‘The Truth Still Matters,’ Said Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

Esquire

‘The Truth Still Matters,’ Said Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Are We Sure About That?

Jack Holmes                      February 21, 2020

Photo credit: Michael Ciaglo - Getty ImagesMichael Ciaglo – Getty Images

“The truth still exists,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said on Thursday. “The truth still matters.” She spoke at the sentencing hearing for Roger Stone, career ratfucker and longtime confidante of one Donald Trump. Stone had already been convicted on charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering related to his attempted coverup of his ratfucking activities on Trump’s behalf in 2016. “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t,” Jackson continued, still referring to the truth, “his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy. If it goes unpunished, it will not be a victory for one party or another. Everyone loses.”

It’s unclear from the court reporting what tone Jackson adopted for that first part. Was she assured? Confident? Defiant? Hopeful, even? Because the argument that the truth still exists and that it still matters in the Year of Our Lord 2020 is no done deal. The jury is very much out. We have strayed very far from our school days, when the world was split into truth and fiction and things like “checks and balances” were almost self-evident. The war on the concept of truth waged for three years now by Donald Trump, American president is beginning to pay real dividends. The president does not subscribe to the concept of objective reality, where there are observable features of the world around us and facts we can consequently all agree on. He believes the truth is whatever you can get enough people to believe, and you’re never guilty if you never admit it. In a polarized political environment and a balkanized media ecosystem, he might just be right.

Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty ImagesAnadolu Agency – Getty Images

One thing Jackson gets right is that all this is a threat to democracy. We cannot function as a society—we cannot make rules and policies around how we live, we cannot forge a way forward together—if we cannot agree on basic facts about the world around us. The Enlightenment gave us the tools to discover and verify and spread the truth regardless of what powerful people thought of it, but we have lost our grip on those tools and allowed ourselves to slide back into a tribalist dark age. In this environment, where the powerful say what’s real and their followers believe them, those in power can avoid the kind of accountability for their actions that undergirds a democratic republic. Without checks on their power, they can easily grow it. You need not serve your constituents if they will believe you’re serving them simply because you tell them you are.

And it’s here where Jackson’s statement surely moved towards hope or defiance. If Stone’s villainous lying goes unpunished, she said, “it will not be a victory for one party or another.” Really? Because it seems like one party is winning. The president has declared all negative information about him to be “fake,” and all positive information to be “real.” This is the only basis on which he evaluates information. It’s the attitude of a toddler—perhaps even your three-year-old can more easily process shame and disappointment—but this man has a very good chance of being re-elected to the most powerful office in the world. His Republican Party will very likely retain control of the Senate and all its antidemocratic capabilities. They now believe they have a shot to regain the House of Representatives. Along the way these three years, they’ve stuffed the courts full of judges who will entrench their minority rule for decades.

The president’s attitude towards information—is it good for me, or is it bad for me?—made yet another appearance this week in the matter concerning the United States Director of National Intelligence. We’ve got a new acting director, you see, and it’s a former internet pest whom Trump first saw fit to make ambassador to Germany, and who now will serve as (part-time!) acting head of our intelligence community. Richard Grenell surely got the gig because he will massage the information that comes across his desk until it is sufficiently palatable for The Boss. His predecessor, who also served in an “acting” capacity because the Constitution’s mandate that the Senate advise and consent on major appointments doesn’t matter if you just ignore it, lost the job because he did not adhere to the essential Trumpian mantra: Real News is whatever’s good for Trump.

At least, that’s what The New York Times reported Thursday and what NBC News backed up Friday. Joseph Maguire, the ex-acting chief, made the grave mistake of observing protocol by having his subordinates brief congressional leaders on the evidence that Russia is once again interfering in our elections heading into 2020, and that they once again want Trump to win. This is an exceedingly believable notion, considering Trump has a habit of siding with the Russians on any issue that comes up. He’s fought sanctions against them and slowed their implementation. He opened the door for them to seize control of northern Syria. All this culminated in his extortion of Ukraine,  with which Russia is currently at war via proxy forces. Trump has torn up notes of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House has failed to report their phone calls, leaving the American public to learn of them when the Russians make it public.

Photo credit: JIM WATSON - Getty ImagesJIM WATSON – Getty Images

But none of this is of interest to the public, in the president’s calculus, including the fact that a geopolitical adversary is set to attack our democracy again this year. The Director of National Intelligence had no business telling the people’s representatives in Congress about it. And why? It “angered Mr. Trump,” the Times reported, “who complained that Democrats would use it against him.” It is entirely irrelevant to him whether the 2020 elections will be free and fair, and whether Americans will be allowed to choose their own leaders without interference. What matters is that he wins, at any cost. This, of course, reflects the larger Republican attitude towards elections, where the ends always justify the means. Voter suppression, voter purges, closing polling stations in Certain Neighborhoods, extreme gerrymandering, foreign interference—anything goes if it keeps you in power. And if you lose, you can just strip the office you lost of it’s powers before a Democrat can get in there and, uh, do the job the public elected them to do.

It’s really no wonder, then, that Trump would rise to control a party that long ago chose to slide towards authoritarianism rather than appeal to any slice of the public outside The Base of white ultraconservative Evangelicals and those who’ve made common cause. But the efficiency with which the president has used weaponized falsehood to erode the pillars of a democratic republic is staggering. The principles of consensus and persuasion that define democratic politics are beginning to falter. The president and his movement do not use words to persuade, but as a rhetorical bludgeon to beat down The Enemies. What they are offering is force.

On The Apprentice, producers would often find themselves scrambling to put an episode together after Trump inexplicably fired someone who’d performed well, because he hadn’t been paying attention before the boardroom. They’d have to reverse-engineer the episode until Trump’s conclusion made sense. Now, one of America’s two major political parties, a large swathe of its media outlets, and increasingly, the actual federal government are all devoted to the same task. Except now, they’re reverse-engineering reality itself to meet the president’s preferences. This will have consequences from a governing standpoint, of course: if you make policy in defiance of the real world, it will eventually catch up to you. But perhaps the more immediate concern is that it may finish off our ability to govern ourselves, to compare our leaders’ words and actions to what we can see and verify around us and hold them to account on that basis. The threat is that we will once again slide into darkness, where all that matters is power and force.

Colorado River flow shrinks from climate crisis, risking ‘severe water shortages’

The Guardian

Colorado River flow shrinks from climate crisis, risking ‘severe water shortages’

Oliver Milman, The Guardian      February 20, 2020

Colorado River flow shrinks from climate crisis, risking ‘severe water shortages’

The flow of the Colorado River is dwindling due to the impacts of global heating, risking “severe water shortages” for the millions of people who rely upon one of America’s most storied waterways, researchers have found.

Increasing periods of drought and rising temperatures have been shrinking the flow of the Colorado in recent years and scientists have now developed a model to better understand how the climate crisis is fundamentally changing the 1,450-mile waterway.

The loss of snow in the Colorado River basin due to human-induced global heating has resulted in the river absorbing more of sun’s energy, thereby increasing the amount of water lost in evaporation, the US Geological Survey scientists found.

This is because snow and ice reflect sunlight back away from the Earth’s surface, a phenomenon known as the albedo effect. The loss of albedo as snow and ice melt away is reducing the flow of the Colorado by 9.5% for each 1C of warming, according to the research published in Science.

The world has heated up by about 1C since the pre-industrial era and is on course for an increase of more than 3C by the end of the century unless planet-warming emissions are drastically cut. For the Colorado this scenario means an “increasing risk of severe water shortages”, the study states, with any increase in rainfall not likely to offset the loss in reflective snow.

The magnitude of the Colorado’s decline as outlined in the Science paper is “eye popping”, according to Brad Udall, a senior scientist at Colorado State University and an expert on water supplies in the west who was not involved in the research.

“This has important implications for water users and managers alike,” Udall said. “More broadly, these results tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possible can.

“We’ve wasted nearly 30 years bickering over the science. The science is crystal clear – we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.”

The Colorado rises in the Rocky Mountains and slices through ranch lands and canyons, including the Grand Canyon, as it winds through the American west. It previously emptied into the Gulf of California in Mexico but now ends several miles shy of this due to the amount of water extraction for US agriculture and cities ranging from Denver to Tijuana.

The river’s upper basin supplies water to about 40 million people and supports 16m jobs. It feeds the two largest water reserves in the US, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, with the latter supplying Las Vegas with almost all of its water.

Snowpacks that last into late spring have historically fed streams that have nourished the Colorado River, as well as reducing the likelihood of major fires. As the climate heats up, the river is evaporating away and the risk of damaging wildfires is increasing.

The climate crisis is compounding existing threats to the river, which include intensive water pumping for agriculture, water use by urban areas and the threat of pollution from uranium mining. Lake Mead, the vast reservoir formed by the Hoover dam, has dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

A 19-year drought that racked stretches of the river almost provoked the US government to impose mandatory cuts in water use from the river last year, only for seven western states to agree to voluntary reductions. The problems are set to become more severe, however, as the climate becomes hotter and drier at a time when demand for water from expanding cities in the American west increases.

Trump Gives Defense Department Power To Abolish Bargaining For Civilian Unions

HuffPost – Politics

Trump Gives Defense Department Power To Abolish Bargaining For Civilian Unions

Mary Papenfuss, HuffPost        February 21, 2020

Image result for recent images of trump

President Donald Trump has officially granted the Department of Defense the legal authority to abolish the collective bargaining rights of its civilian labor unions representing some 750,000 workers.

Gutting the unions would provide “maximum flexibility,” Trump wrote in a memo published Thursday in the Federal Register, which was first reported by Government Executive.

Trump signed the memo three weeks ago, invoking “national security” to justify granting the Defense Department an exemption from the law giving all federal workers the right to unionize.

“When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats to carry out its mission of protecting the American people,” Trump wrote in the memo. “Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations’ missions, the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission.”

The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act contains a provision that allows a president to exclude agencies from engaging in collective bargaining with workers via written order in some circumstances, including “an emergency situation.”

Trump’s assault on unions contradicts his frequent claims to his base of supporting voters that he is a champion of the working class. A 2017 White House memo encouraged “eliminating employee unions” as part of a wide-ranging effort to weaken organized labor. Trump’s budget for fiscal 2021 would require federal workers to pay more for a cut in retirement benefits.

It’s not yet clear what Defense Secretary Mark Esper will do.

Labor leaders, workers and politicians have railed against the declaration.

“Denying … Defense Department workers the collective bargaining rights guaranteed to them by law since 1962 would be a travesty — and doing it under the guise of ‘national security’ would be a disgrace,” Everett Kelley, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, said at a legislative conference earlier this month, according to The Washington Post. “This administration will not stop until it takes away all workers’ rights to form and join a union — and we will not stop doing everything we can to prevent that from happening.”

Thousands Of People Are Growing ‘Climate Victory Gardens’ To Save The Planet

HuffPost – U.S.

Thousands Of People Are Growing ‘Climate Victory Gardens’ To Save The Planet

Kyla Mandel             February 6, 2020

Right across from Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, sits a garden roughly a third of an acre with rows of vegetable beds and a newly added pond to encourage wildlife. The garden, located along the road so it’s the first thing people see when they drive past, is being managed mostly by students who planted their first perennial seeds to support pollinators last fall and are now eagerly waiting to see what springs up.

It is part of a 6.4-acre plot of farmland bought last June by the Community Ecology Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to reunite people with nature, from a retiring organic farmer who had managed it since the 1980’s and didn’t want it to be lost to development. Fifty years ago, the entire area was agricultural land. Today, this plot is the only farm left. And one of the first things the Community Ecology Institute did when it took over the farm was to plant this “climate victory garden.”

The nonprofit is one of over 2,000 organizations and individuals across the country growing food in climate victory gardens ― be it on a balcony or in a backyard, a community garden or larger urban farm project ― in a bid to mitigate the climate crisis.

Climate change is “a tremendous crisis, but it’s also a really amazing opportunity to shift the way that we’ve been doing things that no longer work,” said Chiara D’Amore, the Community Ecology Institute’s executive director. “We want to use the entire farm as a way to teach about climate action … and we see land-based climate action as one of the more tangible, gratifying ways to help people feel like there’s some hope, feel like there’s something they can do.”

The Community Ecology Institute's climate victory garden in Columbia, Maryland. (Photo: HuffPost)
The Community Ecology Institute’s climate victory garden in Columbia, Maryland. (Photo: HuffPost)

 

The climate victory garden movement was launched by nonprofit Green America two years ago. It is inspired by the estimated 20 million victory gardens planted across the U.S. by the end of World War II, responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables consumed in the country at the time. The environmental nonprofit is calling on people to use whatever outdoor space they have to grow fruits and vegetables, using “regenerative” methods to help tackle agriculture’s carbon footprint.

About a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production ― that includes emissions related to storing, transporting and selling food. However, the main climate contribution comes from growing crops and livestock and the effect of deforestation to create more cropland. In the U.S., the agriculture sector accounts for roughly 9% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture can also contribute to water pollution from fertilizer runoff and a loss in biodiversity.

Individual gardening efforts alone aren’t enough to address these issues, but it’s a start. “Certainly the victory garden didn’t solve the problem, it didn’t win the war, but it was something people could be called on to do to feel like they were a part of the solution and doing something that was a benefit,” reflected D’Amore, who said the same goes for the climate crisis today.

A World War II victory garden poster at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. (Photo: Billy Metcalf Photography / Flickr)
A World War II victory garden poster at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. (Photo: Billy Metcalf Photography / Flickr)

 

Many of the goals of the victory garden in the 20th century are echoed in the modern environmental movement.

Herbert Hoover, head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, encouraged Americans to live simply, grow their own food and consume less. The Federal Bureau of Education also launched the U.S. School Garden Army, which enrolled 2.5 million children in 1919. Those school gardens are credited with helping produce food worth $48 million at the time. Thanks to efforts like these, the U.S. successfully avoided having to ration during that war.

During World War II, citizens were once again encouraged to grow everything from potatoes to peach trees, and many women, as part of the Women’s Land Army, stepped in to manage urban victory gardens and rural farms. In 1943, first lady Eleanore Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the front lawn of the White House in an effort to show that anyone could successfully grow food.

Soy was promoted as an alternative protein to meat ― although more because meat was being rationed to feed the military than over environmental concerns. Soybeans were marketed as “wonder” or “miracle” beans that were easier to grow and store than meat. Canning, drying and preserving were also encouraged to help foods last longer.

Two women from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts tend a World War II victory garden. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)
Two women from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts tend a World War II victory garden. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)

 

“For us, the inspiration grew from knowing how many people were involved [in these victory gardens], how many people wanted to make a difference, and how many people really wanted to be involved in this food culture,” said Jillian Semaan, food campaigns director for Green America. “Knowing those numbers and what victory gardens did at that time, we felt we had a great opportunity.”

The difference now, though, is that Green America hopes to harness this same spirit through the potential of what’s known as “regenerative agriculture” ― a way of farming that’s dedicated to enriching the soil while also producing healthful food, with the added benefit of storing carbon in the ground. As the government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment, along with many other scientists, acknowledges, “agriculture is one of the few sectors with the potential for significant increases in carbon sequestration to offset [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

The challenge, however, will be to scale it up. There’s a long way to go before reaching wartime levels, but Green America hopes to more than double the number of climate victory gardens this year to 5,000.

Plants are sprouting at the BLISS Meadows climate victory garden in Baltimore. Healthy soil means more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Atiya Wells)
Plants are sprouting at the BLISS Meadows climate victory garden in Baltimore. Healthy soil means more nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Atiya Wells)

 

The term “regenerative agriculture” was coined in the 1980’s by Robert Rodale, son of the man who applied the term “organic” to food. The most important idea behind regenerative farming (or “carbon farming”) is soil health. This means relying far less on fertilizers and chemicals and focusing more on methods like planting cover crops, applying compost to build up nutrients in the soil and make it more fertile, and not tilling.

Tilling ― breaking up the soil’s surface ― is used to fight weeds and prepare soil for growing. But it reduces the soil’s structural integrity, meaning it won’t hold as much water and will erode more easily ― two qualities of increasing importance as climate change brings extreme weather, such as the devastating floods the Midwest experienced last year.

Tilling also releases carbon that has been locked into the earth throughout the plant’s life cycle. The more carbon-rich the soil becomes, the better plants grow.

Prioritizing soil health is what differentiates climate victory gardens from organic or wildlife gardens, D’Amore said. “Starting from that literally ground-up perspective, we need to make sure that the soil is really healthy to be mindful of what we’re growing,” she said, describing roots as a “whole underground infrastructure” that helps sequester carbon. In practice, this means finding some edible perennial plants with deep roots, such as currant bushes, which her farm will be growing along with other berries.

Meanwhile, cover crops ― like clover, turnips, barley and spinach ― help keep the soil in place and act as a protective blanket in winter.

The Community Ecology Institute in Columbia, Maryland, is growing vegetables with the help of high school students to help tackle climate change. (Photo: Community Ecology Institute)
The Community Ecology Institute in Columbia, Maryland, is growing vegetables with the help of high school students to help tackle climate change. (Photo: Community Ecology Institute)

 

“If a farmer is practicing regenerative agriculture on his or her land, the soil is getting improved over time. It’s going to get healthier,” said Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer at the Rodale Institute, an educational nonprofit that researches and promotes regenerative organic farming. “If the soil is improving, well, then the food that the farmer is producing is going to become more nutrient-dense over time. And if those consuming that food are eating more nutrient-dense food, then they’re going to get healthier over time … and the community’s going to thrive.”

A healthy community is at the heart of BLISS Meadows, a climate victory garden that launched last March in Baltimore. The urban farm is run by Backyard Basecamp, an organization that seeks to connect communities of color with nature.

Its founder and executive director, Atiya Wells, is a pediatric nurse by trade, and her approach is to promote the health benefits of having a local green space and of growing your own food. The community garden is in the process of renovating a vacant home next door to the farm and plans to transform it into a community kitchen that will host cooking classes and tastings, Wells said, “to show people we can eat healthier and it can be delicious.”

But it’s also about community resilience. “When we all think about climate change and what’s going to happen, we know that people who have means can just pick up and go, and the rest of us are going to be here,” Wells said. The BLISS Meadows garden is in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood.

“So this is kind of us really starting things so that when that time comes, we already have a self-sustaining neighborhood where we’re growing food for our neighbors,” she explained, “[and] we’re able to continue to survive.”

A child sits next to a pond filled with wildlife at BLISS Meadows in Baltimore. (Photo: Atiya Wells)
A child sits next to a pond filled with wildlife at BLISS Meadows in Baltimore. (Photo: Atiya Wells)

 

Many who support the regenerative agriculture movement see it as a clear, easy climate win with enormous potential. Some, including Green America, go so far as to claim we can “reverse” climate change by simply changing how we farm.

According to a 40-year trial conducted by the Rodale Institute of growing conventional and regenerative crops side-by-side, adopting regenerative methods brought 40% higher crop yields during drought times, used 45% less energy and produced 40% fewer emissions compared to conventional farming.

However, as David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and author of two books on dirt and soil, told Civil Eats last October, regenerative agriculture should be seen as a “good down-payment on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide” as opposed to a panacea. Claims that it can reverse climate change, he said, are a stretch.

The hope is that climate victory gardens will nudge us toward climate action. But how can something as seemingly small as one person growing tomatoes in their backyard help tackle a problem as immense as agriculture’s effect on climate?

“Everything starts with incremental change,” Semaan said. It begins with reconnecting people to their food and how it got to their plates.

Working with high school students in the Maryland area, the Community Ecology Institute plans to help set up a youth-led program to encourage others to start climate victory gardens throughout the community. “I think our youth get it in a way that many of our leaders and older generations, in general, don’t,” D’Amore said. “They see climate change as the crisis it is. It’s going to impact all our lives, and they want to feel like they can do something that matters.”

Every item grown at home also means one less thing purchased from the store, cutting down on transportation. Even if it’s just a patch of chives, Semaan said, each gardener knows the resources, from water to gas money, that are saved with those plants. “It’s all incremental change,” she said, “and the more people who do it, even if it’s just herbs on a windowsill, the better the planet is for it.”

Tkach agreed. He views the climate victory gardens as a way to “shift people’s consciousness by getting people to just take some kind of action in their own backyards.”

By growing your own food, you have a better understanding of what goes into it, he echoed. “I think as consumers become more attuned to that, it’s going to influence their own decisions,” so people might pay closer attention to food labels that tell you how and where something was grown. “When they go to the grocery store, they’re going to be more adept at [knowing] what to look for.”

Eventually, if enough people are doing this, they can help shift society toward a tipping point, where consumer demand for regenerative farming disrupts the conventional system, Tkach explained.

“I feel like it’s our moment in history. If we could just continue to change the way people eat, it changes everything.”

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HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com.

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Taxpayers Get $3.4 Million Tab So Trump Can Host Super Bowl Party For His Club Members

HuffPost – Sports

Taxpayers Get $3.4 Million Tab So Trump Can Host Super Bowl Party For His Club Members

S.V. Date                 February 2, 2020

Taxpayers shelled out another $3.4 million to send President Donald Trump to Florida this weekend so he could host a Super Bowl party for paying guests at his for-profit golf course.

The president’s official schedule shows him spending two and a half hours Sunday evening at a “Super Bowl LIV watch party” at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Tickets sold for $75 each, but were only available to members of the club — the initiation fee for which reportedly runs about $450,000, with annual dues costing several thousands of dollars more.

“Well, obviously there are no TVs in the White House, so what alternative did he have?” quipped Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen. “He could have saved money by chartering a plane and flying club members to watch the game at the White House.”

In response to a query, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump’s trip and attacked HuffPost: “The premise of your story is ridiculous and false, and just more left-wing media bias on display. The president never stops working, and that includes when he is at the Winter White House.”

Her phrase “Winter White House” refers to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit resort in Palm Beach that is several miles east of the golf course and that doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected in 2016. Trump frequently mingles with guests at social events there.

On Saturday, for example, Trump appeared at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago arranged by the “trumpettes,” a group of his female supporters. The dinner did not appear on the president’s publicly released schedule, and in any case was a campaign event, not an “official” one.

When a pool reporter asked the White House on Saturday what work Trump did over the weekend, the reply was that he had calls and “meetings with staff.” The president did not attend a rally on Saturday for Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States and other governments have recognized as the legitimate president of that country. That rally began while Trump was still at his golf course, and attending it could have made him late for the start of the Trumpettes’ dinner.

Trump promised during his presidential campaign that he would separate himself from his businesses if he won. However, he reneged on that vow, as well as on his promise to release his tax returns.

Protesters hold signs as President Donald Trump's motorcade makes its way to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 20, 2019.  (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images)
Protesters hold signs as President Donald Trump’s motorcade makes its way to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 20, 2019.  (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images)

 

On his most recent financial disclosure form, which was filed last May, Trump claimed he had received $12,325,355 in income from the West Palm Beach golf course over the previous year. It’s unclear how accurate that is, given Trump’s tendency to file widely varying figures to different government authorities.

He told the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in his 2018 financial disclosure, for example, that his Scotland golf courses are worth more than $50 million each, even as he told authorities in the United Kingdom that they had a combined net debt of $65 million.

In any event, money spent at Trump hotels and golf courses flows directly to the president, as he is the sole beneficiary of a trust that now owns his family business. U.S. taxpayers have been the source of at least a few million dollars that have gone to the Trump Organization in the form of hotel rooms, meals and other expenses for Secret Service agents and other government employees who have stayed on-site with Trump in Florida, New Jersey, Scotland and Ireland.

“When Donald Trump announced that he would break decades of precedent and hold onto his business, many were afraid it was to find ways to keep making money on the side of his work as president,” said Jordan Libowitz with the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Turns out the presidency is more like a thing he does on the side to help make money for his business.”

This weekend’s trip to Mar-a-Lago was Trump’s 28th to the property since becoming president. Saturday’s and Sunday’s golf outings at the West Palm Beach club brings his total to 79 days there since taking office and 244 total golf days at properties that he owns.

Taxpayers’ total tab for his golf hobby, meanwhile, climbed to $130.4 million.

That figure and the $3.4 million for each Mar-a-Lago trip are based on a HuffPost analysis that included the costs of Air Force transportation, Coast Guard patrols, Secret Service security and other expenses, as detailed in a January 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office of Trump’s first four visits to Mar-a-Lago in early 2017.

Trump frequently criticized former President Barack Obama for golfing too much and promised during his campaign that he would be too busy to take any vacations at all, let alone play golf. Instead, he is on pace to play more than twice as much golf as Obama did ― at a cost three times that of Obama’s, because he insists on playing so many rounds at his courses in Florida and New Jersey, which require expensive flights on Air Force One. Obama mostly played golf at military bases within a short drive of the White House.

“Trump is and always has been a con man. In 2016, he said that, unlike Obama, he’d never golf and he’d never take personal trips outside the White House,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who is challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. “In addition, Trump is using taxpayer money to personally enrich himself because virtually all of his travel is to Trump properties. That is the swamp Trump pledged to drain. Trump is the swamp.”

Here’s how we’ll pay for Trump’s trillion-dollar deficits

Yahoo – Business

Here’s how we’ll pay for Trump’s trillion-dollar deficits

Rick Newman, Senior Columnist                         
Who will pay for America’s trillion-dollar deficits?

Taxes are going up. Maybe not soon, but the mushrooming national debt will eventually leave Washington no choice but to hike taxes. And the longer we wait, the more it will hurt.

The Congressional Budget Office recently forecast annual federal deficits of more than $1 trillion for 2020, and each of the next 10 years. By 2030, CBO says, the deficit will hit $1.7 trillion. Economists generally think a fiscal deficit of around 3% of GDP is healthy and manageable. U.S. deficits over the next decade will average 4.8% of GDP.

Annual deficits spiked during the Great Recession, when tax receipts plunged and stimulus spending soared. The $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009, at the nadir of the recession, was the worst on record.

Deficits fell sharply as the economy recovered, however, and hit a post-recession low of $442 billion in 2015. Then they ticked up again, mostly because of runaway health spending on Medicare and Medicaid. Then came the Trump tax cuts, which went into effect in 2018.

Those tax cuts pushed corporate tax revenue to the lowest levels ever as a portion of federal revenue. Tax revenue from individuals has gone up slightly, because of economic growth. But it would have gone up more without the Trump tax cuts, or with cuts limited to middle- and lower-income workers, say. The twin effect of depressed federal revenue and health care costs growing faster than the economy are driving those trillion-dollar deficits.

Graphic by David Foster
Graphic by David Foster

 

This isn’t a crisis today, even though some economists thought it would be by now. But widening deficits at this level aren’t sustainable, either, because they’ll crowd out private investment and depress productivity. Growing interest payments on all that debt will leave less and less for highways, airports and everything else taxpayers expect after mandatory health and retirement spending.

Will Americans tolerate the sharp cuts in social programs and defense that are one way to close this gaping budget gap? Eh, maybe, a little, possibly. But tax hikes will be part of the prescription too, and the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project recently published a comprehensive list of the soundest options. Here are five types of tax hikes that would reduce Washington’s indebtedness:

A new inheritance tax. The average tax rate on income is 15.8%. On inherited wealth, it’s just 2.1%. The estate tax is meant to limit the growth of family dynasties and an American aristocracy, but it’s so weak and riddled with loopholes that it barely raises any revenue at all any more. A new inheritance tax would tax wealth received by an heir as normal income. There’d be an exemption threshold, so those subject to the tax would probably be paying at the top rate of 37%. At an exemption threshold of $2.5 million, this tax would raise $34 billion per year, according to the Tax Policy Center. At a lower threshold of $1 million, it would raise $92 billion. That’s a start.

A wealth tax. Policymakers and politicians have gotten interested in wealth taxes because the richest families in America earn most of their money from investing, rather than working. And there are several ways to defer and sharply reduce taxation on investments, which leaves the wealthy paying lower tax rates than ordinary working stiffs. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both favor a wealth tax to fund programs such as free college and government-paid health care.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 26, 2020. (Photo by STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 26, 2020. (Photo by STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP via Getty Images)

 

The Hamilton Project proposes four types of wealth taxes that vary by the type of assets taxed and the exact method of taxation. Starting thresholds range from $8.25 million in net worth to $25 million. But each tax would raise a hefty $300 billion per year or so, and each would cut the estate tax provision that eliminates capital gains taxes on profitable investments passed on to heirs. There’s one crucial catch: Some experts think a wealth tax could be unconstitutional, which basically guarantees a legal challenge.

A value-added tax. This is the mother of all taxes, the quickest way to raise vast sums if ever needed. All developed nations except the United States have a VAT, which is a tax levied at various levels of production for goods and services. Prices typically rise and consumers end up paying much of the tax, but businesses adjust, which helps make this an efficient tax. There would need to be provisions protecting low-income consumers, small businesses and other vulnerable parties. But many other nations have devised proven protections. A 10% VAT would raise around $1 trillion per year and “provide an enormous pool of resources to address social and economic problems,” according to the Hamilton Project report. Some of that money could be spent on economic stimulus programs, to assure rising prices don’t cause a recession.

A financial transaction tax. Sanders and Warren like this tax, too, which would put a fee of 10 basis points, or 0.1%, on trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives. There are concerns about unintended consequences, such as higher costs on ETFs and mutual funds held by mom and pop investors, and a new incentive to move money offshore. So the Hamilton Project recommends a 4-year phase-in period, with the tax starting at 2 basis points and regulators monitoring markets closely for negative repercussions. They could make changes if problems crop up. Hong Kong, France, Italy and the United Kingdom impose similar taxes, with no obvious drawbacks. It could raise $60 billion per year once fully implemented.

Higher corporate taxes. The trick here is to capture more revenue from the corporate sector without driving corporate money overseas or wrecking incentives to do business in the United States. One approach would be to work with other developed countries to establish provisions that make tax rates comparable among nations and prevent the kind of profit shifting corporations have practiced during the last 20 years, to take advantage of low rates in places like Ireland and Luxembourg. Raising the corporate tax rate might work, from the new level of 21% set by the Trump tax cuts to 25%, say, or 28%. But that would have to be paired with other tax incentives for things like new investment and research and development, to assure businesses stayed put in the United States. A well-designed set of corporate tax reforms could raise $110 billion per year, while boosting economic growth by stimulating investment. Makes you wonder what they’re waiting for in Washington.

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” 

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U.S. farm bankruptcies hit an eight-year high

Reuters – Business News

U.S. farm bankruptcies hit an eight-year high: court data

P.J Huffstutter        January 30, 2020

 

              A small rural farm is seen in a field of snow near Nevada, Iowa, U.S., January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farm bankruptcy rates jumped 20% in 2019 – to an eight-year high – as financial woes in the U.S. agricultural economy continued in spite of massive federal bail-out funding, according to federal court data.

According to data released this week by the United States Courts, family farmers filed 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies in 2019, up from 498 filings a year earlier. The data also shows that such filings – known as “family farmer” bankruptcies – have steadily increased every year for the past five years.

Farmers across the nation also have retired or sold their farms because of the financial strains, changing the face of Midwestern towns and concentrating the business in fewer hands.

“I just had a farmer contact me last week, telling me he can’t get financing for his inputs this year and he doesn’t know what to do,” said Charles E. Covey, a bankruptcy attorney based in Peoria, Illinois.

Chapter 12 is a part of the federal bankruptcy code that is designed for family farmers and fishermen to restructure their debts. It was created during the 1980s farm crisis as a simple court procedure to let family farmers keep operating while working out a plan to repay lenders.

The increase in cases had been somewhat expected, bankruptcy experts and agricultural economists said, as farmers face trade battles, ever-mounting farm debt, prolonged low commodity prices, volatile weather patterns and a fatal pig disease that has decimated China’s herd.

Even billions of dollars spent over the past two years in government agricultural assistance has not stemmed the bleeding.

Nearly one-third of projected U.S. net farm income in 2019 came from government aid and taxpayer-subsidized commodity insurance payments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The court data indicates those supports did help prevent a more serious economic fallout, said John Newton, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Some of the biggest bankruptcy rate increases were seen in regions, such as apple growers in the Pacific Northwest, that did not receive much or any of the latest round of trade aid from the Trump administration.

The bankruptcy data “signals that things have not turned around,” said John Newton, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We still have supply and demand uncertainty. If we see prolonged low prices, I wouldn’t expect this trend to slow down.”

Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Dan Grebler

Republican Congressman DESTROYS his own party

Occupy Democrats       January 31, 2020
Republican Congressman DESTROYS his own party
BREAKING: Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh just DESTROYED his own party for bowing to Trump over the constitution. This is a MUST-WATCH!

Republican Congressman DESTROYS his own party

BREAKING: Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh just DESTROYED his own party for bowing to Trump over the constitution. This is a MUST-WATCH!Follow Occupy Democrats for more!

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Friday, January 31, 2020

U.S. factory sector in deepest slump in more than 10 years

Reuters

U.S. factory sector in deepest slump in more than 10 years

Jason Lange and Dan Burns       January 3, 20120

             A production line employee works at the AMES Companies shovel manufacturing factory in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, U.S. on June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Tim Aeppel/File Photo

 

(Reuters) – The U.S. manufacturing sector fell into its deepest slump in more than a decade in December as the U.S.-China trade war kept a lid on factory output, orders and employment, although the long-awaited Phase 1 deal between Washington and Beijing could limit further downside.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity fell to 47.2 last month from 48.1 in November. It was the lowest reading since June 2009 and, coupled with readings for both new orders and factory employment at multi-year lows, thwarted expectations for a leveling off in the pace of decline in a sector buffeted by trade tensions.

A reading below 50 indicates the sector is in contraction, and December’s reading marked the fifth straight month below that benchmark level. Economists polled by Reuters had been looking for an increase to 49.0.

The manufacturing sector had been under pressure for much of the second half of 2019, as tit-for-tat tariffs by the United States and China slowed the flow of goods between the world’s two largest economies and contributed to a cooling in the pace of global economic growth.

Last month, the two sides announced they had reached agreement on a Phase 1 deal, and U.S. President Donald Trump this week said the accord would be signed on Jan. 15 in Washington, and talks to cement a wider Phase 2 deal would begin shortly.

“Global trade remains the most significant cross-industry issue, but there are signs that several industry sectors will improve as a result of the Phase 1 trade agreement,” Timothy Fiore, chair of ISM’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, said in a statement.

In addition to the drag from trade frictions, Boeing Co’s inability to get its 737 Max jetliner back in service may have been a factor, especially in the transportation equipment industry, which was the weakest of the six big industry sectors, according to Fiore. Boeing will cease production of the plane this month until regulators allow it to resume flying in the wake of two crashes, and that could be a headwind in the coming months that may counter improvements arising elsewhere from the trade deal.

While ISM’s overall measure of activity in December was the lowest in more than a decade, Fiore said on balance the contraction remains relatively shallow.

“It’s not super low,” he said on a conference call. “We’re still in that range of slight contraction to slight expansion.”

Typically the index would have to drop below 43 to signal the risk of a wider economic recession. Weakness in the manufacturing sector was one of the concerns that spurred the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut interest rates three times last year, although the central bank appears to be done with lowering borrowing costs for now, with officials like Fed Chair Jerome Powell satisfied the economy is in “a good place.”

CONSTRUCTION SPENDING RISES

Overall, the U.S. economy did appear to be in relatively sound condition near the end of 2019, supported by low unemployment and healthy consumer spending, which accounts for roughly 70% of economic activity.

The housing sector also appears to be contributing to the growth picture after a prolonged run as a drag. In a separate report, the Commerce Department said U.S. construction spending rose more than expected in November and builders also spent more in earlier months than previously estimated.

Construction spending increased 0.6% in November, beating analysts’ consensus forecast of a 0.3% gain. Data for October and September was revised to show increases in spending, a reversal from previous estimates of contractions in spending during those months.

The gain in November was driven by a 1.9% increase in private home-building, an indication the Fed’s rate cuts last year, which drove mortgage rates lower, were boosting the economy.

Meanwhile, several of the largest U.S. automakers on Friday reported another year of stable sales of pickup trucks, fueled by holiday season discounts and lower interest rates on vehicle loans, even as demand for passenger cars fell further.

Analysts expect overall 2019 vehicle sales to fall by about 1% from 2018, but still finish above 17 million vehicles for the fifth consecutive year.

Reporting by Dan Burns and Jason Lange; Editing by Paul Simao