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On this week's treason-fearing weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles offers a tip o' the hat to the protesters in London; This Modern World previews the path to the Supreme Court; Jen Sorenson ponders the pros and cons of the likely new Supreme Court; Red Meat judges a posedown; and Apoca Clips listens in as Trumpy and Putin get ready to play.

Published in Comics

Melissa Etheridge’s career has been undeniably magnificent.

The Kansas native continues to reach impressive highs more than 30 years after she started playing the club circuit around Boston while attending the Berklee College of Music. Today, she’s an iconic singer-songwriter—and an inspirational force in the LGBT community.

She’ll be playing at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Friday, March 2. During a recent phone interview, she discussed her Midwestern upbringing.

“I grew up with the feeling that you play fair, work hard, and you love yourself and your family,” Etheridge said. “The Midwestern values stick with me, and I think the best of people.”

Early in Etheridge’s career, four songs from her first two albums were included in the film soundtrack for the 1992 film Where the Day Takes You, a low-budget film about teenage runaways in Los Angeles—with an incredibly impressive cast that included Sean Astin, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle, Christian Slater and other actors who would later become big names.

“Before I was signed to Island Records to record, I had a publishing deal at A&M,” Etheridge explained. “(A&M publishing head) Lance Freed saw something in me, but A&M Records never signed me for whatever reason, so I was a staff writer, and there was this bad B-movie called Scenes From the Goldmine that this guy Marc Rocco was directing. I met him, and he immediately became a big fan when I put out my first album. When I was recording my second album, he was making Where the Day Takes You, and he really wanted to use those songs from my albums, and I was like, ‘Dude, thank you! I appreciate that.’ The film was never really big, even though there were a lot of stars in it, but it was an amazing little film, and I love what he did with it. It was a pretty dark movie for back then, but it was about longing and 20-something angst—and that’s kind of what was going on at the time.”

Etheridge has never been afraid to get personal in her songwriting.

“I never felt (afraid),” she said. “In the beginning, I wondered, ‘My goodness! Am I revealing too much about myself?’ But that was back before anyone knew anything about me. The one thing I realized is the more personal I got, the more universal I became. People related to it, and it was an interesting phenomenon.”

In January 1993, during Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Etheridge performed at the Triangle Ball—and came out as a lesbian. Etheridge’s career was taking off: That same year, she released her fourth album, and her most successful to date, Yes I Am.

“I always think the best of the world, and I think the world has the capacity to really do anything. I just came out with honesty, made a record that I loved, and felt like the songs were from my heart and the best I could do,” she said. “I just believed. I stepped out and was very happy. I’m sure there are people who didn’t buy it because they knew I was gay, but I think most people just liked the music. I think the general population is more capable of what we think they are capable of.”

I personally believe one of Etheridge’s most shining moments came at the concert to celebrate the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in September 1995 in Cleveland. She performed covers of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” Diana Ross and the Supremes’ “Love Child” and The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.”

“Ooh, that was fun! They approached me and said, ‘We want to pay tribute to the girl groups,’” Etheridge said. “I thought that the greatest were The Ronettes, and ‘Be My Baby’—you don’t get much better than that. Then you have The Supremes, and my favorite song growing up was The Shangri-Las’ ‘Leader of the Pack.’ That was the most bad-girl kind of song. I put them all together, and I thought, ‘Can I make this a monstrosity of a melody?’ Man, that was a lot of fun doing it, and we just rocked it, too.”

When Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, Etheridge was amazed at the success of not only her song “I Need to Wake Up,” but of the documentary itself.

“It was a pivotal point in documentary filmmaking in the sense that documentaries really had a way to get information to people in a straightforward way without going through the censors and corporate advertisers,” she said. “You just make your documentary. Seeing the boom that happened after that was amazing. I remember when Al (Gore) first called me and asked me if I would write a song for his slideshow, and I thought how sweet that was. Then he said, ‘They’re making a documentary of my slide show.’ I thought it was great, and I thought it would be shown in some high schools. To see the effect and the great work it did, and the changing of the world—that summer was astounding for me. I learned a lot just by creating work you love and bringing it to the people.”

Touring with an environmentalist mindset is difficult for many artists, given that tours are notoriously not environmentally friendly, thanks to emissions of tour buses, the usage of disposable plastics during mealtimes, and so on.

“It is a very difficult process, and we do the best we can,” Etheridge said. “For many years, we toured on biodiesels, and then they just sort of faded out. I’m seeing where we are going, and I think fossil fuels will be a thing of the past soon. But in the meantime, we do the best we can. We don’t have Styrofoam, and plastics are discouraged.”

Etheridge said she still feels good about her music career, despite all the changes in the music industry.

“My love has always been performing live, so I don’t complain about that at all,” she said. “I have thousands and thousands of people who still want to come see me, and I’m so grateful for that. I’m also still creating music, and I’m making a new album right now. I see the changes, yet I don’t see it as a bad thing. I think people still consume large amounts of music, and it still defines where they’re at personally. When they travel or clean the house, they listen to music. The way the general public gets its music has changed, and I think you just do what you love and don’t worry about how people are getting it—because if it’s good, it gets out there.”

Melissa Etheridge will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, March 2, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $65, and were close to selling out as of press time. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Published in Previews

When I stopped standing in school for the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, no one noticed. Not only was I not famous; I wasn’t even popular.

But it was already clear to me—almost 50 years ago—that I was primarily a citizen of a planet, not of a nation, especially not a nation that used young people as fodder in a baffling war, and a nation that diminished women and demonized people of color, although I would not have used that language then. Still, I knew enough to be disturbed by the images of war and the Civil Rights Movement that I saw on television and Life magazine. 

Maybe the knowledge that I was basically invisible gave me the courage to resist the flag-waving agenda. Perhaps I was slightly odder than other 16- or 17-year-olds. I’d grown up a little wild and a little dreamy, by a lake in the remnant forest of Washington state, and so I felt allied with the earth, with land and creatures. This was well before the first Earth Day in 1970, and long before the language and concepts of biodiversity and ecology became widespread.

The times have changed. In recent months, sports players, protesting racial injustice, have made headlines for “taking a knee” during the national anthem. I admire the courage it takes to risk one’s career in public dissent. Sometimes I feel like a privileged coward. I seldom attend events that include the national anthem or flag allegiance, so I have few occasions to risk not standing.

Since the breakdown of civil discourse and rise of anonymous Internet bullying (and worse), it’s now risky to be regarded as “unpatriotic”—a word with multiple interpretations. For some, patriotism involves protecting water or the integrity of wild ecosystems, or creating resilient communities; for others, it means strip-mining or clear-cutting to create jobs. Some patriots focus on the common good; for others, self-interest may be primary. In the rural West, patriotism may run in the Cliven Bundy direction.

Disparate views and voices today often clash with the intent to dominate, intimidate or silence the less powerful. Respectful listening is no longer a high priority, if it ever was. Yet democracy depends on the flourishing of a spectrum of voices. I write letters to government officials; I sign petitions; I make modest donations.

For years now, though, my opposition to the politics and policies that undermine our life-support system has shape-shifted into a different kind of participation in the world—a kind of deep listening to the wild earth, where, it turns out, biodiversity is robustly expressed by an orchestra of wild voices.

Over decades, the bio-acoustic engineer Bernie Krause has recorded natural sound habitats all over the world. His careful listening led to the discovery that creatures vocalize in relationship to one another, in a specific frequency and timeframe— or acoustic bandwidth—in which their voices can be heard. Krause proposed the once-radical idea that, if a species’ particular vocal niche is lost, the creature can no longer survive in that ecosystem, and will move on, or die out. Today, many of the once-thriving wild habitats that Krause has recorded have gone mute, overcome by human activity.

In our tweet-infested social media maelstrom, dominant voices are often mistaken for those that contribute meaningfully to the cultural conversation, mistaken for offerings that nourish our collective ecosystem. In divisive times, it’s challenging to refrain from demonizing those with different views. It’s easy to regard others as uninformed or somehow deficient. Easy, and about as fruitful as adding motor oil to compost.

Healthy ecosystems include predators and prey, grass and grass-eaters, bacteria and hosts. Is there a more ecologically coherent response to our moment than bludgeoning one another with opinions, shouting over the shy ones, cordoning off those whose views disagree with our own?

I want to honor the quiet speech of the most vulnerable. I want, especially, to honor and offer wild prayers for the continued howls, creaks, grunts, chitters and caws of the Others. Somehow, nearly 50 years ago, I recognized that my primary allegiance was to the wild Earth—not to a nation-state or flag. I did not have Gary Snyder’s poet-philosopher sensibilities, or even his poem “For All,” which may not have been written yet. But when I came across the poem decades later, I resonated, and still do, with Snyder’s vow:

I pledge allegiance to the soil

of Turtle Island,

and to the beings who thereon dwell

one ecosystem

in diversity

under the sun

With joyful interpenetration for all.

When the trail disappears in rubble, or when there are a thousand plotlines to choose from, or when the conditions are divisive and the dominant voices are clashing, it’s essential to have some kind of compass, some allegiance, by which to steer.

Geneen Marie Haugen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is a writer who also guides for Animas Valley Institute in Durango, Colo.

Published in Community Voices

BONN, Germany—The camera and lights switched on, and Ole Torp, the Charlie Rose of Norway, leaned in, silver hair flashing, and posed his first question to Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Is the world going to hell?”

“Yes,” Brown answered swiftly.

The interview, taped last week in Oslo, was declared a fabulous success, one the television audience would quite enjoy.

On a nearly two-week swing through Europe—starting at the Vatican and ending at the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn—Brown offered a bleak appraisal of the global future: We are on a trajectory toward hell. It’s a headlong rush to a very unpleasant outcome. Mankind is on the chopping block.

Yet Brown dazzled. His message—the planet is burning up, and our oil-driven way of life must change—brought Vatican scientists to their feet. European parliamentarians in Brussels swooned, calling him a warrior. In Oslo, an international group of scientists paid Brown their highest compliment: inviting him to their inner sanctum for a day-long “dialogue,” a dreary recitation of the looming crash of spaceship Earth. Students in Stuttgart, inheritors of the mess Brown describes, mobbed the 79-year-old for selfies.

It wasn’t all adulation, all the time. A rebuke from a couple of parliamentarians in Brussels led to a sharp exchange over the effect of climate-change policies on the poor. And hecklers tried to shout down the governor during a speech in Bonn as they protested his oil policies.

But the criticism did little to deter Brown, who was on message throughout the trip: Climate change is a serious threat, but California is doing its part—and, especially, come to San Francisco next year for a climate conference that gets things accomplished.

In the absence of climate policy from the U.S. government, or recognition that human activity has played a role in warming the world, Brown has become a de facto climate leader—Al Gore 2.0, as an Afghan journalist here observed offhandedly. During his November trip, Brown was repeatedly called on to voice an opinion on President Trump’s assertion that climate change is a hoax. He told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a taped interview that “Trump better get on board or get out of the way.” On most other occasions, Brown largely held his fire, perhaps not wanting to give the president’s arguments any oxygen.

Mostly, he focused on burnishing California’s “green” reputation—and his own, as he looks ahead to life after Sacramento, a subject he won’t go near. Brown reminded his audiences that the state has the nation’s strictest fuel standards, subsidizes electric cars, and demands the most energy-efficient buildings. He held sessions with members of the Under2 Coalition, a group of more than 200 nations, states and provinces that have pledged to reduce carbon emissions and work with each other to meet the goals of the U.N.’s 2015 Paris climate agreement. That includes a commitment to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The group, which Brown helped create, is gaining in heft, with several new members acquired during Brown’s trip. According to the coalition, it represents more than 1 billion people and nearly 40 percent of the global economy.

Brown argues that climate-change policy is local as much as national or global, and that mayors, governors and regional officials can bring about significant change. That argument swayed the government of Fiji—which currently holds the rotating presidency of the conference—to name Brown to the position of special adviser for states and regions. That position did not give the governor access to the negotiating table, where the U.S. delegation and others are hammering out implementation rules for the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Brown’s stated purpose for going to Europe was to raise awareness about the threat of climate change. At every stop, officials said they found power in his message.

Sandy Pitcher, the chief executive of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources for the state of South Australia, described Brown as “authentic.”

“He’s channeling something like the tough lesson you have to hear and should hear, ‘You’ll thank me for it later,’” she said. “I don’t think we have someone like him in Australia in the public discourse doing what he’s doing.”

Her state belongs to Under2. These so-called subnationals—or “supernationals” as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said here—will put on their own summit next September in San Francisco. The meeting, sanctioned by the U.N., will bring together nations and industry and require each entity to report its annual emissions and set a reduction goal.

The inclusion of businesses is unique. Brown said that businesses—some of them big carbon-emitters—could potentially provide the technology to solve pressing climate problems. And their presence can send a signal that California is open to, and for, business.

Now Brown and his staff are mostly back in Sacramento. It’s likely to be a hard landing for the governor, leaving the mostly enveloping warmth of like-minded people to tangle with a sometimes-unruly Legislature and get back to the arduous job of managing California.

He returns to a state where not everyone is in the thrall of the climate-crusader message. Critics in the environmental-justice movement, for example, say laws to reduce pollution have not yet made lives better in many low-income communities still plagued by toxic air, water and soil—that Sacramento’s good intentions seem to be scrubbing clean every backyard but theirs.

With legislative priorities looming for his final year in office, Brown claims to not have a comprehensive idea of what he wants to accomplish.

“I don’t have an agenda for next year. I don’t even think about it,” he told CALmatters in an interview during the conference that was only partly disrupted when Arnold Schwarzenegger, also in town for the conference, stopped by to chat.

“I’m a step-by-step kind of guy,” Brown said. “We have continuing work to increase the rehabilitative character of our prisons and jails. We have to up our capacity to transform lives instead of re-imbed and reinforce antisocial behavior. That will require effort, and mental health programs.”

Much of the environmental legislation he has championed is now on the books. With enormous political effort during the summer, he was able to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program until 2030. What’s next? Brown supports an electricity delivery system that spans the West, offering better integration and sharing of renewable power, among other benefits.

Such a plan would cede state decision-making to a regional authority, and Brown admits the highly complex project may take a while.

Control of the grid is a thorny issue. For example, states have varying requirements for the use of renewable energy, and California would hesitate to import coal-fired power from elsewhere. Working out such elements is complex and painstaking.

“We don’t get instant coffee,” he said. “I didn’t do everything the first year. Each year, there are more things that become possible because we’ve done other things. It’s a good idea, and it will come.”

First things first: another summit, which Brown, in his grumpy fashion, said will be more of an anti-summit.

“There’s a lot of talking and there’s a lot of eating at these things,” Brown said. “I’ve talked enough. I want to get something done.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

On this week's pumpkin-spice-free weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips gets its dossiers mixed up; Red Meat hops in the time machine with Milkman Dan; Jen Sorenson looks at "politicization"; The K Chronicles has a revelation about squirrels; and This Modern World is in a state of denial.

Published in Comics

Days after losing his position as leader of Assembly Republicans, Chad Mayes was entertaining lobbyists and lawmakers at a bar near the state Capitol, raising money for his re-election with a live video message from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I think you are the future of the Republican Party,” Schwarzenegger said to Mayes from the big screen, as guests sipped cocktails and nibbled on ahi tuna hors d’oeuvres.

The Republican former governor went on to praise Mayes—a Yucca Valley resident whose 42nd District includes much of the Coachella Valley, from La Quinta going west—for negotiating a bipartisan deal to extend California’s cap-and-trade program, an environmental policy Schwarzenegger helped create to curb global warming by forcing companies to pay for emitting greenhouse gases. Schwarzenegger called the deal “a fantastic way to move forward.”

If the Republican Party will go in that direction, then we will have an increase in the membership of the Republican Party,” Schwarzenegger said. “Because this is what the people want us to do.”

The comment illuminated a vast schism among California Republicans, who are divided over how to bring their shrinking party back to relevancy. The very reason Schwarzenegger called Mayes the “future of the Republican party”—his work on climate change—was what ultimately cost him his leadership post. Most of his fellow Republicans voted against the cap-and-trade bill, even though it was backed by traditional GOP interests including oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce. Republican activists saw Mayes’ support for a program that adds costs for businesses and their consumers as a betrayal of GOP values. They turned up the pressure until he was forced in late August to resign. Schwarzenegger, by contrast, saw a modern Republican taking pragmatic steps to broaden the party’s appeal in a state where voters overwhelmingly support policies that address global warming.

Mayes’ ouster shows how hard it is for California Republicans to embrace a more moderate stance. A decade ago, Schwarzenegger famously said California Republicans were “dying at the box office,” because hard-right politics appealed to so few people in an increasingly diverse state. Since then, the GOP has slipped even further. Today just 26 percent of California voters are registered Republicans, and internal polling Mayes highlighted shows that 7 percent of state Republicans are considering abandoning the party because of its stance on climate change. The GOP holds only one-third of the seats in the Legislature—too few to be of any consequence on most issues—and a Republican hasn’t won a statewide contest in California since Schwarzenegger’s re-election in 2006.

“We have one of two options,” Mayes said during a recent interview in his Capitol office. A stack of books on the table included a collection of Christian prayers and photos from the Civil Rights Movement. On the wall hung a Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Dare mighty things.”

“We can either convert individuals to become Republicans, or we can reflect California values and as a party begin to move toward Californians. What we’ve been doing for the last 20 years is not converting Californians to our ideas. We’ve been repelling them, and we haven’t been reflecting Californians; we’ve become more insular and ideologically pure. And both of those are not winning strategies.”

Donald Trump’s victory last year, campaigning against climate policy and immigration, made it harder for Mayes to convince fellow Republicans that moderation was the key to electoral success. Even though Trump was trounced in California, he won the highest office in the land by appealing to the far right.

Mayes’ cap-and-trade vote in July was the tipping point for conservative activists who wanted him out, but it was not the first time Mayes had tried to craft a different image for California Republicans. Earlier this year, he took criticism from the right after the Assembly Republican caucus honored gay-rights icon Harvey Milk in a social media post.

During almost two years as leader, Mayes brought his caucus to a homeless shelter and spoke often about California’s soaring poverty rate. He wrote a bill (still pending) that would give welfare recipients incentive grants for completing their education. He negotiated with Democrats on a bill enacted last year that taxes health plans to bring in more money to provide health care for the poor. Mayes and Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon became known for their rare bipartisan bromance.

Yet Mayes is hardly a liberal sop. The son of an evangelical preacher, Mayes opposed Democrats’ plan to raise gas taxes to pay for road repairs. He voted against bills to increase the minimum wage and pay overtime to farmworkers. He earned an A+ rating from the Firearms Policy Coalition for his votes supporting gun rights.

Still, his chummy approach to Democrats didn’t fly with Republican party activists, who publicly accused him of having an extramarital affair with a former assemblywoman as the cap-and-trade vote loomed. (Mayes declined to answer questions about his personal life, other than to confirm that he is going through a divorce.) After the vote—and his participation in a bipartisan celebration in Gov. Jerry Brown’s office—the California Republican Party took the unusual step of formally urging Mayes to step down. Party leaders felt the cap-and-trade extension was both bad policy and bad politics, because in delivering Republican votes for the bill, Mayes allowed some Democrats to vote against it. The Democratic supermajority had splintered over cap and trade, with some progressives opposing it as too business-friendly, and some moderates withholding support to appease conservative voters in their swing districts.

Harmeet Dhillon, who represents California on the Republican National Committee, said Mayes was too focused on being liked by Democrats, and criticized him for handing Brown a victory by supporting cap and trade.

“We should all be bipartisan on issues that genuinely two sides can agree on. But there are no two sides to over-taxing Californians,” she said. “This is not an area where we can agree to have different shades as Republicans.”

Dhillon believes the new caucus leader, Assemblyman Brian Dahle, will be more reliably conservative. Dahle is a farmer who voted against extending cap and trade. His hometown of Bieber in Lassen County has 300 residents, and his rural district is solid Trump country.

Dahle is also known for building relationships across the aisle—he has already hosted the Democratic Assembly speaker at his home—and said Mayes’ bipartisanship makes sense in a statehouse so heavily dominated by Democrats. But Mayes “moved a little faster than the party could keep up with,” Dahle said during an interview at the Sacramento fundraiser.

“He takes huge gambles. And unfortunately, it was maybe too fast for some of the Republicans in California.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. For more analysis by Laurel Rosenhall, visit calmatters.org/articles/category/california/politics.

Published in Politics

On this week's explosive-testimony-laden weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips listens in as Trumpy makes movie plans; Red Meat installs a new toilet; This Modern World visits the clandestine headquarters of the Fake News Media; Jen Sorenson calls on environmentalists to get butch; and The K Chronicles baby-sits a deer.

Published in Comics

It is snowing in Washington, D.C.—strange in early March after an insanely warm winter, but nothing compared to the cold many of the activists and tribal members gathered here endured in North Dakota while fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Kristen Tuske, a 39-year-old woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, stands with several other women in front of the White House, her back to it, fist raised in the air. She has pink hair, sculpted arches for eyebrows and tattoos on the side of her face. She lived at the camp where thousands of “water protectors” gathered to fight the pipeline for seven months.

“The last couple weeks at the camp were sad, and everyone was a little angry,” she said. “A lot of feelings are hurt. ... That was our home, and we got kicked out.”

The last protesters left the camp on Feb. 23.

The struggle started last summer when the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the oil pipeline, claiming it could contaminate their water supply and destroy significant archeological sites. That kicked off months of protests, often pitting camps of indigenous people—and the environmentalists and veterans that had come to fight with them—against an increasingly militarized police presence. President Obama twice ordered construction stopped, but, after taking office, Trump gave the go-ahead to the pipeline, insisting publicly that it must be constructed of American steel (a stance he quietly reversed this month).

The evacuation of the camp may be a defeat for Standing Rock, but, in the eyes of those gathered in front of the White House, it may also signal the beginning of something greater—the possibility of a real environmental movement in America.

“The reason I am here is to represent our future generations and be their voice, part of the resistance in decolonizing our minds,” said JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana. “Protecting our waters should be our No. 1 priority, and that’s why we’re all here is to unite and protect tribal sovereignty and to protect indigenous people and their waters. People need to realize indigenous people are doing this for all people, not just indigenous people. We’re here to protect the water for all people.”

As I talk to people at the rally, I hear that sentiment again and again. It is not just about the water at Standing Rock. It is a symbolic battle, a turning point. Indigenous people are stepping forward to save the planet—and to save us from ourselves.

Little Thunder, an elder from South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, is standing apart from the crowd in full ceremonial regalia: a feathered headdress, a circular feather shield, and some mirrored sunglasses. He came all the way to Washington to “let people know and let Trump know that this is not just a Standing Rock or a Washington, D.C., or a politics issue. This is for the whole Earth. We’re trying to save the water, because water is life.”

Little Thunder says he is a single father of six children, four of them living at Standing Rock. His voice is high and pinched; he’s almost singing as he speaks.

“Once he let (Standing Rock) go through, they think they can destroy the water, which is life every place else on this Earth, not just Standing Rock,” he says.

David Kenny, a member of the Seneca Nation, is standing with a sign that reads “Water Is Life.”

“It’s not just about Native Americans anymore. It’s about everyone,” he says. “Because if you keep poisoning the water, you’re going to start paying for it, and they’re going to shoot that price up. You’re going to be paying $20 for a bottle of it. It’s not just about the tribes anymore.”

He turns his attention toward the White House and the white man inside it. “Can you stop this pipeline, please?” he asks, his voice soft. “It’s not about business anymore. It’s not just us that’s going to fall—it’s you, too. Everybody is going to die if this continues. The Earth is dying.”

There is no indication that Trump or anyone else in the White House hears this, despite the fact that native nations have spent the last four days with teepees set up on the mall, raising awareness of indigenous and environmental issues. On March 9, the day before the gathering across from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would not agree that climate change caused by human activity is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

But as the Native Nations Rise rally went down, thousands more people were calling the EPA to complain about Pruitt’s disavowal of accepted science.

On the very same day as the rally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study reporting that carbon dioxide levels rose at a “record pace for second straight year.”

“The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record,” the report read.

Trump’s budget proposal, released a week after the rally, slashed the EPA by more than 30 percent. NOAA is not included in the final proposal, but a leaked draft showed a 17 percent decrease in funding.

Back at the rally, the snow falls on the demonstrators, as well as the dancers and the speakers on the stage. Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas takes the stage. He is part Shoshone and organized the release of a song recorded by a collection of mostly native artists to bring attention to Native American issues.

It is a strange moment, watching the snow fall as this pop star in a floppy hat sings over a recording of his band’s song “I Gotta Feeling,” and people sway and dance and sing along, making it feel, for a moment, more like spring break than a deadly serious fight for the fate of the world.

Looking over at the White House, I have a feeling that tonight’s probably not gonna be a good night. But if we listen to the water protectors, we may still have some good nights left.

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 other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in Environment

(Reuters)—U.S. President Donald Trump's administration will begin rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations in an "aggressive way" as soon as next week, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Saturdayadding he understood why some Americans want to see his agency eliminated completely.

"I think there are some regulations that in the near-term need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way. And I think maybe next week you may be hearing about some of those," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Conservative Political Action summit in Washington, D.C.

Pruitt added the EPA's focus on combating climate change under former President Barack Obama had cost jobs and prevented economic growth, leading many Americans to want to see the EPA eliminated completely.

"I think its justified," he said. "I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS. I hope to be able to change that."    

Pruitt was confirmed as EPA head last week. His appointment triggered an uproar among Democratic lawmakers and environmental advocates worried that he will gut the agency and re-open the doors to heavy industrial pollution. He sued the EPA more than a dozen times as his states' top attorney and has repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change. 

But his rise to the head of the EPA has also cheered many Republicans and business interests that expect him to cut back red tape they believe has hampered the economy.

Trump campaigned on a promise to slash regulation to revive the oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries.


PUDDLES AND DRY CREEK BEDS

Pruitt mentioned three rules ushered in by Obama that could meet the chopping block early on: the Waters of the U.S. rule outlining waterways that have federal protections; the Clean Power Plan requiring states to cut carbon emissions; and the U.S. Methane rule limiting emissions from oil and gas installations on federal land.

A Trump official told Reuters late Friday that the president was expected to sign a measure as early as Tuesday aimed at rescinding the Waters of the U.S. rule.

Pruitt said in his comments to the CPAC summit that rule had "made puddles and dry creek beds across this country subject to the jurisdiction of Washington, D.C. That's going to change."

He also suggested longer-term structural changes were in store at the EPA. 

"Long-term, asking the question on how that agency partners with the states and how that affects the budget and how it effects the structure is something to work on very diligently," Pruitt said.

Like Trump, he said cutting regulation could be done in a way that does not harm water or air quality.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis in Boston; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Published in Environment

With the stroke of his pen, President Donald Trump on Jan. 30 unleashed the biggest assault ever made by a president on the government regulations that protect Americans and nature.

In an executive order, he mandated that two existing regulations be eliminated for every new regulation issued—and he dictated that the costs of any new rule be offset by savings from the regulations that are repealed.

Sitting in the Oval Office, surrounded by people he described as small business owners, Trump boasted: “This will be the largest ever cut by far in terms of regulation.”

The president’s actions coincide with a legislative blitz by congressional Republicans to remake the basic system under which government regulates a whole slew of industries, from banks to auto manufacturing to mining and drilling companies. Environmental regulations and rules limiting pollution on public lands are among their prime targets. These rules, mostly mandated by Congress, are intended to safeguard people and natural resources like air, water and land. But many Republicans argue that regulations have gone too far, and prevent businesses from starting up and thriving.

The president’s action, while monumental in scope, presents practical challenges.

“This is overthrowing the history of regulatory procedures that were initiated by Ronald Reagan,” says Robert Stavins, professor of environmental economics at Harvard University.

What makes the order potentially unachievable is that most rules aren’t written at agencies’ discretion, but are mandated by Congress or courts. Statutes drafted by Congress and signed by presidents often direct agencies to write regulations and set deadlines. If agencies fail to do so, courts often step in and order them to meet certain deadlines. Once implemented, a rule is quite durable.

“An agency could not undo it unless a statute allowed that,” says William Buzbee, professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “Often, it will not allow it.”

Even if a regulation is not protected by legislation, an agency cannot just simply strike it from its books. It must go through a lengthy new rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act to undo it, including seeking public comment. The agencies also must find justifications for undoing regulations that agencies already have analyzed thoroughly and justified as beneficial to the public. Buzbee says court challenges are likely.

“They will probably meet with a lot of rejections,” Buzbee adds.

The idea of streamlining regulations is not new. Since the 1970s, presidents, including Barack Obama, have directed agencies to review their rules and simplify or strike cumbersome or outdated ones.

But Trump’s executive order goes further, reframing the way government looks at regulations. Presidents since Ronald Reagan have required that government weigh the cost and benefits of major rules. Reagan, for instance, decided to take lead out of gasoline because a rigorous analysis found that although it was costly for some refineries, the health benefits—such as reduction of blood lead levels in children—were far greater.

Trump’s executive order, however, looks only at costs. It requires that in 2017, the total cost of regulations be “no greater than zero.” It responds to Republican objections that rules are expensive for business and overburden them with delays and red tape. Environmental regulations carry an especially heavy price tag. A 2011 study by Obama’s White House Office of Management and Budget found that major rules issued over 10 years by the Environmental Protection Agency cost $23 billion to $28 billion. At the time, that was more than the combined costs of regulations from the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Labor, Justice, Transportation, Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development. But those same EPA rules had benefits to society that outweighed the costs by at least three times. For instance, President Obama’s 2011 rule to slash mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants was estimated to cost the electric power industry $9.6 billion—but the agency calculated that Americans would receive health benefits from the rule valued at three to nine times as much.

Longtime regulators predict that the executive order will create chaos in agencies and stymie the important work agencies do. Margo Oge headed the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of transportation and air quality from 1994 to 2012. Under both Republican and Democratic presidents, her office issued scores of rules that cleaned up the exhaust from cars, trucks, trains, ships and other vehicles, significantly improving Americans’ health. She predicts the order, which she called “ridiculous,” will shut down that work.

“It will be legally impossible to remove an existing regulation, because all the existing actions have been based on protecting public health and environment,” Oge says. And if they can’t get rid of old rules, they can’t write new ones. “No new action will take place to protect public health, environment or safety.”

Courts won’t let agencies just sit on their hands, some experts say, creating a huge mess for the new cabinet. Trump’s own appointees may find it difficult to write new regulations. For example, Trump’s EPA head nominee Scott Pruitt says he’s “concerned about high blood (lead) levels in children.” He told a Senate committee in answers to written comments: “I will make issuing revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act Lead and Copper Rule a priority.” The EPA has been reviewing the science and planning to revise its lead and copper in drinking water rule. But under Trump’s two-for-one order, Pruitt may have to identify two existing rules to eliminate before he could move forward.

“(Republicans’) only thought is: ‘We need less government, and this is how we’ll get it,’” says Holly Doremus, a professor at the UC Berkeley Law School. “They’ll find the job of governance requires regulations.”

Elizabeth Shogren is a correspondent for High Country News, where this piece first appeared.

Published in National/International

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