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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

betsydevoss333Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (Photo: Gage Skidomore)

In a sweeping move this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put student loan debtors at greater risk of high-pressure collection tactics for government-backed loans, according to Bloomberg:

Obama issued a pair (PDF) of memorandums (PDF) last year requiring that the government’s Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt. But in a memorandum (PDF) to the department’s student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos.

According to the report in Bloomberg, the Obama administration had taken action through the Department of Education to protect student borrowers from predatory loan collectors:

A recent epidemic of student loan defaults and what authorities describe as systematic mistreatment of borrowers prompted the Obama administration, in its waning days, to force the FSA office to emphasize how debtors are treated, rather than maximize the amount of cash they can stump up to meet their obligations.

Obama’s team also sought to reduce the possibility that new contracts would be given to companies that mislead or otherwise harm debtors. The current round of contracts will terminate in 2019, and among three finalists for a new contract is Navient Corp. In January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.

Bloomberg notes the reaction to the move by the Illinois attorney general: "In a statement Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is suing Navient [a large student loan debt collector for the federal government], agreed: 'The Department of Education has decided it does not need to protect student loan borrowers.'"

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 08:21

Trump Doesn’t Know a Damn Thing About Dams

GARY WOCKNER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Dam 0412wrp opt(Photo: Qurren)Donald Trump finally opened his mouth about dams and hydropower last week. The result is as bad as you can imagine.

Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, tweeted what Trump had to say:

"Hydropower is great, great, form of power—we don't even talk about it, because to get the environmental permits are virtually impossible. It's one of the best things you can do—hydro. But we don't talk about it anymore."

But, once again, Trump is dead wrong.

CASSIE KELLY OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Seaweed 0412wrp opt(Photo: Flyingdream)The answer to powering our devices might have been hiding in our sushi all along. An international team of researchers has used seaweed to create a material that can enhance the performance of superconductors, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.

The team, from the U.S., the UK, China and Belgium, came up with the idea to mimic Murray's Law, which is a natural process within the structure of a plant's pores that pumps water or air throughout the plant to provide it energy. With Murray's law, the larger the pore, the less energy expended because the pressure is reduced, but it takes different variations in size to create a balancing act across the body of the plant and maximize energy potential. In seaweed's case, the plant has the perfect pore variation for regulating energy in real world applications.

"The introduction of the concept of Murray's Law to industrial processes could revolutionize the design of reactors with highly enhanced efficiency, minimum energy, time and raw material consumption for a sustainable future," said Bao-Lian Su, professor at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the research.

The scientists made the "Murray material" by embedding an extract of the seaweed into multiple layers of nano-fibers of zinc oxide, which created a hierarchy in the size of the pores. They believe the material can be used on rechargeable batteries, high performance gas sensing technology or even to decompose inorganic material in the oceans.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acaphoto (Photo: Ted Eytan)

The temporarily dormant GOP House proposal to restructure the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would result in large tax breaks being provided to for-profit insurance companies. That is the conclusion of a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive multi-issue research center in Washington, DC. An IPS news release states: 

The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would give health insurance companies a huge tax break on their executive compensation, encouraging them to dole out even larger pay packages to their already overpaid top managers.

The plan would re-introduce a tax loophole that allows corporations unlimited deductions for executive pay -- as long as the pay is in the form of stock options or other so-called “performance” compensation. Obamacare eliminated this loophole for health insurance companies, imposing a strict $500,000 limit on deductions for the expense of each executive’s compensation. This set an important precedent for reducing taxpayer subsidies for CEO pay.

Among key findings in the IPS report, "The CEO Pay Tax Break in the Republican Health Care Proposal," are:

  • The ACA deductibility limits generated an estimated $92 million in additional public revenue in 2015 from just these companies (Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealth). On average, these corporations owed an extra $3.5 million in taxes per executive.

  • This $92 million in savings from limiting pay-related deductions for just 26 executives is the equivalent of the average annual ACA premium subsidies for 28,500 Americans.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017 08:34

Kentucky Coal Museum Goes Solar

2017.11.4 BF Mcdermott(Photo: Minoru Karamatsu)CHRIS MCDERMOTT OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum will always commemorate the past, but now it's also looking to the future by switching to solar power.

The museum, owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, is located in Benham, a once thriving coal town portrayed in the 1976 Oscar-winning documentary Harlan County, USA.

The museum decided to move forward with the solar project after budget cuts pressured the college to reduce operating expenses.

"In the current economic times we're in, any way to save money is always appreciated and helpful," Brandon Robinson, museum communications director, said. "Especially when that's money we put back toward teaching our students.

2017.11.4 BF Jackson(Photo: mrami)PATRICIA JACKSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

My childhood began in World War II, my teenage years framed by the Korean War and the Cold War. My friends and I grew up under fear fueled by McCarthyism and the threat of atom and hydrogen bombs. We learned in school to "duck and cover" as though nuclear fallout could be dissipated by a child's wooden desk. Our lives as young adults became enmeshed with the Vietnam War.

As a woman, I was not subject to the draft. My male friends were "called up" -- an attempt to equate military enlisting with that of a religious calling. I attended draft board hearings as a character witness for friends who objected to serving based on personal or religious beliefs. These often were not accepted. Friends fled to Canada, leaving us behind to protest the war. From growing up with wars as children to our activism protesting them, war dominated my generation's entire existence. A youth born in 2001 has lived an entire lifetime during the war on terror.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

beardenAn example of a bear den for cubs. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife)

An Associated Press (AP) article verifies that the federal government will no longer be able to prohibit the hunting of previously protected "predator" animals, such as wolves and grizzly bears, on federal reserves in Alaska. This effectively gives hunters permission to kill newborn animals asleep in their dens. The AP reports:

The state of Alaska's toolkit for increasing moose and caribou numbers includes killing wolf pups in dens, shooting wolf packs from helicopters, and adopting liberal hunting regulations that allow sportsmen to shoot grizzlies over bait.

But when state officials wanted to extend "predator control" to federal wildlife refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said no. And after years of saying no, the agency late last year adopted a rule to make the denial permanent.

Alaska's elected officials called that an outrage and an infringement on state rights. The dispute reached the White House.

President Donald Trump on Monday [April 3] signed a resolution approved by the U.S. House and Senate to revoke a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule banning most predator control on Alaska refuges.

According to the Alaska Daily News, Alaska still has some predator hunting controls, but the state will no longer be under a federal mandate to promulgate them. 

CASSIE KELLY OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Coal 0410wrp opt(Photo: Rygel, M.C.)This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which operates more than 200 million acres of public land, made a statement by [temporarily] changing the banner image on their website from a vast mountain range to a massive coal seam in Wyoming—staking an obvious claim in the Trump administration's campaign to bring coal and other industry jobs back to the U.S.

The [rotation came] just days after the president granted his entire salary since being in office, about $78,000, to the National Park Service, which is under the same umbrella as the BLM, both managed by the Department of the Interior. The Sierra Club was quick to point out that this sum was minuscule compared to the budget cuts Trump has proposed on the Interior, which will amount to a 12 percent slash in funding, or about $2 billion overall. [The coal seam image has now been rotated off.]

"If Donald Trump is actually interested in helping our parks, he should stop trying to slash their budgets to historically low levels," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "This publicity stunt is a sad consolation prize as Trump tries to stifle America's best idea."

The BLM manages streams and rivers, hiking trails, oil and gas fields, and coal mines. The shift from green mountains to dingy coal on their website might signify, therefore, that the little funding they have left will go to the latter. BLM spokesperson Jeff Krauss said, however, that the new image is simply part of an IT redesign, which allows for rotating photos of the many public lands BLM manages.

CARL POPE OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Dow 0410wrp opt(Photo: Amitchell125)Chlorpyrifos belongs to the same family as the nerve gas sarin—suspected of being behind the appalling chemical weapon attack which occurred this week in Syria, provoking appropriate outrage from the administration. But EPA has just decided to allow the continued dousing of America's rural landscapes with a close cousin—a different chemical weapon.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most frequently cited causes of farm-worker pesticide poisoning—but is particularly toxic to young children and the fetus. The pesticide has come across my email screens periodically for over a decade, as organizations like the Nature Resources Defense Council slogged forward, petitioning the EPA to implement a simple requirement of federal pesticide law: that any pesticide must be shown to be safe before use. In 2015 the agency said is intended to ban it—but didn't finalize the decision. Eventually, courts ordered EPA to make a final decision on the ban—and Pruitt decided to ignore the science.

He did not do so because he asserted that chlorpyrifos was safe; he simply said that there were uncertainties, and that in that situation farmers were entitled to continue to use the chemical, exposing farm workers, their children, surrounding communities and consumers of food sprayed with the chemical, to a pesticide whose safety is at best highly dubious—in quantities up to 14,000 times the safe level.

"We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment," Pruitt said—not the message you would expect to hear from a pediatrician if you asked him if you should give your kids foods laced with a potent neurotoxin that has been shown to damage their mental development.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Activism 0407wrp opt(Photo: Carolmooredc)The list of progressive innovations at the grassroots level goes on and on, dealing with one big, complex issue after another that small-minded, corporatist ideologues refuse to tackle (often under the "principle" that government — i.e., the public, i.e., you and me — shouldn't be involved). Not only should we, but we must, for our activism is the only hope of restoring America's democratic principles and uniting ethic of the common good.

For instance, homelessness, we're told by pious politicos, is impossible to cure, and so more and more cities are resorting to criminalizing people struggling to live on the streets. But wait, say proponents of a new way of thinking: Yes, some street people are addicts or mentally ill, but the vast majority are out there because they lost jobs, got hit with major medical bills, suffered family violence or had other personal crises. And, get this — they're homeless because they don't have a place to live! Until the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan reduced tax incentives for developers to create low-income homes, America didn't have mass homelessness. But now we're millions of units short of housing that hard-hit people and families can afford. So why not address the cause?

Follow me from downtown Austin, Texas, to the eastern edge of Travis County, turn onto Hog Eye Road and go a short distance where you'll come on a giant sign saying "WELCOME." It fronts an astounding success named Community First! Village — a 27-acre, master-planned community (as opposed to temporary shelters) for 250 chronically homeless people — about a fourth of Austin's street dwellers. It's the creation of a small non-profit group, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, that's richly rooted in the religious mission espoused in Jesus's "Sermon on the Mount," admonishing the faithful to serve the needy. Indeed, the village doesn't proselytize, it serves — by providing a welcoming community of, b, and for the very people who have previously been publicly disparaged, shoved out of sight, and denied even minimal human dignity.

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