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JOBS POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Jobs and Infrastructure domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with job creation and employment, unemployment insurance and job retraining, and policies that support investments in infrastructure. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the US Congress, the US Department of Labor, the US Department of Transportation, and state policies that respond to policies at the Federal level. Our Principal Analyst is Vaibhav Kumar who can be reached at vaibhav@usresistnews.org.

Latest Jobs Posts

 

Facebook’s Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban but Criticizes Indefinite Punish-ment

Brief #46—Technology
By Scout Burchill
On Wednesday, May 5th, Facebook’s Oversight Board issued its much anticipated ruling on the social media platform’s indefinite ban of former President Donald Trump for his posts following the January 6th riots at the Capitol. After a week-long delay due to over 9,000 public comments on the case, the Oversight Board decided to uphold Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump.

However, in the nearly 12,000 word ruling, the Board made absolutely clear that the indefinite suspension is “not appropriate” as it constitutes an “indeterminate and standardless penalty.” On this issue, the Board did not mince words in reprimanding Facebook’s arbitrary punishment. The Board wrote, “in applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.”

read more

The Biden Administration Struggles to Find a Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Brief #111—Foreign Policy
By Reilly Fitzgerald
The Biden-Harris Administration has made it very clear throughout their first several months in the White House that their Middle East policy will be a divergence from the one that the Trump Administration had imposed throughout their term. The Trump White House’s Middle East policy was one of aggression and this was exhibited by assassinating Iranian officials, pulling out of the JCPOA (‘Iran nuclear deal’), consistently backing Israel, moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and other major decisions.

Earlier this week, Israeli and Palestinian tensions reached a high point as Palestinian militants (backed by Hamas) fired rockets into Israel. Israel has responded with violence as well and has killed numerous Palestinians. President Biden’s administration has said that it will maintain its support of a two-state solution; however, they did also express their support for Israel to be able to defend itself from attacks.

read more

Lessons for the US from Colombia’s Universal Basic Income Program 

Brief #111—Foreign Policy
By Brandon Mooney
This week, as center-left Democrats and some of America has begun to discuss universal basic income (UBI) and what welfare programs will look like in the post-pandemic future, I thought that we could look to the recent protests that rocked Colombia for an example of what not to do. For those who don’t know, UBI is a state-funded social program where a decided amount of money is sent to all citizens within a designated population group without the condition of a certain employment status or other test. Basically, it’s a regular check from the government to everyone within a selected population. Supporters of UBI have been calling for its adoption across the world as the pandemic has sparked mass unemployment, limited job growth, and tanked economies.

read more

Will the Governor be Recalled?

Brief #1—California Dispatch
By Patrick Dwire
The vote for the recall of Gavin Newsom as the governor of California is now a political certainty, with a Special Recall Election to be scheduled later this year. If a simple majority of voters decide Newsom should be removed from office, then the highest vote –getter on the ballot, even if less than 50 percent of the total number of votes cast becomes the next governor of California. If the 2003 recall election in California is any kind of historic guide, scores of colorful candidates from all walks of life can to be expected to get qualified for the ballot. 

read more

Ransomware on the Uptick: A Clear and Present Danger

Brief #45—Technology
By Charles A Rubin
The Colonial Pipeline Company, which describes itself as “the largest refined products pipeline in the United States” transporting gas and jet fuel through a pipeline system spanning 5,500 miles between Texas and New Jersey reported on Friday May 7 that it was the victim of a ransomware cybersecurity attack. The company assured the public that the attack had only affected its information technology systems and not its operation capacity but, as a precaution, it was proactively taking certain systems offline to contain the threat.  The action temporarily halted all pipeline operations effectively cutting supplies to much of the Eastern seaboard.

read more

Forever Chemicals May Not Last That Long

Brief #115—Environement
By Shannon Q Elliot
“But I suspect most people across the United States are still unfamiliar with PFAS and don’ t realize the exposure that occurs. I’m going to continue doing what I can elevating that awareness.”- Robert Bilott

Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) and Perfluorooctanoic (PFOS), are not only impossible to pronounce, they are toxic chemicals that wreak havoc on all living and breathing beings.  According to Scientific American, of the more than 9,000 known PFAS compounds, 600 are currently used in the U.S.

read more

Wood Pellets: The New Renewable or the Same Old Story?

Brief #114—Environment
By Jacob Morton
In 2012, the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change published its guidelines regarding new British renewable energy policy. These guidelines encouraged the transition of coal-fired electrical generation plants to biomass or wood pellet burning plants, as a way for utility companies to meet European Union air pollution and renewable energy standards. Burning wood pellets to generate electricity has been touted as a renewable energy source because it requires new trees to be grown, offsetting the carbon released by the burning of the trees that preceded them.

read more

Power for Power’s Sake: The Motto of the Modern Republican Party

Brief USRN Blog
By Sean Gray
The Republican Party is disdainful of democracy. In 2021 it has become an authoritarian personality cult led by disgraced former President Donald Trump.. It’s members have  embraced blatant electoral untruths and stoked cultural wars in a a cynical political game. 30 state legislatures are controlled by the GOP. Voter suppression and cracking down on dissent are on the docket in many of them.

Stolen elections and burning cities received a disproportional amount of election coverage in the last few years. Neither represented an accurate portrayal of the 2020 election or the widespread well founded  Black Lives Matter Protests. Nevertheless, as spurred on by Trump, the GOP and their chums in conservative media have spent a fair amount of time inciting their base over election fraud and antifa terrorists. The phony hysteria sounding these issues serves as a pernicious pretext to cripple democratic institutions. Self-governance and freedom to assemble and criticize said government is a bedrock of a free society. Those tenets are under assault in Republican-led state houses.

read more
Facebook’s Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban but Criticizes Indefinite Punish-ment

Facebook’s Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban but Criticizes Indefinite Punish-ment

Brief #46 Technology Policy 

Facebooks Oversight Board Upholds Trump Ban but Criticizes Indefinite Punishment

By Scout Burchill 

May 14, 2021

Summary:

On Wednesday, May 5th, Facebook’s Oversight Board issued its much anticipated ruling on the social media platform’s indefinite ban of former President Donald Trump for his posts following the January 6th riots at the Capitol. After a week-long delay due to over 9,000 public comments on the case, the Oversight Board decided to uphold Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump.

However, in the nearly 12,000 word ruling, the Board made absolutely clear that the indefinite suspension is “not appropriate” as it constitutes an “indeterminate and standardless penalty.” On this issue, the Board did not mince words in reprimanding Facebook’s arbitrary punishment. The Board wrote, “in applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.”

The decision still leaves many of the larger questions surrounding the case unanswered. On the crucial question of whether or not Trump will be able to return to the platform the Board punted, kicking the question back to Facebook policy makers by recommending a six month re-examination of its policies. In effect, the ball has moved from Facebook’s controversial ‘Supreme Court’ back to their boardroom, once again leaving people guessing. For a good in-depth look at the powers and controversies of Facebook’s recently established Oversight Board, be sure to check out Technology Brief #39. 

Analysis:

The first major test of Facebook’s self described Supreme Court did not produce a flurry of explosive, attention grabbing headlines. Instead, the case decision laid out a relatively honest assessment of the well-documented problems of Big Tech’s content moderation policies and demonstrated the limitations of the Oversight Board’s authority to act as a proper check on Facebook’s immense power.

On the issue of upholding Facebook’s decision to suspend former President Trump for his two posts on January 6th, the Board ruled that the original decision was justified based on Facebook’s Community Standards. In a half-hearted attempt to quell the violence as it was raging at the Capitol, Trump posted a short video and a message addressing the rioters in which he praised them for their passion and actions and told them to go home. According to the ruling, Trump’s messages violated Facebook’s Community Standards by praising and supporting people engaged in violence. The Board specifically honed in on the phrases “We love you. You’re very special” in Trump’s first message and “great patriots” and “remember this day forever” in the second message. While this part of the case is pretty cut and dry, the real heart of the ruling lies in the Board’s assessment of the indefinite nature of the suspension.

The Board rightly rebuked Facebook for the arbitrary and ad-hoc nature of Trump’s indefinite suspension. In short, because there is no official Facebook policy or guidelines that permit Facebook to suspend an account indefinitely with no clear criteria or procedure outlining how that suspended user can return to the platform, the suspension constitutes an arbitrary abuse of power. Referring to the standards set by international law, the Board points out that clear and accessible rules need to be in place for speech and expression to be restricted in a legitimate manner. This observation echoes many previously articulated critiques of Big Tech’s content moderation powers. The arbitrariness and ad-hoc manner of these companies’ moderation decisions poses a real threat to creators, small businesses, the freedom of expression, and especially political speech.

Unfortunately, no matter how well articulated the Board’s condemnation of Facebook’s half-baked policies may be, they have no authority to actually change the company’s policies. In this respect, it is clear that the Oversight Board poses no threat to Facebook’s actual power, a topic explored in depth in Technology Brief #39. This case demonstrates just how much of a sham the Oversight Board is as an effective entity of regulatory oversight. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to see the Board as merely an extension of the boardroom. While the recommendations and critiques it offers may be insightful, it has no real sway in influencing the systemic problems arising from Facebook’s business model and policies.

Despite this, the Board raises two particularly salient points that Big Tech critics have been trumpeting for years. Firstly, they problematize Facebook’s notoriously vague ‘newsworthiness’ criteria, which allows politicians and other powerful people to routinely break the platform’s Community Standards without penalty. The newsworthiness policy was first established during 2016 presidential campaign and protects content from removal if it is deemed “newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest.” At the time, media outlets were grappling with how to report on the infamous Access Hollywood tape. However, the utter lack of transparency for deciding what makes something newsworthy or significant presents a major built-in inconsistency in Facebook’s policies. In other words, why should your neighbor be held to higher standards, and silenced for far lesser offenses, than our elected officials and leaders? Ultimately, these decisions smack of greedy profit-driven calculations and betray a willingness to always serve the interests of the powerful.

Secondly, the Board acknowledged that Facebook “has become a virtually indispensable medium for political discourse and especially so in election periods.” While this is practically common knowledge, by saying the quiet part out loud, the Board sets up an interesting problem for Facebook. If Trump is the 2024 Republican nominee, how will Facebook possibly defend banning him from the platform? In effect, Facebook would have to justify meddling in elections in a way foreign adversaries could only dream of. Back in 2017, Brad Parschale, the digital media brain behind Trump’s 2016 campaign said, “Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win…Facebook was the method – it was the highway which his car drove on.” In modern campaigning, Facebook is an essential part of most politicians’ fundraising and organizing infrastructures, and this is especially true of Donald Trump and other outsiders from both sides of the political spectrum.

While the Oversight Board provides a useful distraction and the facade of corporate accountability, the fate of Donald Trump’s Facebook account ultimately rests where it always has, in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg. Once again, on one of the most significant political issues of the era, the public is left in limbo, awaiting the decrees of a tech billionaire.

 

Engagement Resources:

The Real Facebook Oversight Board

https://the-citizens.com/real-facebook-oversight/

Accountable Tech

https://accountabletech.org/

American Economic Liberties Project

https://www.economicliberties.us/big-tech-monopolies/

Center for Humane Technology

https://www.humanetech.com/

Tech Transparency Project

https://www.techtransparencyproject.org/

Sources:

The Oversight Board’s Case Decision:

https://oversightboard.com/decision/FB-691QAMHJ/

Politico on Trump’s Facebook Ban and the Importance of Facebook

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/05/05/trump-social-media-supporters-485381

Columbia Journalism Review on Newsworthiness

https://www.cjr.org/the_new_gatekeepers/facebook-oversight-board-2.php

The Biden Administration Struggles to Find a Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Biden Administration Struggles to Find a Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Biden Administration Struggles to Find a Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Reilly Fitzgerald

May 14, 2021

Policy/Summary:

The Biden-Harris Administration has made it very clear throughout their first several months in the White House that their Middle East policy will be a divergence from the one that the Trump Administration had imposed throughout their term. The Trump White House’s Middle East policy was one of aggression and this was exhibited by assassinating Iranian officials, pulling out of the JCPOA (‘Iran nuclear deal’), consistently backing Israel, moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and other major decisions.

Earlier this week, Israeli and Palestinian tensions reached a high point as Palestinian militants (backed by Hamas) fired rockets into Israel. Israel has responded with violence as well and has killed numerous Palestinians. President Biden’s administration has said that it will maintain its support of a two-state solution; however, they did also express their support for Israel to be able to defend itself from attacks.

 

Analysis:

The attacks that have rocked both Israel and Palestine are due to a legal case regarding the evictions of Palestinians from their homes by Israel with the purpose of expanding their settlements into Palestinian territory. The region has been seeing extreme violence between police forces and Palestinians. The tensions between these two groups have been raging since the 1960s when the disputed borders of each country were drawn and has since been a tough subject for Presidents and their foreign policies.

President Biden’s administration has spoken several times this week regarding this issue and the message is one that is fairly consistent. The message is one of support for Israel in that they have a right to defend their country from attacks; but also, they have condemned the evictions of the Palestinians and have expressed support for finding a two-state solution.

The White House’s position of support for Israel to defend their country from attacks is a consistent message from previous administrations from George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Donald Trump. However, it gets increasingly more complex with Joe Biden’s explicit support for a two-state solution and his condemnation of the evictions of Palestinians from their homes.

On December 8th, 2020, The United Nations issued a statement saying that “The two‑State solution remains the only path to ensuring that Palestinians and Israelis can both realize their legitimate aspirations, living side‑by‑side in peace and security, based on the 1967 borders, and with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.” The two state solution has been a concept for decades and yet has remained elusive in terms of bringing tensions to a conclusive and peaceful end. Previous administrations have attempted, some more genuinely than others, to bring this conflict to a resolution. President Trump, for example, offered a peace proposal that was very much not a neutral peace plan that would evenly benefit both sides; rather it relied on increasing Israel’s security control over much of the disputed territory and also sought to demilitarize the Palestinians. Another major problem with that peace deal was that Jerusalem was only to be the capital of Israel and not be split between the countries as the United Nations has recently made a requirement of any two-state solution.

The Biden Administration has sent a State Department envoy to Jerusalem to engage with the Israeli government on this issue. The United States position of agreeing that Israel can and should defend itself against attacks will be one that could put the White House’s ambition of re-entering the JCPOA (after President Trump took us out of it) under strain due to the relationships at play: Israel and the United States being allies and the United States re-entering into a nuclear arms deal with one of their strongest enemies in Iran.

Engagement  Resources:

  1. https://teachmideast.org/ – Teach Mideast is an educational initiative started by the Middle East Policy Council. They provide regional briefs weekly, educational resources for schools and teachers, and also country profiles to assist learners in understanding the various factors at play in the Middle East.

https://www.armscontrol.org/ – Arms Control Association is an organization that specializes in educating people around the world on the issues related to arms control policy issues such as the JCPOA, and other deals.

Lessons for the US from Colombia’s Universal Basic Income Program 

Lessons for the US from Colombia’s Universal Basic Income Program 

Lessons for the US from Colombia’s Universal Basic Income Program 

May 14, 2021

By Brandon Mooney

This week, as center-left Democrats and some of America has begun to discuss universal basic income (UBI) and what welfare programs will look like in the post-pandemic future, I thought that we could look to the recent protests that rocked Colombia for an example of what not to do.

Policy Summary:

This week, as center-left Democrats and some of America has begun to discuss universal basic income (UBI) and what welfare programs will look like in the post-pandemic future, I thought that we could look to the recent protests that rocked Colombia for an example of what not to do. For those who don’t know, UBI is a state-funded social program where a decided amount of money is sent to all citizens within a designated population group without the condition of a certain employment status or other test. Basically, it’s a regular check from the government to everyone within a selected population. Supporters of UBI have been calling for its adoption across the world as the pandemic has sparked mass unemployment, limited job growth, and tanked economies.

So where does Colombia fit into this picture? With the pandemic causing the worst downturn in Colombia’s already-weak economy in the past 40 years, the administration of President Iván Duque Márquez followed the lead of many other countries in Latin America in the institution of an experimental UBI program called “Ingreso Solidario.” To Duque’s credit, this was a big step, as UBI is still a controversial idea with heavy opposition. However, the program came under early fire for being far more limited in scope than Colombia’s neighbors, with some blaming this on the influence of Duque’s mentor, former President Álvaro Uribe, a right-wing politician favoring government austerity. Ingreso Solidario only covered a little over 5% of Colombia’s population, and many more Colombians were suffering and clamored for the program to be expanded.

The Duque government, to its credit, decided that it would expand the program to another 3% of its population and make it permanent. Although Ingreso Solidario wouldn’t even qualify 10% of Colombia’s population, it was something. However, Duque decided that in order to pay for it, the government would reform the current tax code with a tax increase on goods and services and on a portion of the middle-class. This was not the right move. In a country already struggling with corruption, high unemployment, and staggering wealth inequality, this understandably did not go over well.

What followed was over a week of massive protests, civil disobedience, vandalism, and police violence, concentrated largely in Colombia’s main metropolitan cities. Tens of thousands would march and demonstrate, with Duque deploying the military. Although the numbers given in official government reports were lower than citizen and human rights reports, dozens of protesters were killed across the country and videos circulated on social media platforms showing the use of excessive force by authorities and live fire against civilians. Duque would eventually withdraw his tax reform but argued that it was inevitable and needed.

Analysis:

I’m sure that in the coming months and years, the protests in Colombia against Ingreso Solidario will be tossed in the faces of UBI supporters by fiscal conservatives arguing that it is proof that UBI programs are unpopular or doomed to fail. However, this would be a gross over-simplification of why the protests occurred and have even continued in many cities across Colombia.

First, UBI is supported by progressives as a way to strike back against the wage exploitation of the working class and poor by the wealthy. Therefore, increasing taxes on the middle class and on goods and services that everyone uses to pay for such a program is a ridiculous farce of its ultimate goal and a recipe for disaster. Second, Ingreso Solidario seemed to be working for those that received payments. Sure, it was limited to only a few and many more needed assistances, but it was certainly helping those families that received it. It was helping enough that the Colombian government was going to expand it and make it a permanent fixture. Third, you can’t convince people who are struggling that they should shoulder the burden when the wealthy are seemingly untouched. As of 2020, Colombia had only a 1% tax on those with a net worth over $1.3 million..

It is true that there are many other reasons why Colombians protested, ranging from police corruption to poverty to the use of certain pesticides to the government’s support of peace with paramilitary groups. Saying that protests in the U.S. will happen for the same reasons and in the same manner as in Colombia would be untrue and at best palm reading, but the protests in Colombia stand as an example of the consequences of political preferentialism. The catalyst was the Duque administration attempting to pay for a UBI system meant to help those most in need with a tax on the middle class. This was the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back, and we in America should not be ignorant of the Colombia people’s plight. It serves as both a reminder of what is to come if our government continues to favor elites and what shouldn’t be sacrificed to make progressive gains.

Engagement Sources:

Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia – as one of the world’s largest coffee exporters, much of Colombia’s people are dependent on the trade, and this organization works for the betterment of these farmers.

Human Rights Watch – an internationally-recognized organization working to force policymakers across the globe to address human rights violations and work towards a peaceful future.

Congressional  Representation and Electoral Votes  Don’t Change Much in the 2020 Census Totals

Congressional  Representation and Electoral Votes  Don’t Change Much in the 2020 Census Totals

Civil Rights; Congressional  Representation and Electoral Votes  Don’t Change Much in the 2020 Census Totals; May 2021

Policy Summary: In 1929, Congress passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. After battles between rural and urban factions in Congress, the act permanently capped the number of U.S. House Representatives at 435. (Membership in the Senate was not altered, as each state would continue to receive two Senators regardless of population or geographic size). With the United States continually increasing in population at this time the number was capped in order to manage the large number of representatives. In subsequent years, Congress developed a formula as to how the 435 seats would be apportioned and Supreme Court case law later determined that every congressional district should be roughly equal in terms of the number of persons residing in a congressional district.

In April 2021 the United States Census Bureau (Bureau) as part of the United States Department of Commerce (DOC) issued the report titled “A Preliminary Analysis of U.S. and State – Level Results From the 2020 Census.” The report issues a statistical breakdown of the population numbers of all the states and compares these numbers to the official population tabulation from 2000 and 2010. Since 2000 the U.S. population increased 9.7% from 281,424,603 in 2000 to 308,745,538 in 2010. From 2010 to 2020 the U.S. population increased 7.4% from 308,745,538 in 2010 to 331,449,281 in 2020. Even with this increase in numbers, the members of the House of Representatives is still capped at 435 members with each state guaranteed at least one Representative and additional members apportioned to states based on their population. In 2010 each congressional district was comprised on average of 710,767 persons. In 2020, that average number will increase with each congressional district comprising 761,169 persons. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: When the 2020 census numbers were released a number of groups remained wary of the totals. The reason for that was because the 2020 census had a troubled history that resulted in a number of federal lawsuits. Former President Donald Trump contributed to the confusion by trying to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire and by trying to exclude immigrant persons from the total tally. The concern was that the official 2020 final count might undercount immigrant and minority communities and cause federal monies to be allocated in an uneven manner.

But these concerns seem to have been unfounded so far. What the April 2021 report does is give a simple headcount of the population in the United States. Race and other demographic data were not included in this early report and will be released later in 2021 after the data is more closely scrutinized. What is important about this data now is how the 435 seats in Congress will be divided among the states and what the implications will be for future presidential elections and the electoral vote totals.

Many pundits had forecasted a radical swing in the number of seats that red states stood ready to gain. While representation in Congress was a big reason to watch the census closely, future presidential elections were also a concern. The number of electoral votes a state has is equal to the total number of senators and representatives a state has in Congress. If a state gained additional representatives from apportionment because of the census, then their number of electoral votes would go up as well. Because of the winner takes all electors system used in most states in presidential elections the focus was on traditionally red states that might get more presidential electors. Arizona, Florida and Texas were projected to accumulate additional representatives because of their large Latino populations. But the big boon for red states did not really materialize.

In all, only seven seats shifted among a total of 13 states. While traditionally red Texas gained two additional House seats, consistently blue states Oregon and Colorado each gained one seat. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania each lost a seat but since Florida and North Carolina each gained one it cannot be considered significant as all of those states are considered battleground states. All of them have a history of voting both red and blue in recent presidential elections. The shifting of seven House seats and the change in electoral vote totals for those states does not appear to have given Republicans an advantage nor given Democrats a disadvantage in future presidential elections. The census was predicted to cause a sea change in the number of House Representatives for a number of states and a possible increase in electoral votes for red states but that has not been the case at all. The final legacy of the 2020 decennial census may come later this year when race and demographic information will be released and show whether minority communities can benefit and be included in the package of federal benefits that are traditionally earmarked for states after a census. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Will the Governor be Recalled?

Will the Governor be Recalled?

California Dispatch

A new USRENEW NEWS blog post on the policies and p0liticas in America’s most populated and economically productive state.

# 1 Will the Governor be Recalled?

By Patrick Dwrire

May 15,2021

The vote for the recall of Gavin Newsom as the governor of California is now a political certainty, with a Special Recall Election to be scheduled later this year. If a simple majority of voters decide Newsom should be removed from office, then the highest vote –getter on the ballot, even if less than 50 percent of the total number of votes cast becomes the next governor of California. If the 2003 recall election in California is any kind of historic guide, scores of colorful candidates from all walks of life can to be expected to get qualified for the ballot.

More than 1.7 million registered voters signed petitions to recall Governor Newsom, signatures recently verified as valid by election officials, exceeding the number required to trigger the election by more than 200,000 signatures. The number of required signatures is specified by law to be no fewer than 12 per cent of the total number of votes cast in the last election for the office that is targeted by the recall. The 1.7 million signatures represent about 13.8 per cent of 2018 electorate.

According to most Newsom supporters commenting on the recall, those 13.8 per cent of voters who signed the petitions basically signed up the balance of 86.2 per cent of California voters for a three ring political circus that promises all manner of sideshows and carnival barkers across the state for the next several months. According to estimates reported in the Los Angeles Times, this political circus could cost California tax payers as much as $400 million.

A carnival atmosphere was recently released into the media-stream by John Cox, a multi-millionaire real estate investor who lost in a landslide to Newsom in the 2018 governor’s race, but  is running again in the hope Newsom is recalled. Cox rented the services of a tame, 1,000 pound Kodiak bear named Tag for his campaign mascot. Cox filmed a commercial with Tag lumbering alongside him, saying “Gavin’s mismanagement of California is inexcusable. We need big beastly changes in Sacramento. I’ll make ’em.”  Cox also had Tag available live to kick off his “Meet the Beast” campaign tour in Sacramento.

Couple this with the May 5th soft ball interview of Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic athlete-turned-media darling transsexual spokesperson -turned Republican candidate for governor, by Fox news host Sean Hannity, and It’s  hard not to notice the reality show contestant aesthetic of spectacle.

“Learn more about the people behind this,” Newsom urged state firefighters at a May 4th press conference with California Professional Firefighters union officials in attendance, who are strong Newsom supporters. “Why is the Republican National Committee behind this? Why is Newt Gingrich behind this? Why is there a whole [TV] network putting their energy and attention to covering this? Is it because they have the backs of Californians? Take a look at their agenda and contrast that with ours. I think the majority of Californians support our agenda.”

The cost of this recall election seems to be the price of hyper-partisan politics. California Republicans find themselves in a clear and diminishing minority in both houses of the state legislature as well as in the overall electorate, with only 24 per cent of voters registered as Republican statewide.

Can a 12 or 13 or 14 per cent minority of voters be the tail that wags dog of the entire state. Especially when that minority receives a good deal of funding from outside the state, and gets plenty of attention from national conservative media. The result is a highly charged atmosphere of a recall vote for a Democratic governor who was quite popular for his first two years or so in office, before the COVID pandemic, before the wildfires, and before Trump lost the election.

Although subsequently trying to walk back some of his remarks, California Democratic Party chairperson Rusty Hicks was blunt in his initial assessment of the certification of signatures for the recall, saying, “This recall effort, which realty ought to be called ‘the California coup,’ is being led by right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions.”

After trouncing Republican candidate John Cox with just shy of 62 percent of the vote in the 2018 governor’s race, in which Cox ran with then-President Trump’s endorsement, Newsom’s popularity has no doubt diminished.  This can be attributed to  a very difficult year of stop and start pandemic shut-downs, disastrous wildfires, a major meltdown in the State’s unemployment payment system in the face of spiking demand during the shutdowns,  the state getting successfully scammed into sending unemployment checks to inmates, and Newsom’s  widely publicized hypocrisy of ignoring his own Covid restrictions at a high-priced dinner party with a lobbyist at a five-star gourmet restaurant in Napa.

But has dissatisfaction with Newsom’s performance risen to the level that a majority of voters will vote to remove him from office, and then suffer the paralysis that is likely to ensue for a year because. No matter what the result of the recall, either Newsom or his replacement will need to begin running for re-election soon after the recall vote in anticipation of the 2022 election.

This is the question to be answered by the voters in this special election expected in the fall, in which Republican organizers are obviously hoping, again with history a guide, that off-year special elections typically have a much smaller and more conservative voter turn-out than regular elections.

But for most California political observers and campaign consultants, a successful recall of Newsom seems doubtful in this deeply blue state that voted 63.48 percent for Biden/Harris only six months ago; a state in which even most Independent voters seem to have a deep aversion to Trumpism. But the possibility for a recall exists, and history shows the politics of resentment toward a sitting governor can run strong in California.

Several opinion writers and California electoral historians have pointed out that Gavin Newsom in 2021 is no Gray Davis in 2003, who was never exceedingly popular and was beleaguered by Enron-produced energy shortages. Nor is Caitlyn Jenner or John Cox for  anywhere close to an Arnold Schwarzenegger in their ability to unite disparate voting groups and present a viable alternative to the governor getting recalled.

According to a March survey by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, only 40 percent of likely voters said they would vote yes on removing Newsom, while 56 percent would vote no, with five percent unsure. Responses break heavily along party lines, with fully 79 per cent of Republicans supporting the recall, while 42 per cent of Independents and only 15 per cent of Democrats say they would vote to recall Newsom.

Patrick Dwire is a freelance writer living in Santa Cruz, CA . He can be reached at paddyd385@gmail.com.

Ransomware on the Uptick: A Clear and Present Danger

Ransomware on the Uptick: A Clear and Present Danger

Brief #45 – Technology 

By Charles A. Rubin

 Ransomware on the Uptick: A Clear and Present Danger

 May 14,2021

Policy Summary

The Colonial Pipeline Company, which describes itself as “the largest refined products pipeline in the United States” transporting gas and jet fuel through a pipeline system spanning 5,500 miles between Texas and New Jersey reported on Friday May 7 that it was the victim of a ransomware cybersecurity attack. The company assured the public that the attack had only affected its information technology systems and not its operation capacity but, as a precaution, it was proactively taking certain systems offline to contain the threat.  The action temporarily halted all pipeline operations effectively cutting supplies to much of the Eastern seaboard.

The incident is only the latest attack that have been occurring with alarming frequency and have targeted hospitals, local governments and businesses large and small. The cybersecurity firm Kaspersky estimates that by the end of 2021 a business will be targeted by a ransomware attack every 11 seconds causing up to $20 billion in damage. This does not factor in any ransom payments.

Law enforcement, government and business seem powerless to stop it. 

Analysis

Ransomware attacks are those which use malware to encrypt the data and files of targets either on individual computers or on a company’s servers. The attacks are difficult to detect and repel because they are multi-layered. The vast majority of successful ransomware attacks start with reusable passwords being obtained through phishing and email trickery. An additional attack vector are innocuous attachments like invoices or other documents that an unsuspecting user opens that starts the chain of intrusion. Unpublished operating system flaws are then exploited. More recently, unsecure/unpatched remote access methods put in place during the pandemic have enabled more direct attacks.

What is important to note, is that ransomware is now a lucrative industry that knows no border and is hidden in the shadows. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Security Agency (NSA) have identified the groups behind many of these attacks but they are a long way from shutting them down or apprehending their masterminds.

While some organizations choose to pay ransomware demands, it is generally not recommended as there is no guarantee that access to infected systems will be restored and by paying up, victims further incentivize these forms of cyberattack. Many companies don’t disclose ransomware attacks or, if they do, won’t reveal the attackers’ demands.

The government’s response has been tepid at best. The recommended strategy has been mitigation – requiring frequent password changes, using strong and unique passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, segmenting systems so that one system infected cannot infect others, keeping operating systems up-to-date, deploying anti-malware software. This is all good advice but not enough.

Throughout this crisis it became clear that the energy sector, in particular, is privately not publicly controlled, meaning that this attack on our infrastructure put private companies as the first line of defense from, seemingly, foreign adversaries. Yet, these same companies have exposed their systems on a very public internet. Since it is clear the internet cannot be policed, it is imperative that critical infrastructure be disconnected or certainly operate under more strict guidelines.

Our interconnectedness has enabled many to weather the pandemic but it has made us even more vulnerable. We desperately need law enforcement to intervene and for national governments to cooperate to identify and punish countries that sanction this activity within their borders.

Engagement  Resources

  1. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and FBI Joint Statement on the Colonial Pipeline Attack
  2. The Institute for Security and Technology has a Comprehensive Attack Plan for Ransomware
  3. The Bank Policy Institute (BPI) is a nonpartisan public policy, research and advocacy group, representing the nation’s leading banks – Read their Ransomware: A Resource Guide
  4. Mitre Corporation maintains federally funded R&D centers and public-private partnerships to tackle challenges to public safety, stability, and security.
Forever Chemicals May Not Last That Long

Forever Chemicals May Not Last That Long

Forever Chemicals May Not Last That Long

Shannon Q. Elliott

Thursday, May 10, 2021

“But I suspect most people across the United States are still unfamiliar with PFAS and don’ t realize the exposure that occurs. I’m going to continue doing what I can elevating that awareness.”- Robert Bilott

Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) and Perfluorooctanoic (PFOS), are not only impossible to pronounce, they are toxic chemicals that wreak havoc on all living and breathing beings.  According to Scientific American, of the more than 9,000 known PFAS compounds, 600 are currently used in the U.S.

The chemicals are referred to as “forever chemicals”  because the bonds that bind them into compounds fail to decompose. Overtime they build up in organ systems, causing cancer, autoimmune disorders, and unexplained deformities. Teflon, non-stick, BPA, insulation, perfumes, certain carpets, plastic shower curtains are all examples of products we have been exposed to at one point or another that are potentially loaded with PFAS/PFOS. The Environmental Working

Group lists a brief report on PFAS here and reports that 99% of Americans have PFAS/PFOS chemicals manifesting in their blood streams. If that statistic isn’t alarming enough, The EPA has been unconcerned regulating how industries dispose of the discharge of PFAS/PFOS.

They have failed to address or suggest a federal standard for dumping via the Clean Water Act (CWA) or The Clean Air Act (CAA), until now. Corporations, DuPont and 3M are responsible for the introduction of Teflon into the mass markets. Teflon possesses a man-made chemical called Perfluorooctanoic Acid (C8), which is linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol. Its reign began in the 1940s when it was was marketed to the American family as an innovative way to prepare family meals; the cookware was a must have with its long lifespan and easy maintenance. It was alleged that the chemical companies were aware of the effects of c8, and intentionally disposed of them via local waterways, which in turn heavily contaminated natural resources.

Robert Bilott, the infamous lawyer who became DuPont’s arch-nemesis began investigating the corporation in 1999. In a visit to Parkersburg, West Virginia; he met with Wilbur Tennant, a farmer whose land had been polluted by DuPont. The sudden death of livestock, and family health issues on the farm, began to shape what would become a class action law suit against the Delaware based company. In 2017, it was reported that an Ohio court found in favor of the plaintiffs of Leach v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. & Related Cases awarding $671 million-dollars in damages. Tennant v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (1998-2001) was settled for an undisclosed amount.

The EPA got on board a short time after the Dupont court case. The agency issued an advisory on Teflon and Scotchgard; 2/5000 potentially deadly PFAS chemicals. Almost twenty years later in January of 2019, legislation regulating PFAS was introduced to the House of Representatives. The language of the bill directed the EPA to act accordingly and begin to regulate chemicals in groundwater, air, and navigable waters protected under the CWA and CAA. The PFAS Action Act of 2019 was rejected by a then republican ruled senate. The perception was that the 2019 senate class, would prioritize infrastructure over the environment, at the request of ex-president Trump. Outraged at the decision, Peter Defazio (D) Oregon was quoted as stating “The Trump administration is known for encouraging pollution and removing regulations,”.

Presently, The PFAS Action Act of 2021 has been re-introduced by Deb Dingle (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) and proposes creating a national standard for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. The Act will strictly limit and regulate industry discharge and provide $200 million annually to water treatment facilities and utilities to aid with clean-up. Oddly enough Republicans are coming out of the woodwork to endorse the proposed regulations. Corey Gardner (R-CO), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), and Marco Rubio (R- FL) are supportive of an injunction that would work toward banning these chemicals and protecting their communities from another health crisis.

While the federal government meanders over how to best defend Americans from the effects of PFAS/PFOS; states have managed to adjudicate appropriate laws within their jurisdiction. Bill 1200 In California proposed by Phil Ting (D), would prohibit selling/offering products that contain PFAS/PFOS in the wrapping or packaging. The suggestion is to source plant-based options for packaging, which would limit exposure and aid in the fight against plastics. He hopes that by 2024, manufacturers will need to be transparent in the terminology they use to in the packaging of products. Following their lead is Maine, New York, and Washington who all aim to install similar protections by 2022.

Biden’s Administration adamantly states that regulating these substances is a high priority. It’s an about-face from Trump’s lackadaisical approach to any environmental amendments.  Many environmental and health-related organizations also endorse greater governmental regulation of PFAS/PFOS forever chemicals.

Finally…. a chance for the U.S to breathe, knowing that the current leadership will protect us from a preventable health disaster.

Engagement Resources:

EWG Skin Deep (evaluates toxins in skincare, beauty, food, and cleaning products;

also available as an app)

House, B. T. (2021, April). Jack Rodgers. https://www.courthousenews.com/bill-

targeting-toxic-chemicals-reintroduced-in-house/.

Natrual Resources Defense Council . (2021). https://www.nrdc.org/.

The Environmental Working Group. (2021). https://www.ewg.org/.

The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Biggest Nightmare . (2016).

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-

duponts-worst-nightmare.html.

Wood Pellets: The New Renewable or the Same Old Story?

Wood Pellets: The New Renewable or the Same Old Story?

Policy

In 2012, the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change published its guidelines regarding new British renewable energy policy. These guidelines encouraged the transition of coal-fired electrical generation plants to biomass or wood pellet burning plants, as a way for utility companies to meet European Union air pollution and renewable energy standards. Burning wood pellets to generate electricity has been touted as a renewable energy source because it requires new trees to be grown, offsetting the carbon released by the burning of the trees that preceded them.

European officials had declared biomass energy as carbon neutral, back in 2009. Along with the U.K, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands have also invested heavily in the transition. Shortly after the guidelines were released, European power companies began looking to the well-established and much less restricted logging industry that exists in the Southeastern United States, to be its primary supplier of pelleted wood. Since then, the wood pellet industry in southeastern states has grown “from almost nothing to 23 mills with capacity to produce more than 10 million metric tons annually for export.”

Many foresters, economists, and environmental policy experts have supported the transition in the E.U., but a growing number of ecologists, conservationists and others have voiced their strong disagreement, pointing to the negative impact the growing industry has had on Southeastern forest ecosystems and surrounding communities, as well as a miscalculation of the new fuel’s climate impact. New EPA Administrator Michael Regan has thus far recommended against designating wood pellets as a source of “clean energy” and a spokeswoman for the EPA has said the agency is not “currently considering adding most wood pellets to its renewable fuel standard.” Doing so would open up doors for the industry to expand even further.

Critics of the new industry have successfully forced the installation of pollution controls at various mills, and the Dutch Parliament even recently banned subsidies for new biomass plants. As well, the European Union is expected to announce sometime this year, new regulations for sourcing wood pellets. Regardless, the industry in the southeastern United States continues to grow, with permits recently filed for a dozen new mills, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. According to Consuelo Brandeis, a research forester with the United States Forest Service, “about 3 percent of harvested wood from the South goes to pellets,” sourced from a rural “patchwork of mostly privately owned hardwood forests, swamps, farms, small towns and pine trees.”

 

Analysis

Wood pellets are primarily used to replace coal as a fuel for generating electricity. Seth Ginther, executive director of the United States Industrial Pellet Association, says wood pellets are a “low-cost, low-carbon alternative” to coal and that “wood biomass is lower in sulfur, nitrogen, ash, chlorine, and other chemicals than coal and traditional fossil fuels.” William Schlesinger, a biogeochemist and member of the US Environmental Protection Agency advisory board, admits that “burning wood can result in lower emissions than coal if managed and certified properly and could be used as a “bridge fuel” as solar and wind energy continues to expand.” However, Schlesinger says, “When you cut down existing trees and burn them, you immediately put carbon dioxide in the air. None of the companies can guarantee they can regrow untouched forest to capture the same amount of carbon released. The whole renewable forest industry is kind of a hoax in terms of its benefit as climate mitigation.”

Tim Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton, agrees with Schlesinger, calling it “a critical climate accounting error.” Searchinger says, “Wood is a sucky fuel,” noting that “Wood releases more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced than coal or gas, and a newly planted tree can take decades to reabsorb the carbon dioxide emitted by burning.” This miscalculation also fails to consider the emissions associated with shipping the pellets all the way to Europe. Schlesinger says, “If you burn young trees and regrow them, it might not be too bad. If you venture into older trees or forests that have never been cut before, that can be very bad. … Philosophically it looks good but practically it looks pretty bad in many cases.”

When Enviva, the self-proclaimed world’s largest pellet producer, opened its first mill in Ahoskie, North Carolina, in 2011, the company promised it would source its wood primarily from “wood residues [(or waste wood)], such as treetops, branches and sawdust with no other market.” Jennifer Jenkins, Enviva’s Chief Sustainability Officer, says the company’s sourcing is sustainable because “it buys only from landowners who commit to regrow trees, and because the Southeast’s forests overall are expanding.” Jenkins also argues that “Pellet demand creates an incentive for landowners … to grow more trees, which suck up more carbon, offsetting the carbon dioxide emitted from power plant smokestacks.”

Some forestry experts and economists agree with Jenkins, but many environmental groups, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental nonprofit based in Asheville, North Carolina, are less optimistic. Some report that “they have documented truckloads of logs and whole trees, not just leftovers, entering pellet mills.” Derb Carter, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, says, he and colleagues “have tracked some of Enviva’s source material to bottomland forests that have some of the nation’s highest tree biodiversity.” In 2016, the southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain was declared a “biodiversity hotspot,” recognized for “both its unique plant species and its rate of habitat loss.”

Accusations of Enviva’s bottomland hardwood harvesting concerns Bob Abt, professor of natural resource economics and management at North Carolina State University. Abt says using hardwood trees from bottomlands results in a different carbon calculation” than when using softwoods. He says, “Using these species of trees requires a much longer time to make up for the released carbon, as bottomland hardwoods grow more slowly.” As Gert-Jan Nabuurs, a professor of forest resources at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, calculates, “the Southeast might be able to sustainably supply 35 million metric tons of pellets annually, roughly three times today’s production capacity.” However, as Nabuurs notes, “pellets cannot replace fossil fuels.” He says, “If indeed the whole world starts to ask for pellets, then things go out of control, … That’s very obvious.”

However, Enviva and many private landowners see the challenge as an opportunity. Jenkins is correct that demand for wood pellets incentivizes landowners to grow more trees, but that is not as idyllic as it sounds. One such landowner, Owen Strickler, owns 6,000 acres of woods in Virginia, described by Enviva as a model system for sustainable sourcing. Strickler has planted his acreage into “a mosaic of different-age loblolly pine stands.” In this system, “When one area is harvested, Mr. Strickler sprays the native hardwoods that pop up with herbicide and plants more fast-growing loblollies.” The softwood loblolly pines are useful in that they sequester carbon much faster than native hardwoods, but their cultivation encourages the use of herbicide and discourages the proliferation of native forests. Such a model could prove promising on land already disturbed and open, such as fallow farmland, but if this system requires existing hardwood forest to be clear cut first, it may lose its credit of sustainability.

Francisco X. Aguilar, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umea, recently led a study measuring the carbon held in forests of the Southeastern United States. He found that the forests in areas surrounding existing pellet mills are holding on to more carbon than other forests further away, but he points out that his data “revealed potentially concerning trends.” Aguilar says his study found “fewer standing dead trees and losses of carbon from the soil of forests near mills in the Southeast, suggesting the pellet industry may be taking wood that otherwise would have decomposed on site, feeding the soil.”

Enviva claims it now only harvests wood from bottomlands “it considers non sensitive and that these provide only 1 percent of its supply.” The company says its sourcing practices now go above and beyond industry standards, and it disputes multiple claims by the Dogwood Alliance that trees are being harvested from sensitive wet bottomlands.

Supporters of the industry commend the much-needed creation of rural jobs, noting that the industry in the southeastern U.S. “employs more than 1,000 people directly, and has boosted local logging and trucking businesses.” Opponents, however, point out that, according to an analysis by the Dogwood Alliance, pellet mills “are 50 percent more likely to be located near “environmental justice-designated” communities, defined as counties with above-average poverty levels and a population that’s at least 25 percent nonwhite.”

Kathy Claiborne, a resident of Garysburg, N.C., one of the state’s poorest counties and largely African American, says, “I can’t even recall the last time I had a good night’s sleep,” due to the noise coming from the nearby pellet mill that arrived in 2013 and runs non-stop. Claiborne also says she wears a mask when she goes outdoors, “because dust from the plant can make it hard to breathe.” Residents located near pellet mills in other parts of the Southeast complain of air pollution and new respiratory illnesses as well.

Lisa Sanchez, a resident of Woodville in East Texas, also home to the large German Pellets manufacturing plant, says she was always in good health until the pellet mill arrived. She says when the mill began operating, “I started having a lot of respiratory problems, I was getting sick all the time,” adding that she wouldn’t open the windows because “the air felt more sooty than fresh.” Sanchez says she is “not anti-industry but believes that regulations need to be tightened.” Additionally, a number of pellet mills have been found to pose a danger to both the environment and humans in more ways than one. “An analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project found that at least eight of the 15 largest US wood pellet facilities have had fires or explosions since 2014, while 21 mills exporting to Europe emit excessive greenhouse gases and pollutants.”

It is accepted by most that if done properly and at a limited scale, the wood pellet industry can act as an effective temporary supplement to other renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. However, the debate is still out as to the industry’s viability as a sustainable large-scale energy source. At least 500 ecologists, conservationists, and other scientists have written to various heads of state, including President Biden, “urging them to reject wood burning as a tool for fighting climate change.” Perhaps we should heed the words of over 100 of those scientists who wrote in a letter to the governor of North Carolina, “Removing the carbon dioxide emitted from burning trees for electricity requires waiting decades to a century for trees to regrow. Not only are those offsets not verifiable nor enforceable, we cannot afford to wait that long: to stave off the worst effects of climate change, it is imperative that we reduce emissions and increase our forest carbon sinks now.”

 

Action Resources

The Dogwood Alliance – Dogwood Alliance

  • For over 25 years, Dogwood Alliance has worked with diverse communities, partner organizations and decision makers to protect Southern forests across 14 states. They do this through community and grassroots organizing, holding corporations and governments accountable and working to conserve millions of acres of Southern forests.

The National Resources Defense Council – NRDC

  • Whether in California or Chicago, India, or Canada, we help protect communities around the world. We combine the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and advocates with the power of more than three million members and online activists to confront our planet’s most pressing problems.

The Southern Environmental Law Center – Southern Environmental Law Center

  • The mission of the Southern Environmental Law Center is to protect the basic right to clean air, clean water, and a livable climate; to preserve our region’s natural treasures and rich biodiversity; and to provide a healthy environment for all.

 

References

Dart, T., & Milman, O. (2018, June 30). The dirty little secret behind ‘clean energy’ wood pellets. Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/30/wood-pellets-biomass-environmental-impact

Drouin, R. (2015, January 22). Wood pellets: Green energy or new source of CO2 emissions? Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://e360.yale.edu/features/wood_pellets_green_energy_or_new_source_of_co2_emissions

Popkin, G., & Schaff, E. (2021, April 19). There’s a booming business in America’s forests. Some aren’t happy about it. Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/climate/wood-pellet-industry-climate.html

Schlesinger, W., et al. (2017, November 15). Scientist’s Letter to Governor Cooper [Letter written November, 2017 to Governor Roy A. Cooper III]. Retrieved May 9, 2021, from https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Scientist-Letter-to-Governor-Cooper_11-15_2017.pdf

Power for Power’s Sake: The Motto of the Modern Republican Party

Power for Power’s Sake: The Motto of the Modern Republican Party

USRENEW NEWS BLOG POST

Power for Power’s Sake: The Motto of the Modern Republican Party

By Sean Gray

May 10, 2021

The Republican Party is disdainful of democracy. In 2021 it has become an authoritarian personality cult led by disgraced former President Donald Trump.. It’s members have  embraced blatant electoral untruths and stoked cultural wars in a a cynical political game. 30 state legislatures are controlled by the GOP. Voter suppression and cracking down on dissent are on the docket in many of them.

Stolen elections and burning cities received a disproportional amount of election coverage in the last few years. Neither represented an accurate portrayal of the 2020 election or the widespread well founded  Black Lives Matter Protests. Nevertheless, as spurred on by Trump, the GOP and their chums in conservative media have spent a fair amount of time inciting their base over election fraud and antifa terrorists. The phony hysteria sounding these issues serves as a pernicious pretext to cripple democratic institutions. Self-governance and freedom to assemble and criticize said government is a bedrock of a free society. Those tenets are under assault in Republican-led state houses.

70% of Republican voters believe last year’s presidential was illegitimate. They have no reason to. The election was certified by Governors in all 50 states and was been acknowledged as secure by the FBI, DHS, election experts and prolific Trump stooge, William Barr. But, Donald Trump predictably cried foul upon his electoral defeat and had his claims echoed repeatedly by blind loyalists.

Expansions of mail-in and early voting contributed to a 2020 record election turnout, which did not sit well the GOP. Hence the real impetus behind the groundswell of bills (over 300 in 47 states) that would restrict access to the ballot box. Georgia, Arizona and Texas are the greatest violators, in terms of multitude of proposals. The first two are formerly reliably red states. Each went for Biden in 2020, and their Senate contests were won by Democrats. Texas  has grown purple in recent years, resulting in closely contested races in the last three election cycles.

Restricting access to voting under the guise of election integrity has proven a popular countermeasure. Georgia’s recent election bill throws needless hurdles aimed primarily at voters who may vote against Republicans. Drop boxes that contributed to a record turnout in 2020 will be severely limited. The amount of time to request an absentee ballot has been cut in half. It is now unlawful to provide food or water to voters waiting in line, even in deliberately long lines in the sweltering Georgia sun.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger came under intense fire for his unwillingness to accede to Donald Trump’s request to alter the vote count. A new more willing Secretary of State may find that more doable in the future as the bill also allows the state to wrest control from county election officials they deem to be ‘’performing poorly.” If the motivation for this provision seems nebulous, the bill is from the same side of the state legislature that peddled Trump’s Big Lie and attempted to call an emergency session to award the state’s electoral votes to the ex-president.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis had previously hailed the security of his state’s 2020 election. Curious then, that he recently  felt compelled to sign into law a bill to ‘’increase election integrity’’. The Sunshine state’s bill features many similar provisions as that of their northern neighbor. It also doubles the amount of work necessary to receive a mail-in ballot, prohibits anyone from dropping off more than one ballot and imposes limits on the times of day in which drop-boxes may be used.

Addressing violent protests is another pressing bit of business for Republican legislatures at the state level. It needn’t be. The Armed Conflict and Event Data project studies violent confrontations in war zones and domestic protest all over the world. Between May 4th and August 22nd it identified 2,400 demonstrations associated with Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. 220, less than 10% resulted in violence (defined as clashes between protestors and police officers). Additionally the group found the majority of the clashes were conditioned upon escalatory tactics of local, state, and federal law enforcement. Similar conclusions were drawn from a study by Princeton University.

Vandalism and looting were an unfortunate byproduct of the demonstrations, as they are bound to be in any mass gathering, particularly one inspired by a racially charged cultural issue. But, a slim majority of demonstrators exceeded the freedoms afforded them by the first amendment. That last summer’s protests were mostly peaceful isn’t some misguided liberal talking point, the numbers bear it out.

Still measures in many Republican led states address the constitutional right of Americans to peacefully protest. Florida is again at the forefront of the suppression of freedoms. On the day closing argument began in Derek Chauvin’s trial began, Gov. DeSantis signed into law H.B. 1. which takes targeted aim at dissent..  While some of the more draconian provisions of its original incarnations have been repealed, it still serves to dissuade one who might take to the street from doing so. Vague language provides law enforcement great latitude in determining who is a demonstrator and who is a rioter. Those considered to be rioters can  be held without bail until such time as a court date is available. The hypothetical ‘’rioter’’ in question need not even commit an offense, but may be arrested as a result of their association with others. The no-bail and guilt-by association provisions serve no other purpose that to deter dissent in violation of the first amendment. It enhances to a felony level any criminal offense committed during the loosely defined ‘’riot’’.

The bill also makes municipalities liable for damages incurred to property during demonstrations, thereby incentivizing police to intervene in disturbances unnecessarily. This, said DeSantis, was in response to ‘’local governments telling police to stand down while cities burned.’’ A blatant untruth, like the overwhelming majority of right-wing messaging on the BLM protests. And now it is codified into law.

On the subject of stoking culture wars, the bill originally included immunity for drivers who drive through protestors (reminiscent of Charlottesville), but was subsequently altered to only include some ambiguous civil protections. However governors in Oklahoma and Tennessee saw fit to sign these same  regulations into law in the context of similar legislation.

Power for power’s sake is the objective of the modern GOP leaders . In lieu of any legitimate policy aspirations, it is their intent to inflame grievances, spread falsehoods, and  limit the ability to vote and right to protest by those who would oppose them.

Is Change on the Horizon for Gig Workers?

Is Change on the Horizon for Gig Workers?

Brief # 115 Economic Policy

Is Change on the Horizon for Gig Workers?

By Lily Lady Cook

May 8, 2021

Summary: U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told Reuters in an exclusive interview at the end of April that he supports reclassifying certain gig workers as employees. In 2017, approximately 34% of the workforce in the US were independent contractors, and even more supplement their income with freelance work. These types of jobs can allow for greater flexibility and independence with regards to hours and variety of work. Yet the tradeoffs can be disproportionate: there’s often less job security, no employee-provided health or retirement benefits, and more expensive taxes.

With the rise of apps such as Uber and Lyft, many more Americans work full-time in the gig economy. The gig worker is a crucial asset for the CEOs of Silicon Valley, many of whom have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. In fact, Uber’s 2019 IPO prospectus to the Securities and Exchange Commission—available to peruse in its entirety here—states in no uncertain terms that if “we are required to classify Drivers as employees….we would incur significant additional expenses” such as “minimum wage, overtime, and meal and rest period requirements….employee benefits, social security contributions, taxes, and penalties,” all of which would contribute to an “adverse effect” to “our business and financial condition.”

Secretary of Labor Walsh’s comments had an immediate effect on shares in Uber, Lyft, Doordash and Grubhub. After Walsh’s interview was made public, Uber shares took a 6% hit, and Lyft was down close to 10%. It remains to be seen whether these comments will instigate new legislation at the federal or state level.

Analysis: The vast swaths of unemployed gig workers at the onset of the pandemic highlighted the insufficiency of American fiscal safety nets. While Congress’s decision to extend unemployment benefit eligibility to many freelancers was a necessary measure, provisions from private companies are still imperative. The current model of expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will not last forever, and infrastructure to support gig workers in the longer term should be set in motion before the next crisis.

New legislation to reclassify gig workers as employees will not be an easy battle. Last fall, Proposition 22 overturned a previous bill and resulted in looser mandates for employee classification in California. Among the authors of Prop 22 were the California-based Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, which cost an estimated $200 million in lobbying. This appears to be a big expense at first glance, but it is nothing compared to what analysts estimated it would cost per year for Uber and Lyft to make their drivers employees.

Still, there’s reason to think that Walsh’s comments are more than just empty rhetoric, and that even industry titans might soon be forced to make adjustments. On May 5th, the Biden administration blocked a Trump-era rule from January that eased companies’ ability to classify their workers as independent contractors. If more actions like these accumulate, the state of labor relations in America could shift in favor of more benefits for gig workers.

Engagement Resources:

https://www.gigworkerscollective.org/covid-19-resources: An extensive list of resources for gig workers experiencing hardship because of COVID-19. Donations can be made to assist with food, rent, utility and medical expenses.

https://act.gigworkersrising.org/protect_gig_workers_covid19: A petition to ask California politicians and labor agencies to increase benefits for gig workers, including paid time off for those with COVID-19.

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