Blair Zimmerman, Greene County, Pa., Commissioner, knows coal. As a mine worker for 40 years and then a politician in southwestern Pennsylvania, he knows how important coal is to both the identity and economic stability of his community. He’s even called the White House a few times since Donald Trump took office, asking the president — who ran on a platform of supporting coal miners that he argued had been forgotten by Washington — to renew health insurance for thousands of retired coal miners, Natasha Geiling reported at ThinkProgress.org (4/24).

But Zimmerman doesn’t think that anything Trump does will bring coal jobs back to levels seen in the industry’s heyday.

“The coal industry is going to be around for years, but to bring it back — that’s not going to happen. [Utilities] are not going to invest in fossil-fueled power plants,” Zimmerman said. When he talked about the promises Trump made to places like Greene County, a community of just over 36,000 situated on the state’s southwest border, Zimmerman laughed, raising his voice a little.

“He doesn’t have a plan. That was all political B.S.,” Zimmerman said. “He said it just to get elected.”

And it worked, because of places like Greene County — in November, Trump overwhelmingly carried the county’s vote, beating Hillary Clinton by 40 points.

One hundred days into his presidency, however, Trump’s actions to help coal communities have been limited to cutting environmental regulations that experts say will do little to help bring mining jobs back.

Meanwhile, Trump’s skinny budget, released in March, would cut funding to seven of the 12 federal programs aimed at revitalizing struggling coal communities. Since 2015, these programs have functioned together under the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER, Initiative. These Obama-era programs include things like workforce training, to help unemployed coal miners obtain necessary skills for finding new jobs, and economic development, to help new businesses move into these communities. According to a new Center for American Progress analysis, Trump’s proposed budget would cut at least $1.13 bln from these programs.

“A lot of the attacks in this budget make it clear that the Trump administration is not really concerned with helping coal miners, but more concerned with ensuring that coal companies continue to have more control,” Veronica Coptis, a lifelong Greene County resident and executive director of Coalfield Justice, told ThinkProgress.

In Greene County, where the unemployment rate is currently 6.7% (about 2 points higher than the national average), POWER Initiative funds have been hugely useful for the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board, a body that oversees programs aimed at helping job seekers find employment and learn skills in southwest Pennsylvania.

The coal industry has been in a steady, decades-long decline, with coal mining jobs falling from 177,500 in 1985 to just over 50,000 today. Trump has made many promises to coal communities devastated by a rise in automation and competition from natural gas and renewable energy. He has promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-administration’s signature domestic climate regulation aimed at tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. He has pledged to repeal environmental regulations aimed at protecting streams from mining pollution, and has promised to do away with other regulatory burdens that he argues have been killing the coal industry.

But while these moves may boost coal production slightly — and line the pockets of coal executives in the process — they will do little to stem the production of cheap natural gas or slow the automation of the coal industry. Utilities have already said that Trump’s recent actions have not changed their outlook on coal as an energy source, nor have the actions caused utility executives to reconsider previously scheduled coal plant closures. In short, Trump’s regulatory assault will do little to bring back coal jobs to the regions where he’s promised relief.

ILLINOIS DEMS UNSEAT R’S IN LOCAL RACES. In a spate of local elections April 4 in Illinois, Democrats picked up seats in places they’ve never won before.

The city of Kankakee elected its first African-American Democratic mayor. West Deerfield Township will be led entirely by Democrats for the first time. Elgin Township voted for “a complete changeover,” flipping to an all-Democratic board. Normal Township elected Democratic supervisors and trustees to run its board ― the first time in more than 100 years that a single Democrat has held a seat, Jennifer Bendery noted at HuffingtonPost.com (4/13).

“We had a pretty good day,” said Dan Kovats, executive director of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association. “We won in areas we normally would win, but we also won in areas Republicans never expected us to be competitive in. They were caught flat-footed.”

These may seem like relatively small victories, in municipal races in towns with tens of thousands of people, but they fit with a broader pattern that should have Republicans on edge ahead of the 2018 elections: Progressive grassroots activism, exploding with energy since President Donald Trump’s win in November, is fueling Democratic gains in GOP strongholds.

In April, a Democratic congressional candidate in Kansas nearly pulled off a shocking win in a heavily Republican district. In Georgia, 30-year-old Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff came within 2 points of winning outright a race to replace former Rep. Tom Price but was forced into a runoff for the seat has long been Republican and was once held by former Speaker Newt Gingrich. These races come after a Democratic state Senate candidate in Delaware, buoyed by anti-Trump activism, annihilated her GOP challenger in an election that’s traditionally been close.

In Illinois, a number of Democrats who just won got a boost from a program launched by US Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) called Build The Bench. It’s an all-day boot camp that offers nuts-and-bolts details for running a successful campaign. Bustos came up with the idea last year when she noticed a dearth of new Democratic candidates for Congress, and decided the best way to help build up her party’s ranks was at the local level.

She’s held two boot camps in her district so far, and she’s already seeing tremendous payoff. Twelve Build The Bench alumni ran for local seats in this election cycle, and eight of them won. A ninth alum, Rita Ali, lost by one vote in her race for Peoria City Council.

“I am incredibly proud that the majority of our graduates who were on the ballot in April municipal elections won their races,” said Bustos. “If we want to be successful in the heartland, we need to connect Democratic candidates for office at all levels with the best practices, skills and expertise needed to run winning campaigns.”

KENTUCKY WORKING POOR TO LOSE MEDICAID COVERAGE, GET ‘REWARDS’ ACCOUNTS INSTEAD. While Republicans in Congress discuss proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid to cover families of the working poor, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) plans to overhaul Medicaid coverage in his state by cutting benefits, charging low-income recipients for services, and making them jump through hoops to earn health coverage points in new “MyRewards Accounts.”

From a glance at Bevin’s proposal, it’s easy to mistake the “MyRewards” idea for an expansion of coverage, Alan Pyke noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/24). The changes are described as “benefit enhancements” in a new, detailed implementation proposal from the consulting firm Deloitte.

But Bevin’s plan is, in fact, a benefit cut. Kentucky’s Medicaid program currently includes vision and dental. If you’re eligible for Medicaid in Kentucky, you’re eligible for coverage of tooth checkups and eye exams under state law.

Bevincare would “enhance” Medicaid benefits by taking several of them away. People will lose the security of knowing their eye doctor and dentist will see them when they need them, and gain the exciting new opportunity to earn chits toward the cost of those same services.

But to accrue those chits, you must live by Bevin’s rules. MyRewards points accumulate based on the enrollee’s participation in job training, health screening, smoking cessation, volunteer and educational programs.

The biggest change is Bevin’s proposal to charge premiums for Medicaid and impose an annual $1,000 deductible before the program covers beneficiaries’ health care costs. Those are big price hikes for people who can’t afford them. Similar policies have driven down insurance rates and harmed public health outcomes in other states already.

The state even proposes negative “MyRewards” chits—fines, in essence—for going to the emergency room too much. The first ER trip deemed non-emergency in nature costs $20; the second, $50; and all subsequent episodes, $75 a pop, unless the fines would take one’s MyRewards balance below a negative-$150 minimum balance.

Bevin’s planned ER penalties, like most of his waiver proposal, are borrowed from Vice President Mike Pence’s version of Medicaid restrictions in Indiana. As governor, Pence got his Medicaid ideas from the same consultant who Bevin hired: Seema Verma, the current CMS administrator for Trump’s administration.

(Verma recently recused herself from CMS’ decision about whether to grant Bevin’s waiver; CMS staff under the previous administration rejected pieces of the Pence waiver, which was the jumping-off point for Verma’s work in Kentucky.)

CLIMATE CHANGE POSES ‘NIGHTMARE SCENARIO’ FOR FLORIDA COAST. The disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is speeding up, providing increasing evidence we are headed for the worst-case scenario of sea level rise—three to six feet (or more) by 2100, Joe Romm writes at ThinkProgress.org (4/24).

Impacts are already visible in South Florida. “Tidal flooding now predictably drenches inland streets, even when the sun is out, thanks to the region’s porous limestone bedrock,” explains Bloomberg (4/19). “Saltwater is creeping into the drinking water supply.”

At the same time, Donald Trump is working to thwart both domestic and international climate action while slashing funding for coastal adaptation and monitoring. E&E News reported (4/4) that the EPA has already “disbanded its climate change adaptation program” and reassigned all the workers.

Faster sea level rise and less adaptation means the day of reckoning is nigh. Dan Kipnis, chair of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority — who has failed to find a buyer for his Miami Beach home for nearly a year — told Bloomberg, “Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is.”

But this is not just South Florida’s problem. The entire country is facing a trillion-dollar bubble in coastal property values, which has been held aloft by US taxpayers in the form of the National Flood Insurance Program.

A 2014 Reuters analysis of this “slow-motion disaster” calculated there’s almost $1.25 tln in coastal property being covered at below-market rates.

When will the bubble burst? Romm noted, “As I’ve written for years, property values will crash when a large fraction of the financial community—mortgage bankers and opinion-makers, along with a smaller but substantial fraction of the public—realize that it is too late for us to stop catastrophic sea level rise.”

When sellers outnumber buyers, and banks become reluctant to write 30-year mortgages for doomed property, and insurance rates soar, then the coastal property bubble will slow, peak, and crash.

The devaluation process had begun even before Trump’s election reduced the chances we would act in time to prevent catastrophic climate change. The New York Times reported last fall that “nationally, median home prices in areas at high risk for flooding are still 4.4% below what they were 10 years ago, while home prices in low-risk areas are up 29.7% over the same period.”

Sean Becketti, the chief economist for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, warned a year ago that values could plunge if sellers start a stampede. “Some residents will cash out early and suffer minimal losses,” he said. “Others will not be so lucky.”

As the Bloomberg piece puts it, “Demand and financing could collapse before the sea consumes a single house.”

Romm concluded, “So here’s a question for owners of coastal property—and the financial institutions that back them—as they watch team Trump keep his coastal-destroying promises: Who will be the smart money that gets out early—and who will be the other kind of money?”

HOMELAND SECURITY HEAD SAYS DREAMERS AREN’T BEING TARGETED, DAYS AFTER FIRST DREAMER DEPORTATION. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly says that DREAMERs, people brought to the country as children protected by President Obama’s executive action on immigration, aren’t being targeted by his agency. But just four days earlier, news broke that a DREAMer was deported from the country, Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/23)

“My organization has not targeted these so-called DREAMers, DACA, and we have many, many more important criminals to go after and get rid of, and not the DACAs,” Kelly said on CNN’s State of the Union (4/23), using the acronym for the Obama-era “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.

State of the Union host Dana Bash followed up by asking, “Just to be specific: What has the president said to you and what is he communicating he wants you and your department to do? Does he want you to go after these DREAMers or is he explicitly saying leave them alone, don’t target them?”

“The president told me to do two things,” Kelly replied. “He told me to secure the southwest border, all of our borders and, of course, focusing now on the southwest border, and to take the worst of those that are in our country illegally, take them, look for them and deport them. So that’s what I’m doing.”

Kelly’s comments come less than a week after news broke that, for the first time, an active DACA status holder was deported from the US. Last month, Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old who had been approved for DACA twice, was deported to Mexico — sending shockwaves through the immigrant community.

Montes had lived in the US since he was 9. He was approached by a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent while he was walking down the street in Calexico, Calif., on his way to take a taxi home after seeing a friend, USA Today reported (4/18).

A lawsuit filed on Montes’ behalf by several groups, including the National Immigration Law Center, says the agent approached Montes “in an aggressive manner” to ask for his identification. But Montes couldn’t immediately produce his ID or proof of DACA because he had left his wallet in his friend’s car.

Officers put Montes in a vehicle and drove him to the nearest port of entry, where Montes was questioned and forced to sign documents. Then, CBP officers walked Montes to the US-Mexico border and “physically removed him from the United States.” The whole process took about three hours on Feb. 18.

Montes — who has a cognitive impairment because of a brain injury during his childhood, according to the National Immigration Law Center — alleges he was not allowed to see an immigration judge or a lawyer at any point.

At least two other recipients have been detained and threatened with deportation: Daniel Ramirez Medina, who was smeared as a “gang member” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Daniela Vargas, who was detained after she spoke out against Trump’s deportation sweeps.

Montes’ deportation was welcome news to Rep. Steve King (R-IA), an anti-immigrant lawmaker who has ascribed colorful attributes to undocumented immigrants, saying that they have “cantaloupe-sized calves” and represent “somebody else’s babies.” Hours after the lawsuit was filed (4/18), King sent a congratulatory tweet to border agents celebrating Montes’ deportation. “Border Patrol, this one’s for you,” King wrote on Twitter as a caption for a photo of a beer.

ANTI-SEMITISM SOARS. Harassment, vandalism and other hostile acts against Jewish people and sites in the US increased by 34% last year and are up 86% through the first three months of 2017, according to data released by the Anti-Defamation League (4/24), HuffingtonPost.com reported.

Bomb threats against Jewish community centers and schools, and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in the US this year have contributed to the surge, according to the report, released on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

There have been more than 100 bomb threats against 75 Jewish community centers and eight Jewish day schools around the country this year through early March. Vandals have toppled headstones and inflicted other damage at Jewish graveyards in St. Louis, Philadelphia and other cities this year. A swastika made from feces besmirched an art school bathroom in Rhode Island.

The ADL documented 1,266 incidents in 2016 and 541 since the beginning of this year until March. That’s a sharp increase since 2013, when the ADL recorded 751 incidents, the fewest number since record keeping began in 1979, a spokesman said. Anti-Semitic incidents peaked in 1994 when more than 2,000 incidents reported for the first and only time.

The uptick in anti-Jewish incidents fits into a pattern of increased hostility towards other minorities in the US.

The FBI found that there had been a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015, the most recent year data is available.

Hate crimes against African-Americans, who are most frequently the victims of such crimes according to the FBI’s report, rose by 7.6% that year.

More recent FBI stats aren’t available but there have been a series of high-profile crimes against minorities this year. A man in a Kansas bar shot two Indian men, one fatally, after yelling “Get out of my country.” There have been 35 threats against mosques this year, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and arsonists started fires at three Islamic places of worship, Michael McLaughlin reported at HuffingtonPost.com (4/24).

MEDICARE FOR ALL NEED NOT INCREASE TAXES. Opponents of the popular plan to expand Medicare to cover all Americans protest that it would require large tax increases, but a comparison of US tax rates with Canadian tax rates show that it ain’t necessarily so.

US federal income tax brackets range from 10% to 39.6% for individuals. On the Canadian side, the range is 15% to 29%, but in the US, the lowest tax bracket bumps to 15% at $9,076 and to 25% at $36,901, while the bottom Canadian bracket stays at 15% until $43,953. This is the bulk of the reason that lower-income Canadians are often better off than Americans in an identical tax situation. On the other hand, the IRS taxes the richest Americans at 39.6% whereas the top federal tax rate in Canada is 29%. Rich Americans, however, have access to many tax deductions that Canada’s Alternative Minimum Tax does not allow.

The US spends considerably more on defense than Canada, with US military spending amounting to 3.62% of the US GDP in 2016, while Canada spent only 1% on its military.

But the US also spent $9,086 per capita on health care in 2013, twice as much as the $4,569 per capita that Canadians spent on health care, the Commonwealth Fund reported in October 2015, using the latest available data. But while Canada spent $3,074 per capita in public funds to cover everybody in the country, in addition to $623 in out of pocket expenses and $654 for other expenses, the US spent $4,197 per capita in public funds, and only covered 34% of residents in public programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, while $1,074 was spent by individuals out-of-pocket and $3,442 went to other expenses, including premiums to private insurance companies.

Physicians for a National Health Program claims that eliminating private insurance companies and cutting administrative spending to Canadian levels would save 15% off what we now spend on health care, freeing nearly $500 billion annually for expanded and improved coverage. And allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies over prices, as do universal health programs in other advanced nations, also would result in significant savings.

US TAUNTED OVER AIRCRAFT CARRIER TALE. The revelation that the Pentagon didn’t send the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, as US officials had said, directly toward North Korea as a stern message to Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs sparked ridicule in some corners of Asia and wariness in others, the Wall Street Journal reported (4/19).

Asked about the deployment in an interview with Fox Business Network that aired April 12, Donald Trump said: “We are sending an armada, very powerful.”

But instead of steaming toward the Korea Peninsula, the carrier strike group was actually headed in the opposite direction to take part in “scheduled exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean,” according to Defense News, which first reported the story (4/17).

In South Korea, Hong Joon-pyo, the presidential candidate from former leader Park Geun-hye’s ruling party, said it was inappropriate to judge before receiving final confirmation of the Carl Vinson’s whereabouts. But, in an interview, he said: “What [President Donald Trump] said was very important for the national security of South Korea. If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says.”

Chinese news portal Guancha.cn declared: “Media around the entire world have been duped by Trump again!” The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid, took that observation a step further, saying American, South Korean and Japanese media had committed a “major screw-up.”

LACK OF US ATTORNEYS HAMPERS ‘TOUGH ON CRIME’ EFFORTS. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making aggressive law enforcement a top priority, directing his federal prosecutors across the country to crack down on illegal immigrants and “use every tool” they have to go after violent criminals and drug traffickers.

But the attorney general does not have a single US attorney in place to lead his tough-on-crime efforts across the country, the Washington Post reported (4/18). In March, Sessions abruptly told the dozens of remaining Obama administration US attorneys to submit their resignations immediately — and none of them, or the 47 who had already left, have been replaced.

“We really need to work hard at that,” Sessions said when asked about the vacancies as he opened a meeting with federal law enforcement officials. The 93 unfilled US attorney positions are among the hundreds of critical Trump administration jobs that remain open.

Sessions is also without the heads of his top units, including the civil rights, criminal and national security divisions, as he tries to reshape the Justice Department.

US attorneys, who prosecute federal crimes from state offices around the nation, are critical to implementing an attorney general’s law enforcement agenda. Both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations gradually eased out the previous administration’s US attorneys while officials sought new ones.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2017


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