June 26, 2018
Just when things seem too trumped up to trumptinue, #JonStewart tags in with a reminder not to yield to cruelty, fear and divisiveness.
By H. Lee Murphy June 22, 2018
Tom Struzzieri, owner of Hits. Photo by John R. Boehm.
The south suburbs were devastated three years ago when the owners of the troubled Balmoral Park harness track in far south suburban Crete abruptly closed it. Horses had been running there since the mid-1920’s, and with mostly empty farmland surrounding the track, it was hard to imagine any way of reviving its fortunes.
Now, horses are back at Balmoral, though they aren’t hitched to sulky carts. An upstate New York firm called Hits acquired the 200-acre track and surrounding barns out of bankruptcy late in 2016, at a bargain price of less than $3 million, and has repurposed it as one of the nation’s premier horse show venues featuring hunters and jumpers. The dirt track is gone, replaced by 5-foot barriers and a well-mannered audience watching performers clad in the staunchly English tradition of scarlet coats and tan breeches.
The blue-collar town of Crete, population 8,300, is an unlikely backdrop for a sport that formerly was practiced in such wealthy suburbs as Barrington, Oak Brook, Wayne and Wheaton around metro Chicago. But nearly all the competing facilities in those towns have gone out of business, supplanted by the massive scale of Balmoral, which is big enough to house nine show rings, 1,500 horse stalls and a grandstand with seating for 35,000 spectators. By most standards, Balmoral suddenly ranks as the biggest horse show facility anywhere.
Tom Struzzieri, the owner of Hits (formerly Horse Shows in the Sun), has a half-dozen facilities spread between Palm Springs, Calif., and Saugerties, N.Y. Of some 1,700 horse shows in the U.S. every year, Hits stages 70 of them. Of the biggest 100 shows, it owns 40. Struzzieri, who grew up on Long Island with show horses of his own, offers several Grand Prix competitions each year with million-dollar prizes (Balmoral tops out at $500,000, at an event scheduled for August). Nobody else in the U.S. comes close.
“The big prize money attracts the best riders,” says Kevin Price, executive director of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association in Lexington, Ky. “Hits has grown at an impressive rate. Harness tracks have fallen on hard times in a lot of places, and the reuse of Balmoral has been a win-win situation for everybody involved.”
Struzzieri, who poured $10 million of Hits money into Balmoral beyond the purchase price to recondition old barns and erect the rings, says he lost money last year in Crete and will be lucky to break even this year on 13 weeks of summer shows. But the Midwest was starved for top-flight competition—show jumping is centered on the East and West coasts—and his initial search several years ago for a venue had taken him to farms south of Rockford holding scant promise.
“We were in the right place at the right time when Balmoral became available,” Struzzieri says. He’s kept much of the old harness track memorabilia intact, down to the betting windows and posters on the walls, as well as the original finish line, maintained in the middle of the Grand Prix ring. “We wanted an old-time horsey ambiance here,” he explains. “The horses boarding here today can sense the history of the place. It gives them comfort.”
Local performers aren’t complaining. Steve Schaefer, a professional rider who owns a farm in the western Kane County town of Maple Park, competes for prize money nearly every weekend through the summer at Balmoral before moving on to Florida to compete in the winter. “This facility was a fabulous idea,” he says. “There may be no other facility in the country like this. Tom is attracting a strong following.”
Europe was once home to the biggest horse show events each summer, but Hits’ lofty prizes at Balmoral, where 75 are directly employed and $3 million will be offered this year, has managed to attract an international audience. Riders from 15 countries will be in residence in Crete in coming weeks. Gonzalo Estelles, a trainer from Argentina, brought four horses and two riders to Balmoral for the summer. “There isn’t a show-jumping place this nice anywhere in South America,” he says through an interpreter.
Michael Einhorn, Crete’s mayor for 33 years, is hoping to attract hotel and restaurant development to town to cater to the Balmoral visitors. “We have a lot of property here zoned for development and ready to go, but nobody really interested yet,” Einhorn says. He says that a new home hasn’t been built in Crete in over a decade, and the state of Indiana, three miles to the east, has siphoned away development. The CSX railroad has planned a $230 million intermodal center not far from Balmoral on 1,100 acres it acquired in 2007, but it is under review by CSX.
“As it is, the arrival of Hits here was a dream come true for us,” Einhorn says. “It’s one thing dealing with a storefront that goes dark downtown. Without Hits, what were we going to do with that 200-acre racetrack after it closed?”
Hits is hoping only for more spectators and sponsors now. Advertisements come from boot-makers and equine feed companies like Purina, but not the national names such as BMW that management covets. Hardly anybody bothers to watch classes on weekdays, while crowds on the busiest weekends top out at 5,000 or so (tickets are $5 on Saturdays; skyboxes in the covered grandstands can be rented). Hits also charges weekly rent to house the horses and an entry fee into every class they run; concessions and gifts offer another revenue stream.
Horse jumping, unique as the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete directly against each other, is an elite endeavor that may never appeal to the masses. “Even so, we have got to do more to market the sport,” Struzzieri says. “We can get much bigger here.”
Photo by John R. Boehm
Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng June 28, 2018
On May 18, a top aide to Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt testified to a congressional committee that she had been tasked with procuring her boss a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Just days after news of that testimony broke, the aide, Pruitt’s now former director of scheduling Millan Hupp, submitted her resignation.
But even though Hupp was gone from the agency, Pruitt wasn’t done with her.
According to three sources familiar with the conversations, Pruitt was livid over Hupp’s testimony, which he felt had been particularly humiliating. And he personally reached out to allies in the conservative movement, including some at the influential legal group the Federalist Society, to insist that she had lied about, or at least misunderstood, the request for a used Trump mattress. He also stressed that Hupp could not be trusted—the implication being that she should not be hired at their institutions.
It was an aggressive move by a besieged, scandal-prone Cabinet member against a young staffer—one who worked on Pruitt’s attorney general campaign in Oklahoma, followed him to Washington, and by all accounts had been one of his most loyal aides at the EPA.
But it also showed a side of the EPA chief that top advisers say is not always readily apparent to the public. Though Pruitt demands loyalty among those in his inner circle, he has not reciprocated it to his aides, even as they face a legal and public-relations backlash stemming from his conduct at the agency. Sources say he’s actively undermined the reputations of former and current staffers, with campaigns that former senior EPA officials have described as “ratfucking.”
The targets aren’t just ex-schedulers either.
For months, Pruitt and top aides have suspected Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff, of leaking damaging details about the administrator’s travel and spending habits to the press. Sources say Pruitt led the charge to push back against his former senior aide. And he did so by tasking communications aides with leaking damaging information about Chmielewski’s alleged misconduct at EPA, including supposed unannounced vacations and shoddy timecard practices. Chmielewski has accused Pruitt of retaliation, a charge that is now under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel.
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Knowledgeable sources also told The Daily Beast that Pruitt instructed staff to pitch “oppo hits” to media outlets on other officials who departed on bad terms or were sidelined. The targets include David Schnare, a former member of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team, and career official John Reeder, who Pruitt would privately call a “communist,” according to two people familiar with Pruitt’s complaints and thinking.
Pruitt’s vindictiveness doesn’t put him out of place within the administration. In many respects, it reflects some of the trademark impulses of his boss, Donald J. Trump. But for staff, the episodes have proven exhausting and demoralizing.
Hupp, for her part, was legally obligated to tell investigators the truth about seeking a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel. And as Pruitt faces a mounting number of investigations into his conduct and spending at the agency, other aides are now finding themselves facing their own inquiries, with little assistance from their EPA boss.
Pruitt set up a legal defense fund this year to deal with those inquiries. But sources say he has not offered to use the fund to assist current and former aides with their own considerable legal expenses. Nor, according to sources, has he offered apologies or expressed remorse to those aides for their ongoing legal and personal woes. The mounting financial difficulties that some of those aides face has fueled distress even among those who consider themselves loyal foot soldiers for Pruitt.
Cleta Mitchell, the attorney overseeing the Pruitt legal defense fund, did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked for comment, an EPA spokesperson referred The Daily Beast to Pruitt’s comments before a House committee in May. “I am not afraid to admit that there has been a learning process and when Congress or independent bodies of oversight find fault in our decision-making I want to correct that and ensure that it does not happen again,” Pruitt said at the time. “Ultimately, as the administrator of the EPA, the responsibility for identifying and making changes necessary rests with me and no one else.”
Olivia Rosane June 28, 2018
Cement Creek at Silverton, CO. The region downstream from the Gold King Mine has been an area of extensive USGS water quality research. U.S. Geological Survey
In a memo dated June 26 but released June 27, Pruitt asked the EPA’s Office of Water and Regional Administrators to draft a proposal that would restrict the agency’s ability to revoke permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) allowing projects to dispose of dredged or fill material in rivers, streams and other waterways, The Hill reported.
“Today, I am directing the Office of Water to take another step toward returning the agency to its core mission and providing regulatory certainty,” Pruitt wrote in the full text of the memo.
If the new proposal becomes policy, it would be the biggest change to how the EPA handles the dredging and filling of streams and waterways under the Clean Water Act in 40 years, according to The Hill.
Specifically, the proposal would block the EPA from preemptively blocking a permit to discharge materials in waterways before the USACE has issued one or revoking a permit issued by the USACE after the fact. It would also require that regional administrators get approval from EPA headquarters before vetoing a permit and that they listen to comments from the public before doing so.
Once a formal draft is ready, the public will have a chance to comment on Pruitt’s proposed change, and opponents can attempt to block it in court, according to The Hill.
Former EPA staffer of the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Kyla Bennett told The Associated Press that the move would rob the EPA of one of its few means of protecting waterways from mining and other industry.
Instead of protecting waterways, Pruitt’s policy change would help those “he’s always concerned with: oil and gas and mining,” Bennett said. “His buddies who make money.”
Indeed, Pruitt justified the change as simplifying the permit process for businesses.
“This long-overdue update to the regulations has the promise of increasing certainty for landowners, investors, businesses and entrepreneurs to make investment decisions while preserving the EPA’s authority to restrict discharges of dredge or fill material that will have an unacceptable adverse effect on water supplies, recreation, fisheries and wildlife,” Pruitt wrote.
In practice, the EPA has rarely vetoed permits either retroactively or preemptively, though Republicans and industry have argued against their ability to do so. That ability was affirmed in a 2014 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Pruitt’s memo cited a case in which the EPA suggested it would use its veto power, under Obama, to preemptively block a permit for the pending Pebble Mine in Alaska after concerns from conservationists and Native American groups that it would harm salmon fisheries and wetlands, according to The Associated Press.
Pruitt started a process to reverse that preemptive decision, but in a surprise move, kept it in place following public outcry.
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Posted by John Bolenbaugh WhistleBlower on Thursday, June 28, 2018
June 25, 2018
Donald Trump’s suggestion that we deport undocumented immigrants without due process might as well have been an insult-loaded Twitter attack against the @FoundingFathers
Donald Trump’s suggestion that we deport undocumented immigrants without due process might as well have been an insult-loaded Twitter attack against the @FoundingFathers
Posted by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday, June 25, 2018
By Joe Concha June 27, 2018
Former GOP presidential campaign manager Steve Schmidt said Wednesday that “Democrats should dig in hard” and “do everything they conceivably can do to block” President Trump‘s Supreme Court nomination.
“And for the fabric of our democracy, Democrats should dig in hard here and do everything they conceivably can do to block this nomination, any nomination from going forward until after we see what happens in the midterm election,” Schmidt said in a phone interview on MSNBC, where he serves as a political analyst.
Schmidt, who previously worked for Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign, has been one of Trump’s harshest critics on the network. He announced this month he would leave the Republican party and start voting for Democrats.
Schmidt’s comments come after Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced their intention to vote on the president’s selection to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy in the fall, prompting widespread criticism from Democrats and setting up what promises to be a highly contentious confirmation process.
“Mitch McConnell has, as much as anyone, done great damage to the United States Senate as an institution that was once known as the world’s greatest deliberative body,” said Schmidt on MSNBC.
“They stole a Supreme Court seat from the Democrats,” he continued.
Democrats have argued that McConnell, who stalled a vote on former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016, should wait until after the midterms for a confirmation vote on Trump’s forthcoming nominee.
“Millions of people are just months away [in the November midterm elections] from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president’s nominee and their voices deserve to be heard,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said on the Senate floor, adding that “anything by that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy.”
Schmidt also made the argument that the president and Republicans are actually in the minority because Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million, thereby in his view allowing “a minority that is ruling the majority of the country who are opposed to this president.”
“This is also, and I think it is important to point out, a president who is increasingly lawless, who asserts himself to be above the law, who attacks constantly fundamental institutions and pillars in the middle of a criminal investigation that has moved closer and closer and closer to the Oval Office,” Schmidt added.
“The reality is, you have Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million. He won by 78,000 votes across three states,” Schmidt said. “And the Republicans control all three branches of government, the legislative and by Republican nominees on the Supreme Court.”
“So, we have a minority that is ruling the majority of the country who are opposed to this president, and that is extremely unhealthy in a democracy,” he said.
Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in January 2017 shortly after taking office.
Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017 by a 54-45 vote, mostly along party lines, with just three Democrats breaking ranks.
Kennedy, who was nominated by President Reagan in 1988, will officially retire on July 31.
By Niraj Chokshi June 20, 2018
Steve Schmidt served as a top campaign adviser to George W. Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Credit: Max Whittaker for The New York Times
For months, Steve Schmidt, a longtime Republican strategist, has warned about the degradation of his party, saying the Trump administration is responsible for a “coarsening of this country” and calling the president a “useful idiot” for Russia.
Now, Mr. Schmidt says he’s done: On Wednesday morning, he renounced his membership in the Republican Party, nearly three decades after joining it, and called for a Democratic wave in the midterm elections this fall.
Steve Schmidt: 29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of The Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life. Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.
In a series of tweets, Mr. Schmidt, who served as a top campaign adviser to George W. Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008, said that the party he long served had become “corrupt, indecent and immoral.” He pointed to the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents when apprehended at the border, saying it had resulted in “internment camps for babies.”
“This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of humanity in our history,” Mr. Schmidt said, reflecting the larger outpouring of anger over the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which has included immigrants seeking asylum.
“It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families,” Mr. Schmidt said. “It is immoral and must be repudiated.”
He also accused several officials of being “complicit” in enabling the president’s policies, including Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security; Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader; and Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
Save for a few governors, Mr. Schmidt said, the Republican Party is now filled with “feckless cowards.” He said that the few who deserved to be spared that label included Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland and John Kasich of Ohio.
As a result, Mr. Schmidt called for a Democratic wave in the midterms, describing that party as the only one remaining “that stands for what is right and decent.”
“The first step to a season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities,” Mr. Schmidt wrote. “I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda. I say it as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency.”
Mr. Schmidt’s announcement was met with mixed emotions by liberals on social media, with some welcoming it and others suggesting the announcement was too little, too late. Some conservatives also scoffed at the defection.
While his decision to renounce his membership in the Republican Party stands out, Mr. Schmidt is far from alone in rebuking his party’s leadership. Other prominent Republicans, such as Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, have been fiercely critical of President Trump and his policies — but have mostly continued to vote in line with Mr. Trump’s positions.
Leo W. Gerard, HuffPost Opinion June 27, 2018
The radical conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court have twice now in two months ganged up on working Americans, denying them their right to band together to achieve mutual goals.
Last month, the extremist court majority sided with big business to deprive workers of the right to sue collectively in class actions to redress violations like wage theft. This time, the same majority ruled against workers who organize themselves into unions, divesting public sector union members of the right to collect fair share fees from co-workers who don’t join but do receive all the benefits of union-negotiated contracts.
This is regression for the nation’s workers. In lockstep with the Trump administration and congressional conservatives, the high court’s right-wingers are shoving workers back to an earlier era, a time when corporations held all of the power and when workers, in what was supposed to be a free society, were in fact denied liberty.
Ideally, in the country that fought a war to rid itself of royal overlords, workers have the freedom to change jobs, even professions, to move across the country for better opportunities, to unite with co-workers, and to bargain collectively with corporations for better pay and benefits for the whole group.
But when money, and the power it spawns, are concentrated in the hands of a few, as it was with British royalty, these liberties are stripped from the majority. Indebtedness forecloses options to the ill-paid. The radical conservative cell on the Supreme Court is denying workers the tools that are vital for improving pay.
Labor unions are one of those tools.
Not that long ago, workers in this country were damned. Vast numbers were trapped. And so were their children and grandchildren. They had no way to achieve the liberty promised by their democracy. That is because they barely subsisted as wage slaves.
This included coal miners and textile workers and sharecroppers who lived in company-owned hovels and received company scrip, not U.S. currency, as pay. Though they worked 12-hour days, six days a week, they could never get ahead as owners raised rents and fees in the company store. Somehow, the sweat of their brow left them swamped in debt.
For coal miners, the change agent was the United Mine Workers of America. Instead of individuals pleading with wealthy coal field barons for a better wage, the workers banded together under the UMWA banner and collectively sought more pay. If owners still refused, the workers, together as a unit, could shut down the mine until owners relented. And they did.
No individual has that clout. Only the group does. The wealthy mine owners objected to workers realizing and wielding this power, of course, and did everything they could to outlaw and destroy labor unions.
During Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term, a Democratic Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act to provide a clear legal pathway to collective bargaining. Union membership increased dramatically for the next 25 years until approximately 30 percent of all workers were members. During this time, workers’ wages rose in tandem with productivity. America’s great middle class was born and thrived.
By contrast, as the percentage of American workers represented by labor unions declined over the past 40 years, workers’ wages stagnated, even as productivity rose. Even though more public sector workers gained the right to unionize in the late 1950s, union density overall declined steadily after 1960.
Union representation shrank as legislation, regulation and Supreme Court decisions like the one issued Wednesday made collective bargaining increasingly difficult.
As soon as Republicans took over Congress in 1946, they moved to restrict workers’ bargaining rights, passing the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. Still, the rate of union membership continued to rise until 1960, after which it declined steadily to 10.7 percent last year. Even with those small numbers, union workers continue to earn about 20 percent more than those who don’t collectively bargain.
The high court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, could eviscerate public sector unions ― those representing government workers such as teachers, firemen and pollution monitors. Government workers are significantly more likely to be represented by unions than are private sector workers. And, of course, union extinction is the intent of both the right-wing organizations that bankrolled Janus and the right-wing jurists who decided it.
Unions must represent every worker within a unit. So, for example, the American Federation of Teachers is obliged to serve every educator in a school district, seeking better wages and working conditions for the entire group, filing grievances and hiring lawyers to pursue those cases even for instructors who choose not to join the AFT.
Union extinction is the intent of both the right-wing organizations that bankrolled Janus and the right-wing jurists who decided it.
Until now, in 22 states with legislation supporting workers’ rights, unions could charge nonmembers fair share fees ― amounts lower than dues ― to cover the costs of bargaining for them. In the Janus ruling, the Supreme Court’s conservatives said it was unlawful to collect those fees for public sector unions without the worker giving explicit consent. The upshot is this: The court’s radical conservatives have ordered union members to pay for services for nonmembers.
Such a system is sustainable only if the vast majority of workers in a unit choose not to shirk responsibility to the group. The union I lead, the United Steelworkers does have viable local unions in states that even before the Janus decision prohibited fair share fees.
But the union-hating conservative groups behind the Janus case have already launched a massive campaign to persuade public sector union members to quit and get free union services. This is destruction by subtraction. Backed by billionaires, these groups have the luxury of big bucks and unlimited time to pick off members, one by one, until a tipping point when the local union no longer has sufficient income to provide decent service and collapses.
Then, of course, no one gets services. No one will file a grievance for the teacher’s aide ordered by a principal to work an extra hour each day without pay. No one will conduct research and collectively bargain a labor agreement that will provide these highly educated professionals with decent pay and benefits. Compensation will fall. Fewer talented young people will choose teaching as a profession. The nation’s public schoolchildren will suffer.
And the rich will pay less in taxes. That’s exactly what radical right-wingers demand: less government, less taxes. Schoolchildren be damned! And their non-rich parents too.
Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union.