An Illinois town passed an assault weapons ban – now the NRA is backing an effort to overturn it

Mic

An Illinois town passed an assault weapons ban – now the NRA is backing an effort to overturn it

By Brianna Provenzano      April 5, 2018

After officials in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois, unanimously voted to ban the sale, manufacture and possession of assault weapons on Monday, prominent gun rights group Guns Save Life vowed to take legal action against the ordinance — and the National Rifle Association said that it will help.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Institute for Legislative Action — the lobbying arm of the NRA — said that the organization “is pleased to assist [Gun] Save Life” in its legal efforts to challenge the village of Deerfield’s confiscation ordinance.

“Every law-abiding villager of Deerfield has the right to protect themselves, their homes and their loved ones with the firearm that best suits their needs,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA-ILA, said in the statement. “The National Rifle Association is pleased to assist [Guns] Save Life in defense of this freedom.”

With the passage of the Deerfield ban, residents will have until June 13 to remove existing assault weapons and large capacity magazines from within the village limits, with a failure to do so potentially resulting in fines of up to $1,000 a day, Matthew Rose, the village attorney, told the Chicago Tribune.

Deerfield officials released a statement Tuesday explaining that the town had based its law on an ordinance passed by Highland Park, Illinois, in 2013. That ordinance faced legal challenges but was deemed lawful by a federal appeals court, according to the Tribune.The Supreme Court declined to consider the case.

John Boch, the president of Guns Save Life, said in the NRA’s statement that the ordinance “clearly violates our member’s constitutional rights.”

“With the help of the NRA I believe we can secure a victory for law-abiding gun owners in and around Deerfield,” he said.

In an email to Mic, Boch declined to comment further on the lawsuit, but did elaborate on the decision in a piece published on TheTruthAboutGuns.com on Thursday.

“The AR-15 stands as America’s favorite rifle for a number of very good reasons.” Boch wrote. “Yes, guns protect families. Guns protect children. Banning one of the most effective guns widely in use by America’s nearly 100 million gun owners will only serve to protect criminals, lunatics and terrorists.”

Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal asked the village attorney and town staff to draft an ordinance following the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead, according to the town’s statement.

In the wake of that tragedy, the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have become some of the most prominent faces of the national movement for gun reform — and it was their composure and poise, Rosenthal said, that inspired Deerfield to take action.

“Enough is enough,” Rosenthal told the Chicago Tribune. “Those students are so articulate just like our students. There is no place here for assault weapons.”

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

Tired of winning yet? You’re not alone.

Yahoo News

Matt Bai’s Political World

Tired of winning yet? You’re not alone.

Matt Bai, National Political Columnist        April 5, 2018

Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty

These should be President Trump’s best days in office. The tax bill that marked his first (and only) real legislative achievement has grown more popular in recent weeks. His blowhard rhetoric toward North Korea appears to have yielded a rare diplomatic opening. He’s revived a couple of his most resonant campaign themes, slapping tariffs on China and threatening to send soldiers to patrol the southern border.

And yet, Trump’s approval ratings seem barely to have budged. According to a series of polls in the last few weeks (leaving aside a single conservative-leaning outlier), four in 10 Americans, give or take, are happy with his presidency.

How can this be?

Trump loyalists will point out that his ratings are several points higher than his all-time low, and that no less revered a president than Ronald Reagan was in the same ballpark at this time in his presidency. But Reagan was battling a prolonged recession; Trump should be riding a wave of recovery.

No, a Trump Malaise descends on the country, and it can only be about one thing, as the president himself surely understands. After all, he warned us it would happen, and now his prophecy has come to pass.

We’re tired of winning already.

We laughed at the oracle when he made this prediction. But we didn’t really hear him.

When Trump first started appearing on our television screens as a candidate, sometimes for hours at a time without paying a dollar for the privilege or being interrupted by any pesky interviewers, America was beset by pessimism.

For decades, we had watched as automation and the rise of foreign manufacturers decimated our industries and hollowed out whole communities. We had seen America’s preeminent role as a superpower shaken by rivals with nuclear ambitions and by zealots living in caves.

“Win the future” had been one of President Obama’s hundred slogans — for about 10 minutes, anyway. The truth was we were fighting the future to a draw, at best, and everybody knew it.

And then along came Trump, like a real-life Music Man with a truckload of fetching red hats. If he became president, Trump said, America would all of a sudden start winning again. Our rural areas and small cities would bounce back. Our borders would be safe. Our government would work for everyone.

There was just one catch. We’d win so much, Trump said, that we’d eventually grow tired of winning. He knew what he was talking about. Because Trump had been winning all his life.

He was born a winner, with a dad who made a small fortune in real estate. 

He gambled that fortune on big-city skyscrapers and faux-classic casinos and exclusive golf courses the color of money, and he won again and again, if you don’t count a couple of nettlesome bankruptcies and a huge payout to victims of his scam university. (And, you know, the frozen steaks.)

So Trump understood how empty winning can be. How you think it’s going to soothe all your demons and wipe away all your cares, how you assume that once your team finally wins the championship you will wake up every morning with a smile on your face, but in the end it just leads to a void of disappointment and self-doubt.

And here we are.

Trump’s been pretty much the president he said he would be, even before he seized control of his own administration a few weeks ago and started replacing milquetoast policymakers with like-minded TV celebrities.

He’s told the Europeans and other allies who relied on our leadership for the last century to go figure things out for themselves.

He’s done his damnedest to discredit the entire idea of America as a nation of immigrants who share common values.

He’s responded to the Russian czar’s threat to nuke Florida by congratulating him on his hard-fought fake-election win and suggesting he visit Washington.

Thanks to Trump’s tax cuts and military buildup, we’re now rocketing toward an economic calamity in which just servicing the interest on our spiraling debt, coupled with our other obligations, will push interest rates higher and crowd out almost everything else the federal government does.

Oh, I know what you’re saying: This doesn’t sound like winning at all. But that’s only because you misunderstood what Trump was trying to say.

Trump doesn’t define winning the way you and I do. It’s not about giving back or improving people’s lives; as I’ve written before, Trump has never done that anywhere, unless you count remodeling a skating rink.

Winning, in Trump’s mind, wasn’t about us. It was about him.

It’s about ratings and primacy. Trump wants more than anything to exist outside of himself, to occupy your screens and your emotions. He always has.

Losing, to Trump, is receding from center stage. Winning is finding one way after another to keep us riveted to the show.

So Trump is absolutely delivering on his promise. He’s winning and winning and winning. Every day, it seems, he taps some new well of audacity, willing himself to become the overarching story of our time.

Even the reimagining of an old TV sitcom becomes a national conversation not because of anything that happens on the show itself, but because of what its star says about Trump, in the script and in real life. They should call it “Roseanne in Trumpland.”

Another win for the president.

And yes, we’re winning, too. Because like it or not, America has become the world’s Donald Trump. We’re shameless, unpredictable, outrageous. We’re a never-ending spectacle from which no one can look away. We’re the topic of all conversation, too.

We horrify and fascinate, and then we get up the next morning and somehow figure out how to do it again.

And we haven’t yet seen just how crazy and sordid this whole Russia investigation might become, dragging the country into yet another prolonged legal drama with unbelievable ratings, amazing, like you’ve never seen.

Of course Trump’s idea of winning feels deflating to most of us. It’s exhausting. It’s disorienting. It’s like putting your face up to an industrial fan every hour of the day.

It seeps into our dreams — all this dissembling and smallness and provocation bursting onto our TV crawls and iPhone screens — and when we wake up, we’re not an inch closer to giving our kids the America we promised them.

But you can’t really blame the president. He told us right from the start that we’d get tired of the whole noisy routine. We were just too busy gawking to listen.

Top EPA staff who criticized Scott Pruitt were either demoted or reassigned

ThinkProgress

Top EPA staff who criticized Scott Pruitt were either demoted or reassigned

A glimpse into how Pruitt dealt with his critics.

By Kyla Mandel     April 5, 2018

The scandals surrounding EPA administrator Scott Pruitt continue to grow. Credit: Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Five top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees were either placed on leave or reassigned after raising concerns about Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending and management habits.

The news, revealed by the New York Times on Thursday afternoon, shows high-ranking EPA officials repeatedly raised concerns about Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on first-class travel and office furniture, as well as certain demands made for increased security coverage, including expanding his protective detail to 20 people.

The revelations add to a growing picture that numerous officials within the agency were aware of, and voiced their objection to, Pruitt’s ethically questionable habits. And yet, nothing appears to have been done to change course. Instead, critics were demoted.

Kevin Chmielewski, a Trump administration political appointee, was placed on administrative leave without pay after bringing his concerns about Pruitt’s conduct directly to the White House personnel office. Chmielewski reportedly objected to the idea of buying a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership for the administrator, as well as spending $70,000 to replace two desks in his office.

Eric Weese questioned some of Pruitt’s security requests, including the use of lights and sirens when he was running late — on one occasion, so he could get to dinner at the popular D.C. restaurant Le Diplomate, according to the Times report. Weese was moved off Pruitt’s security detail.

Everything we know about Scott Pruitt’s infamous Capitol Hill apartment

An EPA spokesperson denied that the reassignments were connected to the staff members’ push-back on Pruitt’s extravagant spending and unreasonable requests.

Pruitt’s repeated denials regarding the numerous allegations of ethical misconduct he is currently facing stand on increasingly thin ground as more information emerges.

Earlier this week, news came out that Pruitt went around the White House to approve significant pay increases for two of his closest aides. When asked by Fox News why he went around President Trump to give the pay raises, Pruitt denied he approved the salary increases. “I did not,” he said. “My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and I changed it.”

During the Fox News interview, Pruitt was also questioned about whether it might be an issue that he had rented a Capitol Hill condo — for below market value — linked to an energy lobbyist. Pruitt dodged, saying “Mr. Hart has no clients who have business before this agency.”

Not even Fox News is buying Scott Pruitt’s excuse for pay raise scandal

In reality, Steven Hart is a high-profile lobbyist for Williams & Jensen whose clients include Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. As it happens, during the same period of time that Pruitt was renting the condo, the EPA signed off on a pipeline approval for Enbridge.

And according to The Daily Beast, Hart was part of a team of four lobbyists at Williams & Jensen that reported lobbying the EPA on behalf of a glass bottle manufacturer, Owens-Illinois, which had paid almost $40 million in 2012 to settle allegations it faced from the EPA about Clean Air Act violations by one of its subsidiary.

New reporting Thursday revealed Steven Hart’s name was on Pruitt’s original lease and was crossed out and replaced with his wife Vicki’s, undermining Pruitt’s defense of his living arrangements.

Despite the ever-unfolding series of controversies surrounding Pruitt, Trump continues to voice support for him.

“I think Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he’s a fantastic person. You know, I just left coal and energy country,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “They love Scott Pruitt. They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt. Thank you very much everybody.”

Marco Rubio on gun control: It depends who he’s talking to

Associated Press

Marco Rubio on gun control: It depends who he’s talking to

Ashraf Khalil, Associated Press       April 3, 2018
 
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks on gun violence reforms.

501 Days in (trump’s) Swampland

New York Magazine

501 Days in (trump’s) Swampland

A constant drip of self-dealing. And this is just what we know so far …

By Joy Crane and Nick Tabor           April 1, 2018

Introduction By Davis Cay Johnston 

Photo-illustration by Joe Darrow

On the day he took the oath of office, Donald Trump delivered two messages about what to expect from his administration. First came the lofty promise of his inaugural address. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he vowed. “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth.”

The second message, which Trump delivered without speaking a word, was aimed at a much smaller, but very rich, audience. As the new president’s motorcade left the Capitol, rolling past knots of supporters and protesters, it suddenly stopped three blocks short of the White House. Trump, the First Lady, and the rest of his family got out of their limos and took a three-minute turn in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue.

This was no random spot. The very first place Trump headed after being sworn in — his true destination all along, in a sense — was the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, which only 12 days before the election had been repurposed as the Trump International Hotel Washington. The elegant granite structure, whose architectural character Trump had promised to preserve, was now besmirched by a gaudy, faux-gold sign bearing his name. The carefully choreographed stop sent a clear signal to the foreign governments, lobbyists, and corporate interests keen on currying favor in Washington: The rewards of government would now be reaped by a single man — and the people would bear the cost.

7 Of President Trump’s Dictatorial Tendencies

More than at any time in history, the president of the United States is actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets: landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos, securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal. For Trump, whose business revolves around the marketability of his name, there has proved to be no public policy too big, and no private opportunity too crass, to exploit for personal profit.

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Nowhere has the self-enrichment been more evident than at his Washington hotel, which quickly filled up with the very lobbyists and swamp creatures Trump had railed against during his campaign. Oil companies, mining interests, insurance executives, foreign diplomats, and defense contractors all rushed to book their annual conferences at Trump’s hotels and resorts, where Cabinet members graciously addressed them. After hiking the nightly rate to $653 — 32 percent higher than other local luxury hotels — Trump collected $2 million in profits from the property during his first three months in office. By last August, the hotel’s bar and restaurant had hauled in another $8 million in revenue. And although Trump has pledged to give away any money his hotels earn from foreign governments, the plan contains a lucrative loophole: Employees at his hotels admit that they make no effort to identify guests who represent other countries, meaning that much of the foreign money spent at Trump’s properties flows directly into his own pockets. On March 28, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit to go forward that charges Trump with violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his D.C. hotel.

In fact, although Trump refuses to disclose the details of his myriad business operations, he continues to enjoy access to every dime he makes as president. Instead of setting up a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, as other presidents have done, Trump put his two grown sons in charge of his more than 500 business entities. His sons regularly brief Trump about how the enterprises are doing, enabling him to personally monitor how his decisions in office affect his bottom line. What’s more, only 15 days after this “eyes wide open” trust was set up, Trump amended the fine print to allow him to take money out of the operation any time he pleases. The loophole, buried on page 161 of the 166-page form, stipulates that any “net income or principal” can be distributed to Trump “at his request.” Far from putting his wealth in a blind trust, Trump asked the public for its blind trust, effectively sticking his money in a piggy bank in Don Jr.’s room that he is free to raid at any hour of the day or night.

Trump’s children are working hard to cash in on his time in office — especially with foreign investors. At taxpayer expense, they have flown to Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Dubai, and India in search of licensing and real-estate deals, trading on the president’s influence in exchange for investments. But the biggest complication of Trump’s presidency — and the one he works hardest to keep secret — is the way his entire business operation is mired in massive debt. Rather than being independently wealthy, public records show, Trump and the business partnerships in which he is a leading investor owe big banks and foreign governments at least $2.3 billion — far more than his disclosure reports indicate. His largest single loan — for nearly $1 billion — is from a syndicate assembled by Goldman Sachs that includes the state-owned Bank of China. If either Trump or Jared Kushner, who tried to shake down Qatar’s finance minister for a loan, winds up needing to negotiate new terms on his ballooning debt, America could find itself being dictated to by a foreign government — all because the White House, thanks to Trump’s business model, has become a true House of Cards.

What follows is 501 days of official corruption, from small-time graft and brazen influence peddling to full-blown raids on the federal Treasury. Given how little Trump has disclosed about his finances, this timeline of self-dealing is undoubtedly only a fraction of the corruption that will eventually come to light. But as even this initial glimpse makes clear, Trump isn’t draining the swamp — he’s monetizing it. —David Cay Johnston

Trump’s Hotel in D.C.

Photo: Tony Millionaire

“The stars have all aligned. I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.” —Eric Trump, speaking at the hotel

2016

12/7 Diplomats from Bahrain move the country’s National Day celebration from the Ritz-Carlton to the ballroom at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

2017

1/20 A watchdog group calls on the General Services Administration, a federal agency, to stop leasing the Old Post Office to Trump for use as the hotel. The agency’s ethics division, which reports to Trump, rules that the $180 million deal is fine.

1/23 Saudi Arabia holds a bash at the hotel after renting rooms for lobbyists for five months. Trump’s haul: $270,000.

2/25 The Kuwaiti Embassy, reportedly pressured by the Trump Organization, moves its National Day celebration from the Four Seasons to Trump’s hotel.

3/1 The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association hosts a dinner at the hotel, drenched in Trump-branded coffee and wine.

3/22 The American Petroleum Institute holds its board meeting at Trump’s hotel, where it meets with EPA chief Scott Pruitt. A month later, Pruitt suspends drilling regulations.

5/1 Rates at the hotel jump to $653 per night, a price hike of 60 percent since Trump’s election.

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5/21 A Turkish government council holds its annual conference at the hotel. The group’s chair founded the company that paid $530,000 to former national-security adviser Michael Flynn for lobbying work.

7/17 E-cigarette-makers hold their annual conference at the hotel. Ten days later, the FDA announces it will delay federal oversight of e-cigarettes until 2022.

8/11 A federal agency accidentally posts the hotel’s Q1 profits: $2 million.

9/13 Staffers for Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration, try to cover up the fact that she addressed a business lobbying event at the hotel, avoiding images of hotel signs bearing Trump’s name when posting photos of the event on Twitter.

9/28 The Fund for American Studies, a conservative organization, hosts a lunch at the hotel. The keynote speaker, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, thanks Trump’s staff for helping him get confirmed.

Rick Perry.

10/4 At its annual board meeting, the National Mining Association is addressed by three Cabinet members: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “Coal is fighting back,” Perry exults over breakfast with the country’s top mining executives. “Clearly the president wants to revive, not revile, this vital resource.” Five days later, the Trump administration announces the repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have encouraged states to replace coal with wind and solar energy. The plan would have cut climate-warming pollution from coal plants by a third and saved taxpayers and consumers as much as $93 billion a year. The venue for the mining board’s meeting: the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

10/5 A commercial real-estate trade association hosts an awards gala at Trump’s hotel, sponsored by a roster of prominent lobbying agents.

10/11 The American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group with ties to the Koch brothers, announces that the venue for its 45th-anniversary gala will be Trump’s hotel. The group requests corporate sponsorships of up to $100,000.

2018

3/5 The Independent Petroleum Association of America holds a three-day lobbying event at the hotel.

3/28 A federal judge declines to stop a lawsuit that accuses Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his hotel.

Mar-a-Lago

“The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese influences.” —From a state department promo online

2016

12/31 Mar-a-Lago hosts a New Year’s Eve party with Trump, priced at $525 a ticket. His take for the night: $400,000.

2017

1/1 The resort quietly doubles its initiation fee to $200,000 — a potential haul of $2 million. In return, club members get access to the president on a par with White House officials.

4/4 The State Department runs an online promotion for Mar-a-Lago, which is also picked up by embassy websites in England and Albania.

                                        President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

4/6 Trump and Ivanka meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. That same day, China approves trademarks for three of Ivanka’s brands.

6/16 Financial-disclosure filings show that Trump’s revenues from the resort soared by 25 percent during his presidential run.

7/17 The administration increases the allotment of H2-B visas for foreign workers. Within days, Mar-a-Lago applies for 76 of the new visas — even though a local jobs agency has 5,100 applicants qualified to fill the openings.

11/10 The Republican Attorneys General Association, which has spent more than $75,000 at Trump’s properties in five months, holds a reception at Mar-a-Lago. It later forms a “working group” to partner with the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections.

12/9 Oxbow Carbon, a major energy company that would benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline, holds its annual holiday gala at Mar-a-Lago.

12/31 Trump boosts ticket prices for his New Year’s Eve bash to $750. Taxpayers foot the $26,000 bill for lights, generators, and tent rental.

2018

1/9 The Trump administration opens offshore drilling in all but one state: Florida, where oil and gas exploration could hurt business at Mar-a-Lago.

2/18 Reports reveal that Trump regularly solicits input from Mar-a-Lago members on everything from gun control to Jared Kushner’s favorability. Unlike other politicians, who are limited to asking the wealthy for campaign contributions, Trump has found a way to personally profit from selling access to the president.

2/26 An Israel-focused charity, the Truth About Israel, relocates its gala to Mar-a-Lago in appreciation of the president’s support for Israel.

Trump’s Other Properties & Investments

Trump’s resort in Miami. Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves. They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts.” —Donald Trump

2016

11/14 In a call with Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, Trump reportedly pushes for approval to build a Trump Tower in downtown Buenos Aires. Ivanka Trump, who oversees the family business with her brothers, sits in on the call.

2017

1/24 Trump signs an executive order to fast-track the Dakota Access Pipeline. He claims to have sold the stock he owns in the pipeline’s builders — as much as $300,000 — but offers no proof.

Photo: EnginKorkmaz/Getty Images

1/27 Trump issues the travel ban but leaves off Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt — countries where he has significant business interests. His company was paid as much as $10 million for use of his name on a tower in Istanbul, and he registered eight new businesses in Saudi Arabia during his campaign.

2/3 Trump, who owned as much as $5 million in bank stocks in 2016, orders the Treasury secretary to consider ways to roll back regulations on banks. The value of bank stocks soars nearly 30 percent during his first year in office.

2/14 Trump, who owned stock in large oil companies, allows oil companies to hide the payments they make to foreign governments in exchange for extraction rights. The move comes only two months after ExxonMobil, which lobbied for the concession, donated $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration.

2/21 Angela Chen, a consultant with ties to China’s ruling elite, buys a $16 million penthouse in a Trump-owned property.

2/28 Trump, who owns 12 golf courses in the U.S., rolls back a rule that limits water pollution by golf courses.

From left, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Donald Trump, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

4/29 Overriding diplomatic concerns, Trump invites Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. To gain favor with Trump, Duterte had appointed the president’s partner on the Trump Tower in Manila as his economic envoy to the U.S.

5/7 The Metals Service Center Institute, which is pushing the Commerce Department for steel tariffs, holds its annual conference at Trump’s resort in Miami.

5/16 The Republican Governors Association holds a conference at Trump’s golf club in Miami, where members strategize with corporate executives over how to persuade the new administration to dismantle environmental regulations and enact other business-friendly moves. Trump’s take for the conference: $400,000.

5/19 Trump proposes slashing HUD’s budget — but retains a subsidythat has poured more than $490 million into a housing complex in Brooklyn where Trump has a financial stake.

Lynne Patton.

6/16 Lynne Patton, an event planner and friend of the Trump family with no experience in housing, is put in charge of the HUD region covering New York and New Jersey — giving her the power to disburse federal subsidies directly to the Brooklyn housing complex from which Trump made $5 million in 2016.

8/2 Activists protest against JPMorgan Chase, which lobbied to slash the corporate tax rate while paying Trump $1.5 million a year in rent at one of his office buildings.

9/19 Report reveals that the Pentagon spends $130,000 a month in rent at Trump Tower — more than twice as much as other tenants.

10/9 Trump International Hotel in Chicago hosts a two-day conference for the manufacturing industry.

10/10 An insurance-industry trade association holds its four-day annual conference at Trump’s resort in Miami.

10/16 GEO Group, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, holds its annual conference at the Trump National Doral. The company poured $450,000 into Trump’s campaign and inauguration after Obama announced plans to end all federal contracts with private prisons. GEO also hired two of Jeff Sessions’s former aides, plus a former Trump Organization employee, as lobbyists. The investment paid off: A month after Trump took office, he ended the ban on private prisons. GEO received a $110 million contract to build a new immigration jail in Texas, plus $44 million a year to operate it. Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced it would slash some 6,000 jobs and transfer more inmates to private facilities.

10/18 Defense contractor L3 Technologies holds its annual meeting at Trump National Doral. L3 depends on government largesse for 84 percent of its revenue.

10/19 In a break with tradition, Trump personally interviews candidates for U.S. attorney in the districts that cover most of his business dealings. For the New York position, he ultimately chooses one of his campaign donors.

11/7 Trump hawks his golf course during a major speech to South Korea’s legislature.

11/8 A payday-lender lobbying group announces it will hold its 2018 annual conference at the Trump National Doral. Two months later, the administration announces it is considering scrapping a rule that requires payday lenders to stop taking advantage of clients who cannot pay off their loans.

2018

1/2 A judge rules that Starrett City, a housing complex in Brooklyn that Trump owns a stake in, can be sold to private developers. The sale, which the administration approved after it was halted by George W. Bush, is expected to net Trump $14 million.

2/21 Mississippi awards $6 million in tax breaks to a new Trump-branded hotel.

Family & Friends

“The company and policy and government are completely separated. We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two.” —Eric Trump

2016

                  Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and Melania Trump. Photo: Clint Spaulding/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

11/13 While appearing on 60 Minutes to discuss her father’s election, Ivanka Trump wears a $10,800 bracelet from her jewelry company. After the interview, the company sends out a “style alert”promoting the bracelet to reporters.

12/6 Firm founded by Melania Trump’s friend and adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff receives $26 million for helping plan the inauguration.

2017

1/5 Eric Trump jets to Uruguay to check on an unfinished Trump condo tower. The trip costs taxpayers $97,830.

2/5 Eric Trump spends $200,000 in taxpayer money to jet to the Dominican Republic to push for a Trump-branded project. The deal — which would put Trump’s name on 17 high-rises — violates a Dominican height limit for new resorts. It also breaks Trump’s vow not to seek overseas deals during his presidency. The Dominican president personally approves the high-rises. “Here in the palace, the president’s thoughts are that this U.S. president is angry and we better not get in his way,” a former Dominican ambassador explains. “We don’t want to cross him.”

2/6 Melania’s lawyers, suing a British paper for libel, argue its reporting ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to monetize her position as First Lady by cashing in on “multi-million-dollar business relationships.”

2/9 Kellyanne Conway offers “free commercial” for Ivanka’s clothing line on Fox News: “Go buy it today, everybody.” Trump refuses to discipline her, defying recommendation of his own ethics agency.

2/18 Taxpayers pay $16,000 to provide security for Eric Trump and Donald Jr. during their trip to open a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai. The event is invitation-only.

3/3 Jared Kushner meets with the CEO of Citigroup, which is lobbying to loosen financial regulations. Citigroup subsequently lends Kushner’s company $325 million to develop a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

3/9 Kushner fails to disclose his ownership of Cadre, a real-estate start-up. The firm’s value shot up by millions of dollars after he entered the White House.

3/20 Eric’s wife posts a photo on Instagram of the family’s weeklong ski vacation in Aspen. Taxpayers were charged $330,000 for security details and another $200,000 for luxury lodgings.

3/20 Ivanka, refusing to place her assets in a blind trust, sets up shop in the West Wing.

4/24 Kushner’s family tries to broker funding for his real-estate ventures with Qatar’s finance minister. The minister declines. A month later, Kushner supports diplomatic actions against Qatar.

5/4 State Department and Voice of America promote Ivanka’s book Women Who Work.

5/5 Trump extends fast-track visas for foreigners who invest $500,000 in U.S. properties. The next day, Kushner’s sister promises visas to Chinese investors if they put $500,000 into the family’s properties in New Jersey.

5/17 Kushner’s company is subpoenaed by federal prosecutors and the SEC for its promotion of the investment-for-visa program.

7/21 CNN finds that even after his family business apologizes for name-dropping Kushner at a marketing event in Beijing, it highlights his White House role in an online sales pitch to Chinese investors.

10/3 Kushner fined $200 for missing a disclosure deadline. To date, he has been forced to change his disclosure form 39 times for failing to mention potential conflicts of interest.

10/4 ProPublica investigation reveals that after Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance dropped a criminal investigation against Donald Jr. and Ivanka, their attorney arranged a fund-raiser on Vance’s behalf, donating $32,000 himself and raising at least $9,000 more.

11/1 Apollo Global Management lends Kushner’s real-estate company $184 million — triple the size of its average loan — after meeting with him in the White House. Six weeks later, the SEC drops investigation into Apollo’s finances.

12/3 Kushner is exposed for failing to disclose that his family’s foundation — which he led for nine years — funded an illegal Israeli settlement on the West Bank. Just before Trump took office, Kushner tried to sway a U.N. vote against an anti-settlement resolution.

2018

                               2/20 Donald Jr. tours India to sell Trump-branded homes; several newspapers run an ad promising a “conversation and dinner” with him — for an additional fee of $30,000.

Officials & Their Pals

“We are going to send the special interests packing.” —Donald Trump

2017

Steven Mnuchin.

                                     1/19 During his confirmation as Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin fails to disclose a hedge fund he registered in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying federal taxes — the very thing he is supposed to collect as Treasury secretary.

1/24 During his confirmation as secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price fails to disclose an insider deal he got on $520,000 in stock in a biotech company. As secretary, he will be in a position to approve a drug the company has developed.

2/9 Reports reveal that a top White House aide, Chris Liddell, participated in meetings between Trump and the CEOs of 18 companies in which he held large amounts of stock — a possible criminal offense. The companies included Lockheed Martin, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, and Dow Chemical.

Flynn seated beside Putin.

3/16 Congressional investigators reveal that Trump’s former national-security adviser Michael Flynn — who wanted to “rip up” American sanctions on Russia — failed to report $45,000 in fees he received from the Russian state media outlet RT.

4/14 The White House stops releasing logs of visitors, concealing trips made by lobbyists and corporate executives. In Trump’s first two months alone, by one estimate, more than 500 executives and foreign leaders made unrecorded visits to the White House.

6/29 HUD Secretary Ben Carson tours Baltimore — accompanied by prospective business associates being courted by his son. One administrator on the tour later offers Carson’s daughter-in-law a contract worth $500,000.

11/5 New reports reveal that during his confirmation hearings, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed to disclose that a Russian shipping firm he owns a stake in has close ties to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. His new job puts him in charge of American trade policy with Russia.

12/18 Under pressure from watchdogs, EPA chief Scott Pruitt terminates a $120,000 contract for a firm he has worked with in the past to dig up information on EPA staffers who had criticized him or his policies.

12/22 “You all just got a lot richer,” Trump tells wealthy patrons at Mar-a-Lago hours after signing a massive tax give-a-way to the superrich. The bill saved Trump $15 million in taxes and Jared Kushner $12 million. It also enriched much of Trump’s inner circle — including Linda McMahon, Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, and Rex Tillerson.

2018

                    Betsy DeVos. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

1/12 Performant Financial is one of only two companies awarded $400 million in contracts from the Education Department to collect on defaulted student loans. One notable former investor in Performant: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

1/31 CDC chief Brenda Fitzgerald is forced to resign over her purchase of stock in one of the world’s largest tobacco companies. She bought the shares a month after taking over the agency tasked with reducing tobacco use.

2/1 William Emanuel, a Trump appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, is investigated for a possible ethics violation after he votes on a case involving his former law firm. His tie-breaking vote would have made it harder for employees at franchises like McDonald’s to hold their parent companies accountable for labor-law violations, but the decision is thrown out because of his conflict of interest.

3/29 ABC News reports that EPA chief Pruitt spent much of his first year in Washington living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of J. Steven Hart, a top energy lobbyist. Hart lobbied the EPA on several policies last year, including coal regulations and limits on air pollution.

Lobbyist & Other Sleaze

“We’re going to end the government corruption, and we’re going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” —Donald Trump

2017

1/17 Scott Mason, a key member of Trump’s transition team, returns to lobbying — one of nine transition-team members to violate Trump’s pledge that he would bar such revolving-door moves for at least six months. One of Mason’s clients, Peabody Energy, later helps dream up a coal-industry bailout promoted by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

1/23 Trump appoints Jeffrey Wood, a lobbyist for a coal polluter, to prosecute environmental crimes like coal pollution.

2/6 Lauren Maddox, who guided Betsy DeVos through her confirmation process for Education secretary, is hired by a for-profit law school to help restore its access to federal student loans. After paying $130,000 in lobbying fees, the school gets its wish: The Education Department agrees to reconsider its eligibility for millions in loans.

                                                    Carl Icahn. Photo: CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

2/27 Billionaire Carl Icahn, an unpaid adviser to Trump, submits a regulatory proposal that would raise the value of his investment in an oil refinery. During Trump’s first six weeks in office, Icahn makes an extra $60 million on the deal.

4/12 Marcus Peacock, a policy expert in Trump’s budget office, takes a job lobbying the budget office for the Business Roundtable, which represents 200 of America’s largest corporations. Trump makes no move to enforce the five-year moratorium he vowed to place on such revolving-door moves.

5/19 Trump nominates K. T. McFarland, adviser who once siphoned off $14,000 in campaign funds for “personal use,” as ambassador to Singapore.

8/1 A top aide to EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who oversees federal grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars, receives permission to work as a consultant for private clients. Despite his influence over public policy, the identities of his clients will be kept secret.

8/15 Two Trump campaign operatives register a new lobbying firm, Turnberry Solutions, named after the Scottish town where Trump owns a golf club. Its first client, Elio Motors, hires it to help obtain government handouts.

10/17 Whitefish Energy, a Montana firm that employed the son of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is awarded $300 million in a no-bid federal contract to restore storm-battered Puerto Rico.

10/26 Trump nominates J. Steven Gardner, a coal-industry consultant, to oversee enforcement of strip-mining regulations. The Senate winds up rejecting the nomination.

Kirstjen Nielsen.

11/8 Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, was guided through her confirmation by a lobbyist whose clients compete for DHS contracts. Privatizing the “sherpa” role in confirmations — work long performed by government staffers — opens up a brazen new frontier in corruption. The lobbyist, Thad Bingel, oversaw the drafting of official policy memos and was included on emails between the DHS and the White House, enabling him to exploit internal information for private gain. Among Bingel’s clients is an Israeli defense contractor being paid $145 million by DHS to build part of Trump’s “virtual wall” along the Mexican border.

12/6 A photographer at the Department of Energy is fired after leaking a photo that shows Rick Perry receiving a confidential “action plan” from a coal magnate in March. The plan is a blueprint for the coal-industry bailout that Perry announced in September.

2018

1/12 Trump gives Kenneth Allen, a former mining executive who still profits from coal sales to the Tennessee Valley Authority, a seat on the TVA board.

                                              Trump and Alex Azar. Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

1/29 Alex Azar, a former lobbyist who worked his way up to the presidency of a drug company, is sworn in as secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar, whose company hiked the price of insulin and other drugs under his watch, is now in charge of making drugs more affordable.

2/12 Carl Icahn, who served as an unpaid adviser to Trump, sells $30 million in steel stocks just before Trump announces tariffs on steel imports.

2/18 Dina Powell, who advised Trump on foreign policy, returns to Goldman Sachs only two months after leaving the White House. At Goldman, she will focus on “enhancing the firm’s relationships” with some of the same foreign governments she advised Trump on.

3/2 Trump nominates Peter Wright, an attorney for Dow Chemical, to lead the EPA’s regulation of chemical spills. Dow has 100 polluted sites that Wright would be in charge of cleaning up.

Petty Graft

“We are going to ask every department head to provide a list of wasteful spending projects we can eliminate.” —Donald Trump

2017

                                                  Eric Trump and Don Trump Jr. Photo: Phillip Chin/Getty Images for Trump Internati

2/28 The State Department spends $15,000 in taxpayer money for the grand opening of a Trump hotel in Vancouver, an event attended by Eric, Tiffany, and Donald Jr.

4/14 Trump jets to Mar-a-Lago via Air Force One at a cost to taxpayers of $142,380 per hour. For years, Trump heckled President Obama for taking vacations and golfing trips at government expense. If elected, he vowed, he would “rarely leave the White House, because there’s so much work to be done.” In fact, during his first three months in office, Trump’s taxpayer-funded flights to his private properties exceeded $20 million — on track to quickly surpass the amount Obama spent on travel during his eight years in office. Trump made more than 90 visits to his golf courses and played almost twice as much golf as Obama. His family joined in, requiring Secret Service agents to rack up an extra 4,054 days of taxpayer-funded travel to keep up.

5/16 Rick Perry and his staffers take a private jet to a small-business forum in Kansas City, at a cost to taxpayers of $35,000, rather than taking a nonstop flight to the airport 45 minutes away from the event.

6/2 David Shulkin’s chief of staff falsifies an email to suggest that the VA secretary needed to travel to Europe to receive an award. Shulkin’s 11-day trip with his wife, most of which was devoted to sightseeing, cost taxpayers $122,344.

6/7 Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief, spends $36,000 in taxpayer money to take a military plane to New York.

6/24 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin marries Louise Linton and requests a military plane for their honeymoon to Europe — at a cost to taxpayers of $25,000 per hour.

6/26 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spends $12,375 in taxpayer money to fly home aboard a private flight from Las Vegas, where he hung out with a hockey team owned by his biggest campaign donor.

7/7 Zinke uses $6,250 in taxpayer money for a helicopter flight from Virginia to Washington, D.C. — a three-hour car ride — for a horse-riding date with Mike Pence.

8/4 HHS Secretary Tom Price takes a private jet at taxpayer expense to St. Simons Island, an exclusive resort where he owns land. The trip, like many of the 26 flights Price took on corporate jets, could have been accomplished with a routine commercial flight.

                                        8/21 Mnuchin and his wife travel to Kentucky aboard a government plane, at a cost to taxpayers of $33,000, to watch the solar eclipse.

8/30 EPA chief Pruitt spends $43,000 to build a soundproof phone booth in his office, enabling him to hold secret conversations with lobbyists and corporate executives. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the move violated agency spending rules.

9/29 HHS Secretary Price is forced to resign over the nearly $1 million in taxpayer money he spent taking military planes and private jets, often to visit family and friends.

2018

Photo: © HICKORY CHAIR

2/27 HUD Secretary Ben Carson spends $196,000 on a dinette set and lounge furniture, exceeding the $5,000 legal limit for office improvements.

3/7 Zinke spends $139,000 to renovate his office doors at Interior.

*This article appears in the April 2, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Trump is Peddling Arms as If There Were No Tomorrow.

Mint Press News

The Art of the Arms Deal: Trump is Peddling Arms as If There Were No Tomorrow.

Donald Trump has headed down a well-traveled arms superhighway, partnering with the likes of Lockheed Martin to sell weapons to dictatorships and repressive regimes that often fuel instability, war, and terrorism.

By William D. Hartung           April 2, 2018

President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

It’s one of those stories of the century that somehow never gets treated that way. For an astounding 25 of the past 26 years, the United States has been the leading arms dealer on the planet, at some moments in near monopolistic fashion. Its major weapons-producers, including Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, regularly pour the latest in high-tech arms and munitions into the most explosive areas of the planet with ample assistance from the Pentagon. In recent years, the bulk of those arms have gone to the Greater Middle East. Donald Trump is only the latest American president to preside over a global arms sales bonanza. With remarkable enthusiasm, he’s appointed himself America’s number one weapons salesman and he couldn’t be prouder of the job he’s doing.

Earlier this month, for instance, on the very day Congress was debating whether to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, Trump engaged in one of his favorite presidential activities: bragging about the economic benefits of the American arms sales he’s been promoting. He was joined in his moment of braggadocio by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chief architect of that war. That grim conflict has killed thousands of civilians through indiscriminate air strikes, while putting millions at risk of death from famine, cholera, and other “natural” disasters caused at least in part by a Saudi-led blockade of that country’s ports.

That Washington-enabled humanitarian crisis provided the backdrop for the Senate’s consideration of a bill co-sponsored by Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, and Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. It was aimed at ending U.S. mid-air refueling of Saudi war planes and Washington’s additional assistance for the Saudi war effort (at least until the war is explicitly authorized by Congress). The bill generated a vigorous debate. In the end, on an issue that wouldn’t have even come to the floor two years ago, an unprecedented 44 senators voted to halt this country’s support for the Saudi war effort. The bill nonetheless went down to defeat and the suffering in Yemen continues.

Debate about the merits of that brutal war was, however, the last thing on the mind of a president who views his bear-hug embrace of the Saudi regime as a straightforward business proposition. He’s so enthusiastic about selling arms to Riyadh that he even brought his very own prop to the White House meeting with bin Salman: a U.S. map highlighting which of the 50 states would benefit most from pending weapons sales to the prince’s country.

You undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, the three crucial swing states in the 2016 presidential election, were specially highlighted. His latest stunt only underscored a simple fact of his presidency: Trump’s arms sales are meant to promote pork-barrel politics, while pumping up the profits of U.S. weapons manufacturers. As for human rights or human lives, who cares?

To be fair, Donald Trump is hardly the first American president to make it his business to aggressively promote weapons exports. Though seldom a highlighted part of his presidency, Barack Obama proved to be a weapons salesman par excellence. He made more arms offers in his two terms in office than any U.S. president since World War II, including an astounding $115 billion in weapons deals with Saudi Arabia. For the tiny group of us who follow such things, that map of Trump’s only underscored a familiar reality.

On it, in addition to the map linking U.S. jobs and arms transfers to the Saudis, were little boxes that highlighted four specific weapons sales worth tens of billions of dollars. Three of those that included the THAAD missile defense system, C-130 transport planes, P-8 anti-submarine warfare planes, and Bradley armored vehicles were, in fact, completed during the Obama years. So much for Donald Trump’s claim to be a deal maker the likes of which we’ve never seen before. You might, in fact, say that the truest arms race these days is between American presidents, not the United States and other countries. Not only has the U.S. been the world’s top arms exporting nation throughout this century, but last year it sold one and a half times as much weaponry as its closest rival, Russia.

Embracing Lockheed Martin

President Donald Trump looks over to Lockheed Martin Chairwoman, President and CEO Marillyn Hewson, right, before signing an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 24, 2017.(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

It’s worth noting that three of those four Saudi deals involved weapons made by Lockheed Martin. Admittedly, Trump’s relationship with Lockheed got off to a rocky start in December 2016 when he tweeted his displeasure over the cost of that company’s F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken by the Pentagon. Since then, however, relations between the nation’s largest defense contractor and America’s most self-involved president have warmed considerably.

Before Trump’s May 2017 visit to Saudi Arabia, his son-in-law, Jared Kusher, new best buddy to Mohammed bin Salman, was put in charge of cobbling together a smoke-and-mirrors, wildly exaggerated $100 billion-plus arms package that Trump could announce in Riyadh. What Kushner needed was a list of sales or potential sales that his father-in-law could boast about (even if many of the deals had been made by Obama). So he called Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson to ask if she could cut the price of a THAAD anti-missile system that the administration wanted to include in the package. She agreed and the $15 billion THAAD deal — still a huge price tag and the most lucrative sale to the Saudis made by the Trump administration — went forward. To sweeten the pot for the Saudi royals, the Pentagon even waived a $3.5 billion fee normally required by law and designed to reimburse the Treasury for the cost to American taxpayers of developing such a major weapons system. General Joseph Rixey, until recently the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which granted that waiver, has since gone directly through Washington’s revolving door and been hired by — you guessed it — Lockheed Martin.

In addition, former Lockheed Martin executive John Rood is now the Trump administration’s undersecretary of defense for policy, where one of his responsibilities will be to weigh in on… don’t be shocked!… major arms deals. In his confirmation hearings, Rood refused to say that he would recuse himself from transactions involving his former employer, for which he was denounced by Senators John McCain and Elizabeth Warren. As Warrenasserted in a speech opposing Rood’s appointment,

“No taxpayer should have to wonder whether the top policy-makers at the Pentagon are pushing defense products and foreign military sales for reasons other than the protection of the United States of America… No American should have to wonder whether the Defense Department is acting to protect the national interests of our nation or the financial interests of the five giant defense contractors.”

Still, most senators were unfazed and Rood’s nomination sailed through that body by a vote of 81 to 7. He is now positioned to help smooth the way for any Lockheed Martin deal that might meet with a discouraging word from the Pentagon or State Department officials charged with vetting foreign arms sales.

Arming the Planet

Benjamin Netanyahu reaches to an American-made F-35 fighter jet at an unveiling ceremony in Nevatim Air Force base, Southern Israel. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Though Saudi Arabia may be the largest recipient of U.S. arms on the planet, it’s anything but Washington’s only customer. According to the Pentagon’s annual tally of major agreements under the Foreign Military Sales program, the most significant channel for U.S. arms exports, Washington entered into formal agreements to sell weaponry to 130 nations in 2016 (the most recent year for which full data is available). According to a recent report from the Cato Institute, between 2002 and 2016 the United States delivered weaponry to 167 countries — more than 85% of the nations on the planet. The Cato report also notes that, between 1981 and 2010, Washington supplied some form of weaponry to 59% of all nations engaged in high-level conflicts.

In short, Donald Trump has headed down a well-traveled arms superhighway. Every president since Richard Nixon has taken that same road and, in 2010, the Obama administration managed to rack up a record $102 billion in foreign arms offers. In a recent report I wrote for the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy, I documented more than $82 billion in arms offers by the Trump administration in 2017 alone, which actually represented a slight increase from the $76 billion in offers made during President Obama’s final year. It was, however, far lower than that 2010 figure, $60 billion of which came from Saudi deals for F-15 combat aircraft, Apache attack helicopters, transport aircraft, and armored vehicles, as well as guns and ammunition.

There have nonetheless been some differences in the approaches of the two administrations in the area of human rights. Under pressure from human rights groups, the Obama administration did, in the end, suspend sales of aircraft to Bahrain and Nigeria, both of whose militaries were significant human rights violators, and also a $1 billion-plus deal for precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. That Saudi suspension represented the first concrete action by the Obama administration to express displeasure with Riyadh’s indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen. Conducted largely with U.S. and British supplied aircraft, bombs, and missiles, it has included strikes against hospitals, marketplaces, water treatment facilities, and even a funeral. In keeping with his focus on jobs to the exclusion of humanitarian concerns, Trump reversed all three of the Obama suspensions shortly after taking office.

Fueling Terrorism and Instability

A well-equipped Syrian rebel using a US-made BGM-71 TOW against the Syrian Arab Army. (YouTube Screenshot)

In fact, selling weapons to dictatorships and repressive regimes often fuels instability, war, and terrorism, as the American war on terror has vividly demonstrated for the last nearly 17 years. U.S.-supplied arms also have a nasty habit of ending up in the hands of America’s adversaries. At the height of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, for instance, that country’s armed forces lost track of hundreds of thousands of rifles, many of which made their way into the hands of forces resisting the U.S. occupation.

In a similar fashion, when Islamic State militants swept into Iraq in 2014, the Iraqi security forces abandoned billions of dollars worth of American equipment, from small arms to military trucks and armored vehicles. ISIS promptly put them to use against U.S. advisers and the Iraqi security forces as well as tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The Taliban, too, has gotten its hands on substantial quantities of U.S. weaponry, either on the battlefield or by buying them at cut-rate, black market prices from corrupt members of the Afghan security forces.

In northern Syria, two U.S.-armed groups are now fighting each other. Turkish forces are facing off against Syrian Kurdish militias that have been among the most effective anti-ISIS fighters and there is even an ongoing risk that U.S. and Turkish forces, NATO allies, may find themselves in direct combat with each other. Far from giving Washington influence over key allies or improving their combat effectiveness, U.S. arms and training often simply spur further conflict and chaos to the detriment of the security of the United States, not to speak of the peace of the world.

In the grim and devolving conflict in Yemen, for instance, all sides possess at least some U.S. weaponry. Saudi Arabia is, of course, the top U.S. arms client and its forces are a catalogue of American weaponry, from planes and anti-tank missiles to cluster bombs, but hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid were also provided to the forces of Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh during his 30 years of rule before he was driven from power in 2012. Later, however, he joined forces with the Houthi rebels against the Saudi-led intervention, taking large parts of the Yemeni armed forces — and their U.S.-supplied weapons — with him. (He would himself be assassinated by Houthi forces late last year after a falling out.)

Trump’s Plan: Make It Easier on Arms Makers

Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson participates in a signing ceremony between President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salam, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The Trump administration is poised to release a new policy directive on global arms transfers. A report by Politico, based on interviews with sources at the State Department and a National Security Council (NSC) official, suggests that it will seek to further streamline the process of approving arms sales, in part by increasing the already extensive role of U.S. government personnel in promoting such exports. It will also remove what a National Security Council statement has described as “unreasonable constraints on the ability of our companies to compete.” In keeping with that priority, according to the NSC official, “the administration is intent on ensuring that U.S. industry has every advantage in the global marketplace.”

In January, a Reuters article confirmed this approach, reporting that the forthcoming directive would emphasize arms-sales promotion by U.S. diplomats and other overseas personnel. As one administration official told Reuters, “We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters.”

The Trump administration is also expected to move forward with a plan, stalled as the Obama years ended, to ease controls on the export of U.S. firearms. Gun exports now licensed and scrutinized by the State Department would instead be put under the far-less-stringent jurisdiction of the Commerce Department. Some firearms could then be exported to allies without even a license, reducing the government’s ability to prevent them from reaching criminal networks or the security forces of potential adversaries. 

In September 2017, Democratic senators Ben Cardin, Dianne Feinstein, and Patrick Leahy sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raising concerns about such a change. As they wrote, “Combat firearms and ammunition are uniquely lethal; they are easily spread and easily modified, and are the primary means of injury, death and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world. As such they should be subjected to more — not less — rigorous export controls and oversight.”

If Trump’s vision of an all-arms-sales-all-the-time foreign policy is realized, he may scale the weapons-dealing heights reached by the Obama administration. As Washington’s arms-dealer-in-chief, he might indeed succeed in selling American weaponry as if there were no tomorrow. Given the known human costs of unbridled arms trafficking, however, such a presidency would also ensure that whatever tomorrow finally arrived would prove far worse than today, unless of course you happen to be a major U.S. arms maker.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of “Trends in Major U.S. Arms Sales in 2017: A Comparison of the Obama and Trump Administrations,” Security Assistance Monitor, March 2018.

Follow TomDispatch, where this article first appeared on Twitter and join them on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

The Newest Weapons Against Unions Are Employees

Bloomberg

The Newest Weapons Against Unions Are Employees

U-Haul workers sent a flood of letters seeking to reverse an Obama-era rule. Most used very similar language, in part because the company wrote it for them.

By Josh Eidelson and Hassan Kanu         April 2, 2018

Photographer: Stephen Hilger/Bloomberg

Thomas Neill wrote the government a letter Jan. 23 asking that it reverse an Obama-era rule that could make it easier for unions to win workplace elections. “Repeal the current rules; reinstate the prior rules; revise the election process in a way that brings them up to date in a sensible, fair manner,” he wrote. So did Brian Picanco, Paul Smedberg, Zane Rowland and Jim Smith.

On the same day. Using exactly the same words.

The men, along with dozens of other people working for U-Haul, the self-storage company, seem to have taken an outsized role in the debate over whether the Trump administration should revisit the rule. They’ve been doing this by flooding the National Labor Relations Board with very similar comments. While at least one employee said workers got together on their own, labor experts contend that the campaign has all the hallmarks of a company-influenced effort. U-Haul agreed, saying that while it didn’t compel workers to take part, it did provide the language for them to use.

Over the past few months, the NLRB received at least 100 similarly worded submissions urging it to throw out the policy that shortens the time between when some employees decide to unionize and when a vote is held. More than 60—roughly one out of every 25 comments submitted so far—used names matching people who work at the self-storage and rental giant, according to a review of LinkedIn pages and recent company announcements. More than a dozen additional comments appear to come from people who worked for the company in the past.

The U-Haul staffers ranged from a clerk for one of its local marketing units to a vice president for government relations, Joseph Cook. (Cook and the five men above didn’t respond to requests for comment.) Another submission was by Sam Shoen, who shares the surname of Joe Shoen, chairman of U-Haul’s parent, Reno, Nevada-based Amerco. The company said two people named Sam Shoen have been associated with U-Haul, one a former official and son of the founder, who said the submission wasn’t his. The other Sam Shoen is a manager who currently oversees one of the company’s storage components and couldn’t be reached for comment. Also among the commenters was Assistant General Counsel Michelle Walters, whose LinkedIn biography says her work for U-Haul includes “union avoidance/positive labor relations.” Walters couldn’t be reached for comment, but company spokesman Sebastien Reyes said in a March 30 response to a request for comment that she drafted the language used by U-Haul employees in their letters to the NLRB .

“We encouraged them to submit comments, and we circulated sample language,” Reyes wrote. “Individuals decided whether to submit a sample comment, write their comment or elect not to submit comments at all.” He confirmed that the people identified by Bloomberg in a review of correspondence sent to the NLRB were in fact U-Haul “team members.”

Photographer: Lars Hagber/Alamy

Founded in 1945, U-Haul claims thousands of locations across the U.S. and Canada. In February, Joe Shoen announced bonuses of more than $23.6 million for almost 29,000 employees, telling them it was thanks to the Republican tax overhaul signed by President Donald Trump.

The company has a history of disdain toward organized labor. An alert for U-Haul managers posted on the company’s human resources website (and since removed) emphasized the need to “harden our workplace against possible organizing” and mount a preemptive anti-union campaign that “begins now and lasts every single day.” The document, referring to an earlier legislative proposal, urged managers to participate in company “union avoidance” classes and instructed that the “preservation of our system members’ right to work in a union-free environment is management’s responsibility.” Staff, if treated well, “will keep the union bums out,” it said. (Reyes, the company spokesman, confirmed the document was an internal memorandum representing the company’s stance on organized labor, but added that it was taken down because it was mistakenly made public.)

After employees at two repair facilities voted 2-to-1 to unionize in 2003, the U-Haul Co. of Nevada shut down one of them, terminated 49 employees and allegedly refused to collectively bargain, arguing that the union election had been tainted by misconduct. A federal appeals court ruled against the company in 2007, and in 2008 the company agreed to pay $2.1 million to employees who the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers alleged had been illegally terminated for supporting the union. The company didn’t admit any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.

But the workers declined to return to work there, and the IAM abandoned its efforts to secure a union contract, according to David Rosenfeld, an attorney for the union. “They were extremely vicious,” he said of the company. Of the employees, he added: “Nobody’s tried since then to organize them, as far as I know.” Reyes denied the 2003 firings were related to the union vote, declining further comment on the case or its aftermath.

“Companies are increasingly using their workers to change elections and public policy.”

The recent U-Haul employee comments to the NLRB come in response to a December invitation by the Republican-majority labor board. It seeks input on whether to amend or rescind the 2014 rule change by the Obama administration. The provisions included shortening the time between when workers petition for a vote on unionization and when the vote happens, leaving less time for companies to urge workers to stay union-free. The comments from people associated with U-Haul each urged more stringent rules, including a minimum “campaign period” of at least 40 days before a union vote. On March 14, the NLRB announced that it was pushing back the deadline for submitting comments, which had already been extended, to April 18.

The volume and similarity of comments raise questions as to whether there was a coordinated effort, said Paul Secunda, who directs the labor and employment law program at Marquette University. “These U-Haul employee comments to the NLRB smack of employee mobilization by the company itself,” he said, though encouraging employees to comment on proposed rulemaking is perfectly legal.

That companies urge employees to take part in campaigns for or against government regulations isn’t novel, but the tactic has enjoyed a renaissance of late. Employers and the business lobby have recently urged workers to fight various corporate taxes and support the recent tax legislation. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a political scientist at Columbia University who just wrote a book on the topic, recounted how a lobbyist bragged of helping a financial company get 100,000 letters opposing the fiduciary rule—the now-endangered conflict-of-interest regulation for financial advisers. Hertel-Fernandez said a telecommunications company interested in shaping a different debate established an internet portal for workers, providing letter templates they could tweak before sending.

“Companies are increasingly using their workers to change elections and public policy. This has become a key part of companies’ political arsenals,” Hertel-Fernandez said in an interview. “Workers who are most fearful of losing their jobs, or of retaliation from their employers, are most likely to respond to political requests made of them by their employers.”

When AT&T Inc. was fighting proposed net neutrality rules in 2009, its senior vice president for external and legislative affairs reportedly sent employees talking points to use in emails to the Federal Communications Commission, encouraging them to send messages from their personal email accounts. AT&T declined to comment.

There have been other alleged efforts to game the public comment system, both in and out of government, that have gone beyond coordinating employee letters. In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that it had identified comments submitted to five agencies that were posted under the names of people who hadn’t consented. Some of those comments were sent to the Labor Department, professing opposition to the fiduciary rule. Last month, environmental groups cried foul over a Trump administration memo summarizing public comments on its reassessment of an Obama-era sage grouse conservation plan, which advocates say omitted almost 100,000 comments.

Republicans rigged our democracy. Here’s how Democrats can fight back

The Guardian

Republicans rigged our democracy. Here’s how Democrats can fight back

David Faris    March 31, 2018

Republicans have been using the constitution’s flaws to wage a one-sided war against their political opponents. It’s time for Democrats to respond

Can the Democrats lead a democratic revival? Illustration: Rob Dobi

Donald Trump wasn’t elected because Democrats lost a policy fight in 2016. What Democrats did was lose a procedural fight that has been going on since the early 1990’s, when Republicans began waging a relentless, brutal, and completely one-sided war, systematically using their lawmaking power to disadvantage their adversaries in elections and political mobilization.

Gerrymandering, the Citizens United atrocity that declared money is speech, blocking US Supreme Court nominations and obstructing legislation are some of the Republican party’s tactics. Depraved, racist voter ID laws that obviously target people who are likely to vote Democratic, and the cruel way that many states prevent current or former felons from voting, are others.

Standing in the way of reforms to our nonsensical, undemocratic electoral college system for electing the president helps the Republicans too, as does ensuring the United States remains the only country in the entire world that holds its critical national elections on a regular working Tuesday as if we literally couldn’t care less who is able take off work to cast a ballot.

Indeed, one has to grudgingly respect the single-mindedness with which the Republican party has pursued its advantage, even as we condemn the damage it has wreaked on our democracy.

Democrats, now that they are in the minority for the foreseeable future, must pay homage to their Republican overlords and use what little power they have to slow down legislation, turn the public against the Republican Congress, and then retake total power in 2018 and 2020. Then, what they must do with that power is to fundamentally alter key aspects of our political system that we take for granted but that are not, contrary to popular belief, outlined in the US constitution.

Ingenious for its time, if deeply morally deficient, the constitution saddles the country with a series of difficult political problems. Some are explicit design flaws, such as the way that every state in the United States, whether it has 38 million or 600,000 residents, gets two and only two US senators, or how the entire 435-member House of Representatives is put up for re-election every two years, the shortest election calendar in the entire world. Others are crimes of omission, like the document’s relative silence about voting rights.

But the biggest problem is that it is underspecified. It doesn’t adequately describe the powers granted to the supreme court it created, or explain what a militia is in the second amendment, or outline what happens if the Senate decides it simply can’t be bothered to carry out its constitutional obligations by approving appointments made by the president. It contains no information about how elections should be funded. And the thing is well nigh impossible to amend.

Beginning with the Gingrich radicals who took over the House in 1994, the modern Republican party has been willing to exploit the constitution’s design flaws and the constitutional order’s reliance on informal understandings between political actors to sabotage the functioning of Congress, destroy the Obama presidency, and seize vastly more power than the American people would otherwise have granted it.

When they retake power, Democrats should use those same flaws to revive not the party, but our democracy.

First, they should grant statehood to Washington DC and Puerto Rico – long-suffering territories whose citizens are utterly deprived of voting rights and representation in federal elections. This can help rectify the Democrats’ structural imbalance in the US Senate. Breaking the deep-blue state of California into seven states can finish the job, by finally creating about as many blue-leaning as red-leaning states and delivering lasting power (or at least parity) to Senate Democrats and their allies.

The theft of Merrick Garlands seat by Republicans and the deepening intensity of congressional battles over federal judicial appointments should lead the next Democratic administration to pack the supreme court, by adding liberal justices until progressives finally have their first majority in a long generation, as well as creating hundreds of new judgeships in the federal judiciary.

The constitution does not stipulate the number of justices either on the supreme court or the lower courts, and Democrats should use the threat of court-packing to press for a constitutional amendment to end lifetime tenure in the federal judiciary as well as enacting other reforms that would finally remove destructive, ugly battles over the courts from our political landscape.

Progressives should also get behind a change in how we elect our representatives to the House, enacting proportional representation reforms that would not only eliminate the grotesque chicanery of gerrymandering but also make it possible for smaller parties to finally win a seat at the governing table. And they should double the size of the House to bring the constituent-to-legislator ratio more in line with what the founders envisioned.

Finally, any serious progressive governing coalition must immediately address our litany of voting problems, from the disenfranchisement of felons to the racist voter-ID laws implemented by cynical Republicans across the country, by passing a comprehensive new voting rights act.

Step one in bringing this vision to fruition is to stop bringing pistols to the nuclear war. Democrats must be prepared to mimic their tormentors by intentionally destroying the Trump administration and then unleashing this dizzying array of electoral and institutional reforms when they recapture total power.

Only by changing the rules that are currently rigged against them, while clinging to a set of minimal behavioral standards, will Democrats ever hold power long enough to truly transform American politics in a lasting progressive direction.

Doing so will require party leaders to pursue policy changes that will be ridiculed by their opponents as outrageous affronts to democratic decency and received by their own voters with puzzlement or even shock. They need to do it anyway. The shock will wear off.

Most of these structural reforms would require only a law to be passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and then signed by a Democratic president. If instituted as a bloc, they will improve access to the ballot; increase participation in our elections; decrease destructive tensions over the supreme court; mitigate the fundamental flaws of the Senate; bring members of the House closer to their constituents and open the world of national politics to many more citizens.

At the end of this process, Americans will despise their own politics a bit less, and feel more connected to the system. The purpose of this partisanship is nothing short of dragging the United States kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

From It’s Time To Fight Dirty. Used with permission of Melville House. Copyright © 2018 by David Faris

David Faris is the program director of Political Science at Roosevelt University

Oklahoma Teachers Prepare For Walkout As Red State Revolt Spreads

HuffPost

Oklahoma Teachers Prepare For Walkout As Red State Revolt Spreads

Dave Jamieson, HuffPost           March 30, 2018

Teachers in Oklahoma still plan to walk off the job next week after state legislators passed an education funding bill that fell apart within hours.

Initially it seemed the legislation, signed Thursday by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), would quell the statewide walkout that educators had set for April 2 to demand more money for schools. But not even a day after the state Senate approved the first tax increase package in years, legislators in the state House voted to undo one of its main provisions, a tax on hotel and motel stays.

After applauding legislators for approving the funding bill, the state’s leading teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, renewed its call late Thursday for teachers around the state to stay out of school and descend on the Capitol in Oklahoma City on Monday.

“Yesterday, the Legislature passed a historic education funding increase,” the union said Thursday in a Facebook post. “Today, they started dismantling it by cutting millions out of the plan. Now they’re gone for the weekend. Oklahoma: we’ll see you at 9 a.m. April 2 at the Capitol.”

Oklahoma is one of a wave of red states now facing a teacher revolt after years of anemic funding for education.

Over the past decade, Oklahoma carried out a series of tax cuts that, combined with falling energy prices, have left the oil- and gas-rich state with little money to steer toward teachers or textbooks. It’s more or less the same story that played out in West Virginia, where tax cuts forced educators to forego raises while their health care costs increased. Teachers there walked off the job for nine days in February and March, prompting the state legislature to fund pay increases for public employees.

The historic and successful strike in West Virginia has inspired a burgeoning uprising among austerity-weary teachers around the country. In addition to Oklahoma, Arizona could soon face a strike by teachers, who are demanding the state boost pay by 20 percent and return to pre-recession funding levels for education. (Meanwhile, teachers in Kentucky shut down public schools in 25 counties on Friday to protest proposed cuts to the state pension plan.)

Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona are all among the lowest-paid in the country, with schools facing growing teacher shortages. Republicans control the statehouse and governor’s office in all three states.

“After ten long years in a lot of these conservative states, the chicken is finally coming home to roost,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the 3-million member union with which the Oklahoma Education Association is affiliated. “They’ve given tax breaks to big corporations, defunded public schools, and said, ‘What could go wrong?’”

After Oklahoma legislators passed the tax hike, it seemed the walkout could turn instead into a one-day rally on Monday. Now nobody knows for sure what next week will bring. The mixed actions by Oklahoma’s legislature could lead to a situation where some school districts close only for Monday or not at all, while others engage in a work stoppage for days. Many Oklahoma teachers on Facebook have called for keeping schools shut down until all their demands are met.

We have buildings that are falling apart and textbooks that need to be taped together. Beth Wallis, assistant band director

To a certain degree, their walkout will require the cooperation of their largely sympathetic superintendents, who decide whether schools are formally open or closed. If schools are open and teachers refuse to return to work, the state could consider it an illegal strike. Several districts announced Friday that their schools would not be open on Monday.

Beth Wallis, an assistant band director who teaches in a Tulsa suburb, said teachers in her district voted unanimously to stay off the job beyond Monday. Although the legislation passed this week includes average pay raises of $6,100, Wallis said the lack of state funding guaranteed in the bill could leave local districts on the hook to pay for them. She also said securing teacher pay raises is secondary to increasing general school funding.

“The school funding in the bill is laughably small,” Wallis said. “It’s not enough to buy every kid in my district a single textbook. We have buildings that are falling apart and textbooks that need to be taped together.”

Like most states, Oklahoma cut school funding in the wake of the Great Recession. But it also pursued tax cuts during the economic recovery that followed, dropping income taxes and reducing the gross production tax on oil and gas companies. With little money to devote to schools, Oklahoma has led the nation over the past decade in cuts to its education formula funding, which is the main well of state money for individual districts.

“They sort of maximized the damage that the recession did to their schools and other public services, and as the economy improved, they kept cutting taxes,” Michael Leachman, an analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, recently told HuffPost. “You’re just digging your hole even deeper.”

With less funding, many cash-strapped schools have gone to four-day weeks, while certifying a growing number of emergency teachers to fill vacant jobs. Such teachers don’t meet the state’s normal minimum requirements to teach in public school. The union says the state will have to increase salaries and school funding significantly if it wants to stop losing teachers to Arkansas and other nearby states that pay better.

Reversing course will not be easy. Approving tax hikes in Oklahoma is extraordinarily difficult, requiring a three-fourths supermajority in both chambers. Legislators were barely able to approve the tax package that has already foundered. Legislators had only hours to digest that bill before it was passed, and many apparently did not have time to read it. One state representative argued that the bill had a $75 million hole in it before taking the repeal of the hotel and motel tax into account.

“The more the bill has gotten to sit,” Wallis said, “the more people have gotten to read it and find problems with it.”

Oklahoma teacher has 5 jobs because he doesn’t earn enough teaching to support his family

March 30, 2018

He’s a high school algebra teacher in Oklahoma. And a bus driver. And a Little League umpire. And he drives for Uber and Lyft. All because he says his teaching salary isn’t enough to support his family.

The many jobs of Oklahoma's teachers

He’s a high school algebra teacher in Oklahoma. And a bus driver. And a Little League umpire. And he drives for Uber and Lyft. All because he says his teaching salary isn’t enough to support his family.

Posted by CNN on Friday, March 30, 2018