Category Archives: Law

Emails confirm new EPA chief a tool of the Kochs


Why are we not surprised?

From the New York Times:

During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

A tools of the plutocracy

The documents, though redacted, make clear that Pruitt serves not the interests of the citizens he has sworn to serve but the billionaire patrons who have greased the skids for his political career.

More from the Center for Media and Democracy, the organization which battled for and won release of the documents, which are posted at the link:

As a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, on Tuesday night the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office released a batch of more than 7,500 pages of emails and other records it withheld prior to Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA Administrator last Friday.

The AG’s office has withheld an undetermined number of additional documents as exempted or privileged and submitted them to the Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons for review. A number of other documents were redacted, and CMD will be asking for the court to review those as well. On February 27, the AG’s office has been ordered to deliver records related to five outstanding requests by CMD.

“Despite repeated attempts by Pruitt and the Oklahoma AG’s office to stonewall CMD and the public, we’ve won a major breakthrough in obtaining access to public records that shine a light on Pruitt’s emails with polluters and their proxies,” said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy. “The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events. And our work doesn’t stop here – we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released – both those for which his office is now asserting some sort of privilege against public disclosure and the documents relevant to our eight other Open Records Act requests.”

“There is no valid legal justification for the emails we received last night not being released prior to Pruitt’s confirmation vote other than to evade public scrutiny,” said Arn Pearson, general counsel for CMD. “There are hundreds of emails between the AG’s office, Devon Energy, and other polluters that Senators should have been permitted to review prior to their vote to assess Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.”

Among the documents released late yesterday, CMD has found:

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The GOP’s war on the environment begins


While Republicans are preparing to gut the Endangered Species Act, Donald Trump isn’t waiting to fire the opening salvos in the GOP war on the environment.

From the Washington Post:

President Trump is preparing executive orders aimed at curtailing Obama-era policies on climate and water pollution, according to individuals briefed on the measures.

While both directives will take time to implement, they will send an unmistakable signal that the new administration is determined to promote fossil-fuel production and economic activity even when those activities collide with some environmental safeguards. Individuals familiar with the proposals asked for anonymity to describe them in advance of their announcement, which could come as soon as this week.

One executive order — which the Trump administration will couch as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy — will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities. It also instructs the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.

A second order will instruct the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revamp a 2015 rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, that applies to 60 percent of the water bodies in the country. That regulation was issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gives the federal government authority over not only major water bodies but also the wetlands, rivers and streams that feed into them. It affects development as well as some farming operations on the grounds that these activities could pollute the smaller or intermittent bodies of water that flow into major ones.

Trump has joined many industry groups in criticizing these rules as examples of the federal government exceeding its authority and curbing economic growth. While any move to undo these policies will spark new legal battles and entail work within the agencies that could take as long as a year and a half to finalize, the orders could affect investment decisions within the utility, mining, agriculture and real estate sectors, as well as activities on the ground.

Are Monarch butterflies headed for extinction?


Monarch butterflies have always been a personal favorite, those remarkable orange-winged critters whose presence always brightens a day.

As we wrote last year:

When we first arrived in California in 1967, one of the first mysteries we encountered was attached to a Monarch butterfly, one of those magnificently garbed creatures we had first found so fascinating as a child years earlier.

The mystery was a small paper wheel imprinted with a serial number and a phone number we were to call if we chanced upon the little critter.

Aha! A story! we thought — and we were right.

The phone number connected us to a Canadian university, where entomologists were studying the migrational patterns of creature that managed to navigate its way from the plains of our neighbor to the north to a forest in the heartland of our neighbor to the south — a remarkably odyssey worthy of a Greek bard.

But now, we learn, those delightful creatures may soon vanish from the earth.

From The Ecologist:

It’s been another disastrous year for North America’s Monarch butterflies, with the insect’s population down 27% in a single year. The sudden decline is blamed on severe winter storms in Mexico, and the impacts of GMO crops, herbicides and insecticides on US farms.

The annual overwintering count of monarch butterflies confirms. . .that this year’s population is down by 27% from last year’s count, and down by more than 80% from the mid-1990s. This dramatic decline indicates that America’s most well-known butterfly is at ongoing risk of extinction.

This year’s drastic decline is attributed in part to extreme winter storms that killed millions of monarchs last March in Mexico’s mountain forests where 99% of the world’s monarchs migrate for the winter.

“The monarch butterfly is still in really big trouble and still needs really big help if we are going to save this beloved orange and black wonder for future generations”, said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

A recent study by the US Geological Survey concluded that there is a substantial probability that monarch butterflies east of the Rockies could decline to such low levels that they face extinction. Researchers estimate the probability that the monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years is between 11% and 57%.

And if you think the Endangered SPecies Act will help save this or any onther critter, think again.

There’s now a major move afoot by Congressional Republicans to either gut the law or abolish it altogether.

The sacred landscape: DAPL, tradition, & profit


For somebody like Donald Trump, who sees a stretch pristine coastline as merely the opportunity of a golf course and a landmarked historic building as an inconvenienced to be bulldozed to make way for a new hotel,  nothing must get in the way of turning a quick buck.

So it was only natural that he’d reverse the freeze on the Dakota Access Pipeline in order to keep the profits flowing for his campaign contributors.

But for many Native Americans, the landscape through which the pipline passes is a sacred text, a living presence integral to the stories of their origins and being.

Rosalyn R. LaPier, a Native American scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion at Harvard University, explains in an essay for The Conversation, an open access academic journal written for the lay reader:

For several months Native American protesters and others have been opposing the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plans for construction pass through sacred land for the Native American tribe, Standing Rock Sioux.

But, within days of taking office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum supporting the construction of the pipeline. Recently a U.S. federal judge denied a request by tribes to halt construction on the final link of the project.

On Wednesday, however, the protesters appeared to have received support from none other than Pope Francis, a long-time defender of indigenous people’s rights. The pope said indigenous cultures have a right to defend “their ancestral relationship to the Earth.” He added,

“Do not allow those that destroy the Earth, which destroy the environment and the ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples.”

As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religious studies, I am often asked what Native American leaders mean when they say that certain landscapes are “sacred places” or “sacred sites.”

What makes a mountain, hill or prairie a “sacred” place?

Meaning of sacred spaces

I learned from my grandparents about the sacred areas within Blackfeet tribal territory in Montana and Alberta, which is not far from Lakota tribal territory in the Dakotas.

My grandparents said that sacred areas are places set aside from human presence. They identified two overarching types of sacred place: those set aside for the divine, such as a dwelling place, and those set aside for human remembrance, such as a burial or battle site.

In my forthcoming book “Invisible Reality,” I contemplate those stories that my grandparents shared about Blackfeet religious concepts and the interconnectedness of the supernatural and natural realms.

My grandparents’ stories revealed that the Blackfeet believe in a universe where supernatural beings exist within the same time and space as humans and our natural world. The deities could simultaneously exist in both as visible and invisible reality. That is, they could live unseen, but known, within a physical place visible to humans.

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Roman Polanski wants to come back to the U.S.


We are intimately connected with Roman Polanski, though we’ve we’ve only talked with the brilliant director once, and that was some years back when he was first trying to return to the country where he had served prison time for the statutory rape of a young woman a week before her 14th birthday.

There’s no question that it happened,. Polanski admitted it before the late Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, a peculiar character much like a smart Donald Trump in that he was obsessed with his own celebrity and deeply outraged anyone who dared criticize him.

Polanski’s able attorneys had negotiated a plea agreement with the judge, the District Attorney’s office, and the parents of the young woman, but the judge backed out after the director had served the agreed-upon time.

The reason he backed out: He was getting criticism from the wives of the members of the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club, where he spent much of the time he wasn’t serving on the bench.

We know this because he told us.

Just as personal ego is no basis for running a country, it’s no basis for running a courtroom either.

And now the only person who seemed to want Polanski to be exposed to the criminal justice system again is the elected Los Angeles County District Attorney.

It’s certainly not the woman at the center of the case, who has explicitly and repeatedly said she wants Polanski to be left alone.

From TMZ:

Roman Polanski will make a move next week to return to the U.S. and end his child rape case for good, without serving additional jail time.

Polanski’s famed lawyer, Harland Braun, has asked an L.A. County Superior Court judge to unseal a long-secret transcript of the testimony of the prosecutor in the Polanski case.

Braun believes the secret testimony supports Polanski’s claim that he cut a deal to serve only 48 days behind bars for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, and the judge signed off.

Polanski actually spent 42 days in Chino State Prison and was released. But Judge Laurence Rittenband allegedly reneged on the deal and told prosecutors he decided Polanski should spend up to 50 years in prison. That’s when Polanski fled the U.S. for Europe.

Polanski spent another 334 days in custody in Switzerland, while authorities tried to extradite him back to the U.S. A Polish court ruled Polanski has served his time under the plea deal, and now Braun wants the L.A. judge to honor that ruling.

For more on the case and Rittenband’s madness, see Marina Zenovich’s superb documentary, Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired, in which we happen to be featured, both on- and off-camera.

And by all means, see our extensive posts on the case.

Headlines of the day: The circus is in town


From the New York Times:

Apologizes for ‘Incomplete’ Account of Calls With Russian

  • Michael T. Flynn has resigned as national security adviser after saying he misled the vice president and others about discussions with a Russian diplomat.
  • The Justice Department believed Mr. Flynn’s attempt to cover his tracks with his bosses could leave him vulnerable to Russian blackmail, a former official said.

And the Guardian:

Trump knew for weeks Michael Flynn misled over Russia contact

  • White House says resignation a result of ‘eroding level of trust’, not potential violation of law, as GOP divided over inquiry into Flynn’s calls with ambassador

And the Washington Post:

Justice Department warned White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, officials say

  • The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.
Finally, the gather-it-all-up-and-throw-it-in-the-headline approach from the banned-by-Wikipedia London Daily Mail:

Trump SACKED Flynn: White House reveals president asking for national security adviser’s resignation over Russia lie – and hints at more ‘questionable instances’

  • National Security Advisor Michael Flynn stepped down on Monday night after President Trump demanded his ouster
  • Flynn resigned because he realized he’d become a distraction for the administration, she said. ‘It became increasingly unsustainable for him’
  • The president sought the senior aide’s resignation because of an ‘eroding level of trust’
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan says Trump was right to get rid of his top national security aide
  • Resignation comes on heels of report that Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month about Flynn’s contacts with Russia 
  • Flynn spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. prior to inauguration 
  • Claimed he never talked about lifting sanctions, later backpedaled

Immigration: A campaign, protests, TrumpWall™


Following up on our previous post, the latest news on resistance to Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria and the latest on Pussygrabber’s Erection alias The Wall.

A Mexican presidential candidate campaigns in U.S.

First, from teleSUR English, a Mexican presidential candidate takes the road in the U.S.:

Mexico’s left-wing presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a U.S. tour Sunday beginning in Los Angeles aimed at promoting and defending the rights of Mexican immigrants north of the border.

Lopez Obrador has been an outspoken critic of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies and proposals — which include promises of millions of deportations and plans to build a massive wall along the border with Mexico — and has vowed to raise awareness in Mexico and the U.S. about the state of immigrants’ rights under Trump and the harrowing realities underlying migration.

The politician has also called for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to file a complaint with the United Nations against the United States for violating human rights, particularly the rights of immigrants, Mexico’s La Jornada reported.

“Trump is inhumane and harms human rights,” Lopez Obrador said last month after announcing the U.S. tour, which he also said would be part of a growing movement against xenophobia.

Lopez Obrador, known in Mexico by his initials AMLO, launched his campaign in November for the 2018 elections in his third run for president — this time as a candidate for his left-wing Morena party and with a brand new platform focused on tackling inequality and corruption.

A mass protest in Mexico’s capital

Anger at Trump’s racist blather is growing South of the border, and the latest expression of TrumpRage™ came in a mass protest in Mexico City.

From the Associated Press:

About 20,000 people staged a march through Mexico’s capital Sunday demanding respect for their country and its migrants in the face of perceived hostility from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Many marchers carried Mexican flags and dressed in white as a sign of unity and to signal the non-political nature of the march. One of the banners read: “Gracias, Trump, for unifying Mexico!”

The marchers protested Trump’s plans for a border wall and increased deportations of migrants. Trump has also pressured U.S. corporations to provide jobs in the United States, not Mexico.

>snip<

The march also featured many signs supporting Mexican migrants living in the United States.

And Trump promises cheaper wall, billed to Uncle Sam

So much for that campaign promise to make foot the bill for The Donald’s wall.

From the Independent:

Donald Trump has said he will lower the cost of building a wall along the US-Mexico border by negotiating a bargain and using a cheap design.

Mr Trump said the price would drop “way down” once he became involved in the planning process, apparently suggesting the US would foot at least part of the bill.

The President has previously insisted Mexico will pay for work on the 2,000-mile-long “impassable physical barrier”. Mexico has refused to fund it.

Fact checkers and engineers have estimated the cost of building the wall will far exceed the $12bn (£9.6bn) estimate given by Mr Trump. According to a leaked Department of Homeland Security report, the barrier could cost as much as $21bn and take more than three years to construct.

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