New York Budget: Congestion Fee, Plastic Bag Ban, Mansion Tax

New York lawmakers approved a budget that allows for tolls on cars entering midtown Manhattan, increases sales taxes on multimillion-dollar city homes and ushers in a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

They also capped local property tax increases outside New York City at 2 percent a year, ordered sweeping changes to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and scrapped cash bail requirements that jails thousands a year before trial. 

…Some issues the governor and legislature left undone. Lawmakers remain divided about marijuana legalization, which Cuomo failed to push through after raising expectations of $1 billion in tax revenue for mass transit. They also punted on public financing of political campaigns, instead creating a commission to make rules on how and to whom the government should disburse tax dollars to candidates, saying their findings would be binding unless lawmakers vote to reject them.

New York Budget: Congestion Fee, Plastic Bag Ban, Mansion Tax – Bloomberg



ACLU Files Challenge To “Riot Boosting” Act

SB 189 creates a mechanism to collect triple damages from any person convicted of riot boosting.  SB 190 establishes a fund to reimburse state and local governments for their costs on pipeline projects, with each project paying a $1 million bond for every 10 miles, up to $20 million. “

The lawsuit asserts that the laws violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution by limiting protected speech and failing to adequately describe what speech or conduct could subject protesters and organizations to criminal and civil penalties. 

“No one should have to fear the government coming after them for exercising their First Amendment rights,” Courtney Bowie, legal director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a news release. “That is exactly what the Constitution protects against, and why we’re taking these laws to court. Whatever one’s views on the pipeline, the laws threaten the First Amendment rights of South Dakotans on every side of the issue.”

ACLU Files Challenge To “Riot Boosting” Act


U.S. judge blocks drilling over climate change

A U.S. judge has blocked oil drilling planned in Wyoming because the government failed to adequately consider its impact on global warming – a decision that could complicate President Donald Trump’s broader efforts to expand oil, gas and coal output on America’s public lands.

…It blocked drilling on more than 300,000 acres (121,400 hectares) in Wyoming until the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management conducts further analyses about how the development would impact climate change.

U.S. judge blocks drilling over climate change, casting doubt on Trump agenda | Reuters


‘Was that disruptive?’: congressman blasts Trump official with air-horn in committee hearing

Joe Cunningham intervened in a House committee hearing on the environmental impact of seismic air-gun testing. The Democrat reached for the 120-decibel device after the official claimed the practice, used to locate underwater oil deposits, would have no effect on marine animals. Cunningham said seismic air guns were 16,000 times louder than his air-horn

‘Was that disruptive?’: congressman blasts Trump official with air-horn in committee hearing – video | US news | The Guardian


Reconnecting With Rural America

The importance of speaking to and about rural America remains critically important to the future of the Democratic Party and of Democratic candidates. A failure to do so will continue the losses the party and its candidates have sustained over the last 15 years.

…During that same period, our national party has lost the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, a majority of governorships, state legislative chambers, and the presidency. I contend that many of these losses would have been avoided had the party and our candidates truly shown up in rural areas, talked to and about the contributions of rural America to the rest of the country, and outlined a real, well-thought-out plan to rebuild and revive the rural economy.

It is bad enough that we didn’t show up, didn’t talk up the contributions of rural Americans, and didn’t lay out a positive vision for real economic change in rural areas, but we also failed to counteract the negative narrative about government that seeped into those rural areas. 

…If the Democratic Party is the party of effective government, we should say so and make the case to all Americans that government plays a positive role in our country. ….Democrats should make a consistent effort to communicate to rural Americans using local and regional media outlets, those that people in rural areas read and listen to every day to find out what is happening in their part of the world.

…Our elected officials and our candidates also have to show up in rural areas in order to win. And when they do, they need to talk up, not down, to rural Americans. Acknowledging the contributions rural America makes to the rest of the country is a good place to start. Recognizing their frustrations and concerns, as well as their hopes and dreams, is an important part of an effective and winning message.

…The number of people addicted to, or misusing, opioids is staggering. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die every day after overdosing on opioids.

Rural America has been devastated by this epidemic. To begin with, rural Americans have limited access to health care generally, but this is even more acute with the services needed to combat addictions. More than 85 percent of the 1669 federally designated mental health professional shortage areas are in rural areas. 

….To combat this scourge in the short term will require physicians trained to use opioids only in very limited circumstances and to prescribe non-addictive pain treatment in most cases. Drug companies need to provide Naloxone in more convenient and easier-to-administer ways while keeping costs down. MAT and full counseling services need to be more accessible to rural Americans. And, we all need to recognize that addiction is a disease just like cancer or diabetes so we can help remove the stigma attached to addiction disorders. Removing this stigma will help make it easier for those in need of help to seek it. What we don’t need is exactly what the Trump Administration is touting: more law enforcement, harsher penalties, and longer jail sentences.

Over the long haul, the most successful “cure” to the opioid epidemic will be a rebuilt and revived rural economy. If people in rural areas believe, with good reason, that their tomorrow will be better than their today, we will see a sharp decline in today’s unacceptably high levels of lives lost to despair.

…For far too long, we have allowed the rural economy to be an “extraction” economy where everything from crops to coal are being taken from rural areas and transported somewhere else where value is added and opportunity is created. To succeed in rural areas, Democrats also need to offer a “sustainable” alternative to the extraction economy of the past. If not, that extraction economy will continue to slowly bleed rural America of its natural resources and its young people.

…A Democratic-promoted sustainable economy based on partnerships must sustain rural families, communities, and natural resources in a manner consistent with the values and culture of rural places.

…Democrats may find fault with production agriculture, since they often believe it to denote only large-scale, commercial-size operations or “factory farms.” But that is not how it is understood in the countryside, where the history and culture are rooted in production agriculture defined as family farms. Indeed, most large scale commercial-size operations are owned and operated by families.

…In rural America, trade agreements are viewed positively by most in the agricultural sector. Without robust exports, we would have many fewer farm families because exports help to stabilize prices in most major commodities.

…A key to building a sustainable rural economy is supporting and building local and regional markets where small-sized operations not only survive, but thrive.

Democrats must lead the effort to adequately build more local and regional markets and the smaller-scale operations that need them. Democrats must advocate for more money for micro-loans to help beginning farmers get started. Democrats must also advocate for tailored risk-management tools that enable small-sized operations to survive during challenging times. Democrats must demand more conservation resources targeted to small operations served by a local or regional market. Democrats must partner with private investment firms to finance more food hubs where locally produced goods can be aggregated and sold to large-scale purchasers. Democrats must devise tax and regulatory incentives designed to improve opportunities for the success of local and regional markets.

…One immediate benefit from more investment in conservation will be increased opportunities for outdoor recreation. Conservation improves landscape and increases habitat, which increases hunting, fishing, biking, canoeing, and kayaking. Outdoor recreation is a big business—over a $600 billion industry today —and a rural job creator, with many of the 6 million employed by the industry living in rural places.

… The sustainable approach to rural job creation should, in the future, depend more on bio-based inputs in manufacturing. The use of plants, crops, and animal waste to produce a wide variety of materials, chemicals, fabrics, fibers, fuel, and energy can bring sustainable manufacturing back to rural America. The job-creation possibilities for rural America through a sustainable approach are truly endless.

…A foundation of production agriculture and exports, local and regional food systems, ecosystem markets, and bio-based manufacturing can help build an economy that truly works in rural areas. And advocating and supporting such government action that helps create this kind of economy would give Democrats a successful progressive message for reaching rural areas. 

…To help people you have to govern, to govern you have to win elections, and to win elections you have to appeal broadly. For Democrats, that means making a concerted effort to offer a more comprehensive, progressive vision to rural Americans.

Reconnecting With Rural America : Democracy Journal


Ex-Clinton staffers slam Sanders over private jet flights

Many in the party continue to believe the Vermont senator played a role in contributing to Clinton’s defeat in November because of his criticisms of her prior to the general election, and his refusal to concede earlier when it appeared he had little mathematical chance of securing the party nomination.

…Bernie Sanders singled out the fossil fuel industry for criticism, listing it among the special interests he planned to take on. But in the final months of the 2016 campaign, Sanders repeatedly requested and received the use of a carbon-spewing private jet for himself and his traveling staff when he served as a surrogate campaigner for Hillary Clinton.

…Prior to working out the logistics of Sanders’ travel, “our working assumption was that 90 percent of the time it would be commercial,” said another [HRC 2016 person] 

…But that idea did not go over well with the Sanders camp.

…Sanders’ flights — usually on a Gulfstream plane — cost the Clinton-Kaine campaign at least $100,000 in total, according to three people familiar with the cost of the air travel.

……The travel details weren’t the only point of tension with Sanders. At his rallies for Clinton, Sanders sometimes only wanted people who had endorsed him in the primaries to speak when he would appear, a request which frustrated the Clinton campaign.

…“Sure you can have your supporters there, but you can’t exclude the congressman who endorsed Hillary Clinton in the city you are going to,” said the former staffer. “You’re campaigning for us. That was always a battle every single time.”

..In the two years following the presidential election, Sanders continued his frequent private jet travel, spending at least $342,000 on the flights.

…The revelation of Sanders’ penchant for private jet travel, both in 2016 and in the subsequent years, could surface as an issue for him since he often demands the U.S. do its part to fight global climate change — to which CO2 emissions from aviation is a contributor.

Ex-Clinton staffers slam Sanders over private jet flights – POLITICO

The language and tone of the former Sander’s staff strikes the peanut gallery as un-necessarily hostile and confrontational, arrogant, holier-than-thou, and wholly unprofessional. No wonder they didn’t win or make any friends with the party or the nominee’s staff.

‘Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports

Until recently, China had been taking about 40% of US paper, plastics and other recyclables. 

…Since January 2018, China hasn’t accepted two dozen different recycling materials, such as plastic and mixed paper, unless they meet strict rules around contamination. The imported recycling has to be clean and unmixed – a standard too hard to meet for most American cities.

…The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.

But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.

…. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics.

…The industry that remains emits a cocktail of soot and chemicals upon a population of 34,000 residents, 70% of them black. There’s a waste water treatment plant, a nearby Kimberly-Clark paper mill and a medical waste facility. And then there’s Covanta’s incinerator, one of the largest of its kind in the US.

…The burning of trash releases a host of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter, which are tiny fragments of debris that, once inhaled, cause an array of health problems.

…A host of studies have identified possible links between air pollution and ovarian and breast cancers, which are unusually prevalent in Chester. A 1995 report by the EPA found that air pollution from local industry provides a “large component of the cancer and non-cancer risk to the citizens of Chester”.

“There are higher than normal rates of heart disease, stroke and asthma in Chester, which are all endpoints for poor air.” 

…It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.

The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

…Just 9% of plastic is recycled in the US, with campaigns to push up recycling rates obscuring broader concerns about the environmental impact of mass consumption, whether derived from recycled materials or not.

…The country generates more than 250m tons of waste a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with about a third of this recycled and composted.

‘Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports | Cities | The Guardian