Tag Archives: federal government

Immigration law center flooded with requests for help

The Community Immigration Law Center of Madison reports it has never been busier in responding to immigrants trying to understand the ever-changing immigration legal landscape in the U.S.

“Fear is at an all-time high as everyone from legal scholars to working families try to decipher announced or implied changes in immigration law,” said Grant Sovern, an immigration attorney who volunteers at CILC’s immigration clinic and also chairs the group’s board. “People are scared and lives hang in the balance.”

Sovern said the resources are stretched to the limit as the center attempts to meet an increasing need for consultations and future representation of immigrants, particularly in light of recent news reports that outline presidential orders expanding deportation powers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But Sovern stressed that the center at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham, Madison, is responding to the community needs.

The service has helped more than 2,000 people from 130 countries.

“Increased ICE actions have made our services more important than ever,” said Sovern.

Clinic services currently include:

  •   Training and education on immigration law and immigrants’ rights
  •   Guidance on steps to resolve immigration issues
  •   Referrals to immigration experts and other community resources
  •   Training for volunteer lawyers, interpreters and intake workers.

EPA to keep strict gas mileage standards in place

The EPA has decided not to change government fuel economy requirements that force automakers to significantly increase the efficiency of new cars and trucks.

The decision announced this week follows a mandatory review of the standards established in 2012, when gas averaged $3.60 a gallon and small cars and hybrids were gaining favor.

The standards had required the fleet of new cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But there was a built-in reduction if buying habits changed — and they have, dramatically. Now, gas is averaging close to $2 a gallon and three of every five new vehicles sold in the U.S. are trucks and SUVs. As a result, the 2025 fuel-economy number drops to 50.8 mph.

That decline isn’t enough to satisfy car companies. They say they’re building small cars and electrics to meet the standards, but few consumers are buying them. Automakers had petitioned the government to lessen the standards.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement that based on the agency’s technical analysis, automakers have the technology to meet emissions standards and mileage through 2025. The requirements will increase the new-vehicle fleet’s average gas mileage requirement from 34.1 mpg this year while cutting carbon pollution and saving drivers billions at the pump, the EPA said.

“Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering,” McCarthy said.

The EPA will take public comments on the decision until Dec. 30, meaning McCarthy could finalize the standards before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated in January, even though a decision wasn’t required until April 2018. Trump has said he wants to get rid of the EPA and Myron Ebell, the leader of Trump’s EPA transition team, is director of a libertarian think tank that gets financial support from the fossil fuel industry and opposes “global-warming alarmism.”

The EPA, however, denied the rushed timetable was due to Trump’s election.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that represents 12 automakers, including BMW, Ford, Toyota and General Motors, called the quick decision a “premature rush to judgment” and said it has asked Trump to review post-election regulations.

Ford Motor Co. called the EPA move “eleventh-hour politics in a lame-duck administration” and said it will work with the new administration and Congress. Ford has been a frequent target of criticism by Trump due to its plans to move some production to Mexico.

Environmentalists backed the EPA’s decision. Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said the standards already have pushed average new-vehicle gas mileage up by 5 mpg since 2007, reducing America’s oil use and helping to drive down gasoline prices worldwide.

Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said automakers have multiple technological pathways to meet the standards, from direct-injection gas engines to hybrids and electric vehicles. The industry is ahead of schedule, she said. More than 100 vehicles on the market are already meeting standards set for 2020. But electric vehicles still haven’t caught on. Last year EVs were less than 1 percent of U.S. new car sales.

“Leaving the standards as they are would give automakers the time they need,” McCabe said.

Automakers have warned that meeting the standards would result in additional costs that would be passed on to the consumer. McCabe said Wednesday that the estimated cost of the standards has fallen. The cost per vehicle to meet the 2025 standards is now $825, down from $1,100 in 2012, she said. Owners can easily make that back in savings at the pump, she said.

The industry has argued that the costs and consumer reluctance to buy the smallest, most efficient vehicles mean the industry will have trouble complying. “The evidence is abundantly clear that with low gas prices, consumers are not choosing the cars necessary to comply with increasingly unrealistic standards,” the Auto Alliance said.

Even if Trump rolls back the standards, the industry will continue to sell fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. because it has to meet mileage standards in other countries and California. “Automakers will still be on the hook to develop and produce these vehicles and will need economies of scale to make them profitable,” said Autotrader Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs.

Anti-government militants acquitted on conspiracy charges

A federal court jury delivered a surprise verdict on Oct. 27, acquitting anti-government militant leader Ammon Bundy and six followers of conspiracy charges stemming from their role in the armed takeover of a wildlife center in Oregon earlier this year.

The outcome marked a stinging defeat for federal prosecutors and law enforcement in a trial the defendants sought to turn into a pulpit for airing their opposition to government control over millions of acres of public lands in the West.

Bundy and others, including his brother and co-defendant Ryan Bundy, cast the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a patriotic act of civil disobedience. Prosecutors called it a lawless scheme to seize federal property by force.

Jubilant supporters of the Bundys thronged the courthouse after the verdict, hailing the trial’s outcome as vindication of a political ideology that is profoundly distrustful of federal authority and challenges its legitimacy.

“We’re so grateful to the jurors who weren’t swayed by the nonsense that was going on,” defendant Shawna Cox told reporters. “God said we weren’t guilty. We weren’t guilty of anything.”

As the seven-week-long trial in the U.S. District Court in Portland climaxed, U.S. marshals wrestled to the floor Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, as he argued heatedly with the judge over the terms of his client’s continued detention.

The Bundys still face assault, conspiracy and other charges from a separate armed standoff in 2014 at the Nevada ranch of their father, Cliven Bundy, triggered when federal agents seized his cattle for his failure to pay grazing fees for his use of public land.

The outcome of the Oregon trial clearly shocked many in the packed courtroom. Attorneys exchanged looks of astonishment with the defendants, then hugged their clients as the not-guilty verdicts were read amid gasps from spectators.

Outside the courthouse, supporters celebrated by shouting “Hallelujah” and reading passages from the U.S. Constitution. One man rode his horse, named Lady Liberty, in front of the courthouse carrying an American flag.

The verdict came after four days of deliberations. One juror, a former federal employee, was dismissed over questions of bias on Wednesday and replaced by a substitute.

The 12-member panel found all seven defendants — six men and a woman — not guilty of the most serious charge, conspiracy to impede federal officers through intimidation, threats or force. That charge alone carried a maximum penalty of six years in prison.

The defendants also were acquitted of illegal possession of firearms in a federal facility and theft of government property, except in the case of Ryan Bundy, for whom jurors were deadlocked on the charge of theft.

The takeover of the wildlife refuge was initially sparked by outrage over the plight of two imprisoned Oregon ranchers the occupiers believed had been unfairly treated in an arson case. But the militants said they were also protesting larger grievances at what they saw as government tyranny.

The standoff led to the shooting death of one protester, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, by police shortly after the Bundy brothers were arrested, and left parts of the refuge badly damaged.

More than two dozen people, in all, have been criminally charged in the occupation, and a second group of defendants is due to stand trial in February.

 

Deputy AG Yates remarks to Tribal Nations Conference

Remarks by Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington Sept. 26.

Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for that warm welcome. Attorney General Lynch had planned to be here with you today, but she is out of town and her return was delayed, so I have the honor of being with you in her absence. I want to thank President Obama for once again hosting this important summit.  It is a pleasure and a privilege to join with so many who care deeply about the relationship between the federal government and the first Americans.

We take this opportunity at the final White House Tribal Nations Conference to reflect on our remarkable accomplishments over the last eight years, to rededicate ourselves to the challenges we still face, and to reaffirm our commitment to creating a stronger and safer nation for all our people – none of which would be possible without President Obama’s leadership, his vision, and his commitment to this vital issue.

Today, as a result of our shared efforts, the relationship between the federal government and the nation’s 567 sovereign tribes – a relationship rooted in mutual respect and sustained by open dialogue – has never been stronger.  To be sure, it is not a perfect relationship.  But it is a relationship of which we can all be proud.

Attorney General Lynch and I are especially proud of the role that the Department of Justice has played in renewing and enriching ties between the tribes and the United States. Consultations are now a cornerstone of our tribal work – including the consultations with Alaska Natives that Attorney General Lynch announced earlier this year.

Our Office of Tribal Justice, now a permanent fixture of the department, has worked tirelessly to respond to your concerns and advance justice in Indian Country.  That is exactly what we are doing near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where earlier this month, along with the Army and the Interior Department, we released the joint statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline that you have all seen.

And we are building a consultation framework to better allow for timely and meaningful tribal input on these vital infrastructure projects.

But perhaps nothing better exemplifies our new relationship than the work we have done to resolve one of the most intractable sources of tension between tribes and the government.  As you know, for decades, tribes have filed claims against the U.S. for the past mismanagement of both their funds and their natural resources held in trust by the federal government.  And today, I am proud to announce that thanks to the efforts of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, the U.S. has settled the trust accounting and mismanagement claims of 90 federally recognized tribes since 2009.  And we are close to settling with 11 others, for a grand total of settlements with 104 tribes amounting to $3.3 billion.  This is an important achievement that will end, honorably and fairly, decades of contention that not only sapped valuable resources, but also strained relationships.

Healing these old wounds cleared the way for new initiatives, starting with programs and partnerships designed to improve public safety.  From working with tribes and Congress to pass the Tribal Law and Order Act, to cross-designating Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute cases in both federal and tribal courts; and from training tribal prosecutors to giving tribal authorities full access to national crime databases – at every step along the way, we have sought to present a united front against crime in Indian country.

We placed particular emphasis on safeguarding Native women, who, according to one study, face a one in three chance of being raped in their lifetimes – an appalling figure that we simply cannot tolerate.  That is why we directed every U.S. Attorney’s Office with Indian Country jurisdiction to enhance their responses to sexual assault within Indian Country.  And that is why we fought so hard to include new provisions in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 that, for the first time in decades, empowered Native women who are abused by non-Indians.  This was a tremendous victory that has significantly increased the number of sexual assault prosecutions brought by both tribal and federal authorities on Indian lands.  I am also pleased to announce that for the first time ever, the department’s Office on Violence Against Women is awarding over $2.1 million to seven tribes to support their work implementing tribal criminal jurisdiction over these non-Native domestic violence offenders.

We also expanded our assistance to tribes through the creation of the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, or CTAS, which consolidated most of the department’s tribal grant programs into a single application.  These vital grants support everything from hiring law enforcement officers to empowering native youth, giving tribes the resources they need to meet the particular challenges facing their communities.  And today, it is my privilege to announce that in fiscal year 2016, we are making 236 awards under the solicitation, for a total of more than $102 million dollars.  With this announcement, we will have awarded more than $726 million in CTAS grants during the Obama Administration.

We could not be prouder of all that we have accomplished over the last eight years.  Everything that we have done together has been founded on a simple premise: that we are nations who share a common land, and citizens who share a common country.  On that basis, we have made strides together to build a strong relationship between the federal government and sovereign tribal nations – a relationship that we have built to last, no matter the turn of the electoral wheel.  This relationship has been woven into the fabric of the Department of Justice through the principles we have declared and the initiatives we have fostered.  This relationship – this sacred partnership – is one of this administration’s proudest legacies.  It is a testament to what we have done.  But more importantly, it is a foundation for what we will do.  And because of the friendship and partnership that we have forged together – the friendship and partnership that I see as I look around this room – I am not just hopeful, but certain, that although this administration is drawing to an end, our work together to build a stronger, a safer, and a more just society for every American is only just beginning.

Let me thank each of you for your commitment to and your investment in that work over the last eight years.  Thank you for being a trusted partner and a valued ally to the Department of Justice.  I look forward to all that we will achieve – together – in the days to come.  Thank you.

Standing Rock’s pipeline protest swells into a movement

CANNON BALL, North Dakota — A Native American tribe’s efforts to halt construction of a crude oil pipeline in North Dakota have swelled into a movement, drawing international attention and the support of movie stars and social media, and making a major oil company blink.

While the tribe’s lawyers work to persuade a federal judge to withdraw permits for the pipeline in a ruling expected on Friday, thousands of protesters gathered at campgrounds near Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lands.

While the tribe’s lawyers work to persuade a federal judge to withdraw permits for the pipeline in a ruling expected on Friday, thousands of protesters gathered at campgrounds near Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lands.

“This is a new beginning, not just for our tribe, but for all tribes in this country,” said Standing Rock Sioux spokesman Ron His Horse is Thunder, one of the leaders hoping for a rebirth of Native American activism beyond the pipeline battle.

“This is a new beginning, not just for our tribe, but for all tribes in this country,” said Standing Rock Sioux spokesman Ron His Horse is Thunder, one of the leaders hoping for a rebirth of Native American activism beyond the pipeline battle.Representatives of 200 tribes and environmentalists have set up camp in the rolling hills near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers in

Representatives of 200 tribes and environmentalists have set up camp in the rolling hills near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers in sight of the proposed pipeline route.They say the planned pipeline, near but not on tribal land, runs through a sacred burial ground and could leak, polluting nearby rivers and poisoning the tribe’s water source.

They say the planned pipeline, near but not on tribal land, runs through a sacred burial ground and could leak, polluting nearby rivers and poisoning the tribe’s water source.

The 1,100 mile (1,770 km), $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline would carry oil from just north of the tribe’s land in North Dakota to Illinois, where it would hook up to an existing pipeline and route crude directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.Protesters have included actress Shailene Woodley and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who authorities say is part of a group under investigation for illegally spray-painting construction equipment at the site.

Protesters have included actress Shailene Woodley and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who authorities say is part of a group under investigation for illegally spray-painting construction equipment at the site.

“Our indigenous people have been warning for 500 years that the destruction of Mother Earth is going to come back and it’s going to harm us,” said David Archambault, tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux. “Now our voices are getting louder.”On Tuesday, U.S. Judge James Boasberg granted in part the tribe’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the

On Tuesday, U.S. Judge James Boasberg granted in part the tribe’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the project, and said he would decide by Friday whether to grant the larger challenge to the pipeline, which would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw permits.Protesters were disappointed that the judge did not shut down construction altogether, but savored a small win when the group of companies building the pipeline, led by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners through its Dakota Access subsidiary, agreed to stop some work until the final ruling.

Protesters were disappointed that the judge did not shut down construction altogether, but savored a small win when the group of companies building the pipeline, led by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners through its DakotaAccess subsidiary, agreed to stop some work until the final ruling.

Access subsidiary, agreed to stop some work until the final ruling.
The pipeline was fast-tracked by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year, but the project has been dogged by protests since April.It was envisioned as a safer way to transport highly flammable oil extracted from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada than on trains.

It was envisioned as a safer way to transport highly flammable oil extracted from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada than on trains.In June, a Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames in Oregon, forcing the evacuation of a school and the closure of a highway. In 2013, a runaway train in Canada crashed, killing 47 people and destroying buildings in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic.

In June, a Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames in Oregon, forcing the evacuation of a school and the closure of a highway. In 2013, a runaway train in Canada crashed, killing 47 people and destroying buildings in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic.

DIGGING IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is one of six reservations in the Dakotas that are all that remain of what was once the Great Sioux Reservation, which comprised all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River, including the Black Hills, which are considered sacred, according to the tribe’s website.The tribe has 15,000 members in the United States including as many as 8,000 in North and South Dakota. The reservation covers about 9,300 square miles (24,087 square km).

The tribe has 15,000 members in the United States including as many as 8,000 in North and South Dakota. The reservation covers about 9,300 square miles (24,087 square km).At campsites dotted with white tepees and colorful tents, many people prepared for the long haul.

At campsites dotted with white tepees and colorful tents, many people prepared for the long haul.”People are ready to stay through winter,” said Allyson Two Bears, who sits on the tribe’s emergency response team.

“People are ready to stay through winter,” said Allyson Two Bears, who sits on the tribe’s emergency response team.Members of an Ojibwe tribe are helping to erect lodges capable of withstanding North Dakota cold, and people from as far away as London and South Korea have joined the protest, signing their names to a map at the campsite.

Members of an Ojibwe tribe are helping to erect lodges capable of withstanding North Dakota cold, and people from as far away as London and South Korea have joined the protest, signing their names to a map at the campsite.The tribe has also enlisted the help of online petition website Change.org, which helped it gather more than 250,000 signatures on a petition to stop the pipeline. Youth members of the tribe aged 6 to 25 ran a relay race from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to deliver the petitions.

The tribe has also enlisted the help of online petition website Change.org, which helped it gather more than 250,000 signatures on a petition to stop the pipeline. Youth members of the tribe aged 6 to 25 ran a relay race from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to deliver the petitions.The protest and lawsuit by the Standing Rock Sioux are not the first efforts by Native American and environmental groups to stop or reroute planned pipelines through culturally or environmentally sensitive areas.

The protest and lawsuit by the Standing Rock Sioux are not the first efforts by Native American and environmental groups to stop or reroute planned pipelines through culturally or environmentally sensitive areas.Aboriginal Canadian and Native American groups have opposed the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to Nebraska, along with other pipeline projects.

Aboriginal Canadian and Native American groups have opposed the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to Nebraska, along with other pipeline projects.
Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has said he would approve TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline proposal if elected, reversing a decision by the administration of President Barack Obama to block it over environmental concerns. TransCanada has sued the U.S government to reverse Obama’s rejection of the pipeline.The Standing Rock Sioux have hired a political campaign director to publicize their actions to stop the North Dakota pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux have hired a political campaign director to publicize their actions to stop the North Dakota pipeline.”They’ve been making really good use of social media as part of this and that has actually changed the way Native American activism takes place,” said Katherine Hayes, chair of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

“They’ve been making really good use of social media as part of this and that has actually changed the way Native American activism takes place,” said Katherine Hayes, chair of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St. Paul.The Standing Rock Sioux sued in July. Last month, celebrity activists joined about 100 members of the tribe outside a Washington, D.C., courthouse where hearings were being held, while others demonstrated in North Dakota.

The Standing Rock Sioux sued in July. Last month, celebrity activists joined about 100 members of the tribe outside a Washington, D.C., courthouse where hearings were being held, while others demonstrated in North Dakota.Over the weekend of Sept. 3, protesters broke through a wire fence in an attempt to chase bulldozers grading the land. They were met by pipeline security staff and guard dogs.

Over the weekend of Sept. 3, protesters broke through a wire fence in an attempt to chase bulldozers grading the land. They were met by pipeline security staff and guard dogs.Actress Susan Sarandon, who joined the Washington protest, said she was there to help publicize the tribe’s cause.

Actress Susan Sarandon, who joined the Washington protest, said she was there to help publicize the tribe’s cause.”These kinds of things happen when people don’t have a voice,” Sarandon said, referring to the government’s decision to fast-track the project. “We have to give them a voice.”

“These kinds of things happen when people don’t have a voice,” Sarandon said, referring to the government’s decision to fast-track the project. “We have to give them a voice.”

Images from the protest site, by Reuters

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EPA finalizing plans to supply water in Kewaunee

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it’s finalizing a plan to supply water to some residents of Kewaunee County of northeastern Wisconsin, where manure from large dairy farms is being blamed for contaminated wells.

Robert Kaplan, acting regional administrator for the EPA, told residents at a meeting organized by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin this past week that his agency will announce a plan within the next month to supply residents who have tainted wells. This is according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carried by the AP.

Farming practices have been a source of friction in many areas of Wisconsin.

The issue has been especially visible in Kewaunee County, which has longstanding groundwater problems, a large cattle population, and fractured bedrock that allows manure, waste from septic systems and other pollutants to trickle more quickly into aquifers.

In March, six environmental groups called on the EPA to step in and clean up unsafe drinking water in Kewaunee County.

“It is unacceptable that more than one-third of the private drinking water wells in Kewaunee County are unsafe — contaminated with bacteria, nitrates and other pollutants,” Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said at the time.

Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Midwest Environmental Defense Center, Kewaunee Cares, Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin and Environmental Integrity Project wrote to the EPA and requested federal support for clean, safe drinking water.

Also, in October 2014, the groups petitioned the EPA, asking for intervention under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA, in a letter sent to the agency’s Chicago office, was asked to:

  • Immediately provide Kewaunee County residents with clean water.
  • Expedite test results of well water contamination.
  • Issue emergency rule changes to ensure the DNR has authority to protect water.
  • Provide more research and groundwater monitoring on sources of pollution.

The groups also asked the EPA to monitor closely the DNR’s efforts to develop a plan to implement recommendations.

 

 

Justice Dept. orders phasing out of private federal prisons

The U.S. Justice Department announced on Aug. 18 that it was ordering the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin phasing out the use of private prisons.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision in a post on the Justice Department’s website. Yates said the order includes amending the solicitation for five private prisons in Texas from 10,800 prisoners to 3,600.

By May 2017, the Bureau of Prisons is expected to have 14,000 prisoners in private prisons, a decline of about 50 percent from a peak a few years ago. The bureau was instructed that as contracts come up for renewal, it is to reduce the numbers and, if possible, not renew the contracts.

David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, responded to the news in a press statement:  “This is an important and groundbreaking decision. With its announcement today, the Justice Department has made clear that the end of the Bureau of Prisons’ two-decade experiment with private prisons is finally in sight. The ACLU applauds today’s decision and calls on other agencies — both state and federal — to stop handing control of prisons to for-profit companies.”

Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the government is taking a “more humane and budget-conscious approach to dealing with one of the country’s most intractable problems.”

Henderson continued, “People in private prisons are more likely to be assaulted, have less access to basic rehabilitative services, and leave worse off than when they arrived.

“This is also a positive indication that the smart-on-crime approach to fair sentencing is slowly shrinking the largest prison population in human history.”

Another outspoken critic of the private prison system, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, applauded the decision.

In a statement issued on Aug. 18, Sanders, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, said, “Our criminal justice system is broken and in need of major reforms. The Justice Department’s plan to end its use of private prisons is an important step in the right direction. It is exactly what I campaigned on as a candidate for president.

“It is an international embarrassment that we put more people behind bars than any other country on earth. Due in large part to private prisons, incarceration has been a source of major profits to private corporations. Study after study after study has shown private prisons are not cheaper, they are not safer, and they do not provide better outcomes for either the prisoners or the state.

“We have got to end the private prison racket in America as quickly as possible. Our focus should be on keeping people out of jail and making sure they stay out when they are released.  This means funding jobs and education not more jails and incarceration.”

On the web

Read Sally Yates’ blog post here.

Sioux tribe sues Army Corps over Bakken pipeline project

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act after the agency issued permits for a massive crude oil pipeline stretching from North Dakota to Illinois.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Washington D.C., by Earthjustice, says the Corps dismissed tribal concerns and ignored the pipeline’s impacts to sacred sites and culturally important landscapes.

The Dakota Access Pipeline project, also known as Bakken Oil Pipeline, would extend 1,168 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, crossing through communities, farms, tribal land, sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat.

The pipeline would carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois where it will link with another pipeline that will transport the oil to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

The pipeline would travel through the tribe’s ancestral lands and pass within a half mile of the reservation.

The permit allows for the digging of the pipeline under the Missouri River just upstream of the reservation and the tribe’s drinking water supply.

An oil spill at this site would threaten the tribe’s culture and way of life, the plaintiffs claim.

“The corps puts our water and the lives and livelihoods of many in jeopardy,” said Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, based in Fort Yates, North Dakota. “We have laws that require federal agencies to consider environmental risks and protection of Indian historic and sacred sites. But the Army Corps has ignored all those laws and fast-tracked this massive project just to meet the pipeline’s aggressive construction schedule.”

“There have been shopping malls that have received more environmental review and Tribal consultation than this massive crude oil pipeline,” added Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe in the litigation. “Pipelines spill and leak — it’s not a matter of if, but when. Construction will destroy sacred and historically significant sites. We need to take a time out and ensure that the Corps follows the law before rushing ahead with permits.”

Despite objections by the Standing Rock Sioux and other organizations, construction of the pipeline has begun.

The Standing Rock Sioux have led a national campaign to draw attention to the pipeline.

The tribe has launched an international campaign, called Rezpect our Water, asking the Army Corps to deny the key permits for the pipeline.

In late July, tribal youth were running from North Dakota to Washington D.C., to deliver the 140,000 petition signatures to the Army Corps.

PETA: Fine too low for death of primates at research facility

The federal government fined a private research facility after 13 primates died of hyperthermia in overheated rooms.

Covance Research Products in Alice was fined $31,500 for four violations of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act following the 2014 deaths of the cynomolgus monkeys, said Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Animal rights activists said the fines were too low.

Espinosa said the maximum penalty for a single violation of the law is $10,000, so the maximum fine Covance faced was $40,000.

Two animals died in September 2014, when a thermostat malfunctioned at the facility.

The other deaths were caused by a similar incident about a month later, when a thermostat override switch failed.

The USDA issued a citation to Covance saying that it “failed to protect the health and well-being” of the animals.

The citation also found other primates suffered in July 2014, when they weren’t given water or proper care after being flown into Texas for Covance experiments.

“Covance directed transporters to travel without stopping to the Covance facility, despite being aware that the airline had not provided water as required, that the transport trailers’ air conditioning units were malfunctioning and that at least five nonhuman primates were weak and in distress,” the citation said.

Animal rights activists said the fines were too low.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said Covance was a “brazen violator” of animal welfare laws and that fines “could and should be substantially higher if they are going to deter violations.”

Covance didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company has said the Alice facility would be manually monitored until it added electronic temperature monitoring and alerts.

The company has headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey, and provides animal testing to aid in the development of drugs for an array of ailments, from heart disease to diabetes.

“Covance takes very seriously our ethical and regulatory responsibilities to treat research animals with the utmost care and respect,” the company said in a statement following the primate deaths.

Research and other facilities face unannounced USDA inspections each year, Espinosa said.

“We make sure they have fixed those areas of noncompliance, absolutely,” she said.

Wis. Republicans hand over local control to corporate America

There’s a theory in politics — subsidiarity — that maintains higher levels of government should handle only tasks that cannot be accomplished at lower levels. National defense is a good example of how that theory works; it’s not left to each state or city to defend itself.

In that spirit, the Republican Party’s stated goal is to reduce the power and scope of the federal government. State government, their argument goes, is more democratic and accountable than Washington. State officials have a deeper understanding of the unique challenges, values and goals of their constituents. And in turn, local office-holders have a deeper understanding of their own constituents than does the state.

It’s not an unreasonable position, until you start to distort it beyond recognition. And that’s exactly what Wisconsin Republicans have done.

First, to show their disdain for the feds, Wisconsin Republicans made a great show of turning down federal funds after capturing control of state government in 2011. Showily flexing his ideological bicep, Gov. Scott Walker turned down about $2 billion for Medicare expansion, high-speed rail development, and high-speed internet expansion in the state. It didn’t seem to bother him or his GOP colleagues that a portion of that money would originally came from Wisconsin taxpayers. Nor did it seem to concern them that the move cost the state thousands of jobs, as well as expanded health care and an improved business environment. Wisconsin now has the second-highest insurance rates in the nation.

In short, your representatives at the state level cut off your nose to spite Washington’s face — all in the name of local empowerment.

Yet, in a glaring philosophical disconnect, Wisconsin’s Republican leaders also believe — in the strongest way possible — that the virtues of local control come to a screeching halt at the doors of the state Capitol. Ever since they’ve commanded the state, Republicans have engaged in an unprecedented usurpation of municipal, village and other local government bodies’ powers in order to stop them from interfering with the moneyed interests that feather their nests.

A memo issued earlier this year by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailed more than 100 ways in which the Republican Legislature and the governor have eliminated local control while also increasing the number of unfunded mandates — i.e., costs — passed on to local communities. The Republicans’ actions have made it impossible for many local elected officials to balance their budgets while providing services for their constituents. That’s one of the reasons your potholes don’t get filled.

Just a few weeks ago, in his latest assault at local control, Walker signed a law taking away the power of local jurisdictions to protect their water. The Republican-backed law forbids municipalities from stopping property owners who want to develop land or transfer properties to erect projects that could harm local water supplies. According to the new law, in legal cases where property owners are at odds with local ordinances protecting natural resources, presiding judges must rule in favor of the property owners over the good of nearly everyone else.

That law was part of what the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters calls a “developers’ grab bag,” which along with a comparable “polluters’ grab bag,” has given polluting industries and land developers free rein over the state’s natural resources by granting them authority over local governments.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has done his part to support this campaign, which makes corporations not just people but Super People. In mid-May, he ruled that environmental officials at the Department of Natural Resources cannot make decisions about high-capacity wells in order to prevent damage to local water supplies — not if Big Ag disagrees with those decisions. Schimel’s ruling puts the state’s groundwater, lakes and streams in jeopardy.

It’s not only environmental authority that the state’s GOP leaders have usurped. In the past legislative session, Republican changes included disrupting Wisconsin’s popular and cost-effective system of delivering services to seniors and those with disabilities. The party opted instead to turn those services over to for-profit companies. Republicans are also interfering with local school board elections.

By electing a solid Republican majority, voters in the state have empowered their own disempowerment while making very rich strangers even richer.

How’s that for subsidiarity?