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Scott Pruitt took a $14,000 flight to Oklahoma to talk about closing EPA offices

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned on Friday, following revelations that he had taken at least two dozen private and military flights at taxpayer expense since May. But who hasn’t been taking private flights among the members of President Trump’s Cabinet? We now know that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have all flown on noncommercial or government planes rather than commercial ones, collectively racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to taxpayers. Zinke went so far as to fly on a plane owned by oil and gas executives after giving a motivational speech to Las Vegas’ new National Hockey League team.

For Pruitt, the news comes as he’s found himself battling several other mini-scandals from his short tenure. He’s faced congressional inquiries for having an 18-person, 24-hour security detail, building a nearly $25,000 secure phone booth for himself, and taking frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma. But the most jarring aspect of his plane controversy is how it looks against the Trump administration’s proposal to cut one-third of the EPA budget.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Pruitt has taken at least four trips on chartered and government flights since his confirmation, at a cost of $58,000, according to documents provided to a congressional oversight committee. The EPA has defended Pruitt’s travel by saying the four noncommercial flights were for necessary trips to meet stakeholders around the country and that there were special circumstances that prevented commercial flying.

But what exactly was Pruitt up to on these trips? On one of them, his only public meeting in Oklahoma, he and six staffers took an Interior Department plane from Tulsa to Guymon, a town in Oklahoma’s panhandle, at a cost of $14,400. The trip’s stated purpose was to meet with landowners “whose farms have been affected” by a federal rule making more bodies of water subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. Pruitt has argued for overturning the rule since before his arrival at the EPA, and he has begun the process of reversing it.

One of the things Pruitt reportedly talked about in his meetings with farmers in late July was closing the EPA’s 10 regional offices and reassigning staff to work in state capitals. According to an affiliate of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau that helped organize the event and was tweeting about his remarks that day, Pruitt floated the idea to an audience of farmers assembled in Guymon.

A screenshot of the tweet provided to Mother Jones. The original tweet appears to have been deleted.

The farm policy publication Agri-Pulse took note of the tweet and requested comment from the EPA at the time. Agency spokesperson Liz Bowman told the publication that Pruitt “believes it is his responsibility to find the best and most efficient way to perform environmental protection” but repeated that there weren’t plans to close any regional offices “in the foreseeable future.”

Politico reported earlier this year that the White House was looking at shutting down two of the EPA’s 10 regional offices in its budget request. A Chicago Sun Times columnist reported that the Chicago EPA office, where 1,000 people work, could be on the chopping block. Though the agency quickly denied the rumors, there were protests not just from EPA staff, but from Democratic and Republican politicians representing areas that would be affected. By June, the idea appeared to be off the table. That month, Pruitt told members of the House Appropriations Committee that he did not intend to close regional offices. He dismissed the reports that he was considering closing the Chicago office as “pure legend,” saying, “It is not something that is under discussion presently.”

The EPA employs roughly 15,000 people, many of whom work across the country in regional offices, carrying out day-to-day environmental oversight and delivering grants to fund state environmental programs. In early May, Democratic senators who sit on the oversight committee for the EPA wrote to Pruitt, “Whether reviewing discharge permits for compliance with Federal pollution standards and state water quality standards, or inspecting facilities to see if they are operating in compliance with their permits, we count on regional staff to provide guidance to state pollution control staff, the public and regulated entities.” Regional staff, for instance, have played a key role in the response to recent hurricanes, analyzing soil and water samples for contamination. It’s unlikely that Pruitt would seek simply to move the EPA’s regional office staffers to state offices. He has already sought to cut more than 1,000 positions from the agency through buyouts, and the closure of regional offices could be an additional pretense to eliminate jobs.

On Thursday, the EPA declined to give Mother Jones more context on Pruitt’s remarks about regional offices that day or why he would be floating the idea well after denying it was under consideration. Instead, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox offered this statement: “Anyone that takes time to read President Trump’s budget will realize that no money is allocated to close down regional EPA offices.”

The president of the EPA employees union, John O’Grady, commented that closing regional offices and moving the regulators into state capital buildings would be “a whole ball of wax” that the administration hasn’t thought through.

“If they do that, I’m going to come out and say quite frankly we’re thrilled that the administration has decided to put U.S. EPA employees at the state office,” he said. “Now we can tell for sure that the states are following federal laws correctly.” He added, “They’re trying to dilute the EPA as a cohesive unit. They’re trying to get rid of us.”

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Scott Pruitt took a $14,000 flight to Oklahoma to talk about closing EPA offices

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This is Trump’s chance to tank the solar industry

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

If President Trump were honest about which industries are the biggest job-creation powerhouses, it wouldn’t be the sluggish coal industry. It’s solar. More than twice the size of the wind industry and roughly five times bigger than the coal industry, solar accounted for one in every 50 jobs created in 2016, according to an annual census by the Solar Foundation. But Trump will soon have the chance to cut off U.S. solar from the cheap foreign panels that have led to the industry’s booming success the past few years.

The U.S. International Trade Commission on Friday decided 4-0 that foreign imports of solar panels and cells have damaged the business of two domestic solar manufactures, Suniva and SolarWorld. Now that the ITC has found injury, it will likely suggest a price floor or tariffs. The decision on whether to regulate these imports will ultimately fall to Trump, and evidence suggests he’s likely to do it. “I would place the odds of the president agreeing to some type of remedy at 90 percent,” an anonymous Trump administration official told the news site Axios.

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Suniva has already proposed a price floor of 78 cents per watt and a tariff that would more than double the current panel costs. Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Ross Hopper’s statement Friday warned that such a proposal could hobble the industry.

“Analysts say Suniva’s remedy proposal will double the price of solar, destroy two-thirds of demand, erode billions of dollars in investment and unnecessarily force 88,000 Americans to lose their jobs in 2018,” Hopper said. “An improper remedy will devastate the burgeoning American solar economy and ultimately harm America’s manufacturers and 36,000 people currently engaged in solar manufacturing that don’t make cells and panels.”

And according to Greentech Media, a tariff on imported panels wouldn’t necessarily lead to more domestic manufacturing:

If President Trump approves a new trade remedy for “injury” from imported solar products, it will likely take effect in January 2018. The solar industry is then expected to file a complaint with the WTO — which is what opponents did when the American steel industry brought a Section 201 nearly 17 years ago. The WTO could take another two years to rule on the case. And if the Suniva/SolarWorld 201 petition is found to be in conflict with the WTO — like in the steel case — the WTO will reject it.

The problem is, this two-and-a-half-year period probably doesn’t provide enough runway to make a U.S. facility feasible. A company that invests considerable capital in a U.S. factory, only to find the country reopened to imports by the time it’s finished, would be at a disadvantage compared to others that don’t bother.

It’s not just environmentalists and advocacy groups that oppose stemming the flow of cheap imported panels. Most of the U.S. solar industry lined up against Suniva and SolarWorld, after seeing the costs of installed solar per watt decline dramatically the past 10 years. About 98 percent of the industry now relies on these imports, “with more than a third of them from China,” where production costs are cheaper, reports InsideClimate News. These cheaper costs have made solar competitive with fossil fuels, in some cases even outcompeting conventional sources. That’s what solar installers say is responsible for the boom in utility-scale solar plants and rooftop solar.

A number of conservative and industry-aligned groups like Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council also came out against tariffs on solar imports.

“The tariffs requested by Suniva and SolarWorld will make solar products and services in America more expensive and less competitive by removing inexpensive, often imported choices from other solar companies and their customers,” writes Heritage trade policy analyst Katie Tubb. If Trump does decide to crack down on the imported panels, it would be a rare instance of him flouting Heritage’s recommendations.

“This decision gives President Trump and his fossil fuel allies a blank check to crush the solar revolution that we are experiencing in the United States,” said Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a statement. “President Trump should not use this decision as an excuse to kill the solar industry under the guise of domestic manufacturing.”

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This is Trump’s chance to tank the solar industry

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What Have You Changed Your Mind About? – Mr. John Brockman

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What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

Today’s Leading Minds Rethink Everything

Mr. John Brockman

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $0.99

Publish Date: October 6, 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books

Seller: HarperCollins


Even geniuses change their minds sometimes. Edge (www.edge.org), the influential online intellectual salon, recently asked 150 high-powered thinkers to discuss their most telling missteps and reconsiderations: What have you changed your mind about? The answers are brilliant, eye-opening, fascinating, sometimes shocking, and certain to kick-start countless passionate debates. Steven Pinker on the future of human evolution • Richard Dawkins on the mysteries of courtship • SAM HARRIS on the indifference of Mother Nature • Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the irrelevance of probability • Chris Anderson on the reality of global warming • Alan Alda on the existence of God • Ray Kurzweil on the possibility of extraterrestrial life • Brian Eno on what it means to be a "revolutionary" • Helen Fisher on love, fidelity, and the viability of marriage • Irene Pepperberg on learning from parrots . . . and many others.

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What Have You Changed Your Mind About? – Mr. John Brockman

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Quakeland – Kathryn Miles

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Quakeland

On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake

Kathryn Miles

Genre: Nature

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: August 29, 2017

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


A journey around the United States in search of the truth about the threat of earthquakes leads to spine-tingling discoveries, unnerving experts, and ultimately the kind of preparations that will actually help guide us through disasters. It’s a road trip full of surprises.   Earthquakes. You need to worry about them only if you’re in San Francisco, right? Wrong. We have been making enormous changes to subterranean America, and Mother Earth, as always, has been making some of her own. . . . The consequences for our real estate, our civil engineering, and our communities will be huge because they will include earthquakes most of us do not expect and cannot imagine—at least not without reading Quakeland . Kathryn Miles descends into mines in the Northwest, dissects Mississippi levee engineering studies, uncovers the horrific risks of an earthquake in the Northeast, and interviews the seismologists, structual engineers, and emergency managers around the country who are addressing this ground shaking threat. As Miles relates, the era of human-induced earthquakes began in 1962 in Colorado after millions of gallons of chemical-weapon waste was pumped underground in the Rockies. More than 1,500 quakes over the following seven years resulted. The Department of Energy plans to dump spent nuclear rods in the same way. Evidence of fracking’s seismological impact continues to mount. . . . Humans as well as fault lines built our “quakeland”. What will happen when Memphis, home of FedEx's 1.5-million-packages-a-day hub, goes offline as a result of an earthquake along the unstable Reelfoot Fault? FEMA has estimated that a modest 7.0 magnitude quake (twenty of these happen per year around the world) along the Wasatch Fault under Salt Lake City would put a $33 billion dent in our economy. When the Fukushima  reactor melted down, tens of thousands were displaced. If New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant blows, ten million people will be displaced. How would that evacuation even begin? Kathryn Miles’ tour of our land is as fascinating and frightening as it is irresistibly compelling.

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Quakeland – Kathryn Miles

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Zinke doesn’t want to eliminate our beautiful national monuments, so he’s shrinking them

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday delivered his long-awaited recommendations on the fate of 27 national monuments that the Trump administration is considering opening up for mining and drilling. Zinke’s verdict, it turns out, is a confusing one.

The Associated Press was first with the story, with a headline that originally read, “Zinke Won’t Eliminate Any National Monuments.” That seems to suggest good news, but the story goes on to note that Zinke said he is recommending that President Donald Trump make changes to a “handful” of monuments. Conservationists say this is exactly what they feared: They don’t know what those changes mean or which monuments will be targeted, because Zinke has been vague on what’s in his report to Trump. But the administration may intend to shrink monuments in New Mexico, California, and Utah — including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, monuments that are important to Native Americans.

“First and foremost I think this news shows how arbitrary the process has been,” says Dan Hartinger, the Wilderness Society’s deputy director for Parks and Public Lands Defense. “Talking about them as a ‘handful’ of monuments is something that’s neither acceptable or respectful of the critical cultural and sacred sites.” Hartinger noted that Zinke’s phrasing seemed to try to frame the decision “as some generous gift or compromise,” when the threat of shrinking protected lands is actually a major blow to conservation. Aaron Weiss, a spokesperson for the Center for Western Priorities, agreed. “A handful could be two; a handful could be eight or 10,” he said. “An attack on one monument is an attack on all of them.”

Conservationists predict Trump intends to shrink some existing monuments to open up lands for new mining and drilling operations, a potential move that Friends of the Earth’s Ben Schreiber described as a “blatant handouts to the oil and gas industry.” Any such land would still be federally managed, but losing monument status would strip it of national park-like protections, which forbid new leases for grazing, oil, gas, and mining.

If Trump does attempt to shrink any monuments, he will invite the first constitutional test of the 1906 Antiquities Act, a law signed by Teddy Roosevelt giving presidents the power to create land and marine monuments. In over a century, no president has attempted to reshape national monuments in the way Trump is attempting to do. In 1938, the Department of Justice opined that the president has the power to create monuments but not revoke them. While a few presidents have shrunk predecessors’ monuments — Woodrow Wilson did, for example — those moves weren’t challenged in the courts. Trump’s decisions will almost certainly be challenged both by Native American tribes and environmental groups.

In late April, Trump directed Zinke to review 27 large land and marine monuments created since 1996, a date that was meant to include two controversial monuments in southern Utah: the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante, created by Bill Clinton in 1996, and the 1.4 million-acre Bears Ears, created by Barack Obama. Native American tribes were among the leading supporters of the Bears Ears monument, which Utah Republican officials fiercely opposed.

Environmentalists have been particularly dismayed by the Trump administration’s bizarre process for reviewing the monuments. “Secretary Zinke’s so-called review of parks and monuments has been a complete sham, with arbitrary criteria for ‘pardoning’ some national monuments while attacking others,” League of Conservation Voters’ President Gene Karpinski said in a statement.

Zinke’s review often seemed to be more focused on pageantry than on preparing for the inevitable lawsuits that would come his way if his recommendations are implemented. The former Montana congressman and self-styled Roosevelt conservationist often came under fire for tightly controlling his public appearances while he spent four months visiting some of the country’s most beautiful monuments. Interior’s social media feeds are filled with photos of him kayaking, flying on a helicopter, and hiking. He surveyed Bears Ears on horseback.

“This exercise was nothing more than a pretext for selling out our public lands and waters as a political favor to Big Oil and other special interests who want to pad their profits,” said Karpinski.

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Zinke doesn’t want to eliminate our beautiful national monuments, so he’s shrinking them

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The Police Officer Who Killed 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice Has Been Fired

Mother Jones

The police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park in November 2014 has been fired, Cleveland’s police chief said at a press conference on Tuesday. The decision comes two and a half years after Rice was killed. Officer Timothy Loehmann was fired not for shooting Rice but for lying on his job application about his disciplinary record at a previous police department, according to the termination documents. (Another officer who had been on the scene of the shooting was suspended for 10 days.)

Loehmann, who started working for the Cleveland Police Department in early 2014, failed to disclose that although he voluntarily left his job at another department, he was allowed to resign after a series of incidents in which supervisors deemed him unfit for duty, according to Cleveland.com. He also did not disclose that he had failed a written exam for employment at a second police department.

Loehmann shot Rice after he and his partner responded to a 911 call about a person in a park waving a gun. His death became an early touchstone for the Black Lives Matter movement. Video of the shooting showed that Loehmann shot the child, who was holding a toy pellet gun, within two seconds of arriving on the scene. A grand jury declined to charge the officers involved.

A dispatcher who took the initial 911 call was suspended in March for failing to tell the responding officers that the caller had said the person with the gun might be a juvenile and that the gun could be fake. A June 2015 Mother Jones investigation revealed how that failure contributed to the child’s death.

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The Police Officer Who Killed 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice Has Been Fired

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Women Are Now Living With the Fear of Deportation If They Report Domestic Violence

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump’s January executive orders on immigration worried advocates working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, who argued that their clients and other victims of crime would no longer be willing to seek help or cooperate with law enforcement. Their concerns were further justified when police departments in Los Angeles and Houston announced that Latinos in those cities were reporting sexual assaults at lower rates in the wake of hostile rhetoric and enforcement activity targeting undocumented immigrants. Now, a new survey provides the data that demonstrates a noticeable shift in immigrant survivors’ contacts with victim services providers in recent months.

“The results of this survey are troubling,” Cecilia Friedman Levin, senior policy counsel for ASISTA Immigration Assistance, said in a recent press call discussing the survey results. “It represents that there is uncertainty and distrust around the institutions that are supposed to provide survivors with protection and safety.”

The “2017 Advocate and Legal Service Survey Regarding Immigrant Survivors” was conducted last month by a coalition of national organizations focused on domestic violence and sexual assault. The sponsors included the Tahirih Justice Center, ASISTA, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. The groups collected responses from roughly 700 advocates and attorneys from 46 states and Washington, DC, asking them about the issues confronting immigrant survivors seeking services and information about specific incidents. They found that a majority of respondents are seeing an increase in fear among their immigrant clients, some of whom are fearful of even calling 911 or seeking medical assistance. Here are some of the highlights:

62% of respondents—a group that includes both social and legal services providers—said they have seen an increase in immigration-related questions from survivors;
78% of respondents said that survivors had expressed concerns about contacting police due to fears that it would open them up to deportation;
75% said that survivors had expressed concerns about going to court for a matter related to their abuser, a concern that was likely exacerbated by the highly reported courthouse arrest of a domestic violence victim seeking a protective order against her abuser earlier this year;
43% of respondents also said that the survivors they have worked with have dropped criminal or civil cases related to their abuse because they were fearful of potentially opening themselves up to enforcement.

Anecdotes from respondents also shed light on the increased level of fear among immigrant survivors. “Survivors have a lot of questions about how they can safety plan under the new administration,” the report says, adding that some victims now question if they should submit petitions for relief to the federal government. In another response, the survey report notes that a 16-year old survivor attempted suicide because she feared that her offender would report her family to federal enforcement officials.

In the months since the immigration executive orders were announced, there has been confusion about what protections were still in place for the vulnerable subset of survivors of domestic abuse. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has maintained that agency protections covering immigrant survivors and other victims of crime are still in place. But, in practice, the picture is quite different. The administration has largely overlooked these crime victims both in its statements on immigration and in the resources it has provided. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security launched a new office focused on crimes committed by immigrants and the president’s proposed 2018 budget promises to dedicate significant resources to immigration enforcement and crack down on sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to participate in aggressive targeting of undocumented immigrants. The shift in tone has already had an effect: Earlier this week, a Baltimore defense attorney was arrested after allegedly offering an immigrant rape victim $3,000 to not testify against her alleged assailant, telling the woman that she risked deportation should she appear in court.

Immigrant survivors can still qualify for protections under the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 law protecting victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. But the administration’s activity could further exacerbate survivors’ reluctance to seek assistance. “We’ve seen a lot of people reach out and ask specifically for what people can do outside of the legal system because they’re afraid of deportation, or they’re afraid of law enforcement and they’ve been hearing a lot about raids,” Qudsia Raja, policy director at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told reporters. “We’re having to work with advocates on safety planning outside of legal recourse.”

Advocates are also concerned that legislation working its way through Congress would negatively impact survivors’ willingness to report. Of particular concern is the Davis-Oliver Act, a bill that would give state and local law enforcement the power to enforce federal immigration laws, impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants, and punish sanctuary cities. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has argued that the bill is necessary to ensure public safety.

Those who actually work with immigrants disagree. They say public safety will suffer if harsh immigration policies are allowed to push immigrant survivors into the shadows. “The fear among immigrant survivors is still rampant,” Archi Pyati, chief of policy and programs at the Tahirih Justice Center, a group working with women and girls fleeing gender-based violence, told Mother Jones. “So long as the federal government continues down this road there are going to be immigrant women who are going to be hurt.”

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Women Are Now Living With the Fear of Deportation If They Report Domestic Violence

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The GOP Health Bill Would Make Zika the Newest Preexisting Condition

Mother Jones

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The controversial GOP health care bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives this month could have devastating consequences for mothers and children infected with Zika, experts say. The mosquito-borne virus is just one on a nearly endless list of preexisting medical conditions—cancer, asthma, pregnancy—for which insurers could potentially charge higher premiums if Republicans get their way.

One of the most popular features of Obamacare is a provision known as “community rating,” which bars insurance from charging more for people with preexisting conditions. This was a common practice before Obamacare was enacted in 2010; stories of sick people being unable to find affordable coverage were one of the main arguments used by the legislation’s supporters. Of course, the public health crisis surrounding Zika—and the birth defects it can cause—wasn’t an issue at the time; no one in the United States had yet contracted the virus. But if the House’s Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, people with Zika could end up paying far more for their health care—and could even end up priced out of insurance entirely.

Multiple health care experts told Mother Jones that the GOP bill would almost certainly mean a host of insurance problems for both pregnant women who have had Zika and infants born with microcephaly, a condition where a child has a smaller brain and other health defects. Zika can cause a host of other birth defects and in rare cases has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis in adults. What’s more, the GOP bill cuts funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency on the front lines of the battle against the disease.

The Republican bill includes an amendment that allows states to opt out of the Obamacare community rating protection. Under the GOP plan, if a person’s health coverage were to lapse longer than 63 days in a state that opts out, that person could be charged a prohibitive cost on the private market. Short lapses in coverage are incredibly common. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 27.4 million nonelderly adults had a several-month gap in coverage in 2015. For the 6.3 million of these adults who have preexisting conditions, the costs could be significant. The liberal Center for American Progress estimated that under the GOP bill, people with even mild preexisting conditions would pay thousands more per year—a 40-year-old, for example, would likely be charged an extra $4,340 in premiums if she had asthma, or $17,320 extra if she were pregnant.

Zika was first identified in 1947 in Uganda. It didn’t emerge in Brazil until 2015, when researchers began to notice the link to a spike in birth defects. Since then, mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been found in almost every country in the Western Hemisphere. Zika is particularly prevalent in Latin American, but it has also appeared in the United States. There have been more than 30,000 cases confirmed in Puerto Rico, including 3,300 pregnant woman, and more than 1,000 cases in Florida. The spread of Zika has varied wildly from year to year, with cases this year down sharply from 2016.

Yet our understanding of the Zika virus and its related health problems is still evolving. In most people, the virus shows no visible symptoms or just mild problems such as aches and a fever. But it does raise the risk of microcephaly, a rare brain defect in which a child develops with an abnormally small head and brain. Microcephaly is incredibly rare in a normal pregnancy, but a Zika infection in the first trimester raises the risk to 1 to 13 percent.

Zika is linked to various health problems in infants, but microcephaly itself is an expensive medical condition. The CDC estimates it would cost an additional $1 million to $10 million in medical care over the child’s lifetime. Zika-associated microcephaly would probably cost somewhere in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in premium surcharges, according to the Center for American Progress health policy team.

Experts say that, under the Republican plan, insurers would almost certainly treat Zika as a reason to charge higher premiums.

“If it’s documented in your medical records that you had this infection and you have it now, they might well act on it,” Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Mother Jones. And if an infant was born with microcephaly, Pollitz added, “you’d have to be very careful as the parent of a child to never have a break in coverage.” Pollitz also added that the total number of Zika cases is small, but the issue could come up in medical records and be cause for insurers to “jump on that and possibly charge you a higher premium.”

In other words, insurers would be tempted to charge more based on the expensive medical costs sometimes associated with Zika, and there would be nothing preventing them from doing it. “There’s no rule about what can or cannot qualify” as a preexisting condition, New York University health care expert Sherry Glied said in an email, “and Zika will certainly raise later costs, so would count.”

David Anderson, a Duke University health policy researcher who has worked in the health insurance industry, added that another part of the GOP’s health bill—massive cuts to Medicaid spending—would add more strain to state budgets in the case of a Zika outbreak. The bill reduces Medicaid expenditures by $834 billion over the next decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Trump’s 2018 budget released Tuesday proposes even deeper cuts than the GOP bill. If passed, the budget would reduce Medicaid spending by $1.4 trillion over 10 years.

Anything affecting babies is a big deal for Medicaid, which covers nearly half of all births in the United States. That would cause a significant problem if Zika leads to an unexpected spike in microcephaly. “If it’s not that common, states can handle one or two isolated events,” Anderson says. “If it’s very common and there are hundreds of babies born with microcephaly under high-cost conditions, then states can’t handle it.”

The House bill would have other impacts on Zika prevention efforts. It cuts nearly $1 billion from the CDC’s budget. The CDC funds testing and research and deploys emergency teams to provide extra medical assistance and to control the spread of Zika-infected mosquitoes. The CDC fights Zika by monitoring mosquitoes that transmit the virus, and it collects data about how Zika affects pregnancies. Trump’s budget doesn’t help the situation either. Although it sets up a CDC emergency response fund to deal with outbreaks like Zika, the budget weakens prevention efforts by seeking a 17 percent cut to the CDC and an 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.

The confluence of Zika and the GOP health care bill could have political consequences in places like Florida, where the virus has already proved to be a potent electoral issue. Two South Florida congressmen—GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart—championed a bill last year that sent $1.1 billion to the CDC and the NIH to combat Zika. Both also voted for the Obamacare repeal bill. Neither of their offices responded to requests for comment.

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The GOP Health Bill Would Make Zika the Newest Preexisting Condition

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Trump Administration Leaves 50,000 Haitians in Legal Limbo

Mother Jones

About 50,000 Haitians living in the United States will remain in limbo for another six months. The Trump administration has reportedly granted a temporary extension of these Haitians’ legal status, leaving them at risk of being forced to leave the country—or remain illegally—at the start of next year.

Multiple reports on Monday indicate that the Department of Homeland Security will extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals for six months. Haitians were granted the special status in 2010, after an earthquake leveled buildings, displaced millions, and killed an estimated 300,000 people. As Mother Jones previously reported, TPS is granted to people from countries experiencing humanitarian crises:

First introduced in 1990, the TPS program provides humanitarian relief to nationals of countries coping with a severe conflict or natural disaster. By providing recipients with legal status and work authorization, TPS designations—typically granted in six- to 18-month cycles that can be renewed indefinitely—have become a crucial means of aiding people who face unsafe conditions should they be sent back to their home country.

The extension was first reported on Monday by the Washington Post and confirmed by the Miami Herald, which wrote that Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) received a call from DHS with news of the decision. DHS not not respond to Mother Jones‘ request for comment.

With the extension, Haiti’s TPS designation will continue past its current July expiration date, to January 22, 2018. The six-month extension aligns with the recommendation of James McCament, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who wrote a memo to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in April suggesting that Haiti’s TPS designation be extended to the beginning of 2018 and then allowed to expire. Immigration advocates had strongly encouraged DHS to extend the designation for a full 18 months, arguing that Haiti needed more time to recover before thousands of people could return to the country safely.

Prior to the decision, some 50,000 Haitians living and working in the United States were at risk of being deported back to Haiti, which is dealing with a multitude of conflicts—or staying in the United States and becoming undocumented. The latest extension means that Haitians with TPS can breathe for now but will face the same suspense in November, when DHS must again decide whether to extend their TPS or allow it to expire.

Immigration advocates had mixed reactions to the news. “The fear was that we may not even get six months,” says Nana Brantuo, policy manager for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, one of the groups that has called for an extension of Haiti’s TPS designation. But she adds, “The 18-month extension is what we need. Otherwise we’re going to have thousands of people who are unauthorized in fear of being deported.”

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Trump Administration Leaves 50,000 Haitians in Legal Limbo

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David Clarke, America’s Most Terrifying Sheriff, Says He’s Joining the Trump Administration

Mother Jones

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David Clarke, the controversial sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, will “accept an appointment as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security,” he reportedly told a local radio host Wednesday. Clarke said he will take a position at the Office of Partnership and Engagement. In that role, he would help coordinate DHS outreach to local law enforcement agencies, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

So far, DHS isn’t confirming Clarke’s appointment. “Such senior positions are announced by the Department when made official by the Secretary,” a department spokeswoman said in an email to Mother Jones. “No such announcement with regard to the Office of Public Engagement has been made.”

Clarke, who rose to national prominence last year as a vocal Trump supporter and a frequent guest on Fox News, has made headlines in recent months due to lawsuits filed against him alleging mistreatment of inmates in the jail he oversees. Last year, four people died in that jail. As we reported in March:

Clarke has faced two federal lawsuits since December, in the wake of four deaths that occurred last year in the Milwaukee County Jail. In mid-March, the family of a man who died of dehydration in April 2016 sued Clarke and the county, alleging that jail staff subjected the man to “torture” by denying him water as he pleaded for it over 10 days. County prosecutors are considering bringing felony charges against jail staff for neglect. Another lawsuit, filed last December, seeks damages for the death of a newborn in the jail last July, after jail staff ignored the infant’s mother as she went into labor and for more than six hours thereafter, according to the suit.

A grand jury recently recommended charges against several jail employees in the case of the man who died of thirst. A separate lawsuit alleges mistreatment of pregnant inmates at the jail:

In that suit, a woman alleges that, during a seven-month stint at the jail in 2013, she was forcibly shackled with a “belly-chain” that tied her wrists and legs to her stomach during her hospitalization for pre-natal care, while she was in labor, and while she received treatment for post-partum depression after she gave birth. The restraints made giving birth more painful for the woman, left marks on her body, and made it more difficult for doctors—who insisted she be freed—to give her an epidural, the lawsuit says. The jail has a policy that inmates be shackled while receiving medical care that makes no exceptions for pregnancy, according to the lawsuit, which also states that more than 40 women were subjected to the same treatment.

Clarke has apparently been angling for a job with the Trump administration for months. Last year, he spent so many days away from his office while stumping for Trump that local officials have called for his resignation:

Clarke visited 20 states in 2016, according to financial disclosure documents he filed with the county, often to give paid speeches in which he praised Donald Trump. He spent about 60 days out of state last year, the documents show. (Before he campaigned for Trump, Clarke took a trip to Moscow in December 2015 with a delegation from the NRA, during which they met with Russian officials.)

In January, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an editorial calling for the sheriff to step down, citing the jail deaths, his habit of attacking his political opponents on social media—which he does on his department’s official Facebook page—and the fact that Clarke seemed more focused on “pining for a job in the Trump administration” than on his responsibilities as county sheriff. County auditors have launched an investigation into whether Clarke abused his power following an airplane flight in January when he had six deputies and two K-9 units confront a passenger at the gate with whom Clarke had an unfriendly exchange on the plane.

Clarke has also faced pushback from local activists and officials critical of his plan to enroll his sheriff’s department in a controversial immigration enforcement partnership with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. In his role at DHS, Clarke would presumably be recruiting other agencies to participate in the program.

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David Clarke, America’s Most Terrifying Sheriff, Says He’s Joining the Trump Administration

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