OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Larkin Corrigan, Communications Associate, Western Values Project, email@example.com, (971) 506-1174
Last Friday night, Secretary Zinke was spotted in the Turkish Airlines lounge at Dulles International Airport, and later boarded a flight to Istanbul. According to the Interior Department, Secretary Zinke is on personal travel. It is unknown if he has traveled to any other country at this time. The trip comes a year after Zinke and his wife took a security detail on their two-week vacation to Greece and Turkey. The cost of the taxpayer-funded security detail is still unknown and being withheld by Interior.
On August 1, 2018, President Trump put US sanctions on Turkey, and on August 4 Turkey's President asked authorities to freeze the assets in Turkey of the U.S. ministers of "justice and interior." While it was unclear if the Turkish President was referring specifically to Secretary Zinke, it is clear that both Ryan and Lola Zinke have connections to Turkish officials.
Secretary Zinke's Turkish escape comes after he toured the extensive damage from the wildfires ravaging the Western United States, while blaming "radical environmentalists" for the ferocity of the fires, even going as far as calling groups "terrorists." Although Secretary Zinke spouted a lot of hot rhetoric on wildfires he hasn't joined in offering any solutions -- last week, other government officials, including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, announced their plan for reducing 80 million acres of hazardous fuels on forest service lands. It's uncharacteristic for Zinke to miss any opportunity to grandstand on wildfires, and he has failed to suggest any action to address the situation.
The Howe Ridge Wildfire is raging through Zinke's own backyard in Glacier National Park. It has caused evacuations and closures in the park, and at last count has exploded to cover 9,672 acres. The fire has also destroyed historic buildings along Lake MacDonald. Secretary Zinke has yet to visit the fire or to even make mention of this devastating fire that wreaking havoc on his home state.
The Interior Department also recently backpedaled on a controversial land sell-off proposal, in direct contrast to Secretary Zinke's promise he would never sell or transfer public lands to private interests. Secretary Zinke inexplicably claimed he had never seen the proposal before it was released.
So, with all this happening at home, why would Ryan Zinke seemingly choose to go to Turkey, a country that his boss, Donald Trump, recently sanctioned? We're not sure, but here are some interesting facts we dug up about Zinke's ties to Turkey:
The May 2018 event was sponsored by Turkish Philanthropy Funds and Turkish Airlines. Ryan Zinke also attended the first Hollywood Turkish Film Festival in October 2017, which was also sponsored by Turkish Airlines.
When he was in Congress, in 2016, Zinke received a campaign contribution from Bijan Kian, a former associate Michael Flynn's who is currently being investigated in the Mueller probe. When Zinke received the contribution, Kian was leading most of Flynn Intel Group's lobbying for Inovo, the pro-Turkish government firm that Flynn later admitted to failing to register as a foreign agent.
Kian's contribution to Zinke for Congress is only mentioned in the Flynn Intel Group Inc.'s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) paperwork; there is no record of the contribution in any other campaign contributions database. Rafiekian also served with Zinke's wife, Lola, on the Donald Trump transition team.
Lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs LLC has represented the Republic of Turkey. Mercury's Co-Chair is former Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, a Montana political player and a personal friend of Ryan Zinke's. Not only did Rehberg attend Zinke's July 4th bash last summer, but in September 2016 Rehberg gave Zinke $2,000 in campaign contributions -- the same time his firm was lobbying for Turkey.
Another partner at Mercury, Michael McSherry, also donated to Zinke's campaign in 2016. McSherry lobbied for the Turkish Institute for Progress, which was set up by Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who hired Flynn to lobby for Turkish interests shortly before the election.
Mercury is now representing the Turkey-U.S. Business Trade Council, a trade group that promotes business ties between the two countries. The council's former chairman is also Ekim Alptekin.
The meeting took place on July 29, 2015. The president of LB International Solutions LLC, Lydia Borland, is on the TOA board that awarded Lola Zinke her "society" award in 2018.
At Lola Zinke's behest, Sevil Altinsoy, a Corporate Agreements and Marketing Manager for Turkish Airlines, was invited to the Interior 4th of July Party in 2017 and also went boating with the Zinkes on their August 2017 romantic getaway.
A similar overseas trip by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cost taxpayers an estimated $120,000.
With wildfires raging across the West, including in Zinke's most cherished park, Glacier, the timing of this vacation seems odd to say the least. Add his close ties with Turkish officials, his ties to a lobbying firm who lobbies for Turkish interests, donations from a former Michael Flynn associate who is under investigation, recent sanctions imposed by President Trump, and the order by the Turkish President to freeze Zinke's potential foreign assets, one can only imagine why Zinke decided to skip town so quickly and quietly.
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks."
An analysis of previously secret documents published Wednesday sheds new light on how chemical corporations aped Big Tobacco by conspiring to conceal the extreme toxicity of a class of synthetic compounds contaminating the Earth's air, water, soil, plants, and animals—including most of the world's people.
Commonly called "forever chemicals" because they do not biodegrade and accumulate in the human body, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—which include PFOS, PFOA, and GenX—have myriad uses, from nonstick cookware to waterproof clothing to firefighting foam. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS is linked to cancers of the kidneys and testicles, low infant weight, suppressed immune function, and other adverse health effects. It is found in the blood of 99% of Americans and a similar percentage of people around the world.
"The industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse."
But that wasn't known until recently. Scientists and public health officials were some of the first to understand the dangers of PFAS, and in recent years, exposés like Stephanie Soechtig and Jeremy Seifer's 2018 documentary feature The Devil We Know and a 2022 episode of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" in which host John Oliver called PFAS "the devil's piss" raised awareness of the "forever chemicals." In 2018, Congress held its first hearing, and around that time it emerged that chemical giants DuPont and 3M understood—and covered up—the dangers of PFAS.
The Devil They Knew: Chemical Documents Analysis of Industry Influence on PFAS Science—a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Global Health—enriches understanding of the chemical industry's role in concealing the dangers of PFAS. It includes documents like a 1970 DuPont internal memo stating the PFOA C8—used to make the nonstick surface Teflon—is "highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when injected."
"These documents reveal clear evidence that the chemical industry knew about the dangers of PFAS and failed to let the public, regulators, and even their own employees know the risks," Tracey J. Woodruff—who wrote the paper with Nadia Gaber and Lisa Bero—toldPhys.org.
\u201cSee our new article using the valuable @UCSF @industrydocs to categorize strategies the industry uses to distort and hide science\u201d— Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH (@Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH) 1685645614
One 1979 DuPont report describes a range of highly toxic effects from testing PFAS on animals, including two beagles who died after being administered a single 450 mg dose of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, and rats that suffered enlarged livers and eye ulcers.
Another document, from 1980, shows DuPont and 3M learned that two out of eight pregnant employees who worked making C8 had babies with birth defects, but then lied the following year in a memo declaring that "we know of no evidence of birth defects" caused by C8.
"Further, the industry used several strategies that have been shown common to tobacco, pharmaceutical, and other industries to influence science and regulation—most notably, suppressing unfavorable research and distorting public discourse," the paper states.
The paper's authors did not find "evidence in this archive of funding favorable research or targeted dissemination of those results."
Among the paper's key findings:
"The lack of transparency in industry-driven research on industrial chemicals has significant legal, political, and public health consequences," the paper's authors concluded. "Industry strategies to suppress scientific research findings or early warnings about the hazards of industrial chemicals can be analyzed and exposed, in order to guide prevention."
Recent years have seen an exponential proliferation of PFAS-related litigation, sometimes resulting in verdicts like the $40 million awarded by an Ohio jury to a man who claimed exposure to PFOA in his drinking water gave him testicular cancer twice.
In recent days, states including Arizona, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington have sued companies that manufacture PFAS.
"These companies have known for decades that so-called 'forever chemicals' would contaminate water supplies for generations to come but chose to sell their products anyway," said Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat. "The failure by these polluters to inform the state about the risks associated with these chemicals has harmed our environment and the health of Arizonans—and they must be held accountable."
Last week, Common Dreamsreported that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, also a Democrat, signed into law the nation's broadest PFAS ban. The legislation gradually phases out most PFAS use until "forever chemicals" will be prohibited in all products not essential for public health by 2032.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe," said one advocate.
Economic justice advocates cried foul Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed legislation that aims to block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with right-wing Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.), joined Senate Republicans in supporting H.J. Res. 45.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which House Republicans approved last week with the help of Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), passed the Senate by a margin of 52-46. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) didn't vote. The White House has vowed to veto the measure.
Passage of the legislation elicited a firestorm of criticism from progressive advocates and lawmakers.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe by passing this reckless CRA resolution," Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) executive director Mike Pierce said in a statement.
"The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill."
The Biden administration's popular move to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes below $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment (IDR) program is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges. A decision in the case is expected sometime this month, but right-wing lawmakers are doing everything in their power to sink the president's relief initiative regardless of how the high court rules.
Last week, the SBPC and the American Federation of Teachers warned of the "ruinous impact" H.J. Res. 45 would have on millions of working-class households nationwide, with AFT president Randi Weingarten condemning it as "an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower as well as money-saving changes to the IDR program, the CRA resolution would nullify the seventh and possibly eighth extensions of the federal student loan payment freeze first enacted by President Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it would retroactively undo several months of already-canceled payments and waived interest charges, immediately leaving tens of millions of people past due on their loans.
Furthermore, the CRA resolution seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean since September 2022. If that were to happen, a combined debt burden of nearly $20 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, would be put back on the shoulders of teachers, nurses, first responders, and others who recently finished making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that was enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
"Despite right-wing proponents' attempts to gaslight their own colleagues and the American people on the impact of this bill, this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions of borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," said Pierce. "If enacted, it will cause irreparable damage to an already severely broken student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in our government."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning in the debt despair of our nation's student loan crisis," he added. "The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill and deliver on his promise of student loan debt relief once and for all."
\u201cRepublicans in the Senate + Dem Senators Manchin, Sinema and Tester just voted to kill student debt relief and *raise* student debt balances by retroactively adding interest.\n\nTester, Sinema and Manchin are all up for re-election in 2024 and will have to explain their votes.\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1685644460
Ahead of a Wednesday vote to bring H.J. Res. 45 to the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that "Republicans in Congress have shown time and time again that they'd much rather deliver relief to giant corporations and protect tax cheats than help working Americans whose biggest sin was trying to get an education."
On Thursday, the Massachusetts lawmaker called the bill's passage "shameful," and expressed confidence that Biden "will veto" it. Congress doesn't appear to have the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override a veto.
\u201cSenate Republicans just voted to block @POTUS' student debt relief plan, force millions to immediately pay back paused student loans & claw back relief from public servants. It's shameful. Thankfully we have President Biden who cares about working people & will veto this.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1685644466
Ahead of Thursday's vote, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member and former chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stressed that "this Republican bill wouldn't only rip away relief for borrowers who qualify under the president's plan."
"This CRA could impact the pause on loan payments and cause major problems for borrowers who have received relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs," Murray continued. "That means these Republican efforts could create the perfect storm for more than 260,000 public service workers who have already earned relief."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning."
"If Republicans were to get their way and pass this bill into law," she added, "people across the country would have relief they are counting on snatched away from them, plans they have made upended, less money in their pockets, and monthly payments not just abruptly restarted—but maybe even abruptly jacked up by hundreds of dollars."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the HELP committee, echoed that sentiment.
"Republicans' cruel attempt to stand in the way of President Biden's plans to provide relief to tens of millions of Americans suffering under the crushing weight of student loan debt is damaging to our economy and wildly out of touch with the financial realities facing working families," said Markey.
"The loan forgiveness the president is proposing would mean the difference between buying a home, starting a business, and getting an economic leg up for nearly 50 million working and middle-class Americans, particularly for borrowers of color and their families," he concluded. "If you kicked Republicans in the heart, you'd break your toe."
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said one campaigner.
Climate campaigners on Thursday said that within days, President Joe Biden's promises to end public finance for fossil fuel projects may prove empty if plans that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation has indicated it has for an LNG project in Poland come to fruition.
The DFC, which oversees U.S. investments in development projects in lower- and middle-income countries, listed on its pending project list on May 23 a $500 million guarantee to support the Polish oil and gas company PKN Orlen to increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
The pending transaction was listed ahead of the DFC's board meeting, which is scheduled for June 7.
Oil Change International (OCI) noted that the LNG listing was removed on May 30, but the "public information summary" remained live as of Thursday, suggesting the board could still approve the project.
The project, which would involve Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs helping the company to increase its imports, would be in direct contradiction to President Joe Biden's statement at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021 that his administration would end public finance for fossil fuel development after 2022.
"President Biden has cited his promise to end international public funding for fossil fuels as a sign of his ongoing commitment to climate leadership, even as he boosts fossil fuels and breaks many of his core climate promises at home," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at OCI. "The Development Finance Corporation approving this dirty project would show once and for all these claims are nothing but empty words."
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels."
LNG is gas that has been cooled and liquefied after being extracted by drilling or fracking. As Common Dreamsreported in April, 116 climate action groups wrote to Biden ahead of the Group of 7 (G7) climate and energy meeting in Japan last month to warn that "the global LNG boom" must be stopped.
Campaigners say the continued expansion of LNG would harm communities that lie near fracking and drilling sites as well as LNG export terminals, while disregarding the warnings of scientists and energy experts who are unequivocal in their warnings that new fossil fuel extraction projects have no place on a pathway to keeping planetary heating under 2°C above preindustrial temperatures.
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said Rees. "A rapid buildout of 100% renewable energy is the only pathway to global energy security."
The DFC's potential approval of the project would mark the second time in less than a month that the Biden administration has agreed to finance new fossil fuel development. In May the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved nearly $100 million for the Balikpapan oil refinery in Indonesia.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also spoke at a recent Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference about a proposal for an 807-mile gas pipeline across Alaska and an LNG export terminal that he claimed would be in the United States' economic and national security interests.
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels," wrote Kay Brown, Arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, at Common Dreams on Thursday. "LNG is methane compressed and chilled to make it easier to transport. Methane emissions are 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, in the short term."
While Biden said at COP26 and at the G7 meeting that he is committed to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects past 2022, the White House has not released guidance outlining how that promise will be kept.
"Biden's refusal to publish public guidance upholding the international fossil fuel pledge is enabling DFC to keep funding dirty fossil fuel expansion," said Rees. "In removing this massive handout to the U.S. LNG industry from its pending project list, DFC is following Biden's lead and keeping ongoing fossil fuel support hidden from the public eye."