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There Is an Important Climate Solution Democrats Never Talk About. But Why?

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Grist and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academies of Sciences, and scores of researchers around the world agree on this fact: To prevent dangerous levels of climate change, it’s likely that humanity will need to start pulling carbon out of the air. The leading Democrats running for the White House, however, don’t seem so sure.

Many of the contenders support using natural carbon sinks, like soils and forests, to suck more carbon out of the atmosphere, according to climate plans the Democratic candidates have released over the last few months. But only three of the top ten candidates—Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang—are explicitly calling to invest in technology that does the exact same thing, despite the fact that many experts believe limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) depends on it. And yet none of the candidates calling for so-called negative emissions technology took the opportunity to talk about it during CNN’s 7-hour climate crisis forum last week.

“My own view is that we have to take carbon out of the air and the water and put it back underground,” said Leah Stokes, a climate and energy policy expert at the University of California Santa Barbara. “We cannot just put it in the soil and the forests. And that is not something that very many candidates understand or are talking about.”

What’s with the silence? It might be that they simply aren’t aware of the technology, which is still in its infancy—or they might simply prefer tried-and-true methods like tree planting and regenerative agriculture (which are also important). It’s also possible the candidates are hesitant to support negative emissions technologies because they are frequently linked to more radical geoengineering schemes, as well as technologies for capturing emissions from fossil fuel power plants. Big oil companies like Chevron and Exxon are keen on those.

Carbon capture’s fossil fuel roots

Technologies for pulling carbon from the air are still quite new, but the idea behind them isn’t. It originated in the fossil fuel industry, which has developed a family of technologies for mopping up carbon emissions at fossil fuel power plants collectively known as carbon capture, utilization, and storage, or CCUS. These technologies—which remain expensive and underdeveloped—capture carbon from a plant’s waste gas stream, stick it in a pipeline, and send it somewhere else.

Often enough, “somewhere else” means sending the carbon back into the earth to push out more fossil fuels—a scheme known as “enhanced oil recovery” currently employed at the Petra Nova coal plant in Texas, one of just two large-scale carbon-capture plants in the world. But captured carbon also can be injected into saline aquifers for permanent storage, as one Archer Daniels Midland plant in Illinois is now doing. Or it can be used to grow food, make carbonated drinks fizzy, and serve as a raw material for the manufacture of fuels and chemicals.

Even in a world where we phase out fossil fuels for power generation, we may still need the technology for industrial processes like steel and cement production. That’s because renewable energy struggles to generate the heat and power needed to manufacture these materials Both Buttigieg and Yang seem to recognize this and, in their climate plans, call for federal investments in new steel or concrete manufacturing processes involving captured carbon. It was the same with the former climate candidate Jay Inslee, whose evergreen economy plan envisioned turning the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy into an office of “Industrial Decarbonization.” Joe Biden’s climate plan also calls for investments in CCUS, although he doesn’t explicitly tie the technology to steel and cement production.

Despite its importance in nudging us toward a carbon-neutral economy, this sort of technology is controversial among progressives. Bernie Sanders’ climate plan calls carbon capture a “false solution,” reflecting a fairly widespread view in environmental circles that the technology amounts to little more than greenwashing for the fossil fuel industry. Other candidates, like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke, don’t specifically mention CCUS in their climate plans at all, although most plans do call for big investments in new clean energy or manufacturing technologies, which could include carbon capture.

Pulling carbon directly out of the air

CCUS’s association with dirty energy might also explain why more candidates haven’t openly supported developing tech to suck carbon from the air, known as direct air carbon capture. CCUS and direct air carbon capture are different technologies that accomplish different things, but people often conflate the two, said Klaus Lackner, the director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, which is working to develop direct air carbon capture technology.

“Everyone says this is just flue gas scrubbing in the extreme,” Lackner said. “But it’s so different that you should think about it differently.” For one thing, the concentration of carbon in the air is much lower than what’s present in a smokestack. And then there’s the cost: upwards of $500 per ton to yank carbon from the air, compared with as little as $36 per ton to capture carbon from a coal plant’s waste stream.

Stokes says that the environmental community “hasn’t really figured out how to distinguish between direct air carbon capture and CCUS,” which might be tripping up the Democrats in the race. Another concern some candidates might have, she said, is that by developing technology for pulling carbon out of the air we’ll create a “moral hazard.”

“You keep burning fossil fuels because the fossil fuel industry says, ‘Look, we don’t need to stop, we have technology to remove carbon from the air,'” Stokes said. “I get that concern, but I also take the point of the IPCC, which is that we must develop negative emissions technologies.”

A natural alternative

Instead of promoting these technologies, many Democratic candidates have focused on sequestering carbon by earthier means. Sanders’ climate plan calls for expanding the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant “billions of trees,” prevent soil erosion, and restore carbon-hoarding wetlands. Harris wants toprovide technical assistance to farmers to help them capture more carbon on their land. Booker wants to plant 16 billion new trees by 2050 to pack away an additional 13 billion metric tons of carbon by the end of the century. Castro is thinking even bigger: 30 billion trees by mid-century.

Natural carbon removal strategies are an important piece of the puzzle, said Jane Zelikova, a senior scientist at Carbon180. “It’s a no brainer to invest a lot of time and effort into scaling these solutions,” she said. “We don’t have to invent a new technology. We just have to have the resources and societal will.”

The scientists backed by the UN agree: As it noted in a recent IPCC report on climate change and land, the soils in Earth’s agricultural regions are eroding up to 100 times faster than they’re being replenished. To mitigate climate change and boost food security, the IPCC says it’s crucial we stop that erosion and start putting carbon back into the soil, whether through low-till or no-till farming, planting cover crops, or applying biochar, a form of charcoal that can be added to soil to help it sequester carbon over the long term.

But natural carbon removal strategies will never be sufficient to mitigate the worst effects of climate change on their own. The UN report’s overarching message is that land is a finite resource. In theory we could plant a trillion new trees and put a serious dent in humanity’s carbon footprint; in practice that would create a host of new conflicts over land and environmental problems. Plus, the IPCC says we’ll likely need to repurpose some of our agricultural land for bioenergy carbon capture and storage, a negative emissions strategy in which we grow vegetation, burn it for energy, and capture the carbon. But if we devote too much land to bioenergy carbon capture, the world will face serious food shortages.

An all-of-the-above approach

No single negative emissions strategy is a silver bullet, and we can’t be sure which strategies will be most important until we start scaling all of them up, said Tarak Shah, a former chief of staff for science and energy at the Department of Energy under President Obama. That’s why, in his view, any candidate who isn’t considering the full suite of options at this point “isn’t really being serious.”

“It’s not congruent to say climate change is an existential threat without a plan to develop and rapidly deploy carbon capture technologies,” Shah said.

It’s not surprising that candidates have blind spots when it comes to taking on the climate crisis. This is, after all, the most complex challenge humanity has ever faced, requiring transformations at every level of society. And our first order of business must be to bring emissions down as quickly as possible.

But our best science tells us that to avert climate change’s worst consequences, we will also need to remove carbon from the air—and we may need technologies that barely exist right now to do it. How will the government help bring them to life? That’s a question for every presidential candidate.

Russia Has ‘Oligarchs,’ the US Has ‘Businessmen’ - In 150 NYT, CNN and Fox articles, ‘oligarch’ seems reserved for Slavic billionaires

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

by Alan MacLeod

Even in corporate media, you will occasionally see references to the United States as an “oligarchy.” That is the judgment of former President Jimmy Carter, of peer-reviewed academic studies, and even opinion pieces in our most prestigious media (e.g., Washington Post, 4/8/14; New Yorker, 4/18/14). Indeed, Paul Krugman has been saying it in the New York Times (11/3/11, 5/15/15, 7/15/19) for years.  Just three men hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country combined, and the richest people in society use their money to influence media, society and the government.

Non-oligarch David Koch. (cc photo: Fred Thompson)

But if the US is an oligarchy, then who are the oligarchs? One candidate who has been in the news of late is conservative multibillionaire David Koch, who died August 23 (FAIR.org, 9/5/19). Koch was the world’s 11th richest and 29th most powerful person, according to Forbes, amassing a fortune of over $50 billion. The chemical and fossil fuel magnate used his enormous wealth to fund climate change denialists and block efforts to address climate breakdown. He bankrolled a multitude of right-wing causes, including the Tea Party, conservative media, politicians and think tanks. Koch undercut unions, opposed gun restrictions, blocked public transport initiatives and thwarted moves towards nationalized healthcare. As such, he and his brother Charles have shaped the Republican Party and modern society more than almost anyone else.

Yet in their obituaries, even media catering to a more liberal audience refrained from using the term to describe him. “Philanthropist” was the preferred description in the Washington Post (8/23/19) and NBC (8/23/19). CBS News (8/23/19) also described him as such, framing him as an “icon” who “committed millions to various hospitals for cancer research.” Meanwhile, the New York Times (8/23/19) glowed over the “gregarious, socially prominent” “man-about town philanthropist,” who gave over $1 billion to charity. (See FAIR.org, 9/5/19.)  The tone of these articles was functionally identical to that of more conservative media, like Fox News (8/24/19) or the Wall Street Journal (8/23/19).

Many outside the corporate media bubble were highly scornful of the coverage. Independent journalist Caitlin Johnston (Medium, 8/23/19) remarked that if Koch were Russian, he would be called an “oligarch,” while the Appeal’s Adam H. Johnson claimed on Twitter (8/23/19) that “oligarch” is a loaded term used exclusively for the elite of enemy foreign countries, and not our plutocrats.

Who is and isn’t an oligarch, according to media

To test these critiques, FAIR analyzed the 50 most recent articles using the search term “oligarch” from the New York Times, CNN and Fox News websites. (Full documentation, including a complete list of sources, used can be found here.) The study sought to ascertain:

  1. Who is referred to as an oligarch?
  2. Which countries are considered oligarchies?

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Oleg Deripaska, Viktor Vekselberg, Victor Pinchuk, Roman Abramovich, Aras Agalarov: That is the full and distinctly Slavic-sounding list of people identified by CNN as “oligarchs.” Indeed, only two articles across the entire sample of 150 identified Westerners as such: one angry New York Times opinion piece (15/7/19) that creatively decried people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson as “rocket oligarchs,” and a Tucker Carlson Tonight segment (Fox News, 4/2/19) in which an NRA spokesperson attacked gun control advocate Cory Booker as a “constitutional oligarch.” The rest were all from Russia or former Eastern Bloc countries.

In the 150-article sample, Russia was described as an oligarchy in 89, while Ukraine was labeled as such in 35. The word was also used in connection to other ex-Eastern Bloc states in 13 articles: Those states were Moldova (6 times), Kazakhstan (twice), Hungary (twice), Georgia (twice) and Azerbaijan (once). Guatemala was also once referred to as possessing oligarchs. In all, 98% of countries referenced in connection to oligarchs were either Russia or formerly Soviet-dominated states.

In contrast, only 1% of articles mentioned the US in connection with oligarchs, which is all the more remarkable, considering all the outlets in the sample are US-based and devote vastly more time, space and words to US issues than Eastern European ones.

The fact that oligarch has taken on ethnic connotations was made doubly clear in a New York Times article (5/22/19) about the changing world of soccer. It noted (emphasis added):

In 1997, the Egyptian businessman and department store owner Mohamed al-Fayed took control of Fulham, a London team in the second division, and led its promotion into the Premier League; in 2003, the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who had made his fortune in oil, aluminum and steel, bought Chelsea; in 2007, Stan Kroenke, the husband of a Wal-Mart heir, began accumulating shares of Arsenal. That same year, the family that had controlled Liverpool for half a century sold out to two American businessmen, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The word, defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as an individual or group of powerful people that control a country or industry, is surely as applicable to the Walton dynasty as to a mining giant like Abramovich, but US billionaires are merely “businessmen”—when they aren’t “philanthropists”—while Russians are “oligarchs.” In other words, our elites are engaged in normal economic activity or else looking out for the betterment of humanity, while theirs are nefariously dominating politics.

“Especially in Russia” (Late Night, 7/20/17).

Many articles stressed these oligarchs’ apparent connections to President Vladimir Putin (e.g. CNN, 3/20/19, 3/22/19), even when the oligarchs in question aren’t from Russia (Fox News, 3/21/19, 5/14/19). Late Show host Stephen Colbert (7/20/17) defined “oligarch” as “Russian for ‘rich guy don’t ask where his money came from.’” (“Oligarch” actually came to English from Ancient Greek.) To be fair, Colbert joked about the selective use of the term—explaining that “over there, the political system is controlled by wealthy elites who buy influence and pull strings of the government, whereas in America, we speak English.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, however, was apparently quite serious with his xenophobic comments that Russians were “genetically driven” to nefarious ends like co-optation and gaining favor. The guest of one Fox News show (5/7/19) referred to a “Russian” before switching that to a “Ukranian oligarch,” suggesting the entire region was an amorphous mass of devious, plotting, squatting Slavs.

There was very little difference between how the three outlets used the term. Fox News was a little more likely to reference Ukraine, primarily because it closely covered the story of Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s connection to a Ukranian business executive, while CNN’s commitment to Russiagate encouraged it to connect oligarchs personally to Vladimir Putin. But overall, the three outlets displayed a shared tendency in how and to whom they applied the word.

While not labeling its own wealthy and powerful elites as “oligarchs,” US corporate media do, as noted, occasionally acknowledge that the United States itself is an oligarchy. But even those admissions are few and far between, appearing for the most part only in articles devoted to arguing exactly that point. Otherwise, the US is overwhelmingly presented as a democracy and a force for good in reporting.

And when a politician like Bernie Sanders suggests that these oligarchs influence the media, senior editors react angrily, claiming he is “ridiculous” and a “conspiracy theorist.” What a strange country the US is—an oligarchy without any oligarchs.

 

Drug Companies Seek to Disqualify Judge in Opioids Suits

TruthDig.com News -

CLEVELAND— Attorneys for eight drug distributors, pharmacies and retailers facing trial next month for their roles in the opioid crisis want to disqualify the federal judge overseeing their cases, saying he has shown bias in his effort to obtain a multibillion-dollar global settlement.

According to the motion filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, where Judge Dan Polster presides over most of the 2,000 lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments, the judicial code requires judges to recuse themselves when there is an appearance of prejudice or bias.

The attorneys wrote that Polster has made comments during hearings, media interviews and public forums about the importance of getting help to governments struggling to contain a crisis that has killed 400,000 people nationally since 2000.

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“Defendants do not bring this motion lightly,” the motion said. “Taken as a whole and viewed objectively, the record clearly demonstrates that recusal is necessary.”

Polster has not responded to the motion filed by attorneys for the drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and Henry Schein Inc.; drugstore chains CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens; and retailer Walmart.

Next month’s trial on behalf of the Ohio counties of Summit, which includes Akron, and Cuyahoga, which includes Cleveland, are viewed by Polster as a bellwether that could shape how other lawsuits are resolved. Several drug manufacturers have settled with the counties ahead of trial.

The attorneys say Polster’s comments about his intentions to get plaintiffs help during hearings, media interviews and public forums are evidence of his bias and prejudice. They cited a remark made during the first court hearing in January 2018 for the multidistrict litigation when Polster said, “My objective is to do something meaningful to abate the crisis and to do it in 2018.”

The motion said: “Under settled law, any one of these statements would be enough to cause a reasonable person to question a judge’s impartiality.”

A statement released Saturday by the executive committee for attorneys representing the government plaintiffs gave Polster their full-fledged support, calling him a judge with “great integrity, intelligence, and impartiality” who has served on the federal bench for decades.

The statement calls the defense attorneys’ motion “a desperate move on the eve of trial by opioid companies that created, fueled and sustained the crisis following rulings by the court concluding that there is sufficient evidence to find that these companies created a public nuisance and conspired together to avoid regulation and sanctions.”

The post Drug Companies Seek to Disqualify Judge in Opioids Suits appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Son of Bin Laden Killed in U.S. Strike, White House Says

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON—The White House announced Saturday that Hamza bin Laden, the son of the late al-Qaida leader who had become an increasingly prominent figure in the terrorist organization, was killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

A statement issued in President Donald Trump’s name gave no further details, such as when Hamza bin Laden was killed or how the United States had confirmed his death. Administration officials would provide no more information beyond the three-sentence statement from the White House.

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American officials have said there are indications that the CIA, not the U.S. military, conducted the strike. The CIA declined comment on whether the agency was involved.

The White House statement said Hamza bin Laden’s death “not only deprives al-Qaida of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group.” It said Osama bin Laden’s son “was responsible for planning and dealing with various terrorist groups.”

The U.S. officials had suspected this summer that Hamza bin Laden was dead, based on intelligence reports and the fact that he had not been heard from in some time. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Fox News Channel in a late August interview that it was “my understanding” that Hamza bin Laden was dead.

A U.S. official familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity about intelligence-gathering said bin laden was killed in the past 18 months. Confirming such a high-profile death can take a long time, said the official, who declined to say what led the U.S. to report bin Laden’s death with certainty.

The younger bin Laden had been viewed as an eventual heir to the leadership of al-Qaida, and the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, had praised him in a 2015 video that appeared on jihadi websites, calling him a “lion from the den of al-Qaida.” Bin Laden’s death leaves Zawahiri with the challenge of finding a different successor.

The U.S. government in February said it was offering $1 million for help tracking down Hamza bin Laden as part of the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. The department’s notice said he was married to a daughter of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, an al-Qaida leader and Egyptian charged for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. They were said to have two children, Osama and Khairiah, named after his parents.

He was named a “specially designated global terrorist” in January 2017, and he had released audio and video messages calling for attacks against the U.S. and its allies. To mark one 9/11 anniversary, al-Qaida superimposed a childhood photo of him over a photo of the World Trade Center.

Video released by the CIA in 2017 that was seized during the 2011 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden showed Hamza bin Laden with a trimmed mustache but no beard at his wedding. Previous images have only shown him as a child.

Hamza bin Laden is believed to have been born in 1989, the year of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, where his father became known among the mujahedeen fighters. His father returned to Saudi Arabia and later fled to Sudan after criticizing the kingdom for allowing U.S. troops to deploy in the country during the 1991 Gulf War. He later fled Sudan for Afghanistan in 1996, where he declared war against the U.S.

As al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden oversaw attacks that included the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. He and others plotted and executed the 2001 attacks against the United States that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. U.S. Navy SEALs killed the elder bin Laden in a raid on a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.

This past March, Saudi Arabia announced that it had revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden. The kingdom stripped Osama bin Laden’s citizenship in 1994 while he was living in exile in Sudan when Hamza bin Laden was just a child. It was unclear where Hamza bin Laden was at the time of the Saudi action.

Hamza bin Laden began appearing in militant videos and recordings in 2015 as an al-Qaida spokesman.

“If you think that your sinful crime that you committed in Abbottabad has passed without punishment, then you thought wrong,” he said in his first audio recording.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan sought to topple the Taliban, an ally of al-Qaida, and seize the elder bin Laden. He escaped and split from his family as he crossed into Pakistan. Hamza was 12 when he saw his father for the last time — receiving a parting gift of prayer beads.

“It was as if we pulled out our livers and left them there,” he wrote of the separation.

Hamza and his mother followed other al-Qaida members into Pakistan and then Iran, where other al-Qaida leaders hid them, according to experts and analysis of documents seized after U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Iran later put the al-Qaida members on its soil into custody. During this time, Hamza married.

In March 2010, Hamza and others left Iranian custody. He went to Pakistan’s Waziristan province, where he asked for weapons training, according to a letter to the elder bin Laden. His mother left for Abbottabad, joining her husband in his hideout. On May 2, 2011, the Navy SEAL team raided Abbottabad, killing Osama bin Laden and his son Khalid, as well as others. Saber and other wives living in the house were imprisoned. Hamza again disappeared.

In August 2015, a video emerged on jihadi websites of al-Zawahri introducing “a lion from the den of al-Qaida” — Hamza bin Laden. Since then, Hamza had been featured in al-Qaida messages, delivering speeches on everything from the war in Syria to Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as president.

But he hadn’t been heard from since a message in March 2018, in which he threatened the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

___

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Lolita C. Baldor in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

The post Son of Bin Laden Killed in U.S. Strike, White House Says appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Raw Data: We Have Met the Meritocracy, and It Is Us

Mother Jones Magazine -

Via Tyler Cowen, here are a couple of interesting charts from Thomas Piketty about voting patterns in the US. Generally speaking, poor and working-class folks vote for Democrats, while more affluent people vote for Republicans. But 2016 was an odd outlier:

There’s a big range here, but in general the richer you are the more likely you are to vote for a Republican. That’s held true in every single presidential election since 1948—until you get to 2016. In that year, the top two income deciles (D9 and D10) suddenly diverged from their usual historical pattern and voted for Democrats by about 30 points more than they should have.

30 points! That’s a huge divergence from the norm, and it holds up even at the very tippy top of the income ladder. The upper middle class and the rich like Donald Trump way, way less than they like the average Republican.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, aside from the fact that maybe this is the wrong time for Democrats to suddenly decide they don’t want to fundraise from rich people. But it’s worth pondering.

And as long as we’re looking at this stuff, here’s another chart showing one of the ways that voting patterns have changed:

As you can see, high-income voters have historically favored Republicans by about 12 points, and that’s remained constant until very recently. The big change has been education. In 1948, highly-educated voters preferred Republicans by 16 points. That’s changed pretty steadily, and in the 2016 election highly-educated voters preferred Democrats by 24 points. That’s a swing of 40 points.

In case you haven’t noticed, we are having a meritocracy moment right now, and it’s a bit of a paradox. The consensus among liberals is that the meritocracy is bad, but increasingly liberals make up most of the meritocracy. I have a football game to watch right now,¹ so I’ll leave comment on this for later. But it’s worth thinking about.

¹A very egalitarian sport! OTOH, I’ll be rooting for USC, a very elite school. Contradictions and paradoxes are everywhere.

Yemen’s Houthi Rebels Attack Key Saudi Oil Sites

TruthDig.com News -

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oil field Saturday, sparking huge fires at a vulnerable chokepoint for global energy supplies.

It remained unclear hours later whether anyone was injured at the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field or what effect the assault would have on oil production. Rising smoke from the fires at the sites could be seen by satellites.

The attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis in the war against a Saudi-led coalition comes after weeks of similar drone assaults on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure, but none of the earlier strikes appeared to have caused the same amount of damage. The attack likely will heighten tensions further across the Persian Gulf amid an escalating crisis between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

First word of the assault came in online videos of giant fires at the Abqaiq facility, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Machine-gun fire could be heard in several clips alongside the day’s first Muslim call to prayers, suggesting security forces tried to bring down the drones just before dawn.

In daylight, Saudi state television aired a segment with its local correspondent near a police checkpoint, a thick plume of smoke visible behind him.

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The fires began after the sites were “targeted by drones,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. It said an investigation was underway.

Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, did not respond to questions from The Associated Press. The kingdom hopes soon to offer a sliver of the company in an initial public offering.

In a short address aired by the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones in their coordinated attack after receiving “intelligence” support from those inside the kingdom. He warned that attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.

“The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us,” Sarie said.

The rebels hold Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and other territory in the Arab world’s poorest country. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has fought to reinstate the internationally recognized Yemeni government.

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said it was unaware of any injuries to Americans. Saudi Aramco employs a number of U.S. citizens, some of whom live in guarded compounds near the site.

“These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” U.S. Ambassador John Abizaid, a former Army general, said.

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.”

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then transports it onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea or to refineries for local production. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. By comparison, Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels of crude oil a day in July.

The plant has been targeted in the past by militants. Al-Qaida-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex in February 2006.

The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

While Saudi Arabia has taken steps to protect itself and its oil infrastructure, analysts had warned that Abqaiq remained vulnerable. The Rapidan Energy Group, a Washington-based advisory group, warned in May that “a successful attack could lead to a monthslong disruption of most Saudi production and nearly all spare production.” It called Abqaiq, close to the eastern Saudi city of Dammam, “the most important oil facility in the world.”

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies separately issued its own warning just last month.

“Though the Abqaiq facility is large, the stabilization process is concentrated in specific areas . including storage tanks and processing and compressor trains — which greatly increases the likelihood of a strike successfully disrupting or destroying its operations,” the center said.

The war has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.

Since the start of the Saudi-led war, Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones. Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up. Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the U.N., the West and Gulf Arab nations say Tehran does.

The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged. The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s crucial East-West Pipeline in May. In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field.

___

Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

The post Yemen’s Houthi Rebels Attack Key Saudi Oil Sites appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Attorney General Barr Gives Award to Lawyers for Backing Brett Kavanaugh

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last year, the Justice Department gave the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service, the second highest honor in the department, to prosecutors who secured the conviction of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a ringleader of the Benghazi terrorist attack.

This year, the New York Times is reporting that Attorney General William Barr is giving the award to DOJ lawyers who worked “to support the nomination” of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Former federal prosecutors blasted the news as an unprecedented perversion of justice. “What a joke,” tweeted Elie Honig, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc. And now AG Barr is using it to honor… Team Kavanaugh.”

What a joke.

This prestigious award typically goes to prosecutors who make the biggest cases against terrorists, corrupt politicians, drug cartels, organized crime enterprises, etc.

And now AG Barr is using it to honor… Team Kavanaugh. https://t.co/HhOzz8XDae

— Elie Honig (@eliehonig) September 14, 2019

Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault during his confirmation process by Christine Blasey Ford. Investigations into her accusations, and Kavanaugh’s response, nearly derailed his nomination. Then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped one hundred Justice Department lawyers to review Kavanaugh’s paper trail, which the Times reported some saw as “an unusual insertion of politics into federal law enforcement.” The FBI did its own investigation of Ford’s accusations, but it was limited in scope by the White House and did not interview key sources, including Ford.

Kavanaugh has been a reliable ally of President Donald Trump on the court, while Barr has emerged as perhaps the president’s most high-profile defender inside the administration, shielding Trump from public criticism and indictment following release of the Mueller report.

Civil Rights Groups Challenge Trump’s “Racially Discriminatory Scheme” to Skew Redistricting

Mother Jones Magazine -

In July, the Trump administration abandoned its push to add a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census after the Supreme Court blocked the move. Instead, President Donald Trump issued an executive order instructing the Census Bureau to collect citizenship data using administrative records. He said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony that the information could prove useful since “some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter-eligible population,” potentially excluding non-citizens, non-voters, and the young from counting toward political representation. 

Drawing districts based on eligible voters “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

On Friday, civil rights groups filed the first lawsuit challenging the executive order, claiming it was “motivated by a racially discriminatory scheme to reduce Latino political representation and increase the overrepresentation of non-Latino Whites, thereby advantaging White voters at Latino voters’ expense.”

For decades, state legislative and Congressional districts have been drawn based on total population. If districts were instead based only on citizens or eligible voters, that could lead to a major shift in power from Democratic to Republican areas, as many Democrats represent areas with concentrations of non-citizens and non-voters, including children. If those people are not counted in legislative apportionment, that would benefit Republicans, who tend to represent whiter, more homogenous areas with fewer non-citizens and young people.

Over the past decade, Republicans have sought to make such a change. The late Republican gerrymandering expert Thomas Hofeller, who also led the behind-the-scenes efforts to add the citizenship question, wrote in a 2015 study that drawing districts based on eligible voters instead of the total population would “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, cited Hofeller’s study as evidence of the “discriminatory motivation” behind Trump’s executive order. They also allege that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, “exceeded his statutory authority over the conduct of the decennial census” by agreeing to Trump’s order, since Congress, not the president, has constitutional oversight of the census. The lawsuit was filed before the same Maryland federal court where a judge struck down the citizenship question in April.

The Census Bureau disclosed this week that no states have so far requested citizenship data, but that it nonetheless would make the information available in 2021, when states begin drawing new legislative lines following the 2020 census. Who will count for purposes of political representation is expected to be a major fight throughout the next redistricting cycle.  

Seth Rich’s Family Just Won a Legal Victory Against Fox News

Mother Jones Magazine -

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that a lawsuit filed by the parents of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich against Fox News should move forward, finding that the network’s retracted reporting about his death amounted to “extreme and outrageous conduct.”

Fox News played an instrumental role in helping push the conspiracy theory that the 27-year-old Rich, who was murdered in a botched robbery in July 2016, had contact with Wikileaks, which released thousands of Hillary Clinton campaign emails during the 2016 presidential race.

The court found that Rich’s parents were subjected to “a deliberate and malicious campaign of harassment.”

Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary, sued Fox News in March 2018 alleging that the network set out “to take the conspiracy theory from the fringe to the front pages and screens of the mainstream media.” A district court dismissed the suit in August 2018, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit on Friday. “We have no trouble concluding that—taking their allegations as true—the Riches plausibly alleged what amounted to a campaign of emotional torture,” wrote Judge Guido Calabresi.

The lawsuit describes a lurid and elaborate plot where a Fox News reporter, Malia Zimmerman, and contributor, Ed Butowsky, befriended the Riches and urged them to hire a private investigator, Rod Wheeler, without disclosing that he was a paid contributor to Fox News. Without the Riches’ knowledge, the suit says Wheeler coordinated with Donald Trump’s White House and fed Fox News false information peddling the Wikileaks conspiracy theory, which resulted in a May 2017 Fox News story: “Slain DNC Staffer Had Contact with WikiLeaks Say Multiple Sources.”

Rich’s family asked Fox News to retract the story, which they did five days later. But Fox News guests and hosts like Sean Hannity continued to peddle the false story for months afterward. The Rich family then sued the network for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

The Second Circuit panel found that Rich’s parents’ allegations “plausibly rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct” by Fox News, who subjected the family to “a deliberate and malicious campaign of harassment.”

The appeals court remanded the case to a district court in New York and ordered that it be reopened.

Yet Again, Trump Attacks a Prominent Black Journalist

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted an attack on MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid.

Who the hell is Joy-Ann Reid? Never met her, she knows ZERO about me, has NO talent, and truly doesn’t have the “it” factor needed for success in showbiz. Had a bad reputation, and now works for the Comcast/NBC losers making up phony stories about me. Low Ratings. Fake News!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2019

While the timing of the attack could be explained by the fact Reid recently wrote a book targeting the president—The Man Who Sold America: Trump and the Unraveling of the American Story—it was far from the first time Trump has made it a point to insult a prominent journalist of color.

In August 2018, he called CNN anchor Don Lemon “the dumbest man on television.”  In November 2018, the National Association of Black Journalists wrote an open letter protesting Trump’s recent “disrespect” toward three black female journalists in public question and answer sessions; he’d called them or their inquiries  “nasty,” “racist,” and “stupid.”

“The most powerful man in the free world is verbally abusing journalists… The past two years have been filled with assaults on the media and Donald Trump’s comments this week have reached an all-time low,” NABJ President Sarah Glover said at the time, adding that his remarks were “appalling, irresponsible, and should be denounced.”

One of the journalists attacked by Trump and cited in the NABJ letter, American Urban Radio Networks longtime White House correspondent April Ryan, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with a simple conclusion: “He leaves little doubt about what he really thinks of us.”

 

 

 

The Democrats Are Ignoring a Climate Refugee Crisis That’s Happening Right Now

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by HuffPost and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The top 10 Democrats running for president repeated campaign promises to escalate US aid to Central American countries and welcome more refugees as they debated Thursday in Houston.

And while they argued over differences on immigration and the climate crisis, no one mentioned the climate refugee crisis unfolding right now. 

Last weekend, at least 119 Bahamians fleeing the destruction left by Hurricane Dorian were forced off a ferry headed for the east coast of Florida because they lacked visas. 

This came despite visa-free travel between the United States and the Bahamas, a trip so common some make it without even needing passports. On Monday, President Donald Trump defended denying them access, claiming that among the refugees were “very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very very bad drug dealers.” 

That same day, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new guidance cementing the visa requirement, meaning that the roughly 15,000 people on the devastated island who are without food or shelter can’t expect to seek relief in the US.

The Category 5 storm flooded 70 percent of homes in the Bahamas. Two weeks later, the death toll, now at 50, is expected to rise as more than 1,300 Bahamians are still listed as missing.

The hurricane, Bahamian journalist Bernard Ferguson wrote in The New Yorker, is a clear case of “climate injustice” as a storm strengthened by global warming wreaked havoc on a country that contributed among the least planet-heating emissions. 

The ABC News-Univision moderators did ask about one storm—Hurricane Harvey, the Category 4 storm that drenched Houston two years ago. That lone question went to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, whom the moderators asked, “What meaningful action will you take to reverse the effect of climate change?” 

O’Rourke gave a detailed answer, vowing to “make sure that we free ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels” and embrace agricultural practices to store more carbon dioxide in soil. Four other candidates—Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and businessman Andrew Yang—offered timelines for slashing emissions and plans to overpower the fossil fuel industry’s influence. All three senators, plus Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), co-sponsored a bill this week to grant temporary protected status to Bahamians escaping the destruction. 

But none brought up the people or places already suffering the extreme weather and insufficient infrastructure that scientists have long warned makes climate change deadly. Catastrophic weather has displaced on average 24 million people per year since 2008, according to the Swiss-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. By 2050, that number could climb to anywhere from 140 million to 300 million to 1 billion. Since taking office, Trump has set a record-low cap of 45,000 on refugee applicants. 

Answering a question about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Yang warned that the United States is “not very good at rebuilding countries.” To illustrate his point, he briefly made the night’s only mention of Puerto Rico, the US territory where more than 3,000 people died after Hurricane María made landfall in September 2017. 

“If you want proof, all you have to do is look within our own country of Puerto Rico,” Yang said. 

Puerto Rico offers a useful contrast to the Bahamas. As US citizens, Puerto Ricans fled by the thousands to Florida, New York, Massachusetts and other states. Bahamians—whose country, as a British colony until 1973, was spared the United States’ imperial expansion in the early 20th century—don’t have that same option.

A Big New Study Finds Bee-Killing Pesticides Aren’t Even Worth it for Soybean Farmers

Mother Jones Magazine -

Ever year, farmers in the United States devote at least 80 million acres, a combined landmass three-quarters the size of California, to soybeans. At least half the crop comes from proprietary seeds coated with insecticides and fungicides. These chemicals infuse the plants as they emerge, protecting them from damage by insects and fungal pathogens.

At least, that’s the pitch to farmers: Spend extra for treated seeds, and enjoy higher crop yields in return. But according to a new meta-analysis of past research from nearly two dozen scientists at top public agriculture-research universities—the bargain isn’t paying off. 

And while economic gains for farmers are vanishingly tiny, at best, the potential ecological risks are high, the authors note. The insecticides in the treatments are called neonicotinoids, which have been banned in Europe for their potential harmful effects on pollinators. A “growing body of research” suggests these chemicals have a “host of negative effects” on beneficial organisms, the paper notes, including honey bees, wild bees, monarch butterflies, birds, and terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. On Thursday, Science published a paper from Canadian researchers finding that low-level neonic exposure may delay the migrations of songbirds and harm their chances of mating. 

For the soybean paper, the team gathered gathered an enormous amount of data: 194 soybean field studies, across 14 states, conducted between 2006 and 2017. Most of the studies took place in one of the globe’s epicenters of soybean production, the Midwestern “corn belt” states clustered around Illinois, where many growers plant soybeans in rotation with corn. The researchers gathered crop yield data for three kinds of soybean seeds: those treated with fungicides; those treated with fungicides and neonicotinoids; and untreated seeds as a control. (According to Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University and one of the paper’s co-authors, the study didn’t look at neonic-only treatments because they’re not widely available on the market—the seed companies tend to offer neonics bundled with fungicides.)

“The takeaway is that the vast majority of soybean growers in the vast majority of years will not realize a benefit.”

Crunching data from the studies, the group found that both the fungicide-only and the fungicide/neonic seed treatments delivered slightly higher yields than the control—but not enough to justify the added cost of the treatments. Overall, on average, the fungicide-only seeds delivered a yield gain of about 0.3 bushels per acre; while the fungicide/neonic seeds delivered an extra 0.9 bushels per acre. The maximum benefit observed across all the studies considered was 2 bushels per acre. To put those numbers in perspective, soybean farms in Iowa tend to yield between 55 bushels and 60 bushels per acre. In short, “we conclude that prophylactic use of seed treatments (with and without neonicotinoids) are not necessary to maximize yield returns across the region,” the paper states.

“The takeaway is that the vast majority of soybean growers in the vast majority of years will not realize a benefit,” Purdue’s Krupke said. One reason for this is that soybeans attract few crop-chomping insects. The bug they do reliably attract, the soybean aphid, doesn’t arrive until the middle of the growing season, by which time the neonics that once coated the seeds have largely lost their effectiveness.

As the paper points out, before neonics burst onto the scene in the 2000s, insecticides were used on just around 5 percent of US soybean acres. These days, the best-documented estimate is that half of our soybean acres are grown from seeds treated with neonic-fungicide package, and “we know anecdotally that number is considerably higher than that,” Krupke said. 

The results of the paper suggest that soybean farmers are paying up for seed treatments that add little to their bottom lines but subject tens of millions of acres of the American landscape to unnecessary pesticides. 

Bayer Cropscience and Sygenta, the two companies that dominate the neonic market and are also enormous sellers of treated corn and soybean seeds, pushed back on the new meta-analysis. A Bayer spokeswoman emailed me this statement:

The benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments are well established, which is why thousands of farmers choose to use them every season—based, like all crop-protection products, on the needs and challenges of their individual fields. We have several questions and concerns about this study, including how it corresponds to current agronomic practices. One major point we keep coming back to is this: The entomologists and agronomists who published this paper might not think a 2 bu/acre yield increase is a big deal, but clearly growers do. And we do, too.

A Syngenta spokeswoman pointed to a 2017 study commissioned by Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, and Valent USA finding that “neonic seed treatments in the US increased crop yields in soybeans by an average of 3.6 percent, when compared to untreated controls.” She added: “Neonics provide a unique mode of action, necessary to managing pests resistant to other insecticides—key to soybean production.” 

“You can’t get neonic-free corn.”

As for corn, soybean’s companion crop, Krupke says nearly all of it comes from neonic-coated seeds, and has since the mid-2000s. Since there’s essentially no neonic-free corn grown, it would be “virtually impossible” to do a large, region-wide study assessing whether the insecticide increases crop yield enough to justify farmers’ expenditures. For a 2017 paper, Krupke was part of a team that compared corn from treated and untreated seeds on test plots at three sites in Indiana. They found no yield benefit from the treatments. He told me he’d like to recreate that experiment on a larger scale and in other parts of the Midwest. “But you can’t get the neonic-free corn—it’s not available for purchase.” 

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a group of beekeepers and the environmental law outfit Earthjustice sued the Environmental Protection Agency to cancel its controversial decision to expand uses of a neonic called sulfoxaflor. In 2016, under pressure from a lawsuit by environmental groups and a federal court order, the agency had severely limited use of the insecticide to a few crops. The Trump EPA removed those protections in July, expanding sulfoxaflor’s approved uses to soybeans, corn, and other crops. “Honeybees and other pollinators are dying in droves because of insecticides like sulfoxaflor, yet the Trump administration removes restrictions just to please the chemical industry,” Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie said in a press release. “This is illegal and an affront to our food system, economy, and environment.”

Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max

AntiWar.com News -

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is adding lies on top of lies to cover up his backing of the Iraq invasion. At last night’s ABC/DNC debate Biden lied about his Iraq record, just like he did at the first two debates. In the July debate, Biden claimed: “From the moment ‘shock and awe’ started, from that … Continue reading "Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max"

The post Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

After Last Night’s Debate, We’re in a Two-Person Race

Mother Jones Magazine -

538 has some interesting charts showing who did well and who did poorly at last night’s debate. Here’s one that shows before and after from a single panel of likely voters:

I suppose I’m glad to see that my instincts were mostly confirmed. Of the top-tier candidates, Warren did well and Harris did poorly. Another chart shows that Julián Castro’s dig at Biden’s memory was disastrous for him. The only (minor) surprise to me is that Andrew Yang scored slightly positively.

For the time being, this is basically a two-person race. Sanders has never been a serious contender, no matter what the polling says, and Harris is slowly slipping into oblivion. It’s Biden vs. Warren.

Director of National Intelligence Tells Congress to Fuck Off

Mother Jones Magazine -

A few days ago the inspector general for the intelligence community notified Congress of a whistleblower complaint that was both credible and a matter of “urgent concern.” Rep. Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, naturally asked the Director of National Intelligence to provide a copy of the complaint, as required by law. The DNI told him to pound sand. Now Schiff is pissed off:

As Acting Director of National Intelligence, you have neither the legal authority nor the discretion to overrule a determination by the IC IG. Moreover, you do not possess the authority to withhold from the Committee a whistleblower disclosure from within the Intelligence Community that is intended for Congress.

….Your office, moreover, has refused to affirm or deny that officials or lawyers at the White House have been involved in your decision to withhold the complaint from the Committee….The Committee can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the serious misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials. This raises grave concerns that your office, together with the Department of Justice and possibly the White House, are engaged in an unlawful effort to protect the President and conceal from the Committee information related to his possible “serious or flagrant” misconduct, abuse of power, or violation of law.

Accordingly, due to the urgency of the matter and the unlawful decision by your office to withhold from the Committee an Intelligence Community individual’s credible “urgent concern” whistleblower disclosure, the Committee hereby issues the attached subpoena compelling you to transmit immediately to the Committee the disclosure, in complete and unaltered form, as well as to produce other related materials.

The acting DNI, unsurprisingly, is claiming that the whistleblower complaint contains confidential and privileged information, which means he’s not required to turn it over. This has become the Trump administration’s go-to move, despite the fact that, almost by definition, everything the intelligence community deals with is confidential and privileged.

Stay tuned.

N.Y. Finds $1B in Hidden Transfers by Family Behind OxyContin

TruthDig.com News -

NEW YORK — The family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma used Swiss and other hidden accounts to transfer $1 billion to themselves, New York state’s attorney general contends in court papers filed Friday.

New York — asking a judge to enforce subpoenas of companies, banks and advisers to Purdue and its owners, the Sackler family — said it has uncovered the previously unknown wire transfers among family members, entities they control and several financial institutions.

The transfers bolster allegations by New York and other states that the Sacklers worked to shield their wealth in recent years because of mounting worries about legal threats.

Related Articles by ProPublica by ProPublica by

Scores of those transactions sent millions of dollars to Mortimer D.A. Sackler, a former member of Purdue’s board and son of one of its founders, according to the filings.

They point to $20 million shifted from a Purdue parent company to Sackler, who then redirected substantial amounts to shell companies that own family homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons. Another $64 million in transfers to Sackler came from a previously unknown family trust, using a Swiss account, prosecutors said in their filing.

Representatives for the branch of the family that includes Mortimer D.A. Sackler did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The filing, made in a New York court, follows decisions by that state and others to reject a tentative settlement with Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, announced this week, arguing it does not do enough to make amends for the company’s and family’s alleged roles in flooding U.S. communities with prescription painkillers.

As part of the settlement, Purdue is likely to soon file for bankruptcy protection. But New York and other states have promised they will continue to pursue the Sacklers, alleging that family members drained more than $4 billion from the company over the past dozen years. The family has used a complex chain of companies and trusts to control their holdings, some located in offshore tax havens.

The Sacklers had an estimated net worth of $13 billion as of 2016, making them America’s 19th-richest family, according to Forbes magazine.

In its filing Friday, New York told a state judge that the only way it can determine the full extent of those transfers is if all those it has subpoenaed are forced to provide documents detailing their interactions with the Sackler family.

“While the Sacklers continue to lowball victims and skirt a responsible settlement, we refuse to allow the family to misuse the courts in an effort to shield their financial misconduct. The limited number of documents provided to us so far underscore the necessity for compliance with every subpoena,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

The post N.Y. Finds $1B in Hidden Transfers by Family Behind OxyContin appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Thousands of Poor Patients Face Lawsuits From Nonprofit Hospitals

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This article was originally published on ProPublica and produced in partnership with MLK50, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

Over the past few months, several hospitals have announced major changes to their financial assistance policies, including curtailing the number of lawsuits they file against low-income patients unable to pay their medical bills.

Investigative reports have spurred the moves, and they prompted criticism from a top federal official.

“We are learning the lengths to which certain not-for-profit hospitals go to collect the full list price from uninsured patients,” Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told board members of the American Hospital Association on Tuesday, according to published remarks. “This is unacceptable. Hospitals must be paid for their work, but it’s actions like these that have led to calls for a complete Washington takeover of the entire health care system.”

In June, ProPublica published a story with MLK50 on the Memphis, Tennessee-based nonprofit hospital system Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. It brought more than 8,300 lawsuits against patients, including dozens against its own employees, for unpaid medical bills over five years. In thousands of cases, the hospital attempted to garnish defendants’ paychecks to collect the debt.

After our investigation, the hospital temporarily suspended its legal actions and announced a review. That resulted in the hospital raising its workers’ wages, expanding its financial assistance policy and announcing that it would not sue its lowest-income patients. “We were humbled,” the hospital’s CEO, Michael Ugwueke, told reporters.

The same month, NPR reported that Virginia’s nonprofit Mary Washington Hospital was suing more patients for unpaid medical bills than any hospital in the state. Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University, and fellow researchers had documented 20,000 lawsuits filed by Virginia hospitals in 2017 alone. The research team found that nonprofit hospitals more frequently garnished wages than their public and for-profit peers.

In mid-August, The Oklahoman reported that dozens of hospitals across the state had filed more than 22,250 suits against former patients since 2016. Saint Francis Health System, a nonprofit that includes eight hospitals, filed the most lawsuits in the three-year span.

In the first week of September, The New York Times reported that Carlsbad Medical Center in New Mexico had sued 3,000 of its patients since 2015. That report was also based on findings from Makary, who just published the book “The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care — and How to Fix It.”

And this week, Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post chronicled how Virginia’s state-run University of Virginia Health System sued patients more than 36,000 times over a six-year span.

There is no federal law mandating that nonprofit hospitals provide a specific amount of charity care, nor is there readily accessible data measuring how aggressively each hospital pursues patients for unpaid bills. But consumer advocates say the revelations in recent coverage on hospitals’ litigation practices are troubling.

“It’s dismaying to see how common it is,” said Jenifer Bosco, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center who helped craft a Model Medical Debt Protection Act.

Nearly half of the nation’s 6,200 hospitals are nonprofits, meaning they are exempt from paying most local, state and federal taxes in return for providing community benefits.

But the issue of nonprofit hospitals engaging in aggressive debt collection practices that push the very communities they are designed to assist into poverty isn’t new.

In 2014, ProPublica reported on a small Missouri hospital that filed 11,000 lawsuits over a five-year span. In response, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, opened an investigation, and the hospital forgave the debts owed by thousands of former patients.

In 2003, The Wall Street Journal detailed how Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut had pursued a patient’s widow to pay off his late wife’s 20-year-old medical bills. The hospital canceled the debt following the article.

“Some of these things are really outrageous,” said Jessica Curtis, a policy expert with Community Catalyst who helped draft billing protections for patients in the Affordable Care Act. “There are really aggressive tactics being used and little consideration or understanding for how those tactics actually impact people.”

Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in February to renew his inquiries into whether nonprofit hospitals provide sufficient community benefits to qualify for tax breaks.

Since publishing our story on Methodist hospital in Memphis, we’ve continued to work with communities in the city to better understand the toll these lawsuits are taking.

We’ve learned from our reporting that, because of the stigma around owing money, people who’ve been sued sometimes don’t want to discuss it with a reporter. So we’ve tried to reach people in several ways, including letters sent in the mail, flyers posted in spots they might frequent and graphics we’re sharing on Facebook. We’re learning a bit more every day about what resonates with the community, and we hope to report back on that soon.

The post Thousands of Poor Patients Face Lawsuits From Nonprofit Hospitals appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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