Some Good-Ish News For a Change

A bipartisan bill passed the House last week by a vote of 342 to 92. Yeah, you read that right. Congress passed a bill, and by a very healthy margin.

All 222 Democrats voted “yea” on the Postal Service Reform Act, and 120 Republicans voted “yea” with them; 92 Republicans chose instead to meet our low expectations.

Among other things, H.R. 3076 “repeals the requirement that the USPS annually prepay future retirement health benefits.” That means $57 billion just got subtracted from the Postal Service’s $200 billion in liabilities.

As the Washington Post opined, though, “This overhaul is not a panacea for all the Postal Service’s ills.”

To improve the bill’s chances, Democrats abandoned provisions to protect mail-in voting. Funny how Republicans would balk at protecting democracy….

There had been language in the bill that would have steered the USPS towards electric delivery vehicles. That got nixed, too. Who needs a future when you’re trying to go in the opposite direction?

Had it not been for Sen. Rick Scott [R-Fla.], the bill could have zipped right over to the Senate, where 14 Republicans are said to be in favor. The House initially sent the Senate the wrong text. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked for unanimous consent for a quick legislative fix. Rather than acquiesce, Scott chose to grandstand for a while.

CNN quoted Schumer saying, “It’s regrettable and it’s sad. There’s good news though. Even though this will delay the bill, we will pass it. We will have to just go through this elaborate process, the old fashioned and often discredited rules of the Senate that the Senator from Florida’s employing. We’ll have to use them. But we will pass this bill because America needs it.”

Scott became the Chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee on January 1st, and he’s apparently feeling his oats.

Last month reporters asked Mitch McConnell what the Republicans would do with Congress if they take it back in 2022. “That is a very good question,” he replied. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back.” In other words, why should we warn you peons about your fate?

Scott didn’t get the message. Yesterday he released a 21-page memo full of bad news for everybody—himself and McConnell included.

“An 11 Point Plan to Rescue America,” it’s titled, “What Americans Must Do To Save This Country.” Next comes a quote: “Americans deserve to know what we will do when given the chance to govern. – Rick Scott”.  

It’s a slap to McConnell’s face, but otherwise it’s a perfectly reasonable statement. Then, though, we suddenly get a good look at what goes on in Scott’s enormous bald dome.

“The militant left now controls the entire federal government, the news media, academia, Hollywood, and most corporate boardrooms—but they want more. They are redefining America and silencing their opponents.” Wow—it’s dark in there. And not exactly reality-based.

Among the Scott Plan’s zany provisions: Raise Taxes on the Poors. No kidding: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game,” the Plan says, “even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

Uh…woops.

As MSNBC’s Steve Benen reports, “Scott apparently felt the need to clean up the mess, so he sat down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night. ‘Did you see Chuckie Schumer saying that your plan is to raise taxes on more than half of Americans?’ the host asked. ‘I didn’t see that in your plan. Did you have that in your plan? Was it in invisible ink in the copy that I got? Because I didn’t see that.’”

Scott denied his Plan said what it said, and Hannity accepted that as gospel.

–=≈=–

A week ago yesterday, in dim light and busy trafffic, this badly battered banner called out to the Flag Police. They may be patrolling less these days, but their vision is undimmed. What drives these defenders of the dignity of a designated bit of cloth? Their motto: “Eternal vigilance is the price of upholding the fetishization of material objects which symbolize the values of a purported republic in the absence of any perceptible functionality.”

–=≈=–

DeJoy Accused of Exploiting Loophole to Buy Gas Trucks

by Jake Johnson

Did the U.S. Postal Service purposely calculate the weight of its new delivery vehicles at 8,501 pounds so as to skirt anti-pollution regulations by a single pound?

Watchdogs are leveling that charge after the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the USPS—led by major Trump donor Louis DeJoy—assigned its forthcoming fleet of largely gas-powered trucks a weight rating “a mere pound over the threshold for light-duty vehicle efficiency standards,” which are more strict than those pertaining to heavier vehicles.

As Motherboard’s Aaron Gordon reported Tuesday, “If the vehicles weighed just one pound less, they wouldn’t be permitted on American roads because they pollute too much.”

“According to [the Postal Service’s] environmental review of the procurement, the new gas delivery trucks have a curb weight of 5,560 pounds and a payload of 2,941 pounds, for a combined vehicle weight of 8,501 pounds,” Gordon wrote. “That is almost double the weight of the current USPS delivery vehicle.”

“However the USPS and Oshkosh Defense, the manufacturer, came to calculate the payload at 2,941 instead of 2940, it was an incredibly important pound,” Gordon added. “If the trucks had a gross vehicle weight of just .01% less, the delivery fleet would almost certainly have to be electric to meet the EPA’s new fuel efficiency standards.”

Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All Campaign, told Motherboard that she suspects an “intentional” effort by the USPS to dodge climate regulations.

Another commentator described the Postal Service leadership’s use of the loophole as “supervillain stuff.”

At issue is the Postal Service’s multibillion-dollar contract with the Wisconsin-based company Oshkosh Defense, which the mail agency has tapped to produce its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle fleet of up to 165,000 new trucks starting in 2023.

Environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers have voiced outrage over the contract in recent days, arguing it runs directly counter to the Biden administration’s effort to transition to zero-emission government vehicles.

The agreement with Oshkosh Defense currently includes an initial order of just 5,000 electric trucks, a small fraction of the total fleet.

DeJoy has characterized the order of a largely gas-powered delivery fleet as a “fiscally responsible” decision, pointing to the mail service’s long-strained finances and arguing that an all-electric fleet would be too costly.

On Tuesday, the House passed legislation that would relieve some of the agency’s financial burdens, but the final bipartisan bill excluded a provision that would have provided the USPS with $6.5 billion to purchase electric trucks.

The USPS had previously suggested that a portion of the gas-powered vehicles could be converted to electric in the future, but García told Motherboard that such a move “would be even more expensive than moving forward with an electric fleet to begin with,” pointing to recent research detailing how 97 percent of the current aging postal fleet could be replaced with electric vehicles “at a lower total cost of ownership…than comparable gas and diesel vehicles.”

Under pressure from environmentalists to play “hardball” over the contract, the Biden administration has urged the Postal Service to put its deal with Oshkosh on hold—but the USPS doesn’t appear inclined to do so.

As the Washington Post reported Tuesday, it is “likely” that “environmental groups will sue the Postal Service over the contract” if it moves forward as planned.

“However, litigation could drag out for years,” the Post noted. “And postal trucks are built to stay on the road for at least 20 years, unlike their private-sector competitors or other international post offices. That means the first trucks that roll off the Oshkosh assembly line next year could be on the roads in 2043 and beyond.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

–=≈=–

What is so rare as a balmy Saturday, February 12th? The Square was warm and aswarm with people, taking advantage of the opportunity in various ways. These buskers put on a concert and collected money for Gather, the Seacoast food pantry—singing for someone else’s supper.

–=≈=–

Physicians Warn Russian War On Ukraine Risks Global Nuclear “Catastrophe”

by Jake Johnson

A renowned organization comprised of U.S. and Russian physicians warned late Tuesday that a military conflict involving the two powers in Ukraine risks a nuclear “catastrophe” that could have horrific effects on all of Europe—and potentially the entire planet.

In a new statement, nuclear energy specialists joined members of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)—a coalition of medical groups that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its non-proliferation work—in noting that while Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons, it does maintain more than a dozen nuclear power reactors that could be in the line of fire should the current situation descend into all-out war.

Linda Pentz Gunter, founder of the advocacy group Beyond Nuclear, said a conflict in Ukraine could result in a disaster on par with—or even worse than—the devastating 1986 Chernobyl reactor crisis.

“No matter the genesis, the cause, or who started what, the reality remains that there are 15 operating nuclear reactors in Ukraine that, if conflict breaks out there, could be in peril,” said Gunter. “If the reactors find themselves amidst a conflict or war, they cannot simply be abandoned by the workforce. This makes the prospects of a war in Ukraine all the more alarming, and the imperative to avoid this all the more urgent.”

Additionally, physicians voiced concerns that the present crisis could ultimately escalate to the use of nuclear weaponry. While the U.S. and Russia—which together control more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal—signed a joint statement earlier this year affirming that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” the military doctrines of both nations allow for the first use of nukes in conflict.

“If even a single 100-kiloton nuclear weapon exploded over the Kremlin, it could kill a quarter of a million people and injure a million more, completely overwhelming the disaster response capability of the Russian capital,” said Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of IPPNW. “A single 100 kiloton bomb detonated over the U.S. capital would kill over 170,000 people and injure nearly 400,000.”

“But it is unlikely that an escalating nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Russia would involve single warheads over their respective capitals,” Helfand added. “Rather it is more likely that there would be many weapons directed against many cities and many of these weapons would be substantially larger than 100 Kt.”

Over the weekend, Dr. Olga Mironova—a cardiologist in Moscow and president of IPPNW’s Russian affiliate—led an emergency discussion focused on the health impacts of a potential nuclear war involving the U.S. and Russia, which have roughly 6,000 nuclear warheads each.

The physicians’ dire warnings came as tensions between Russia and the West continued to grow in the aftermath of President Vladimir Putin’s decision Monday to send troops into breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine—a move that the U.S. and European countries met with a barrage of economic sanctions.

Citing Russia’s deployment of troops into Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced late Tuesday that he canceled his planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a potential blow to diplomatic negotiations that peace groups say are the only way to step back from the brink of war.

In recent weeks, observers have lamented how little attention the possibility of a nuclear conflict has received from political leaders and the press relative to the threat it poses. Further heightening peace advocates’ concerns was Russia’s recent staging of nuclear drills, exercises that included practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Of all the obvious dangers that come with war, one of the most far-reaching in the current Russia-Ukraine conflict has been woefully underappreciated. Even if commanders took pains to avoid striking Ukraine’s 15 nuclear power reactors, that might not be enough to avoid a catastrophe,” Bennett Ramberg, an expert on nuclear weapons, wrote in an op-ed for Project Syndicate last week.

“The reactors present a daunting specter. If struck, the installations could effectively become radiological mines. And Russia itself would be a victim of the ensuing wind-borne radioactive debris,” Ramberg observed. “Were a reactor core to melt, explosive gases or belching radioactive debris would exit the containment structure. Once in the atmosphere, the effluents would settle over thousands of miles, dumping light to very toxic radioactive elements on urban and rural landscapes. And spent nuclear fuel could cause further devastation if storage pools were set afire.”

But Dr. Barry Levy, a leading expert on the health consequences of military conflicts, stressed Tuesday that even if a nuclear disaster is averted, “much death and illness could occur among noncombatant civilians from explosive weapons, population displacement, and damage to hospitals and clinics, water treatment plants, and the food supply system” in the case of a conventional war.

“As a result, children and pregnant women would suffer from malnutrition, more infants would be born prematurely, and more women would die during childbirth,” said Levy. “More people would contract communicable diseases, including Covid-19. More older people, who comprise more than one-sixth of Ukraine’s population, would develop complications of heart disease, lung disorders, and diabetes. And many Ukrainians would suffer from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

–=≈=–

Leave a Comment