not name names, the comment has been interpreted as an attack on Donald Trump, who believes climate change is "a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese" (even though the Republican presidential candidate denied what he actually said at last week's presidential debate)

The Oscar winner was at the White House to promote his new Fisher Stevens-directed documentary Before the Flood, which highlights the perils of a warming planet.

As The Guardian observed, Stevens said he plans to screen the film at college campuses and swing states such as Florida, where Marco Rubio is running for his Senate seat again.

"Rubio is a climate change denier, and we want to get these deniers out of Congress, to make them understand the Paris [climate] accords are important and that we need to do more," Stevens said.

Back at the SXSL stage, DiCaprio pressed the president to grade the global response on climate change thus far. While Obama said he was hopeful about some progress such as the Paris Agreement, more fuel-efficient cars and investment in clean energy, Obama warned that "obstructionist politics" are an obstacle in combating rising emissions.

"Climate change is happening even faster than five years ago or 10 years ago," Obama said. "What we're seeing is the pessimistic end of what was possible, the ranges that had been discerned or anticipated by scientists, which means we're really in a race against time. We can't put up with climate denial or obstructionist politics for very long, if we want to leave for the next generation beautiful days like today."


Bradley 1003wrp opt(Photo: Brody2786)Just before Election Day in November 1982, according to most polls, Tom Bradley, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, appeared poised to become governor of California. Despite leading in the polls, Bradley lost the election to Republican George Deukmejian. Instead of becoming the first African American governor of California, Bradley became the namesake of something called The Bradley Effect.

The Bradley Effect -- also known as The Wilder Effect -- proposed that voters that said they would vote for the African American candidate were either too embarrassed, or ashamed for fear of being labeled racist, to admit to pollsters that they wouldn’t vote for a Black man as Governor.

According to Ballotpedia, “A related concept is social desirability bias, which describes the tendency of individuals to ‘report inaccurately on sensitive topics in order to present themselves in the best possible light.’ According to New York University professor Patrick Egan, ‘Anyone who studies survey research will tell you one of the biggest problems we encounter is this notion of social desirability bias.’ Some researchers and pollsters theorize that a number of white voters may give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation.”

While most of the above appear to apply particularly to elections where African Americans are facing off again white candidates, this year’s presidential election may contain some of those same dynamics. Some pundits are claiming that a Bradley Effect-like situation might be in play with voters who support Donald Trump, but are un-willing to admit it to pollsters.


Breadline 1003wrp opt(Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)There are at least three major American ​obstacles​ that are too entrenched in our society to undergo change with anything less than ​a revolutionary program.

Corporations Continue to Ignore Their Responsibility to Education

The Wall Street Journal says, "Many workers who were laid off in recent decades...don’t have the skills to do today’s jobs. An Apple executive recently lamented, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

But opportunities for young people have diminished as corporations have rejected their obligation to society. Public colleges and universities have suffered major cuts in funding over the last ten years, while the largest American corporations have avoided hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes by stashing their profits overseas.

Corporate leaders blame government, they blame society, they blame the poor for their own misfortunes. But they don't acknowledge their responsibility to pay for the people and research provided by higher education, especially during the technological boom of the 1990s. Instead they seem to agree with Donald Trump about skipping out on taxes: "That makes me smart." Higher education is one of the main victims of this narcissistic way of thinking.


InFrack 0930wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the state's controversial Act 13 is unconstitutional, calling it a special law that benefits the shale gas industry. The massive Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies a large area of Western Pennsylvania, provides more than 36 percent of the shale gas produced in the U.S.

The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13 in 2012 and it was almost immediately challenged by seven of the state's municipalities along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a private physician. The onerous law enabled natural gas companies to seize privately owned subsurface property through eminent domain, placed a gag order on health professionals to prevent them from getting information on drilling chemicals that could harm their patients, and limited notification of spills and leaks to public water suppliers, excluding owners of private wells that supply drinking water for 25 percent of Pennsylvania residents. Act 13 also pre-empted municipal zoning of oil and gas development.

"The decision is another historic vindication for the people's constitutional rights," stated Jordan Yeager, lead counsel on the case representing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Bucks County municipalities on the case. "The court has made a clear declaration that the Pennsylvania legislature cannot enact special laws that benefit the fossil fuel industry and injure the rest of us."

On Dec. 19, 2013, the state Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on the grounds that the law violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That ruling returned local zoning rights to municipalities. It also ordered the state Commonwealth Court to reconsider other provisions. The ruling by the Supreme Court issued Wednesday addresses those rulings and should end the litigation.


setp30repoWells Fargo even violates the law by repossessing cars of those serving in the military. (Photo: Don Hankins)

On September 9, I wrote about how the banking giant Wells Fargo went on an illegal spree of opening false credit cards, checking and saving accounts; charged customers fees for unrequested "services"; and then fired more than 5,000 employees when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) discovered the illicit activity. The CFPB -- conceived by Elizabeth Warren -- has limited power to address systemic banking abuse, but it did force Wells Fargo to stop these practices and pay an extremely modest fine of less than $200 million.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf scapegoated the terminated staff, who were paid an average of around $12 per hour. They were likely compelled to open fraudulent "cross-service" accounts to earn bonuses that would give them a living income. Stumpf himself has accumulated a reported $200 million in bank bonuses, while the executive -- Carrie Tolstedt – was expected to "retire" with a $20 million bonus.

Although Stumpf appeared to have escaped blame and financial penalty from the CPFB and other regulatory agencies, in the last week he ran into the buzzsaw of Elizabeth Warren and other senators at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Warren has for years clamored that big bank executives should be held accountable for systemic deceptive and risky financial behavior in their institutions. Last week, Warren led the outraged condemnation of Stumpf for his nurturing of an environment that rewarded illegal behavior. CNN Money called it an "epic takedown": Warren called for Stumpf's resignation, accused him of "gutless leadership" and relentlessly castigated him for betraying consumers.

Stumpf may have thought that he was going to avoid any accountability after the original CFPB fine, but fortune is not shining upon him now. The treasurer of California has announced that it will halt much of its banking business with Wells Fargo. CNN Money also reported that Stumpf and Tolstedt will be issued multi-million dollar financial "fines" by the Wells Fargo board, in light of the Warren-led Senate committee hearings:


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

bisenco32Bison in Yellowstone National Park face a harsh winter environment. Taken by Dan Zukowski for EcoWatch.

Three wildlife groups sued the federal government Tuesday, asking for the Yellowstone bison to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in order to protect the iconic animals from hunting and prescribed culling. Currently, park officials manage the population to about 4,000 animals using these methods. The population now numbers about 4,500.

Some 60 million bison, also known as buffalo, once roamed the prairies and grasslands of North America. They provided food, clothing and sustenance to Native Americans. In the 1800s, European settlers began hunting the animals and the U.S. Army undertook a deliberate program of extermination as a way to starve the Native peoples who depended on them. They nearly drove the bison to extinction.

By the time Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, there were only about two dozen bison in the area. The Army was then told to protect this herd. They also brought 21 bison from two private herds to Yellowstone in 1902 to create a larger breeding population. Today's herds in Yellowstone—the only place where wild bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times—descended from these few animals.

The majestic 2,000-pound bison is an iconic symbol of the American West. On May 9, it became our official national mammal when President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law. It is a creature beloved by visitors to Yellowstone National Park—sometimes too much—but outside park boundaries, ranchers aren't fans.

Their concern is a disease called brucellosis. It can be transmitted among bison, elk and cattle, and it can cause pregnant females to abort their calves. But it isn't the bison's fault: the non-native bacteria was introduced by cattle brought to the West by early pioneers. Brucellosis was first discovered in Yellowstone bison in 1917. It's thought they likely contracted the disease from domestic cattle, and today about half the bison herd tests positive for brucellosis.


2016foreclosureYour misery is Donald Trump's gain. (Photo: nzlawyer)

Yesterday, I accused Donald Trump of betraying the nation by essentially admitting, in Monday's debate, that he had not been paying federal taxes in at least some recent years -- and characterizing this as a "smart business tactic." 

By yesterday afternoon, the momentum against Trump's statements mounted, and even Vice President Joe Biden was slamming the candidate for touting his failure to pay the costs of running the United States. Trump's position epitomizes his endless illogical and contradictory statements. He implied this dubious achievement proved his ability to run the United States like a business. Of course, this makes no sense because if no one paid their taxes, there would be no government to run.

That's one baffling Catch-22 that should be enough to merit front page news and top television coverage. However, to add to this egregious disregard for the financing of the United States, Trump has also boasted of his savvy in taking advantage of a cratered housing market after 2008. Yes, that means Trump was one of those investors who was seeking to make -- and succeeded in making -- money by bottom-feeding off the housing market implosion of 2008. He advocated predatory tactics that would result in the "American Dream" of homeownership disappearing into a nightmare for countless people.

As Politico reported yesterday:

When Donald Trump said he was hoping for a collapse in the housing market before the Great Recession, it was just smart business sense, he said in the first sharp exchange of the debate.

“In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis,” Hillary Clinton said when discussing the recovery from the Great Recession. “He said back in 2006, ‘Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well it did collapse.”

“That’s called business, by the way,” Trump said, interrupting. But Clinton talked over him.

“Nine million people lost their jobs, five million people lost their homes,” she said.

This has been a periodic accusation leveled at Trump throughout the presidential campaign. It was the first time, however, he responded before a record-breaking audience of approximately 84 million people. To Trump, the misfortunes of many of the Americans he seeks to serve were seen by him as profitable opportunities.

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