Illinois Working Together
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Posted by Illinois Working Together on Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Gabriel Sherman November 1, 2017
US-POLITICS-TRUMP-hive.jpg US President Donald Trump speaks alongside his daughter, Ivanka Trump (L) and her husband, Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner (R) during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 16, 2017. By SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.
Until now, Robert Mueller has haunted Donald Trump’s White House as a hovering, mostly unseen menace. But by securing indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and a surprise guilty plea from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mueller announced loudly that the Russia investigation poses an existential threat to the president. “Here’s what Manafort’s indictment tells me: Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup. You can’t go any lower. He’s fucked.”
The first charges in the Mueller probe have kindled talk of what the endgame for Trump looks like, according to conversations with a half-dozen advisers and friends of the president. For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they’re making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up.
The consensus among the advisers I spoke to is that Trump faces few good options to thwart Mueller. For one, firing Mueller would cross a red line, analogous to Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox during Watergate, pushing establishment Republicans to entertain the possibility of impeachment. “His options are limited, and his instinct is to come out swinging, which won’t help things,” said a prominent Republican close to the White House.
Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He’s frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. “Trump wants to be critical of Mueller,” one person who’s been briefed on Trump’s thinking says. “He thinks it’s unfair criticism. Clinton hasn’t gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?”
According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller’s appointment, according to a source briefed on the call.
When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. “Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history,” Nunberg said. “I’m only saying publicly what everyone says behind the scenes at Fox News, in conservative media, and the Senate and Congress.” (The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.)
As Mueller moves to interview West Wing aides in the coming days, advisers are lobbying for Trump to consider a range of stratagems to neutralize Mueller, from conciliation to a declaration of all-out war. One Republican explained Trump’s best chance for survival is to get his poll numbers up. Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb has been advocating the view that playing ball will lead to a quick resolution (Cobb did not respond to a request for comment).
But these soft-power approaches are being criticized by Trump allies including Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, who both believe establishment Republicans are waiting for a chance to impeach Trump. “The establishment has proven time and time again they will fuck Trump over,” a Bannon ally told me.
In a series of phone calls with Trump on Monday and Tuesday, Bannon told the president to shake up the legal team by installing an aggressive lawyer above Cobb, according to two sources briefed on the call. Bannon has also discussed ways to pressure Congress to defund Mueller’s investigation or limit its scope. “Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal,” a Bannon confidant told me. “He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.”
Bannon’s sense of urgency is being fueled by his belief that Trump’s hold on power is slipping. The collapse of Obamacare repeal, and the dimming chances that tax reform will pass soon—many Trump allies are deeply pessimistic about its prospects—have created the political climate for establishment Republicans to turn on Trump. Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office. Bannon recently told people he’s not sure if Trump would survive such a vote. “One thing Steve wants Trump to do is take this more seriously,” the Bannon confidant told me. “Stop joking around. Stop tweeting.”
Roger Stone believes defunding Mueller isn’t enough. Instead, Stone wants Trump to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s role in approving the controversial Uranium One deal that’s been a locus of rightwing hysteria (the transaction involved a Russian state-owned energy firm acquiring a Canadian mining company that controlled a large subset of the uranium in the United States). It’s a bit of a bank shot, but as Stone described it, a special prosecutor looking into Uranium One would also have to investigate the F.B.I.’s role in approving the deal, thereby making Mueller—who was in charge of the bureau at the time—a target. Stone’s choice for a special prosecutor: Rudy Giuliani law colleague Marc Mukasey or Fox News pundit Andrew Napolitano. “You would immediately have to inform Mueller, Comey, and [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein that they are under federal investigation,” Stone said. “Trump can’t afford to fire Mueller politically. But this pushes him aside.”
Andrew Simms November 1, 2017
In these perilous times, progressives must create narratives that shine a light on crises such as climate change and the plight of refugee
Illustration from a Brothers Grimm Snow White fairy-tale, circa 1900 ‘Our daily lives seems to have become as dark and disturbing as anything dreamed up by the brothers Grimm.’ Photograph: INTERFOTO / Alamy/Alamy
With natural forces running amok and wolves prowling in the shady woods of our workplaces, reality seems stranger than a folk tale or fairy story. Our daily lives seem to have become as dark and disturbing as anything dreamed up by the brothers Grimm, or written down by Charles Perrault, the great 17th-century chronicler of folk and fairytales.
Folk tales emerge in times of upheaval, and from societies’ grimmest moments. They enable us to process and assimilate extreme experience, and deal with our fears. They also, typically, communicate powerful and uncompromising moral narratives. It’s not hard to draw a map of current major global problems with reference to them.
The most powerful kingdom in the world, for example, falls into the hands of a ruler who is equal parts the insatiable, comfortless greed of Midas, and the vanity of Narcissus, who disdains those who love him, and the self-delusions of the naked emperor. Remind you of anyone?
And just as it may be the season of flamboyant, escapist horror, it can be frightening when we discover that places we thought, or trusted to be safe, turn out to be concealing predators. Almost daily at the moment, another male impresario or figure with other power is revealed as the wolf that befriends with an ulterior motive the young and vulnerable, or perhaps the charming vampire seeking to satisfy its lust.
This, of course, is one of the other functions of folk tales – they are cautionary and teach us to identify risks. Across cultures you will find stories designed to keep us away from danger, with many applicable to a warming world.
The kelpies of Scottish folklore carried children to watery graves, while the Inuit told tales of the Qallupilluit, who lived beneath the ice and would steal children through its melting cracks.
One of our greatest contemporary threats is our wholesale abuse of the natural world. Seas are polluted with plastic and acidifying, the atmosphere loaded with more carbon dioxide than human civilization has ever experienced, and a mass extinction event underway, visible recently in the large-scale die-off of insect life. Folk tales are a guide to the consequences of such short-sighted self-centeredness.
King Canute was the monarch who vainly tried to command the seas not to rise. In fact Canute was demonstrating the opposite to his courtiers, the ultimate limits of kingly power and humankind’s attempts to command nature.
And the story of killing the goose that lays the golden egg in order to extract its riches, and finding nothing, stands as a parable for how we over-exploit the environment everywhere from our seas, to our forests, farms, fossil fuel extraction and more.
Folk tales and myths are especially strong on hubris, with the tale of Icarus and Daedalus sharply dividing Icarus, who fails to accept the limits of the material world, overreaches and crashes, from the wiser Daedalus, who still manages to fly, but not too near the sun. Icarus strikes a Richard Branson-like figure, or the head of an oil company still exploring for oil we cannot afford to burn. Daedalus is the smart entrepreneur switching to wind and solar power.
So much accumulated wisdom in tales mocks our multiple current follies. But that is partly because, in campaigning for change, the art of storytelling has been too often replaced with reliance on a deluge of facts and polices.
Progressives have learned the hard way in an age of Brexit and Trump that it is messages that resonate with mythologies – such as “making America great again” tapping the former frontier optimism of nation-builders, or “taking back control” for the brave, resilient island – are impervious to fact and rational argument. In both you might also glimpse the village whipped up by the charismatic trickster who appears in its midst, into a fury of self-destructive suspicion and isolation. If you want change to happen, you have to change deeply embedded cultural narratives.
Progressive politics needs better stories as much as it needs facts and policies. Without them it will flail and flounder. That’s why a group of leading scientists, economists and ecologists recently put facts momentarily to one side, and wrote modern folk tales for troubling times in an experiment to communicate issues of concern more compellingly.
In Knock Twice, the resulting collection, one of the world’s leading authorities on climate and geo-hazards, Bill McGuire, weaves a story of refugees from rising sea levels slipping through immigration controls. Jayati Ghosh, one of India’s leading economists, who has written about women’s extreme inequality in the labor market, spins a tale about a young woman, Chitrangada, who rejects the role assigned for her. Bluebeard & Partners by Anthea Lawson, a leading authority on corporate corruption, exposes a world of tax avoiding shell companies. They are joined by the former head of a cabinet office inquiry into public services, with an unusual re-reading of Puss-in-Boots, and the head of a UN inquiry into designing a sustainable financial system imagining an all-powerful phone app.
Most tales, at some level, present a rite of passage through difficulty to maturity, awareness or resolution. Now, more than ever, it feels like we need new tales to lead us through our troubling times.
Andrew Simms is the editor of Knock Twice: 25 Modern Folk Tales for Troubling Times.
Michelle Goldberg October 30, 2017
PhotoPaul Manafort appeared in the Federal District Court in Washington on Monday. Credit Win Mcnamee/Getty Images
On Monday morning, after America learned that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s lobbying partner, Rick Gates, had been indicted and turned themselves in to federal authorities, the president tried to distance himself from the unfolding scandal. “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” the president wrote in one tweet. A few minutes later, he added, in another, “Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
At almost the exact same time, news broke suggesting that the F.B.I. has evidence of collusion. We learned that one of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy aides, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his attempts to solicit compromising information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Despite Trump’s hysterical denials and attempts at diversion, the question is no longer whether there was cooperation between Trump’s campaign and Russia, but how extensive it was.
In truth, that’s been clear for a while. If it’s sometimes hard to grasp the Trump campaign’s conspiracy against our democracy, it’s due less to lack of proof than to the impudent improbability of its B-movie plotline. Monday’s indictments offer evidence of things that Washington already knows but pretends to forget. Trump, more gangster than entrepreneur, has long surrounded himself with bottom-feeding scum, and for all his nationalist bluster, his campaign was a vehicle for Russian subversion.
We already knew that Manafort offered private briefings about the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The indictment accuses him of having been an unregistered foreign agent for another Putin-aligned oligarch, the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Trump wasn’t paying Manafort, who reportedly sold himself to the candidate by offering to work free. But he intended to profit from his connection with the campaign, emailing an associate, “How do we use to get whole?” If there were no other evidence against Trump, we could conclude that he was grotesquely irresponsible in opening his campaign up to corrupt foreign infiltration.
But of course there is other evidence against Trump. His campaign was told that Russia wanted to help it, and it welcomed such help. On June 3, remember, the music publicist Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. to broker a Trump Tower meeting at which a Russian source would deliver “very high level and sensitive information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded with delight: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
The guilty plea by Papadopoulos indicates what information Trump Jr. might have been expecting. An obscure figure in foreign policy circles, Papadopoulos was one of five people who Trump listed as foreign policy advisers during a Washington Post editorial board meeting last year. A court filing, whose truth Papadopoulos affirms, says that in April 2016, he met with a professor who he “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials.” The professor told him that Russians had “dirt” on Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” (The Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta had been hacked in March.)
In the following months, Papadopoulos and his supervisors emailed back and forth about plans for a campaign trip to Russia. According to the court filing, one campaign official emailed another, “We need someone to communicate that D.T. is not doing these trips.” D.T. clearly stood for Donald Trump. The email continued, “It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Thanks to an August Washington Post story, we know that this email was sent by Manafort. Some have interpreted the exchange to mean that Manafort wanted a low-level person to decline the invitation, not to go to Russia. But the court filing also cites a “campaign supervisor” encouraging Papadopoulos and “another foreign policy adviser” to make the trip. Papadopoulos never went to Russia, but the foreign policy adviser Carter Page did.
So here’s where we are. Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.
Russia also ran a giant disinformation campaign against Clinton on social media and attempted to hack voting systems in at least 21 states. In response to Russia’s election meddling, Barack Obama’s administration imposed sanctions. Upon taking office, Trump reportedly made secret efforts to lift them. He fired the F.B.I. director James Comey to stop his investigation into “this Russia thing,” as he told Lester Holt. The day after the firing, he met with Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to America, and told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
We’ve had a year of recriminations over the Clinton campaign’s failings, but Trump clawed out his minority victory only with the aid of a foreign intelligence service. On Monday we finally got indictments, but it’s been obvious for a year that this presidency is a crime.
by Jason Furman and Greg Leiserson October 31, 2017
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) announces the GOP plan for tax reform, September 27, with other Republican leaders. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
House Republicans are expected to unveil a draft tax bill this week, and a flurry of analysis will follow — from the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation as well as other organizations from across the political spectrum. But these analyses, whether positive or negative, will be profoundly incomplete.
That’s because the House Republican plan will itself be incomplete (notwithstanding what could easily be hundreds of pages of legislative language): It will fail to include any specific information about how the proposed tax cuts will ultimately be financed — whether that means future tax increases or spending cuts.
The primary stated goals of the tax plan are to raise economic growth and increase the after-tax incomes of middle-class households. But taking financing into account appropriately would show how unlikely it is that the plan will achieve those goals.
We expect, consistent with the reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution, that the draft bill will specify tax cuts that cost $1.5 trillion over the next decade according to the Joint Committee on Taxation’s conventional scoring. (That scoring ignores positive and negative macroeconomic feedback. It also does not reflect long-run costs that could result from one-time revenues or provisions that phase in or sunset.)
But even if one believes the plan will increase the overall size of the economy, spending cuts or tax increases will almost certainly still be required to pay for it. Analyses that do not account for those spending cuts or tax increases, whether they occur in the near term or in the longer term, obscure who will ultimately be hurt by them. Indeed, the very opportunity to obscure who will ultimately pay for the tax cuts likely explains why Congress pursues deficit-financed tax cuts more often than revenue-neutral tax reform or tax cuts accompanied by spending cuts.
A complete analysis of the tax plan including financing would most likely show that it would have a negative impact on many, and perhaps most, Americans.
The primary purpose of the tax system is to raise revenues. Therefore, evaluating changes in tax policy while ignoring the impact of the policy’s reduction in revenues makes no sense. It ignores the very reason taxes exist. Indeed, absent consideration of financing, simplistic arguments that a 20 percent corporate rate is better than a 35 percent rate — the Republicans’ current proposal — would also imply that a zero percent rate is better than a 20 percent rate.
And a negative 20 percent rate would be still better! Once you consider the need for financing, such simplistic arguments fall apart.
Whether and how tax cuts are financed makes all the difference in the world. Consider two alternatives. One kind of well-designed tax reform can maintain the same level of revenues and boost living standards. Such a reform would inevitably increase taxes on certain activities and decrease them on others.
This type of reform could generate a modest boost in the level of economic output in the long run and, if so, would temporarily increase the growth rate. It could also increase living standards (even with no change in output) by eliminating wasteful tax incentives that encourage people to over consume certain goods or services to maximize their tax benefits. Revenue-neutral reforms along these lines would almost certainly make some families better off and other families worse off. Who was hurt or helped would depend on the taxes that are changed.
Policymakers could also enact a tax cut financed by a reduction in spending. Just as a well-designed tax reform proposal could improve living standards by changing either consumption patterns or the growth rate, a tax cut financed by a reduction in spending could do the same — if the spending cuts are chosen wisely. As with revenue-neutral reform, some families would be made better off and others worse off after counting both the tax changes and the impact of the spending changes. (Former beneficiaries of the spending that is reduced would obviously pay a price.)
But the situation now is that House Republicans appear likely to release a bill that will cut taxes on net with no indication of how the resulting deficits will be paid for. As a result, we’re left in the dark about the legislation’s ultimate impact.
Conventional distribution tables for tax cuts show most of the gross benefits of tax cuts but not the impact of paying for them. When the proposal increases deficits and does not specify how those deficits will be addressed, the possibilities range from cuts to programs to low-income households to increases in taxes for high-income households.
We give a rough estimate, here, of the impact that three different approaches to financing a large tax cut would have on families across the income distribution. This example is not intended to show the actual distribution of the forthcoming House bill, but is broadly illustrative of the trade-offs involved in financing a tax cut that offers larger benefits for higher-income families than for lower-income families, as it seems likely the bill from House Republicans will do.
Specifically, we use the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the principles for tax reform released by the Trump administration in April. This analysis found that families in every income group would see lower taxes on average from the plan as proposed, albeit with much larger increases in after-tax incomes for higher-income households (see the blue bars in Figure 1, below).
But if the plan were financed by spending cuts or tax increases enacted at the same time, the distributional effects of the plan would change significantly.
The analysis considers three scenarios for financing. In each scenario, families pay more in tax or receive less in benefits to offset the cost of the tax costs. (In practice, the total amount of financing would depend on the magnitude of the behavioral response to the tax cuts but that is ignored here.) The scenarios range from the relatively progressive, in which the cost assigned to each family is proportional to their current income tax liability (yellow bars), to the relatively regressive, in which the cost assigned to each family is the same dollar amount (orange bars). In the intermediate case, the cost is proportional to income (gray bars).
Families in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution would be worse off on average under each of the three scenarios.
If anything, this chart understates just how regressive the total ultimate impact of the Republican plan could be. While an equal payment per family would be regressive, the reductions in Medicaid spending that House Republicans passed earlier this year — which would have a significant impact on lower-income households and very little on the highest-income households — would be even more so.
The analysis shown in Figure 1 assumes that financing is enacted at the same time as the tax cut. In practice, policymakers can delay the enactment of financing for either a short or extended period. In such a scenario, even larger spending cuts or tax increases in the future would replace the required cuts today. Such an approach would introduce disparities across time as well as income.
Assuming Congress does not reverse course and enact progressive tax increases to offset the cost of the current tax cuts, older, higher-income Americans would likely see the largest increase in incomes, and younger, lower-income Americans would likely lose the most.
Enacting deficit-financed tax cuts allows policymakers to avoid the need to specify spending cuts or tax increases to pay for them and thus obscures the costs of the proposal. In addition, deferring the financing can itself reduce growth and reduce incomes even before the required financing policies are enacted. Those costs magnify the direct costs of any tax cuts.
Preliminary analyses by the Tax Policy Center of the Republicans framework (plus additional assumptions about unspecified elements of the plan from TPC) show the potential long-term consequences of deferring financing. In the short run, the TPC finds that the proposals would boost output. But over the longer run, the effects of mounting deficits and debt would turn the growth impact negative.
At the end of the first decade, the Tax Policy Center estimates that GDP will be 0.1 percent lower than it otherwise would have been, and at the end of two decades, it would be 0.4 percent lower. As a result, wages would likely fall over time, not rise (as recently claimed by the White House).
These results do not show the complete picture, however. The extent to which increased debt and deficits reduce GDP is moderated by an increase in domestic investment financed by foreigners. But this increase in foreign investment in the United States means an increased fraction of future GDP will need to be devoted to paying the return on that investment to those foreign investors. In other words, the gap between incomes generated by economic activity in the United States and incomes accruing to US nationals will grow.
Thus, gross national product (GNP), a concept that subtracts payments we make to foreigners on their US assets and adds payments we receive from foreigners — will decrease by more than GDP, falling by 0.2 percent after 10 years and 0.6 percent after two decades:
In circumstances like these, economists broadly agree that GNP is a better indicator of living standards for American households.
While the above analysis considers only the effects of additional debt, the spending cuts and tax increases ultimately enacted can themselves have negative effects on the economy. Indeed, classic economic arguments suggest that even when government spending is uncertain and varies over time, the most efficient tax system is one that attempts to maintain relatively constant tax rates.
Simplistic arguments in favor of a $1.5 trillion tax cut suggest that a $5 trillion tax cut would necessarily be even better. Clearly such arguments are missing something critical: balancing the costs against the benefits.
The prevalence of such arguments is part of a larger issue with the way tax debates are often conducted, focusing on GDP and downplaying or ignoring the impact of financing.
In recent years, analysts have increasingly assumed, in their models, that deficits resulting from tax cuts are ultimately paid for by tax increases or spending cuts several decades in the future. Thus, they recognize that deficits will be produced (by, say, large tax cuts) but basically assume the deficits will be remedied somehow, without showing the direct effect of those remedies on American households either now or in the future.
This approach can be useful in the context of official analysis of proposed policies, but it obscures the true economic trade-offs. The promised gains from tax cuts in such cases — even when not eliminated as a result of years of increased borrowing — can amount to little more than borrowing heavily from future generations.
If we recognize the need for financing, a deficit-financed tax cut along the lines of the one House Republicans appear to be prepared to unveil is likely to be bad for the economy in the long run. It is likely to be particularly bad for working- and middle-class families.
Jason Furman is a professor of practice at Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He was chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2013 to 2017. Greg Leiserson is director of tax policy and senior economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. He was a senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2014 to 2017.
John Hanno October 31, 2017
The list of folks who probably wished they never associated with Trump, his campaign, or his administration grows daily. The latest I’m sure, are Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. Trump’s entire administration and campaign team have had to hire personal legal defense. During the entire 8-year Obama Administration, not one single person was embroiled in scandal or had to hire defense lawyers.
During a news conference on July 22, 2016, Trump said Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and assistant chairman Rick Gates “were doing a fantastic job” and had earlier called Papadopoulos an “oil and gas consultant and an excellent guy.”
These first indictments appear just the beginning. The allegations against Manafort and Gates look iron clad and serious enough to induce their full cooperation in the possible implication and prosecution of others. And Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, in the works since July, ratted out other campaign operatives.
What implores these people to sell their souls to a devil like Trump? Is it the money; most of them are already wealthy beyond reason? Is no amount of wealth enough for them? Or are they attracted to the absolute power of the American presidency?
Trump’s stated goal is to “Make America Great Again” but everything he’s done, every executive order he’s signed has done just the opposite. He and the Republi-cons in congress have tried to make American’s sicker again by attacking the ACA and taking health care away from the 10’s of millions of poor Americans who finally acquired health insurance under Obama.
Its attack on the Consumer Protection Agency and its handouts to Wall Street will make most Americans poorer. They’ve made America’s air and water dirtier and more detrimental to its citizens. It works day and night proposing ways to plunder America’s natural resources and national treasures and turn them over to profit seeking fossil fuel and mining interests.
It’s proposed tax bill, will attempt to make incredibly rich people and corporations even richer. And it will starve the federal governments ability to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s policies will take power and resources away from workers, organized labor, consumers and anyone who supports the Democrats and their progressive agenda to rebuild our middle class.
Its obvious their main goal is to reverse every progressive accomplishment of the Obama Administration. And at the same time, to “Make Trump Inc. Great Again.”
Most of us, including progressive Democrats, critical thinkers, cheated business acquaintances of Trump, folks who bought into the bogus Trump University, women subjected to Trump’s sexual abuse, unrepentant Never Trumpers, and most of the rest of the entire world, saw the tar right from the start. Trump clearly showed us “who he really was”; and the dubious types he admired, praised and brought into his campaign and administration emphasized his flawed morality and character.
The swamp he promised to drain was obviously just another blatant Trump campaign lie. And the conflicts and mingling of his questionable business empire with his Executive Branch responsibilities, which he quite publicly promised to separate, was never perfected.
The Republican’s wholly tainted by Trumpism, are for the most part hanging on for dear life, hoping to rehabilitate their damaged reputations with their mythical tax reform legislation. They’re looking for a brier patch to escape into but the options are limited at this late date. A very few of the Republicans in Congress have managed to extricate themselves from the dirty tarbaby. Sen. John McCain, never a Trump fan, finally stood up and decided to make peace with his conscience before he meets his maker. Sen. Bob Corker, a principled conservative, decided that two 6-year senate terms were enough, and is attempting to clean his moral slate during the balance of his term. Sen. Jeff Flake, another principled conservative and very popular in his caucus, decided one term is all he could stomach when someone like Trump was steering the party into the abyss.
As the chips continue to fall, maybe others in congress will come to Jesus. There’s a good chance the promised monumental tax reform Trump and the Republi-cons promise will be as successful as their 7 year campaign to repeal President Obama and the Democrats efforts to heal our sick health care system.
Many of us, soon after Trump was elected but long before he took office, realized these Republi-cons would get drunk on their newfound power trifecta and couldn’t help but overreach. The insane promises this radical right cabal trumpeted during and since the campaign sealed their legislative fate long before the first vote was cast. The promises were so far removed from reality that even Trump’s bamboozled base supporters are even now beginning to drift back to Earth.
The Putinistic propaganda being spewed from the White House, from spokes-person Sarah Huckabee Sanders and from the ult-right media, rings more incredulous every day. Attempting to shift the focus from Trump’s Russia thing to Hillary’s Russia thing will fail on the facts Mr. Mueller and his team are uncovering by the hour.
Still, I can’t understand, that in spite of Trump’s historically low approval ratings, why are more than 80 percent of Republicans still solidly behind him. What will it take to finally turn his supporters from co-indicted treasonous co-conspirators into the courageous American patriots they pretend to be.
I can’t even imagine the hue and cry from the Republi-cons in congress if an Obama or Clinton Administration were implicated in 1/10th the scandals and conspiracies as Trump World. Articles of Impeachment would have already issued from every Republi-con controlled congressional committee.
When all is said and done, the list of criminal conduct and conspiracy will be impressive and substantial. But Robert Mueller may have a legal tight rope to walk, so that all the work his investigative team undertakes getting to the bottom of Putin’s attack on our Democracy, and the Trump campaign’s collusion, couldn’t be undone by pardons from Trump. Mr. Mueller may have to somehow slow-walk some of the prosecutions until after Trump is impeached, in order to bring all these criminals to justice.
Secretary Zinke’s proposal to increase entry fees could make parks an exclusive playground
Photo by kellyvandellen/iStock
By Jason Mark October 26 2017
The mission of America’s national parks seems pretty clear. Legislation establishing the National Park Service, passed just over a century ago, said the parks and monuments should “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life” of parks and monuments “by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Such places should be widely open to visitors. The Park Service is supposed to ensure that nothing “interfere[s] with free access . . . by the public.”
But somehow the people who now oversee the national parks didn’t get the memo. They’re hoping to jack up entry fees at some of the most iconic parks by such enormous percentages that those places will no doubt become less accessible to many.
Instead of keeping our parks accessible to all, the Trump administration wants to increase park fees by more than double, while making it easier and cheaper for the fossil fuel industry to drill. Say no way!
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a proposal to more than double entry fees at 17 of the most popular parks during the summer months. Vehicle fees will go from $30 to $70. Motorcycle visitors will see their entry fees spike from $25 (and as low as $12 in some parks) to $50. Per-person rates—for those who arrive on bicycle, foot, or horse—will go from $15 a head to $30.
America’s public lands, rightly celebrated as an inspiring example of the country’s democratic aspirations, are at risk of becoming a gated community.
Here are the names of the parks facing skyrocketing fee increases (on the chance that one of the places is beloved by you): Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks.
You might be asking, What’s this all about?
Zinke claims the fee increases are needed to address the Park Service’s reported $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects. “The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Zinke said in a statement calling for “targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks.”
I have a hard time believing Zinke’s concern about the infrastructure backlog when, at the same time, he and President Trump are proposing a budget that would cut spending on the Park Service by 13 percent and reduce staff by up to 1,200 employees. Zinke’s deferred maintenance anxiety feels a bit disingenuous—enough crocodile tears to match Yosemite Falls.
And while it’s true that some park facilities are badly in need of repair, the whole maintenance issue is a bit of a red herring. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, about $400 million of the backlog should actually be paid for by the concessionaires like Aramark and Xanterra that are making a killing on selling hot dogs at the visitor centers. Nearly half of the Park Service’s list of needs, close to $6 billion, is just for four roads in a handful of parks.
Maybe the proposed entry fee hike is some gesture to show the administration is serious about fiscal probity—you know, help balance the budget by doubling the price for a family wanting to spend a summer vacation in Arches or Yellowstone. That doesn’t pass the sniff test either, not when Zinke is also giving oil and gas companies a nearly 30 percent discount on their shallow water leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
I suppose the plan, with its focus on the summer months, might be a way to reduce what has become the unbearable overcrowding at some parks at peak season, a challenge that park officials acknowledge is making it difficult to leave their stewarded areas “unimpaired.” But if you really want to improve visitor experience, you don’t ratchet up prices to keep people away; instead, you build new and better infrastructure, with more buses in and out of parks being the obvious solution.
There’s something more going on here. Zinke’s whole proposal—the government is going to make it vastly more expensive for you to visit the lands you already own—seems a perfect expression of the Trump administration’s id. In Trump and company’s narrow world view, there are no common goods or shared assets, no civic solidarity. Public lands? What are those? One must pay to play.
Zinke has insisted again and again that he is “absolutely against” the sale of public lands. Yet that’s exactly what he’s doing with this proposed skyrocketing of national park fees. No, I suppose there won’t be any transfer of title. But every summer our common grounds will be rented to the highest bidders. National parks will become more like the exclusive enclaves and private planes the Trump folks love so dearly.
The national parks are supposed to be open-aired temples of democracy. If Trump and Zinke get their way, the affluent will have the places all to themselves.
More stories about: national parks
Jason Mark is the editor of Sierra and the author of Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man.
By Alexander C. Kaufman November 1, 2017
Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is nothing if not lawyerly.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he waged war against Obama-era environmental rules by arguing on technicalities. He billed himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Since taking over the agency he sued more than a dozen times, he has defended the Trump Administration’s deregulatory campaign in complex legalese, arguing that the issue is not how best to protect the environment and public health, but how to adhere to his narrow interpretation of the EPA’s mandate under the law. He even thanked a Time Magazine reporter for calling him “lawyerly” in an interview last month.
For that, Rex J. Zedalis, who taught Pruitt at the University of Tulsa’s law school in the early 1990s, said he has “tossed and turned” for “countless nights.”
“I confess regret for whatever small role I played in unleashing Administrator Pruitt on the unsuspecting public,” Zedalis wrote in an Op-Ed published Monday in The Santa Fe New Mexican. “Surely I’m at least partially to blame for failing to nurture in him a deep regard for seeing law as an instrument for addressing real facts on the ground, not simply implementing a political ideology, regardless the facts.
Bloomberg via Getty Images. Scott Pruitt’s actions since becoming head of the Environmental Protection Agency have chagrined one of his former law professors.
He pointed to Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the sweeping set of Obama-era regulations meant to curb planet-warming emissions from the utility sector. While still at his Oklahoma post, Pruitt persuaded the Supreme Court to issue a stay on the plan last year, so it never went into effect. Since becoming EPA’s chief under President Donald Trump, Pruitt submitted a policy to eliminate the Clean Power Plan without replacing it, a move critics said demonstrated his intention to cripple efforts to curb climate change rather than refine the legal framework through which that action is taken.
“I understand why Obama’s environmental measures seem objectionable to Administrator Pruitt,” Zedalis wrote. “What I fail to comprehend, though, is his utter disregard for tailoring EPA regulatory actions so they address the environment as facts demonstrate we find it, not as we imagine it.”
I confess regret for whatever small role I played in unleashing Administrator Pruitt on the unsuspecting public. Rex J. Zedalis, University of Tulsa College of Law
He said Pruitt’s attempts to unravel climate regulations are rooted in a refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that climate change is dangerous, human-caused and addressable. Ninety-seven percent of peer-reviewed research agrees with the conclusion that factors including the burning fossil fuels are warming the planet with greenhouse gases. And a research review published last November found significant flaws in the methodologies, assumptions or analyses used by the 3 percent of scientists who found otherwise.
“What affords all of us, including Administrator Pruitt, the chance to blithely live regret-free is the fact we never live long enough to witness the full effect of many of our decisions,” Zedalis wrote. “As discomforting as it might be to accept consensus decisions of the scientific community on particular matters, the alternative raises the specter of regression to the Dark Ages’ reliance on the shaman and the soothsayer.”
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Pruitt.
Protesters gather outside a meeting where a climate change report was to be released.
By Andrew Freedman October 31, 2017
In an unprecedented move, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt just issued a directive that would prohibit individuals from serving on the agency’s independent scientific advisory boards if they also receive research grants from the agency.
The far-reaching directive will boot many mainstream environmental scientists from the congressionally-mandated panels that work to ensure the EPA administrator receives the best available scientific advice. It also opens the door for experts who do not typically obtain EPA grants, specifically industry representatives and state regulators, to be brought in to replace them.
The directive Pruitt signed on Tuesday also sends the message that industry researchers can steer rules to benefit their sectors while somehow being more objective than scientists with federal funding.
That is a radical notion (some would call it flat-out bonkers) that could have serious consequences for the agency even after Pruitt leaves office, since committee members often serve for more than one administration.
The panels influence the agency’s rule making on issues ranging from chemicals regulation to air pollution and climate change, serving as a check on the science the agency relies on for its decisions.
“Those very committees are giving us the bedrock of science to ensure that we’re making informed decisions,” Pruitt said during a signing ceremony at EPA headquarters in Washington.
The three panels include the Science Advisory Board, or SAB, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC, and the Board of Scientific Counselors, or BASC. Administrator Pruitt announced new chairs for each of these panels on Tuesday. The new directive may also apply to other agency advisory committees as well.
For the Science Advisory Board, Pruitt selected Michael Honeycutt, who heads the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division. He is well known to environmental activists and mainstream researchers for questioning the scientific evidence tying health risks to smog.
At a 2003 hearing on proposed federal air quality rules, Honeycutt said no standards should be implemented that could force people to drive less, or make other changes in their daily lives.
“Programs that require lifestyle changes are unacceptable to the public,” he said, according to The New York Times.
Pruitt said the EPA will release more names of committee members later this week, although a list leaked to the press shows representatives of the American Chemistry Council, and the oil companies Phillips 66, Southern Company, Total, and Exxon as possible additions.
In justifying the changes, which will allow the EPA to add scientists who hold views outside the scientific mainstream, Pruitt cited the need for scientific independence.
“When we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency, that is not good and that’s not right,” Pruitt said, without mentioning that the EPA is the largest source of grants for studying particular environmental health issues, and that advisory board members have to comply with agency conflict of interest policies in order to be able to serve.
“They are no longer going to be receiving grants from this agency,” Pruitt said regarding advisory board members. “They will have to choose, either the grant, or service, but not both.”
Many scientists and activists see the directive, and legislation resembling it that passed the House last year but went nowhere in the Senate, as a way to purge the panels of expert researchers who Pruitt and his allies don’t agree with.
Pruitt has denied the fact that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming, and has worked to roll back numerous EPA regulations enacted under the Obama administration. Many of these rollbacks have since been blocked in the courts.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Image: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA/REX/Shutterstock
Pruitt is unlike any of his predecessors at the agency since its creation in 1970. He rarely consults agency staff before making decisions, holds most of his meetings with industry groups, and is infamous for cutting the agency’s budget while spending millions to beef up his personal security detail.
Rush Holt, who heads the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), came out strongly against the advisory board changes.
“The American Association for the Advancement of Science denounces the EPA administrator’s decision to disallow qualified scientific experts from providing evidence-based information as members of its science adviser boards,” Holt, the chief executive officer of the AAAS and a former congressman, said.
“This EPA decision is motivated by politics, not the desire for quality scientific information. Federal agencies should recognize and enable input of scientific and technical information that represents the best available evidence,” Holt, a physicist by training, added in the statement.
“The government must ensure that its science advisers possess the requisite scientific, medical and technical expertise to inform agency policies. At the same time, the government must facilitate transparency and protect against conflict of interest. Federal agencies from NIH [National Institutes of Health] to EPA have policies on scientific integrity and financial conflict of interest, allowing agencies to balance transparency and access to expertise.”
According to Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons, Pruitt’s directive shows that he mistakenly thinks scientists personally profit from research grants, and that he is mainly looking out for the oil, gas, and chemicals industries.
“These changes fundamentally upend the role that science should play in policy at the EPA and suggest a profound misunderstanding of how scientific grants are awarded and how science is conducted,” Coons said in a statement.
“To suggest that academic scientists personally profit from grants they receive to conduct research while representatives of regulated industries do not benefit from how regulations are implemented is extremely disingenuous.”
Chris McEntee, executive director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest organization of Earth scientists, disagreed with the EPA’s move as well.
“Science has one agenda: to advance the body of scientific knowledge. The principles and practices that protect the integrity of science are well defined through the scientific method and the peer-review process,” she said in a statement.
“EPA’s decisions have real implications for the health and well-being of Americans and in some cases people worldwide. By curtailing the input of some of the most respected minds in science, Pruitt’s decision robs the agency, and by extension Americans, of a critically important resource.”
The AAAS’ Holt even questioned whether the EPA can continue to fulfill its basic mission given this and other changes pushed through under Pruitt’s leadership.
“Given its desire to limit expert perspectives and the role of scientific information, we question whether the EPA can continue to pursue its core mission to protect human health and the environment,” Holt said.
Interestingly, this change could come back to haunt Pruitt and his successors if it makes agency rules harder to defend in court. By potentially skewing the science justifying EPA’s regulations, it could make it easier for opponents to halt or overturn them.
The first round of indictments in the Russia investigation are just that: the first.
By Charles P. Pierce October 30, 2017
Ten months. It took Richard Nixon four years to get himself tangled up with serious felonies. It took Ronald Reagan five years to sign off on arming the Contras in contravention of federal law. Hell, it was almost three years—and two special prosecutors—into Bill Clinton’s term before anybody was indicted with the remotest connection to whatever the Whitewater affair really was all about.
Ten months is all it took for the president*’s former campaign manager, a guy who ran the president*’s campaign for almost twice as long as evil genius Steve Bannon did, and his principal aide, who was still hanging around the White House as recently as last June, to get hauled into FBI headquarters early Monday morning to begin what may be several years worth of similar perp walks. Ten months. This is impressive. From The New York Times:
“The charges against Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, were not immediately clear but represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over the president’s first year in office. Also charged was Mr. Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates, who was also told to surrender on Monday, the person said.Mr. Manafort walked into the F.B.I.’s field office in Washington at about 8:15 a.m. with his lawyer. Mr. Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and business-people in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show. Mr. Manafort had been under investigation for violations of federal tax law, money laundering and whether he appropriately disclosed his foreign lobbying.”
Later reporting on Monday morning confirmed that at least some of the charges against Manafort concern tax fraud, which could mean almost anything up to and including sweetheart deals involving Russian oligarchs. This is what makes the indictment of Gates every bit as intriguing as the indictment of Manafort. As the NYT reported in June:
“As investigators examine Mr. Manafort’s financial and political dealings at home and abroad, they are likely to run into Mr. Gates wherever they look. During the pair’s heady days in Ukraine, it was Mr. Gates who flew to Moscow for meetings with associates of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch. His name appears on documents linked to shell companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and business-people in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show.”
These indictments are possibly the least important part of what happened on Monday morning, although one of the 12 counts—“conspiracy against the United States”—sounds pretty damn serious. (In what manner did Manafort allegedly “conspire against the United States” and with whom? Legal beagles will have to explain if one can conspire against the United States simply by laundering money for one’s own pecuniary gain, or whether said alleged laundering has to have a specific purpose other than that. Here’s the statute. It looks like money laundering and/or tax fraud would fit under the “or any agency thereof” specification. Sounds worse than it is, maybe, but it still sounds very bad. And who might the other conspirators be?)
What is most important, of course, is that the snowball has started to roll downhill. For a while on Monday, whomever in the White House is charged with the task of hiding the presidential* telephone had done a fairly good job. The president*’s Twitter account was rigged for silent running. Republican congress-critters also were maintaining a discreet distance in the immediate aftermath of the news. (Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin popped up on Three Dolts On A Divan to say “dossier,” “Hillary,” and “uranium” a few times, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it.)
At the very least, it would seem to me, Republican congressional leaders ought to be forced to take a position as to what they would do if the president* fired Robert Mueller now that the first shoe has dropped. This should be an easy one, of course, but there is that tax bill to pass, and all that money to shove upwards to the donors, so obligations to the Constitution can wait.
The snowball has started to roll downhill.
More significant is the fact that Mueller is apparently investigating every damn thing he can get his hands on. The role of the Bank of Cyprus in all of this has taken on a critical importance and it’s important to remember that Wilbur Ross, the current Secretary of Commerce, used to be on the board of that bank before he joined Camp Runamuck. This damn thing could go everywhere.
And the backlash, while muted as Monday dawned and indictments broke over Washington, is going to be fierce. For example, throughout the endless Clinton snipe hunts of the 1990s, one of the prime movers was the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which was run back then by a fanatic named Robert Bartley. It was the WSJ editorial page that gave us the consequential headline, “Who Is Vincent Foster?” It hounded the unfortunate Clinton White House counsel to the point at which Bartley’s operation earned the distinction of being the first editorial page to be specifically cited as a cause of action in a suicide note, as well as making the WSJ editorial page the source of noxious and fantastical theories about Foster’s suicide that persisted right into last November’s political campaign, when the president* resurrected them because he is a vicious and soulless man.
Anyway, they’re apparently suiting up again. Over the weekend, the WSJ ran an editorial demanding that Mueller resign. It also published an op-ed by a couple of Bush 2 lawyers advising the president* to pardon everyone—a move that likely would set off cranial detonations at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and the birthing of bovines generally throughout the country. Nevertheless, when the WSJ editorial page last drifted into the plak tow, the vast conservative media apparatus was still in its larval stages. God alone knows what will happen now that it’s fully gestated and howling across the landscape. With the Republican congressional leadership so far hiding behind the curtains, there’s nothing to restrain the beast and, sooner or later, the president* is going to find his phone.
Great day in the morning, it’s going to be bloody.