Category Archives: Climate Change & Environmental Issues

Mercury from industrialized nations is polluting the Arctic – here’s how it gets there

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Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Plants on the Arctic tundra absorb mercury from the air, then transfer it to soil when they die. Paxson Woelber, CC BY

Daniel Obrist, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Scientists have long understood that the Arctic is affected by mercury pollution, but know less about how it happens. Remote, cold and seemingly pristine, why is such an idyllic landscape so contaminated with this highly toxic metal?

I recently returned from a two-year research project in Alaska, where I led field research into this issue alongside fellow scientists from the University of Colorado; the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute; the University of Toulouse and the Sorbonne University in France; and the Gas Technology Institute in Illinois. Continue reading

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We started a revolution over this once

Do you remember voting for lobbyists to decide who pays what in taxes? We don’t.

Photo: Daniel Huizinga/flickr

On Friday night, the Senate passed their version of the #GOPTaxScam. The bill, all 479 pages of it, was presented to the full Senate just hours before the vote. The vote was along party lines, with the one dissenting vote among the Republicans coming from Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

So, what was in this bill, and why did they vote on it before all the Senators could actually read through the bill? We’re glad you asked. First, what’s in it.

A lot of the bill is what you’d expect. For example:

  • The top individual rate is reduced from 39.6% to 38.5%, and the threshold at which the top rate kicks in is increased from $418,000 for a single/$480,000 for married filing jointly to $500,000/$1,000,000
  • The estate tax exemption is doubled, to $11 million for a single taxpayer and $22 million for married taxpayers.
  • The corporate rate is reduced from 35% to 20%.
  • The top rate on the income earned by owners of “flow through” businesses — S corporations and partnerships — is reduced from 39.6% to a shade below 30%.

Questions about these measure that we were forced to ask include; how is it that corporations are able to keep the tax deductions that have now been excluded from individual tax bases? Why is the corporate tax is now LOWER than the top individual rate? If corporations are people too, why is there ANY difference in these tax rates?

Then, there’s the “Why are these items in a tax bill, anyways?” parts. These include:

  • A provision that explicitly allows parents to use tax-free college savings plans, known as 529s, for a “child in utero.” This is essentially a personhood bill, setting a precedent for the legal definition of life beginning at conception.
  • The bill repeals the Johnson Amendment, which bans non-profit groups from engaging in political activism. This would mean that churches and the like could actively engage in elections without disclosing individual donors; think of it as Citizens United on steroids. This serves the purpose of blurring the lines between the separation of church and state, allowing the churches to donate and promote individual candidates in local and national elections, all while cloaked under the donation secrecy this provision allows.
  • Eliminating the individual mandate of the ACA. While this actually does deal with taxes (the fine for not being insured is paid as part of your taxes), removing the mandate means that younger and healthier people won’t buy insurance until they need it. These are the people who currently offset the cost of providing healthcare to the older and sicker people. Without this in place, premiums will rise dramatically more than the anticipated 10% over the next 10 years.
  • A provision that would open part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas exploration. While this would raise revenue, it only amounts to $2 billion over the next ten years, at the cost of almost assuredly ruining the local environment and ecosystem. Additionally, it is worded in such a way that it is actually ILLEGAL to not drill, forcing Alaska to accept ANY drilling permits and fields desired.

Of course, the individual tax cuts are set to expire, meaning that the middle class will see a tax increase. And, what’s going to pay for these? The GOP mantra’s always been that tax cuts pay for themselves, but others, such as Marco Rubio, have already admitted that the tax reform is part one of a two-step process designed to defund and eventually dismantle Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security; the very programs designed to help the elderly, disabled and poorest members of American society.

Now obviously, a lot of these proposals don’t sit well with the electorate. So, why the rush to pass it? The GOP needs a victory. Even with controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, this administration’s been notably inept in getting meaningful things accomplished. Furthermore, the GOP donor class has stated that the campaign money will dry up if they don’t get the tax cuts they want.

Photo: Represent.US

So, who came up with most of the amendments? Lobbyists. Out of the 11,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, more than 6,000 said that they worked on taxes this year. That works out to 11 lobbyists for each member of Congress. Do you remember electing lobbyists to write our laws? We sure don’t.

We still have a chance to stop this. The House and Senate bills now go to a conference committee. The bill that comes out of that will need to be passed by both houses. The healthcare fiasco this summer proves that if we’re loud and persistent enough, our message gets through. And, with the bill only having 37% approval before the vote, there’s enough of us to make the message get through.

And what if it doesn’t? The last time that the GOP had won control of both houses and the presidency before 2016 was 1928. The new tax bill looks even more extreme than the policies put into place by the Republicans after the 1928 election. Does anybody remember what happened in 1929?

Another annoying historical factoid that you may wish to remember at a time like this: 244 years ago, a group of people decided that they weren’t going to pay taxes without proper representation, and what became known as the Boston Tea Party took place. This in turn led to a revolution, and the founding of this country.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

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Thanksgiving Guide: How to Celebrate a Sordid History

A day seen by many Americans as a day of celebration, a day for family, and a day for giving thanks, is perceived by many Native Americans as a day filled with ignorance, a day filled with anger and a day full of mourning.

By Emma Fiala. Published 11-22-2017 by MintPress News

While millions of Americans prepare this week to get into the holiday spirit, beginning with Thanksgiving, how many are prepared to view the day through an accurate lens? While to many Americans the holiday serves as a reminder to give thanks, it is seen as a day of mourning by countless others. The truth is: European migrants brutally murdered Native Americans, stole their lands, and continue to do so today.

Start by acknowledging that almost everything taught about Thanksgiving in most schools across the country is a lie. Most Americans remember celebrations in elementary school in honor of Thanksgiving that included activities ranging from coloring pages to parades to plays. Everyone knows the drill: The Pilgrims fled Europe before landing on Plymouth Rock. The resident natives taught them how to farm the land, they all sat down for a big meal in 1621, and everyone lived happily ever after in the United States. Continue reading

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As Predicted—Because ‘Pipelines Are Bound to Spill’—Existing Keystone Gushes 200K Gallons of Oil

‘With their horrible safety record, today’s spill is just the latest tragedy caused by the irresponsible oil company TransCanada.’

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-16-2017

Those who had warned against the pipeline’s approval for precisely these reasons and continue to worked tirelessly to prevent the construction of the Keystone XL (KXL) project, were among the first to respond to Thursday’s spill. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade)

Some of the worst fears and dire predictions of opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline came true on Thursday when pipeline owner TransCanada announced that more than 200,000 gallons of oil had spilled from the existing portion of the Keystone system in Marshall County, South Dakota.

While the company reported the spill in a public statementBuzzfeed notes there was an approximately four-and-a-half hour gap between when the company said the breach was discovered at 6:00 am and when local officials say they were notified at 10:30 am.  As a South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources told the news outlet, “We’re not quite sure why there was a time gap in there.” Continue reading

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Over 15,000 Scientists Just Issued a ‘Second Notice’ to Humanity. Can We Listen Now?

Reassessing warning issued 25 years ago, the “second notice” to humanity warns of “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss” unless business-as-usual is upended

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-13-2017

“Humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere,” over 15,000 scientists warned in a letter published Monday. (Photo: NASA)

Yikes.

Over 15,000 scientists hailing from more than 180 countries just issued a dire warning to humanity:

“Time is running out” to stop business as usual, as threats from rising greenhouse gases to biodiversity loss are pushing the biosphere to the brink. Continue reading

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Chanting ‘Keep It In the Ground,’ Thousands Descend on German Coalfields

“We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That’s why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-5-2017

“Germany’s lignite mines are among the biggest coal mines in the world,” Zane Sikulu, a Climate Warrior from Tonga, said in a statement. (Photo: Code Rood/Twitter)

Demanding an end to coal and all forms of dirty energy extraction, over 4,000 activists descended on the Rhineland coalfields in Germany early Sunday in a mass demonstration just a day before COP23 climate talks are set to kick off.

“On the international stage, politicians and corporations present themselves as climate saviors, while a few miles away, the climate is literally being burned,” Janna Aljets, a spokesperson for the environmental alliance Ende Gelände, which helped organize the action, said in a statement. “We do not want to be world champions in extracting and burning lignite anymore. We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That’s why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there.” Continue reading

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Fears of Radiation Leak Soar After North Korea Nuclear Site Collapse Kills 200

The disaster is believed to have resulted from Pyongyang’s hydrogen bomb test, which sparked earthquakes and landslides

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-31-2017

Initially, a tunnel collapsed on 100 workers, and an additional 100 went in to rescue them, only to die themselves under the unstable mountain,” Business Insider reports. (Photo: TV Asahi/Screengrab)

Experts are issuing urgent warnings of a possible radiation leak following the collapse of a tunnel at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, an accident that reportedly killed at least 200 people.

“Should [the Punggye-ri site] sink, there is a possibility” that hazardous radioactive gas could be released into the atmosphere, warned South Korea weather agency chief Nam Jae-cheol during a parliamentary meeting on Monday, ahead of reports of the incident. Continue reading

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‘Can You Say Corruption?’ Puerto Rico Contract for Trump-Connected Raises Concerns

Tiny company financed by a major donor to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party awarded no-bid contract to rebuild energy grid

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-24-2017

Puerto Rico’s electricity utility, PREPA, offered a $300 million contract to a small private firm to repair its power grid. Whitefish Energy is funded by a major Trump donor. (Photo: Whitefish Energy/Twitter)

Critics raised suspicions on Tuesday over a $300 million no-bid contract that was awarded to a small, two-year-old private energy company to restore Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. The company is financed by a major donor to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party, and also has connections to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Whitefish Energy, based in Whitefish, Montana, had only two full-time employees when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico over a month ago, leaving about 75 percent of the island still without power.

State utilities on the U.S. mainland have helped power authorities like Puerto Rico’s recover quickly from disasters like Maria in the past through mutual aid agreements, leaving many to wonder why Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) would rely on a company that has no experience with extensive restoration projects.

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why PREPA would go to Whitefish,” said Susan F. Tierney, a former Energy Department official, in an interview with the Washington Post.

As the Daily Beast reported, Federal Election Commission filings show that the founder of the private equity firm that finances Whitefish Energy donated $20,000 to a pro-Trump PAC during the 2016 election as well as more than $30,000 to the Republican National Committee.

The company is also run by a contact of Zinke’s—Andy Techmanski—who once hired the Interior Secretary’s son for a summer job. Zinke is from Whitefish, but his office told the Post that he only knows Techmanski because “everybody knows everybody” in the small town.

Whitefish has hired nearly 300 workers from across the country so far to help repair the infrastructure. According to Aaron C. Davis, investigative reporter for the Post, the company is charging PREPA hundreds of dollars per hour for their subcontractors’ work, far more than average rates.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Texas City Demands Hurricane Harvey Victims Support Israel to Get Relief

By James Holbrooks Published 10-20-2017 by The Anti-Mediaickinson on 8/27/2017 after Hurricane Harvey. Photo: YouTube

Dickinson, TX — Government suppression of free speech can take many forms. It’s not always censorship in the media or storm troopers in the streets bashing in the heads of protesters. For proof of this, one need look no further than Dickinson, Texas.

The small coastal town southeast of Houston took some of the worst Hurricane Harvey had to offer, with almost 7,400 homes damaged — many of them beyond repair. In response, the city council decided to set up a relief fund. People can donate to the city, and then a committee distributes the money to residents on a case-by-case basis. Continue reading

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‘People Are Dying’ But Trump Gives Himself Perfect ’10’ for Puerto Rico Response

“The lasting image of this administration may well be Puerto Ricans having to drink contaminated water from polluted streamswhile waiting for timely, appropriate federal aid.”

Written by Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-19-2017.

Image via Twitter.

Despite an estimated one million people still living without drinking water, 80 percent of the island wihout electricity, and fresh reports that people are “dying” on the island, President Donald Trump stirred outrage on Thursday by giving himself a perfect “ten” on his response to the crisis in Puerto Rico.

“The people in Puerto Rico are dying,” said National Nurses United (NNU) vice president Cathy Kennedy, who returned Wednesday from a two-week relief trip with the union’s Registered Nurses Response Network (RNRN). “Nurses have been going out into communities, where all they ask for is water and food. And when you have to make a decision of who’s going to get the food today or the water — we shouldn’t have to do that. The United States is the richest country in the world; Puerto Rico is part of the United States.”

Yet Trump told a different story about the recovery in the Oval Office on Thursday, speaking to reporters as Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello looked on.

“I would give myself a ten,” he said. “We have provided so much, so fast.”

“Trump’s callous, self-appointed grade reflects everything that is wrong with the alleged relief effort in Puerto Rico,” Bonnie Castillo, director of National Nurses United’s Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), told Common Dreams via email.

The nurses who returned from the relief trip, she continued, “are horrified by the massive damage, dislocation, and trauma they have witnessed. It includes one million people living in darkness, many of them in homes with roofs blown off, soaked furniture, dangerous black mold growing everywhere, lengthy waits for food and water from FEMA that often never comes, a decimated transportation system, and hazardous materials abundant.”

About one million Puerto Ricans were still without drinking water as of Thursday. According to status.pr, a website that is maintained by Puerto Rican officials with daily updates on the recovery, 80 percent of the island was still without electricity as Trump was speaking. More than half of the island’s cell phone towers are still not working and more than 4,000 people are still living in shelters.

FEMA has distributed about 23 million liters of water throughout the island—accounting for only about nine percent of Puerto Rico’s drinking water needs. Forced to drink from rivers, many on the island are being exposed to harmful bacteria and toxic chemicals.

The president put Rossello on the spot after grading himself, asking, “Did we do a great job?” The governor declined to give him a rating. He carefully thanked the administration for sending relief, while emphasizing that the island needs the same efforts that were afforded to Texas after Hurricane Harvey. “We need equal treatment, we need all the resources we can get.”

According to Castillo, “the lasting image of this administration may well be Puerto Ricans having to drink contaminated water from polluted streams, putting their health in serious danger, while waiting for timely, appropriate federal aid to millions of U.S. citizens.”

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