Originally Published: 10/7/2017
Regulating Guns: The shooting in Las Vegas, leaving at least 58 dead (this number will probably rise) and more than 500 injured, is being called the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. (Talk Media News) But the NY Times pointed out that in 477 days there has been 521 mass shootings - and 0 action from Congress, except to call for a moment of silence. In fact, since the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been more than 1,500 mass shootings - and Congress has done nothing (Vox) regardless of the fact that more than half of Americans want stricter gun laws. (Guardian) I guess we can assume the reason for the non-action is that, since 1998, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has donated $4.23 million to current members of Congress. 49 of the 100 senators and 258 of the 435 representatives have accepted NRA donations. (Washington Post) (Check out your state and see how much money your senators and reps have received over the years.) They have now, however, decided to back away - at least temporarily - from advancing a bill that would make it easier for Americans to buy gun silencers. “Owning a firearm silencer requires a special license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), similar to the regulations surrounding machine guns and explosives.” The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act would treat silencers like firearms, “requiring only a federal background check.” (Washington Post) Would someone please tell me how a silencer “enhances” the recreational enjoyment of guns? And they even appear to be amenable to banning “bump stocks,” which are used to make semiautomatic weapons into weapons capable of firing “in long, deadly bursts.” (NY Times) However, this won’t be such a brave thing to do as the NRA has said it would back such a bill. (Washington Post) And it probably won’t ever become a bill anyway. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) has said that regulatory action may be better than legislation. (Roll Call) That’d be easy. Pass it off to the administration for regulation then sit back and wait for nothing to happen. Even George Zornick, writing at The Nation, said that this means “nothing will happen.” But remember that they’ve already undone Obama’s order that Social Security share the names of mentally disabled people for background checks. (TWW, Guns, 2/18/17) McSweeney reminds us of the things that are more heavily regulated than guns, like having a bake sale and building a shed in your backyard. In addition to the loss of life, the medical costs of gun violence are horrendous. A Johns Hopkins study of emergency room admissions found that “more than 100,000 people are shot each year in the U.S. at a total cost of $2.8 billion in hospital charges.” If lost wages are added, the annual cost of shootings “could be as high as $45 billion.” (Guardian) John Oliver published an old airing that explains how the NRA has successfully lobbied Congress to create the problems we now face. (You Tube)
Russian Connection: Trump’s “associates” and his company have turned over documents “that reveal 2 previously unreported contacts from Russia during the 2016 campaign.” In one case Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, and a business associate exchanged emails about Cohen going to an economic conference in Russia “that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin.” In another case Cohen “received a proposal” for a Moscow residential project “from a company founded by a billionaire who once served in the upper house of the Russian parliament.” (Washington Post)
Facebook: Russian operatives set up “an array of misleading Web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used a powerful Facebook tool to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior.” According to the Washington Post, “The tactic resembles what American businesses and political campaigns have been doing in recent years to deliver messages to potentially interested people online.”
Twitter: Voters in 11 swing states in last year’s election “received more fake, junk, and hyper-partisan information over Twitter than reliable, professionally produced news in the 10 days before the election.” In West Virginia there was as much as 57% more junk news than legitimate news. (McClatchy)
Koch Connection: The Checks and Balances Project analyzed the connections between senior level White House officials and Koch Industries. This’ll freak you out.
Ryan Zinke: The Interior Secretary is being investigated for his use of charter flights. Just like Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price (TWW, Tom Price, 9/30/17), he’s been spending an inordinate amount of taxpayer money. Just last week he disclosed that he’d taken 3 charter flights. The department’s inspector general is investigating. (Guardian) But Price and Zinke aren’t the only ones. The Washington Post analyzed the data and found there are 4 others who’ve “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on charter jets, military planes, and other government aircraft for travel that often could have been undertaken much less expensively on commercial aircraft.”
Cuba: In response to the “mysterious” affliction at our embassy in Cuba (TWW, Cuba, 9/30/17), Trump has expelled 15 Cuban diplomats. (NY Times)
Kurdistan: Kurdistan has voted on a referendum to separate from Iraq. Approximately 93% voted for independence. (Wikipedia) Obviously Iraq is unhappy and taking action against them. According to NPR, Iraq has threatened to cut off the Kurdish airports and Rudaw reported the Iraqi parliament is going strip the Kurdish MPs of their immunity and has asked the Federal Court to take legal action against them. Iraq’s central bank told the Kurdish government that it would stop selling dollars to 4 leading Kurdish banks and “stop all foreign currency transfers” to the region. (Reuters) This doesn’t seem to have deterred the Kurds. They’re planning elections for the president and parliament on November 1st. (Reuters)
Niger: 4 Army Special Forces soldiers were killed in Niger while being on joint patrol. 2 other Americans were wounded. (Washington Post) Whatever “patrol” they were doing was part of the new AFRICOM command in Africa. (See The Military in Africa, and TWW, Exploiting Africa, 10/8/16; AFRICOM, 3/29/14) I wonder what they were doing there.
Spain: Catalans held a referendum last weekend on independence from Spain. A clash between Spanish national police and voters ensued, leaving hundreds injured. Despite the violence, Charles Puigdemont, the region’s leader, said that 90% of the 2.3 million people who cast ballots voted to secede. Spain’s government disputes the validity of the vote and has threatened to use its emergency powers to prevent a breakaway state. (NY Times) Spain’s high court “suspended a session of the Catalan regional Parliament scheduled for next week” in which the Catalan parliament would declare the region’s independence. (NY Times)
Scotland: After overwhelming public opposition, Scotland banned fracking. (Guardian)
Sweden: Dozens were arrested at a Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) march in Gothenburg when the neo-Nazi group clashed with an anti-fascist group. “The NMR gathered hundreds of people for the march.” (Reuters)
Puerto Rico: In the wake of the disaster still befalling Puerto Rico, the Prepa (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) Bondholder Group offered to issue the territory additional debt. The offer included $1 billion in new loans “and a swap of $1 billion in existing bonds for another $850 million bond.” These new bonds would have jumped to the front of the line for repayment “and between that increased value and interest payments after the first 2 years, the bondholders would have likely come out ahead on the deal.” Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority turned it down. One member of the bondholder group admitted that they are trying to lend “where our investors are not disadvantaged” and added that the deal would be a “win-win” for the utility and bondholders. (The Intercept) Leave it to a hedge fund to attempt to profit from this kind of catastrophe.
Budget: The House passed its budget along party lines 219 to 206 pushing them closer to their goal of tax cuts for the rich. (The Hill) According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, (CAP) the budget “will harm working families to pay for millionaire tax cuts.” CAP also found that the budget will eliminate critical disaster relief funding. And the Senate passed its budget out of committee. It allows for Medicaid funding to be slashed by about $1 trillion and Medicare by $473 billion. (Think Progress) Both of these proposals pave the way for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Corporate Taxes: An op-ed piece in the Washington Post by Catherine Rampell claims that a government document “so incendiary that the feds have tried to suppress it,” has been purged from the government’s websites and officials have “disavowed its claims.” It’s a 34-page technical report about corporate income taxes. Prior to 2008 the Treasury Department had always assumed that corporate tax rates only affected the shareholders - the owners of the corporation. But in late 2008 the Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis developed a new model which takes into account the affect on workers. In 2012 they released a report saying that 82% of corporate taxes was borne by capital owners and 18% was borne by labor. “Workers don’t literally write the check, of course, but corporate taxes may discourage investment, and therefore lead to lower wages.” The paper was published in the National Tax Journal. But that hasn’t stopped Trump administration officials. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has been claiming that nearly all of the corporate tax burden is passed on to workers. On Fox News he claimed that 70% of taxes are paid by workers and at an event in Kentucky he declared it was 80%. When people pointed out that his claims were at odds with the report published on the Treasury website, he deleted the report.
Corporations: Paul Buchheit, writing at Truth-out, lists the 3 “insidious” ways the poor, overtaxed corporations cheat us beyond the taxes. It’s a fascinating read.
Transgender Policy: Attorney General Jeff Session is reversing course on gender policy. “In a memo to U.S. attorneys . . . Sessions said that the Justice Department will no longer interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to mean that the law’s protections extend to discrimination based on gender identity.” (The Hill)
Rigged Economy: According to a new analysis by the People’s Policy Project, the top 10% of the income distribution now owns a “stunning” 77% of America’s wealth. Those in the bottom 10% are “net debtors,” owning -0.5% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 38% have an average net worth of $0, but the top 1% owns 38.5% of the nation’s wealth. In 1989, that number was 29.9%. Like I’ve told you before, we are not living in a democracy. We’re an oligarchy. (TWW, No More Democracy, 1/23/16)
Congress: A panel discussion about alleged government corruption in Ukraine was recently held in a congressional meeting room. It was organized by former representative and current lobbyist Connie Mack (R, FL) and it has “raised questions about the appropriate uses of meeting rooms under the House Speaker’s jurisdiction. It also offers a glimpse into the often murky world of lobbying on behalf of foreign clients seeking to use the nation’s capital as a way to advance policies abroad.” (Roll Call)
Contraception: Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a rule that “sharply limits the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception coverage mandate.” The rule “allows a much broader group of employers and insurers to exempt themselves from covering contraceptives . . . on religious or moral grounds.” (Washington Post)
CHIP: 9 million kids get health insurance under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It expired last Saturday (the end of the federal fiscal year) and Congress has not renewed it. If action is not taken soon, “the effects will become obvious in schools across the country, with many of the children in the program unable to see a doctor for routine checkups, immunizations, visits when sick, and other services.” (Washington Post) Of course they couldn’t get around to this, they spent all their time trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to Talking Points Memo, the expiration of CHIP will not affect all states equally. At least 10 states will run out of money by the end of 2017 if the funding doesn’t come through.
Abortion: The House of Representatives approved a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The bill is called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. It’s been brought up before but never when there was a president who would sign it. (Washington Post) The bill relies on junk science that claims that a fetus can feel pain at 20 week’s (Vox)
C-Sections: According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of Caesarean Sections has increased “so much over the decades that the surgery has been transformed from a life-saving intervention into a procedure performed as a matter of course during 1 in 3 U.S. births.” The rate in the U.S. for the share of births by C-section is 32%, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested that the rate should not be higher than 10% to 15%. Other experts have suggested that in no case should it be higher than 19%. Remember, a C-section is major surgery and carries all the risks of major surgery. (Guardian) One hospital, the Staten Island University Hospital in New York, has a written policy that gives doctors “step-by-step instructions for performing procedures and surgeries without a pregnant woman’s consent if they can’t persuade her to give permission and several doctors agree that the treatment carries a ‘reasonable possibility of significant benefit’ for her fetus that ‘outweighs the possible risks to the woman.’” When an emergency threatens a fetus, the policy gives her doctor even more power, “allowing him or her to override a pregnant woman’s wishes on the spot and without consulting anyone else.” (Guardian)
Cancer: Researchers at the CDC have determined that cancers associated with being overweight or obese account for 40% of all diagnoses of cancer in the U.S. (Guardian)
EPA: During his 7 months in office, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt “has filled his days meeting with executives from many of the companies he regulates, while all but sidestepping environmental and public health groups.” But it’s not just office time. Pruitt has lunched and dined with industry executives and traveled to resorts for meetings. “While EPA leaders traditionally talk with a broad array of stakeholders, Pruitt has overwhelmingly leaned toward meetings with corporate executives in industries regulated by the EPA, and in multiple cases he has quickly ruled in their favor on a range of issues.” (Washington Post)
Methane Emissions: U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the Northern District of California ordered the Interior Department “to reinstate an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.” The Interior Department has “moved to delay the rule until 2019, saying it was too burdensome to industry.” (Guardian)
Invasive Species: The 2011 massive earthquake shook Japan and reshaped the sea floor, triggered a massive tsunami that killed about 18,000 people, and melted down 3 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. And it's now impacting the U.S. “The quake shoved an area the size of Connecticut up by 30 feet.” But it swept 5 million tons of debris into the ocean, much of which won’t degrade. “Some of the objects came to rest half a world away, like the 60-foot-long polystyrene and concrete dock that landed in Oregon in the summer of 2012.” Now researchers have discovered that the dock “harbored close to 100 Japanese species.” So now the Pacific Northwest is faced with a flood of “unsinkable junk caked with marine life.” (Washington Post)
Coca-Cola: It increased its production of plastic bottles last year by well over 1 billion. (Guardian)
Unemployment: The Labor Department reported that the U.S. lost 33,000 jobs in September. They blame it on hurricanes. (NY Times)
Suppressing Wages: We’ve now learned about another way corporations are suppressing wages. There is an “obscure clause buried in many fast-food franchise agreements” that prohibits franchisees “from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another.” The restrictions do not appear in the contract that employees sign so they don’t know about it. (NY Times)
Mandatory Arbitration: According to the Economic Policy Institute, 60 million American workers now are barred from access to the courts to get redress when their rights are violated by their employers. This is being done through forcing, as a condition of employment, the employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. “This study finds that since the early 2000s, the share of workers subject to mandatory arbitration has more than doubled and now exceeds 55%.”
Equifax: Former CEO Richard Smith testified before the Senate Banking Committee. Both Democrats and Republicans “railed” at Smith “likening Equifax to a bumbling protection racket” as well as profiting handsomely from its recent loss of sensitive data on about 143 million Americans. (TWW, Equifax, 9/16/17) But the profiting goes on. Equifax has an ongoing partnership with LifeLock, “a personal data security protection firm that has been marketing services to victims of the recent cyberattack.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) said there’s been a 10-fold increase in LifeLock sign-ups since the Equifax breach. “She also noted that the free 1-year credit monitoring service offered as a response by the company could lead to a massive windfall.” So far, 7.5 million people have signed up for free credit monitoring through Equifax since the breach. If just 1 million of them buy just 1 more year of monitoring through Equifax at the current rate of $17 dollars per month, “that’s more than $200 million in revenue for Equifax because of this breach.” (District Sentinel)
European Taxes: European officials are “flexing their regulatory muscles against American technology companies.” EU competition regulators announced plans to take Ireland to court “for failing to collect back taxes from Apple and ordering Luxembourg to claim unpaid taxes from Amazon.” (NY Times)