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Why the Dakota Access Pipeline is a Big Deal: Bismarck residents got the Dakota Access Pipeline moved without a fight

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It’s extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, not to see rank, overt, festering racism and class warfare here. T. J. Rafael reports in PRI:

Snowfall has made its way to North Dakota, adding an element of concern to the ongoing battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Monday, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple ordered an emergency evacuation of protesters working to block the construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline, citing safety concerns with the oncoming winter weather.

This announcement comes just days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, stating that the land they manage north of the Cannonball River will be closed on December 5. Anyone found on the land after that date will be considered trespassers and subject to prosecution.

For several months, the local Native American community and other protesters have been arguing that the pipeline could threaten the reservation’s water supply. But this is actually an updated routing — after the original routing was rejected for similar reasons. The original pipeline was to be routed just north of Bismarck, North Dakota, according to Karen Van Fossan, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“I actually read about the original pathway, or an original pathway of the pipeline, in our local newspaper,” she says. “It’s our understanding, and I’ve talked to everybody who I know who would have known about it in advance, that we never even in Bismarck had to make an objection. The pathway was moved away from our drinking supply without our even needing to go to a meeting or write a letter.”

Van Fossan says she believes a decision was independently made to reroute the pipeline to its current location. Bismarck city officials did not respond to a request for comment.

“Nobody I know ever knew anything about the routing north of Bismarck,” Van Fossan says.

Though Bismarck is 92.4 percent white, according to 2015 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Van Fossan says many residents in the city are “aghast” by the events playing out in Standing Rock, and are standing in solidarity with the indigenous protesters and other demonstrators. . .

Continue reading.

Support from sidelines is sometimes hard to distinguish from being looky-loos. And the police are so in the pocket of big business that they are just about at open warfare against a protest—that is, the exercise of a constitutional right. It’s very like Orwell’s 1984, which I hope everyone is rereading: “Rights are Wrong. Constitution is Against the Law. Expressing your right is criminal behavior. Force solves most problems. Plus any multimilion dollar setllement will be paid by the taxpayer, so it’s essentially free to us. I feared for my life.”

UPDATE: Trump will support the Dakota Pipeline project: He’s an investor in it. See this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 4:04 pm

“Religious freedom” laws are a two-edged sword: Satanic Temple Says Texas’s New Rules on Fetal Burial Violate Their Religious Freedom

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Religious freedom laws that attempt to force non-believers to heed the tenets of a particular religion or to allow believers of a particular religion freedom to ignore laws if they see those laws as impinging on their religion, are (IMO) a pestilence. If you offer a service to the public, you don’t get to pick and choose whom you serve since that is an open doorway to discrimination, which may be based on religion (“We don’t serve [Catholics, or Protestants, or Christians in general, or Jews, or Muslims, or Satanists, etc.]”), race (and it’s worth noting that in the US religion gave full support to enslaving African-Americans), and so on. If your religion forbids you to take medication (as some religions do—for example, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Adventists), you are not required to take medications, but if you use your beliefs to prevent others from taking medications, it is not religious freedom and religious imposition.

Anna Merlan posts at Jezebel:

In December, Texas will impose new rules requiring all fetal remains to be buried or cremated, a sneaky way to impede abortion access and make patients feel just a little worse, all at the same time. The Satanic Temple, the nation’s best and foremost trolls, declared today that under federal religious freedom laws, their members must be granted immunity from the new rules.

Texas’s new rules (not a “law,” since it didn’t go through a legislative process, but a bureaucratic one), stipulate that fetal remains have to be buried or cremated by hospitals or healthcare providers. The rules won’t apply to miscarriages or abortions that occur at home, and healthcare providers won’t be required to obtain death certificates for fetal tissue, which could have created privacy concerns.

Nonetheless, the Satanic Temple sees the whole thing for what it is: a naked bid to elevate fetal tissue to the status of a human being. In a press release, Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves called the new rules, which go into effect December 19, “a direct violation” of the group’s religious beliefs.

“Texas health officials are baldly imposing the view that the fetal tissue is elevated to personhood—a religious opinion that conflicts with our own,” Greaves is quoted as saying. “If Texas is going to treat the disposal of fetal tissue differently from the disposal of any other biological material, in contradiction to our own religious beliefs, they need to present a compelling state interest for doing so. Of course, there is no such state interest, and it’s perfectly clear the demand for fetal tissue burial is a punitive measure imposed by sadistic theocrats. It’s clear these officials deem harassment an acceptable form of pushing their misguided religious agendas.”

The Satanic Temple, you will recall, said the same thing about anti-abortion legislation in Missouri, saying their members should be immune from those aswell, because Satanic tenets hold that the body is inviolate and shouldn’t be subject to outside influence. In both cases, they cite a law that conservatives fervently love, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law passed in 1993 and mirrored by state laws in 20 states. The Satanic Temple is insisting that Texas provide a “compelling reason” why the state shouldn’t honor their religious beliefs. . .

Continue reading.

I think the source of the problem is the unconscious assumption by legislators that everyone had the same religious belief as the legislators.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 2:35 pm

Why Trump Would Almost Certainly Be Violating the Constitution If He Continues to Own His Businesses

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Richard Tofel has an interesting report in ProPublica:

Far from ending with President-elect Trump’s announcement that he will separate himself from the management of his business empire, the constitutional debate about the meaning of the Emoluments Clause — and whether Trump will be violating it — is likely just beginning.

That’s because the Emoluments Clause seems to bar Trump’s ownership of his business. It has little to do with his management of it. Trump’s tweets last Wednesday said he would be “completely out of business operations.”

But unless Trump sells or gives his business to his children before taking office the Emoluments Clause would almost certainly be violated. Even if he does sell or give it away, any retained residual interest, or any sale payout based on the company’s results, would still give him a stake in its fortunes, again fairly clearly violating the Constitution.

The Emoluments Clause bars U.S. officials, including the president, from receiving payments from foreign governments or foreign government entities unless the payments are specifically approved by Congress. As ProPublica and others have detailed, Trump’s business has ties with foreign government entities ranging from loans and leases with the Bank of China to what appear to be tax-supported hotel deals in India and elsewhere. The full extent of such ties remains unknown, and Trump has refused to disclose them, or to make public his tax returns, through which many such deals, if they exist, would be revealed. Foreign government investments in Trump entities would also be covered by the clause, as would foreign government officials paying to stay in Trump hotels, so long as Trump stands to share in the revenues.

One misconception about the Emoluments Clause in early press coverage of it in the wake of Trump’s election is being clarified as scholars look more closely at the provision’s history. That was the suggestion that it would not be a violation for the Trump Organization to conduct business with foreign government entities if “fair market value” was received by the governments.

This view had been attributed to Professor Richard Painter, a former official of the George W. Bush administration, and privately by some others. But Professor Laurence Tribe, the author of the leading treatise on constitutional law, and others said the Emoluments Clause was more sweeping, and mandated a ban on such dealings without congressional approval. Painter now largely agrees, telling ProPublica that no fair market value test would apply to the sale of services (specifically including hotel rooms), and such a test would apply only to the sale of goods. The Trump Organization mostly sells services, such as hotel stays, golf memberships, branding deals and management services.

The Emoluments Clause appears in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution. It bars any “person holding any office of profit or trust under” the United States from accepting any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Price, or foreign state” “without the consent of the Congress.” The word “emolument” comes from the Latin emolumentum, meaning profit or gain. The language of the clause was lifted in its entirety from the Articles of Confederation which established the structure of the government of the United States from 1781 until the ratification of the Constitution in 1788-89. The clause was derived from a Dutch rule dating to 1751.

The clause was added to the draft Constitution at the Constitutional Convention on Aug. 23, 1787 on a motion by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina. As Gov. Edmund Randolph of Virginia explained to his state’s ratification convention in 1788, Pinckney’s motion was occasioned by Benjamin Franklin, who had been given a snuffbox, adorned with the royal portrait and encrusted with small diamonds, by Louis XVI while serving as the Continental Congress’s ambassador to France. As Randolph said,

“An accident which actually happened, operated in producing the restriction. A box was presented to our ambassador by the king of our allies. It was thought proper, in order to exclude corruption and foreign influence, to prohibit any one in office from receiving emoluments from foreign states.”

The Continental Congress in 1786 had consented, after a debate, to Franklin keeping the snuffbox, as it had earlier with a similar gift to envoy Arthur Lee. At the same time, consent also was given to diplomat John Jay receiving a horse from the King of Spain.

The clause was part of the basis for Alexander Hamilton’s defense of the Constitution, in Federalist 22, as addressing “one of the weak sides of republics”: “that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”

There is no question that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president. President Obama’s counsel sought an opinion in 2009 on whether it barred him from accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. The Justice Department concluded that it did not, in part based on historical precedent (the Prize had also been awarded to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Vice President Charles Dawes and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), but primarily because the Norwegian group that awards the prize was not deemed a governmental entity. . .

Continue reading.

I wonder what course Trump will take. I believe that he views himself as a businessman first, with the presidency as a temporary job with terrific upside possibilities for his businesses, so I cannot believe that he will divest himself of his businesses or even put them at arm’s length. Perhaps he’ll simply resign, but in any event it’s up to Congress: the conclusion of the report:

. . .  Ironically, an “originalist” reading of the clause — usually favored these days by conservatives as exemplified by the late Justice Antonin Scalia and current Justice Clarence Thomas — would seem to bind Trump more stringently, while a “living constitution” approach — exemplified by liberals such as the late Justices Louis Brandeis and Thurgood Marshall — might offer him greater latitude.

Clearly, deciding what the Emoluments Clause means in a specific case is a complicated legal question. (The opinion on Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize runs to 13 printed pages.) But just as clearly, the judges of its meaning with respect to President Trump will be politicians rather than the Supreme Court.

The controversies that swirled around Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clintonestablished a number of key points. Among them are that the sole remedy for a violation of the Constitution by a president in office is impeachment, and that the House of Representatives is the sole judge of what constitutes an impeachable offense, while the Senate is the sole judge of whether such an alleged violation warrants removal from office. (Impeachments are very rare: articles of impeachment have been voted against only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Clinton, both of whom were acquitted by the Senate, while Nixon resigned ahead of likely impeachment. Fifteen federal judges have also been impeached, and eight removed, while four resigned.)

The arguments of scholars and lawyers on the meaning of the Emoluments Clause may influence the public, and their elected representatives. But if Trump decides not to dispose of his business, it will be up to Congress to decide whether to do anything about his apparent violation of the Constitution.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 2:14 pm

Letter from Penzeys Spices to the CEOs of America

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A good letter from a good company. I hope the CEOs will listen. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a Penzeys customer for many years and still buy most of my herbs and spices from their on-line store.)

The letter:

Dear CEO,

Please give us a moment to share something we hope you will find very valuable.

Our customers come from all walks of life. The kindness of cooks knows no borders or divides. In the aftermath of the election, seeing the intentional damage inflicted on so many outside the white heterosexual male world, we raised our voice. We felt we had to. We did this because we are Penzeys. The Spice business is so intertwined with history that it’s not really possible to have one without the other. It became clear to us that we are now in a moment history will long have its eyes upon. For the sake of our customers, and for the sake of future generations, we felt the time had come to stand on the right side of history.

And while the reasons for why we took a stand might be specific to our unique outlook, what we learned actually applies to all commerce in the United States. What we learned is that President-elect Donald Trump has no real support. Voters, sure, but no constituency. Running a campaign on “that horrible-terrible-woman who should be locked up,” while at the same time working to raise fear of minorities among white voters with limited access to education, clearly achieved its goal. But none of it left Americans with any sense of connection to the candidate they actually voted for.

Willing to take a hit for what is right, we did what we did. In the two weeks since, online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%. And we didn’t have a catalog arrive in this window this year, while last year we had 1.1 million! Yes, maybe for the moment we have lost 3% of our customers because of the so-called “right wing firestorm.” And, yes, they send emails of rage, and ALL CAPS, and bad language with the hope of creating the perception that they are bigger than they really are. But what we learned is that, in terms of retail spending, Donald Trump simply has no one supporting his views for America. He has no constituency.

America’s Values, on the other hand, have a really sizable constituency, and that constituency moves quickly to support those that stand up for the values of America. If, as a company, you have values, now is the time to share them. You may well lose a chunk of your AM radio-listening customers, but if you really are honest and sincere, don’t be surprised to see your promotions suddenly, finally, find active engagement with the Millennial generation.

And the time for this really is now. We understand all too well that, with the holidays, December is a tough month to get things done. We understand that a change in direction will not be easy, but you are where you are because you don’t need things to be easy. If you wait until after the wheels come off the track for the incoming administration, this moment will have passed. And while there’s no bad time to do the right thing, to do the right thing at the same time as others in your industry will work so much better than waiting until someone else has shown the way.

In this moment there is finally the real chance to unite our nation in our shared rejection of sexism, homophobia, and racism. This is your chance to stand up for America’s values and make January a tent pole in your company’s history. Opportunities to do the right thing at the time when doing the right thing makes all the difference come once in a lifetime. Make your history proud.

Thanks for reading,

Penzeys Spices

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 9:06 am

The true story of America’s sky-high prescription drug prices

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Sarah Kliff has an excellent article in Vox that explains exactly when the US prescription drug prices are out of control and why prescription drug prices in other countries are much more reasonable. (It’s due to different government approaches and roles.) The article is copiously illustrated with stick figures, and it begins:

Let’s say you’re at the doctor. And the doctor hands you a prescription.

The prescription is for Humira, an injectable medication used to treat a lot of common conditions like arthritis and psoriasis. Humira is an especially popular medication right now. In 2015, patients all around the world spent $14 billion on Humira prescriptions — that’s roughly the size of Jamaica’s entire economy.

Let’s say your doctor appointment is happening in the United Kingdom. There, your Humira prescription will cost, on average, $1,362. If you’re seeing a doctor in Switzerland, the drug runs around $822.

But if you’re seeing a doctor in the United States, your Humira prescription will, on average, run you $2,669.

How does this happen? Why does Humira cost so much more here than it does in other countries?

Humira is the exact same drug whether it’s sold in the United States, in Switzerland, or anywhere else. What’s different about Humira in the United States is the regulatory system we’ve set up around our pharmaceutical industry.

The United States is exceptional in that it does not regulate or negotiate the prices of new prescription drugs when they come onto market. Other countries will task a government agency to meet with pharmaceutical companies and haggle over an appropriate price. These agencies will typically make decisions about whether these new drugs represent any improvement over the old drugs — whether they’re even worth bringing onto the market in the first place. They’ll pore over reams of evidence about drugs’ risks and benefits. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing.

The US system is badly out of whack. To see how badly, take a look at this BBC article by Greg Dunlop, which begins:

US executive Martin Shkreli became a symbol of greed when he raised the price of a tablet of Daraprim from $13.50 (£11) to $750.

Now, Sydney school students have recreated the drug’s key ingredient for just $20.

Read the whole thing. It’s short.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 3:16 pm

The hydraulic genius of Shari’ah law

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Fascinating article (and photos) by Roberto Lovato in Craftsmanship magazine:

Near the southernmost deserts of Colorado, in the immense silence and blue shadow of the Sangre de Cristo (blood of Christ) mountains, José Avila’s raspy, soft voice seems to blend seamlessly with the swish of water flowing in the irrigation ditch cutting through the alfalfa farm at our feet. A 30-degree chill begins what will later become a 70-degree October day in the San Luis valley. The farm’s quiet feels eons away from Denver, Colorado Springs, and other upstream cities that are trapped in yearly cycles of drought, fires, and other water calamities. Such is the fate of the arid land between the Rio Grande and Interstate 25, as opposed to the communities where the Culebra River flows.

With the ditch burbling next to him, José explains the ancient practice of dividing the flow of water with acequias, the gravity-based ditch and communal water management systems that have irrigated farms in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico since the arrival of the conquistadores. To be historically precise, the conquistadores–and the indian warriors and craftsmen accompanying them from Mexico–brought this technology with them on their transatlantic journey from the semi-arid regions of 16th-century southern Spain to the New World. The Spaniards, in turn, learned it from their Arab and Berber conquerors, whose civilization dominated large of swaths of Spain’s Iberian peninsula for more than seven centuries.

José and I are standing in a parched piece of the farm around what’s known as the People’s Ditch, marked by a bronze plaque that commemorates this acequia’s founding in 1852. “Some of the original signers,” José informs me, “have the same last name as the parciantes (affiliated water users) today.” The football field-sized strip of acequia serves 16 parciantes and irrigates more than 2100 acres of hay, chicos (dry corn) alfalfa, and other heirloom crops. And this is just one slice of a four-mile network of earthen and concrete acequias. This watery nervous system connects the People’s Ditch to 14 other acequias uniting more than 350 families, and irrigating in excess of 23,000 acres across the valley.

When I ask José how acequias work, he says “How do you explain how salt tastes?” His Spanglish accent contains hints of the Purépecha indian heritage that he brought with him from Michoacán, Mexico. “People write books and tell stories about cambiando agua (literally “changing water”), but I’ve read some of those books and sometimes it’s not stated well. You really have to do it.” José describes acequia as a method of irrigation in which water managers work with what they see as nature’s intent. As romantic as this sounds, it is supported by the findings of Sylvia Rodriguez, a scholar at the School for Advanced Research, a Santa Fe think tank. Acequia irrigation, she says, is “kinesthetic, visual, technical, and interactive, but not especially verbal.”

I check my boots and tuck in my pants in preparation for my first-ever attempt change the water in the 40 years since I discovered acequias as a curly-haired, working-class, city-boy tourist in southern Spain. Moving slowly, José leads me along the banks of the ditch next to a parcel used to grow alfalfa. Acequias, he explains, “begin with finding springs and venas (veins) of water.” Once they identify a source, locals try to envision the water’s course from higher to lower elevations, according to the natural pull of gravity. Central to the process,he adds, is the excavation of the acequia madre (literally “mother acequia”). This is the largest and widest of the family, and it is cut perpendicular to the stream so as to move the water laterally, toward the fields the farmers want irrigated.

José says the parciantes’ job is to make sure the water curves and cradles itself within the natural embrace and gravity of the land. To do this, acequia managers actually re-form the surrounding landscape. Once the higher elevations have been irrigated, any water that remains returns to the original stream, through what’s known as a desague (unwatering) channel located at the acequia’s bottom portion. A line of trees, plants and other vegetation growing alongside the acequias signal another of their distinguishing features: the ecological benefits of the earthen materials used to build them. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. The photos help.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 2:19 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Odd that employers are exempt from illegal immigration punishment

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Read this post by Kevin Drum. It begins:

Controlling illegal immigration has never seemed all that hard to me. The vast majority of those who are in the United States illegally—either by crossing the border or overstaying their visas—are here to find jobs. So if you want to reduce illegal immigration, you need to make it hard for employers to hire anyone who’s not authorized to work. But in the LA Times today, Wayne Cornelius says that’s not in the cards:

There has never been much public or congressional appetite for a harsh crackdown on employers,especially the small businesses that depend most heavily on workers in the U.S. illegally. They are pillars of their communities and campaign contributors. Besides, immigration agents have had higher enforcement priorities — tracking down immigrants who committed serious crimes or pose national security threats.

President-elect Trump has called for full implementation of an electronic employment eligibility verification system called E-Verify….E-Verify, however, is no panacea. It does not prevent immigrants who are ineligible to work from getting jobs by providing valid information pertaining to other people (borrowed documents). And as long as penalties are weak, requiring employers to use E-Verify will not significantly reduce violations.

Will Congress approve crippling fines or even prison sentences for business owners who ignore E-Verify rules? Will lawmakers direct the Justice Department to make these scofflaws a top priority? Unless and until that happens, many employers will continue to view hiring those in the U.S. illegally as a low-risk, high-reward crime. In 2014, the probability that one of the nation’s 6 million employers would be investigated for violating immigration laws was 0.03%.

I don’t personally care all that much about the level of illegal immigration. The current numbers strike me as reasonable. But obviously a lot of people do care, and most of them are Republicans. They talk tough, they build walls and fences, and they promise to hire lots of border enforcement agents. But this all a sham. If the economic incentives continue to exist, so will illegal immigration. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2016 at 8:33 pm

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