“Our culture is not up for sale”: The stakes of Trump’s push to drill in the Arctic refuge

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of public land in Alaska the size of South Carolina, is one of the last untouched landscapes in the world. The native Gwich’in people — who have lived in harmony with the area’s migratory Porcupine caribou herd for centuries — call the refuge’s vast coastal plain Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, or “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

But in the past few years, the fate of the refuge’s roughly 19.5 million acres has become rather bleak: Its permafrost is melting rapidly, along with the rest of the Arctic region. The refuge’s coastal plain also remains at risk to oil and gas development, which companies have long had their eye on but have been barred from doing — until now.

Drilling in the US Arctic is what President Trump has longed to do, in hopes of making the US the No. 1 energy producer in the world. And in early December, the administration made a stunning, last-ditch announcement that it will auction off drilling rights in the refuge on January 6 — two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. It’s the administration’s final attempt to turn a profit on Indigenous lands with little regard for the environmental or cultural ramifications.”

“For centuries, the Arctic refuge — particularly the coastal plain — has been central to Alaska Natives’ way of life. The ancestral name of the plain refers to the calving grounds for the caribou, whose migratory path still guides the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people today. If oil drilling rights in the sacred land are sold, Alaskan Natives fear it would disrupt the caribou’s migratory patterns along with other wildlife. It would also interrupt the way the Gwich’in people prepare for sacred harvest as their ancestors have thousands of years ago.

“This is not just a Gwich’in issue; there are a lot of Alaska Natives who depend on the caribou and the animals that migrate there,” Bernadette Demientieff, a Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in and the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told Vox. “Our identity as Gwich’in is not up for negotiation and our culture is not up for sale. We will fight this every step of the way.”

Already, the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline on the west end of the national refuge, which has had multiple hazardous oil spills in the region, provides a stark reminder of the fossil fuel industry’s menacing presence on Indigenous lands. Fossil fuel operations emit tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to the planet’s warming temperatures. And to do so on Indigenous lands in the Arctic — already dubbed ground zero for the climate crisis — only adds insult to injury for communities most vulnerable to climate change, like the Gwich’in people.”

Will Cities Survive 2020?

“Kirkland requires that any accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—often known as granny flats or in-law suites—can be no larger than 800 square feet and no higher than 15 feet above the main home. They also must come with an off-street parking space.

Of the people who applied for such permits in Kirkland since 1995, nearly half never ended up starting construction. A survey by the city in 2018 found that design constraints were the biggest difficulty applicants faced.

Kirkland’s granny flat rule is just one of countless examples of ordinances, restrictions, and red tape that have slowly wrapped up America’s cities, regulating how much people can build, where they can build it, and what they can use it for.

While often justified initially as a means of protecting public health, zoning codes have now gone far beyond nuisance laws—which limited themselves to regulating the externalities of the most noxious polluters—and control of infectious disease. They instead incorporated planners’ desires to scientifically manage cities, protect property values, and combat the moral corruption that supposedly came with high-density housing.”

“”It’s a bit counterintuitive. Very large cities have problems of pollution and congestion, which are very difficult to solve,” says Alain Bertaud, a senior research scholar at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management. “In spite of all that…these messy cities, if you look at what people produce, they produce a much larger part of the [gross domestic product] than the rest of the country per capita.”

Cities at their root, says Bertaud, are labor markets where people are presented with lots of choices about where to work and companies have lots of options for whom to hire. This intense intermingling of capital and labor means innovative ideas can spread more quickly and production can become more specialized. The result is that urban economies end up producing more wealth than would be possible if the workers and firms that inhabit them were spread out among smaller communities.”

“In 1793, Philadelphia, then America’s capital, was hit with a severe outbreak of yellow fever that killed 10 percent of the city’s population. “It’s pretty shocking, and it’s something that the founding fathers had to deal with. I think it’s left out of the musical Hamilton,” says Catherine Brinkley, an assistant professor of community and regional development at the University of California, Davis.

This outbreak of yellow fever, says Brinkley, inspired the first efforts to start cleaning up city streets through mucking out gutters and creating alleyways where waste could be dumped. Cholera outbreaks in American cities in the 19th century led to the creation of the first systems that could pipe in clean water and carry away sewage.

The stubborn unwillingness of people to abandon cities even in the face of periodic epidemics gave rise to interventions that made urban life a little less deadly. In his 2011 book Triumph of the City, the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser notes that developments like municipal water service and waste collection—which he calls “self-protecting urban innovations”—led to significant reductions in urban mortality. Between the end of the Civil War and the 1920s, the death rate in New York City dropped by two-thirds. Chicago saw a similar decline over the same period, with about half that fall in mortality chalked up to the provision of clean water.

The later addition of use-segregating, density-restricting zoning codes, predicated on the now-discredited “miasma” theory that a lack of light and air was to blame for the spread of urban disease, did much less to improve public health.”

“Most folks, whether they’re medieval Parisians or modern Americans, are unwilling to spend more than 30 minutes traveling, one way, between home and work.

This iron law of urban commuting—sometimes known as Marchetti’s constant, after Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti—has profound implications for how cities look, and, particularly, how sprawling or dense they can be.

If cities exist primarily as labor markets, and people are generally only willing to spend 30 minutes getting to work, the scale of an urban area’s agglomeration effects is going to depend on (a) how many jobs your average city worker can reach within a half-hour’s travel from his home and (b) how many employees can live within 30 minutes of your average city firm.

One can imagine two basic ways of adjusting for this reality: building up to accommodate more homes and firms within a given space, or speeding travel so that more destinations can be reached in a given amount of time.

Physical limits on both building and transportation technology meant that for the first few thousand years of their existence, cities tended to be pretty small, cramped places. Jonathan English, writing for CityLab in 2019, showed that pre-industrial urban areas packed most of their populations within a mile of the city center in order to accommodate a half-hour walking commute. The 19th century brought with it innovations not just in public health but also in transportation and building construction, allowing cities to grow beyond their previous limitations.”

Trump’s last stand on immigration

“Immigrants have applied to become US citizens in increasing numbers since Trump took office, which some policy analysts say is the effect of the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. But the path hasn’t been easy. They’re facing ballooning processing times, higher fees, more intensive vetting, and the possibility of later losing their citizenship at the hands of the Justice Department’s “denaturalization section.”

As of December 1, they also have to pass an updated, more difficult citizenship test. And on November 18, the Trump administration also updated its policy guidance to advise officials at US Citizenship and Immigration Services to scrutinize citizenship applicants about how they obtained their green cards, among other factors, changes that immigration advocates argue will result in longer processing times and more denials.

Both changes represent additional barriers to citizenship for the roughly 9.2 million immigrants living in the US who are eligible to naturalize.”

“The Trump administration has pursued a vast regulatory agenda aimed at curbing asylum and other humanitarian protections for migrants arriving on the southern border.

As part of a last-minute push, it issued a death blow to the system on Thursday with a sweeping final regulation that would bar huge swaths of asylum seekers from obtaining protection, including those who face persecution on the basis of gender and resistance to gang recruitment, and as victims of criminal coercion. Those targeted by international criminal gangs like MS-13 will therefore likely face a much narrower path to asylum under the rule.”

“The Biden administration would have to issue new regulations to rescind any of the regulations Trump has finalized, including likely going through the burdensome process of giving the public notice and the opportunity to comment. It could also try to revise any regulations subject to ongoing litigation through a court settlement.”

“Though Trump has often claimed that he supports legal immigration, he has put up substantial barriers to foreign workers and is continuing to do so in his final days in office.

Trump issued an executive order earlier this year that froze the issuance of visas for most foreign workers applying from outside the US through the end of the year on account of Covid-19, and he is expected to extend that order. President-elect Joe Biden has criticized the policy, calling it a “yet another attempt to distract” from his administration’s “failure to lead an effective response to COVID-19.” He told NBC News in June that the policy “will not be in my administration.”

The Trump administration is also pursuing regulations that would hamstring the health care industry, universities, nonprofits, and businesses that rely on foreign talent.”

Why the US government wants Facebook to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp

“the US Federal Trade Commission and 48 US state attorneys general filed major lawsuits against Facebook that argue the social media giant is a monopoly whose anti-competitive practices harm Americans.

The two lawsuits, which follow more than a year of investigations, are the biggest antitrust challenge Facebook has faced. They both essentially call for Facebook to be broken up by forcing it to undo its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, which together have billions of users.

The lawsuits allege that such action may be necessary because Facebook has crushed its competitors and achieved dominance by buying potential rivals, and that this limits American consumers’ choices and reduces their access to privacy protections.

“They stifled innovation, and they degraded privacy protections for millions of Americans,” New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the states’ lawsuit (which includes 46 states plus Washington, DC, and Guam), told reporters on Wednesday. “No company should have this much unchecked power over our personal information and our social interactions.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a blog post published by the company on Wednesday called the lawsuits “revisionist history.” The company emphasized that its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram were approved by the FTC years ago, and said allowing a “do-over” would raise a concerning precedent that “no sale will ever be final.””

Phoenix Will Pay $3 Million Settlement After Police Shot a Man During a Noise Complaint. The Officers Are Still Employed.

“The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to pay $3 million to the family of Ryan Whitaker, who was shot and killed several months ago by police investigating a noise complaint and who did not receive immediate medical assistance after the incident.

Taxpayers will be footing the bill. Taxpayers are also footing the bill for the salaries of the cops—Officer Jeff Cooke, who pulled the trigger, and Officer John Ferragamo, who too was on the call—as they are both still employed by the Phoenix Police Department (PPD).”

“Whitaker answered the door with a firearm at his waist, which he legally owned, and can be seen in the body cam footage immediately getting on his knees in surrender. Cooke then shot him twice in the back.”

“The PPD has developed somewhat of a sordid track record of late. The city shelled out $475,000 to Dravon Ames and his family after police brandished their weapons and threatened to shoot him and his pregnant fiancée when their 4-year-old daughter shoplifted a Barbie from a Family Dollar store in May 2019. “I’m gonna put a fucking cap right in your fucking head!” a cop can be heard saying in video footage captured via a bystander. That same officer, Chris Meyer, is seen kicking Ames after he had been handcuffed, and the family’s suit alleges the officer punched Ames “very hard in the back for no reason.” Meyer has since been terminated.

And in August of this year, Ramon Lopez died after a group of cops pinned him down on hot asphalt for several minutes, streaking his back with what appear to be burns. He was reported for loitering in a parking lot, “sticking his tongue out,” and “looking at people’s cars.”

All three instances provide a gruesome window into excessive force. But they also put forward an important lesson on the potential effects of overcriminalization—particularly in Whitaker’s and Lopez’s cases—where armed agents of the state are routinely relied upon not only to address violent crimes, but to investigate minor inconveniences.”

Biden rescinds Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy that enabled family separation

“The Biden administration has ended former President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which provided the underpinnings for family separation by seeking to prosecute every migrant who crossed the border without authorization.

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop the separations in 2018 — after more than 5,000 families were separated. Attorneys still can’t find the parents of more than 600 children; many of the parents were deported back to their home countries, while others are believed to be in the US. Biden has promised to create a task force to work on family reunification, and an announcement is expected later this week.

The Department of Justice issued a memo on Tuesday night rescinding the policy, which was implemented in April 2018 under then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Acting US Attorney General Monty Wilkinson wrote Tuesday that the policy was “inconsistent” with the DOJ’s mandate to consider individual circumstances — including criminal history, the seriousness of the offense and the potential sentence or other consequences of conviction — when making decisions to charge people with the crime of crossing the border without authorization.

Trump officials claimed that they had no choice under the zero-tolerance policy but to prosecute and detain the adults while sending the children to other facilities designed to administer their care. But the officials ignored the possibility of releasing the families from detention together, as prior administrations had done.”

“The Trump administration started separating families in immigration detention back in 2017, beginning with a pilot program in El Paso, Texas. The practice was later expanded along the border in the spring of 2018, when Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy.

Parents were sent to immigration detention to await deportation proceedings. Their children, meanwhile, were sent to separate facilities designed to hold children and, in some cases, released to other family members in the US or to foster homes. Previous administrations, in most cases, would have simply released the families from detention together if there was insufficient room in family detention facilities.”

Poll: Americans are really worried about making sure $1,400 checks go to the “right” people

“A new poll of 1,164 likely voters conducted January 15 to 19 by Vox and Data for Progress (DFP) reveals an oft-ignored truth: Sometimes the reason optimal policy doesn’t happen isn’t because of bad politicians; it’s because voters don’t want it to pass.

In the poll, 60 percent of likely voters said they would support sending a $1,400 one-time payment to most Americans as part of Covid-19 relief. That’s great news — the $1,200 stimulus checks last year were shown to have reduced poverty and helped Americans stay afloat in the first months of the crisis.

But that same number (60 percent) support means-testing the aid, agreeing with the statement: “Checks should be phased out based on income so higher income people receive less money.” The poll, which has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points, also found that nearly as many likely voters (56 percent) are opposed to sending stimulus checks to undocumented people.

Voters may not fully understand the trade-offs to means-testing and restricting aid to undocumented Americans (namely, that many people experiencing financial difficulties may be left out due to poor targeting). But the stance is consistent with another DFP finding, which Matt Yglesias wrote about for his newsletter Slow Boring, revealing that voters would rather some vaccine doses expire than allow “some people to cut in line.” In essence, that means most voters would rather have more people get Covid-19 and potentially die than have someone get a vaccine dose before they “should.”

Opposition to the wealthy receiving financial assistance from the government and hostility to undocumented immigrants isn’t surprising, but these findings showcase something very important: Voters are so concerned about the perceived “fairness” of the economic response that it could hamstring optimal policymaking.”

“America is in a crisis, and it’s a trade-off between speed and accuracy. Yes, some people who get the money may save it, they may not be financially harmed by the pandemic, and it may feel unfair, but it’s better that everyone struggling gets the money as quickly as possible than we slow down the process over a flawed conception of justice.”

“Proponents of means-testing may point to recent data that stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 don’t benefit the economy — in essence arguing it’s a waste of government spending. However, as Matthews pointed out, the simple fix to this would be to just tax rich people more later to recoup the costs instead of wasting time during a pandemic trying to design the optimal program. Additionally, we only have this data in hindsight — at the time, it wasn’t obvious where the dividing line between “affected by the pandemic” and “unaffected” was.”

“One silver lining in the poll is the finding that 51 percent of likely voters are in favor of automatic stabilizers that “automatically trigger more spending on programs like unemployment insurance or SNAP if the economy experiences a contraction.” It’s something Biden has signaled his support for and that could help the nation avoid wasting precious time the next time there’s a recession.”

Congressional Democrats Push $15 Minimum Wage on Struggling Businesses

“House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, more than doubling the current $7.25 hourly rate.

The House reportedly plans to include the measure in its upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation. The main problem: That would provide the polar opposite of relief to businesses buckling under the weight of COVID-19 and the associated government lockdowns.

As has been the case over the past year, the congressional aid package is, in part, supposed to resuscitate livelihoods decimated by state-required closures and restrictions. It’s richly ironic that a heightened minimum wage would be yet another mandate that business-owners might need help counteracting. Relief from the relief.”

“The Democrats’ measure is unlikely to pass in conventional fashion, as it would require the votes of at least 10 Senate Republicans to overcome the filibuster. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) said instead that they will pursue a backroad and seek to make it law via budget reconciliation, though the restrictions on that process make success there unlikely as well.

Sanders is undeterred. “Let’s be clear. The $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage is a starvation wage,” he said in a statement. “No person in America can make it on $8, $10, or $12 an hour.” There are a few problems there. The foremost: It’s even harder to make it on $0 an hour.”

President Biden Should Tell Chicago Teachers To Return to School

“Chicago Public Schools, though, has already implemented many of the mitigation strategies that government planners have in mind, and the district believes teachers can safely go back to class. Officials have good reason to think this: Outside major cities, many schools—including a great number of private schools that lack easy access to government dollars—have been open since at least September, and there’s simply no evidence of widespread disease in classrooms. Schools have not played host to superspreader events, and there’s little reason to think that students are infecting their teachers. Even the CDC, which is hardly known for taking an incautious approach to resuming normal life, says that schools can reopen safely.”