A “Green Tea Coalition” of grassroots activists from the right and left has big business and energy lobbyists reeling, Ashton Pittman of Occupy.com reports (8/11). The coalition includes activists from the Sierra Club, Georgia Watch, Occupy Atlanta, the NAACP and the Tea Party Patriots. “The Tea Party has formed an unholy alliance with the left,” Debbie Dooley, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, recalls a panicked member of Georgia’s big energy lobby lamenting.
Dooley told Pittman the elites on both the right and the left warned their respective grassroots to stay away from the other side. “But we got through all that bull, got to know each other, and started working together.”
In 2012, the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots joined the NAACP and the Sierra Club to defeat a $7.2 bln transit tax referendum. That same year, teabaggers joined forces with Occupy Atlanta and the AFL-CIO to stop an anti-union bill that would have banned protests at private residences (teh bill sought to protect the “right of quiet enjoyment” of CEOs).
In July, the Tea Party Patriots allied with enviros in the Sierra Club to convince the state’s Public Service Commission to vote 4-1 to require Southern Co., whose Georgia Power has the exclusive right to generate electricity in the state, to obtain 525 megawatts of solar power by 2016. Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a group funded by the Koch Brothers, who have vast petrochemical interests, sent out a misleading email to some 50,000 members claiming that the solar requirement would raise energy costs as much as 40%.
Pittman noted that in reality, falling solar prices promise cheaper energy – and perhaps even the opportunity for individuals to someday generate their own energy, independent of companies like Southern Co. “For rate payers held captive by a government-imposed utility monopoly, what could be more conservative than achieving self-sufficiency?”
Pittman noted that the Koch Brothers, through organizations like AFP and Freedom Works, have spent millions of dollars to influence Tea Party groups across the country since 2009.
“We agree with AFP on a lot of issues, but when it comes to energy, they’re not exactly unbiased,” said Dooley. And that’s putting it mildly. Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the United States, makes over $100 bln a year on oil, coal, and logging, among other industries.
AFP Georgia noted that “The government has spent $14 billion since 2009 propping up renewable energy projects. They wouldn’t have to do that if the technology was more market ready.” However, Pittman noted that between 1994 and 2009, US oil and gas industries amassed nearly $450 bln in subsidies, compared to a “relatively paltry” $6 bln for renewable energy over the same period. And Southern Co. got an $8.3 bln federal loan guarantee for new nuclear projects.
OBAMA LEADS ATTACK ON HEALTH CARE SABOTEURS. President Obama is finally going on the offensive against Republicans who are trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. In his press conference (8/9), Obama said, “Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail. Their number one priority, the one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care. And presumably repealing all those benefits I just mentioned. Kids staying on their parents’ plan, seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs, a return to limits on lifetime limits, continuing to get blocked from health care insurance.
“That’s hard to understand as an agenda that is going to strengthen our middle class. At least they used to say, ‘Well, we’re going to replace it with something better.’ There’s not even a pretense now that they’re going to replace it with something better. The notion is simply that those 30 million people, or the other 150 million who are benefiting from other aspects of affordable care, would be better off without. That’s their assertion, not backed by fact, not backed by any evidence, has just become an ideological fixation.”
TEXAS HAS GREATEST NEED FOR HEALTH EXPANSION, BUT R’S AREN’T INTERESTED. Texas is home to 22 of the 30 counties in the US that would benefit most from full implementation of the health care reform law, Progress Texas noted (8/1), citing a report from the Center for American Progress. Yet Gov. Rick Perry (R) has refused to accept $100 bln in federal assistance to expand Medicaid coverage for the working poor. Perry and the Republican-dominated Legislature not only has done nothing to provide coverage for the 25% of working Texans who can’t afford health insurance; it also cut off Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program, forcing the closure of many clinics that provided health care for low-income women. The Legislature this year appropriated $71 mln for family planning services, nearly reinstating the $73.4 mln the Legislature cut in 2011, but the state will lose $60 mln from the federal government because it defunded clinics that are affiliated with abortion providers, TexasTribune.org reported. The state Family Planning Services Program is expected to serve 100,000 women in 2014, down from 220,000 women before the 2011 cuts, the Dallas Morning News reported.
HOUSE MOVES TO DISMANTLE POSTAL SERVICE. A House committee passed a bill that would end the US Postal Service as we know it. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on a 22-17 party line vote (7/24) passed Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)’s Postal Reform Act of 2013, which would, among other things, allow the phasing out of door-to-door delivery by 2022, end letter and magazine delivery on Saturday while allowing delivery of packages and medicine, and allow the closing of rural post offices and sorting centers.
“The cuts, if implemented, would issue as an open invitation for private-delivery services to cash in by offering to fill the void created by those cuts,” John Nichols noted at TheNation.com (7/26). “There are profits to be made by delivering mail to the front doors of Americans who can pay — and who want regular delivery on Saturdays. So it should come as no surprise that one of the first endorsements for Issa’s proposal came from the “Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service,” a group that counts FedEx as one of its most enthusiastic boosters.
“The corporations that want to carve the USPS up and grab their pieces of America’s communications infrastructure are ready to pounce,” Nichols continued. “That is what is at stake.”
US Sen. Bernie Sanders noted that the Postal Service would have posted a profit for the second quarter if it had not been required to sink $5.5 bln a year into future retiree health care. The latest quarterly report showed the Postal Service with a $740 mln loss, but a $600 mln profit would have been posted had the service not been forced to sink money into a system that already has set aside enough to meet the needs of retirees for decades to come.
Sanders in February introduced the Postal Service Protection Act, S. 316, with 30 cosponsors, to modernize the Postal Service but save Saturday mail, prevent shutdowns of mail sorting centers, reinstate overnight delivery standards to speed mail delivery, protect rural post offices and repeal the crippling health-care prefunding requirement that he said is responsible for at least 80% of the mail system’s funding woes. Rep. Peter DeFazio has filed a similar bill in the House.
Another bill by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), S. 1486, was called “a serious threat” to the Postal Service in a joint letter signed by leaders of the American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association. The labor leaders said the Carper-Coburn legislation would dismantle mail processing and delivery networks, slash 80,000 jobs and retain elements of the onerous congressional mandate to pre-fund health benefits for future retirees.
Sanders said he wouldn’t support the Carper-Coburn proposal, which he said would put the Postal Service in a “death spiral.” It retreats from a measure that passed the Senate one year ago (4/25/12) on a bipartisan 62-37 vote that had the support of 13 Republican senators. “It is hard for me to understand why the Senate should go backward and settle for a significantly weaker bill that, while not as strong as I would have liked, got an impressive 62 votes,” Sanders said. “That makes no sense.”
NSA VETS: YES, NSA DOES COLLECT EVERY DOMESTIC COMMUNICATION. Two former NSA officials say the secretive agency records every domestic phone call. In an interview with PBS’ Judy Woodruff (8/1) Russell Tice, a former NSA analyst, claims the NSA taped the phones of high-level government officials, including then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, senior military officers, Supreme Court justices industrialists and the news media 10 years ago. Tice had a two-decade career with the NSA, focusing on collection and analysis, until he was fired in 2005, he says after calling on Congress to provide greater protection to whistle-blowers.
William Binney, a mathematician who worked at the NSA for over three decades designing systems for collecting and analyzing large amounts of data, retired in 2001. At that time, he saw the inputs were including hundreds of millions of records of phone calls of US citizens every day. With that amount of records, he concluded, “there wasn’t anybody who wasn’t a part of this collection of information.”
Woodruff noted that former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente, in an interview on CNN, was was asked if the government had a way after the Boston Marathon bombing to get the recordings of the calls between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his wife. Clemente replied, “All digital communications are — there’s a way to look at digital communications in the past. And I can’t go into detail of how that’s done or what’s done. But I can tell you that no digital communication is secure.”
After he saw that interview, Tice said he called former workmates at NSA and asked if NSA was collecting everything now. “And the answer came back. It was, yes, they are collecting everything, contents word for word, everything of every domestic communication in this country.”
When told that the government says the government is collecting “metadata” on phone calls and emails, but is not listening to them or reading them, Binney replied, “Well, I don’t believe that for a minute, OK?”
He noted that’s why the NSA is building a massive digital storage site in Bluffdale, Utah, that will be able to store all the recordings and data that are being passed along the fiberoptic networks of the world. “Metadata if you were doing it and putting it into the systems we built, you could do it in a 12-by-20-foot room for the world. That’s all the space you need. You don’t need 100,000 square feet of space that they have at Bluffdale to do that. You need that kind of storage for content,” Binney said.
Tice added that the Bluffdale facility is online “right now.”
“And that’s where the information is going. Now, as far as being able to have an analyst look at all that, that’s impossible, of course. And I think, semantically, they’re trying to say that their definition of collection is having literally a physical analyst look or listen, which would be disingenuous.”
DEA ALSO USES DOMESTIC SPYING. The Drug Enforcement Agency has dived headfirst into the secret surveillance program, collecting information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to open criminal investigations, according to reporting from Reuters. DEA obtains NSA intercepts, nabs suspects based on them, and then recreates an entire investigative trail to hide the fact that the intelligence launched the criminal investigation.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin — not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.
“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner told Reuters. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
The existence of this unit isn’t a secret and it apparently is not news to defense attorneys, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (8/5). “This is legal, allowed by the Patriot Act. So the existence of the program isn’t necessarily a bombshell, but it does highlight a major problem for civil liberties: The DEA is essentially laundering the evidence, creating an investigative trail that can’t be traced.
“That’s a real problem, because it can absolutely hamstring the defense. It buries the evidence defense attorneys rely on, potentially violating pretrial discovery rules. It doesn’t just hide that information from defense attorneys, but sometimes from prosecutors and judges, too. That makes this program at least on the edge of constitutionality, making a mockery of due process and fair trials.”
WHITE HOUSE INSISTS NSA SURVEILLANCE REVIEW WILL BE INDEPENDENT. An independent group will review the NSA’s surveillance program, the White House announced (8/13), seeking to dampen concerns over whether the panel would report to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has admitted to lying to Congress over NSA surveillance of US citizens.
“The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community,” national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, according to TheGuardian.com (8/13). The DNI had to be involved for administrative reasons, because the panel would need security clearance and access to classified material, she added. The panel, which will include independent, outside experts, will be appointed soon, she said. It will brief its interim findings to the president within 60 days of its establishment and provide a final report with recommendations no later than 12/15/13.
REPEALING SEQUESTER WOULD CREATE 900,000 JOBS. Canceling the automatic, across-the-board spending reductions known as the “sequester” would have a sizable short-term impact on our economy, according to a recent letter from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). CBO estimates that canceling sequestration would increase the level of real GDP by $113 bln (0.7%) and generate 900,000 new jobs in the third quarter of calendar year 2014; a number akin to 40% of the total number of jobs created over the last 12 months.
When Congress returns from their recess in September, they will have nine days to hammer out a continuing resolution to fund government operations for fiscal year 2014. The fate of the sequester, which began on 3/1 and is scheduled to continue through 2021, is likely to hold up negotiations. Replacing the sequester with other cuts, as conservative lawmakers are suggesting, would still involve taking demand out of a weak economy, Rebecca Thiess of the Economic Policy Institute noted (8/8).
CROWDED FIELD FOR DUMBEST CLIMATE-CHANGE DENIER IN CONGRESS. US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, at a town meeting in his home district (8/8) ridiculed Sen. Barbara Boxer’s statement that ongoing wildfires in Southern California have been exacerbated by a dry season that is the result of climate change. Rohrabacher called the scientific consensus that global warming is a product of man-made climate change “a total fraud,” Lee Fang reported at TheNation.com (8/10). But Meteor Blades notes at DailyKos.com (8/12) that Rohrabacher has many rivals for the title of dumbest climate-change denier.
Among the deniers, Blades noted, are many of the leaders of the Commitee on Science, Space and Technology, including committee Chair Lamar Smith of Texas; Subcommittee on Environment Chair Chris Stewart of Utah; Subcommittee on Oversight Chair Paul Broun of Georgia; Subcommittee on Research and Technology Chair Larry Bucshon of Indiana, who accepts evidence the climate is changing but doesn’t think humans are causing it; Subcommittee on Energy Chair Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming; and Subcommittee on Space Chair Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, whose votes to slash climate science funding shows he is a denier.
“So, while Rohrabacher proves himself to be a contender in the climate-change denier sweepstakes, the competition for the title in Congress and within his own committee is stiff, comprising deniers who are just plumb ignoramuses about science or who believe humans are causing climate change but nonetheless repeat the fossil-fueled propaganda that says otherwise,” Blades wrote.
“Together all these deniers plus all those in Congress who don’t deny but continue to delay useful action by supporting an “all of the above” energy policy seem to have no concern about the short and long-term impacts of their behavior. They prove it by not co-sponsoring bills like those introduced by Boxer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to cut subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, extend tax credits for production of renewable energy and impose carbon fees for nearly 3,000 top fossil fuel polluters.”
REPUBLICANS BACK BILL BANNING WORKER PROTECTION. More than three-quarters of the Senate Republican caucus signed onto legislation introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that could render it virtually impossible for Congress to enact any legislation intended to improve working conditions or otherwise regulate the workplace. The Enumerated Powers Act of 2013, which has 34 Republican co-sponsors in addition to Coburn and Paul, would prohibit “the use of the Commerce Clause, except for ‘the regulation of the buying and selling of goods or services, or the transporting for those purposes, across boundaries with foreign nations, across State lines, or with Indian tribes,’” Coburn said (7/31).
Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress.org noted (8/2) that Coburn and Paul’s bill appears to be an attempt to restore the constitutional regime that prohibited child labor regulation and other such nationwide regulation of the American workplace in the 19th and early 20th century. While the bill does not apply retroactively — so existing labor laws would continue to function — the bill does allow a procedural objection to be raised against any new legislation that does not comply with the limits imposed by the bill. Such an objection could be used to block any most attempts to enact new workplace laws — such as a bill increasing the national minimum wage or a bill prohibiting all employers from firing workers because they are gay. Similarly, Coburn and Paul’s bill could permanently entrench decisions by the conservative Roberts Court rolling back existing protections for workers — such as a recent decision shielding many employers whose senior employees engage in sexual harassment.
TEXAS BRAGS ABOUT GERRYMANDER TO BENEFIT R’S. It’s not exactly a big secret that Texas Republicans drew their state’s district lines in order to maximize the weight of Republican voters and minimize the voting strength of Democrats. Still, this isn’t normally something that a state’s top legal officer openly admits to in a brief filed with a federal court. Nevertheless, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) is so confident that the courts will let Texas Republicans get away with rigging elections that he openly brags about his fellow Republicans’ efforts to do so in an official court filing. According to a brief Abbott filed earlier this month, “[i]n 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.”
Ian Millhiser notes at ThinkProgress.org (8/14) that the reason for this admission is that Texas is currently defending against a lawsuit seeking to bring its voting laws back under federal supervision in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision neutering the Voting Rights Act. A federal court recently found that Texas engaged in intentional race discrimination when it last drew its district lines, and a still-standing provision of the Voting Rights Act allows states that engage in such discrimination to be subject to federal supervision before they can enact new voting laws. Texas is now trying to defend against this attempt to bring them back under federal oversight by saying they weren’t engaged in racial gerrymandering at all — they were merely trying to rig elections so that Democrats would lose!
Texas is right, as far as it goes, that the purpose of the Voting Rights Act is to prevent race discrimination, not partisan gerrymandering. But that shouldn’t mean that the state is out of the woods. Partisan gerrymandering may not violate the VRA, but it violates the First Amendment, which prohibits laws that engage in viewpoint discrimination. When Texas draws lines to maximize Republican influence and minimize that of Democrats, it is essentially saying that people who hold one viewpoint should have their votes count more than people who espouse a different viewpoint. That is not allowed.
Nevertheless, partisan gerrymanders still exist because the Supreme Court’s five conservatives have consistently refused to consider their constitutionality — deeming partisan gerrymandering suits to fail under what is known as the “political question” doctrine. Yet Justice Kennedy, who’s cast the key fifth vote permitting such gerrymandering to continue unchecked, has also said that he will not completely rule out striking down a partisan gerrymander in the future. Citing one extreme example of a law he would strike down, Kennedy wrote in his concurring opinion in *Vieth v. Jubelirer* that “[i]f a State passed an enactment that declared ‘All future apportionment shall be drawn so as most to burden Party X’s rights to fair and effective representation, though still in accord with one-person, one-vote principles,’ we would surely conclude the Constitution had been violated.”
Texas has now openly admitted, in a legal document filed in a federal court, that it drew its district lines so as most to burden the Democratic Party’s rights to fair and effective representation. If Kennedy meant what he said in Vieth, then Texas’ effective admission that it violated the First Amendment cries out for Kennedy to finally do his job and strike down this unconstitutional gerrymander.
TEXAS TRAGEDY: AMPLE OIL, NO WATER. Three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry’s outsized demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse, Suzanne Goldenberg reported at TheGuardian.com (8/11). In Texas alone, 30 communities could run out of water by the end of the year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported. Nearly 15 mln people are living under some form of water rationing, barred from freely sprinkling their lawns or refilling their swimming pools.
In Barnhart, an unincorporated community in West Texas with a population of 200, community wells are running dry, apparently because the water is being extracted for shale gas fracking. Buck Owens, a rancher near Barnhart, said contractors drilled 104 water wells on leased land to supply the oil companies, and the drawn down on the aquifer has made it impossible for local ranchers to feed and water their herds. “They are sucking all of the water out of the ground, and there are just hundreds and hundreds of water trucks here every day bringing fresh water out of the wells,” Owens said.
Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, told the Guardian fracking is not the only reason Texas is going dry – nor is the drought. The latest shocks to the water system come after decades of overuse by ranchers, cotton farmers and fast-growing thirsty cities. West Texas has a long history of recurring drought, but under climate change, the Southwest has been experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, further drying out the soil and speeding the evaporation of water in lakes and reservoirs. Underground aquifers failed to regenerate. “What happens is that climate change comes on top and in many cases it can be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back, but the camel is already overloaded,” said Hayhoe.
Communities across a bone-dry Southwest are resorting to extraordinary measures to keep the water flowing. San Angelo, a city of 100,000, dug a new pipeline to an underground water source more than 60 miles away, and sunk half a dozen new wells. (See also “Drought-stricken New Mexico farmers drain aquifer to sell water for fracking,” page 6.)
From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2013
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