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EPA32A rare report under the Trump administration promoting clean drinking water. (Photo: TexasGOPVote.com)

Despite Trump's damaging policies on health, the environment and pollution, an occasional truth still manages to work its way through the reactionary policies of his departments. Such is the case with the EPA Inspector General's report that was released on Thursday. It finalizes an analysis of what lessons can be learned from the catastrophic handling of the lead contamination water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

According to a June 20 Washington Post article:

The Environmental Protection Agency must strengthen its oversight of state drinking water programs to avoid a repeat of what happened in Flint, Mich., an agency watchdog said in a report Thursday. Sluggish federal reaction meant residents were exposed to lead-tainted water for far too long.

“While oversight authority is vital, its absence can contribute to a catastrophic situation,” EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. said in releasing the findings, which stated that “while Flint residents were being exposed to lead in drinking water, the federal response was delayed, in part, because the EPA did not establish clear roles and responsibilities, risk assessment procedures, effective communication and proactive oversight tools.”

The report goes further and states nine recommendations of how the EPA can more aggressively monitor and enforce state and municipal drinking water standards. It also acknowledges EPA's role in the mishandling of the crisis and provides guidelines for handling future public health water emergencies such as that which occurred -- and is still ongoing -- in Flint. It does not, however, address the role of racism and the neglect of financially failing cities such as Flint in allowing the crisis to rise to such a disastrous level.


Denver 0720wrpThe Denver, Colorado skyline. (Photo: Larry Goodwin / Flickr)


Denver became the 73rd city in the U.S. to commit to 100 percent renewable energy when Mayor Michael Hancock announced the goal in his State of the City speech Monday, The Denver Post reported.

The commitment is part of the city's larger 80×50 Climate Action Plan unveiled by Hancock Tuesday, which seeks to reduce Denver's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050.

"Climate change threatens our people directly, putting our health, environment and economy—our very way of life—at risk," Hancock said, as reported by The Denver Post.

 Zinke 0719wrpInterior Sec. Ryan Zinke. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)


Ousted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt isn't the only polluter-friendly Trump appointee with sketchy ethics.

The Department of Interior's (DOI) inspector general wrote to Congressional Democrats Wednesday saying the office had opened an investigation into a real estate deal involving Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke and Halliburton Chair David Lesar, POLITICO reported.

"You expressed special concern about the reported funding by a top executive at Halliburton and assuring decisions that affect the nation's welfare are not compromised by individual self enrichment," Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote to Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and other Democrats, POLITICO reported. "My office opened an investigation into this matter on July 16."

 Hat 0719wrpCowboy hat. (Photo: Rachel Knickmeyer / Flickr)


What's in a name? By definition, the name of a person, place or thing is its personal designation... a distinct way of being known to others. Unless, of course, it's the opposite — a label meant to disguise who or what a person or thing really is. In other words, a fake name.

Hiding one's true identity can be done for many legitimate purposes, but it tends to be widely-used these days by scheming people or nefarious interests with... well, with something to hide, using a dishonest, Orwellian representation of themselves for villainous reasons. Two of the most notorious practitioners are common crooks and corporate front groups, which often are one and the same. For example, Restaurant Workers of America is not made up of waiters and cooks. It's a front-group of chain-store owners who oppose raising the sub-minimum wage of their actual workers. Cloaking themselves as independent citizen advocates and adopting such patriotic-sounding names as Americans for Prosperity, these astroturf outfits run massive campaigns of deceit promoting policies and views that benefit the corporate sponsors at the expense of the public interest.

So, what should we make of a brand-spankin' new group with the incredible moniker of Cowboys for Liberty? What a positive name! Cowboys are seen as down-to-earth straight-shooters, and America is all about liberty. But wait, is this one of those Koch-funded, far-right-wing bands of angry, anti-government ranchers? Au contraire, as the old cowhands say. In fact, Cowboys for Liberty is an audacious, fun-loving network of hell-raising, climate-change activists who are out to expose, shame and defeat the corporate-serving profiteers behind the unconscionable climate-denier industry, instigated by Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund.


nratreasuryThe NRA, among other right-wing political funds, will benefit from a new IRS ruling. (Photo: joshlopezphoto)

In the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision, so-called "dark money" has flooded into elections. In the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court decided that contributions to third-party organizations that did not coordinate with candidates could be unlimited. This allowed certain political tax-exempt organizations (those whose contributions are not tax-deductible) to influence elections without financial restraint.

This Monday, the Treasury Department announced that political organizations covered under the Citizens United decision would not have to report the identity of donors on their 990 forms submitted to the IRS. As Brad Friedman of BradBlog reports:

The US Treasury Department announced this week, incredibly enough, that it is doing away with the requirement for non-profit "social welfare organizations," such as the National Rifle Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity, to reveal the names of their donors to the IRS.

"You can sort of squint and say, well, any organization, whether it's the Chamber of Commerce or Planned Parenthood, on the left or on the right, can benefit from this," says [David] Dayen [a journalist]. "But let's be real. The practitioners of dark money are overwhelmingly on the right. That's why politicians on the right support burying this information, whereas politicians on the left generally support disclosure."

The new regulation, experts and journalists argue, will make "dark money" in our elections even darker. The three right-wing groups cited above were the top spenders on elections in 2016 and they are celebrating the new announcement by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin today, even as Treasury used what Dayen describes as a "Zombie Lie" (which just won't die) in their official announcement --- citing the long-debunked "IRS targeting scandal" --- as one of the reasons for the new policy, which has long been lobbied for by the Right.

Hospital 0718wrp(Photo: Joey Rozier / Flickr)


Since the Republican Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, over the last nine and a half years, including the first 18 months of the Trump presidency, there is widespread confusion and anger in  the public as to what is really going on in U. S. health care.

Trump issued an executive order in October 2017 intended to hasten the demise of the ACA. It called for government agencies to expand association health plans, expand marketing of low-cost barebones health plans of less than one year, increasingly shift responsibility for the burden of health care to the states, and encourage wider use of health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) by employers for their employees. None of these will improve access to affordable health care. Even those already covered by Medicare and Medicaid were worried about threatened cutbacks and increased costs as Congressional Republicans passed  their December 2017 tax bill that slashed “entitlement” funding to help pay down the 1.5 trillion deficit.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018 07:16

The Trump-Putin Assault on the US

Trumputin 0718wrpProtesters in London dressed as Trump and Putin. (Photo: TaylorHerring / Flickr)


The Trump-Putin Summit on Monday, July 16 makes evident that democracy and the rule of law in the United States is in rapid decline as a consequence of an autocratic President and a Republican-led Congress that supports him.

Trump’s refusal to back his own intelligence community about the interference of the Russians in the 2016 presidential election, and instead to side with Putin’s denial; his condemnation of the U.S. Press as the “enemy of the people”; his recent attack on the European Union as a “foe,” and reframing of Russia as a “competitor”; his repeated reference to the Mueller investigation as a “Witch Hunt,” despite the recent well-articulated indictment of 12 Kremlin-linked Russians for cyberattacks and theft of U.S. voters records as well as DNC emails; all of which performed on the world stage, is no less than a systematic attempt to undermine U.S. national security, and to squander the rule of law in collusion with Russia.


censusphotoKeep citizenship off the 2020 census. (Lee Martin)

The next census is two years away, but a controversy is raging over the Trump administration's decision to insert a citizenship question in 2020. Needless to say, this is reflective of Donald Trump's odious assault on immigrants. In 2010 -- and for decades before that -- there was no citizenship query on the census. The insertion of the question is set to intimidate many immigrants from responding to the survey mandated by the Constitution to be taken every ten years, and that is exactly what the current White House wants.

Deterring immigrants from participating in the census would reinforce their role as disposable people in the eyes of Trump. It is important to emphasize that the census does not reveal mere statistics. Everything from political representation (electoral districts) to government support for programs, including education, is determined by its results.

A July 9 Los Angeles Times article noted, for instance, the stifling effect the citizenship question could have in undercounting children, thus resulting in less funds being allocated for their needs.


33756558155 9c4eaeb7cf z Photo by GotCredit.com/Flickr

As an educator of politics and conflict resolution I've spent decades examining deals as they relate to conflict and peace. Negotiation is a key skill of statecraft because successful diplomacy can save millions of lives and avoid trillion-dollar military engagements that may cause years of suffering and still not be anywhere close to a resolution, like in Afghanistan. The study and assessments cannot make guarantees for predictions of future performance or outcomes, but there are many truths in the field.

One great frustration I've had is that Donald Trump, both as a candidate and as President, continues to get my field wrong. I have written about the damage caused by Trump blowing up deals, and what Trump has gotten wrong about the Iran Deal (among others). He does a tremendous disservice to those working for the causes of peace and justice around the world, and I would like to push back against these misconceptions and resist the normalization of his dangerous practices. They can perhaps work in his ruthless business deals but in statecraft the same game is potentially lethal to millions of human beings.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018 06:27

Human Rights Trumped

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32343915050 5f35e2d61b zThousands of protesters armed with placards filled most of Grosvenor Square outside the American Embassy in London on February 4, 2017 Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

Who cares about human rights? Not Trump, not his team. Here's some of what we see.

Discussion in the Trump administration of sensitive human-rights cases often gets relegated to the annual state department report on conditions around the world, a report required by Congress. Even here the Trump administration has downplayed human rights. When the 2016 report was prepared, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rejected the usual practice of presenting it to the press, evidently to discount its importance. The 2017 report, which came out this April, "sugarcoated" several controversial issues, as one human rights NGO leader put it.

These deceptions include Israel's conduct in the Occupied Territories (no longer labeled as such), high civilian casualties from Saudi Arabia's indiscriminate bombing in Yemen (referred to as "disproportionate collateral damage"), and women's reproductive rights (no longer mentioned).  Little wonder that so many senior diplomats have quit over Trump's disdain for human rights, including John Feeley as US ambassador to Panama, Elizabeth Shackelford as chief political officer in the US embassy in Somalia, and Jim Melville as ambassador to Estonia. 

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