IEB meets with Feinstein State Director April 17, 2018

On April 17, 2018, a dedicated group of about 25 Indivisible East Bay, Indivisible Central Contra Costa County, and Together We Will Contra Costa members sat down with Senator Diane Feinstein’s State Director, Sean Elsbernd, at the Concord Public Library. After a week filled with news of scandals and investigations in the White House, as well as some major foreign policy developments, the participants were eager to talk to someone with inside knowledge of what’s going on in D.C.

As is typical of our meetings with Sean, IEB came prepared with a checklist of items to discuss. Our goals are to inform Sean of our position on various issues and request actions for the Senator to take — as well as to allow Sean to provide us with his reaction to our requests. This is never dull. Sean is not shy about asserting his views on the agenda topics, whether or not those views align with ours.

In this latest meeting, our checklist was ambitious — it included more than 20 items. Here are some highlights:

The Mueller probe

With Trump frequently commenting about the possibility that he may fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or otherwise attempt to shut down the Russia investigation, there’s pressure on Congress to pass legislation to protect Mueller. Senators Tillis, Graham, Booker and Coons of the Judiciary Committee, of which Senator Feinstein is a Ranking Member, have sponsored the bipartisan Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to do just that. Senator Grassley scheduled a Committee vote, though it may be for naught, as Mitch McConnell will not bring the vote to the floor and the House apparently has no plans to do anything on this matter.

Sean offered little hope. He encouraged us to keep public pressure on the Senators and to keep these bills and the importance of protecting Mueller in the public eye. Consistent with news reports and the perception of groups who are mobilizing to protect the investigation (including Indivisibles), Sean believes the real immediate danger is that Trump will fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, as an indirect route to stopping Mueller.

Meanwhile, two committees in the Senate have been investigating Russian interference into our elections: the Intelligence Committee is focused directly on what happened in the 2016 election, while the Judiciary Committee is looking into obstruction of justice concerning the Russian interference. The report from the Intelligence Committee is close to completion. Their findings, when published, need to get to Secretaries of State across the country ASAP, so they can address possible voting obstruction/interference issues. Sean reports that Senator Chuck Grassley (chairman of the Judiciary Committee) has not been helpful in his committee’s investigation. We should be prepared to exert pressure for action here.

Judicial appointments

For judicial appointments, there is a longstanding tradition in the Senate whereby the nominee’s home state Senator is sent a form called a “blue slip” and can signal their support for a nomination by returning a positive blue slip to the Judiciary Committee. Declining to return a blue slip indicates the Senator does not support the nominee; this has traditionally doomed a nomination.

During the Obama administration, GOP Senators often withheld blue slips to prevent confirmation of judges that the Republican party opposed. Breaking with this tradition, Grassley has recently allowed two nominees to go forward without a blue slip. Feinstein has thrown down a marker on respecting the blue slip tradition. We at IEB see this as critical, especially because there are currently seven vacancies in the influential Ninth Circuit, which includes California. Blue slips may be the only way Democratic Senators can influence nominations to this Circuit.

Bombing of Syria

Feinstein believes that, while the President can unilaterally authorize limited strikes, sustained military action should require authorization from Congress. Last year, she voted to debate repealing the 2001 AUMF Authorization for Use of Military Force), but that vote failed. Senators Corker and Kaine on the Foreign Relations Committee have introduced a bipartisan bill to repeal and replace the current AUMF. Feinstein plans to review that bill and continues to support having that debate. IEB also wants Congress to have this debate, but considers the terms of the proposed replacement AUMF very problematic and has asked Feinstein not to support it.

Pompeo nomination

Feinstein opposes the nomination of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. We concur — see our article for action you can take to oppose Pompeo’s nomination.

Offshore drilling in California

Donald Trump continues to push to open the California coast to offshore drilling. Not surprisingly, Feinstein is strongly opposed to this. State Senator Hanna-Beth Jackson has introduced SB 834, which would designate as state land the entire California coast, from beaches to three miles out to sea. The bill would also prohibit “the State Lands Commission from approving any leases of submerged lands that would result in an increase of oil or natural gas production from federal waters.” This would effectively prevent federal authorization of offshore drilling in California. Feinstein supports this bill and additionally wants all California counties to pass resolutions opposing offshore drilling.

We at IEB need to call our state representatives in support of this bill!

Immigration reform

A California woman spoke about her husband who was born in Brazil and had been adopted by Americans as a child. The couple recently learned that, despite the adoption, the husband is not a U.S. citizen. Shockingly, at this point, there is no clear pathway to citizenship for him, nor for others in a similar position. As a result, such individuals could be sent back to their country of origin — where they know no one and do not know the culture. Faced with this prospect, some have committed suicide.

To address this injustice, the woman advocates for passage of the Adoptee Citizen Act of 2018 (S. 2522H.R. 5233), introduced on March 8, 2018 by Senators Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). A similar bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House. The acts “would provide U.S. citizenship to individuals born outside of the United States who were adopted as children by American parents.” She asked Senator Feinstein to support this legislation.

The bill would fix a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act (CCA) of 2000. This existing legislation does guarantee citizenship to adoptees born outside of the U.S. under the age of 18. However, the CCA did not apply to adoptees who were over 18 when the law went into effect on February 27, 2001 — leaving out an estimated 35,000 adoptees. These adoptees remain “susceptible to deportation, unable to travel outside of the U.S. and unable to work legally.”

Everyone in the room was very moved by the woman’s story. We were shocked to hear that so many adoptees are being denied citizenship, and baffled that Congress would find this a difficult problem to solve. Sean rushed over to carefully take down the woman’s contact information, so hopefully Senator Feinstein will take action both on this case and the larger issue. IEB plans to advocate for this bill. So please contact your members of Congress today, and look out for more details and calls to action to come. 

Make those phone calls!

While your calls to our representatives continue to come in, Sean says call volume is down from last year. This is concerning, since if anything our call volume needs to increase — especially on these issues we are most concerned about. Make those phone calls! Today! 

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

“Mission Accomplished” in Syria? Tell Trump He’s Not Above the Law

By Alice Towey

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Current Occupant of the White House announced that the United States was launching a missile strike against Syria. Trump said that he had ordered U.S. armed forces to launch strikes on targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. It was the culmination of a tumultuous week in the White House. But the military strike on Syria did not eliminate concerns about Trump and the rule of law; rather, it added to them.

The previous week had been rough for Trump. On Monday April 9, the FBI raided the office and home of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing information that – we later learned – might include recordings of private conversations. Later in the week, it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had evidence that Cohen had visited Prague in 2016, lending credence to the Steele Dossier. On Wednesday House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection. And on Thursday, excerpts of former FBI Director James Comey’s forthcoming memoir leaked to the press, including salacious details about his time working for Trump. By Friday, America was poised on the edge of its seat, and there were rumors that Trump might fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In the midst of the chaos the White House abruptly scheduled a press conference, and Trump announced that the U.S, France, and Great Britain were launching missile strikes on Syria, in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Make no mistake: the Assad regime has committed repeated atrocities against its own people, and the use of chemical weapons is inexcusable. However, the timing of this action, and Trump’s process for implementing it, are highly troubling:

  • Just last week, Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from Syria. Why become even more enmeshed now? Was the decision to use military force influenced by a desire to distract the country from the ongoing scandals and legal turmoil surrounding him?
  • Trump’s sudden concern for Assad’s victims is highly suspect in light of his repeated efforts to ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering this country. So far this year, only eleven Syrian refugees have been accepted for resettlement in the U.S. (compared to almost 800 by this time in 2016).
  • Trump blatantly circumvented Congress in launching this hostile military act. Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the authority to declare war; not the President. Unless the U.S. is in imminent danger, the President must seek Congressional approval before undertaking military action. So far, the Trump administration has neither sought Congress’s approval nor explained its rationale for bypassing Congress to strike Syria.
  • Trump is not above the law. Every illegal action that he is allowed to get away with sets a dangerous precedent, bringing us a step closer to Mueller or Rosenstein getting fired.

What You Can Do Now:

Our Members of Congress (MoCs) must make sure Trump knows that they hold him accountable, now. They need to assert their role in our government and insist that Trump not launch military offensives without consulting Congress, and they need to press for an actual strategy on Syria that includes diplomacy and real, significant humanitarian aid. And they need to make Trump understand clearly that any action to interfere with or distract from the Russia investigation will not be tolerated. 

Call or email your Members of Congress. The following actions are based on the statements each of our MoCs has made, beginning with their tweets immediately following the bombing:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Thank Senator Feinstein for her statement that Congress “must be consulted about the use of force,” which is an improvement over her statements following last year’s missile strikes. Ask her to insist that Trump come before Congress prior to launching any further action in Syria, and to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy. Thank her for her opposition to Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Senator Harris tweeted from her personal account: “The president needs to lay out a comprehensive strategy in Syria in consultation with Congress — and he needs to do it now.” Please call Senator Harris and thank her for this statement, and tell her you’d like her to make a stronger, official statement condemning Trump for bypassing Congress. And please ask her to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy, and to vote against Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who does not think Trump needs Congress’ approval to strike Syria.

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095

Representative DeSaulnier penned a very thoughtful piece in the Chronicle about the president needing Congressional approval for further military involvement in Syria. Please call Rep. DeSaulnier and thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661

As ever, Barbara Lee comes through; please thank her for her strong statement criticizing Trump’s use of military force without Congressional authorization. Tell her you agree that only Congress has the power to authorize use of force and that you want her to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Rep. Swalwell also made a strong statement condemning Trump’s action; please thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

Concerned About the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria?

Consider supporting a group like the International Rescue Committee that is providing vital support to people within Syria, as well as to refugees around the world fleeing violence. Here is a list by Charity Navigator of charities providing humanitarian aid in Syria, along with their ratings of the charities’ efficacy.

Alice Towey is a Civil Engineer specializing in water resource management. She lives in El Cerrito, where she and her husband are active in Indivisible CA-11 United.

Fun Ways to Help Flip CA District 21

By Ted Lam

The CD-21 Action Coalition, which includes many Indivisible East Bay members, is working hard to make it easy for us in the blue Bay Area to help flip nearby Congressional District 21. Centered in the San Joaquin Valley, District 21 includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties and is currently represented by Republican David Valadao, who’s running for re-election in November 2018.

Read my account of canvassing in Mendota over a recent weekend – it was really fun (and great food)! One-day canvassing involves less planning and no motel cost, but definitely offers plenty of opportunities to get great food. Sign up for any of the upcoming canvassing events below. There’ll be a quick briefing and training session before each, and if you’ve never canvassed the organizers will teach you how. You can also get connected with folks who are carpooling. And if you’re thinking it’s too far to drive, consider a normal Bay Area commute – driving from San Leandro to San Jose during rush hour can take me two hours and it takes only that or just slightly longer to get to the CA-21 canvasses. Best of all, you’ll be riding with other like-minded people.

Here are canvasses scheduled through June 2018; see each link for more info and to RSVP:

And if you really can’t get out to canvass, postcarding also works! You can help TJ Cox, the Democratic candidate in CA-21, by writing postcards from home, or you can organize a postcard party outing with friends at any friendly location (IEB just had some at friendly local pubs – you might want to arrange something like that with the venue in advance). You provide your own postcards (see this article for more info on postcard activism) and postage. Email me for addresses and scripts targeting voters in rural areas of the district, and if you have questions about canvassing, or contact me on IEB’s Slack at @Ted Lam.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Graphic copyright Govtrack

 

Nobody Is Above the Law

Indivisible Guide is on high alert, and has prepared this updated page to guide us through what we need to do if Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. As they explain, “By firing Rosenstein—Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s boss, the person overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election—Trump is obstructing justice. This means we are facing a full-on threat to our democracy and a constitutional crisis.”

MoveOn, Indivisible, and many other groups are using these basic “red lines,” which would trigger mass protest if Trump crosses one:

  • If Trump fires Mueller
  • If Trump issues pardons of key witnesses
  • If Trump takes another action that would prevent the investigation from being conducted freely, such as replacing Mueller’s current supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or repealing the regulations establishing the office

What you can do now:

  • Read the Indivisible Guide toolkit
  • See MoveOn’s Mueller’s Firing Rapid Response – The Plan. It includes the general plan, and also addresses something that we’re all wondering — what happens AFTER we hit the streets?
  • Find and RSVP to attend a Nobody Is Above the Law rapid response rally near you (800 events as of April 10, 2018)
  • No local rally? Sign up to host one
  • Spread the word by sending the link to everyone who’d be interested
  • Call your Members of Congress, and urge them to do all they can to protect the Special Counsel. This is a list of legislation pending in the Senate and House:
    • As of April 11, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee is moving forward with legislation to limit Trump‘s ability to fire Mueller. The bill merges S. 1735 and S. 1741 (see below). Ask Senators Feinstein and Harris to back this merged bill.
    • Senate: S. 1735 led by Senators Graham and Booker — ask Senators Feinstein and Harris to co-sponsor,
    • Senate: S. 1741 led by Senators Coons and Tillis — ask Senators Feinstein and Harris to co-sponsor,
    • House: H.R. 3654, led by Representative Jackson Lee –thank Reps Lee, DeSaulnier and Swalwell for co-sponsoring,
    • House: H.R. 4669, Discharge Petition to Require Speaker to Call a Vote on Special Counsel Integrity Act. Info here. Ask Reps Lee, DeSaulnier, and Swalwell to sign the Discharge Petition.
  • See Indivisible’s earlier article with info and a great call script.
  • See the Wall of Us action
  • Read background info at our original article, and our updated article
  • Read the Lawyers for Good Government 33-year timeline of Trump-Russia connections here

And prepare if we need to hit the streets:

  • Read the ACLU’s article Know Your Rights: Free Speech, Protests & Demonstrations
  • Download the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app to record police activity and send it immediately to the ACLU affiliate nearest you. Get the California app, MobileJusticeCA
  • Put the National Lawyers Guild hotline numbers into your phone, and write them on your arm in ink:
    • to call from local jails ONLY: 415-285-1011
    • outside of jail calls, call NLG hotline volunteers: 415-909-4NLG (4654)
    • if no answer, send an email to the NLG Demonstrations Committee at nlgsfhotline@protonmail.com
  • Prepare a go-bag with:
    • charged cell phone and portable power if you have
    • water bottle and energy bars or other portable food
    • layers of clothing to add if it gets cold
    • a sign with your message

Resistance go bag

Here’s some background: John Oliver dubbed it “Stupid Watergate,” but many believe the lies and smear campaigns Trump and many Republicans are flinging to discredit the FBI and derail investigations by Special Counsel Mueller and Congressional committees into Trump/Russia have already done more damage to our democracy than the GOP’s bungled break-in, attempted cover-up, and Saturday Night Massacre did back in 1973.

As Mueller’s investigation into collusion and obstruction of justice allegations closes in on the Current Occupant of the White House, fears of a constitutional crisis mount. Initially, the triggering event for a crisis was seen as Trump firing Mueller, mirroring Nixon’s orders to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. But in what is more like “Evil Watergate” the strategy has morphed into escalating assaults on the FBI, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and others. The Current Occupant, several GOP toadies, and right-wing media are sowing chaos, pushing fake scandals, and besmirching reputations, in not-even-thinly veiled attempts to divert, curtail, or shut down the investigations.

 

Tell Jerry Brown: Keep CA National Guard off the Wall

By Ted Landau

So you want to build a wall along the Mexican border of the United States — at an estimated cost of between $12 and $67 billion — but Congress only gave you $1.6 billion for “increased border security.” What’s your Plan B? That was the dilemma confronting the current occupant of the White House. His solution was to have thousands of people line up along the border, hold hands to form a human chain and start singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Okay…not exactly. Actually, he authorized the mobilization of up to 4,000 National Guard troops to stand guard along the California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas borders.

However, Trump doesn’t actually have the power to deploy those troops, and each state’s governor has the legal authority to refuse the President’s direction. The governors of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico – all Republicans – promptly agreed, at least in part, to Trump’s request. 

In a letter dated April 11, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown said yes – and no. He agreed to deploy troops to combat gangs, human trafficking and illegal arms and drug smuggling—but not to build the wall or enforce federal immigration laws:

[L]et’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission. This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women or children or to detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.

As the San Francisco Chronicle says, there is no sensible goal for Trump’s actions. Whether you’re talking about a border wall or a deployment of troops, these actions remain a Trumpian fantasy that won’t stop illegal immigration or improve U.S. security … and will only serve to harm relations with a neighbor and close ally. Similarly, as Brown notes, there is no clear need for troop deployment at a time when border crossings are at their lowest point in decades.

What you can do:

Tell Governor Brown he must hold firm and NOT accept federal money for National Guard troops, or agree to deploy troops, under any conditions other than the ones he has set out in his letter:

Ted Landau is a retired professor of psychology. He has also spent several decades as a tech journalist/author — writing primarily about Apple products. He has been politically active in the East Bay since moving here in 2004.

Tell EPA Not to Remove Pollution Controls from Oil & Gas Companies

Let’s start with the basics:

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency currently has guidelines that allow states to control emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.
  • The oil and gas industry is the largest single industrial source of dangerous chemicals in smog and major contributors to emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • The deadly duo of Trump/Pruitt wants to get rid of those guidelines.
  • With five refinery communities in the Bay Area plus the traffic we all love so well, oil and gas industry emissions affect our health, and the health of those we love, every single day.
  • The public has until April 23, 2018 to comment on the proposed withdrawal of the guidelines. 

These guidelines gives states non-binding “control techniques guidelines” (CTG) with information on recommended techniques for emissions by the oil and gas sector, with leeway for states to choose other techniques if they prefer. However, if there are ozone smog problems, when EPA issues a CTG, under the Clean Air Act a state must revise its clean air plans to require “reasonably available control technology” for oil and gas industry equipment. The EPA estimates that the guideline has the potential for annual pollution reductions of over 64,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, which create smog; nearly 200,000 tons of the greenhouse gas methane; and 2,400 tons of other hazardous air pollutants that can cause serious health effects. Without the CTG, oil and gas company equipment could spew pollutants even where there are reasonably available ways to control the pollution.

In other words: get rid of the guidelines, unnecessarily increase air pollution and increase the harm to our health and the health of our environment.

Submit comments here by April 23, 2018, 11:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time (8:59 PM in California). More info, including talking points, here; more info, including a link to other people’s comments, here.

Want to do more environmental action?

Keep Calm and Postcard On

How to follow up your Cinco de Mayo Saturday? Come to Indivisible East Bay’s second postcard party on Sunday, May 6, from noon to 2 PM. Our first postcard party in March was a huge success, with 50 IEB members & friends coming together to write 300 postcards:

  • 60 for Emily Antul (local MA race) – won on 4/4/18!
  • 62 for Rebecca Dallet (WI Supreme Court) – won on 4/4/18!
  • 164 for Dr. Hiral Tipirneni (US Congress AZ) – election is 4/24/18

This is what a pile o’ 300 postcards looks like:

Postcard party

Perfect for blue state activists, postcards are a fun and effective way to help get the message out to faraway red districts and states. Postcard resisters meet in cafes and living rooms, around tables full of snacks and a rainbow assortment of pens and markers that make even the most artsy-challenged among us grin.

All are welcome — from the postcard-curious to committed carders. Bring a friend, and make some new ones there! We’ll explain everything and have newbies up and writing in a few minutes. We provide addresses and samples of what to write for each campaign — most from Postcards to Voters, and we can also give you the lowdown on other options.

  • You can bring your own postcards (if there’s an image or text it should be content-neutral) or we’ll have some there for you to use – designed and donated by IEB’s super postcard party organizer Michael.
  • If you have postcard stamps (.35 ea for cards a max of 6″ x 4.25″) please bring them, or we’ll have stamps for you (not donated, so we’ll just ask you to reimburse us for the cost).
  • We’ll also have pens, markers, stickers, washi tape, and most importantly – snacks and friendly chat as we write to resist!

Already a verified postcard writer? Bring your own addresses if you want. Like to learn more about activist postcard-ing? See our article “The Pen (plus .35 stamp) Is Mightier Than Yelling At Your TV.” 

The El Cerrito Royale is a short walk from El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and is wheelchair accessible. Free parking.

Postcard parties
Postcard parties, photo by Heidi Rand

Want to get started writing on your own? Go to Postcards to Voters or the P2V Facebook page: volunteers in every state have collectively written over half a million postcards to voters in dozens of key, close elections. After you sign up you have to get verified: follow the directions to write your first postcard, take a photo and send it to be checked. Get started using one of these options:

  • Click here to fill out a volunteer form, or
  • Send an email to join@TonyTheDemocrat.org or
  • Text HELLO to ABBY The Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229)

Once you’re verified, request the number of addresses you’d like:

  • Click here, or
  • Send an email to postcards@TonyTheDemocrat.org, including the number of addresses you want, or
  • Text ABBY The Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229), or
  • New! Use Facebook Messenger to send a direct message to Abby the Address Bot (it’s free for Postcards to Voters, whereas they pay for texting). You must provide a texting phone number even if you’re using the FB Messenger feature because Abby is a texting robot. Click here for more info about Abby.

Or you can use another great group to write about specific issues. At Postcards for America and its main Facebook group and state sub-groups — ours is Postcards for America / California — people write postcards to their own federal and state elected officials, or other targeted parties, on issues that concern them. Search the master issues list at Postcarder Calls to Action,

Read our original article for more complete info about postcard activism.

Interested? Want to let us know about your own postcard parties? Email us or contact @heidirand on Slack.  

It’s time for Scott Pruitt to go

By Christina Tarr

Let us name the reasons.

He is corrupt.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is almost literally in bed with the oil and gas folks. He has been paying a measly $50 a night for a two-bedroom Washington D.C. apartment, charged only for the nights he was actually present. How’s he getting such a great deal? Maybe because the apartment is owned by the wife of Pruitt’s lobbying buddy Steven Hart, who represents a stable of energy industry clients like Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., which paid Hart’s firm $400,000 in 2017. Since Hart’s clients may well be regulated by the EPA, Pruitt might just be inclined to return this little favor to his friend. Fun fact: below-market-rate accommodations can fall into the category of prohibited gifts under ethics rules for Executive Branch officials and experts stress that officials like Pruitt should decline even permissible gifts to maintain the appearance of propriety.

On the other hand, Pruitt doesn’t mind spending the taxpayers’ dime for first class flights (to avoid unpleasant interactions with the hoi polloi) and pricy trips around the world. One such trip to Morocco last December included discussions of potential sales of liquid natural gas to Morocco. Liquid natural gas is the product of Cheniere Industries, a client of … wait for it … Steven Hart. Cheniere claimed no knowledge of the trip and also claimed to have ended its relationship with Hart’s firm in December. We think that none of this passes the smell test.

And what exactly is Pruitt talking about to his buddies? Whatever it is, he’s ordered a soundproof security booth for his office that, when all’s said and done, is going to cost the taxpayers over $40,000.

He is destroying the EPA

In a recent report, Pruitt states:

We have been hard at work enacting President Donald Trump’s agenda during my first year as EPA Administrator. His courage and leadership have been key to our success. From his decision to exit the Paris Accord to his executive order empowering EPA to review and rescind the Clean Power Plan, the President is delivering on his promises and getting results for the American people.

The EPA’s job, lest we forget, is to protect human health and enforce environmental regulations; here, from Vox, is a list of some of Pruitt’s accomplishments at its helm:

  • The EPA announced it was seeking a two-year delay in implementing the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which defines the waterways that are regulated by the agency under the Clean Water Act.
  • In May 2017, the EPA dialed back tracking the health impacts of more than a dozen hazardous chemicals.
  • The agency has said nothing about counties that failed to meet new ozone standards by an October 2017 deadline and now face fines.
  • Environmental law enforcement has declined overall: by September 2017, the Trump administration launched 30 percent fewer cases and collected about 60 percent fewer fines than in the same period under President Obama.
  • The EPA punted on regulations on dangerous solvents like methylene chloride, a paint stripper, that were already on track to be banned, instead moving the process to “long-term action.”
  • The EPA asked for a six-year schedule to review 17-year-old regulations on lead paint.
  • The implementation date of new safety procedures at chemical plants to prevent explosions and spills was pushed back to 2019.
  • Pruitt issued a directive to end “Sue & Settle,” a legal strategy that fast-tracks settlements for litigation filed against the EPA to force the agency to do its job. The agency will now spend more time in courts fighting cases that it’s likely to lose.
  • The agency’s enforcement division now has to get approval from headquarters before investigating potential violations of environmental regulations, slowing down efforts to catch violators of laws like the Clean Water Act.

We don’t have time to wait.

Pruitt has announced terrifying plans to act in the very near future to restrict the EPA’s use of science in regulation, in the name of “science reform.” Most likely, the EPA will be required to rely only on scientific studies where the underlying data are made public, a plan Congressional Republicans have been pushing for decades. Many scientific studies, however, rely on data that can’t be made public for reasons like patient privacy concerns or industry confidentiality. Relying only on publicly available results will severely hamstring the EPA’s attempts to do its job – to protect human health and the environment.

Pruitt’s next plan is to roll back emissions regulations and fuel economy standards for automakers. This move, which undercuts one of President Obama’s signature moves to confront climate change, will be couched in terms of cutting bothersome regulations and providing affordable cars to Americans – and, according to Fortune magazine, is “a solution to a problem that doesn’t seem to exist.” According to the EPA, Obama’s rules would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Fully implemented, the rules will cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduce carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations. If Pruitt weakens the regulations, not only will all that carbon reduction not happen in the U.S., but other countries may also weaken their standards as well. (Read this New Yorker article, which discusses the lab the EPA has to test auto emissions, allowing them to compute the cost of required changes down to the last screw.) And, the $100 the consumer saved by not being required to buy a car with a catalytic converter will be dwarfed by the thousands of dollars spent on illness caused by pollution and a changing climate.

Finally, Pruitt has instructed the EPA to discuss climate change in the language of the deniers. A recent memo to employees lists eight things they may say publicly about climate change, including acknowledging the impact of human activity but asserting that “[t]he ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue … clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it. … it is important for the Agency to strive for a better understanding of these gaps given their potential significant influence on our country’s domestic economic viability.” The vast weight of reputable scientific evidence, of course, says nothing of the kind; this is the language of the deniers, and those with financial interests in

The time to act is NOW

Congress has oversight over the EPA, and to quote Richard Painter, “It’s time for them to get off their butts and act.” There is precedent. During the Reagan years, the agency was run by Anne Gorsuch, a conservative state legislator from Colorado (and mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch). Gorsuch, like Pruitt, cut enforcement, accommodated polluters, and antagonized career staff. According to the New Yorker, “she resigned after being held in contempt of Congress, for refusing to comply with a corruption investigation targeting a Superfund administrator.”

What you can do:

  • Call your Members of Congress and tell them you want them to exercise their oversight responsibility and take action against Scott Pruitt who is decimating the EPA.
    • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
    • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
    • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
    • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
    • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065
  • Call the governor of California, and your state representatives, and tell them you want them to fight for California’s stricter emission control standards. Needing to maintain two standards may make auto manufacturers more open to manufacturing to California’s higher standards, which are followed by 12 other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Jerry Brown (916) 445-2841; find your state representative here
  • Call the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and tell them you are interested in innovation and want to buy a car that will meet Obama’s CAFE standard, and will not buy a car that does not. (202) 326-5500; (916) 447-7315
  • Sign the Boot Pruitt petition, sponsored by a coalition of progressive and environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Green Latinos, Defend Our Future, Hip Hop Caucus, and others (more info here).

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Racial Justice Task Force Forums

Racial justice community forums

The Contra Costa County Racial Justice Task Force was created by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, and given a mandate to:

  • Research and identify consensus measures within the County to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system;
  • Plan and oversee implementation of the measures once identified; and
  • Report back to the Board of Supervisors on progress made toward reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

The Task Force has developed draft recommendations for the County to reduce racial disparities in the justice system, and it will host three community Forums in May 2018 to present the recommendations and solicit community input and feedback before it takes them to Board of Supervisors in June 2018.

  • Monday, May 7, 6-8 PM: Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church 55 Eckley Ln, Walnut Creek
  • Tuesday, May 8, 6-8 PM: Delta Bay Church of Christ 13 Sunset Dr, Antioch
  • Wednesday, May 9, 6-8 PM: Catholic Charities, West County Service Center, 217 Harbour Way Richmond

You can also provide input to the Task Force online at this link. Click here to see a list of the Task Force’s 17 members, and meeting locations and agendas for each monthly meeting, held the first Wednesday of every month at 1 PM.

Tell Congress: For Students to Prosper, Ditch the PROSPER Act

Not sure who House Republicans had in mind when they came up with the higher-education targeted PROSPER (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform Act) Act, H.R. 4508 – but a close look suggests it might be financial institutions and for-profit colleges, rather than students, who would be prospering.

In December 2017, the 590-page PROSPER Act cleared the House Committee on Education, with NO hearings. The higher education community’s calls for additional time and input went unheeded, and Democrats say they were not included in any aspect of drafting the bill.

The bill is a monstrous overhaul of the existing student loan program. It would end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, under which teachers, social workers, and public defenders who work for the government and other non-profits now can qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years. It would also end subsidized student loans that permit low-income students to avoid interest while in school. In addition, it would require a minimum loan repayment, even for students at or under 150% of poverty level, who now have monthly payments of $0. 

The bill’s supporters point to its provisions for using grants to incentivize graduation in four years, abolishing loan origination fees, and expanding the work-study program for low-income students. The conservative Heritage Foundation claims that “[s]tudents and taxpayers win in the scenario where you have private lenders actually competing in the market, and ultimately we would hope that puts more pressure on inflated tuition prices.” However, an analysis by the American Council on Education – the nation’s most influential, respected, and visible higher education association – says an undergrad who borrows $19,000 over four years and makes payments on time would see a 44% increase in the cost of the loan if subsidies were eliminated under the PROSPER Act. A student who borrows $23,000 would experience a 56% increase. Nearly 6 million students would feel this effect.

PROSPER would also eliminate current safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. It nixes the “90/10” rule, which bans for-profit institutions from collecting more than 90% of their revenue from federal aid. It would abolish the gainful employment regulation, which requires for-profit institutions  – like Trump U – to meet established debt-to-income ratios for students or risk losing federal financial aid. And it would remove states’ ability to oversee online schools and hold student loan providers accountable.

You’d think legislation this sweeping shouldn’t be rushed through in secrecy, but should rather be carefully weighed in a bipartisan fashion with expert input, time, and care. But sadly, this isn’t our first Rodeo; we’ve come to expect this rush-it-through bill behavior from the GOP (e.g. the tax scam). But it ain’t over yet.

What you can do:

It’s time for us to get loud about this legislation that would make it even harder for students to prosper. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on March 18 that he has joined the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia to oppose the bill. Ask your MoC to join the volley of voices opposing the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508).

What to say:

My name is ________________, my zip code is _________ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay.  I’m calling to express my opposition to the PROSPER Act. It will make it harder for students, especially low-income students, to repay their loans, and would remove safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. I’m asking you to speak out against this hastily drafted bill that has potential to block access to higher education for millions of students.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065