Trump’s climate conundrum nears a verdict

Politico Energy and Environment

Trump’s climate conundrum nears a verdict

U.S. allies say they’re mystified about the president’s intentions for the 2015 Paris agreement — though some aides believe he’ll withdraw.

By Andrew Restuccia   05/30/2017

Donald Trump’s advisers have sent wildly different messages to U.S. allies about the president’s willingness to remain in the Paris climate agreement — adding to the confusion as he appears set to render a verdict this week.

Shortly before the G-7 summit in Italy last week, U.S. officials had private conversations with foreign diplomats that seemed to suggest Trump was open to staying in the landmark 2015 pact, two people briefed on the discussions told POLITICO. But then, to their frustration, the U.S. backed away, instead becoming the lone holdout from a declaration expressing “strong commitment” to the agreement.

The administration’s public statements have been no less mixed. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who supports staying in the agreement, told reporters last week that Trump’s “views are evolving.” But allies of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who wants the U.S. to leave, made it known that Trump privately agrees with them. Administration officials on both sides of the issue are increasingly convinced that he will withdraw, though they stressed late Tuesday that the decision is not yet final.

For all the mystery, though, Trump has only a few main options for dealing with the nonbinding climate deal, one of former President Barack Obama’s proudest diplomatic achievements.

He can stick with the deal, while unwinding most of Obama’s climate policies and pledges for reducing greenhouse gas pollution. He can use the threat of leaving to push other countries for concessions that benefit U.S. fossil fuels. He can even try to renegotiate the agreement — highly implausible, given that nearly 200 governments took part in crafting it.

Or he can do nothing.

This is POLITICO’s breakdown of the possibilities:

Withdraw

Trump vowed during the presidential campaign to “cancel” the Paris agreement, portraying it as a threat to U.S. jobs and energy production, and conservatives are convinced he’ll make good on that promise.

Pruitt and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon have emerged in recent months as the administration’s biggest opponents of the Paris agreement, and both men have made their case for withdrawal directly to Trump.

Pruitt and Trump discussed the issue again on Tuesday, a possible indication that he’s preparing to withdraw. Sources confirmed that Trump indicated in recent conversations with Pruitt that he was leaning toward pulling out of the agreement, as Axios reported last weekend.

But the climate discussions at the G-7, paired with a lobbying campaign from Pope Francis and other leaders, could have changed Trump’s mind. Other U.S. officials were convinced as recently as last week that Trump would remain in Paris.

Others are just uncertain. “I’ve stopped trying to figure it out,” said one longtime climate negotiator.

A withdrawal would strain U.S. relations with countries in Europe and elsewhere, and it could destabilize the foundation of the Paris deal. Such considerations have helped persuade even Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to support staying — as well as GOP lawmakers like North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, an energy adviser to the president.

If Trump decides to pull out, though, the text of the deal would prevent a U.S. exit from formally taking effect until at least Nov. 4, 2020 — a little over two months before the end of his first term. But Trump’s public disavowal of the pact would certainly have an immediate impact on the global effort to tackle climate change.

In addition, Trump would have one speedier option for pulling out: He could withdraw the U.S. from the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty that undergirds the entire regime of international climate negotiations. According to the Paris text: “Any party that withdraws from the convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this agreement.”

Remain, but win concessions

Administration officials who support remaining in the agreement have been working for months to try to flesh out a middle ground.

One option that has won support from some White House aides: weakening Obama’s pledges for cutting U.S. carbon emissions, and persuading world leaders to offer greater support for technologies to reduce pollution from fossil fuels like coal.

The first part is entirely within Trump’s power: Obama’s pledges were nonbinding, and the current administration would be free to substitute its own, less-ambitious promises if it chooses to — even as Trump seeks to undo Obama’s domestic climate regulations and slash EPA’s budget. Winning concessions from other countries would require some high-stakes dealmaking, however.

Before the summit in Italy, U.S. officials discussed those options with representatives from other G-7 countries, in conversations that gave diplomats hope that Trump was open to staying in the agreement if he could be reassured the U.S. has flexibility, according to two people briefed on the issue. But the U.S. ultimately backed away from pro-Paris language in the G-7’s closing joint communique, breaking with the six other countries that participated in the meeting.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry attempted a similar gambit during an April meeting of G-7 energy ministers in April. But the other countries rebuffed his attempt to place stronger pro-coal, pro-nuclear language into a proposed joint statement on energy policy, which wound up being scuttled.

If Trump decides to remain in the agreement, he’d probably cast the decision as a sign of his dealmaking prowess, and a wholesale repudiation of Obama’s climate pledge.

But it comes with political risks: Conservative groups would probably bash Trump if he decides to stay in the Paris deal, even if many people who voted for him probably don’t view the issue as a top priority.

Renegotiate the agreement — but that’s unlikely

Some in Trump’s orbit have urged the president to renegotiate the agreement, an option that is seen as all but impossible among international climate negotiators.

The 2015 Paris talks were the culmination of years of preparations, and it’s unlikely that Trump could persuade negotiators from nearly 200 nations to reopen the underlying text.

Some closely tracking the issue suspect that “renegotiate” is just shorthand for ensuring that the U.S. gets a better deal in future discussions arising from Paris. That could be accomplished through bilateral and multilateral negotiations with individual countries, or by influencing the discussions at subsequent climate conferences over how to implement the agreement.

Do nothing

Trump could also delay a decision for months or even years, avoiding the political fallout of withdrawing or remaining.

Instead of issuing a firm verdict this week, the president could announce he’ll tentatively remain in the agreement, but continue to review his options and reserve the right to withdraw at a future date.

Some who follow the issue think that could be his most politically savvy option.

“What good does it do to announce your intention to leave 2 ½ years early?” asked one longtime climate negotiator. “You’ve given up all your leverage.”

Trump’s tantrum over leaks comes with a surprise ending

The Rachel Maddow Show / The Maddow Blog

Trump’s tantrum over leaks comes with a surprise ending

By Steve Benen May 30, 2017

During his trip abroad, the volume of Donald Trump’s tweets slowed down considerably – he was almost certainly watching a lot less television – and some wondered whether the president might be turning over a new leaf, adopting a more disciplined communications posture.

Indeed, some of this may have been involuntary. The Wall Street Journal reported that “a team of lawyers” may soon review the president’s social-media missives as Trump World grapples with the Russia scandal.

But we were quickly reminded that Trump is not easily changed. Over the weekend, in a series of tweets, the president renewed his interest in leaks emanating from his administration:

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media. Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names, it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”

It’s always entertaining when one example of presidential whining can be wrong in so many ways simultaneously.

  1. The news is either leaked from the White House or it’s made up by the media, but it can’t be both. Words still have meaning and if Trump is confused about what a “leak” is, I’m sure someone on his staff can explain it to him (and then run to reporters to share the anecdote).
  2. Team Trump routinely holds briefings with reporters in which officials are, at the White House’s insistence, not to be identified by name. In this sense, the president is condemning his own team’s communications strategy.
  3. Given the fact that Trump recently leaked highly sensitive, classified information to Russian officials, perhaps he should steer clear of complaining about leaks for a while.

But as it turns out, this is a story with a twist ending.

This morning, Trump used Twitter to promote a Fox News piece that said Jared Kushner did not recommend a secret Russian communications channel during the presidential transition process, contradicting the Washington Post’s reporting. Fox’s report is based on an unnamed White House source, and the piece itself didn’t even include a byline – suggesting no one at the controversial network wanted to be directly associated with the piece.

We’re left with a disjointed picture: Trump hates leaks, except the ones that say what he likes to hear. Trump wants Americans to discount news reports based on unnamed sources, except when those reports are published by his allies and reinforce his preferred narrative.

Presidential whining is unbecoming on its face, but incoherent and contradictory whining is that much more difficult to take seriously.

Trump ‘Knows Republicans Are Stupid,’ Jared Kushner Allegedly Said to Former Editor

Newsweek Politics

Trump ‘Knows Republicans Are Stupid,’ Jared Kushner Allegedly Said to Former Editor

Greg Price,   Newsweek May 30, 2017

One of the strategies Donald Trump employed as he began putting his name on the U.S. political map years ago was championing “birtherism,” the long-held conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was born outside of the U.S. and hence should never have been elected. He often chastised Obama and demanded the president produce his birth certificate, revving up an anti-Obama base that eventually helped put Trump in the White House.

Evidently, Trump may have been using the so-called birthers only as a means to an end.

His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is also a senior adviser to the president, allegedly told a former editor of the newspaper he once owned that the billionaire real-estate mogul didn’t believe his own “birtherism” claims, and only made them to charge up Republicans because they are “stupid,” GQ reported.

During a discussion on how to cover Trump, the former New York Observer editor, Elizabeth Spiers, claimed she told Kushner that she had serious problems with Trump’s repeated claims that Obama was not born in the U.S., to which Kushner allegedly told her: “He doesn’t really believe it, Elizabeth. He just knows Republicans are stupid and they’ll buy it.”

Spiers told her Kushner anecdote in response to a question from a conservative blogger on Facebook, and then screenshotted the response and put it up on Twitter.

From early 2011 to late 2012, Spiers served as the Observer’s editor-in-chief and as editorial director of Observer Media Group, according to her LinkedIn profile, and also helped found the since-vanished website Gawker in 2002. Kushner bought the newspaper for $10 million in 2006, and in November discontinued its print edition. Kushner stepped down as the paper’s publisher in January.

If Spiers’s story is true, Kushner once again finds himself at the heart of a troubling story. For the last several days, the 35-year-old’s contacts and meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, and a Russian banker during the Trump campaign’s transition to the White House have come under the scrutiny of federal intelligence agencies. Kushner was supposedly attempting to set up a back-channel for communication directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, Kushner is reportedly not being directly investigated himself, and those close to him have said he’s likely to offer congressional testimony.

Trump is known to value loyalty and to protect his family members or anyone within his inner circle, and he has defended Kushner. On Tuesday morning, Trump retweeted a Fox News story posted by Fox & Friends that cited an unnamed source who said Kushner was not trying to set up a direct line to Putin.

The use of a story citing unnamed sources directly contradicted an earlier tweet-storm by the president, who said such stories were made up or “fake news.”

Grandmother Who Lost Her Home Because Her Son Sold Marijuana Wins Pennsylvania Supreme Court Case

Forbes

Grandmother Who Lost Her Home Because Her Son Sold Marijuana Wins Pennsylvania Supreme Court Case

Institute for Justice

The national law firm for liberty.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Nick Sibilla, Contributor May 30, 2017

Without ever being charged with a crime, a West Philadelphia grandmother had her home and her car confiscated because her son sold less than $200 worth of marijuana. Elizabeth Young, now 72, is just one of thousands of victims of civil forfeiture, which allows police and prosecutors to confiscate property, even if the owner has not been convicted or accused of any wrongdoing.

But on Thursday, more than seven years after her legal nightmare began, Young scored a major victory at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In a meticulous and unanimous decision, the court rejected the government’s confiscation, and issued more stringent safeguards for property owners. Writing for the court, Justice Debra Todd held that this ruling would ensure that “innocent property owners are not dispossessed of what may be essential possessions…without rigorous scrutiny by the courts.”

Property owners desperately needed greater protections, especially in Philadelphia, where law enforcement has confiscated over 1,000 homes, more than 3,000 vehicles and $44 million in cash over 11 years. Thanks in part to a separate, class action-lawsuit by the Institute for Justice (which also filed an amicus brief for Young’s case), Philadelphia’s “forfeiture machine” has become notorious nationwide for its abuses, and has even been showcased on CNN and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Young’s case began in 2009 after she allowed her adult son, Donald Graham, and his children to live with her, but only after Graham claimed he no longer used drugs. Previously, when Young learned Graham was using, she refused to speak to him and shunned her son entirely. With her son back in her life, Young relied on Graham for assistance, who drove his mother to church, to run errands and to meet appointments. (Young has been hospitalized for two blood clots in her lungs.)

But unbeknownst to Young, Graham was a small-time dealer. Beginning in November 2009, Philadelphia police conducted seven controlled buys with confidential informants against Graham. That effective use of taxpayer’s money netted just 19 grams of marijuana, with an estimated street value of around $190.

In January 2010, police arrested Graham, who later pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. Graham was sentenced to 11 to 23 months of house arrest, and faced no fine. But the even bigger penalty was to come.

Prosecutors filed petitions to forfeit Young’s car, a 1997 Chevrolet Venture minivan, and her home, where she had lived since the 1970s. Incredibly, Young was never charged with a crime. Instead, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania argued that her house and car must be confiscated because they “facilitated” Graham’s drug sales, which happened inside or around the minivan and house.

Young argued that she was an “innocent owner” under Pennsylvania law, because she did not know of or consent to her son’s illegal activity. She also claimed that the forfeiture was an unconstitutional “excessive fine” because she would lose her car and $54,000 house over a crime for which her son paid no fine.

Unfortunately for her, a Philadelphia trial court rejected both of her claims in May 2012, and ordered her to forfeit her residence and primary mode of transportation. The trial court claimed Young had turned “a blind eye to her son’s illegal conduct on the property”—despite evidence to the contrary—and reasoned that the forfeiture was “not grossly disproportional” because Graham could have theoretically faced $80,000 in criminal penalties, even though he wasn’t actually fined.

On appeal, a divided Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of Young in December 2014, prompting an appeal by prosecutors, before her case reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court’s decision primarily involved the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “excessive fines,” with Justice Todd clarifying the standard for determining when forfeitures would be unconstitutional.

First, the property must be “an instrumentality of the criminal conduct” to be forfeited. That designation depends on a variety of factors, including if the property was used deliberately and repeatedly, and not incidentally, and was “integral to the commission of the offense.”

Second, even if a property were an instrumentality, the forfeiture may still be unconstitutional if “the value of the property sought to be forfeited is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the underlying offense.”

For this prong, the court relied on a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In United States v. Bajakajian, the Court ruled that it “would be grossly disproportional to the offense” to force a man to forfeit $357,144 when he pled guilty to a crime that triggered a maximum $5,000 fine.

Although Bajakajian involved criminal forfeiture, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted that in civil forfeiture cases, “the owner of the property and the offender may not be the same” and so “we must be wary of forfeiture imposing greater punishment than appropriate for the underlying crime itself.” The court even compared civil forfeiture to a “‘super criminal’ proceeding…without all the safeguards associated with criminal proceedings,” since property owners do not have a right to court-appointed counsel and lack the presumption of innocence.

In other words, courts must evaluate “the potential harshness of a forfeiture against a property owner with no alleged criminal conduct, or minor culpability,” when it comes to claims involving excessive fines.

An owner’s knowledge and culpability, along with the “actual penalty imposed upon the criminal offender” and specific instances of harm, are also key to determine “the gravity of the offense” for this gross disproportionality test. “Even a property owner, while not wholly without knowledge or granting consent,” Justice Todd noted, “may lack full knowledge of criminal activity, or may bear only nominal or token blame for the illegal conduct serving as the foundation for the forfeiture.”

As for determining the value of a seized property, this may extend beyond “simple market value” and include “a subjective non-pecuniary evaluation.” For instance, judges need to consider “whether the forfeiture would deprive the property owner of his or her livelihood, i.e., his current or ‘future ability to earn a living.’” Ever since Magna Carta, many English and later American jurists wanted to spare defendants from “such onerous fines that would deprive one of his or her means of living.” This factor would be particularly helpful to owners in vehicle forfeiture cases, since in this car-centered country, owning a car is crucial for many people to get to work and keep their jobs.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that forfeiture cases involving family residences deserve “rigorous consideration.” As Justice Todd explained, “the home is where one expects the greatest freedom from governmental intrusion; it not only occupies a special place in our law, but the most exacting process is demanded before the government may seize it.”

Moreover, the court addressed the state’s innocent-owner defense. In Pennsylvania, along with more than 30 other states, property owners, and not the government, must bear the burden of proof. Flipping the presumption of innocence straight on its head, owners must prove they did not know or consent to their property being used in connection with criminal activity.

Acknowledging that owners are tasked with a “virtually impossible” burden, Justice Todd ruled that for innocent-owner claims, courts “must recognize the difficult burden on a property owner to establish a negative—that he or she had no knowledge or gave no consent.”

After this “exacting review” of civil forfeiture, Justice Todd remanded the case, but not before rebuking the trial court:

…the court did not address [Young’s] past dealings with her son when she discovered drug usage; her contention that she did not see any drugs in her home or van; her explanation that she only allowed her son to return home due to her belief that he had stopped using illegal drugs; her assertions that, if she had found drugs in her home, she would have evicted her son; that no neighbors or the block captain reported knowledge of drug dealing from the home or problems with [Young’s] son; that she requested from police some proof that her son was selling drugs, but that no proof was ever proffered; and the failure of the police to arrest her son after executing a search warrant on the home in November 2009. All of these circumstances should have been accounted for and considered by the trial court in rendering its decision. Furthermore, the prospect of evicting [Young’s] son needed to be contemplated in the context of an elderly widow with serious health challenges who relied upon her son for living assistance. The trial court should have considered what was reasonable under these circumstances.

With a more robust standard in place, property owners throughout Pennsylvania will be better protected against the grasping hand of the government.  Young, for one, is “glad” her case is finally coming to a close. “I never did anything wrong and I have been out of my house long enough,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“This is one of the most important civil forfeiture decisions issued by a court and the most important ever issued in Pennsylvania,” said Jason Leckerman, a Partner at Ballard Spahr, which handled the case. “The court has set forth a comprehensive constitutional framework for analyzing forfeiture claims that should substantially curb forfeiture proceedings in Pennsylvania and is likely to influence other state courts considering these issues.”

Follow the Institute for Justice on Facebook and Twitter.

To many Americans, Memorial Day has lost its meaning

ABC News

To many Americans, Memorial Day has lost its meaning

By Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press  May 28, 2017

ANNVILLE, Pa. — While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer, some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors the nation’s war dead would command more respect. Allison Jaslow heard it more than once as the long holiday weekend approached — a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day!” from oblivious well-wishers.

The former Army captain and Iraq War veteran had a ready reply, telling them, matter-of-factly, that she considered it a work weekend. Jaslow will be at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. She’ll then visit Section 60, the final resting place of many service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You can see it in people’s faces that they’re a little horrified that they forget this is what the day’s about,” said Jaslow, 34, who wears a bracelet bearing the name of a fallen comrade. “Culturally, we’ve kind of lost sight of what the day’s supposed to mean.”

While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer — think beaches and backyard barbecues, mattress sales and sporting events — some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors more than 1 million people who died serving their country would command more respect.

Or at least awareness.

“It’s a fun holiday for people: ‘Let’s party.’ It’s an extra day off from work,” said Carol Resh, 61, whose son, Army Capt. Mark Resh, was killed in Iraq a decade ago. “It’s not that they’re doing it out of malice. It just hasn’t affected them.”

Veterans groups say a growing military-civilian disconnect contributes to a feeling that Memorial Day has been overshadowed. More than 12 percent of the U.S. population served in the armed forces during World War II. That’s down to less than one-half of a percent today, guaranteeing more Americans aren’t personally acquainted with a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

With an all-voluntary military, shared sacrifice is largely a thing of the past — even as U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 16 years after 9/11.

“There are a lot of things working against this particular holiday,” said Brian Duffy, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“It hurts,” Duffy said. For combat veterans and Gold Star families especially, “it hurts that, as a society, we don’t truly understand and appreciate what the true meaning of Memorial Day is.”

Jaslow’s group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is trying to raise awareness with its #GoSilent campaign, which encourages Americans to pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. Monday to remember the nation’s war dead.

Of course, plenty of Americans already observe the holiday. At Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia, fresh flowers mark hundreds of graves, and fields of newly erected American flags flap in the breeze. Hundreds of motorcyclists thundered in for a Saturday service. By the end of the weekend, thousands of people will have come to the cemetery to pay their respects.

“This is our Super Bowl,” said Randy Plummer, the cemetery’s administrative officer.

Jim Segletes, 65, a Vietnam-era Marine visiting the grave of his father-in-law, a World War II veteran who died in 2000, said he thinks Americans became more patriotic and aware of military sacrifice after 9/11.

“Everyone is more in tune with veterans, more so than when I was in the service,” he said.

Douglas and Rene Kicklighter, Iraq veterans at the cemetery with their 10- and 12-year-old sons, said they believe most people understand what the holiday’s about. But they, too, cringe when they hear: “Happy Memorial Day.”

“It’s not happy,” said Rene Kicklighter, 37, who retired from the Army National Guard. “It’s somber. I try to flip the lens on the conversation a bit and gently remind them what it’s really about.”

Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was conceived after the Civil War as a way to honor the Union’s war dead, with Southern states setting aside separate days to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. By the early 20th century, the holiday had evolved to honor all military members who died in service.

Some veterans say Memorial Day began to be watered down more than four decades ago when Congress changed the date from its traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May to give people a three-day weekend. Arguing that transformed a solemn day of remembrance into one associated with leisure and recreation, veterans groups have long advocated a return to May 30. For years, the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, asked Congress to change it back, to no avail.

That leaves it to people like Resh, the Gold Star mother, to spread the message.

Invited to speak to high school students in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she said she told them, “What is the true meaning of Memorial Day? Ask any Gold Star family and they’ll tell you what it means. It’s not about the picnics. It’s about the men and women who have given their lives for this country.

“Every day is Memorial Day for us.”

Associated Press

Dems view vets as strong candidates in bid to retake House

Bill Barrow,  Associated Press

Atlanta (AP) — Democrats hope to enlist military veterans in another type of fight — for majority control of the House.

Looking ahead to next year’s elections, Democrats are trying to recruit at least two dozen military veterans to challenge Republican incumbents, arguing that candidates with a military background on their resumes appeal to independent voters and can help the party break the GOP grip on Washington.

“Veterans have had the experience of putting the country first, before personal politics” and party dictates, said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass, who did four tours of duty in Iraq, left the Marines as a captain and was elected to Congress in 2014. That tends “to attract the kind of independent voters who are looking for a good leader,” Moulton added.

Several veterans already have announced their bids in some of the 79 Republican-held House districts that national Democratic Party leaders have identified as top targets.

Decades ago, veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were mainstays in Congress. In 1969-71, 398 veterans served in the House and 69 in the Senate, according to the Congressional Research Service. But the change to an all-volunteer force in 1973 sent those numbers plummeting.

The extended post-Sept. 11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq helped reverse the trend, and now there are 80 veterans in the 435-seat House and 20 veterans in the 100-member Senate.

For Democrats, struggling to return to the majority, military veterans provide potential candidates as the party deals with an electoral wipeout during Barack Obama’s presidency, with the loss of more than 1,030 seats in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and Congress.

Moulton and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq, have spoken to veterans in districts ranging from obvious Democratic targets to places where the path to victory isn’t as obvious.

The party needs to pick up 24 seats to reclaim a House majority next November.

In the Philadelphia suburbs, former Air Force officer Chrissy Houlahan is challenging two-term Republican Rep. Ryan Costello in one of 23 districts where Democrat Hillary Clinton topped Trump in November. Outside Denver, former Army Ranger and combat veteran Jason Crow, a onetime campaign adviser to Obama, is running for the seat held by another veteran, five-term GOP congressman, Mike Coffman.

Both mentioned President Donald Trump as factors in their campaign.

“All the bravado and the wailing and gnashing of teeth isn’t the way we conduct ourselves as professional service members,” Houlahan said of Trump’s rhetoric.

Said Crow: “I’m deeply troubled by President Trump and what he’s trying to do to country and our democracy.”

Dan McCready, a former Marine who attended Harvard Business School alongside Moulton, steered clear of Trump as he announced his bid to win the more Republican-leaning North Carolina district of three-term Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger.

But all three candidates, along with Moulton, agreed that veterans offer voters an approach rarely taken on Capitol Hill.

“We know what it’s like to serve the country in non-political ways, and we’re standing up to say that the system is broken,” said Crow. He added that any military unit brings together “Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated, every different background, every part of the country, urban rural, every rung of the economic ladder, and they have to come together very quickly … or the mission fails.”

Democratic veterans have run notable campaigns in recent years.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a West Point graduate and former Ranger, emphasized his record to attract enough voters in a conservative state. In Missouri last year, former Army intelligence officer Jason Kander drew national attention for his U.S. Senate campaign ad in which he assembled an AR-15 rifle while blindfolded. He lost by 3 percentage points, but got 230,000 more votes than Clinton, who lost the state by 18 points.

Seth Lynn, who runs the nonpartisan Veterans Campaign, an organization that trains veterans running for office, says research suggests veterans running against a non-veteran get “about a 2-point bump” on average.

Lynn isn’t yet tracking exact numbers of veteran candidates, but says he’s seen a “noticeable uptick” among Democrats.

Some of that, Lynn says, is the usual clamoring by the party out of power: Republican veterans arose in 2010, the first midterm under Obama, and Democrats’ boasted a large slate in 2006, amid opposition to the Iraq war during President George W. Bush’s second term.

Those veteran candidates did not all win, of course. But those midterm years marked the last two times voters tossed out the House majority in favor of the other party.

 

HuffPost, THE BLOG  

May 27, 2014, Updated June 2, 2015

41 Republican Senators Voted Against a Landmark Veterans Bill in February, Today They Blame the VA

By H.A. Goodman 

Earlier this year, the GOP had a chance to prove that it could fund veterans’ health care as eagerly as it borrowed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Long before the current VA crisis, an event described as “a gift from God” by Dr. Ben Carson, Senate Republicans had a chance to vote on a landmark bill. Before the Senate vote, organizations devoted to the needs of veterans and their families offered widespread support to the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.

On January 21, 2014 the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) wrote a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsing the legislation. The IAVA believed, “This legislation would accomplish many of the goals for which veterans and military service organizations have been advocating for years, including strengthening the Post-9-11 GI Bill, expanding advance appropriations for more of the VA’s budget…and much more.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars was just as enthusiastic in its support, and wrote a similar letter explaining how S. 1982 would help veterans:

If signed into law, this sweeping legislation would expand and improve health care and benefit services to all generations of veterans and their families. Most notably, it would expand the current caregiver law to include all generations of veterans and provide advance appropriations to ensure monthly compensation and pension as well as education payments are protected from future budget battles. The bill also offers in-state tuition protection for recently transitioned veterans, improves access to mental health and treatment for victims of sexual assault in the military, and authorizes construction of more than 20 Community Bases Outpatient Clinics to serve veterans in rural and remote communities.

Echoing the IAVA and VFW, The Paralyzed Veterans of America stated that “This legislation marks one of the most comprehensive bills to ever be considered in the Senate or House.” The PVA went on to state that, “If enacted, S. 1982 would accomplish some of the highest priorities for Paralyzed Veterans and its members.” VetsFirst, another group devoted to disabled veterans, also explained “this legislation goes a long way toward fulfilling many of the current and future needs of our disabled veterans.”

Furthermore, The American Legion lent “its full support” to the bill since it “addresses several high priority issues for The American Legion, like repealing the 1 percent retiree COLA provision, funding the stalled CBOCs for the VA, increasing access to health care for veterans at VA, employment and education fixes, and other programs that are important to us.” In addition, The American Legion explained that the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 was essential to veterans in other ways:

The American Legion also appreciates the many areas in which this bill addresses needed attention regarding Military Sexual Trauma counseling, additional training and assistance for Traumatic Brain Injury victims, improvements and much-needed updates to the Dependency and Indemnification Compensation program, VA’s Work-Study program, and its On-the-Job Training program.

Therefore, with so much positive feedback from veterans groups about the bill, it’s only logical to assume that Senate Republicans would do everything possible to ensure it became law.

Unfortunately, S.1982 was killed by Senate Republicans, with a vote of 56-41 — only Republicans Senators voting nay and with only two Republicans voting for the bill. The logic behind every vote against the bill being Republican rests in the following statement from North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr:

With $17 trillion in debt and massive annual deficits, our country faces a fiscal crisis of unparalleled scope. Now is not the time, in any federal department, to spend money we don’t have. To be sure, there’s much to like in the Sanders bill. And if those components were presented as separate, smaller bills, as part of a carefully considered long-term strategy to reform the VA, hold leadership accountable and improve services to veterans, we would have no problem extending enthusiastic support.

Also, Republicans called for sanctions on Iran to be included within the veterans’ bill, and since it wasn’t included within the bill, they voted against the landmark legislation. As stated by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell regarding the Iran sanctions, “There is no excuse for muzzling the Congress on an issue of this importance to our own national security.”

So how did veterans feel about the February 26, 2014 vote where 41 Republicans voted against a sweeping bill to help veterans? American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger expressed his frustration with the outcome by stating, “There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way. That’s inexcusable.”

As for Senator Richard Burr, he recently received a scathing letter from the Veterans of Foreign Wars pertaining to his open letter to veterans groups about the VA crisis. In addition, Burr received another response letter from the Paralyzed Veterans of America stating that, “Rest assured, you do not speak for or represent the interests of Paralyzed Veterans’ members-veterans with spinal cord injury or dysfunction or any other VSO.”

It should not be overlooked that veterans have been committing suicide, enduring long wait times for disability benefits, and dealing with a wide array of others issues ignored by Congress for the past decade. Also, the most indignant Republicans like Sen. Burr of North Carolina have also voted against S.1982 and now blame bureaucratic issues, rather than funding problems, as the cause of the VA crisis. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the latest VA crisis and the deaths of veterans in Arizona served as convenient opportunity for the GOP to feign indignation over issues veterans have faced for years.

What better way to circumvent responsibility for underfunding the VA and voting against veteran’s legislation than blaming big government? Somebody should tell Sen. Burr and the GOP that we funded both wars with “money we didn’t have” and we should fund veterans health care as enthusiastically as we paid (borrowed) for two war.

H.A. Goodman Columnist published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Baltimore Sun, The Hill, Salon, The Jerusalem Post www.hagoodman.com

Two Scientists, Two Different Approaches To Saving Bees From Poison Dust

NPR

Two Scientists, Two Different Approaches To Saving Bees From Poison Dust

Dan Charles May 27, 2017

A tractor pulls a planter while distributing corn seed on a field in Malden, Ill. Two scientists agree that pesticide-laden dust from planting equipment kills bees. But they’re proposing different solutions, because they disagree about whether the pesticides are useful to farmers.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s planting time in America. Farmers are spending long days on their tractors, pulling massive planters across millions of acres of farmland, dropping corn and soybean seeds into the ground.

Most of those seeds have been coated with pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. And despite attempts by pesticide makers to reduce this, some of that coating is getting rubbed off the seeds and blown into the air. That dust is settling on the ground, on ponds, and on vegetation nearby.

Honeybees and wild bees, looking for food, will encounter traces of the pesticides, and some will be harmed. They may become disoriented and bring less food back to their colony. Many may die.

Several years ago, Christian Krupke, an insect specialist at Purdue University in Indiana, became one of the first researchers to discover that rogue dust was wiping out bee colonies. At first, Art Schaafsma, an entomologist at the University of Guelph, in Canada, didn’t believe it was true.

“Unfortunately — myself included — in the early days there was a lot of skepticism,” Schaafsma says. He regrets that reaction now. “We do have a problem, and we’ve got to fix it,” he tells me.

There are a lot of things that Krupke and Schaafsma disagree about when it comes to neonicotinoids. Krupke believes — while Schaafsma does not — that bees may also be harmed by exposure to smaller quantities of neonicotinoids that show up in the leaves and pollen of plants grown from coated seeds, or even in wildflowers that grow in or near fields where the crops are planted.

They do agree that the dust is a problem. They just have different ideas about how to fix it.

Schaafsma’s solution is sitting in a garage on the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph. It’s a shiny new piece of farm equipment, a seed planter that Schaafsma has taken apart and re-engineered.

Like most modern planters, it uses air pressure to move the seeds from a storage bin through tubes and into the soil. Schaafsma points to the end of one pipe. “This is the air intake, OK? See the problem already?

That pipe is close to the ground. When a tractor pulls this planter across a field, dust will get sucked into this opening, along with air. Inside the planting mechanism, “the air is rushing past that seed, it’s laden with dirt, and it’s acting like a sandblaster,” Schaafsma says. That dirt grinds a little bit of the neonicotinoid coating from the seed, and then carries the pesticide dust with it as it exhausts from the planter, straight up into the air.

That’s normally how the planter works. But Schaafsma has made some changes on this one, outfitting it with special dust traps, similar to high-quality vacuum cleaner filters. “We’re probably filtering 99 percent of what comes out of the exhaust,” he says.

Schaafsma thinks that this equipment, if installed on all seed planters, would eliminate most of the risk to bees from neonicotinoid-treated seeds.

Schaafsma has been testing his theory by setting up honeybee hives near corn fields that were planted using his filter-outfitted equipment, monitoring these hives and measuring their honey production. “We just want to demonstrate that it can be done — that bees and corn can co-exist,” he says.

Schaafsma wants co-existence because he wants farmers to be able to use neonicotinoid-treated seed. “I see them as valuable tools, which should be handled with care,” he says.

This, however, is where Schaafsma and Christian Krupke part ways. Krupke is not convinced that farmers are getting much benefit — if any — from the seed coatings. In most cases, Krupke says, the pesticides don’t appear to be worth the money that farmers are spending.

So his solution is even simpler: Stop using them so much. At the very least, he says, seed companies should give farmers the option of planting seeds without neonicotinoids on them. Right now, it’s often difficult to find such untreated seeds.

This month, Krupke and some colleagues published two scientific papers with evidence to support his case. The first study, conducted by researchers at seven Midwestern universities, concluded that neonicotinoid-treated soybean seeds performed no better than untreated seeds in fending off aphids, one of the major pests that the seed treatments are supposed to control. According to the study, farmers would be better off leaving their seeds untreated, monitoring their fields, and resorting to conventional spraying of pesticides when the aphids attacked.

In another study, Krupke found that the seed treatments weren’t of much benefit to corn yields, either. In some fields, pesticide-treated seed performed better, in other fields it did worse. Combining the results from all the sites, the average yield from the treated seed was about 2 percent higher, but Krupke says that difference is not statistically or economically significant — certainly not the kind of clear effect that would justify its use on nearly all the corn in the country.

Companies that sell seeds and neonicotinoid pesticides have attacked similar studies in the past, arguing that farmers clearly do see benefits from the seed treatments, because they’re happy to pay for them. Other researchers, including Schaafsma, have reported that treated seed has produced higher yields, with the increase ranging from 1.5 to 5 percent.

Krupke says he’d like to do more extensive studies comparing treated and untreated seed, but companies that control the seed now are refusing to provide samples for him to use.

Krupke says that there’s growing interest among farmers in plant seeds that are not treated with neonicotinoids — if only they could find such seeds.

Schaafsma, for his part, thinks it will be easier to stop dust pollution from seed planters than to convince farmers not to use pesticide-coated seeds. This is something that farmers clearly would like to do, he says, and it’s technically feasible. Bayer CropScience, the big chemical company that sells most of the neonic seed coatings, has developed its own version of a dust trap that could be installed on planters.

The problem is, none of the big farm-equipment companies are offering the dust traps for sale. These companies that make planting equipment, such as Case, Kinze, and John Deere, have installed shields that direct the neonic-laden exhaust down toward the ground, rather than into the air, but Schaafsma says that’s not good enough.

“The only people who don’t recognize [the problem] well enough yet are the equipment manufacturers,” he says.

Trump Wants To Defund Programs That Help Small Farmers Survive

Trump Wants To Defund Programs That Help Small Farmers Survive

Joseph Erbentraut   HuffPost    May 28, 2017

When Marshall Bartlett describes Como — the northern Mississippi town of 1,200 where he lives and operates a farm that’s been in his family for 150 years — he says the statistics speak for themselves.

Among the Panola County town’s residents, 35 percent report income below the poverty line, far exceeding the statewide poverty rate — which itself has been cited as the highest in the nation. And the county’s unemployment rate of 6 percent outpaces state and national numbers.

“It’s all pretty grim,” Bartlett admitted.

Bartlett says his father had encouraged him and his siblings to not pursue careers in agriculture, and he initially heeded that advice — earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies at Dartmouth College and working with AmeriCorps to rebuild the homes of Hurricane Katrina victims in neighboring Louisiana, among other pursuits.

But about four years ago, the now-28-year-old returned to the farm with a lofty aim: to not only keep the farm in the family but also bring economic opportunities back to the place where he grew up.

The result was Home Place Pastures. Bartlett and his team grow and process pasture-raised pork, beef and lamb with a keen eye on humane handling and environmentally friendly practices. The farm now processes about 25 hogs, five steers and 20 lambs and goats a week, bringing in about $30,000 in revenue. And Bartlett has 12 farm employees, about half of whom live right in Como.

“We’ve gotten here in a little over three years, which is pretty crazy,” Bartlett told HuffPost. “I’m really proud to have built this here.”

Though a lot of hard work contributed to that success, Bartlett also credits two U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grants that helped make the farm’s steady growth possible.

In 2014, Bartlett applied for and received a USDA value-added producer grant (VAPG) of about $50,000 to help finance the farm’s expansion of its pork business, allowing it to supply products to area restaurants, retailers and consumers by helping to finance refrigerated delivery equipment. A year later, the farm received a second $50,000 grant to help establish its free-range lamb operation.

Bartlett doubts the farm would be in the position it is today without the federal help.

“We were able to handle these upfront expenses without borrowing a ton of money,” he said. “Without that injection of those grants, we wouldn’t have been able to do all this.”

The VAPG program was created under the Clinton administration in 2000 to reward farmers, particularly beginners, who were working to diversify farm income streams by creating products and marketing opportunities that added resilience against volatile commodity prices. The program awarded $45 million in grants to 325 producers last year.

This kind of support, advocates say, is especially important when many U.S. farmers are struggling with falling income and rising debt, as well as the extreme weather challenges associated with climate change.

And yet the program is on the chopping block.

As part of a proposed 21 percent reduction in the USDA’s overall spending, President Donald Trump’s budget plan calls for eliminating the funding for VAPG and other rural development programs under the department’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

The programs were deemed “duplicative and underperforming” in the president’s skinny budget. Neither USDA nor Office of Management and Budget officials responded to a request for further explanation of the proposal.

Wes King, policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said the elimination of these programs could be devastating for many smaller farmers.

“If this were to go away, I think you would have a number of farms that would probably end up closing up shop,” King told HuffPost.

Anna Johnson, a policy program associate at the nonpartisan Center for Rural Affairs, described the RBCS cuts as particularly alarming when combined with massive cuts proposed for other initiatives aimed at rural communities, like zeroed-out funding for the Rural Economic Development Program as well as the USDA’s water and wastewater loan program, which helps fund rural infrastructure projects.

“Economic opportunity in these rural areas is a really big issue, and these areas face higher levels of poverty,” Johnson said. “These are really important programs. For the administration to propose eliminating these supports is troubling for rural communities.”

Criticism of the proposed USDA cuts has come from all sides of the agriculture sector ― including the conservative-leaning Farm Bureau Federation, which said the plan “fails agriculture and rural America” ― as well as members of Congress from both parties.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appeared to be distancing himself from the president’s spending plan this week. Perdue attempted to assure lawmakers that he is elevating rural development concerns at the USDA, but his reorganization has eliminated the undersecretary for rural development.

Some farmers appear willing to give Perdue a chance to make good on that pledge.

In 2015, William Powers, who owns and operates Darby Springs Farm in Ceresco, Nebraska, alongside his wife, Crystal, was another recipient of a $50,000 VAPG grant. The federal money helped finance the farm’s construction of a creamery that will allow them to make and sell ice cream using milk from their pasture-grazed dairy cows.

“The program is crucial for young entrepreneurs with a cash-flow situation,” Powers explained. “We’re not independently wealthy, so that grant helps us make up some of those upfront payments.”

While Powers believes the proposed cuts to the VAPG and other USDA rural development programs would be detrimental to farms like his, he thinks it’s unlikely Congress will move forward with them.

“But who knows?” he added. “I’m an optimist.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

The conservative mind has become diseased

Washington Post Opinions

The conservative mind has become diseased

By Michael Gerson    May 25, 2017

To many observers on the left, the initial embrace of Seth Rich conspiracy theories by conservative media figures was merely a confirmation of the right’s deformed soul. But for those of us who remember that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were once relatively mainstream Reaganites, their extended vacation in the fever swamps is even more disturbing. If once you knew better, the indictment is deeper.

The cruel exploitation of the memory of Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot dead last summer, was horrifying and clarifying. The Hannity right, without evidence, accused Rich rather than the Russians of leaking damaging DNC emails. In doing so, it has proved its willingness to credit anything — no matter how obviously deceptive or toxic — to defend President Trump and harm his opponents. Even if it means becoming a megaphone for Russian influence.

The basic, human questions are simple. How could conservative media figures not have felt — felt in their hearts and bones — the God-awful ickiness of it? How did the genes of generosity and simple humanity get turned off? Is this insensibility the risk of prolonged exposure to our radioactive political culture? If so, all of us should stand back a moment and tend to the health of our revulsion.

But this failure of decency is also politically symbolic. Who is the politician who legitimized conspiracy thinking at the highest level? Who raised the possibility that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Who hinted that Hillary Clinton might have been involved in the death of Vince Foster, or that unnamed liberals might have killed Justice Antonin Scalia? Who not only questioned President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but raised the prospect of the murder of a Hawaiian state official in a coverup? “How amazing,” Trump tweeted in 2013, “the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in plane crash today. All others lived.”

We have a president charged with maintaining public health who asserts that the vaccination schedule is a dangerous scam of greedy doctors. We have a president charged with representing all Americans who has falsely accused thousands of Muslims of celebrating in the streets following the 9/11 attacks.

In this mental environment, alleging a Rich-related conspiracy was predictable. This is a concrete example of the mainstreaming of destructive craziness.

Those conservatives who believe that the confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch is sufficient justification for the Trump presidency are ignoring Trump’s psychic and moral destruction of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Clinton, with a small number of changed votes, would have defeated Republicans. But Trump is doing a kind of harm beyond anything Clinton could have done. He is changing the party’s most basic moral and political orientations. He is shaping conservatism in his image and ensuring an eventual defeat more complete, and an eventual exile more prolonged, than Democrats could have dreamed.

The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them.

Conspiracy theories often involve a kind of dehumanization. Human tragedy is made secondary — something to be exploited rather than mourned. The narrative of conspiracy takes precedence over the meaning of a life and the suffering of a family. A human being is made into an ideological prop and used on someone else’s stage. As the Rich family has attested, the pain inflicted is quite real.

A conspiratorial approach to politics is fully consistent with other forms of dehumanization — of migrants, refugees and “the other” more generally. Men and women are reduced to types and presented as threats. They also become props in an ideological drama. They are presented as representatives of a plot involving invasion and infiltration, rather than being viewed as individuals seeking opportunity or fleeing oppression and violence. This also involves callousness, cruelty and conspiracy thinking.

In Trump’s political world, this project of dehumanization is far along. The future of conservatism now depends on its capacity for revulsion. And it is not at all clear whether this capacity still exists.

Fox News journalist gives eyewitness account of Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulting reporter

Good Morning America

Fox News journalist gives eyewitness account of Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulting reporter

Morgan Winsor,  Good Morning America May 25, 2017

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna says she was among a handful of journalists who witnessed Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montanta’s special House election, slam a reporter to the ground Wednesday night.

In a Fox News report summarizing the alleged incident, Acuna said she and two members of her production crew — field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Raily — had a scheduled interview with Gianforte at the candidate’s office in Bozeman, Montana, on Wednesday. Gianforte entered the room and “exchanged pleasantries and made small talk about restaurants and Bozeman” with Acuna and her team, she said.

“During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte’s face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act,” Acuna wrote in the Fox News report. “Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.”

The encounter suddenly took a violent turn, she said.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Acuna wrote. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”

“Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer,” Acuna continued. “Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.”

Gianforte, a former technology executive, left the scene after providing statements to local sheriff’s deputies, according to Acuna.

Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault, according to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.

“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement on its website Wednesday night.

The statement added that the “nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that four people were present for the alleged incident.

As a result of the citation, Gianforte is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7.

In the Fox News report, Acuna said she and her crew are “cooperating with local authorities” and will have to appear in court.

Before the charges were filed, Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon issued a statement, placing the blame on Jacobs and claiming the candidate’s actions were a response to Jacobs pushing a phone in his face during “a separate interview in a private office” that he entered “without permission.”

“Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined,” according to the statement. “Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

In the Fox News report, Acuna wrote that she and her production crew “at no point” saw Jacobs demonstrate “any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.”

ABC News’ Adam Kelsey contributed to this report.

 

ThinkProgress

GOP candidate’s attack on journalist is an extension of Trump’s violent, anti-media rhetoric

The alleged assault of Ben Jacobs did not happen in a vacuum.

Lindsay Gibbs,  Sports Reporter at ThinkProgress     May 25, 2017

Wednesday, on the eve of Montana’s special election for its congressional seat, Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs approached Republican candidate Greg Gianforte. Jacobs wanted to know if Gianforte supported the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office had just revealed would cause 23 million Americans to lose insurance.

Gianforte dodged the question, but when the reporter persisted, the candidate “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” according to an eyewitness account by Fox News reporters who were on the scene. Then Gianforte began punching Jacobs, who released audio of the incident.

Jacobs was taken to the hospital, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault, and the special election is proceeding as previously scheduled, with no prominent GOP figures rescinding their support of Gianforte.

It’s appalling, but ultimately not surprising, that a politician allegedly assaulted a reporter who was merely doing his job. This is the result of the violent, anti-media rhetoric that President Trump has been spewing since early in his campaign. It’s a progression of — not an exception to — the current climate of the Republican Party under Trump’s leadership.

Throughout his campaign — and since his victory — Trump told his supporters the story of a crooked, “liberal media” conspiring to spread lies to take down him and his supporters. Trump has, in no uncertain terms, said that the media is the enemy and the “opposition party.”

And at Trump’s campaign rallies, where violent incidents grew to be quite common, anger was often targeted at this agreed-upon enemy: the media.

In October, Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reported that the disdain for reporters at Trump rallies had turned into “outright hostility.” Members of the press contingent were met with boos, abusive slurs, and obscenities as they were merely trying to do their job.

“Reporters are now concealing or removing their press credentials when leaving the pen to avoid confrontations with Trump’s supporters,” Farhi said. “The atmosphere is particularly threatening to female reporters and to female TV reporters whose faces are well known, reporters say. (‘The camera draws the hate,’ as one put it.) Some reporters have wondered aloud about the need for more security, or at least more barriers to separate them from the crowd as they enter and exit Trump’s events.”

Trump sometimes even singled out reporters on the campaign trail, leading to targeted abuse and even death threats.

“MAYBE A FEW JOURNALISTS DO NEED TO BE WHACKED. MAYBE THEN THEYD STOP BEI[N]G BIASED HACKS. KILL EM ALL STARTING W/ KATY TUR,” one Trump supporter tweeted at NBC reporter Katy Tur after Trump repeatedly called her out during campaign rallies.

Tur wasn’t the only reporter who felt unsafe on the campaign trail.

“He was unhappy with some story I had done and he did a little impression of me on stage, and started talking about this terrible CNN reporter,” CNN’s Sara Turner said during the campaign. “Then he called me out by name. The next thing I knew, I had thousands of Trump fans turning around [and] jeering at me.”

In February, Paste Magazine published an article examining Trump’s impact on the media entitled “Should American Journalists Fear for Their Physical Safety?”

The lede summed it up: “Probably.”

It’s important to note that Trump himself has never body-slammed any reporters to the ground for asking a simple question about health care (though he did defend his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested and charged with simple battery of former Brietbart reporter Michelle Fields in March).

But the environment he cultivates around himself, and the casual rhetoric he uses —Trump once thanked his supporters for being “vicious” and “violent” in the lead-up to the election — has consequences.

As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Trump’s rhetoric fits into a pattern of what researchers refer to as “stochastic terrorism” —using suggestive language rhetoric to inspire radicals to carry out violent acts. In other words, it’s possible to spur others to violence without explicitly instructing them to do so.

And it’s not a coincidence that Gianforte was an ardent Trump supporter who went hunting with Donald Trump Jr. and campaigned beside Vice President Mike Pence. The Guardian’s Jacobs, who had covered the Montana special election extensively, reported before the alleged assault that Gianforte was “eager to embrace Donald Trump … and regularly talks about ‘making America great again’ and ‘draining the swamp.’”

It’s certainly not a surprise to see that Gianforte himself has “joked” about violence against the media in the past.

At one campaign event earlier this year, the Missoulian reported that a Gianforte supporter asked the candidate, “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?”

After asking the question, the supporter turned to the reporter beside him and mimed strangling him. Gianforte reportedly smiled, before responding: “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.”

Ultimately, Gianforte might face zero political consequences for his actions.

Over half of registered voters in Montana cast their ballots before Wednesday. Gianforte’s opponent, Democrat Rob Quist, is still an underdog. Even though the race was tightening before Gianforte slammed a reporter to the ground, Gianforte could still win this election. And if he does win, it appears he’ll also be welcomed to Washington with open arms.

GOP leaders, including House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, are all stillsupporting Gianforte. Trump and Pence have not commented. Conservative pundits are spinning the story away.

Jacobs, who has also reported on Gianforte’s financial ties to Russia, approached a politician at a campaign event and asked a crucial policy question, one that Montana voters deserved to know the answer to.

In Trump’s America, that’s now viewed as a threat.

From Montana Public Radio

On Eve Of Election, Montana GOP Candidate Charged With Assault On Reporter

Jessica Taylor and Eric Whitney   May 24, 2017  Updated on May 25th

The Montana special congressional race was roiled on the eve of Thursday’s vote after GOP nominee Greg Gianforte allegedly “body slammed” a reporter and was subsequently cited by local authorities.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office announced they were charging Gianforte with misdemeanor assault:

Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault (MCA 45-5-201). The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court between now and June 7, 2017.

According to audio posted by Ben Jacobs, a political reporter with The Guardian, he was attempting to ask Gianforte a question, ahead of a campaign event in Bozeman, about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Republican health care bill, which showed that 23 million more people would be uninsured in 2026 if the bill were enacted.

In the recording, Jacobs can be heard asking Gianforte about the CBO score. Gianforte says he doesn’t have time and directs Jacobs to talk to his spokesman, then there is a scuffle and a crash.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte can be heard yelling. “The last guy did the same damn thing. Get the hell out of here.”

Gianforte’s campaign spokesman claimed in a statement that Jacobs interrupted an interview “without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions.”

“After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground,” Gianforte spokesperson Shane Scanlon said. “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

That account from the campaign, however, appears to be contradicted by three Fox News journalists who had been in the room setting up for an interview with Gianforte:

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of “I’m sick and tired of this!”

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.

Jacobs tells Gianforte he broke his glasses and that he was going to report the incident to the police. He later called into MSNBC and said that he was getting his elbow — which may have been injured during the altercation — X-rayed at a nearby hospital.

In his statement on the Gianforte’s misdemeanor assault citation, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who has previously donated $250 to Gianforte’s congressional campaign, said that his “contribution has nothing to do with our investigation which is now complete.”

Shortly after the assault charges against Gianforte were announced, both the Billings Gazette and the Missoulian newspaper rescinded their endorsement of Gianforte Wednesday evening.

The incident comes less than 24 hours before voters in Montana were set to head to the polls in a race that is seen as a potential bellwether for the 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The race between Gianforte and Democratic nominee Rob Quist had already tightened in a state that President Trump won by 20 points last November. It’s unclear what effect the altercation might have on the contest, but at least one-third of voters have likely already cast their ballots early. The contest is to replace former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who Trump named his Interior secretary earlier this year.

Spending looks likely to reach $18 million in the fast moving, 85-day shootout, a record for the seat and double what was spent in the 2016 race. The candidates have each raised about $5 million, with more than $7 million being spent by outside groups.

Montana’s contest pits a wealthy businessman — Gianforte, who narrowly lost the race for governor last year — against Quist, a locally famous singer-songwriter and political neophyte.

Democrats were already hopeful that negative headlines from Washington, D.C., would give the Stetson-wearing crooner Quist the momentum he needs to score an upset — and that was before the altercation between Gianforte and the reporter on Wednesday evening.

But Republicans have held Montana’s House seat since 1996. The GOP is confident that Treasure State voters will stick with the party of Trump, who won Montana by 20 points in November.

Quist was slow out of the gate, taking a month to get a campaign ad on TV, and he didn’t get financial backing from the national Democratic Party until halfway into the 12-week race.

By contrast, Gianforte quickly won millions in support from the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, the NRA and allied national groups. Gianforte had campaign ads on TV days before he even secured his party’s nomination.

Gianforte has paired himself with aspects of the president’s agenda in this race — promising “to fight back against Washington, D.C.’s war on the West” — after distancing himself from then-candidate Trump last fall. Gianforte was the only Republican statewide candidate in Montana to lose in November, receiving the fewest votes of any GOP candidate in what was otherwise a party sweep.

In that campaign, Democrats successfully painted Gianforte as a “New Jersey millionaire” trying to buy the governorship.

Gianforte moved to Montana 24 years ago from Pennsylvania, starting a software company that Oracle purchased in 2011 for $1.5 billion. Gianforte spent $6 million of his own money running for governor, and has loaned his House campaign $1.5 million this time around.

(His former employee Steve Daines, also a Republican, won Montana’s U.S. House race in 2012 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014.)

Quist has attempted to demonize Gianforte for his wealth and out-of-state origins. In early ads, Quist defended himself against NRA attacks by polishing a vintage Winchester rifle, which he says he’s owned since “long before Greg Gianforte showed up from New Jersey.”

Late in the race, Quist pivoted to emphasizing Gianforte’s support for the House health care bill. On the day it passed, the Republican told reporters he would have voted against it. But on the same day, in a recorded phone call to party backers that was leaked to the New York Times, Gianforte said he was “thankful” that it passed.

Republicans attack Quist for a history of personal financial troubles. But the Democrat has attempted to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse by saying his money problems are related to a botched surgery that rendered him indebted and uninsurable. Quist’s final TV ads say that he, like half of all Montanans, could lose health coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

There’s no reliable public polling, but this week Gianforte is telling his backers, “this race is closer than it should be.” Both his and Quist’s volunteers have fanned out across the state in advance of an unusual election day that falls on the Thursday before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Montana’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock picked the election date, the earliest allowed by law.

“The biggest hurdle for us has been trying to combat voter confusion,” said Rebecca Connors, clerk of Missoula County, the state’s second most populous, on Monday.

Just weeks before absentee voting began May 1, a bipartisan bill to conduct the election solely by mail-in ballot failed in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

“I feel like a lot of voters never found any resolution of how that outcome came, so we’re getting lots of calls,” said Connors.

Connors also notes that many traditional polling places won’t be open, they’re either already booked for school graduations, or too expensive to staff for county governments which struggled to meet 2016 election expenses.

Prior to Wednesday’s altercation, University of Montana political science professor Rob Saldin said Quist’s best shot hinges on a big Democratic turnout combined with low enthusiasm from Republican voters. But given the GOP’s superior numbers in Montana, “Gianforte has a much bigger margin of error,” Saldin said.

The Montana polls close Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

Eric Whitney is a reporter with Montana Public Radio.

Behind the Montana special election “body slam” story is an important point about the AHCA

Updated by Tara Golshan  May 24, 2017

Republican Greg Gianforte is up for election tomorrow in a special House race in Montana — and he, allegedly, decided to body-slam Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after a question about the projected effects of the health care bill Republicans passed earlier this month.

And there’s a way to almost make sense of it. Let’s walk through this:

Jacobs, according to the audio the Guardian released of the incident, asked Gianforte what he thought about the new report from the Congressional Budget Office on the House’s health bill. It’s a pretty innocuous question. (I asked about half a dozen Republican politicians the same question earlier in the day — though none of them had quite the reaction Gianforte did.)

But for Republicans like Gianforte, the answer is complicated. As it turns out, the updated CBO score looks bad — it estimated the number of uninsured would increase by 23 million in the first 10 years and make it much harder for those with preexisting conditions to obtain coverage — barely an improvement on the first draft of the bill Republicans considered.

Gianforte has publicly come out against the American Health Care Act, saying he would not have voted in favor of the version that passed the House, and, as Jacobs pointed out, that he was waiting to make further judgments after the CBO’s score. Privately, Gianforte expressed (in a leaked audio tape) that he was happy the Obamacare repeal and replace process is in motion, which Democrats took to mean that the House passed the bill.

There is no explaining why Gianforte allegedly chose to physically assault Jacobs, but the context around it clarifies just how high the stakes are with health care for Republicans in vulnerable districts.

The Montana special election is proving to be a much closer race than expected in such a deeply red state. And as Vox’s Jeff Stein explained, it’s not only President Trump’s scandal-soaked White House that’s gaining Democrats some ground. It’s policy — and specifically, health care:

Trump may be increasingly unpopular nationally, but Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act — which Trump has backed but the conservative vision for which entirely predates his rise — is far more politically toxic. The evidence is mounting in ongoing congressional campaigns. In the upcoming special elections in Georgia and Montana, Democrats’ closing pitches have had far more to do with defending Obamacare than attacking Trump, while the Republicans in those races look to the president for political cover.

Gianforte’s opposition, Democrat Rob Quist — a banjo player with no prior political experience — has been hitting Gianforte hard on health care. Stein explains:

There’s a good reason for Quist to go after the AHCA rather than Trump: The president remains popular in Montana, a state he won by 20 points. (Quist’s opponent, tech millionaire Greg Gianforte, is hugging Trump about as closely as possible.) The Medicaid expansion under Obamacare covered 70,000 Montanans, and the AHCA is polling in the mid-20s nationally, while the approval rating of Obamacare skyrockets.

This is also why House Democrats keep jeering that the American Health Care Act is going to lose Republicans the majority in 2018. (They literally sang “na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” at House Republican as the AHCA passed.)

Democratic and Republican congressional campaign operatives will tell you it’s far too early to know what will actually happen in the midterm elections, but moderate Republicans who are concerned with coverage loss and represent districts that like Obamacare, but still voted for the AHCA, are already showing signs of just how hard this health care vote was for them.

Take Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, who sits in an extremely vulnerable seat in 2018 — he called the new CBO score a “moderate improvement” and said he hopes the progress continues in the Senate.

Other Republicans, like moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, who was one of the Republicans who helped get the AHCA over the House finish line in May, resigned himself to just questioning the validity of the CBO report. Earlier this week, MacArthur said he would resign as co-chair of the Tuesday Group, the moderate Republican caucus, because they were just too “divided.”

The AHCA still has a long way to go — but it’s already on shaky ground. And apparently, as we saw in Gianforte’s case, it means Republicans are getting pestered with questions they don’t know how to answer.

A Republican Congressman Just Destroyed Trump’s ‘Lie’ Of A Budget

Huffington Post

A Republican Congressman Just Destroyed Trump’s ‘Lie’ Of A Budget

Michael McAuliff,   HuffPost May 24, 2017

WASHINGTON ― Citing the Bible and expressing his sympathies in advance, Republican South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford savaged President Donald Trump’s budget proposal Wednesday as a “myth” and a “lie,” hammering the White House’s spending plan more thoroughly than any Democrat.

Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who has a contentious relationship with the White House, simply did not accept the contention offered by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in a House Budget Committee hearing that the economy is going to grow at 3 percent for the next 10 years.

The White House uses that growth estimate to argue that, despite cutting taxes dramatically for the wealthy, tax revenues will actually rise so that the budget will balance in 10 years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates growth rates of just 1.9 percent.

“I have looked every which way at how you might get there, and you can’t get there,” Sanford told Mulvaney.

The South Carolinian, who describes himself as a budget hawk, went on to lay out all the ways that using a bogus estimate is terrible.

“What it does is it perpetuates a myth that we can go out there and balance the budget without touching entitlements,” Sanford said. “It’s not only a myth, it’s frankly a lie.”

Sanford offered some basic history to challenge Mulvaney’s assumptions. For starters, he noted that the average economic expansion in all U.S. history lasts about 58 months. The current expansion begun under President Barack Obama has been underway for 94 months. The Trump budget, Sanford noted, assumes that will continue uninterrupted for an additional 214 months.

“This budget presumes a Goldilocks economy, and I think that’s a very difficult thing on which to base a budget,” Sanford said. He also noted that the Bible cautions against building a house on sand.

Sanford took specific aim at the unemployment, growth and inflation rates the budget relies on.

“Can you guess the last time we had an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, growth at 3 percent, and inflation held at 2 percent?” Sanford asked. “It’s never happened,” he answered, when Mulvaney didn’t.

After pointing to other assumptions in the budget that have never happened, Sanford argued that to get the growth rates assumed by the budget, it would take a return to economic and demographic circumstances that haven’t existed since the 1950s and 1960s. That was when women were entering the workforce, highways were being expanded, appliances were first flooding the markets, productivity was skyrocketing, and the Baby Boomers were going to work, rather than retiring en masse.

“Even if we went to 1990 numbers, we would only see one-quarter of what is necessary to achieve 3 percent growth,” Sanford said.

Sanford said there was a reason he took a blowtorch to Mulvaney’s numbers ― because Congress can’t have a real debate about making cuts if it’s using phony numbers.

“Literally, the speaker of the House [was] talking today about the notion of 3 percent growth and how we can balance the budget,” Sanford said to offer an example of bogus rhetoric being used.

“For us to have a real debate, we have to base it on real numbers,” he said. “I’m a deficit hawk, as you well know, and if you’re wrong on these numbers, it means all of a sudden we’ve created a $2-plus-trillion hole for our kids and grandkids.”

Sanford would have kept going, but fortunately for Mulvaney, he ran out of time, and submitted the rest of his facts in writing to be included in the record.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.