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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

My Daughter Was Murdered And My Senators Don’t Give A Damn

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

My oldest daughter was shot in the head in April while reading in her Kansas City apartment by someone who aimed through her first-floor window. Aviva lived for two more days, kept alive by machines until her brain swelled enough that she could be pronounced brain dead.

I watched as a doctor removed Aviva from the ventilator to see if she could breathe on her own, the final test, and then recorded the rising amount of carbon dioxide in her blood. My daughter was 24 and had her whole life ahead of her — or should have.

NRA-funded Republicans like Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, my senators in Missouri, care more about pimping for the gun industry than the murders of their constituents. They have made our country a killing ground where any of us can be told that their daughter is in a hospital miles away and expected to die.

President Joe Biden asked Congress for only a modest five percent increase in funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Biden has nominated David Chipman to run the agency, a nomination that's in trouble because of opposition from the NRA and other gun groups. Biden has said he wants to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Anti-gun violence groups would like to see:

Rising Murder Rates

Homicide rates in our country have largely declined since the early 1990s. But those rates rose about 30 percent in large cities in 2020, according to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. Kansas City was not included because researchers "were unable to validate incident-level data to published … data," said research specialist Ernesto Lopez.

The national jump in 2020 could eclipse the 1968 record jump of 12.7 percent when final numbers are released. In the first six months of 2021, the number of homicides in large cities rose by 16 percent, or 259 more deaths,compared with 2020.

Researchers Richard Rosenfeld and Thomas Abt wrote that the pandemic, protests and other factors appear to have created a perfect storm in our country to push killings to record levels. Violent crime rates did not increase in other countries.

So far this year, more than 28,000 people have been killed in our country by guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive. More than 43,570 were killed last year. More than half the gun deaths were suicides.

Mass shootings spiked 47 percent in 2020, compared with 2019. Five hundred and thirteen people died in 611 shootings. Another 2,543 were injured. The initial hospital costs of firearm injuries are estimated at more than $1 billion a year.

'Numb to the Numbers'

"We are numb to the numbers," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) at a hearing in March on gun violence. "Unless we are personally touched, it's just another statistic."

When Durbin spoke these words, my daughter was still alive.

I learned Aviva had been shot after receiving a message on Twitter and drove through the rain to reach Truman Medical Center shortly before midnight. There my daughter was intubated and still, unable to see or hear the people crying over her. I learned in a phone call in a parking lot that she was expected to die.

Aviva, an idealistic public radio reporter less than two years out of college, lived in Kansas City's Santa Fe neighborhood, once the home of Walt Disney and baseball great Satchel Paige.

Now liquor stores nearly outnumber neighborhood churches. A Kansas City Star article described sex workers loitering two blocks from a police department building. People living in disadvantaged minority neighborhoods such as Santa Fe are particularly at risk of being shot.

During the pandemic, gun sales have soared. About one fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time buyers. About 39 percent of American households own guns.

California researchers looked at the increase in gun buys and didn't find a relationship between the excess gun buys and the increase in shootings, except shootings in domestic violence.

Gun company profits soared, too. Smith & Wesson had the most successful fiscal year since it was founded in 1852 by Horace Smith and D.B. Wesson, making more than $252 million in profit. Ammunition manufacturer Ammo Inc. is building a new factory in Wisconsin.

Our country has more firearms than people. Americans make up less than five percent of the world's population, but we own about 45 percent of the world's privately held firearms. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other wealthy countries.

Biden's ATF is trying to regulate ghost guns, so named because criminals can buy kits to make firearms that can't be traced. Almost 24,000 suspected ghost guns were found by police at potential crime scenes from 2016 to 2020, including in 325 homicides or attempted homicides.

Bryan Muehlberger's 15-year-old daughter Gracie Anne, a high school freshman, was killed with a ghost gun in November 2019 at her California school. Another student shot her in the back. The bullet punctured her left lung, and Gracie drowned in her own blood.

"I just remember saying, you know, like, 'Please, no. Don't – don't tell me the bad news please,'" Muehlberger said.

Assault Ban Expired

Since 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the crime bill that included a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons, Congress has not passed any major laws restricting access to weapons. The ban expired in 2004. A study published in April found that 30 mass shootings that killed 339 people and injured 1,139 could have been prevented if the ban had remained.

NRA-funded Republicans are helping the gun industry profit. House Republicans are pressuring the Biden administration to drop its proposed ghost gun rule. Our nation's lawmakers have even blocked the ATF from making a searchable database to trace weapons used in my daughter's killing and other crimes.

Our nation's federal system for tracing guns is so bad that even the online card catalog of a small-town public library is more advanced.

In Texas, where the NRA wanted to reorganize after it filed for bankruptcy, people will be able to carry a gun without a permit or training starting September 1. At least 20 other states, including Missouri, have similar laws.

The NRA spent $16.3 million to try to reelect Trump and $12.2 million across 145 congressional races, helping to reelect Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

Tillis, who has taken more than $4.4 million from the NRA, ranks fourth among senators receiving NRA campaign donations, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Ernst with more than $3.1 million is seventh; Cornyn, who has accepted almost $79,000, is 35th.

In Missouri, which has an average of 1,074 guns deaths a year, Blunt is a lifetime member of the NRA. He is third among our nation's senators taking cash from the NRA with more than $4.5 million. Blunt, whose son has served on the NRA board, has opposed federal funding to study gun violence and voted against banning gun magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

Hawley, Missouri's junior senator, is one of the politicians named in a lawsuit filed by Giffords, a nonprofit founded by former Congresswoman and gun victim Gabby Giffords, against the Federal Election Commission. The lawsuit said the NRA used a network of shell corporations to illegally coordinate spending millions with the campaigns of Trump, Hawley, and at least five other federal candidates.

Hawley has been in office less than three years, but he is 15th among senators taking NRA cash with almost $1.4 million in donations.

Will Biden's Federal Election Commission Go After Dark Money?

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

Before leaving office Donald Trump stuffed the Federal Election Commission with ineffective anti-regulation attorneys; now President Joe Biden can nominate at least two commissioners.

The FEC spent much of the presidential election year of 2020 not even able to meet because it didn't have enough commissioners.

The terms of Sean Cooksey, previously the general counsel for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Steven Walther, an independent appointed by President George W. Bush, expire next Friday.

Presidents typically nominate commissioners in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican.

The six-person independent commission set up after Watergate is supposed to investigate allegations of illegal campaign spending and issue advisory opinions.

Republicans have used the tradition of how presidents nominate commissioners to fill half of the commission seats with people who pander to dark money and oppose strict regulation.

"These people are carefully chosen by Mitch McConnell to make sure that not much happens," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. As Senate majority leader under Trump, McConnell promoted GOP intransigence in most matters.

Trump nominated the three Republicans who are on the commission:

Trey Trainor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last May. Trainor:

Trainor supported right-wing attorney Sidney Powell, who is being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems over her comments about the 2020 election.

"I've never known fellow TX lawyer @SidneyPowell1 to be anything but forthright and honest in everything she's ever taken on," Trainor tweeted in November. "If she says there is rampant voter fraud in #Election2020, I believe her."

In March, CNN reported Powell said that reasonable people wouldn't have believed as fact her assertions of fraud after the 2020 presidential election.

Allen Dickerson was confirmed by the Senate in December.

Dickerson previously was the legal director for the Institute for Free Speech, a nonprofit involved in a lawsuit against the FEC that allowed super PACs which can spend unlimited money.

Dickerson didn't work at the institute when that case was decided. But he was at the nonprofit, then known as the Center for Competitive Politics, when it sued then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now our vice president. The suit was over a rule requiring nonprofits raising money in California to disclose donors.

Sean Cooksey also was confirmed in December.

He fills the seat previously held by Lee Goodman, a Republican appointed by President Barack Obama. Cooksey also worked as deputy general counsel for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The divided FEC has meant that a third of the commission's votes in 2019 on proposed enforcement were split, resulting in no decisions.

Actions such as making rules, levying major fines, or issuing advisory opinions require at least four yes votes.

The commission didn't have a quorum in late 2019 and much of 2020, meaning it couldn't meet and accumulated a backlog of more than 400 cases.

The head of the FEC is Shana Broussard, a Democrat. She started working for the commission in 2008 in enforcement and became the attorney for Walther, the independent member.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, would shrink the commission to five members so that one party couldn't effectively neuter the commission. The House passed the bill in March.

Biden Moves To Strengthen EPA For First Time In Decades

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The Biden administration is asking Congress for more than $110 million to hire and support scientists and staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, which the previous president decimated.

The EPA lost almost 1,000 scientists and other employees under Donald Trump administrators Andrew Wheeler and Scott Pruitt.

The budget was cut yearly or stagnant for decades. In inflation-adjusted dollars, it was more than 50 percent higher under President Ronald Reagan than it is today.

"The 2022 budget proposal is an excellent first step in rebuilding EPA's funding and strengthening the agency," said Michelle Roos. She is executive director of the Environmental Protection Network of former EPA employees and appointees.

The proposed funding is part of $11.2 billion the Biden administration is asking to fund the EPA. That request represents a 21 percent increase.

The Biden administration is also asking for $75 million to help designate perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, as hazardous substances and set enforceable limits for the chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The poisons, made since the 1940s, are sometimes called "forever chemicals" because they don't break down in the environment and can remain in our bodies for years. Designating the chemicals as hazardous substances would give the EPA more power to clean up contaminated sites.

The "announcement recognizes that science is at the core of all we do at the EPA," said current EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Betsy Southerland, who oversaw science and technology issues in the EPA Office of Water, told the House science committee's investigations and oversight panel that the Biden administration should restore funding to bring EPA to its average over the past four decades. The cost to rebuild the budget over four years would be $11.4 billion in 2019 dollars.

Southerland was one of the EPA employees who left. She resigned in 2017, saying "the administration is seriously weakening EPA's mission."

About $48 million of the $110 million to hire EPA staff would go to the EPA Office of Air and Radiation to implement climate change programs under the Clean Air Act. The office is led by acting assistant administrator Joseph Goffman.

Bill Wehrum, who sued the agency at least 31 times as a corporate lawyer, headed that office for much of the Trump administration. Under Wehrum, who resigned in 2019 during a federal ethics investigation, the office worked to help coal-burning Martin Lake Power Plant in east Texas.

The plant spews out more sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain than any other power plant in America. Wehrum was a partner at a law firm that lobbied for the plant's owner.

Latest Trump Ruling Risks An American Bhopal Disaster To Enrich Oligarch

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The weakening of regulations that save us from oil chemical apocalypse appears to have been influenced by a friend of Russian leader Vladimir Putin's oligarchs.

Putin, of course, is the presumed friend of lame-duck and impeached President Donald Trump who is a proven enemy of environmental safeguards.

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States Banning Deadly Paint Stripper Allowed By Trump

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Wendy Hartley, whose son Kevin died at age 21 after using a toxic paint stripper, met with ex-EPA chief Scott Pruitt two years ago to urge him to ban a chemical in the stripper that has killed people since 1947.

But when the EPA evaluated the chemical, methylene chloride, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency decided the chemical didn't present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment under some conditions.

"Nothing short of a ban would be sufficient," said Hartley, who brought photos of her son and his death certificate to her meeting with Pruitt.

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Judge Strikes Down Trump Scheme To Force Elderly Into Nursing Homes

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

TheTrump administration has lost a court battle that could have pushed our nation's low-income elderly, disabled, and blind out of their own homes and into deathtrap nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

A California federal judge called the Trump rule that bars states from withholding part of the paychecks of some home healthcare workers for things like health insurance and voluntary union dues a "legal error."

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Trump Must Go, But He Plans To Kill Grandma First

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Team Trump is trying to force our nation's low-income elderly, blind and disabled out of their own homes and into death trap nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Joseph Hunt, who has since left the Justice Department, represented the Trump administration in a California lawsuit over Trump efforts to weaken working conditions for low-paid aides who help our nation's elderly and disabled stay in their homes. The workers, mostly female, do chores like cooking meals, changing adult diapers and helping with baths.

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Trump’s EPA Permits Dumping Of Poisonous Coal Ash

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Retiree Julie Pease and her husband moved into their modest lakefront home near Herrington Lake in Kentucky eight years ago, but she won't eat the fish. The lake is polluted by coal ash from the nearby power plant.

Team Trump recently pushed back the deadlines for utilities to close an estimated 523 leaking, unstable or dangerously-sited coal ash ponds. Kentucky Utilities, which operates the E.W. Brown power plant in Harrodsburg, Ky., closed its main coal ash pond in 2008, but the six million tons of coal ash that remain at the site has polluted Herrington Lake.

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Fearful Senate Republicans Drop Pendley Nomination

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

William Perry Pendley, the embattled attorney who is acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, is out as a candidate for the permanent job.

Trump withdrew Pendley's nomination on Saturday because it could have caused problems for three Republican senators in tough re-election races who would have voted whether to confirm him: Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona. He is expected to remain as acting director.

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Minnesota Natural Wonder Is On Trump Team’s Hit List To Despoil

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump administration action that could spoil a Minnesota wilderness with acidic damage for centuries would benefit the landlord of the president's children.

Former President Jimmy Carter signed a law more than four decades ago to prohibit mining in the Boundary Waters, a pristine wilderness. With more than 1,000 lakes, it stretches almost 200 miles along the U.S.-Canada border in Minnesota.

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Trump’s USDA Speeds Up Meatpacking Despite Virus Deaths

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump administration officials may have used misleading data to analyze safety so that meatpacking plants could skirt a safety rule regulating their processes. The rule regulates how fast pigs can be slaughtered.

The USDA Office of Inspector General recently released a report expressing concern about faulty data, as COVID-19 cases soar in the meatpacking industry.

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EPA Allows Agribusiness To Keep Using Widely Banned Poison

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Bayer, the giant German chemical company, has agreed to pay up to $400 million to U.S. farmers whose crops have been damaged by the deadly herbicide dicamba.

The poison is still being used on genetically modified crops until July 31, despite a court order that threw out the Trump EPA approval.

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Trump Appointees Permit Higher Soot Emissions, Increasing Covid-19 Mortality

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

A new Harvard study has found that long-term exposure to microscopic soot in the air appears to be associated with higher death rates from the coronavirus.

But Trump's EPA has recommended keeping the 2012 standards for microscopic soot that are linked to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year.

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McConnell’s Scheme To Protect Corporations From Covid-19 Liability May Fail

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The landmark Supreme Court decision that upheld most of the Affordable Care Act could help doom efforts by Trump Republicans to shield companies from COVID-19 lawsuits.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to give companies that reopen during the pandemic immunity from liability. Such a law, which would supersede state liability laws, could run afoul of the Commerce Clause.

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Trump Administration Rigs Market For Big Beef Packers

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump's Agriculture Department is turning our nation's cattle ranchers and feedlot operators into modern-day sharecroppers as beef prices soar during the pandemic.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) asked the Senate Judiciary Antitrust subcommittee to hold a hearing on claims of price manipulation and collusion in the beef meatpacking industry. Fischer pointed to the spike in the index of prices for butchered beef compared with the 30 percent drop in cattle futures after Jan. 24, when the country's first coronavirus case was reported.

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Trump Republicans Care Less About Workers Than Hogs

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Donald Trump and Republican legislators behave as if the lives of the immigrants working in meatpacking plants are worth less than the lives of pigs in a slaughterhouse.

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), a former GOP governor, asked Trump to intervene to keep meatpacking plants open during the pandemic.

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Nursing Homes Fouled By Lax Regulation And Lobbyist Influence

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Former Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat but the CEO of a nursing home industry group, wrote Trump after the 2016 election seeking a "collaborative approach" to regulation, much like the one the Federal Aviation Administration has had with the aircraft industry.

Team Trump acquiesced, rolling back fines and proposing to weaken rules for infection prevention employees. That collaborative approach has failed, much as it did with the FAA , the agency that enabled failures in the design of the Boeing 737 Max.

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