Donald Trump’s Worse Deal

Adam Davidson Interview by Rachel Maddow, MSNBC

The New Yorker

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal

The President helped build a hotel in Azerbaijan that appears to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

By Adam Davidson, A Reporter At Large, March 13, 2017 issue

The Trump Tower Baku never opened. Trump partnered with an Azerbaijani family that U.S. officials called notoriously unethical. Photograph by Davide Monteleone for The New Yorker

Heydar Aliyev Prospekti, a broad avenue in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, connects the airport to the city. The road is meant to highlight Baku’s recent modernization, and it is lined with sleek new buildings. The Heydar Aliyev Center, an undulating wave of concrete and glass, was designed by Zaha Hadid. The state oil company is housed in a twisting glass tower, and the headquarters of the state water company looks like a giant water droplet. “It’s like Potemkin,” my translator told me. “It’s only the buildings right next to the road.” Behind the gleaming structures stand decaying Soviet-era apartment blocks, with clothes hanging out of windows and wallboards exposed by fallen brickwork.

As you approach the city center, a tower at the end of the avenue looms in front of you. Thirty-three stories high and curved to resemble a sail, the building was clearly inspired by the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, but it is boxier and less elegant. When I visited Baku, in December, five enormous white letters glowed at the top of the tower: T-R-U-M-P.

The building, a five-star hotel and residence called the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, has never opened, though from the road it looks ready to welcome the public. Reaching the property is surprisingly difficult; the tower stands amid a welter of on-ramps, off-ramps, and overpasses. During the nine days I was in town, I went to the site half a dozen times, and on each occasion I had a comical exchange with a taxi-driver who had no idea which combination of turns would lead to the building’s entrance.

The more time I spent in the neighborhood, the more I wondered how the hotel could have been imagined as a viable business. The development was conceived, in 2008, as a high-end apartment building. In 2012, after Donald Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, signed multiple contracts with the Azerbaijani developers behind the project, plans were made to transform the tower into an “ultra-luxury property.” According to a Trump Organization press release, a hotel with “expansive guest rooms” would occupy the first thirteen floors; higher stories would feature residences with “spectacular views of the city and Caspian Sea.” For an expensive hotel, the Trump Tower Baku is in an oddly unglamorous location: the underdeveloped eastern end of downtown, which is dominated by train tracks and is miles from the main business district, on the west side of the city. Across the street from the hotel is a discount shopping center; the area is filled with narrow, dingy shops and hookah bars. Other hotels nearby are low-budget options: at the AYF Palace, most rooms are forty-two dollars a night. There are no upscale restaurants or shops. Any guests of the Trump Tower Baku would likely feel marooned.

The timing of the project was also curious. By 2014, when the Trump Organization publicly announced that it was helping to turn the tower into a hotel, a construction boom in Baku had ended, and the occupancy rate for luxury hotels in the city hovered around thirty-five per cent. Jan deRoos, of Cornell University, who is an expert in hotel finance, told me that the developer of a five-star hotel typically must demonstrate that the project will maintain an average occupancy rate of at least sixty per cent for ten years. There is a long-term master plan to develop the area around the Trump Tower Baku, but if it is implemented the hotel will be surrounded for years by noisy construction projects, making it even less appealing to travelers desiring a luxurious experience—especially considering that there are many established hotels on the city’s seaside promenade. There, an executive from ExxonMobil or the Israeli cell-phone industry can stay at the Four Seasons, which occupies a limestone building that evokes a French colonial palace, or at the J. W. Marriott Abershon Baku, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking the water. Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, and Armani are among the dozens of companies that have boutiques along the promenade.

A former top official in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Tourism says that, when he learned of the Trump hotel project, he asked himself, “Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood.”

The Azerbaijanis behind the project were close relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister and one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful oligarchs. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt nations in the world. Its President, Ilham Aliyev, the son of the former President Heydar Aliyev, recently appointed his wife to be Vice-President. Ziya Mammadov became the Transportation Minister in 2002, around the time that the regime began receiving enormous profits from government-owned oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. At the time of the hotel deal, Mammadov, a career government official, had a salary of about twelve thousand dollars, but he was a billionaire.

The Trump Tower Baku originally had a construction budget of a hundred and ninety-five million dollars, but it went through multiple revisions, and the cost ended up being much higher. The tower was designed by a local architect, and in its original incarnation it had an ungainly roof that suggested the spikes of a crown. A London-based architecture firm, Mixity, redesigned the building, softening its edges and eliminating the ornamental roof. By the time the Trump team officially joined the project, in May, 2012, many condominium residences had already been completed; at the insistence of Trump Organization staffers, most of the building’s interior was gutted and rebuilt, and several elevators were added.

After Donald Trump became a candidate for President, in 2015, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and other publications ran articles that raised questions about his involvement in the Baku project. These reports cited a series of cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan in 2009 and 2010, which were made public by WikiLeaks. In one of the cables, a U.S. diplomat described Ziya Mammadov as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.” The Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told reporters that the Baku hotel project raised no ethical issues for Donald Trump, because his company had never engaged directly with Mammadov.

According to Garten, Trump played a passive role in the development of the property: he was “merely a licensor” who allowed his famous name to be used by a company headed by Ziya Mammadov’s son, Anar, a young entrepreneur. It’s not clear how much money Trump made from the licensing agreement, although in his limited public filings he has reported receiving $2.8 million. (The Trump Organization shared documents that showed an additional payment of two and a half million dollars, in 2012, but declined to disclose any other payments.) Trump also had signed a contract to manage the hotel once it opened, for an undisclosed fee tied to the hotel’s performance. The Washington Post published Garten’s description of the deal, and reported that Donald Trump had “invested virtually no money in the project while selling the rights to use his name and holding the contract to manage the property.”

A month after Trump was elected President, Garten announced that the Trump Organization had severed its ties with the hotel project, describing the decision to CNN as little more than “housecleaning.” I was in Baku at the time, and it had become clear that the Trump Organization’s story of the hotel was incomplete and inaccurate. Trump’s company had made the deal not just with Anar Mammadov but also with Ziya’s brother Elton—an influential member of the Azerbaijani parliament. Elton signed the contracts, and in an interview he confirmed that he founded Baku XXI Century, the company that owns the Trump Tower Baku. When he was asked who owns Baku XXI Century, he called it a “commercial secret” but added that he “controlled all its operations” until 2015, when he cut ties to the company. Elton denied having used his political position for profit.

An Azerbaijani lawyer who worked on the project revealed to me that the Trump Organization had not just licensed the family name; it also had signed a technical-services agreement in which it promised to help its partner meet Trump design standards. Technical-services agreements are often nominal addenda to licensing deals. Major hospitality brands compile exhaustive specifications for licensed hotels, and tend to approve design elements remotely; a foreign site is visited only occasionally. But in the case of Trump Tower Baku the oversight appears to have been extensive. The Azerbaijani lawyer told me, “We were always following their instructions. We were in constant contact with the Trump Organization. They approved the smallest details.” He said that Trump staff visited Baku at least monthly to give the go-ahead for the next round of work orders. Trump designers went to Turkey to vet the furniture and fabrics acquired there. The hotel’s main designer, Pierre Baillargeon, and several contractors told me that they had visited the Trump Organization headquarters, in New York, to secure approval for their plans.

Ivanka Trump was the most senior Trump Organization official on the Baku project. In October, 2014, she visited the city to tour the site and offer advice. An executive at Mace, the London-based construction firm that oversaw the tower’s conversion to a hotel, met with Ivanka in Baku and New York. He told me, “She had very strong feelings, not just about the design but about the back of the hotel—landscaping, everything.” The Azerbaijani lawyer said, “Ivanka personally approved everything.” A subcontractor noted that Ivanka’s team was particular about wood panelling: it chose an expensive Macassar ebony, from Indonesia, for the ceiling of the lobby. The ballroom doors were to be made of book-matched panels of walnut. On her Web site, Ivanka posted a photograph of herself wearing a hard hat inside the half-completed hotel. A caption reads, “Ivanka has overseen the development of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku since its inception, and she recently returned from a trip to the fascinating city in Azerbaijan to check in on the project’s progress.” (Ivanka Trump declined requests to discuss the Baku project.)

Jan deRoos, the Cornell professor, developed branded-hotel properties before entering academia. He told me that the degree of the Trump Organization’s involvement in the Baku property was atypical. “That’s very, very intense,” he said.

The sustained back-and-forth between the Trump Organization and the Mammadovs has legal significance. If parties involved in the Trump Tower Baku project participated in any illegal financial conduct, and if the Trump Organization exerted a degree of control over the project, the company could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution. Tom Fox, a Houston lawyer who specializes in anti-corruption compliance, said, “It’s a problem if you’re making a profit off of someone else’s corrupt conduct.” Moreover, recent case law has established that licensors take on a greater legal burden when they assume roles normally reserved for developers. The Trump Organization’s unusually deep engagement with Baku XXI Century suggests that it had the opportunity and the responsibility to monitor it for corruption.

Before signing a deal with a foreign partner, American companies, including major hotel chains, conduct risk assessments and background checks that take a close look at the country, the prospective partner, and the people involved. Countless accounting and law firms perform this service, as do many specialized investigation companies; a baseline report normally costs between ten thousand and twenty-five thousand dollars. A senior executive at one of the largest American hotel chains, who asked for anonymity because he feared reprisal from the Trump Administration, said, “We wouldn’t look at due diligence as a burden. There certainly is a cost to doing it, especially in higher-risk places. But it’s as much an investment in the protection of that brand. It’s money well spent.”

Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization had commissioned a risk assessment for the Baku deal, but declined to name the company that had performed it. The Washington Post article on the Baku project reported that, according to Garten, the Trump Organization had undertaken “extensive due diligence” before making the hotel deal and had not discovered “any red flags.”

But the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideologically driven military force. In 2008, the year that the tower was announced, Ziya Mammadov, in his role as Transportation Minister, awarded a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company. Keyumars Darvishi, its chairman, fought in the Iran-Iraq War. After the war, he became the head of Raman, an Iranian construction firm that is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The U.S. government has regularly accused the Guard of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, sponsoring terrorism abroad, and money laundering. Reuters recently reported that the Trump Administration was poised to officially condemn the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

I asked Garten how deeply the Trump Organization had looked into the Mammadov family’s political connections. Had it been concerned that Elton Mammadov, as a sitting member of parliament, might exploit his power to benefit the project? How much money had Ziya Mammadov invested in Elton’s company? Garten noted that he didn’t oversee the due-diligence process. “The people who did are no longer at the company,” he said. “I can’t tell you what was done in this situation.” He would not identify the former employees. When I asked him to provide documentation of due diligence, he said that he couldn’t share it with me, because “it’s confidential and privileged.”

A 2014 Instagram post of Ivanka Trump at the Baku tower. Photo Illustration by The New Yorker

No evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump, or any of his employees involved in the Baku deal, actively participated in bribery, money laundering, or other illegal behavior. But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the “head in the sand” loophole.

As a result, American companies must examine potential foreign partners very carefully before making deals with them. I recently spoke with Alexandra Wrage, who runs Trace International, a consortium of three hundred corporations that do business overseas. Trace helps these firms avoid violating the F.C.P.A., and it has a division that can be hired by individual clients to assess potential foreign partners. To comply with the law, Wrage noted, an American company must remain vigilant even after a contract is signed, monitoring its foreign partner to be sure that nobody involved is engaging in bribery or other improprieties.

Wrage pointed out that corrupt government leaders often use their children or their siblings to distance themselves from illicit projects. Such an official creates a company in the relative’s name which appears to be independent but is controlled by the official. To lessen the likelihood of an F.C.P.A. violation when working with a company that is owned by a child or a sibling of a government minister, Wrage told me, “you’d need to show that the child has real expertise, real ability to do the work.” Otherwise, Wrage said, “the assumption is that they are a partner entirely because of their ability to use their parent’s power.” Before Elton Mammadov became a member of parliament, in 2000, he was a maintenance engineer who had no experience in real-estate development. When the Trump Organization joined the Baku project, it barred a Mammadov-owned company from doing construction work, because it was deemed incompetent.

Wrage said that a U.S. company looking to make a deal with a foreign partner should be confident that the partner has a reasonable likelihood of making a profit from the venture. If the project seems almost guaranteed to lose money, it could well be a bribery scheme or some other criminal operation. The partner also should uphold modern accounting standards.

“It’s simple,” she said. “Will money flow through this business because it offers a compelling product at a decent price, or will the money come because of an illicit relationship with someone who uses their power?”

Wrage told me that, in 2009, an American entrepreneur was successfully prosecuted for his part in a corruption conspiracy in Azerbaijan. Frederic Bourke, the co-founder of Dooney & Bourke, the handbag company, had invested in a project in which a foreign partner paid bribes to Azerbaijani government officials and their family members. Bourke was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the F.C.P.A.; he appealed the conviction, claiming ignorance of the corruption. Two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction, saying that, regardless of whether he had known about the bribes, “the testimony at trial demonstrated that Bourke was aware of how pervasive corruption was in Azerbaijan.” The F.C.P.A., they said, also criminalized “conscious avoidance”—a deliberate effort to remain in the dark about any transgressions a foreign partner might be involved in. After Bourke’s conviction, Wrage said, U.S. companies were well aware of the dangers of making careless deals in Azerbaijan.

Even a cursory look at the Mammadovs suggests that they are not ideal partners for an American business. Four years before the Trump Organization announced the Baku deal, WikiLeaks released the U.S. diplomatic cables indicating that the family was corrupt; one cable mentioned the Mammadovs’ link to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigated the Mammadov family’s corruption and published well-documented exposés. Six months before the hotel announcement, Foreign Policy ran an article titled “The Corleones of the Caspian,” which suggested that the Mammadovs had exploited Ziya’s position as Transportation Minister to make their fortunes.

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigation revealed that Baku XXI Century, the company controlled by Elton, had at least two other stakeholders. One of them was a company called zqan, an acronym for the family members of the Transportation Minister: Ziya Mammadov; Qanira, his wife; Anar, his son; and Nigar, his daughter. Anar is the official head of zqan. Another stakeholder in Baku XXI Century was the Baghlan Group, a company run by an Azerbaijani businessman who is known to be close to Ziya Mammadov.

Baku XXI Century, zqan, and Baghlan have so many overlapping interests that they often seem to operate as a single concern. According to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigation, the companies all prospered largely through contracts with the Transportation Ministry. The Trump Tower Baku complex was built partly on land controlled by the ministry. A Baghlan subsidiary received a contract from the ministry to import a thousand London-style cabs to Baku. Soon afterward, ministry inspectors began preventing competing taxi services from parking in the city center or at subway stops. Another new rule required all taxi owners to pay taxes and license fees at the Bank of Azerbaijan, a private entity that at the time was owned jointly by Anar Mammadov and Baghlan.

Anar’s net worth has been estimated at a billion dollars, but he is not a self-made man. According to the Associated Press, zqan was founded in 2000, when he was in his late teens. He began studying in England that year, and remained there until 2005; during that period, the company that he ostensibly ran experienced explosive growth. Trump Organization officials, as well as others familiar with the Baku project, told me that during the tower’s construction Anar was barely involved, and was often travelling abroad. (He flies on a Gulfstream G450 private jet.) An American who did business in Azerbaijan told me, “It’s common knowledge there that Ziya Mammadov controls zqan.”

One of the cables sent in 2010 by the U.S. Embassy in Baku noted that, “with so much of the nation’s oil wealth being poured into road construction,” the Mammadovs had become disproportionately powerful in Azerbaijan. Another cable suggested that Ziya controlled zqan, the country’s “largest commercial development company.” This cable described Ziya as being the object of “many allegations from Azerbaijani contacts of creative corrupt practices.”

Much of the land occupied by the Trump Tower Baku complex was once packed with houses. In 2011, residents received letters from the local government authority informing them that their homes were to be demolished to make way for a project of crucial government significance. Thirty families were evicted. One resident, Minaye Azizova, told me that the government gave her eighteen thousand dollars in compensation for a home that, by her estimation, was worth five times as much. After she discovered that her home had been condemned so that Baku XXI Century could build a luxury tower, she sued the government.

Construction of the building began in 2008. I have spoken with more than a dozen contractors who worked on it. Some of them described behavior that seemed nakedly corrupt. Frank McDonald, an Englishman who has had a long career doing construction jobs in developing countries, performed extensive work on the building’s interior. He told me that his firm was always paid in cash, and that he witnessed other contractors being paid in the same way. At the offices of Anar Mammadov’s company, he said, “they would give us a giant pile of cash,” adding, “I got a hundred and eighty thousand dollars one time, which I fit into my laptop bag, and two hundred thousand dollars another time.” Once, a colleague of his picked up a payment of two million dollars. “He needed to bring a big duffelbag,” McDonald recalled. The Azerbaijani lawyer confirmed that some contractors on the Baku tower were paid in cash.

Two people who worked on the Trump Tower Baku told me that bribes were paid. Much of the graft was routine: Azerbaijani tax officials, government inspectors, and customs officers showed up occasionally to pick up envelopes of cash.

The executive at Mace, the construction firm, told me that the Mammadovs handled payments and all interactions with the Azerbaijani government. “Were people bribed?” he said. “I don’t know. Maybe. We didn’t check.” (A spokesman for Mace said that the firm was “not involved” in any corruption.)

Pierre Baillargeon, the architect whom the Mammadovs hired to alter the tower’s original design, is a Canadian who runs a studio in London. He has often worked in parts of the world known for corruption, including Sudan and Syria, and has done several projects in Azerbaijan. In a phone interview, Baillargeon said that he knew nothing about corruption and was “just a designer.” I asked him why he thought the hotel had been built in such an inhospitable part of Baku. “Every project has detractors,” he said. When I asked him if he had seen large payments being made in cash, he hung up. (He did not respond to later calls.)

Alan Garten, the Trump Organization lawyer, did not deny that there was corruption involved in the project. “I’m not going to sit here and defend the Mammadovs,” he said. But, from a legal standpoint, he argued, the Trump Organization was blameless. In his opinion, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act doesn’t apply to the Baku deal, even if corruption occurred. “We didn’t own it,” he said of the hotel. “We had no equity. We didn’t control the project. The flow of funds is in the wrong direction.” He added, “We did not pay any money to anyone. Therefore, it could not be a violation of the F.C.P.A.”

“No, that’s just wrong,” Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in the F.C.P.A., said. “You can’t go into business deals in Azerbaijan assuming that you are immune from the F.C.P.A.” She added, “Nor can you escape liability by looking the other way. The entire Baku deal is a giant red flag—the direct involvement of foreign government officials and their relatives in Azerbaijan with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Corruption warning signs are rarely more obvious.”

Tillipman explained that the F.C.P.A. defines corruption as “the payment of money or anything of value” to a foreign official. Last year, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay two hundred and sixty-four million dollars to settle charges that it had violated the F.C.P.A.; the bank had given jobs and internships to relatives and friends of government officials in Asia. Tillipman, along with several other F.C.P.A. experts, told me that the Trump Organization had clearly provided things of value in the Baku deal: its famous brand, its command of the luxury market, its extensive technical advice.

In May, 2012, the month the Baku deal was finalized, the F.C.P.A. was evidently on Donald Trump’s mind. In a phone-in appearance on CNBC, he expressed frustration with the law. “Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do,” he said. “It’s a horrible law and it should be changed.” If American companies refused to give bribes, he said, “you’ll do business nowhere.” He continued, “There is one answer—go to your room, close the door, go to sleep, and don’t do any deals, because that’s the only way. The only way you’re going to do it is the other way.”

It is unclear how the Trump Administration plans to approach F.C.P.A. enforcement. Jay Clayton, Trump’s choice to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, co-authored a paper in 2011 arguing that American companies were at a severe disadvantage because of the U.S. government’s “singular strategy of zealous enforcement.” But Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that he will continue to uphold the F.C.P.A.

After 9/11, prosecuting financial corruption acquired new political importance. The C.I.A. and other intelligence services came to believe that preventing illicit money from flowing through the global financial system was a necessary tactic in preventing future terrorist attacks, and the U.S. led an international effort to enforce financial transparency. Banks and other financial entities were required to vet their clients aggressively and to report any suspicious activity. Prosecutions for money laundering, bribery, and other financial crimes rose significantly. In 2000, the government launched three prosecutions under the F.C.P.A. Last year, it initiated fifty-four.

Investigators of financial fraud like to say that government corruption, money laundering, and other illicit behavior often form a “nexus” with even more troubling activity, such as financing terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. This appears to be true in the Baku deal. As the Mammadovs were preparing to build the tower, the family patriarch, Ziya, was cementing his financial relationship with the Darvishis, the Iranian family with ties to the country’s Revolutionary Guard.

At least three Darvishis—the brothers Habil, Kamal, and Keyumars—appear to be associates of the Guard. In Farsi press accounts, Habil, who runs the Tehran Metro Company, is referred to as a sardar, a term for a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guard. A cable sent on March 6, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Baku described Kamal as having formerly run “an alleged Revolutionary Guard-controlled business in Iran.” The company, called Nasr, developed and acquired instruments, guidance systems, and specialty metals needed to build ballistic missiles. In 2007, Nasr was sanctioned by the U.S. for its role in Iran’s effort to develop nuclear missiles.

The cable said that Kamal and Keyumars were frequent visitors to Azerbaijan; Kamal had recently established “a close business relationship/friendship” with Ziya Mammadov, and, with Mammadov’s assistance, had been awarded “at least eight major road construction and rehabilitation contracts, including contracts for construction of the Baku-Iranian Astara highway.” (Keyumars also seems to have been involved in these deals.) The cable added, “We assume Mammedov [sic] is a silent partner in these contracts.”

Iran has two militaries. The Iranian Army is a conventional force whose mission is to protect the country. The Revolutionary Guard is an independent force of about a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, whose duty is to protect the country’s Islamic system and to preserve the power of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard has its own air force and navy, and it has a unit known as the Quds Force, which the United States has identified as a major supporter of Hezbollah and other international terrorist groups. The Guard has developed a shadow economy within Iran to fund its activities and expand its power. It controls all official border crossings and runs several unofficial ports, solely for its own use. The Revolutionary Guard smuggles into the country everything from consumer goods blocked by sanctions to drugs. It also owns seemingly legitimate companies in construction, energy, telecommunications, auto manufacturing, and banking. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Guard is linked “to dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of companies that appear to be private in nature but are run by [Revolutionary Guard] veterans.”

Matthew McInnis, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, who served as a consultant to Michael Flynn when Flynn was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told me that owners of Revolutionary Guard-related businesses often become rich. But there is a catch: from time to time, they should expect to be asked to serve the needs of the Guard. “When the Revolutionary Guard says, ‘We need to move some illicit stuff,’ or ‘We need new parts for our missiles,’ they reach out to these guys,” McInnis explained. “It’s a soft network that can do all sorts of things that are very hard to trace.”

Keyumars Darvishi once ran Raman, a construction firm that is owned by the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation. According to the United Nations, the foundation is a major financial arm of the Revolutionary Guard. Keyumars left Raman to run Azarpassillo, the putatively independent construction company that received multiple road contracts in Azerbaijan. According to Azarpassillo’s Web site, it was incorporated in 2008. In recent years, Keyumars has also served as the acting director of the Tehran Metro Company, filling in for his brother Habil.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, a political scientist at Syracuse University, who studies the political, economic, and military élite of Iran, said, “It looks like Azarpassillo is a front organization for the Revolutionary Guard.” He found it inconceivable that Keyumars Darvishi, after working for years in a company controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, would quit, raise large amounts of capital on his own, and then become the head of a fully independent company that competed against Revolutionary Guard fronts for contracts. Khatam Al-Anbia, an Iranian construction giant that is controlled by the Guard and is under U.S. sanctions, has subcontracted Azarpassillo on at least two major infrastructure projects in Iran. The Tehran Metro Company is also involved in both projects. McInnis told me, “If you see a connection with Khatam Al-Anbia, you would assume the connections to the Revolutionary Guard are there. The suspicion of Azarpassillo being a front company is certainly worth investigating. It would fit a normal pattern.”

Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization checks to see if potential Trump partners are on “watch lists and sanctions lists,” and that the company knew nothing of Ziya Mammadov’s relationship to the Darvishis until 2015, when it learned that “certain principals associated with the developer may have had some association with some problematic entities.” And yet, by that point, the U.S. Embassy cables had been online for four years. Garten insisted that the Trump Organization still has no idea if the association between the Mammadovs and the Darvishis is real, or if it’s simply an allegation “spread by the media.” I recently spoke with Allison Melia, who until 2015 was one of the C.I.A.’s lead analysts of Iran’s economy; she now works for the Crumpton Group, a strategic advisory firm whose services include conducting due diligence for companies. She told me that her team could have compiled a dossier on the Mammadovs and their connection to the Revolutionary Guard in “a couple of days.” She said that any reputable investigative firm conducting a risk assessment would have advised a U.S. company to avoid a deal with a family connected to the Revolutionary Guard.

The U.S. has imposed various sanctions on Iran since the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. In recent years, U.S. and international efforts have focussed on isolating Iran from the global financial system, in order to prevent it from funding terrorist groups and contributing to worldwide instability. In 2015, the U.N., spurred by the Obama Administration, reached an agreement with Iran, and lifted some sanctions in return for a slowdown of the country’s nuclear program. However, according to the Congressional Research Service, many sanctions against Iran remain in effect, because of the country’s “support for terrorism, its human-rights abuses, its interference in specified countries in the region, and its missile and advanced-conventional-weapons programs.” In December, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives imposed additional sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and its associated businesses.

American companies must insure that they are not receiving funds that originated with any sanctioned entity. Ignorance is not a defense, especially if there is ample warning that a foreign partner could have a link to such an entity. Most firms, upon hearing of even a slight chance of Iranian involvement, conduct due diligence that is much more extensive than what is typical for F.C.P.A. compliance. Erich Ferrari, an attorney who specializes in sanctions-related legal cases, said that before the Trump Organization cashed any checks it should have been certain of “the source of the funds”—“not only the bank it was remitted from but how the Mammadovs actually earned the money they paid.” He said of the Baku deal, “It takes a lot to shock a lawyer, but I’ve had very few clients do so little due diligence.”

The nexus between the Mammadovs and the Darvishis suggests both opportunism and desperation. Ziya Mammadov is sixty-four, and in recent years the family’s position in Azerbaijan has begun to weaken. President Aliyev has systematically isolated, and then fired, longtime members of the regime in order to make way for his own cronies. From 2008 to 2014, Ziya Mammadov, perhaps fearing his ejection from political office, vastly increased his personal wealth.

During the same period, mounting international sanctions made it far more difficult for Iran to sell oil abroad, receive foreign funds, and import products. International banks became increasingly reluctant to accept funds from businesses owned by the Revolutionary Guard, severely limiting its ability to support allies such as Hezbollah and the Syrian government. At a moment when Iran was struggling to find ways to send money outside the country, Keyumars Darvishi joined Azarpassillo and began making one deal after another in Azerbaijan.

Ziya Mammadov apparently had complete discretion with regard to Azarpassillo’s projects. On April 6, 2007, Anne Derse, then the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, wrote in a cable that Charles Redman, at the time a senior vice-president for the American construction firm Bechtel, had recently met with Ziya Mammadov. Redman was looking for business, and knew that Azerbaijan was planning several major new roads. Bechtel could build them, he said, at an average cost of six million dollars per kilometre. Mammadov complained to him that this was too expensive. Bechtel ended up building nothing. Instead, much of the roadwork was done by Azarpassillo—at a much higher cost. According to a 2012 report by Azerbaijan’s Center for Economic and Social Development, an independent think tank, road construction during Mammadov’s tenure was “the most expensive in the world,” costing an average of eighteen million dollars per kilometre. (Derse declined to comment; Redman did not respond to e-mails.)

The available evidence strongly suggests that Ziya Mammadov conspired with an agent of the Revolutionary Guard to make overpriced deals that would enrich them both while allowing them to flout prohibitions against money laundering and to circumvent sanctions against Iran. Based on Ziya Mammadov’s past, it seems reasonable to assume that his main motive was profit. Like most Azerbaijanis, he is a secular Shiite Muslim, and he has no known ties to hard-line factions in Iran. Why did the Darvishis want to work with the Mammadovs? It might have caught their attention that the Mammadovs had their own private bank—one that had unfettered access to the global financial system.

While Azarpassillo was making deals with the Transportation Ministry, the Mammadovs were investing heavily in a series of large construction projects. Money launderers love construction projects. They attract legitimate funds from governments and private investors, and they require frequent payouts to legitimate subcontractors: cement factories, lumberyards, glass manufacturers, craftsmen. In the Trump Tower Baku project, money was going in and out of the U.S., the United Kingdom, Turkey, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries. With such projects, it can be exceedingly difficult to detect the spread of illicit funds.

At the same time, the Mammadovs’ money was flowing through holding companies in offshore banking centers. According to leaked documents in the Panama Papers, companies controlled by the family have opened accounts in such places as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and Panama. The shell companies that list Mammadovs as beneficiaries or officers have bland names such as Trans-European Leasing Group and 1st Rate Investment, and many of them are owned by other shell companies.

In 2009, a year after Baku XXI Century began building the tower, the company opened the Baku International Bus Terminal, an enormous station that includes a shopping mall and a hotel. During this period, the Mammadov family also began building a hotel, a golf course, and a spa in the mountains north of Baku.

Meanwhile, the Mammadovs spent lavishly on themselves. Ziya built a mansion in one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Baku, and, on the beach, a villa whose walls are decorated to resemble ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs. Elton’s son, Aynar, became famous for having a collection of expensive cars, including a Ferrari, a Maserati, and a Lamborghini. Anar began using the Gulfstream G450, which typically costs forty-one million dollars, and bought a seven-bedroom home in London. He also spent millions of dollars on an effort to promote Azerbaijan in Washington, D.C., hosting galas for members of Congress and other powerful figures. A former associate of the Trump Organization told me that in 2012, on one of Anar’s trips to America, he visited Trump Tower, in New York, to meet with Donald Trump and company executives. (The Trump Organization would not confirm the visit.) Around this time, the contracts for the Baku project were issued.

Between 2004 and 2014, Mammadov family businesses spent more than half a billion dollars on large construction projects. They also poured money into a major construction-materials company, an insurance firm, and a new headquarters. It’s not clear how the Mammadovs funded such enormous investments while spending so much on themselves. They may have received loans, or secretly owned profitable businesses that supported the flurry of spending. Another explanation is that some of the investment money came from the Revolutionary Guard, through Azarpassillo.

Calls and e-mails to Azarpassillo, the Iranian Mission to the U.N., and the Azerbaijani government were not returned. Ziya and Anar Mammadov did not respond to requests for comment. Donald Trump has not addressed the Baku deal since becoming President. A Department of Justice spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of its investigating the Trump Tower Baku deal. The White House declined to comment.

If, as Alan Garten told me, the Trump Organization learned in 2015 about “the possibility” that the Mammadovs had ties to the Revolutionary Guard, it is striking that the company did not end the Baku deal until December, 2016. During this period, Garten told me, the Trump Organization never asked its Azerbaijani partners about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but it did send several default notices for late payments.

Throughout the Presidential campaign, Trump was in business with someone that his company knew was likely a partner with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In a March, 2016, speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump said that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Calling Iran the “biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world,” he promised, “We will work to dismantle that reach—believe me, believe me.” In the speech, Trump lamented that Iran had been allowed to develop new long-range ballistic missiles. According to Iran Watch, an organization that monitors Iran’s military capabilities, much of the technology to make the missiles was provided by Nasr, the company once run by Kamal Darvishi.

I asked Garten why the Trump Organization hadn’t cancelled the Baku contract in 2015. He said that there was “no rush,” because “the project had already stalled and was showing no signs of moving forward.” The Azerbaijani lawyer who worked on the project has seen the hotel’s interior, and told me that it is almost finished. In an interview with the magazine Baku, published in April, 2015, Ivanka Trump said that she was eager to enjoy the hotel’s “huge spa area,” and promised that the hotel would open “in June.”

Moreover, Garten said, the Trump Organization had signed binding contracts with the Mammadovs and couldn’t simply abandon its agreements. But Jessica Tillipman, the law-school assistant dean, told me, “You can’t violate sanctions just because you have a contract with someone.” According to Erich Ferrari, the lawyer who specializes in sanctions, companies that learn of a possible sanctions violation typically commission a “look-back” investigation that “reviews all payments you received, to make sure they didn’t originate with a sanctioned entity.” He added, “All the big four accounting companies do them routinely.” The Trump Organization did not commission a look-back.

The Baku deal appears to be the second time that the Trump Organization has turned a blind eye to U.S. efforts to sanction Iran. In 1998, when Donald Trump purchased the General Motors Building, in Manhattan, he inherited as a tenant Iran’s Bank Melli. The following year, the Treasury Department listed Bank Melli as an institution that was “owned or controlled” by the government of Iran and that was covered by U.S. sanctions. (The department later labelled Bank Melli one of the primary financial institutions through which Iran was funnelling money to finance terrorism and to develop weapons of mass destruction.) The Trump Organization kept Bank Melli as a tenant for four more years before terminating the lease.

The Baku project is hardly the only instance in which the Trump Organization has been associated with a controversial deal. The Trump Taj Mahal casino, which opened in Atlantic City in 1990, was repeatedly fined for violating anti-money-laundering laws, up until its collapse, late last year. According to ProPublica, Trump projects in India, Uruguay, Georgia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have involved government officials or people with close ties to powerful political figures. A few years ago, the Trump Organization abandoned a project in Beijing after its Chinese partner became embroiled in a corruption scandal. In December, the Trump Organization withdrew from a hotel project in Rio de Janeiro after it was revealed to be part of a major bribery investigation. Ricardo Ayres, a Brazilian state legislator, told Bloomberg, “It’s curious that the Trumps didn’t seem to know that their biggest deal in Brazil was bankrolled by shady investors.” But, given the Trump Organization’s track record, it seems reasonable to ask whether one of the things it was selling to foreign partners was a willingness to ignore signs of corruption.

To this day, the Trump Organization has not provided satisfying answers to the most basic questions about the Baku deal: who owns Baku XXI Century, the company with which they signed the contracts; the origin of the funds with which Baku XXI Century paid the Trump Organization; whether the Mammadovs used their political power to benefit themselves and the Trump Organization; and whether the Mammadovs used money obtained from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to fund the Trump Tower Baku.

At one point, Garten allowed me to review the Trump Organization’s original contract with the Mammadovs. It authorizes the company to order an independent audit of Baku XXI Century’s financial records at any time—a provision likely included to insure that the Mammadovs didn’t hide profits that were supposed to be shared with the Trump Organization. Such an audit could well have exposed illicit activity. Garten refused to say if an audit had been conducted.

In dealing with the Mammadovs, the Trump Organization seems to have taken them entirely at their word. Garten pointed me to a provision in one contract in which Anar Mammadov represented himself as the sole owner of Baku XXI Century. Given that Elton Mammadov told me that he controlled the company, and that its ownership was a “commercial secret,” what proof did the Trump Organization have that Anar’s claim was true? Garten could not say.

Garten has been the company’s chief legal officer only since January. His predecessor was Jason Greenblatt, whose name appeared on the contract I reviewed. Greenblatt was in charge of the Trump Organization’s due diligence and contracting work. He is now employed at the White House, as the President’s special representative for international negotiations. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In recent months, American officials have expressed concern that Trump Administration figures might be blackmailed by foreign entities. U.S. law-enforcement investigators and congressional staffers have probed claims that Russian government officials possess compromising information about President Trump, which might be used to blackmail him. (The President maintains that there is no such information.) In January, the Department of Justice informed the White House that Michael Flynn—then the national-security adviser—was vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians because he had lied about having spoken with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn subsequently resigned.

In Azerbaijan, the power and the influence of the Mammadovs has declined sharply. Elton lost his seat in parliament in 2015. In February, Ziya was abruptly removed from his ministry. Anar has settled in London, an associate of his told me, and is living on a fraction of his former wealth. Meanwhile, in Iran, government officials are likely facing additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If the Mammadovs or powerful Iranians have evidence that the Trump Organization broke laws, they might be tempted to exploit it.

The best way to determine if a crime was committed in the Baku deal would be a federal investigation, which could use the power of subpoena and international legal tools to obtain access to the contracts, the due diligence, internal e-mails, and financial documents. The Department of Justice routinely sends investigators to other countries to pursue possible F.C.P.A. and sanctions violations.

Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, said, in an e-mail, that a federal investigation was warranted: “The Trump Organization’s Baku project shows the lack of ‘extreme vetting’ Mr. Trump applied to his own business dealings in corruption-plagued regimes around the globe. . . . Congress—and the Trump Administration itself—has a duty to examine whether the President or his family is exposed to terrorist financing, sanctions, money laundering, and other imprudent associations through their business holdings and connections.”

More than a dozen lawyers with experience in F.C.P.A. prosecution expressed surprise at the Trump Organization’s seemingly lax approach to vetting its foreign partners. But, when I asked a former Trump Organization executive if the Baku deal had seemed unusual, he laughed. “No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached,” he said. ♦

Adam Davidson is a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Dis-United States INC.

John Hanno February 24, 2017                                                 

 

                                       “Dis-United States INC.”

What’s become of America’s political leadership? The new White House wrecking crew has quickly reversed all progress made by the Obama Administration in rebuilding our damaged preeminence in the world, after the previous Republi-con administration employed false pretenses to invade a sovereign nation and turn security of the world upside down.

And the Republican controlled United States Congress has become so toxic and polarized that none of the nation’s pressing issues can be debated on a bipartisan basis or even fairly discussed. These public servants shirk their legislative duty to govern and serve all Americans, and then gripe that the President and the courts are over stepping their constitutional boundaries, when the executive and judicial branches attempt to pick up the slack for congress’s indifference to the other 99% of us. Our founding fathers gave enormous power to the legislative branch but the Republican controlled Congress has abdicated that power to a despot who demands their fealty and benevolence.

The problems seem endless and intractable. Those issues: a living wage jobs program that favors workers in every state, every industry, urban and rural — comprehensive health care reform based on what’s good for the consumer and the national economy, and not just insurance companies and big pharma — energy reform encompassing a credible debate on climate change, global warming, alternative energy and a sustainable future —  financial reform that doesn’t unleash the banksters to pillage our financial well being — tax reform that doesn’t reward corporate cronyism and the super rich while crippling Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs — comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for those who wiped their tired and weary feet on the welcome map America held out to cheap labor — sensible gun control that a great majority of us believe is reasonable — infrastructure that’s good for all Americans and not just the well connected political benefactors — credible reforms of the Military Industrial and Prison Industrial complexes — and now even Congress’s inability to protect America from a foreign interloper intent on undermining our free and fair elections — can’t be kicked down the road much longer.

No more glaring dereliction of duty, than the failure of Congress to pass campaign finance reform that might pass constitutional muster. Since our “Ult Right” Supreme Court stepped in and gave the rich and powerful carte blanche to undermine our Democracy, with their Citizens United decision (striking down the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act/ McCain Feingold), a political environment we thought couldn’t get any worse, did, and by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the voters who pushed Trump over the line and thus empowered him to name a Supreme Court Justice who will no doubt quell any attempt to overturn that Citizens decision, campaign finance reform may not be fixed for a decade or more.

None of America’s exigent issues will be addressed unless we take the corrosive money out of politics. The Republicans have historically held a big advantage in raising campaign money, so the Democrats have in turn felt compelled to bridge that gap by veering too close to those non-aligned with the bottom half of America, those who live on average $16,000 a year. And that disloyalty showed during this election. The political class, no matter how much they rant about having to spend more than half their time raising campaign money, just can’t forsake the largess heaped on them by the rich and powerful. Their addiction has undermined our democracy and tanked their reputations and approval rating.

What every patriotic American must do before the next election, is to ask themselves some important questions. Are they satisfied with the way the last presidential election was conducted? Was it worth the 3 billion dollars expended? Could America’s families have spent that money more productively? Are they satisfied with the results? Well, we know at least the 66 million who voted for Hillary aren’t; and I’m sure many millions more who voted for Trump and are now having second thoughts that “America Won’t Be Great Again,” for them, sure aren’t. And are voters satisfied with the ability of all national news broadcasters and cable companies (not the print media) to hold politicians accountable for failing to represent American politics honestly and with integrity?

Unless your politicians, no matter the party affiliation, agree to take the “Make America Democratic Again Pledge,” kick them to the curb. They don’t deserve our loyalty. They must pledge to vote for legislation to ban all special interest contributions, fully support public financing for campaigns (believe me, it’s cheaper than $3 billion), demand free access to our public airwaves (including 3rd party candidates), encourage voter participation and not voter suppression, support efforts to abolish gerrymandering, and above all, limit the time we have to endure these caustic campaigns. A two month campaign, as long as everyone is focused on the issues, should be plenty. A two year long campaign is an abomination.

Another example of Congress’s abdication of duty, is their refusal to listen to the boarder states decades long cries for help on the issue of illegal immigration. Bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform pressed by the “Gang of 12,” and many others before them, failed in spite of strong support from ex-border state Governor, George Bush. The staunchest opponent was then Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trumps newly confirmed attorney general (and panderer in chief), who derisively referred to the “Gang of 12” as “the masters of the universe.”

So now the Donald, who pumped up his supporters during the campaign with his promise to build the best wall ever, but failed to mention the $20 or $30 billion price tag, is contemplating using 100,000 national guard troops in border states to round up most of the 11 million undocumented and send them back whence they came. The Donald’s pandering to his alternative fact base, fails to take into account these folks are not nefarious characters, but hard working people who represent 1 in 10 workers and that these law abiding undocumented immigrants are also voracious consumers of the crap we import from China and Mexico, spending every penny of their typically substandard wages on the latest phones and electronics and the latest fashions. Retailers everywhere might have something to say about disappearing these lucrative customers.

As for the decade long attempt at comprehensive energy reform, The House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on the sweeping energy policy bill S.2012, before the end of the 114th Congress. There’s slim to no chance the bill will be revived in the new Congress, considering Trumps one track “fossil fuel” mind on the issue. The two-year fight to substantially revamp U.S. energy policy for the first time in a decade, broke down in the last days of the 114th Congress. After the November election, there was little incentive for finalizing the bill, especially in the House. Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, main sponsor of the bill, blamed the House for ignoring the Senate’s final attempts at negotiation. In her Senate speech, Murkowski accused the House of ignoring the Senate’s monumental efforts over 2 years to reach a final compromise on the reform bill and stated:

“The chairmen and the ranking members of the committees of jurisdiction, whether it is here in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee, the House Science Committee, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee—we have been meeting to resolve our differences. Again, staff has been working around the clock. Just this weekend, we went through hundreds of pages to close out all of the issues. Again, we did it by the book. We did what we were supposed to be doing. We were the team players here. We adhered to the regular order process.

Senator Cantwell said we were doing the ‘normal’ process. But I think what we are doing now is extraordinary. It is not normal—because it seems that, if there is guerilla warfare that is going on, that seems to be the way to move a bill nowadays. That does not send a very powerful message nor set a good example for how to advance a consensus measure such as we have with the Energy bill.”

Its clear the House felt it would have a better chance at implementing provisions more favorable to their fossil fuel benefactors in the Republican controlled 115th Congress, without the threat of President Obama’s veto. The House version called for reducing funding for the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research Program and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy. Their bill also placed restrictions on climate research funded by the Department of Energy and would have banned that DOE research to be used in regulatory assessments. The Senate version of the bill increased funding for the Office of Science and didn’t put any restrictions on DOE research.

I won’t go into the Republi-con congress’ obstruction during President Obama’s two terms, I’ve blogged on the issue often; and no need to recap their 60 plus attempts to repeal the ACA, which supposedly cost more than $200,000 for each attempt. But these unpatriotic public servants, only serve their campaign benefactors, not the middle class families and workers who’s lives depend on honest representation.

This dishonesty is all too apparent when it comes to our environment. Republi-cons and Democrats operate in different galaxies; the Republi-cons on Planet quaking, shaking and breaking and the Democrats on Planet “help before I explode.” A perfect example is the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline tarbabys we’ve fought over, front and center in the news, for most of the last 2 years. Trump barely took his hand off the inauguration bible when he signed the executive order allowing both of the pipelines President Obama had rejected as detrimental to the battle for preserving mankind. Trump said he received no complaints about the pipelines he quickly approved, proving he really doesn’t or can’t read. It’s not surprising the White House Complaint phone lines were conveniently turned off.

 

(ABC NEWS) “Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.”

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

The 35-page legal analysis of the pipeline’s potential environmental risks and its impact on treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous tribes was authored in December by then-Interior Department Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins, an Obama appointee who was — at the time — the top lawyer in the department.

“The government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Tribes calls for enhanced engagement and sensitivity to the Tribes’ concerns,” Tompkins wrote. “The Corps is accordingly justified should it choose to deny the proposed easement.”

But Donald “I’m a bigly environmentalist” Trump, previous governor Daltrmple and new governor Burgum couldn’t care less about public and Native American health and safety. North Dakota has spent about $20 million and borrowed almost $6 million from the Bank of North Dakota, employing tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, fire hoses, concussion cannons and other forms of intimidation trying to stamp out our prayerful Native American earth protectors. These funds will have to be repaid with interest, unless the Donald sends them some of his pocket change (good luck with that). Red states are joined at the hip with fossil fuel and will spend any amount to push their extractive agenda; maybe Oil Inc will cut a check to N.D. But the protectors will not go easily; the patriotic Veterans who’ve taken an oath to defend America from evildoers foreign and domestic have vowed to return to Standing Rock to support their Native American brothers and sisters.

And at the urging of Bold Nebraska, Bold Iowa, 350.org and many others, the landowners who’ve sold their souls to the oil and gas evildoers, may be waking up. Those onerous easements they’re required to sign, allows the pipeline companies to “abandon in place” when the oil spigots run dry or when alt energy makes Oil Inc. as bankrupt as the coal companies are today. Ten or fifteen years from now when the oil and pipeline companies are on life support, who’s going to pay to dig up the leaking pipelines contaminating the nations precious drinking water and fertile farm land. It won’t be the government because the fine print in those legal documents they sign granting eminent domain to pipeline interests, disavows them from taking any responsibility for damages. Do these landowners realize how much it will cost to dig up and mitigate their contaminated soil and water? At million of dollars per mile or more, landowners who’ve already spent their 40 pieces of gold will have to abandon their toxic family farms.

With a few exceptions, the cast of characters King Donald has tried to install in his court, to undo all the progress we’ve made in the last eight years, is truly scary:

Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor, who our intelligence agencies claim had a direct phone line to the Kremlin during and after the campaign, was forced to resign because he, like Paul Manafort and Carter Page before him, had become toxic to King Donald’s bromance with Putin; Flynn having lied to the vice president and the FBI about his involvement in Russian intelligence interference in the election and the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) voted against confirming Sessions, stating: “I have seen Senator Sessions at work in the Senate, and I have serious concerns about his commitment to standing up for the right of everyone in this country to be treated equally under the law. From his extreme stance on immigration, to his vote against the Violence Against Women Act and the Voting Rights Act, to his efforts to undermine women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights, and his positions on criminal justice reform, civil rights, and so much more— I do not believe that Senator Sessions is the kind of person, committed to the principles of tolerance and inclusiveness, who can do this critical job on behalf of every American.”

Scott Pruitt, EPA Director, who sued the Environmental Protection Agency more than a dozen times while he was Oklahoma attorney general, is now in charge of that department. The Sierra Club’s Michael Brune believes: “Scott Pruitt is now set to be the most dangerous EPA Administrator in the history of our country.”  The top items on Pruitt’s list will be to implement the Donald’s executive orders designed to cripple President Obama’s and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rules. This is the same Oil Inc. panderer who failed to protect Oklahomans’ by refusing to prosecute the companies responsible for the state’s exponential increase in earthquakes caused by fracking. Pruitt is also involved in two additional scandals, one involving the plagiarized clip and paste letters his office submitted supporting the fossil fuel industry and another one involving possible illegal actions his office took in a botched execution in Oklahoma.

Steve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, another wealthy donor to the Trump campaign, and  a 17-year-veteran of Goldman Sachs, was called “The Foreclosure King” when he was CEO of OneWest Bank.

Andrew Pudzer, labor secretary, was already on shaky ground when the POLITICO tape resurfaced of Puzder’s ex-wife appearing on a 1990 “Oprah” program in disguise, to accuse him of domestic violence. He then withdrew his nomination.

Alexander Acosta, Trump’s new pick for labor secretary should win Senate approval, but will probably face tough questions from Democrats about allegations that he cut a sweetheart plea deal with a billionaire accused of having sex with underage girls, when he was a prosecutor.

Tom Price Health and Human Services, may be guilty of insider stock trading, when he  reportedly made dozens of trades in health stocks when he was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He’s been implicated in a SEC investigation of the committee. And financial disclosures he submitted for the confirmation hearings revealed that Price invested in a medical device manufacturer a few days before he introduced a bill benefiting that company.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s new Education Secretary, a staunch opponent of public education and strong proponent of charter schools, may be a nice women who’s heart may be in the right place, but her primary goal might not be for the benefit of America’s century’s long    devotion to quality public education for all of it’s children. It’s hard to believe the Donald couldn’t have chosen one of the 10’s of thousands of highly accredited educators with decades of public school education experience to run that department. Was it because she was a major fundraiser and admitted her family contributed $200 million dollars to the  Republican Party? Every Democrat and two critical women Republican Senators voted against DeVos, so it took Vice President Mike Pence to cast the historic tie-breaking vote to get her confirmed.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget, admitted to the Senate Budget Committee that he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee.

Rick Perry, Energy Secretary, who thought he was accepting a job representing the oil and gas industry, found out he would actually be in charge of America’s national security complex, including our nuclear arsenal, which he knows nothing about.

I can go on and on about Trump’s cabinet and White House: Most of them, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve “Alt Right Supremacist” Bannon of Breitbart infamy, have no government experience.

Some couldn’t even get past the first step, like Christie and Giuliani. Others like Lewandowski, Page and Manafort, became too toxic and were fired. There were also those who turned down the offers because they thought accepting a job in this administration would be a career ender.

Throw in alternative fact propagandists like Kellyanne Conway and Jason Miller and it’s not surprising they can’t figure out how to turn on the lights.

But what’s most troubling is the conjoined cast of characters who hold a Gordian allegiance and affinity for Putin and the Russian oligarchs. Can our intelligence agencies get to the bottom of the dark and tangled web of business relationships between Trump, Page, Manafort, Tillerson, Flynn, Ross, Putin and the Russian oligarchs? To whom do they owe their loyalties?

These were supposedly the Donald’s “best and brightest.” How can anyone who is of sound mind (well that would explain it) believe this is the “best cabinet ever assembled in our history?”

This so-called American president will say, tweet or retweet anything that pops into his inattentive brain and:

Lies to the ACA health insurance clients, who believed his promises to make Obamacare much better and much cheaper,

Lies to the middle class workers, who’ve lost their jobs to globalization and automation, and brags that he’s the only one who can bring back their jobs,

Lies to all the desperate coal miners who believe he will rebuild the coal industry,

Lies and is using thoroughly debunked claims of widespread voter fraud to push legislation designed only to suppress the vote,

Will undoubtedly renege on his many promises to not attack Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,

Quickly rewarded the fossil fuel contributors by jump starting pipeline expansion and by allowing coal companies to resume dumping sludge into rivers,

Trump mounts a maniacal war on the media, in order to take the focus off his flagging campaign and the administrations involvement with Putin and Russian interference in the election; but this is actually a war on the American people and on our democracy and constitution. It’s step one in the “How to Make an Authoritarian Government” playbook. CNN’s Jake Tapper aptly calls it “Un-American,”

He marshal’s government forces, including the FBI, against whistle-blowers who shine a light on this administrations radical policies and misdeeds. Honest government should encourage courageous employees coming forward, instead of siccing the FBI on them,

He thinks nothing of engaging in serious and wide spread conflicts of interest involving his family businesses,

He ranted against President Obama for running up the debt, (which the Republi-cons actually caused by invading Iraq and crashing the economy), yet thinks nothing of the enormous bills being run up protecting him, his extended family and his business interests around the world. During the campaign, the Donald berated President Obama for playing too much golf. He said: “this guy plays more golf than people on the PGA Tour,” yet Trump has traveled to Florida every weekend in the last month to his Mar a lago resort to play golf,

All the Republi-cons in congress will turn a blind eye to the Kings Conflict of interests, just as long as he signs the documents, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations and taking away America’s social safety nets and environmental and banking regulations; but what they refuse to admit, is that regulations have been implemented to prevent serious problems and harm; just like fire and electrical code regulations, every one was the result of somebody losing their life or property.

Where are the keepers of the flame for the Grand Old Party? When will the constitution thumping conservative originalists stand up to the King’s dismantling of American democracy?

Trump said he wants to “bring the country together, maybe even some of the world together” but he denigrates and blames everyone and everything except Putin and of course himself.

I won’t recount the history of the Donald’s lack of truth telling again; I’ve already posted several times on the subject. He’s personally created an entire industry of fact checkers, apparently making good on his boasting as a job creator. I’ve heard the word pathological more times since he entered politics than in the last 50 plus years.

Trump and his Republi-con co-conspirator’s diabolical plan, to turn independent, democratic, free and critical thinking and scientific reasoning, into the alternative facts, alternative reality United States Inc., will require our daily vigilance, robust skepticism and tenacious dissent.

It’s the United States Congress’s job to move America forward, but these Republi-cons interpreted that as crippling responsible governance by doing nothing.

And because they failed to do their job, America and the world is saddled with a narcissistic, kleptocratic despot like King Donald, who uses Putin as a template for his radical far right autocratic kingdom. This Presidents Day is a very sad occasion. But I’m heartened by all the “Not My President” demonstrators who took to the streets.

John Hanno

 

ABC NEWS

Trump administration withdrew legal memo that found ‘ample legal justification’ to halt Dakota Access pipeline

By James Hill   February 23, 2017

Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.

The withdrawal of the opinion was revealed in court documents filed this week by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency that requested the review late last year.

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

The 35-page legal analysis of the pipeline’s potential environmental risks and its impact on treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous tribes was authored in December by then-Interior Department Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins, an Obama appointee who was — at the time — the top lawyer in the department.

“The government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Tribes calls for enhanced engagement and sensitivity to the Tribes’ concerns,” Tompkins wrote. “The Corps is accordingly justified should it choose to deny the proposed easement.”

Tompkins’ opinion was dated Dec. 4, the same day the Obama administration announced that it was denying an easement for the controversial crossing and initiating an environmental impact statement that would explore alternative routes for the pipeline. Tompkins did not respond to a request by ABC News to discuss her analysis or the decision made to withdraw it.

On his second weekday in office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that directed the Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve” the pipeline in an expedited manner, to “the extent permitted by law, and as warranted, and with such conditions as are necessary or appropriate.” “I believe that construction and operation of lawfully permitted pipeline infrastructure serve the national interest,” Trump wrote in the memo.

Two weeks later, the Corps issued the easement to Dakota Access and the environmental review was canceled.

The company behind the pipeline project now estimates that oil could be flowing in the pipeline as early as March 6.

The analysis by Tompkins includes a detailed review of the tribes’ hunting, fishing and water rights to Lake Oahe, the federally controlled reservoir where the final stretch of the pipeline is currently being installed, and concludes that the Corps “must consider the possible impacts” of the pipeline on those reserved rights.

“The Tompkins memo is potentially dispositive in the legal case,” Hasselman said. “It shows that the Army Corps [under the Obama administration] made the right decision by putting the brakes on this project until the Tribe’s treaty rights, and the risk of oil spills, was fully evaluated.”

Tompkins’ opinion was particularly critical of the Corps’ decision to reject another potential route for the pipeline that would have placed it just north of Bismarck, North Dakota, in part because of the pipeline’s proximity to municipal water supply wells.

“The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservations are the permanent and irreplaceable homelands for the Tribes,” Tompkins wrote. “Their core identity and livelihood depend upon their relationship to the land and environment — unlike a resident of Bismarck, who could simply relocate if the [Dakota Access] pipeline fouled the municipal water supply, Tribal members do not have the luxury of moving away from an environmental disaster without also leaving their ancestral territory.”

Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, has said that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on local water supply are unfounded” and “multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route.”

The decision to temporarily suspend Tompkins’ legal opinion two days before the easement was approved was outlined in a Feb. 6 internal memorandum issued by K. Jack Haugrud, the acting secretary of the Department of the Interior. A spokeswoman for the department told ABC News today that the opinion was suspended so that it could be reviewed by the department.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes are continuing their legal challenges to the pipeline. A motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard on Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The Corps has maintained, throughout the litigation, that it made a good faith effort to meaningfully consult with the tribes.

The tribes contend, however, that the Trump administration’s cancellation of the environmental review and its reversal of prior agency decisions are “baldly illegal.”

“Agencies can’t simply disregard their own findings, and ‘withdrawing’ the Tompkins memo doesn’t change that,” Hasselman said. “We have challenged the legality of the Trump administration reversal and we think we have a strong case.”

 

EPA chief Pruitt’s newly released emails show deep ties to fossil fuel interests

Michael Walsh, Reporter Yahoo News  February 22, 2017

A batch of 7,564 pages of emails and other records from Scott Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma attorney general — made public Wednesday morning — show that he worked with the fossil fuel industry in its efforts to roll back environmental regulations.

The documents were handed over to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) Tuesday night as a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit. Many liberals and environmentalists are outraged that the records were withheld until after Pruitt’s confirmation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday.

CMD said a number of documents were redacted, and additional documents are still being withheld as “exempted or privileged.” The attorney general’s office has been ordered to hand over records related to five other CMD requests by Feb. 27, according to the watchdog organization.

Nick Surgey, a research director at CMD, said Pruitt and the attorney general’s office tried multiple times to have the records request scuttled.

“The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events,” Surgey said in a statement. “And our work doesn’t stop here — we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released.”

CMD focused on several exchanges that appear to confirm what critics have long said about Pruitt: He was willing to use his elective office as a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry.

In 2013, The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a trade association for the fossil fuel industry, worked with Pruitt’s office to oppose the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS), which requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace heating oil or petroleum-based fuel for transportation. AFPM provided Pruitt with the language to file an Oklahoma petition against the RFS, noting that “this argument is more credible coming from a State.”

Other emails show more evidence of Pruitt’s close relationship with the oil and gas production company Devon Energy. In 2014, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton exposed how Devon Energy would draft letters Pruitt would send out on his state government letterhead. A newly uncovered email shows the energy corporation helping Pruitt write a letter to the EPA about limits on methane emissions.

There’s an August 2013 email from Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, thanking Pruitt and others for “all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states.”

Last week, an Oklahoma County district judge criticized Pruitt’s “abject failure” to abide by the state’s Open Records Act by improperly withholding public records and ordered the attorney general’s office to release thousands of emails by Tuesday, the day of his inaugural speech as EPA administrator.

Though the ruling drew attention to Pruitt’s relationships within the traditional energy sector, there was tremendous pushback from progressives and environmentalists the moment President Trump nominated him to lead the EPA — an agency he sued more than a dozen times.

Environmentalists say that Pruitt’s history of alliance with the fossil fuel industry runs counter to the EPA’s mission of limiting pollution and protecting public health. Oil and gas companies contend that the Obama administration and the EPA’s efforts to protect the environment amount to government overreach and place undue regulations on their industry.

During his inaugural address, Pruitt argued that choosing between supporting jobs and the environment is a false dilemma — although without mentioning the renewable energy industry, which environmentalists say provides jobs while limiting carbon-dioxide emissions.

“We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. That we don’t have to choose between the two,” Pruitt said in his address to EPA staff. “I think our nation has done better than any nation in the world in making sure that we do the job of protecting our natural resources and protecting our environment, while also respecting the economic growth and jobs our nation seeks to have.”

On Wednesday morning, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a Freedom of Information Act request for materials and communications related to the drafting of a press release issued by the EPA on the day Pruitt’s appointment was confirmed. The statement was filled with criticism of the agency’s activities and policies under the previous administration, calling it “tone deaf” and a “runaway bureaucracy largely out of touch with how its policies directly affect folks like cattle ranchers.” Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., for instance, is quoted calling the EPA “one of the most vilified agencies in the ‘swamp’ of overreaching government.”

Neither the EPA nor the Oklahoma attorney general’s office responded to requests from Yahoo News for comment.

 

DeSmog

Thousands of Emails from Oklahoma Office of Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Published

By Steve Horn, February 22, 2017

By Steve Horn, Sharon Kelley and Graham Readfearn

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has published thousands of email obtained from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Trump Administration.

Housed online in searchable form by CMD, the emails cover Pruitt’s time spent as the Sooner State’s lead legal advocate, and in particular show a “close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry,” CMD said in the press release. CMD was forced to go to court in Oklahoma to secure the release of the emails, which had sat in a queue for two years after the organization had filed an open records request.

Among other things, the emails show extensive communication with hydraulic fracturing  (“fracking”) giant Devon Energy, with Pruitt’s office not only involved in discussions with Devon about energy-related issues like proposed U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rules, but also more tangential matters like how a proposed airline merger might affect Devon’s international travel costs. They also show a close relationship with groups such as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Public Policy Council, the latter a member of the influential conservative State Policy Network (SPN).

On the BLM fracking rule, Priutt’s office solicited input from Devon, the Oklahoma City fracking company, which seemed to incorporate the feedback in the company’s formal legal response. Pruitt’s office was aiming to sue the BLM on the proposed rules, a case multiple states eventually won, getting indispensible aid in the effort from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).

“Any suggestions? ” Pruitt’s office wrote in a May 1, 2013 email to a Devon vice president. Attachments missing from the FOIA response make it unclear to what extent edits suggested by Devon were actually inserted into the AG’s correspondence, although Pruitt’s deputy later wrote “thanks for all your help on this.”

In two other emails dated May 1, 2013, a Devon Energy director replied with suggested changes to Pruitt’s office. The next day, Pruitt’s office sent the final draft of the letter to Devon, which replied, “I’m glad the Devon team could help, and thanks for all of your work on this.”

This batch of emails was not among those published by the New York Times as a part of its investigation into the correspondence Pruitt and other Republican state-level Attorneys General had with energy companies, which revealed that Devon and ghostwritten letters which Pruitt’s office sent to federal officials and agencies.

“Cut and Paste”

Another section of the emails (page 562) shows that an official from Edison Electric Institute (EEI) emailed Pruitt’s office to solicit an article for the Air and Waste Management Association Journal on the topic of regional haze. When Pruitt’s spokesman said the office will not be able to make the deadline, the EEI official told them not to worry because it can “be cut and paste from past editorials and court filings, language that has already been approved in the past.”

It does not appear Pruitt’s office ever wrote the article, however. But that same month, Stuart Solomon, President of Public Service Company of Oklahoma (a subsidiary of American Electric Power), thanked Pruitt “personally” in a February 2014 email for its help fending off the EPA’s proposed regional haze rule.

“We are pleased the EPA has approved a plan developed by PSO and state leaders,” Stuart Solomon, President and Chief Operating Officer for Public Service Company of Oklahoma, said in a press release at the time. “I want to thank Governor Fallin and her administration for their leadership and assistance in helping develop this plan along with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.”

Pruitt and his office were not thanked within the press release. In July 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals issued  a stay on that rule and it was never promulgated.

Koch Ties

The emails also shed new light on the relationship between Pruitt and the sphere of advocacy outfits and legal groups funded by Koch Industries’ billionaires Charles and David Koch.

For example, Pruitt and many other Attorneys General — plus industry actors at companies such as Southern Company, ConocoPhillips, Chesapeake Energy, TransCanada, Devon Energy, Marathon Oil and others — received an invitation (see page 560) to an event hosted by George Mason University,  the Koch-funded libertarian bastion, at its Mason Attorneys General Education Program. That invite came from Henry Butler, Dean of the George Mason University School of Law.

Harold Hamm, President Donald Trump’s campaign energy adviser, was also included on the list of those invited, as well. An email attachment of the invite was not included in the batch.

Beyond George Mason, the emails also show Pruitt’s office maintained communications (see page 683) with Americans for Prosperity Oklahoma State Director, John Tidwell, as well as with SPN member Oklahoma Public Policy Council. SPN receives Koch money.

Too Little, Too Late?

These are some of the highlights found within the massive batch of emails. CMD argues, as the Democratic Party’s Senate leadership posited, that these emails would have been useful in doing their constitutional “advise and consent” confirmation process work for Pruitt.

“There is no valid legal justification for the emails we received last night not being released prior to Pruitt’s confirmation vote other than to evade public scrutiny,” said Arn Pearson, general counsel for CMD. “There are hundreds of emails between the AG’s office, Devon Energy, and other polluters that Senators should have been permitted to review prior to their vote to assess Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.”

 

 

EPA chief Pruitt appeals to ‘civility’ but fails to quell environmentalists’ concerns

Michael Walsh 7 hours ago

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first speech to employees of the EPA at midday on Tuesday did little to assuage the concerns of environmentalists over his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

At the EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Pruitt called for civility and listening in his highly anticipated, tense inaugural address to the staff of an agency that he sued more than a dozen times as Oklahoma attorney general.

“You don’t know me very well. In fact, you don’t know me hardly at all, other than what maybe you read in the newspaper or [have] seen on the news,” he told the crowd. “I look forward to sharing the rest of the story with you as we spend time together. But this is a beginning.”

President Trump’s decision to nominate Pruitt, who has made it clear he has no confidence in mainstream climate science, to lead the EPA immediately incited a backlash from liberals and environmentalists. More than 770 former EPA officials— including scientists, engineers and managers — signed a letter to all the members of the U.S. Senate, urging them to reject Pruitt. Despite near-unanimous opposition by Democrats, he was confirmed last Friday.

On Thursday, an Oklahoma County district judge ordered Pruitt to hand over thousands of emails he exchanged with the energy industry to the Center for Media and Democracy  watchdog group by Tuesday — the day of his EPA speech.

“Why did we have to rush and have this vote before we had this information?” Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, asked Yahoo News. “Everything we know about Scott Pruitt makes abundantly clear that he is unsuitable to be the EPA administrator, and it really begs the question, ‘What was he hiding?’”

In the speech, Pruitt urged EPA staff members to conduct themselves according to values laid out in two books on the American Revolution and its underlying philosophies: “Founding Brothers,” by the American historian Joseph J. Ellis, and “Inventing Freedom,” by a British politician, Daniel Hannan. The values he singled out included civility, rule of law, federalism and listening.

“Civility is something that I believe in very much. We ought to be able to get together and wrestle through some very difficult issues in a civil manner,” he said. “We ought to be able to be thoughtful and exchange ideas.”

Sittenfeld said the speech did not address environmentalists’ concern that Pruitt has always acted to protect the interests of industry. She characterized him as antithetical to the EPA’s mission to protect the environment and human health.

“The speech was pretty much a nothingburger, and given that everything about him is antithetical to the EPA, the onus was really on him to somehow convey if he had different plans that would somehow contradict his record to date,” Sittenfeld told Yahoo News.

As well as suing the EPA at least 14 times, Sittenfeld said, Pruitt has received $350,000 from fossil fuel interests. He also copied letters from oil industry lobbyists and pasted them almost verbatim onto his Oklahoma attorney general letterhead for messages to the Obama administration.

“All of that is extremely concerning and makes clear to us he’s unfit to be the EPA administrator. And nothing about what he said gave us any reason to think otherwise,” she said.

Pruitt’s supporters in the fossil fuel industry, as well as among conservatives opposed to regulations, see him as a corrective to what they consider the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach.

Pruitt quoted Sierra Club founder John Muir toward the end of his speech: “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in.”

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, was none too impressed by this reference.

“John Muir is rolling over in his grave at the notion of someone as toxic to the environment as Scott Pruitt taking over the EPA,” Brune said in a statement.

The Hill

This Isn’t Just Trump. This Is Who the Republicans Are.

By Dave Johnson February 18, 2017

It’s not just Trump, Republicans as a party are using Trump to engage in a general assault on protections from corruption, pollution, corporate fraud and financial scams.

So far President Donald Trump has signed very few bills. One lets coal companies dump waste into streams. Another lets oil companies bribe foreign dictators in secret. Now he is moving to block a Labor Department “fiduciary rule” that requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients when advising on retirement accounts.

“Are Republicans dismayed that they have put a loathsome, deranged, misogynistic, racist, psychopathic, uninformed, self-promoting, corrupt, insulting, genital-grabbing, conspiracy-theory-peddling, Jew-baiting, narcissistic-behaving, country-destroying, Putin-loving, generally disgusting, fascist, loofa-faced sh*t-gibbon into power in our White House? No, they are not.”

Here’s the thing: this isn’t just Trump doing this. The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed those two bills, and the Republicans have been fighting that fiduciary rule tooth and nail.

It’s not just Trump, Republicans as a party are using Trump to engage in a general assault on protections from corruption, pollution, corporate fraud and financial scams.

This is who they are.

“We Just Need A President To Sign This Stuff”

This is not just Trump. What we are seeing happening to our government is the end result of a decades-long effort by the corporate-and-billionaire-funded “conservative movement” to capture the Republican party, and through them to capture the country — for profit. And here we are.

Are Republicans dismayed that they have put a loathsome, deranged, misogynistic, racist, psychopathic, uninformed, self-promoting, corrupt, insulting, genital-grabbing, conspiracy-theory-peddling, Jew-baiting, narcissistic-behaving, country-destroying, Putin-loving, generally disgusting, fascist, loofa-faced sh*t-gibbon into power in our White House?

No, they are not. They like it that he’s squatting in the Oval Office.

Grover Norquist, one of the key leaders and strategists of the conservative movement, worded it clearly and succinctly, “We just need a President to sign this stuff.” “Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become President of the United States.”

Stream Protection Rule

After waiting eight years, (yes, they waited that long), the Obama administration finally put a rule in place to protect “streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations.”

The stream protection rule requires the restoration of the physical form, hydrologic function, and ecological function of the segment of a perennial or intermittent stream that a permittee mines through. Additionally, it requires that the postmining surface configuration of the reclaimed minesite include a drainage pattern, including ephemeral streams, similar to the premining drainage pattern, with exceptions for stability, topographical changes, fish and wildlife habitat, etc. The rule also, requires the establishment of a 100-foot-wide streamside vegetative corridor of native species (including riparian species, when appropriate) along each bank of any restored or permanently-diverted perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral stream.

Sounds great right? Well protecting the environment and protecting people costs money that would otherwise go into the pockets of executives of and investors in coal companies, so…uh uh.

By the way, the rule would have created at least as many jobs as it might have “cost.”

Oil Company Transparency Rule Repeal

Saying, “We’re bringing back jobs big league,” Trump signed a bill repealing a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule written under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule required oil companies to disclose if they are bribing dictators who steal form their country.

The Hill reports on this, in Trump signs repeal of transparency rule for oil companies,

The legislation is the first time in 16 years that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation, and only the second time in the two decades that act has been law.

…[The CRA] was meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies on United States stock exchanges disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments.

THIS was the priority of the Republican congress.

Retirement Advice Fiduciary Rule

When people ask financial advisers and brokers for retirement advice they get sold high-priced “products” that do not benefit them, but benefit the financial advisers and brokers a lot. (For more on this phenomenon, read Motley Fool’s Where are all the customer’s yachts?)

These scams siphon an estimated $17 billion a year from the retirement accounts of working people.

So Obama’s Labor Department staff (after waiting years and years) wrote a rule requiring these advisers and brokers to act in their clients’ best interest. The Washington Post explained the new rule last year, in Labor Department rule sets new standards for retirement advice.

The Labor Department announced sweeping rules Wednesday that could transform the financial advice given to people saving for retirement by requiring brokers and advisers to put their clients’ interests first.

The long-awaited “fiduciary rule” would create a new standard for brokers and advisers that is stricter than current regulations, which only require that brokers recommend products that are “suitable,” even if it may not be the investor’s best option.

For obvious reasons ($17 billion swiped from working people each year) Wall Streeters didn’t like the new rule one bit. They put a ton of money into killing it. And now Trump is gutting the rule.

This is the classic way people get fucked by a rigged system. Trump is giving Wall Street the freedom to go back to screwing people.

Here is the Google link to a fact sheet on the rule. Click it to see how your government works for you in the Trump era: Fact Sheet: DOL Finalizes Rule to Address Conflicts of Interest …www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fs-conflict-of-interest.html

This Is Who They Are

Up next on the agenda is gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The government agency’s name sort of says it all, doesn’t it? Of course Wall Street and the Republican Party want it gone.

The New York Times explains, in Consumer Watchdog Faces Attack by House Republicans,

The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee will move forward on legislation to neuter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its power to crack down on predatory business practices, according to a leaked memo that emerged on Thursday and infuriated Democratic defenders of the bureau.

THIS is a top priority of the Republican-dominated Congress and the Republican president. It’s not just Trump.

What else is there to say? This is who they are.

 

EcoWatch    Climate Nexus

Assault on the EPA Begins: Trump to Sign Two Executive Orders

The Trump administration is expected to begin attacks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and climate science at the executive level now that the administration has a leader in place at the agency.

Multiple outlets have reported that President Trump may be planning a visit to EPA headquarters as early as this week, where he could sign executive orders targeting Obama administration climate policies and the agency’s structure.

The Washington Post added additional details yesterday evening, reporting that two executive orders being prepared target the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S rule for a revamp, while also lifting a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land. Congress is keeping busy with climate rollbacks too, as the Senate eyes a vote on methane regulations this week.

As the Washington Post noted:

One executive order—which the Trump administration will couch as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy—will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities. It also instructs the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.

A second order will instruct the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revamp a 2015 rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, that applies to 60 percent of the water bodies in the country. That regulation was issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gives the federal government authority over not only major water bodies but also the wetlands, rivers and streams that feed into them. It affects development as well as some farming operations on the grounds that these activities could pollute the smaller or intermittent bodies of water that flow into major ones.

 

Leonard Pitts: Open letter to our so-called president

By Leonard Pitts Jr. The Miami Herald

February 16 2017

Dear Mr. So-Called President:

So let me explain to you how this works.

You were elected as chief executive of the United States. I won’t belabor the fact that you won with a minority of the popular vote and a little help from your friends, FBI Director James Comey and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The bottom line is, you were elected.

And this does entitle you to certain things. You get your own airplane. You get free public housing. You get greeted with snappy salutes. And a band plays when you walk into the room.

But there is one thing to which your election does not entitle you. It does not entitle you to do whatever pops into your furry orange head without being called on it or, should it run afoul of the Constitution, without being blocked.

You and other members of the Fourth Reich seem to be having difficulty understanding this. Reports from Politico and elsewhere describe you as shocked that judges and lawmakers can delay or even stop you from doing things. Three weeks ago, your chief strategist, Steve Bannon, infamously declared that news media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

Just last Sunday, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

What you do “will not be questioned?” Lord, have mercy. That’s the kind of statement that, in another time and place, would have been greeted with an out-thrust palm and a hearty “Sieg heil!” Here in this time and place, however, it demands a different response:

Just who the hell do you think you are?

Meaning you and all the other trolls you have brought clambering up from under their bridges. Maybe you didn’t notice, but this is the United States of America. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Nation of laws, not of individuals? First Amendment? Freedom of the press? Any of that ringing a bell?

Let’s be brutally clear here. If you were a smart guy with unimpeachable integrity and a good heart who was enacting wise policies for the betterment of all humankind, you’d still be subject to sharp scrutiny from news media, oversight from Congress, restraint by the judiciary — and public opinion.

And you, of course, are none of those things.

I know you fetishize strength. I know your pal Vladimir would never stand still for reporters and judges yapping at him like so many poodles.

I know, too, that you are accustomed to being emperor of your own fiefdom. Must be nice. Your name on the wall, the paychecks, the side of the building. You tell people to make something happen, and it does. You yell at a problem, and it goes away. Nobody talks back. I can see how it would be hard to give that up.

But you did. You see, you’re no longer an emperor, Mr. So-Called President. You are now what is called a “public servant” — in effect, an employee with 324 million bosses.

And let me tell you something about those bosses. They are unruly and loud, long accustomed to speaking their minds without fear or fetter. And they believe power must always answer to the people. That’s at the core of their identity.

Yet you and your coterie of cartoon autocrats think you’re going to cow them into silence and compliance by ordering them to shut up and obey? Well, as a freeborn American, I can answer that in two syllables flat.

Hell no.

 

Vox

A Russian newspaper editor explains how Putin made Trump his puppet

“They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician.”

February 22, 2017

Mikhail Fishman is the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times, an English-language weekly newspaper published in Moscow. The paper is critical of Vladimir Putin; indeed, it was targeted twice in 2015 by Russian hackers and has been attacked repeatedly by pro-Kremlin pundits.

Fishman, a Russian citizen and himself outspoken critic of Putin, has covered Russian politics for more than 15 years. For the past year, he has monitored the increasingly bizarre relationship between Putin and Trump, with a particular focus on Putin’s strategic aims. In this interview, I ask Fishman how Trump is perceived in Russia, why Putin is actively undermining global democracy, and what Russia hopes to gain from the political disorder in America.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Sean Illing

From your perch in Moscow, how do you see this strange relationship between Putin and Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

It is strange. It looks a bit irrational on Trump’s part to be sure. Why does he have this strange passion for Putin and Russia? I have to say, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories about “golden showers” and blackmailing. I don’t believe it exists and I don’t believe it’s a factor. But this, admittedly, makes the whole thing that much stranger.

Sean Illing

What makes you so skeptical of the claims in that Trump dossier?

Mikhail Fishman

Two things. One, I’ve been a political journalist for 15 years working and dealing with sources in Russia and elsewhere. And frankly, a lot of this appears shallow to me. I’m sure Russia has plenty of dirt on Trump, but I can’t accept without hard evidence much of the what I’ve heard or read.

Second, this still has the ring of a conspiracy theory, this idea that the Kremlin has blackmailed Trump into submission. I’m generally opposed, on principle, to conspiracy theorizing. So I’m just skeptical until there’s concrete evidence.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about Trump and Putin as individuals. How are they different? How are they similar?

Mikhail Fishman

I would prefer to talk about how they’re different, because those differences are so obvious and extreme. They come from very different worlds. Putin is an ex-Soviet intelligence officer with all that that implies. Trump is a colorful American businessman and showman.

In their habits, they’re radically different. Trump is a posturing performer, full of idiotic narcissism. He appears to be a disorganized fool, to be honest. Putin, on the other hand, is calculating, organized, and he plans everything. He also hides much of his personal life in a way that Trump does not.

Then there’s also the fact that Putin is so much more experienced than Trump. He has more than 15 years of global political experience. He knows how to do things, how to work the system. He makes plenty of mistakes, but he knows how to think and act. Trump is a total neophyte. He has no experience and doesn’t understand how global politics operates. He displays his ignorance every single day.

Sean Illing

What is the perception of Trump in Russia? Is he seen as an ally, a foe, or a stooge?

Mikhail Fishman

The vision of Trump is basically shaped by the Kremlin and their propaganda machine — that’s what they do. During the election campaign, Trump was depicted not as an underdog but as an honest representative of the American people who was being mistreated by the establishment elites and other evil forces in Washington.

Sean Illing

The Kremlin knew that to be bullshit, right? This was pure propaganda, not sincere reporting, and it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton.

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. All of it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton. Putin expected Trump to lose, but the prospect of a Clinton victory terrified him, and he did everything possible to undermine her.

Sean Illing

Why was he so afraid of a Clinton victory?

Mikhail Fishman

Because he knew that would mean an extension of Obama’s harsh orientation to Russia, perhaps even more aggressive than Obama. Putin has experienced some difficult years since his 2014 invasion of Crimea, but he didn’t expect this level of isolation. He saw — and sees — Trump as an opportunity to change the dynamic.

Sean Illing

A lot of commentators here believe the most generous interpretation of Trump’s fawning orientation to Putin and Russia is that he’s hopelessly naïve. Do you buy that?

Mikhail Fishman

That’s a good question. Why does he like Putin so much? I think Trump sees Putin as a kind of soulmate. Let’s be honest: Trump is not a reflective person. He’s quite simple in his thinking, and he’s sort of attracted to Putin’s brutal forcefulness. If anything, this is what Trump and Putin have in common.

Sean Illing

Has Putin made a puppet of Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. This is certainly what the Kremlin believes, and they’re acting accordingly. They’re quite obviously playing Trump. They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician. Putin is confident that he can manipulate Trump to his advantage, and he should be.

Sean Illing

In other words, they see in Trump a useful idiot.

Mikhail Fishman

Exactly. The Kremlin is limited in their knowledge about what’s going on in Washington, but they see the chaos and the confusion in Trump’s administration. They see the clumsiness, the inexperience. Naturally, they’re working to exploit that.

Sean Illing

What’s the long geopolitical play for Putin? What does he hope to gain from the disorder in America?

Mikhail Fishman

The first thing he wants and needs is the symbolic legitimization of himself and Russia as a major superpower and world player that America has to do deal with as an equal. He wants to escape the isolation of Russia on the world stage, which was what the campaign in Syria was all about. Putin has grand ambitions for himself and for Russia, and nearly every move he makes is animated by this.

Sean Illing

How much of this, from Putin’s perspective, is about discrediting democracy as such?

Mikhail Fishman

He didn’t believe Trump would win, so he was preparing to sell Clinton’s victory as a fraud. And this is part of his broader message across the board, which is that democracy itself is flawed, broken, unjust. Putin actually believes this. He doesn’t believe in democracy, and this is the worldview that he basically shares with Trump: that the establishment is corrupt and that the liberal world order is unjust.

Sean Illing

But Putin’s interest in undermining democracies across the globe is about much more than his personal disdain for this form of government. He wants to point to the chaos in these countries and say to his domestic audience, “You see, democracy is a sham, and it doesn’t work anywhere.” That serves as a justification for his own anti-democratic policies. In the end, it’s about reinforcing his own power.

Mikhail Fishman

That’s true. But again, this what Putin really believes. He does not believe a true and just democracy exists anywhere. This is the worldview they’ve been spinning for years and they’ve really internalized it.

For Putin, this is very much a zero-sum game. The West is the enemy. America is the enemy. Whatever you can do to damage the enemy, you do it. The more unrest there is in America, the better positioned Russia is to work its will on the world stage. He wants to divide democratic and European nations in order to then play those divisions to his advantage.

Sean Illing

A pervasive concern in this country is that Trump admires Putin’s strongman authoritarianism, and seeks to replicate it in America. Do you think this concern is well-founded?

Mikhail Fishman

I think it is. Again, it comes to back what Trump and Putin have in common. They’re both male chauvinists. Trump probably admires the fact that Putin is the kind of guy who feels the need to ride horses shirtless; it appeals to his authoritarian instincts. But this is about much more than imagery.

They are both illiterate people in a way. They’re not widely educated. They do not believe in institutions. They see democratic institutions as burdens, impediments to their will. They don’t believe that social and political life should be sophisticated; they think it should be simple.

And this sort of thinking naturally concludes in one-man rule. I think Trump will fail, but there’s no doubt that he shares these authoritarian impulses with Putin.

New York Times

What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

David Brooks     February 17, 2017

 

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

Vladimir Putin was born for a moment such as this. He is always pushing the envelope. After gifting Team Trump with a little campaign help, the Russian state media has suddenly turned on Trump and Russian planes are buzzing U.S. ships. The bear is going to grab what it can.

We’re about to enter a moment in which U.S. economic and military might is strong but U.S. political might is weak. Imagine the Roman Empire governed by Monaco.

That’s scary. The only saving thought is this: The human imagination is vast, but it is not nearly vast enough to encompass the infinitely multitudinous ways Donald Trump can find to get himself disgraced.

Esquire

President* Trump vs. His Environment

The Trump administration could be catastrophic for combating climate change.

By Charles P. Pierce   February 16, 2017

I wish there was something funny I could write about what’s going to happen to the Environmental Protection Agency once the Senate approves the absurd nomination of Scott Pruitt to head an agency that he is at the moment suing on behalf of the state of Oklahoma. I wish I could muster up a dudgeon of a height appropriate to how little this country will do under this administration to combat the existential threat of climate change. I wish I could say I was surprised by any of it.

But, more than any other set of issues, I find the current state of environmental policy simply exhausting. The environment was nearly a non-issue in the presidential campaign. One of our two major political parties—the one that controls two of the three branches of the national government and a fat share of the state governments around the country—takes as an article of faith that the climate crisis is a vehicle for shrewd scientists to get over on the rest of us. The ocean, as we continue to remind people, doesn’t much care who wins the debate on these topics. Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz, a freshman congresstwerp from Florida, has introduced a bill to do away with the EPA entirely. That seems to be DOA even in this Congress, but putting an extraction industry marionette like Scott Pruitt in charge of the agency, while not killing the EPA, is more like putting it into suspended animation for the foreseeable future.

And now, according to multiple reports, the president* is going to celebrate Pruitt’s eventual confirmation by signing a series of executive orders that virtually will take the EPA out of the climate crisis business. To the logical mind, this is tantamount to issuing an order that the CDC should temper its study of communicable diseases, but the logical mind has taken something of a holiday and apparently has been drunk since the end of January. From The Hill:

At that event, an administration source told Inside EPA that Trump will sign executive orders related to the agency’s climate work and that they could “suck the air out of the room,” according to the report. The official did not say how many orders Trump will sign or what they will address. But the planned event could be similar to one Trump held at the Pentagon after Defense Secretary James Mattis was sworn in. At that event, Trump signed an executive order cracking down on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and halting the U.S. refugee program for 120, including indefinitely banning Syrian refugees. An administration official said a potential Trump visit to EPA headquarters has yet to be confirmed.

Trump has vowed to roll back Obama-era EPA actions, including major climate change regulations like the Clean Power Plan and a water jurisdiction rule opposed by many conservatives. One executive order, according to Inside EPA’s report, could be aimed at the State Department, suggesting Trump will take a position on the United State’s participation in the Paris climate deal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate last month that he hopes to stay in that climate pact.

Outside of those people who have organized against police violence and, more recently, the movement surrounding the January marches around the country, the environmental movement has been more active in more places than any other oppositional force in the country. It has put together a vast and diverse movement mobilized against everything from pipelines to fracking. It emboldened the previous administration’s commitment to the Paris Accords and against the Keystone pipeline, which, in turn, emboldened people to take camp on the plains in North Dakota and made Standing Rock a symbol.

All of that energy now runs up against, yes, a big, beautiful wall made of special interests and anti-scientific denial. The allies that the movement has in government can do little but slow-walk the march into the past for which the majorities are warming up at the moment. Nowhere is the modern reality further detached from the nostalgic past than in the case of coal mining. It is a dying industry, caught between the hammer of cleaner energy and the anvil of automation. Yet, there are people in the government, right up to the Oval Office, who have promised glibly to bring this industry back. This is a cruel and stupid charade played on desperate people who have seen a way of life slowly withering for decades. And when the promises turn out to have been as empty as they obviously were, those same charlatans will point to environmentalists as the real villains of the piece.

We have an oilman for Secretary of State. We’ve seen the EPA commanded to delete climate material from its official website. Already, using an obscure procedural device, the Republicans in Congress, with help from a couple of Democrats, have opened things up for mountaintop removal mining and cut back on regulations designed to control mining waste that runs into rivers and streams. One can only imagine what gifts the administration plans to give to industry to celebrate putting one of the industry’s puppets in charge of environmental regulation, but whatever those gifts are, this president will sign for them.

That’s why this is so damned exhausting. There is an obvious crisis that everybody acknowledges one way or another. (Even the president* is building seawalls to protect his golf courses against the gigantic hoax fashioned in China.) The military is taking precautions. The intelligence community sees the crisis as a decades-long threat to national security at almost innumerable levels, from population migrations to epidemic disease to countries full of desperate people looking for food and water. There are red lights flashing everywhere in the government and the response of the current administration seems to be to turn as many of them off as they can get their hands on.

Environmentalism—what we called “ecology” when I was a kid—was one of the proudest achievements of 20th century American politics. It proceeded in fits and starts against the powerful economic and social forces arrayed against it, but from it, we got national parks, the Clean Water Act, a visible Los Angeles by daylight, and interstate highways that no longer looked like horizontal landfills stretching to the horizon. There was a bipartisan constituency supporting it.

Now, with an environmental threat comparable in scale to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, that constituency within the government is scattered and the forces arrayed against it powerfully concentrated. But wildfires do not yield to argument, nor does the winter heat offer to explain itself. (It was over 100 degrees in Oklahoma this week) Go ahead. Pass a law against the sea. Call a cop when it laughs at you.

 

GQ Politics

James Comey Has Some Goddamn Explaining to Do

 

By Jay Willis  February 20, 2017

As details surface of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, the FBI director’s pre-election letter about Hillary Clinton’s emails looks more breathtakingly irresponsible than ever.

You remember James Comey, right? The FBI director who dropped a live hand grenade into the toilet that was the 2016 presidential race by disclosing just eleven days before Election Day that the Bureau was investigating newly discovered evidence related to the Hillary Clinton email scandal in which she had been cleared of months earlier? The one who followed up on this inscrutable-yet-ominous-sounding announcement by concluding a few days later that, haha, just kidding, there wasn’t anything remotely relevant in these stupid emails, sorry if I torpedoed your election and maybe helped deliver the White House to a semiliterate social media celebrity? That James Comey? Good, because holy hell does this man have some explaining to do.

Bombshells about the Trump White House’s ties to the Kremlin have come at a dizzying rate of late, as news that erstwhile national security advisor Michael Flynn talked shop with Russian diplomats before the inauguration now gives way to the revelation that Trump campaign aides were chatting up Russian intelligence officials—who all along were tampering with the election in an effort to promote Trump’s candidacy—throughout the presidential race. Here’s a fun detail from the Times report about who knew what when:

The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.

The F.B.I. has closely examined at least three other people close to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear if their calls were intercepted. They are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative; and Mr. Flynn.

Hmmm, so when the FBI’s probe of the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal turned up a few stray Clinton emails, Director Comey felt the need to immediately share this vital information about the Democratic nominee with the American public. Meanwhile, when the FBI discovered that the other presidential candidate’s closest advisors were in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials, it said…nothing at all.

The agency’s investigation of [former Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort began last spring as an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It has focused on why he was in such close contact with Russian and Ukrainian intelligence officials.

I understand that the sensitive-to-national-security nature of the Trump-Russia investigation means that Comey and friends may have been unable to freely disclose their every finding. But even the fact that Comey was aware of both investigations reinforces the point. If he knew his agency had evidence that the Trump camp just might be colluding with a foreign government to swing the election, pulling the fire alarm on the inane Clinton emails story as he did is the height of irresponsibility, stupidity, partisanship, or some unholy combination thereof.

Just a week before Trump’s inauguration, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General launched an inquiry into Director Comey’s conduct during the election. Assuming it manages to survive under the new administration, the investigation just got a whole lot more complicated.

 

The Nation

This Is How the Republican Party Plans to Destroy the Federal Government

The Overthrow Project existed before Trump, but it may not survive his presidency.

By Hebert J. Gans

February 13, 2017

Before moderate Republicans became virtually extinct, the party advocated limited government. Today, however, President Trump is pursuing a radical shrinkage of the federal government that comes close to overthrowing it entirely. The goal of this project: to leave the country with a minuscule government that is basically an appendage to private enterprise. Call it the Overthrow Project.

The essence of the Overthrow Project is familiar: to reduce taxes on the very rich, free the business community from taxes and regulations that interfere with its money-making, and subsidize that community with public funds. In addition, the Overthrow Project aims to privatize as many governmental activities as possible. Left for government is the maintenance of the remaining public infrastructure that enables private enterprise to operate efficiently and safely, as well as the assurance of public safety through ever-higher funding of the military, the homeland-security apparatus, the police, and other forces of so called law and order.

Unlike conventional attempts by political parties to remain in power, the Overthrow Project also aims to obtain permanent control over all branches of the federal and state governments. That goal is pursued with an increasingly aggressive and norm-violating form of hardball politics only rarely seen in recent times.

The Overthrow Project also aims to obtain permanent control over all branches of the federal and state governments.

Whether the project is a thought-out strategy or the skillful use of every opportunity to implement its far-right ideology will have to be determined by future historians. Either way, much of the Republican program and strategy originated in the many right-wing think tanks created and supported by the donor class and the business community.

Understanding the GOP’s various activities as a single project makes it possible to see the unstated purposes of these activities and how they are connected.

Donald Trump campaigned as a populist outsider and frequently attacked the Republican establishment. Nonetheless, he has always supported its Overthrow Project, adopting its goals and its hardball methods. In fact, Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s most senior adviser, has been quoted as saying, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too.”

Now that Trump occupies the Oval Office, he will do all he can to lower taxes, deregulate the business community, and privatize a large number of governmental activities. Like other Republicans, he is eager to make life yet more difficult for America’s economically and otherwise vulnerable citizens. In addition, he has announced his intent to significantly beef up the military.

Even though Trump promised to bring back the jobs lost by the white working-class members of his base, his actual job-creation proposals appear to be limited to those infrastructure projects that would create profits for the business community.

The deregulation programs will, as always, increase the profits and stock prices of deregulated enterprises in many parts of the economy. The emasculation of the Clean Air Act, for example, will benefit the suppliers of coal, oil, and gas, even though it will require even Republicans to breathe polluted air.

The total or partial privatization projects now being implemented will target public education and the Veterans Affairs department, as well as Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs. Another attempt to divert part of Social Security to Wall Street can be expected. The further privatization of public lands, including in the national parks, is already being discussed.

The stakes are higher now than ever. Get The Nation in your inbox.

Existing privatized institutions, such as prisons and the military will undoubtedly be expanded. Private contractors have already taken over many of the military’s support functions. The possible elimination of cabinet departments and other federal agencies would generate additional privatization to replace some of the goods and services these have provided. A number of Trump’s cabinet secretaries and other top officials were chosen because they are intent on privatizing major government programs in the agencies they are to lead. Several have clearly been picked in order to decimate and perhaps eliminate their agencies.

The donor class has already gone far to privatize election campaigns, and a number of elected officials have always been at the beck and call of private enterprise.

Should the Overthrow Project be successful, government’s role would be limited to enforcing the rules and regulations for the newly privatized enterprises. Presumably, lawyers working for these enterprises will supply government with many of these rules and regulations and government would mainly protect money making and prevent unfair competition.

The business community would probably have government subsidize privatized public functions that supply what were once public goods. In fact, GOP ideology, which treats the market to as America’s dominant institution, suggests that additional institutions supplying public goods are eligible for eventual privatization.

A central part of the Overthrow Project seeks to enable the Republicans to obtain long-term political control of the federal and state governments. The systematic gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts has played a crucial role in the control effort, enabling the Republicans to put far more elected officials in office than the size of their majorities would justify. The various voter suppression, limitation, and discouragement schemes have helped to further increase the Republican vote in many places.

Partly as a result, nearly two-thirds of the state legislatures are now controlled by the GOP, almost enough to propose amendments to the Constitution. A handful more election victories would enable three-fourths of the states to approve the amendments after the Republican majorities in the Congress had passed them.

Gerrymandering and voter suppression often allow elected officials to disregard the wishes and opinions of all but a narrow base of their constituencies. The resulting autonomy frees them to advance party control as well as policies that are favored by only a small part of the population.

Other methods of advancing the party’s control over government are more indirect. These include cutting back funds for the Bureau of the Census and other federal data-gathering programs that implicitly but clearly criticize Republican policies. In years past, members of Congress have already proposed such informational cutbacks, notably those reporting the increases in racial, economic, and other inequalities that could hurt the party politically.

Further initiatives for party control include the intimidation of critics and the barring of access to critical news media. Presidential tweets can distract attention from important events and facts that could interfere with the pursuit of party control. Fake news can have a similar effect, for example by encouraging yet more distrust of the news media and influential political institutions. The recourse to “alternative facts” that seem to legitimize Republican ideology can threaten the country’s reliance on actual facts.

The attempt to achieve long-term party control is accompanied by the rejection of long-held political norms.

The attempt to achieve long-term party control is accompanied by new forms of hardball politics that include the rejection of long-held political norms. A significant example was the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, thus preventing the Democrats from attaining a liberal majority on the Court. Or consider the post-2016 election vote by North Carolina’s GOP legislators to reduce the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor. That coup is likely to be imitated in other states and could encourage conservative think tanks to invent yet other control schemes.

Yet the most dramatic example of the GOP’s norm violations may turn out to be President Trump’s refusal to sell his properties and financial holdings and put his monies into a blind trust. Since he will continue to collect profits from the businesses he owns, he is in effect telling the country that governing can coexist with, and perhaps be used for, money-making.

All of these actions support the Republicans’ attacks on the foundations of democratic government and thereby advance its overthrow.

Although the Overthrow Project may be revolutionary in the changes it could bring to the country, it will probably not include violence. Instead, its primary effects may include the normalization of the various party-control schemes, the constant violation of traditional norms, the toleration of nepotism, corruption, and the injection of alternative realities into the country’s political life.

Unless the currently widespread protest by large numbers of citizens, the media, and other cultural institutions continues, initiatives of the Overthrow Project and its various effects could become part of the mainstream culture. Even anti-democratic politics and authoritarian decision-making may then seem less and less abnormal.

Donald Trump’s belief that he has the power to implement his proposals by himself, his support of foreign dictators as well as his tolerance of the anti-democratic tendencies of the domestic and global far right all suggest that he may be ready to try some dictatorial methods himself if he cannot get his way by democratic means.

The Democrats may share the GOP’s aim to control all branches of government, but so far they have done little to achieve it. Although they have resorted to some of the same strategies and tactics as the Republicans—gerrymandering, for example—they have never gone about it as systematically as the Republicans.

While a handful of Democrats may support some of the GOP’s tax reform, deregulation, and other policies, the party is not interested in overthrowing the government—or private enterprise. Instead, it seeks to increase the well-being of the economically vulnerable population, particularly with a stronger safety net and an enlarged welfare state.

Yet the Democrats have not been as energetic and determined as the Republicans. Nor have they enforced party discipline. They have never received the level of strategic and tactical guidance the Republicans have obtained from their think tanks.

The Democrats have also eschewed the coup-like initiatives of the Republicans. They have not even figured out how to counter the GOP’s hardball politics, but then they have rarely resorted to its strategic guile and its anti-democratic actions.

Still, the Democrats could halt the Overthrow Project with a single landslide election, and end it if they obtained control of all branches of the federal government for several consecutive presidential and midterm elections.

Actually, the Overthrow Project could even be upset by Donald Trump’s failure to keep his promises to the so-called white working class. If its labor-market troubles and those of other citizens in red states continue, their voters could become politically more active—and in ways that could hurt the Republican Party.

Sooner or later, Republicans will find that decimating the government results in a mass of unintended consequences.

Although some may move further toward the totalitarian right, others might join the now ongoing liberal-left protest movements. However, these movements must transform themselves into a nationwide set of relatively like-minded local and state organizations before they can recruit enough disenchanted Republicans and independents to join them.

Above all, these organizations need to figure out how to persuade enough of the politically passive citizenry, particularly whites, to vote, and to vote Democratic, in the next election.

In order for their message and their proposed policies to be persuasive, significant ideological and class differences would have to be overcome or set aside. At election time, they would have to create a ground game that can also persuade disenchanted voters—and non-voters—to support them.

These tasks may be made a little easier by some systemic and self-destructive obstacles the Overthrow Project will face in the future. For one thing, many Democratic programs cannot be fully eliminated, and the federal government usually continues to grow regardless of which party is in power. In addition, the business community will realize that it cannot flourish or even survive without help from even the most hated federal agencies.

Sooner or later, the Republicans should discover that decimating the government will likely result in a mass of unintended consequences. For example, redistributing tax funds to the rich from the large number of middle- and working-class Americans could seriously damage the consumer economy on which the rest of the economy depends. Defunding programs that enable the poor and the working class to survive will further increase family breakups, domestic violence, drug addiction, suicide, and other human tragedies that even the Overthrow Project cannot totally ignore.

If the global economy continues to stifle the country’s economic growth, Trump’s protectionist fantasies notwithstanding, politics could become yet more adversarial. The resulting spread of governmental paralysis to state and local governments would also affect the Overthrow Project.

As always, much depends on the voters. If they continue to blame government for the decline in their standard of living, the Overthrow Project may muddle through. If, however, enough of the voters decide that private enterprise is making their lives miserable, they might realize that politics can help them. These voters could demand a governmental safety net that is securely anchored with entitlement, job creation, income support, and other programs that benefit them instead of the business community.

If the Republicans want to avoid the possibility of a long-term Democratic takeover of the government, they might not only have to call off the Overthrow Project but even participate in creating that safety net.

 

Trump’s in trouble. Is it Christie time already?

Matt Bai

Somehow, on Valentine’s Day, while he was trying to find a new national security adviser to replace the one he’d just fired, and while he was staring down multiple investigations over potential collusion with Russia, and while he was dealing with the fallout from having conducted missile diplomacy with the Japanese in the public dining room at Mar-a-Lago as if it were one of those party games where everyone got to dress up as a country in World War II … somehow, with all this swirling around him, President Trump managed to lunch with his old friend Chris Christie.

I don’t know what they talked about, exactly, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the opioid crisis, which was the stated reason for the meeting. If Trump’s half as smart as he always says he is, then he offered to send a moving van to Trenton.

Because Trump needs a guy like Christie to come in and grab the wheel of this careening presidency, and he needs it to happen now.

Oh, believe me, I know: Just the mention of Christie is enough to send his legion of critics into feral fits of rage and mockery. He came within inches of an indictment for having presided over the basest kind of political retribution, which ultimately undid both his presidential campaign and his second term as New Jersey’s governor. Even his supporters were stung by how brazenly he swung behind Trump and how small it made him seem.

We wouldn’t even be here were it not for Christie’s vengeful streak. If he hadn’t decided to publicly disembowel Marco Rubio in that last debate in New Hampshire, as payback for a raft of negative ads, Trump would probably be back on the “Apprentice” set right now, ogling the interns.

But whatever else you want to say about Christie (and I’ve always found him to be a more complicated and gifted politician than his detractors can stand to admit), the man knows how to bring focus to a political operation, and how to advance a governing agenda, and how to balance public bluster with backroom pragmatism.

And if there’s anyone on Trump’s senior staff who actually knows how to do any of that, by all means, get to the part of the ship that’s still above water and wave your hands frantically so we can see you.

I’m not saying Reince Priebus isn’t a decent guy in a difficult situation. But Priebus is a Wisconsin political operative who did a creditable job fundraising for the Republican Party. When it comes to running the vast federal government or navigating global alliances, he knows about as much as Omarosa.

Either Priebus deserves credit for assembling the rest of this misfit team or he’s too much of a supplicant to get control over staffing the operation. Whichever it is, he must know by now that he isn’t exactly fielding the A-team.

Kellyanne Conway proved herself to be an elite campaign strategist, for sure, but her descent into “alternative facts” has been painful to watch, and her rebuke from the government ethics office, three weeks into the administration, has to set some kind of record.

Sean Spicer, the press secretary, comes off so hostile and disingenuous that Melissa McCarthy’s impression is actually more sympathetic. Steve Bannon provides a whole lot of hifalutin neo-fascist craziness chaos theory, but that stuff tends to come in handier when you’re fomenting campus revolt than when you’ve got a Russian spy ship  menacing the coast of Delaware.

And let’s not leave out Stephen Miller, who not so long ago was a press aide for Michele Bachmann, and who is somehow now in charge of domestic policy (and occasionally presides over national security meetings, just because). In a typical moment from his startlingly bad debut on the Sunday shows last weekend, Miller told CBS’s John Dickerson: “I think to say we’re in control would be a substantial understatement.”

What does that mean, exactly? Are they declaring martial law? Have they mastered telekinesis?

All through the fall campaign, governing Republicans told me that Trump could be a fine president, because he would surround himself with all the smartest and most capable people. Really, they were telling themselves that. They hoped it was true, and so did I.

But that turns out to be the biggest Trumpian illusion of them all, and it’s not hard to see why. Since Trump had never run for even a seat on a condo board before, he didn’t have the kind of longtime, trusted political team that virtually every other president has counted on, for better or worse.

And since the party elite considered Trump’s candidacy a fringy exercise almost until the moment he won the nomination, his campaign mostly attracted fringy talent. And since Trump never really planned to win the fall election, he had no real plan in place to upgrade his entourage with some of the party’s more experienced hands.

So what we have now is basically a renegade campaign team trying to administer and reform the most complex government in human history. And they actually believe their rhetoric — about how lame politicians are, about how useless experience is, about how business is so much harder than governing.

They thought the whole thing would basically run itself. They literally threw Christie’s transition plan into a trash bin. (Um, hey … has that garbage truck come yet? Anybody up for some dumpster diving?)

The whole mini-debacle at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, when Trump and Shinzo Abe conferred on North Korea in full view of dinner guests, would never have happened if anyone sitting in that room had experience in crisis governing. Days of damaging headlines, all of which amounted to very little, could have been avoided by a modicum of expertise.

Instead, Trump finds himself, for the first time in his political life, in a position where he can’t just change the subject with one controversial tweet, and where he couldn’t just ignore the calls for Michael Flynn’s head. The days of being impervious to criticism are over.

If Trump wants his approval ratings to keep sinking, he should definitely stay the course. Or, like the Fonz in those classic episodes of “Happy Days,” he can admit he was wr … wr … wrong. And then he can make it someone else’s problem to fix the mess.

Why force yourself to fire another senior aide every few weeks or months, like a slow bleed? Better to replace poor Priebus now and let Christie deal with the unpleasantness of fixing things. (If there’s one thing Christie doesn’t mind, it’s unpleasantness.)

A chief of staff can elegantly reboot the system in a way a president can’t. A chief of staff can simply say: “I didn’t hire any of these guys, and I’m letting them go.” Done.

Look, it’s not my job to offer Trump advice on his presidency, and it’s not like he’d listen. Maybe it’s true that we’re all better off if the whole experiment craters in the first six months.

But that’s a pretty big risk to take, and if I were Trump, I’d call Christie back today and tell him I need some order and professionalism in the West Wing.

Which, by the way, is a substantial understatement.

 

The Salt Lake Trib

Washington Post Op-ed: Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the U.S. So why is no one protesting?

By Brian Klaas Special To The Washington Post

February 18, 2017

There is an enormous paradox at the heart of American democracy. Congress is deeply and stubbornly unpopular. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress – on a par with public support for traffic jams and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents – eight out of a body of 435 representatives – were defeated at the polls.

If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering.

In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe – not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.

Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition.

Gerrymandering, in a word, is why American democracy is broken.

The word “gerrymander” comes from an 1812 political cartoon drawn to parody Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s re-drawn senate districts. The cartoon depicts one of the bizarrely shaped districts in the contorted form of a fork-tongued salamander. Since 1812, gerrymandering has been increasingly used as a tool to divide and distort the electorate. More often than not, state legislatures are tasked with drawing district maps, allowing the electoral foxes to draw and defend their henhouse districts.

While no party is innocent when it comes to gerrymandering, a Washington Post analysis in 2014 found that eight of the 10 most gerrymandered districts in the United States were drawn by Republicans.

As a result, districts from the Illinois 4th to the North Carolina 12th often look like spilled inkblots rather than coherent voting blocs. They are anything but accidental. The Illinois 4th, for example, is nicknamed “the Latin Earmuffs,” because it connects two predominantly Latino areas by a thin line that is effectively just one road. In so doing, it packs Democrats into a contorted district, ensuring that those voters cast ballots in a safely Democratic preserve. The net result is a weakening of the power of Latino votes and more Republican districts than the electoral math should reasonably yield. Because Democrats are packed together as tightly as possible in one district, Republicans have a chance to win surrounding districts even though they are vastly outnumbered geographically.

These uncompetitive districts have a seriously corrosive effect on the integrity of democracy. If you’re elected to represent a district that is 80 percent Republican or 80 percent Democratic, there is absolutely no incentive to compromise. Ever. In fact, there is a strong disincentive to collaboration, because working across the aisle almost certainly means the risk of a primary challenge from the far right or far left of the party. For the overwhelming majority of Congressional representatives, there is no real risk to losing a general election – but there is a very real threat of losing a fiercely contested primary election. Over time, this causes sane people to pursue insane pandering and extreme positions. It is a key, but often overlooked, source of contemporary gridlock and endless bickering.

Moreover, gerrymandering also disempowers and distorts citizen votes – which leads to decreased turnout and a sense of powerlessness. In 2010, droves of tea party activists eager to have their voices heard quickly realized that their own representative was either a solidly liberal Democrat in an overwhelmingly blue district or a solidly conservative Republican in an overwhelmingly red district. Those representatives would not listen because the electoral map meant that they didn’t need to.

Those who now oppose President Trump are quickly learning the same lesson about the electoral calculations made by their representatives as they make calls or write letters to congressional representatives who seem about as likely to be swayed as granite. This helps to explain why 2014 turnout sagged to just 36.4 percent, the lowest turnout rate since World War II. Why bother showing up when the result already seems preordained?

There are two pieces of good news. First, several court rulings in state and federal courts have dealt a blow to gerrymandered districts. Several court rulings objected to districts that clearly were drawn along racial lines. Perhaps the most important is a Wisconsin case (Whitford v. Gill) that ruled that districts could not be drawn for deliberate partisan gain. The Supreme Court will rule on partisan gerrymandering in 2017, and it’s a case that could transform – and reinvigorate – American democracy at a time when a positive shock is sorely needed. (This may hold true even if Neil Gorsuch is confirmed to the Supreme Court, as Justices Kennedy and Roberts could side with the liberal minority).

Second, fixing gerrymandering is getting easier. Given the right parameters, computer models can fairly apportion citizens into districts that are diverse, competitive and geographically sensible – ensuring that minorities are not used as pawns in a national political game. These efforts can be bolstered by stripping district drawing powers from partisan legislators and putting them into the hands of citizen-led commissions that are comprised by an equal number of Democrat- and Republican-leaning voters. Partisan politics is to be exercised within the districts, not during their formation. But gerrymandering intensifies every decade regardless, because it’s not a politically “sexy” issue. When’s the last time you saw a march against skewed districting?

Even if the marches do come someday, the last stubborn barrier to getting reform right is human nature. Many people prefer to be surrounded by like-minded citizens, rather than feeling like a lonely red oasis in a sea of blue or vice versa. Rooting out gerrymandering won’t make San Francisco or rural Texas districts more competitive no matter the computer model used. And, as the urban/rural divide in American politics intensifies, competitive districts will be harder and harder to draw. The more we cluster, the less we find common ground and compromise.

Ultimately, though, we must remember that what truly differentiates democracy from despotism is political competition. The longer we allow our districts to be hijacked by partisans, blue or red, the further we gravitate away from the founding ideals of our republic and the closer we inch toward the death of American democracy.

Klaas is a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and author of “The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.”

 

Dems tap former Kentucky governor to counter Trump speech

DONNA CASSATA,   Associated Press     February 24, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have tapped former Gov. Steve Beshear to deliver the party’s response to President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, highlighting the Kentucky Democrat’s efforts to expand health care coverage under the law Republicans are determined to repeal and replace.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the announcement on Friday in which they also turned to immigration activist Astrid Silva to give the Spanish language response to Trump’s speech. Silva is a so-called Dreamer who came to the country at the age of five as an illegal immigrant.

Silva spoke at the Democratic convention and her selection is a reminder of Trump’s initial policies on immigration. While the Trump administration has cracked down on immigrants living in the country illegally, Trump has said he wants to spare the children.

Democrats’ choice of Beshear as Tuesday’s counterpoint to Trump underscored their desire to stress their support for former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which recent polling suggests is increasingly popular among Americans. It also comes as Republican leaders labor to craft a plan for replacing that law they can push through Congress — a problem that may have only intensified after GOP lawmakers held town hall meetings this week attended by boisterous backers of Obama’s statute.

Beshear, now 72, served as Kentucky governor from 2007 to 2015. He embraced Obama’s 2010 health care law and expanded the Medicaid program to cover around 400,000 Kentuckians, dropping the percentage of the state’s uninsured people from over 20 percent to 7.5 percent, one of the nation’s steepest reductions.

At a time when Democrats are trying to figure out how to reconnect with middle American voters who were crucial to Trump’s election victory in November, Beshear gives the party a face from that part of the country. He’s also from the same state as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily defeated Beshear when the Democrat challenged him in 1996 and is at the forefront of efforts to repeal the health care law.

“American families desperately need our president to put his full attention on creating opportunity and good-paying jobs and preserving their right to affordable health care and a quality education,” Beshear said in a statement. “Real leaders don’t spread derision and division — they build partnerships and offer solutions instead of ideology and blame.”

Republicans have repeatedly criticized the law as too costly and vowed to repeal and replace Obama’s overhaul.

House Republicans hope to roll out legislation in coming weeks to replace major elements of the Affordable Care Act with a new system involving tax credits, health savings accounts and high risk pools, but crucial details remain unknown.

Beshear’s successor, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, has asked the federal government to let Kentucky change its expanded Medicaid program. He’s said he would repeal the expansion if he’s not given permission to reshape it.

Bevin has said the existing program is too costly and he wants to require most recipients to pay monthly premiums and have jobs or volunteer for a charity to stay eligible for benefits.

Silva moved to Nevada as a child and contact with former Sen. Harry Reid helped to transform her into an immigration activist.

“President Trump would have people believe that all immigrants are criminals and that refugees are terrorists,” Silva said in a statement. “But like my family, the vast majority of immigrants and refugees came to this country escaping poverty and conflict, looking for a better life and the opportunity to reach the American Dream.”

LA Times

Betsy DeVos says it’s ‘possible’ her family has contributed $200 million to the Republican Party

Joy Resmovits January 17, 2017

Since Donald Trump picked Michigan fundraiser and school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as his secretary of Education, Democrats and other political observers have examined her generous political contributions and any conflicts they might pose.

On Tuesday, at DeVos’ confirmation hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders raised the issue again, but DeVos, who is married to the billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, said she didn’t know how much her family had contributed to the Republican Party.

Sanders (I-Vt.) wasn’t deterred.

“There is a growing fear that … we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic society, where a small number of very wealthy billionaires control, to some degree, our economic and political life,” said the former Democratic presidential candidate.

When DeVos still didn’t offer a number, Sanders said he’d heard that the family collectively had contributed $200 million over the years.

“That’s possible,” she said.

Would DeVos have been chosen to be secretary of Education without those $200 million in donations, Sanders asked?

DeVos said she thought she would have been.

During a three-hour hearing, Sanders and Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee grilled DeVos about her views on charter schools, sexual assault in colleges, funding, school vouchers and the enforcement of civil rights laws.

She provided few specifics about her plans, repeating that she looked forward to working together with representatives from both parties. DeVos focused on her support for providing families with a variety of education alternatives, though she said she supports public schools and the teachers who work there.

She said she is in favor of holding to the current timeline for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the major new successor to the controversial No Child Left Behind law that gives states more leeway to help assure student performance and teacher accountability.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked whether schools should be rated according to students’ proficiency — how much they know — and their growth — how much they learn each year. When DeVos didn’t respond immediately, Franken said: “It surprises me that you don’t know this issue.”

DeVos also had a pointed exchange with Sen. Christopher S.  Murphy (D-Conn.) about school violence. Murphy asked her whether guns had any place in schools. “I think that’s best left to states and locales to decide,” DeVos said.

When Murphy pressed her on that point, she referred to a school in Wyoming she had heard about from another senator that has a “grizzly bear fence.”

“I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said.

Murphy asked whether she would support Trump if he were to end gun-free school zones. She said she would support the president, but school violence hurt her heart.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, said she remained “very outraged” by Trump’s comments made public last year about groping women without their consent. Murray described the behavior Trump had boasted about, and asked DeVos whether it would be considered assault if it occurred at a school.

DeVos said yes.

The committee is planning to vote on DeVos on Tuesday. Senators wanted more time to question her, in particular because they have not yet received a letter from the Office of Government Ethics outlining how DeVos would avoid conflicts of interest in connection with her financial interests and political contributions.

 

Huffington Post  Politics

Here’s How Much Betsy DeVos And Her Family Paid To Back GOP Senators Who Will Support Her

It’s good to be a donor.

By Paul Blumenthal February 3, 2017

WASHINGTON ― The nomination of billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education is one vote shy of failing in the Republican-controlled Senate. One thing that could come to her aid is that she and the entire DeVos family are massive Republican Party donors who helped fund the election of the remaining senators who will decide her fate.

Big donors often get positions in government, ambassadorships or ceremonial titles, but rarely do they come as big as DeVos. Sitting Republican senators have received $115,000 from Betsy DeVos herself, and more than $950,000 from the full DeVos clan since 1980. In the past two election cycles alone, her family has donated $8.3 million to Republican Party super PACs.

Campaign Contributions To Senators By The DeVos Family

HuffPost

Source: Center for American Progress; Every Voice; Federal Election Commission.

After Sens. Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced their opposition to DeVos, her opponents turned their sights on other potential no votes from Republicans. The last hope to scuttle her nomination appears to be Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Like a lot of his colleagues, Toomey has received financial support from DeVos and her family throughout his career.

Toomey received $60,050 from the DeVos family during his political career. He was also boosted by two super PACs in his successful 2016 re-election campaign that received DeVos money. Freedom Partners Action Fund, the super PAC founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, spent $7 million to support Toomey’s election while getting $150,000 from the DeVos family. Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), spent $15 million to back Toomey after getting more than $2 million from the DeVos family.

For now, it looks like Toomey is a DeVos supporter. He told a Pennsylvania paper, “I will absolutely be voting for Betsy DeVos,” and previously called her a “a great pick.” On Thursday night, he issued a statement declaring again that he’d vote to confirm her. Despite this, Democrats and other DeVos opponents have been pushing Pennsylvania residents to inundate his office with phone calls and letters calling for him to oppose the DeVos nomination.

Collins and Murkowski based their no votes on DeVos on the volume of opposition her nomination elicited from their constituents. They also said that DeVos had limited qualifications for the job and that she did not support public education. For what it’s worth, Murkowski received $43,200 from the DeVos family. Collins did not receive any DeVos contributions.

Campaign finance reform groups have called on senators who received money from DeVos and her family to recuse themselves from voting on her nomination.

“Most people can see that Betsy DeVos lacks the experience needed to succeed as Education Secretary, and it’s easy to assume under the circumstances that she is only up for the job because of her family’s history of generous political giving,” Laura Friedenbach, spokeswoman for the reform group Every Voice, said in a statement. “The only way for senators who have received donations from DeVos and her family to rid themselves of the appearance of corruption is to recuse themselves from voting on her nomination.”

The DeVos family has long been embedded in the firmament of Republican Party politics as donors, party leaders and candidates. Richard DeVos Sr. is the founder of the multilevel marketing firm Amway (now Alticor) and owner of the Orlando Magic. A supporter of free market capitalism and a backer of the Christian Right, the elder DeVos was one of a select few to fund the rise of the New Right in the 1970s. His money helped fund the American Enterprise Institute and found the Heritage Foundation.

Betsy DeVos came from a wealthy family herself, although not nearly as rich as the billions amassed by Richard DeVos Sr. Her father made millions in the car parts industry. Later, her brother, Erik Prince, would become a millionaire running the private security firm Blackwater. She was involved in the 2006 Michigan governor bid made by her husband, Richard DeVos Jr. She also served two stints as the head of the Michigan Republican Party in the late ‘90s and again in the early 2000s.

The effort that she has really poured money into is the cause of market-based education reform. DeVos ran the group American Federation for Children, which has spent millions to support pro-charter school candidates for school board and other state-level offices across the country.

In 1997, after facing years of criticism for her and her family’s campaign contributions, DeVos defended herself in Roll Call.

“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” she wrote. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

DeVos Questions If Schools Should Provide Free Lunch

Pranshu Rathi, International Business Times February 24, 2017

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a seemingly innocuous joke Thursday about no one getting a free lunch. But the comment came as DeVos, a staunch opponent of public schools, is taking over the nation’s free lunch program that provides nutrition to low-income students and is under attack from Republicans, raising questions about whether the administration of President Donald Trump will protect food aid programs for children, NPR reported.

During her opening remarks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in the outskirts of Washington, Devos jokingly said she is the “first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The debate over free lunch, however, is no joke. Last year, Republicans pushed to introduce a bill that could have stopped thousands of schools from offering free lunch to all public school students.

Republicans were unsuccessful in passing the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) bill that aimed to reform an Obama-era program called Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Republicans who pushed for the bill argued that the CEP is a waste of taxpayers’ money as it subsidizes the meals of kids who can afford to pay for them. In particular, the bill aimed to reform the minimum eligibility criteria for receiving free lunch, according to the Washington Post.

Under the program, schools or school districts where 40 percent of the students meet the requirement for a free lunch can also provide meals to all students for free. In turn, schools are reimbursed based on the percentage of low-income students. Republicans argued for hiking the 40 percent eligibility criteria to 60 percent.

But Democrats argue providing free lunch to all student reduces the stigma attached to getting free meals at school. “Students are free to eat without being categorized and stigmatized, and this has created a wonderful climate of equality and cooperation,” Pruitt Jill Pruitt, the eighth-grade counselor at Coffee Middle School in south central Georgia, told the Atlantic.

Betti J. Wiggins, executive director of Detroit Public School’s office of school nutrition, said students don’t like to admit they come from poor backgrounds. “Many students whose household incomes say they are full-pay may in reality be the household where our students are the most food insecure,” he said.

In most states, students that come from a family of four earning $44,955 or less qualify for reduced-price meals and student with families earning $31,590 or less get free meals. Roughly 31 million American school children qualify for free lunch.

 

McClatchy DC Bureau

Politics & Government   

Trump’s pick for commerce leaves Russia questions unanswered

By Kevin G. Hall February 26, 2017

WASHINGTON

Wilbur Ross is likely to be confirmed as Donald Trump’s secretary of commerce on Monday despite unanswered questions about his ownership of a Cyprus bank that caters to wealthy Russians.

Ross, a wealthy business turnaround artist, has not responded to a February 16 letter from six Democratic Senators asking him to explain his relationship with several Russian oligarchs who hold stakes in the once-troubled foreign bank.

Ross’s involvement with the Cyprus bank adds to a list of Russia connections that have dogged Trump’s tenure in the White House. Investigations are underway by the FBI, the intelligence community and Congress into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s plot to influence the U.S. election. The president has dismissed those suggestions as a “ruse.”

The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system.

Ross, who turns 80 in November and was a Democrat for much of his life, is a billionaire who has turned around high-profile companies in the steel, coal, textiles and auto-parts sectors. His manufacturing acumen is more relevant to his appointment as commerce secretary.

More recently, he led a rescue of Bank of Cyprus in September 2014 after the Cypriot government — in consultation with Russian President Vladimir Putin — first propped up the institution.

“Cyprus banks have a long and painful history of laundering dirty money from Russians involved with corruption and criminality,” said Elise Bean, a former Senate investigator who specialized in combating money laundering and tax evasion. “Buying a Cyprus bank necessarily raises red flags about suspect deposits, high-risk clients and hidden activities.”

The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system. Oligarch Dmitry Ryvoloviev took a nearly 10 percent stake in Bank of Cyprus in 2010. Two years earlier, amid the U.S. financial crisis when real-estate prices were softening, Ryvoloviev purchased Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $95 million. The transaction generated questions because of its inflated market price, about $60 million more than Trump had paid for the Florida property four years earlier.

When Europe’s debt crisis spread and affected Cyprus in 2012 and 2013, that nation’s second biggest bank, Laiki Bank, was closed. The government imposed losses on uninsured deposits, many belonging to Russians.

Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus.

The Cypriot response was partly negotiated with Putin, who the Russian media said wanted to punish wealthy Russians who protected their fortunes abroad. A consortium led by Ross took a majority stake of 18 percent in September 2014. Ross now serves as vice chairman, a post he promised to resign when the Senate confirms him.

Ross had little history in global banking, but in 2011 he took an ownership stake in Bank of Ireland, the only bank in that nation the government didn’t seize. Ross tripled his investment when he sold his Irish stake in June 2014, then months later, he took a gamble on Bank of Cyprus.

Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus, including Viktor Vekselberg, a longtime Putin ally, and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former vice chairman of Bank of Cyprus and a former KGB agent believed to be a Putin associate.

Aides to several of the senators confirmed late Friday that Ross hadn’t responded to their questions. The White House sent McClatchy to a Commerce Department transition aide, who didn’t respond to questions.

Ross was involved with Russia during the 1990s when President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve on the U.S-Russia Investment Fund. The U.S. government set up an investment fund in 1995 to help push the new Russian nation toward a free-market economy after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The fund was converted to a nonprofit corporation in 2008 and many of its assets sold off. The banking investments were purchased by a subsidiary of German financial giant Deutsche Bank, led at the time by Josef Ackermann. Ross asked Ackermann to serve as chairman of the reconstituted Bank of Cyprus after his 2014 investment.

Ackermann left Deutsche Bank in 2012. The bank paid $7.2 billion in fines last year to the U.S. government over toxic mortgages it packaged and sold between 2005 and 2007. And last month, the bank agreed to pay almost $630 million to regulators in London and New York to end investigations into complex stock trades in Russia between 2011 and 2015.

Cyprus also features prominently in the Panama Papers, the massive leak of offshore company data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Journalists from McClatchy and across the globe, working together under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, showed last year how politicians, kingpins and the wealthy all used shell companies to hide their money.

Many in Putin’s inner circle were tied to foreign shell companies that received payments through Russian Commercial Bank in Cyprus and other bank operations there. In fact, Cyprus appears more than half a million times in the roughly 11.5 million files that make up the Panama Papers.

David Goldstein in Washington contributed.

 

Treasury Pick Steve Mnuchin Denies It, But Victims Describe His Bank as a Foreclosure Machine

David Dayen January 19, 2017

Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin kicked off his confirmation hearing Thursday with a defiant opening statement, mostly defending his record as CEO of OneWest Bank. He cast himself as a tireless savior for homeowners after scooping up failed lender IndyMac. “It has been said that I ran a ‘foreclosure machine,’” he said. “I ran a loan modification machine.”

But in stark contrast to his fuzzy statistics about attempted loan modifications, the victims of OneWest’s foreclosure practices have been real and ubiquitous.

A TV advertising campaign that’s been running in Nevada, Arizona, and Iowa features Lisa Fraser, a widow who says OneWest “lied to us and took our home” of 25 years, right after her husband’s funeral.

And on Wednesday, four women appeared at a congressional forum organized by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, relaying their stories of abuse at the hands of OneWest. Democrats had hoped to present the homeowners as witnesses at Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing, but were denied by Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch.

The women’s stories share a remarkable symmetry to those of nearly a dozen OneWest homeowners reviewed by The Intercept over the past several days. They paint a picture of a bank that did more to trap customers than to help them through their mortgage troubles.

Mnuchin complained to senators that he has “been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck. Nothing could be further than the truth.”

But the evidence to support that conclusion is considerable.

Heather McCreary of Sparks, Nevada, one of the four individuals in Washington to testify on Wednesday, was laid off from her job as a home health care provider in 2009. She and her family sought a modification from OneWest as they recovered from the lost wages. OneWest did modify the loan, one of the “over 100,000” such modifications Mnuchin touted in his hearing. But after six months of making modified payments, the bank denied McCreary’s personal check, claiming that the payment had to be made by cashier’s check. “I looked at the paperwork, and couldn’t find that on there,” McCreary said. “The Legal Aid person working with us couldn’t find it.”

OneWest told McCreary to re-apply for the modification twice, then cut off all communications and refused to accept payments. “A few months later we had a foreclosure notice taped to the window, with two weeks to get out,” she said. The bank was pursuing foreclosure while negotiating a modification — a practice known as dual tracking that is now illegal.

Tara Inden, an actress from Hollywood, California, couldn’t get a loan modification from OneWest after multiple attempts. Even after finding a co-tenant willing to pay off her amount due, OneWest refused the money and pursued foreclosure. Inden has fended off four different foreclosure attempts, including one instance when she returned home to find a locksmith breaking in to change the locks. “I took a picture of the work order, it said OneWest Bank on it,” Inden said. “I called the police, they said what do you want us to do, that’s the bank.”

Inden remains in the home today. OneWest gave her $13,000 as part of the Independent Foreclosure Review, a process initiated by federal regulators forcing OneWest and other banks to double-check their foreclosure cases for errors. Inden received no explanation for why she received the money, but sees it as a tacit admission that OneWest violated the law in her case.

Tim Davis of Northern Virginia had a mysterious $14,479 charge added to his loan’s escrow balance on multiple occasions, even after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court ordered it removed. “I don’t think that Mr. Mnuchin should be put in a position of government power without further scrutiny,” Davis said in an email.

Donald Hackett of Las Vegas claimed in legal filings that OneWest illegally foreclosed on them without being the true owner of his loan. He ended up losing the case, and the home. “They had to cheat to beat me,” Hackett alleged. “They came in like union busters to try to bust everybody up and scare you, make you afraid.”

While Hackett was unsuccessful, Mnuchin’s bank has been accused by investigators at the California attorney general’s office of  “widespread misconduct” in foreclosure operations, with over a thousand violations of state statutes. The state attorney general, now-Sen. Kamala Harris, decided not to prosecute OneWest for the violations.

Teena Colebrook, an office manager from Hawthorne, California, came to prominence as a Trump supporter disgusted by the Mnuchin selection. She lost her home to OneWest in April 2015, after a years long battle that began with the loss of renters who shared the property. Colebrook was informed that the only way she could receive help from OneWest was if she fell 90 days behind on her mortgage payments. This was not true: qualifying for the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, did not require delinquency, only a risk of default.

“They won’t tell you in writing and they’ll claim they never said that,” Colebrook said. She found robo-signed documents in her file, had insurance policies force-placed onto her loan unnecessarily, and kept getting conflicting statements about how much she actually owed. Late fees piled up, like outsized certified mailing costs of $2,000, all appended to her loan. She eventually ran out of appeals. “They wanted my property, wouldn’t accept any tender offers,” Colebrook said. “They stole my equity. That’s why I’m so angry. If [Mnuchin] can’t get one person’s figures right, how can he be in charge of the Treasury?”

Colebrook put together a complaint group on the Internet to share stories with other sufferers of OneWest. She found multiple people who said they were told to miss payments and then shoved into foreclosure. Others said they were put through year-long trial modifications (under HAMP they were only supposed to be three months long) and then denied a permanent modification, with an immediate demand for the difference between the trial payment and original payment, which could stretch into thousands of dollars. Others lost homes held by their families for decades.

These stories are familiar to those who experienced the aftermath of the financial crisis. OneWest was neither special nor unique in its urgency to foreclose and unwillingness to extend help to the broad mass of struggling borrowers. But Mnuchin’s nomination has put the spotlight back on a forgotten scandal of deception.

Wednesday’s unofficial hearing was the first in Congress in several years featuring homeowners. In the hearing room, Heather McCreary sat next to Colleen Ison-Hodroff, an 84-year-old widow from Minneapolis asked by OneWest to pay off the full balance due on her residence a few days after her husband’s funeral. Ison-Hodroff said OneWest could kick her out of her home of 54 years at any time. “Allowing an 84 year-old woman to be foreclosed on is not the American way,” McCreary said.

When OneWest foreclosure victims heard that Mnuchin was chosen to lead the Treasury Department, they were shocked. “When he was nominated, it was like the floor crashed underneath me,” said McCreary. “It brought back everything. His name was on my paperwork.”

Other victims offered similar remarks. “For someone who will be tasked with making sure that the economy is doing all it can for people like me, even when it seems the system is rigged against them, Steve Mnuchin is not that person,” said forum participant Cristina Clifford, who lost her condo in Whittier, California, after also being told by OneWest to fall behind on payments.

“I think the first thing is he belongs in a prison,” said Tara Inden.

The Mnuchin nomination can only be derailed through Republican opposition, which is relatively unlikely. But it has set off a new wave of activism nationwide.

Activists have been camped out at Goldman Sachs’s New York City headquarters since Tuesday, targeting Mnuchin’s former employer of 17 years. In an echo of a protest to save her home in 2011, OneWest customer Rose Mary Gudiel of La Puente, California, led a march in the rain to Mnuchin’s Bel-Air mansion on Wednesday night, placing furniture on his driveway before police dispersed roughly 60 activists. (Mnuchin famously scrubbed his address off the Internet after the 2011 protest, saying his family was subjected to “public ire at the banking industry.” But the same organizers found his house again.)

“I put it in the middle of a resurgence of housing justice activism,” said Amy Schur of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “Hard-hit communities are organizing across the country like they haven’t in years. Sometimes we might have kept eyes on the powers that be locally, but with the likes of Trump and this cabinet, we have to take this fight nationally as well.”

In These Times

Even Trump Can’t Stop the Tide of Green Jobs

BY Yana Kunichoff   February 22, 2017

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. (AdamChandler86/ Flickr)

Donald Trump was elected in November on a platform that included both climate denial and the promise of jobs for Rust Belt communities still hurting from deindustrialization. In the months since, his strategy to create jobs has become increasingly clear: tax breaks and public shaming of companies planning to move their operations out of the country.

Take the case of Carrier, a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis that produces air conditioners. Trump first threatened to slap tariffs on Carrier’s imports after the company announced it would move a plant to Mexico. Then, he reportedly called Greg Hayes, CEO of the parent company United Technologies, who agreed to keep the plant in the United States in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. (Carrier later admitted that only a portion of the plant’s jobs would remain in the country.)

The company’s decision to keep jobs in the United States was declared a victory for the Trump PR machine, but it’s unclear that it can create a major change in access to jobs in the long-term. Hayes, announcing that the tax breaks would allow additional investment into the plant, noted that the surge of money would go towards automation. And with automation, eventually, comes a loss of jobs.

“Automation means less people,” Hayes told CNN.  “I think we’ll have a reduction of workforce at some point in time once they get all the automation in and up and running.”

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. This past spring, for example, U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas, and a Rockefeller Foundation-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors study found that energy retrofitting buildings in the United States could create more than 3 million “job years” of employment.

That means green jobs remain one of the key hopes for revitalizing communities. But can they move forward under a climate-skeptic and coal-loving president?

Green jobs today

The Obama administration, for the most part, was a strong supporter of clean technology. In 2008, Obama wrangled tax credits for businesses that invest in wind and solar, which were extended in 2015 through 2020. The solar sector in particular saw huge growth. It grew 17 times faster than the overall economy in 2016, according to the National Solar Jobs Census, buoyed in large part by the 2009 stimulus funds that invested in solar energy.

Trump, meanwhile, has promised to place his investment in coal and oil jobs, as well as dismantle the Clean Power Plan that aimed to take on global warming by setting a limit on carbon dioxide pollution. The president has also declared an all-out war on regulation that encompasses rules designed to promote energy efficiency, a step that many see as the first volley in a war against green jobs.

It’s a bleak outlook, but experts say that even the wholesale destruction Trump threatens to bear on everything climate-related likely can’t entirely stop the growth of jobs in the clean energy sector (or unions’ efforts to organize those workers as the sector expands).

Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which seeks to bridge the divide between labor and the climate movement, says that Trump can’t singlehandedly stop the move toward wind, solar and geothermal.

“That train left the station 10-15 years ago and it’s growing at pretty high speed right now,” says Uehlein. “That’s going to continue.”

One key reason that Uehlein and other analysts are still guardedly optimistic is that so much green energy growth happens at the state level. A December 2016 study by the Brookings Institute concluded that with little to no future buy-in from the federal government, states and localities would become increasingly important in turning the economy toward green jobs.

Uehlein says he’s already seen that happen successfully at the state level and that it’s creating good, unionized jobs. He points towards the country’s largest offshore wind farm that was approved in January 2017 and will help New York state get 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2030.

“Labor and the environmental community worked with offshore wind companies and made this happen,” he says, “and it’s the action at state and local levels that is driving this, even under Democratic administrations who have been far better about the environment.”

That reality could be complicated by red states with ideologies that steer them away from investments in environmentally friendly policies. For example, Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s home state, in 2015 attempted to ad extra charges to the bills of people using solar energy. Tennessee’s bright sunshine hasn’t been captured by much solar power in large part because the state doesn’t have a renewable portfolio standard mandate that encourages utilities to use green power, as many other states that have benefitted from green energy do. Florida, meanwhile, banned the use of the term “climate change” in government communications, emails or reports.

But that doesn’t change that the interest in green jobs from voters is mostly bipartisan. Several polls in the last six months of Republican voters, many of whom backed Trump, have found support for renewable energy.

Dr. Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of Berkley, created the U.S. green jobs model to understand the future of the green energy industry through to 2030. The study found that green energy could create millions of jobs.

“It’s a pretty simple call the Trump team will need to make. Do they hang on to the technologies of the past,” Kammen asks, “or do you get more jobs by investing in these new technologies?”

An existential threat to the environment and labor

While the green jobs industry may still grow, Trump’s presidency has created a broader existential crisis both for labor and the environment.

In a report released after his election, the Labor Network for Sustainability put forward a plan called “How Labor and Climate United Can Trump Trump,” addressing the fears that Trump would accelerate the march towards cataclysmic climate change and, in the process, bring about right-to-work laws at the federal level that would spell doom for unions.

Uehlein says that many unions have an “all of the above” policy that supports work in all forms of energy, not only wind and solar but also oil and gas and coal. That is a “recipe for climate disaster,” he says.

Instead, Uehlein argues that labor and environmental groups must put together an alternative agenda around jobs and transitioning to a clean economy, develop a stronger alliance, target Trump’s base to convince them of the troubling nature of his agenda for both labor and the environment and commit to working through the inevitable tensions that will arise, like those presented by the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Most importantly, the report notes, labor can’t support the parts of Trump’s agenda that it finds helpful, and ignore those that are harmful. Climate groups, meanwhile, can’t ignore the economic realities of the communities that voted for Trump.

The report makes its case: “If the climate protection movement wants to have a future, it will have to find a way to appeal to the alienated Trump voters that not only gives lip service to their interests but actually wins them over.” Labor, meanwhile must “use good, stable jobs protecting the climate to challenge the growing inequality and injustice of our society.”

This work was funded in part by the Social Justice News Nexus program at Medill at Northwestern University.

Never has independent journalism mattered more. Help hold power to account:  Subscribe to In These Times magazine, or make a tax-deductable donation to fund this reporting.

Yana Kunichoff is a Chicago-based journalist covering immigration, labor, housing and social movements. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Reporter, Truthout and the American Independent, among others.

 

Wind Energy Will See More Tech Breakthroughs, Falling Costs, Experts Predict

Jeff McMahon,  Contributor, I cover green technology, energy and the environment from Chicago. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.  

February 27, 2017

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted the largest-ever survey of experts on energy last year, asking them to predict whether wind energy would continue to get cheaper toward 2030 and beyond.

When they plotted the 163 expert predictions against traditional analyses, they discovered the experts are more optimistic than their analyses.

“Our experts are somewhat more optimistic about future cost reduction potential than much of the existing literature,” LBL Senior Scientist Ryan Wiser said in Chicago last week. “That suggests our experts are not simply basing their estimates on the existing literature, but are bringing some new information—hopefully insightful information—to the table.”

The survey also collected opinions from a smaller group of 22 “leading experts.” These top researchers and technologists are the people who developed the wind industry over the last 20 to 30 years, Wiser said, and they proved even more optimistic than the larger group.

Their optimism may derive from technological advancements that have yet to be implemented, suggesting that wind energy is not as mature a technology as its slowly evolving turbines make it appear. Immature technologies, as solar energy has demonstrated, tend to enjoy steeper drops in cost.

“That was the question we were trying to get at with this expert survey,” Wiser said. “Is this a mature technology where only somewhat modest incremental improvements are plausible? Or instead do there remain significant opportunities for cost reduction?

“Onshore wind technology is fairly mature,” Wiser concluded, but the survey suggests that “further advancements are on the horizon—and not only in reduced up-front costs. Experts anticipate a wide range of advancements that will increase project performance, extend project design lives, and lower operational expenses. Offshore wind has even greater opportunities for cost reduction, though there are larger uncertainties in the degree of that reduction.”

In the median, the experts predicted on-shore wind energy would see cost reductions of about 35 percent by 2050. The cost of offshore wind would drop 38 percent to 41 percent, they predicted.

Cost reductions matter because wind faces stiff competition from natural gas, and that competition will stiffen further when wind loses its federal production tax credit over the next four years. But even without subsidy, Lazard estimates the cost of wind starts at 3.2¢ per kilowatt hour, making it the cheapest form of energy in America today.

Instead of asking the experts to predict that cost in the future, Wiser’s team asked them to predict each of the five elements that determine cost: up-front installation cost, capacity factor, design life, cost of financing, and operating expense.

“We forced people to think about all of the five components that ultimately go into the levelized cost of energy,” he told a gathering of scientists, economists and public policy experts hosted by the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago [watch the video].

Wiser’s team published the survey findings last fall in the journal Nature Energy.

Researchers traditionally predict future costs through learning curves, which anticipate how much costs will fall as capacity increases, or through engineering analysis.

“Learning curves and engineering analysis are perfectly useful, interesting ways of understanding cost reduction potential,” Wiser said. “We wanted to bring at this problem a somewhat new technique to see how it fit in with other existing literature that was out there.”

A summary of the survey findings released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

 

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The U.S. military is not in Iraq “to seize anybody’s oil”, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump at the start of a visit to Iraq on Monday.

Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as Pentagon chief, is hoping to assess the war effort as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launch a new push to evict Islamic State militants from their remaining stronghold in the city of Mosul.

But he is likely to face questions about Trump’s remarks and actions, including a temporary ban on travel to the United States and for saying America should have seized Iraq’s oil after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Trump told CIA staff in January: “We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you’ll have another chance.”

 

Senator John McCain’s belated Valentine’s Day chocolate for the press – “We need you,” he told Chuck Todd on NBC’s  Meet the Press – was devoured by the Sunday Beltway programs today.

The Todd-McCain interview, released in tweeted snippets over the last couple of days but aired in full this morning, included the warning that the suppression of a “free and many times adversarial press” is “how dictators get started.”

Starting with a joke – seemingly – McCain told Todd, “I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.

“If you want to preserve, I’m very serious now, if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

Vice pres Pence in a speech in Brussels, Belgium attempted to reassure Europe to assure them we will still support NATO. Should they believe Trump or Pence.

Donald J. Trump, To Tell The Truth?

John Hanno     February 10, 2017

 

Donald J. Trump “To Tell The Truth?”

 

“To Tell The Truth,” is an American television game show dating back to 1956. One real contestant and two imposters, identified only as number 1, number 2 and number 3, are introduced to a panel of four celebrities, who then try to guess who’s the real person with an unusual occupation or experience. The two imposters are allowed to lie but the real contestant has to answer panelists questions truthfully. After questioning, each celebrity picks who they think has told the truth and is the real person. After they write their number on a card, host Bill Collyer asks:  Will The Real——Please Stand Up?

My question from America is: Will The Real Donald J. Trump Please Stand Up? He’s been portraying some incarnation of Donald John Trumps for decades, but now under much more scrutiny since he announced he was running for president. As least two of the three or four imposters, have been lying at an unprecedented rate throughout the primary campaign and general election. According to the Toronto Star, Trump lied about 275 times during one 31 day period. Almost 90% of his rabid supporters will believe anything each of the Donald’s has said, and the late deciding voters who reluctantly pulled for Trump believed all of his past conduct and current outrageous actions and statements, would be moderated as soon as he became president, that it was just campaign stuff. Most of the world has seen and heard the video of Trump bragging about sexually abusing women but his daughter said that’s not the real Donald J. Trump she knows and admires. Well, he’s been president for 3 weeks and if anything, things have gotten even more confusing. It would take days to go through all of King Donald’s transformations but I’ll try.

He and the Republi-cons said they would repeal and replace Obamacare on day one, but once they actually started unpackaging the law, and the ACA policy-holders and other protestors started beating down their office doors, they discovered the job is much more difficult than their 6 years of rhetoric implied. They switched to repeal and maybe replace two or three years in the future but that didn’t work either. The latest slogan is now “not actually repeal but repair.”

The Donald said he would drain the conflict riddled and corrupt Washington swamp inhabited by wall street banksters and corporate lobbyists. He railed against Hillary’s close ties and paid speeches to wall street interests, even though she was the resident U.S. Senator for New York’s wall street district. Instead, he shocked many of the Trump voters who may still be able to decipher a bold face lie from reality, by hiring the slimiest cold blooded reptiles from Goldman Sachs and K-Street to run his cabinet. It’s too bad Bernie Madoff wasn’t available. Maybe Trump can pardon him and hire him somewhere down the road.

He said he would establish a blind trust to divorce himself from his businesses, and made a big production at a news conference with stacks of business documents that journalists couldn’t inspect, apparently because they were fake. He repeatedly said he would eventually turn over his tax returns but now says he won’t, unlike every president before him, because “America doesn’t really care about it.” But millions of folks signed onto various petitions demanding he provide those tax returns; and polls showed the same inclination.

Responding to his obvious and unprecedented conflicts of business interests, Trump now claims that instead of an actual blind trust, he will turn his businesses over to his two sons, and wants Americans to believe this undefined and speculative Chinese Wall will be honored by someone who lies daily and retweets fake news stories and crazy conspiracies. It didn’t help to allay critics fears when The Donald named son-in-law Jared Kushner a Senior White House advisor. And it’s not just Trump himself ridiculing Nordstrom’s for canceling Ivanka’s business contracts, but we also have top White House advisor Kelleyanne Conway praising Ivanka’s clothing line and telling everyone to run out to the stores and “buy her great stuff” during an impromptu commercial on Fox News; regardless of the fact that sales of her products dropped 26% in January alone and 35% last year. Trump’s son then said that all Nordstrom customers should cut up their credit cards in retaliation. Welcome to the White House /Trump Inc.

Trump repeated throughout the campaign, and berated Jeb Bush for his brothers Middle Eastern invasion, that the war in Iraq was a monumental mistake, but Trump’s bellicose ranting against Iran and Muslims can’t help but spark memories of the Bush Administrations preconceived plans to invade Iraq and their rush to war before the U.N inspectors could finish their job. Trump’s statement that we should, and may in the future, take oil from Iraq and other countries in the Middle East, and the statement from Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that they’re putting Iran on notice and also this cabals alignment with the far right settlement expansion faction in Israel, makes you think that another democratic Middle East nation building campaign is on the front burner. Thankfully, the Trump administration, after many months of criticizing the Obama Administration, informed Israel that these settlements, just at President Obama and Secretary Kerry claimed, are after all, not conducive to a two state solution and a lasting peace. But does Trump honestly believe in Palestinian autonomy?

Trump railed against China throughout the campaign and promised to reverse decades of U.S. policy, which ruled out independence and diplomatic recognition for the island of Taiwan. Trump said that it “was open for negotiation” but after a sharp rebuke from China, has now reversed course and has committed to honor that “one China” policy.

Trump’s policy statements (actually impulsive tweets) related to his ill advised and unnecessary travel ban showed how totally unprepared this cast of pretenders is in actually leading a nation and establishing effective policy. They’re rushing headlong, without much forethought, attempting to somehow follow through on at least one of the outrageous promises they made during the campaign. Some of those tweets:

“Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision.”

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.”

“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

And after polls showed most American were not in favor of Trumps ban, he tweeted: “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”

And finally, after the 9th Circuit gave Trump’s Muslim ban a Constitutional beat down, he responded: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

A more likely scenario might have been that Trump follows through on his insane promise to tear up the Iran Nuclear deal, wherein a few weeks later, intelligence sources discover the Ayatollahs are back to spinning centrifuges. He and Pence repeatedly shouted that they would “TEAR UP THE IRAN DEAL.” But apparently there’s at least one adult in his administration, probably General Mattis, who finally got through to Trump, because they just announced they would fully honor that agreement.

I have another much more likely and realistic scenario for America’s tenuous safety and security; I “Just cannot believe a (U.S. President) would put our country in such peril,” because when Dakota Assess and Keystone XL (now renamed “Trump’s Oil Express”) start leaking oil into the wells, lakes, rivers and aquifers of 20 or 25 million Americans drinking water, and onto the fertile farms of Middle America, “If something happens, blame Trump and his administration. Oil pouring in. Bad!”

Trump was pretty clear about his views on scientific research, climate change and global warming during the campaign. And his own investments in fossil fuel showed his true environmental allegiance. But his daughter Ivanka, being a mother of his two grandchildren, and her brother, who also has children, probably have a more realistic view of the need to protect the only earth we have for future generations. Can The Donald honestly ignore the overwhelming evidence? Has America ever had a president that was so hostile and incurious about science and real facts? He ridicules environmentalists, including our original earth protectors (Native Americans), when he claims climate change and global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to steal our jobs. Can he forsake his grandchildren and our grandchildren’s future for 40 pieces of gold from the fossil fuel industry?

Trump disregards the millions of true American patriots in every state, who demand that he protect America’s air, water and land, when he blatantly granted his approval for the halted Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines and then quickly ordered the Army Corp to disregard President Obama’s order for a full Environmental Impact Statement and that the Corp reevaluate the proposed route and consequences to ours and the Standing Rock Nation’s environment. Trump lied when he said he hasn’t received any complaints about the pipelines because the White House complaint line conveniently refuses to accept any calls from concerned citizens.

This “so-called President’s” assault on America’s health and safety is in stark contrast to the 39th President of the United States. 92-year-old President Jimmy Carter recently leased 10 acres of farmland outside Plains, Georgia for the construction of a 1.3-megawatt (MW) solar array. Developed by SolAmerica, the project will deliver more than 55 million kilowatt hours of clean energy to Plains, which is more than half the town’s annual needs.

The Donald and his administration, urged on by the Republican congress, has spent the last three weeks passing executive orders undermining his predecessor and rewarding campaign contributors and connected benefactors. The King’s TV edicts were a grand reality show production.

To Trumps credit, he did criticize House Republicans when they voted to gut the office of government ethics and when the irate public swamped the congressional switchboards, the GOP lawmakers quickly backed down.

De Smog reported that “The Republican-led Senate used an obscure procedural tool to end a bipartisan provision meant to fight corruption and overseas oil bribery, a rule opposed by Trump’s new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, when he was head of Exxon Mobil.” A much appreciated reward for fossil fuel, I’m sure.

Trump signed a memorandum instructing the Labor Department to delay implementing an Obama rule requiring financial professionals who are giving advice on retirement, and who charge commissions, to put their client’s interests first. Trump, of the fraudulent Trump University fame, apparently believes these future retirees should have the opportunity to be scammed by banksters who think their own welfare is more important than their fiduciary duty to their clients.

And we know it’s only a mater of time and opportunity before the Republi-con congress starts debating the rewards for the rich and powerful who donated 100’s of millions to their campaigns. These tax breaks will of course, be offset by cuts to the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs that Trump vowed over and over not to touch. But don’t hold your breath on another Trump broken promise to our senior citizens, poor mothers with children and the disabled.

And the regulations despised by the Republi-con’s cronies have already started falling by the wayside. Dodd Frank, and the Consumer Protection Agency that has already returned $12 billion back to cheated consumers might be on borrowed time. As I’ve said before, the Democrats, and recently President Obama during his 8 years, tried their best to use responsible governance to do things for ordinary folks; the King and his court has spent the last three weeks, and will every day they’re in power, use their power to do things to people, that is except for the rich and powerful.

One of the biggest promises Trump made and actually won the election on, was his promise to bring jobs back from Mexico and China. Those jobs in Mexico and other countries south of the border, are probably gone for the foreseeable future. Americans make anywhere from 7 to 10 times as much as those workers and their benefits are almost triple. China is a bit different. American workers make only 4 times as much as Chinese workers but because of escalating wages and environmental problems in China, those jobs are moving to other far east countries like Vietnam, not back to the U.S..

And of course those coal jobs will not come back, and not because of Hillary and the Democrats. The abundance and lower cost of natural gas has crippled the coal industry. Just like wind, solar and other alternative energies will eventually do the same to the oil industry. There are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs in the U.S. Wind and solar jobs are growing faster that all jobs in the fossil fuel industry combined.

If the King and his court were legitimate, forward thinking leaders, they would continue the progress made by the Obama Administration in creating real living wage jobs in the alternative energy and energy conservation industries, instead of the trickle of permanent jobs in fossil fuel, which is the least labor intensive and most corrosive and unhealthy form of employment. But the corporate titans and their pandering pols will continue to take our living wage jobs, attack organized labor and attempt to pit groups of workers, who should have common goals and aspirations, against each other. And the person Trump hired to run the labor department, Andrew Pudzer, critic of minimum wages and proponent of robots replacing humans, is their ideal man.

But the most troubling problem for the Trump team is the problem that keeps bubbling up every time Trump, who has probably insulted and demeaned every person in every group in America except for his “uneducated” rabid base, refuses to say anything bad about his fellow Despot Vladimir Putin. CNN is now reporting that intelligence officials have now corroborated some of the communications reported in the 35-page dossier compiled by the former British intelligence agent.

More information is also being reported concerning National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian operatives before the election, concerning sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration, over Russian involvement in the election. Its reported that Flynn lied to V.P Pence and the FBI about Flynn’s involvement. America must demand a thorough independent investigation of Trump and his operatives involvement in the Russian interference. What compromising information is Putin holding over Trump and the Republic-cons?

We can’t count the number of times The Donald said he has the best mind, that he’s the smartest person ever; but you would think someone that smart could figure out how to conduct himself like a real president while serving all of our citizens, not just the rich and powerful. But when he hires folks that want to cripple the government agencies Americans have long depended on for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they will fight back. One thing progressives have to give Trump credit for is the unification of those opposed to the King’s “Ult” right radical court.

The world keeps waiting for the “Real” President Donald J. Trump to Stand Up,” but all they see is an imposter. John Hanno

 

Misreading the Trump mandate

Matt Bai    January 9, 2017

For those who thought Donald Trump would morph into a more conventional kind of president once the gravity of the job sank in, for those who kept telling themselves he would surround himself with old hands and tilt toward consensus, these can’t be reassuring days.

Instead, Trump tweets about imagined voter fraud, berates federal judges and department stores, thunders at allies on the phone and entrusts national security to an alt-right provocateur. The liberal writer Naomi Klein likened Trump’s first weeks on the job to “standing in front of one of those tennis ball machines — and getting hit in the face over and over again.”

In the first-ever reality TV presidency, every week is sweeps week, and every day is a cliffhanger.

If you’re among those who find all this unsettling, though, I offer some hope. In one very important respect, Trump is behaving entirely like those who came before him. And he’s apparently learned nothing from their mistakes.

On their current trajectory, Trump and his allies in Congress are headed straight for a wall — and it won’t be the big, beautiful one he’s always talking about.

Here’s some reality, for which no alternative facts exist: The last three presidents of the United States before Trump were elected with strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Each one of them found his dominance short-lived and ended up controlling nothing and wallowing in futility.

We’ve never before seen a streak like that in American history. It’s not a coincidence.

In every case, some large segment of voters hoped they were getting systemic reform, rather than more old ideology and rigid partisanship. And in every case, presidents and their parties misinterpreted their mandate, or invented one that didn’t really exist.

Bill Clinton won on the promise of a less dogmatic “third way,” then immediately veered left, taking up fights on social issues and staking his capital on a massive and bureaucratic health care plan. George W. Bush vowed to “change the tone” in Washington — which he did, by making it even more jarring and divisive.

Barack Obama ran on the implicit promise of a generational break, but it took only a few months for his advisers to recast him as the second coming of FDR’s New Deal. He spent the last two-thirds of his presidency looking for ways to govern that didn’t involve passing laws.

On their current trajectory, Trump and his allies in Congress are headed straight for a wall–and it won’t be the big, beautiful one he’s always talking about.

All of them won what amounted to an audition from the voters and then behaved as if they’d been told to rebuild the theater. In response, the voters gave each of them a second term but checked their power with an opposition Congress.

(Trump is considerably older than these presidents were, and considerably less loved in his own party, so I wouldn’t go banking on a second term just yet.)

There’s a certain element of human nature at work here. New presidents win these days because of extreme dissatisfaction in the electorate, and usually with the aid of some extenuating circumstance: Clinton with an assist from a third party, Bush after a much-disputed recount, Obama in response to an economic collapse.

But once you get elected, the tendency is to tell yourself that there was more to it than that — that people were responding not just to your outsider appeal but to the brilliance of your governing ideas too, even if you didn’t necessarily share many of them during the campaign.

Emboldened congressional leaders line up to tell you that you have a political blue sky, that the people have spoken, that they cry out for ideological boldness!

In fact, they’re mostly just crying out. And the last thing they want is more extremist policy, more partisan paralysis and endless feuding.

Which brings us back — like most things these days — to the subject of Trump. You could make a reasonable case, I guess, that Trump is fundamentally a different case. He did tell people exactly what he intended to do, in very concrete terms — build a wall, ban a bunch of Muslim immigrants, withdraw from trade deals and resort to tariffs.

Trump promised an up-in-your-grill, reactionary brand of conservatism, and nothing he’s done in this first month has failed to deliver.

Except that the election night data tells a more complicated (and more familiar) story. Sure, some segment of voters chose Trump because they loved the “Make America Great Again” riff — probably the same proportion of Republican voters who swept him to victory in the primaries. Maybe that was 30 or 35 percent of the electorate.

The voters who really provided Trump’s margin of victory, however, were less enamored. According to exit polls, about two-thirds of voters thought Trump was unqualified to be president, and another two-thirds thought he lacked the temperament for the job. Exit polls are flawed, but they aren’t that flawed.

What this means is that some significant segment of Trump voters were essentially saying: We don’t want crazy and extreme, but we just can’t bear the same old cast and narrative. So we’ll give you a shot.

These are the voters who most wanted to “drain the swamp” of political insiders, who decry the constant pettiness and the influence of big money over two parties stuck in perpetual stasis.

What has Trump given them to this point? A Cabinet plucked from Goldman Sachs and the billionaires’ club. An endless stream of childish rants. A sharply partisan agenda that says, “We won, you lost, get used to it.”

I get what Trump is thinking. You do what works for you until it doesn’t. This is the approach that got him through the primaries none of us thought he’d win and into the White House after all the experts had written him off. We keep saying you can’t get by on such a narrow, divisive appeal, and he does anyway.

He must think it’s just like the ratings for “The Apprentice.” You don’t have to win over everybody with a TV, or even half of them; you just need to have more diehard viewers than “CSI” does.

New presidents win these days because of extreme dissatisfaction in the electorate, and usually with the aid of some extenuating circumstance….But once you get elected, the tendency is to tell yourself that there was more to it than that.

But the math changes when you’re president. You can win a nomination with 30-plus percent of the vote firmly behind you, if the field is crowded enough. You can even win a general election that way, if another chunk of voters is desperate enough to give you a try.

In the White House, though, a 35 percent approval rating is crippling. Opponents dig in. Allies run in the other direction, especially if they never liked you that much to begin with. A president who pleases only his most diehard supporters ends up isolated, his party endangered.

Trump isn’t there yet; he’s near 40 percent in most polls, making him merely the least popular new president in memory. He’s probably got about six months to start acting like a grownup before the skepticism hardens and a lot of wary Trump voters decide he’s not the right guy for the job, after all.

That’s the thing about tennis balls. They tend to bounce back.

 

The Washington Post

Swarming crowds and hostile questions are the new normal at GOP town halls

Republican town halls across the country hit by protests

 

By Kelsey Snell, Paul Schwartzman, Steve Friess and David Weigel, February 10, 2017

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Republicans in deep-red congressional districts spent the week navigating massive crowds and hostile questions at their town hall meetings — an early indication of how progressive opposition movements are mobilizing against the agenda of the GOP and President Trump.

Angry constituents swarmed events held by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Diane Black (Tenn.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). They filled the rooms that had been reserved for them; in Utah and Tennessee, scores of activists were locked out. Voters pressed members of Congress on their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on the still-controversial confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even on a low-profile vote to disband an election commission created after 2000.

House Republicans had watched footage earlier this week of McClintock’s raucous town hall in northern California and his police-assisted exit — a warning of what might come. And with Congress scheduled for a week-long recess and a raft of additional town halls starting Feb. 18, the warning may have been warranted.

On Thursday, participants were spurred to show up by a variety of forces: large-scale publicity campaigns by major opposition groups such as Planned Parenthood; smaller grass-roots efforts; or their own deep objections to Trump’s presidency so far. Some were Democrats, some were independents and some were Republicans, but most were liberal activists who had opposed Trump all along and were simply looking for new outlets to object to him.

What was less clear was where it would all go. If nothing else, the size and tone of the crowds fed Republicans’ worries and Democrats’ view that the GOP agenda and the president’s tone and missteps have activated voters who may have sat out previous elections.

Angry Utahns pack Chaffetz’s home state town hall

 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) got a frosty reception in his home state on Feb. 9, at a town hall. Angry constituents packed a high school auditorium, grilled the high-ranking congressman with questions and peppered him with boos and chants while protesters amassed outside. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Judy Intrator, 63, a data collector from Utah who voted against Trump, said she attended Chaffetz’s town hall because the president is “stirring up a side of this country that’s being let loose and I’m scared.” One way to register her opposition, she said, is to refuse to say Trump’s name.

Some attendees admitted that they lived outside the districts in which they attended town halls. But their intensity demonstrated just how rapidly some effective organizing tactics, such as those in the “Indivisible” guide prepared by former Hill staffers, had spread to red America. What had been staid or friendly events became scenes of shouting and emotional pleading, all shared online and on local TV news.

“I think what we’ve seen in these last few weeks is that it was sustainable from January into February,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “So the next question is, what does March look like? What does April look like? How do we get through the summer, when it’s easier to stand outside in some other parts of the country that are cold today, and you continue to see this grow?”

At Black’s event in Murfreesboro, members of College Republicans at Middle Tennessee State University struggled to find “Make America Great Again” hats to fill the audience at a town hall on health care and tax reform.

Organizers searched through a sea of at least 200 people, many carrying Planned Parenthood signs, to find friendly faces to help fill the 80 or so seats at the “Ask Your Reps” event featuring Black, the House Budget Committee chairman, and three other local officials. Activists booed and chanted as the group, flanked by armed campus security, handpicked people to help fill the room in hopes of keeping the conversation civil.

Inside the room, audience members rose to ask Black for specific proposals to replace ACA programs that have become a health lifeline for many residents in this mostly rural slice of central Tennessee. Black carefully insisted that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has a plan, but that wasn’t enough to soothe the crowd.

“Answer the question!” some in the audience shouted.

Black demurred on at least one question as the moderator pleaded for respect.

The tense, tightly controlled scene inside the small lecture room was a sharp contrast to the frustrated energy just outside the doors. Chants of “this is what Democracy looks like” and “let us in” erupted after security officers blocked the majority of hopeful attendees from entering the room, citing fire marshal rules. The peaceful protesters huddled around computers and phones to watch the event streaming live on Facebook, occasionally groaning and renewing their chants.

 

 

Newsweek   

Eichenwald: Kellyanne Conway Throws Gutter Ball, Massacres Facts

By Kurt Eichenwald   February 2, 2017

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, wants the press and the public to stop commenting on her citation of the fictitious “Bowling Green Massacre” to justify the travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries.

No.

In fact, the most important piece of the Conway statement has been lost amid the ridicule and jaw-dropping disbelief that a White House official believed in a nonexistent mass slaughter and used it to justify an unprecedented policy. Conway’s full comment is one of the starkest revelations to date to explain the childish, dishonest, incompetent and authoritarian behavior of White House officials in communicating with the public, a reality that ultimately puts this administration at risk of self-destruction.

Conway’s full comment, which she uttered on MSNBC’s program Hardball, was this: “I bet it’s brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre.” As Conway told the show’s host, Chris Matthew, “Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”

Forget for a moment the fictitious “six-month ban.” In just 50 words, Conway revealed the otherworldly, fevered mindset that infested the Trump campaign and is now percolating in the Trump White House. This person, a senior adviser to the president of the United States, is stating that the American news media would not have reported on every element of a mass slaughter by Muslims—from the attack itself to the government’s reaction—out of some bizarre conspiracy to either defend Islamic attackers or to support Barack Obama.

This was no slip of the tongue. Trump thinks the same thing: that the media is conspiring to hide Islamists’ attacks from the world. On Monday, Trump said that the strikes had gotten so bad that “it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.” Then he added, “They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

What world do these people live in? Do they actually believe there are attacks that the media—for some bizarre reason—refuse to report? Or is this once again just stuff they say, without worrying about truth? Are Trump and Conway trying to imply that the reporters—the ones who risk their lives running into the devastation, covering the wars, sometimes being kidnapped or killed—are rooting for the attackers?

This is a deeply unsettling time. The messages being communicated by the president and his team of either the ignorant or the lying are this: The entire American electoral system is rigged, with millions of fraudulent votes being cast for Democrats in a year when Republicans scored victory after victory. Any information reported that doesn’t agree with the opinions from the White House is “fake news.” And there are also big, secret events that the media isn’t reporting because…reasons. Uncomfortable news is false, reality is hidden, voting is rigged. It is hard to imagine a greater assault on the foundations of our democracy than the promulgation of this three-pronged invitation into government-controlled, Soviet-style illusion.

Unfortunately, this is the natural outgrowth of the argument conservatives have been spinning for decades about media bias, and now no conspiracy theory seems too absurd. (Is there bias? On social issues, probably, since so much of the national news comes from reporters who tend to be less religious than those in more conservative parts of the country, and who live in big cities, working and living with segments of society that might not be as prevalent elsewhere. But the media broke the Clinton email story, Whitewater and a host of other scandals in Democratic administrations. Reporters want the lead story, the important one that will have a lasting impact, and will go after either political party to get it.)

What do Trump and Conway read or watch that led them to believe that the American news media ignores responses to attacks? Going back to the Bowling Green example, how exactly would it have helped Obama by pretending he did nothing in response to a massacre? (As for the massacre statement, Conway is now lying that she made a single slip of the tongue in the Hardball interview; in fact, she said the same thing about the imaginary “Bowling Green massacre” before that, in an interview with Cosmopolitan and in another one with TMZ.)

This mindset has evolved over the evolution of Trump from reality-TV star and businessman to president. According to a CNN producer, the network throughout the election struggled to find Trump surrogates who wouldn’t lie and frequently had to drop those who repeatedly said literally anything, factual or not, to defend their positions. One tactic, though, was used relentlessly: whining. Go back and look at all of the Trump team’s statements when confronted by some difficult news regarding their candidate; the go-to response was consistently along the lines of “Why don’t you cover this same thing about Hillary” or “It’s certainly no surprise that the media is ignoring that Hillary did…”

When Trump was caught on tape making his “pussy grabber” comments, these people actually complained that no one was pointing out that Bill Clinton was caught in an affair almost two decades ago. The fact that the recording was new information about a man who was running for president—while the second was the topic of impeachment proceedings, TV news broadcasts and books about a man who can never be president again—did nothing to counter the irrational comparison.

The relentless, childish message from the White House playground has been this: “That’s not fair.” Trump complains about Saturday Night Live, saying its portrayal of him is not fair. (When did fairness become an element of satire?) CNN isn’t fair. The New York Times isn’t fair. The Washington Post isn’t fair. Any publication or TV show that reports demonstrable facts isn’t fair.

The second whine from our kindergarten debaters is, essentially, “Billy did it first.” During the campaign, the nyah-nyah finger-pointing was at Hillary Clinton, and it took some time after the election for Trump and his team to let go of that reflexive argument. Now it’s about Obama. (Ultimately, the self-pity party is a two-part argument: It’s not fair to report this negatively because Obama did it first.)

Take the bogus Bowling Green massacre story, with the underlying wailing about how the evil, evil press didn’t report that Obama banned Muslims from Iraq afterward. The horrifying question: Is Conway just a liar, or is she so uninformed that she doesn’t know everything she said was untrue?

Obama never imposed a ban. Yes, when there was an investigation of a possible plot involving Iraqi nationalists living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the administration adopted stricter rules for issuing visas for people traveling from Iraq. The review process was more comprehensive. People with legitimate visas weren’t stopped in the American airports and shipped back to Iraq; families weren’t torn apart. Yes, the order tapped the brakes on the issuance of visas, meaning the number of Iraqis coming to the United States slowed down, but it never stopped.

The more shocking comments about the Obama action came from Trump. He claimed in a printed statement that Obama banned visas for refugees for six months. That the president is so ignorant of immigration procedures while simultaneously issuing orders on immigration is stunning. Obama could not have banned visas for refugees because refugees don’t travel on visas. That is about as basic a fact in immigration as there is, and not only did Trump not know it but his staff actually typed it up and sent it out to the press, either with no knowledge that their statement was contrary to law or in an attempt to deceive the public. And they spewed their ignorance or mendacity time and again on television. No wonder CNN has essentially banned Conway from appearing on its programs; viewers gain no benefit by listening to someone vomit up fantasies.

Dealing with the amateurs in the White House press operation is no easier. I have written innumerable articles about Trump; the responses I receive are either none at all, falsehoods or insults. A couple of times, out of frustration at the inability of Trump’s press team to act in a professional—or even adult—manner, I have been forced to call executives I know at the Trump Organization. Twice, with reasonable, fact-based and slogan-free responses, they provided answers to questions that resulted in me dropping or revising the stories. That’s the way it is supposed to work.

It doesn’t work like that with the White House. I recently asked a question based on some documents and received a response from a spokeswoman, Hope Hicks. She ended her email with the words “Your reporting, per usual, is wrong.” But the documents contradicted her answer. In case there were other records, I asked her how and where she obtained her information that were counter to the records. Plus, I told her that I was eager to correct any errors in my articles and that she should let me know what they were. No response ever came.

This method of dealing with the press is long-term suicide. Fighting every skirmish as if it were a nuclear war destroys credibility and the chance that organizations—be they government or business—get to waive reporters off of a story that is, in fact, incorrect. Reporters don’t tend to contact press officials to get a statement about what they plan to print no matter what; often, we are asking for facts that might tell us where the article might be off base. But persuading reporters to consider that guidance requires a long-term buildup of credibility. That means that the press people or senior officials acknowledge the bad news, even as they try to spin it. The officials have to accept they might lose some battles in the process of establishing their credibility, but they will gain an asset that might prove invaluable in the future.

A great example: Sean Spicer has expended almost all of the credibility he ever had in just two weeks as White House press secretary. He slammed reporters for calling the travel ban a ban just because Spicer and Trump had both called it a ban. The right way to defend Trump’s failure to mention Jews in the annual presidential statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day would have been just to acknowledge the slipup and apologize. (Trump had been in office for only eight days at the time; an error amid the tumult of taking over the White House would have been unsurprising.)

Instead, Spicer made everything worse by defending the indefensible, lying that the statement had been “widely praised” and saying Trump deserved credit because he “went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.” And with that, Spicer pulled a hat-trick: He lost more credibility, doubled down on the original error that emboldened Holocaust deniers, and—in praising Trump for bothering to issue the annual statement—communicated that the president didn’t really consider the slaughter of 6 million people all that important. In other words, by defending something small, Spicer made the error of press officer incompetence that has damaged plenty of other institutions in the past.

Probably the best example I saw in my career was with the investment company First Boston, a once-venerable outfit that no longer exists—and there is little doubt that the self-inflicted destruction of its credibility played a role. At one point, the company was led by an executive who constantly led reporters astray with false tales. His chief public relations executive was a marketing official who never understood that there was a difference between talking up the company and speaking to the press. Reporter after reporter was waived off of true stories, and they assumed that a company of First Boston’s caliber wouldn’t be foolish enough to lie (which is not the same as spinning ugly facts to put them in a less harsh light).

Then came the day when rumors hit the market that First Boston was on the verge of collapse because of a lousy investment deal. The stock plummeted as article after article appeared reporting the rumors. (I didn’t.) I received a desperate phone call from the public relations office asking what was happening, and why articles about rumors were being published. The answer was simple: First Boston had lied so many times—sometimes to the detriment of reporters’ reputations—that no one was going to listen to it. I told the official that, from the best I could tell, the rumors were not true, but there was no way I was going to print that: There was no one at First Boston I would trust to confirm my belief.

There was another business just like First Boston when it came to deceiving the press: the Trump Organization. Donald Trump lied to the press with the alacrity of a dog running for dinner. Early in my career, when I caught Trump in a gargantuan falsehood, I told my editor about it, thinking this was a story. But my editor shot it down—it wasn’t news, he told me, that Donald Trump was a liar.

Which brings us to President Trump and the Trump White House. Officials there have been burning through their credibility as if it was soaked in gasoline. Just because Trump spins falsehoods does not mean that his staff has to back them up. But there is no one in the White House with the wisdom, experience or maturity to recognize that someday they will need credibility in the midst of some crisis. By then, just as with First Boston, it will be too late. No one will care what the Trump team has to say, because no one will believe a word of it.

 

 

Jimmy Carter brings massive solar array to his hometown

Situated on 10 acres, the 1.3-megawatt project will provide more than half of the power needs of Plains, Georgia.

Michael d’Estries     February 7, 2017

Building on a clean energy legacy that includes installing the first thermal solar panels on the roof of the White House, former President Jimmy Carter is bringing the renewable energy revolution to his hometown of Plains, Georgia.

The 92-year-old, who served as the 39th president from 1977 to 1981, recently leased 10 acres of farmland outside Plains for the construction of a 1.3-megawatt (MW) solar array. Developed by SolAmerica, the installation is projected to generate over 55 million kilowatt hours of clean energy in Plains — more than half the town’s annual needs.

“Rosalynn and I are very pleased to be part of SolAmerica’s exciting solar project in Plains,” Carter said in a statement. “Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change. I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue.”

Back in June 1979, President Carter made history by installing 32 panels on the roof of the White House to heat water. In a speech that day, Carter signaled that it would only be a matter of time before such technology would compete for a piece of America’s energy portfolio.

“In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy…. A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

While Carter’s panels never did make it to the dawn of the 21st century, having been removed 14 years earlier by the Reagan administration, President Obama did make good on a promise to reinstate a 6.3-kilowatt solar array on the White House roof in 2014.

 

Time

Legal Scholars: Why Congress Should Impeach Donald Trump

James C. Nelson, John Bonifaz  February 6, 2017

Nelson is a retired Justice of the Montana Supreme Court and a member of the Legal Advisory Committee for Free Speech For People. Bonifaz is the co-founder and president of Free Speech For People.

It has been widely acknowledged that, upon swearing the Oath of Office, President Donald Trump would be in direct violation of the foreign-emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Never heard of the foreign-emoluments clause? You’re not alone. It’s tucked away in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution. It’s clause number 8. It states, in pertinent part: “… no person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office or Title of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”

This clause was included in the Articles of Confederation and, later, in the Constitution itself. It was borne out of the Framers’ obsession with preventing in the newly minted United States the sort of corruption that dominated 17th and 18th century foreign politics and governments — characterized by gift-giving, back-scratching, foreign interference in other countries and transactions that might not lead to corruption but, nonetheless, could give the appearance of impropriety.

Where Trump runs afoul of the foreign-emoluments clause is that, first and foremost, he is a businessman with significant financial interests and governmental entanglements all over the globe. Indeed, as Norman Eisen, Richard Painter and Laurence Tribe stated at the Brookings Institution, “Never in American history has a [President] presented more conflict of interest questions and foreign entanglements than Donald Trump.” Moreover, Trump’s businesses dealings are veiled in complicated corporate technicalities and lack transparency.

The Trump Organization does or has done business in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Panama, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, St. Martin, St. Vincent, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Uruguay. And, while serving as President, Trump, through his interest in the Trump Organization, will continue to receive monetary and other benefits from these foreign powers and their agents.

Examples of existing business arrangements that constitute violations of the foreign-emoluments clause include: China’s state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is the largest tenant in Trump Tower, and the state-owned Bank of China is a major lender to Trump. Trump’s business partner in Trump Tower Century City in Manila, Philippines is Century Properties, which is run by Jose Antonio, who was just named special envoy to the United States by the president of the Philippines. Further, many Trump Organization projects abroad require foreign government permits and approvals, which amount to substantial financial benefits that also constitute foreign emoluments.

Presidents and public officers often utilize blind trusts so as not to violate the foreign-emoluments clause. A truly blind trust involves an arrangement wherein the public officer has no control whatsoever over the assets placed in the trust — that means no communications with, from or about the trust, and no knowledge of the specific assets held for his benefit in the trust. In the case of Trump’s ownership in the Trump Organization, this could be achieved only by a complete liquidation of the assets, with the proceeds to be invested by an independent Trustee, without Trump’s involvement or knowledge. Trump’s decision to continue the business of the Trump Organization, continue to maintain his substantial ownership of the organization and turn the management of it over to his children, is woefully inadequate in addressing the emoluments clause.

Worse, taking the position that the foreign-emoluments clause doesn’t even apply to him, Trump has stated that: “I can be President of the United States and run my business 100 percent, sign checks on my business.” And: “The law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

To address this unprecedented corruption of the Oval Office and this threat to our Constitution and our democracy, we believe Congress must move forward now with an impeachment investigation of President Trump. More than 575,000 people from across the country have already called for this, joining a new campaign launched moments after President Trump took the Oath of Office. The President’s possible conflicts of interest have become increasingly apparent.

In the meantime, instead of starting to “make America great again,” the 45th President should read the Constitution and “make the President honest again.”

After all, he swore to uphold the Constitution.

 

The National Memo

Why Deutsche Bank Remains Trump’s Biggest Conflict Of Interest

Jesse Eisinger   February 10, 2017

 

Reprinted from Pro Publica.

If you measure President Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest by the amount of money at stake, or the variety of dicey interactions with government regulators, one dwarfs any other: his relationship with Deutsche Bank.

In recent weeks, Deutsche Bank has scrambled to reach agreements with American regulators over a host of alleged misdeeds. But because the president has not sold his company, the bank remains a central arena for potential conflicts between his family’s business interests and the actions of officials in his administration.

“Deutsche poses the biggest conflict that we know about in terms of dollar amounts and the scale of legal exposures,” says Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor and author of Too Big To Fail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations. In trying to clear up its outstanding regulatory troubles, the bank “may have tried to do its best to avoid the appearance of impropriety but it may be impossible for them to do so.”

Deutsche is Trump’s major creditor, having lent billions to the president since the late 1990s even as other American banks abandoned Trump, who frequently bankrupted his businesses. While the president hasn’t released his tax returns, he has made public some information about his debts. According to these incomplete disclosures and reports, the Trump Organization has roughly $300 million in loans outstanding from the bank. Trump continues to own the business, although he has turned over day-to-day management to his sons.

At the same time that it is Trump’s biggest known creditor, Deutsche is in frequent contact with multiple federal regulators. While the bank agreed last week to pay $630 million to settle charges by New York state’s top financial regulator as well as the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority that it had aided Russian money-laundering, it’s still undergoing a related federal investigation into those activities, which it is also trying to settle. That will be an early big test of the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Justice Department also has an ongoing probe of foreign exchange manipulation by several banks, including Deutsche Bank.

Even if the bank clears up the ongoing federal cases, it will remain weighed down by past transgressions. During the housing bubble, Deutsche Bank misled buyers about the quality of its mortgage securities and omitted important information. In 2015, its London subsidiary pleaded guilty in connection with the multi-bank conspiracy to manipulate global interest rates and paid $775 million in criminal penalties.

Deutsche will soon have an astonishing six independent monitors monitoring its conduct — the most ever for one company, according to Garrett. Drawn from the ranks of consultancies and law firms, these overseers make sure Deutsche complies with previous state and federal settlements and regulations relating to its foreign exchange manipulations, global interest rate fraud, sales of dodgy mortgage securities, derivatives trading, and sanctions evasion.

 

Indeed, the independent monitor of Deutsche’s derivatives reporting, Paul Atkins from Patomak Partners, has his own conflict of interest. Atkins served on Trump’s transition team and played a role in appointing federal financial regulators. He is now monitoring whether Trump’s business partner complies with the terms of a settlement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on derivatives reporting.

A Patomak spokeswoman declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has regulators sitting in Deutsche’s offices, as it does with every big bank, keeping a watchful eye on the firm’s safety and soundness. Last year, the Fed failed Deutsche Bank during its annual stress test, finding that it had insufficient capital and could not withstand another financial crisis. And the Securities and Exchange Commission and the CFTC regulate its investment banking and trading activities.

A Deutsche Bank spokeswoman declined to comment. The White House did not return an email seeking comment.

The Trump Organization’s wide-ranging business dealings could raise quandaries for an array of government agencies, from the Department of Labor, which regulates the company’s employment practices, to the General Services Administration, which leases Trump his hotel in Washington, D.C. “Just about everything that every branch, every type of enforcement, every action from every agency could touch on Trump’s conflicts. There is no end to the corruption and ethics concerns,” Garrett says.

But the potential conflicts may be most acute at the Justice Department. Whether the Justice Department walks away from an investigation or takes a hard line against Deutsche Bank, its every move will be scrutinized as either too tough or too weak.

With new management, Deutsche Bank has embarked on an effort to rebuild its reputation. Deutsche CEO John Cyran has conducted an apology tour for the bank’s multiple and serial misdeeds. The money-laundering settlement isn’t Deutsche’s only recent move to close out government probes. In January, it agreed to pay $95 million to end a tax fraud investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And in December, it became one of the last of the global banks to resolve civil charges over the creation and sale of misleading mortgages investments, agreeing to pay a penalty of $3.1 billion.

In these agreements, Deutsche capitalized on the Obama Department of Justice’s eagerness to settle, according to defense attorneys who don’t represent the bank but are familiar with the cases. Outgoing administrations desire to wrap investigations up so departing prosecutors may shine their resumes on the way out the door.

The Obama administration had an added incentive to reach settlements because it worried the Trump administration Justice Department might seek smaller penalties or otherwise go soft on corporations. That helps explain why Deutsche Bank’s mortgage securities settlement, which included $4.1 billion in credit for consumer aid in addition to the penalty, was far below the $14 billion figure reported in the fall as Justice’s opening bid. While most observers expected that figure to come down sharply, Deutsche’s terms were still widely considered favorable.

Even so, Deutsche’s share price remains depressed as investors worry about the bank’s future payouts and ongoing fragility. The bank faces class action suits alleging efforts to manipulate interest rates and the currency markets.

Given the government’s responsibilities, Trump’s regulators face a fraught and sensitive task of proving their independence and fair-mindedness when it comes to Deutsche Bank. Prior White Houses have taken great care to avoid interfering in Justice Department investigations and prosecutions. Despite his early support for Trump’s campaign and their personal friendship, Sessions has said he will not recuse himself from any Justice Department probe into the president, the Trump family or any of his political advisors.

The relationship Deutsche Bank has with the president cuts two ways, defense lawyers and former prosecutors say. It might be advantageous to be in business with a president who appears to regard the office as an opportunity for brand enhancement and enrichment. The bank might hope for leniency from the president’s regulators because of its business ties to him.

There are signs that Deutsche’s new management is not eager to continue serving as Trump’s financier. Trump sued the bank in 2008 to avoid paying a loan for a Trump hotel in Chicago. The parties settled, but lawsuits have a way of fraying friendships. A former top executive at Deutsche Bank says the current top management does not like the real estate developer. “They don’t want to do business with him anymore,” he says.

Given the tension, Deutsche may worry about the mercurial president. The bank’s concern is that the Trump administration could use its regulatory powers to secure better business terms. Nationalist strains course through his inner circle. A top Trump economic advisor recently accused Germany of currency manipulation. Trump, some observers fear, may seek to boost American financial institutions over foreign ones like Deutsche.

In recent months, Deutsche has also sought to renegotiate its loans with Trump, according to a Bloomberg report, in an effort to reduce its exposure to the president. The bank hoped to eliminate the president’s personal guarantee on loans. But such a move would not eliminate the conflict of interest, since the president’s company, which Trump still owns, would remain on the hook to pay back the loans.

 

 

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The Dakota Access Pipeline Doesn’t Make Economic Sense

Mark Paul,  February 6, 20117,  Postdoctoral Association at The Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. Mark holds a Ph.D. in economics from UMass Amherst

Last week, Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. This should come as no surprise, as Trump continues to fill his administration with climate deniers, ranging from the negligent choice of Rick Perry as energy secretary to Scott Pruitt as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, a man who stated last year that “scientists continue to disagree” on humans role in climate change may very well take the “Protection” out of the EPA, despite a majority of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—wanting the EPA’s power to be maintained or strengthened.

As environmental economists, my colleague Anders Fremstad and I were concerned. We crunched the numbers on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The verdict? Annual emissions associated with the oil pumped through the pipeline will impose a $4.6 billion burden on current and future generations.

First and foremost, the debate about DAPL should be about tribal rights and the right to clean water. Under the Obama administration, that seemed to carry some clout. Caving to pressure from protesters and an unprecedented gathering of more than a hundred tribes, Obama did indeed halt the DAPL, if only for a time. Under Trump and his crony capitalism mentality, the fight over the pipeline appears to be about corporate profits over tribal rights. Following Trump’s Executive Order to advance the pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers has been ordered to approve the final easement to allow Energy Transfer Partners to complete the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux have vowed to take legal action against the decision.

While the pipeline was originally scheduled to cross the Missouri River closer to Bismarck, authorities decided there was too much risk associated with locating the pipeline near the capital’s drinking water. They decided instead to follow the same rationale used by Lawrence Summers, then the chief economist of the World Bank, elucidated in an infamous memo stating “the economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” That same logic holds for the low wage counties and towns in the United States. The link between environmental quality and economic inequality is clear—corporations pollute on the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable; in other words, those with the least resources to stand up for their right to a clean and safe environment.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which ordered federal agencies to identify and rectify “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” Despite this landmark victory, pollution patterns and health disparities associated with exposure to environmental hazards by race, ethnicity, and income remain prevalent. Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) released a report identifying the toxic 100 top corporate air and water polluters across the country, finding the ‘logic’ of dumping on the poor and racial and ethnic minorities persists.

We do not accept this logic, and nor should any branch of the U.S government. As the Federal Water and Pollution Control Act makes clear, water quality should “protect the public health.” Period. Clean water and clean air should not be something Americans need to purchase, rather they should be rights guaranteed to all. The Water Protectors know that and are fighting to ensure their right to clean water, a right already enshrined in law, is protected.

The Numbers

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a bad deal for America, and should be resisted. Our findings indicate that the burden of pollution associated with oil passing through the pipeline amounts to $4.6 billion a year—a number none of us should accept. This was arrived at using conservative estimates, and numbers provided by Energy Transfer Partners and the EPA.

According to Energy Transfer Partners, the company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline, the pipeline will transport 570,000 barrels of Bakken oil a day once the project is fully operational. It turns out, a barrel of oil is not a barrel of oil. Oil from the Bakken oil fields, which is where the pipeline originates is substantially dirtier than average—containing almost a quarter more CO2 per barrel. (A full breakdown of the numbers is available here.)

The CO2 content of the oil matters tremendously. After all, it’s the leading GHG contributing to global warming—the largest test we have collectively faced as a species. To think about this in economic terms, we need to take a few more steps. While Energy Transfer Partners hired its own economics firm to provide an economic impact study of the pipeline, they left out crucial information. Substantial negative externalities from burning the fossil fuels transported by the pipeline are not priced into the analysis. While the private profits of the pipeline certainly look good, we are concerned about the greater social costs associated with the pipeline, in particular pollution.

To calculate the cost, we need to think about the cost of CO2 emissions. The EPA. and other federal agencies use the social cost of carbon (SCC) to estimate the climate benefits and costs of rulemaking. The EPA’s estimate of the SCC for 2015 is $36 (in 2007 dollars). The SCC is an estimate of the economic damages associated with a small (one metric ton) increase in CO2 emissions in a given year (i.e., the damage caused by an additional ton of carbon dioxide emissions). Applying the SCC to the oil transferred via the pipeline provides the estimated $4.6 billion (2016 dollars) in annual burden from pollution associated with the pipeline. But won’t that simply be a burden on future generations? No.

The case for climate policy is frequently made on the grounds of “intragenerational equity”; intragenerational equity is also critical. The immediate net benefits for people living in polluted communities must be taken into consideration. Co-pollutants and co-benefits are necessary to take into account, as the marginal abatement benefits will vary across carbon emissions sources due to the presence of co-pollutants, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, NOx, and air toxins released during the burning of fossil fuels. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has calculated that premature deaths attributed to co-pollutant emissions from fossil fuel combustion impose a cost of $120 billion a year in the United States, while Taylor and Boyce find that the co-pollutants result in the deaths of thousands per year.

OK, how about the jobs? Trump after all has vowed to bring back jobs—“a lot of jobs.” Not so fast. According to Energy Transfer Partners’ own estimates, the Dakota Access Pipeline will employ just 40-50 permanent workers along the entire route. Surely those jobs matter for the folks that get them. They’ll likely be well-paying jobs with benefits—the types of jobs the economy needs. But with 7.5 million Americans currently unemployed, and millions more underemployed, this won’t make a dent. The pollution associated with the pipeline and the risk of contaminated drinking water, on the other hand, will. Putting Americans back to work through the fossil fuel industry simply doesn’t make sense. According to research by Professor Robert Pollin at the Political Economy Research Institute, investing in a green-energy economy provides three times more jobs than if the money were invested in the fossil fuel economy. Want jobs? How about a green New Deal?

The financial crisis and ensuing banking bailouts ensured private profits while socializing losses. Trump is bringing the same logic to the table, socializing costs associated with pollution—and not counting them—while privatizing profits from the pipelines. Sure, there will be some tax revenue associated with the pipeline, an estimated $56 million annually in state and local divided between four states, but that pales in comparison to the $4.6 billion in annual burden. The economics don’t add up, but let us be clear—the economics shouldn’t necessarily come first. People should have a right to clean water and respect of their ancestral lands.

This article was originally published at Dollars & Sense

 

Donald Trump’s universe of alternative facts

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

February 8, 2017

President Donald Trump’s travel ban had been in effect for less than 24 hours when, 10 days ago, he offered a smiling review from the Oval Office.

“You see it at the airports,” Trump said, “you see it all over.”

Indeed, millions of Americans with access to television and internet, and the thousands protesters at international arrivals terminals around the country, were bearing witness to the effects of his executive order.

But what they saw was something much different from what Trump described in his off-the-cuff remarks. The airports were gripped by chaos. Visa holders, including legal permanent residents, were being denied entry into the US, turned back or detained by Customs clerks, as families and lawyers argued for their release. The legal fight over the order — now temporarily stayed — seems destined for the Supreme Court.

A detained traveler reacts as being cleared through at the Dulles International Airport in Sterling, Va., on Saturday, January 28, 2017.

More than two weeks into his presidency, Trump and top White House aides seem to be operating in an alternate universe — where the world media is ignoring global terror as a means of advancing shadowy political interests and opponents of the President’s sweeping travel ban are either traitors or mercenaries.

Even the most widely available statistics, when they contradict the administration’s narrative, are cast as subjective or false measures. On Tuesday, Trump claimed — falsely — that the US murder rate is at its highest in “45-47 years.”

“(Trump) said the press doesn’t tell you that, doesn’t like to report that — the press doesn’t like to tell it like it is,” said CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter. “In fact, the murder rate is not at a 45 year high. It has ticked up slightly in the last couple years, that’s cause for concern, but the murder rate is much lower than it was, for example, in the 70s, 80s or 90s.”

Bad news is ‘fake news’

In a tweet on Monday, Trump offered his worldview in stark terms.

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election,” he said. “Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”

Putting aside that pre-election national polling turned out to be an accurate preview of the popular vote results, Trump in his tweet is not simply arguing against or spinning a particular survey. Instead, he is openly asserting that any empirically derived suggestion that his policies might be unpopular — or not enjoying broad support — are by definition misleading or false.

Trump runs hot and cold with the polls. In that way, he is not unlike other politicians, who lift up the numbers they like and downplay the figures they don’t. But the new White House has broken from the usual spin cycle by promoting — sometimes repeatedly — a series of jarring, and easily disproved falsehoods.

In the reality described by Trump, a federal judge who ruled to halt the administration’s travel ban would, along with the entire “court system,” be responsible for a potential terrorist attack.

The dynamic in the White House mimics Trump’s personality, one former campaign official told CNN. He is someone who can lose interest quickly and turn to the next issue without much thought.

It’s most apparent on Twitter, where the President will bounce between a variety of often unconnected agenda items and personal grudges.

Over 24 minutes on Friday morning, he mocked Arnold Schwarzenegger; rattled off an attack on the Iranian government; claimed that “the FAKE NEWS media” had lied about the nature of his testy conversation with the Australian prime minister; touted a morning meeting with the country’s “biggest business leaders”; and accused demonstrators of being “professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters.”

The media conspiracy

Speaking on Monday, Trump built on this construction, placing the press in cahoots with the judiciary — another willful enabler of global terrorism.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice,” Trump said during a visit to US Central Command headquarters in Tampa. “All over Europe, it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported, and in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

Trump claims media won’t cover terror attacks.

Those reasons — whatever the President thinks they may be — remained unspoken.

What “you understand” could be anything, though the clear implication was that a monolithic media dedicated to repelling Trump, and thwarting the popular will, had launched a campaign to hide reality and cover-up for terrorists. For fans of the conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones and his Infowars, the fundamental argument was familiar.

Pressed to provide material proof of his claims, the White House released on Monday evening a list of 78 attacks it said “did not receive adequate attention from Western media sources.” Among the incidents listed were the killings in Orlando and San Bernardino, California — two bloody domestic attacks that received wall-to-wall coverage online, on television and in newspapers and magazines for days on end.

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen — whose reporting is a staple of the network’s terror coverage –did a more comprehensive review. Searching a database called Nexis that collects news reports from a wide range of sources and mediums, he found more than 78,000 mentions in total, in excess of 1,000 per listed attack. (And that number was likely on the low end, as Nexis yields no more than 3,000 hits per search.)

A false narrative

Over the past week, top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway has also muddied the waters in what increasingly appears to be a concerted effort to stoke anxiety over the presence and entrance of refugees into the US.

In an interview that aired last Thursday night on MSNBC, she invoked the role of two Iraqi refugees in masterminding the “Bowling Green Massacre” Her description of the deadly attack — which did not occur — was quickly called out by reporters, fact-checkers and confused viewers. Conway offered an apology of sorts the next day, tweeting that she had misspoken and meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists.”

But by Monday, it had become clear that Conway’s remark was not a one-off mistake. A reporter from Cosmopolitan said the President’s trusted aide had referenced a “Bowling Green massacre” during a telephone interview a week earlier. Speaking to TMZ on the same day, she mentioned “the masterminds behind the Bowling Green attack on our brave soldiers.”

Conway had not cut the story from whole cloth, but her framing was consistently misleading. In the actual case, two refugees living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, were arrested in 2011 and eventually convicted on charges they had sought to provide weapons and money from the US to al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. American troops — not civilians — were their targets.

The “Bowling Green” yarn was delivered in the midst of a pitched debate over Trump’s travel ban and suspension of the US refugee program. Days earlier, the White House — acting within their rights — had fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration after she instructed federal attorneys not to defend the executive order in court.

Undermining opponents

In sacking Yates, though, Trump’s White House also sought to present her as disloyal to the government and her employers. The official statement announcing the dismissal said Yates “betrayed the Department of Justice” and accused her of being “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”

The attack fit into a consistent narrative of undermining or seeking to delegitimize political opponents or groups operating outside the administration’s narrative framework.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer kept up the drumbeat on Monday, telling Fox News that nationwide protests against Trump and the travel ban were being organized and subsidized by some unnamed benefactor.

“Protesting has become a profession now,” he said, without proof. “They have every right to do that, don’t get me wrong, but I think that we need to call that what it is: it’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the past several decades.”

He offered no evidence and there would have been little time for protesters to plot the demonstrations; Trump’s executive order was, according to the President’s own tweet, purposefully delivered as a surprise.

“If the ban were announced with a one week notice,” he wrote, “the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week.”

With a grassroots protest movement dismissed, the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer’s loyalty questioned and the media accused of conspiring to cover up terror attacks, the Trump administration’s reality is on a collision course with a divided nation.

CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.

 

Trump: ‘I Haven’t Even Had One Call From Anybody’ Complaining About DAPL or Keystone XL

Oil Change International

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By Andy Rowell

Early yesterday, work restarted on the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline  (DAPL), less than a day after the Trump Administration granted a final easement to allow the project to go ahead over the disputed land near the Standing Rock reservation.

As work began again, several things have become apparent since Trump took office, if they were not blatantly obvious before.

This is a man who is a bully, who has no regard for the constitution or the rule of law, unless it suits him. This is a man who lives in an isolated bubble of a small clique of advisors who shield him from the reality of what is happening in the real world. This is a man who does not care about climate change or Indigenous rights.

You should watch the footage from ABC of Trump saying: “As you know I approved two pipelines that were stuck in limbo forever. I don’t even think it was controversial. I approved them. I haven’t even had one call from anybody saying that was a terrible thing you did. I haven’t had one call … Then as you know I did the Dakota Pipeline and no one called up to complain.”

Does the President not watch the news? Does he not look online? Can’t he see that the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have become the biggest environmental story in the last year?

Emboldened by Trump’s latest move, on Wednesday, the company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, said it had now “received all federal authorizations necessary to proceed expeditiously to complete construction of the pipeline.”

If you think that is the end of the matter, you would be totally wrong. Three things may yet scupper the project, which Energy Transfer Partners says will be finished by June.

Firstly, there are ongoing legal battles. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has vowed to continued fighting the pipeline in the courts, even if it completed.

In response to the granting of the easement, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chair Dave Archambault II said, “The drinking water of millions of Americans is now at risk. We are a sovereign nation and we will fight to protect our water and sacred places from the brazen private interests trying to push this pipeline through to benefit a few wealthy Americans with financial ties to the Trump administration.”

Others vowed to continued the fight too. David Turnbull, campaigns director of Oil Change International released the following statement: “This pipeline has been stopped before and we will work together to stop it again. The brave resistance of the water protectors in North Dakota has sparked a nationwide movement that will stand united today and in the days ahead.”

Moreover, yesterday, the nearby Cheyenne River Sioux tribe filed yet another legal case against the pipeline, trying to halt construction, in part arguing that that the Army Corp of Engineers was wrong to terminate an Environmental Impact Statement which had been ordered by President Obama.

They argue that by cancelling the full environmental impact assessment, the Army Corps may have acted illegally. Jan Hasselman, lead attorney for the Tribe argues “The Obama administration correctly found that the Tribe’s treaty rights needed to be acknowledged and protected and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations. Trump’s reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian Tribes and unlawful violation of Treaty rights. They will be held accountable in court.”

Secondly, the disinvestment case against the pipeline is gathering a pace. On Tuesday, in a significant blow to Energy Transfers, Seattle became the first U.S. city to terminate its relationship with a major bank, Wells Fargo, in protest of it providing a credit facility to the pipeline. The move denies the bank access to $3 billion of funds and is a huge financial and public relations blow to the bank.

On the same day, Davis in California also promised to sever ties with the same bank.

Thirdly, every day groups are mobilizing against DAPL, with events planned across the U.S. The events will culminate in a large-scale “Native Nations” march in Washington DC on March 10, led by the Standing Rock Tribe and Indigenous Environmental Network.

Meanwhile, up to 500 people are still living in bitterly cold conditions at three camps near the pipeline route. Theda New Brest, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, said simply: “We are on the edge of a precipice. We have to stand. Mother Earth is life.”

What You Can Do:

Earthjustice is asking people to call Trump, in response to his claims that “no one has complained” about the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.

 

Trump’s Pipeline and America’s Shame

The New Yorker

Trump’s Pipeline and America’s Shame

By Bill McKibben      February 8, 2017

The Trump Administration is breaking with tradition on so many fronts—renting out the family hotel to foreign diplomats, say, or imposing travel restrictions on the adherents of disfavored religions—that it seems noteworthy when it exhibits some continuity with American custom. And so let us focus for a moment, before the President’s next disorienting tweet, on yesterday’s news that construction of the Dakota Access pipeline will be restarted, a development that fits in perfectly with one of this country’s oldest cultural practices, going back to the days of Plymouth Rock: repressing Native Americans.

Just to rehash the story briefly, this pipeline had originally been set to carry its freight of crude oil under the Missouri River, north of Bismarck. But the predominantly white citizens of that town objected, pointing out that a spill could foul their drinking water. So the pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, remapped the crossing for just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This piece of blatant environmental racism elicited a remarkable reaction, eventually drawing representatives of more than two hundred Indian nations from around the continent to a great encampment at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, near where the pipeline was set to go. They were joined, last summer and into the fall, by clergy groups, veterans groups, environmental groups—including 350.org, the climate-advocacy organization I co-founded—and private citizens, who felt that this was a chance to begin reversing four centuries of literally and figuratively dumping on Native Americans. And the protesters succeeded. Despite the German shepherds and pepper spray let loose by E.T.P.’s security guards, despite the fire hoses and rubber bullets employed by the various paramilitary police forces that assembled, they kept a nonviolent discipline that eventually persuaded the Obama Administration to agree to further study of the plan.

More remarkably, it was the U.S. Army that took the lead—the same agency that had massacred and harassed Native Americans since its founding. On December 4th, Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, announced that the easement required for E.T.P. to dig beneath the Missouri would not be granted. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers would prepare an environmental-impact statement, a lengthy process that effectively put the pipeline on hold. “It’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Darcy said at the time. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.” So the Corps set about organizing public hearings and taking testimony; until Tuesday afternoon, we were in the middle of that period, with signatures coming in by the hundred thousand. But at three o’clock yesterday, acting on the President’s suggestion that the environmental review be “expedited,” the Army reverted to ancient form, shutting down the public-comment process and issuing the permits that E.T.P. needs to begin digging again. Suddenly there was not “more work to do.” Somehow, in the eighteen days since Donald Trump had taken office, Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, had obtained “sufficient information” to grant the approval.

One feels for the Army brass. Had they continued to act responsibly and in line with their previous commitments, their careers likely would not have progressed. (Speer is apparently no Sally Yates, though those of us worried about the choleric Trump and his proximity to the nuclear-launch codes must hope that someone in the Pentagon is.) In any event, digging is scheduled to begin as early as this afternoon. There should, and will, be substantial protests. The first demonstrations began in major cities today, and the Standing Rock Sioux have asked Americans to descend on Washington, D.C., on March 10th. By that point, the pipeline may be all but finished, but the tribe and its attorneys at the environmental group Earthjustice have vowed to keep fighting it in the courts, even once it is carrying oil.

The bigger battle, however, may be in the tribunal of public opinion. The pipeline is a bad idea on many grounds, none of which is likely to sway Trump. (The fact that the oil it carries has the same carbon footprint as nearly thirty coal-fired power plants would perhaps seem a plus to him.) Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, recently noted that Trump has yet to meet with any Native American leaders since taking office, which is possibly for the best, given the casual racism  that might ensue. But the protests at Standing Rock have reopened the question of how the rest of America, those of us not in the White House, will treat the continent’s original inhabitants. In this standoff, we have confronted our oldest and one of our most shameful stories. That shame will deepen now—which may, once Trump is gone, allow us to move closer to real reconciliation. At any rate, we owe a great debt to the protesters, who have acted with a dignity conspicuously lacking in the Oval Office.

Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staff writer, is the founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College.

“Neil Gorsuch, King Donald’s Judicial Tarbaby”

February 2, 2017   John Hanno

 

“Neil Gorsuch, King Donald’s Judicial Tarbaby”

When Justice Antonin Scalia died last February, President Obama could have nominated a certified progressive, someone as far left politically, as Judge Neil Gorsuch is to the far right, to take his place. But he didn’t; he nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge for the U.S. Court for Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit. Judge Garland is a Harvard Law School graduate and a highly respected moderate who was almost unanimously confirmed for the second highest court, the D.C. Circuit.

Again, for the umpteenth time, President Obama held out a compromising hand to the entrenched, do nothing, obstructionist Republi-con congress. As usual, they slapped it away.

Under normal conditions Judge Gorsuch, who’s even more conservative than Justice Scalia, is probably not out of the realm of very conservative Judges and can actually sound reasonable on the surface, if we’re to believe some of these public statements he’s made. Are they rehearsed rhetoric or a true insight into the mans character?

“My personal views, as I hope I have made clear, have nothing to do with the case before me in any case.”

“If I believed that judges and lawyers regularly acted as shills and hacks, I’d hang up the robe. I’d turn in my license.”

“No doubt we have to look hard in the mirror when our professions reflected image in popular culture is no longer Atticus Finch but Saul Goodman.”

But these aren’t normal times. Even before Scalia’s funeral, Republi-cons said they wouldn’t accept anyone the President nominated in an election year. But every year is now a campaign and election year. The constitution doesn’t say the U.S. Senate will advise and consent only in the first 3 years of a presidents term. But these dip-ocrits wouldn’t give Judge Garland a hearing or a vote and most Republi-con Senators refused to even meet with him. Some even said that if Hillary Clinton were elected President in November, they would not allow her choice to be nominated; that they would just as soon leave the court with only eight judges.

It’s been reported that the Koch brothers were worried that, had Judge Garland joined the Supreme Court, the Citizens United case probably would have been overturned. So their marching orders to the Republi-con Senators was to oppose Garland at all costs, so that the rich and powerful could continue to undermine our democracy with boat loads of campaign contributions. Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s ranting that Democrats should play fair and not obstruct Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation, demands a new word for hypocrisy. How about high-pocrisy or so-pocrisy?

Some Democratic Senators who’ve studied Judge Gorsuch’s case work and decisions, believe he’s too far to the right to satisfy the 60 vote standard to be confirmed. They believe he consistently favors corporations and the powerful over individual folks and the powerless. They think someone who can’t be confirmed by 60% of the Senators, based on centuries of U.S. Senate history, should not serve a life term on the most consequential court in America. But even more important, is that Democrats believe the Republi-cons have stolen that seat from President Obama and have permanently damaged the credibility of the United States Senate by refusing to allow a hearing and vote on Judge Garland.

It’s not surprising that only 14% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats approve of the Republi-con controlled 2016 congress.

A recent Gallop poll showed the Supreme Court approval rating fell to 42% immediately after their decision to permit governments to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes and 52% of Americans now disapprove of the Supreme Court. “After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and rejected a second major legal challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act last summer, Democrats’ (76%) and Republicans’ (18%) approval ratings of the court were the most polarized Gallup had ever measured. Democrats remain significantly more likely to approve, 60% to 32%, but the party gap in approval ratings has narrowed, from 58 percentage points to 28 points.” Independents’ approval of the court today is 38%.

“Gallup has documented that Americans’ more basic trust in government institutions has eroded in recent years, and the Supreme Court, often the most popular and trusted of the three branches of the federal government, has not been immune.”

These take no prisoners Winuts have proved time and again they aren’t giving an inch to the opposition under any circumstances. Winning means everything to them, no matter the consequences to America’s citizens, our political traditions, our Democracy and even their own credibility and reputation. The only thing they value is power and wealth.

The Supreme Court proclaims it doesn’t want to engage in politics, but it’s time they stood up for the Judicial Branch and for the constitution; the court has become just another extension of the Republi-con, un-American radical agenda since even before 2000. They should speak out about the Republican controlled senate’s treatment of Judge Garland. And one of the first questions Senate Democrats should pose to Judge Gorsuch during his senate confirmation hearings should be: Judge Gorsuch, do you believe the Republican senators treated Judge Garland fairly by refusing to meet with him, hold confirmation hearings or vote on his confirmation? And did the Senate fail to do their constitutionally prescribed duty?

And after the hearings, but before the voting, Judge Gorsuch, if he has the integrity required of an independent Supreme Court Justice, should withdraw his own nomination. Judge Gorsuch could then be nominated for the next opening and the Democrats would no doubt confirm him unanimously. Someone has to begin repairing the court and Senates reputation. Is Judge Gorsuch that person? It sure isn’t King Donald.

The Donald could have attempted to bridge America’s political divide, repair the damage done to the U.S. Senate and to the United States Supreme Court by nominating Judge Garland himself. But he again proved that he’s a mere shadow of the man he replaced as president.  He’s an ideological con man with a radical far right agenda in tune with congressional Republi-cons. King Donald touts the validity of the U.S. Constitution but by instructing Mitch McConnell to invoke the nuclear option to get Gorsuch confirmed at all costs, he’s undermining the other two coequal branches of government. King Donald continues to turn America into an Autocracy.

What the Republi-cons have to remember is that America is quickly changing. Old White folks are dying off to the tune of 10,000 a month. If it wasn’t for voter suppression, FBI Director Comey and Russian interference, this crew would not have been in power for the next century. They may need the filibuster in the very near future because the pendulum is swinging in the direction of justice for all.

So I’ll ask the same questions David Leonhardt asks in “Why Democrats Should Oppose Neil Gorsuch.” What do Democrats do now; should we just pick our fights, the ones we can win? No! No! No! We should oppose any and all Republi-con transgressions that go against American values and norms, human decency and American Democratic principles.

The 100’s of thousands of patriotic Americans, who have protested daily since Trump’s inauguration, want the Democrats to stand up to this radical King’s Court. After 8 years of sensible and drama less governance, Trump’s daily excursions into chaos have folks throughout the country and around the world worried about King Donald’s radical agenda. His poll numbers are tanking so they pushed up the Supreme Court nomination to take America’s mind off the administrations early missteps and true intentions, taking America Back to The Robber Baron Era.  John Hanno

 

P.S. Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald has stated as good a case as one can to vote against confirming Gorsuch.

 

Newsweek  Opinion

Eichenwald: Neil Gorsuch Is Supremely Qualified, and Must Not Be Confirmed.

By Kurt Eichenwald February 1, 2017

This is a very hard column to write. I’m about to abandon everything I believed for much of my life about the proper principles for federal governance. Unfortunately, too many of our political leaders did that long ago, which makes this conclusion inevitable: Federal Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, must not be confirmed. Democrats must fight it to the bitter end. The preservation of the final, tattered remains of American constitutional government demands it.

This has nothing to do with Gorsuch as a nominee. On first assessment, there is no doubt he is eminently qualified, perhaps more so than several other sitting justices were at the time of their nomination. He has done it all. His legal education is first-rate, with a law degree from Harvard and a doctorate in jurisprudence from Oxford. He has seen up close how the Supreme Court works, serving as a clerk for Justice Byron White and then Justice Anthony Kennedy. For more than a decade, he has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, where he has gained a reputation as someone committed to the rule of law. He is a member of the federal Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules.

There was a time in history when that would have been enough. And if someone with Gorsuch’s pedigree had been nominated by, say, George W. Bush in his first term, I would be supporting Senate confirmation under Article II of the Constitution—not because I agree with him on policy, which to me has usually been irrelevant in selecting a judge, since the high court is not supposed to be filled with the equivalent of lifetime senators. If he is qualified and has a philosophy of jurisprudence that is widely recognized as legitimate—which Gorsuch does—that would be enough.

But no more. Gorsuch, unfortunately, must be sacrificed on the altar of obscene partisanship erected by the Republicans in recent years. Temper tantrums designed to undermine the Constitution for naked political purposes cannot be rewarded. Our government cannot survive the short-term games-playing that has replaced fidelity to the intent of the Founding Fathers’ work in forming this once-great nation.

This goes back to the unconscionable decision of Republicans who refused to consider any nominee put forward by President Barack Obama following the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Obama nominated Merrick Garland, another eminently qualified candidate, who served as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second most important court in the nation. But in a decision that will go down as one of the greatest abuses of the Constitution in this nation’s history, the Senate’s Republican majority, under the leadership of their unprincipled majority leader, Mitch McConnell, declared they would not give Garland hearings, would not examine his qualifications and would not take a vote.

Instead, they made up a rule: A nominee for the Supreme Court can be considered for only three-quarters of any president’s term. In the fourth year, confirmations have to wait until after the election. And so the Supreme Court has been hobbled for coming up on one year—and, because the confirmation hearings will inevitably drag on, it will be for months more to come.

The Republican fiat horrified those who care about the Supreme Court as an institution. Sixteen scholars sent a letter to Obama to express their dismay, writing, “The Constitution gives the Senate every right to deny confirmation to a presidential nomination. But denial should come after the Senate deliberates over the nomination, which in contemporary times includes hearings in the Judiciary Committee, and full debate and votes on the Senate floor. Anything less than that, in our view, is a serious and, indeed, unprecedented breach of the Senate’s best practices and noblest traditions for much of our nation’s history.”

A letter to the Senate leadership, signed by 356 legal scholars, said refusing Garland a vote “is contrary to the process the framers envisioned in Article II, and threatens to diminish the integrity of our democratic institutions and the functioning of our constitutional government.”

In another move, 33 law professors issued to Obama and the Senate Republicans an open letter stating, “The Senate’s constitutional duty to ‘advise and consent’—the process that has come to include hearings, committee votes, and floor votes—has no exception for election years. In fact, over the course of American history, there have been 24 instances in which presidents in the last year of a term have nominated individuals for the Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmed 21 of these nominees.”

No matter—the Republicans would not budge. Garland received no hearings, no vote, no consideration whatsoever.

And don’t think this has anything to do with a philosophy about how the court should run. When Obama in 2013 nominated Patricia Ann Millett to be a judge for the all-important circuit court in Washington, D.C., the Republicans pulled another “principle” out of their nether regions: no new judges should be added to that court to…save money. And because the court didn’t have a big enough workload. Seriously. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that nonsense without bursting out laughing at the magnitude of his mendacity.

At the time, there were four seats open on the D.C. circuit court. That Obama was unable to get a single judge confirmed to that court by Senate Republicans—despite having already served his first term and being only into the first year of his second—puts the lie to this idea that the GOP obstruction of judicial nominees was about anything other than undermining the constitutional authority of the president of the United States. Grassley, who will certainly appear in future history books as the political hack who destroyed our judicial branch of government, let the veil slip about his real reasons for trying to keep Obama nominees off the court: politics.

“The court is currently comprised of four active judges appointed by Republican presidents and four active judges appointed by Democrat presidents,” Grassley said in a floor statement on the Millet nomination, using the incorrect name for the Democratic Party in a petty game some conservative bullies find amusing. “There is no reason to upset the current makeup of the court, particularly when the reason for doing so appears to be ideologically driven.”

In other words, in the first year of a president’s term, the senior Republican most responsible for getting judicial nominees to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote said that disrupting a 4-4 balance on the panel second to the Supreme Court was politics. So a first-year nominee can’t be accepted, a fourth-year nominee can’t be accepted, and courts should function with the constant risk of tie votes because a president fulfilling his constitutional duty by nominating judges for courts is “ideologically driven.”

This might explain why Democrats now say the Supreme Court should remain divided in the same way—four justices appointed by Democratic presidents, four by Republicans—for the rest of Trump’s term. “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that President Trump puts up,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. “I promise you.”

Liberal commentators agree. “It would be completely decent, honorable and in keeping with the Senate’s constitutional duty to vote against essentially every judicial nominee Trump names,’’ said the Americans for a Progressive Judiciary, a liberal think tank. “If you truly believe that a particular nominee would wreak havoc on America, why not do everything you can to stop him?”

I’m sure these words of principle enrage conservatives. I’m sure they believe that the Democrats’ allowing the high court to continue in its current hobbled state throughout Trump’s term is un-American and destructive to our country. In fact, these statements have already been roundly condemned on Fox News, with numerous pundits ripping at the Democratic Party (or Democrat Party) for allowing its thirst for partisan advantage to blind it to our constitutional principles. And if you’re a conservative, I hope you seethe at those statements.

Why? Because it exposes your grotesque hypocrisy.

You see, I lied. Feinstein never said anything about the Democrats refusing to confirm any Trump nominee for the next four years—that was actually Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, in statements he made when most of the political world believed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was going to be president. As for the comment from the Americans for a Progressive Judiciary? I made up the name; as far as I can tell, no such organization exists. Instead, I was quoting the conservative publication The Federalist, which, once again, was writing at a time when almost no one believed Trump would win, to justify engaging in a blanket refusal to ever confirm any Clinton nominee.

Now if you’re a conservative who was angered by those statements when you thought they came from Democrats—and now that you know they were uttered by your partisan brethren, you’re scrambling to justify them—face facts: You are lying and self-deluded.

With the elevation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court (“the worst justice in history”©, as I’ve previously written), whose rulings often contain the same blatant hoop-jumping demonstrated by Grassley in justifying pure partisanship as a matter of constitutional principle, I gave up on the idea of my once-beloved Supreme Court as a deliberative body in which legal interpretations are weighted against constitutional precepts and precedent. Instead, I now accept it is just an apparatus of political parties.

I always know how Alito will rule; his decisions are amusing because I enjoy trying to predict what assertions of nonexistent fact he will employ in his arrogant effort to reach the outcome he desires. None of the other justices—conservative or liberal, past or present—are as flagrant in their use of the court to impose their political beliefs on the rest of us. At the very least, until Alito is gone, the Supreme Court is a partisan joke deserving of no respect, which for me is a horrifying thing that I could never have imagined I would say.

No doubt, Gorsuch would be a better judge than Alito (and so would my dog). Like Garland, he would bring some desperately needed jurisprudential intelligence, fairness and consistency to the court, regardless of what anyone may think of his decisions on a political basis. But none of that matters. There is a country to save.

The Republicans cannot be allowed to reap the rewards of unprincipled obstructionism that sets a precedent that will destroy the last remnant of our country’s constitutional credibility. They cannot wing it—saying that a court doesn’t have enough work to justify the number of judges it is supposed to have, or that a Democrat should not be allowed to have a judicial nominee confirmed in a fourth year or first year or a full term of a presidency—and just make up rules as they go along, undermining everything this country has stood for just to grab some short-term gain. There are no principles anymore; just as with Alito’s decisions, there are desired outcomes and an infinite number of rationalizations to help anti-American conservatives get there.

So what should the Democrats do? Fight. Recognize the nature of the other party. There is no longer reason; there is no longer fidelity to our history or to the founders’ intents; there is no longer compromise. Republicans cannot be allowed to benefit from their efforts to undermine the intent of the framers of our Constitution. (To give you an idea of how bad this could become if Democrats don’t fight, think of this: That conservative commentator writing for The Federalist who was justifying obstructing every Clinton nominee argued that Republicans, as an option, could constitutionally just let the Supreme Court die if it could be done without paying too high a political price. There is no limit to how far the Republicans may go.)

Will the Republicans use the “nuclear option,” which will allow them to override any attempt at a filibuster, making it so that a Supreme Court nominee needs only a majority vote? Let them. If Democratic senators won’t throw everything into stopping this nomination, regardless of the price, then they may as well pack it up and go home, because they have cowered and cringed their way into a government where governance has died, where party is more important than country.

The end game: Force Trump to re-nominate Garland. Filibuster every nominee until he does. I have no illusions that the Senate would accept Garland; the Republicans still have the majority. Then Trump will come in with another nominee, almost certainly Gorsuch. Yes, even under that scenario, the Republicans will gain a seat on the court; they would have anyway, even if they had considered Garland during the Obama administration, because the GOP had the Senate majority then too and would have voted him down. (Before the election, Democrats knew the price of a Trump victory could be that the Republicans would get to name the next Supreme Court justice, and enough of the anti-Clinton types chose to sit out or cast their vote for someone who could not win anyway. They have relinquished the right to object.)

So even though Garland would not have won a Senate confirmation vote, a precedent needs to be established: The Senate’s confirmation responsibilities under the Constitution are not a joke, are not something where absurd rationalizations that pass for smarts on Fox News can be used to circumvent history and precedent. Nominees must be given hearings and votes. And yes, if that means letting the Republicans blow up the filibuster, let them do it.

Then, when a Democratic president is in office, the Democrats control the Senate, and there is no filibuster, show the Republicans a real exercise in raw power: revive Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to pack the Supreme Court and fill it with the most liberal justices around. If the Republicans insist on turning the judiciary into a political plaything, play the roughest game of hardball they have ever seen.

 

In the New York Times Opinion Pages, Op-Ed Columnist David Leonhardt opines:

Why Democrats Should Oppose Neil Gorsuch

“It’s important to remember just how radical — and, yes, unprecedented — the Senate’s approach to the previous Supreme Court nominee was.

Republican leaders announced last March that they would not consider any nominee. They did so even though Barack Obama still had 10 months left in his term and even though other justices (including Anthony Kennedy) had been confirmed in a president’s final year.

The refusal was a raw power grab. Coupled with Republican hints that no Hillary Clinton nominee would be confirmed either, it was a fundamental changing of the rules: Only a party that controlled both the White House and the Senate would now be able to assume it could fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

The change is terribly damaging for the country’s political system. It impedes the smooth functioning of the court and makes it a much more partisan institution.

Of course, the strategy also worked, and the flip from an Obama justice to a Trump justice will likely be the deciding factor in many of the most important cases in coming years.

So what can Democrats do?

First, they need to make sure that the stolen Supreme Court seat remains at the top of the public’s consciousness. When people hear the name “Neil Gorsuch,” as qualified as he may be, they should associate him with a constitutionally damaging power grab.

Second, Democrats should not weigh this nomination the same way that they’ve weighed previous ones. This one is different. The presumption should be that Gorsuch does not deserve confirmation, because the process that led to his nomination was illegitimate.

Republicans still control the Senate, which means they can confirm Gorsuch if they decide to remove the filibuster during the nominating process. And so Democrats may not have the power to block the nomination.

But the only reason they should vote for Gorsuch is if they decide it’s in their own political interest to do so. They may decide, for example, that any filibuster would be doomed to fail now — but might succeed if another justice leaves the court during Trump’s presidency. Or they may decide that an all-out fight would encourage Kennedy to retire, as the longtime Democrat Ronald Klain has warned. Either way, such tactical considerations are the ones that should guide Democrats.

Finally, the Democratic Party should begin planning its long-term strategy for the court, and that strategy needs to revolve around last year’s events. One option, for example, would be a plan first to deprive a Republican president of one nominee in coming years and second to offer a truce with Republicans.

I understand that all of these options sound aggressive and partisan, and it makes me deeply uncomfortable to make such an argument. But Democrats simply cannot play by the old set of rules now that the Republicans are playing by a new one. The only thing worse than the system that the Republicans have created is a system in which one political party volunteers to be bullied.”

In Judge Neil Gorsuch, an Echo of Scalia in Philosophy and Style

By Adam Liptak  January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON — A year ago, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch was midway down a ski slope when his cellphone rang. Justice Antonin Scalia, he was told, had died.

“I immediately lost what breath I had left,” Judge Gorsuch said in a speech two months later. “And I am not embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the rest of the way down the mountain for the tears.”

President Trump, in nominating Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, has chosen a judge who not only admires the justice he would replace but also in many ways resembles him. He shares Justice Scalia’s legal philosophy, talent for vivid writing and love of the outdoors.

Mr. Trump’s selection of Judge Gorsuch was nonetheless a bit of a surprise, coming from someone who had campaigned as a Washington outsider. Judge Gorsuch has deep roots in the city and the establishment Mr. Trump often criticized.

His mother was a high-level official in the Reagan administration. He spent part of his childhood in Washington and practiced law here for a decade, at a prominent law firm and in the Justice Department. And, like all of the current justices, he is a product of the Ivy League, having attended college at Columbia and law school at Harvard.

(I have a question, who in their right mind would stop skiing halfway down the slope to answer a cell phone, Good Golly?)

“This Tar Will Leave a Stain on the Republicans”

January 29, 2017     John Hanno

                      “This Tar Will Leave a Stain on the Republicans”

King Donald’s Court did it again; they showed they really can’t lead in a responsible manner. The Republi-cons don’t know how to govern because they despise government. This is what happens when you hire people to dismantle cabinet level departments instead of ones experienced in making government succeed. They think government and it’s regulators should just butt out of their patrons risky businesses. Their plan has always been to shrink government to the size it can be drowned in a bathtub. For eight years, they berated any attempt by the Obama Administration to bring America back, after Republi-cons steered us into the abyss.

If the President had cured cancer, this crew would have claimed Obama was grandstanding. Someone said that if he walked on water, they would have criticized him for not learning how to swim. They’ve been very adept at throwing sand in the gears of American progress, but now the bomb throwers are having trouble making the rubber from their soaring campaign rhetoric, meet the highly touted road forward. Leaked audio from a Philadelphia retreat this week revealed how flummoxed Republi-con lawmakers appear, attempting to replace the life saving Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act they’ve pledged to repeal for the last 7 years. Donald’s new promise to make that health insurance for 25 or 30 million folks much better and a lot cheaper won’t help their task.

Trying to make good on the promise to build a wall to hold back our southern neighbors, who actually stopped pouring in right after the financial collapse in 2008, was met with the same outrage around the world as was their bungled attempts to keep Muslims from entering the country. There’s been more people in the streets in the first 9 days of the King Donald administration as protested in the entire 8 years of the Obama Administration.

These hypocrites railed against each and every executive order the President signed attempting an end round Republi-con obstruction, calling it flagrant and unconstitutional abuse of power, but now think Trump’s flurry of nonsensical orders are a-okay. The difference here is that President Obama tried to use his executive power to do things for ordinary people, whereas Trump’s team stays up nights figuring out ways to do things to people.

King Donald’s approval numbers are tanking, so the diabolical pretenders are trying to somehow make good on his un-deliverable pledges to take America back to 1929. This latest order, taking shape at the nations airports, is looking more like a holy war than an attempt to make us safe from terrorists.

These folks know so little about what actually goes on in the government, they actually believe that the thousands of folks at homeland security and in our intelligence agencies, our military, our state and local police departments and in state and local governments throughout the nation have been doing very little to keep us safe since 9-11. The Obama Administration in 2011 and before him the Bush Administration have already instituted enhanced vetting of those trying to enter the U.S. They say this vetting takes almost 2 years. Most of America’s terrorist threats have actually come from home grown evildoers.

And even before Barack Obama was elected, the Republi-cons refused to even attempt to craft responsible legislation to raise up America’s sinking middle class. And now all of a sudden, they’ve refashioned themselves as populist proponents of American labor. Any legislation offered by these Republi-cons was hatched and prepared by either the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), or by the affected corporate or industry lawyers and lobbyists. Some of ALEC’s latest and most popular efforts involve attacking public workers and unions and proposing right-to-work legislation throughout the country.

Republi-con health care reform will be drafted by the insurance industry and big pharma. Comprehensive energy policy or reform will be written by fossil fuel.  Any Republi-con comprehensive tax reform, as in the past, will be bought and paid for by the rich and corporations. Comprehensive immigration reform was passed 70 to 30 in the Senate during the Bush Administration, but never came up for a vote in the Republican controlled House.

Russian American Journalist and author Masha Gessen, believes this administration will cause her and America a “constant low level dread.” I’m beginning to think more like a “permanent state of high anxiety.”

The desperate folks in the upper Midwest rust belt, who grabbed onto the Trump Tarbaby will soon discover the same thing the little boy realized in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. No matter that Donald’s two trusted advisors Reince Priebus and Kelleyanne Conway faithfully tells him he’s doing so good and looking real fine, America will soon realize that King Donald the Emperor Has No Clothes.     John Hanno

 

P.S.    “Former Bush adviser Eliot A. Cohen says the first week of Trump’s presidency has been a “clarifying moment in American history”: “For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time,” he writes in an op-ed for The Atlantic. “Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it. Rifts are opening up among friends that will not be healed. The conservative movement of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, of William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol, was always heterogeneous, but it more or less hung together. No more. New currents of thought, new alliances, new political configurations will emerge. The biggest split will be between those who draw a line and the power-sick—whose longing to have access to power, or influence it, or indeed to wield it themselves—causes them to fatally compromise their values. For many more it will be a split between those obsessed with anxiety, hatred, and resentment, and those who can hear Lincoln’s call to the better angels of our nature, whose America is not replete with carnage, but a city on a hill.”

King Donald Just Can’t Understand Why Most of America Would Not Vote For Him Under Any Circumstances and Why They Can’t Trust Him”

January 27, 2017    John Hanno  

 

“King Donald Just Can’t Understand Why Most of America Would Not Vote For Him Under Any Circumstances and Why They Can’t Trust Him”

“King Donald” sat down for a January 25th interview with ABC’s David Muir and doubled down on his belief that if he had simply focused on winning the popular vote, he would have easily won that too. He said he lost the popular vote because the Democrats had cheated in California and New York.

KD said, “I would’ve won the popular vote if I was campaigning for the popular vote,” he said. “I would’ve gone to California where I didn’t go at all. I would’ve gone to New York where I didn’t campaign at all. I would’ve gone to a couple of places that I didn’t go to.”

“And I would’ve won that much easier than winning the electoral college,” he added. “But as you know, the electoral college is all that matters. It doesn’t make any difference. So, I would’ve won very, very easily. But it’s a different form of winning. You would campaign much differently. You would have a totally different campaign.”

Philip Bump’s Washington Post article: “Why did Trump lose the Popular vote? Because he didn’t care about it. And because they cheated,” totally debunks King Donald’s “alternative facts.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/politics/wp/2017/01/26/why-did-trump-lose-the-popular-vote-because-he-didnt-care-about-it-and-because-they-cheated/)

We know that the Un-Democratic Republi-cons have been stealing federal and state elections for too many election cycles, going back even before the 2000 presidential election. Voter “Suppression” has been their modus operandi and number one goal. Frightened by America’s changing demographics, and especially since President Obama sailed into office in 2008 with an almost 10 million vote margin, these un-patriotic Republi-cons in red and purple states, have pushed all sorts of legislation to disenfranchise Democratic leaning voters, people of color, women, seniors, students, millennials, ex-felons, folks with common names that appear to be of black or brown ethnicity, all sorts of immigrants, and actually anyone who isn’t white and identifiably Christian. President Obama received 69.5 million votes in 2008, the highest vote total in American history, and won the electoral college 365 to 173. In 2012, he beat Mitt Romney by 5 million votes and won the electoral college 332 to 206. But in the meantime, the Republi-cons have been busy gerrymandering and plotting suppression.

During the interview, King Donald again pushed debunked lies about millions of fraudulent Hillary voters. “With that being said,” he said, “if you look at voter registration, you look at the dead people that are registered to vote who vote, you look at people that are registered in two states, you look at all of these different things that are happening with registration. … They don’t wanna talk about registration. You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.”

We know, and pray it will eventually be clearly proven, that the Russians had a firm hand in undermining HC and our most visible Democratic process, free and fair elections. Putin has already kidnapped and imprisoned four Russian intelligence operatives who he believes spilled the beans to the ex MI5 spy who prepared the 30 page dossier, developed to compromise Putin’s choice for president. Hopefully truth will out!

But how can we, in good conscience, criticize other countries elections? We have in the past, sent election monitors throughout the third world, hoping to spread free and fair Democratic voting. But these U.S. Constitution thumping Republi-cons, shame and devalue America’s highest values. You can’t help but blame the Democrats also. After the 2000 election debacle, and especially after they had a mandate in 2009 and control of both the house and senate, they failed to once and forever, insure that every vote is counted.

No matter what happens with the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election, both sides should finally put in place laws that will absolutely guarantee that our elections, beyond all doubt, are beacons for democracies everywhere. I hope the minority Democrats will call King Donald’s bluff of a full investigation, and present such legislation, and thoroughly embarrass the GOP if they oppose it. Please stand up for the American voter!

It’s not surprising that King Donald has the lowest approval rating (between 32 to 34%) in recorded history. When you enact ideas and programs that a majority, and sometimes an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t favor, there will and must be push back. Ten times as many folks here and abroad took to the streets protesting KD’s policies, as attended the inauguration. And on top of that, as many as 40% of those attendees were non-Trump supporters. The list of early wreckage is incredibly long:

Returning 25 or 30 million folks, who finally have life saving health care insurance, another 15 or 20 million additional uninsured, and another 125 plus million health care insurance covered policy holders, back to the mercy of insatiable insurance companies without a credible alternative plan, is not a winning proposition. All particular issues of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, except for the mandate, are favored by a large majority of Americans. And the Kings proclamation that all these folks will have much better coverage at lower cost has kneecapped the Republi-cons plans to repeal but not actually replace.

Hiring a shocking list of fossil fuel panderers to run America’s State Department and foreign service and our Environmental Protection Agencies, giving carte blanche to oil, gas and pipeline companies to cover the earth in risky, potentially leaking pipelines and infrastructure, cutting regulations for all air, water and soil polluters, and muzzling the scientists and regulators who swear an oath to protect its citizens, will only marshal 10’s of million’s of concerned and responsible earth protectors. Fully 60% of Americans in a recent Reuters poll want the EPA to be strengthened or maintained.

Rounding up 11 million immigrants, who took advantage of America’s welcome mat for cheap labor, and building a $20 or $30 billion unnecessary wall that’s a boondoggle for those connected to Trump Inc., will energize immigrants new and old and millions more sympathizers.

Attacking women who wish to preserve their right to chose, Planned Parenthood, the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable citizens, will anger those who believe in Constitutional and civil rights for all Americans. King Donald and his court pandered to pro-life proponents by reinstating and expanding the Mexico City Policy or “Global Gag Rule,” which prevents foreign NGO’s that get U.S. aid from using any of the money to “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” They lose all funding if they don’t comply. The rule originally applied only to the $600 million family planning fund but now also applies to all of the $9.5 billion global health funds. Policy experts think this will cause 6.5 million additional unintended pregnancies. 2.2 million more abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and the death of almost 22,000 pregnant women. What pro-life proponents just can’t understand, is that all women hate abortions, but most want to reserve the right to chose. And the incidence of abortion always goes up under Republican administrations and drops under Democratic administrations. The reason abortions dropped under pro-choice President Clinton, was because the economy during his terms greatly improved and women felt secure enough to take on another mouth to feed. And for the same reasons, no matter the Republican protestations, abortions increase under typical Republican recessions and failing economies.

Mr. Trump tried to place a hiring freeze on Veterans Administration employees. Certainly not because of the budget (Hello $30 billion phony Mexico wall). Could it be that King Donald wants to reward his corporate supporters by privatizing the V.A. News flash to the Donald from Sgt Hanno; do not screw over Vets. They love their public, dedicated V.A. services. And by the way, if you attempt to put your favorite pipeline upstream from Standing Rock Sioux Rez, those Vets and I will be back in force.

What scares folks around the world almost as much as the fact King Donald has the nuclear codes, is that the Trump Inc. family business conflicts of interest around the globe clearly compromises his pledge to protect and serve us all fairly and honorably.

Favoring Vladimir Putin and the Russian fossil fuel oligarchs, over longstanding treaties with NATO and Europe and against America’s best interests should jolt all Americans, and especially true conservative constitutionalists in Trumps own party. By Already contemplating ending sanctions against the Russians, who invaded another country and engaged in a cyber act of war against the U.S., in the very first week of the Trump administration, can’t help but confirm that millions of progressives believe Putin is holding compromising information over King Donald’s head.

King Donald stated that Putin was a much more effective leader than President Obama, even though he served two full terms without a hint of scandal. Donald admires despots, dictators and kleptocrats like Putin without reservation. Putin’s list of violations against his fellow countrymen and women is long and frightening. He has a bad habit of disappearing his opposition. Some believe he’s the richest person in the world, having pillaged Russian natural resources to the tune of $85 billion. King Donald believes that if someone was able to accumulate enormous wealth, they- like Trump himself, must be smart and should be admired. That’s apparently why he’s hired only multi-millionaires and billionaires to turn a blind eye to the pillaging of America’s public and private fortunes.

Russian American journalist Masha Gessen, author of “The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.” Penned this post election article in NYR: “Autocracy. Rules For Survival.” She thinks Hillary should have said something like this for her concession speech:

“Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you. We have lost. We have lost, and this is the last day of my political career, so I will say what must be said. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.”

Masha suffers, and believes most Americans do also, from a “constant low level dread.” Truer words were never said. She’s justifiably worried that the comparisons between King Putin and King Donald can’t be underestimated. King Donald’s strategy is no different than Autocrats of yore. Banish the peace makers (fire career foreign service state department employees, even before the new Secretary of State is confirmed; some of whom served American presidents from both parties going back 4 decades) and defang the opposition (place reporting restrictions on the career employees he can’t banish). Muzzle the truth tellers; King Donald’s unrelenting attack on his media demons. Trump said that the “media are the worst people, the most dishonest humans,”  the “opposition party in many ways.” Putin merely throws them in jail or magically makes them disappear. But American and any true Democracy requires an informed citizenry and a healthy, critical and vocal media. That’s the reason it’s ensconced in our constitution. What a stark contrast to President Obama’s respect for journalism and the critical written word and which was on full display during his final news conference, where he thanked and praised the White House press corp.

We know the Donald hates to read. Believe me, he picked the wrong job for that. He unflinchingly values tweets and retweets, no matter the veracity. He favors fake Fox News over credible print journalists who double and triple check their sources. He hires a top intelligence advisor who promotes conspiracy theories and who’s son does the same and almost got someone killed at a New York pizza restaurant.

KD seriously believes in his banal “alternative facts” theory. He’s lied so much and for so many years, that he believes his own lies are more real than actual facts. He even lies when he doesn’t have to lie. He lies about his own lies. He lies two or three times in the same sentence, on the same subject; which is hard to do. He lies to peoples faces when they call him out on the lie and then makes up a lie to prove his challenged lie. And now he’s almost convinced everyone he’s hired to go all in on this alternative reality. They’ve grabbed onto Tarbaby Lying King Donald and probably won’t let go until and unless he self destructs.

I could go on and on but I have to save some energy for KD’s second week. But while we’re at it, I can’t help but blame the corporate media for this state of affairs. They tried their best to normalize King Donald. They turned a blind eye and ear to his alternative facts. The fact checkers were busy but their efforts somehow escaped accountability through the crazy noise. Cable news presented his Kool-aid gulping apologists alongside credible reporters and journalists and allowed them to somehow balance legitimate credibilities. They allowed billions in free and unfettered airtime because it was highly profitable, and at the same time they put debating and airing scores of vital issues on the back burner. They’re finally shaking off the corporate complaisance and dusting off their integrity. We hope it’s not too late. It’s theirs and our job to push aside all this King Donald nonsense and focus on the important issues the King and his court are trying to obscure. When the social safety net cuts begin and middle America starts to bleed, we must unmask the King.

Washington Post

Why did Trump lose the popular vote? Because he didn’t care about it. And because they cheated.

By Philip Bump

January 26, 2017 at 10:38 AM

When it comes to explaining why he lost the popular vote, President Trump has a simple explanation. He lost the popular vote because he wasn’t interested in winning the popular vote, focusing instead on the electoral college — and if he’d focused on the popular vote, he would have won that even more easily, and also he lost the popular vote because his opponents cheated in some of the deepest-blue states in the country.

Done and done.

In his first major interview since moving into the White House, Trump took ABC’s David Muir on a tour of the gilded, expansive recesses of both his new residence and his mind. Thanks to Trump’s tweets on the subject, Muir quickly turned the questioning to the subject of voter fraud, which Trump insists was a huge factor in November’s election and which reality suggests was not.

In his first interview at the White House on Jan. 25, President Trump discussed his past issues with the media, his executive actions this week and debunked claims of voter fraud and inaugural crowd size with ABC’s David Muir. (The Washington Post)

Trump used the subject to reiterate a defense of his popularity.

“I would’ve won the popular vote if I was campaigning for the popular vote,” he said. “I would’ve gone to California where I didn’t go at all. I would’ve gone to New York where I didn’t campaign at all. I would’ve gone to a couple of places that I didn’t go to.”

“And I would’ve won that much easier than winning the electoral college,” he added. “But as you know, the electoral college is all that matters. It doesn’t make any difference. So, I would’ve won very, very easily. But it’s a different form of winning. You would campaign much differently. You would have a totally different campaign.”

It’s true that the need to win the electoral college meant that Trump’s focus during the campaign was different from what it would have been had the contest come down to vote totals. But that’s not the same thing as saying that Trump would have won the popular vote, much less “much easier” than he won the electoral college. (To be fair, if he had won the popular vote by any margin, it would likely have been an easier victory than his skin-of-his-teeth electoral college win, which came down to about 78,000 votes in three states.)

Trump would have needed to do 10 percentage points better in California to close the 2.9-million vote deficit he faced nationally. His argument that he could have made progress to that end if he’d campaigned in the state has only one critical drawback: Hillary Clinton would have campaigned there, too. (Had Clinton campaigned more in the Midwest, many people have pointed out, Muir would have been sitting down with her.)

Trump says he didn’t go to either California or New York at all, which isn’t entirely true. Trump made four stops in New York after that state’s primary, according to the National Journal’s candidate travel tracker, excluding a debate and the announcement of his vice presidential pick. (He visited California only before that state’s primary.) Clinton had campaign events there even less frequently, though she did run ads in California over the last few weeks of the campaign. Trump’s team did campaign in both states, though not at any real scale.

That said, it’s not surprising that Trump did poorly in the two states (despite his assurances on the campaign trail that they would be in play). California and New York have given the Democrat at least 1 million more votes than the Republican in every election since 1992. In California, that figure has been creeping upward, with Barack Obama winning by a 3 million vote margin in 2008 and 2012, and Clinton by 4.3 million this year. In New York, the Democrat has won by at least 1.5 million votes in five of the past seven contests. Trump might have eaten into those margins had he campaigned harder — but Clinton might also have widened her lead in those friendly territories.

Which brings us to part two of Trump’s excuse-making to Muir.

“With that being said,” he said, “if you look at voter registration, you look at the dead people that are registered to vote who vote, you look at people that are registered in two states, you look at all of these different things that are happening with registration. … They don’t wanna talk about registration. You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.”

The wonderful part of this exchange is the directness with which Trump tries to have his cake and eat it, too. He defends his claims that millions of people voted illegally by noting that there are problems with the voter registration system at that scale. That’s a fair defense, with some caveats. But then he immediately re-conflates registration with voting (“there are millions of votes”). That’s a neat trick: You criticize me for saying there are millions of illegal votes when I’m just noting that there are millions of questionable registrations. Just registrations! (And also votes.)

The now-infamous report from Pew Trusts in 2012 does point out that there were millions of outdated registrations at that point because our voting systems do a bad job of weeding out people who have died or moved. (Like Trumps daughter.) Pew’s point was that the systems should be improved, not that fraud results from these problems; in fact, Pew’s researchers explicitly pointed out then and now that there was no rampant fraud. (This, Trump told Muir, was because the researchers wanted a positive response from the anti-Trump media — even way back in 2012, apparently.)

At a news conference on Thursday, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to  California and New York as potential epicenters of this nonexistent fraud. “I think there’s a lot of states that we didn’t compete in where that’s not necessarily the case,” Spicer said about the campaign’s admitting in a legal filing that there was no rampant fraud in the election. “You look at California and New York, I’m not sure that those statements were — we didn’t look at those two states, in particular.”

Our colleague Dave Weigel noted the sheer ridiculousness of this idea from a political standpoint: If you’re going to orchestrate a massive, illegal effort to cast millions of ballots for Hillary Clinton, why on Earth would you do it in two states you knew she was going to win easily anyway? Whether or not the Clinton team thought they’d win Michigan and Pennsylvania, why not stack the deck in those places regardless, since they were always going to be more competitive than the deepest-blue parts of the country?

For a lot of Trump supporters, this overlaps with perceptions of California as a haven of undocumented immigrants, people encouraged by some all-powerful Democratic machine to commit a federal crime by illegally giving their names and contact information to the state government. We looked at the number of newly registered voters who were born outside the country; only 148,000 people fit that description from Latin American countries. There’s no indication at all that any significant number of them were voting illegally.

This has been another 1,000 words or so on Trump’s ongoing insecurity about having lost the popular vote. His arguments for why the popular vote results don’t suggest that he’s unpopular haven’t gotten any more effective, but they have gotten more numerous. It will be simpler moving forward, I suppose, to simply note that Trump continues to claim that he could have and did win the popular vote even though he didn’t and probably wouldn’t have. And to note that what Trump says on this subject, if not others, should not necessarily be taken at face value.

Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Post based in New York City.

The Donald J. Trump Alternative Fact, Anti American Progress Administration

January 25, 2017,  John Hanno

 

“The Donald J. Trump Alternative Fact, Anti American Progress, Administration”

This new Trump “Alternative Fact” Administration, coupled with the 115th Republican controlled, “Roll Back,” United States Congress will no doubt go down in history as the most “Anti American Progress” administration in history. Everything the Obama Administration tried to accomplish in the last eight years will be under assault, including its progress on cleaning up the environment and reversing climate change and global warming, improving our health care system, putting folks back to work and finally improving their wages, supporting public education, making higher education more affordable, providing consumer protection, and of crafting dozens of bills and executive actions to help our disappearing middle class reverse income inequality and to curb the banksters who caused the 2008 financial collapse that took our middle class wealth.

Everyone’s trying to guess what Trump’s idea of a “Great America” really is. Some say he’s not an ideologue, and point to his many conflicted statements over the decades.

He was, throughout his adult life, at loggerheads with workers and unions, but now says he’s the only one who can bring back jobs and raise stagnant middle class wages. But where was he when Republican presidents going back to Regan, and most of the Republican party, were creating incentives and clearing the path for their corporate and manufacturing patrons to close down plants and export living wage American jobs? Were any of these Republi-con Johnnie come latelies standing with unions on the picket lines protesting the closing of 50 or 60 thousand manufacturing plants. I endured 4 plant closings and the only support and sympathy we got was from the democrats or from community activist folks like Barack Obama.

The Trumpster was pro-choice before he wasn’t. He apparently wasn’t religious until he decided to run for president. He was logically in favor of single payer health care; but now, who knows?

He repeated consistently during the campaign (the only thing he was steadfast on), that he would not attempt to destroy Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; he said he was the only one of 17 Republicans running for president that firmly stated he would preserve those life saving programs for seniors, the poor and persons with disabilities. But cutting these programs is what they will use to pay for Paul Ryan’s and the Republi-cons tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

He said he would drain the swamp of corporate lobbyists in Washington but then hired 6 ex Goldman Sachs executives and banksters to pull the plug. Good luck with that!

He still claims he’s going to round up 11 million illegal immigrants and build a wall that could cost between, who knows, $15 to $30 billion, to keep them from returning; but there’s been a net loss of immigrants entering from Mexico since the 2008 financial collapse.  Where was Trump and the Republi-cons for the last 60 years, when the American business community (including Trumps construction, real estate and entertainment businesses) held out the welcome mat for the cheap labor that drove down wages and crippled organized labor. The only ones who will benefit from this border wall boondoggle, are the construction companies and suppliers connected at the hip with the Republi-cons and Trump Inc.

Trump said he’s a great environmentalist, as if installing landscaping on golf courses somehow qualifies (watch the movie “You’ve Been Trumped.”) At a breakfast with business executives, he stated: “I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment. I have received awards on the environment.”

But one of the first executive orders he signed will attempt to overturn President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL and rerouting of the Dakota Access pipelines. President Obama said the pipelines would hamper U.S. efforts to close the global climate change deal that Trump now wants to withdraw from. Trump said not a word about the environmental impact of those pipelines and the risks to the drinking water of more than 40 million Americans; 17 million downstream of DAPL and more than 25 million who depend on the Ogallala aquifer for drinking water. Trump signed the order but somehow failed to mention the 2 year long protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Native Tribes courageous stand to protect their cultural sites and the reservations drinking water supplies. And Trump and his fossil fuel cabinet and friends don’t want us to remember the dozens of pipeline spills that contaminated folks drinking water just last year. That’s no doubt the reason the Republi-cons have put a muzzle on employees of the EPA talking to the media or to the Democrats in congress.

The AP Reported on January 25th that:

“The Trump administration has instituted a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants. Emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed the specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts. The Trump administration has also ordered a “temporary suspension” of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors. The orders are expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide.”

“Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” George Orwell

 

Trump’s list of executive orders looks like he’s checking off the pay back list of the Republi-con party contributors.

When elected officials ignore and try to circumvent or repeal 8 years of legislative and institutional research, problem solving and progress, just to pay back their political donors, they’re violating their oath of office and are committing treason. These Republi-cons have denigrated each and every department of the federal government and are poised to cripple as many as possible.

President Trump, his cabinet and the Republican controlled congress must serve all Americans, not just rich folks, corporations, wall street banksters, fossil fuel interests, Vladimir Putin and his Russian oligarchs and Trumps family businesses. They must serve and protect people of all races, ethnicity, religions, sexes, sexual preferences or political affiliation. President Obama took his oath of office seriously. He went out of his way to serve all Americans. Trump has already violated his oath in his first week in office.

President Obama and his administration worked and studied hard to dig up the facts to make informed decisions. There were times his own party didn’t agree with him but he still did what he thought was best for all Americans. Trump refuses to read and study facts; he listens to, embraces and retweets fake news and conspiracy theories; and he spews flat out lies at the drop of a Make America Great Again hat. Trump, who distanced himself from traditional Republi-con dogma during the primaries and election has done a 180 on most issues and forsaken all political courage. His handlers and spokespersons embrace the banal theory of “Alternative Facts.”

“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?” George Orwell, 1984

 

Most Americans don’t have to do the research required for the important deliberations state and federal governments have to undertake. We generally elect and hire experienced and qualified folks to do that for us. Trump has so far hired the most inexperienced and hostile proponents for every one of the cabinet level positions.

But still, we have to make decisions in our own lives. Where we decide to live and in what kind of a home, where and how we chose to earn a living, which schools we or our children attend, how or with whom we invest savings or pensions, what mode of transportation we use and what vehicles to buy. A business owner might decide to expand or hire new employees. There are scores of decisions we have to make every day. If we’re smart and responsible, we make those decisions based on the best facts available at the time; we make decisions based on what’s best for us and our families. Trump makes decisions based on his late night twitter account musings and on theories from the farthest reaches of the newly discovered Ult Right Planet “Your anus”

In a rational manner, when we elect politicians or hire government employees to represent us, we want them to make decisions based on hard proven facts and on what’s best for all citizens, and not what’s best for the folks who provide campaign contributions or favors to these officials. Anything else undermines American Democracy.

An American President and White House that promotes “Alternative facts,” demonizes journalists and media who point out those easily proved lies and also occupies a bizarre alternative universe, can’t help but create bad decisions that undermine our democratic institutions. Trump world is driving people to the libraries and book stores to find a copy of the book “1984.” It was the biggest selling book on Amazon.com last week and the publisher Penguin, placed an order for a 75,000 book reprint. A quote highlighted by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and others is: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command” George Orwell. I would like to offer a few of my own.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” George Orwell, 1984

 

Elected officials work for the American public. Is there any responsible American who would seriously hire someone for the most important job in the country, paying them $400,000 a year and outstanding benefits, without checking their tax returns? Folks hired at your local hardware store or retailer for minimum wages must undergo background and credit checks; and a majority of those jobs require physiological testing. I’m not sure Donald J. Trump could pass any one of those tests.

For most of the last century, Democrats have tried to use government leadership to do things for people, whereas the Republi-cons have spent most of their efforts on undermining good governance and doing things to people.

Republi-cons take great enjoyment in demonizing the Democrats and progressives for trying to help folks, especially the working poor. President Obama took a lot of flak for being a community activist helping steel workers on our Chicago South East side when the steel companies shut down. They treated him like a criminal for his conscientious public service.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was derided for his efforts to persuade New Yorker’s to cut back on super sized soft drinks and the high fructose corn sweetener they contain because he tried to do something about our obesity and diabetes problems. And they railed against him for his environmental activism.

Michelle Obama’s campaign to get school children to eat better and exercise more was successful in helping to plateau the incidence of obesity and diabetes problems in children but was roundly criticized by Republi-cons as a socialist food Nazi.

U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Debbie Stabenow were criticized as grandstanding, for driving seniors in buses to Canada to get cheaper prescription drugs so they could actually fill prescriptions and also afford to eat.

I believe America and the whole world is in for a long Trumpian campaign of having things done to them instead of for them. Nothing is safe, especially our environment.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow just reported a story about the extreme increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma. (http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/as-ok-frackquakes-spiked-trump-epa-pick-fought-the-epa-862159427646). The number of earthquakes went from 63 in 2011 to 644 in 2016. They had 103 earthquakes in just the last week. They recently suffered a record breaking 5.6 earthquake. Over this 5 year period, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt didn’t try to prosecute fracking companies who caused these man-made earthquakes, but instead went after the EPA because the EPA tried to help the folks in that state who were suffering. He also eliminated all funding for Oklahoma’s Environmental Law Office. Trump rewarded Pruitt by nominated this fossil fuel panderer who sued the EPA, instead of the fracking companies who terrorized Oklahoman’s, to run the EPA. Again, these Republi-cons do things to people instead of for them.

Americans are hurting; half of us live on about $16,000 per year. That’s an obscenity, in the wealthiest country in the world, one filled with more and more millionaires and billionaires and such a disparity too broad to sustain a viable growing economy. The folks who voted for Trump enjoy a more generous average annual earnings of  $75,000. Those Trump supporters claimed President Obama wasn’t tough enough, didn’t win enough. I believe they will be disappointed when they discover who really wins in a Trump Administration. These Republi-cons are definitely not compassionate conservatives.

This Trump crowd already made it harder for low income Americans to buy a home. They will reverse President Obama and give the student loans back to the banksters they serve. They will favor charter schools and Christian teachings over free public education.

Any federal income tax cuts proposed by the Republicans will undoubtedly favor rich folks and corporations; and those tax cuts will force the resultant tax burden onto the rest of us in higher discretionary taxes, fees and state taxes.

Any reduction in federal subsidies for health care for low income folks will push that burden off onto states, counties, cities, insurance policy holders and health providers; especially hospitals that provide emergency room and trauma services.

In spite of Trump’s promises, the Republi-cons will continue to attack Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and any entitlement programs that doesn’t involve crony capitalists.

 

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” George Orwell

 

And their bombastic, misguided, go it alone approach to fighting terrorism will, like the catastrophic invasion into Iraq, certainly make things worse. And attempting to, overrule the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress ban on torture, re-institute the foreign black sites and stating that we should have, and might yet in the future, steal oil from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, will also jeopardize our military personal.

 

“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power” George Orwell

 

This new administration will explore new frontiers of conflicts of interests. The Obama Administration went 8 years without a hint of scandal. Trumps is already embroiled in multiple scandals and conflicts, including their relationship to the kleptocrat Putin and the Russian oligarchs.

 

 “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” George Orwell

 

If there is any slim thread of hope for us in the next couple of years, it’s that the Democrats picked up 7 members of Congress and 2 Senators, and the new Congress that was sworn in on January 3rd, will be the most racially diverse in history.

Yes, the reality is, Trump does not have any mandate whatsoever. He lost by almost 3 million votes. He’s the biggest presidential “loser” in history.  He has the lowest approval rating (32 to 34 %) in American presidential history. And if it wasn’t for the Russians and FBI director Comey, Hillary would already be healing our divided electorate instead of pitting us against each other like Trump. Almost 10 times as many Trump protestors demonstrated throughout the country and the world on January 21st, as attended his inauguration the day before.

Most representatives of this racial, religious and gender diversity will be Democratic lawmakers, even though the Democrats will be minorities in both the House and Senate. Fourteen new women were elected this month, although the total number (104) of women will stay the same in the new Congress. That’s only 19%, much less than the overall 50% American female population. A record number of 21 women will serve in the Senate.

Four women of color will serve in the Senate, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and just elected Democrats Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate.

A record number of Hispanics will serve in the next Congress, with 38 members in both chambers. Thirty-four Hispanics will serve in the House and four will serve in the Senate.

Seven Hispanic Democrats won election to the House: Nanette Barragán (Calif.), Salud Carbajal (Calif.), Lou Correa (Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.), the first Dominican-American elected to Congress, Ruben Kihuen (Nev.), Darren Soto (Fla.) and Vicente Gonzalez (Texas).

There will be a record number of black lawmakers, increasing from 46 to 49. A record number (15) of Asian-Americans will be in the next Congress. Hirono, Harris and Duckworth, an incumbent House member, will make up the ranks of Asian-Americans in the Senate. Harris’ father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India.

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) was the only Indian American serving in Congress. He’s now joined by Harris and three new House members: Ro Khanna (Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.). Jayapal will be the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House and Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) will be the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress.

The number of gay and lesbian members in Congress will stay the same. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is the first openly gay or lesbian person to serve in the Senate. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will serve in the house.

Two Muslims, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and André Carson (D-Ind.), were reelected. The number of Jewish lawmakers will go up from 28 to 30, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and David Kustoff (R-Tenn.). Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was the only Hindu in Congress but was joined by the three new Indian-American House members, who identify as Hindu. This Congress will have three Buddhists: Hirono in the Senate and Reps. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) in the House.

The Congress will still be overwhelmingly white and male compared to the overall American population and the overwhelming majority of lawmakers in Congress identify as Christians. It’s slow progress but the Congress is looking more like America.

The job of the progressives is to speed up that transformation. When all of these old, white, biased, knuckle dragging, climate deniers pass on to their here after, this will be a better country and a better world. In the meantime, vote progressive and stay vigilant

“Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” George Orwell

 

Washington Post

Trump may be mean, but he’s definitely not green

By Chelsea Henderson April 15, 2016

Chelsea Henderson has worked on environmental policy for conservation organizations and three Republican senators.

Let’s tame at least one legend in Donald Trump’s mind — his self-proclaimed status as an environmental hero.

“I’ve won many environmental awards,” the Republican presidential front-runner said on CNN’s “New Day” on Sept. 24. He made the claim while criticizing Pope Francis’s call for action on climate change in an address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“I’ve gotten so many awards for the environment,” Trump said during a speech in Des Moines on Dec. 11. “I understand the environment; I’ve won many, many awards.”

“I think that climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change,” Trump said on Jan. 18, two days before NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record. “I’ve received many environmental awards.”

In my 18 years working on environmental policy on and off Capitol Hill, I never heard Trump’s green record lauded. So I decided to try to identify the “many, many environmental awards” he says he has won.

I looked first at his record on clean water and air, to which he often points in defending his outdated beliefs on climate change. Trump does not mince words on climate change, which he calls “a big scam for a lot of people to make a lot of money.” However, the candidate, who has called for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, has promised “we are going to work very, very hard on clean air and clean water.” Just what has he done? What would a Trump administration propose to advance the goals of clean air and clean water, aside from gutting the agency that oversees the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act? His campaign website does not note any accomplishments or policy proposals on the matter. An Internet search also turned up empty.

I looked next at his apparent strength: real estate development. Perhaps Trump builds green buildings? A Google search offered no such evidence. In 2012, Trump called green buildings “green because they don’t give you enough energy” and, in the bombastic style of his campaign speeches, referred to an unnamed friend of his, “a great environmental guy,” who expressed regret for moving into a green building. This is despite that the website for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago touts the building’s sustainability measures.

I searched the database of the U.S. Green Building Council, standard-bearers in designation of sustainable buildings, to find out whether any buildings bearing the Trump name have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. While certification for one unit of Trump’s Chicago condo-hotel is designated as “in progress,” no building with Trump’s name is identified as having completed LEED certification.

Then I turned to clean energy. I found that in Trump’s words, wind turbines are “ruining” our landscapes and “turning out to be a disaster.” In December, he lost a legal battle to stop an offshore wind farm erected in the panorama of a Trump golf course near Aberdeen, Scotland.

My continued search finally yielded a hit, an environmental protection award the Metropolitan Golf Association Foundation bestowed on Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., in 2007. Four years later, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection cited the course for environmental violations. Not surprising, given that golf courses are not known for being environmentally sound, though builders such as Trump like to site them in locations with sweeping views. The aforementioned golf course in Scotland sits on fragile sand dunes, a site Trump once called “ kind of disgusting.”

Perhaps I was overlooking something, so I contacted Trump’s campaign for confirmation of his green record. Although I received no response, it seems clear that a commitment to the environment of the scale that Trump wants you to imagine wouldn’t leave so little a trace.

Trump’s environmental heroism appears to be a legend in his own mind, a dangerous prospect given the monumental climate challenges facing our nation.

 

 

Washington Post

Donald Trump says he’s an environmentalist; others beg to differ

By Annie Gowen May 14, 2011

Call them Trump’s stumps.

Last spring and summer, workers at Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun County chopped down more than 400 trees along the Potomac River so their golfers could have a better view of the water.

Eight months later, the fate of the mile-long stretch of shoreline — where migratory birds once nested and bald eagles perched to fish — remains a source of conflict among the Trump Organization, local officials and environmentalists, who are dickering over how to stabilize the riverbank and what to do with the hundreds of stumps left behind.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said Mark Haynes, an Arlington energy consultant who sits on the board of the Potomac Conservancy. “They replaced the trees with a huge flagpole with the American flag flying up there. Which struck me as sad. It’s kind of in-your-face now.”

Over the years, Donald Trump — the “Celebrity Apprentice” star, real estate mogul and impossible-to-ignore presidential candidate— has developed 11 luxury golf courses around the world, leaving a trail of happy golfers but angry residents and environmentalists in his wake. He infuriated neighbors in California for trying to plant trees to shield pedestrians from flying golf balls and in Northern Virginia for taking them out.

His fight with five gritty Scots who refused to move from the stone cottages standing in the way of his $1.6 billion golf course in Scotland inspired a film, “You’ve Been Trumped,” that played to sold-out crowds at Toronto’s documentary film festival this month. (Choice scenes: Trump worrying over his hair at a press conference on a windswept bluff and accusing one of the holdouts of living “like a pig.”)

Such dramas will provide plenty of fodder for those seeking to delve into Trump’s past should he decide to run for president in the coming weeks.

“I have a great environmental record,” said Trump, who last month purchased one of Virginia’s best-known wineries at a foreclosure auction for $6.2 million. “I have a record that, in my opinion, everybody would love.”

Well, not everybody. Environmentalists note the tree cutting, the mogul’s affection for flying in private jets and his call for Al Gore to be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize as evidence to the contrary.

“He likes to pretend he’s an environmentalist because of the landscaping on his golf courses, but at the end of the day, it seems he’s the only one that actually believes that,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Fund. “His brand of environmentalism is only for the wealthy and elite.”

‘Like eco-Disney’

About a decade ago, Trump bought a bucolic estate about 45 miles from New York City that was once owned by the disgraced automaker John DeLorean. In 2004, he opened Trump National Golf Club at Bedminster, a place he feels is so lovely that he wants to be buried there (though plans to build a mausoleum on the first tee have been shelved.)

As the Trump Organization has expanded the Bedminster Club from 18 holes to 36, they have often touted their bird sanctuary — which won an environmental award — and network of nature trails as proof of their good stewardship of the property.

“It’s like eco-Disney up there,” said Cindy Ehrenclou, the executive director of the Upper Raritan Watershed Association, a watchdog group. But the 69 million gallons of water needed to maintain the course per year has strained the local aquifer, Ehrenclou said.

And, as in Loudoun, mature trees have quietly disappeared.

On May 6, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection cited Trump National Golf in Bedminster for a string of violations, including cutting trees and brush and disturbing wetlands.

Most of the environmental work on Trump’s golf courses has been overseen by Ed Russo, 65, a Key West retiree who was once the Bedminster planning board chairman.

Russo, whom Trump calls a “highly respected environmentalist,” lived in an old Victorian farmhouse on the 500-acre Bedminster property when DeLorean owned it. During that time, he fell so in love with the land — 500 rolling acres of apple trees, hay fields and paddocks in the middle of New Jersey’s hunt country — that he buried a fire truck and several other used vehicles on it in the admittedly nutty hope it would make the parcel unappetizing to future investors.

“You know you live on a piece of property, you want to protect it,” Russo said. “Golf was something we didn’t want.”

Then, in 2002, Trump came calling, asking Russo to clean up the property he had once helped pollute, and Russo agreed.

Russo, who is every bit as blustery and outspoken as his boss, said that Trump has given him an “open checkbook” and “has supported every crazy environmental initiative I’ve ever advanced. He deserves a big pat on the back.”

Russo’s plans often go against the grain of conventional scientific wisdom and soil conservation practice. In Loudoun, for example, he said that the treeswere actually causing erosion, rather than preventing it.

And on the northeastern coast of Scotland, where Trump is building what he says is going to be “the greatest golf course in the world,” Russo has pushed for stabilizing sand dunes over the objections of Scottish scientists. They’ve called the moving sand dune ecosystem one of the country’s greatest natural treasures, akin to Scotland’s own Amazon rain forest.

Russo calls that “baloney.”

Shoreline dispute

In Loudoun County, officials said they objected to the removal of the American elms, green ashes and black locusts when Trump’s people approached them with their plan last spring, according to Danny Davis, the county administrator’s chief of staff. But there was nothing they could do to prevent it.

Unlike Fairfax County and several other local jurisdictions, Loudoun’s shoreline is not protected by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. On Tuesday, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is set to debate whether to create its own 75-foot buffer that would protect the county’s remaining stretches of shoreline.

In a telephone interview, Trump defended the removal of the trees, saying it was legal and that his organization spent “tens of thousands of dollars” cleaning up the trash and debris along the shoreline after he bought the 800-acre course in 2009.

And he doesn’t shy away from saying the motivating factor was the pretty view for his club’s members, who pay $75,000 to join.

“It was done so that people utilizing the services of the club — of which there are 1,000 members, it’s a very successful club — could have unobstructed views of the river, and because it was an environmental enhancement,” Trump said. “The trees that were taken down were in terrible condition.”

The two sides have talked for months and have yet to agree on a formal erosion control plan for the area. The county would like them to replant some of the trees or at least woody shrubs, but Russo has balked at doing so, saying he prefers to create a hardy grassland habitat for birds.

“At this point we would like to see trees, sure,” Davis said. “But we understand we may not get that in the end.”

 

Washington Post

Trump is not just a risk to the country. He is also a risk to the planet.

By Stephen Stromberg March 21, 2016

Republican front-runner Donald Trump spent an hour with The Post’s editorial board on Monday, and he made at least three points that show why he is not just a risk to the country — but also to the planet.

First was Trump’s astonishing position on free speech. He doubled down on the notion that he would “loosen” U.S. libel laws so that it would be easier to go after journalists and other writers. For example, he would weaken the requirement that aggrieved public figures must show “malice” when suing a journalist who “writes incorrectly.” He attacked stories that are “written badly” and argued that a newspaper that “writes something wrong” and fails to run a retraction should “have a form of a trial.”

He was serially unclear on what he meant by “bad,” “incorrect” and “wrong” — factually wrong? Simply unfair? When I asked him to clarify, he gave an example of television news broadcasts failing to give more details about an altercation at one of his rallies, which is not a matter of inaccuracy but of emphasis. He also kept making clear that he was concerned with all sorts of coverage he disliked. He brought up Post opinion writing to which he objected, calling it “so angry,” which suggests that purely factual issues are not motivating his concerns. After more pressure, he seemed to disclaim the notion that he would crack down on angry columnists, but he ended on this scary bottom line: “I want to make it more fair from the side where I am.”

Trump’s loose talk of loosening freedom of speech protections is not just chilling in this country. The United States is such an exemplar of liberal values, Trump would reset the global standard downward. He would enable dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to say, “I told you so.”

Second was Trump’s embarrassing nonsense on climate change, which he has previously called “bull____” On Monday, he said that “perhaps there’s a minor effect.” But, “if you look, they had global cooling in the 1920s, and now they have global warming, although now they don’t know if they have global warming. They call it all sorts of different things. Now they’re using ‘extreme weather’ I guess more than any other phrase.” See, climate scientists — who have consistently raised concerns about global warming, and called it that, for decades — are constantly changing their story.

“Don’t good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?” I asked. In other words, why not pay something now to head off possibly much costlier outcomes later? “I just think we have much bigger risks,” Trump said, warning that the country is in “tremendous peril.”

“Our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons,” he said. “To me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That is climate change. That is a disaster.” There are several ways to interpret some of this language. But what makes it classic Trump is its brazen lack of reason. Forget this issue I do not want to confront. You know what you really need to worry about? The nuclear apocalypse.

Admittedly, Trump’s irresponsibility on climate change is not much different from many other Republicans’. But his justification is nevertheless a masterpiece of Trumpian illogic.

Third was Trump’s approach to foreign affairs and trade. He insisted that, as president, he should be “unpredictable,” arguing that, “sitting at a meeting like this and explaining my views” is unwise because, “if I do become president, I have these views that are down for the other side to look at.” Then he said, “I hate being so open.” This telegraphs insincerity, making it seem as though he just wants to avoid answering the question, which concerned what he would do about China’s moves to take control of the South China Sea. Assuming he means unpredictability to be a real strategy, it is a risky one. It can help in certain negotiations. But, along with Trump’s more isolationist approach to foreign affairs, it can also encourage adversaries to act more aggressively.

Trump was clear about one thing: He might use trade to punish China for its geopolitical advances. “We have power over China and people don’t realize it. We have trade power over China,” he said. “You start making it tougher.” Tempting a trade war with China certainly would make it tougher — on American consumers and the global economy.

Hillary Clinton, the most recent former secretary of state, has said that foreign leaders are telling her that they are worried about Trump. They should be.

 

Washington Post

2015: A year of progress and buffoonery on climate change

 

By Editorial Board January 2, 2016

LAST WINTER, bitter cold on the East Coast prompted Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) to take a snowball onto the Senate floor in mockery of climate scientists. This winter, the weather is so warm that there are not two snowflakes in the Washington area for Mr. Inhofe to scrape together.

Just as last winter’s cold did not disprove global warming, this winter’s warmth does not, in itself, establish that humans are raising Earth’s average temperature. Rather, it is the long-term trend that matters — and that is concerning. The past decade was warmer than the previous one, which was warmer than the one before that, and so on. So far, this decade looks sure to fit into that trend.

We may, too, be getting a taste of what a warming world feels like. According to a 2014 paper, one potential effect is a doubling of the number of strong El Nino years. That’s the phenomenon that has perturbed the jet stream and pushed this winter’s temperatures up. Though the El Niño variation predated human influence, it, among many other natural cycles, probably will not be immune to it. And even if this year’s El Niño cannot be blamed squarely on climate change, it nevertheless feels like a fitting end to a remarkable year in the policy and politics of global warming.

For those following the climate debate, 2015 brought some inspiring highs — and disheartening lows. President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized landmark carbon dioxide regulations that promise to slash greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants. This policy played a crucial role in galvanizing the international climate effort, which culminated last month in a huge international climate deal. The Paris agreement will not cut emissions enough to avoid serious risks. But it will get the world a good chunk of the way there, and it represents the beginning of a process in which all major emitters will be expected to step up.

The very same EPA rules also inspired a race among Republicans to embarrass themselves. A standard critique, such as that of Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), was to argue that climate regulations will uselessly harm the economy; that exaggerates the potential costs without acknowledging the unprecedented global agreement the measure helped to produce. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) went further, holding a hearing on climate science with a witness list that was a funhouse-mirror image of the scientific community: short on those who accept mainstream climate science, packed with climate critics.

Mr. Cruz insisted that there has been a “pause” in global warming since 1998, a date critics choose as their starting point because it was another El Niño year marked by very high temperatures. Like Mr. Inhofe and his snowball, Mr. Cruz’s point ignored the long-term nature of the warming trend. It also might be flatly wrong: A June paper in the top-flight journal Science found that the warming “pause” reflected biases in temperature data rather than a significant plateau in real temperature rise.

Alas, this finding also led to a nasty GOP reaction. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (Tex.) subpoenaed email relating to the study, which came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Congressional oversight of federal spending is important. That’s no excuse to conduct fishing expeditions designed to personally discredit scientists and undermine peer-reviewed research with lines from informal emails.

With the events of the past year in mind, the presidential candidates — and American voters — must ask themselves: Do they want to build on 2015’s climate progress, or do they want more of last year’s climate buffoonery?

You’re Right America, Get Over It!

January 17, 2017   John Hanno                               

 

                                 You’re Right America; Get Over It!

Ever since the improbable results of this election, Mr. Trump, his transition team and the Republi-cons in congress, have been telling the 65,844,954 American voters, 2.9 million more than voted for Mr. Trump, to get over it. Well, they really should have taken their own advise over the last eight years!

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Democrats need to “grow up and get past” losing the election.

“You know, what this is about, John (Dickerson), the Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. I was in Sen. [Chuck] Schumer’s position eight years ago. I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation, that the other guys won the election. What did we do? We confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate. I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that.”

Coming from Senator McConnell, this hyper-hypocrisy demands a new word from Webster’s. On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration, this same Senator led the cabal of congressional Republicans that plotted to do everything they could to make him a one term president; and then engaged in a maniacal campaign over 7 years, to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Republi-cons believed if they opposed everything the Obama administration tried to achieve, that they could somehow delegitimize the first black president in our history. Compromising with him and the Democrats, to them meant total capitulation. The President was presented with the monumental task of avoiding another depression when he took office, an undertaking made much more difficult by relentless obstruction. But he stood firm and overcame.

In spite of their unpatriotic schemes, history will be much kinder to President Obama’s legacy than Mitch McConnell and the GOP were. The Republi-cons can lie about this administration’s accomplishments, and try to erase all remnants of his and the Democrats work to repair the damage done by yet another Republican attempt at taking America back to the gilded age, but the Presidential performance bar has been permanently raised. Barack Obama is leaving office with a 60% domestic approval rating; and that alone doesn’t show how much he has rebuilt the reputation of American leadership around the world. Mr. Trump will be sworn into office with a 34% approval rating (32% in latest CBS poll), the lowest of any president since polling began and a full 25 points lower than President Obama’s approval now and 45 points lower than when he took office in 2009. Mr. Trumps unfavorable polling is between 54 and 58%, more than 5 time higher than the Presidents in 2009. It’s apparent that if the election were held today, Mr. Trump would lose by a wide margin. Almost 50% disapprove of his cabinet choices. Is it a wonder that more than 70 Democrats in congress will refuse to attend the inauguration.

Republi-cons can try to cancel all the Presidents executive orders and huff and puff and try to blow down Obamacare, or maybe just get around to changing it’s name, but the 25 to 30 million Americans, who finally have credible health insurance and the peace of mind that entails, will be forever grateful, and won’t now be denied. They’re saying very loudly, stay away from my ACA!

A recent American President who served two full terms of scandal less governance can’t be diminished or erased. This perfect example of an utterly American family, with an Un-American name, will have forever changed our consciousness. Democrats, Independents and even many Republicans are sad to see this family leave the White House and are sincerely proud of their service to the country.

LGBTQ rights will never be the same, same sex marriage and serving openly in the military are etched in law; that won’t change. The President nominated and the Senate confirmed Eric K. Fanning as secretary of the Army, making him the highest-ranking openly gay official ever serving at the Pentagon.

While President Obama and the Democrats kept trying to push America forward, the Repub’s were trying to take it back. When President Obama was trying to give 45 million Americans hope, obstructive Republi-cons spent millions trying to repeal that change more than 60 times.

The Republi-cons will scheme with the fossil fuel lobby and fight like hell to reverse the progress made in fighting global warming and climate change, but the wheels of progress are in motion and speeding up. Sustainable energy is our future; fossil fuel is the past. And their attacks on public lands, National Parks and Monuments, and on America’s air, water and soil will be met with 10’s of millions of fierce earth protectors and a united Native American community.

Aside from the long list of accomplishments of the Obama Administration and the 10’s of millions of folks they positively impacted, and which I listed in an earlier post, America twice elected the first black president in our history; and he and Michelle did everything they could to help elect the first woman in our history.

The picture of that little boy touching the head of a bent over African American President to see if he was just like him can’t be erased. All children now know there are no limits to what they can accomplish. Republi-cons cannot erase the idea that a person of color or a woman can undertake the most difficult job in our country.

Thanks to Michelle, child obesity has reached a plateau; millions of American children are eating healthier and becoming more active. She set the bar higher for future first ladies. They both made the White House forever cool and are wonderful examples of leaders that exude grace, humility and integrity under fire.

This president showed that a man can cry when he has to confront the grief and sadness of the families of the 26 six year old students killed at Sandy Hook. He might not end up on Mt. Rushmore but might end up on a coin and certainly will have his funny name inscribed on buildings all over America. And when the history books are written, the first sentences will say, President Obama accomplished all these things in spite of overwhelming opposition from the entire Republican congress and party.

But it was not just President Obama and the Democrats pushing the cart full of boulders up the hill over the Republican tire spike strips; no, there were 10’s of millions of Americans lending a shoulder and pushing behind them. That won’t change. Those real patriots will not allow his legacies to fade. John Hanno

Where Are The Patriots?

 

January 14, 2017, John Hanno                            

                    

                                       Where Are the Patriots?

Where are the Republi-con Patriots who should be stepping forward to protest Russian interference in our Democratic elections, the ones who proudly wear the flag on their suit lapels and who like to stand in front of the American public, with rows of American flags in the background, the more the better; as if the more flags displayed, the more credible and patriotic you become.

One who could step forward is Senator John McCain, who received sensitive information from an unknown source, containing unsubstantiated but potentially compromising research on Donald Trump and his alleged ties to Russia, Putin and their intelligence agencies, and who thought it important enough to give to the FBI. This dossier was allegedly compiled as anti-Trump opposition research for his Republican opponents during the 2016 primaries and then used for Democratic research during the general election.

Another might be Senator Lindsey Graham, who believes Trump should make Vladimir Putin “pay a price” for waging cyber attacks on the DNC during the presidential election campaign. Graham said Putin “tries to destroy democracy around the world, interferes in our elections, kills his opponents and steals his people blind,” and is “not gonna stop this until he pays a price, and no one’s made him pay a price yet.”

Congressional Democrats and both of these Senators, contrary to the incoming Trump transition team and the rest of the cowardly and conflicted Republicans in congress, have asked for an independent investigation of Russian interference in our election. The Republi-cons want America to disregard Trump’s and his proposed cabinet’s close ties to Russia and to just move on. Most of America says not so fast!

The AP’s Richard Lardner reported today that: “The Senate Intelligence Committee will investigate possible contacts between Russia and the people associated with U.S. political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.”

“In a statement late Friday, Sens. Richard Burr. R-N.C., the committee’s chairman, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to take action, and Mark Warner, D-Va., the panel’s top Democrat, said the panel “will follow the intelligence where it leads.”

“Burr and Warner said that as part of the investigation, they will interview senior officials from the Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration. They said subpoenas would be issued “if necessary to compel testimony.”

“We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right,” the senators said.

“A declassified intelligence report released last week said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hidden campaign to influence the election to favor President-elect Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton, revelations that have roiled Washington.”

“According to the committee’s statement, the inquiry will include:”

— “A review of the intelligence that informed the declassified report about Russia’s interference in the election.”

— “Counterintelligence concerns” related to Russia and the election, “including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”

— “Russian cyber activity and other “active measures” against the United States during the election and more broadly.” Richard Lardner

 

Georgia Representative John Lewis valiantly stepped forward last Friday, saying that he will not view Trump as a legitimate President. He will not attend this inauguration, the first he’s missed in three decades, because he said: “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” He said they corrupted “our open and democratic election process.” Trump falsely and belligerently insisted for years that President Obama was not a legitimate President because he was born in Kenya but now Congressman Lewis is legitimately giving Trump a taste of his own medicine.

Operatives in the Republican party have systematically disenfranchised democratic voters, minorities, women, students and senior citizens, in every state controlled by Republican Governors and legislatures, by requiring onerous voter IDs, by closing polling places in minority neighborhoods, by restricting early and weekend voting, by kicking democratic leaning voters off the voter roll with the cross-checking scheme, by the elimination of felon’s voting rights, even after they’ve served their time and by possibly even manipulating the voting counts of electronic voting machines. Coupled with gerrymandering, hacking by the Russians, FBI Director Comey’s shenanigans and the latest anti-democratic peril, far right and Russian propagandists spreading fake news stories, this must be considered the most corrupt and illegitimate election in our history.

And Democrats in congress have reached a point where they’ve lost confidence in FBI Director Comey’s ability to transparently explain his conduct leading up to the election, when he intervened, contrary to FBI protocol, days before the election to again question Hillary’s emails, but at the same time sat on for months, the dossier about the shocking and potentially much more serious allegations regarding Trump and the Russians. He clearly impacted Hillary’s campaign momentum and it showed in her poll numbers. He either negligently or purposely caused Hillary to lose the election.

I’m sure there are 10’s of millions of Americans like myself, who believe Donald Trump should not be sworn in until there’s a full independent investigation of (1) members of his campaign’s possible involvement in the Russian cyber hacking and election interference, (2) Putin’s involvement and influence in our election, (3)Trump and his proposed cabinet’s involvement with Russia and Putin, (4) Trumps potential conflicts of interest concerning Russia and Putin and (5) a full review of Trumps and his Secretary of State’s income tax returns. How can we place any credibility in this election? If Trump is sworn in before all these questions are sorted out and these investigations are completed, he will never be viewed by a majority of Americans, as a legitimate president.

After 2 years and 3 or 4 Billion dollars, you would think America could somehow conduct a free and fair national election. Is it a wonder that we have such a low participation rate. And after Hillary Clinton received 2.9 million more votes than Trump but still lost the election because of the archaic Electoral College, those numbers will certainly decline even further. Our whole election process is anything but free, fair or credible. Putin and the Russians are toasting their success in undermining America’s most visible Democratic process, and somehow in dividing it’s political parties even further.

International organizations and many NGOs regularly conduct election monitoring throughout the world. The Carter Center (Democratic President Jimmy Carter) has been involved in election monitoring for decades and has worked with the United Nations and the National Democratic Institute to develop international principles for election observation. They should probably come to America’s rescue, and help us establish truly Democratic elections.

All patriotic Americans should speak up and demand that our intelligence agencies find and interview the former British intelligence operative who investigated the shenanigans involving Trump and his embedded Russian operatives before Trump is sworn in and before Putin and his assassins find him. There’s already rumors that Putin is trying to find out who leaked the dirty laundry in the ex-MI6 spy’s memos.

And to the flag waving hypocritical Congressional Republi-con winuts, who won’t pass up any chance to wave the U.S. Constitution under the noses of Democrats, you’re showing your true allegiance. You turn a blind eye to the insane tweets of DJT and his fealty to a kleptocratic despot, who Republican Senator Marco Rubio describes as a war criminal and mass murderer but then turn around and threaten to investigate the Director of the Office of Government Ethics after Walter M. Shaub Jr. spoke at the Brookings Institute on Trumps plans to avoid conflicts of interest while serving as President.

Mr. Schaub stated: “We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit. That’s why I was glad in November when the President-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, “in no way have a conflict of interest” with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan can’t achieve that goal.” and also said: “It would, however, be cause for alarm if the Senate were to go forward with hearings on nominees whose reports OGE has not certified. For as long as I remain Director, OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials will not succumb to pressure to cut corners and ignore conflicts of interest.”

“According to an article in Politico, Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), head of the House Oversight Committee, has threatened to subpoena Shaub over his refusal to discuss objections to Trump’s proposed business handling with the committee.”

“According to The Hill, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the OGE was “doing the job that Jason Chaffetz himself is refusing to do,” and called Chaffetz’s threat “outrageous.” Earnest also said Chaffetz is “seeking to intimidate a senior executive branch official who is responsible for enforcing federal ethics rules.”

Americans must once and forever demand free and fair Democratic elections, overturning Citizens United, elections no longer than 2 months, public financing of all elections, limited free broadcast media, debate access for all third party candidates, one man one vote and the presidential election, like all state elections, which is won by popular vote. And unless the Republican controlled Congress decides to stand up for this standard of American Democracy, the Republi-con inaction and subterfuge will permanently disgrace the Grand Old Party.  John Hanno

 

From Mother Jones

The Spy Who Wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It Was “Hair-Raising” Stuff

When I broke the story in October, I spoke with him. Here’s what he said.

David Corn, January 13, 2017

Last fall, a week before the election, I broke the story that a former Western counterintelligence official had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump. The memos noted that this spy’s sources had provided him with information indicating that Russian intelligence had mounted a years long operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump and had gathered secret compromising material on Trump. They also alleged that Trump and his inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin. These memos caused a media and political firestorm this week when CNN reported that President Barack Obama and Trump had been told about their existence, as part of briefings on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia hacked political targets during the 2016 campaign to help Trump become president. For my story in October, I spoke with the former spy who wrote these memos, under the condition that I not name him or reveal his nationality or the spy service where he had worked for nearly two decades, mostly on Russian matters.

“Someone like me stays in the shadows,” the former spy said.

The former spy told me that he had been retained in early June by a private research firm in the United States to look into Trump’s activity in Europe and Russia. “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” he recalled. One question for him, he said, was, “Are there business ties in Russia?” The American firm was conducting a Trump opposition research project that was first financed by a Republican source until the funding switched to a Democratic one. The former spy said he was never told the identity of the client.

The former intelligence official went to work and contacted his network of sources in Russia and elsewhere. He soon received what he called “hair-raising” information. His sources told him, he said, that Trump had been “sexually compromised” by Russian intelligence in 2013 (when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe contest) or earlier and that there was an “established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” He noted he was “shocked” by these allegations. By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.

The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was “sufficiently serious” for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. “This was an extraordinary situation,” he remarked.

The response to the information from the FBI, he recalled, was “shock and horror.” After a few weeks, the bureau asked him for information on his sources and their reliability and on how he had obtained his reports. He was also asked to continue to send copies of his subsequent reports to the bureau. These reports were not written, he noted, as finished work products; they were updates on what he was learning from his various sources. But he said, “My track record as a professional is second to no one.”

The former spy told me that he was reluctant to be talking with a reporter. He pointed out this was not his common practice. “Someone like me stays in the shadows,” he said. But he indicated that he believed this material was important, and he was unsure how the FBI was handling it. Certainly, there had been no public signs that the FBI was investigating these allegations. (The FBI at the time refused to tell me if it had received the memos or if it was examining the allegations.)

“This was something of huge significance, way above party politics,” the former spy told me. “I think [Trump’s] own party should be aware of this stuff as well.” He noted that he believed Russian intelligence’s efforts aimed at Trump were part of Vladimir Putin’s campaign to “disrupt and divide and discredit the system in Western democracies.”

After speaking with the former counterintelligence official, I was able to confirm his identity and expertise. A senior US administration official told me that he had worked with the onetime spook and that the former spy had an established and respected track record of providing US government agencies with accurate and valuable information about sensitive national security matters. “He is a credible source who has provided information to the US government for a long time, which senior officials have found to be highly credible,” this US official said.

I also was able to review the memos the former spy had written, and I quoted a few key portions in my article. I did not report the specific allegations—especially the lurid allegations about Trump’s personal behavior—because they could not be confirmed. The newsworthy story at this point was that a credible intelligence official had provided information to the FBI alleging Moscow had tried to cultivate and compromise a presidential candidate. And the issue at hand—at a time when the FBI was publicly disclosing information about its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of her email at the State Department—was whether the FBI had thoroughly investigated these allegations related to Russia and Trump. I also didn’t post the memos, as BuzzFeed did this week, because the documents contained information about the former spy’s sources that could place these people at risk.

When I spoke with the former spy, he appeared confident about his material—acknowledging these memos were works in progress—and genuinely concerned about the implications of the allegations. He came across as a serious and somber professional who was not eager to talk to a journalist or cause a public splash. He realized he was taking a risk, but he seemed duty bound to share information he deemed crucial. He noted that these allegations deserved a “substantial inquiry” within the FBI. Yet so far, the FBI has not yet said whether such an investigation has been conducted. As the former spy said to me, “The story has to come out.”

 

From Raw Story

Israeli spies: Trump ‘golden showers’ dossier only one of many troubling reports being investigated

 

Eric W. Dolan, January 14, 2017

Intelligence agencies from around the world are investigating multiple reports that allege some connection between President-elect Donald Trump and the Russian government, according to Israeli intelligence officers who spoke to BuzzFeed.

Last week, BuzzFeed published an unverified dossier that claimed the Russian government had material that could be used to blackmail Trump. The dossier claimed Russia had recordings of Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion.” It was later revealed that the dossier had been compiled by Christopher Steele, a former member of the British intelligence agency MI6.

Intelligence agencies have reportedly been circulating several other reports regarding Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.

“There have been various reports about Trump’s ties to Russia,” an intelligence officer told BuzzFeed. “The dossier is one of them, but there are others, they make other allegations. Some are more specific, and some are less. You can trust me that many intelligence agencies are trying to evaluate the extent to which Trump might have ties, or a weakness of some type, to Russia.”

Steele, who was hired by Trump’s political foes during last year’s campaign season, had become so worried by the allegations he uncovered that he sent his report to the FBI, according to The Independent. However, Steele “came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry” of Trump, the paper reported.

BuzzFeed said they were trying to verify the allegations contained in Steele’s dossier, but have so far been unsuccessful.

Trump and his transition team have forcefully denied the allegations contained in the report, castigating them as “fake news.”

Israeli intelligence officers were recently warned by U.S. spies not to share intelligence with the Trump administration until they could be sure the former reality TV star hadn’t been compromised by Russia, reported the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

“The Israelis who attended the meeting said that the Americans advised them not to expose any sensitive sources to members of the Trump administration, lest that information reach Iranian hands, until it becomes clear that Trump does not have a compromised relationship with Russia and is not vulnerable to extortion,” the report claimed.

 

From the Pew Research Center, Fact Tank

August 2, 2016

U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries

By Drew DeSilver

With less than 100 days left till the U.S. presidential election, we thought it was time for a fresh look at how U.S. voter turnout – regularly decried as dismal – compares with other developed democracies. As is so often the case, the answer is a lot more complicated than the question.

Political scientists typically measure turnout by looking at votes cast as a percentage of eligible voters. Since many hard-to-measure factors can affect eligibility (citizenship, imprisonment, residency rules and other legal barriers), in practice turnout calculations usually are based on the estimated voting-age population. By that measure, the U.S. lags most of its peers, landing 31st among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, most of whose members are highly developed, democratic states.

U.S. turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 53.6%, based on 129.1 million votes cast and an estimated voting-age population of just under 241 million people. Looking at the most recent national elections in OECD countries, the highest turnout rates were in Belgium (87.2%), Turkey (84.3%) and Sweden (82.6%). (Turnout in last month’s Australian parliamentary election almost certainly was in that range too, but we don’t yet have a current estimate for Australia’s voting-age population.) Switzerland consistently has the lowest turnout in the OECD, with less than 39% of the voting-age population casting ballots in the 2015 federal legislative election……

 

From Policy.Mic

7 Other Nations That Prove Just How Absurd U.S. Elections Really Are

By Zeeshan Aleem
May 19, 2015

Is there a greater example of American excess than the presidential campaign process?

From the formation of exploratory committees until the inauguration of the next president, the American election frenzy lasts about two years, a vast majority of which is spent talking about little of substance. Along the way, the U.S. easily outspends every other country in the world, a trend that has only been accelerated by the gutting of restrictions on corporate contributions to campaigns in recent years. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign could cost up to $2 billion, according to early estimates.

What’s even worse is that the exceptional amount of time and money doesn’t produce an engaging democratic process. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in terms of voter participation when compared with other developed nations. Issues like obstacles to voter registration and the ability to simply get to the polls without missing work contribute to strikingly low turnout in the world’s most powerful democracy.

None of this is inevitable, and some of these problems could be easily fixed. Here’s a brief look at some practices in other democracies that the U.S. could learn from, if not replicate:

1. The longest campaign in Canadian history was 10 weeks.

 

Source: Getty

The election process in other countries is typically far shorter than in the U.S. Even though there isn’t an official limit on maximum campaign length in Canada, the longest election campaign in Canadian history was in 1926 for 74 days — about 10 and a half weeks between when the date of the election was announced and voting day.

They’re usually significantly shorter. Party positioning and discussion of election scenarios precede the official election campaign period, but it’s a matter of months rather than years.

2. In the U.K., political parties can only spend $30 million in the year before an election.

 

Source: Getty

Election spending is strictly limited in the U.K. Each party cannot spend more than $29.5 million in the year before the election. The New York Times reported that the combined spending of both major British political parties in 2010 came out to around the same amount as the American presidential candidates spent on money on expenses related to raising money in 2012.

3. In Germany, political parties release just one 90-second television ad.

 

Berlin, Germany- August 22: Cars drive past election campaign posters hanging from lampposts on August 22, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. Source: Getty

Many democracies around the world place strict regulations or outright bans on how political parties can advertise on television. In Germany, parties are given airtime on two public television networks based on their performance in the past election and the size of their party, according to Politico. Each party usually only makes one minute-and-a half-long ad to convey their message during those slots.

Politico reported that in the 2013 election, this amounted to eight ads on each channel for the major parties — for the entire campaign. Parties can purchase more ads to run on private television channels, but limits on spending budgets and the high cost of television spots place huge constraints on their use. Negative ads are rare.

4. In 2013, over two-thirds of income to Norway’s political parties came from the government.

Many countries successfully use public financing of campaigns as a way of regulating their cost and relieving the need for reliance on wealthy donors. In Norway’s 2013 elections, 67% of political party income was provided by the government.

The U.S. does have a public financing system for presidential campaigns, but in 2008 Barack Obama opted out — the first candidate to do so since its creation in 1976 — citing concerns that it was a “broken” system and that the spending limits it imposed put him at a disadvantage against his opponent’s ability to marshal corporate resources that circumvented its limits. In 2012, both presidential candidates opted out of the system.

5. Voter registration is automatic in Sweden.

Source: Brennan Center for Justice

Voter registration is one of the tedious details of the democratic process that has enormous consequences for election outcomes. In Sweden, the government automatically registers all eligible voters using data from the national population database.

The U.S., on the other hand, is one of few democratic countries in the world that places the onus of voter registration entirely on citizens themselves, leaving about a quarter of eligible Americans unregistered to vote. Most states do not allow same-day registration, which boosts turnout.

6. In Australia, voting is compulsory.

 

Broome, Australia- September 7: Members of the public vote at Cable Beach Primary School on September 7, 2013 in Broome, Australia. Source: Getty

In Australia, citizens are fined a small sum of money if they don’t vote, and if they don’t pay that fine, then the penalty grows more serious. Since making it mandatory in the early 20th century, Australian voter participation has never fallen below 90%.

Compulsory voting diminishes socio-economic bias in voter turnout (typically poorer voters are less likely to vote) and allows campaigns to focus on messaging without nearly as much time and money spent worrying about mobilizing voters. Requiring citizens to visit the polls is certainly not every country’s cup of tea, and is not without its major flaws — the question of forcing ignorant or apathetic citizens to choose candidates is a serious one. But it is effective in getting voters to the polls. Obama has even suggested that it would be an easier fix than reforming campaign finances in the near future.

7. In Brazil, Election Day is on the weekend.

Brazil votes on Sundays. The fact that people don’t have to find a way to skip work or school when voting is likely one of the reasons that Brazil has a significantly higher voter turnout rate than the U.S., which votes on Tuesdays and has limited early voting options.

In the U.S. there have been calls for weekend voting. The current calendar was designed in the 19th century to accommodate voters who relied on horse and buggy to get back from the polls before market day on Wednesday.

These are just a handful of examples of differences in the way elections are conducted around the world that could provide some valuable insights into how to make American democracy saner and more responsive.