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puertorico1333Residents of Puerto Rico are struggling with a life and death crisis. (Photo: Alexander Rabb)

If you look at The New York Times this morning, there is not one headline article in the top half of the front page about the dire situation in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico, whose residents are US citizens, are in the midst of a dire catastrophe in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Most of the island will be without electricity for an estimated three to six months. Even hospitals are at risk of running out of gasoline for emergency generators, where those generators are even working.

Moving to the bottom of the Times' front page, there is finally a summary of an article in which we learn that Puerto Rico is facing a "humanitarian crisis":

With the island lacking power, water and fuel, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló said Puerto Rico deserved the same treatment as hurricane-hit states and urged Congress to move swiftly to send more aid.

Much of the island is still inaccessible because of raging river surges and impassable roads. Much of the housing, particularly in the rural interior, is now uninhabitable rubble. Reporting is sketchy -- particularly outside of San Juan -- so it is unclear how long food will last or when it will be resupplied. Even the provision of basic water has been disrupted on a large part of the island. The destruction of access to the necessities of basic life for three and a half million US citizens is occurring as this commentary is being written.

Puerto Rico's status as a "commonwealth" has long been confusing to most people in the 50 states. It is also a subject of much political debate on the island itself, where a recent controversial referendum showed a very low turnout preference for statehood, followed by continued affiliation with the United States and a small percentage of preference for independence. The bottom line, however, is that people living in Puerto Rico (and Puerto Ricans who live in other parts of the US) are US citizens. Yet the US government's response to the hurricane has not reflected that reality.


GrahamCassidy.jpg23Most insurance companies know that Graham-Cassidy should not replace Obamacare (Image: Center for American Progress Action Fund)

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How can a zombie piece of legislation that will end up in the premature deaths of many Americans and cause increased financial hardship to others -- among just some of its flaws -- re-emerge yet again?

That is a good question.

Trump and the Republicans are clamoring that insurance companies are going broke because of Obamacare. Then why aren't these insurance companies jumping on the "repeal Obamacare" bandwagon? It is a bit breathtaking to find out that even the greedy health insurance industry opposes the Graham-Cassidy bill -- which would have to be passed by September 30.

A September 20 New York Times article succinctly states in its headline, "Insurers Come Out Swinging Against New Republican Health Care Bill." It declares:

The health insurance industry, after cautiously watching Republican health care efforts for months, came out forcefully on Wednesday against the Senate’s latest bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, suggesting that its state-by-state block grants could create health care chaos in the short term and a Balkanized, uncertain insurance market.

In the face of the industry opposition, Senate Republican leaders nevertheless said they would push for a showdown vote next week on the legislation, drafted by Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

The health insurance industry, the New York Times story notes, is joined by plenty of allies in its opposition:

Senate Republicans are already under pressure from 11 governors -- including five fellow Republicans and a pivotal Alaskan independent -- who this week urged the Senate to reject the last-ditch repeal effort.

The two major trade groups for insurers, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, announced their opposition on Wednesday to the Graham-Cassidy bill. They joined other groups fighting the bill, such as the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, AARP and the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society.


14068005575 d18b05b51d zThe income divide, as revealed in a Census Bureau report, is a legacy of racism. (Image: US Government)


Last week, the Census Bureau released an alarming report. Although the mainstream corporate media generally highlighted results that showed median income for American families has risen at a good clip the past year, the gap between the median incomes for white people and people of color remains at a staggering level. According to ThinkProgress,

New Census Bureau data shows an increasingly optimistic picture for white Americans -- but far less so for Americans of color, many of whom still face stark income disparities.

Released Tuesday, the numbers appear to show good news across the board in several key areas. Median household income in the United States in 2016 was $59,039 -- a more than three percent rise from 2015 and the highest ever recorded....

But the figures also show a grim reality. While white families now earn an average income of around $65,041, that picture is far less rosy for other racial demographics. Hispanic families earn around $47,675 -- considerably lower than the over-arching average, $59,039. Worse off are Black families, who earn a median of $39,490, more than $25,000 less than their white counterparts.

The Census Bureau told ThinkProgress that no reason could be given for the gaps, and Census Bureau commentary could only be offered on the figures and trends. But experts and economists highlighted the data on social media, pointing to the numbers as a disconcerting sign that the figures reinforce income inequality in a damning way, one that also cuts along gendered lines. Janelle Jones, an economic analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, noted on Twitter that “earnings actually DECREASED for black women and Latinas” while they rose for white women (women of all races are still out-earned significantly by their male counterparts).

It's worth taking a moment to reflect on the fact that not only is there a persistent income gap between whites and people of color, but that women of color have actually seen a decline in income. That's a startling inequitable fact.


Mine Safety and Health Administration emblemMiners should be concerned about a loosening of job safety standards under Trump. (Image: US Government)

Donald Trump is continuing to appoint horrific nominees to oversee regulatory agencies that impact workers and the economy. To understand the extent of the damage, take a look at the "Policy Watch" of the Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages. The institute closely follows the Trump administration's appointments and regulations, looking at whether its actions "help working people or only benefit the wealthy few," according to its website. Thus far, the White House appears determined to install individuals who have backgrounds that violate workers' rights instead of protecting them.

For example, many coal miners in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky voted for Trump, but the president is giving them the shaft when it comes to overseeing their safety. The Economic Policy Institute describes David Zatezalo, Trump's nominee to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA):

Zatezalo formerly served as chief executive of Rhino Resources, a coal company that had numerous clashes with MSHA officials during the Obama administration. Following the Upper Big Branch mine disaster on April 5, 2010, MSHA stepped up its enforcement efforts, and identified a number of health and safety violations at Zatezalo’s company….

MSHA [which is in the Department of Labor] carries out the provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, and mine worker deaths have decreased dramatically since then. However, to date in 2017, twelve miners have died on the job, and 25 died in 2016.

In a news alert email, EPI refers to Zatezalo as one of the Trump-appointed "foxes guarding the henhouse."

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 05:49

Another Trump Administration Assault on Nature


BearsEarsInterior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to reduce the size of several National Monuments, including Bears Ears (seen above) in Utah. (Photo: IIP Photo Archive

The Trump administration is a clear and present danger to our planet's macro-environment because of its denial of global warming. Just yesterday, Politico published an article that confirmed the White House is still pulling out of the Paris accord:

A top White House official in a meeting with foreign officials on Monday reiterated President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw from an international climate agreement unless he can secure a better deal for the United States....

"We are withdrawing and we made that as clear as it can be. I don't know how to say it any more clearly," Cohn said at the meeting, according to a third person familiar with his remarks.

Meanwhile, on the domestic side, one can expect that not only will the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) find a myriad of ways to avoid protecting the environment, but that agencies such as the Department of the Interior will reduce the size of national monuments and privatize where possible the National Park Service experience. For instance, according to a Teen Vogue report, the Trump administration revoked a partial plastic water bottle ban that had been introduced by the National Park Service in the Obama administration:

In 2011, the National Park Service (NPS) implemented a policy to curb plastic litter and "reduce our carbon footprint": a restriction on bottled-water sales at national parks. On August 16, the federal government announced that the Obama-era policy would be repealed, effective immediately. The original policy wasn't a ban, per say, since only 23 of 417 national parks in the United States — such as the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mount Rushmore, and Zion National Park — stopped selling bottled water, in order to encourage visitors to use refillable bottles. But the policy was colloquially referred to by media and citizens as the "water bottle ban."

"While we will continue to encourage the use of free water-bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park," acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds said in a statement.


wisconsincapitolScott Walker and Wisconsin are serving as a model for contemporary state union-busting. Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: Basharat Alam Shah)

Scott Walker's Wisconsin model for eviscerating public unions is still very much a working model for the right wing. In fact, the Guardian posted an August 30 article on how a coordinated effort to attack public unions is underway in legislatures across the nation. Headlined "Rightwing alliance plots assault to 'defund and defang' America's unions," the report states:

Rightwing activists across the US have launched a nationwide campaign to undermine progressive politicians by depriving them of a major source of support and funding -- public sector unions.

A network of conservative think tanks with outposts in all 50 states has embarked on a “breakthrough” campaign designed to strike a “mortal blow” against the American left. The aim is to “defund and defang” unions representing government employees as the first step towards ensuring the permanent collapse of progressive politics....

The new assault is being spearheaded by the State Policy Network (SPN), an alliance of 66 state-based think tanks, or “ideas factories” as it calls them, with a combined annual budget of $80m. As suggested by its slogan -- “State solutions. National impact” -- the group outlines an aim to construct a rightwing hegemony throughout the US, working from the bottom up.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a national corporate watchdog organization, the SPN is currently working to weaken the unions that represent first responders who are helping Houston residents get back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey.


hospitalemergencyThe police abuse and arrest of a nurse at a Utah Hospital is just the tip of the iceberg. (Photo: Hamza Butt)

The National Nurses United association occasionally uses the slogan, "Stop the Violence. Heal America." This slogan became particularly pertinent to the profession when a Salt Lake City nurse was roughed up, handcuffed and arrested in late July for following hospital policy, sanctioned by court decisions. She refused to provide a city police officer with a blood sample from an unconscious patient. In this case, clearly, the police weren't stopping violence but precipitating it -- in a hospital, of all places.

On September 1, National Nurses United strongly condemned the action in a news release:

National Nurses United today criticized the actions of Salt Lake City police officers for assaulting and arresting a University of Utah registered nurse for advocating for an unconscious patient in late July.

In a press conference yesterday RN Alex Wubbels, released a video and described how she was assaulted and arrested and handcuffed by police, even after a hospital supervisor confirmed to the officers she was in full compliance with hospital policy for refusing to allow police to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient without his consent.

“The first job of a registered nurse is always to protect and advocate for her patient, period,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association of RNs, calling the police actions “outrageous.”

“As the videos and news accounts make clear, there is no excuse for this assault, or her arrest, which sends a chilling message about the safety of nurses and the rights of patients,” Ross said.

Hospitals are not immune from violence. For example, personal disputes that result in injury sometimes are extended into the facilities by the feuding parties.


theroadtowealth.jpgThe racial wealth gap is widening in the United States. (Image: Inequality.org)

"Just three years from now... White households are projected to own 85 times more wealth than Black households and 68 times more wealth than Latino households," according to a news release summarizing a report released yesterday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive Washington think tank, and Prosperity Now, a think tank that focuses on research and solutions for a more equal availability of wealth.

The news release notes,

At a time when households of color make up a growing share of the population and are projected to reach majority status by 2043, their declining wealth is already taking a significant toll on the broader economy. The nation's overall median wealth decreased 20% from 1983 to 2013 ($73,000 to $64,000) -- a period when Black and Latino median wealth went down and White wealth slowly went up.

The report, "The Road to Zero Wealth," released on September 11 is filled with startling findings about the wealth gap between people of color and the nation's white population. It focuses on overall family wealth and assets rather than income:

For several years, politicians, researchers, journalists and the public have focused their attention on growing economic inequality in the United States. Most often, this focus is on income (i.e., the wages earned from a job or from capital gains) rather than on wealth (i.e., the sum of one's assets minus their debts). Income inequality, while stark, pales in comparison to the vast economic divide exposed by examining disparities in wealth. For example, a recent study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that while the top 10% of income earners in United States take in almost 30% of the nation's income, the wealthiest 10% own an astounding 76% of the country's wealth. That means less than a quarter of the nation's wealth is left for the bottom 90% of the American population.


devos20179Betsy DeVos sympathizes with those accused of sexual assault on campus. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

If you just read the headline in the September 7 edition of The New York Times, you might think the secretary of education is merely performing a harmless revision of governmental regulations: "Betsy DeVos Says She Will Rewrite Rules on Campus Sex Assault." However, this header hardly represents the immoral action of DeVos in announcing that she will ease up on requiring colleges to thoroughly and consistently investigate allegations of sexual assault on college campuses.

The Times begins the article with this account of a speech DeVos gave to students who belong to the Federalist Society, composed of conservative lawyers and law school attendees:

Saying that the Obama administration's approach to policing campus sexual assault had "failed too many students," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.

Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights.

"Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach," she said in an address at George Mason University in suburban Arlington, Va. "With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today."

The actual government regulation in question is a 2011 letter clarifying Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.


wellsfargo555Wells Fargo execs leave consumers in the dust. (Photo: Mike Mozart)

On September 1, Elizabeth Warren sent out an informational email that nailed the federal government for responding to Wells Fargo's serial fraud with a slap on the wrist. In the communication, she recounted three major illegal acts committed by the bank:

Last year, Wells Fargo got caught creating 2.1 million fake bank accounts and credit card accounts using their customers' names and credit information without permission.

Last month, Wells Fargo got caught charging 800,000 people for auto insurance they did not want or need.  

And just yesterday, we've learned that the fake accounts scandal was even worse than we thought. Wells Fargo just "discovered" an additional 1.4 million fake accounts that they had created since 2009. Unbelievable.

For many years after 2008, the Department of Justice (DOJ) fined banks for illicit practices, but did not require any major systemic or personnel changes. The DOJ left consumers vulnerable to another economic implosion by, for the most part, leaving the key leadership of financial institutions in place. What is more galling about the incidents Warren refers to, in relation to Wells Fargo, is that these infractions of the law occurred years after the 2008 debacle. That means the near implosion of the economy didn't compel the DOJ to hold the senior staff of banks personally responsible for fraudulent behavior nearly 10 years later.

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