Chippewa Bad River Band Declines to Renew Wisconsin Pipeline Easement

January 16, 2017; InsideClimate News and Reuters

The Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians took a cue from the Standing Rock Sioux protest this winter and declined to allow an oil pipeline to run through their land. The pipeline, known as Line 5, was installed in the 1950s thanks to an easement granted by the tribe to the oil company, allowing the pipe to run through tribal land. Unlike most privately owned land, tribal land is sovereign and not subject to eminent domain, so oil companies cannot force use of it for the public good; permission is required from the tribe, generally in the form of such an easement. This easement expired in 2013, and the tribe voted in the first week of 2017 not to renew it, terminating the oil company’s permission to use the land and effectively forcing them to reroute the line. The pipeline is owned by a Canadian company called Enbridge, which owns more than 11,000 miles of pipelines in the U.S. and Canada.

Holder and Obama to Collaborate on Redistricting

January 11, 2017; New York Times

Democrats lost the 2016 election in a big way. Not only did they lose the presidency, they lost House and Senate seats, governorships, and state legislatures across the country. Since that election, the public and the pundits have been wondering: How did this happen? There are a lot of ways to answer that question, but part of the blame must fall on gerrymandering. Every ten years, new census results in hand, states redraw the boundaries of their political districts.

Mix One Nonprofit and an Abandoned Paper Mill…

January 12, 2017; Bangor Daily News

Ownership of the Great Northern Paper Mill building has been transferred for $1 to a small nonprofit made up of local New Hampshire residents intent on building the local economy in a way that’s under the control of the town of Millinocket. The site was previously owned by what is described here as a “controversial New Hampshire based hedge fund.” The mill comes at a cost, of course. There is $1.5 million in tax liability connected to the site. Millinocket, a tiny town with a population that hovers around 5,000, was established as a lumber colony in the early 1900s. If you Google it, the Internet currently pegs the town as a meals, supplies, and lodging hub for those visiting Baxter State Park, which boasts the highest peak in Maine, Mount Katahdin.

Fifth Pakistani Civil Activist “Disappears”

January 12, 2017; Times of India

Samar Abbas, IT worker and president of the Karachi-based Civil Progressive Alliance of Pakistan (CPAP), has been missing since January 7, 2017. He was reported missing while visiting Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Abbas’s vanishing occurs just days after four other activists went missing. The Times of India reports that the United Nations and Amnesty International are expressing increasing concern. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is pushing the Pakistani government to more urgently investigate “the apparent abductions of [the] activists who campaign for human rights and religious freedom.”

Voice of America reports that opponents of the current government call the suspected abductions “planned and coordinated” ways to crack down on criticisms of state policies.

Dialysis Patients’ Use of Charitable Funds Questioned in Kickback Investigation

January 13, 2017; Reuters

In a victory for three major dialysis providers, a U.S. district judge has temporarily blocked a new federal rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would have prevented dialysis patients from buying health insurance with charitable funds. The new rule, which was announced on December 14th, would force dialysis providers to disclose to insurers any third-party assistance patients use to pay for end-stage kidney treatment. Amos Mazzant, a district judge in Texas, placed the rule on hold on January 13th after Fresenius Medical Care, DaVita Inc., and U.S. Renal Care Inc. filed a lawsuit to block the HHS rule. Mazzant has indicated that the lawsuit will probably be successful, and that the HHS has “likely violated the procedures” regarding the establishment of such a rule. HHS has said that the new rule is “intended to ensure that insurance coverage decisions are not inappropriately influenced by the financial interests of dialysis facilities.” Supporters of the regulation say that patients are encouraged to use charitable funds to pay for premiums on the private insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

Factoring in the Potential of Machines to Take Our Jobs

January 12, 2017; New York Times and McKinsey Global Institute
“The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”
Is this, as President Obama put forth in his Farewell Address, a real problem to be addressed if we are going to cure the economic malaise that continues to affect the lives of millions of Americans? A recently published report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) evaluates the shape and pace of automation and provides some needed perspective on the challenges it will pose to our labor market and to our economy. According to the MGI analysis, current technology and expected advancements are capable of changing, and even replacing, most jobs. Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are ushering in a new age of automation, as machines match or outperform human performance in a range of work activities, including ones requiring cognitive capabilities.… Almost half the activities people are paid almost $16 trillion in wages to do in the global economy have the potential to be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology.

Can Nonprofits Support the Rebuilding of the Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure?

January 9, 2017; Keene Sentinel

The future of a rusting New Hampshire pedestrian bridge is now less certain because the nonprofit founded to maintain it is closing due to declining membership. The Chesterfield Arch Bridge Beautification & Preservation Society was founded in 2009 to preserve and improve the rare steel bridge. The nonprofit got off to a strong start, enlisting 40 members, building benches, and launching a formal dedication of the bridge to Justice Harlan Fiske Stone a year later, according to a Keene Sentinel story. But in a cash-strapped state with more than 8,000 nonprofits, the Society’s membership has dwindled to just six people after others left frustrated at the NH Department of Transportation’s inability to pitch and help. It’s clear that the country’s transportation infrastructure is at a tipping point.

Obama Commutes FALN Activist Oscar López-Rivera’s Sentence after 35 Years in Prison

January 17, 2017; Washington Post

Along with Chelsea Manning and more than 2000 others, Puerto Rican activist Oscar López Rivera had his sentence commuted by President Obama yesterday. López Rivera has been in prison for 35 years, and will be released in May of this year after decades of advocacy. López Rivera was convicted and sentenced in 1981 to 55 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, and then received another 15 years in 1988 for trying to escape from Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas. Because of the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States government, he is widely considered to be a political prisoner. When López Rivera was arrested 35 years ago with other FALN members who were convicted for a series of bombings, he and the others wanted recognition as combatants in an anti-colonial war against the United States to liberate Puerto Rico, which has “owned” the island since 1898.