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Hurricane Irma’s power leaves Florida powerless

One of the most powerful hurricanes ever to make U.S. landfall has left millions of people across Florida without power.

As of Monday morning, nearly 60 percent of the entire state — close to 6 million customers — had lost electricity. That’s the largest outage in Florida history and one of the country’s biggest ever.

Restoring power could take weeks, or longer. A spokesperson for Florida Power & Light, the state’s biggest utility, said recovery from the storm would require a “wholesale rebuild” of the electrical grid.

The damage to the state’s electrical infrastructure was just one form of devastation left in Irma’s wake, as the United States faces its second hurricane catastrophe in as many weeks.

An unusually large hurricane, Irma left an exceptional swath of damage on both Florida coasts and nearly everywhere in between. By one metric, this single storm packed an entire season’s worth of destructive power.

Some of Irma’s worst impacts were well-removed from the center: Miami looked like “a watery war zone” at the height of the storm, with residents warily eyeing rising floodwaters in the heart of downtown.

In Jacksonville, at the far northeast corner of Florida, Irma set a new coastal flood record, beating the one set during 1964’s Hurricane Dora.

In Naples, near where Irma made its second landfall in southwest Florida after initially striking the Keys, winds reached as high as 142 mph. The city set an odd mark: The ocean rose nearly 10 feet in eight hours, the quickest rise ever recorded there.

As Irma’s center passed close by, strong winds blew the ocean away from land, exposing the seabed, and then the water quickly rushed back in as winds changed direction and the storm moved north. The effect led to surreal scenes and even prompted a special warning from the National Weather Service to gawkers along the shore.

As is so often the case with these storms, Irma could have been worse: A last-second 50-mile jog inland likely prevented higher storm surge across cities on Florida’s western coast, including Tampa.

Still, the combination of damage from Harvey and Irma will probably total in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

And it’s still peak hurricane season. Hurricane Jose skirted the northeast corner of the Caribbean over the weekend, prompting a full-scale evacuation of the tiny island of Barbuda — which Irma almost totally destroyed just four days earlier.

The latest weather models show that Jose could make a loop in the central Atlantic this week, and then possibly head toward the East Coast. One thing’s for sure: In a year when it’s become clear that “natural” disasters aren’t natural any more, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

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Hurricane Irma’s power leaves Florida powerless

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Harvey’s record rains triggered Houston dams to overflow

In 1935, a storm swept through Houston, turning parts of the city into a lake. It was a wake-up call to city officials; they needed to get serious about flood control. About a decade later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished building two massive reservoirs west and upstream of the city. For the better part of a century, the Addicks and Barker dams have held back water that would have otherwise surged through Buffalo Bayou, the flood-prone waterway that snakes through downtown Houston before dumping into the Ship Channel.

This week, for the second time in as many years, a storm has pushed the Addicks and Barker dams to their limit. Early Monday morning, as Tropical Storm Harvey lingered over Houston and drowned whole swaths of the city, the Army Corps of Engineers began controlled releases from the dams, the first time they’ve done so during a major storm. By Monday afternoon, several neighborhoods near the reservoirs were under voluntary or mandatory evacuation as officials announced that releases from Addicks and Barker would continue for the foreseeable future. By early Tuesday morning, Addicks had topped the dam’s 108-foot spillway, leading to what officials call “uncontrolled releases” from the reservoir. Some homes could be inundated for a month.

Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist Jeff Linder called the releases the least-worst decision officials could make in light of floodwaters that continue to fill the reservoirs faster than they can safely drain. “If you are upstream of the reservoir, the worst is not over,” Linder said at a Monday afternoon press conference, warning that “water is going to be inundating areas that have currently not been inundated.” When someone asked him, via Twitter, whether the dams could break and trigger a Katrina-like disaster, Linder offered a one-word response: “No.”

That assurance comes despite the Corps of Engineers labeling the dams an “extremely high risk of catastrophic failure” after a 2009 storm that saw only a fraction of the rain Harvey poured on Houston this week. Officials insist that the hair-raising label has more to do with the breathtaking consequences of any major dam failure upstream of the country’s fourth-largest city than the actual likelihood of such a breach. In 2012, they detailed how a dam failure during a major storm would cause a multi-billion dollar disaster that turns the city into Waterworld.

Still, the Corps in recent years has implemented only piecemeal fixes to the earthen dams, including a $75 million upgrade that was underway before Harvey hit this weekend. Officials are barely even discussing how to fund a third reservoir that some experts say the region desperately needs.

This is the second year in a row that severe floodwaters have tested Addicks and Barker. Just last year, during 2016’s so-called Tax Day Flood, for the first time, the reservoirs hit and surpassed the level of a 100-year flood. That happened again this weekend, meaning the dams have seen two extremely rare flood events (at least one-in-a-100-year events) in just as many years. Last year was also the first time the National Weather Service ever issued a flood warning for the Addicks and Barker watersheds.

The dams are in some ways emblematic of how flood planning in the Bayou City hasn’t kept up with the region’s booming population and development, even as experts predict that climate change will dump increasingly severe storms on Houston’s doorstep with greater frequency. They were built in a region of water-absorbing prairie grasses that have in recent years been paved over by water-impermeable parking lots, driveways and suburban streets. The Sierra Club even sued the Corps in a failed attempt to stop construction on a nearby stretch of the Grand Parkway, a major toll road project that some opposed fearing it would coax development in an area that’s critical to the region’s flood control efforts.

Still, as the Texas Tribune and ProPublica pointed out in this 2016 investigation, Houston-area flood officials refuse to connect the region’s flooding problems to poorly planned development. As a result, every year people will keep building hundreds, if not thousands, of additional structures in Harris County’s 100-year floodplains, even as those “rare” storms start to hit year after year.

In a Monday press conference, Edmond Russo, an engineer with the Corps’ Galveston district, said officials wanted to keep high water from building up and going over the Addicks and Barker spillways, “because in that case, we do not have control over the water.” He’d hoped releases would stay low enough so that the already overtaxed Buffalo Bayou stays at the same level in the short term. In the long term, officials say it could take one to three months to totally drain the reservoirs.

Of course, that all depends on what happens in the coming days. Updating reporters on the reservoirs’ status Monday evening, Linder said more heavy rainfall or levee breaches upstream could change how fast the dams must release water downstream.

“Our infrastructure is certainly being tested to its limits,” Linder said.

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Harvey’s record rains triggered Houston dams to overflow

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Trump’s proposed cuts to weather research could make it much harder to prepare for storms

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

Hurricane Harvey is strengthening as it approaches the Texas coast, and the massive storm is underscoring another big disturbance on the way: the battle over President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the National Weather Service.

Charged with providing weather forecasts and warnings, the National Weather Service also makes its data available to hundreds of companies that use it for everything from smartphone applications to agricultural equipment. Trump earlier this year proposed cutting its budget by 6 percent and that of its parent agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by a mammoth 16 percent. It was an unprecedented proposal in the National Weather Service’s storied history, which extends back to 1890, when it was founded as the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Trump also proposed huge subcuts for programs that engage in computer modeling of storms, as well as observation of storms and dissemination of data. Tsunami research and prediction would be cut, along with supercomputing investments and a program to extend more accurate modeling to 30 days from 16, which could have huge benefits for everything from the insurance to the transportation industries.

The Trump proposal “is opposite to the ‘leave it better than you found it’ philosophy. This is take the money while you can, and let someone else in the future put Humpty Dumpty (aka NOAA) together again,” David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State and a retired Navy rear admiral, told Climate Central, a consortium.

Already, the U.S. is behind Europe in its forecast accuracy, and further cuts to research would likely leave the country farther behind in what’s been called “climate intelligence.” The National Weather Service’s main forecasting model, the Global Forecasting System, has seen a major drop-off in accuracy. The White House’s budget proposal would only make it worse. It seeks to cut 26 percent from NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which supports data collection, climate and science, as well as research into more accurate weather forecasting models. The budget blueprint also would cut $513 million from NOAA’s satellite division, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, a 22 percent reduction.

Such cuts would cripple NOAA’s ability to keep afloat its satellites and data-gathering activities. That would not only affect the military but any business that relies on data and governments that have to plan how to handle snowstorms and hurricanes.

Scientists and meteorologists have worried that the cuts, and much more devastating reductions in climate change programs at NASA and other agencies, would harm the agency’s ability to forecast storms. In recent decades, the improvement in forecasting technologies has saved hundreds of lives, especially when it comes to tornadoes. The National Weather Service notes that hundreds used to die from pop up tornadoes like the ones that blew through Oklahoma in the mid-1970s, and that deaths are way down due to accurate predictions.

Harvey, which was just upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane, the first of that strength in more than 11 years, illustrates the point. The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, which hit Galveston, Texas, in the year 1900, led to 6,000 to 12,000 deaths. By contrast, 72 deaths were associated with Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and fewer than 2,000 with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

James Franklin, who headed the hurricane forecast team at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, a part of the National Weather Service, laments the budget cuts that are being proposed, including to the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program that was launched in 2009. “It’s hanging on really by a thread in terms of funding,” said Franklin.

Trump has yet to nominate an administrator to lead NOAA. By contrast, President Barack Obama had named his pick before his 2009 swearing in. Speculation has centered on Barry Myers, the CEO of Accuweather — a weather business — but he is not a scientist.

A Senate panel passed smaller cuts to NOAA; the cuts by the House panel were significantly closer to President Trump’s proposed reductions. By the time a new budget is due in October, the country will be deep into hurricane season — as well as the fiscal budget storm.

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Trump’s proposed cuts to weather research could make it much harder to prepare for storms

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The Secret World of Red Wolves – T. DeLene Beeland

READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS

The Secret World of Red Wolves
The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf
T. DeLene Beeland

Genre: Nature

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: June 10, 2013

Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press

Seller: Ingram DV LLC


Red wolves are shy, elusive, and misunderstood predators. Until the 1800s, they were common in the longleaf pine savannas and deciduous forests of the southeastern United States. However, habitat degradation, persecution, and interbreeding with the coyote nearly annihilated them. Today, reintroduced red wolves are found only in peninsular northeastern North Carolina within less than 1 percent of their former range. In The Secret World of Red Wolves , nature writer T. DeLene Beeland shadows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s pioneering recovery program over the course of a year to craft an intimate portrait of the red wolf, its history, and its restoration. Her engaging exploration of this top-level predator traces the intense effort of conservation personnel to save a species that has slipped to the verge of extinction. Beeland weaves together the voices of scientists, conservationists, and local landowners while posing larger questions about human coexistence with red wolves, our understanding of what defines this animal as a distinct species, and how climate change may swamp its current habitat.

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The Secret World of Red Wolves – T. DeLene Beeland

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As Keystone XL’s fate is decided, activists descend on Nebraska.

Apparently, U.S. Department of Agriculture staff are now supposed to say “weather extremes” instead.

In emails obtained by the Guardian from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a unit of the USDA, a department director told employees to make the following phrasing replacements in their work: “reduce greenhouse gases” with “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient efficiency”; “sequester carbon” with “build soil organic matter”; and “climate change adaptation” with “resilience to weather extremes/intense weather events.”

Basically, any reference to climate change or CO2 is a no-no.

Employees were understandably confused, and some were against the change — including one employee who expressed a desire to maintain scientific integrity. But the USDA insisted that it’s not intending to obscure data and studies, and that similar procedures had been executed under other administrations.

Surprise, surprise — these new procedures began days after Trump’s inauguration. The first email obtained by the Guardian, sent by NRCS Deputy Chief for Programs Jimmy Bramblett on Jan. 24, advised of the new administration’s “shift in perspective” with regard to climate change.

That perspective appears to be: Don’t mention it.

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As Keystone XL’s fate is decided, activists descend on Nebraska.

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Here’s What It Costs Taxpayers to Fly Trump to Mar-a-Lago

Mother Jones

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When Donald Trump travels to one of his properties for weekends of golf and well-done steak, he brings a massive entourage of aides, Secret Service agents, and all the trappings of the world’s most powerful job. And it’s all on the taxpayer’s tab.

It’s still not clear how much all of that costs, but we now know how much money it takes to operate the biggest presidential accessory involved with these trips: Every hour Trump flies on Air Force One costs taxpayers more than $142,000. For just two weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago that Trump took in March, taxpayers paid $1.2 million. Again, that’s just for the plane that ferried Trump. That doesn’t count the cost of fighter jet escorts, the planes carrying Trump’s limousines, or any of the on-the-ground costs.

The figures come from Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of the Air Force. Notably, Judicial Watch is the group that calculated the oft-quoted figure of $96 million as the tab for Obama’s family travel during his presidency. The group says it has also asked for figures for the cost of Secret Service protection and other expenses associated with Trump’s weekend trips, but those requests are still pending.

“We’re pleased the Air Force finally gave us some numbers for President Trump’s travel,” said Tom Fitton, president of the group, in a statement. Fitton vowed to go to court to get the other numbers. “Judicial Watch tracked some of the costs of President Obama’s unnecessary travel and we’re not closing up shop with a new administration.”

The figures do suggest that early estimates of the cost of Trump’s personal trips—as much as $3 million per weekend—might be in the right ballpark, but the exact amount remains difficult to tabulate. The FOIA responses Judicial Watch received detailed two separate trips, one of which included a stopover at an airport in Florida so Trump could hold an event with Secretary of Education Betsy Devos promoting a school voucher program. Each flight cost more than $600,000.

If Judicial Watch’s estimate of $96 million for Obama’s personal vacations is correct, it would mean that he averaged about $12 million a year on all travel. In other words, Trump is easily on pace to easily exceed his predecessors totals. Trump has spent seven of 13 weekends of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago, but the club is closing for the summer season. This weekend Trump makes his first trip to his New Jersey golf club, which will be a shorter flight, but will require moving Trump through the crowded New York City area. That could significantly increase his on-the-ground costs.

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Here’s What It Costs Taxpayers to Fly Trump to Mar-a-Lago

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Why Remembering Japanese-American Internment Really Matters This Year

Mother Jones

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Flowers were distributed prior to the interfaith service at the end of the ceremony. Matt Tinoco

As the long line of cars, trucks, and more than two dozen charter buses pulled into dusty, makeshift parking lots in the high desert below California’s snowcapped Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains on Saturday morning, they were greeted by a National Park Service ranger. “Welcome to Manzanar,” she said. “It is very dry. Drink a lot of water.”

They’d descended on the remote Owens Valley, four hours north of Los Angeles, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066—President Franklin Roosevelt’s February 1942 decision to forcibly detain 120,000 Japanese Americans until the end of World War II. Manzanar War Relocation Center, as the facility was formally called, was one of 10 internment camps nationwide; at its peak, the 5,415-acre site held more than 10,000 people in army-style barracks behind barbed wire.

In the language of the Roosevelt’s order, these actions were taken to establish “every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense.” Approximately two-thirds of those incarcerated without due process were fully enfranchised American citizens by birth. The remainder were lawful permanent residents.

President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric about Muslims, Mexicans, and other immigrants has reignited scrutiny of this dark period in American history. Internment even made headlines in November when Carl Higbie—the former spokesman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC—cited American treatment of Japanese residents in WWII as an example of appropriate action to protect national security.

Banners signifying the 10 camps erected by the US government Matt Tinoco

So perhaps it was no surprise that the 2,500 people who showed up as part of the 48th-annual Manzanar Pilgrimage on Saturday were a record for the event, according to the Park Service. The blowing dust, the whipping wind, and the beating sun all set an elemental tone for the day’s program—a not-so-subtle reminder how, as Manzanar Committee co-chair Bruce Embrey later would tell me, “there was a vicious, just despicable drive to make sure that these camps were sites of suffering. That the people here were going to be isolated psychologically and physically, far from civilian populations, in desolate areas intended to make people suffer.”

Though the camp was almost entirely disassembled after World War II—concrete slabs and the occasional piece of rusted metal are all that remain of the camp’s former living areas—the pilgrims visiting Manzanar walked past full-size reconstructions of the camp’s latrines, its mess halls, and its tar-paper barracks on their way to the day’s ceremony. Wooden Park Service signs marking the locations of long-disappeared structures—a recreation hall, an outdoor theatre, a pet cemetery, an elementary school—dotted the path.

Matt Tinoco

Several people in the crowd wore shirts from various California-based Muslim organizations. Among them was Syed Hussaini, an organizer with CAIR’s Los Angeles chapter. Hussaini explained that, for the past few years, CAIR-LA has participated in the Manzanar Pilgrimage in order to keep alive the memory of internment—it is only briefly mentioned, if at all, in most schools—in the Muslim community.

“We have to stand very vigilantly, and make sure that we are upholding the tenants of democracy. If good people don’t do anything, this is what could happen again,” said Hussaini, who came to Manzanar on one of the three buses CAIR-LA chartered this year.

“When the executive order was signed back in the ’40s, only the Quaker community openly voiced dissent,” said Hussaini, echoing a point made a few minutes earlier by one of the event’s speakers. “But we have seen an outpouring of support from many other faith communities and many other civil rights organizations coming out to say that Trump’s words are not in keeping with American values, and will not stand.”

Preserving the memory of internment is the guiding mission of those who organized Saturday’s pilgrimage, as well as those who work to maintain and expand the facilities at Manzanar National Historic Site. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the generation of Japanese Americans born after internment began pushing for recognition and reparations. The Manzanar Pilgrimage, for example, began in 1969, kicking off decades of work to establish Manzanar as an officially recognized National Historic Site, which finally happened in 1992.

Matt Tinoco

The theme for this year’s pilgrimage was “Never Again, to Anyone, Anywhere,” emblazoned in red text on black banners and T-shirts scattered throughout the event. That message, it seems, is resonating more than ever: In 2016, more than 105,000 people visited Manzanar, a record attendance year. A few employees noted that, since Trump’s election, there have been better, deeper conversations between Manzanar’s guests and those who work at the site.

A couple of hours after the ceremony concluded, several hundred people made their way to Lone Pine High School, about 10 miles south, for Manzanar at Dusk. In the school gymnasium, the Nikkei Student Unions at several LA-area colleges put on a three-hour program that spawn intergenerational conversations about their daytime experiences at the Manzanar Pilgrimage, and to spread the oral tradition of those who spent years confined in the camp.

After a spoken word performance that wove together FDR’s E.O. 9066 with Trump’s E.O. 13769, a.k.a. the travel ban, the 300 attendees broke into two-dozen randomly sorted small groups for an informal, hourlong conversation. Sprawled out on high school’s front lawn in the twilight shadows of the Sierra’s highest peaks, the small group I joined consisted of 10 people, the youngest in high school, the oldest in his 70s.

We listened to the grandson of a woman who lived at Manzanar relay one of her stories about the dust, and how she remembered seeing the outline of her sleeping body sketched out in her bedsheets when she got up each morning. We discussed why people remained quiet about their time in camps for years following their internment. And, by the end of our hour, we were sharing the history of our own personal names, comparing notes about whether our parents gave us a name from the old country or one considered more traditionally “American.”

“History is always relevant. But there are times when what’s happening in the world magnifies that relevancy,” said Alisa Lynch, the chief of interpretation at Manzanar National Historic Site, said to me after Manzanar at Dusk had concluded. “Our job is to share history, not to please whoever’s in office. We’re here to help people learn about the history, and if they want to make parallel connections, they’re free to. People see them. We don’t have to point them out.”

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Why Remembering Japanese-American Internment Really Matters This Year

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Karen Russell’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the delightfully evocative wordsmith Karen Russell, whose debut novel was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and whose short-story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is weird and wonderful.

Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt

Latest book: Sleep Donation
Also known for: Swamplandia!
Reading recommendations: Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino: Because, if everything we write and read becomes dire and reactionary, Trump will have truly won, here’s a book that celebrates the radical freedom of the imagination. A book brimming with recombinatory energy, play and joy. Light by which to see into many different futures.

Some Say, by Maureen McClane—or anything/everything by McClane, whose vitalizing series of “Dawn School” poems was written, she says, out of “a desire to resist apocalyptic anxiety without denying ‘reality.'”

Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, by Joy Williams: At a time when so many people are feeling impotent, consumed with helpless rage, Williams’ hilarious, furious, and stirring essays remind us rage can be helpful. It can be potent. Let’s put it to use, in the service of our fellow animals.

All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu: A book that brings down walls. Overlapping tales of American dislocation and American reinvention.

My last pick would be Late Victorian Holocausts, by Mike Davis. This groundbreaking “political ecology of famines” traces the development of today’s so-called “third world” to wealth inequalities that were shaped in the late 19th century, when non-European peasantries were violently yoked into the world economy. Dozens of examples of “malign interactions between climactic and economic processes” that have a grave resonance with the overlapping crises of our present moment. A challenge to the view of markets as self-regulating automata and an indictment of the human authors of “natural” disasters: “Millions die,” Davis writes, “was ultimately a policy choice.”
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Karen Russell’s Resistance Reading

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These Four Cases Will Quickly Show Who Gorsuch Really Is

Mother Jones

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When newly minted Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch takes the bench later this month, he will likely have an immediate impact on a court that has been somewhat paralyzed since the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February last year. The court, evenly divided with eight members, has waited to tackle a number of potentially thorny cases, either because they were unable to agree on whether to hear them or they were reluctant to adjudicate them. Gorsuch has been confirmed just in time to change all that.

He will also shape the future when, on April 13, he participates in his first court conference, where the justices decide which new cases to hear in the new term and which they’re rejecting. Decisions from that meeting may demonstrate quickly whether fears Senate Democrats have raised about his views on everything from religious freedom to gay rights to corporate power were on target.

Here are a few of the pending cases where Gorsuch will have an opportunity to make an early mark:

Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: In 2012, a Colorado baker named Jack Phillips refused to make a custom wedding cake for two men getting married in Massachusetts, one of the few states where same-sex marriage was legal at the time. The couple was planning a reception in Colorado, where they lived and wanted to celebrate. Phillips claimed making the cake would violate his religious beliefs. The couple sued and has prevailed at every level in Colorado courts, which found that baking a gay wedding cake would not violate Phillips’ free speech or religious freedom rights, but refusing to make one would constitute illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.The case has been stuck in conference purgatory, relisted multiple times for consideration, but probably not for long.

The gay-cake case seems custom-made for Gorsuch, who was one of the lower court judges who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the craft store that claimed providing health insurance to its employees that covered contraception violated its corporate religious freedom rights. The Supreme Court later upheld the ruling in a 5-4 decision, and critics have warned it will be used to justify the kind of anti-gay discrimination at issue in the cake case. The presence of Gorsuch on the high court, instead of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s court nominee who was denied the seat by Senate Republicans, is likely to be decisive. It probably doesn’t bode well for the LGBT community, despite Gorsuch’s claims to have gay friends.

Salazar-Limon v Houston: Even though police shootings have been in the news and the source of intense protest over the past couple of years, the eight-member Supreme Court seems to have been reluctant to wade into the fray. This case is another one that’s been languishing at the court for many months, waiting for a decision on whether it will be heard. It involves what might be called the “reaching for the waistband” defense frequently deployed by cops who shoot unarmed people of color.

In 2010, 25-year-old Mexican immigrant Ricardo Salazar-Limon had a wife, children, and a construction job. One night after a long day of work, he was out with friends and driving to see another friend when a Houston cop pulled him over for speeding. He had no criminal record, no outstanding warrants, a valid drivers’ license, and insurance on his truck. He was in the country legally and was unarmed. But the cop told Salazar he was going to jail and tried to put him in handcuffs. Salazar jerked back and walked towards his vehicle, annoyed because the officer refused to even tell him why he might be going to jail. As he was walking the officer told him to stop and then shot him in the back, leaving Salazar paralyzed from the waist down.

Salazar sued the police department alleging excessive force. In his defense, the officer claimed that he feared for his life when he shot Salazar because he had moved his hands towards his waistband while walking away. It’s the same argument that’s been employed by cops in at least two other shootings of unarmed citizens in Houston, and it works. The District Court dismissed Salazar’s case, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision. The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide whether a court can dismiss a case against an officer in a suit for excessive force “by concluding that it is an ‘undisputed fact’ that the person reached for his waistband just because the officer said he did.”

The facts in this case are infuriating, yet it’s clear that the court has been unable to get the requisite four votes needed to hear it. Whether Gorsuch will provide that additional vote is anyone’s guess, but criminal justice reformers shouldn’t hold out hope that he’ll change the outcome. He’s ruled in a similar case before. In 2013, he wrote the majority opinion in a 10th Circuit ruling dismissing a lawsuit brought by the parents of a man who was tased in head by a cop and died. The cops in that case also used a “reached for his waistband” defense.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association v. Zinke: One of the biggest concerns raised by those opposing Gorsuch’s confirmation was that his record suggested he would be hostile to environmental regulations and the agencies that create them. That theory will be tested soon after Gorsuch’s swearing in, with a case involving the fate of polar bears.

In 2008, the Bush administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the polar bear a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Two years later, the agency designated 187,000 square miles around the Bering Sea, the Arctic Ocean and the Alaskan North Slope as critical habitat for the bears, which created new restrictions on oil drilling in the region. The Alaskan oil industry sued and alleged that the Fish and Wildlife Service had overreached and made an arbitrary decision in selecting the boundaries for the critical habitat. The trial court partially agreed, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and sided with the wildlife agency. The appeal of that decision is pending before the Supreme Court, which will decide in the next few months whether to hear the case.

Federal agency overreach is something Gorsuch has a clear record on. He wrote a lengthy concurrence to one of his own opinions on the 10th Circuit, calling on the Supreme Court to limit the requirement that judges defer to federal agencies such as Fish and Wildlife when considering the implementation of laws made by Congress. This may be a sign that, despite his love of skiing, Gorsuch probably is not going to side with the polar bears.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer: The court agreed to hear this case last year, shortly before Justice Scalia died, but it took its own sweet time scheduling it for oral arguments. When it finally did, a year later, the case was set for the second-to-last week of arguments for the term. The court’s reluctance to decide this case may stem from the fact that it’s the most controversial church-state separation case on the docket this year, and the closest thing to a culture war case that’s likely to break out before the court recesses in June.

Here’s how we described it last fall:

A Michigan church applied for a grant from Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant program for assistance resurfacing a playground at its preschool with a safer, rubber top made of old tires. While the church’s grant proposal was well rated, the state ultimately turned it down because the state constitution prohibits direct aid to a church. The church sued, with help from a legion of lawyers fresh off the gay marriage battles. They argue that Missouri’s prohibition, originally conceived as part of an anti-Catholic movement, violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, especially when the money was going to a purely secular use.

While this might have been an easy win for the church before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who was on the court when the justices took the case in January, the remaining eight-members might not be quite so well-disposed to rule in its favor. Forcing taxpayers to underwrite improvements to church property is in direct conflict with some of the court’s earlier rulings. Critics see a ruling for the church as a slippery-slope sort of argument, leading to compulsory government support of religion, which the Founders deeply opposed.

Once again, Gorsuch’s views in Hobby Lobby and religious freedom seem likely to predispose him to support church, but we’ll know more about his position on April 19, when he will be on the bench for the oral arguments in this case.

Liberal court watchers, having lost the confirmation fight, are now moving into breath-holding mode as they look to these cases for clues as to just what sort of justice Gorsuch is really going to be. As Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center said Friday, “Now that he has been confirmed, we certainly hope that Justice Gorsuch will fulfill Judge Gorsuch’s commitments: To be an independent jurist, to be a good judge who respects precedent, to be an originalist who respects the Constitution’s radical guarantee of equality, and follows the text and history of the Constitution wherever it leads.She added, “The burden remains on Gorsuch to prove that he will be a Justice who fairly applies the law and the Constitution and does not, contrary to President Trump’s promises, just represent certain segments of the population.”

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These Four Cases Will Quickly Show Who Gorsuch Really Is

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Trump Donates His Presidential Salary to the Park Service While Pushing Cuts That Would Harm It

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump is donating the first three months of his presidential salary to the National Park Service, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced on Monday. “The Park Service has cared for our parks since 1916,” Spicer said in handing over a check for $78,333 to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, “and the president is personally proud to contribute the first quarter of his salary to the important mission of the Park Service, which is preserving our country’s national security.”

It was unclear if Spicer misspoke by mentioning national security, and Zinke emphasized the donation would help cover $229 million of deferred maintenance on the nation’s 25 national battlefields. “As a veteran myself, I want to say I am thrilled at the President’s decision to donate the check he did today,” he said. “We’re excited about that opportunity.”

Last month, Trump proposed slashing spending at the Department of Interior by $1.5 billion, 12 percent of the budget at the Park Service’s parent agency. Advocates have warned that the cuts would harm acquisition and preservation programs. The check presented today would make up just .005 percent of the cuts.

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Trump Donates His Presidential Salary to the Park Service While Pushing Cuts That Would Harm It

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