Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ernesto & Mulvaney: Starve the Beast

Mulvaney: Cutting Aid to the Poor Is Compassionate for Those of Us Who Pay for Them...

I was digging out variegated hosta for Ernesto when he showed up the other day to pick up some bundles and the starters of Persian Shield he so much loved to spark some of the edges of his large garden.  I’d happened across a bunch of the Burmese tropical plant, a serrated leaf with iridescent purple splashes of color against a verdant green.  Good stuff.

I recommend it for its color, not its recent political history.

Ernesto had just come from south of my home, along Harlem Avenue at about 143rd Street.  That’s an especially telling corner these days.  In the middle of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, that beautiful collar bequeathed by Daniel Burnham, the intersection has become the place where each corner is occupied by sign-holding panhandlers. 

Because it is in the depth of the forest preserve, not the various villages surrounding the place, the only block facing those seeking handouts here will be the occasional Cook County Sheriff vehicle that pulls over and shags them away.  Other than that, they’re there each and every day. Each and every hour.  And a few moments after the Sheriff squad pulls away.

Ernesto: It is so wrong to see these people begging along the corner out there.  Especially the Santy Claus guy with the sign attached to his chest saying he’s homeless. 

I totally agree, Ernesto.  I’ve known that man for more than a decade, and he has become a sorry product of his situation.  He’s an outcome of Cook County jail and our broken system of medical carelessness for one who is suffering mental illness. 

Ernesto: Mental illness?  He seems fine to me.  He should be working instead of begging.

I totally agree again, my friend.  But he cannot.  He is off his meds and is not likely to find an employer who wants to hear someone talking to himself in Biblical verse for periods of time while he – what? – packs something into boxes?  Didn’t you notice he is talking all the time he is roving between the cars for handouts?

Ernesto: I don’t roll down the windows.  But I have heard from friends he has a car.


Ernesto:  And an apartment.  A place to live, so he may say homeless on his coat, but he’s not. 

You know, Ernesto, as I work with those who are truly homeless, they – like you – mythologize this man.  Indeed, he does look like Santa Clause, and he does work the corners of the street in Harlem.  The truly homeless tell exaggerated tales of his climb to greatness and wealth.  They imagine he has an annual income of well over $100,000 per year.  They covet his new Infinity SUV.  In fact, one woman who gave him some money one day saw him in an SUV and began chasing him on Facebook, trying to find out his apartment, etc., and decrying his falsehoods as homeless.

Ernesto: Don’t give me that one please, it’s too big.  You should keep it for yourself.  But back to Santy.  So, you admit, he’s not homeless, my friend.  And his car, he parks it in the forest and walks to his corner.

Of course, Ernesto.  That’s easy, and in fact, I’m proud of him for it.  Despite a state which birthed him out of Cook County’s jail system and offered him no support and cast him from the queue of needy people with mental illness (thank you, Governor Rauner), he survives.  He even has a place to stay.  He might even have a white, beater SUV.  And how?  He works in the rain and the snow and the heat and the cold on a corner.  He wraps his feet in strips of cloth and walks on the muddy street’s edge and between the traffic to achieve a dollar or even more.  Maybe many more.

Ernesto: So you admit this homelessness is a total scam.

Scam?  But, Ernesto, my friend, he cannot work.  Do you understand?  He is incapable of work because he hasn’t the support system for on with a mental illness to do so. He works alone.  He panhandles.

Ernesto: But he’s not homeless.  He chooses not to work.

Yes, for the moment he’s not.  But he’s always on the verge.  And he’s up every morning at 5 a.m. to get to the corner so others who are trying to do the same thing and encumbered with the same problems cannot push him out.  And believe me, Ernesto, they will.  He’s surviving, and he’s working as only he is able.  Isn’t that enough?

Ernesto: You know that some of these people actually have whole families out there.  They park their cars and send everyone – the kids and wife – to separate corners to get as much money as they can.

I would imagine you’re right, Ernesto.  Do you believe that is a scam too?  Are all the poor a scam unless they draw a check?

Ernesto:  Of course.  They could have jobs.  If they wanted.

It’s good we have these talks, Ernesto.  They open both our eyes. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poison at Your Farmers Market?

What Does Kill You Won’t Make You Stronger…

My wife washes lemons with soap and water.  Oranges and limes too.  Grapes and avocados sit in soapy water and await their final rinses after an hour or so. 

“Even if we don’t eat the skin or surface part,” she warns with her wagging Buddhist forefinger, we are handling those parts of the fruit where pesticides or insecticides have been applied or contacted during the journey to the local store or farmers market. Wash them and your hands too.” 

In fact, any fruit or tree nut that is consumed totally is given the treatment – and that’s quite a few spring and summer items we put into our mouths, isn’t it?

News Release from the EPA on 3/29/2017:

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide crucial to U.S. agriculture.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”

“This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.  This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States. It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables. We thank our colleagues at EPA for their hard work.”

The Market name for the insecticide Mr. Pruitt has allowed back into the food chain is Vulcan, the god thrown from heaven by Zeus/Jupiter for failing to reveal the end of his dominion.  Ironically, especially in this case, bug-killers like Vulcan will be the likely end of our dominion over earth.

The Trump EPA decision supposedly “grounded in evidence and science,” as Director Kunickis blithely points out, is in fact just the opposite.  According to a recent Mother Jones article: “Stephanie Engel, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina and a co-author of the Mount Sinai paper, says the evidence that chlorpyrifos exposure causes harm is "compelling"—and is "much stronger" even than the case against BPA (bisphenol A), the controversial plastic additive. She says babies and fetuses are particularly susceptible to damage from chlorpyrifos because they metabolize toxic chemicals more slowly than adults do. And "many adults" are susceptible, too, because they lack a gene that allows for metabolizing the chemical efficiently, Engel adds.

A ban on the use of Chlorpyriphos was finally achieved during the Obama Administration after a decade-long review of its use and the concerns on those who worked with the insecticide, manufactured by an Agri-Scientific sub company of Dow Chemical called MANA (not the Biblical succor that falls from the sky).   A Federal Appeals Court demanded a final stop to the use of the chemical at the end of March 2017; Vulcan was outlawed for use by the general population in 2000.    Note Pruitt’s timely intervention on March 29th. 

Reprise 2017?
Chlorpyriphos is classified as an organochloride insecticide.  If you’re old enough, you might remember the generous smells of DDT on warm evenings as village trucks rolled down the avenues spraying the treetops for mosquitoes.  If you’re younger, you might recall the decimation of various animals and especially bird species whose eggs were compromised by the shell-thinning effects of DDT and the later behavioral aberrations caused by PCB’s. 

Both of these chemicals were banned, of course, but it’s early in the Pruitt/Trump Administration. 

According to the EPA Release: “The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on – and misapplication of – studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal.

The USDA disagrees with the methodology used by the previous Administration. Similarly, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also objected to EPA’s methodology. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) also expressed concerns with regard to EPA’s previous reliance on certain data the Agency had used to support its proposal to ban the pesticide.

And, of course, we didn’t have to wait too long.  On May 15, 2017, in Bakersfield, California, more than 50 workers were exposed to Vulcan sprayed upwind of them while they were picking cabbages in their fields.  The orchard next to the cabbage pickers was sprayed, but the drift of the insecticide affected the many workers.   The spray had been applied the night before, but like many persistent insecticides, the residual amount was lifted into the air during winds the next day and arrived on top of the workers in the fields.  Vulcan is considered toxic by ingestion, inhalation or even touch.

But the EPA now allows it.
Here in the Midwest, we can expect the new “tool” from the EPA to provide Vulcan for use on soybeans and corn.  To the north, apples, peaches, asparagus, and other delicacies will be subjected. 

In 2012, product manager, Keith Miller, celebrated the possibilities and competitiveness of Vulcan. “With new formulations like Vulcan performing as well as or in some cases better than competitive EC based formulations, we’re determined to answer grower and retailer requests for continued use of highly-effective solutions like chlorpyrifos,” Miller says. “Through aggressive research and innovation work, we plan to launch eight new formulations of proven products currently in our portfolio by 2013.”
Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely-used agricultural insect control solutions worldwide. First registered in the U.S. in 1965, it has been on the market for more than 40 years. Today, chlorpyrifos is registered in about 100 countries worldwide.

In fact, before 2000 Chlorpyrifos was the most widely used insecticide for family gardening.  By 2000, the then EPA had seen enough to ban its use for the general public. 

Not scared yet?

According to Tom Philpott’s article in Mother Jones: “In an analysis of the risks posed by chlorpyrifos released in November 2016, the EPA crunched data on residues found in food and compared them to the levels at which the chemical can harm the most vulnerable populations: kids and women of child-bearing age. The results (found on page 23 of the EPA doc) are startling. Natural Resources Defense Council researchers turned them into this handy graphic:”

If you’d like to place a call to Scott Pruitt, you can do so at this number:

“Hello, Mr. Pruitt.  The use of persistent and virulent organichlorides was a chapter in our natural history I do not care to return to again and one in which we cannot afford to do so.  We decimated populations of wildlife and likewise threatened ourselves with chemicals designed to increase production without concern for dangerous effects on our children and our planet.  Your decision to provide Vulcan for dusting the very fruit and vegetables that will be consumed by our families is unconscionable.  You should be ashamed as well as eventually held accountable.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tier One Actives! Call NOW!


From We Are One Coalition
Call your State Representative TODAY to urge a NO vote on SB 16, HB 4027, HB 4045 or any other bill that cuts the pensions of public employees. Dial 888-412-6570 or Click to Call.
In recent years, the Illinois Supreme Court has twice found legislation reducing the pension benefits of active and retired public employees to be unconstitutional. So why does Governor Rauner keep pushing to cut public employee pensions—and why are some legislators going along with him?
It’s important to note that no legislation before the General Assembly would cut the pension benefits of current retirees. There is widespread acceptance that the court has flatly rejected any reductions in the pensions of those who have already retired. And it’s important to remember that, despite strong opposition from the unions of We Are One Illinois, the General Assembly acted in 2010 to significantly reduce the pension benefits of all those hired after January 1, 2011 (Tier 2 pension participants). The courts have consistently ruled that only the benefits of current employees and retirees are constitutionally protected. Benefit reductions—or even elimination—are legal for any employee not yet hired at the time changes to the pension code are made.
Rauner and some in the General Assembly are focused on finding ways to get around the constitutional prohibition against cutting the benefits of all employees hired before 1/1/2011 (Tier 1 participants). Relying on the principle of “consideration”, they argue that if employees are given something in return for the reduction in benefits, then the cuts would be constitutional. Senate Bill 16, House Bill 4027 and House Bill 4045 are all based on this “consideration” model, as are several other bills that have been introduced.
SB 16, HB 4027 and HB 4045 affect all Tier 1 active employees in the SERS, SURS, TRS and Chicago Teachers pension systems. Each requires employees to make an irrevocable choice between:
1. Accepting a delay and reduction in his/her cost-of-living annual adjustment when he/she retires; or
2. Agreeing that his/her pension benefit would be calculated using only his/her current salary, excluding all future pay increases from calculation of his/her benefit.
These bills attempt to compensate employees who choose Option 1 above by providing for a “consideration payment” of 10% of an employee’s past pension contributions and lowering the employee’s  future contribution rate by 10%.  However, the amount that the employee receives through this payment would be far short of the amount he/she would lose.
Union attorneys argue that this scheme does not meet the “consideration” standard but rather is an involuntary and forced diminishment because either choice represents a reduction of benefits. No matter which choice an employee makes, he/she would lose tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars over the course of his/her retirement years.
Moreover, both bills threaten further harm to retirement security because they initiate a process of moving new employees out of all the state’s pension systems and placing them in a defined-contribution plan. This will have the effect of reducing contributions into the systems, thus exacerbating the underfunding that has consistently plagued all the systems.
Yesterday, the Senate passed SB 16 with bipartisan support and little debate. Click here to read a summary of the bill and here to see how senators voted.
Now the battle shifts to the House of Representatives. HB 4027 and HB 4045 (which have the same core provisions as SB 16) passed the House Pension Committee earlier this week, but a number of those who voted to allow them to move out of committee made clear they intend to vote against them on the floor.
At this time, we don’t know whether the House will vote on SB 16, HB 4027 or HB 4045. But one of these bills is very likely to come to the House floor in the next few days.
It’s critical that you call your State Representative TODAY to urge a NO vote on SB 16, HB 4027, HB 4045 or any other bill that cuts the pensions of public employees. Dial 888-412-6570 or Click to Call. Make clear that these bills are unconstitutional, unfair, and you expect your representative to OPPOSE them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Impeaching Trump Now: Lawrence Tribe Speaks Out


Laurence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, has written an opinion in the Washington Post arguing that “NOW” is the time to impeach Donald Trump.
In fact, this appeal comes a day before the most recent charges that the President revealed classified information to Russian operatives and ambassadors in his Oval Office, information which may well endanger Americans and certainly threaten the lives of agents working for the United States in dangerous areas of the world populated by those who might wish the U.S. great harm. 
“The time has come for Congress to launch an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.
The remedy of impeachment was designed to create a last-resort mechanism for preserving our constitutional system. It operates by removing executive-branch officials who have so abused power through what the framers called "high crimes and misdemeanors" that they cannot be trusted to continue in office.
“No American president has ever been removed for such abuses, although Andrew Johnson was impeached and came within a single vote of being convicted by the Senate and removed, and Richard Nixon resigned to avoid that fate.”
An historical review of the questionable business practices of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump, follows his blemished career as a red-lining apprentice in his father’s real estate ventures in New York, his penchant for seeking adulation even in pretense when calling into media shows as John Barron in order to extoll his own greatness in third person, and his employment of the mob and lawyers like Roy Cohn to expedite deals and problems with immigrant workers razing Bonwitt-Teller during the night. 
As we are finding out: anything goes for Donald Trump.  As long as it all goes to Donald Trump and his close family.     
“Now the country is faced with a president whose conduct strongly suggests that he poses a danger to our system of government.
“Ample reasons existed to worry about this president, and to ponder the extraordinary remedy of impeachment, even before he fired FBI Director James Comey and shockingly admitted on national television that the action was provoked by the FBI's intensifying investigation into his campaign's ties with Russia.
“Even without getting to the bottom of what Trump dismissed as "this Russia thing," impeachable offenses could theoretically have been charged from the outset of this presidency. One important example is Trump's brazen defiance of the foreign emoluments clause, which is designed to prevent foreign powers from pressuring U.S. officials to stray from undivided loyalty to the United States. Political reality made impeachment and removal on that and other grounds seem premature.”
Trump’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution, its checks and balances, the rule of law, deference to respect and the weight of authority flash before us in an hourly display: the announcements by his sons that they have access to money through investors who are “Russian,” his son-in-law’s sister’s willingness to sell visas to those Chinese interested in spending significant sums for various enterprises by the family, or his shady involvement with oligarchs in Russian and other overseas deals requiring borrowing huge sums of money.
“No longer. To wait for the results of the multiple investigations underway is to risk tying our nation's fate to the whims of an authoritarian leader.
“Comey's summary firing will not stop the inquiry, yet it represented an obvious effort to interfere with a probe involving national security matters vastly more serious than the "third-rate burglary" that Nixon tried to cover up in Watergate. The question of Russian interference in the presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign go to the heart of our system and ability to conduct free and fair elections.
“Consider, too, how Trump embroiled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite Sessions' recusal from involvement in the Russia investigation, in preparing admittedly phony justifications for the firing on which Trump had already decided. Consider how Trump used the vice president and White House staff to propagate a set of blatant untruths — before giving an interview to NBC's Lester Holt that exposed his true motivation.
“Trump accompanied that confession with self-serving — and manifestly false — assertions about having been assured by Comey that Trump himself was not under investigation. By Trump's own account, he asked Comey about his investigative status even as he was conducting the equivalent of a job interview in which Comey sought to retain his position as director.
“Further reporting suggests that the encounter was even more sinister, with Trump insisting that Comey pledge "loyalty" to him in order to retain his job. Publicly saying he saw nothing wrong with demanding such loyalty, the president turned to Twitter with a none-too-subtle threat that Comey would regret any decision to disseminate his version of his conversations with Trump — something that Comey has every right, and indeed a civic duty, to do.”
Thus far, none of the Republican leadership seems willing or even interested in questioning the lack of leadership in the White House and even less the irreparable harm its has and will cause or position in the world’s stage.  Now, perhaps with lives at risk, American lives, McConnell and Ryan will do something which reflects their real concern for the country itself, although such action is sadly doubtful.
 “It will require serious commitment to constitutional principle, and courageous willingness to put devotion to the national interest above self- interest and party loyalty, for a Congress of the president's own party to initiate an impeachment inquiry. It would be a terrible shame if only the mounting prospect of being voted out of office in November 2018 would sufficiently concentrate the minds of representatives and senators today.”
Read the entire article here: