Scathing editorial sums up the disastrous Trump presidency

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Be sure to check out the lead editorial in today’s Winston-Salem Journal (“Trump’s legacy”) as it neatly sums up the carnage Donald Trump leaves behind as he ends — thank goodness — his disastrous presidency.

After noting that Trump, in typical fashion, is expected pardon a raft of pals/criminals on his final day in office, the editorial puts it this way:

It would be an unprecedented presidential act — in keeping with a president who has always done things his own way, a trait that still cheers his many supporters, who number among the millions and wish he had found some way to remain in office for another five or six terms.

As for tomorrow, he plans to leave for Mar-a-Lago in the morning, from where he’s expected to host a televised, open-air, open-faced political rally — at the same time as President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

It will be one more act of rudeness on the world stage.

Trump leaves a legacy unlike the one he promised. The nation is in turmoil, sharply divided by politics, race and other factors. We’re at the height of a pandemic that has killed nearly 400,000 Americans — one that, Operation Warp Speed notwithstanding, Trump failed to effectively counter. The national deficit is higher than ever. Trump’s signature border wall came up short, both in terms of length and effectiveness, as did its promised financing.

And there was a bloody attempted coup.

“American carnage” indeed.

He also leaves behind a legacy of profligate lying that none should try to emulate — but some will.

The editorial goes on to express the hope that the national Republican Party will now undergo a major self-assessment and move beyond its loyalty to Trump and the crazy conspiracy theories he helped feed, but this seems extremely optimistic. As it also notes, there’s been little sign of such movement amongst North Carolina GOP’ers. But one reckons it’s still worth hoping.

The bottom line: This is a time for national celebration. Our nation has excised a deadly and malignant figure from its national leadership, but it will take years of determined political chemotherapy to overcome the cancer that gave rise to him and that he helped spread.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Your right to know: How to find Toxics Release Inventory data for your community

(pixabay.com)

Welcome to the Rabbit Hole, otherwise known as the Toxics Release Inventory. This is a tutorial to accompany a brief story that provides an overview of pollution released into North Carolina’s environment in 2019.

The Toxics Release Inventory, administered by the EPA, collects data from industrial facilities for 770 chemicals, and reports the findings by state, city, county, Zip code, industry and chemical.

There are some data shortcomings: Not all toxic chemicals are included in the TRI and the data is self-reported. Nonetheless, the TRI is a valuable tool for communities to know who’s polluting, which chemicals, and where they’re going.

So grab a cup of coffee or tea (or favorite adult beverage, depending on your mood), and I’ll show you in a series of steps and screenshots how to wrangle basic TRI information. Suggestion from someone who learned the hard way (me): Bookmark the various pages so you can trace your digital breadcrumbs. Sometimes if I haven’t used the TRI for a while, I have to relearn the paths, and that’s a pain.

The homepage of the TRI is straightforward. The EPA has a tutorial in English and Spanish at the bottom of the page, if you prefer video.

To search data for North Carolina, or any state, start at the Where You Live page. This is what it looks like. Notice you can even search smaller geographical areas, including tribal lands. The “Data to Display” includes total releases, land, air, water, population and a risk-screening score. That score is an estimate of potential human health risk from chronic exposures to TRI chemical releases and allows you to compare potential for risk across locations.

I’ve included an inset of the risk-screening score map and info so you know what it looks like. North Carolina ranks in the top third of states and U.S. territories in terms of risk. Not exactly something to brag about in the Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

 

Let’s burrow farther down into the data to see more information about the major polluters in North Carolina. This is known as a factsheet, and it’s what is shown after you hit “go” on the Where You Live page. It’s a 30,000-foot view of total releases into the environment. The factsheet also lists the Top 5 facilities in terms of pollution releases and disposal.

You can also click on the names of the facilities for more information. Let’s looks at International Paper, the Riegelwood Mill in Columbus County.

The facility report lists the address, map, public contact and compliance information.

Important: The compliance information is not always accurate. The NC Department of Environmental Quality has told me that because of an electronic communications glitch between the EPA and the state, some facilities appear to have violations when they actually don’t. Contact DEQ to doublecheck.

At the top of the facility report page, you’ll notice other areas to explore, such as chemicals, releases and transfers. Clicking on each of these reveals even more information about this paper mill.

“Chemicals” lists the names of those substances that the facility emits or discharges — and, this is an important point — are reportable under the TRI. Many chemicals, PFAS for example, were not reportable in 2019, but they were for 2020. So this time next year we will be able to see those releases.

There is also a column listing whether the chemical has been linked to harmful health effects or cancer.

This screenshot shows 10 of the 38 chemicals and compounds that the paper mill releases.

“Waste management” in the menu bar refers to how the facility disposes of their chemicals: recycling, treating, releasing and energy recovery.

Another interesting factoid on this page is a graph showing “non-production related waste from remedial actions and catastrophic or other one-time events.” That’s a long way of saying waste that was generated from accidents, spills and other ominous events. The graph doesn’t tell us why the accident happened, but it’s a starting point for asking DEQ for records and information.

International Paper reported some type of incident in 1996 that released 4,000 pounds (two tons) of chlorine dioxide into the air. The lime green bar represents 900 pounds of chlorine gas. Definitely not something you want to breathe.

 

 The releases link is what you might think: Charts and graphs visualizing what has been released. This can show trends: Is the facility releasing more or less over time? Why or why not?

Next we’ll explore transfers. This is a big deal from an environmental justice perspective, and a topic I’m exploring for a series to be published this year.

Transfers are exactly what they sound like: Moving waste from a facility to another. This could be a landfill, an injection well, an incinerating facility, storage, wastewater treatment plan or recycling center (copper and aluminum can be recycled.)

Chemours, for example, ships its PFAS-contaminated wastewater to Arkansas and Texas. And you’ll be shocked — shocked, I say — that most of the communities receiving waste are either low-income or home to people of color. This applies even to household waste. Durham ships its trash to Sampson County, where the landfill is in an environmental justice community.

Back to chemicals: International Paper is opaque about its transfers. We know that a facility in Whiteville took some material but the other listing is “unreported transfer site.” That leads to more questions, either for DEQ or the EPA, starting with “What is this site and why wasn’t it reported?”

On a positive note, clicking on View Report for the Hazmat Emergency Response listing takes you to that facility’s page. At the bottom, census data breaks down demographics within a three-mile radius of the Hazmat site. Another note of caution: Three miles can be instructive, but within that radius, the most vulnerable people could live closer to the site. When I work on stories like this, I actually visit the area to witness what numbers can only hint at.

OK, this is a lot to absorb, so I’ll finish with one last section.

Release reports can be found at this link. I’ve found this section to be the most unwieldy. You can browse by facility, federal facility, such as military bases; chemical and industry. You can also search by state or Zip code. It’s a lot, I know. Hang on, we’re almost there.

Let’s search for all 762 facilities reporting to the TRI in North Carolina. Click on Facility, and choose North Carolina for the Geographic Location. You can also choose the year. Then click Generate Report.

And this gawd-awful spreadsheet is what you get. Here’s just a portion of it, sorted alphabetically, which is useful if you’re looking for a particular facility.

 

You can also sort by amount with the up and down arrows at the top of each column. And if you’re really motivated, you can also export this to Excel or Google Sheets and do your own analysis.

Here’s what the spreadsheet looks like sorted by release amount. Painful, I know. And clicking on each facility takes you a page with more information, etc. etc. I told you it was a rabbit hole.

If you want more guidance or information about the TRI, I’m happy to share whatever I know ([email protected] or @lisasorg on Twitter.) There are more ways to drill down and use other parts of the EPA’s website (and DEQ’s) to get information. All of this information is public, and the trick is viewing the data with a critical and patient eye. Data rarely answers all of your questions; instead it leads to more questions.

 

 

 

 

Republican praise of Martin Luther King will sound even more hollow and hypocritical now

Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967 at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

There’s a long list of Republicans who ought not part their lips this holiday weekend to praise Martin Luther King Jr., to quote from his most famous speech or suggest in any way that they know anything about content of character. 

That list includes the 138 Republicans in the U.S. House and the six Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted to overturn the results of a free and fair election after a mob demanding that they overturn the election stormed the U.S. Capitol. The list also includes everybody who — at any point after the election was called for Joe Biden — suggested President Donald Trump’s defeat warranted investigation.

So, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. John Kennedy, Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. Clay Higgins, Rep. Mike Johnson, Rep. Garrett Graves, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, nothing from y’all about how much King means to you, OK? No tweets, no videos, no press releases. Not one word about how much King inspired you. Act like you’ve never heard of him or like you think of him with scorn.

In other words, do what you do when you’re craning for an affectionate pat on the head from Trump. Do what you do when you’re courting Trump’s “Lock Her Up” / “Build the Wall” / “Send Her Back” / “Lock Him Up” / “Fire Fauci” / “Stop the Steal” fanatics. Your posture toward Trump and his devotees reveals more of what you think about King and his work than a saccharine tweet about King’s greatness ever could.

Let us march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena,” King said in 1965 at the end of a long march from Selma to Montgomery. “Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”

There was a massive march to the polls Nov. 3 in the election that Biden won. Never before had more than 140,000,000 Americans voted, and in this election, 159,633,396 did. Georgians marched again on Jan. 5 when they elected two Democrats — a Black man and a Jewish man — to represent them in the U.S. Senate. 

There was also a massive backlash: Trump claiming that he’d been robbed (specifically by election officials in majority Black jurisdictions), Republican lawmakers endorsing the lie, Republican-controlled legislatures proposing more limited access to absentee ballots, a mob of bloodthirsty, murderous pro-Trump extremists forcing their way into the Capitol aiming to make Congress do its bidding.

American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery. (William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

Did our Republican lawmakers overcome their fear of Trump, their fear of Trump’s fanatics?  Did they find the courage, the decency, to do justly? No. In various ways and at various times, they disrespected American voters, specifically those Americans who may never have been voters without the movement King led.

Retired Tulane University history professor Lawrence Powell told the Illuminator last week that just like the murderous response to Black people getting elected during Reconstruction, last week’s ransacking of the U.S. Capitol followed the “promiscuous assumption that Black electoral politics are by definition riddled by fraud and illegal chicanery.”

So let us not hear any “Let freedom ring” platitudes from those who cast suspicion on Black people exercising the franchise. 

As ridiculously offensive as it would be for the Republicans who’ve been standing with Trump to suggest that they would have stood (and still do stand) with King, it’s no more ridiculous than Trump adviser Stephen Moore telling Wisconsinites upset with COVID-19 restrictions that “We need to be the Rosa Parks here and protest against these government injustices.”

Even more than Parks, King has become soft clay in the hands of White conservatives who continue trying to shape him into an anodyne speechmaker sent to forgive White people of racism, join hands with them and sing.

Those conservatives have not only tried to make King colorblind, they’ve tried to make him raceless, something other than a Black man who pledged a Black fraternity at a Black college, married a Black woman, pastored Black churches, led marches of mostly Black people and urged the Black audience listening to his very last speech to take their money out of White banks and put it in Black banks — and to reject their White insurance companies for Black ones.

None of that means White people and White institutions can’t support his cause. It means those who’ve been holding up an anti-Black President and pushing anti-Black policies don’t — and should stop pretending that they do.

King expressed disdain for “the white moderate” who, he said, called a “great stumbling block” to his cause. What do we think he’d make of the White conservative who wrongly labels Black votes fraudulent in support of the biggest fraud the White House has ever seen?

Jarvis DeBerry is the Editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, which first published this essay.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Vaccine envy

In the beginning, there was COVID shaming and it was dark, judgy and unpleasant. We learned that we are very good at, biblically speaking, whining about the sawdust in our brother’s eye and paying no attention to the log in our own.

You have COVID? Perhaps you shouldn’t have made that grocery store run. Or failed to wash your masks, like, ever. Or spent three hours at an indoor wedding reception. Yes, especially that last.

We’ve listened to Fauci, perched perpetually on our angel shoulder and have banished the devil on our other shoulder who thinks COVID is all made up like the moon landing. Because, NOT biblically speaking, that shoulder is kind of an asshat.

So comes the time of the vaccine. We are sore afraid this is going to take forever. Verily, we have checked our eligibility and discovered we are No. 184,000 in line, not even kidding. All y’all say Oy vey.

Now entereth the man of the house, who by virtue of toiling daily in the bowels of a large hospital system has announced he will receive the first of two vaccines in a few days. Whither he goest, I will go. Just 183,999 folks later. No matter! I’m happy for him. But if a look at my social media is accurate (and, hey, when has anything false ever been conveyed via social media?) a lot of y’all may be seething right now.

Yes, we have now left COVID shaming behind in the seems-like-forever ago 2020 and have advanced to the second stage of pandemic: Envy. Totally understandable, by the way.

A Facebook near-war erupted when one soul (followed by many, many others) giddily shared the post: “Vaccinated!” or similar. While there were a few “Yay for you’s!” that seemed heartfelt, it was mostly replaced with “Oh. Do you mind telling me how YOU GOT A VACCINE WHEN I’M THE ONE WITH MYRIAD UNDERLYING CONDITIONS AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT?”

Blech. All caps. The refuge of the legit crazy newly disenfranchised Parlerians or, a world away, the sweet elderly aunt who doesn’t understand why people keep asking her to please stop yelling. She would never!

I have to admit, the Envy stage is a surprise. After all, as one picked-apart recent vaccine recipient noted: “Y’all don’t have any idea what is wrong with me! I don’t share my entire medical history with everyone like SOME people.”

Oh, snap! I have to admit at this point, I’m in full Michael Jackson eating popcorn mode. Occasionally, “Vaccinated!” is greeted with a more passive aggressive response, which is one way we know Southerners are in the house.

“Oh,” said one. “How nice for you. Biff and I are in Tier D-5 because we have exercised, eaten healthy and meditated. Was it your diabetes that allowed you to get an early vaccine? If so, Ima go cut myself a big fat wedge of PECAN PIE! HaHaHaHa!!! JK!!!!!”

Of course, we know she is soooo not JK. Can I get an amen?

Celia Rivenbark will find needles from that tree until about July 4.

If Franklin Graham’s gonna’ refer to Judas, he should watch this movie

Image: Franklin Graham’s Facebook page

As you may have read, Franklin Graham is at it again. The troubled preacher from western North Carolina who long ago attached himself at the hip (apparently for life) to a dishonest serial philanderer and casino magnate who became a dishonest and treasonous politician, issued a remarkable statement about last week’s vote to certify the Electoral College, in which he likened the Republicans who voted not to overturn the election to Judas Iscariot:

This is from a report by Simone Jasper of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“The House Democrats impeached him because they hate him and want to do as much damage as they can,” Graham said in a Facebook post Thursday. “And these ten, from his own party, joined in the feeding frenzy. It makes you wonder what the thirty pieces of silver were that Speaker Pelosi promised for this betrayal.”

In the Bible, the apostle Judas turns on Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.

Graham’s outrageous analogy brought to mind a classic scene from mid-20th Century cinema in which the lead characters in a film about an attempted American coup d’état debate who the real “Judas” was.

It’s been 60 years since director John Frankenheimer made “Seven Days in May” — a movie featuring a bevy of great actors that revolves around a plot by right-wing military leaders to to mount an insurrection and depose the President of the United States because they deem him insufficiently tough in dealing with Russia.

(Interesting how times have changed on that latter front, huh?)

Anyway, in the movie, the leader of the plot is a preening neo-fascist Air Force general played by the great Burt Lancaster, who’s convinced the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to join him in abducting the president — also ably portrayed by another Hollywood icon (Frederic March) — on the day of a mock nuclear alert.

Happily, the diabolical plot is foiled by Lancaster’s aide — a Marine colonel played by Kirk Douglas — who, despite his longtime loyalty to his boss, uncovers the treason and helps the president and his team foil the coup.

At the end of the film, after he realizes that the insurrection has collapsed and he and the other joint chiefs have been fired by the President, the Lancaster character confronts the Douglas character — and asks him if he’s “sufficiently up on his Bible to know who Judas was.”

To which Douglas replies, without missing a beat:

“Yes, I know who Judas was. He was a man I worked for and admired until he disgraced the four stars on his uniform.”

When the film is made about Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, the pathetic lackeys who enabled him, and the failed insurrection that served as its final exclamation point, one imagines there might be some similar dialogue about who the real Judases were in this particular drama.