By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates And Yoga

Winter is officially upon us.  January 1 has come and gone.  You’ve finally managed to drag yourself to the gym.  Now faced with the realization of how much time has passed since you last tried to work out you try to make up for that lost time by diving in with both feet.  And both arms.  And your back and shoulders.  You remember what you used to be able to do and think “I can do that.”  But, before you know it you’ve overdone, possibly even injured yourself, and your resolve to “get in shape” gets relegated to some mythical future date when you’ll somehow be better able to manage it.  Like when you’ve lost weight or your knee gets better or you find a better pair of shoes, etc. etc.  You know the drill.  There is a litany of excuses you can draw upon for this purpose.  But no matter how much you wish for a better version of yourself, wishing will not make it happen.

Time to come up with a better plan.  If you’ve showed up at the gym or on that walking trail or in that exercise class, then you’ve already taken the most difficult and important step.  That is, you’ve made the decision that you really want to do this.  You’ve also set the time aside and made the commitment to follow through.  Bravo!  Now is not the time to get discouraged.  But perhaps it is time to rethink your strategy.

It’s always difficult to remind yourself that whatever shape you’re in didn’t happen overnight.  If you’re in good shape, it’s probably because you’ve made a regular effort to maintain it.  If that’s not the case, then your best approach is to start slow and give your body some time to adjust.  This provides the perfect opportunity to tout the benefits of a good warm-up.

According to the American Heart Association,

“warming up and cooling down are good for your exercise performance . . .  A good warm-up before a workout dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles’ temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart.”

A warm-up generally consists of performing an activity at a slower pace.  Although most sources usually advise warming up for 5 to 10 minutes prior to planned activity, the Sports Medicine Information website advises that a good warm-up can last anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour.  In my opinion, longer warm-ups are a good thing, especially as we age.  In fact, if you are new to exercise or returning after an absence, you might want to consider doing your first few workouts entirely at warm-up pace.  Just take your planned activity slower and with less intensity.  When you’re ready to increase the pace and/or intensity you won’t have to force yourself.  It will just naturally feel right and you’ll know you’re ready.  Just have a little patience.  Starting slow now will mean more success in the long run.  Remind yourself of that every time you’re tempted to push too hard.

Your warm-up can include some gentle stretching of your muscles towards the end.  Most experts agree that muscles should be warm before you stretch them.  Quoting again from the American Heart Association : “Stretching allows for greater range of motion and eases the stress on the joints and tendons, which could potentially prevent injury.”  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Warming up may also help reduce muscle soreness and lessen your risk of injury.”  It’s well worth the extra time if might take.  Those extra minutes might save you from days or even weeks of inactivity from soreness or injury caused by overdoing too much too soon.

If you do manage to move from a warm-up to a more intense form of movement, then cooling down is equally important.  Our friends at the American Heart Association have thoughts on this subject, too.  They advise that

“After physical activity, your heart is still beating faster than normal, your body temperature is higher and your blood vessels are dilated. This means if you stop too fast, you could pass out or feel sick.  A cool-down after physical activity allows a gradual decrease at the end of the episode.”

Cooling down is similar to warming up in that you perform your activity at a slower pace for an additional 5 or 10 minutes following your main activity.  This is especially important, and often overlooked, when your activity is a sport such as basketball or tennis.  But it is just as critical after brisk walking or jogging.  If you’ve been lifting weights, try walking around the gym and doing some slow stretching following your workout.  If possible, a good way to warm up for and cool down from a gym workout is to walk to and from the gym.  What a concept!  O

The goal here is not to add yet another layer to your “to do” list, but rather to encourage you to keep your movement intentions on that list.  Don’t let your resolve drop off because of unrealistic expectations.  Although any activity you choose is better than none and the best activity is the one you’ll do and stick to, this is a good time to put in a plug for classes.  Most classes allow for warm-up and cool-down periods.  This is certainly true of my classes.  Even if you prefer some other type of activity, trying a class can give you an idea of how to warm-up and cool down so that you can do it on your own if that suits your needs.  Find what works for you, take it slow and keep at it.  Practice is the key to improvement.


Washington, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today outlined U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) services available in the event of a government shutdown.

“USDA is committed to safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide – and should the government shut down, we will continue to do just that,” said Secretary Perdue. “I am proud of each USDA employee for everything they do to benefit the farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers who depend on our services. It is their mission each day to fulfill our USDA motto, ‘Do right and feed everyone.’”

While you may click HERE to view USDA’s lapse in funding plans, background information on USDA services available in the event of a government shutdown are below:

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE – FSIS will continue work to:

  • Ensure meat, poultry, and egg products are safe and prevent the movement or sale in commerce of any meat or poultry products which are adulterated;
  • Inspect before and after slaughter those birds and animals intended for use as food for humans and inspect the further processing of meat and poultry products;
  • Apply foreign governments’ inspection requirements and procedures to verify that products exported from the United States are safe; 
  • Conduct emergency operations in connection with the voluntary recall of meat or poultry products determined to be adulterated or misbranded;
  • Conduct epidemiological investigations based on reports of food-borne health hazards and disease outbreaks;
  • Monitor allied industries to prevent uninspected, misbranded, or adulterated meat, poultry and egg products from illegally entering channels of commerce;
  • Provide pathological, microbiological, chemical, and other scientific examination of meat, poultry and egg products for disease, infection, contamination, or other types of adulteration;
  • Conduct a microbiological monitoring and surveillance program;

Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE – APHIS will ensure:

  • Imported products do not bring pests and diseases into the U.S.;
  • In the case of a pest or disease outbreak, the appropriate emergency personnel would come back to work immediately;
  • Overseas staff that provide for national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property, are excepted; 
  • Personnel from the APHIS Emergency Management, Safety and Security Division will respond as necessary to provide technical assistance and conduct investigations for excepted and exempt activities;
  • Animal Care will have staff on call to address issues related to licensed or registered facilities (such as immediate needs related to the care or treatment of animals; capture or containment of dangerous animals, or the required confiscation of animals);
  • Biotechnology Regulatory Services will monitor the compliance call line for incidents related to genetically engineered organisms. If an incident needs follow up, the correct regulatory and investigative personnel will be called in to work;
  • Security staff will be available on a case-by-case basis to respond to security incidents and to coordinate facility access;
  • Foreign animal disease (FAD) diagnosticians and incident command system (ICS) teams will be available on a case-by-case basis to respond to FAD investigations and FAD emergencies;
  • Laboratory personnel will be available to run tests on samples associated with foreign animal disease investigations, and, at the beginning of the period, to close out pending lab tests;
  • Staffing at National Wildlife Research Center and its associated field stations to care for the animals being studied. 

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – FNS will ensure:

  • Ongoing activities include essential Federal functions to maintain the core programs of the nutrition safety net, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child Nutrition Programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC);
    • All of these programs will continue to serve eligible people through USDA’s partners (State agencies and other grantees) utilizing legally available Federal resources previously provided to them or their own resources.  All have funding available to operate through the month of February, and many have funds to continue operations through March, without additional appropriation.
  • Disaster feeding operations under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and the Stafford Act would remain available based on the exception to fund functions critical to health and safety;
  • The smaller discretionary programs should utilize funds already allocated and made available for operation of programs. Food already purchased for delivery to the Food Distribution programs; The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), USDA foods for Child Nutrition Programs, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), will continue to be delivered to program operators.

Rural Development (RD):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE – RD will:

  • Continue its fiduciary responsibilities in accounting for and processing customers’ funds, such as loan escrow accounts, in an accurate and timely manner; 
  • Ensure those individuals who hold single family housing loans from RD are able to make their monthly payments and will be held accountable to monthly mortgage payment deadlines;
  • Ensure organizations holding USDA Rural Development loans will still be able to make their payments and will be held accountable for making on-time loan payments;
  • Ensure Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands offices will continue to be open during a federal funding lapse to assist in continued disaster recovery efforts;
    • Staff at these offices will be able to conduct inspections of existing projects, and they will also be available to provide technical assistance to USDA customers.

Risk Management Agency (RMA):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – RMA will ensure:

  • Crop insurance companies will continue to deliver and service the federal crop insurance program during a government shutdown;  
  • Approved Insurance Providers (AIPS) will stay open and agents and loss adjustors will be fully available;
  • Indemnity payments will continue to be made.

U.S. Forest Service (USFS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – the USFS will continue work in:

  • Emergency and Defense Preparedness;
  • Fire Suppression including fire fighters and all necessary equipment costs to protect life and property, Law Enforcement personnel and all necessary equipment costs to protect life and property, and emergency and natural disasters response or preparation (e.g., floods and avalanche control);
  • Protection of Federal lands, buildings, waterways, equipment and other property and investments owned by the United States when the suspension of such activities would cause an imminent threat to human life and property. This includes nurseries, insectaries, tree seed labs, and the minimum level of staffing to administer permits and contracts needed for protection of National Forest System lands;
  • All contracts in support of cyber security, land-based radio communications, and infrastructure operations to support key positions and essential personnel;
  • Protection of Research studies where lack of continuation measurements or maintenance would destroy or endanger validity of research findings;
  • Job Corps operations unless directed otherwise by Department of Labor.

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE – the following services will remain available through AMS:

  • Commodity Procurement;
  • Grading and Inspection;
  • Cotton Classing;
  • Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Program (PACA);
  • Research and Promotion Board Oversight;
  • FGIS: Inspection and Weighing Services (user fee funded activities);
  • Farm-Bill Funded Activities.

Economic Research Service (ERS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – ERS will:

  • Ensure coordination of data calls;
  • Maintain agency Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) systems;
  • Ensure all systems remain online and functional;
  • Require COOP team staff for both readiness activities such as maintaining operable communications as well as implementation or activation activities, and to ensure adequate communication with the USDA OpsCenter.

National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – NRCS will continue their work in:

  • Puerto Rico and Virgin Island Activities;
  • Emergency Watershed Protection;
  • Dam monitoring.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – ARS will:

  • Continue performing duties related to preserving and protecting ARS facilities, animals and critical research infrastructure.

Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – FAS will:

  • Support NAFTA negotiations;
  • Engage on issues pending in the World Trade Organization;
  • Operate the Commodity Credit Corporation-funded Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102);
  • Maintain international offices at U.S. embassies around the world.

Farm Service Agency (FSA):

In the event of a lapse in appropriations – among other duties listed HERE – FSA will ensure:

  • All FSA local service centers and farm loan programs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands remain active.

Office of the Chief Economist (OCE):

In the event of a lapse in appropriation – among other duties listed HERE – OCE will continue Supporting:

  • The ongoing NAFTA negotiations;
  • The China negotiations in Geneva;
  • The OECD.


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Senators meet with President Donald Trump to discuss immigration on Jan. 9, 2018. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Matthew Wright,
American University

For a moment, it looked as though 2018 might be the year that ended a three-decade streak of failure to pass so-called “comprehensive immigration reform.”

On Jan. 11, a bipartisan group of six senators brought forth a plan for comprehensive reform that would include US$2.7 billion for border security, a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” brought to the country without authorization as children, a limit on those Dreamers sponsoring their parents for citizenship and a reallocation of “diversity visas” to immigrants with recently terminated Temporary Protected Status visas.

Prospects for the deal have dimmed since President Donald Trump, who had previously expressed sympathy for Dreamers, abruptly torpedoed it. But the rudiments of a workable deal are still in place. If it ends up succeeding, it will be in no small part because it sidesteps the one issue that has deadlocked comprehensive reform since the 1990s: undocumented immigrants.

The only remotely viable path to a “comprehensive” deal, it seems, is to leave millions of undocumented immigrants who are not Dreamers out in the cold.

The ‘amnesty’ stumbling block

Americans of all political stripes, and their elected officials, have long agreed that the U.S. immigration system is “broken.” Yet since the last major round of reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, efforts at “comprehensive immigration reform” spearheaded by presidents of both parties and enjoying bipartisan congressional support have gone nowhere. America’s foundational laws regarding immigrants have remained largely intact since Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House. They are the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, later amended by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and the Immigration Act of 1990.

The main stumbling block has been hostility, mainly on the Republican side, to normalizing the status of millions of immigrants living in the country without permission. This hostility developed fairly recently, driven almost entirely by pressure to please a small but rabidly anti-immigrant base. George W. Bush largely escaped pressure to harden his relatively moderate positions prior to his election in 2000, and actively pursued comprehensive immigration reform as president.

But since then, serious GOP presidential candidates have increasingly had to toughen up on immigration policy in order to make it through to the general election.

The 2008 election witnessed the rebirth of Rudy Giuliani – formerly a relatively tolerant mayor of a “sanctuary city” – as a border security hawk and illegal immigration hard-liner. More notable still that year was Sen. John McCain, who was forced to back off his longtime support for comprehensive immigration.

Donald Trump, of course, launched his 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination by railing against drug smugglers, criminals and rapists he falsely alleged are streaming into the U.S. illegally from Mexico.

Observers understand this hostility to “amnesty” in different ways. Some see it as racially motivated, and tied to hostility against Latinos and other ethnic minorities. However, my colleague Morris Levy and I have shown in our research that much of it is tied to deep conceptions about the rule of law. By this logic, roughly one-third of Americans, according to our study, reject undocumented immigrants categorically. That is, they reject them solely on the basis of breaking the law, without regard to ethnicity or other characteristics.

We have argued that this is why there is still no path to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Narrowing what ‘comprehensive’ means

It’s no surprise then that, of late, the debate has devolved exclusively to address the fate of Dreamers. As some of our work indicates, Dreamers do not provoke the intransigent hostility that other undocumented immigrants do. They are less likely to be viewed as “law-breakers,” and more likely to win support on humanitarian grounds.

In effect, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants have been written out of immigration reform altogether. The more limited deal in circulation would give Democrats a “win” with respect to illegal immigration, even if it is less than the total victory they have long sought. The concessions they offer in return – limited funding for border security, some effort to limit so-called “chain migration,” and the redirecting of “diversity lottery” visas to some immigrants previously on temporary status – are not uncontroversial. However, none is likely to generate anything like the reaction “amnesty” produces among categorical opponents of illegal immigration.

Can those undocumented immigrants hope for reprieve down the line?

The ConversationThere is precedent for large-scale amnesty: The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 legalized nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants in exchange for relatively weak enforcement provisions. But given the uniquely intransigent positions taken on both sides of the issue, it is hard to imagine another such bill in the offing any time soon.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


Telecommunications wires stretch along a rural Kansas road. Technology & Information Policy Institute, University of Texas, CC BY-ND

Sharon Strover, University of Texas at Austin

All across the U.S., rural communities’ residents are being left out of modern society and the 21st century economy. I’ve traveled to Kansas, Maine, Texas and other states studying internet access and use – and I hear all the time from people with a crucial need still unmet. Rural Americans want faster, cheaper internet like their city-dwelling compatriots have, letting them work remotely and use online services, to access shopping, news, information and government data.

With an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote on whether cellphone data speeds are fast enough for work, entertainment and other online activities, Americans face a choice: Is modest-speed internet appropriate for rural areas, or do rural Americans deserve access to the far faster service options available in urban areas?

My work, which most recently studies how people use rural libraries’ internet services, asks a fundamental set of questions: How are communities in rural regions actually connected? Why is service often so poor? Why do 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack internet access that meets even the FCC’s minimum definition of “broadband” service? What policies, beyond President Donald Trump’s new executive orders, might help fix those problems? What technologies would work best, and who should be in control of them?

The wide-ranging rural internet problem

Since the dawn of the internet, rural areas of the U.S. have had less internet access than urban areas. High-speed wired connections are less common, and wireless phone service and signals are weaker than in cities – or absent altogether. Even as rural America’s wired-internet speeds and mobile-phone service have improved, the overall problem remains: Cities’ services have also gotten better, so the rural communities still have comparatively worse service.

The public library in Calais, Maine, lets users borrow Wi-Fi hotspots. Technology & Information Policy Institute, University of Texas, CC BY-ND

National standards have not helped: As people, businesses and governments need and want to do more online, the FCC-set minimum data-transmission speeds for broadband service has climbed. The current standard – at least 25 megabits per second downloading and 3 megabits per second uploading – is deemed “adequate” to stream video and participate in other high-traffic online activities.

But those speeds are not readily available in rural areas. The FCC is actually considering reducing the standard, which critics say may make the rural digital divide disappear on paper, but not in real life.

Rural residents have few choices of internet service providers – or none at all. They pay higher prices for lower quality service, despite earning less than urban dwellers.

A related issue is that fewer rural Americans are online: 39 percent of rural Americans lack home broadband access – in contrast to only 4 percent of urban Americans. And 69 percent of rural Americans use the internet, compared to 75 percent of urban residents. That means less participation in the culture, society, politics and economic activity of the 21st century.

Building a nationwide internet structure

The basic problem is that high-speed internet has not yet reached huge swathes of rural America. There are two main ways to fix this problem: with wires, and without wires.

Smaller towns in rural areas typically have two options for wired connectivity. About 59 percent of all fixed broadband customers use internet provided by the local cable company. Another 29 percent get their internet over phone lines, often called digital subscriber line service, or DSL. However, older systems in rural areas aren’t upgraded as often, making them slower than those in metro areas.

A few small rural towns have fiber optic networks that are much faster, but they are exceptions.

One reason rural wired service is less available and less advanced is cost, which relates to population density. In urban communities, a mile-long cable might pass dozens, or even hundreds, of homes and businesses. Rural internet requires longer wires – and often special signal-boosting equipment – with fewer potential customers from whom to recoup the costs. Rural homeowners who complain to me that they can’t get DSL, but say the farm down the road can, are probably just a bit too far from the phone company’s networking equipment. That’s much less common in cities and towns.

Wireless options

Covering these longer distances may be easier with wireless technologies, including satellite broadband, short-distance radio links and mobile-phone data.

Satellite broadband – where a customer has an antenna that connects with an orbiting satellite linked to a faster internet connection back on Earth – is technically available anywhere in the country. But it is slower, and often more expensive, than wired broadband connections. And its connections are vulnerable to bad weather.

Radio connections can vary significantly. One type, called “fixed wireless,” requires customers to be within sight of a service tower, much like a cellphone. Speeds can be up to 20 megabits per second. Satellite broadband and fixed wireless are used mostly in rural areas, but account for less than 3 percent of the U.S. fixed broadband market.

Other options just being explored involve frequency ranges that are newly available. An approach using “white space” signals would transmit data on channels previously used by analog television broadcasters. Its signals, like TV broadcasts, can travel several miles, and are not blocked by buildings.

Another frequency range around 3.5 GHz, called “Citizens Broadband Radio Service,” could let rural internet companies use frequencies previously reserved for coastal radar – even in places far inland. But the FCC may be changing the rules to favor large telecommunications companies instead.

Mobile wireless

The fourth type of wireless internet is already quite widespread – it’s on people’s smartphones nationwide. Many people have higher-speed connections at home and use mobile data on the go. However, people who don’t have access to, or can’t afford, other internet service, often use mobile wireless service as their primary internet connection.

U.S. wireless companies’ coverage maps can be deceptive. Just because a carrier has a cell tower along an interstate highway does not mean the rest of the surrounding county also has good coverage.

In our group’s research trips to Maine in 2016 and 2017, four people had phones with four different carriers, but there were plenty of places where not a single cell service was working. We have heard tales of small towns that have acceptable signals only in very specific spots – like in the middle of a side street.

Mobile phone data service has different speeds, and is often priced by how much data and how fast it travels – though even plans labeled “unlimited data” may slow down traffic after a customer transmits or receives a certain amount. Many companies promote their fourth-generation, or 4G, networks for their potential download speeds of around 20 megabits per second. But 5 to 12 megabits per second may be far more common, especially in rural regions – making it more comparable to DSL.

Mobile companies built massive networks to serve densely populated cities, leaving less populous rural markets without comparable improvements. Some hold out hope for the next wireless-data standard, the even faster fifth-generation 5G system – but rural America may not see that service for a while.

Bringing high speeds to remote places

The Stanton County Library in western Kansas built this outdoor area so local residents could use its Wi-Fi connection even when the library wasn’t open. Technology & Information Policy Institute, University of Texas, CC BY-ND

In our work, we have found a lot of people on tight budgets figuring out how to use local Wi-Fi connections to download content onto their phones, so they use (and pay for) less mobile data. Public libraries, which generally have fast and free Wi-Fi, are popular options in rural areas. Many rural librarians have told us about people in their parking lots after hours simply using the library Wi-Fi. Those connections aren’t always the fastest, but are a testament to the efforts of public libraries over many years to provide their communities’ residents with computer and internet services.

The policy debates in Washington provide the U.S. with the opportunity to choose to provide equal access to high-speed internet all across the country, or to relegate rural users to their smartphones, library parking lots and slow home connections. Real high-speed internet could change the lives of rural Americans: The FCC itself has reported that people use fixed broadband differently, and get more benefits from it than mobile data.

Fundamentally, it is a question of values. In the 1930s and ’40s, the public sentiment was that the nation would be better off if everyone had reasonably comparable electricity and telephone service. As a result, the federal government established a system of loans and grants to ensure universal access to those key utilities. To help, the FCC set up a system to charge businesses and urban customers slightly higher fees to subsidize the higher costs associated with bringing phone lines to rural areas.

The ConversationThe question facing the FCC and Congress – and really, the U.S. as a whole – is whether we are willing to invest in providing broadband service equitably to both urban and rural Americans. Then we need to make sure it is affordable.

Sharon Strover, Director, Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute; Professor of Communication, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

VA Rule Change to Begin Reimbursing Veterans for Emergency Care


WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today made a statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it has revised its regulations related to payment or reimbursement to veterans who have had to seek emergency care at a non-VA facility.

“After seven years of an improper rule being on the books and thousands of veterans being denied reimbursement by the VA, this announcement is a significant step in the right direction,” said Rounds. “The majority of the veterans impacted by this rule change are elderly veterans, many of whom live on a fixed income and have limited resources to pay their medical bills. These men and women have made incredible sacrifices for our country, and I’m glad the VA has taken action to fulfill its legal obligation to cover their emergency care costs. We will continue to review the revised rule to make certain the VA is acting in the best interest of our veterans.”

This rule change complies with the Emergency Care Fairness Act (ECFA), which was enacted in 2010 and directs the VA to cover veterans with private health insurance when that insurance doesn’t cover the full amount of non-VA emergency care. Previously, the VA had not been paying these costs despite its legal obligation to do so, denying hundreds of thousands of veterans’ claims. The new rule directs the VA to pay claims submitted on or after April 8, 2016, which is the date that the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reversed a Board of Veterans’ Appeals decision in Staab v. McDonald.

Rounds has been working to get the VA to comply with its legal obligation to pay for these costs for over a year. During a June 2017 Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, VA Secretary David Shulkin told Rounds of the VA’s decision to withdraw its appeal and begin writing rules to cover these costs. The rules released yesterday are a result of that announcement.

More information on the revised regulation can be found here.

Trump’s Offshore Oil Drilling Plans Ignore Lessons Of BP Deepwater Horizon

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Skimming oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon spill, May 29, 2010.

Donald Boesch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

The Trump Administration is proposing to ease regulations that were adopted to make offshore oil and gas drilling operations safer after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. This event was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Eleven workers died in the explosion and sinking of the oil rig, and more than 4 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists have estimated that the spill caused more than US$17 billion in damages to natural resources.

I served on the bipartisan National Commission that investigated the causes of this epic blowout. We spent six months assessing what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon and the effectiveness of the spill response, conducting our own investigations and hearing testimony from dozens of expert witnesses.

Our panel concluded that the immediate cause of the blowout was a series of identifiable mistakes by BP, the company drilling the well; Halliburton, which cemented the well; and Transocean, the drill ship operator. We wrote that these mistakes revealed “such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.” The root causes for these mistakes included regulatory failures.

Now, however, the Trump administration wants to increase domestic production by “reducing the regulatory burden on industry.” In my view, such a shift will put workers and the environment at risk, and ignores the painful lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The administration has just proposed opening virtually all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, which makes it all the more urgent to assess whether it is prepared to regulate this industry effectively.

Oil spill commissioners Dr. Donald Boesch, center, and Frances Ulmer, former Alaska lieutenant governor, on left, visit the Louisiana Gulf Coast in 2010 to see impacts of the BP spill. Donald Boesch

Separating regulation and promotion

During our commission’s review of the BP spill, I visited the Gulf office of the Minerals Management Service in September 2010. This Interior Department agency was responsible for “expeditious and orderly development of offshore resources,” including protection of human safety and the environment.

The most prominent feature in the windowless conference room was a large chart that showed revenue growth from oil and gas leasing and production in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a point of pride for MMS officials that their agency was the nation’s second-largest generator of revenue, exceeded only by the Internal Revenue Service.

We ultimately concluded that an inherent conflict existed within MMS between pressures to increase production and maximize revenues on one hand, and the agency’s safety and environmental protection functions on the other. In our report, we observed that MMS regulations were “inadequate to address the risks of deepwater drilling,” and that the agency had ceded control over many crucial aspects of drilling operations to industry.

In response, we recommended creating a new independent agency with enforcement authority within Interior to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling safety, and the structural and operational integrity of all offshore energy production facilities. Then-Secretary Ken Salazar completed the separation of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement from MMS in October 2011.

Oil flooding from the ruptured well during the BP spill, June 3, 2010.

Officials at this new agency reviewed multiple investigations and studies of the BP spill and offshore drilling safety issues, including several by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. They also consulted extensively with the industry to develop a revised a Safety and Environmental Management System and other regulations.

In April 2016, BSEE issued a new well control rule that required standards for design operation and testing of blowout preventers, real-time monitoring and safe drilling pressure margins. Prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the oil industry had effectively blocked adoption of such regulations for years.

About-face under Trump

President Trump’s March 28, 2017 executive order instructing agencies to reduce undue burdens on domestic energy production signaled a change of course. The American Petroleum Institute and other industry organizations have lobbied hard to rescind or modify the new offshore drilling regulations, calling them impractical and burdensome.

In April 2017, Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, appointed Louisiana politician Scott Angelle to lead BSEE. Unlike his predecessors – two retired Coast Guard admirals – Angelle lacks any experience in maritime safety. In July 2010 as interim Lieutenant Governor, Angelle organized a rally in Lafayette, Louisiana, against the Obama administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling operations after the BP spill, leading chants of “Lift the ban!”

Even now, Angelle asserts there was no evidence of systemic problems in offshore drilling regulation at the time of the spill. This view contradicts not only our commission’s findings, but also reviews by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and a joint investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department.

Oiled Kemp’s Ridley turtle captured June 1, 2010, during the BP spill. The turtle was cleaned, provided veterinary care and taken to the Audubon Aquarium. NOAA, CC BY

Fewer inspections and looser oversight

On December 28, 2017, BSEE formally proposed changes in production safety systems. As evidenced by multiple references within these proposed rules, they generally rely on standards developed by the American Petroleum Institute rather than government requirements.

One change would eliminate BSEE certification of third-party inspectors for critical equipment, such as blowout preventers. The Chemical Safety Board’s investigation of the BP spill found that the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer had not been tested and was miswired. It recommended that BSEE should certify third-party inspectors for such critical equipment.

Another proposal would relax requirements for onshore remote monitoring of drilling. While serving on the presidential commission in 2010, I visited Shell’s operation in New Orleans that remotely monitored the company’s offshore drilling activities. This site operated on a 24-7 basis, ever ready to provide assistance, but not all companies met this standard. BP’s counterpart operation in Houston was used only for daily meetings prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill. Consequently, its drillers offshore urgently struggled to get assistance prior to the blowout via cellphones.

On December 7, 2017 BSEE ordered the National Academies to stop work on a study that the agency had commissioned on improving its inspection program. This was the most recent in a series of studies, and was to include recommendations on the appropriate role of independent third parties and remote monitoring.

Minor savings, major risk

BSEE estimates that its proposals to change production safety rules could save the industry at least $228 million in compliance costs over 10 years. This is a modest sum considering that offshore oil production has averaged more than 500 million barrels yearly over the past decade. Even with oil prices around $60 per barrel, this means oil companies are earning more than $30 billion annually. Industry decisions about offshore production are driven by fluctuations in the price of crude oil and booming production of onshore shale oil, not by the costs of safety regulations.

BSEE’s projected savings are also trivial compared to the $60 billion in costs that BP has incurred because of its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Since then explosions, deaths, injuries and leaks in the oil industry have continued to occur mainly from production facilities. On-the-job fatalities are higher in oil and gas extraction than any other U.S. industry.

The ConversationSome aspects of the Trump administration’s proposed regulatory changes might achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency in safety procedures. But it is not at all clear that what Angelle describes as a “paradigm shift” will maintain “a high bar for safety and environmental sustainability,” as he claims. Instead, it looks more like a shift back to the old days of over-relying on industry practices and preferences.

Donald Boesch, Professor of Marine Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation.



New Book Celebrates the History of the Library of Congress


Library of Congress Historian John Y. Cole. Photo: Shealah Craighead

Library’s First Historian Publishes Illustrated History of Oldest Federal Cultural Institution

January 5, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new book from Library of Congress Historian John Y. Cole, “America’s Greatest Library: An Illustrated History of the Library of Congress,” tells the story of the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and how it came to be the world’s largest library.

Librarian of Congress Carla D. Hayden calls the Library “a place where you can touch history and imagine your future,” and the story of its creation and evolution comes alive in this rich chronology. The book is the first authoritative history of the Library published in nearly 20 years.

“America’s Greatest Library,” which will be published Jan. 9 by D Giles Limited in association with the Library of Congress, highlights the personalities and events that created and sustained the institution over its 217-year history, starting at a time when Washington had no other libraries or cultural institutions. Packed with fascinating stories, compelling images and little-known nuggets of information, the narrative traces the growth of the collections with the development of the nation’s capital through a combination of concise milestones, brief essays and vivid photographs and illustrations.

The book features important acquisitions and episodes, including:

  • The November 1963 late-night search in the stacks— by flashlight—by Lincoln specialists working at the behest of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, seeking guidance on appropriate funeral arrangements for an assassinated president
  • The Brady-Handy photographic collection, containing more than 3,000 negatives made by Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady and his nephew Levin C. Handy
  • The earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture, Thomas Edison’s 1894 “Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze”
  • The 175,000 photographs from the Farm Security Administration archive, including Dorothea Lange’s iconic “Migrant Mother”
  • The 1944 world premiere of the ballet “Appalachian Spring,” choreographed by Martha Graham with music by Aaron Copland
  • The 303 glass-plate negatives documenting the earliest flights of Orville and Wilbur Wright
  • Rare sacred texts, including the Washington Haggadah, an illuminated Hebrew manuscript, and two 15th-century Bibles, the Giant Bible of Mainz and one of only three perfect vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible
  • A variety of musical instruments and scores, including five stringed instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, the 1,600-item Dayton C. Miller flute collection, and the original score of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
  • The 1815 purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library after the British burned the Capitol and Jefferson’s concept of a universal library that would form the foundation of the Library’s comprehensive collection

For more than 50 years, beginning in 1966 when Cole joined the Library’s staff as an administrative intern, librarian and historian, he has sought to increase public understanding of the key role of the Library of Congress in American government, scholarship and culture. He was the founding director of the Library’s Center for the Book from 1977 to 2016, when he was named to a new position as the Library’s first official historian.

“America’s Greatest Library,” a 256-page softcover book with 250 illustrations, is available for $19.95 in the Library of Congress Shop, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., 20540-4985. Credit card orders are taken at (888) 682-3557 or loc.gov/shop/. Hardcover and e-book versions are available through book retailers.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

Think It Might Be Time To Repaint ?

WOONSOCKET, RI – It’s no wonder so many people want the city to repaint the fire hydrants in front of their houses – they look like crusty old relics from a shipwreck.

“Some of them haven’t been repainted for a decade, maybe more,” says Public Works Director Steve D’Agostino. “Some of them are 80 years old. They’re deteriorating.”

And oh, that salmon-like shade of pinkish-orange paint that’s flaking off some of the rusty hydrants? The color used to be fire-engine red. It looks the way it does because rust is seeping into the paint.

“It’s oxidized,” said D’Agostino.

Full story here.

The GOP Tax Plan – State And Local Tax Deductions – And You

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The Capitol is lit up at dawn on Nov. 30, 2017 as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

December 7, 2017

Capri Cafaro,
American University

While Washington is claiming victory, states are crying foul.

Late last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the tax reform package that cleared the House a few weeks earlier. Within the hundreds of pages of legislative language in each bill lay a number of provisions that have significant impact on state governments, including modifications to the state and local tax deduction.

Under current tax law, individuals who choose to itemize and deduct eligible expenses on their federal tax return are able to deduct state and local income, sales and property taxes. Both the House and Senate bills eliminate the so-called “SALT deduction” for state and local taxes while capping the property tax deduction at US$10,000.

As a former Ohio state senator, I served on the Senate Ways and Means Committee for a number of years. I also went through five state budget cycles over 10 years. Because of that experience, I believe the federal changes to the SALT deductions will be detrimental to American families and have long-term negative impacts on balancing state budgets.

An uncertain future

I am not alone in my concern.

The bipartisan National Conference of State Legislators issued a scathing statement on the proposed changes to the SALT deduction. The organization’s president, South Dakota State Senator Deb Peters, a Republican, expressed her opposition by saying, “SALT is one of the six original federal tax deductions and has been a staple of the federal tax code and the state-federal fiscal relationship for over 100 years. We will continue to fight for the more than 43 million Americans who claim this deduction every year.”

Page 3 of the 1913 1040 form, showing a deduction for state and local taxes.

State lawmakers have reason to be worried, as most state budgets rely on state income and sales tax as primary revenue streams for their operating budgets. According to the center left think tank Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, eliminating the SALT deduction could place strain on funding needed for critical programs and services provided at the state level such as education and infrastructure. Cities and towns usually benefit from property taxes. So the fact that the tax plan caps – rather than eliminates – the property tax deduction could help insulate local governments for now.

However, it has been my experience in Ohio that when the state cuts funds for essential services, the funding burden gets dropped to the local communities. During my time in the Ohio Senate, state government cut allocations to local governments. This caused local communities across my home state to cut safety forces and scale back infrastructure repairs. This is why the SALT deduction is so important. It essentially protects against double taxation and serves a bit like a subsidy to the state and local governments. If the SALT deduction goes away, state and local governments may try to lower taxes to offset the cost of higher federal taxes. What does this mean in real terms? According to modeling done by the Government Finance Officers Association, budget cuts caused by revenue shortfalls could result in cities and towns losing five police officers, 10 teachers and five public works employees.

The changes to the SALT deduction could hit Americans in two significant ways. First, citizens often carry the burden when states scale back their services. For example, when police and fire forces get cut, response time gets longer and community safety is jeopardized.

Second, individual Americans would also shoulder increased tax burdens should the proposed SALT deduction changes be signed into law. Elimination of the state and local income and sales tax deductions would result in a tax increase for those who itemize their deductions and deduct SALT. A report recently issued by the Government Finance Officers Association in partnership with seven other nonpartisan state and local government associations stated 30 percent of all taxpayers across all income levels use the SALT deductions, and 50 percent of those choosing to use SALT make under $200,000 per year. This means the SALT deduction is widely used by middle-income Americans. While the amount would vary by income, the Urban-Brookings Microsimulation Model estimates a roughly $2,000 increase in taxes on those taking the deduction.

Capping the property tax deduction at $10,000, while better than a full elimination, still falls short for a number of communities. California, Illinois, Texas, New York, New Jersey and most of the Northeast have the majority of property owners nationally that would exceed the $10,000 threshold. For example, in New Jersey the average property tax deduction is $9,500, meaning a fair number of property owners in the Garden State would fall above the $10,000 cap. In states with high numbers of properties that are above the $10,000 deduction, the cap threshold is not sufficient to offset the costs associated with the SALT deduction change.

The ConversationThe data suggest that changes to the SALT deduction would result in higher taxes and fewer local services for a large number of middle-income Americans. Changes to SALT have passed both the House and the Senate. The bills must now come together in conference where the differences between the two versions are negotiated. While it is possible that changes could still be made, both versions of the bill have the same language. That makes it less likely to be modified. States and individuals alike will need to start planning for the changes on the horizon.

Capri Cafaro, Executive in Residence, American University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Disclosure statement

Capri Cafaro is affiliated with the Democratic Party as a registered Democrat in Ohio and was elected to the Ohio Senate as a Democrat for 10 years.

Reconciliation Recommendations of the Senate Committee on Finance – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,

November 27, 2017

WASHINGTON -The Reconciliation Recommendations of the Senate Committee on Finance, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, would amend numerous provisions of U.S. tax law. Among other changes, the bill would reduce most income tax rates for individuals and modify the tax brackets for those taxpayers; increase the standard deduction and the child tax credit; and repeal deductions for personal exemptions, certain itemized deductions, and the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Those changes would take effect on January 1, 2018, and would be scheduled to expire after December 31, 2025. The bill also would permanently repeal the penalties associated with the requirement that most people obtain health insurance coverage (also known as the individual mandate).

The legislation would permanently modify business taxation as well. Among other provisions, beginning in 2019, it would replace the structure of corporate income tax rates, which has a top rate of 35 percent under current law, with a single 20 percent rate. The legislation also would substantially alter the current system under which the worldwide income of U.S. corporations is subject to taxation.

The staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates that enacting the legislation would reduce revenues by about $1,633 billion and decrease outlays by $219 billion over the 2018-2027 period, leading to an increase in the deficit of $1,414 billion over the next 10 years. A portion of the changes in revenues would be from Social Security payroll taxes, which are off-budget. Excluding the estimated $27 billion increase in off-budget revenues over the next 10 years, JCT estimates that the legislation would increase on-budget deficits by about $1,441 billion over the period from 2018 to 2027. Pay-as-you-go procedures apply because enacting the legislation would affect direct spending and revenues.

JCT estimates that enacting the legislation would not increase on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2028.

Because of the magnitude of its estimated budgetary effects, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is considered major legislation as defined in section 4107 of H. Con. Res. 71, the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2018. It therefore triggers the requirement that the cost estimate, to the greatest extent practicable, include the budgetary impact of the bill’s macroeconomic effects. The staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation is currently analyzing changes in economic output, employment, capital stock, and other macroeconomic variables resulting from the bill for purposes of determining these budgetary effects. However, JCT indicates that it is not practicable for a macroeconomic analysis to incorporate the full effects of all of the provisions in the bill, including interactions between these provisions, within the very short time available between completion of the bill and the filing of the committee report.

CBO and JCT have determined that the tax provisions of the legislation contain no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA).