Originally Published: 2/17/2018
Another Shooting: After another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida with a death toll currently at 17 and it may climb (NY Times), I decided it was time to call out those responsible. They are the politicians who are owned by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Other people do the shooting, but it’s the politicians who are responsible for killing our kids - and all others killed in mass shootings. Since 2000 there have been more than 130 shootings at elementary, middle, and high schools, and 58 others at colleges and universities. (Washington Post) But what legislation have you seen? None. Geez, we had 1 guy, 1 guy, try to set his shoes on fire on an airplane years ago and today we’re still taking off our shoes to fly. I don’t usually like to post shocking videos, and this one is quite graphic, but I think it’s time that people start being shocked, frighteningly shocked, about the terror that our kids are facing. (CNN)
NRA Contributions: That the NRA escalated its buying of politicians in the 2016 election is not news. Its spending “surged” to $100 million “surpassing any previous annual NRA spending totals on record.” It “poured unprecedented amounts of money into efforts to deliver Donald Trump the White House and help Republicans hold both houses of Congress.” (Open Secrets) Trump immediately repealed a rule that was designed to block gun sales to some mentally ill people. (NPR) Lawmakers are even using their campaign funds to pay their NRA dues! (McClatchy) Rafi Schwartz, writing at Splinter News, published a list of every member of Congress who took money from the NRA and then tweeted “thoughts and prayers” to Parkland.
Who Are Their Constituents?: Is the lack of action by our politicians a result of them responding to the desires of their constituents? Not hardly. A new study by public health researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities found that half the nation’s guns are owned by just 3% of the population. “Each of these 7.7 million ‘hardcore super-owners’ have accumulated between 8 and 140 firearms apiece . . .while the majority of the nation’s 55 million gun owners possess an average of 3.” (Snopes) So, who are their constituents? They are the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA. Once again, they’re playing to their corporate donors - and we Americans and our kids are dying for their campaign contributions.
AR-15: This assault rifle used at Parkland was purchased legally. How did a semiautomatic weapon originally designed for warfare become easier to buy than a handgun? Assault weapons used to be banned. George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress let the ban expire in 2004. After the ban expired, the number of incidents - especially deaths - from “mass shootings (defined as 6 or more deaths) increased incredibly. During the first 10 years of the ban, people dying from gun massacres fell 43%. After the ban lapsed, massacres increased 183% and massacre deaths increased 239%. (Washington Post) At the very least Congress needs to reinstate the ban. Maybe we should treat our politicians like NASCAR drivers and make them wear patches of their supporters so everyone knows where their money is coming from.
Jared Kushner: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Kushner should not have “full access to classified information.” He still only has an interim security clearance. (Washington Post)
America First: Not for Trump. It’s money first. Vox analyzed his hiring of seasonal workers at 3 of his properties in New York and Florida. They found that only 1 person out of the 144 they hired was a U.S. worker 2016 through 2017. Guest workers with H-2B visas got the rest of the jobs. If you remember, last summer the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) increased the number of these visas that can be awarded by 15,000. (TWW, H-2B Visas, 7/29/17)
Israel: The Israeli police are recommending that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted in corruption cases, saying there is enough evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in 2 separate cases. What are the allegations? In one case Netanyahu “asked the publisher of an Israeli newspaper . . . for positive coverage in exchange for help in reining in a rival publication.” The second allegation centers on a claim that Netanyahu “received gifts worth at least a million shekels ($283,000) from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and other supporters.” The gifts included champagne and cigars and were given “in exchange for help getting Mr. Milchan a U.S. visa.” (BBC) So Israel is looking at prosecuting their Prime Minister for things that are not only routinely done in the U.S., they’re applauded. Hell, just last month the Koch Brothers gave House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) $500,000 as a reward for passing the tax cut. (TWW, Koch Brothers, 1/27/18) We need new laws.
Minnesota: The Duluth school district has pulled To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum, “arguing that the classic novels’ use of racial slurs risked students being ‘humiliated or marginalized.’” They will keep the books in their libraries. (Guardian)
Texas: The city of Austin became the first city in the South to require paid sick leave for its residents, “a landmark victory after a year of swelling progressive activism throughout the wide state.” (Think Progress)
Budget: Trump sent Congress his idea of a federal budget, a $4.4 trillion plan calling for large increases in military spending and cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and other social programs that adds $7 trillion to deficits over the next decade. He also wants to offer $100 billion in federal incentives to spur a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan over the next decade. (NY Times) His infrastructure plan relies on selling off or privatizing many government assets, like Reagan National Airport and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. (Washington Post)
International Space Station: Trump’s budget includes turning the space station into “a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry.” He’s probably thinking about his own company. He’s working on a transition plan to turn it over to the private sector, and cutting government funding, after 2024. (Washington Post) His space plans include “an outpost on the moon” and “Jetson cars.” NASA is moving forward already with creating the new space station orbiting the moon and “aims to launch a power and propulsion module for the space station in 2022. (Guardian)
2018 Elections: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations. . . Throughout the entire community we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.” He said Russia has been “using people sympathetic to their messages and fake personalities on social media - many of them run by bots - to sow further political and social divisions in the United States.” (NY Times) And the Koch Brothers have pledged to spend $400 million to “thwart” what is perceived as a Democratic surge. (Independent)
2016 Elections: The Justice Department’s special counsel announced the indictment of a “notorious Russian troll farm,” called the Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is “charging 13 individuals with an audacious scheme to criminally interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The agency is named as “the hub of an ambitious effort to trick Americans into following Russian-fed propaganda that pushed U.S. voters toward then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and away from Democrat Hillary Clinton.” (Washington Post)
Immigration: A bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws. The plan was sponsored by 7 Democrats, 8 Republicans, and 1 Independent. It proposed $25 billion for border security, “including construction of the president’s proposed wall at the Mexican border,” over a 10-year period - “not immediately” as Trump demands. It also offered an “eventual” path to citizenship, over 10 to 12 years, for 1.8 million Dreamers “but would have precluded them from sponsoring their parents to become citizens.” There were no changes to the diversity visa lottery system, which Trump wants. (NY Times) 3 bills came up for vote. With Democrats filibustering, they needed 60 votes. A bill proposed by the White House - with all of Trump’s measures he called for in his State of the Union address (TWW, State of the Union, VISA Lottery Program and Chain Migration, 2/3/18) went down in flames. Senators voted 39 to 60 against. Before that vote they voted down a proposal by Senator John McCain (R, AZ) and Chris Coons (D, DE) and the bipartisan bill (above herein). (NY Times) So, no legislation is now pending.
ADA: The House of Representatives passed legislation, 225 to 192, to amend the Americans With Disabilities Act “that proponents say is aimed at curbing unscrupulous lawyers who seek profit by threatening businesses with litigation without actually seeking to improve access for the disabled.” 12 Democrats joined with “all but 19 Republicans” to pass the bill. The bill removes “any incentive that businesses have to comply with the law before a complaint is filed.” (Washington Post)
Poverty: Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spent 10 days touring the U.S. “at the invitation of the federal government.” He traveled through California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. and spoke with “dozens of experts and civil society groups, met with senior state and federal government officials and talked with many people who are homeless or living in deep poverty.” The Guardian released an introduction to his report. He wrote: “The United States is one of the world’s richest and most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”
Veterans’ Affairs: While everyone is complaining about the lack of funds appropriated to the VA, it appears that Secretary David Shulkin is pilfering the little bit they do have. The department’s inspector general found that Shulkin’s chief of staff “altered language in an email . . . to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government - then used the award to justify paying for his wife’s travel” to Europe. The VA paid more than $4,300 for her airfare. (Washington Post)
Ajit Pai: The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) inspector general, David Hunt, is investigating the chair, Ajit Pai, “following a series of decisions by Pai that directly benefited Sinclair Broadcast Group - the nation’s largest television broadcaster.” Pai has taken several steps in Sinclair’s favor. “The series of decisions prompted a fellow member of the FCC, Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, to openly allege corruption between Pai and Sinclair.” (District Sentinel) Last August the NY Times reported that Pai and his staff met with Sinclair executives on several occasions.
Aetna: California’s insurance commissioner, Doug Jones, is investigating Aetna “after learning a former medical director for the insurer admitted under oath he never looked at patients’ record when deciding whether to approve or deny care.” (CNN)
Historical Oil Spill: Remember the oil spill off the coast of China that spilled condensate? It was called “unprecedented.” (TWW, Oil Spill, 1/27/18) Now that spill is threatening some of Asia’s richest fisheries. “It is the largest oil spill in decades, but the disaster has unfolded outside the glare of international attention that big spills have previously attracted. That is because of its remote location on the high seas and also the type of petroleum involved: condensate, a toxic, liquid byproduct of natural gas production.” Condensate is “extremely unhealthy to humans” and may be fatal. “The effects of eating fish contaminated with it remain essentially untested, but experts strongly advise against doing so.” But samples of fish taken within 4 to 5 nautical miles from the spill suggest possible contamination. (NY Times)
Threat Assessment: At the hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee (see 2018 Elections above), the intelligence community warned “that climate change and other environmental trends ‘are likely to fuel economic social discontent - and possibly upheaval - through 2018.’” (Inside Climate Change)
Drinking Water: In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers found that, since 1982, between 3% and 10% of the country’s water systems have been in violation of federal Safe Drinking Water Act health standards each year. In 2015 alone, as many as 21 million Americans may have been exposed to unsafe drinking water.
Orangutans: Borneo lost more than 100,000 orangutans since 1999. “The causes included logging, land clearance for agriculture, and mining that destroy their habitats.” However, many orangutans also disappeared from more intact, forested areas, “suggesting that hunting and other direct conflicts between orangutans and humans remain a major threat to the species.” (NY Times)
Amazon: For those of you concerned about the takeover of the U.S. marketplace by Amazon, Stacy Mitchell at The Nation has a great exposé on it. Mitchell opines that to think of Amazon as a retailer is to profoundly misjudge its goals. Mitchell wrote that Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, has a “far more radical goal than merely dominating markets; he’d built Amazon to replace them. His vision is for Amazon to become the underlying infrastructure that commerce runs on.” This is a fascinating piece.