Health Care and the Environment

by Stephen Capra
 
The last few weeks have shown a new depth in Republican thinking. What would at first glance seem crazy, stealing heath care from up to 24 million Americans is at best going to be a very close vote that will likely mean less for average Americans and more tax cuts for the wealthiest in our country.

To accomplish this Republicans are willing to lie repeatedly, obfuscate and threaten. They will use misleading facts and create fear among the most vulnerable, to cajole their way to this warped vision of victory.

So when a party that dominates both Houses of Congress and the Presidency is willing to literally kill people to gain a tax cut, what is the potential that they will have concern or a sense of responsibility when it comes to the environment?

The answer is unfolding before our eyes. From Bear Ears and Monuments across the West to the fight on Climate Change or methane releases and the countless environmental regulations they have placed in the shredder, we are witnessing genocide of the planet on a level that few can remember. Republicans continue to use terms like freedom and choice to conceal and define a narrative that enriches corporate American off the backs of native wildlife, protected habitat and the health and welfare of people that love and respect wild nature.

Democrats in this process are fighting back, but also share some of the responsibility in the delays and Blue Dog member’s conflicts with important environmental legislation that stalled or was not implemented through Executive Orders until the final year of an Administration, regulations that should have passed in year one.

It has taken the Trump Administration 100 days to tack public opinion against environmental protection and to inspire this congress to go for the jugular in destroying generations of responsible environmental progress. While many in America are fighting back and town hall videos represent new voices of hope, we remain trapped with a President that has shown his shallowness, his vindictive nature and his willingness to destroy the foundations of our democracy. In his disturbed mind, he sees only those loyal to him and those who oppose him. Friendship and critical analysis are fed through money and his ability to profit. Dissension is met with paranoia and callous retribution.

So we stand at a precipice in time. In the next forty days a report will come back that could very well be the paper work the President desires to remove some of our most precious lands from Monument protection. What on the surface seems to be a very misguided and unthinkable prospect is in the Trump world another opportunity to harm those who most vehemently opposed him in the campaign-the conservation community. For those in the Steve Bannon inner circle, it is another way to blow up the Federal government, leading us towards an inevitable anarchy.

So the question for many remains what can we do? The answer is to first, never stop fighting. The second is to realize that we are approaching the bottom, many have spoken about. It is true Trump could move to disband our National Parks, but that is something that for now seems a remote possibility. No this President is trying to break our spirit and push us into a national depression that will force people to tune out and give him free reign. Next we must continue to educate ourselves, friends and family, it is simply amazing how many people are already tuned out. Finally, we must vote out these bastards, our planet simply cannot continue a cycle of bust and boom in terms of protection of our natural heritage, we are approaching life support and that demands our energy and perseverance. We can never surrender to evil, or ignorance.

This Republican Congress is making clear from Health Care to the removal of James Comey, that they are putting party first before the American people and our values. Power and control are the mechanisms that feed their trough and what was once considered a sacred responsibility to put county before party, has been destroyed in the haze of Citizens United and the thirst to move their radical agenda.

Should Democrats retake control of congress or eventually the White House, they must move in the first, not the eighth year of a Presidency to change environmental regulations or use Executive Actions so that they have a sense of permanency. Democrats must also be strong, not weak, in pushing aggressive environmental protections, wilderness and Monument protections and designations. That includes those in coal country.

Until such time as the American people fight in one voice to protect our environment, Republicans will continue to flourish from the poisoned money that flows from the fossil fuel, mining, NRA and corporate agenda. That money is breaking the Arctic ice packs, fouling our air and water, it is killing wolves in the West and Mid-West, and it is stealing protected lands from all Americans and allowing a deranged man to lead our county, while simultaneously tearing us apart.

We can do so much better, and we will. But we are in a war, there really is no other way to describe it and we have no choice but to fight with every fiber of our being. For those in the rust belt that made Trump our President, I would remind them that their vote and actions are helping to destroy our quality of life in the West. So we can fight one another, or we can unite to save our planet, our wildlife and the moral compass of a nation that has lost direction.

Get out into the Parks and Monuments, allow your spirit to heal and flourish, soak in the energy and life that nature provides, in that place of love and beauty, find the strength and resolve to save it from those who can never understand or fear that which is wild.

The road is long, but you are not alone, we are many and fierce in our love of that cathedral of life, that endless bounty that is nature.

We will fight and we will win.

But we will also suffer and hurt, yet in that pain is the resolve to never allow this to happen again. The health, not just of people, but of the planet is in our hands.
In such destiny is the power to change, and change we must or we will bear witness to our own demise.
I choose to fight.

Letter in the NY Times re: Donald Trump Jr.’s Hunting

To the Editor:

According to news reports, Donald Trump Jr. spent Earth Day shooting prairie dogs in Montana. His guide was Greg Gianforte, a Republican candidate for Congress and himself a hunting enthusiast. Prairie dogs are not killed to be eaten, but strictly for fun.

Fun? What’s wrong with these people? How can killing defenseless rodents in their natural habitat be seen as fun? This fact further underscores how pathetic and callous the Trump family is. C’mon, Don Jr., really?!

SCOTT CITRON, NEW YORK

From Gandhi to guns: An Indian woman explores the NRA convention

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/28/world/indian-immigrant-nra-convention/

The author, an Indian-American, visiting her first NRA convention on Friday.

Atlanta (CNN)Guns are not a part of the culture of my homeland, except perhaps for the occasional Bollywood movie in which the bad guy meets his demise staring down the wrong end of a barrel.

My childhood in India was steeped in ahimsa, the tenet of nonviolence toward all living things.
The Indians may have succeeded in ousting the British, but we won with Gandhian-style civil disobedience, not a revolutionary war.
Trump: Eight-year assault has come to end

Trump: Eight-year assault has come to end 01:07
I grew up not knowing a single gun owner, and even today India has one of the strictest gun laws on the planet. Few Indians buy and keep firearms at home, and gun violence is nowhere near the problem it is in the United States. An American is 12 times more likely than an Indian to be killed by a firearm, according to a recent study.
It’s no wonder then that every time I visit India, my friends and family want to know more about America’s “love affair” with guns.
I get the same questions when I visit my brother in Canada or on my business travels to other countries, where many people remain perplexed, maybe even downright mystified, by Americans’ defense of gun rights.
I admit I do not fully understand it myself, despite having become an American citizen nearly a decade ago. So when I learn the National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention here in Atlanta, right next to the CNN Center, I decide to go and find out more.
My eyes open wide inside the vast and cavernous Georgia World Congress Center. I take in countless exhibits by the firearms industry and even check out a few guns. Among them are the Mossberg Blaze .22 semiautomatic Rimfire Rifle and an FN 509 semi-automatic 9mm pistol.
I’ve never had the desire to own a gun. I try hard to experience the excitement of others who are admiring these products.
Around me are 80,000 of America’s fiercest patriots and defenders of guns. Many are wearing American flag attire and T-shirts with slogans like: “Veterans before refugees” and “God loves guns.”
Few people here look like me. Most appear to be white and male. Many view the media, including my employer, with disdain — and they do not hesitate to let me know.
I walk around with some trepidation, but I’m determined to strike up conversations. I begin with this question: “Why do you want to own an object that can kill another human being?”
The answers are varied, but they center on three main themes: freedom, self-defense and sport. The first type of response is rooted in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which allows for the ownership of more than 300 million guns in America. How many other countries have the right to bear arms written into their very foundation? It’s unique and because of that, foreigners often have trouble grasping it.
I meet Chris Styskal at a booth set up by the NRA Wine Club. Yes, a wine club for the almost 5 million members of the organization.
“Eat, sleep, go fishing. Drink, sleep, go shooting. In that order,” Styskal jokes.
But then we get into serious talk. Gun ownership, he tells me, has its roots in the birth of this country.
“George Washington’s army fought off the British with rifles,” he says. “They overthrew an oppressive government.”
His statement gives me pause. The gun laws in India stem from colonial rule, when the British aimed to quell their subjects by disarming them. Perhaps my Indian compatriots should consider the right to own guns from this perspective.
Styskal, 41, earned a degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and tells me the prevailing belief that gun owners are not educated is simply wrong. He owns a collection of rifles and pistols at his home in Port Carbon, Pennsylvania, and last year he fired 100 rounds every week at a shooting range.
He says the Second Amendment is about much more than the right to bear arms. It’s about freedom.
“We don’t want any government telling us what we can and cannot do.”
It’s a thought echoed by Brickell “Brooke” Clark, otherwise known as the American Gun Chic. She has a website by that name and also a YouTube channel. Both are bathed in hues of pink and dedicated to her recently formed passion for guns.
I introduce myself to Clark as we await President Donald Trump’s arrival at the convention. The darkened room is booming with NRA clips bashing everyone from Hillary Clinton to George Clooney.
“What would you tell my friends in India who say Americans are infatuated with guns?”
“I wouldn’t say Americans have an obsession with guns,” Clark says. “We have an obsession with being free.”
I ask what the Second Amendment means to her.
“It means I can live my life without anyone overpowering me,” she says. “It makes me equal with everyone else.”
The great equalizer. I never thought of the Second Amendment in that way.
Self-protection, I discover, is a huge reason many Americans own firearms.
Take Chloe Morris. She was born in Atlanta to Filipino parents; on this day, she’s brought her mother along to hear Trump, the first sitting President to speak at an NRA convention since Ronald Reagan.
Morris is 35, petite and soft-spoken, but she’s fierce about her opinions on guns.
“I’m 5 feet tall and 100 pounds,” she tells me. “I cannot wait for a cop to come save me when I am threatened with rape or death.”
Morris was once opposed to guns. “Extremely opposed,” she says.
She earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia State University. “I know the law,” she says. “For me guns were not the answer.”
But a few years ago, a dear friend was assaulted in her own home in an upscale Atlanta subdivision. The incident struck fear in Morris. She would never let herself become a victim.
She took shooting classes and became a Glock instructor. “I teach for free. I want women to be safe.
“I own 10 guns. I have a 14-year-old son. I started teaching him to shoot when he was 5. I’m a lifetime member of the NRA.”
She pauses, and her next sentence surprises me.
“I don’t think I can even kill another person — except when my life is in danger.”
In a way, I understand her position. My first real exposure to guns came after I embedded with the US Army and Marines to report the Iraq War. As a journalist I never carried a weapon, though soldiers coaxed me to learn how to shoot an M16. My conversation with Morris reminded me of a night when we came under threat, and the platoon sergeant placed a 9mm pistol on my Humvee seat. I refused to take it but knew instantly what he was trying to tell me. What if I were the last one alive? How would I save myself?
Luckily, we were safe that night. But I’ve always wondered how I might have acted under a dreadful scenario.
Other NRA members I speak with also tell me they don’t trust the police to arrive in time when they are in danger. Scott Long, 55, lives out in the country in Piketon, Ohio — 25 miles away from the county sheriff.
“The police can’t be there all the time,” he says, looking at his wife, DeeDee, and their three young children, whom he’s brought along to the convention for a mini family vacation. Their son Brody, 9, has been shooting at the pellet range and is excited about his first 20-gauge shotgun.
“Where we live, we can shoot in our backyard,” says Long, who owns 25 guns and is enjoying checking out all the shiny new weapons exhibited here.
Such remoteness, too, is alien to me. I grew up in a city that now brims with some 16 million people on a working day. Firing guns in my grandfather’s garden would not have been a good thing. I think about all the space we have in America. So many of us live far from other human beings. Like the Long family. Perhaps isolation adds to the need to own guns.
I move forward in my quest to know more.
I hear gun proponents express a dislike for big government. They stress individual liberties over the collective. For people who live in more socialist countries, it’s another obstacle to understanding American gun culture.
Near a stairway emblazoned with a giant Beretta, I speak with Derrick Adams. He’s a 32-year-old electric lineman from Nottingham, Pennsylvania. He describes himself as part black, part Puerto Rican and part Caucasian.
“How many guns do you own?” I ask.
“Not enough,” he replies.
He picked up his first Glock when he was 22, and his first shot shattered a whole bunch of stereotypes.
“People look at guns as this evil tool whose job it is to kill,” he says. “They’re not at all that. They are about protection.”
Adams believes that if all law-abiding citizens were armed, crime would drastically go down. He tells me that Chicago would not have such a high gun homicide rate if good folks in the inner cities were armed to fight “thugs and gangs.”
“Stop looking to government to help us. They are not our parents,” Adams says.
Liberals in America who want more gun control, says Adams, want to keep minorities and poor people dependent on government. Gun control started after slavery ended and was a way to keep black people disarmed, he says.
“You idiots,” Adams says, referring to all people of color. “It was invented to suppress you.”
He looks at me as though to say: You should know better.
Again, I think of colonialism in my homeland and how the British passed strict gun control to keep Indians from rising up.
Fighting tyranny and oppression is something Jaasiel Rubeck considers, too. The 29-year-old wife and mother from Columbus, Ohio, immigrated to this country from her native Venezuela when she was 6. People who live under authoritarian regimes should all understand the need to own a gun, she tells me.
Rubeck’s words remind me of a friend from Iraq who wished she could own a gun during Saddam Hussein’s rule. After he was overthrown, she slept with an AK-47 under her pillow at the height of the insurgency. She has always spoken of her love-hate relationship with guns. She wants to protect her family, but she is tired of the eternal violence plaguing her land. She wishes now that every gun would disappear from Iraq.
What I hear from speakers at the NRA convention, though, is that a peaceful world is a utopian fantasy — and that the need for guns will always exist.
“The NRA saved the soul of America,” says Chris Cox, the executive director of the organization.
I leave the convention trying to reconcile what I’ve gathered on this day with the philosophy of nonviolence with which I was raised. I am not certain that vast cultural differences can be bridged in a few hours, but I am glad I got a glimpse into the world of guns. I have much to consider.

Donald Trump is first president to address the NRA in 34 years

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-president-address-nra-34-years/story?id=47080710

  • By MEGHAN KENEALLY

Apr 28, 2017

President Donald Trump is following in the footsteps of former President Ronald Reagan by speaking at a National Rifle Association event.

Today’s speech, at the NRA’s Leadership Forum in Atlanta, won’t be Trump’s first talk to the gun rights group. He was endorsed by the NRA in May and spoke at their convention at the time.

But his appearance later today marks the first time that a sitting president has addressed the group since Reagan did so in 1983.

The NRA is known for their sizable lobbying operation and by raising money for — and against — candidates. The group made over $52 million in donations to candidates during the 2016 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They spent $30.3 million in support of Trump, the CRP reported.

Trump campaigned on the pledge to support and protect the Second Amendment, which he said during his May NRA appearance, was “under a threat like never before.” He pointed to his then-rival Hillary Clinton as the basis for that threat.

“Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment, not change it; she wants to abolish it,” Trump said at the time, although Clinton had never made such claims.

“The Second Amendment is on the ballot in November. The only way to save our Second Amendment is to vote for a person you know: Donald Trump,” he said.

Trump has noted that his two eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have been longtime members of the NRA, and during the May speech, he said that “they have so many rifles and so many guns, even I get concerned.” 

During the second presidential debate, Trump promised to appoint Supreme Court justices that will “respect the Second Amendment and what it stands for and what it represents,” and said that the list of 20 judges that he released as possible picks all fit that bill. Judge Neil Gorsuch, who he later nominated and has since been appointed to the Supreme Court, was on that list.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that hundreds of protesters and gun control advocates are reportedly gathering near the convention site this morning. Part of the protest will feature a “die-in,” where 93 people will lie down in a local park to represent the number of people who die from gun violence every day, the paper reports.

There will be another protest on Saturday, and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is scheduled to attend. Lewis and Trump have a turbulent history. Lewis did not attend the inauguration and said he did not see Trump as a “legitimate president.” Trump returned the favor by criticizing the civil rights leader, saying that he was “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

Donald Trump’s Earth Day Statement Is Shameful

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-earth-day_us_58fb9b9ee4b06b9cb91759d6

The president has moved swiftly to dismantle a wide range of protections for the environment.

“Our Nation is blessed with abundant natural resources and awe-inspiring beauty. Americans are rightly grateful for these God-given gifts and have an obligation to safeguard them for future generations,” Trump said in the statement Saturday. “My Administration is committed to keeping our air and water clean, to preserving our forests, lakes, and open spaces, and to protecting endangered species,”

Trump, who has claimed that climate change is a hoax that the Chinese invented, has appointed multiple climate change skeptics to fill his cabinet. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, one such skeptic, sued the agency more than a dozen times when the was attorney general of Oklahoma. Rick Perry, now the secretary of energy, said in 2012 he wanted to abolish the department Trump tapped him to run (he now says he regrets the comment).

In his first 100 days as president, Trump has moved to eliminate several protections for the environment. He signed legislation repealing the Stream Protection Rule, which protected streams from mining operations. The president has also moved to eliminate the Clean Water Rule, which protects 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. Getting rid of the rule could jeopardize drinking water for nearly 120 million Americans and numerous endangered species. He has also moved to get rid of car emission and pollution standards.

The statement also noted that Trump is committed to “rigorous science” and “honest inquiry.”

“Rigorous science is critical to my Administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” Trump said.  “My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.  As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

But under Trump, the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology has removed “science” from its mission statement. Trump and Pruitt have questioned well established science that shows global warming is real. His administration has proposed gigantic cuts to biomedical and scientific research and, the EPA and environmental programs.

Trump and the White House have also undermined science by distorting the truth and questioning facts. The entire field of science is built around objective observation and facts in the pursuit of truth. Thousands joined protests around the world on Saturday to highlight how Trump’s disregard for facts undermined science.

Trump Junior’s plans for Saturday morning in Montana causing controversy

Apr 19, 2017 6:38 PM PDTUpdated: Apr 19, 2017 6:38 PM PDT

Trump Junior’s plans for Saturday morning in Montana causing controversy
BOZEMAN –We are learning more about Trump Junior’s plans for Saturday morning and it’s sparking some controversy with local environmentalists. The Ravalli Republic reported that Gianforte told a crowd in Hamilton Monday that he plans to take Donald Trump Jr. Out to shoot prairie dogs.

It’s important to note that shooting prairie dogs in Montana is completely legal, but at least one wildlife advocate says it is far from ethical.

Dave Pauli Senior Advisor for Wildlife Policy with the Humane Society of The United States said, “I was disappointed I guess that any national or international politician or celebrity would have the opportunity to come to Montana in the spring and their first choice of things they want to do is shoot prairie dogs.”

In a Facebook post posted on Wednesday, Pauli voiced his frustrations about the idea of Gianforte and Trump Jr. Spending their time in Montana shooting prairie dogs.

The Facebook post has garnered a lot of attention with more than 300 likes and 400 shares in just a few hours. And there are plenty of comments on both sides of the issue.

Ruth Gessler Farnsworth simply said, “Awful.”

While Jeremy Parish said, “totally legal and encouraged. Just like the coyote slaughter in most states.”

Shane Scanlon Communication Director for Greg Gianoforte says Ginaforte is proud to hunt in Montana. Scanlon released a statement saying…

“Hunting is a big part of gain forte’s life; he’s a sportsman and an outdoorsman and tries to get out when he can. He’s just looking to have a good time with Donald Trump Jr. and shooting some prairie dogs this weekend.”

Pauli says he’d rather see the duo hit a shooting range.

Trump Junior’s first appearance in Montana will be on Friday in Kalispell, from there he will visit Hamilton and close out his trip in Bozeman.

He’s attending several fundraisers for Gianforte who is running against Democrat Rob Quist for Montana’s lone congressional seat.

A detailed analysis of the Trump-Palin-Nugent-Kid Rock photo

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/20/politics/donald-trump-sarah-palin-kid-rock-ted-nugent/

Washington (CNN)Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as rock stars Kid Rock and Ted Nugent were at the White House on Wednesday night, dining with President Trump and snapping a few pics in the Oval Office. “Asked why I invited Kid Rock and Ted Nugent I joked, ‘Because Jesus was booked,'” Palin wrote on her website.

This photo was taken of the quartet:

It is, in a word, amazing. I spent a fair amount of time studying it — cue Twitter outrage; “Don’t you have anything better to do?????” — and I have a few thoughts.
Donald Trump: The President is, of course, talking. What is he talking about? Something on those papers he is holding up. I zoomed in until my eyes blurred to try to figure out what the papers on his desk say. No dice. Maybe you have better eyesight than me? Here’s the close-up:

The look on the president’s face says something like “See, now, isn’t this interesting” to me. Or maybe, “Then I figured out…”
Kid Rock: Robert James Ritchie — and, no, I didn’t know Kid Rock’s real name without looking it up — makes this whole photo for me. He’s the unquestioned star. First of all, the hat: A+. And then “The Thinker” pose: A+++++. Whatever is on those papers Trump is showing RJR, he finds it totally fascinating. In fact, I wish one day I could find something in life as interesting as Kid Rock finds what the President is saying.
Ted Nugent
: First off, I sort of respect the fact that The Nuge didn’t abandon his trademark camo cowboy hat even though he was going to the White House. You do you, Ted. When it comes to the rest, Nugent is the anithesis of Kid Rock. Whereas K. Rock is all attentiveness, Nugent looks more dutiful than anything else. “OK, this guy is the president. He’s talking about something. I am looking and acting interested.”
Sarah Palin: The angle from which this photo was taken makes Palin’s facial expression unknowable. Which makes me sad. But, given how good the rest of the photo is, I won’t get greedy.

How the Trump budget undercuts security risks posed by pandemics

http://theconversation.com/how-the-trump-budget-undercuts-security-risks-posed-by-pandemics-75281

April 4, 2017 9.09pm EDT
Women in rural Malawi, outside an AIDS hospital. AIDS was the first of the ‘new’ pandemic threats, after bird flu. Author provided. , Author provided

President Trump proposed a US$54 billion military budget increase to solidify the security of our nation. However, the government also recognizes pandemic threats as an issue of national security – one that knows no borders.

In the last four years, we have faced the Ebola epidemic – contained after significant loss of life – and Zika, which is still not contained. Collectively, we will feel these effects for a generation, while children born with Zika-related defects and their families will feel the effects every day of their lives.

The U.S. is a leading member of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a growing international partnership created to respond to infectious disease threats. Yet the Trump budget slashes funding for the very agencies mandated to prevent pandemics. Take, for example, the 37 percent cut to the $50 billion State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) budget, more than one-third of which targets global health security. As a global health researcher, I think this reveals a grave lack of understanding of the nuances and complexity of this national security issue.

The way the military protects America’s welfare is straightforward. The way that other U.S. agencies prevent pandemics is less understood. That it’s complicated shouldn’t stop our commitment to it.

Threats are closer than we realize

There are imminent threats that aren’t in the realm of hypothetical. Here’s an example: In January of this year, the government issued a travel warning in response to an active outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in China.

This strain of avian flu is worrisome because a few small mutations would allow it to spread from person to person. This could be the next pandemic to sweep the globe.

Historically speaking, we are overdue for a bird flu disaster. They have been documented over the past two centuries and appear every 40 years on average; the last one was in 1969.

Officials in southwest France ordered the slaughter of more than 600,000 ducks in February 2017 after an outbreak of bird flu. Bob Edme/AP

While preventing pandemics is expensive, it’s infinitely cheaper than the costs of actual pandemics. A report by the World Bank found a bird flu pandemic comparable to those from the last century could trigger a major global recession, with a fall in global GDP between 0.7 percent and 4.8 percent. While that might not sound like much, it represents $833 billion to $5.7 trillion.

Billions have already been spent on pandemics this century. As an epidemiologist who worked for one U.S. pandemic prevention initiative sponsored by USAID, I don’t question the amounts being spent. What I do question is the return on investment using current unproven strategies that do nothing to address the urgency of the situation right now.

National security, science and public health

Since the 1970s, when USAID recognized that improved population health was integral to development goals, the number of infectious disease outbreaks has tripled. In response, USAID created the Emerging Pandemic Threats program, which focuses on discovering new animal viruses that may pose threats to human health.

However, it’s a big jump to identifying an animal virus with pathogenic potential to one that actually “spills over” and infects human populations. Instead of being an applied public health program with immediate potential to prevent pandemics, virus discovery is traditional scientific research. This research also does not address other pathogens that already pose pandemic threat, such as Zika, which is mosquito-borne, or superbugs (i.e., multidrug resistant bacteria). It turns out that the real problem to preventing pandemics is people.

Limited knowledge of human practices that increase risk of infection and of the diseases that pose the greatest risk represent the fundamental challenges to prevention. In 2015, the World Health Organization developed a list of emerging diseases likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future: Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola virus disease and Marburg, Lassa fever, MERS and SARS coronavirus diseases, Nipah and Rift Valley fever. Three “serious” backup diseases didn’t make the final cut: chikungunya, severe fever with thrombocytopaenia syndrome and Zika (avian flu is treated separately). As history has shown us with Zika, we have a pretty good sense of what we’re up against in terms of disease.

Is there a better way to prevent pandemics?

Tools exist to determine which high-risk diseases are already circulating in human populations. Ebola provides a useful example. Decades before an outbreak was reported, a study found that Liberians had been exposed to Ebola – and survived.

Although there are few studies like this, Liberia is not a unique example. Scientists in Gabon documented Ebola exposure years prior to its first reported outbreak. Disease exposure may predict countries at highest risk for future outbreaks, but provides no information about how people are infected.

That has changed. New tools exist which measure both the diseases that are circulating and the behaviors that put people at risk of catching them. In fact, this approach, which integrates biological and behavioral surveillance, is already familiar to other successful USAID programs.

The closer we come to identifying where an outbreak will occur and which disease will be the likely culprit, the faster we can prioritize areas of highest risk. Targeted prevention strategies include developing diagnostics and vaccines in enough quantity to inoculate the population at immediate risk.

Since outbreaks often happen in remote areas with limited health infrastructure, the ability to vaccinate and detect disease will involve health systems strengthening – again beginning with regions at highest risk of known outbreak potential.

On March 3, the government stated increased concern regarding upgraded H7N9 bird flu. Even if this is not the next pandemic, there is always another threat waiting in the wings. We have the tools to provide a formidable, cost-effective first pass at pandemic prevention. It’s time to get the most bang for the buck we still have left – and to protect our national security on all fronts.

Animal rights in the Trump Era: protecting Alaskan wildlife

With so much news coming from Washington DC these days, it’s hard to keep up with everything. One story that caught my eye and disgusts me to no end is a bill Trump recently signed into law.

What happens now? Predators, mostly bears and wolves, living on federal lands in Alaska will be slaughtered.

The law this bill repealed is an Obama-era regulation that prevented the hunting of bears and wolves on Alaskan federal lands unless it was deemed necessary to preserve the land’s refuge status. With the passage of this new law, bears and wolves can be shot from planes. They can be baited and shot. Cubs and pups can be killed in their dens, and mothers and their kids can be targeted and killed any time, any place.

As the former director of US Fish & Wildlife Services wrote in August of 2016, laws like this one are “purportedly aimed at increasing populations of caribou and moose but defies modern science of predator-prey relationships.” He was in favor of the Obama-era regulations that sought to protect predators on federal refuge lands. He stated that we should “ensure that predator and prey alike can thrive on our refuges.”

Why are bills like this, that so unfairly target predators–– going so far as to allow cubs and pups to be shot in their dens–– so popular among Republicans? The answer is the NRA, which backed this resolution. On the opposing side of the battle was the Humane Society, which urged Congress not to adopt the resolution.

One line in the NRA’s article about the law struck me as not only odd, but as an outright lie. They state that the ads the Humane Society aired in regards to the law are “falsely claiming that its repeal would allow for inhumane forms of taking bears and wolves.”

Is shooting hibernating bears in their dens not inhumane? Is chasing down bears from planes not inhumane? Is pulling the trigger on wolf puppies point-blank not inhumane?

The answer is obvious.

Now not only are the unethical and brutal murders of countless Alaskan bears and wolves legal, but the passage of this law suggests that we as a nation are okay with such inhumane actions. It also messes with the already fragile ecosystem, and will lead to the deaths of animals on refuge lands.

It is wrong, and I am deeply ashamed that it is now the law.

http://blog.timesunion.com/animalrights/animal-rights-in-the-trump-era-protecting-alaskan-wildlife/6512/

Trump repeals Alaskan bear hunting regs

Trump repeals Alaskan bear hunting regs
© Getty Images

President Trump rolled back a trio of regulations Monday, including protections for hibernating bears in Alaska.

The Obama-era rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) prohibited certain hunting tactics that target “predator” animals likes bears and wolves while they are inside Alaska’s national preserves. This included a ban on hunters using airplanes.

Trump overturned the rule Monday, handing control of the hunting regulations over to Alaska state officials who have shown an eagerness to control predator populations as a way to protect other animals such as deer. But animal rights activists say this will open the door to hunters snatching hibernating bears and wolves out of their dens, or even killing them in front of their cubs.

The president also rolled back the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Internet privacy rules and the Labor Department’s workplace protections that required companies to report injuries and illnesses that occur on the job.