CVIndependent

Mon06172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

NEW YORK (Reuters)—After immigration agents detained two Iraqis on Saturday at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, their lawyers and two U.S. congressional representatives accompanying them tried to cross into a secure area—and were stopped themselves.

"Step back! Step back!" the agents shouted at them.

A few minutes later, Heidi Nassauer, chief of passenger operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the airport, was called over. 

Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, both Democrats from New York, wanted clarification on whether an immigration ban issued on Friday by President Donald Trump prevented the Iraqis from consulting with attorneys.

Nassauer had no clear answer. 

"We are as much in the dark as everybody else," said the border protection official at one of the largest U.S. airports. 

The tense exchange, witnessed by Reuters, was representative of the confusion at airports across the United States and others overseas after Trump abruptly halted immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries and temporarily put a stop to the entry of refugees. 

Throughout much of Saturday, government officials and security workers were left to guess who from those countries could enter the United States legally and who could not. 

The day ended with U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn issuing an emergency stay that temporarily allowed stranded travelers with valid visas to remain in the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the stay, said it would help 100 to 200 people with visas or refugee status who found themselves detained in transit or at U.S. airports. 

Across the country, more than a dozen similar petitions on behalf of individuals being held at airports had been filed by the end of Saturday, according to a Reuters review of data collected by WestLaw. By Sunday morning, federal judges in three more states—Massachusetts, Washington and Virginia—issued orders blocking authorities from deporting travelers impacted by Trump's executive orders.


'RECKLESS'

In a media briefing on Saturday, the Trump administration said it would have been "reckless" to give details to government agencies and airports more broadly in advance of launching the security measures, which it says are aimed at preventing attacks from foreign groups.

But career officials in the Homeland Security and State departments told Reuters the administration failed to appreciate the complexity of enforcing the order consistently or the need to prepare agencies and airlines.

Affected travelers had varying experiences at different airports, according to nearly 200 accounts gathered by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). 

Many holding visas told the association they were allowed into the country without a problem despite Trump's executive order banning them.

But some lawful permanent residents—those with so-called green cards—were turned away despite guidance to airlines from the CBP that they should be allowed to travel.

At about 10 p.m. on Friday in Seattle, some eight hours after Trump signed the executive order, an Iranian with dual Canadian citizenship from Vancouver was sent back to Canada, the traveler reported to AILA. A half hour later in New York City, an Iranian arrived at JFK and entered the United States on a valid visa without any problems, according to AILA.

A senior administration official said Trump's order—aimed at citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen—needed to be implemented urgently to protect Americans.

"There's a very strong nexus between our immigration and visa programs and terrorist plots and extremist networks inside the United States," the official told reporters in a briefing. "It would be reckless and irresponsible to ... broadcast to the entire world the exact security measures you're going to take."

Key figures at the Department of Homeland Security were informed, the official said, declining to elaborate.

"I’m not at liberty to reveal exactly who was briefed and who wasn’t briefed, but everyone that needed to be briefed was briefed," the official said.


OUT OF THE LOOP

At the State Department, one of the main agencies dealing with visas and immigration, most officials first heard of the executive order on immigration through the media, according to two department officials. 

While some offices were aware an executive order was coming, there was no official communication or consultation from the White House, they said. 

"Was there any inter-agency coordination or consultation? No,” said one senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Immigration enforcement is among the federal government’s most complex endeavors, involving seven agencies from the U.S. Coast Guard and CBP to the State and Justice Departments.

Two senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday that they had not heard of any officials in the relevant agencies—or the congressional committees and subcommittees that oversee them—who had been consulted by anyone who helped draft the president's order.

"If the result is confusion and inconsistency, the responsibility all lies at one address," said one of the officials, referring to the White House. 

The official, like others, requested anonymity to discuss Trump's order. 

Another Homeland Security official told Reuters that the White House worked on the executive orders with “limited department participation.”

“It has been a challenge, but folks are working through it," the official said.


CONFUSION OVER GREEN CARDS

One of the Iraqis detained at JFK was Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a 53-year-old Kurd who had worked as a U.S. Army translator in Iraq and had been threatened there for helping the Americans. 

Visas for him and his family were finally issued on Jan. 20, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Darweesh and another Iraqi, who had also worked with U.S. military. But as soon as he landed at JFK, he was detained by CBP officers and barred from contacting his attorneys.

When his attorneys, from the International Refugee Assistance Project, asked the CBP officers whom they could contact, the agents responded, “Mr. President. Call Mr. Trump,” according to the lawsuit. 

Eventually, Darweesh was allowed to leave and met the lawmakers and his lawyers, clutching his passport and weeping with joy. The other Iraqi who was detained, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was also allowed to enter the country. 

But dozens of others were less fortunate.

Conflicting media and government reports caused confusion for airlines struggling to deal with the order.

CBP informed air carriers about the executive order in a conference call late on Friday, said a person familiar with the agency's communications. CBP then sent written guidance before noon on Saturday saying that green card holders were "not included" in the ban and could continue to travel to the United States. The source said airlines were allowing travelers with green cards on flights until told otherwise. 

The Trump administration official later told reporters that U.S. green card holders traveling outside the United States need to check with a U.S. consulate to see whether they can return.

"It's being cleared on a case-by-case basis,” the official said. 

On Sunday morning, the administration addressed the issue again but left questions over how green cards holders would be screened and by what agencies.

"The executive order doesn't affect green card holders moving forward," White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus addressed told NBC's Meet the Press. He added that they would be subjected to extra questioning by CBP agents when they tried to re-enter the United States. 

A senior administration official told Reuters, however, that it had not been determined where and how those screenings would be carried out. The nature of the screening will be up to CBP or the State Department, the official said, and specific guidelines were being drafted.

"They could be screened in many different ways and in many different places," the official said in an interview.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott, Jeff Mason, Mica Rosenberg, Lesley Wroughton, Jeffrey Dastin, Yara Bayoumy, Yeganeh Torbati and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Brian Thevenot; Editing by Kieran Murray and Bill Rigby)

Published in National/International

The teams of President Trump’s temporary appointees who are laying the groundwork for taking over and remaking federal agencies refer to themselves as “beachheads” or “beachhead teams.”

That’s a military term for the point of invasion.

Politico reports there were approximately 520 members of such teams when Trump took the oath of office. In any presidential transition, there will be tensions between career civil servants and political appointees pushing a new president’s agenda—but according to experts on the matter, this administration’s use of the term may exacerbate those relations.

The term was offhandedly used in 2000 by George W. Bush’s incoming press secretary, Ari Fleischer. It was central to the language of Mitt Romney’s 2012 transition plan, which was provided to the Trump team. But its use here seems systematic, making many within various federal agencies feel they are being conquered.

“The language of war being used suggests that cooperation is not the primary philosophy dictating this transition period,” says professor Heath Brown, who studies presidential transitions at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If the operating philosophy is one of combat rather than cooperation, then we’re in for some trouble with how these agencies are going to function on a day-to-day basis.”

Because the Trump team threw out Chris Christie’s transition plans and “started from scratch on Election Day,” Brown says, there is “a larger level of chaos in the past for an already chaotic process.”

Given the fact that Trump was a reality TV star, it is not surprising that communications is the main focus of these beachhead teams.

“(Trump’s people) want to control message in a lot of different ways, and for that reason, I think they have made that a priority,” Brown says. “The Trump transition team devoted a lot more staff resources to communications than transition teams in the past. … In the past, communications just hasn’t been a first priority.”

In 2009, Obama only had two communications people on his 13-member senior transition staff. In contrast, at least 10 of 23 staffers in Trump’s transition team served some communications function, Brown says.

In the process, they may well be changing what “communications” means—from informing the public, or even spinning the message, to something more like outright propaganda.

I uncovered a 1996 Cornell Daily Sun article about then-CNN analyst Kellyanne Conway that shows she has been thinking about media and manipulation for at least 20 years. The story paraphrases Conway (née Fitzpatrick) speaking to student groups about “manipulative media and political jargon.” In the talk, she also criticized people for “following what is decided by a few elite.”

A section of the article subtitled “Questions of Reality” notes: “In a generation where television and Internet images ‘bombard our senses,’ it is essential, according to Fitzpatrick, to realize that the soundbytes or visuals prepared by the evening news editors do not represent reality.”

Conway, the article reads, “applauded (Bill Clinton’s) ability to use the media to his advantage.”

While this shows that Conway’s obsession with controlling the media narrative is not new, it also underlines how she and her boss are pushing from the standard spin of ’90s-era Washington into the full-blown denial of reality in the age of Trump.

During the Trump campaign, Politifact found that only 4 percent of his claims could be considered entirely truthful. Some, including President Obama, naively thought the power of the presidency would curb, rather than increase, Trump’s tendency to lie. But thus far, truths remain merely occasional, and almost accidental.

On Jan. 21, during the first “unofficial” press conference of the new administration, press secretary Sean Spicer stood in front of reporters and repeatedly lied to the press about things that didn’t matter. It was pointless from any standard political means-ends perspective. (The Baltimore City Paper did a great job putting together the actual numbers.)

Later, in his first “official” press conference, Spicer said, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

Between Spicer’s two statements, on the Sunday talk shows, Conway baptized Trump-speak with a succinct name: “alternative facts.” She also threatened to “rethink our relationship” with NBC if Meet the Press host Chuck Todd persisted in saying Spicer had lied.

A couple of days later, Trump advisor and Lenin wannabe Stephen Bannon called the press the “opposition party,” which, he said, should “keep its mouth shut.” Almost immediately after this, Trump gave Bannon a spot on the National Security Council.

The attacks on the press, however, are only part of a larger attack on facts themselves—attacks beginning, appropriately, with the communications-obsessed beachheads now inside federal agencies.

Trump ordered the EPA to freeze all of its grants, to take down the climate change section of its website, and to cease all communications with the press.

Then, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research division prohibited employees, including scientists, from communicating or sharing information with the public. The USDA later lifted the gag order, saying that it was released “without departmental direction” and was not sent at the request of the Trump administration.

The Trump team also censored the Badlands National Park Twitter feed, deleting tweets mentioning climate change. In response, people claiming to be rangers created a Twitter account for the AltUsNatParkService, which tweeted that it was activated “in a time of war and censorship to ensure fact-based education.”

But information about climate change is not the only thing at risk—data, science, and research are being suppressed. And Trump’s congressional allies are all too happy to play along.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced bills this week that say “no federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”

This racist bill, which would help maintain the kind of segregation affecting cities like Milwaukee, Baltimore and St. Louis, could still die in committee, but it is of a piece with Trump’s all-out War on Facts. Deprived of access to facts, citizens are incapable of making decisions. This is an essential feature of tyranny.

As an air of war prevails in Washington, using the term “beachhead” may, in fact, be among the small minority of things the Trump team is honest about.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. He is the author of the book Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witchdoctor Sheriff," about a white sheriff who used hoodoo to govern a largely black county for 37 years. He earned a doctorate in philosophy, focusing on ethics and tyranny and became a reporter in an attempt to live like Socrates. He wrote the libretto for Rhymes With Opera's climate-change opera film Adam's Run."

Published in Politics

On this week's liberal-elite-media weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson looks at how President Trump's cabinet picks are sticking it to the elites; The K Chronicles pays tribute to the participants in the women's marches; This Modern World examines our new political reality; and Red Meat learns about God's arsenal.

Published in Comics

I’d like to share some of my reactions to the inauguration—rough notes I took while watching wall-to-wall coverage from Thursday through Sunday.

Think of it as a sacrifice made on your behalf.

TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

I’m a sucker for tradition and ceremonial continuity. Even parades make me cry. So when President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Pence visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to place a wreath on Thursday, my first tears of the weekend began to flow.

When representatives of the armed services marched out—holding the flags of their service, along with the American flag—and then executed the perfect turn and dipped the service flags just the right amount to highlight the national flag for the playing of the national anthem, I was moved. The solemnity of the event and the significance of what that location represents cannot be minimized.

INAUGURAL CONCERT

I didn’t cry at all watching this event. In fact, I must admit I occasionally laughed. Aside from the fact that the Trump inaugural committee had trouble booking any major talent … did you notice that whenever Donald Trump puts his hand over his heart during the playing of the anthem, he occasionally pats his chest, apparently attempting to keep the beat with the music? What made me laugh was the realization that the president has no rhythm at all. And who pats their heart during the playing of the national anthem?

THE INAUGURATION

Again, this is a solemn rite of passage in our democratic history—opposing members of Congress greeting each other; four past presidents attending to acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power; and a crowd of well-wishers (along with some protests that included burning trash cans—I’m still not sure what the political significance of that is).

The lasting impressions for me are the appearance and demeanor of our new first lady, and the poise and grit of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Both women did themselves, and us, proud.

The inauguration speech was unfortunate, painting a picture of a dystopian America and playing directly to the president’s election base—with little regard to the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

There was one fantastic statement made by President Trump—if only it had been indicative of the overall tone, which, alas, it was not: “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

He should have stopped there.

At lunch after he was sworn in, President Trump made a gracious statement acknowledging the Clintons for attending, and saying how much he respected them. This is the same man who only a couple of weeks ago said that Secretary Clinton was “guilty as hell” and should not have even been allowed to run for president.

I guess it’s easier to trash people when they’re not right in front of you.

THE INAUGURATION BALLS

Let’s start with how truly stunning Melania Trump looked, and give her credit for having the good sense, at the third ball—honoring the Armed Services—to thank the veterans for their service and to say how proud she is to be their first lady. If only President Trump had shown that much grace—all he talked about was his crowd numbers and the assumption that those attending the ball had voted for him. His absolute favorite word is “me.”

Let’s also give a nod to Ivanka Trump, whose ball gown, hair style and demeanor was exquisite. However, watch for criticism of the way she attempts to identify with average women and their policy issues when she has never faced any of the same situations. Time will tell what influence she may be able to have on her father, but it’s somewhat telling that it’s her husband who got hired for an important job, not her.

The most glaring reality of the balls was that men can’t dance—regardless of age. Neither Trump nor Pence have any sense of rhythm, and they come from a generation when ballroom dancing was actually taught in school. The younger men in both families are hopeless, too. It did make me miss President Obama—remember his first dance with Michelle?

Also, have you noticed that Donald Trump seems to have no sense of intimacy toward his wife? She often reaches for his hand, but he almost never reaches for hers. While “dancing” with her on inauguration night, Trump could barely keep his attention on her, constantly waving to others in the crowd or doing his signature “thumbs up” gesture. Even during the playing of a romantic song, he wasn’t into her—he was into the adoring crowd. He’s the guy you meet who’s always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more important in the room. There was maybe one moment of affection, and it came from her toward him.

The catty side of me thought: I don’t care how much money or power he has … can you imagine sleeping with that man? Petty, I know, but I’m just sayin’ …

THE DAY AFTER

At the prayer service the morning after the inauguration, the president seemed to have trouble staying awake and engaged. During a prayer, he was looking around the crowd in the church, occasionally with his signature “thumbs up.” He can’t sit still or stay focused for very long. His grandchildren were better-behaved.

Then there was the visit to the hallowed wall honoring lives lost at the CIA—Trump’s first official stop, to assure the intelligence community of his support. He began by saying how much he respects them, then spent two-thirds of his time defending the inauguration attendance, bragging about having the most appearances on Time’s cover (which is not true, by the way), and blaming the media for inventing a rift between him and the intelligence community after he had compared them to Nazis.  

WOMEN’S MARCH

What can one say when millions of women, children and men take to the streets in solidarity across the world?

“What are they marching for?” asked some. As someone who has marched in the past, against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and women’s rights, here’s what: They marched to show that women’s rights cannot and must not be rolled back, and to show their lack of confidence in a president who has publicly disrespected women and the real-life issues that are important to them.

Whatever the differences in individual issues among the marchers, they all stood up for equality without exception.

Marches took place in more than 600 cities across the country, with total estimates now topping 3 million marchers throughout the U.S. More than 1,500 women marched in Palm Desert, and locals Carlynne McDonnell, of Strong Women Advocacy Group; Dori Smith, of Moms Demand Action; Amalia deAztlan, of Democratic Women of the Desert; and Palm Springs resident Eileen Stern made a trip to Los Angeles or D.C., along with many others.

Women and their supporters also showed up by the tens of thousands around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to Rome, London, Austria, Mexico City, Paris, Barcelona and even Kosovo—concerned about not only women’s rights, but also international security, which they believe is threatened under a Trump presidency. Watching this amazing outpouring of support worldwide once again brought tears.

I thought the best sign at the marches was: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” I loved the guy from Long Beach who said, “I’m marching for my 91-year-old mother and my 30-year-old daughter, who both taught me how to be a man.”

Meanwhile, amidst this historic outpouring of solidarity and concern, the new president could only talk about how big his crowd was and how he was being disrespected by “the media” in their mostly accurate reporting.

By the way, in case you didn’t understand the pink-knitted caps with pussycat ears, I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself.

If you are blasé about the changing of the guard, or disgusted with everything political, I want to remind you that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will study the current period in their history classes. We’ve seen the election of the first private-sector president—with absolutely no political experience and no apparent interest in history or traditions or self-restraint. There is much to make fun of in this unfolding reality show; in truth, when you’re worried or afraid or angry, humor can help.

It’s important to remember we’re living in unfolding history. That’s worth paying attention to, regardless of who gets the biggest crowds or who gives the better speech or whether you believe the political process works to your advantage.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but the bottom line for me is that the peaceful transfer of power transcends all else. It endures as the epitome of what we stand for as a nation.

And that makes me cry.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's frightened inauguration eve edition of the weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat goes to mail-order medical school; Jen Sorenson looks at a new beginning; The K Chronicles has a coffee-shop confrontation; and This Modern World examines the Unbelievable Baby-Man!

Published in Comics

Dear Mexican: I was wondering if you could shed some light on the debate on whether 29 percent of Mexicans/Hispanic voters really voted for Trump, or whether it was much less, like other polls show.

The Poll y Voces

Dear Pocho: Exit polls are like the PRI: full of shit, full of money and incredibly pendejo yet dangerous. But I’ve been mucho amused by Latino organizations, political scientists and all Trump-haters attacking exit polls that showed nearly a third of Latinos going for Cheeto Dick. Instead, they’ve pushed their numbers, which unsurprisingly show raza voting for Hillary Clinton in overwhelming numbers against Donald Trump.

It really doesn’t matter: The point is that not enough of us went out to vote against Trump, and more than a few Mexicans voted for him for reasons I’ve stated in this columna: We like strongmen; the more macho the better.

Even more importantly, a lot of Mexicans didn’t vote for Hillary for reasons ranging from her being a mujer to her pathetic Hispandering to her being a Clinton to her uninspiring platform to her being the worst lesser-of-two-evils since the days music fans had to pick between Thalia and Paulina Rubio. Latino yacktivists need to acknowledge we’re not all knee-jerk libs, and that’s OK.

Oh, and #fucktrump.

Dear Mexican: I wrestled in high school (badly), and have always had a love-hate relationship with professional wrestling. On the one hand, I love the sport, but I hate what they have done to it with all the scripted outcomes and over-the-top clown-show antics. That said, the wrestlers do turn in some amazing performances, and make real sacrifices of their bodies (not to mention their personal lives, like any type of performing entertainer).

Luchadores, however, are sheer brilliance. While they have their share of hamming it up, their performances are like a testosterone-fueled ballet. Even if you don’t find the whole mascara culture fun (Hey, who doesn’t want to be a superhero?), it’s impossible to ignore the amazing, high-flying gymnastics these guys put on. While I am happy that Rey Mysterio found popularity in the U.S., I am concerned that the WWE may screw up a good thing with the popularity of the rudos.

Can you help?

Viva Lucha Libre!

Dear Gabacho: I gotta admit: I haven’t religiously followed pro wrestling since the time Stone Cold Steve Austin made Kurt Angle wear a tiny tejana. So I asked my cousin, who said that WWE SmackDown Live had a recent storyline in its women’s division with a masked wrestler going by La Luchadora sneaking into matches to raise desmadre. That’s not surprising, given lucha libre masks are now a given at nearly every sporting event in the United States thanks to Nacho Libre and Rey Mysterio, who is past my time but is apparently a chingón of some sorts.

Cultural appropriation? Nah, gabachos just trying to hide their feo faces.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

If you conduct an online search of news stories with the keywords “Trump” and “climate change,” the results might give you reason to bury your head in the (tar) sand during the next four years:

“How the Trump Administration Could Gut NASA’s Climate Change Research,” read one Newsweek headline.

“What Does Trump Think About Climate Change? He Doesn’t Know Either,” announced The Atlantic.

And: “Without action on climate change, say goodbye to polar bears” — a Washington Post tearjerker.

According to reports like these, Trump is preparing for everything from a witch hunt against our government’s foremost climate scientists to de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency. But in the world of academia—where facts don’t bow to the short attention spans that dominate in the media—do California’s most level-headed researchers and earth-science experts respond to Trump’s ascension with similarly grabby quips? Are they as terrified by the nominations of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (for Department of Energy) and Scott Pruitt (for Environmental Protection Agency head, even though the former Oklahoma attorney general is suing the agency)?

We asked David M. Romps, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Berkeley and director of the school’s Atmospheric Sciences Center, if he thought there was grounds for this bevy of doomsday news flashes.

“In a sense, yes,” he replied. “I’m certainly frightened. There’s one data point for you.”

That data point? “There’s just not that much time to bend down that curb of emissions,” he explained, referring to the level of CO2 humans are spewing into the atmosphere.

Trump, of course, hasn’t implemented a lick of policy yet, and every expert interviewed for this story reiterated that they don’t want to guess how his administration will approach climate change. In the words of Hal Harvey, the CEO of San Francisco-based Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental policy firm, “one shouldn’t either be sanguine or suicidal” just yet.

That said, the cast of anti-climate change actors on the Trump transition team doesn’t inspire much confidence.

For instance, there’s Myron Ebell, tapped to lead Trump’s EPA changeover. Ebell runs an Astroturf outfit called the Center for Energy and Environment, and he masquerades as a sort of science-friendly, social-justice warrior, writing things like “abundant energy makes the world safer and the environment more livable,” and “affordable energy should be accessible to those who need it most, particularly the most vulnerable among us” on his group’s website. But his organization is mostly underwritten by the oil industry, and his modus operandi has always been to countervail legitimate climate research with smarmy deception.

Other Trump advisers hail from various outposts of the fossil fuel industry and its policy shops, including Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist and policy analyst for erstwhile majority whip Tom DeLay; Doug Domenech, a George W. Bush administration staffer turned pro-fossil-fuel advocate; and Bob Walker, who has gone on the record as wanting to eliminate all climate-science research at NASA. 

This is, of course, not to mention the more well-known anti-climate-science cronies, such as proposed Trump secretary of state and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, or Perry (who memorably said he wanted to disband the department he’s now poised to lead), or Pruitt (one of the foremost players in the resistance against the Obama administration’s energy policy).

“All of these people share a common thread,” explained professor Romps. Namely, they are employed by, work for, or operate a front organization at the behest of major oil and energy corporations.

“And, of course, the fossil-fuel industry has a strong agenda; that’s no longer a secret,” he added. Read: They’re about profits, not mitigation. Their game plan is to demolish Obama’s climate-change policy and profit off what remaining dead dinosaurs lay beneath the Earth’s surface.

So goes the collision course: Two opposing forces—one for saving the planet, the other for digging up and burning every last drop of oil and coal—with a scheduled face-off in a little more than a week at the White House. And the clock is, as they say, very much alive and ticking.

“Time is of the essence,” emphasized Harvey, who said he’s not one for fear-mongering, but he didn’t want to underestimate how costly it would be to stall out, or go in reverse, when it comes to climate and energy policy, during the next four years.

The positive news for environmentalists is that climate policy is complicated, often dictated by market forces beyond the Trump administration’s influence, and in many ways insulated by state’s rights and world movements.

For instance, if Trump pushes to cut off federal research-and-development money, there will be pushback. California’s wordsmithing governor Jerry Brown told a San Francisco audience last month that, “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” There you have it.

On the flip side, there are climate-action strategies and pacts scarily within the realm of Trump’s authority, such as the Paris Agreement, which was settled upon by nearly 200 nations. It went into effect just days before Trump’s election last November. The goals of the accord include limiting the rise of the average global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (right now, the world is nearing 1 degree), and focusing development on green industries and practices.

The Paris Agreement isn’t binding—it’s a name-and-shame type deal, sources explain—and Trump has hinted at abandoning the pact. This would mean that, while the rest of the world is adopting smarter climate policies, we’ll be discredited as an outlier nation.

Trump also carries influence over the EPA’s Clean Power Initiative, which is stuck in the courts, and fuel-efficiency efforts, an area where the nation has seen significant progress. He can revive and approve contentious pipeline infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL project, and de-regulate oil drilling and transport industries.

All of this will invariably grow carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, even while the rest of the world implements policy to keep CO2 levels at below 400-parts-per-million.

There’s also the concern that the Trump administration might slash already meager climate-science research dollars. For instance, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory falls under the purview of the Department of Energy—but if Gov. Perry nixes research-and-development funding for California …

“We spend more on potato chips in America than we do on energy R&D,” Harvey explained of science’s currently limited coffers.

Regardless of how well, or poorly, it’s funded, Paul Alivisatos, the vice chancellor of research at UC Berkeley, said that “historically, science has been strongly supported by both parties.”

He said he hopes to have “very productive discussions” with the new leadership in Washington, D.C., and he pointed out that this is a unique moment in time when “the science community is generating dramatic advances that do have an advantage of benefitting society at large,” such as electric cars, energy storage and affordable solar cells.

Romps agreed. “California potentially could step up to a new role here, and now it could really be the bastion of hope,” he said.

California indeed has a lot at stake. Both Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act passed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, and Senate Bill 32, which Brown inked last year, mandate greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions unequaled in the rest of the country (specifically, 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). Trump could, in theory, run interference against these ambitions, but his plate in D.C. will surely be brimming with controversy. He may not have time to throw a wrench into California’s climate innovation gears.

“The state can make decisions for how to incentivize” industry to meet these reduction goals, independent of the federal government, Romps said. “I think there’s a lot the state can continue to do locally.”

All the California experts agreed, however, that an uphill battle is education—something Trump can very easily stump, often with just 140 characters.

“The scientific understanding about what’s happening with climate and environment, and human activity, arises from a very deep level of understanding of climate, physics, earth science,” Alivisatos explained. “But clearly we have a lot of work to do, because so many citizens really don’t understand that science.”

Romps, who will teach the first-ever undergraduate introductory course on climate change at UC Berkeley next fall, said that he’s “fascinated” by the question as to why so few Americans relate to and comprehend the threat of climate change.

“But I would not pin this on a failure of the American people,” he added. “The American people are not dumb. They’re smart. But they get swayed by very intentional and deliberate campaigns to confuse people, and the scientists are naturally more reserved than that.”

Meanwhile, the frightening headlines keep appearing in our news feeds, and that climate-change clock keeps ticking. “It will scare the beejesus out of you,” Harvey said of the possibility of not progressing during the next four years. He argued that, to have a chance at achieving any meaningful emission-reduction mitigation, “you have to do pretty much everything pretty much right away.”

Right now, we’re just waiting for Jan. 20.

This piece originally appeared in the East Bay Express.

Published in Environment

Many Californians woke up the night after the presidential election thinking they were living in a different country. A few felt so alienated that they publicly raised the possibility of seceding from the United States.

There is no constitutional way, however, to do this. But there is a less radical step that would amount to a limited secession and would require only an act of Congress. Forty-five percent of the land in California is administered by the federal government—including 20 percent of the state in national forests and 15 percent under the Bureau of Land Management. Rather than outright secession, California could try to assert full state sovereignty over all this land.

Until Nov. 8, California wouldn’t have cared about this, but with the prospect of a Donald Trump administration soon managing almost half the land in the state, Californians may want to rethink their traditional stance. Otherwise, they are likely to face more oil and gas drilling, increased timber harvesting, intensive recreational use and more development on federal land in the state.

Much of the rest of the West, moreover, might support this cause. In recent years, Utah has been actively seeking a large-scale transfer of federal lands. During the Obama years, Utah’s government deeply resented the imposition of out-of-state values on the 65 percent of the state that is federally owned—just as California may now come to resent the outside imposition of new land-management practices by a Trump administration.

Utah, ironically, may now see a comprehensive land transfer as less urgent. That has happened before: The election of President Reagan in 1980 took the steam out of the Sagebrush Rebellion in Utah and elsewhere in the West. In retrospect, however, that proved to be shortsighted, as future administrations reversed course and asserted even more authority over Western lands.

If California were to lead the charge—especially with Trump as president—fundamental changes in the federal ownership of land in the West might become more politically feasible than ever before. There are additional strong arguments, moreover, for a transfer of federal lands (excluding national parks and military facilities) in the West to the states today. Over the region as a whole, the federal government owns almost 50 percent of the land. When Washington, D.C., imposes policies and values that conflict with the majority views of the residents of whole states, the federal government, in effect, takes on the role of an occupying force. It may not be traditional colonialism, but there are resemblances.

Defenders of federal land management argue that the public lands belong to all Americans. Although advocates of a federal land transfer promise to keep the lands in state ownership, many Westerners fear that the states might privatize the lands outright or administer them for narrowly private interests. The implicit assumption in this is that there are core national values that should govern public-land management in all the Western states, and that the federal government is best placed to advance these values. But the reality is that Americans are today deeply divided on many fundamental value questions—and these divisions are often geographically based.

Since at least the 1990s, many Westerners have become convinced that the management of federal lands in the West is dysfunctional, no matter what party is in power. This should come as no surprise, since much of Washington itself is dysfunctional.

So I propose the following. Congress should enact a law allowing each state to call a referendum on the question: Do you want the federal government to transfer federal lands in your state (excluding national parks and military lands) to state ownership? If the vote is affirmative, a transfer would follow automatically. You might call it a Scotland solution, adapted to American circumstances.

California could pursue its preservationist values, while Utah could allow wider access to its new lands. With public-land management decentralized to the state level, where there would be greater basic agreement on ends and means, it might finally be possible to overcome the political paralysis of the current federal land management system centered in Washington.

So I say: Let Californians decide if they want to secede, at least in this partial way. Let residents of other Western states decide as well.

Robert H. Nelson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where this piece first appeared. He is a professor in the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland and, from 1975 to 1993, worked for eight secretaries of the Interior Department.

Published in Community Voices

On this weeks nog-drenched weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat predicts a future rescue; Jen Sorenson goes back to the 1990s to warn people about today's goings-on; The K Chronicles tries to buy a house; and This Modern World investigates Internet "news."

Published in Comics

One week after the presidential election, on a summery November day, I phoned Denver-based climate activist Jeremy Nichols.

Nichols has pressured the government to keep its fossil-fuel reserves in the ground, with some success: In January, the Obama administration put a moratorium on federal coal leasing, something unimaginable during the heady drilling years of Bush and Cheney. I called to ask what Nichols expected from the next president. He remarked on the unseasonably warm weather, then lamented, “I’m going to yearn for the George W. Bush days.”

Environmentalists have good reason to worry about President-elect Donald J. Trump. In 2012, Trump tweeted that climate change was a “concept” ginned up by the Chinese. Now, he’s appointed a prominent critic of climate science and policy to oversee the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition. On his new website, Trump promises to grease the permitting skids for fossil fuel production, end the “war on coal,” support renewable energy and scrap the Clean Power Plan. At the same time, he professes a commitment to “our wonderful natural resources.”

The energy industry is delighted. “I think what we’re looking for right off the bat is simply having an administration that is not openly hostile to us,” says Kathleen Sgamma, of the Western Energy Alliance.

Meanwhile, conservationists expect to spend the next four years defending their Obama-era gains. But Obama’s environmental achievements are considerable, and Trump can’t vanquish them with a snap of his fingers. Many power plants have already taken steps to rein in toxic mercury emissions and pollutants that cloud parks and wilderness with brown haze. Obama’s clean car rules have already stood up in court. So far, Obama has designated 27 national monuments—more than any other administration—and the new president has no clear legal authority to erase those protections.

Still, the carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan, one of the president’s most significant accomplishments, is in peril. And the rarely used Congressional Review Act allows Congress to weigh in on any rule finalized after May 30 of this year, according to a Congressional Research Service estimate, by giving it 60 days in session to pass something called a “joint resolution of disapproval.” If the president signs the resolution, the rule is nullified, and agencies are forbidden to issue similar rules.

Here are some of the Obama administration’s achievements and Trump’s position on them, if known, and explain how Trump could attempt to undo them.


Federal Coal Leasing Moratorium

What Obama did: In January, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a “secretarial order” directing the department to stop leasing federal coal reserves, pending a review of the program. Environmentalists like Nichols had pushed for this, arguing that leasing federal coal was inconsistent with Obama’s climate goals, and that the program didn’t deliver fair returns to taxpayers.

Trump’s take: One of the few specific promises Trump has made is to lift the moratorium.

Trump’s options: Trump’s administration can scrap the moratorium with the stroke of a pen—the same way the Obama administration created it.


BLM and EPA Methane Rules

What Obama did: Both the EPA and Bureau of Land Management finalized rules this year to limit the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, vented or flared by oil and gas drilling. The rules would limit those emissions at both new and existing facilities and funnel additional royalties to taxpayers, who don’t currently earn revenue on methane that’s burned as waste.

Trump’s take: We don’t know. However, Trump has positioned himself as a staunch ally of the industry, which vigorously opposes the rules. The BLM’s rule, finalized on Nov. 15, was met immediately with an industry lawsuit. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, released a statement saying he looks forward to helping the new administration rescind the rules.

Trump’s options: Congress could use the Congressional Review Act to ask Trump to nix the rules, or include language in appropriations bills temporarily prohibiting the agencies from using funds for implementation or enforcement. Whatever happens, Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, of the Western Environmental Law Center, notes that waste prevention is a core principle of federal oil and gas law, and says his group will continue to ensure that BLM fulfills its legal obligations.


Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms

What Obama did: In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, The Wilderness Society’s Nada Culver says, you had to visit BLM field offices in person to keep tabs on oil and gas lease sales. Coordinates for parcels up for auction were posted, but you had to map them yourself and protest within a short window. As public-land drilling intensified, encroaching on places like Dinosaur National Monument, environmentalists protested more and filed more lawsuits. The result, says Culver, frustrated everyone: Environmentalists felt that the BLM put too little thought into leasing, and some offices became burdened with multi-year backlogs, a burden for industry.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sought to break the gridlock by increasing public participation and including more upfront planning. Public comment periods now precede lease sales, and the BLM is starting to give citizens more insight into its thinking before it drafts management plans. Master leasing plans, which try to resolve conflicts between industry and others ahead of leasing, are another product of Salazar’s reforms.

Trump’s take: We don’t know. Trump has promised to “lift restrictions” on energy development on public lands, but the Western Energy Alliance says it’s hard to know exactly what that means. Litigation still bogs down leasing and protests continue, Sgamma says, pointing to a WildEarth Guardians lawsuit challenging all leases sold in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming since the start of 2015. She hopes for changes that speed up leasing and permitting.

Trump’s options: The reforms were created through memoranda issued by Salazar, and they could be changed in the same fashion. But whether the new administration will do so is anyone’s guess. Culver notes that the reforms have been incorporated into BLM’s management handbooks, and that reducing public involvement could be politically tricky. “It’s going to be hard to say, ‘Never mind; don’t pay attention to that man behind the curtain making all of the oil and gas decisions.’” Culver contends that there aren’t that many restrictions on development anyway; the market is the primary limiting factor.

Nichols expects some change: “I think we will see Interior move to limit BLM’s discretion to reject leases,” he says.


Waters of the U.S. Rule

What Obama did: This supremely wonky rule allows the feds to regulate pollution in small and intermittent wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act.

Trump’s take: Trump has promised to eliminate what he calls a “highly invasive” rule, opposed by energy companies, agriculture groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many Republicans, who say it represents an egregious expansion of federal regulatory power.

Trump’s options: Since the rule is currently tied up in court, Trump could let the legal system decide its fate. It’s likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which may soon tilt in the GOP’s favor. He could also ask the court to send the rule back to the EPA for revision. However, that process would be open to public comment and ultimately to more litigation.


Offshore Oil Leasing

What Obama did: On Nov. 19, the Obama administration finalized its five-year plan for offshore oil leasing, which determines where leases will be offered through 2022. It canceled proposed lease sales in the Arctic Ocean and put the Atlantic and Pacific coasts off-limits to new leasing.

Trump’s take: We don’t know, but industry groups and Alaska Republicans aren’t happy, and an “infuriated” Sen. Lisa Murkowski has promised to fight the decision.

Trump’s options: The new administration could write a new plan, but probably not quickly. Obama’s plan was developed over two years, and industry interest in Arctic drilling has cooled amid low oil prices. Shell abandoned its exploratory efforts in the Chukchi Sea in 2015, citing disappointing results.

Cally Carswell is a contributing editor for High Country News, where this story first appeared.

Published in Environment