Latest News

NIAC Statement on Trump Plans to Renew Iran Sanctions Waivers

Commondreams - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 08:36
National Iranian-American Council

NIAC President Trita Parsi issued the following statement regarding reports that President Trump will extend key sanctions waivers tomorrow as obligated by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal:

“At first glance, Donald Trump’s anticipated decision to reissue sanctions waivers on Iran comes across as a retreat from his promise to terminate the Iran nuclear deal. In reality, however, he is opting to kill the deal in a less direct way.

Categories: Latest News

Constitution Pipeline Request Denied by Federal Agency

Commondreams - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 07:52
Earthjustice

Yesterday, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a decision, which spells bad news for the proposed Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile natural gas pipeline slated to run through New York State and Pennsylvania.

Categories: Latest News

Thousands Struggle As Fighting Forces People From Their Homes in Northwest Syria

Commondreams - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 07:46
The International Rescue Committee

Thousands that have fled their homes to escape airstrikes and fighting in Idlib are now living in dire conditions, warns the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Around 100,000 people have fled northern Hama province and southern Idlib in recent weeks and some of the most recent arrivals have walked up to seven hours to reach safety, bringing with them only what they could carry.

Categories: Latest News

Immigration Rights Activist Ravi Ragbir Detained at ICE Check-in Amid Protest, Police Violence

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00

The executive director of New York City's New Sanctuary Coalition has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ravi Ragbir is a nationally known immigrant rights activist whose wife and daughter are US citizens. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Ravi has lived in the United States for 27 years, but he faces deportation because of a 2002 wire fraud. On Thursday morning, Ravi was taken into custody, sparking a peaceful protest that was met with police violence. Police arrested 18 people including members of the New York City Council. Democracy Now's Renée Feltz was there.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: And the executive director of New York City's New Sanctuary Coalition has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ravi Ragbir is a nationally known immigrants' rights activist whose wife and daughter are U.S. citizens. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Ravi had lived in the United States for 27 years, but faces deportation because of a 2002 wire fraud conviction, for which he already served time in jail.

Democracy Now! has closely followed Ravi's case. He was on the show in March, the day of his last check-in, when he was told to return in January. Well, on Thursday morning, Ravi was taken into custody, sparking a peaceful protest that was met with police violence. Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz was there.

RENÉE FELTZ: At 26 Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan, Ravi Ragbir met with ICE for his regular check-in. Outside, hundreds circled the building in a Jericho walk, some raising their hands to pray he'd come out. Ravi went in accompanied by his lawyer and wife and several city councilmembers and state lawmakers. After nearly two hours, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson came out with an update.

SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON: Ravi had passed out. An ambulance had arrived.

RENÉE FELTZ: Johnson said Ravi fainted when ICE agents told him he was being detained. Just as Johnson spoke, an ambulance pulled up, that people believed was carrying Ravi in handcuffs, on its way to an immigrant jail blocks away.

POLICE OFFICER: Back up! Back up! Back up!

RENÉE FELTZ: New York police officers violently shoved people out of the way who were shouting support, some crying. As the ambulance drove down Broadway, City Councilmembers Ydanis Rodríguez and Jumaane Williams sat down to block its way, and were violently handcuffed and marched away. At least 18 people were arrested. The police union later claimed the ambulance was headed to a hospital. Hundreds regrouped hours later for a vigil in front of the ICE jail on Varick Steet where Ravi was reportedly taken.

PROTESTERS: Where is Ravi? Where is Ravi? Where is Ravi?

RENÉE FELTZ: Ravi's wife Amy joined in a Jericho walk around the jail, as she has often done with her husband in weekly vigils.

AMY GOTTLIEB: [echoed by the People's Mic] Ravi Ragbir is here with us in spirit, and he knows that we are going to win this fight and that nobody is backing down.

RENÉE FELTZ: ICE said, late Thursday, that Ravi had, quote, "exhausted his petitions and appeals." Ravi's lawyer, Alina Das, disagreed and told Democracy Now! what happened when Ravi was told he was being deported.

ALINA DAS: Well, we went in to the check-in with Ravi and his wife Amy, and we were told by the immigration representative that they would be trying to enforce the deportation order and they would be taking him in. It was horrible news to receive. We had been in conversations with ICE for many years, and Ravi has been receiving stays of removal in recognition of both his community and family ties, his contributions as a leader, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, and also in recognition of the legal challenges that we have filed, that would actually have a chance of resolving his case and allowing him to stay here.

They didn't allow me to accompany him as he left the building. They put handcuffs around him, and they led him to a secure part of the facility, and they escorted me out. So I have not been able to talk to him since that moment, to reassure him that we continue to fight for him. But I believe that he knows -- he knows what's happening here. This is the kind of community mobilization, the community support, that he has certainly galvanized for other people who have been in similar situations over the years. And I think he would take great comfort in knowing that the community has rallied behind him.

AMY GOODMAN: Ravi Ragbir's lawyer, Alina Das. Thanks to Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz and Nat Needham for that report. A federal court has now responded to an appeal Ravi's lawyers filed Thursday, setting a new hearing for January 29th and issuing a temporary stay of removal and a temporary order blocking Ravi Ragbir's transfer away from the New York region. This comes as ICE's online detainee locator system lists Ravi as being detained in Florida at the Krome detention facility, and neither his family nor his lawyers know for sure where he's been taken. We'll continue to follow the case, and you can watch democracynow.org for updates.

This is Democracy Now! -- these are the headlines -- democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. Back after this break.

Categories: Latest News

Putting the Heat on What Takes the Edge Off

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Empire Files: In the Deadliest Country for Unions and Social Leaders

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00

In 2017, murders of social leaders, union organizers and indigenous activists in Colombia hit a new high since the historic peace agreement. Empire Files' Abby Martin goes to Colombia to document the increasingly deadly situation for human rights activists. Hear from an Afro-Colombian union leader under threat of assassination, and how the US Empire created this epidemic today.

Watch Part I here.

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Capitalism and the Opioid Crisis

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses the UN report on poverty in the US, oreos produced in Mexico, US households with zero or negative net worth, Germany's negative utility prices, Germany's bold labor strikes, Iceland's law on equal pay for equal work, the myth of US economic "recovery," and how Canada's Tim Horton sabotages rising minimum wage. Also included is an interview with Dr. Harriet Fraad on US opioid crisis.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

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A Joe Arpaio Run in Arizona Could Give Democrats the Senate

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00
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No one ever considered a potential Democratic Senate pick-up in the deep red state of Alabama -- that is, until the Alabama GOP gave its party nomination to former judge and fringe right-wing candidate Roy Moore. Now, it's possible that the left could see another big win in a red state with the announcement that Sheriff Joe Arpaio hopes to replace Republican Senator Jeff Flake.

Sheriff Joe, best known for his abuse of prisoners in his Maricopa County jails, his birther conspiracy theories and his rabid, rabid anti-immigration stance, stated on Tuesday that he will run in the GOP primary to replace Flake, who is not running for re-election.

"I have a lot to offer. I'm a big supporter of President Trump," Arpaio told the Washington Examiner. "I'm going to have to work hard; you don't take anything for granted. But I would not being doing this if I thought that I could not win. I'm not here to get my name in the paper, I get that everyday, anyway."

Arpaio's announcement is likely to have the biggest impact on Kelli Ward, another Tea Party GOP extremist planning to run for the party nomination. But it will also ripple out to Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally, who the party viewed as the most favorable general election candidate for the ticket.

Arpaio complicates the lessons the Republicans may have learned in Alabama about choosing a fringe nominee over a more "moderate" opponent, too. While President Trump expressed support for the more traditional candidate, Senator Luther Strange -- an endorsement that still couldn't help Strange win the primary -- Trump will be hard pressed not to back Arpaio, who the president pardoned for ignoring a federal court order forbidding him from racial profiling Arizona residents.

For the GOP, a candidate who trumpets his relationship with Trump as a key facet of his campaign could cause massive damage to whichever candidate emerges from the primary as the winner -- even if that winner is McSally.

"Even if Arpaio loses the primary to McSally, he would have had seven months to push her to the right and define GOP messaging on a host of issues -- and not just in Arizona," the Washington Examiner suggests. "Trump is sure to promote Arpaio's campaign, and Republican primary candidates all over the country might follow his lead."

While the Arizona Republicans are about as far-right and socially conservative as they come -- with an added mix of anti-immigrant xenophobia and straight-out racism in some cases -- the general Arizona population is far less extreme. The president won Arizona by a mere 4 points in 2016, and the population is about 15 percent Latino. Arpaio has a very strong likelihood of winning his primary -- and losing dramatically once the general election comes along.

Thanks to the Alabama special election win, Democrats trail Republicans in the Senate by just two seats. A flip in Arizona would tie the parties, and as primary contenders continue to move the party to the right, the odds are improving that the final seat could happen.

While former presidential contender Mitt Romney may be willing to campaign in a safe Republican state like Utah, more challenging states are having a hard time finding appealing Republicans to run at all.

In Ohio, Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel just announced that he is discontinuing his challenge to sitting Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, claiming family illness is taking priority over his run. But is it really a health crisis? Or is it the probability of a Democratic wave that has him hoping to avoid an embarrassing defeat that has caused Mandel to postpone? Regardless, the party is now scrambling to find absolutely anyone who can file in the next month to take on Brown -- including a right-wing author with no political experience at all.

Despite control of all branches of the government and major leads, it's becoming increasingly clear that the GOP is going to squander all of their political capital in the 2018 midterms, likely putting one --  if not both -- chambers of Congress back in Democratic control.

Arpaio's newly announced run? That's just the latest indication of exactly how far the Republican Party has fallen.

Categories: Latest News

The World Unites to Denounce Donald Trump's Racist "S**thole" Comments

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00
Donald Trump listens during a news conference with Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)   In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

President Donald Trump's remark referring to El Salvador, Haiti and all of the countries in Africa as a "s**thole" is being met, unsurprisingly, with widespread backlash.

Trump's remark, made during a Thursday meeting with lawmakers from both parties to discuss overhauling the US's immigration system, blasted El Salvador, Haiti and the nations of Africa.

"Why are we having all these people from sh**hole countries come here?" Trump asked the lawmakers, then responding that America should instead have more immigrants from nations like Norway, whose prime minister he had met with on Wednesday.

He later added, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out."

Trump's remarks have already been greeted with horror throughout the international community.

"There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome," Rupert Colville, the United Nations' human rights spokesman, told reporters during a Geneva news briefing.

Botswana, an African nation, denounced Trump's comment as "highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist." A spokeswoman for the African Union, Ebba Kalondo, stated: "given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice. This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity."

"In the spirit of the people of Haiti we feel in the statements, if they were made, the president was either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people," Paul G. Altidor, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, explained in a statement.

Only a handful of Republican congressmen have denounced Trump's comment so far -- and none of the leaders.

"The (President's) comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation's values. The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned," Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, stated on Thursday. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., offered a similar comment on Twitter.

It is completely inappropriate for the President to refer to other countries in the manner in which he reportedly did, especially given the circumstances and disasters that led many TPS immigrants to seek refuge and shelter in the US

— Rep. Erik Paulsen (@RepErikPaulsen) January 12, 2018

The men and women who have status under the TPS program are among the most humble and hard working in our country. They improve quality of life in our communities and many Americans depend on them to support family life.

— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) January 11, 2018

Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize #TPS immigrants. The White House must immediately explain the situation and leave no doubt regarding what was said and in what context.

— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) January 11, 2018

Moreover delivering a permanent solution for #TPS beneficiaries should be a major component of any #immigration deal.

— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) January 11, 2018
Categories: Latest News

Oprah for President 2020?

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00
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In the wake of Oprah Winfrey's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes for her Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award on January 7, 2018, the political twitter-verse went a little bonkers predicting a possible presidential run.

After Trump's surprising victory, I don't think any of us can say that she's unqualified for the role or even unelectable. But in many ways she has some of the same flaws that make the Trump presidency so problematic.

Oprah may be famous, but Trump has demonstrated that celebrity is a poor substitute for actual political skills. All recent presidents came to the job with larger political tool kits. Obama had been a US Senator. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were governors. The elder Bush had been Vice President. As we have seen in the chaotic first year of the Trump presidency, the Oval Office is perhaps not the ideal place for on-the-job training.  

Wealth is also not a substitute for competence. If Americans believe the 2020 race is merely a contest between two vain billionaires, turn out could be just as disappointing as it was in 2016. 

However, the contrasts between Oprah's wealth and Trump's could not be more stark. According to the latest estimates by Forbes, Oprah is worth $2.8 billion and Trump is worth $3.1 billion. The mere $300 million difference between the two is astonishing when one considers Oprah grew up "dirt poor" in rural Mississippi and was raised alternately by her single mother and grandmother. She did not have indoor plumbing. Compare that with Trump. His father was "one of the richest people in America in the 1970s" and Donald started out with a $1 million loan from his father, worth about $7 million today.

Normally I'd worry about the chances for a woman without a family running for office. But after the Trump family travails, being childless looks a lot more attractive. Oprah's advantage in not having offspring is that she doesn't have any children to run her campaign into the ground or into the hands of a foreign power. There's no embarrassing "Oprah Jr." out there. Moreover, Americans won't have to suffer through strained nepotism laws if she is elected, compared with having daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared in the White House now. 

Business entanglements don't work well with the presidency. Oprah may have a similar problem as Trump when it comes to divestment. Trump's tenure has been rife with conflicts of interest as he visits a Trump-branded property on average every three days at taxpayer expense.  Ethics experts advised him to divest and to place his wealth in a blind trust. He refused to do so.   

Her 25 percent ownership of OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) and of Harpo (Oprah spelled backwards) Productions, might be hard for her to let go, just like Trump. (However, it's likely Oprah would have no trouble selling her minority stake in OWN to the other owner of the network, Discovery Communications.)  Trump has put his businesses in a see-through revocable trust.  But if Oprah wants to distinguish herself from Trump's  and his seemingly innumerable conflicts of interest, she should step all the way away from her ownership all on-going businesses. At the very least she should not stop by her businesses every few days to golf or for "executive time."

The downside to running against Trump is all of the nastiness he heaped on Hillary Clinton in 2016 will likely be repackaged and hurled Oprah's way. And given his loose relationship with the truth, mendacity will probably come with the territory.  If she really cares more about her commercial brand than politics, getting lied about for two years by Mr. Trump may not be worth it.

Oprah clearly has the name recognition and the funds to be a successful candidate. The question is does she have the will to take on all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that would accompany a presidential run? 

The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily those of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Categories: Latest News

After #MeToo: Healing From the Trauma of Sexual Assault

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00

With about 19 million viewers watching, the demonstration of solidarity at Sunday's Golden Globe awards ceremony offered  the largest platform to address sexual violence since the #MeToo movement began on social media. But recognizing this crisis is only half the battle, because for many the aftermath of sexual assault is just the beginning of a lifetime of healing.

Activists carry signs opposing sexual harassment at a #MeToo rally outside of Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)   The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!

On Sunday the red carpet of the 2018 Golden Globe Awards was not the usual sea of dazzling gowns and blinding jewelry. Instead, a shadow of black engulfed the night. Actresses alongside activists wore black as a proclamation of solidarity with sexual assault survivors within the entertainment industry and workplaces across the country. Connected to the "blackout" was Time's Up, a movement aimed at ending sexual violence and inequality in the workplace. The initiative aims to bridge the gap between Hollywood players and those who experience sexual assault from less privileged backgrounds.

"Time's Up is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere," states its website. "From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live."

With about 19 million viewers watching, the awards ceremony offered perhaps the largest platform to address sexual violence since the #MeToo movement began on social media. But recognizing this crisis is only half the battle, because for many the aftermath of sexual assault is just the beginning of a lifetime of healing.

In November, an online campaign inspired by the #MeToo movement launched in the hopes of encouraging sexual assault survivors to seek the resources necessary for recovery. Suitably named #HealMeToo, the campaign was created by Meghan Patenaude with the National Organization of Women, New York chapter, and is bringing the issue of trauma caused by sexual assault to the general public. Since a video created by the #HealMeToo campaign went live on the Huffington Post in November, it has been viewed about half a million times.

Patenaude, who is a survivor herself, describes the importance of bringing attention to these traumas. "It just seemed like there was really something missing, and we wanted to be able to connect with people and share the aftermath," she explains. "It doesn't just end with the story. Everyone who just posted to #MeToo is also suffering, most likely, from PTSD, and that's kind of the story that we have never really heard before."

Within two weeks following sexual assault, 94 percent of women will also experience post-traumatic stress disorder, reported the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1992. PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event -- either experiencing it or witnessing it -- and includes a variety of symptoms, varying from flashbacks and nightmares to severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

PTSD can affect an individual's ability to work, to have close and meaningful relationships, and can trigger addictions and unhealthy behaviors. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found in a study that women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Those who experience this condition due to sexual assault often find they need to avoid certain social situations and people likely to trigger a negative response. Going to the park, grabbing a beer with friends at the bar, walking down a dark street -- these simple tasks can heighten fear and anxiety for those suffering from PTSD.

Survivor Colleen Kane, a 23-year-old living in New York City, says that sharing her experiences with the #HealMeToo campaign has helped her handle intense emotions that arise after being sexually assaulted. "It can be very overwhelming, and in the first few months I felt completely isolated and I didn't feel my close friends really understood what I was going through."

Kane's experience is familiar to those who have been through similar trauma. It is this sentiment of isolation and separation that is what the #HealMeToo campaign is hoping to negate.

Patenaude wanted to bring attention to PTSD among survivors, and found that linking to the #MeToo movement would be the best way. The campaign has been featured on Refinery29, Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, and Ebony Magazine.

"This project came out of just really wanting to help women fight PTSD and being able to create the first sense of community around it," she says. "I think this campaign plays an important part in getting the public to realize the aftermath of sexual assault and, further, how to heal." Women have participated through Twitter, Facebook, and the campaign's online message board, and the campaign has offered them an umbrella under which they can safely discuss triggering topics so often kept from public view.

The website offers survivors a variety of tools, including a website, message board, videos, and social media threads, which all focus on survivors' personal accounts of working past PTSD. The website also links to organizations that specialize in helping victims after an assault has occurred (After Silence,  RAINN,  Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and the  PTSD Alliance, to name a few). Health organizations like Mount Sinai Health System and Teen Source have referred their patients to the #HealMeToo website as a resource.

Since the start of the campaign in November, a guidebook was created to combine the stories of 40 survivors. The guidebook is available online at www.healmetoo.com and contains words of encouragement and advice about how to start recovering from PTSD after being sexually assaulted.

"There's nothing more powerful than advice from survivor to survivor," Patenaude says. "The campaign [does] not just spread stories, it spreads advice from people who have been there, from people who are going through it, and who are still fighting through it."

Categories: Latest News

California Is Preparing to Defend its Waters From Trump Order

Truthout - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 21:00

In its first act to shield California from the Trump administration's repeal of regulations, the state's water board has prepared its own rules protecting wetlands and other waters. The proposed new rules could insulate the state from President Donald Trump's executive order to roll back the reach of the Clean Water Act.

Landscapes from Point Reyes National Seashore, a stretch of federally protected Pacific Ocean coastline, on July 6, 2017, outside of the town of Inverness, California. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images)   Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

In its first act to shield California from the Trump administration's repeal of regulations, the state's water board has prepared its own rules protecting wetlands and other waters.

The proposed new rules, scheduled for a vote by the board this summer, could insulate the state from President Donald Trump's executive order to roll back the reach of the Clean Water Act. That rollback would strip federal protection from seasonal streambeds, isolated pools and other transitory wetlands, exposing them to damage, pollution or destruction from housing developments, energy companies and farms.

"When you look at it from a historical perspective, California has lost the vast majority of the wetland resources," said planner Paul Hann, who oversees the State Water Resources Control Board's wetlands protection program. "We want to capture the rich diversity of wetlands across the state. These resources play a big role in improving our water quality and providing a valuable benefit in terms of flood protection, wildlife habitat and recreation."

Over the past two centuries, California has lost roughly 90 percent of its wetlands, leaving 2.9 million acres, according to the California Natural Resources Agency. These remaining wetlands support more species of plants and animals than any other habitat, including an estimated 41 percent of California's rare and endangered species.

Stepping in to protect its wetlands "is a prime example of a state exerting its right to protect itself from federal rollbacks," said attorney Rachel Zwillinger, a water policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife. "California is showing the type of state leadership that our system of cooperative federalism envisions."

What's at stake Sally and Mike Gale raise grass-fed beef cattle and lambs and grow apple trees on unirrigated pastureland in Petaluma, Calif. They treasure the creeks and ponds that are the type of seasonal waters that Trump calls "puddles and ditches."Credit: Brian L. Frank for Reveal

Winter brings dormancy and frozen earth to much of the country. But on the border of Marin and Sonoma counties, about 40 miles north of San Francisco, hundreds of creeks and lakes are springing to life. Birds swoop in from the north, steelhead and salmon edge their way upstream, and newts and pond turtles emerge in waterways fed by rain.

"The end of the summer is such a terrible time when it's dry and dusty and the earth is parched. When it starts to rain, it's like heaven," said Sally Gale, a fifth-generation rancher in Petaluma who is president of the Marin Resource Conservation District. "The earth smells so rich and fertile. In a couple of days, you see a sprinkling of green across the pasture. The network of rivulets and wetlands looks like veins on a leaf."

"The land comes back to life. It's magic," Gale said.

These wetlands are an example of what's at stake in the state's effort to protect what could be left vulnerable by the Trump administration's plan to roll back the federal rule and redefine wetlands.

In California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the vast majority of streams flow only in response to rainfall, according to U.S. Geological Survey data cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The West is different from the rest of the country," said Dave Shuford, senior biologist at the Petaluma-based nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science. "The ecosystems out here are very dynamic. Year to year, they change depending on rainfall.

"It's boom or bust for species," he added. "If birds, amphibians and reptiles don't have these places to go, they'll have a hard time breeding."

In a drought year, the creeks hold no water. In a wet year, they catch the rain, and their vegetation filters out pollutants before they can move via creeks and rivers toward the ocean. The pools recharge groundwater, slow flooding, stop erosion and provide fresh water for flora and fauna.

"If you add up all of the small spots, it's a big resource," Shuford said. "You have a bunch of little places that support huge numbers of birds."

Mike Gale's family and friends have counted more than 100 species of migratory songbirds as well as muskrats, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and bobcats at his Chileno Valley Ranch.Credit: Brian L. Frank for Reveal

Like a scene out of the Old West, Chileno Valley Road in Petaluma winds through coast live oaks and bay laurels before the landscape opens to once-straw-colored hills now turned bright green. Hidden in the hills, formerly dry washes and creeks surge with rainwater. Eventually, the flows make their way to Tomales Bay, one of the most pristine bays on the West Coast, and then on to the ocean.

Along the winding road, a handsome Victorian Italianate house built in the 1880s marks the Chileno Valley Ranch, where Gale and her husband, Mike, raise grass-fed beef cattle and lambs and grow apple trees on unirrigated pastureland dependent on rain.

Behind the house, Chileno Creek began to trickle after a handful of November rains. Blue herons and white egrets searched for food. As winter rain pelts the watershed, the creek rushes. In time, it can fill to 150 feet wide and overflow onto the pastures. Steelhead will arrive, and later in the winter, red-legged frogs and pond turtles. Family and friends have counted more than 100 species of migratory songbirds, many of which stay to breed, as well as muskrats, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and bobcats.

Trump's order In June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt hoped to fast-track the rollback of that protects wetlands by narrowing the definition of "waters of the United States," but it's been slowed by regulatory obstacles.Credit: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

For decades, many builders, growers, ranchers, energy and mining companies and other industries have lobbied federal lawmakers to limit their obligations to preserve wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

Shortly after taking office, Trump told a gathering of farmers and homebuilders that the EPA had "truly run amok" by saving "nearly every puddle or every ditch." He told EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to throw out the Obama administration rule that protects seasonal streams and small isolated ponds and shrink the reach of the law by narrowing the definition of "waters of the United States."

Pruitt has made clear where he stands: As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA in 2015 to overturn the wetlands rule. As administrator, he appeared in an August video for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, urging ranchers to send him public comments supporting its repeal. The Government Accountability Office is investigating this as a possible violation of rules forbidding lobbying by government officials.

In June, Pruitt started the repeal, hoping to fast-track it. But it's been slowed by regulatory obstacles. Under the latest schedule, he plans to rescind the rule by April and propose a new one by May.

Trump directed Pruitt to incorporate a definition, put forth by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2006, that defines protected bodies as relatively permanent and continuously connected by surface water to navigable bays, rivers or lakes.

If Pruitt incorporates that definition, it could endanger the drinking water supply of more than 117 million Americans. According to a 2009 EPA analysis, 58 percent of streams that supply public drinking water systems are intermittent or ephemeral. Based on the National Wetlands Inventory, the EPA assessed that at least 20 million acres of vernal pools, potholes, salt flats, creeks and other isolated wetlands would be put at risk.

If the rule "is rolled back, many of our waterways may lose critical protections," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has joined seven other states and Washington, D.C., in objecting to the repeal of the Obama rule, said in a statement. "The California Department of Justice refuses to stand idly by and let that happen."

California prepares to be rollback ready Sally Gale, a fifth-generation rancher, says when it rains after the dry and dusty summer, her rich and fertile land "comes back to life. It's magic."Credit: Brian L. Frank for Reveal

For more than a decade, the California water board has been working with scientists, holding public meetings and consulting with landowners and businesses to develop new dredge-and-fill regulations to enforce the state's landmark Porter-Cologne Act, adopted in 1969. A key piece is providing a new wetland definition protective of the state's intricate network of water bodies.

In mid-2016, before Trump was elected, the board staff unveiled its proposal, defining which characteristics qualify as a protected wetland and laying out provisions that are more protective to a wide array of water bodies than the current federal rule. For the first time, all the regional boards would enforce the same regulations when landowners and others seek government permission to discharge into or disturb wetlands. If enacted, the state's directive would be first to avoid deterioration, then minimize losses and, if loss is necessary, fully replace them.

"We're trying to balance procedural efficiency with environmental protection," said Hann, the board's wetlands protection program head.

Under narrower federal rules, businesses might be able to plow over or drain a seasonal pool or tributary, while under the state rules, it would be considered a protected wetland that could not be disturbed without investigation and permits.

In urging Trump to revoke the Obama administration rule, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders, energy companies and other business groups argued that states should control their own waters. Now that California is stepping in to take control, these same groups are arguing that the state's proposed rules are duplicative and contradict federal rules.

"Why should we have dueling processes?" said Kari Fisher, a lawyer for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "That's very expensive. You have situations where the state and federal governments can be at odds because they're using different definitions and reaching different conclusions, for example, on mitigations. You have all of these conflicting issues that would arise."

California already has led the way in challenging the Trump administration's proposed border wall, cuts to health care funding and the plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or "Dreamer" program for young immigrants living in the country illegally. But this would be its first official rule that would stop a Trump rollback from affecting California.

Richard Frank, a former state chief deputy attorney general who now directs the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at the UC Davis School of Law, predicts that some states will follow California's lead in adopting their own wetlands rules, while others will be content with the federal rollback.

"This is the environmentally strongest water board I've been aware of in the 40 years I've been following California activities closely," Frank said.  

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Congresswoman Lee Slams Passage of FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act; Calls for Meaningful Reforms to Protect Civil Liberties

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 14:07
Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee released the following statement condemning the passage of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act

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Bayou Bridge Fight Heads to Federal Court

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 13:35
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

Representing the interests of the millions of people who use, visit, study and rely on the Atchafalaya Great River Swamp, several groups today asked a Louisiana federal district court to vacate a recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that would allow the controversial Bayou Bridge pipeline to be constructed through the Atchafalaya Basin, one of the nation’s ecological crown jewels, and through hundreds of Louisiana’s streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands and bayous.  

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New Study Finds Society Now Saves $6 for Every $1 Spent Preparing for Natural Disasters

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:27
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

The National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, released a new report today titled “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves,” examining the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change.

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ACLU Condemns House Vote on Surveillance Bill

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:24
ACLU

The House voted today to pass an amended version a surveillance bill that would extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA). The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, or S.139, would risk codifying illegal surveillance practices into law.

Section 702 is used to spy on the emails, text messages, and other electronic communications of Americans and foreigners without a warrant. An amendment sponsored by Reps. Amash (R-Mich.) and Lofgren (D-Calif.) to reform Section 702, which was supported by the ACLU, failed.

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House Votes to Violate the Privacy Rights of Everyone in the United States

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:13
Free Press

On Thursday, the House rejected legislation that would have put in place robust privacy protections for people in the United States and Americans abroad, and instead voted to renew a program allowing the government to spy on them without a warrant.

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Medicaid Work Requirements: Cruel, Stupid and Illegal

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:10
Public Citizen

Note: The Trump administration has proposed imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

The Trump administration’s new policy of permitting states to impose work requirements for Medicaid eligibility is cruel, stupid and illegal.

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DREAMers + Allies Rally at Schumer’s Office; Demand a Clean DREAM Act in the Federal Budget

Commondreams - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 09:09
The New York Immigration Coalition

On Wednesday, January 10th, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and allies joined DREAMers to rally at New York Senator Charles Schumer’s midtown offices, demanding that he include a clean DREAM Act in the federal budget. Co-sponsors included the Asian American Federation, Arab American Association of New York, Chayya Community Development Corporation, CUNY DREAMers, Indivisible Nation BK, MASA, New York DREAMers, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, New York State Immigrant Action Fund, SUNY DREAMers, and 32BJ SEIU.

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