The Trump administration isn’t a farce. It’s a tragedy.

Vox:  The Trump administration isn’t a farce. It’s a tragedy.

Like Watergate, this is an era of low comedy and high fear.

by Ezra Klein     July 11, 2017

This must be what it was like to live through Watergate.

The disorientation, the confusion, the half-truth, the shock, the dark humor. I think of something Elizabeth Drew, the author of one of my favorite books on the era, wrote — “Watergate was a time of low comedy and high fear.” The farce of the story distracts from its horror, and so we take refuge. Twitter is never funnier than when a new Trump-Russia story breaks.

And yet.

This isn’t a scandal as we are used to thinking about it. This isn’t an embarrassment, or a gaffe. This is a security breach. It calls into question whether America’s foreign policy is being driven by the favors President Donald Trump owes Vladimir Putin for his political help or, perhaps worse, whether it’s being driven by the fear that Putin will release far more damning material if Trump crosses him.

This is a story that makes clear nothing the current White House says can be trusted. Donald Trump Jr., who enthusiastically tried to work with Russians to upend the election, called allegations that the Trump campaign would work with the Russians “disgusting” and “phony.” His father tweeted, as recently as May 12, that “the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems.”

These are acts that cast doubt on the basic patriotism of the current White House — a White House that takes, as its slogan, “America First.”

This is a story that reminds us that the last election was often dominated, and perhaps decided, by a crime — Russia’s theft of Democratic emails, which may or may not have happened with the Trump campaign’s support. And it refocuses our attention on the fact that Trump fired the director of the FBI in an attempt to end the investigation into that crime.

The generous interpretation, until now, was that this was all bumbling and idiocy and coincidence. Yes, the Trump campaign had a lot of strange meetings with Russians, and sure, it seemed to routinely forget them during congressional testimony and security checks, and of course, Russia intervened in the election to harm Hillary Clinton. But incompetence, we were assured, was the likelier explanation than conspiracy.

Not anymore.

Donald Trump Jr. knew exactly what he was being offered. The email he got was crystal clear. His source is referred to as a “Russian government attorney.” The invitation for the meeting explains that she will “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information.” The intermediary assures Trump Jr. that “this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

His reply, it cannot be said often enough, was “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” — and late in the summer is exactly when the hacked Democratic emails actually began to be released.

It wasn’t just Trump Jr. Campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner knew, too. They were forwarded the emails. They knew exactly what this meeting was. And they were there. They wanted the documents. They wanted to work with the Russians.

They seem to have known about more than just this meeting. As my colleague Matt Yglesias observes, there is no surprised response on these emails. Neither Trump Jr. nor Manafort nor Kushner react with confusion or interest when informed that Russia wants to help Trump win. The alliance is already credible enough, and already serious enough, that they take the email without further vetting or discussion. No one suggests running it by the foreign policy team or even the FBI.

Did Donald Trump himself know? It would be remarkable if he didn’t. It would mean his son and his son-in-law and his campaign manager had tried to collude with the Russians — endangering his campaign and giving a foreign government blackmail material over his presidency — without telling him. This seems unlikely. But if Donald Trump knew, then it means he knew what he was firing James Comey to hide. Then it is clearly obstruction of justice.

Even if Trump himself did not know, consider all the damning evidence here: We know that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager at least tried to work with a semi-hostile foreign power to win the election. We know that foreign power conducted a large-scale and successful cyber-espionage effort against the Democratic Party. We know that Trump continues to treat Russia unusually gently — palling around with Vladimir Putin even as he undercuts NATO and weakens the Western alliance.

And so we are faced with a crisis that leaves vast swaths of American politics stained. The election is tainted. The White House is tainted. Our foreign policy is tainted. If impeachment seems impossible, it is only because we believe that Republicans in Congress would sooner protect a criminal administration than risk their legislative agenda to uphold the rule of law — which is all to say, Congress is tainted, too.

The actors in this drama are often comic, pathetic, and incompetent. But the damage they have done, and are doing, is almost beyond imagining. As often as this looks like farce, we should not forget it’s a tragedy.

Donald Trump Jr.’s Love for Russian Dirt

The New Yorker

Donald Trump Jr.’s Love for Russian Dirt

By Amy Davidson    July 11, 2017

The President’s son revealed, in his own words, no hesitation to accept information that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

On July 19, 2016, a little more than a month after he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who he thought might help to damage Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, Donald Trump, Jr., spoke in support of his father at the Republican National Convention. He had been a visible part of the campaign for months, appearing on television to complain about the elder Trump’s critics or, often enough, firing guns with local politicians—Trump had offered his sons’ record as avid hunters as evidence that he was eager to loosen gun laws. (Donald Jr., who was photographed triumphing over a dead elephant, has decried restrictions on silencers as a restraint on sportsmen.) There was talk, in some quarters, that he might be a more serious politician than his father—whatever that might mean—and a possible future mayor of New York. And his speech included what passed, at the Convention, for classic conservative tropes, such as this:

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers.

There was a brief contretemps after “The Daily Show” pointed out that this was similar to a line in an essay by Frank Buckley, published in The American Conservative, but it turned out that Buckley had also been a writer on the speech, and so the line, if not something earned, was a gift—or, rather, a purchase, not a misappropriation. All of those things can be hard to tell apart in the world of the Trumps—as is the difference between an unqualified dilettante and a political operative working on behalf of a Presidential candidate. But one aspect of the line that Donald Jr., probably came by on his own was his disdain for “Soviet-era department stores.” Shopping malls like the one in Moscow owned by Aras Agalarov, the billionaire who, with his son, a family-subsidized Russian pop star named Emin, were so much better. Whether or not they benefitted the customers, the Agalarovs helped to fund the 2013 run of the Miss Universe pageant, an operation partly owned by Trump, which was held outside of Moscow—and so, if nothing else, they seem to have benefitted the Trumps. Emin had been at the pageant; a Politico piece from last year, looking back at the proceedings, links to a music video that features him in various T-shirts, alongside several contestants in bathing suits and sequined dresses, and Trump, Sr., himself, in business attire.

“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Rob Goldstone, an “entertainment publicist,” as he was identified by the Times, which broke the story of Donald Juniors meeting with the Russian lawyer, wrote in an e-mail to Donald, Jr., on June 3, 2016. (After the Times said that it had obtained a copy, Trump Jr., tweeted out the exchange.) The e-mail continued, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

The Times noted that Russia doesn’t have a “Crown prosecutor”—mostly because it does not, or does not exactly, have someone who wears a crown. But Trump Jr., seems to have had no hesitation about the presumption of oligarchical access. It seems to have made sense to everyone involved that a shopping-mall developer should have access to judicial files—just as it made sense, to the Trumps and their circle, that a real-estate billionaire should have access to the White House.

More important, from the perspective of the various investigations currently looking at Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election—which a number of senators have already said they would like to discuss with Trump, Jr.—is what the Trump team thought the Russians’ interest was. Goldstone’s explanation for why the Agalarovs had been given the information was direct and, one would have thought, troubling: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he wrote. According to the Times, Trump Jr., replied, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Later in the summer was the time of the Convention and the nomination, followed by the debates and the heart of the Presidential race. The direct result of this outreach from Emin was a meeting with a lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, whom Goldstone identified in another e-mail as a “Russian government attorney.” That took place on June 9th, at Trump Tower; Trump Jr., was joined by Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband and now a White House adviser, and Paul Manafort, who was then the Trump campaign’s manager. Trump Jr., has said in various statements that the meeting yielded nothing useful, which he presented as a disappointment. His father’s representatives have portrayed the whole transaction as entirely normal. Veselnitskaya, for her part, has said that her real interest was never the campaign but her clients’ concerns about the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions alleged Russian human-rights abusers. When NBC asked her how Trump associates got the impression that she did have damaging material, she said it was possible that “they wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

And what if Veselnitskaya had come laden with real dirt, obtained in some illegal way—like, say, the hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, that soon emerged? Donald Trump Jr., might have finally felt that the clerks in some post-Soviet intelligence shop were working for him, the customer. Would he have noticed, or cared, how Vladimir Putin, the proprietor of the emporium, was profiting?

Amy Davidson is a New Yorker staff writer. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a Web column, in which she covers war, sports, and everything in between.

 

(N.Y.Times) David Brooks has a point – upper class kids have invisible cultural advantages

Washington Post   Monkey Cage

(N.Y.Times) David Brooks has a point – upper class kids have invisible cultural advantages

By Henry Farrell       July 11, 2017

David Brooks is getting a lot of ridicule for an op-ed today, where he uses the example of ordering sandwiches to argue that upper and upper middle class kids have a lot of hidden cultural advantages. Despite the skepticism, many social scientists agree with Brooks’ emphasis on the hidden ways in which culture reinforces inequality, even if they might not all agree with Brooks’ suggestion that these cultural factors outweigh economic and political ones. In 2015, I interviewed Lauren Rivera, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of management. Her book, “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs,” examines how inequality is produced by subtle social patterns of education and informal skills as well as big political and economic forces.

When social scientists think about economic inequality and the ways in which elites are able to hand down advantages to their kids, they usually argue that it’s driven by obvious material differences, such as access to good schools. Your book argues that elite privilege can involve subtle benefits that help some students – and not others – get jobs at top ranked law firms, banks and management consultancies. What are these benefits?

LR – Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society. Many of these are taken for granted in upper and upper-middle class circles, such as how to prepare a college application (and having cultivated the right types of accomplishments to impress admissions officers), how to network in a business setting in a way that seems natural, and how to develop rapport with teachers, interviewers, and other gatekeepers to get things you want from those in power. Basically, if we think of economic inequality as a sporting competition, elite parents give their kids a leg up, not only by being able to afford the equipment necessary to play but also by teaching them the rules of the game and giving them insider tips on how to win.

One of your most counter-intuitive arguments is that students from working class and lower-middle class backgrounds are less likely to get elite jobs, because they concentrate on studying rather than their social life at college. That’s the opposite of what the conventional wisdom would suggest. How does these students’ devotion to academic seriousness hurt their job prospects?

LR – Working and lower-middle-class children are less likely to participate in structured extracurricular activities than their more privileged peers while growing up (and when they do, they tend to participate in fewer of them). This hurts their job prospects in two ways. First, it affects the types of schools students attend. Elite universities weigh extracurricular activities heavily in admissions decisions. Given that these employers—which offer some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the country—recruit almost exclusively at top schools, many students who focus purely on their studies will be out of the game long before they ever apply to firms. Second, employers also use extracurricular activities, especially those that are driven by “passion” rather than academic or professional interest and require large investments of time and money over many years, to screen résumés. But participation in these activities while in college or graduate school is not a luxury that all can afford, especially if someone needs to work long hours to pay the bills or take care of family members. Essentially, extra-curriculars end up being a double filter on social class that disadvantages job applicants from more modest means both in entering the recruiting pipeline and succeeding within it.

Your book finds an enormous difference in how many recruiters at elite firms treat graduates from a tiny number of prestigious colleges, and how they treat everyone else. Candidates who “chose” to go to a lower ranked school are seen by some recruiters as having demonstrated moral failure. What drives this culture of selectivity and perpetuates it?

LR – Quite simply, we like people who are similar to ourselves. Ask anyone what constitutes a good driver, leader, or parent, and chances are they will describe someone like themselves. The same is true for how people think of merit in the working world. Most employees in these firms are graduates of highly elite undergraduate or graduate programs and believe that’s where talent really resides. In addition, given how segregated our society has become socioeconomically, people who grow up in upper-middle or upper-class communities where college attendance is the norm may not realize structural factors that influence educational pathways and erroneously view university prestige as a reflection of ability alone. Finally, national rankings matter. Rankings provide an easily quantifiable, presumably “scientific” way of making sense of the myriad of educational institutions out there. They both reinforce beliefs that school prestige equals student quality (even though things having nothing to do with students’ abilities factor into a university’s rank) and serve as a convenient justification for limiting recruitment to a small number of elite schools with strong alumni ties to firms.

One of the ways in which your book has been received is as a way for people to figure out how to improve their chances of getting a job at an elite firm. One prominent review treated your book as more or less a “how to” guide for joining the 1 percent. This, presumably, wasn’t your motivation for writing the book. What’s your reaction to readers who are reading the book in ways that may potentially reinforce the problematic system that it is describing?

LR – The purpose of the book was to reveal how taken-for-granted ideas about what merit is and how best to measure it contribute to class inequalities at the top of the U.S. economic ladder. I certainly did not intend for the book to be interpreted as a how-to manual. However, given rising levels of anxiety about class position among the relatively advantaged and the high stakes of getting jobs in these firms, I’m not entirely surprised that some people are using it as a tool to try to game the system. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it can help groups currently disadvantaged in the hiring process, such as working class students and racial minorities, break into these jobs. On the other hand, it can benefit the already advantaged and reinforce the types of inequalities documented in the book. My hope, however, is that the research will open employees’ eyes about inequities and inefficiencies in the way hiring is currently done in these firms and motivate change in a positive direction.

New York Times    Opinion Pages

How We Are Ruining America

David Brooks, Op-ed Columnist      July 11, 2017

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.

As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.

Reeves’s second structural barrier is the college admissions game. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege, and then with their scholarship policies they salve their consciences by offering teeny step ladders for everybody else.

I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible. The rest of America can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there.

New Technology Creates Highly Efficient New Type of Solar Cell

Newswise    Doe Science news source

The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.   Article ID: 677700

Scientists Design Solar Cell That Captures Nearly All Energy of Solar Spectrum

New Technology Creates Highly Efficient New Type of Solar Cell

Credit: Matthew Lumb

Stacked solar cell

WASHINGTON (July 11, 2017)—Scientists have designed and constructed a prototype for a new solar cell that integrates multiple cells stacked into a single device capable of capturing nearly all of the energy in the solar spectrum. The new design converts direct sunlight to electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency, giving it the potential to become the most efficient solar cell in the world.

The approach is different from the solar panels one might commonly see on rooftops or in fields. The new device uses concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) panels that employ lenses to concentrate sunlight onto tiny, micro-scale solar cells. Because of their small size—less than one millimeter square—solar cells utilizing more sophisticated materials can be developed cost effectively.

The stacked cell acts almost like a sieve for sunlight, with the specialized materials in each layer absorbing the energy of a specific set of wavelengths. By the time the light is funneled through the stack, just under half of the available energy has been converted into electricity. By comparison, the most common solar cell today converts only a quarter of the available energy into electricity.

“Around 99 percent of the power contained in direct sunlight reaching the surface of Earth falls between wavelengths of 250 nm and 2500 nm, but conventional materials for high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells cannot capture this entire spectral range,” said Matthew Lumb, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the GW School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Our new device is able to unlock the energy stored in the long-wavelength photons, which are lost in conventional solar cells, and therefore provides a pathway to realizing the ultimate multi-junction solar cell.”

While scientists have worked towards more efficient solar cells for years, this approach has two novel aspects. First, it uses a family of materials based on gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates, which are usually found in applications for infra-red lasers and photodetectors. The novel GaSb-based solar cells are assembled into a stacked structure along with high efficiency solar cells grown on conventional substrates that capture shorter wavelength solar photons. In addition, the stacking procedure uses a technique known as transfer-printing, which enables three dimensional assembly of these tiny devices with a high degree of precision.

This particular solar cell is very expensive, however researchers believe it was important to show the upper limit of what is possible in terms of efficiency. Despite the current costs of the materials involved, the technique used to create the cells shows much promise. Eventually a similar product may be brought to market, enabled by cost reductions from very high solar concentration levels and technology to recycle the expensive growth substrates.

The research builds off of the advancements made by the MOSAIC Program, a $24 million research project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) that funds 11 separate teams across the U.S., each seeking to develop technologies and concepts to revolutionize photovoltaic performance and reduce costs. The researchers note that funding for this type of research is essential for developing viable commercial technology in the future.

The study, “GaSb-based Solar Cells for Full Solar Spectrum Energy Harvesting,” was published in Advanced Energy Materials on Monday.

-GW-

Koch Brothers Launch Attack to Kill Electric Cars

EcoWatch   DeSmogBlog

Koch Brothers Launch Attack to Kill Electric Cars

By Ben Jervey   July 11, 2017

Fueling U.S. Forward, the Koch-funded campaign to “rebrand” fossil fuels as “positive” and “sustainable,” has released a new video attacking the Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars, signaling a possible strategic pivot from straightforward fossil fuel cheerleading to electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy bashing.

The video and accompanying Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars web page feature blatant factual errors, misleading statements and glaring omissions (all of which will be debunked thoroughly below), while essentially attacking electric cars for using the same materials needed to manufacture cell phones, laptops, defense equipment and gas-powered cars, and which are even a critical component of the very oil refining processes that form the foundation of the Koch fortunes.

When Fueling U.S. Forward launched last August, the organization’s president Charles Drevna described the campaign as an effort to rebrand fossil fuels by focusing on the “positive” aspects of coal, oil and gas. This newly released video seems to further confirm investigative journalist Peter Stone’s reporting from last spring that the Kochs were “plotting a multimillion dollar assault on electric vehicles.”

How do we know that Fueling U.S. Forward is this Koch-funded campaign? First, Charles Drevna, who is leading the effort, developed the concept while serving as a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-fossil fuel think tank that was partially founded by Charles Koch and that is run by a longtime lobbyist for Koch Industries. Second, and more concretely, Drevna told DeSmog’s Sharon Kelley that he was working with Koch Industries’ board member (and longtime Koch brothers’ confidant) James Mahoney on the campaign and that it was funded by “one of the brothers.”

Echoes of America Rising Squared

Fueling U.S. Forward and America Rising Squared (or AR2) have no public affiliation. Yet within a few weeks in June, both groups launched attacks on electric vehicles using the same misleading arguments and nearly identical language. While the former group is a known Koch-funded campaign to promote fossil fuels, the latter has close ties to the GOP establishment, and has invested heavily in promoting alleged hypocrisy among climate action advocates, even paying “trackers” to follow around the likes of Tom Steyer and Bill McKibben.

In June, as DeSmog reported, AR2 published a white paper that purports to reveal the “human and environmental costs of ‘clean energy,'” taking electric vehicles and solar panels to task for their reliance on rare Earth metals. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s what the white paper doesn’t mention: many of the very same rare Earth minerals that the AR2 report bashes are critical components of cell phones, computers, cameras, military and defense equipment, and even traditional gas-powered vehicles. What’s more, the petroleum refining process is critically dependent on some of the same rare Earths that AR2 lambasts in this white paper.

The new video from Fueling U.S. Forward echoes the AR2 talking points, almost to the word. (For a closer analysis of the AR2 report, see the original DeSmog article).

Debunking the New Fueling U.S. Forward Electric Car Attack Video

The Fueling U.S. Forward video (which is still unlisted on Youtube, but available to be shared and viewed by anyone with the link) is short enough that we can walk through it line by line.

“This is an electric car/ Car companies say it’s a clean alternative/ But electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars.”

This depends on an exceedingly narrow definition of “toxic.” If you only consider the materials that go into the batteries of electric cars versus the batteries of “average” cars, then this is maybe defensible. But if you consider the materials that go into the entire vehicle, as well as the fuel used to power the vehicle, than EVs are far cleaner and less toxic.

First, there’s the fact that gas-powered vehicles require some of the same “toxic” rare Earth metals that the video criticizes. (More on that below). Then there’s the even bigger issue that tailpipe emissions—including ozone, particulate matter and other smog-forming chemicals—are the dominant source of ground level air pollution, and nearly one half of all Americans live in areas that don’t meet federal minimum air quality standards. In fact, emissions from road transportation cause roughly 53,000 premature deaths every year in the U.S., according to MIT researchers.

“Their batteries are made of rare Earth metals/ Like cobalt, lithium…”

First, a fact check: cobalt and lithium aren’t rare Earth metals. This isn’t to say they aren’t problematic—cobalt mining in particular is plagued by some very serious environmental and labor problems, as documented in in-depth reports by Amnesty International and the Washington Post. But these problems are economy-wide. Cobalt is used widely in the lithium-ion batteries that power most cell phones and laptops. (See the subheadline of the very Washington Post article that the FUSF video cites: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops). There’s no question that lithium-ion battery manufacturers have to clean up their supply chains, but that’s something that Apple and Panasonic and Samsung are as responsible for as Tesla and Ford and General Motors.

“…and cerium”

True, cerium is used in the batteries of electric vehicles. It is also found on every catalytic converter fitted into an internal combustion vehicle. That’s right—every gas-powered car relies on this rare Earth metal that Fueling U.S. Forward criticizes.

“That are extracted mostly overseas/ From countries like China/ And Congo/ Where pollution is rampant/ And children are forced into oppressive labor.”

Again, electric vehicle manufacturers must do their part to clean up the mining of these metals. But so do the cell phone and laptop makers, companies that supply communications and combat equipment to the Department of Defense, satellite communications system operators, medical device manufacturers, and so on.

“These metals are scarce/ Their extraction is dangerous/ And many of the batteries end up in landfills”

This last point is simply untrue. First of all, very few electric vehicle batteries have even run through their usable lives. Once they do, companies are already lining up to start recycling them, either for use on the electric grid or to be disassembled and the materials reused.

“This makes electric cars toxic/ For both people and the planet.”

Some of the components of electric car batteries have localized health and environmental impacts. But compared to the alternative—internal combustion vehicles spewing carbon and other air pollution—electric cars truly are much cleaner from cradle to grave.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

In Mexico, massacre of family underlines surging violence

Associated Press  World

In Mexico, massacre of family underlines surging violence

Mark Stevenson, Associated Press    July 10, 2017

COATZACOALCOS, Mexico (AP) — The bullet-riddled bodies of the Martinez children were found on a bloody floor, huddled next to the corpses of their parents in a rented shack.

The family of six was massacred, authorities believe, because the Zetas cartel suspected the father, an unemployed taxi driver, had played some part in a rival gang’s attack that killed a Zeta gunman.

The response underlines the no-holds-barred tactics of drug gangs that are splintering and battling one another for control in much of Mexico, which recently recorded its highest monthly murder total in at least 20 years.

Despite President Enrique Pena Nieto’s promises of a safer nation when he came to office five years ago, the violence is outpacing even the darkest days of the drug war launched by his predecessor.

“It has taken on the proportions of a ring of hell that would be described in Dante’s ‘Inferno,'” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and author of the book “Deal.”

“Their strategy was strictly going after the kingpin. … That was pretty much not the way to go because, you know, you cut off a head and others take its place,” Vigil added. “You have weak institutions, weak rule of law, weak judiciary, massive corruption, particularly within the state and municipal police forces, and all of that contributes to the escalating violence.”

In the first five months of 2017, there were 9,916 killings nationwide — an increase of about 30 percent over the 7,638 slain during the same period last year. In 2011, the bloodiest year of the drug war, the figure for the same January-May period was 9,466.

In some places the bloodshed has accompanied the rise of the upstart Jalisco New Generation cartel and the breakup of the once-dominant Sinaloa cartel into warring factions following the arrest of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was extradited to the United States in January.

At least 19 people died in turf battles pitting Guzman’s son, brother and former allies against each other late last month in the western state of Sinaloa, according to investigators.

In the northern border state of Chihuahua, shootouts last week between Sinaloa gunmen and the gang known as La Linea killed at least 14.

In the Gulf Coast oil city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz Gov. Miguel Angel Yunes said the slaying of a top gunman in late June prompted the Zetas to kill the entire Martinez family: Clemente; his wife Martimana; 10-year-old Jocelin; Victor Daniel, 8; Angel, 6; and Nahomi, 5.

All died in the house where they washed cars for $1 each.

“They didn’t have anything, not even furniture. They slept on the floor,” grandmother Flora Martinez said, sobbing. “I don’t understand why they did this, why they did this to my little ones. They were innocent, they didn’t know anything.”

For years it was understood that the Zetas were untouchable in this part of the state. Just ask Sonia Cruz, whose son was killed in Coatzacoalcos in July 2016 in a case that remains unsolved.

“They (police) told me that when ‘la mana’ (drug cartels) are involved, that’s where they stop investigating,” Cruz said.

But last year’s election of Yunes, the first opposition candidate to win the governorship from the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, may have broken old alliances between criminals and corrupt officials.

The new governor has shown some willingness to go after the Zetas: The local cartel leader who allegedly ordered the Martinez killings, known as “Comandante H,” was arrested a few days afterward.

Yunes said the man had “operated with absolute freedom in Coatzacoalcos since 2006” and accused business people in the city of acting as fronts for ill-gotten properties that actually belonged to the gangster.

Raul Ojeda Banda, a local anti-crime activist, said that some were forced to go along with the scheme: “Some were pressured, threatened.”

Violence in the area has also been exacerbated by Jalisco cartel incursions and other pressures that have threatened key sources of income for the Zetas.

Part of “Comandante H’s” business model involved large-scale kidnapping for quick ransom, with targets ranging from locals to oil workers to Central American migrants whom gang members tortured to extort payments from relatives in the United States.

But the Zetas abducted so many locals that those who were able moved out of the city, and those who remained began blocking off their neighborhoods at night to keep kidnappers out.

An oil industry slump amid low crude prices resulted in fewer energy workers around to prey upon. And suddenly there were fewer migrants as well. Donald Trump’s election discouraged some from trying to reach the U.S. and others avoided southern Veracruz for fear of being attacked.

“The vast majority of them are robbed. It is a lucky one who isn’t,” said priest Joel Ireta Munguia, the head of a Coatzacoalcos migrant shelter run by the Roman Catholic Church. He estimated the number of Central Americans passing though the city has declined by almost two-thirds.

The wave of violence has also touched regions that were long seen as peaceful.

The Jalisco cartel is believed to have allied with a faction of the Sinaloa gang in a war for the Baja California Sur state cities of Los Cabos and the nearby port of La Paz.

Dismembered bodies, severed heads and clandestine graves have now become almost routine in the once-placid resorts.

Dwight Zahringer, a Michigan native who lives in an upscale neighborhood in Los Cabos, said one victim was found at the entrance to his neighborhood recently.

“That was more of a message that the narco-traffickers wanted to deliver, sort of to say, ‘We can come right up into your Beverly Hills and dump dismembered bodies on your doorstep,'” Zahringer said. “I’m from Detroit. We’re used to seeing crime. But heads being left in coolers — that’s a little extreme.”

Single-payer healthcare gains traction with Democrats

The Hill

Single-payer healthcare gains traction with Democrats

By Lisa Hagen and Rachel Roubein      July 9, 2017

Democrats are increasingly committing to support single-payer healthcare, amid Republican attacks on ObamaCare and pressure from their party’s left-wing base.

What was once considered only a progressive talking point has gained traction as more Democratic candidates have been willing to embrace government-funded healthcare on the campaign trail and more House members have been signing onto the idea.

Single-payer isn’t just being discussed in liberal enclaves of the country like California, where a single-payer measure recently fell short in the state Assembly. It’s a hot topic in Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Republican-leaning district, where all the Democratic candidates running in the primary have supported it.

The idea hasn’t won universal appeal in the party, but the spotlight has been shone on the concept of a government-run healthcare system as concerns mount over the Senate GOP’s plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which would lead to 22 million more Americans without insurance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) championed the idea of universal healthcare during his insurgent presidential campaign, and he’ll introduce his single-payer plan once the debate over ObamaCare ends.

Other senators — such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), two potential 2020 contenders — are getting on board with a Medicare for All proposal. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who faces a tough reelection in a state won by President Trump, said she’s a “maybe” on Sanders’s plan but “anticipates” supporting it, according to The Capital Times.

In the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill has already netted 113 co-sponsors — nearly double the number of co-sponsors the legislation garnered last congressional session.

Key names are noticeably absent from the list, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). But other members of leadership, including Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), are co-sponsors of the bill.

“It’s nice to see many senators … and a variety of people in the House publicly stating for the first time on record that a single-payer system is the way of the future that we need to be working toward,” Shannon Jackson, the executive director of the Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, told The Hill.

Warren has publicly encouraged Democratic candidates to campaign on the idea in 2018 and 2020. But even though the Democrats in Ryan’s likely safe GOP district are supporting it, other Democratic candidates in red states and districts have been more cautious about endorsing single-payer. Rob Quist, the Montana Democrat endorsed by Sanders, was the only candidate in this year’s House special elections to run on that platform.

“I think that the politicians who choose to run on a campaign that states and embodies that pillar of our platform will be successful and they will be able to connect with the people,” Jackson said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows a modest increase in Americans’ support for the concept, with 53 percent of the public supporting all Americans getting their coverage through a single government plan.

That’s up from 2008 and 2009, when about 46 percent of the public held this position. A majority of the uptick in support has come from independents, Kaiser noted.

But in practice, Democrats haven’t been able to muster enough votes to pass a single-payer plan. In California’s state Assembly, moderate and progressive Democrats couldn’t agree on the proposal. While it passed the state Senate, California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) ultimately tabled the proposal in his chamber.

“It’ll tend to be an issue that more left-leaning Democrats are willing to embrace,” said Dan Mendelson, president of consulting firm Avalere Health.

“In order to embrace that concept, you’ll have to be willing to defend the efficiency and effectiveness of a fully run government system, and there are many Democrats who are not going to do that and there are some who are.”

For Democrats, the increased talk about single-payer offers an alternative message to oppose the Senate GOP’s bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, he said.

Under a single-payer system, all Americans would have health coverage, whereas the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people would become uninsured under the Senate GOP’s healthcare plan.

“I think what you see is the Democrats on the Hill are searching for a single unifying message to unite in opposition to what is happening presently in the Congress,” Mendelson said. “And that’s really what they’re looking for.”

Republicans have taken note, seizing on Warren’s request for Democrats to campaign on single-payer in an attempt to play offense in the healthcare debate as Republicans struggle with their unpopular plan.

But Republicans are seeing an advantage in Democrats’ embrace of single-payer, too. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is running auto-play Facebook ads that seek to tie the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in states Trump won to Warren and government-run healthcare.

The Senate GOP’s campaign arm and the Republican National Committee have pointed to studies that say Medicare for All could cost as much as $32 trillion over a decade.

“I think that the idea that this is becoming our central focus is mistaken and one that our opponents are trying to put forward so they don’t have to talk about their age tax,” said a Democratic strategist with ties to Senate races. “What unites Senate Democrats is opposition to this disaster of a Republican bill.”

Some Republicans don’t see single-payer becoming a toxic issue for Democrats, arguing that those kinds of attacks are more of a “deflection tool” from the GOP’s own healthcare bill.

“It almost seems like it’s too wonky and not enough red meat to really make something catch fire,” a Republican operative in Washington told The Hill. “It’s hard to attack Democrats over single-payer healthcare when we can’t get our act together on repealing ObamaCare.”

Despite increasing talk of single-payer, Democrats haven’t agreed yet on a healthcare message for the 2018 midterms, in part because that will depend on whether Republicans manage to repeal ObamaCare.

“The [GOP] Senate bill is almost designed to make healthcare top-tier issue in the next elections,” said Larry Levitt, a Kaiser Family Foundation senior vice president.

“If the repeal and the replace bill is enacted and signed into law, Democrats will face a challenge as to what their healthcare message will be in 2018 and 2020,” Levitt said, adding that “it’s very likely that many Democrats would turn to single-payer as the next step.”

American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans’ hard line on immigration

Business Insider

American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans’ hard line on immigration

Dana Varinsky        July 8, 2017

  • US dairy farmers tend to be conservatives, but many depend on immigrant workers to keep their operations running.
  • Republicans’ tough stance on immigration has created a political rift between some farmers and their representatives.
  • This disconnect highlights the complicated place farmers hold in American politics.

MAURICE, Iowa — The congressman who has represented northwest Iowa for 15 years once suggested that Mexican immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from smuggling drugs across the border. He has been seen with a Confederate flag on his desk (though Iowa supported the Union Army), and he tweeted in March that the US “can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

He even built a model of a border wall on the floor of Congress in 2006 — nearly a decade before Donald Trump adopted the cause.

But on the farms that fill Steve King’s district, his constituents have more nuanced, complicated politics than the Republican congressman’s rhetoric might suggest.

Thousands of immigrants have moved to northwest Iowa in recent decades, attracted by farms and meat producers in need of workers willing to raise pigs, milk cows, or butcher animals. Between 2000 and 2015, the Latino population in Sioux Center, one of the larger cities in the district, more than tripled. According to the census, King’s district is now home to nearly 50,000 people who consider themselves Hispanic or Latino — about 6% of the area’s population.

That means that even some of King’s supporters — he took 61% of the vote in November — are being forced to reconcile their conservative politics with a business reality that has taken on a moral weight. They rely on immigrants, and some will go to extraordinary lengths to support them.

‘They’ve done everything as a citizen should’

Maassen Dairy sits on a rural, unpaved road in Maurice, Iowa, less than half an hour from the South Dakota border. The Maassen family started producing milk on the land with about 15 cows during the 1920s. Five generations later, that number has grown to more than 1,300, and the animals spend their days in a covered, open-air barn, a pile of food easily reachable through a metal gate.

Lee Maassen grew up on the farm and started working there full-time soon after he got married at age 20. He now runs the operation with his sons.

On nearly every issue, Maassen is a reliably conservative voter. He supported King and Trump in the latest election. He agrees with King’s positions on limiting environmental regulation, he said, and on what Maassen refers to as “morality issues” like abortion.

But on immigration, they diverge. For the past 30 years, the Maassen family has been hiring more and more immigrant workers — of the 26 employees currently at Maassen Dairy, 16 are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. The family has even sponsored many to apply for citizenship. Often, that involved accompanying the workers on the more than two-hour drive to the Mexican consulate in Omaha, Nebraska, since there isn’t one in Iowa.

Maassen estimates his family has successfully helped half a dozen immigrant workers become citizens since they hired their first Mexican employee in 1985.

“All of our workers, they’ve paid their full amount of federal income tax, full amount of state tax. They’ve done everything as a citizen should,” he told Business Insider. “So why shouldn’t they be granted that? That’s why we need some reform.”

Maassen knows, however, that his idea of reform doesn’t align with the one espoused by King and other Republican politicians — especially since Trump’s election.

“The stance is sometimes really negative: Anybody that’s not classified, an immigrant, we’re going to send them all back, we’re going to close down the border, whatever,” he said of those with hardline stances on immigration. “But I’m thinking, do you really understand what the full impact of that would be?”

Immigrants or robots

Farmers are fairly accustomed to occupying a unique, complicated place in American politics.

They make up less than 2% of the US population, but their work has a dramatically disproportionate effect on the country’s economy. Environmental regulations affect them heavily, yet a changing climate can threaten their livelihoods. They generally vote Republican, but plenty of crop farmers utilize government insurance subsidies, and many in the industry are wary of big business and increasing consolidation.

Plus, free trade has proved a boon for agriculture — the value of US dairy-product exports more than quadrupled from 2004 to 2014, and pork exports have increased nearly eleven-fold since 2000 — but farmers were left in a lurch after both Democrats and Republicans came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the 2016 election.

However, nowhere is farmers’ complex political position clearer than on immigration.

The Department of Agriculture estimated that only about 22% of the country’s crop farm workers in 2013 and 2014 were born in the US. Immigrants also permeate many other agricultural sectors that get less attention. Dairy workers aren’t employed seasonally. They don’t toil in fields picking delicate fruit like grapes or strawberries. And many don’t work anywhere near the Mexico-US border.

No nationally gathered statistics are available about laborers in livestock industries. But in a report put together for the National Milk Producers Federation in 2015 based on a survey of 1,000 dairy farms around the country, responses indicated that immigrants accounted for 51% of all dairy labor in the US, and that dairies employing immigrants produced 79% of the country’s total milk supply.

It’s the physical nature of dairy farming, Maassen said, that has made it almost impossible to fill positions with Iowa natives.

“We can’t find enough employees to fulfill the job role,” he said. “We need immigrant labor in order to do that.”

A crackdown on immigration would dramatically affect Maassen’s business — and the dairy industry overall. The NMPF report estimated that eliminating immigrant labor would cause the total number of dairy farms in the US to drop by over 7,000 and retail milk prices to increase by 90%.

“We’ve thought about that and considered what’s our disaster program if that would happen,” Maassen said of that worst-case scenario. “It would affect us greatly. We’d have to make some adjustments to how we’d hire the labor in order to do it. We’d have to switch over to all robots.”

Some dairy farms around the US have installed robotic milking machines to eliminate the problems that come from labor shortages and employee management. But for now, Maassen is sticking with his workers.

‘What more could one want, right?’

The cows at Maassen Dairy get milked three times a day, seven days a week. There are shifts around the clock.

Pilar Garrido spends her eight-hour shift in the farm’s milking parlor with two other employees, Mexican radio playing as groups of well-trained cows file onto elevated platforms. Garrido and her colleagues walk by each cow and coat her udders with a disinfecting cleaner, which stimulates the cow to let her milk down, the same way a nuzzling calf might.

After the cows have been cleaned and wiped, the workers attach milking tubes to each teat. The tubes pop off when the supply of milk is exhausted, and then the workers clean the udders once more before the cows leave and a new group is herded in.

“It’s hard because you’re working the whole eight hours, moving your feet, arms, the whole body,” Garrido, who emigrated to the US from Pachuca, Mexico, 15 years ago, told Business Insider in Spanish while the cows were being milked. “You arrive [home] wanting to bathe and go to sleep and not think about anything.”

Garrido and the others who do this work must power-wash the parlor several times per day. Other workers must also replenish the cows’ food and push it back into accessible piles. A few are in charge of herding the groups into the milking parlor. And then there are the cows ready for artificial insemination, since dairy cows are kept in a nearly permanent postpartum state. And there are the inevitable calves that need tending to.

Garrido said she grew up in a humble, country family and enjoys being with animals. But the work was all new to Mirza Salazar, who shares a shift with Garrido.

“I had an office career,” Salazar said in Spanish as Garrido tended to the cows behind her. She moved from Mexico City to Iowa in 2005, she said, because she had family in the area.

“Here, I learned to milk, about the outdoors, about maternity, I learned all of this,” Salazar said. “It’s very different. It’s tough. It’s simple, but it’s also humble, and it’s a job.”

Salazar and Garrido both fled abusive husbands — Salazar left hers in Mexico, and Garrido separated from hers in Chicago. Each is now raising kids solo. Garrido earns $11.25 an hour and manages to send money back to her parents in Mexico every month or two on top of providing for her kids.

“What more could one want, right? To improve and continue moving forward,” she said. “This is a lovely job, very honorable, and I like it.”

Fear, dialogue, and compromise

Step off Maassen’s farm, and there’s more fear. Garrido said she respected Trump and his decisions but had heard of many in the immigrant community losing hope.

“It causes a lot of remorse to go out into the street, and you don’t know if you’re going to return,” she said. “It’s almost as if you’re like, ‘Oh God, help me to get to work, and God help me to return home.'”

Maassen knows his employees have a heightened awareness of immigration politics since the presidential election. He, too, worries about Trump’s and King’s positions on the issue.

“I had some fear,” he said of King’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. “That’s why we met with Steve King a number of times, just to say, ‘Do you realize?'”

Maassen Dairy is part of an industry group called the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance, which has organized discussions between the state’s dairy farmers and their political representatives. Through those efforts, Maassen attempted to explain his situation to King a couple of years ago. He has also met with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.

King did not return Business Insider’s request for comment on those meetings, and WIDA representatives said they didn’t believe the conversations led to any noticeable changes in King’s position. But Maassen believes the group did have some success in conveying to King what the consequences of an immigration crackdown would be for his voters. He thinks Trump, too, has been tempered since the campaign.

“Even from a conservative approach, there’s compromise being done already on that as we’re working through it, working for an alternative,” Maassen said.

He might be right — Trump told farmers at a roundtable in May that he would make sure his tough immigration-enforcement policies wouldn’t harm the agriculture industry. And despite King’s years of inflammatory comments, the congressman hasn’t succeeded in enacting many laws that have changed how Maassen goes about his business or his hiring.

That leaves Maassen free to base his vote on the other issues that matter to him — abortion, regulation, taxes. And it leaves King free to keep stepping into the bright spotlight of controversy, all the while hanging onto a decade-old model of a wall that’s unlikely to be built.

SEE ALSO: These robots are milking cows without any humans involved

NOW WATCH: Why organic milk lasts longer than regular milk

More: Dairy Agriculture BI Innovation Iowa

Law Professor: The obstruction of justice case against Trump is already a slam dunk

Business Insider-Slate

Law Professor: The obstruction of justice case against Trump is already a slam dunk

Samuel Buell, Slate  July 8, 2017

In the weeks since the New York Times reported that President Trump allegedly asked James Comey to drop a pending criminal investigation of Michael Flynn, there has been much debate about whether the president committed obstruction of justice.

Looking at the entire affair from the standpoint of strict legal analysis, there’s just one conclusion: All available evidence says he did.

Under such a plain legal analysis, of the sort my students and I conduct in the law school classroom, it is highly likely that special counsel Robert Mueller will find that there is a provable case that the president committed a federal felony offense.

The Justice Department, as well as many scholars, have opined that a sitting president cannot be indicted and tried for a crime. So the ultimate issue, whatever Mueller’s findings, will come down to the political question of impeachment. But Mueller’s determination will be critical because the crime of obstruction would be the most legally potent charge in any impeachment debate, as it was in the articles of impeachment against both Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

It’s worth looking at the already strong publicly available evidence, as well as the supposed flaws in that case. Even taking into account possible shortcomings, the current case for an obstruction of justice charge is crystal clear.

Looking at it from the perspective of a prosecutor or a law school class, the three basic legal elements of obstruction of justice are satisfied in this case. First, Trump’s alleged directive to his former FBI director would qualify as an effort to interfere with an investigation. Federal courts have said that virtually any act can create such liability for obstruction and that the act need not, by itself, be unlawful or even nefarious.

Second, Trump’s act allegedly was taken with a specific “official proceeding”-the potential prosecution of his former national security adviser-in mind as the object of the effort to obstruct.

It’s important to note that the relevant criminal statute prohibits obstruction of legal proceedings that might not yet be underway at the time of the offense but that could come to fruition-an investigation of Flynn was ongoing at that point, but there may not yet have been a grand jury.

As long as the suspect has a specific potential proceeding in mind-any possible prosecution of Flynn would do here-this requirement is satisfied.

Third, Trump’s alleged actions clearly indicate a “corrupt” intent, which federal court rulings have said is a state of mind meaning “with an improper purpose to obstruct justice.” There have been many federal cases in which efforts to derail or even slow a criminal investigation in order to protect associates were proven in court to meet this requirement. That is what apparently happened here.

There are other issues at play, of course. Some have argued that, elements of the crime aside, the president simply cannot be prosecuted for exercising his power to direct federal law enforcement priorities no matter how malevolent his intentions. This argument disturbingly equates the power to do something with the legality of exercising that power.

The Supreme Court has already acknowledged the inescapable logic that the president’s authority over federal law enforcement does not include the freedom to prevent investigation and prosecution of himself and his close aides, as presidential powers expert Richard Pildes has explained. The opposing line of argument would excuse a parade of horribles including, hypothetically, a president who ordered his FBI director to mire an election opponent in a costly and distracting investigation for political reasons, or a president who ordered the halt to a murder investigation that might implicate a staff member.

A related claim is that the existence of the presidential pardon implies the power to snuff out any investigation at any stage. But no sensible rendition of the constitutional framers’ intention could hold that their actual purpose was to grant the president a monarchical prerogative to ordain any legal outcome, on any subject, and at any time.

The principal defense to date from Trump and his advocates has been on the facts. They have denied much of the sequence of events laid out in Comey’s testimony and in press accounts about his contemporaneous documentation of the meetings in question. Even assuming that this defense eventually points to specific contested facts and somehow resolves the president’s own contradictory statements, the approach is going nowhere.

By the standards of federal criminal cases, Comey’s credibility-on recall, detail, résumé, demeanor, bias, intelligence, contemporaneous documentation, and other standard witness metrics-is exceptionally strong. After watching Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, no experienced federal criminal lawyer, speaking candidly, would say otherwise. The chances of impactful cross-examination are minimal.

Comey’s testimony also appears to be extensively corroborated. In addition to Comey’s own writings, which would be admissible as evidence if Comey’s credibility were attacked, President Trump allegedly made statements to others in the administration, to diplomats, and to the public that would bolster Comey’s account.

A prosecutor would also attempt to corroborate innocent details in Comey’s story as well as incriminating ones, including those that support the credibility of witnesses. For example, Comey’s testimony that he spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after his Oval Office meeting and asked not to be left alone with the president again was corroborated by Sessions himself.

Critically, the entire sequence of events-the alleged requests for “loyalty,” the strange White House dinner, the handling of Comey’s firing, the directive to Sessions and others to leave the Oval Office before the alleged Flynn request, even the president’s dealings with others, such as the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan-fit together to portray a consistent and compelling story about the president’s purpose in urging Comey to end the investigation of Flynn.

Another implausible argument advanced on behalf of the president is that his alleged statements to Comey about dropping the Flynn investigation were not a directive because the president said only that he “hoped” Comey would act accordingly. (Trump denies saying even this.)

As a matter of common sense, the argument that a person with immense power cannot mean to influence an underling when making a “mere” suggestion should strike anyone familiar with the milieu of The Sopranos as frivolous.

As a matter of law, expressing “hope” can constitute obstruction of justice. The judicial decisions in obstruction of justice cases are replete with examples of people prosecuted for attempting to influence others subtly and through less than direct orders.

Yet another uninformed point has been made by some that Trump did not actually obstruct the Flynn investigation: Comey took no action, and even after Comey’s firing, the matter goes on. There is probably no point on which the law of obstruction of justice is clearer: The crime consists of the effort to obstruct, not any actual obstruction. The obstruction statutes themselves include the words endeavor and attempt in their definitions of the offense.

In all the challenges to a potential obstruction case, there is only one issue of substance: whether the president can be proven to have acted with “corrupt” intent to obstruct justice when exercising his supervisory power over federal law enforcement personnel and their activities. Trump could try the novel argument that he lacked the “corrupt” mental state in his dealings with Comey because he believed himself to be exercising his lawful authority to control the enforcement of federal law.

The ultimate question is not whether President Trump thought he was legally allowed to cajole Comey about the Flynn investigation-ignorance of the law would be no excuse-but whether, when he did so, the president acted with a purpose that was “improper.”

Clearing the room before he allegedly raised the Flynn matter with Comey is strong evidence the president knew what he was doing was “improper.” It is also impossible to see how Trump’s purpose here can be deemed “proper” without placing the president above the law. Even the president’s keenest defenders must concede that attempting to stop the Flynn matter by offering a bribe to Comey or threatening his family, physically or economically, would have been improper.

Trump’s alleged actions were somewhat less flagrant here. But courts have ruled, for example, that an attorney can be charged with obstruction when engaging in conduct that would otherwise be ordinary and allowable for a lawyer-like filing lawsuits or giving advice to witnesses-if the lawyer does so for the purpose of protecting himself or his associates from prosecution.

Similarly, if a president wields his normally legal executive power for the purpose of halting the investigation of himself or his associates, he acts with an “improper purpose” to obstruct justice.

Moving to the specifics of this case only makes this clearer. Although strong norms place authority over Department of Justice investigations in the attorney general’s hands, a president might argue that he is entitled to order an investigation closed if he thinks it is a meritless waste of resources. But no evidence supports this as President Trump’s motive in this matter. He himself has reportedly said otherwise. In any event, if a live investigation places the president at serious personal risk, legally or politically, it is impossible for him to exercise independent judgment on the merits of the matter.

A last line of defense might be to concede the argument for a legal case for obstruction but claim that no prosecutor would bring it. Individuals who come in contact with criminal investigations commonly engage in behavior intended to thwart the government, with lying being the most common such behavior. Prosecutors let the vast majority of this stuff go.

This is different, though.

Intervention in a potential criminal case against a former top government official by the highest of government officials falls well toward the serious end of the obstruction spectrum.

The president, who swears a constitutional oath to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” should be held to the highest standard where it comes to interference with justice.

One thing is worth reiterating: The question of prosecutorial discretion on obstruction of justice will not be before Mueller while President Trump remains in office.

Given the near-consensus that a sitting president should not be indicted, any court of law in this matter will have to await a private citizen Trump.

So, Mueller will have no reason in the near term to go beyond stating that the president violated the law when he allegedly isolated Comey in the White House and pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation, and that there is a prosecutable case for that conduct. Members of Congress will then have to decide whether the president should be impeached for this crime-a matter of political not prosecutorial discretion.

Read the original article on Slate Copyright 2017

The President’s IKEA Cabinet Is Falling Apart Right on Schedule

Esquire

The President’s IKEA Cabinet Is Falling Apart Right on Schedule

You get what you pay for.

Charles P. Pierce     July 6, 2017  

While the president* is overseas checking in with the home office, the ill-suited elves of his spectacularly unqualified cabinet are very busy at the job of dismantling their jobs, which is their only apparent function in this administration. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for example, dropped by to visit some coal miners and laid a little ee-co-nomix on them.

There are not many people in this world who don’t understand the concept of a “glut,” but Perry apparently is one of them. Hell, with that kind of thinking, I’m surprised Perry isn’t the Treasury Secretary.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is busy getting sued by 19 state attorneys general because she’s delaying a rule enacted by the previous administration that made it easier for students to get their loans forgiven if their colleges were found to have been fraudulent. DeVos is dragging her feet here because she sees education as a profit center, and because phony for-profit educational “reform” is the only reason anyone ever heard of her. From NPR:

The filing by 18 states and Washington, D.C., asks a U.S. District Court to declare the Education Department’s delay of the rule unlawful and to order the agency to implement it. The states say they have pursued “numerous costly and time-intensive investigations and enforcement actions against proprietary and for-profit schools” that violated consumer protection laws.

(Point of Personal Privilege: once again, Maura Healey, the attorney general of the Commonwealth—God save it!—is out front on this issue. Her statement reads, in part, “Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans.” And fighting off grizzly attacks, one assumes.)

But, as you might’ve guessed, the real lasting damage is being done by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. His Department of Justice has decided that Texas is doing just fine at this whole voter suppressi…er…voter ID thing, as The Texas Tribune notes:

“Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections,” the filing stated. Federal lawyers were referring to Senate Bill 5, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month. It would soften a 2011 voter ID law — known as the nation’s most stringent — that courts have ruled purposefully burdened Latino and black voters. If allowed to take effect, the law would allow people without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining what was otherwise required. “S.B. 5 addresses the impact that the Court found in [the previous law] by dramatically reducing the number of voters who lack acceptable photographic identification,” the Justice Department argued, adding that U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos should “decline any further remedies.”

Of course, this is a complete reversal of the Obama DOJ’s efforts at curtailing the voter-suppression that was the true purpose not only of the original law, but of the inadequate fig-leaf of the state’s proposed changes. The Department of Justice is now on the other side and, somewhere in Jeff Sessions’ deepest heart, he knows what this is all about.

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