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Thursday, 02 August 2018 06:44

Border Security: Wall vs. Principles


800px May Day Immigration March LA37 Jonathan McIntosh /WikiCommons

Consider the limited thinking that produces a concept such as "border security." The essential assumption here is that the United States of America is primarily a physical container – three and a half million square miles of freedom and prosperity, whoopee, but the supply is limited. Sorry, have-nots, we don't have room for you.

The border agents, presumably, are protecting all the exclusive goodies that constitute America. 

With this assumption in place in the American mind, the concept of an "open border" is horrifying, conjuring up a land rush of the planet's wretched refuse, sort of on the order of the Europeans' land rush of earlier centuries that displaced the continent's native inhabitants. (What goes around comes around. Most people have at least a subconscious awareness of this.)

Penguin 0801wrpA King Penguin ckick. (Photo: Amanda Graham / Flickr)


The world's largest colony of king penguins declined nearly 90 percent in the last three decades, researchers announced Monday.

The colony inhabits France's subantarctic Île aux Cochons or Pig Island. Observations from the 1980s showed that it was once home to 2 million king penguins, making it the planet's largest colony of the species, and also the second largest colony of all penguins.

However, new satellite images and aerial photographs taken from a helicopter show that the colony's breeding grounds have been overrun by vegetation, according to a paper published in the journal Antarctic Science.

Wednesday, 01 August 2018 07:29

Let's Tax the Rich

Tax 0801wrp"Monopoly" in real life. (Photo: Ken Teegardin / Flickr)


Progressive income taxes―designed to fund government services and facilities—go back centuries, and are based on the idea that taxes should be levied most heavily on people with the ability to pay them. In the United States, the federal government introduced its first income tax in 1861, to cover the costs of the Civil War. Although new federal income tax legislation in the 1890s was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the resulting public controversy led, in 1913, to passage of the sixteenth amendment to the Constitution, firmly establishing the legality of an income tax.

The progressive income tax―levied, at its inception, only on the wealthiest Americans―was a key demand and political success of the Populist and Progressive reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As might be expected, most of the wealthy regarded it with intense hostility, especially as the substantial costs of World War I sent their tax rates soaring. The development of jobs programs and other public services during the New Deal, capped by the vast costs of World War II and the early Cold War, meant that, by the 1950s, although most Americans paid income taxes at a modest rate, the official tax rate for Americans with the highest incomes stood at about 91 percent.

Of course, the richest Americans didn't actually pay at that rate, thanks to a variety of deductions, loopholes, and its application to only the highest increment of their income. Even so, like many of the wealthy throughout history, they deeply resented paying a portion of their income to benefit other people―people whom they often regarded as inferior to themselves. Consequently, cutting taxes for the rich became one of their top political priorities.


EPAsaveThe Superfund toxic cleanup program is threatened by corporate pro-pollution policies. (AFGE)

Peter C. Wright -- the attorney appointed by Trump to head the EPA Superfund toxic cleanup program -- may have had over a decade of personal experience in working on cleanups, but there is cause for grave concern over his appointment: Wright was a lead attorney for none other than Dow Chemical Company in representing the corporation against the EPA's compliance orders.

According to a July 28 article in the New York Times, Wright's record for Dow involves protecting the polluting companies from the EPA, while allowing for some minimal compliance. The Times notes:

While he led Dow’s legal strategy there, the chemical giant was accused by regulators, and in one case a Dow engineer, of submitting disputed data, misrepresenting scientific evidence and delaying cleanup, according to internal documents and court records as well as interviews with more than a dozen people involved in the project....

The lawyer, Peter C. Wright, was nominated in March by President Trump to be assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency overseeing the Superfund program, which was created decades ago to clean up the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites. He is already working at the agency in an advisory role as he awaits congressional approval. If confirmed, Mr. Wright would also oversee the emergency response to chemical spills and other hazardous releases nationwide...

He spent 19 years at Dow, one of the world’s largest chemical makers, and once described himself in a court deposition as “the company’s dioxin lawyer.”


800px Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally 35780276094An image from last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Anthony Crider /WikiCommons

After having been denied a permit for a Unite the Right 2 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the one-year anniversary of the torch-carrying, swastika-bearing Unite the Right rally last year -- where Heather Heyer was killed -- Jason Kessler, the alt-right activist who was the lead organizer of the white nationalists' protests last August, decided not to fight that decision. Instead, on July 24, Kessler tweeted: "The latest update on #UTR2 is that we're going to be focusing exclusively on Washington, D.C. on August 12. Be ready by 2 p.m. that Sunday and check the email list for updates on the meetup location."

This year's rally is being billed as a defense of "white civil rights." "What I'm really trying to do is start a new movement," Kessler said. "I feel like the 'alt-right' has been a symbol for neo-Nazism." Although the theme is white rights, he said the rally is "open to everybody." However, several prominent alt-right and white nationalists, including Richard Spencer, have already indicated they would not appear at Unite the Right 2. 


800px US Mexico border fenceUS Border fence near El Paso, Texas. Office of Representative Phil Gingrey /WikiCommons

In early June, I traveled to "The Valley," as the McAllen-Brownsville area of Texas is called, down where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. This river, one of the longest in the U.S., forms the entire Texas-Mexico border, meandering south and east 1,250 miles from our far-west desert city of El Paso to the semi-tropical tip of my state. Its cartographic function aside, the narrow and shallow Rio Grande has historically been viewed by families in the region as more a connector than a divider, and it has long fostered a rich, cross-fertilized culture along its length, uniting generations of us Americanos with our Mexicano neighbors.

Though I had gone there to talk politics at a union conference, I wasn't about to pass up the chance to wallow awhile in the rich Tex-Mex experience. So I took an extra half day to savor some fresh shrimp from the Gulf, quff a couple or three good Mexican cervezas, let my mind drift to the lazy tempo of palm trees swaying in the sea breeze and generally absorb the area's unique spirit, character and centuries-old sense of place. It was an altogether pleasant experience.


FederalmarshtsaThe federal air marshals progam is part of TSA. (Photo: Mark Lyon)

The United States has had a strong record of preventing terrorism on US passenger flights in the wake of 9/11, but critics argue that the air marshals of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) -- a division of the US Department of Homeland Security -- do not deserve much credit for this record.

As View from the Wing recently reported, the air marshal program (which is part of TSA) is mired in controversy:

No air marshal has ever stopped a terrorist or hijacker since the service was founded in 1962. Although an air marshal did shoot and kill a US citizen in 2005. If something really bad did happen on a flight and an air marshal was onboard they lack the training to do anything about it.

Last year an air marshal left a loaded gun in the lavatory of a Delta flight. Three years ago an air marshal left a loaded gun in a Newark airport bathroom and two years ago in a Philadelphia airport restroom. In 2001 an air marshal left a handgun in an aircraft lavatory where it was found by a teenager.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Air marshals have smuggled cocaine, engaged in sex trafficking, and discharged their weapons in hotels and bars. We spend $200 million per arrest on the air marshal program. And to be clear that is not $200 million per arrest of a terror suspect, most are just passengers behaving badly.

The agency has a $1 billion budget in 2018.

Monday, 30 July 2018 07:37

A World Designed by Playground Bullies

Mural 0730wrp(Photo: Jeanne Menjoulet / Flickr)


As the week's news slaps against my consciousness like road slush, some fragments sting more than others. For instance:

"According to the DOJ's court filing, parents who are not currently in the U.S. may not be eligible for reunification with their children."

I can't quite move on with my life after reading a sentence like this. A gouge of incredulity lingers. How is such a cruelly stupid rule possible? What kind of long-term ramification will it have on the entirety of the human race?

Monday, 30 July 2018 07:07

Will Trump Declare Martial Law?

Poland 0730wrpA derelict troop transport outside the Roads to Freedom museum near Gdansk, Poland. (Photo: Trojan_Llama / Flickr)


The signs and symptoms that the U.S. is heading toward the deep and dangerous headwaters of martial law may be gleaned from historical analogies. One such case is that of Poland beginning in the early 1980s.

In 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's Prime Minister and Leader of its Communist Party, declared martial law. Democratic institutions and organizations were shut down; activist leaders jailed or killed; media and educational institutions were placed under government control, and censored; borders were closed, preventing travel in and out of the nation; travel inside the nation was also restricted; mail was censored; telephone communication was regularly wiretapped and monitored; and military courts were set up to try journalists and professors for spreading "fake news" and "subversive ideas."

Jaruzelski was effectively a puppet of then Russian President Leonid Brezhnev. To quash progressive opposition to communism, Jaruzelski was given the alternative of placing Poland under martial law, or having Russian troops invade Poland instead. Jaruzelski chose the latter; and in the dead of the night on December 13, 1981, while Poland slept, the tanks began rolling in.

Water 0727wrp(Photo: BriarCraft / Flickr)


In April 2018, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared the water in the city of Flint safe to drink. This was not a proactive statement by a concerned governor, it was a choice of political expediency to bring resolution to a four-years-long crisis. By the time of Snyder's statement, a community of 100,000 people (including children) were exposed to toxic levels of lead and other corrosive contaminants. Additionally, people incarcerated in Flint's jail had been drinking the poisoned water all along.

This is not just a water crisis. This is a crisis of racial, environmental and economic injustice perpetuated by elected officials.

For people living in Flint, death, disease, miscarriages, and countless other physical and psychological harms rippled through communities because of the contaminated water. Communities' confidence in government to protect its health has been shaken to its core, as those harms have continued to linger and grow.

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