Tag Archives: Trump

Congressman promotes a Charles Darwin Day to fight science skepticism

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes has taken on the role of promoting a Charles Darwin Day in the House of Representatives, saying he believes it’s the type of legislation his southwestern Connecticut constituents want him to pursue at a time when skepticism surrounds science.

“I represent one of the most educated districts in the country. And so, I think my constituents expect this of me,” said Himes, who took over proposing the perennial long-shot legislation commemorating the birth date of Charles Darwin from former New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt, a research physicist who is now chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Himes said he has championed the legislation for several years because “science and truth remarkably always need advocacy against the forces of nostalgia and fear and irrationality.” That message, he said, is especially important now in light of statements from President Donald Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, who has alarmed scientists by saying he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

“At the end of the day, policy has to be guided by facts and truth,” Himes said.

The legislation comes as lawmakers in at least three states, South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma, have weighed bills this year allowing teachers to decide how much skepticism to work into lessons on contentious scientific issues such as evolution and climate change. Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee have enacted similar laws, according to Glenn Branch, deputy director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, proposed a similar bill in the Senate this year. Such proposals, however, don’t get very far. Branch said the legislation is typically defeated in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology by Republicans who don’t call a hearing on the bill.

The bill is unlikely to ever pass Congress, given that Darwin, who developed the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, was British.

But Holt praises Himes, a former investment banker, for taking on the legislation, which only expresses the House’s support in designating Feb. 12 as Darwin Day, recognizing him as “a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.”

Himes’ proposal comes at a time when when efforts by the Trump administration to silence scientists and stifle their research have inspired a global a global protest that will come together on Earth Day as the first-ever March for Science.

Scientists will march on Washington April 22 and in more than 280 satellite marches around the globe. They’ll be rallying under the banner “Science, not Silence.”

Darwin, who was a religious person, didn’t let personal bias interfere with him looking at evidence, Holt said. That’s a stance worth celebrating at a time when ideology and opinion are crowding out evidence, he said.

“Of course, the Darwin Day legislation is more symbolic than practical, but there’s an important lesson there that public issues should be informed by the best publicly available scientific evidence,” Holt said. “It’s really to Jim’s credit that he’s speaking up for this. It’s harder for a non-scientist to do that.”

Himes has taken other pro-science stances recently, including signing a congressional letter in December to Trump, urging the president to appoint a “universally respected scientist” to the position of assistant to the president for science and technology within his first 100 days in office — an appointment that has not yet been made. The president has not responded.

Himes drew some criticism during his last re-election campaign for proposing the legislation. His Republican opponent, former Rep. John Shaban, called it a political stunt and a waste of time and resources.

“Indeed, I believe in both evolution and that we must pursue balanced polices to address global climate change, but passive-aggressive resolutions do little to advance the cause,” Shaban wrote on his campaign website.

For decades, there have been efforts to recognize Darwin and his theory of evolution, both nationally and internationally. The American Humanist Society promotes International Darwin Day each year, calling it a “day of celebration, activism and international cooperation for the advancement of science, education, and human well-being.”

A 2013 analysis by the Pew Research Center determined that 60 percent of Americans believe “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third reject the idea of evolution. Pew also found about 24 percent of Americans believe that a “supreme being guided the evolution of living things” for the purpose of creating human beings.

Himes, an elder in his Presbyterian church, said he doesn’t see his faith as being at odds with the Darwin Day bill.

“No science can explain why human beings evolved,” he said. “But we shouldn’t argue with the fact that they did evolve.”

 

Why corporate groups spent millions to seat Gorsuch on the Supreme Court

Judge Neil Gorsuch played a masterful game of hide-the-ball during his confirmation hearings, deftly dodging scores of questions from senators to reveal as little as possible about his judicial leanings and positions on any of the critical legal issues facing the nation.

“If I indicate my agreement or disagreement with a past precedent of the United States Supreme Court, I’m signaling to future litigants that I can’t be a fair judge,” Gorsuch responded when Senator Diane Feinstein tried to get a read on his views concerning Roe v. Wade.

He was no more forthcoming about controversial and closely divided rulings like Citizens United, which unleashed corporate spending in elections, or Shelby County, which struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act, or Heller, which overturned a gun safety law.

But Gorsuch’s signals have already been sent to — and received by — the corporate-backed groups that pre-selected him for the job and the billionaires who have spent millions to capture the current open seat on the nation’s highest court.

Judge Gorsuch authored seven dissents in 2016, more than in the preceding three years combined. Gorsuch’s dissents gave him the opportunity to take a tough stand against workers, in the now-infamous “frozen trucker” case; blast the NLRB, a favorite target of the corporate Right; side with Utah’s governor for withdrawing state funding from Planned Parenthood in retaliation for providing abortion services; and back up a sheriff in the case of a man who was strip searched and held in jail for five days after being stopped for a defective license plate light.

Those cases, along with his lengthy 2016 concurrence in Gutierrez v. Lynch — where he laid out his case for rolling back “Chevron” deference to government agency rules — let Gorsuch check off most of the boxes on the Right’s checklist for a Supreme Court nominee. Together, they made big corporations, the Religious Right, and the tough-on-crime crowd very, very happy.

Gorsuch’s smoke signals were certainly seen by Leonard Leo, executive vice president at the right-wing Federalist Society, who played a lead role in hand-picking judges for Trump’s outsourced nominee list. The Federalist Society is bankrolled by the Koch brothers, the Mercer family, Chevron, and other corporate interests, and serves to bring together special interests and judges much in the same way that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) does for legislators.

It was Leo who contacted Gorsuch to let him know he was on the list, and Leo helped the White House to shepherd Gorsuch through the nomination process every step of the way. Leo is closely connected with the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), the dark money group that spent $17 million to block Garland’s nomination and run pro-Gorsuch ads targeting Democratic senators up for election next year in states that went for Trump.

JCN’s treasurer is Neil Corkery, and the organization got all of its cash from the Wellspring Committee in 2015, another dark money group run by Neil’s wife, Ann, according to the New York Times. The Corkerys have been affiliated with Liberty Central, a Tea Party group run by Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, as well as the Catholic League and the National Organization for marriage, two groups known for their opposition to abortion and marriage equality.

Gorsuch and his backers claim the righteous cause of protecting judicial independence as the basis for his tight-lipped confirmation performance, as if somehow it would be improper for the American people to know what they are in for with Gorsuch in a life-tenured seat on the Supreme Court. But you’d better believe Leonard Leo, the Corkerys, and Gorsuch’s other big-money backers know exactly where he stands.

Gorsuch’s refusal to discuss his judicial views with senators also lies in sharp contradiction to the words of former Justice Antonin Scalia, the justice Gorsuch would replace and that his sponsors expect he will emulate.

“A judge’s lack of predisposition regarding the relevant legal issues in a case has never been thought a necessary component of equal justice, and with good reason,” Scalia wrote in Republican Party of Minn. v. White, while striking down a state rule barring judicial candidates from announcing their views on legal issues. “Proof that a Justice’s mind at the time he joined the Court was a complete tabula rasa in the area of constitutional adjudication would be evidence of lack of qualification, not lack of bias.”

Scalia decried what he called “state-imposed voter ignorance” and criticized the notion of “plac(ing) most subjects of interest to the voters off limits.”

But that’s precisely what Gorsuch did at his Senate confirmation hearings.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse put a fine point on the problem during Gorsuch’s last day of testimony.

“There’s a small group of billionaires who are working very hard to influence and even to control our democracy,” Whitehouse said. “They set up an array of benign sounding front groups to both organize and conceal their manipulations of our politics.”

“I’m trying to figure out what they see in you that makes the $17 million … worth their spending. Do you have any answer for that?” Whitehouse asked.

“You’d have to ask them,” Gorsuch responded.

“I can’t, because I don’t know who they are. It’s just a front group,” Whitehouse said, sounding exasperated.

If the only test for the Supreme Court is the strength of one’s resumé, then Merrick Garland was every bit as qualified as Neil Gorsuch. Yet Senate Republicans, backed by some very powerful special interests, blockaded Garland and rammed through Gorsuch, even though it took a dramatic Senate rules change to do it.

This article was first published on Huffington Post by Arn Pearson in his capacity as a senior fellow for People For the American Way.

 

 

Facebook purges 30,000 fake accounts ahead of French election

In an effort to prevent faux news from influencing the presidential election in France, as it did in the United States, Facebook has purged 30,000 fake accounts tied to that country.

The purges were part of a Facebook resource to help stop the spread of fake news, hoaxes, and spam through fake accounts in 14 countries, including the U.S. and Germany.

European authorities have also pressured other social media companies like Twitter to remove extremist propaganda and postings that violate European hate speech laws.

“We’ve found that when people represent themselves on Facebook the same way they do in real life, they act responsibly,” the social media giant said in a statement.

“Fake accounts don’t follow this pattern,” the company said.

New technology allows the company to recognize “inauthentic accounts more easily by identifying patterns of activity — without assessing the content itself,” like detecting “repeated posting of the same content, or an increase in messages sent,” according to the statement.

Facebook also has introduced a new educational tool to help users spot fake news stories posted to the social networking site. It leads users to a list of tips for spotting false information and how to report it

The company acknowledged that its efforts would not eliminate all misinformation and lies, but said it could eliminate those with largest footprint and broadest reach.

In a December statement, the company said that it will focus on the “worst of the worst” offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations to sort honest news reports from made-up stories.

After facing harsh criticism for allowing the spread of outrageous lies about Hillary Clinton during the U.S. election, Facebook announced in December that it was launching an effort to prevent the replay of a scenario that’s believed by many Americans to have helped to elect Donald Trump.

French media, unlike American media, are also running fact-checking programs to counter false posts ahead of the two-round elections slated for April 23 to May 7. Eleven candidates, including far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, will be on the French ballot.

Sanders vows to ‘expose the Republican Party’ in national tour

Promising to “expose the Republican Party for what it is,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders predicted that President Donald Trump would be a one-term president as the liberal icon prepared to launch a nationwide tour to rally Democrats.

“In terms of the first three months in office, Donald Trump is the least popular president in the history of polling,” Sanders told The Associated Press. He cited the Republican president’s support for a healthcare bill that he said strips insurance from millions of Americans, tax reform that cuts taxes for the rich and budget cuts that disproportionately affect the poor.

“I do not believe that if Trump continues these policies that he’s going to be re-elected. Nor do I think that the Republicans are going to do well in 2018,” Sanders said. “The momentum right now is with the progressive movement in this country. And I think the Republicans are on the defensive and will be on the defensive increasingly.”

The comments come as Sanders prepares to launch a tour next week with Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez. Included in the tour are visits to some toss-up and Republican-leaning states where Democrats struggled in the last election. The tour opens Monday with a rally in Portland, Maine, followed by appearances over the subsequent four days in Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Utah, Arizona and Nevada.

It is an aggressive schedule reminiscent of the 75-year-old senator’s recent presidential campaign. He failed to wrestle the nomination from Hillary Clinton in 2016, but developed a large and passionate following from his party’s liberal base.

The Democratic Party hit bottom last fall after an election season in which they lost the presidency and could not take control of the House or Senate despite favorable conditions in some cases. Sanders acknowledged his party’s failures in 2016 and said the upcoming tour would “begin the process of fighting back.”

He also cited the recent special election in Kansas, where Republicans scored a narrow victory over a little-known Democrat in a district strongly dominated by the GOP in the past.

“The Republicans had to spend money like crazy at the end to beat him,” Sanders said. “I think that’s a very good omen for the future.”

 

Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect calls for firing of Sean Spicer

White House spokesman Sean Spicer triggered an uproar on Tuesday by saying Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons.

He apologized after his comments drew immediate criticism  for overlooking the fact that millions of Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers.

Spicer made the assertion at a daily news briefing, during a discussion about the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed 87 people. Washington has blamed the attack on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said when asked about Russia’s alliance with the Syrian government.

The Nazis murdered six million Jews during World War Two. Many Jews as well as others were killed in gas chambers in European concentration camps.

When a reporter asked Spicer if he wanted to clarify his comments, he said: “I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

Later on Tuesday, Spicer apologized and said he should not have made that comparison.

“It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it and I won’t do it again,” Spicer told CNN in an interview. “It was inappropriate and insensitive.”

Spicer’s assertion, made during the Jewish holiday of Passover, sparked instant outrage, including from some Holocaust memorial groups who said he was minimizing Hitler’s crimes.

“Sean Spicer now lacks the integrity to serve as White House press secretary, and President Trump must fire him at once,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.

Shortly after the White House briefing, Spicer emailed a statement to reporters in response to their queries, but had stopped short of offering an explicit apology.

“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable,” Spicer said in the statement.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum did not mention Spicer’s comments directly, but sent out a tweet shortly after the briefing that showed graphic footage of dead bodies U.S. forces found while liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The video was retweeted more than a thousand times, with many Twitter users referencing Spicer’s comments.

U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called on Republican President Donald Trump to reject Spicer’s assertion.

“Sean Spicer must be fired, and the President must immediately disavow his spokesman’s statements,” Pelosi said in a statement.

The White House did not immediately respond when asked to comment on Pelosi’s statement.

It was not the first time the White House has had to answer questions about the Holocaust. Critics in January noted the administration’s statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which omitted any mention of Jewish victims.

At the time, Spicer defended that statement by saying it had been written in part by a Jewish staff member whose family members had survived the Holocaust.

Under Trump, Wisconsin dairies struggle to keep immigrants

Twenty-six-year-old Rosa Jiménez and her husband, Manuel, 36, used to do the grocery shopping together. They would take the kids and make a day of it. But, lately, Manuel goes alone.

“Imagine if they (immigration authorities) picked us up there. I won’t take the risk of them taking my children,” Jiménez says, bursting into tears as she sits in her kitchen on a recent afternoon.

The couple always planned on one day returning to Mexico when they came to the United States to find work on farms; she arrived 10 years ago, he has been here for 15. But negative depictions of immigrants by the president and the open hostility the family has experienced since the election accelerated those plans.

Now living with their two young children on a Pepin County dairy farm in northwestern Wisconsin where Manuel works, the couple — who asked that their real names not be used because of their immigration status — are making plans to leave their life in America’s Dairyland and go back across the border, much sooner than they had expected.

They are among the estimated 51 percent of all dairy workers in the United States who are immigrants. A significant portion — more than three-fourths of the workers at some dairy farms according to workers, farmers and industry experts — are undocumented after entering the country illegally or overstaying visas.

Like the Jiménez family, some now live in fear of deportation because of vows by President Donald Trump — who in November used a strong showing in rural areas to become the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since 1984 — to crack down on undocumented immigrants. It’s unclear how many immigrants working on dairy farms in Wisconsin are here illegally.

 

Immigrant Wisconsin Dairy worker
Jorge Hernandez works in the milking parlor of a dairy farm in northern Buffalo County, Wis. — PHOTO: Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Dairy producers in Wisconsin increasingly struggle to recruit and maintain the immigrant workforce on which the state’s $43 billion-a-year dairy industry relies, Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found in interviews last month with farmers, workers and industry experts.

Farmers say deporting immigrants working here illegally could harm Wisconsin’s signature industry, which ranks second in the nation for milk production and first for cheese. Milking cows can be a dirty, physically demanding job that includes long, irregular work hours; farmers say few Americans are willing to do it.

Buffalo County dairy farmer Nora Gilles says her farm is 100 percent reliant on immigrants. Losing them would be her “worst nightmare,” she says.

“We definitely wouldn’t be able to farm. I mean you just couldn’t do it without them. Because you can’t get anybody else that wants to work,” says Gilles, whose farm has about 1,000 head of cattle.

John Holevoet, director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Association, which represents dairy farmers and milk processors, says the supply of immigrant workers has been tight for several years.

“Anxiety and people’s desire maybe to return home or leave the state or whatever else, well, that doesn’t help when you’re already facing what would be an already challenging labor market to begin with,” he says.

But it has become even more challenging since the election, University of Wisconsin-Extension agent Jennifer Blazek says.

“The agriculture labor market tended to be more fluid and flexible and I think recent political events have restricted that fluidity because of the fear it’s caused,” says Blazek, who is a dairy and livestock agent for Dane County.

Blazek says that immigrants “are not moving to different parts of the country, following jobs as they used to. It’s risky to move, especially to places you aren’t familiar with…plus you have the added risk of being ‘visible’ because immigrants often look different than established residents and ‘stick out.’ “

She adds: “Some immigrants have expressed a desire to move back to Mexico, if they have that ability, to leave the current negative climate surrounding immigration and immigrants.”

Gilles and her brothers, co-owners of the farm, have had to raise pay in recent years by several dollars to a starting wage of about $10.50 an hour just to keep immigrant workers from leaving for higher pay at another farm. Pay has gone up over a dollar just in the past few months.

Meanwhile, the flow of workers has slowed. The number of immigrants entering the United States from Mexico has been in a slump since the recession.

In fact, in 2015, more people returned to Mexico than came into the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, which tracks Hispanic trends in America.


“Rosa” hugs her 3-year-old son at their home on a dairy farm in Pepin County, Wis. Her husband, “Manuel” is a laborer on the farm. She says her family has experienced racial slurs since President Donald Trump took office. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism—PHOTO:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that the number of people caught illegally attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border was down 40 percent from January to February, a period when apprehensions normally increase by 10 to 20 percent.

Adding to foreign workers’ uncertainty is ramped-up immigration enforcement like the 287(g) program, which enables local police to act as immigration enforcement; and broadening the scope of priorities for agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to include immigrants charged with low-level offenses. Plans to build a wall on the southern U.S. border have created additional anxiety.

Gilles says immigrant dairy workers used to show up every week at her farm looking for work. But not anymore.

“I think we’ve been short two or three people for like a year. Constantly, we’re just always short,” she says. “They’re not coming here like they were.”

The decreasing number of immigrants means farmers like Gilles have to work harder to attract them and keep them from leaving for better paying jobs at nearby farms.

“Just in the last year, turnover’s been crazy, just crazy. And I think that’s everywhere, I don’t think it’s just here,” she says. “Everybody that I know is emailing or calling, ‘Do you have anybody extra?’ I don’t know if it’s out of fear, or if it’s just that there’s less coming… I mean they’ll drop you and go somewhere else for a little bit more money.”

Jiménez says workers understand their value to the industry.

“Yes we need the work, but the farmers also need us because there are farms where 20, 25 or 30 people work, and nobody has papers,” she says. “Imagine if they got rid of all of them, if they did a raid and took everybody. What are the farmers going to do? The cows will die.”

Workers face ‘ugly’ remarks

Immigrant Wisconsin dairy worker
John Rosenow, owner of Rosenholm Farm, in Cochrane, Wis., says an immigration raid could shut down his business. —PHOTO: Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Jiménez says she has also noticed a change in the way her family is treated in the community.

“There have always been racist people. That’s nothing new. They’ve always been there. But it’s like now people feel more free to be offensive or do things that aren’t right,” Jiménez says.

In a recent incident, Manuel was filling up his tank at a gas station when a group of men dressed in hunting gear stopped to insult him. His wife declined to repeat the remarks, which she described as “ugly.”

“Can you imagine what could happen to us? I’m scared that we’ll go out to eat somewhere and a crazy person will show up and shoot us or something like that because it can happen. Because people who are racist go to the extreme,” Jiménez says.

Recently, when President Trump addressed members of Congress, Jiménez watched as he acknowledged the father of a high school boy shot dead by a Latino undocumented gang member in California. She objected to the implication that immigrants are criminals.

“We just want them to let us work in peace, and to not be treated like criminals or terrorists because we’re not,” she says. “We aren’t rapists either. We are just people who want to work.”

As farms grow, need for immigrants increases

On a recent morning, Guillermo Ramos is in the barn of Gilles’ farm, where he has worked for 17 years. The air smells of feed and manure. Walking between two rows of cows that poke their heads out of metal headlocks to chew feed, he surveys the animals and the tags pinned to each of their ears, searching for a number that corresponds to the one on his clipboard.

Finally, he sees what he’s looking for. Taking a syringe filled with Salmonella vaccine, Ramos steps forward into a mound of hay and plunges it into the cow’s thigh.

The 40-year-old, Mexican-born farm manager started off here as a milker before working his way up to inseminating cows, administering medications and trimming hooves. Like many other workers on dairy farms in Wisconsin, Ramos entered the United States illegally.

After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 1999, he eventually traveled to Wisconsin where he heard dairy farms were in need of help. That need continues to grow, Ramos says.

“When I got here, I saw a farm that had 275 cows. Now they have 1,500. How many Mexicans, how many ‘illegals,’ work there? Around 15. When we started it was just two Mexicans. That’s how the farm started. I’ve seen these farms grow with illegal labor. Although many people don’t like it, or they don’t want to accept it, it’s the truth.”

Statistics show the size of Wisconsin farms has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2003, there were about 16,000 farms. Today there are about 9,300. But the number of cows — about 1.3 million — remains roughly the same, which means farms are bigger and need a reliable workforce to run them.

Immigrant Wisconsin dairy worker
“Rosa” makes food for her 3-year-old son at their home on a dairy farm in Pepin County, Wis. She says she has noticed a change in the way her family is treated in the community since Donald Trump’s election. — PHOTO: Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

But lately, Ramos has begun to question if he will be able to stay.

“Right now with the political situation, we’re scared. You can’t say, ‘Nothing’s going to happen!’ Because it happens. Even if you don’t want to accept it, it’s happening. We live in fear, especially those of us who have families.”

Regarding the rhetoric that immigrants are stealing jobs, Ramos says he and others like him are just doing work Americans don’t want to do.

“In 17 years, I have never seen a U.S.-born worker come here and say to my boss — ‘You know what? I’m looking for a job. I want to milk cows.’ In 17 years.”

Year-round work draws immigrants

For years, manual labor jobs in agriculture, construction and the service industry have drawn Mexican and Central American men and women to the United States. Many risk extortion, kidnapping and death crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for higher wages.

Dairy farms need a consistent year-round workforce to milk cows three times daily, seven days a week and often provide benefits such as paid vacation, housing and health insurance.

New employees in the United States are required to fill out an I-9 form and present documentation to verify their identity and authorization to work in the country, but as long as a new hire’s documents appear to be genuine, farmers are not required to further inspect their authenticity.

While farmers who grow seasonal crops such as blueberries and sweet potatoes can apply to bring workers from other countries temporarily under the H-2A visa program, there is no such program for year-round employment in agriculture, which makes it difficult for dairy employees to work and reside in the United States legally.

In a 2010 federal survey, 85 percent of Wisconsin farmers with herds of 500 or more cows said the United States should create a guest worker program for the dairy industry.

A national survey in 2014 of dairy farms conducted by Texas A&M University and commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation predicted severe losses for the industry if the flow of immigrant workers were to completely halt.

According to researchers, eliminating immigrant labor in the dairy industry would reduce production by 23 percent or 48 billion pounds of milk. The number of farms, currently at around 58,000, would decrease by 7,011. Retail milk prices would increase by 90 percent, meaning a $3 gallon of milk would cost consumers nearly $6, according to the study.

Without immigrants, U.S. economic output would also decrease by $32 billion, eliminating 208,208 jobs in the dairy industry and other businesses that rely on it, researchers predicted.

Crackdowns could shut down farms

John Rosenow, a farmer in Buffalo County, confirms that if his foreign-born employees were deported, or decided to look for work elsewhere, Americans would lose their jobs too, because the farm would be forced to shut down.

“If ICE came in here and checked my employees and found that they were undocumented and those 10 people left, my next option of course is to close down … and try to find a market for my cows and sell out. And I wouldn’t be able to farm anymore and it would just about kill me. I have no choice. I mean the cows have to be milked. I know no other source of labor.”

Rosenow says some dairy farmers in his part of the state are already talking about preemptively selling their cows while there is still a market for them.

“Before the election, there was a lot of discussion. Everybody was concerned about immigration reform, but most of the farmers that I talked to (said) ‘I can’t vote for Hillary (Clinton), I just can’t.’ … Now that Trump’s elected, they say that they have hope and that he didn’t really mean what he said. And so we’ll see.”

Immigrant Wisconsin Dairy workerImmigrant Wisconsin Dairy worker
Guillermo Ramos vaccinates dairy cows in the freestall barn of a dairy in northern Buffalo County, Wis. The 40-year-old, Mexican-born farm manager has worked on the farm for almost 20 years. His boss, Nora Gilles, says he is integral to the operation of the dairy. — PHOTO: Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Amy, a dairy farmer in Clark County, says 80 percent of her workers are immigrants; she voted for Trump despite his stance on immigration. She feared Clinton would have implemented heavy regulations and high taxes that could put her farm out of business. Amy asked that her last name not be used because she feared her business could be targeted by immigration officials.

“I have to hope … that they’re going to look at all sides and come to a compromise because I believe that Donald Trump is a businessman and he’s not dumb,” she says. “He knows how much immigrant labor there is in our country and what it (mass deportation) would do to our country.”

Tim O’Harrow, a dairy farmer in Oconto Falls, says the biggest issue he worries about every day is having enough people to milk his 1,500 cows.

“This will put us out of business if we keep going down the road we’re going. I’ll lose everything I’ve worked for for 45 years,” O’Harrow says. “The reality is, we don’t have a backup plan.

“This country cannot produce enough food to feed its own people without foreign labor,” he adds. “It isn’t just dairy. It’s workers in slaughterhouses, it’s workers picking fruit. It’s all aspects of food is being supplemented by foreign labor. Because American citizens will not, will not do the work. It isn’t a matter of how much money. It’s a matter of they will not do it.”

By the numbers: Wisconsin and U.S. dairy industry

51 — Percentage of dairy workers nationwide who are immigrants
34 — Percentage of U.S. dairy farms that employ immigrants
1 — Wisconsin’s rank as U.S. cheese producer
2 — Wisconsin’s rank as U.S. milk producer
79 — Percentage of milk produced on U.S. dairy farms employing immigrants
150,418 — Estimated number of U.S. dairy workers
76,968 — Estimated number of U.S. dairy workers who are immigrants

Sources: 2016 Wisconsin Dairy Data, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board; The Economic Impacts of Immigrant Labor on U.S. Dairy Farms, 2015, Texas A&M University for the National Milk Producers Federation 

This story is part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s State of Change: Water, Food And The Future Of Wisconsin project. It was jointly produced by WPR and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The nonprofit Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with WPR, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

 

Environmental groups file lawsuit as Trump trashes pollution protections

Environmental groups are making good on their vow to fight Donald Trump’s intent to dispose of rules that protect U.S. citizens from pollution and curb global warming.

On March 29, they teamed up with an American Indian tribe to ask a federal court to block an order that lifts restrictions on coal sales from federal lands.

The Interior Department last year placed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands to review the climate change impacts of burning the fuel and whether taxpayers were getting a fair return. But Trump on March 28 signed a sweeping executive order that included lifting the moratorium, and also initiated a review of former President Barack Obama’s signature plan to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Environmentalists say lifting the moratorium will worsen climate change and allow coal to be sold for unfairly low prices. It will also prove deadly for more coal workers.

“It’s really just a hail Mary to a dying industry,” said Jenny Harbine, an Earthjustice attorney who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Montana on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity.

The White House did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit. The Department of Justice declined comment.

Environmental groups have been preparing for months to fight the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks, including by hiring more lawyers and raising money. Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax” invented by the Chinese, said during his campaign that he would kill Obama’s climate plans and bring back coal jobs.

Advocates said they also will work to mobilize public opposition to the executive order, saying they expect a backlash from Americans who worry about climate change.

“This is not what most people elected Trump to do,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Poll after poll shows that the public supports climate action.”

A poll released in September found 71 percent of Americans want the U.S. government to do something about global warming, including 6 percent who think the government should act even though they are not sure that climate change is happening. That poll, which also found most Americans are willing to pay a little more each month to fight global warming, was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

While Republicans have blamed Obama-era environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs, federal data show that U.S. mines have been losing jobs for decades because of automation and competition from natural gas; solar panels and wind turbines now can produce emissions-free electricity cheaper than burning coal.

But many Trump voters in coal country are counting on Trump’s promise to bring back their jobs in the mines.

Those  jobs, however, in addition to causing pollution, are dangerous and deadly. Reports released last December showed that the prevalence of the deadliest form of black lung disease among U.S. coal miners is more than 10 times what federal regulators have reported. The actual number is likely even higher than that, because some clinics in coal country provided incomplete data and some in the heart of the Appalachian coal mining region did not share any data.

The disease is fatal and incurable.

Doomed to failure

Trump’s order also will initiate a review of efforts to reduce methane emissions in oil and natural gas production, and will rescind Obama-era actions that addressed climate change and national security and efforts to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. The administration still is deciding whether to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Trump administration also has asked a federal appeals court to postpone a ruling on lawsuits over the Clean Power Plan, the Obama initiative to limit carbon from power plants, saying it could be changed or rescinded.

A coalition of 16 states and the District of Columbia said they will oppose any effort to withdraw the plan or seek dismissal of a pending legal case, while environmental advocates said they’re also ready to step in to defend environmental laws if the U.S. government under Trump does not.

“The president doesn’t get to simply rewrite safeguards; they have to … prove the changes are in line with the law and science,” said the NRDC’s Goldston. “I think that’s going to be a high hurdle for them.”

Environmentalists say Trump’s actions will put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage to other countries that are embracing clean energy, which they say could create thousands of new jobs.  Clean energy creates more jobs than the fossil fuel industry.

Environmentalists also warn that efforts to revive coal ultimately will fail, because many states and industries already have been switching to renewable energy or natural gas.

“Those decisions are being made at the state level and plant by plant,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen, who said his group is “continuing to work aggressively to retire dirty coal plants.”

“Coal is not coming back,” Van Noppen added. “While the president is taking big splashy action, he is actually doomed to fail.”

Brown reported from Billings, Montana. Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel in Washington also contributed to this story.

 

Trump administration omits LGBT people from 2020 Census

The Trump administration has submitted to Congress a report of the list of categories of data it plans to collect for the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey.

The administration’s report excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on the list of “planned subjects” for the nation’s decennial census and longer form survey.

“Sexual orientation” and “gender identity” were included as “proposed” subjects in the appendix, indicating that data collection on these categories may have been in the works in an earlier version, according to the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Last year, a number of federal agencies urged the U.S. Census Bureau to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data, explaining that the information was critical to their ability to carry out  and enforce the law.

“The Trump administration has taken yet another step  to deny LGBTQ people freedom, justice and equity by choosing to exclude us from the 2020 Census and American Community Survey,” said Meghan Maury, criminal and economic justice project director for the task force.

Maury continued, “Information from these surveys helps the government to enforce federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and to determine how to allocate resources like housing supports and food stamps. If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?”

The task force said there are a series of administration directives to remove sexual orientation and gender identity questions from federal surveys  and also to stall assessment of programs targeting the LGBTQ community.

The census does collect data on same-sex couples through its “relationship to householder” question.

“We call on President Trump and his administration to begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data on the American Community Survey as soon as possible and urge Congress to conduct oversight hearings to reveal why the Administration made the last-minute decision not to collect data on LGBTQ people,” Maury said.

For more than a decade, the task force has encouraged the federal government to collect data and improve data collection to accurately show the country’s population of LGBTQ people

In 2010, the task force launched the “Queer the Census” campaign, calling on LGBTQ people to urge the Census Bureau to count them.

More than 100,000 LGBTQ people  placed a “Queer the Census” sticker on their 2010 Census envelopes.

New report: Clean energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels

As the White House touts plans for an executive order attacking the Clean Power Plan, new Sierra Club analysis of Department of Energy 2017 jobs data shows clean energy employs more American workers than the fossil fuel industry.

Clean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors, according to the Sierra Club report. This includes jobs in power generation, mining and other forms of fossil fuel extraction.

“Right now, clean energy jobs already overwhelm dirty fuels in nearly every state across America, and that growth is only going to continue as clean energy keeps getting more affordable and accessible by the day,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “ These facts make it clear that Donald Trump is attacking clean energy jobs purely in order to boost the profits of fossil fuel billionaires.”

He continued, “It’s clear this administration is talking about energy jobs the wrong way. If we truly want to grow our economy, reduce air and water pollution, protect public health and create huge numbers of news jobs for American workers, we must seize the opportunity that is right in front of our eyes: invest more in clean energy including solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency.”

Sierra Club’s analysis of DOE data shows that, nationally, clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1. Also, clean energy jobs outnumber all jobs in coal and gas by 5 to 1.

The report further demonstrates that 41 states and Washington, D.C. — 80 percent  of the total — have more clean energy jobs than fossil fuel jobs from all sources.

Some of the widest gaps where clean energy jobs vastly exceed fossil fuels jobs are in Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Right now, only nine states have more jobs in fossil fuels than in clean energy, while only six states have more jobs in coal and gas than in clean energy — and the growth of clean energy suggests that won’t be the case for long.

“As our transition to clean energy continues, we must ensure that the benefits experienced are equitably shared and that the jobs and opportunities it creates provide living wages, healthcare benefits, and union representation for workers” Brune said. “It’s also critical to work tirelessly to ensure that the communities and workers historically dependent on fossil fuels are prioritized and put first at every stage of our ongoing transition to an economy powered more fully by clean energy.”

All the data used in this analysis, which is entirely based on Department of Energy 2017 reporting and state by state jobs numbers, is provided open source here at this link.

On the web

Find the report here.

Republicans join Democrats against Trump’s Great Lakes cuts

It  sounds like an idea that would warm a conservative Republican’s heart: Kill funding of a regional environmental cleanup of the Great Lakes that has lasted seven years and cost the federal government more than $2 billion, with no end in sight. If states want to keep the program going, let them pick up the tab.

That is what President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget plan proposes for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an ambitious push to fix problems that have long bedeviled the world’s largest surface freshwater system — from invasive species to algal blooms and toxic sludge fouling tributary rivers.

During the Obama administration, the program generally got about $300 million a year. Trump’s offer is zero. His spending plan says it “returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities.”

The response from Republicans in Great Lakes states: No, thanks.

“I think it makes sense for us to continue to make prudent investments in protecting and improving the Great Lakes,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told The Associated Press, adding that he would lobby the Trump administration and congressional leaders to put the money back.

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan considers Great Lakes funding “very important to Michiganders, therefore we know there is strong support among Michigan’s congressional delegation and we will work with them to preserve the funding,” spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.

GOP lawmakers from the region also rushed out statements defending the program. It “helps protect both our environment and our economy,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said.

The reaction illustrates a political fact of life: Whether you consider something in the budget valuable or wasteful can depend a lot on where you’re from.

And it underscores the resistance Trump may encounter to some spending cuts he is proposing for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and other agencies that draw frequent attacks from congressional Republicans yet fund projects and services with support back home.

The president’s spending blueprint also targets a Chesapeake Bay cleanup begun in 1983 that received $73 million last year, plus other “geographic programs.” It doesn’t identify them, but a proposal by the Office of Management and Budget this month called for cutting all or most funding for San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked for more details, EPA released a statement saying the plan “reflects the president’s priorities” and that Administrator Scott Pruitt “is committed to leading the EPA in a more effective, more focused, less costly way as we partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”

The Great Lakes region includes swing states crucial to Trump’s election — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. There’s also New York, Minnesota and Illinois. And Indiana, whose former governor, Mike Pence, is now Trump’s vice president.

Coincidentally, the budget plan was released as about 100 Great Lakes advocates paid a yearly visit to Washington, D.C., in support of the restoration initiative. They flocked to the offices of home-state lawmakers, reminding them that Congress voted only last year to extend the program another five years.

“We are going to turn once again to our bipartisan congressional champions,” said Todd Ambs, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

While Democratic lawmakers excoriated Trump’s proposal _ “incredibly short-sighted and reckless,” said Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan _ Republicans noted that former President Barack Obama at times recommended more modest reductions to the initiative, which Congress rejected.

Some also pointed out that former President George W. Bush signed initial legislation authorizing a wide-ranging Great Lakes cleanup, although he sought little money for it.

The initiative has funded nearly 3,000 projects across the eight states. Among them: efforts to prevent Asian carp from invading the lakes, prevent nutrient runoff that feeds harmful algal blooms, rebuild wetlands where fish spawn and remove sediments laced with PCBs and other toxins.

Nearly all the federal grants require cost-share payments from a state, local or tribal agency, or perhaps a nonprofit organization. But Ambs said they can’t afford to shoulder the burden alone.

Without federal support, “all of this restoration work would come to a halt,” he said.