Categories
Government

The Affordable Care Act: Field tested in battle conditions

How can you tell if armor is any good? You field test it. You shoot stuff at it. You shoot a lot of stuff at it.

Think Progress created a one-page timeline of GOP attacks on the Affordable Care Act. After looking at the extraordinary degree the GOP went to undermine and/or kill the ACA, I came away with a feeling that this thing must be pretty good—look at how it survived all these attacks.

What’s a bit sad about the timeline is knowing that the GOP has spent most of its time the last several years either trying to prevent people like me from having access to affordable health care or ensuring that women have little or no control over their bodies—or both. Seriously, GOP, my god, don’t you have anything else to do?!

Regardless of all the attempts, the ACA survived. It not only survived, but I’m now a proud possessor of a genuine healthcare policy, provided via the Healthcare Marketplace, that allows me to see the doctors I want to see. I had originally decided to go with an Anthem Blue Shield plan, but the company is having problems with its own systems and the provider network wasn’t that great. Instead, I went with Coventry and I can see the doctors I want to see and it covers all the nearby hospitals and urgent care centers. The deductible and co-pays aren’t too bad, either.

All the GOP warnings about the many and myriad failures of the Affordable Care Act—of Obamacare—have proven to be false. False. The hysteria has been proven to be nonsensical, the assertions are unfounded, even the court challenges have, for the most part, been unsuccessful. The only court case of importance that still exists (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores) should give even the GOP cause for concern because if the Supreme Court determines corporations can have religious freedom as well as freedom of speech, we’re all in a world of hurt. And that includes the corporations because a religious ruling undermines the economic separation between corporate owners and corporate actions (which is why the Chamber of Commerce is rooting for the government’s side in this one).

The real problem, though, isn’t with the GOP. No, the real problem is with the Democrats. And people like me.

See, once I stopped having problems with the Marketplace and was able to get a healthcare policy, I never said another word about the ACA. I bitched about the system, but when it came through in the end, not a peep.

That’s a heck of a way to thank a system that ensures I have healthcare coverage for the first time in five years.

And Democrats, oh my. When did aliens come from another planet and rip the backbone out of every Democratic candidate for office in the land? Instead of holding up the ACA with pride—because they, more or less, single-handedly solved one of this country’s biggest problems—they either pretend the ACA doesn’t exist, or they actually repudiate it.

Seriously, Democrats create a system that, over time, will ensure the majority of people have adequate healthcare coverage in the only industrialized nation that didn’t ensure this previously, and they run for rocks when it’s mentioned.

Well here’s a clue, gutless ones: I won’t vote for a Democrat that doesn’t go, “Damn straight, I’m proud of the ACA!”

We need to stop letting the GOP control the discussion about the Affordable Care Act. We need to stop pandering to the ignorant and the paranoid and the libertarians who, frankly, can only be libertarian because our government is so damn strong.

The Affordable Care Act is a good thing. End of Story.

Categories
Critters

Elephants escape Shrine circus in St. Louis and damage cars

I have spent considerable time building a list of negative incidents associated with circus elephants in the United States since 1800. Thanks to Google’s newspaper archive, I’m discovering several more to add to what is already a large list.

Of course, sometimes the incidents happen in real time.

Three circus elephants got loose and damaged two cars in the parking lot of the Family Arena on Saturday afternoon before being corralled by trainers, according to the circus’ sponsor.

Dennis Kelley, president of the Moolah Shriners of Eastern Missouri, which has been sponsoring the Moolah Shrine Circus for decades, said the incident happened during a performance about 5 p.m. He said no people were in the parking lot when the elephants somehow escaped from the back of the arena in St. Charles. The elephants roamed an area of the parking lot where only circus and Shriners employees’ cars were parked.

Two cars were damaged, he said.

Circus elephants damage cars during brief escape in Family Arena parking lot

According to Fox News, four vehicles were damaged.

And now the story has been picked up by the Washington Post, which noted that the venue’s loading door was also damaged.

Yes, I think we can assume the USDA is quickly coming to investigate the Royal Hannaford’s elephant handling. The Royal Hannaford is the actual circus contracted by the Shriners, and this is not the Royal Hannaford’s first incident.

KMOV notes the elephants were from the children’s rides. “Officials confirmed these are the elephants children can ride, however, no children were on the elephants when they got loose.”

Elephants have hurt handlers, children, and adults when used for rides. It would be safer to send your kids out into a busy street to play.

CNN has video of the elephants in the lot, and eye witness accounts. Note that this wasn’t a simple case of elephants just wandering out of their enclosure—evidently they panicked during a performance. This was a potentially extremely dangerous situation, which the circus is attempting to downplay. I expect severe repercussions from the USDA.

CNN story

Circuses haven’t been good for elephants, and forcing them to perform in circuses hasn’t always been that great for people, either.

PDF of the Elephant Incident List

Categories
Legal, Laws, and Regs

Judge strikes blow against groups

Think back on the last donation you made for a cause. Perhaps it was to the Natural Resource Defense Council to aid them in their court battle to protect the Palisades Interstate Park. Maybe it was the Sierra Club, to support its Clean Air Act lawsuit against a Montana coal-fired power plant, or to any organization or individual battling Chevron in its epic, and manic court fight against Ecuadorians, lawyers, journalists, filmmakers, big tech companies, and most US environmentalists.

The donation was made. Your side of the court battle will win, or it won’t. End of story. Or at least, you think it’s the end of the story.

Imagine that eight years after you made the donation, you get a legal letter or subpoena from an intimidating Washington DC law firm representing the coal plant or oil company, informing you you’re going to be deposed and/or forced to appear in court in an ongoing racketeering lawsuit against the organization you supported. Said lawyers will explain that they are seeking co-plaintiffs in their multimillion dollar lawsuit, with an implication underlying the communication that if you’re not with us, you’re agin us.

And all because you donated $10.00 to an organization like the NRDC or the Sierra Club, to support them in their efforts.

Does this sound far-fetched, insane, impossible? Think again, because that’s just what’s happening in the RICO court case brought by Feld Entertainment (parent company of the Ringling Brothers circus) against several animal welfare groups and individuals because of the groups’ legal efforts on behalf of circus elephants.

Magistrate Judge Facciola of the DC district court ordered the animal welfare group defendants (the Humane Society of the US, the Animal Welfare Institute, Born Free USA, and Fund for Animals), to turn over confidential donor lists containing the names and contact information for every person or organization that donated money to the groups to support the then Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against Ringling Brothers.

From the order:

Accordingly, defendants will have to provide Feld with the names of 1) those donors who received a solicitation and earmarked a donation to support the ESA lawsuit or Rider (or both); and 2) those donors who attended a fund raiser and earmarked a donation in the same way. Donors who neither received a solicitation nor attended a fund raiser cannot possibly have been defrauded and therefore the disclosure of their identities is unnecessary.

By denying the animal welfare groups’ motion for a protective order for the donor information, Judge Facciola is giving permission for Feld Entertainment’s lawyers to contact, and question, these individuals. Feld’s lawyers assert in court documents that those who donated to the animal welfare groups in relation to this court action were defrauded, and would, therefore, be willing to enter the court as co-plaintiffs with Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Brothers circus…the organization considered the poster child for circuses with trained elephant acts, the very thing these donors deplore.

Not a problem, you might think, and seemingly Judge Facciola concurs with you. The scenario Facciola seems to have in mind is that Feld’s lawyers will politely have a chit chat with the folks, ask a few questions, get a few replies, and life will go on. And if the donors despise Ringling Brothers as much as I say, these polite chit chats should be short, and to the point.

Real life is never as simple or as black and white as court documents may imply. I have read most of the deposition transcripts from the earlier ESA (Endangered Species Act) case, which Judge Facciola most likely has not. Of course, he hasn’t; he wasn’t the presiding judge in that case. If he had, though, he might come to realize, as I have, that the opinion Judge Sullivan formed about the ESA case was based, for the most part, on out-of-context responses by an unsophisticated man from the Midwest (Tom Rider), under a daunting barrage of questions fired by an intimidating group of high powered Washington DC lawyers. I would like to think that if Judge Facciola did better understand the actual circumstances leading up to Judge Sullivan’s decision—the reality, not the fiction presented by Feld in court documents—he might have paused, just a moment, before subjecting innocent non-party citizens to the same treatment.

I’ve already sent out warnings into the community of those fighting for the welfare of circus elephants about what may be coming their way. I’m not a lawyer, so can’t give advice, but I have stated if I were to receive notice from Feld’s people, I would never appear in a deposition without having a lawyer present—yet another unconscionable burden on people who did nothing more than donate ten bucks eight years ago in order to help circus elephants.

Judge Facciola’s decision was a not a good one—disregarding argument and cavalier as regarding the First Amendment protections due to the non-party donors. That’s the key: he’s disregarded the rights of those not represented in the court room. And by doing so, he’s setting precedent that should seriously worry any group fighting for any cause—whether it be against the Keystone pipeline, for the wolves, in support of safer and healthier food, clean water and air, or circus elephants.

Thankfully, the animal welfare groups are fighting back to the limits set by law. But I worry, I seriously worry, the impact this case can have on any activist group in the future. Particularly after the Chevron court win and the glee with which corporations now consider RICO as both shield and weapon.

Think about it: how willing will you be to donate ten bucks to a cause if it meant you’ll be yanked into court years later?

Categories
Government

Fox falls all over itself to condemn the EPA…again

I wrote a more recent story on this particular battle, after Johnson filed a lawsuit against the EPA via, who else? Pacific Legal Foundation.

update March 22

A story in a local news station provides both video and photos of the “little pond”.

That’s no pond, it’s a bloody lake. It has a dock. A dock.

This is a contrived controversy.

Earlier coverage

Fox just published a story about a poor blue collar in Wyoming, threatened with horrific fines for building an environmentally friendly little pond on his land.

Wyoming welder faces $75,000 a day in EPA fines for building pond on his property goes the headline, and I’m sure the folks at Pacific Legal Foundation are on a plane, right now, racing to the location in order to represent the family in a lawsuit against the EPA.

According to Fox:

All Andy Johnson wanted to do was build a stock pond on his sprawling eight-acre Wyoming farm. He and his wife Katie spent hours constructing it, filling it with crystal-clear water, and bringing in brook and brown trout, ducks and geese. It was a place where his horses could drink and graze, and a private playground for his three children.

But instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor, the Wyoming welder says he was harangued by the federal government, stuck in what he calls a petty power play by the Environmental Protection Agency. He claims the agency is now threatening him with civil and criminal penalties – including the threat of a $75,000-a-day fine.

That EPA…what a bully. Poor man was only building a little pond, providing water for local wildlife and a place for the kiddies to play.

The only problem is the story is as much fiction as fact. Two minutes is all it took to locate the EPA letter of violation. And the letter tells a different story.

According to the letter, the Army Corps of Engineers knew about this “little pond” in 2012 and contacted the Johnsons. From the violation:

On October 11,2012, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) conducted an inspection of the Site and confirmed that Respondent or persons acting on his behalf had discharged or allowed the discharge of approximately 12 cubic yards of dredged and fill material below the ordinary high water mark of Six Mile Creek during construction of a darn. The work resulted in filling an approximately 40-foot reach of the creek and inundation of an approximately 745-foot reach.

Dumping 12 cubic yards of fill material into a creek is what we call a “dam” back where I come from. Perhaps they call it something else in Wyoming.

The Corps contacted Johnson several times but received no response back. It turned the case over to the EPA for enforcement.

On May 30,2013, the EPA performed an inspection of the Site and verified that an approximately 40-foot reach of Six Mile Creek had been filled during the construction of a dam, impacting approximately 785 feet of the Six Mile Creek channel. The dam was observed to be composed of sand, gravel, clay, and concrete blocks.

I suspect that the Johnsons effort to fill the pond with “crystal clear waters” consisted primarily of running a backhoe in and dumping cement blocks on the creek.

The EPA also invited Johnson to contact its representatives, multiple times, but he ignored all communications. Eventually, the EPA issued the letter with the violation notice. Now Johnson is crying to his Republican Congressional leaders and Fox news about the sudden appearance of the big bad EPA, dumping down on this poor little land owner.

There’s a reason for laws preventing people from damming water sources such as creeks and rivers on their property—their actions impact on others. I suspect the Army Corps of Engineers found out about the “little pond” when impacted neighbors complained.

And once again, Fox has failed to do its job in its haste to cast the EPA in the worst possible light.

Google Map of the farm:

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