Later On

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Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category

Pete Buttigieg, where are you when you’re needed

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If I’m not mistaken, solving the problem described in the Washington Post article by Andrea Salcedo, Luz Lazo, and Lee Powell is exactly the job of Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation. Is he asleep at the switch?

The article begins:

LEGGETT, Tex. — A man suffered a stroke but a stopped train blocked paramedics from reaching him for over an hour. A senior in a nearby retirement community missed his oncologist appointment because another train obstructed that same intersection. A fire crew could not get to a house engulfed in flames until another train eventually cleared the crossing.

For decades, those living along Glover Road in Leggett, Tex. — a rural community with fewer than 150 residents some 80 miles from Houston — wrote letters, sent emails and called authorities pleading that trains stop blocking the neighborhood’s sole point of entry and exit for hours. Some residents and a county judge sent letters addressed to the railroad company, warning of a “greater catastrophe,” including a toxic train disaster.

“Should there be a derailment … we would be dead ducks, having no evacuating route,” Pete Glover, the man whom the street is named after, wrote in a 1992 letter to the railway company. “If some home caught afire,” he added. there’d be “no way for firetrucks to serve them.”

To many in the community, their worst fears were realized in 2021, when baby K’Twon Franklin died. His mother, Monica Franklin, had found the three-month old unresponsive in her bed the morning of Sept. 30, and called 911.

Paramedics responded, but a Union Pacific train blocked their path on Glover Road, according to Franklin and a local police report. It took more than 30 minutes for them to carry K’Twon into an ambulance. Two days later, the baby died at a hospital in Houston. “Unfortunately, the delay has cost my child’s life,” Franklin, 34, told The Washington Post.

Over the last decade, rail corporations have been running more lengthy freight trains — some as long as three miles — partly to save fuel and labor costs. As they do, they are blocking rural and urban intersections, stoking anger and contributing to tragedies and calamities.

Much of the nation’s focus has been on a long Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio in February, sparking a toxic fireball and prompting state and federal investigations. But while Congress has shown some renewed concern about rail safety, there’s been little focus on an everyday safety threat — long trains blocking first responders from getting to emergencies. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2023 at 12:54 pm

The Murder of a CIA Officer Was Used to Silence the Agency’s Greatest Critic

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James Risen and Thomas Risen report in The Intercept:

ON THE NIGHT of December 23, 1975, Ron Estes, the CIA’s deputy station chief in Athens, was lounging on the couch in his girlfriend’s apartment when the man who worked as a driver for his boss, Richard Welch, burst through the front door.

“A shooting, and Mr. Welch is down,” the driver yelled.

Estes grabbed his coat and ran outside, ignoring his girlfriend’s pleas to stay.

At Welch’s house in the Greek capital, Estes saw the station chief lying on his back on the sidewalk, his wife, Kika, kneeling beside him. Blood covered Welch’s face, and Estes could see immediately that he was dead. “I didn’t need to feel for a pulse,” he said in an interview. A police car arrived, and Estes asked the officer to call an ambulance. When no ambulance arrived, they hauled the body into Welch’s car and Estes and Welch’s driver followed the police officer, siren blaring and lights flashing, through the streets of Athens to the nearest hospital. A medical team was waiting; they quickly placed Welch on a gurney and took him to an examining room. There, a doctor placed a stethoscope on Welch’s chest and confirmed to Estes that he was dead.

Welch was 46 years old. A career CIA officer, he had been the CIA’s Athens station chief for six months.

At the hospital, Welch’s driver finally caught his breath and told Estes what had happened. He had driven Welch and his wife home from a Christmas party at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, then stopped in front of the walled compound that enclosed Welch’s house to open the front gates. As Welch and his wife got out, three armed men in a black car pulled up behind them, burst out of the car, and confronted Welch.

“Put your hands up!” one of the men told Welch in Greek.

“What?” Welch asked in English.

One of the gunmen leveled his .45 caliber handgun and fired three times. An autopsy later showed that the first shot hit Welch in the chest, rupturing his aorta and killing him instantly. The three men got back in their car and sped away. That’s when Welch’s driver rushed to get Estes.

The hospital lobby soon filled with journalists, who had most likely heard about the shooting by monitoring the city’s police radio. Estes realized that many of them already seemed to know that Welch had been the CIA’s station chief. Steven Roberts, a New York Times reporter in Athens who covered Welch’s murder, wrote the next day that he had been talking with Welch at the ambassador’s Christmas party an hour before the shooting.

A spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy arrived, and Estes slipped away from the crowd of reporters. The police found the gunmen’s car, which had been stolen, abandoned several blocks from Welch’s home.

Back at the CIA station, Estes sent cables to CIA headquarters and talked on a secure phone with a top agency official. “When I finished briefing him, he said, ‘I could only hear about half of what you said.’” Estes recalled. “‘Send me a cable repeating what you said immediately. We’ve got to go to the president.’”

WELCH’S ASSASSINATION WAS huge news and struck a painful political nerve in Washington, coming at the end of a year of stunning disclosures about the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community by the Senate’s Church Committee, which, throughout 1975, had been conducting the first major congressional investigation of the CIA. The Church Committee uncovered so many secrets and generated so many headlines that pundits were already calling 1975 “the Year of Intelligence.”

Before the Church Committee was created in January 1975, there had been no real congressional oversight of the CIA. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not yet exist, and the Church Committee’s unprecedented investigation marked the first effort by Congress to unearth decades of abusive and illegal acts secretly committed by the CIA — and to curb its power.

Sen. Frank Church, the liberal Democrat from Idaho who chaired the committee, had come to believe that the future of American democracy was threatened by the rise of a permanent and largely unaccountable national security state, and he sensed that at the heart of that secret government was a lawless intelligence community. Church was convinced it had to be reined in to save the nation.

To a great degree, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2023 at 6:33 pm

Hospitals that denied emergency abortion broke the law, feds say

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Amanda Seitz reports for AP:

Two hospitals that refused to provide an emergency abortion to a pregnant woman who was experiencing premature labor put her life in jeopardy and violated federal law, a first-of-its-kind investigation by the federal government has found.

The findings, revealed in documents obtained by The Associated Press, are a warning to hospitals around the country as they struggle to reconcile dozens of new state laws that ban or severely restrict abortion with a federal mandate for doctors to provide abortions when a woman’s health is at risk. The competing edicts have been rolled out since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion last year.

But federal law, which requires doctors to treat patients in emergency situations, trumps those state laws, the nation’s top health official said in a statement.

“Fortunately, this patient survived. But she never should have gone through the terrifying ordeal she experienced in the first place,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “We want her, and every patient out there like her, to know that we will do everything we can to protect their lives and health, and to investigate and enforce the law to the fullest extent of our legal authority, in accordance with orders from the courts.”

The federal agency’s investigation centers on two hospitals — Freeman Health System in Joplin, Missouri, and University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas — that in August refused to provide an abortion to a Missouri woman whose water broke early at 17 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors at both hospitals told Mylissa Farmer that her fetus would not survive, that her amniotic fluid had emptied and that she was at risk for serious infection or losing her uterus, but they would not terminate the pregnancy because a fetal heartbeat was still detectable.

Ultimately, Farmer had to travel to an abortion clinic in Illinois.

“It was dehumanizing. It was terrifying. It was horrible not to get the care to save your life,” Farmer, who lives in Joplin, said of her experience. “I felt like I was responsible to do something, to say something, to not have this happen again to another woman. It was bad enough to be so powerless.”

Farmer’s complaints launched the first investigations that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, has publicly acknowledged since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. Across the country, women have reported being turned away from hospitals for abortions, despite doctors telling them that this puts them at further risk for infection or even death.

President Joe Biden’s administration has prodded hospitals not to turn away patients in those situations, even when state law forbids abortions. Weeks after . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

1 May 2023 at 11:51 am

Republicans threaten to tank economy. Media blame Biden.

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Dan Froomkin reports on Press Watch:

House Republicans are refusing to let the government keep paying its bills unless the Biden administration rolls back some of its signature achievements.

It’s a demand that neither the Senate nor Biden will ever agree to.

Raising the debt limit is a procedural move that allows the Treasury to make good on existing commitments. It’s not a budget bill.

But House Republicans appear to be ready to default on the debt if they don’t get their way. Such a default would be catastrophic for the U.S and world economies, and could permanently damage the dollar’s status as the de facto global currency.

Explaining it that way is simply good journalism.

But as usual, extremist Republicans have been enabled by media coverage that tries to split the difference, and treats what is essentially a hostage crisis created exclusively by one side as a normal, two-sided partisan squabble.

Indeed, our top political reporters now insist that the onus is on Biden to solve the problem.

Under the headline “Biden Faces His First Big Choice on Debt Limit,” New York Times reporter Jim Tankersley writes today that the issue “has put President Biden on the defensive, forcing him to confront a series of potentially painful choices at a perilous economic moment.”

Sure, Biden says he won’t negotiate, but “business groups, fiscal hawks and some congressional Democrats” want him to make a deal. So Biden, Tankersley writes, “faces a cascading set of decisions as the nation, which has already bumped up against its $31.4 trillion debt limit, barrels toward default.”

But the nation is not “barreling toward default,” nor is it “careening,” or even “drifting” there. It is being pushed there by Republicans.

Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein set off Internet pundits and the Post’s own readers over the weekend with his article headlined “Biden is running out of time to avoid calamitous debt ceiling outcomes.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall tweeted: “Has there ever been a clearer example of the ‘GOP has trained us to take their legislative terrorism as a given’ mentality so clear in so much MSM reporting?”

Post commenters put it so well:

This is a vapid article that begins with a false premise. Biden is not the one who needs to be doing something right now. That’s Congress. Also, none of Biden’s options to resolve the problem unilaterally are “running out.” They all are still available. Click bait that isn’t even good click bait.


Yes, I am sick and tired of articles that seem to absolve the Republicans of their own idiocy and then blame the Democrats for not protecting us from the harm caused by Republicans.

Both Tankersley and Stein know better. They are both highly competent at times. What pressure are they under to produce such garbage? Which editors is this coming from? It’s a mystery.

And it’s not just them. The notion that this is a problem that both sides needed to solve has been endemic to corporate political reporting for months now.

The Associated Press has consistently been advocating for some sort of compromise — in its news stories. Josh Boak wrote that, “staring down a fast-approaching deadline,” both sides “have to find some version of common ground.”

Washington Post reporter Michael Scherer glibly predicted (in January!) that “Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy, wary opponents, prepare to work together“.

Biden and McCarthy haven’t spoken about the debt ceiling once since then, with Biden continuing to insist on a clean debt-ceiling bill with no strings attached. Scherer is still arguing with me on Twitter that he was right.

A key distinction that gets conflated in much of the coverage is between  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2023 at 1:23 pm

Changing the focus from consumer to worker

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Rani Foroohar writes in Financial Times:

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu might not be an economist, but as White House adviser on antitrust he authored a groundbreaking executive order on competition policy that has done more to change the framework for economic policymaking than anything that has come from economists themselves.

For the past 40 years, America’s competition policy has revolved around the consumer. This is in part the legacy of legal scholar Robert Bork, whose 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox held that the major goal of antitrust policy should be to promote “business efficiency”, which from the 1980s onwards came to be measured in consumer prices. These were considered the fundamental measure of consumer wellbeing, which was in turn the centre of economic wellbeing.

But Wu, along with compatriots such as Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan and Department of Justice antitrust head Jonathan Kanter, has changed things. Like the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, which took power from unions and unleashed markets and corporations, Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order may well be remembered as a major economic turning point — this time, away from neoliberalism with its focus on consumers, and towards workers as the primary interest group in the US economy. For Wu, the author of The Curse of Bigness, shifting the starting point for policymaking is part of an existential struggle to save democracy in America.

During this conversation, just three months after he stepped down as White House adviser, he discusses life in the political pressure cooker, the battle between lawyers and economists in competition policy, and why creating an even playing field across business and labour markets is core to preserving the republic.

Rana Foroohar: It’s great to see you again. One thing we touched on in a previous conversation is this opportunity for the legal profession to bring a real world perspective to competition policymaking that adds to what economists have been doing for the past 40 years. Can you talk a bit about what’s driving that?

Tim Wu: I think it’s part of a broader reaction to excessive technocratic governance, and particularly by economists. That isn’t to say that economists shouldn’t be in the picture, but I think that in certain areas — antitrust being a particularly strong example — the more lawyerly interest and conduct outcomes and things like intent are really important.

Lawyers aren’t exactly laypeople, but even laypeople can ask, how is it that Google was able to buy Waze, which was another major map application and everyone thought that was fine? Why was Facebook buying Instagram? Aren’t they obviously competitors? Those kind of outcomes which really were only reached with the help of a PhD in economics. Things move slowly, but I feel like particularly the antitrust agencies are headed in a different direction.

RF: Jonathan Kanter has some really interesting thoughts on the starting point for thinking about antitrust. He said he thinks about the life that he had growing up, the opportunities and space to pursue the choices that would allow for a good life. He says the antitrust conversation can and should encompass anything that would stop people from being able to pursue those kinds of choices. That seems to be going back to an almost constitutional interpretation of competition versus something as narrow as the Chicago School theory. Would you agree with that interpretation?

TW: I think that economic liberty and opportunity are core to what antitrust in its original conception was trying to preserve. The US was for a long time a country of highly decentralised economic power. It was a country of regions and individual and small business and family businesses. I think a big part of the promise of the US and of Biden’s government was, “come here and you can make it”, not “come here and you can maybe get a job somewhere”. I think there’s something very key and this did underlie a lot of our thinking by the administration with the executive order. That the power to leave and do your own thing or leave for a better job has a powerful disciplining effect on markets and employers.

The non-compete clause ban, which was very near and dear to the president’s heart and his campaign, was a good example of that and one reason it was made such a priority.

RF: What is it like to leave academia and go into the belly of the beast in the White House, and be so much a part of a massive shift in policymaking?

TW: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2023 at 2:43 pm

Dubious ethics: Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire

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Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski report in ProPublica about an astonishingly flagrant violation of judicial ethics and in fact the law. I think we must recognize at this point that the US Supreme Court is deeply corrupt.

IN LATE JUNE 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Thomas did not respond to a detailed list of questions.

In a statement, Crow acknowledged that he’d extended “hospitality” to the Thomases “over the years,” but said that Thomas never asked for any of it and it was “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

Through his largesse, Crow has gained a unique form of access, spending days in private with one of the most powerful people in the country. By accepting the trips, Thomas has broken long-standing norms for judges’ conduct, ethics experts and four current or retired federal judges said.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. When she was on the bench, Gertner said, she was so cautious about appearances that she wouldn’t mention her title when making dinner reservations: “It was a question of not wanting to use the office for anything other than what it was intended.”

Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who served in administrations of both parties, said Thomas “seems to have completely disregarded his higher ethical obligations.”

“When a justice’s lifestyle is being subsidized by the rich and famous, it absolutely corrodes public trust,” said Canter, now at the watchdog group CREW. “Quite frankly, it makes my heart sink.”

ProPublica uncovered the details of Thomas’ travel by . . .

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It is perhaps worth noting that Thomas owes his seat on the Supreme Court to the way then-Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the committee, did not allow a reasonable investigation of Anita Hill’s allegations nor did he allow corroborating witnesses to appear. Thanks, Joe. And while I’m at it, thanks also for approving the Willow project so we can pump billions of tons more of CO2 to speed along global warming.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2023 at 10:49 am

Greta Thunberg: The Show is Over

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An earlier post today included a graph that showed how the unbroken growth of CO2 emissions reveal that no effective steps have been taken. Greta Thunberg speaks to that quite effectively. You can read the transcript of her remarks, but their impact is greatly strengthened if you watch her deliver them in the video in this post from last October.

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Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2023 at 11:59 am

Chart showing impact of various international agreements on CO2 emissions

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Chart showing "Monthly averages of atmospheric CO2 as recorded at Mauna Loa in Hawaii."
Amounts of CO2 rapidly climb from ~325 ppm in 1960 to ~418 pm in 2020.
Graphic also notes when various meetings were held and agreements were made to limit or reduce carbon emissions. None of this has had any effect.

From Wikipedia:

The Willow project is an oil drilling project by ConocoPhillips located on the plain of the North Slope of Alaska in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The project was originally to construct and operate up to five drill pads for a total of 250 oil wells. . . 

On March 13, 2023, the Biden administration approved the project.

Environmentalist organization Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on March 14, 2023, on behalf of conservation groups to stop the Willow project, saying that the approval of a new carbon pollution source contradicts President Joe Biden‘s promises to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and transition the United States to clean energy.

The project could produce up to 600 million barrels of oil and 287 million tons of carbon emissions plus other greenhouse gases over 30 years, and could adversely impact Arctic wildlife and Native American communities. The Willow project would damage the complex local tundra ecosystem and, according to an older government estimate, release the same amount of greenhouse gases annually as half a million homes.[1]

We’re doomed.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2023 at 8:38 am

Biden Plan to Cut Billions in Medicare Fraud Ignites Lobbying Frenzy

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As Dan Froomkin notes, “Health insurers are spending millions to protect their ability to overbill billions to the government. Doesn’t that make you angry?”  Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz report in the NY Times:

“How’s the knee?” one bowler asked another across the lanes. Their conversation in a Super Bowl ad focused on a Biden administration proposal that one bowler warned another would “cut Medicare Advantage.”

“Somebody in Washington is smarter than that,” the friend responded, before a narrator urged viewers to call the White House to voice their displeasure.

The multimillion dollar ad buy is part of an aggressive campaign by the health insurance industry and its allies to stop the Biden proposal. It would significantly lower payments — by billions of dollars a year — to Medicare Advantage, the private plans that now cover about half of the government’s health program for older Americans.

The change in payment formulas is an effort, Biden administration officials say, to tackle widespread abuses and fraud in the increasingly popular private program. In the last decade, reams of evidence uncovered in lawsuits and audits revealed systematic overbilling of the government. A final decision on the payments is expected shortly, and is one of a series of tough new rules aimed at reining in the industry. The changes fit into a broader effort by the White House to shore up the Medicare trust fund.

Without reforms, taxpayers will spend about $25 billion next year in “excess” payments to the private plans, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a nonpartisan research group that advises Congress.

The proposed changes have unleashed an extensive and noisy opposition front, with lobbyists and insurance executives flooding Capitol Hill to engage in their fiercest fight in years. The largest insurers, including UnitedHealth Group and Humana, are among the most vocal, according to congressional staff, with UnitedHealth’s chief executive pressing his company’s case in person. Doctors’ groups, including the American Medical Association, have also voiced their opposition.

“They are pouring buckets of money into this,” said Mark Miller, the former executive director of MedPAC, who is now the executive vice president of health care at Arnold Ventures, a research and advocacy group. Supporters of the restrictions have begun spending money to counter the objections. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2023 at 11:15 am

Wealthy Executives Make Millions Trading Competitors’ Stock With Remarkable Timing

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Robert Faturechi and Ellis Simani report in ProPublica:

On Feb. 21, 2018, August Troendle, an Ohio billionaire, made a remarkably well-timed stock trade. He sold $1.1 million worth of shares of Syneos Health the day before a management shake-up caused the company’s stock to plunge 16%. It was the largest one-day drop that year for Syneos’ share price.

The company was one Troendle knew well. He is the CEO of Medpace, one of Syneos’ chief competitors in a niche industry. Both Syneos and Medpace handle clinical trials for biopharma companies, and that year they had jointly launched a trade association for companies in the field.

The day after selling the Syneos shares in February 2018, Troendle bought again — at least $3.9 million worth. The value of his Syneos stake then rose 75% in the year that followed.

In February 2019, Troendle sold much of that position, netting $2.3 million in profit. Two days later, Syneos disclosed that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating its accounting practices. The news sent the company’s shares tumbling. Troendle’s sale avoided a 25% loss, the stock’s largest decline in such a short period during either that or the previous year. (Troendle declined to comment.)

The Medpace executive is among dozens of top executives who have traded shares of either competitors or other companies with close connections to their own. A Gulf of Mexico oil executive invested in one partner company the day before it announced good news about some of its wells. A paper-industry executive made a 37% return in less than a week by buying shares of a competitor just before it was acquired by another company. And a toy magnate traded hundreds of millions of dollars in stock and options of his main rival, conducting transactions on at least 295 days. He made an 11% return over a recent five-year period, even as the rival’s shares fell by 57%.

These transactions are captured in a vast IRS dataset of stock trades made by the country’s wealthiest people, part of a trove of tax data leaked to ProPublica. ProPublica analyzed millions of those trades, isolated those by corporate executives trading in companies related to their own, then identified transactions that were anomalous — either because of the size of the bets or because individuals were trading a particular stock for the first time or using high-risk, high-return options for the first time.

The records give no indication as to why executives made particular trades or what information they possessed; they may have simply been relying on years of broad industry knowledge to make astute bets at fortuitous moments. Still, the records show many instances where the executives bought and sold with exquisite timing.

Such trading records have never been publicly available. Even the SEC itself doesn’t have such a comprehensive database. The records provide an unprecedented glimpse into how the titans of American industry make themselves even wealthier in the stock market.

U.S. securities law bars “insider trading” — buying or selling stocks based on access to nonpublic information not available to other investors — under certain circumstances. Historically, insider trading prosecutions and SEC enforcement have both focused on corporate employees, and those close to them, trading in the stock of their own companies.

But executives at companies can also have extensive access to nonpublic information about rivals, partners or vendors through their business. Buying or selling stock based on that knowledge can run afoul of insider-trading law, according to experts. ProPublica described multiple trades, without mentioning names, to Robert Zink, a former chief of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section, who responded that if he were still at the Justice Department, “of course we would look at it.” He added that the key to ProPublica’s findings is “the trading doesn’t appear to be a one- or two-time thing. It’s happening a lot.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 6:34 pm

SVB’s investors will get $2b in public bailout money

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Cory Doctorow writes in Medium:

We were told that the Silicon Valley Bank bailout wasn’t a bailout: in a bailout, it’s the investors who get public money; but with SVB, it was the depositors. But, of course, the owners of SVB were also depositors in their own bank. All in all, SVB’s owners are entitled to $2B in public money.

When Biden said, “investors in the banks will not be protected. They knowingly took a risk and when the risk didn’t pay off, investors lose their money. That’s how capitalism works,” he was ignoring the fact that this isn’t how the law works.

Writing on Credit Slips, the incomparable Adam Levitin — the best source on bankruptcy law writing on the web today — breaks it down: “creditors of a subsidiary have no claim on the assets of a parent.” That means that the FDIC has no claim on the assets of the now-bankrupt holding company that owned SVB:

Which means that when the FDIC makes all the depositors at SVB whole, they will transfer $2b to the “investors” whom Biden promised “will not be protected.” If you’re interested in the minutiae of this, Levitin’s piece is short and clear — there’s no automatic tort-based claim that would let the FDIC get the money back from the investors, because SVB isn’t classed as a really big bank (a “G-SIB”).

As for Dodd-Frank’s “source of strength” doctrine, it “doesn’t create any concrete financial liability — it’s just exhortatory.”

Bankruptcy law does give priority to regulators seeking capital to keep depositors whole, but that applies only when the bank makes “a specific promise to do so.” All this means that “the FDIC seems to have accidentally guarantied $2 billion for the creditors of SVB Financial Group without any offsetting claim.”

No source has been better for understanding the SVB debacle than Credit Slips, asking questions and raising issues that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 6:11 pm

California tackles the greed of Big Pharma

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Saturday that the state will cut insulin costs by 90% and that it will start manufacturing naloxone, a nasal spray used to reverse opioid overdoses.

The lower insulin cost results from a collaboration between CalRx, a California Department of Health Care Services program, and the non-profit drug manufacturer Civica Rx, according to a news release from the governor’s office. A 10-milliliter vial of insulin will be available for no more than $30, pending approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, says the release.

Though insulin was discovered more than a century ago and costs little to make, brand-name insulin is often sold for roughly $300 per vial, CNN has reported. The high cost has forced many people with diabetes to ration or skip drug doses, which help the body manage blood sugar.

Civica Rx is a non-profit generic drugmaker that focuses on manufacturing drugs that are in short supply or may experience price spikes. The organization is backed by hospitals, insurers, and philanthropies.

“People should not be forced to go into debt to get life-saving prescriptions,” said Newsom in the release. “Through CalRx, Californians will have access to  . . .

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Price-gouging on life-saving drugs like insulin highlights the moral depravity of capitalism in general and Big Pharma in particular.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 9:09 am

FCC orders phone companies to block scam text messages

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Some progress. Now block scam voice calls. Jon Brodkin reports in Ars Technica:

The Federal Communications Commission today finalized rules requiring mobile carriers to block robotext messages that are likely to be illegal. The FCC described the rules as the agency’s “first regulations specifically targeting the increasing problem of scam text messages sent to consumers.”

Carriers will be required to block text messages that come from “invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers.” Carriers must also block texts from “numbers that the subscriber to the number has self-identified as never sending text messages, and numbers that government agencies and other well-known entities identify as not used for texting,” the FCC said.

Carriers will have to establish a point of contact for text senders so the senders can inquire about blocked texts. The FCC already requires similar blocking of voice calls from these types of numbers.

The FCC still has a 2-2 partisan deadlock more than two years into Joe Biden’s presidency, but the robotext order was approved 4-0. The FCC sought public comment on the rules in September 2022 before finalizing them today. The order will take effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, according to a draft of the order released before the meeting.

More robotext rules on the way

More robotext rules may be on the way because today’s “action also seeks public comment on further proposals to require providers to block texts from entities the FCC has cited as illegal robotexters,” the FCC said. For example, the FCC proposes to clarify that Do Not Call Registry protections apply to text messaging.

The FCC said it’s further proposing to close the  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2023 at 12:27 pm

Fire the Fed

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Matt Stoller has a strong column in BIG, one with which I have considerable sympathy:

In 1969, then-Citibank CEO Walter Wriston tried to radically upend more than a hundred years of banking law by offering to buy the large insurance company, the Chubb Corporation. He did so by using a loophole in banking law that allowed banks to form a holding company and diversify into non-banking industries. Such a purchase would entangle banking and commerce in a manner traditionally prohibited by the rules establishing the national banking system in the 1960s, and reinforced by the Glass-Steagall Act in the 1930s. And it was utterly shocking to the political establishment, from bank regulators all the way up to President Richard Nixon.

Citibank’s move was part of a wave of big banks and conglomerates, which were an early type of private equity fund, trying to break this barrier, and use the special government guarantees for cheap credit as a competitive advantage over industrial firms in the real economy. Smaller banks were unhappy, as were many businesses, about what Wriston was doing. Still, the banks had an immensely powerful lobby. Yet over the course of the next two years, populist Banking Committee Chair Democrat Wright Patman, and his allies in business, at Federal regulatory agencies and in the Nixon administration, fought back.

Patman held hearings to expose the problems, hearings that today show what it means when core infrastructural platforms – in this case banks – could exploit their market position. A Pennsylvania entrepreneur testified about pressure put on him by banks to buy alternative services when he needed financing. An Indianapolis travel agent, Othmar Grueninger, talked about how bank-owned travel agencies were driving independent agencies out of business because of their unparalleled access to data about who traveled and who was creditworthy. “Any time I deposited checks from my customers,” he said, “I was providing the banks with the names of my best clients.”

But the big banks were powerful, and controlled a majority of votes on the House Banking Committee, despite Patman’s Chairman position. So the committee passed a version of the bill that legalized what Wriston and various conglomerates were doing. Executives at the American Bankers Association, the lobbying group based in New York, celebrated. Then, lobbyists for insurance and travel agencies, data processors, and industry groups mobilized. On the floor of the House, Patman and his staff completely re-wrote the bill that had come out of committee, and passed it out of the House. Lobbyists at the American Bankers Association had stopped paying attention, and didn’t even learn what happened until the next day.

The fight went over to the Senate, where it became even more brutal, involving bribery, threats to campaign contributors, and shouting matches. The progressive National Farmers Union, in hock to a Denver bank that had been acquired by a conglomerate, persuaded liberals like Senator George McGovern to back a big bank-friendly amendment. The negotiations for the final bill between the House and Senate were, according to American Banker magazine, among “the most contentious ever held on banking legislation.”

In that conference committee, Patman pulled perhaps the pettiest yet most impactful political maneuver I’ve ever seen. Attached to the bill was a noncontroversial provision to coin 150 million commemorative Eisenhower dollars with 40% silver content. A major contractor for the silver jacketing material for the coins was a company owned by a contributor to a key Senator on the conference committee, New Jersey’s Harrison Williams, who had previously backed the banks and conglomerates. Patman threatened to strip the commemorative coin provision, and Williams quickly caved and dropped his support for the bank-friendly version of the bill. And thus a key protection of the middle class from financiers was preserved for another thirty years.

Ultimately, the 1970 Amendments to the Bank Holding Company Act empowered the Federal Reserve to prohibit banks from co-mingling with commerce through holding companies. In the next two years, the Fed broke up 89 conglomerates, and stopped big banks from buying their way into insurance, land development, data processing, and management consulting. Everyone who had formed a bank holding company starting in 1968, when the rush began, had to divest their non-bank assets. I went into more details of this episode in my book Goliath; suffice to say it was one of the most important political fights of the 1960s that most of us know nothing about.

What Is Federal Reserve Independence?

What was most striking to me about this episode, having worked on the financial crisis of 2008 as a Congressional staffer, was not the fights within Congress. That made sense, the pettiness, corruption, good faith and big decisions all in one wrapper. It was the behavior of . . .

Continue reading. This is an important column — but unfortunately, the House is in the grip of the GOP now.

Written by Leisureguy

16 March 2023 at 5:42 pm

The Michigan Miracle

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Jay Kuo posts some good news (and we could all use some):

Every time I open the news lately, it seems like there’s another great story coming out of Michigan. In recent months, voters there not only enshrined the right to abortion into the state constitution, they also flipped the state legislature to the Democrats and reelected their very competent and hardworking governor, Gretchen Whitmer, giving the Democrats an amazing trifecta of power that can now get serious business done.

Just this week, I saw headlines that brought a broad smile: protections against discrimination for LGBTQ+ (and, especially, trans people), an end to union-busting laws, sensible gun safety regulation moving forward, and abortion rights protected.

Before I get into the specifics of those actions, let’s review what actually accounts for this amazing turn of events. The story starts in a sadder, more undemocratic time some twelve years ago, but it has a very happy ending.

From among the worst maps in the country to the fairest

When Republicans swept to power nationwide in the 2010 midterms, they were determined to cement that power for a generation, just as the Democrats had done with the state’s maps in the 1960s and 70s. Michigan was among the states where Republican-controlled legislatures drew political maps that virtually guaranteed impregnable majorities for them going forward. In a state where they received 50 percent or less of the state Senate, state House and Congressional district votes in 2014, the Republicans still held commanding majorities in each. Gerrymandering was the culprit.

But in 2018 the GOP lost its power to use maps to win elections as a result of a citizen-led initiative in the state to establish an independent commission to draw the lines following the 2020 census. As I wrote about over a year ago, this didn’t happen by magic. It took a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people, but it started with just one woman. As I observed back then,

It all began, as many things do these days, with a Facebook post by a woman named Katie Fahey back in 2016. “I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan,” Fahey wrote. “If you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know.” Before long, this became a 5,000 member strong organization called “Voters Not Politicians.” They organized a ballot initiative, mocked gerrymandered districts by dressing up in costumes as them, and despite GOP efforts to block the initiative, prevailed before the state Supreme Court to get their initiative on the ballot, then won a landslide victory in November 2018, with 61 percent in favor.

The new maps approved by the Commission in 2021 had a slight Republican lean, not for any nefarious reason, but because Democrats simply tend to live more tightly packed together around major urban areas, and there are rules around keeping towns and counties together when you can. But the new maps made many races highly competitive and were in place in time for the 2022 midterms.

As we know, in November 2022, the voters in Michigan and other battleground states turned out in force to reject GOP extremism. In Michigan, they handed the Democrats majorities in both chambers of the legislature, along with returning Gretchen Whitmer to the governor’s mansion.

An impressive list of accomplishments already

The new Democratic majority went to work right away in January, and by early March, progressive legislators began to notch some important wins—including some major bipartisan ones.

LGBTQ+ rights. On March 1, 2023 . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s good.

Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2023 at 12:27 pm

Many Differences between Liberals and Conservatives May Boil Down to One Belief

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Jer Clifton writes in Scientific American:

Disagreement has paralyzed our politics and our collective ability to get things done. But where do these conflicts come from? A split between liberals and conservatives, many might say. But underlying that division is an even more fundamental fissure in the ways that people view the world.

In politics, researchers usually define conservativism as a general tendency to resist change and tolerate social inequalityLiberalism is a tendency to embrace change and reject inequality. Political parties evolve with time—Democrats were the conservative party 150 years ago—but the liberal-conservative split is typically recognizable in a country’s politics. It’s the fault line on which political cooperation most often breaks down.

Psychologists have long suspected that a handful of fundamental differences in worldviews might underlie the conservative-liberal rift. Forty years of research has shown that, on average, conservatives see the world as a more dangerous place than liberals. This one core belief seemed to help explain many policy disagreements, such as conservative support of gun ownership, border enforcement and increased spending on police and the military—all of which, one can argue, aim to protect people from a threatening world.

But new research by psychologist Nick Kerry and me at the University of Pennsylvania contradicts that long-standing theory. We find instead that the main difference between the left and right is the belief that the world is inherently hierarchical. Conservatives, our work shows, tend to have higher belief than liberals in a hierarchical world, which is essentially the view that the universe is a place where the lines between categories or concepts matter. A clearer understanding of that difference could help society better bridge political divides.

[Read more about what brain and behavioral science reveals about conservative and liberal thought]

We discovered this by accident. My team was undertaking an ambitious effort to map all the most basic beliefs that people hold about the world we share. We call these tenets “primal world beliefs,” or “primals” for short. Primals reflect what people think is typical about the world—for instance, that most things are beautiful or that life is usually pain and suffering. We suspect these beliefs hold important implications for people’s mental health and well-being.

Our effort began with 10 projects to identify possible primals, such as gathering data from more than 80,000 tweets and 385 influential written works, including the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. After several rounds of statistical analysis with data from more than 2,000 people, we identified 26 primals and found that most beliefs clustered into three areas: the world is generally dangerous or safe, dull or more enticing and alive or mechanistic. We have created a free, scientifically validated online survey that you can take if you wish to learn how your own primals compare with the average.

In most of our studies, we also asked people to share their political party preference and to rate how liberal or conservative they consider themselves. In an early study focused on well-being, I noticed a surprising relationship between people’s beliefs and how they answered these two questions. Dangerous world belief was not linked to party or ideology as past research—including some of our own—said it should be.

We conducted nine more studies with nearly 5,500 participants, mostly Americans, to make sure we had it right. These studies pointed away from dangerous world belief as the core difference between liberals and conservatives and toward a different primal called hierarchical world belief. That primal, we found, was 20 times more strongly related to political ideology than dangerous world belief.

People high in hierarchical world belief see the world as full of differences that matter because they usually reflect something inherent, real and significant. Such individuals often separate things of greater value from things of less value. You might imagine that, to them, the world looks full of big, bold black lines. The opposite view—held by people low in this belief—tends to perceive differences as superficial and even silly. For individuals with this perspective, the world is mostly dotted lines or shades of gray. (To reiterate, primals concern tendencies only. Even people with a strong hierarchical world belief see some lines as arbitrary.) In our work, this primal was high in conservatives and low in liberals.

Most types of hierarchical thinking that have been studied, such as social dominance orientation, concern preferences about how humans should be organized. But hierarchical world belief relates to how people perceive the world to actually exist—regardless of what they’d like to see. In addition, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2023 at 10:27 am

Here’s the real reason the EPA doesn’t want to test for toxins in East Palestine

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Stephen Lester writes in the Guardian:

The decision to release and burn five tanker cars of vinyl chloride and other chemicals at the site of a 38-car derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, just over three weeks ago unleashed a gigantic cloud full of particulates that enveloped surrounding neighborhoods and farms in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It is well documented that burning chlorinated chemicals like vinyl chloride will generate dioxins. “Dioxin” is the name given to a group of persistent, very toxic chemicals that share similar chemical structures. The most toxic form of dioxin is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. TCDD is more commonly recognized as the toxic contaminant found in Agent Orange and at Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri, both sites of two of the most tragic environmental catastrophes in US history.

Dioxin is not deliberately manufactured. It is the unintended byproduct of industrial processes that use or burn chlorine. It is also produced when chemicals such as vinyl chloride are burned such as occurred in East Palestine.

The organization I work for, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, has worked with communities affected by dioxins for over 40 years. We have seen the impact of exposure to dioxins in communities from Love Canal and Times Beach to Pensacola, Florida. And now, we are asking, why isn’t EPA testing for dioxins in East Palestine, Ohio? Are dioxins present in the soil downwind from the site of the accident?

At a townhall meeting in East Palestine last week, people talked about what it was like when the black cloud reached their property. One person who lived 15 miles away described burned ash material from the fire that settled on her property. Another who lived 3 miles away described how the black cloud completely smothered his property. Repeatedly people asked: was it safe for my kids to play in the yard? Is it safe to grow a garden? What is going to happen to my farm animals?

These are important questions that deserve to be answered. Today there are no clear answers. Why? Because no one has done any testing for dioxins anywhere in East Palestine. No one. And, it seems, that the EPA is uninterested in testing for dioxins, behaving as though dioxin is no big deal.

This makes no sense. Testing for dioxin, a highly toxic substance, should have been one of the first things to look for, especially in the air once the decision was made to burn the vinyl chloride. There is no question that dioxins were formed in the vinyl chloride fire. They would have formed on the particulate matter – the black soot – in the cloud that was so clearly visible at the time of the burn. Now, the question is how much is in the soil where people live in and around East Palestine. Without testing, no one will know and the people who live there will remain in the dark, uncertain about their fate.

This is important because . . .

Continue reading.

The institutions, organizations, and agencies whose mission it is to protect the public are failing badly. The police now endanger the public as much as protect it, the EPA no longer protects the environment, the government does not ensure that railroads are safe, the DOJ and FTC have not stopped monopolies, the Supreme Court now takes away rights, companies simply fire anyone who wants a union (illegal, but nothing is done to stop it), … It goes on.

Robert Reich points out a few things:

otal student loan debt erased by Biden plan: $400 billion

Total cost of the 2017 GOP tax cuts: $1.9 trillion

Funny how Republicans have no problem giving corporations and billionaires big tax cuts, but erasing some student loan debt for millions of people is just too much.

and also

The upward redistribution of wealth over the past 40 years has shifted $50 trillion from the bottom 90% to the top 1%. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans.

The greatest trick of all is trickle-down economics.

And yet people still will vote for Republicans.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2023 at 9:59 pm

Rail unions tell Biden officials that workers have fallen ill at Norfolk Southern derailment site

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Uh-oh. This can’t be good. Lori Ann LaRocco reports for CNBC:


  • The presidents of U.S. railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for more train safety.
  • Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
  • Earlier Wednesday, a group of bipartisan senators introduced The Railway Safety Act of 2023, aimed at preventing future train disasters like the derailment that devastated the Ohio village.

The presidents of U.S. railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for more train safety.

Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss the derailment, aftermath and needed safety improvements.

“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. “Today’s meeting is an opportunity for labor to share what our members are seeing and dealing with day to day. The railroaders labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so.”

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division, told CNBC that Buttigieg plans on more talks with the unions in the future.

“This was a good start,” said Ferguson. “It’s important these . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2023 at 7:54 am

Norfolk Southern Boosted Shareholder Payouts 4,500%, Slashed Workforce 33% Prior to Ohio Disaster

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Overhead view of a train wreck with smoke still rising and railway cars in a jumble, lying across the tracks.

Eric Gardner reports at More Perfect Union:

The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying 20 railcars of toxic chemicals in western Ohio has renewed scrutiny on precision scheduled railroading (P.S.R.)–a controversial management approach that prioritizes profit at the expense of all else.

Since its introduction in the early 1990s, the approach became an effortless way for rail executives and shareholders to inflate profits, while limiting the actual effort of management. At its core, P.S.R. mandates trains to transport bigger and heavier loads with fewer workers. 

In practical terms, it means that trains went from 80-90 railcars supported by 5 workers, to 2 workers overseeing 150 railcars or more. This enabled management to effectively invert how much companies spent on workers and how much profit they generated for shareholders. Of course, this came at a cost: safety and reliability. Reports indicate that before it derailed, Norfolk Southern train 32N broke down due to its excessive size

“The root causes of this wreck,” Railroad Workers United said in a statement released days after the derailment, “are the same ones that have been singled out repeatedly, associated with the hedge fund initiated operating model known as “Precision Scheduled Railroading.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2023 at 7:13 pm

What do you do when the government promotes cancer? This ‘climate-friendly’ fuel comes with an astronomical cancer risk

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Things are going badly. Sharon Lerner reports in the Guardian:

The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave a Chevron refinery the green light to create fuel from discarded plastics as part of a climate-friendly initiative to boost alternatives to petroleum. But, according to agency records obtained by ProPublica and the Guardian, the production of one of the fuels could emit air pollution that is so toxic, one out of four people exposed to it over a lifetime could get cancer.

“That kind of risk is obscene,” said Linda Birnbaum, former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “You can’t let that get out.”

That risk is 250,000 times greater than the level usually considered acceptable by the EPA division that approves new chemicals. Chevron hasn’t started making this jet fuel yet, the EPA said. When the company does, the cancer burden will disproportionately fall on people who have low incomes and are Black because of the population that lives within three miles of the refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

ProPublica and the Guardian asked Maria Doa, a scientist who worked at the EPA for 30 years, to review the document laying out the risk. Doa, who once ran the division that managed the risks posed by chemicals, was so alarmed by the cancer threat that she initially assumed it was a typographical error. “EPA should not allow these risks in Pascagoula or anywhere,” said Doa, who now is the senior director of chemical policy at Environmental Defense Fund.

In response to questions from ProPublica and the Guardian, an EPA spokesperson wrote that the agency’s lifetime cancer risk calculation is “a very conservative estimate with ‘high uncertainty’”, meaning the government erred on the side of caution in calculating such a high risk.

Under federal law, the EPA can’t approve new chemicals with serious health or environmental risks unless it comes up with ways to minimize the dangers. And if the EPA is unsure, the law allows the agency to order lab testing that would clarify the potential health and environmental harms. In the case of these new plastic-based fuels, the agency didn’t do either of those things. In approving the jet fuel, the EPA didn’t require any lab tests, air monitoring or controls that would reduce the release of the cancer-causing pollutants or people’s exposure to them.

In January 2022, the EPA announced the initiative to streamline the approval of petroleum alternatives in what a press release called “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s actions to confront the climate crisis.” While the program cleared new fuels made from plants, it also signed off on fuels made from plastics even though they themselves are petroleum-based and contribute to the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Although there’s no mention of discarded plastics in the press release or on the EPA website’s description of the program, an agency spokesperson told ProPublica and the Guardian that it allows them because the initiative also covers fuels made from waste. The spokesperson said that 16 of the 34 fuels the program approved so far are made from waste. She would not say how many of those are made from plastic and stated that such information was confidential.

All of the waste-based fuels are the subject of consent orders, documents the EPA issues when it finds that new chemicals or mixtures may pose an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment. The documents specify those risks and the agency’s instructions for mitigating them.

But the agency won’t turn over these records or reveal information about the waste-based fuels, even their names and chemical structures. Without those basic details, it’s nearly impossible to . . .

Continue reading.

President Biden’s administration is making an enormous unforced error, and the buck stops with Biden.

Read the whole column to see how bad this is.

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2023 at 5:30 pm

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