Originally Published: 11/15/2014
Global Climate Change: There’s nothing like pictures. These show you the melting of the Arctic sea ice. The first is from 1979. The second from 2012. The third is a projection of what it will look like in 2045. (Inside Climate News) So, what’s being done about it? Not much. But now the U.S. and China have reached an accord. They staked out “an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases.” China is the world’s No. 1 polluter; the U.S. is No. 2. According to the agreement, the U.S. will emit 26% to 28% less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. China will have clean energy sources account for 20% of its total energy production by 2030. The agreement doesn’t need to be approved by Congress, but Congress does have to approve legislation and funding for initiatives to achieve the goal. (NY Times) Anyone believe that’s going to happen? Senator Mitch McConnell (R, KY) will take over as Majority Leader in January. He has already “slammed” the proposal. “This unrealistic plan, that the President would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs.” (AFP) But the fight won’t stop there. In preparation for the G20 summit, Obama upped the ante. According to administration officials, he’s going to pledge “at least $2.5 billion and as much as $3 billion over the next 4 years to help poor countries invest in clean energy and cope with rising seas and extreme weather.” (Guardian)
In what appears to be a direct response to the president’s agreement, Senate Democrats scheduled a vote on a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The House had originally scheduled the vote for a couple of days after the Senate vote, but got excited and held it Friday. It “easily” passed 252 to 161. (Washington Post) The bill is sponsored by Mary Landrieu (D, LA). She’s also the one who pushed for the scheduled vote. (Guardian) She’s going into a run-off election in December. Think maybe she’s trolling for votes? Think maybe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) is trying to help her? Time to contact your senators. If you don’t know who yours is, or don’t know the phone number, go to Open Congress to find out. You can call or email the White House, too. Here’s the contact information.
Dirtbox Devices: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department, through the Marshals Service, has for 7 years been using the electronic equipment on its aircraft to simulate cellphone towers so it can collect phone location and identifying information on a mass scale from users on the ground below. The aircraft are outfitted with “dirtbox” devices that mimic cellular towers, permitting the collection of thousands of unique IDs and location data from users. The planes operate from at least 5 metropolitan airports, permitting a “flying range covering most of the U.S. population.” In this way they can avoid getting records from phone companies, where they probably would have to get a warrant. Interestingly, the program is not classified as national security or counterterrorism, but instead is used to target crime.
Afghanistan: It’s headed for a record high in opium production, “presenting a challenge to the country in tackling the trade that fuels the Taliban-led insurgency.” (Guardian)
Georgia: The City Council of Rossville unanimously passed 2 ordinances - one to ban abortion clinics within the city limits and the other to keep “pill mills” out of the city. Mayor Teddy Harris said that the town did not need any “drama.” The ordinance bans any abortions within the city unless they occur at a hospital by a licensed physician and only if they’re necessary to save a woman’s life, “and the doctor can certify that the baby would not survive out of the womb.” Abortions in the case of rape or incest are banned. “Pill mills are clinics that claim to be pain centers . . . but in reality illegally dispense controlled pain medications to those who may be addicted or do not have a prescription.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Kansas: The U.S. Supreme Court “declined a request from Kansas officials to block U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree’s Nov. 4 ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.” (Reuters)
New York: The New York City Police Department will no longer arrest people in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana; they will have the option of issuing a court summons instead with a fine, for the first offense, of $100, going to $250 for a second offense. However, smoking in public will still get you arrested. (Guardian)
South Carolina: U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel struck down South Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban. (Talk Radio News)
Vets: In honor of Veterans’ Day, I thought I’d remind you about some of the gratitude our congress critters have showed for our vets. The Republican cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, effected about 900,000 veterans and 5,000 active duty troops. (Military.com) (Anyone else wonder why our soldiers qualify for food stamps?) Earlier this year “U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation . . . that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans, saying the $24 billion bill would bust the budget.” (Reuters) (I’m sure our soldiers are out there “fighting for our budget.”) By the end of June, 285,000 veterans had lost their long-term unemployment benefits because Congress allowed the program to expire. Senate Republicans “blocked a bi-partisan effort to pass a bill that would put veterans to work in jobs that look after the nation’s federal land while also giving our fighting men and women a leg up when it comes to getting them hired by local police and fire departments.” What did they save? $1 billion. (Forbes) Back in 2012 Republican senators killed a bill that would have provided a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for disabled vets and their families. (Examiner) And don’t forget the results of war. “Every 65 minutes a U.S. veteran dies from suicide.” (Global Research)
Immigration: Obama is going to disregard Republican warnings and take executive action that could shield up to 5 million immigrants from deportation. “Officials said it would allow many parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents to obtain work documents and stay in the United States.” Purportedly this will “provide more opportunities for immigrants with high-tech skills and add security resources to the border with Mexico. Undocumented immigrants with family ties in the United States and no criminal record also would be considered lower priority for deportation than those with criminal records or who are considered security risks.” (Reuters)
Solyndra: Remember this? (TWW, Energy Projects, 10/13/12; Green Jobs, 10/6/12; Solyndra, 9/8/12) Solyndra was the poster child for what Republicans called a failed program. It is a loan program administered by the Department of Energy (DOE) designed to support alternative-energy development. Solyndra was one of the few bad bets they made, lending $528 million to the company that later went bankrupt. So, you make bets and some are bad. Just ask the banks about mortgages. But, overall, the program has been very successful. A report is due out soon, but a Bloomberg source says that the loans and guarantees will earn at least $5 billion over 20 years.
Food Safety: According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t perform enough pesticide residue tests on either imported or domestic food to say whether the American food supply is safe. The report says that the FDA is testing less than 1/10th of 1% of domestic fruits and vegetables and that the pesticide testing program is not “statistically valid,” making it impossible to “determine the national incidence and level of pesticide residues in the foods it regulates.” So, you were feeling good about all those salads you’re eating?
Climate Change: The Smithsonian has just completed a new study and found that nearly all ocean dead zones will increase by the end of the century - thanks to climate change. “Dead zones are regions where the water has unusually low dissolved oxygen content, and aquatic animals that wander in quickly die. These regions can form naturally, but human activities can spark their formation or make them worse. For instance, dead zones often occur when runoff from farms and cities drains into an ocean or lake and loads up the water with excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.”
Fossil Fuels: The International Energy Agency released its 2014 World Energy Outlook. The upshot is that we’re moving in the right direction, just not fast enough to save us. Nothing new. But here’s the part that’ll rot your socks: Worldwide fossil fuels are subsidized by governments to the tune of about $550 billion a year, 4 times the amount devoted to clean energy.
Deepwater Horizon: U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans has upheld his finding (TWW, Deepwater Horizon, 9/6/14) that BP was “grossly negligent” in the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP had asked for a reconsideration of his decision. No go. This means that “BP could still face close to $18 billion of penalties for violating the federal Clean Water Act.” (Reuters)
Corporate Stash: NBC reported that, according to various sources, U.S. corporations have more than $2 trillion stashed in overseas institutions. This is “a 6-fold increase over the past 12 years.” Wonder why they aren’t creating jobs or raising wages? This is why. That’s $2 trillion taken out of the U.S. economy.
$9 Billion Witness: Alayne Fleischmann is a whistleblower. She is the “central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion . . . to keep the public from hearing.” As a deal manager at JPMorgan, “Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as ‘massive criminal securities fraud’ in the bank’s mortgage operations.” This exposé by Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone is fascinating.
Bank Corruption: European regulators hit 5 of the world’s biggest banks with £2 billion (about $3.17 billion) “for rigging the £3.5 trillion-a-day foreign exchange markets.” The settlement did not include Barclays, “which remains in discussions with other regulators.” The fines were imposed on Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Citibank, JPMorgan, and UBS. (Guardian)