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Trump Picks 'Friend of Big Polluters' for Supreme Court

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President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court has been criticized by environmental groups and human health advocates, who fear that the conservative judge would side with corporations, limit the federal government's regulatory responsibilities, and gut environmental and health protection if confirmed.

The 49-year-old federal appeals court judge from Colorado has been described as an "heir" to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat Gorsuch would be filling.

During his announcement Tuesday, Trump praised Gorsuch for being a principled constitutionalist. "Judge Gorsuch has a superb intellect, an unparalleled legal education, and a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its text," Trump said.

Gorsuch said in the East Room, "I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all that my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country."

Several news outlets have noted that his mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, served as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director under President Ronald Reagan. She has been accused of wanting to dismantle the agency and notoriously resigned under fire after serving 22 months in the administration over mismanagement of a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps.

Earthjustice, the nation's largest environmental law organization, is calling on the Senate to reject Gorsuch as Supreme Court Justice, citing his history of rulings against workers' rights, that he's a friend of big business, that he has shown hostility to the rights of the disabled and that he has protected police officers charged with excessive force.

Gorsuch is perhaps best known for the case, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, in which he agreed with the majority opinion that corporations are persons and should not be required to pay for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

    Earthjustice noted that Gorsuch favors limits on federal regulatory power:

    • Gorsuch is opposed to the Chevron doctrine, which emerged from the landmark Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council decision of 1984, and held that federal agency experts must have the authority to determine how their regulations should be carried out.
    • Gorsuch believes judges should get to overrule agency experts when deciding how to enforce federal regulations. Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the Chevron doctrine.

    "Gorsuch has a lengthy record of decisions that seek to benefit corporations and restrict the federal government's regulatory responsibilities. His decisions also reflect a history of limiting the rights of women, the disabled, workers, and many others," said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen.

    "A review of Gorsuch's writings and decisions indicate that he would seek to overturn well-established Supreme Court precedents and prevent the federal government from enforcing bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act," Van Noppen said. "Gorsuch's record suggests he would take the court in a far-right direction doing irreparable harm to the health of communities, while failing to protecting wildlife, our public lands and restricting efforts to combat climate change."

    The international climate campaign 350.org called Gorsuch "a friend of big polluters and a foe of workers, the disabled and the environment."

    "With Trump torching the Constitution and the climate, now isn't the time to approve an extreme Supreme Court nominee. Gorsuch is a friend of fossil fuel companies and a foe of workers, the disabled, and the environment," said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. "Millions of people are marching in the streets to resist Trump's radical agenda and our counting on their Senators to join them. This couldn't be a clearer test of whose side politicians are really on."

    Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard expressed similar sentiments.

    "Neil Gorsuch, empowered by spineless Congressional Republicans and an incompetent and malicious Trump administration, could inflict serious damage to people in this country," Leonard said. "We need the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the people's rights to live free, safe and equal lives and to uphold federal laws like the Clean Power Plan which help ensure our right to survival and limit the human and environmental impact of climate change."

    "There is no evidence in Gorsuch's track record that indicates he would be a champion for these legal protections, but an abundance of evidence indicates that he would be a champion for corporate protections," she added. "With this Supreme Court nomination, political forces like the Heritage Foundation and the Koch Brothers are applauding a step towards a democracy powered by the wealthy."

    The Center for Biological Diversity said that based on Gorsuch's track record, he will consistently rule in favor of wealthy corporate interests at the expense of environmental safeguards, civil rights and social justice.

    Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, also pointed out that Trump's pick for the Supreme Court was made possible only by the extraordinary, unprecedented, year-long blockade by Senate Republicans of President Obama's pick of DC Circuit Judge Merrick Garland.

    "We should never forget that this was a stolen seat," Suckling said. "Gorsuch should be filibustered, and every Democrat of conscience should vote against his confirmation. Putting him onto our highest court could inflict incredible, irreversible damage upon our nation's natural heritage."

    The Sierra Club, which joined a rally against Trump's pick on the steps of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, has also opposed the pick.

    "As the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court must be composed of justices that are fair, even-handed, and thoughtful," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "Unfortunately, Judge Gorsuch, Donald Trump's choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, is none of those things and must be rejected. Gorsuch has proven himself hostile to environmental protection, women's rights, and the rights of workers and cannot be trusted to protect our air, our water, or our communities.

    "The Supreme Court has the responsibility of deciding on the cases that protect everything from our clean air and water to our civil rights and liberties. Gorsuch is not fit for that responsibility. Gorsuch has shown he will prioritize his warped ideological views instead of using our Constitution as a guide. His dangerous views favor polluters and industry over the rights of the people. His record shows that he will limit the access of everyday Americans to the courts and prevent agencies like the EPA from fulfilling their mission and doing their job to protect our air, water, and health. He's even been described as more extreme than Justice Scalia."

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    The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

    When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

    We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

    Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

    What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

    Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

    Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

    To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

    Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

    The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

    Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

    As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

    Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

    Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

    The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

    Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

    The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

    Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

    While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

    It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

    Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

    Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

    Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

    Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

    Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

    Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

    Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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    Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

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    The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

    Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

    "I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

    Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

    "I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

    On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

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    Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

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    "There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

    Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.