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The U.S. Forest Service today chose to ignore its regulations and pass on opportunities to address two of the most serious threats facing our national forests - the impact of off-road vehicles (ORVs) and of our over-sized and decaying forest roads system. Issuing new management guidelines today, the agency provided direction on how land managers can elude existing safeguards rather than comply with them.
"We could not be more disappointed with today's announcement," said Vera Smith, the director of the recreation planning program for The Wilderness Society. "The conservation community has worked diligently with the Forest Service over the past three years to make this process a success for everyone."
With only two months to go before the end of the Bush Administration, the Forest Service announced how it will decide where and how motor vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles and hummers can drive on this nation's forests and grasslands. In issuing the final directives on road and motorized trail planning, the Bush Administration declared its intention not to address the serious impacts occurring every day to our wildlife and watersheds from off-road vehicles driving on a bloated and decaying road system. Experts have long agreed that these types of decisions about where roads exist and how they can be used are integral to the health of our nation's rivers, fish, and wildlife.
In 2005, former Chief Dale Bosworth declared the Forest Service's intention to address damage to wildlife, watersheds and other forest resources stemming from unmanaged motorized recreation. The Forest Service undertook a four-year initiative to end cross-country driving and designate the roads and motorized trails available for public use in all national forests and grasslands. This initiative complemented a previous effort started in 2001 that called for each national forest to identify its minimum road system and routes that need to be decommissioned.
In concert, the two initiatives, when issued, demonstrated a commitment by the Forest Service to provide recreational opportunities while finally trying to get a handle on its oversized and decaying road system. The initiatives are also meant to strike a balance between motorized recreation and a more natural experience for hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, and anglers.
The final guidance issued today attempts to relieve individual forests and grasslands of their duty, integral to the route designation process, to identify which roads are unneeded, environmentally damaging, or should be decommissioned.
Equally disturbing, the guidance exempts the vast majority of forests and grasslands from even having to follow the now-eviscerated process. Specifically, any national forest or grassland that has already started a travel plan, no matter how recently, is now exempt from having to apply a science-based analysis to its road and motorized trail system before it makes a decision.
As a result, national forests will continue to be plagued unnecessarily with oversized, decaying, and fiscally draining road systems, and our wildlife and rivers will continue to pay the price. This midnight hour action is especially disturbing in light of the economic crisis; currently the Forest Service is only able to maintain about 20 percent of its road system nationwide and has an ever-growing backlog of deferred road maintenance of an estimated $10 billion.
"The Forest Service directives are supposed to instruct employees how to implement the regulations, not how to avoid them," concluded Matt Dietz, an ecologist stationed in The Wilderness Society's California/Nevada regional office.
Since 1935, The Wilderness Society has led the conservation movement in wilderness protection, writing and passing the landmark Wilderness Act and winning lasting protection for 107 million acres of Wilderness, including 56 million acres of spectacular lands in Alaska, eight million acres of fragile desert lands in California and millions more throughout the nation.
"Zients as a businessman embodies much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch led by a Democratic Party ought to be cracking down on," said one progressive strategist.
Reports Sunday that President Joe Biden has chosen Jeff Zients to replace outgoing White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain were met with alarm among progressive watchdogs, who pointed to Zients' disastrous tenure as the administration's coronavirus czar as well as his history in the corporate world—where he built a fortune investing in healthcare companies accused of fraud.
Klain, who developed a solid working relationship with progressives in Congress, is expected to depart shortly after Biden's State of the Union address on February 7.
Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser called the elevation of Zients to White House chief of staff a "catastrophic decision," saying in a statement that "the Biden administration has been at its best when it has been on the attack against corporate excesses that wide majorities of Americans find abhorrent."
"Americans are appalled by profiteering in healthcare—Jeff Zients has become astonishingly rich by profiteering in healthcare," said Hauser. "Americans are aghast at how social media companies have built monopolies and violated privacy laws—Zients served on the Board of Directors of Facebook as it was defending itself against growing attacks from both political parties."
The Revolving Door Project's Daniel Boguslaw and Max Moran wrote for The American Prospect last year that Zients—who was replaced as Covid-19 response coordinator back in April—has "controlled, invested in, and helped oversee" healthcare companies that "were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud."
"They have also been accused of surprise-billing practices and even medical malpractice," Boguslaw and Moran noted. "Taken together, an examination of the companies that made Zients rich paints a picture of a man who seized on medical providers as a way to capitalize on the suffering of sick Americans. In the end, it seems to have all paid off."
"The most egregious violation is documented in a 2015 Justice Department settlement announcement," they added. "Portfolio Logic—the investment firm Zients founded with his own money—agreed to pay almost $7 million to resolve allegations of fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid billing, involving a subsidiary (Pediatric Services of America Healthcare, or PSA) that it purchased in 2007."
"Hopefully Zients will prove us wrong—but unless that unlikely and fortuitous surprise occurs, Biden will need a quick hook."
Progressives have also been highly critical of Zients' performance in government.
In early 2022, Boguslaw urged the Biden administration to fire Zients over his failure to "provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response" to Covid-19 "or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control."
Following news that he would be leaving the coronavirus response post, Public Citizen's Robert Weissman lamented that Zients "refused to pay appropriate attention to global solutions to the global pandemic, because of political concerns or otherwise."
"And the Zients-led Covid response refused to challenge Big Pharma's monopoly control, in the U.S. and globally, over technologies that relied crucially on public support," Weissman continued. "As a result, the United States and other rich countries failed to expand vaccine supply sufficiently to meet global need. Without adequate supply, efforts to bolster low-income country distribution and delivery systems consequently have lagged and been similarly under-resourced."
Citing the Revolving Door Project's work, progressive strategist Murshed Zaheed said Sunday that "Zients as a businessman embodies much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch led by a Democratic Party ought to be cracking down on."
But the Biden White House doesn't appear remotely concerned about Zients' corporate past.
With Biden expected to launch a bid for reelection in the coming weeks, The New York Timesreported that "the president could lean on" Zients to "help run the government while other advisers focus on the politics of winning a second term."
Hauser said Sunday that "hopefully Zients will prove us wrong—but unless that unlikely and fortuitous surprise occurs, Biden will need a quick hook."
"The overwhelming majority of Americans in all states support abortion rights—and women will fight to protect our rights and our lives," said the executive director of Women's March.
Thousands of people called for reproductive freedom at rallies around the United States on Sunday—the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right until the Supreme Court's reactionary majority overturned it last summer.
At more than 200 events in 46 states, demonstrators condemned the court's 6-3 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which enables states to curtail or even prohibit access to reproductive healthcare. Since the ruling was handed down on June 24, Republican lawmakers have enacted deadly abortion restrictions in 26 states, including near-total bans in several.
"Fifty years after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a radical right-wing movement hijacked our courts and eliminated federal protections for abortions," said Rachel O'Leary Carmona, executive director of Women's March, which organized Sunday's "Bigger Than Roe" day of action.
"But as the fight turns to the states, they are going to learn that the overwhelming majority of Americans in all states support abortion rights—and women will fight to protect our rights and our lives," she added.
Carmona spoke at the Wisconsin state capitol. Women's March picked Madison rather than Washington, D.C. as the location of this year's national protest because the group wanted to send "a clear message to elected leaders and to our base—we are going to where the fight is, and that is at the state level."
"We'll start in Wisconsin, where an upcoming Supreme Court election this spring will determine the balance of power on the state's Supreme Court and the future of abortion rights in Wisconsin," the group explained.
Due to legal uncertainty around the status of Wisconsin's pre-Roe abortion ban, enacted in 1849, providers have been forced to stop offering abortion care in the state.
\u201cWe're fired up and ready to march for our rights because this fight is bigger than Roe. They thought that we would stay home and that this would end with Roe \u2014 they were wrong. \n\nWe're putting every politician on blast \u2014 if you come for our rights, we'll come for you. Period.\u201d— Women's March (@Women's March) 1674414697
\u201cProud to be in Madison today fighting to let every politician know \u2014 if you come for our freedom, our families, or our futures, we're coming for you.\u201d— Rachel O\u2019Leary Carmona (@Rachel O\u2019Leary Carmona) 1674417721
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 In Wisconsin today to make ourselves clear: \n\nWe will never stop fighting for reproductive freedom! \n\n #BiggerThanRoe @womensmarch\u201d— NARAL (@NARAL) 1674422639
Women's March—with the support of nearly 50 organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Working Families Power, and the National Organization for Women—orchestrated "sister marches" in cities across the country.
"We are taking the fight to the states," organizers said. "From Wisconsin, to Nebraska, to Georgia, to Arizona and Texas, women and our allies are defending abortion rights where they still stand, and working to put measures on the ballot to regain abortion rights in places where politicians are putting their agendas over the will of the people."
Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin threatened nuclear war as NATO members debate whether to send more tanks to Ukraine.
Should the West continue to ship arms to Ukraine, Moscow will retaliate with "more powerful weapons," a top Russian government official and close ally of President Vladimir Putin said Sunday, referring to the use of nuclear missiles.
"Deliveries of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime will lead to a global catastrophe," Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, Russia's lower house, said in a statement shared on the Telegram messaging app.
"If Washington and NATO countries supply weapons that will be used to strike civilian cities and attempt to seize our territories, as they threaten, this will lead to retaliatory measures using more powerful weapons," said Volodin.
Ukraine, with the support of its Western allies, is seeking to reclaim territory illegally annexed by the Kremlin in recent months—not seize Russian land, as Volodin asserted.
Volodin's threat "comes amid arguments over whether Germany will send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion," Politicoreported. "Kyiv has requested the German-made tanks, which it says it needs to renew its counteroffensive against Moscow's forces."
This is not the first time that Russian officials have threatened to use nuclear weapons since Putin attacked Ukraine last February. On Thursday, one day before NATO and other military leaders met in Germany to discuss how to defeat Russia in Ukraine, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the country's security council, said that a loss by Moscow could lead to nuclear war.
"Berlin has so far resisted the call from Ukraine and its allies to send the tanks without the U.S. making the first move, over fears of an escalation in the conflict," Politico noted Sunday. "Berlin also hasn't approved deliveries of the tanks from its allies, as Germany gets a final say over any re-exports of the vehicles from countries that have purchased them."
The news outlet previously reported that the $2.5 billion military package announced Thursday by the White House excludes the Army's 60-ton M1 Abrams tanks due to maintenance and logistical issues, not because sending them would intensify the war.
NATO has sent more than $40 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's invasion. The U.S. government, de facto leader of the military alliance, has authorized more than $26.7 billion alone.
On Sunday, Volodin urged U.S. and European lawmakers to "realize their responsibility to humanity."
"With their decisions, Washington and Brussels are leading the world to a terrible war: to a completely different military action than today, when strikes are carried out exclusively on the military and critical infrastructure used by the Kyiv regime," said Volodin.
Contrary to Volodin's claim, Russia has not limited its ongoing assault to military assets. According to a top Kyiv official, more than 9,000 Ukranian civilians have been killed since Russia invaded 11 months ago. The United Nations has confirmed more than 7,000 civilian deaths in Ukraine but says the real figure is much higher.
A strike on a Ukrainian apartment building last week, Russia's deadliest attack on civilians in months, killed dozens of people. Meanwhile, fighting near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has sparked fears of a disastrous meltdown on multiple occasions.
"Given the technological superiority of Russian weapons," Volodin continued, "foreign politicians making such decisions need to understand that this could end in a global tragedy that will destroy their countries."
"Arguments that the nuclear powers have not previously used weapons of mass destruction in local conflicts are untenable," he added. "Because these states did not face a situation where there was a threat to the security of their citizens and the territorial integrity of the country."
Volodin was echoing points made recently by other Russian officials. Asked Thursday if Medvedev's remarks that day reflected an attempt to escalate the war, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "No, it absolutely does not mean that."
Peskov argued that Medvedev's comments were consistent with Russia's nuclear doctrine, which permits a nuclear strike after "aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened."
As Reutersnoted, Putin has portrayed Russia's so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine as "an existential battle with an aggressive and arrogant West, and has said that Russia will use all available means to protect itself and its people."
Last January, one month before the start of the largest war in Europe since WWII, Russia, the United States, China, France, and the United Kingdom—home to more than 12,000 nuclear weapons combined—issued a joint statement affirming that "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought" and reaffirming that they plan to adhere to non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements and pledges.
Nevertheless, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council continue to enlarge or modernize their nuclear arsenals. For the first time since the 1980s, the global nuclear stockpile, 90% of which is controlled by Moscow and Washington, is projected to grow in the coming years, and the risk of weapons capable of annihilating life on Earth being used is rising.
In early October, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that Russia's war on Ukraine has brought the world closer to "Armageddon" than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Less than three weeks later, however, his administration published a Nuclear Posture Review that nonproliferation advocates said increases the likelihood of catastrophe, in part because it leaves intact the option of a nuclear first strike. The U.S. remains the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war, destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in August 1945.
Experts have long sounded the alarm about the war in Ukraine, saying that it could spiral into a direct conflict between Russia and NATO, both of which are flush with nuclear weapons. Despite such warnings, the Western military coalition has continued to prioritize weapons shipments over diplomacy.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted last April that the U.S. wants "to see Russia weakened," implying that Washington is willing to prolong the deadly conflict as long as it helps destabilize Moscow.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently told attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos: "There will be an end... there is an end of everything, but I do not see an end of the war in the immediate future. I do not see a chance at the present moment to have a serious peace negotiation between the two parties."