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Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse

Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers

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Data Dump
Data Dump

TechCrunch reports:

While Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are hogging the spotlight, data brokers that collect your information from hundreds of sources and sell it wholesale are laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re not laughing in Vermont, where a first-of-its-kind law hems in these dangerous data mongers and gives the state’s citizens much-needed protections.

Data brokers in Vermont will now have to register as such with the state; they must take standard security measures and notify authorities of security breaches (no, they weren’t before); and using their data for criminal purposes like fraud is now its own actionable offense.

If you’re not familiar with data brokers, well, that’s the idea. These companies don’t really have a consumer-facing side, instead opting to collect information on people from as many sources as possible, buying and selling it amongst themselves like the commodity it has become.

This data exists in a regulatory near-vacuum. As long as they step carefully, data brokers can maintain what amounts to a shadow profile on consumers. I talked with director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon, about this practice.

“If you use an actual credit score, it’s regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” she told me. “But if you take a thousand points like shopping habits, zip code, housing status, you can create a new credit score; you can use that and it’s not discrimination.”

And while medical data like blood tests are protected from snooping, it’s not against the law for a company to make an educated guess your condition from the medicine you pay for at the local pharmacy. Now you’re on a secret list of “inferred” diabetics, and that data gets sold to, for example, Facebook, which combines it with its own metrics and allows advertisers to target it.

(click here to continue reading Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers | TechCrunch.)

Exactly why I wish the US would implement its own version of the GDPR that we’ve discussed. Corporations that mine our digital data, and sell it, and resell it, without oversight, or without giving “a taste” to the consumer are corporations that need to be regulated and watched by a consumer protection agency of some kind. Not every consumer is savvy enough to obfuscate their tracks, and honestly, even somewhat savvy consumers are no doubt caught up in these nameless corporations’ databases. Corporations like EquifaxQuotient and Catalina Marketing and a few thousand others don’t really need to use browser cookies anymore, they also use the unique ID of your devices, they track your IP numbers down to your block group, and can track you at home, at office, via phone, via credit card, via geolocation and via other means. I find it Orwellian and creepy.

My sincere wish is that Vermont continues on this path of regulation of the wild, wild web of data brokers, and that other states and the entire country follows suit.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Advertising,Business,government

Tagged with , ,

Three Reporters Are Turned Away From an E.P.A. Event

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Fiji Over Lake Michigan
Fiji Over Lake Michigan

The NYT reports in disgust:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday barred reporters from three news organizations from an event on the impact of toxic chemicals on drinking water at the agency’s headquarters.

The event, during which the E.P.A. administrator Scott Pruitt declared that addressing the impact of a class of man-made chemicals was a “national priority,” came at a time when Mr. Pruitt is the subject of at least 12 federal investigations.

Among those denied entry from the morning session of the planned two-day event was a reporter from The Associated Press, Ellen Knickmeyer. When she requested to speak to an E.P.A. public affairs official, she was “grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of the building by a security guard,” according to a report from the wire service.

Also turned away were Corbin Hiar, a reporter for E & E News, and Rene Marsh, of CNN, along with a camera operator and a producer from the cable network.

(click here to continue reading Three Reporters Are Turned Away From an E.P.A. Event – The New York Times.)

How is that even acceptable behavior for a thug like Scott Pruitt? In a normal administration, Pruitt would have resigned in disgrace as soon as this despicable action became public, but then in a normal administration, Pruitt would have been fired long ago.

 

Pruitt

via
https://www.gocomics.com/nickanderson/2018/05/23

What was the topic that Pruitt wanted hidden? How polluted our national water supply is, specifically in this case by perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), used mostly in teflon and fire-fighting foam.

As Politico reported:

Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a “public relations nightmare,” newly disclosed emails reveal.

The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.

The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails.

“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”

More than three months later, the draft study remains unpublished, and the HHS unit says it has no scheduled date to release it for public comment. Critics say the delay shows the Trump administration is placing politics ahead of an urgent public health concern — something they had feared would happen after agency leaders like Pruitt started placing industry advocates in charge of issues like chemical safety.

(click here to continue reading White House, EPA headed off chemical pollution study – POLITICO.)

MAGA, I guess. Probably good news for Nestlé ?

Written by Seth Anderson

May 23rd, 2018 at 9:39 am

Posted in environment,government

Tagged with , ,

House Farm Bill Collapses Amid Republican Disarray

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Smiling Tractors Sometimes
Smiling Tractors Sometimes

The NYT reports:

The factional rancor threatening Republicans heading into the midterm elections this fall erupted into the open on Friday when a slugfest among moderates, hard-line conservatives and House leaders over immigration and welfare policy sank the party’s multiyear farm bill.

The twice-a-decade measure — which would have imposed strict new work requirements on food aid recipients while maintaining farm subsidies important to rural lawmakers — failed on a 213-to-198 vote. It was a rebuke of Speaker Paul D. Ryan by a key bloc of conservatives over his refusal to schedule an immediate vote on a restrictive immigration bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Republican moderates, for their part, were moving in the opposite direction, shrugging off the pleas of their leaders as they worked toward forcing votes on legislation to protect from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

The fights were striking, not only because of their intensity but also because of the participants. Capitol Hill has grown used to altercations between Republican leaders and their adamant right flank — showdowns that have shut down the government and edged the government toward defaulting on its debt. But in past fights, the party’s moderates have proved compliant.

This time, with their districts dominating the Democrats’ target list for the coming midterm races, the moderates are holding firm to their own demands.

(click here to continue reading House Farm Bill Collapses Amid Republican Disarray – The New York Times.)

More Congressional disfunction, and with no easy solution, at least until the 2018 elections. Paul Ryan has no “juice” left, as he’s a lame duck. He actually should go ahead and resign his Speakership now.

Hay Bales
Hay Bales

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones adds a little context:

 

Back in 2016, the Republican Party won the presidency and both chambers of Congress with strong support in rural areas, particularly among farmers. But since that triumph, the Grand Old Party hasn’t exactly been a champion of rural interests. As I’ve written in recent months, President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration is essentially an attack on the workers who keep America’s farms and many rural towns humming. And his trade belligerence with China and Mexico amount to near-surgical strikes against farmers who supported him in California, the Southeast, and the Midwest’s corn and soybean belt.

 

In the middle of this drama, Congress is tasked with renewing the farm bill—twice-a-decade legislation that shapes US agriculture and food-aid policy. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, hopes to bring his version to a vote on the House floor this week. Let us count the ways it would bring pain to the US heartland:

The US House of Representatives voted down the farm bill this morning by a margin of 198-213. The Washington Post called it a “major embarrassment to GOP leaders” like outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who had hotly promoted the bill. In a Thursday Twitter thread, I laid out the political dynamics that ultimately killed the bill. It remains unclear whether the House Agriculture Committee chair, Rep. Mike Conaway (R.-Texas), will attempt to bring it back to the floor for another vote. House Democrats, who universally opposed the bill, hailed the failure as a victory for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which the bill would have effectively cut. Here’s Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.)

 

 

(click here to continue reading The House Farm Bill Just Failed – Mother Jones.)

Wisconsin countryside
Wisconsin countryside

and from that referenced WaPo article, the bill is dead anyway, as the Senate is not even close to accepting the House version:

 

 

A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration.

 

The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes.

 

But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in defeating the bill.

 

The outcome exposed what is becoming an all-out war within the House GOP over immigration, a divisive fight the Republicans did not want to have heading into midterm elections in November that will decide control of Congress.

The House farm bill would have been a non-starter anyway in the Senate, which is writing its own farm bill. Any legislation that ultimately makes it to Trump’s desk will have to look more like the version in the Senate, where bipartisan support will be necessary for anything to pass and there is not sufficient support for the food-stamp changes.

 

 

(click here to continue reading In blow to GOP, House fails to pass massive farm bill in face of conservative Republican showdown – The Washington Post.)

Sad that these are the supposed leaders of our country, and they can’t get anything accomplished. I blame gerrymandered districts…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 20th, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Food and Drink,government,politics

Tagged with , ,

Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon

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Post Office Gilbert Ark
Post Office Gilbert Ark

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.

Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery.

Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump’s ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post.

Trump’s attacks on Amazon date to 2015, when he accused Bezos of using The Post as a tax shelter to allow Amazon to avoid paying taxes, a false accusation. (Amazon is a publicly traded company, and The Post, wholly owned by Bezos, is private. The companies’ finances are not intermingled. The Post’s editors and Bezos also have declared that he is not involved in any journalistic decisions.)

Bezos responded to Trump’s 2015 attack with a tweet.

“Finally trashed by @realDonaldTrump. Will still reserve him a seat on the Blue Origin rocket. #sendDonaldtospace,” Bezos, who owns a space company, tweeted in December 2015.

This angered Trump, who at the time was fighting for credibility during the GOP primary.

(click here to continue reading Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon, other firms – The Washington Post.)

It isn’t that Amazon irks Trump, it is that the Washington Post is reporting on Trump’s (mal)administration, and by the transitive property, since Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, and is a majority owner/founder of Amazon, Trump is angry at Amazon. 

Bezos is no saint, the USPS certainly has issues, the Washington Post has published plenty of ignorant or misleading articles over the years, but there is no reason Trump should be foaming at the mouth like this towards a corporation, much less a journalistic institution like the Washington Post.

The Irony of Freedom
The Irony of Freedom

Written by Seth Anderson

May 19th, 2018 at 7:49 am

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with , , ,

Illinois Supreme Court to weigh tax exemption for not-for-profit hospitals

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Window Washers at The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning
Window Washers at The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

The Chicago Tribune reports on a story we’ve been following for a while:

The state’s highest court will weigh the constitutionality of a law that lets not-for-profit hospitals skip paying property taxes — a question with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

Current law says that not-for-profit hospitals in Illinois don’t have to pay property taxes as long as the value of their charitable services is at least equal to what they would otherwise pay in taxes. About three-fourths of the state’s more than 200 hospitals are not-for-profit.

But a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that law has been working its way through the courts and will be heard Tuesday before the Illinois Supreme Court.

It’s an issue that’s stirred debate in Illinois and across the country, with some saying not-for-profit hospitals operate more like businesses and should have to pay taxes.

(click here to continue reading Illinois Supreme Court to weigh tax exemption for not-for-profit hospitals – Chicago Tribune.)

My position is the same as in previous blog posts: wealthy non-profits shouldn’t be able to avoid paying taxes simply because they sometimes do charitable work. If 100% of a particular hospital’s clients were not required to pay for any services, than perhaps I’d change my opinion. Wealthy non-profits shouldn’t be leeches on society.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 19th, 2018 at 7:19 am

Posted in Business,government,health

Tagged with ,

Idiot Illinois governor wants the state to revive its death penalty

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The government should not be in the business of revenge killings.

Dance of Death
Dance of Death

The Washington Post reports:

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday called for reviving the death penalty in his state, which banned the practice in 2011 and has not carried out an execution in nearly two decades.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D), the House majority leader, dismissed Rauner’s call to reinstate the death penalty with a brief statement Monday.

“On its merits, the governor’s proposal is a terrible idea,” she said.

Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton (D) also was critical, noting that prior issues with capital punishment prompted lawmakers to abolish it years earlier.

“The death penalty should never be used as a political tool to advance one’s agenda,” Cullerton said in a statement. “Doing so is in large part why we had so many problems and overturned convictions. That’s why we had bipartisan support to abolish capital punishment. I’ve seen nothing from today’s announcement to suggest that lesson has been learned.”

(click here to continue reading Illinois governor wants the state to revive its death penalty for mass murderers and people who kill police – The Washington Post.)

Yet another reason not to vote for Rauner, as if there were even any room left on the column.

Rauner’s cynical move is solely about the election, shoring up support with the right-wing which is rightfully suspicious of Rauner’s conservative credentials, and should be seen as such. 

Illinois banned its death penalty in 2011, but the state had halted executions long before that. In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan (R) declared a moratorium and decried the death penalty as “fraught with error.” He then commuted all of the state’s death sentences in 2003, an unprecedented move.

One of his successors, Pat Quinn (D), signed legislation that abolished the death penalty entirely in 2011. He also pointed to the risks of executing a potentially innocent person, saying: “If the system can’t be guaranteed, 100-percent error-free, then we shouldn’t have the system.”

Written by Seth Anderson

May 15th, 2018 at 10:08 am

Posted in crime,government

Tagged with

Advertisers Are Salivating About 5G-Fueled Marketing

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Calumet 5 6969
Calumet 5-6969

Adweek reports:

Kevin Crull, chief operating officer at Sprint, envisions a world in the coming years where his phone is able to automatically book an Uber ride from an airport based on a calendar reminder that he created about an upcoming flight. The calendar reminder feeds real-time travel stats to his device and then recommends a meal for his Uber driver to pick up on the way based on what items he has previously ordered through Uber Eats.

“I can see in the future where it brings in information from other devices and third-party services to get much more predictive and successful in how we’re targeting people,” he said.

Crull’s futuristic scenario isn’t just wishful (or hungry) thinking. It’s the product of 5G technology that constantly pings data back and forth between smartphones and connected devices, making it possible for devices to essentially predict what actions a consumer takes. At its core, the widespread rollout of 5G promises to increase connection speeds by up to 10 times while cutting latency by a factor of five, he said. Videos—and commercials—powered with 5G will stream faster and look crisper on smartphones. And with more data flowing quickly between networks and devices, the so-called Internet of Things will take a bit more shape for marketers who have long strived to ping a user’s smartphone with a relevant message as he passes a billboard or store.

(click here to continue reading With Faster Speeds and Connections, Brands Are Planning for 5G-Fueled Marketing – Adweek.)

Here’s the nub: 5 G as a technology is not necessarily better for average users, but it sure is for the industries that want to monetize your information and sell it, and you, to corporations.

Jogging After the End of Times
Jogging After the End of Times

For instance: Augmented Reality, and self-driving cars – with television screens…

By the middle of next year, Sprint plans to have 5G up and running “in many markets,” while AT&T plans to equip 12 markets including Atlanta and Dallas with mobile 5G this year. T-Mobile says that it’s on track to have 5G rolled out to 30 cities such as New York and Los Angeles in 2018, and Verizon is also enabling five markets including Sacramento, Calif., with the technology.

For advertisers, 5G opens up new video opportunities with formats like virtual reality and interactive clips that require hefty amounts of data to view today. Sprint’s Crull said he also expects for advertisers to play with dynamic creative and video lengths that are customized to users depending on how much content they typically watch on their phone.

And as Apple, Facebook and Snapchat invest in augmented reality, expect for 5G to open up more detailed AR experiences for marketers to experiment with, said Malmad.

“In a world of 5G, you aren’t going to be constrained by [bandwidth]—you can showcase whatever you like and have a rich, deep experience, so I do believe that augmented reality will benefit greatly from 5G,” he said.

Malmad said that 5G will also make it easier for marketers to target ads to connected cars, particularly once autonomous driving becomes more mainstream. For example, self-driving cars are expected to free up people’s time and attention so that they can watch TV or stream programs, meaning that automakers may build screens into seats.

No wonder telecoms are forcing municipalities to install 5G towers, whether or not communities want them, with the help of the Republican FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.

Come Rain Come Shine
Come Rain Come Shine

The NYT reported a few months ago:

The future of cellular service is coming to a neighborhood near you.

But who gets to decide when, where and how it gets delivered is still a heated fight.

The new technology, known as 5G, delivers wireless internet at far faster speeds than existing cellular connections. But it also requires different hardware to deliver the signals.

Instead of relying on large towers placed far apart, the new signals will come from smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts. Much of the equipment will be on streetlights or utility poles, often accompanied by containers the size of refrigerators on the ground. More than 300,000 cell stations now provide wireless connections, and 5G will bring hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — more.

The prospect of their installation has many communities and their officials, from Woodbury, N.Y., to Olympia, Wash., insisting that local governments control the placement and look of the new equipment. They say that the cell stations could clutter neighborhoods with eyesores and cost the communities a lot of potential revenue. “Residents across the country are just now beginning to understand the harms that hasty and insensitive small cell deployments can inflict on their communities,” said Jim Baller, the president of Baller Stokes & Lide, a law firm in Washington that represents municipalities on communications issues.

But telecommunications companies — hoping to cash in on what is predicted to be $250 billion in annual service revenue from 5G by 2025 — are pushing to build the system as quickly and cheaply as possible. And they have the federal government on their side.

(click here to continue reading 5G Cell Service Is Coming. Who Decides Where It Goes? – The New York Times.)

City of Lights
City of Lights

Some states have preemptively stopped municipalities from having a say in the matter, or in receiving fees for these 5G poles:

And the F.C.C., under the leadership of Ajit Pai, its Republican chairman, has strongly encouraged weakening regulations to accelerate the deployment of new 5G technology — including reducing the role of local governments.

Texas cities can’t negotiate rates. Last year, the State Legislature passed a law pushed by AT&T that allows cities to charge carriers no more than $250 per pole each year. Before the law, cities often charged $1,500 to $2,500 a year per pole, and the change will cost Texas cities as much as $1 billion over eight years, the Texas Municipal League estimated.

A group of Texas cities led by the city of McAllen, near the Mexico border, filed a lawsuit last year against the state, arguing that the new cell-site law violated the state Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from forcing cities to grant something of value to corporations.

Talk about Big Government…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 15th, 2018 at 9:25 am

Posted in Advertising,government

Tagged with , , ,

Lawyers Told Gina Haspel Torture Was Legal. But It Never Was

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Can You Show Me Your Dream
Can You Show Me Your Dream?

Even the thought of torture-enabler Gina Haspel being promoted makes me angry.

Claire Finkelstein and Stephen N. Xenakis write:

As the Senate considers Gina Haspel’s nomination as director of the C.I.A., it is time to dispel the false narrative about her record. That narrative says that Ms. Haspel’s involvement in torture, as well as the order she drafted authorizing the destruction of videotapes documenting this abusive practice, was legal and justifiable.

Torture — “enhanced interrogation,” as it was called — was supposedly legal because Justice Department lawyers had given it their blessing at the time, and destroying evidence of it was legal not only because government lawyers said it was, but also because Ms. Haspel was just following orders.

But Ms. Haspel’s supporters, many of whom are lawyers, should know better: the faulty advice of government lawyers and bosses cannot make illegal conduct legal. And C.I.A. investigations that rely on these specious justifications to excuse her decisions should be given no weight.

In 2002, Ms. Haspel ran a secret detention site in Thailand, code-named Cat’s Eye, that was known for its use of harsh interrogation techniques that amounted to torture. She was also chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, director of the National Clandestine Service for the agency.

The Nuremberg trials after World War II established that following orders is not a defense for conduct that is patently illegal. Under the Geneva Conventions, torture, like genocide, belongs in that category. A similar principle says that incorrect legal advice cannot shield one from liability when such advice is promoting transparently unlawful conduct. Torture, like genocide, is of such patent illegality that we are entitled to hold all who engage in it responsible, whether they knew it was illegal or not. Under both domestic and international law, a manifestly evil act puts perpetrators on notice they are committing a crime, and they can be held responsible for such knowledge.

(click here to continue reading Opinion | Lawyers Told Gina Haspel Torture Was Legal. But It Never Was. – The New York Times.)

History Is Myth
History Is Myth

Torture is just wrong. It should never be used. Not only that, but it doesn’t even work!

The NYT reports that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed wants to release a six paragraph statement about Gina Haspel:

Ms. Haspel ran a black-site prison in Thailand where another high-level detainee was tortured in late 2002. But it is not known whether she was involved, directly or indirectly, in Mr. Mohammed’s torture. Mr. Mohammed was held in secret C.I.A. prisons in Afghanistan and Poland.

In the weeks after his capture, an Intelligence Committee report said, Mr. Mohammed was subjected to the suffocation technique called waterboarding 183 times over 15 sessions, stripped naked, doused with water, slapped, slammed into a wall, given rectal rehydrations without medical need, shackled into painful stress positions and sleep-deprived for about a week by being forced to stand with his hands chained above his head.

While being subjected to that treatment, he made alarming confessions about purported terrorist plots — like recruiting black Muslims in Montana to carry out attacks — that he later retracted. They were apparently made up, the Senate report said.

 

(click here to continue reading 9/11 Planner, Tortured by C.I.A., Asks to Tell Senators About Gina Haspel – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 9th, 2018 at 8:49 am

Bank for Illinois’ medical marijuana industry is pulling out

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Truck full of Cannabis
Truck full of Cannabis, Washington State.

Ally Marotti of the Tribune reports:

The main bank serving Illinois medical marijuana companies is pulling out of the industry, leaving operators with few options other than dealing in cash.

Bank of Springfield sent a letter to its cannabis clients late last month informing them that their accounts will be closed May 21. The decision is tied to the reversal of an Obama-era policy that discouraged prosecution of those operating under state marijuana laws.

The move is a setback for the industry, which remains a pilot program more than two years after medical cannabis became legal in Illinois. Strict regulations and other obstacles have added challenges to running cannabis companies and kept patient numbers too low for some operators to recoup their investments.

Taking away the bank accounts medical marijuana companies use to pay their employees, vendors and the government is another hurdle. It also eliminates some of the legitimacy and traceability of transactions that banking added to the industry, which had $8.5 million in retail sales statewide in February, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

(click here to continue reading Main bank for Illinois’ medical marijuana industry is pulling out, leaving some operators to deal in cash – Chicago Tribune.)

Yet another reason to vote against Governor Bruce Rauner, as if we needed any more. His willful antagonism towards medical cannabis is undermining its growth. Illinois certainly could do better.

Republicans, Democrats, Independents, etc. all agree that money is good for the Illinois budget, why not follow the model of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and others?

Henry Anslinger
Henry Anslinger

From an article earlier this year, also by Ally Marotti:

As the legal marijuana industry navigates uncertainty on the federal level, state attorneys general are asking Congress to pass a law allowing banks to work with cannabis companies.

Along with Illinois, 28 other states, Washington, D.C., and several U.S. territories have legalized medicinal cannabis, and eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use. But in the eyes of federal law, weed is still illegal, and the cash earned selling it is drug money.

Without banks, though, operations and growth could be hindered.

The federal government has issued guidance for how banks can work with cannabis companies, but without a law, banks hesitate to enter the growing industry. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and 18 other attorneys general — from 16 states, the District of Columbia and Guam — signed a letter this week saying they want that to change. Madigan was not available Wednesday for further comment.

Passing a law “would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions,” according to the letter. “Moreover, compliance with tax requirements would be simpler and easier to enforce with a better-defined tracking of funds. This would, in turn, result in higher tax revenue.”

Banks that work with the cannabis industry can take further guidance from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. But, again, that’s just guidance.

“That’s not enough for the national and international banks,” said Cresco’s Bachtell, who has a background in mortgage banking. “They’re not comfortable with guidance; they want real regulation.”

The letter from the state attorneys general asks Congress for legislation to provide a “safe harbor” for financial institutions that work with cannabis companies in states where the drug is legal in some capacity. It points to a bill introduced in the Senate in May that would do just that.

More banks would likely expand operations into the marijuana industry if such a law were instituted, though it might take time for financial institutions to become comfortable with it, said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

(click here to continue reading U.S. law sought to allow banking for legal pot – Near West.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 7th, 2018 at 8:03 am

What’s the Matter With Trumpland?

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No One Will Know How Things Are Between Us
No One Will Know How Things Are Between Us

Paul Krugman writes:

Many of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the great bulk of the bill — and would create jobs in the process — are also among America’s poorest.

Or consider how some states, like Kansas and Oklahoma — both of which were relatively affluent in the 1970s, but have now fallen far behind — have gone in for radical tax cuts, and ended up savaging their education systems. External forces have put them in a hole, but they’re digging it deeper.

And when it comes to national politics, let’s face it: Trumpland is in effect voting for its own impoverishment. New Deal programs and public investment played a significant role in the great postwar convergence; conservative efforts to downsize government will hurt people all across America, but it will disproportionately hurt the very regions that put the G.O.P. in power.

(click here to continue reading Opinion | What’s the Matter With Trumpland? – The New York Times.)

Not a brand new phenomena, but relatively new. I call it the Fox News effect: the conservative red states who have been bamboozled to reflexively refuse the exact government help that would assist them in their lives because their spiritual/cultural leaders yelling at them on the tee-vee have convinced them that tax cuts and a smaller government is panacea, plus it will “trigger the liberals”. Yeah, those liberals, always trying to help, what’s wrong with them?

So Kansas1 and Oklahoma have cut taxes so much that teachers are having to strike for living wages. In my ideal world, teachers would be paid as much as least as much as investment bankers. Teachers should at least get a living wage, preferably more so that the “best and brightest” choose the teaching profession. Good teachers are important to our civil society, essential even, why should they get sub-poverty wages just so the Koch Brothers can pay slightly less in taxes?

South River Public School
South River Public School

The Guardian reports:

While Oklahoma has the country’s lowest tax on oil and natural gas production, teachers’ salaries remain stubbornly low, at 49th in the nation. According to data provided by the National Education Association (NEA), teachers make $45,276, nearly $13,077 below the nationwide average of $58,353 and well below the nationwide high of New York at $79,152.

“Over a decade of neglect by the legislature has given our students broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, four-day school weeks, classes that have exploded in size and teachers who have been forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs and go to food pantries to provide for their families,” said the Oklahoma Education Association in a statement. “We are saying enough. No more empty promises. The governor and legislature need to act now to fix this.”

It’s a feeling shared by teachers in places like Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states, who are all also considering action.

The strikes are unique in that they are not being called for by the leadership of the unions, but often through direct appeals of rank-and-file members using social media and their own personal networks to organize across entire states and now the country.

(click here to continue reading Wave of teachers’ wildcat strikes spreads to Oklahoma and Kentucky | US news | The Guardian.)

Not to mention the whole conservative pushback to the Affordable Care Act:

A new wave of teacher strikes has highlighted a growing problem for all US workers – growing health costs which have become a “hungry tapeworm” on Americans’ wages.

In the most expensive health system in the world and the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare, more than 177 million Americans get health insurance through an employer. But insurance is rarely free.

“They’ve shifted the healthcare costs and the pension costs on to employees, so employees are making less and they’re spending less,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million members. “It’s a double whammy.”

Conservative legislatures’ push to shift health and pension costs on to individual teachers means in some states, teachers take home less pay than they did five years ago.

(click here to continue reading ‘Double whammy’: teachers strike as healthcare costs cut into earnings | US news | The Guardian.)

I hope these teachers get their raises, and that they vote in 2018 for Democrats.

Footnotes:
  1. which we’ve discussed before []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 3rd, 2018 at 9:59 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with , , ,

Calling Car Pollution Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Sets Up Fight With California

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Jammed Up
Jammed Up

The NYT reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday took steps to challenge California’s decades-old right to set its own air pollution rules, setting up a showdown between the federal government and a state that has emerged as a bulwark against the Trump administration’s policies.

The E.P.A. statement was part of the agency’s widely expected decision to reconsider, and most likely roll back, Obama-era rules requiring automakers to hit ambitious emissions and mileage standards by 2025. The statement, though, was notable for the forcefulness of its language suggesting that the Trump administration would take on California’s authority to set its own rules.

A rollback of the rules, which are designed to cut back on emissions of greenhouse gases, would reverse one of the single biggest steps any government has taken to tackle climate change. California has said it will stick with the tougher, Obama-era regulations, a decision that could effectively split the United States into two auto markets: one requiring cars to be more efficient and less polluting than the other.

California has long possessed the unique authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to write its own air pollution rules. Traditionally, a dozen other states follow California’s air pollution rules and together they represent one-third of the nation’s auto market. That puts California in an extraordinary position to stage a regulatory revolt, with much of the country’s car market in tow.

State officials indicated they would fight the Trump administration. “This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards,” said Mary Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator. California, she said, “will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards.”

(click here to continue reading Calling Car Pollution Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Sets Up Fight With California – The New York Times.)

Scott Pruitt is a demon, and a meddler. Lower auto efficiency standards harms those of us who breathe, and actually harms automobile manufacturers as well, especially those that have already invested in the R&D necessary to reduce emissions and increase mileage, or those who plan on selling their cars to other nations. The only entities that these new proposed rules will help are the corporations that sell fuel1

Despicable behavior by someone who is despicable.

Take A Long Last Look  Kodachrome
Take A Long Last Look – Kodachrome

Automotive companies are not necessarily idiots, as better engineered cars are what the majority of consumers want:

 There have been some signs of discord within the auto industry over the Trump administration’s plans.

 Mr. Pruitt had been expected to publicly announce the effort on Tuesday at a Chevrolet dealership in suburban Virginia. But those plans were complicated by an angry pushback from some Chevy dealerships who were reluctant to see the brand associated with the announcement, according to two Chevy dealers who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing their relationship with General Motors. Late on Monday, the Virginia dealership, Pohanka Chevrolet in Chantilly, said the E.P.A. event it had planned to host had been canceled.

“They don’t want the E.P.A. to highlight Chevy,” said Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, which runs Nissan, Honda and Chrysler dealerships in Maine, and who said he was familiar with dealers’ thinking. “They don’t want to be the bad guys.”

“Trump has been saying these standards are crushing the auto industry. But we’ve had record years for the past four or five years, in terms of sales and profit,” he said. “It almost makes you think he doesn’t have the facts.”

 (click here to continue reading Calling Car Pollution Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Sets Up Fight With California – The New York Times.)

The Orange Dotard not having the facts. Hmm, who would have suspected…

Footnotes:
  1. Koch Bros, Exxon Mobile, et all []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 2nd, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Spending measure could disrupt Trump’s plans to cut agencies

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Dreaming Has A Low
Dreaming Has A Low

The Washington Post reports:

Trump probably would have been even more upset [with signing a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending plan] had he read the provision that could sharply curtail his plan to reorganize the government.

Section 740 of the 2,232-page document (PDF) makes it clear, as Bloomberg Law previously reported, that Congress, not Trump, is in charge. “None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used to increase, eliminate, or reduce funding for a program, project, or activity as proposed in the President’s budget request for a fiscal year” unless Congress approves, according to the omnibus legislation.

That could make it more difficult for Trump to impose the cuts he wants. His March 2017 “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” seeks “to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs.” Among other cuts, his proposed budget for this fiscal year called for the elimination of 19 small agencies, from the African Development Fund to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Members of Congress, including Republicans, are not eager to be Trump’s hatchet men. The omnibus spending plan provides a clear declaration that he cannot act alone. It is Congress that creates and eliminates.

(click here to continue reading Spending measure could disrupt Trump’s plans to cut agencies – The Washington Post.)

That’s pretty funny. No wonder the Democrats were happy with this omnibus spending bill, and that right wing performance art bloviators like Ann Coulter were so dismayed

No Need To Panic
No Need To Panic

The Defense Department got more money than it needs, but on the other hand, many Democratic priorities were strengthened. Some like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities got even more money than requested1

Sarah Binder writes:

 

 

One of the reasons GOP leaders were keen to rush the bill to a vote is that they didn’t want their partisan base to notice that it both funds innumerable Democratic priorities and blocks the Trump administration from doing such things as expanding detention of immigrants, defunding sanctuary cities, and ending federal funding for the arts, to name a few. The Trump White House and many conservatives wanted deep cuts to domestic programs. Party leaders ignored that. The more quickly the two chambers vote, the less time potential opponents have to unearth details that could outrage the GOP base, who might pressure their representatives to vote against the deal.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Three things we learned from the omnibus spending bill – The Washington Post.)

Trump is so lazy that I don’t see this process changing much in the future, even if a resurgent Democratic Party takes over the House and Senate in November, 2018. Trump isn’t going to waste his precious Executive Time reading 2,232 page documents and fighting about what it contained therein, he will only react if Trump TV spoon feeds him any of it. Let’s be honest, neither are we2, but I’d like to think if we were in the White House we’d at least make the attempt to understand a bill before signing it.

Footnotes:
  1. by a small amount, but still… []
  2. though I did download it, and skim it []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 31st, 2018 at 9:42 am

Posted in government

Tagged with , ,

At Least 12 States to Sue Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question

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No Borders No Nations
No Borders No Nations

At Least Twelve States to Sue Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question:

At least 12 states signaled Tuesday that they would sue to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, arguing that the change would cause fewer Americans to be counted and violate the Constitution.

The New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, said he was leading a multistate lawsuit to stop the move, and officials in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington said they would join the effort. The State of California filed a separate lawsuit late Monday night.

“The census is supposed to count everyone,” said Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts. “This is a blatant and illegal attempt by the Trump administration to undermine that goal, which will result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for our state and cities.”

(Via FiveThirtyEight)

I hope the 12 states prevail, or again America’s national policy will skew towards the reactionary.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 27th, 2018 at 7:28 pm

Posted in government

Tagged with

Hurricane Harvey’s Toxic Impact Deeper Than Public Told

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No Chemicals
No Chemicals…

Surprising nobody, the EPA and Texas governor are sweeping any discussion of toxicity under the concrete. 

A toxic onslaught from the nation’s petrochemical hub was largely overshadowed by the record-shattering deluge of Hurricane Harvey as residents and first responders struggled to save lives and property.

More than a half-year after floodwaters swamped America’s fourth-largest city, the extent of this environmental assault is beginning to surface, while questions about the long-term consequences for human health remain unanswered.

County, state and federal records pieced together by The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle reveal a far more widespread toxic impact than authorities publicly reported after the storm slammed into the Texas coast in late August and then stalled over the Houston area.

Some 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of intertwined oil, gas and chemical pipelines line the nation’s largest energy corridor.

Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston on the upper shores of Galveston Bay.

Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxins released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey’s torrential rains.

In all, reporters catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases — on land, in water and in the air. Most were never publicized, and in the case of two of the biggest ones, the extent or potential toxicity of the releases was initially understated.

Only a handful of the industrial spills have been investigated by federal regulators, reporters found.

(click here to continue reading Hurricane Harvey’s Toxic Impact Deeper Than Public Told – The New York Times.)

Disturbing, and portent of massive human misery to come, especially if the GOP controls the environmental inspectors. Profits over people, always, is the Republican agenda.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 22nd, 2018 at 9:54 am

Posted in environment,government

Tagged with , ,

Cook County Voters Give Firm Yes on Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

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Non binding referendum still progress
Non binding referendum, still, progress

Legalize Marijuana Cook County
Legalize Marijuana: Cook County

Cook County’s 2018 primary ballot contained a non-binding referendum to legalize marijuana statewide. Of course, as you’d expect, it passed. By a greater than 2 to 1 margin.

Cook County voters on Tuesday voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Illinois, according to unofficial results.

County commissioners voted unanimously last December to put the question on the primary ballot. The state Senate earlier this month passed a measure to put the question on ballots for statewide voters in November, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The full question on primary election ballots read as follows: “Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?”

Supporters of legalization point to the increased tax revenue that has come with legalization, taxation and regulation in other states. Opponents often have concerns about social costs and the fact that marijuana use would remain illegal under federal law.

Recreational marijuana is currently legal in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and California. All but Vermont passed the laws in binding ballot questions between 2012 and 2016.

(click here to continue reading Cook County Voters Give Firm Answer on Legalizing Recreational Marijuana – NBC Chicago.)

Somehow CO, WA, AK, NV, OR, MA, ME, VT, and CA don’t seem like they are turning into chaotic, failed states. In fact, these states are all doing pretty well all things considered.

JB Pritzker Wants to legalize and tax marijuana
JB Pritzker Wants to legalize and tax marijuana

Oh, and the winner of the Democratic primary for Governor of Illinois, JB Pritzker, sent flyers announcing his position last week. Interesting. The current witless doofus occupying the governor’s mansion, Bruce Rauner, is very tepid, at best, in support for cannabis reform: he didn’t want medical marijuana either.

Tina Sfondeles wrote, back in December, 2017:

Gov. Bruce Rauner is taking a blunt stance, telling a Downstate TV station that it would be a “mistake” to legalize marijuana in Illinois.

The Republican governor has, in the past, said he wants more studies on the “ramifications” in states that have legalized the drug. On Wednesday, he took it further.

“I do not support legalizing marijuana. I think that’s a mistake. You know there’s a massive, human experiment going on in Colorado, and California, other places. We should see how that’s impacted lives and addiction and hurt young people before we make any decision about it here,” Rauner said in an interview on WSIL in Marion. “I do not support legalizing marijuana.”

In April, the governor called recreational marijuana “a very, very difficult subject.” He said he wouldn’t support legalizing marijuana unless there’s a study of the “ramifications” in states that have legalized the drug.

(click here to continue reading Gov. Rauner not high on legalizing marijuana: ‘That’s a mistake’ | Chicago Sun-Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 21st, 2018 at 7:37 am