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California’s most vulnerable were already breathing bad air. Heat and wildfires are making things worse.

Carey Poindexter has been checking the air quality before deciding whether it’s safe to go outside for much of his life. The 19-year-old has such severe asthma and allergies, doctors predicted that he wouldn’t live past the age of 10. His symptoms are usually more serious in the spring and winter, but this year, summer has been worse. With record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires raging nearby, Poindexter spent most of his summer inside.


“It really has been pretty rough for people suffering from lung disease,” he says.

It’s been a punishing summer in California. But it’s worse for those who live in the most polluted areas, and as a result are already at heightened risk for respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By exacerbating this summer’s heat waves and wildfires, climate change is stacking health burdens on communities already breathing bad air.

On Monday, California released a Climate Change Assessment detailing the mounting risks the state faces as the planet warms. Among the report’s findings: Forests will become even more susceptible to extreme wildfires. By mid-century, heat waves could occur four to 10 times more frequently and last two weeks longer, leading to more heat-related deaths and illnesses.

And those findings spell disaster for people who are already struggling to breathe amid this summer’s climate-driven calamities. Hot temperatures cause lungs to strain as the body tries to cool itself. Heat speeds up the formation of smog. And forest fires also add pollution to the air.

“It’s just a snowball effect,” says Afif El-Hasan, a pediatrician and a national spokesperson of the American Lung Association. On top of the immediate health effects, climate change can exacerbate inequities that compound health risks, he adds.

If someone has limited resources and lives in a polluted area, “for them to open the window because they can’t afford air conditioning becomes a health dilemma,” El-Hasan points out.


Olivia Barbour is a 67-year-old resident of South Los Angeles who lives with COPD. Her home is on Imperial Highway, near the busy 110 and 105 freeways. “I don’t know if anybody else notices, but I think it’s even hotter closer to the freeways with all that traffic and smog,” she says. And she’s right — urban areas with lots of pavement and cars are hotter than surrounding areas. “I thought I could help myself by buying a portable air conditioner. However, I can’t afford to run the darn thing,” Barbour says. She found that it increased her electricity bill by $20 after using it for just one day.

The heat is also affecting her ability to work. Barbour sometimes does outreach for green grassroots groups like SCOPE or gathers signatures for political campaigns. But she says she can’t door-knock this summer because of the heat. And that in turn has made it harder for her to afford the health care she needs. “I was supposed to be taking five nebulizer treatments every day to manage my COPD,” Barbour says. “I just can’t afford it. So I stopped.”

Poindexter lives in one of the counties with the worst air pollution in the nation. This year, Riverside County ranked second for the most ozone pollution and sixth for the most year-round particle pollution.

“It’s so bad to where if you just look outside, you can see a greyish horizon,” he says.

The smog he sees is made worse by rising temperatures. Ground-level ozone, the pollutant that makes up a majority of smog, is created by a chemical reaction between pollutants released by vehicles, power plants, and refineries. Those chemical reactions speed up when it’s hot out.

What effect does increased ozone have on your lungs? “It’s kind of like giving a sunburn to the lining of your lungs,” says pediatrician El-Hasan. “It’s very irritating.”

Poindexter wasn’t just scanning the horizon for smog, but for smoke, too.

The Holy and Keller fires came pretty close to Poindexter’s home in Temecula. He and his mother decided to take a cruise to Mexico to escape the smoke.

Still, Poindexter knows he and others with lung disease can’t always get away from poor air quality. He voted for the first time this year, and he voted for clean air. “Whether it’s a proposition or an elected official, the first thing I look at is what they’re going to do for air quality,” Poindexter says.

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California’s most vulnerable were already breathing bad air. Heat and wildfires are making things worse.

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7 Ways to Reduce Your Gas Consumption

When it comes to eco-friendly living tips, few things are as important as reducing your gas consumption overall. We’re talking about gasoline here?not to be confused with natural gas, another resource that bears consideration.

When it comes to using less gas, some tips are straight-forward and common-sense, while others require a little more creativity to pull off. Here are my top seven tips for reducing your gas consumption.

Live Near Your Work

If you’re currently renting or if you’re considering moving, make it a priority to relocate your home near where you work. Commuting is one of those things that many of us see as a necessary evil, but the shorter you make your commute, the better. Not only will you waste less gas, you’ll enjoy a higher quality of life. If you work in a big city, take public transit to get to work each day. Your reduction in transportation costs will likely even out the higher rent you’ll be paying.

Clean Out Your Car

Extra weight in your car means that it takes more gas to haul you and your personal belongings around. If you have a lot of junk in your trunk, store it somewhere else.

Carpool … There’s An App for That!

Carpooling remains a fantastic way to reduce gas consumption. Think about it this way: If everyone in the US commuted with just ONE other person, we’d be reducing the fuel consumption burned during rush hour by half! Carpool with friends, coworkers and family whenever possible. Don’t know anyone going to the same part of town as you? Download Carpool by Waze, a handy app that lets you connect with fellow carpoolers.

Use Cruise Control

When you’re on the highway, use cruise control. This will help you avoid choppy breaking and accelerating as much as possible. Your car probably knows how to coast better than you do, and setting your car to cruise control will help you save gas in the process.

Learn to Coast

When cruise control doesn’t seem like a viable, safe or convenient option, learn how to coast. While driving, consciously make an effort to avoid breaking unless its absolutely necessary. Instead, if you see a red light up ahead or a car slowing down in front of you, let your foot off the gas right away, giving yourself plenty of time to slow down without the break. By avoiding unnecessary breaking, you will help reduce your need to accelerate later and you’ll be saving gas by doing so.

Don’t Idle for more than 1 Minute

If you pull up to wait for a friend or to drop something in a mailbox, turn your car off if you believe you’ll be stationary for more than one minute. Idling burns gas with little to no return on investment.

Use the A/C on Low

You might think that opening your windows is a more eco-friendly option than using air conditioning, but that’s not necessarily the case. According to Cars Direct, having your windows open while driving reduces fuel efficiency by making your car less aerodynamic. If it’s cool outside, windows up and no A/C is the way to go. But if it’s hot outside and you need to keep things cool, roll up your windows and use A/C on a low setting.

Related Articles:

5 Ways to Make Your Car More Eco-Friendly
5 Ways Drivers Can Safely Share the Road With Cyclists
Why You Shouldn’t Drive in the Left Lane

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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7 Ways to Reduce Your Gas Consumption

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"I Didn’t Come Here to Lose": How a Movement Was Born at Standing Rock

Mother Jones

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Ome Tlaloc walked through the North Dakota hills with a flashlight and a walkie-talkie, scouting for police in the prairie dark. Earlier that evening, I’d met the 30-year-old on Highway 1806, where he’d been sitting behind a makeshift barricade. Now he was doing reconnaissance. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department and the National Guard, stationed ahead of us on the road, were planning to raid the camp where Tlaloc and hundreds of other protesters had been living for the past week. The barricade was meant to stop the cops, or at least to slow them down. As he walked, Tlaloc listened to his radio for the code words that would signal when he and his comrades were to spring into action: “Eagle’s Claw.”

The Standing Rock Sioux reservation sits in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, an endless sweep of elephan­tine hills once home to millions of members of the Lakota Nation. Today, it’s inhabited by fewer than 9,000 of their surviving descendants, and one of the few places in America where buffalo roam wild. In late July, the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners informed the Standing Rock Sioux that in five days its subsidiary would begin construction on a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) next to the reservation. After that, members of more than 200 Native American tribes and their allies gathered to block what would be America’s longest crude oil pipeline. Their encampments of teepees, tents, and RVs were mostly ignored by the media until private security guards set dogs on protesters and a few journalists were arrested, sparking a national conversation about tribal sovereignty, environmental racism, and police brutality.

The October night I met Tlaloc, the stakes in the #NoDAPL movement were as high as they’d ever been. If the “water protectors,” as the protesters called themselves, were cleared out, the pipeline would continue east under the Missouri River, coming within 1,500 feet of Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux’s water supply. A leak or spill, activists believed, would poison the drinking water of as many as 10 million people, nearly all of them on Native American reservations. The protesters’ goal was to block construction until March 2017, when Dakota Access would have to reapply for a federal construction permit—a delay that might make the project financially unfeasible. If the protesters were removed before then, Dakota Access would complete the 1,172-mile pipeline that would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude a day. (On December 4, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not approve a permit for the pipeline to run beneath Lake Oahe.)

Police have responded to the protests with teargas, tasers, water cannons, rubber bullets, and armored vehicles.

Native Americans of all ages have protested against the pipeline.

Tlaloc stopped at the top of a ridge. Off in the distance was the trench holding the lengths of 30-inch metal pipe. “An old Sioux prophecy says that a black snake will come to destroy the world at a moment of great uncertainty,” he said. “Unless the youth stop it.”

Back at the barricade, men in camo fatigues sipped cowboy coffee and waited. Pup tents formed a circle around a pit fire. “They’ve killed us before,” said Harry Beauchamp, a 63-year-old Assiniboine from Montana. Resting his cowboy boots on a soup pot, he told us about his participation in the 1973 standoff between members of the American Indian Movement and law enforcement agents in South Dakota that ended in the deaths of two Native American activists. A few weeks earlier, he’d been attacked by a dog brought in by a pipeline security contractor. His future son-in-law, he said, was bringing him a rifle. “I’m not going to let this be another Wounded Knee,” he said.

Left: Chanse Adams-Zavalla. The #NoDAPL protesters have occupied three main encampments.

Dancers in front of a sacred fire in a protest camp

The next day, a pale sun burned through the morning haze, backlighting 200 sheriff’s deputies and National Guardsmen in full riot gear. Behind them were an armored personnel carrier, a land-mine-resistant truck, and the pipeline’s private security force—overseen by TigerSwan, a North Carolina firm that’s done work for the US government in Afghanistan and Iraq. “This is a state highway,” a police commander said into a loudspeaker. “You must clear the road.”

On August 19, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who served as an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard mobilized three weeks later. On September 3, security contractors turned dogs on the protesters. Not long afterward, Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II asked the Justice Department to investigate civil rights violations against activists. “This country has a long and sad history of using military force against indigenous people—including the Sioux Nation,” he wrote. “When I see the militarization taking place in North Dakota against Indian people, I am genuinely concerned.”

Over the next 12 hours, I watched as grandmothers with red feathers in their hair, Oglala elders in cer­emonial regalia, and teens astride horses were teargassed, tased, and arrested. Cops fired rubber bullets at protesters and blasted them with earsplitting whines from Long Range Acoustic Devices. As the police marched down the highway, the crowd, echoing Black Lives Matter protesters, held their arms in the air and shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than members of any other group, even African Americans. More than 1 in 4 Native people live in poverty. (The average individual income on the Standing Rock reservation is $4,421.) Native unemployment levels are nearly double those of the overall population; their youth suicide rate is the highest in the nation.

Protesters watch as the police destroy a campsite.

A Sioux leader asked the Justice Department to investigate “the militarization taking place in North Dakota against Indian people.”

Many at Standing Rock saw the threat of environmental catastrophe as inextricable from racial injustice. An early proposal to route the Dakota Access Pipeline through Bismarck, 45 miles north of the reservation, was rejected by the US Army Corps of Engineers because of concerns that it could harm the municipal water supply. (Bismarck’s population is 92 percent white.) “But it’s okay if it poisons Natives’ water, right?” said Chanse Adams-Zavalla, a 22-year-old who grew up on the Maidu reservation just north of Santa Barbara, California. He wore a camouflage backpack that had “Fuck Off” written on it and a matching camo cap that said “Smile More.” In May 2015, the coastline near his reservation was ravaged by the rupture of an oil pipeline. “It’s disgusting what happened to my people, bro, and we’re still being treated that way,” he said.

Young protesters with red bandannas over their faces dragged tree trunks onto the highway and set them on fire. A heavyset teen stood before the flaming barricade, his back to the police. “Stop lighting these barricades on fire, brothers!” he said. “I’m a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.” He paused and looked at his feet like he might cry. “After this, I have to live here.”

“Sellout!” a young man in a balaclava shouted, hurling a tire onto the pyre. Someone else picked up the chant. “Sellout! Sellout!”

The scene underscored the conflicts within the anti-pipeline movement. Some activists, led in part by a group of protesters who lived in a compound called Red Warrior Camp, were committed to stopping the pipeline through direct action. While many Standing Rock Sioux were out on the front lines, Archambault was also lobbying Washington in hopes of a legal victory. In early November, Red Warrior Camp was asked to leave Standing Rock for promoting tactics that the tribal leadership thought were too extreme. There were also tensions between white-led environmental groups like 350.org, which focuses on climate change, and Native activists, who believe the larger issue is one of tribal sovereignty and the unfinished struggle for Native American rights. The protesters were spread among three encampments, including a largely Native camp and another filled with white activists that I heard described as the “Brooklyn” of Standing Rock.

Back at the barricades, Miles Allard, a Sioux man with a white mullet, rushed to the assistance of the teen who’d tried to calm the crowd. “The only way we’re going to win this is by prayer,” Allard said. “If we use violence, we will lose.”

“I didn’t come here to lose,” Beauchamp said, dropping a bundle of kindling onto the pavement before walking off in anger. “And I didn’t come here to fight my own brothers. I quit. I’m going home.”

“Why do they want to kill us?” asked LaDonna Allard over breakfast at the Prairie Knights Casino and Resort, the area’s largest employer. Allard, a Sioux woman, was hosting a protest camp on her land; she was accompanied by her husband, Miles, who had called for nonviolence at the barricades a few days earlier. The police had won those clashes, clearing the road and arrest­ing 142 protesters, including the Allards’ daughter, Prairie. (During a prior arrest, Allard said, her daughter was stripped naked, left in a cell overnight, and asked repeatedly, “Who’s your mother?”) Construction resumed on the pipeline, whose North Dakota section was roughly 95 percent complete.

Allard recalled the life of her great-great-grandmother, Nape Hote Win, who as a nine-year-old survived the 1863 Whitestone massacre, an attack by the US Army 50 miles east of Standing Rock. She was held in a prisoner-of-war camp for seven years. That battle paved the way for the Standing Rock Sioux to be confined to their current reservation. Allard’s father had to flee his land in 1948 after the government dammed the Missouri, flooding his farm. Her father and son were buried along the pipeline’s path.

On Election Day, Energy Transfer Partners announced that it would defy a request from the Obama administration to postpone construction and would begin tunnel­ing under Lake Oahe in two weeks. CEO Kelcy Warren had given more than $100,000 to support Trump, a stockholder. “Overall, I’m very, very enthusiastic about what’s going to happen with our country,” Warren told investors after the election. In mid-November, the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in and said it would not allow completion of the pipeline until there had been further review of its environmental impact. Reaffirming that decision in early December, the Corps said it would consider alternate routes for the pipeline. ETP attacked the decision as “the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”

“We’re in a war,” Allard said, beginning to cry. “How did this happen? I did nothing wrong. I have a right to say ‘no.’ I have a right to live in my own country, on my own land.”

Police spray water on demonstrators in below-freezing temperatures.

Left: Nighttime protests on Highway 1806. Right: Medics assist an injured protester.

Later that night, I passed Beauchamp’s tent, but it was empty. He had gone back to Montana, feeling bitter and defeated. Adams-Zavalla, however, was in great spirits. “This isn’t the end of our movement,” he said. “It’s the beginning.” Fifty horses had just arrived from the Oglala-Sioux reservation, as had 100 Native American youth runners who’d jogged from Arizona. That afternoon the Seven Council Fires had been lit for the second time since 1862, a ceremony in which the seven branches of the Dakota Sioux demonstrated their unity. “When my grandkids ask me where I was during Standing Rock,” Adams-Zavalla said, “I know what I’m going to tell them.”

“Even if somehow, someway, they build this pipeline,” he went on, “they’ve inadvertently sparked a whole generation of us indigenous folks and everyone who wants to stand with us to fight for Mother Earth. We’re going to inherit this planet, bro, and everyone’s welcome to inherit it with us if they want.”

Around us, protesters were chopping wood, battening down tarps, and getting ready for the long Dakota winter. On a hill overlooking the camp, DAPL roughnecks labored away. The moment was uncertain, yet jubi­lant—each side racing toward the future it imagined.

Inside the main protest camp.

Police sprayed mace at protesters who crossed the Cannonball River.

Water protectors march from the main camp to the bridge on Highway 1806.

These horseback riders traveled for three days along the pipeline.

The first snowfall in Standing Rock

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"I Didn’t Come Here to Lose": How a Movement Was Born at Standing Rock

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EPA’s new rules are good for tech, and trucking

Trim Riggins

EPA’s new rules are good for tech, and trucking

By on Aug 16, 2016Share

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just finalized new standards for the biggest busters out on the road. We’re talking about trucks: the gassy behemoths that, despite making up 5 percent of overall road traffic, push out 20 percent of automotive emissions.

This is a big deal — both for the troposphere and for the lungs of anyone who lives near a popular truck hangout, like a freeway or a port. (That includes lots of people of color and low-income communities.)

It’s also a win for companies working on energy efficiency tech. The science to improve trucks’ fuel efficiency with features like hydraulic hybrid brakes and more aerodynamic cab styling already exists. But because fuel is currently cheap, the trucking industry has been slow to adopt changes like these.

The new rules also close a widely-used loophole that truckers used to evade earlier air quality standards by taking old engines — that emit 20 to 40 times more nitrogen oxides and particulate matter than modern diesel engines — and building new trucks around them. Truckers have until 2021 to get their rigs into compliance with the rest of the new regulations, but any sneaky switcheroo’ed engines have to be out earlier — by January 1, 2018.

Buying trucks that comply with the new standards will cost more upfront but, writes EPA, will save money in the long haul — about $170 billion worth. So, dry your tears, Teddy Bear: If all goes according to plan, you’ll be swimming in cash instead of particulate emissions.

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EPA’s new rules are good for tech, and trucking

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“Tiny buses for everyone!” says Elon Musk

You get a bus and you get a bus!

“Tiny buses for everyone!” says Elon Musk

By on Jul 21, 2016Share

Tesla has had a rough ride lately. A Tesla Model S on Autopilot slammed into a semi-truck, killing the driver and prompting an investigation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There’s talk that its yearned-for merger with Solar City may fall apart, and its high-flying stock has plunged 12 percent in three months.

What better time for Musk to unveil “Master Plan Part Deux,” which says, essentially, “Don’t look at right now! Look waay over there, in the amazing future!”

The plan, released on Tesla’s blog on Wednesday, is full of wondrous whizbangery. There will be cars so autonomous that they will earn money for you when you aren’t driving, battery-enhanced solar panels so beautiful that you will want to cuddle them, and tiny, autonomous buses that can be summoned at the push of a button. Oh, and an electric semi-truck that “will be really fun to operate.”

Musk wrote that he announced this Phase 2 because Phase 1 of his plan (fancy electric sports cars) is nearly complete. Based on the current state of uncertainty around Autopilot and the Solar City merger, it looks like Phase 1 still has a way to go.

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“Tiny buses for everyone!” says Elon Musk

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Harry Potter implicated in first driverless car death

Harry Potter implicated in first driverless car death

By on Jul 1, 2016Share

A man died in a car crash while his Tesla sedan was in autopilot mode, the company announced on Thursday. It was the first known fatality involving a self-driving vehicle.

The accident, which occurred in on a Florida highway in May, killed Joshua Brown, 40, a former Navy SEAL from Ohio. Traffic safety regulators opened an investigation into the collision. Tesla described the accident on its website:

What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.

Brown was an advocate for self-driving technology and maintained a YouTube page with videos of his Tesla Model S driving on autopilot. One video, now viewed more than 2 million times, shows his Tesla — which he called “Tessy” — narrowly avoiding a collision. “Tessy did great,” Brown wrote in a caption under the video. “I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities. I have always been impressed with the car, but I had not tested the car’s side collision avoidance. I am VERY impressed.”

While Tesla recommends that drivers keep their hands on the wheel at all times, even while autopilot is engaged, Brown, according to the driver of the tractor trailer, was watching a Harry Potter film at the time of the accident. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” driver Frank Baressi said in an interview with the Associated Press. A portable DVD player was found in the car after the accident.

While self-driving vehicles have been heralded by some technologists as safer and more efficient than standard vehicles, others argue that the technology could have major negative impacts on transportation systems — including by putting more cars on the road. One study found that automated technology could increase vehicle miles traveled by as much as 60 percent. As Roland Hwang, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s transportation program, put it, “There’s a utopian vision of what this looks like, but there’s also a dystopian vision.”


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Harry Potter implicated in first driverless car death

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Reports of Gunfire at Naval Medical Facility in San Diego Trigger Intense Police Response

Mother Jones

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Panic broke out at a sprawling naval medical center in San Diego Tuesday morning as police responded to reports of gunfire at the campus, and the possible threat of an active shooter. Occupants were asked by the hospital complex to evacuate, or shelter in place, while roads were closed and schools placed on lock-down.

But as events unfolded across the morning at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, it remained unclear what actually happened at the campus, and whether or not it constituted an “active shooter” situation. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

Capt. Curt Jones, the commanding officer of Naval Base San Diego, told reporters Tuesday morning that the initial report of thee gunshots came from one witness just prior to 8 a.m., local time. Jones added that “as of right now we have found absolutely nothing that would substantiate” a report of an active shooter. A law enforcement official also told NBC that an initial sweep of Building 26 found that no forensic signs any shots had been fired. Jones said sweeps of that building and others were ongoing to ensure that there were no casualties.

“This is a case where we are pursuing the information we have to its logical conclusion,” Capt. Jones said.

Nevertheless, the police reaction was swift and strong, among multiple different law enforcement agencies, after the medical center posted this message to Facebook, warning occupants to “run, hide or fight”:

The San Diego Police Department confirmed that shots were fired at the facility, according to NBC Bay Area, but other details were not immediately available. The station is also reporting that two California Highway Patrol officers were seen entering the facility through an emergency room entrance at about 8:30 a.m. local time, and “by 8:45 a.m., a SWAT truck was seen storming the facility.”

The Naval Medical Center San Diego is located on a sprawling campus with a hospital and other medical facilities, just east of the city’s airport, and northeast of downtown San Diego. The center has more than 6,500 military, civilian, contractor, and volunteer personnel, according to NBC San Diego.

Three San Diego Unified schools were temporarily placed on lockdown, the school district’s Twitter feed reported shortly after 9 a.m. local time. A short time later the lockdown was lifted, but students and staff continued to shelter in place. Classes resumed just before 10 a.m. local time.

We will be updating this breaking news post with more reporting as it becomes available.

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Reports of Gunfire at Naval Medical Facility in San Diego Trigger Intense Police Response

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Congress Has Agreed On a Highway Bill!

Mother Jones

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Maybe Paul Ryan really is getting a handle on this whole governing thing:

Congressional negotiators have agreed to a $305 billion measure to fund highways and mass-transit projects for five years, the longest in almost two decades—and an unexpected show of agreement after years of clamoring by state transportation officials for money for infrastructure projects.

….The agreement was made possible when lawmakers identified a collection of strategies to offset the costs. Among other things, the measure would raise revenue by selling oil from the nation’s emergency stockpile and taking money from a Federal Reserve surplus account that works as a sort of cushion to help the bank pay for potential losses.

The “strategies” here are necessary because the gas tax has declined over the past two decades, and unlike in past eras, inflationary erosion is no longer being offset by a rapid increase in miles driven. As a result, the highway trust fund doesn’t have enough money to pay for all the stuff Congress wants to do. This is being fixed by funding highways partly by gas taxes and partly by other revenue sources, which destroys the principle that “people who use federal transportation systems should pay for the projects.”

Of course, this is a dumb principle anyway. Lots of people benefit from transportation infrastructure who don’t pay gas taxes. We should just ditch this principle for good and instead fund the government like this:

  1. Collect tax money from various sources.
  2. Put it all in the general fund.
  3. Spend the money as Congress directs.

See? Easy peasy. We still have the problem of matching revenue and spending, of course, but at least we get rid of all the nonsense about funding specific programs from specific sources and worrying about trust funds “going broke.” Nothing is going broke. We’re just raising money and spending money. If we’re worried about a balanced budget, then we have to raise taxes or reduce spending, and it doesn’t really matter which taxes or which spending we target. It’s all just money.

So I’m perfectly happy that Congress is ignoring the “principle” of funding transportation projects only via gas tax money. On the other hand, the revenue sources they’re tapping in order to pass this bill are probably pretty ill considered. Both are in the nature of emergency funds, and both are one-time deals that can’t be repeated. But in a world in which taxes not only can’t be raised, but can’t even be kept the same, I guess there’s little choice.

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Congress Has Agreed On a Highway Bill!

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Highways Are Now Being Held Hostage to Lower Corporate Taxes

Mother Jones

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I somehow missed that this was a real thing, but apparently there are finally serious moves afoot to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. Will this happen by sensibly returning the gasoline tax to its old rate? Don’t be silly. Instead we’re going to do it in least sensible way possible:

A bipartisan proposal, to be introduced soon in Congress, would tax the estimated $2 trillion in foreign profits held by U.S. corporations in overseas accounts….The tax would generate tens of billions of dollars for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which will run out of money at the end of the month. Lawmakers have been in a desperate scramble to replenish the fund, which helps pay for new roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

….Supporters said the plan would reduce incentives for companies to reincorporate overseas, a controversial tax-reducing tactic known as inversion that has drawn the ire of Democrats….”These proposals would right the ship, provide a potential funding source for transportation reauthorization and allow the United States to compete on a level playing field,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said.

Hold on. We’re going to take all those overseas profits that are currently untaxed, and levy a one-time tax on them in order to fund roads and bridges? Why would Republicans and the business community support this? Here’s why:

“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t tie tax reform to the Highway Trust Fund,” said Curtis S. Dubay, a tax expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But lawmakers see the need to find highway funding “as a forcing mechanism to get something done” on international taxes.

A “forcing mechanism”? Please go on:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Assn. of Manufacturers have said they opposed a forced repatriation of foreign earnings simply to replenish the Highway Trust Fund.

But including it as part of a shift from the current international tax system — a move that would reduce corporate tax bills over the long term — changes the equation, said Dorothy Coleman, who handles tax policy for the manufacturers group.

….Business groups want changes to the international tax system to be made as part of a broader overhaul that includes lowering the corporate tax rate for domestic earnings as well. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that he prefers a comprehensive tax overhaul.

Roger that. The business community is willing to support a small, one-time gimmick that will cost them around $200 billion or so—and free them to repatriate all their foreign earnings and bring that money back to the US—but only if it’s tied to a large, permanent corporate tax change that will save them far more in the long run. Suddenly it all makes sense.

The devil is in the details, of course, and those won’t be available for months. If the final bill is revenue neutral on corporate taxes, maybe this is a decent short-term dodge. If it cuts corporate taxes significantly, then not so much. Stay tuned.

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Highways Are Now Being Held Hostage to Lower Corporate Taxes

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The People Who Pick Your Organic Strawberries Have Had It With Rat-Infested Camps

Mother Jones

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When most of us think of Mexican food, we visualize tacos, burritos, and chiles rellenos. But we should probably add cucumbers, squash, melons, and berries to the list—more or less the whole supermarket produce aisle, in fact. The United States imports more than a quarter of the fresh fruit and nearly a third of the vegetables we consume. And a huge portion of that foreign-grown bounty—69 percent of vegetables and 37 percent of fruit—comes from our neighbor to the south.

Not surprisingly, as I’ve shown before, labor conditions on Mexico’s large export-oriented farms tend to be dismal: subpar housing, inadequate sanitation, poverty wages, and often, labor arrangements that approach slavery. But this week, workers in Baja California, a major ag-producing state just south of California, are standing up. Here’s the Los Angeles Times: “Thousands of laborers in the San Quintín Valley 200 miles south of San Diego went on strike Tuesday, leaving the fields and greenhouses full of produce that is now on the verge of rotting.”

In addition to the work stoppage, striking workers shut down 55 miles of the Trans-Peninsular Highway, a key thoroughfare for moving goods from Baja California to points north, the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada (in Spanish) reported after the strike started on March 17.

The blockade has been lifted, at least temporarily. But the “road remains hard to traverse as rogue groups stop and, at times, attack truck drivers,” the LA Times reports. And the strike itself continues. The uprising is starting to affect US supply chains. An executive for the organic-produce titan Del Cabo Produce, which grows vegetables south of the San Quintín Valley but needs to traverse it to reach its US customers, told the Times that the clash is “creating a lot of logistical problems…We’re having to cut orders.” And “Costco reported that organic strawberries are in short supply because about 80% of the production this time of year comes from Baja California,” the Times added. The US trade publication Produce News downplayed the strike’s impact, calling it “minor.”

Meanwhile, the strike’s organizers plan to launch a campaign to get US consumers to boycott products grown in the region, mainly tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries, inspired by the successful ’70s-era actions of the California-based United Farm Workers, headed by Cesar Chavez, La Jornada reported Tuesday. And current UFW president Arturo Rodriguez has issued a statement of solidarity with the San Quintín strikers.

Such cross-border organizing is critical, because the people who work on Mexico’s export-focused farms tend to be from the same places as the people who work on the vast California and Florida operations that supply the bulk of our domestically grown produce: the largely indigenous states of southern Mexico. And the final market for the crops they tend and harvest is also the same: US supermarkets and restaurants.

In a stunning four-part series last year, LA Times reporter Richard Marosi documented the harsh conditions that prevail on the Mexican farms that churn out our food. He found:

Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.
Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.
Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.
Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences, and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.
Major US companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

As for their counterparts to the north, migrant-reliant US farms tend to treat workers harshly as well, as the excellent 2014 documentary Food Chains demonstrates. The trailer, below, is a good crash course on what it’s like to be at the bottom of the US food system. In honor of National Farm Worker Awareness Week, the producers are making it available for $0.99 on iTunes. And here‘s an interview with the film’s director, Sanjay Rawal, by Mother Jones‘ Maddie Oatman.

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The People Who Pick Your Organic Strawberries Have Had It With Rat-Infested Camps

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