Marcia G. Yerman

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Sexual Assault and Undocumented Women in Trumpland

Sexual Assault and Undocumented Women in Trumpland

Since Trump took office, there is increased concern for a demographic facing sexual assault: undocumented women.

June 4, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

“Trumping Democracy” — New Documentary Traces Trump’s Election Win

“Trumping Democracy” — New Documentary Traces Trump’s Election Win

As a candidate, Trump stated he would express the facts “plainly and honestly.” Yet, the nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact found differently. It showed that Trump’s statements had a 4 percent veracity rate and that 33 percent of his assertions were actually false.

November 21, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Post-Election: New Women in Congress Inspire Hope

Post-Election: New Women in Congress Inspire Hope

On Election Day, I cast my vote full of hope.

On Wednesday morning, I went to bed at 3 a.m. — after watching eight hours of election returns. When I woke up, I had a severe case of dread. Not an existential dread. Rather, a version that I could feel in every fiber of my body.

I have been writing about the environment for six years.

As I looked over all the articles I have produced,

November 17, 2016 | No comment | Read More »

How the Most Comprehensive Report on Climate Change Impacts Your Family

How the Most Comprehensive Report on Climate Change Impacts Your Family

Human activity is a dominant cause of global warming.

November 21, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Spotlight

“Trumping Democracy” — New Documentary Traces Trump’s Election Win

When Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million but won the Electoral College, the debate about our electoral system became more urgent.

On November 7, the New York Times editorial board published the opinion piece, “Let the People Pick the President.” It proposed the National Popular Vote interstate compact as a solution.

Now, a new documentary, “Trumping Democracy: Real $*Fake News*Your Data,” offers insights which not only a call into question the process and relevancy of the Electoral College, but points to disturbing factors brought on by the digital age.

Director Thomas Huchon, a French journalist and documentary filmmaker, has drilled down on how unvetted information — and disinformation — can rapidly go viral on the Internet. His search, post-election, to understand how Trump captured the presidency, led him to examine cutting-age digital tools, dark money, and a network of interrelated players with common ideological goals.

At the center of this configuration is hedge-fund billionaire and computer scientist Robert Mercer. (His daughter Rebekah went on to become a leader in the Trump transition team.) Breitbart NewsSteve Bannon, and KellyAnne Conway are planets in the constellation, along with David Bossie, known for his role as president of Citizens United. Mercer was a staunch supporter of altering campaign election funding rules, that for sixty years had reined in individual and corporate donations.

Huchon breaks down his story into three chapters: Lies; Cover-Up; Manipulation. The first two sections review better known material. It is the final third of the film that connects the players in a way that is revelatory and alarming. Huchon taps a group of experts from the fields of journalism, political strategy, law and technology to deliver takeaways that are unsettling.

The narrative begins with a portrait of a New York Trump voter disgusted with “mainstream media.” He gets his news from online outlets, including “pseudo-news” sites that push stories like the bogus child sex trafficking ring of #Pizzagate fame.

Paul Horner, “fake news” creator and prankster, is on hand to speak about fictitious stories he has posted. Disseminated by right wing outlets, Horner references a fictitious post he wrote that was picked up by Eric Trump, who retweeted it with the hashtag #CrookedHillary.

The backstory of Breitbart News is delineated and defined as a platform promoting anti-immigrant sentiment, misogyny, and white supremacist content. A graph depicts how the Breitbart readership expanded dramatically in 2017 during the months of October and November, from 45 million unique monthly users to over 100 million.

Tad Devine, political strategist, runs down the changed habits of how the public consumes news, unlike the days when three broadcasting stations delivered the nightly report. He emphasizes Trump’s “delegitimization of the mainstream media.” Pollster Ben Tulchin notes that Conservatives don’t believe the reporting of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN.

As a candidate, Trump stated he would express the facts “plainly and honestly.”  Yet, the nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact found differently. It showed that Trump’s statements had a 4 percent veracity rate and that 33 percent of his assertions were actually false.

FoxNews and Breitbart helped Trump to create and propagate his own truth. Trump painted himself as the sole person who could “drain the swamp” and make America a “winner” again.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the reclusive Mercer took the opportunity to put his unlimited funds into the service of his extreme vision of limited government.

This trail is fleshed out in the “cover-up” segment. No coincidence that the three entities in question share the same building address in Los Angeles. They are Breitbart News, Glittering Steel Productions, and the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies –where Mercer was co-CEO. (Note: Mercer has since stepped down.)

At RenTech, Mercer used the trading algorithm he innovated to make a fortune. That mathematics  morphed into a technology for other purposes.

Mercer has become a top billionaire on the political scene. Besides his own family foundation, he funds a host of conservative think tanks. Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr gives advice on how to get a clear picture of Mercer’s game plan: “Follow the money.”

Tax documents clearly map the recipients of Mercer’s support. Unsurprisingly, the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, the Government Accountability Institute, and the Heartland Institute are on the list. Mercer also paid for an ad against the placement of a mosque near the World Trade Center locality.

In 2011, Mercer invested $10 million in Breibart News, developing a designated media arm to promote his point of view. Steve Bannon took over the Breibart helm and publicly pronounced his goal of “deconstructing the government of the United States.”

As the 2016 election season geared up, Mercer backed Ted Cruz and put $13 million into Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” campaign. As Trump decimated his opponents, Mercer shifted his allegiance to Trump — to the tune of $15 million.

With major money invested in Trump, Mercer moved to take over the campaign reins in July of 2016. His daughter Rebekah met with Trump and offered more money –along with the “talents” of Bannon to spearhead the campaign. Conway, formerly on board the Mercer train for Cruz, and Bossie, joined the team.

Trump remaining unbeholden to outside interests was no longer remotely tenable. Key clues to the incestuous entanglements became clear when monies and paper trails became evident by looking at records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). There were no payments in the Trump campaign for Bannon’s salary. However, through a Mercer PAC, there are recurring payments to Glittering Steel, the company run by Bannon. In five months, the production company received $302,000.

The Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint maintaining that Glittering Steel is a front for Bannon, while noting that Mercer’s company and Breitbart News are in the same office building.

The third, and most powerful section, is what Huchon has been building toward. He tracks back to his original query: How did Trump win the election?

That piece of the puzzle begins with the London firm, Strategic Communications Library (SCL). Their mission is to evaluate data to determine “what impacts people and how they think.” It’s known as  “Psychological operations (PSYOP).”

SCL claims they provide “behavioral influence planning and evaluation” for clients who want to “influence or treat a problem.” It references a roster of clients like NATO, the British Ministry of Defense, the NSA, and the U.S. State Department. They polish their creds with the example of how their tactics helped to advance “healthcare in Ghana.”

The flip side isn’t as magnanimous. These methods are implemented to manipulate people without their awareness; often utilized to create a problem — in order to solve it. Instigated to organize protests in Nigeria in 2007, as Cadwalladr pointed out, “It’s been used by authoritarian regimes.”

SCL started a “subsidiary” branch to manage data in 2013 called Cambridge Analytica. They set up shop in the United States and partnered with Mercer. Bannon became Vice President. Their tagline was, “The right message in front of the right person at the right time.”

Cambridge Analytica employed “data-modeling” by taking readily available personal data off the web (age, income, address, religion, gun ownership), as well as buying it from banks, credit card companies, and the social media giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They were able to accrue four to five thousand pieces of data for 230 million adults in America.

And it’s all legal.

Added into the mix are data points that determine consumer and lifestyle behaviors, as well as political viewpoints. The personality traits of “openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism” (OCEAN) get calculated. “Behavioral micro-targeting uncovers what “motivates” individuals — to influence their vote.

Expert Michal Kosinski explains digital data and psychological profiling. He created a test specifically for Facebook, and explained how Facebook “Likes” can create an accurate assessment of a subject’s religious views, politics, sexual orientation, personality and intelligence.

Cambridge Analytica offered their services to Trump, who was not interested until he learned they had worked on the successful Brexit initiative. The two parties connected in June 2016. By the end of July, Trump had forked over $6 million to Cambridge Analytica. Another $5 million would be forthcoming.

What did these dollars buy? A tactic based on the realization that Trump didn’t have a shot at winning the popular vote. However, if he went after wavering voters in key swing states, winning the Electoral College was attainable. The goal was to isolate conservative Democrats who might vote for Trump and geo-target them — down to their zip codes.

Looking at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, Cambridge Analytica concentrated on those undecideds by defining thirty-two personality types and determining which voters were the most vulnerable to Trump’s messages of fear and anger.

Trump revisited those geographical areas before Election Day. Simultaneously, this demographic of anxious voters received personal messages on Facebook tailored explicitly to them. These “dark posts” disappeared hours after appearing in the specified user’s timeline. They remain untraceable and without any record — except on Facebook’s server.

It worked. Trump got 77,000 votes from those three swing states.

“Trumping Democracy” was first released in France in June 2017. During production, Cambridge Analytica refused all requests for interviews.

In October, the company was called upon by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) to share their records, detailing their relationship to the Trump campaign.

Democracy may not be dead yet.

The film is available to stream on Amazon and Vimeo beginning November 21. The DVD will be out December 5, and is available now for pre-order. Group screening options available.

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Nov 21, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Post Hurricane Harvey: Interview with Dr. Robert Bullard

Aerial view of Houston after Hurricane Harvey

This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Dr. Robert D. Bullard. Dr. Bullard is known as the “father of  environmental justice.” He has been a leading campaigner against environmental racism:

We have spoken previously about frontline and “fence-line” communities surrounded by a variety of fossil fuel plants in Port Arthur, Texas. Children there already suffer a disproportionate health issues from air pollution – resulting in elevated levels of asthma. How has Hurricane Harvey specifically impacted families of color and low income families in the shadow of these facilities?

Hurricane Harvey exacerbated pre-storm inequality and increased health threats to Port Arthur’s vulnerable communities. Port Arthur was considered an environmental “sacrifice zone” before Harvey — and home to world’s largest oil refinery complexes, including the 3,600-acre Motiva plant, Shell Oil, Saudi Aramco, and the 4,000-acre Texas-based Valero. The Keystone XL pipeline was planned to end in this 64 percent people of color city. The most vulnerable population impacted by the ‘triple whammy’ of flooding, pollution from chemical plants and refineries, and mental stress of hurricane evacuation are children.

Could you comment about many industrial sites in and around Houston refusing to give clear facts about how dangerous the materials in their refineries are, even during this crisis? ExxonMobile has released information that two of their refineries were damaged, and harmful pollutants were released into the air. Why did regulations for being transparent with the public get rolled back?  Why weren’t adequate precautions already in place for these companies?

Harvey shone the spotlight on the power imbalance between polluting industries and fence-line communities. Environmental justice leaders for decades have fought to get stronger regulations that protect fence-line communities from refinery pollution assaults. They have fought for greater transparency from industry and government regulators, at the state and federal level, who have resisted these calls and have responded by rolling back environmental enforcement and protection. This is a recipe for disaster. It means more illnesses, emergency room visits, and deaths. The call for eliminating regulations will aid and abet the ‘crime’ of increasing unnecessary health threats in vulnerable environmental justice communities. This is not only immoral and unethical; we believe it is illegal — or should be.

Harvey is a textbook example why the country needs a strong and independent EPA. Harvey raised questions about the adequacy of industry preparations for monster storms. The petrochemical failed the safety test. More than 1.3 million pounds of extra air pollution were released in the week after Harvey struck. There were explosions and fires burning at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby. Houston experienced flaring, leaks, and chemical discharges from oil refineries, chemical plants and shale drilling sites.

While the extent of the risk posed by Texas’ petrochemical industry in the wake of Harvey is unknown, we know that risks are not spread evenly across the Houston landscape.

Houston is segregated and so is industrial pollution. Pre-and post-Harvey pollution threats map closely with race and class. Houston’s communities of color face a ‘double jeopardy.’ Communities with higher percentages of people color and higher poverty levels face higher risks from chemical accidents and everyday toxic exposure. Poverty and race increase the likelihood of children living fence-line with risky chemical plants. Poor black and brown children are more than twice as likely to live in fence-line communities as poor white children. Houston has 133 schools that are within a one-mile radius of high-risk chemical plants — placing 101,720 students at risk.

A majority (9 of 16) of the Texas Superfund sites flooded by Hurricane Harvey are in low-income neighborhoods or communities of color. In order to be just, Harvey recovery plans will need to address these legacy environmental disparities.

The Department of Environmental Justice was eliminated from the EPA when Trump took office. What recourse do people on the ground have to protect their children from the results of extreme weather events  and the ensuing new air pollution dangers?

It is important to understand that the environmental justice movement — as all social movements in the United States — was not created by the EPA or government. The impetus for the environmental justice movement was grass-roots, community-driven resistance to environmental injustice — policies and practices by polluting industries and actions buttressed by local, state and federal government. Closing the EPA Environmental Justice Office will not close down the EJ Movement.

The pushback by the Trump administration on equal protection is a crystal-clear message to environmental justice leaders and their allies that our communities, our lives, and our children don’t matter to those currently in power. We say ‘No’ to this madness. We are educating, organizing and mobilizing our students and faculty mentors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and community based organizations (CBOs) across the climate-vulnerable Gulf Coast and South in a HBCU/CBO Climate Change Consortium to fight for programs and plans to build healthy, sustainable and resilient communities.

Our consortium emphasizes children and families. When we strive to protect the most vulnerable in our society, our children, we protect us all.

TELL CONGRESS: NOBODY VOTED TO MAKE AMERICA DIRTY AGAIN

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Sep 25, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Trump Gets Challenged on Climate Change Censorship

President Trump’s tweets get plenty of coverage. Yet, there are currently numerous actions by his administration that are designed to restrict the free flow of information from federal agencies. This is particularly significant in the fight against climate change. A combination of disinformation, suppression of facts that should be in the public domain, and the erasure of elements from federal websites are concerning from agencies set up to protect Americans.

In an effort to learn if staff members were told not to use established scientific language via a “gag order,” the Center for Biological Diversity filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. They directed their inquiries to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Energy. The purpose was to get documentation of directives on the type of verbiage workers could or could not use.

Staff was allegedly instructed to either “remove” or “not use” any vocabulary that related to climate change. Examples include, but are not limited to, “greenhouse gas emissions,” “global warming,” “climate disruption,” and “global warming.” Ironically, “Paris agreement” was also in the mix.

The agencies were also asked to report if they had destroyed any records.

Almost two months later on May 30, the Center sued the Trump administration in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The reason? There had been no response, thereby “violating deadlines established under the law.”

The first point in the legal papers states:

“The Center for Biological Diversity (“Center”) — An environmental conservation organization that works to protect native wildlife species and their habitats — challenges the failure of the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Department of State to provide records concerning the Trump administration’s censorship of these federal departments’ and their component agencies’ discussion or dissemination about climate change, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.”

I spoke with Taylor McKinnon, Public Lands Campaigner at the Center. He reiterated reports of EPA workforce harassment, and accounts of web pages taken down. It was apparent that staff and scientists were being intimidated.

“My response,” McKinnon said, “was we need to pry the hood off of this.” A key goal was to establish where the instructions were coming from.

Some records were delivered to the Center. However, for the bulk of what the Center was seeking – they were “stonewalled.” This is what prompted the lawsuit.

“We’re not going to allow the administration to drag its feet,” McKinnon emphasized. “We’re going to hold them to the letter of the law.”

With the belief that what was taking place needed to be “exposed,” McKinnon stated, “We think the information will say volumes.”

The conversation shifted to the EPA under the direction of Scott Pruitt. McKinnon expressed his concern over “fossil fuel corruption.” He underscored, “Pruitt is a catastrophe for America.”

The Center is also pushing back to save data. Along with conservation biologist Stuart Pimm and the Center for Media and Democracy, they have combined forces to save scores of environmental “data sets” on government websites, from removal by the administration.

Back in March, McKinnon released a statement that encapsulates the situation at hand:

“This is like telling government scientists not to mention gravity or the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun. The Trump administration can deny the reality of the climate crisis, but it can’t make it go away by simply telling government employees not to mention it anymore. This kind of anti-science meddling leads us straight back to the dark ages.”

Suppressing information, employee gag orders and perpetuating disinformation is a form of political pressure that adds to the weakening of the federal agencies we depend on to protect our families. We deserve better from our elected officials.

Tell Your Elected Representatives to Say No to Trump’s Plans to Slash the EPA Budget

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.

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Jul 12, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Bill de Blasio Holds Town Hall in Northwest Bronx

A diverse group of constituents from the Northwest Bronx met with Mayor Bill de Blasio...

Feb 23, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Local Activism Pays Off

Individuals from all walks of life, who are concerned about the future of their children...

Dec 18, 2014 | No comment | Read More »

The Military Battles Climate Change

Ret. Adm. David Titley said,"The ocean, atmosphere and ice do not caucus, do not vote,...

Jul 27, 2014 | 1 comment | Read More »

EPA Adminstrator McCarthy Makes A “Moral Obligation To The Next Generation”

McCarthy, who doesn’t pull any punches, stated, “Climate change caused by carbon pollution is one...

Oct 11, 2013 | No comment | Read More »

IPCC Report: Man-Made Climate Change Is A Scientific Certainty

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its new report on September...

Oct 2, 2013 | No comment | Read More »

Small Businesses Support President Obama’s Climate Plan

After extreme weather incidents like Hurricane Sandy, 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen....

Jul 23, 2013 | No comment | Read More »