Yes, Putin has already lost his war against humanity, but he’s still capable of devastating a world that see’s him as irrelevant.

John Hanno, tarbabys.com – March 10, 2022

Putin and Ukraine backfire by Dave Granlund, PoliticalCartoons.com

Putin has commenced blaming (firing, exiling to Siberia, jailing or who knows what else) those he believes failed his vision of a reborn Soviet Empire. Based on a keen sense of self preservation, browbeaten close advisors surely decided to refrain from trying to stop him blundering into the senseless and self destructive war/invasion of a Democratic, peaceful, industrious and successful neighbor, for merely exposing Putin and his Kleptocratic criminal enterprises tenuous hold on an emerging partially-woke Russian populace.

Putin believed Ukrainian’s would welcome his poorly trained military conscripts with open arms and kisses of gratitude for rounding-up all the Nazi’s left over from WWII. Unfortunately, no one with an ounce of authority dared remind him Ukraine was a Democratic nation led by a Democratically elected Jew, who’s great grand-parents died when the Nazis burned their village and his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers all entered the Soviet Red Army, but only his grandfather survived.

He also believed those hoodwinked low paid conscripts would engender as much nationalistic determination as the patriotic Ukrainian’s fighting for their lives and loved ones and their nation and Democracy.

Likewise, the cowed generals seated at the block long conference table, peed their highly decorated uniforms every time they had to fend off taunts and darts fired by Putin at 60 paces. No one had the courage to stop a madman bent on destroying a peaceful neighbor, and with it their own Russian Federation.

Putin can’t blame the Russian zombie nation he keeps behind his Iron Curtain of propaganda, but the rest of the world can and will. His facade though, is showing as many cracks as the vaunted Russian war machine. In spite of Putin’s flashback to Czarist Russia, this is the 21st Century, where information grapevines steeped with minute-by-minute news and world views are influenced and possibly distorted by Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Snapchat etc. etc.

Putin’s information wack-a mole isn’t keeping pace with modern day technology. Each time he quashes another independent media source, a couple more pop up.

It could be Radio Free Europe broadcasting through the maze. It might be a courageous state sponsored news room producer dancing across the nightly news set behind an unaware spokesperson, with a sign begging viewers to open their eyes and ears.

Or Arnold Schwarzenegger using Twitter and Telegram to speak directly to his Russian followers, telling them about his fathers actions during the siege of Leningrad, which caused him a lifetime of both physical pain from a broken back and shrapnel and mental pain from guilt, for participating in an unjust war. He pleaded for the Russian soldiers to keep from making the same tragic mistakes his father made.

It might even be a few reformed self preserving oligarchs clearing their conscience and or spilling the beans in return for titles to their confiscated multimillion dollar condos, yachts and jets.

It could be the more than 200,000 Russians fleeing the country, a massive brain drain not witnessed since the worst of the Soviet Union’s dark days. It could be the growing thousands of Russian protestors courageous enough to risk a quick trip to a gulag and 15 years in prison for calling Putin’s invasion and war just what it is.

Yes, the lack of information/abundance of ignorance will be a challenge to overcome; approximately 65% of the Russian public believe Putin is acting responsibly, is standing up for and preserving the mother-land, is not a diabolical monster, is going god’s work faithfully endorsed by the State Sponsored Russian Orthodox Church Military Industrial Kleptocratic Complex, all based on what stories Putin jambs down their throat.

It’s unlikely Putin’s ultra ego will allow him to turn tail and flee back to Russia in disgrace; he will continue to pummel and plunder innocent civilians until the heavily sanctioned citizens of Russia get tired of living in terror, in financial depravation and in national disgrace. Will Putin take a bullet, fire himself, hang himself, flee the country, maybe to one of his yachts and just drift into oblivion.

During an interview, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked spokesperson for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, about his intension of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

“I need to ask you this, because the world is afraid, and I want to know whether Putin intends the world to be afraid of the nuclear option. Would he use it?” the CNN anchor asked Peskov.

Putin “intends to make the world listen to and understand our concerns” about the perceived “anti-Russia” threat from the West, said Peskov.

“I want to ask you again. Is President Putin, because, again, the Finnish president said to me that when he asked Putin directly about this, because President Putin has laid that (nuclear) card on the label, President Putin said that, if anybody tries to stop him, very bad things will happen. And I want to know whether you are convinced or confident that your boss will not use that option.”

“Well, we have a concept of domestic security, and, well, it’s public. You can read all the reasons for nuclear arms to be used,” Peskov responded. “So, if it is an existential threat for our country, then it can be used, in accordance with our concept.”

But since the only existential threat to the Russian Federation is clearly Putin himself, I guess he should nuke himself and all the cowards in the Kremlin and the Federal Assembly, who failed to stop him from blundering into his existential threat to humanity.

Putin claimed he was invading Ukraine in order to save it from Nazi overlords who disdain Russian speaking Ukrainians. But what exactly does President Putin and the Russian war mongers have to offer Ukraine, or anyone for that matter? Terrorized families, more than 10 million refugees, millions of women and children fleeing for their lives, grand parents hiding in cellars because they’re too disabled or feeble to flee. Beautiful historic cities bombed into dust. Starving innocent people dogging rockets and missiles, and mass graves when they fail that. A ruling government that commanders 85% of a nations wealth and hands it over to a handful of connected oligarchs. Leadership that invests the balance of that GDP in military weapons of war and a domestic police state apparatus that suppresses descent, choice, individualism and above all, freedom. Ukraine has clearly seen this playbook before and are determined to fight with every ounce of their battered bodies to preserve their Democracy.

Putin has no one to blame but himself, for creating this Putinopia of his own imagination and for investing in a brutally structured Kleptocratic czarism, instead of in the Russian people.

When and if Putin finally cries uncle, there must be no plausible justifications or excuses condoned and no face saving plea deals negotiated this time. Ukraine, Europe and the entire world demands long overdue justice from this Russian marauder. Only a reckoning before the World Criminal Court for the perpetrators and supporters of this conflagration will suffice, and reparations for a plundered, innocent, sovereign nation must be exacted.

This time, for the good of the world and human existence, the civilized world cannot let this megalomaniac off the hook; the businesses who pulled out of Russia must refuse to return until Putin and his lot are disposed of. A free and fair election of all government officials supervised by a United Nations tribunal could go a long way to eventually returning Russia to some semblance of respect and legitimacy.

The crippling sanctions must remain in place until Ukraine is guaranteed security, reparations and justice. The thousands of war protestors, including political prisoners like Alexis Navalny must be exonerated. I guess it’s better late than never that countries who prospered from riches stolen from Russia are finally taking international money laundering laws serious, but if they and the U.S. had done more to crack down on Russia’s ruling Kleptocrats during the last two decades of Putin’s criminal reign, maybe he wouldn’t have had the means to launch this war.

America and the West must also come to terms with it’s own failings. Access to Russia’s oil and gas can no longer justify allowing Vladman the Madman to threaten the entire world order and existence with a nuclear holocaust. And if the Russian people and their cowed institutions can’t keep Putin or his successors in check, NATO and the United Nations must.

And blindly obedient Trump cult followers, far right government haters and our right wing media must also wake up. Idolizing, enabling and refusing to hold Autocrats and tyrants like Putin and his adoring want-a-be Donald J. Trump accountable for criminal conduct encourages and enables catastrophic tragedies like we’re witnessing in Ukraine today.

The blatant lies used by Putin to invade a peaceful, sovereign Democratic nation reminds us of the 2020 election “Big Lie” Trump still propagates to delude his faithful. But as Ukraine and the world tragically now realizes, condoning lies and ignoring the truth and facts can have apocalyptic consequences. In addition to Putin’s senseless war of choice, Trump and his sheeple used lies and conspiracies to try to overturn a free and fair election and attempt to overthrow our own Democracy. Putin and Trump are one in the same when it comes to truth telling.

Fake news collaborators can’t be ignored or downplayed. The Foxification of Russia’s state run media and the Russification of our own far right wing nationalistic media, undermines democratic fundamentals and the rule of law in both countries.

The Biden administration just finally passed a $1.2 trillion long overdue infrastructure bill. If Russia stopped the war today, it would probably cost more than that to rebuild Ukraine. And how many generations will it take before the millions of tons of forever chemicals and toxic military materials can be scrubbed and leached from Ukraine’s homeland soil and water. This war has set back environmental and climate change progress in Europe for a decade or more and self serving maniacs like Putin and Trump couldn’t care less.

I’ve written about tarbabys many times and said that a certain one might be the biggest one yet, but this Ukraine tarbaby latched on by Putin might just top all those others combined. Brer Rabbit Putin thought he could just waltz into his neighbors backyard and take by force what the industrious and forward thinking Ukrainians have nurtured since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But considering the crippling lasting sanctions on Russia’s economy and Russian society, Putin’s blatant disregard for anyone but himself, the consequential damages inflicted on Ukraine and it’s defenders, the pain and grief and misery suffered by so many, this tar on Russia’s national reputation will take many generations to erase.

 G— O— P—- Party

John Hanno, tarbabys.com     October 4, 2018

 

                G— O— P—- Party

The Grand Old Party was on a downward trajectory long before trump Inc. commandeered the controls and turned it into a cult of Kleptocrats, climate deniers, spendthrifts, fiscally responsible cynics, evangelical back-sliders, sexual predators, and morally reprehensible apologists. Compassionate Conservatism, although never a plausible Republi-con policy, is now a form of pure political derision by what’s left of your grandfathers GOP.

America is tragically being governed by it’s crazy uncle; that loon who shows up at family events and ruins everyone’s party. He’s inconsolable, unapproachable, uncompromising, unhinged and unapologetic when he spews out bigoted or nonsensical dribble. He lies with abandon and nominated a kindred coagulated mini me in brett kavanaugh.

America endures the most shameful era in it’s highly respected and emulated Democratic history. Decadence is too mild a word.

It’s not just that trump is undeniably the worse president in history; and not just that trump is clearly one of the worst business executives in U.S. history (read the Times 38 page history of trump’s Fraudland); it’s that he’s one of the most despicable humans ever to aspire to public office and allege reverence for public service.

There’s no adjective too strong to describe what trump and his enablers in Congress represent – Despicable 3 Are We!

Like a crack addict who will do absolutely anything for his next fix; trump’s fix of course is “winning” the moment. Pushing any crazy conspiracy, telling any lie, belittling or degrading any person, even victims of sexual abuse, just to achieve any edge, or gain, no matter how insignificant, inconsequential; no matter how disruptive or destructive to our Republic.

trump and his entire administration spends most waking hours, and even unconscious dreams, scheming ways to make themselves richer and more powerful; and trump has used the presidency to heal his failing business ventures and cash in before the justice department shows up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with an arrest warrant or articles of impeachment.

I have to save room to criticize the Republi-cons in congress and trumps unwavering lemmings. I find myself frequently checking thesaurus, looking for words strong enough to adequately describe what they allow as just normal trump behavior.

The Republi-con party and along with them, their depraved Evangelicals, will be forever  tainted as the party of Nationalists, racists, abusers, moral degenerates and grifters.

trump brags about violating our constitution, breaking the law and ignoring centuries of U.S. precedent by turning desperate asylum seekers away from our borders. He conducts U.S. foreign policy so as to enrich himself, his family, his billionaire friends and his political donors. He attempts to use the justice department to protect him and his cronies and punish his enemies. He nominated kavanaugh solely for the purpose of ensuring his corrupt usurpation of our Democratic institutions will continue unchecked.

Progressive, critical thinking Americans must brush aside the nonsensical flotsam and jetsam ebbing daily from trump’s white house and keep their eye on the damage undermining our constitution, our institutions and our environment.

trump attempts to scare the bejesus out of his faithful and proclaims “only I can fix it,” instead of working together democratically; the M.O for despotism 101.

If kavanaugh is confirmed before a full and fair investigation by the FBI or some other legitimate fact finding body, the political whitewash will further divide the county; and the GOP will forever be labeled as the Grab Our Pussy Party. Sadly, I think most trump supporters couldn’t care less.

Will the few semi-moderate republi-cons in the Senate finally decide they’ve had enough and put America and kavanaugh’s family out of their misery and vote against his confirmation. Not likely; but hope springs eternal.

I would like to pose a few questions for the republi-con Senators who adamantly refused to be swayed. If your daughters or grand-daughters, maybe like kavanaugh’s two daughters, Elizabeth age 10 and Margaret age 13, were victims of a bunch of privileged, marauding, mean drunks who believe they’re entitled to get naive young women drugged or drunk and stand in line for their turn at ‘boys will be boys’ rights of passage, would they demand justice for their children? Would they still want justice 35 years later if their loved ones suffered in silence but finally found the courage to come forward so someone else could be spared a similar fate? Would you want a full and fair investigation or is it more important to toe the party line?

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, locked in a tight reelection campaign, displayed extreme courage today by announcing she will not vote to confirm kavanaugh, saying:  “In my judgment, Judge Kavanaugh is not someone we want on the Supreme Court.”

Senators Manchin, Flake, Murkowski and Collins should do the right thing and stand with Sen. Heitkamp.

Update:

Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski both voted against kavanaugh. The rest will have to live with their decision to confirm a right-wing zealot, climate denier and serial abuser for the United States Supreme Court. The truth usually exposes itself eventually. Hopefully, justice will be done.

Juz whaa kine ah Merica da yah wann pepul?

John Hanno, www.tarbabys.com      April 10, 2018    

Juz whaa kine ah Merica da yah wann pepul?

trump’s bait n switch, 3 card monte, pig in a poke, catfishing presidency, and his cabal of Republi-con enablers, have reneged on every boast he used to scam his desperate supporters. Hood, meet Wink! “I know and will hire the best and brightest people.”  “I’ll repeal and replace Obamacare with something much, much better and cheaper on my first day in office.” “I’ll build the best wall and have Mexico pay for it.” “Nobody knows infrastructure better than me.” “I’m the best deal maker; I wrote the best book on the subject.” “I know more than the generals.” “We passed the biggest tax cut in history and it’ll pay for itself.” “I will protect your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, unlike all the other Republicans running against me.” “I will bring back all the jobs.” “Manufacturer’s will no longer take their jobs off shore.” “I’m really an environmentalist.” “I’ll probably never see any of my golf clubs while I’m in office; I’ll never leave the White House because I’ll be working too hard,” “… draining the swamp.”

I could go on and on and on but I just don’t have the time or energy. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag here; most of us have been on to this flim flamery even before trump’s “greatest” inauguration

It took more than 14 months of catastrophic overreaching, obsessive repeals of necessary environmental and consumer regulations and Obama era achievements, unchecked self enrichment and gross malfeasance, but the donald’s entrenched voters are finally starting to peal off. Unfortunately we can’t say the same for the Republi-con leadership in congress. They never fail to wear their American flag pins on their lapels and champion their constitutional fealty, especially the 2nd Amendment, but then show their true patriotic stripes by ignoring their duty to reign in their party’s morally and ethically bankrupt commander in chief.

No far right political donor wish or demand has gone unfulfilled. Potential administration employees, no matter how unqualified or flawed, were ever rejected as long as they pledged allegiance to the leader. Every undaunted loyalist was rewarded in spades.

trump’s world view is “flat” again. Beware progressive libtards, his idea of new and improved is to return Merica to it’s white Christian roots. The good old Robber Baron era was just fine by the rich and powerful, and black folks were “really happier and better-off during slavery.” No need for civil rights, workers rights, women rights or voters rights. And forget the “Great American Melting Pot;” immigration is passé, especially for black and brown folks. trump knows what’s best for us and will “Make America Great Again.” Believe him!

Forget public education and science and climate change and global warming and facts and figures and by the way, the “truth” is in the eye of the beholder. Evolution is just another unproven theory, no better than Creationism. Just ask his Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos.

The new Evangelicals associated with trumpism have embraced a new paradigm. They’re no longer tethered to a moral compass. They’ve found a new Jesus Christ, one who shuns the poor and downtrodden. They forget the teachings of Jesus and the Bible when its convenient. Women are just another commodity to be used and abused. And greed is actually Godly.

Move over renewable, sustainable energy, there’s a “new” more toxic agenda oozing from the American landscape and environment; like more expensive and unclean – clean coal, and with it a financial boost to black-lung health care professionals, but not to miners pensions. Un-stranding stranded fossil fuel assets held by trump and republican corporate and billionaire donors is job one.

gas2.org

Move aside blossoming and cheaper wind and solar energy, unreliable and toxic tar-sand oil is pulsing through 100’s of thousands of miles of risky pipelines again, Obama and Native American’s be damned. Never mind that America’s precious lakes, rivers and aquifers are necessary for drinking water and vital for our survival. Yes, “Water is Life” Mni Winconi, but their greedy benefactors must be repaid.

   

Our National Parks and public lands will finally be exploited yall; we will leave no stone or pristine, pastoral vista unturned, undrilled or unplundered. ANWR is just a bunch of letters.

Gunsmoke is not just a legacy rerun on WeTV, Dodge City is back pardner. The wild west is back pilgrim. Step aside Matt Dillon, the new sheriff in town is gunnin for you and your namby pamby gun control rules and ‘regalations’ and he’s packing an AR-15 with high capacity magazines and a bump stock. Snowflake Barack Husain Obama is old school gentlemen, our teachers and preachers are armed and dangerous. Our bartenders will settle all drunken disputes.

This new GOP is also all in favor of Putin and his thievin oligarchs, because well, they’re really just like them. trump and most of his administration is deferential to Putin and the Russians because they all seem to have had previous contacts or business dealings. trump’s advisers admonished him: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Putin on his sham of an election win during a recent phone call. trump ignored them and congratulated him anyway. Sure, he’s an autocratic tyrant and leader of the largest criminal enterprise in the world, one who thinks nothing of murdering opponents and members of the press but trump says we do bad things too. During the call, trump refused to discuss Putin’s interference in our election and their poisoning of the father and daughter in the UK. Apparently just collateral damage.

In this new trump world order, you can have all the guns you want, if it gives you a false sense of security or makes you feel safe in a sanctuary city Republi-cons tout as overrun with dangerous Muslims and immigrants….But that won’t protect your children and grandchildren from the young white terrorists bent on reaping as much carnage as their readily available military weapons will afford.

You can support trump’s and his conflicted Climate Denier in Charge Scott Pruitt’s war on our environment and the Obama administration’s clean water and clean air legislation…But that will only increase America’s health care costs and your own health insurance premiums.

You can ignore the corruption and self dealing, rampant in trump’s white house and cabinet…But that won’t give you a living wage or protect your hard earned Social Security and Medicare entitlements.

trump admires and praises profiteering dictators around the world, because he’s on the same wavelength with these tyrants and his goals and ethics are diametrically opposed to democratic principles and our democratic institutions. Will you support a kleptocratic despot or American Democracy?

You can ignore trump’s unabashed self dealing campaign to enrich himself, his family, his wealthy friends, his billionaire donors and his cabinet’s fortunes…but that won’t trickle down to your substandard wages and benefits; we’ve been there done that, time and again. Never worked and never will.

USA Today

trump said he’s “unbelievably” rich, and if you hired him, he would work to make America rich again, make you rich again. But you should have doubted when he refused to show you his audited income taxes; he was probably on the verge of his seventh bankruptcy. You wouldn’t believe Mr. “Government Should Be Run As a Business” has mucked up every business enterprise he’s ever floated. You refused to see through the BS.

But Robert Mueller and his steadfast team of investigators are tightening the noose, having focused the bright lights on trump’s favorite and impolite personal attorney Michael Cohen.

The donald has impulsively fired most of the moral and sensible checks and balances to his presidential derangement. You may be witnessing the end of America’s constitutional nightmare. I’m sure the Vegas line on his impending demise no longer favors the (White) house.

You can still prefer to sate your implied moral and ideological indignation’s, with the diversionary atonement emanating from the trump / Fox News State Press every day…but America’s calamities grow intransigent. You can choose to believe trump and Fox when they call the outraged and determined free press, critical thinkers and skeptics fake news, but the real truth may just set you free.    John Hanno, www.tarbabys.com

Battle of the Century

John Hanno September 23, 2017

             Battle of the Century

The war of words between Donald J. Trump and Kim Jung Un should really be fought in an arena familiar to both of these antagonists, an MMA ring in Las Vegas.

https://thehornnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/trump-kim-jong-un-1-600x315.jpg

                                              Nicknames                          
                                        The Dotard v. Rocketman
                                                  Country
                                        USA              North Korea
                                                    Age
                                           71                 33
                                                 Height
                                        6’2″             5’9″ with Cuban heals
                                                Weight
                       236 or 267 lbs           20 Stones or 280 lbs
                                                 Reach
                          Small Hands            Short Arms
                                                 Fights
  Over 4,000 Court battles             No one lived to tell tale

A Conor McGregor v. Floyd Mayweather rematch would certainly take second billing to any MMA fight between The Dotard and Rocketman. Worldwide viewership would be off the charts. Naturally, the Art of the Donald would try to negotiate a favorable pay per view deal, with an 80-20 split; but Rocketman would surly threaten lobbing a missile at Guam unless he gets equal treatment.

The purse should be set by the United Nations. Winner take all. If Dotard wins, Rocketman will have to give up his maniacal plans to join the list of nuclear juggernauts and also use that money saved from cuts in onerous military spending to actually feed every North Korean citizen more than a small bowl of rice every day. If Rocketman wins, The Dotard will have to actually appoint highly qualified State Department folks, who would then sit down with the North Koreans and negotiate an effective and lasting peace accord. Both fighters must stipulate to parking their oversized egos and stopping the crazy escalation of boastful and reckless hostilities.

This fight must be shown in Prime Time on broadcast and cable TV so all the world would be able to view it for free.

As soon as this fight would be announced, Las Vegas and other book-makers would quickly establish the odds. Based on the all important jowl factor, The Dotard with 4 chins and Rocketman with no chin at all, this would be a plus for Dotard. And the fact that Rocketman broke both his ankles because he put on two much weight and insists on wearing shoes with Cuban heals so that he looks taller than he is, another plus for Dotard. Since Dotard hates any type of exercise and Rocketman does a lot of parading before his military troops, Rocketman gets an advantage. Rocketman smokes and drinks to excess but Dotard loves fast food so I guess that’s a draw. The Dotard gets a boost from his past experience in professional wrestling. Since Rocketman is almost 40 years younger, that should be an advantage for him. But to be fair to The Dotard, considering his advanced age and his elevated PSA levels, both fighters would get two covfefe breaks; but The Dotard would get two additional breaks. Considering the physical condition of these two participants, if either fighter makes it past the second round, it will be a miracle.

Rocketman would have Dennis Rodman for his cornerman and The Dotard would certainly use Vladimir.

The fight would conform to unified MMA rules. They would be designated Super Heavy Weights. No No’s include

  • No groin attacks.
  • No knees to the head on a grounded opponent.
  • No strikes to the back of the head or the spine.
  • No head butts. (Sorry, soccer fans.)
  • No eye gouging.
  • No fish hooking.
  • No fingers in an opponent’s orifices. (Eww!)
  • No biting.
  • No hair pulling. (Besides, that’s so second grade.)
  • No strikes or grabbing of the throat.
  • No manipulation of the fingers or toes.
  • No intentional grabbing of the ring or cage.
  • No intentional throwing of your opponent outside of the ring or cage. (That stuff belongs in professional wrestling.)
  • And considering the reputation of these two fighters, No grabbing below the waist, no spitting, no lying and no demeaning name calling.

My prognostication? Late in the 1st round, Dotard grabs Rocketman by the bul-al (Korean for testicles) and refuses to let go. Rocketman finally screams no mas. Dotard does a disjointed victory dance but is quickly disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct. Dotard goes on a twitter rant and claims Referee HRC fixed the fight.

It appears both of these flawed and unlikely leaders probably wouldn’t think twice about sending young men and women into battle for the slightest of provocations or insults, but does anyone actually believe either one would lead the charge.

Earth Day 2017, A Turning Point?

Earth Day 2017, A Turning Point?

John Hanno  –  April 22, 2017

save planet earth, recycle; three hands around ecology globe - earth day stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

At this time last year, many of us concerned with the survival of the planet, saw a faint light at the end of the apocalyptic global warming tunnel. President Obama was in charge and the White House was full of climate change true believers; deniers were relegated to Fox News and the Republican fossil fuel panders in Congress.

The Paris Agreement, under the authority of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, negotiated by 195 countries, was opened for signatures on Earth Day last year at a ceremony in New York. As of April 2017, 195 members have signed the treaty, and after enough (143) countries ratified it, it went into effect on November 4, 2016.

Also last year, the Standing Rock Nation Earth Protectors and millions of supporters and environmentalists around the world, were stopping Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines in their dirty tracts. This valiant opposition convinced President Obama to deny approval for the Keystone and order the Army Corp to reevaluate the DAPL.

But what a difference a year makes. Trump had barely been sworn in when he approved both Keystone and Dakota Access. And with the installment of fossil fuel panderer and climate denier Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump began paying back the fossil fuel polluters who helped get him elected.

With Trump in the White House and the Republi-cons in control of Congress, this Earth Day is fraught with ominous clouds. The Donald wants to slash the EPA budget by 30%. He also wants to make steep cuts to the Energy Departments environmental programs designed to shift America’s dependence on fossil fuel to primarily supporting renewable energy. This budget could effectively eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, clearly antithetical to ‘true’ conservative governance. It would also strip $1 billion from the Office of Science. And of course, Trump and his fossil fuel and polluter friends, have proposed eliminating any and all environmental regulations as a top priority.

Unfortunately, the one consistent thing we can count on concerning our climate, is that every month and year establishes more extreme weather records. But no matter how many obstacles Trump and his cast of anti science, oil, gas and chemical pandering cabinet deniers, along with the Repubs in Congress, place in the way of the undaunted march of sustainable alternative energy progress, rational folks will not be deterred. Tomorrow, more than 1 billion earth protectors around the world will celebrate Earth Day 2017.

The original environmentalists, our Native American Standing Rock Earth Protectors, are regrouping and joining Bold Nebraska and the landowners standing in the way of Trans Canada’s plans to build the Keystone pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Texas refineries, for the sole purpose of exporting tar sands to the world markets. These tar sands are the dirtiest oil on the planet. This dilbit (tar mixed with sand), must be melted with steam and mixed with cancer causing diluents so it can be transported in a pipeline. This process is the most devastating to the environment. This dilbit is also extremely corrosive to pipelines and runs the risk of leaking and contaminating the Nebraska sand hills and the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to eight states and 10’s of millions of Americans.

This isn’t about American energy independence, its about the greed of Canadian pipeline companies and the oil industry they serve, and their indifference to the health and safety of families, farmers and Native American tribes in the middle of America. It’s just not worth the risk to only benefit greedy oil interests and their political benefactors.

Investment in these dirty tar sands has been cut by two thirds. Di-vestments by cities, universities, green funds, pension funds and others has made a difference and has put pressure on the banks funding these toxic pipelines and tar sand extraction interests to withdraw funding or sell their interests.

Earth Day’s ‘Marches For Science’: “Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, DC, but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the Peoples Climate March on April 29—also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world. The March for Science website says organizers are ‘advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.’ ” Dr. David Suzuki

Responsible politicians and business leaders in America and around the world are joining the inevitable switch to a sustainable future for mankind. Donald J. Trump is unfortunately not one of those forward thinking leaders. Hundreds of corporations have pledged to switch to 100% renewable energy. Some have already achieved their lofty goals. Apple already uses 96% renewables for its manufacturing processes and has pledged to use 100% recyclables for it products. China is now the largest user of solar energy and India has also gone all in on solar, having gone on line with the largest solar array in the world. Every day brings a new chapter in the fight to save our planet and some amazing story about alternative energy progress. The Smithsonian will present its series on the fight to save animal species on the National Geographic Channel.

RE100 is a global campaign of The Climate Group in partnership with CDP, to promote and support businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity. Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, Voya Financial, and Walmart have joined RE100 and pledged to source 100% of their electricity from renewable energy in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

When RE100 was launched in 2014, there were 13 original corporate partners: IKEA Group, Swiss Re, BT Group, Formula E, H&M, KPN, Nestlé, Philips, RELX Group, J. Safra Sarasin, Unilever and YOOX Group. Mars, Inc. was the first US business to join. 36 major businesses from around the world have since joined the campaign. Elion Resources Group was the first Chinese company to join in 2015 and Infosys Technology company was the first Indian company to join the group. Swiss financial company UBS and Dutch Life Sciences and Materials sciences company Royal DSM have also joined and pledged.

Voters must ask themselves why our current President, self described as the “greatest businessman,” is refusing to join these concerned, responsible and true conservative world leaders, attempting to save the planet.

Check out two recent books helpful to understanding the fight to save our environment. The 2016 book “Getting to Green”: A bipartisan Solution, by Fredric C. Rich.

And “Climate of Hope,” a new book released last Monday, co-authored by Carl Pope and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

During the long campaign, Mr. Trump asked desperate voters in America’s rust belt, and in rural, mostly red states, many who have long ago fallen out of the middle class, to trust him. They overlooked his long history of cheating business partners, denigrating women, playing fast and loose with our “on your honor” income tax system and his single minded obsession with only doing what’s best for Trump. I guess they thought somehow, there was a slim chance he wouldn’t let them down like other politicians had done before. But they have only themselves to blame. He made a long list of totally unrealistic promises that only a mother would believe. He lied so much, it would have been easier just to highlight the rare occasion when he actually told the truth. He consistently lied about his tax returns and his business dealings with the Russian oligarchs. He insisted voters really didn’t care. It’s not surprising that the latest Gallop poll claims only 36% believe Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”

And this past weekend, on traditional income tax day April 15th, saw more than 120,000 folks take to the streets demanding that Mr. Trump produce his tax returns. Poll after poll reveals 75% of us, including many Republicans, want to see those returns. These tax records will be helpful in showing who Trump is loyal or beholden to and may explain the reasons he’s willing to forsake the survival of the world and future generations, even his own grand children, in order to reward the fossil fuel industry and polluters. His explanation, that he’s trying to create jobs, is an easily proven line of bull. More jobs have been created in the  alternative energy industry than all jobs in fossil fuel combined. Jobs in the wind industry, which have just surpassed 100,000 are growing 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Even though 75% of voters want to maintain or improve the EPA, these Republi-cons in charge would like nothing better than to neuter the whole department; and will try to reverse the progress made by the Obama administration in protecting our air, land and especially our precious water. Concerned Americans must do their part to make sure that doesn’t happen. A good time to start is tomorrow, Earth Day. Join your friends and neighbors in one of the marches or demonstrations. Or just plant a tree. Although a large majority of Trump supporters are incapable or simply refuse to use scientific reason or engage in critical thinking when it comes to the environment and climate change, Republicans who consider themselves ‘True Conservatives,’ must speak truth to power to this uncurious, anti-science president.       John Hanno

ecosolutions

What is Earth Day, and what is it meant to accomplish?

By Kathleen Rogers, for CNN   April 21, 2017

Kathleen Rogers is President of Earth Day Network. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Forty-seven years ago, on 22 April 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly. In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clear Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

One billion people

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and we believe that more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

It is a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations, humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.

In the lead up to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in 2020, Earth Day Network launched a campaign to bring climate and environmental literacy to the world.

Climate literacy is now recognized universally as the engine for driving individual behavioral change, building consumer support for a green economy, creating green technologies and jobs, and promoting policy reforms at all levels of government.

Recognizing the importance of an educated global population, the authors of the Paris Climate Agreement put climate education at its heart, calling on national governments to cooperate in taking measures to enhance climate education, training and access to information.

Environmental education has evolved since 1970, and new models are gaining traction. Once focused solely on teaching the science of the natural world, environmental education has since embraced the concepts of sustainable development, promoting the economic values associated with the transition to the green economy – including jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship. These attributes are becoming part of a continuum of environmental learning.

An uphill battle

Different models for formal and informal climate education are sprouting around the globe. Some countries internalized the values of climate and environmental education years ago, recognizing that the jobs of the future belong to those who understand not just information about the environment, but also the potential for economic growth.

Finland, for example, already recognized for its top educational system, has been teaching environmental education and climate risks and opportunities for more than a decade.

More and more countries around the world, including Italy, Morocco, and Nicaragua, are now passing laws that will create a new generation of skilled green energy jobs in a way that we have never seen before.

At the same time, climate and environmental education face an increasingly uphill battle in the US.

Unlike many countries, the US allows individual states to control their own curricula. The result is 50 separate climate and environmental literacy plans, some of which avoid teaching about climate change at all.

Given the uneven landscape of political support for protecting our planet, Earth Day remains a critical point in time. Not a day of remembrance but a day of action.

Forty-seven years after the first Earth Day, the jury is still out on whether we will take the actions that are necessary to save ourselves. Education and action are the two most valuable steps we can take to protect our planet. Earth Day is the day to start.

EcoWatch

How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet

Carl Pope April 19, 2017

It’s a big week for me. Monday was the official publication date of “Climate of Hope,” my new book co-authored with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The book’s premise is that climate solutions now constitute an enormous short term opportunity—healthier communities, greater prosperity, enhanced security—for both the U.S. and the world community. The key to seizing that opportunity is to understand that the climate crisis is a symptom of multiple market failures and political follies, not a single free-standing “problem;” that leadership in implementing solutions is already emerging not so much from national governments as from cities, businesses and citizen activists; and that this bottom up leadership is the key to continuing to accelerate the pace of progress and the prospects for avoiding catastrophic risks to the climate.

Climate of Hope is now out there being reviewed – not always favorably – so I thought I’d use this blog to give my perspective on why Mike and I believe this approach does, in fact, offer a solid pathway out of the climate crisis.

The main criticism thus far—and I expect this to continue—is that we are wrongly arguing that national governments don’t matter, and that cities and businesses alone can correct our climate follies. We don’t, make that argument, and they can’t do it alone. A number of our key approaches clearly require national action—like redirecting agricultural subsidies away from encouraging overproduction of cotton and corn towards supporting regenerative agriculture which can suck carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is a climate threat, and into the soil, where it becomes a fertility and water storage enhancing asset.

But others, like modernizing building codes to ensure that any house built after 2020 is hyper-efficient, powered by its own renewable generation, so its owners don’t have to pay a utility bill and don’t pollute the atmosphere when they turn on the lights, are intrinsically the business of local (and state) governments.

And in the U.S. political context some that sound national—like encouraging the rapid replacement of internal combustion cars with electric drive—may actually emerge from a combination of city and state action. Led by Los Angeles, a coalition of 30 U.S. cities recently announced they would jointly bid out purchase orders for up to 114,000 electric drive vehicles at a cost of $10 billion, while California and 12 partner states made clear they would move forward with their zero emission vehicle mandate. So the cities are providing electric-drive vehicles with the scale needed to bring down prices and improve performance, while the states are guaranteeing that the market for these vehicles will continue to grow far beyond what city fleets alone could guarantee.

Similarly, the center piece of the Trump administration assault on President Obama’s climate legacy, the suspension of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), assumes that the future of America’s electric sector depends on a top-down national mandate, because utilities will otherwise cling to their existing fossil fuel dependent facilities. But while the CPP envisaged cutting utility emissions by only 30 percent by 2025, citizen action and market forces had already slashed power plant carbon pollution by 25 percent at the end of 2016, and we are on track to cut these emissions by almost 50 percent, not 30 percent, by 2025, through market forces and public pressure.

On the other hand, cleaning up methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands, another Obama rule Trump would like to quash, can’t be replaced by state and local initiatives—the federal government ultimately must become part of the solution. But just as during the Progressive era at the start of the 20th century it was cities and states and forged the new policy instruments that eventually became the New Deal, rather than waiting for Washington, just so Mike Bloomberg and I believe that political leadership on climate in the United States, and elsewhere, will come from below, not from national elites which remain in thrall to the fossil lobby and other entrenched interests. (Remember those crop subsidies? Shifting them to protect the climate would be good for farmers, but bad for pesticide and fertilizer interests.)

The essential message of Climate of Hope, however, is that every one of the separate market and political failures that threaten the climate has its own unique source and solution—each requiring a different approach and reform, all making us better off. CFC’s, for example, cooling and refrigeration chemicals were deployed to replaced ozone depleting predecessors with inadequate testing. Because of their extraordinary ability to prevent solar radiation from bouncing back into space, they loomed as a huge future climate risk. But just as an international treaty—the Montreal Protocol—got rid of the risk of ozone depleting chemicals—the ozone layer is now healing—an amendment to that same treaty is now going to replace HFCs with climate safe alternatives.

Carbon emissions from deforestation mostly stem from illegal logging—so ending corruption and cracking down on the trade in contraband timber are key climate solutions. Methane emissions from rice paddies require better irrigation and cropping practices in rural areas, while methane from urban trash can be prevented by cities deciding to compost garbage instead of dumping it in landfills. Nitrous oxide emissions are soaring because nations subsidize over-fertilization instead of helping farmers figure out how much fertilizer their crops can really utilize. Black carbon from diesels will end as soon as we require all the world’s fuels to be refined to eliminate sulfur contamination, something cities and ports are initiating. But black carbon from biomass cooking in developing countries demands giving poor families access to clean cooking fuels—either ethanol from crop wastes or LPG gas currently being wasted and flared.

That diversity of solutions requires a diversity of leaders—yes, presidents, prime ministers and diplomats, but also mayors, CEO’s, school board members, architects, procurement officers, rural co-op directors, governors, municipal utility executives, hedge fund managers, college trustees and rear admirals. And properly chosen climate solutions will make each of those jobs easier, and enable those who hold them to deliver better results.

EcoWatch

American Wind Energy Association  

11 Reasons to Celebrate Wind Energy’s Record Year

By John Hensley April 19, 2017

11 Reasons to Celebrate Wind Energy’s Record Year

AWEA released its U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2016 today, which showcases strong, steady growth throughout the year.

Wind power became the largest source of renewable generating capacity and supplied record amounts of wind energy to many parts of the country. Strong wind project construction, a growing manufacturing sector and the increasing need for wind turbine technicians and operators allowed the industry to add jobs at a rate nine times faster than the overall job market, as wind employment grew to a record 102,500.

Technology advances resulted in more productive turbines, with recent generations achieving average capacity factors more than 40 percent, all while costs continued to fall. And the industry saw the installation of the country’s first offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island.

Here are the top 11 wind industry trends in 2016:

  1. Record Wind Jobs

For the first time in history, there are more than 100,000 Americans employed in the U.S. wind energy industry. Strong wind construction activity throughout the year, combined with a strengthening wind manufacturing sector and growing need for personnel to operate and maintain more than 52,000 wind turbines, allowed the industry to add nearly 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2016.

That brings total U.S. wind industry jobs to 102,500. Impressively, the U.S. wind industry added jobs more than nine times faster than the overall economy. Strong wind project installation, construction, and development activity, combined with strong wind-related manufacturing activity, and over 52,000 wind turbines to operate and maintain, led wind jobs to grow 16.5 percent. That’s compared to 1.8 percent for the overall U.S. job market.

  1. Wind #1 Source of Renewable Generating Capacity

Wind energy passed hydroelectric power to become the number one source of renewable generating capacity in 2016. With federal policy stability secured, the U.S. wind industry installed 8,203 megawatts (MW) in 2016 and the industry now has 82,143 MW installed overall, enough wind power for the equivalent of 24 million American homes.

  1. Generation Records Set

Wind energy delivered more than 30 percent of the electricity produced in Iowa and South Dakota in 2016. Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota generated more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, while 20 states now produce more than five percent of their electricity from wind energy. ERCOT, the main grid operator for most of Texas, and SPP, which operates across parts of 14 states, competed for new wind power penetration records throughout 2016, both topping 50% wind energy on several occasions.

  1. U.S. Manufacturing Sector Growth

Wind energy continues to fuel the domestic manufacturing sector, with more than 500 factories across 41 states producing components for the U.S. wind industry in 2016. Domestic wind-related manufacturing jobs grew 17 percent to more than 25,000 as three new factories began supplying the wind industry and five plants expanded production.

  1. Technology Boosts Productivity

Technological advances allow wind turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds, and more sophisticated control systems are increasing the amount of electricity modern wind turbines generate. Wind turbines built in 2014 and 2015 achieved capacity factors more than 40 percent during 2016. At the same time, the cost of wind energy dropped more than 66 percent between 2009 and 2016.

  1. Corporations and Utilities Want Wind

Fortune 500 companies, electric utilities and others signed 47 power purchasing agreements totaling more than 4,000 MW during 2016. In doing so, they cited the declining costs and stable price of wind power as factors. Utilities submitted Integrated Resource Plans detailing at least 14,000 MW in wind power additions in the past two years.

  1. Record Wind Enters Queue

67 gigawatts of newly proposed wind projects were added to interconnection queues in 2016, the largest since the addition of 67.3 GW in 2009. This brings total wind capacity in the queues to 136.8 GW, the highest level in five years.

  1. Improving the Transmission Grid

Transmission expansion to serve wind continues, particularly in MISO and SPP. A number of proposed interregional Direct Current transmission lines have now also cleared final permitting hurdles. In total, transmission projects that could support the delivery of nearly 52,000 MW of wind energy over the next five years are currently under development, though not all are likely to be built.

  1. Wind Benefits Every State

More than 74 percent of U.S. congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities, including 77 percent of Republican districts and 69 percent of Democratic districts. The industry invested more than $14.1 billion in new wind projects and supported 102,500 jobs across all 50 states.

  1. Wind Reduces Emissions and Saves Water

Operational wind projects avoided 393 million pounds of sulfur dioxide and 243 million pounds of nitrogen oxide. These pollutants create smog and trigger asthma attacks, so reducing them saved $7.4 billion in public health costs last year. Meanwhile, operating wind projects avoided the consumption of 87 billion gallons of water, equivalent to 266 gallons per person in the U.S.

  1. Offshore Wind Debut

The first offshore wind project in the U.S. began operating in late 2016. The five turbine, 30 MW Block Island wind farm is located three miles off the coast of Rhode Island, near Block Island.

DeSmogCanada

It’s Still Unclear How Alberta’s Tailings Will Be Cleaned Up Or Who Will Pay For It

By James Wilt   April 21, 2017 

For years, Alberta’s government has reassured the public that it has a plan to ensure the oilsands’ 1.2 trillion litres of hazardous tailings are permanently dealt with after mines shut down.

That assertion is becoming less convincing by the day.

Industry still hasn’t decided on a viable long-term storage technology to begin testing. The fund to cover tailings liabilities in case of bankruptcy is arguably extremely underfunded. And there are concerns from the likes of the Pembina Institute that the future costs for tailings treatment will be far greater than anticipated.

Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary, told DeSmog Canada such questions simply can’t be left unanswered.

“It would the height of unfairness if at the end of all this massive profit and wealth generation, Albertans were left on the hook for what will be landscape-sized disturbances that are potentially very harmful and hazardous to humans and wildlife,” he said.

Oilsands Tailings Plans Nonexistent

The history of tailings regulations is a short one in the province: there simply hasn’t been anything binding. Toxic tailings have been allowed to expand for decades without any real constraints. The last attempt by the province’s energy regulator to require companies “to minimize and eventually eliminate long-term storage of fluid tailings in the reclamation landscape” completely failed.

Every single company breached their own targets.

Directive 085, introduced by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) in July 2016, is intended to rectify that.

On March 17, the AER somewhat surprisingly rejected the first tailings management plan that was submitted under the new rules by oilsands giant Suncor for a series of reasons, including its uncertain timelines and reliance on the “unproven technology” of end pit lakes or water capping (the practice of sealing fine tailings under freshwater with the expectation ponds will evolve into healthy aquatic ecosystems).

“What this most recent rejection of Suncor’s proposal suggests to me is they haven’t done the work, and they’re not yet doing the work,” Olszynski says.

“And they need to do the work.”

Provincial Auditor General Warned of Risk of Oil Price Drop

In July 2015, provincial auditor general Merwan Saher issued a harsh indictment of the fund intended to ensure that Albertans won’t be on the hook for reclamation expenses when oilsands and coal mines shut down.

At the time, only $1.57 billion was held as security deposits in the Mine Financial Security Program for all of Alberta’s reclamation liabilities, worth an estimated $20.8 billion.

As of September 2016 that total is now $1.38 billion with oilsands companies responsible for $940 million of the total. The other $19 billion or so is expected to be paid by companies in the last 15 years of a project’s life, with reserves effectively serving as collateral — but that’s a risky approach, especially with declining oil prices.

There is a “significant risk that asset values…are overstated,” Saher said..

“If an abrupt financial and operational decline were to occur in the oilsands sector,” wrote the auditor general., “It would likely be difficult for an oilsands mine operator to provide this security even if the need for the security was identified through the program.”

Oilsands Accounting Expert Says Situation Is “Major Concern”

That very thing has happened.

Thomas Schneider, assistant accounting professor at Ryerson University who has written extensively on oilsands liabilities, said in an interview that “it’s a major concern” given the recent decline in asset values.

“The main asset securing the liabilities now as per the government and people of Alberta — and ultimately Canada I guess as I don’t know who’s going to have to pay for it if it doesn’t get cleaned up — are supposedly the assets in the ground,” he told DeSmog Canada. “That’s where it stands right now.”

The province’s $20.8 billion estimated liability is already based on shaky market grounds; the asset-to-liability approach considers “proven” (90 per cent likely to be commercially viable) and “probable” (only 50 per cent likely to be commercially viable) reserves as equally valuable, allowing companies to avoid putting in additional securities to the fund so long as assets are assessed at three times that of liabilities.

It’s a potentially troubling prospect in the era of massive write-downs of reserves by the likes of ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Schneider says at this point in time, the government is supposed to re-evaluate the asset-to-liability ratio and require companies to cover off any missing securities with letters of credit or other financial instruments.

A government spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about whether the government has taken a recent look at the ratio.

No Definite Plan A and Definitely No Plan B For Oilsands’ Tailings

Companies and industry groups are putting a lot of work into developing new technologies to deal with tailings.

Nina Lothian, senior analyst at Pembina, said in an interview with DeSmog that there are pros and cons to every tailings technology — end pit lakes, centrifuges, atmospheric fines drying, consolidated tailings — with no clear best choice. Based on the recent rejection of Suncor’s plan, it’s clear the AER is expecting more from companies.

However, there’s the obvious related problem of if those plans fail.

The AER has established an unfortunate reputation in some circles for failing to implement required monitoring and enforcement actions to ensure compliance when it comes to pipeline safety and orphaned wells.

Lothian says that end pit lakes are considered a bit of a “silver bullet” by industry.

The Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, a joint effort by 13 companies, has long planned to build a Demonstration Pit Lakes Project, made up of over a dozen test water bodies and based off of learnings from Syncrude’s Base Mine Lake. The alliance’s website still notes that “phase one of the project could move to construction with potential operation by 2017.” However, when contacted by DeSmog, a spokesperson was unable to provide any information on the status of the Demonstration Pit Lakes Project.

Olszynski says that it will likely require 15 years of monitoring data to know if any particular plan worked. He says that as a result, we wouldn’t have solid results until 2032. But the alliance hasn’t even started building the project.

“For me, the big problem here is we’re well into 2017 at this point, we’re staring down the productive life of some of these sites, and we do not yet have a proven tailings mitigation technology,” he says.

Recent Mining Disasters and Abandonments Point to Potential Dangers

As to whether or not security deposits are meant to include the treatment of tailings, Lothian says Pembina has had no success in answering that question.

Neither Alberta Environment and Parks or the AER have provided clear responses to Pembina. Lothian says that submissions from companies under the Mine Financial Security Program include related reclamation costs like land contouring and revegetation, but there’s no indication of whether funds have been set aside explicitly for tailings treatment.

“We know from all this work with the tailings management plans how many billions of dollars are associated with the treatment side of things,” she says.

In 2011, University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach wrote in an Alberta Oil article: “As long as companies expect to pay the full costs of reclamation, there’s no reason to expect that deferring environmental security payments will appreciably increase investment.”

In other words, the “asset-to-liability approach” might not even have notably increased investments, and instead exposed Albertans to serious costs down the road if companies go bankrupt.

That’s assuming companies expect to pay the full costs of reclamation.

There have been numerous examples in recent years that indicate mining companies can get away without fines or charges for catastrophic tailings breaches, most notably the Mount Polley mine disaster in B.C. and Peabody bankruptcy in the U.S. (the latter of which left around $2 billion in unfunded liabilities).

Provincial Regulator Has Variety of Options to Pursue, Critics Say

But regulators like the AER could take a different approach to avoid such financial disasters.

That could include providing clarity around what the Mine Financial Security Program actually covers, revoking leases for non-compliance, update calculations to acknowledge the distinction between “proven” and “probable reserves” and tap into financial instruments such as letters of credit which Olszynski describes as “bankrupt-proof.”

It would ultimately be up to the AER as an independent agency to craft new calculations for required security deposits or improve communication of the scope of the Mine Financial Security Program. But such shifts would likely require pressure from the government.

In fact, Premier Rachel Notley appeared reasonably convinced of that fact when serving as opposition environment critic, asking during Questioning Period in 2010: “will this government commit to eliminate the existing lakes of poisonous sludge within 20 years and to exercise all authority necessary to make sure it happens?”

However, since forming government the Alberta NDP has said little publicly about tailings management that served as contrast to previous decisions; Environment Minister Shannon Phillips responded to the 2015 report by the auditor general by stating: “We need to analyze whether the asset calculation needs to be changed. We need to update this security program and conduct that detailed risk analysis.”

Nothing appears to have been changed or updated since then.

“This is a really common strategy, where industry just kicks the can down the road over and over again until they are able to get out of cleaning up the waste themselves at the end of operations,” said Jodi McNeill, policy analyst, from the Pembina Institute, in a recent webinar.

“There’s a lot of reason for us to be very concerned.”

EcoWatch

Why We Must March for Science

Dr David Suzuki April 20, 2017

Science isn’t everything. But it is crucial to governing, decision-making, protecting human health and the environment and resolving questions and challenges around our existence.

Those determined to advance industrial interests over all else often attack science. We’ve seen it in Canada, with a decade of cuts to research funding and scientific programs, muzzling of government scientists and rejection of evidence regarding issues such as climate change.

We’re seeing worse in the U.S. The new administration is proposing drastic cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and others. Information about climate change and environmental protection is being scrubbed from government websites, and scientists are being muzzled. Meanwhile, the government is increasing spending on military and nuclear weapons programs.

There’s nothing wrong with challenging research, developing competing hypotheses and looking for flaws in studies. That’s how science works. But rejecting, eliminating, covering up or attacking evidence that might call into question government or industry priorities—evidence that might show how those priorities could lead to widespread harm—is unconscionable. It’s galling to me because I traded a scientific career for full-time communication work because good scientific information helps people make the best decisions to take us into the future.

Many scientists prefer to work quietly, letting their research speak for itself. But recent attacks are galvanizing scientists and supporters throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. The March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, has been building steam for months. The main march will take place in Washington, DC, but more than 425 marches are planned around the world. That kicks off a week of action, culminating in the Peoples Climate March on April 29—also focused on Washington but with satellite marches throughout the world.

The March for Science website says organizers are “advocating for evidence-based policymaking, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

The group’s 850,000-member Facebook page is inspiring, with “advocates, science educators, scientists, and concerned citizens” sharing personal testimonials about their reasons for marching and why science is important to them, along with ideas for posters and slogans, questions about the march, articles about science and exposés of climate disinformation sent to schools and science teachers by the anti-science Heartland Institute.

March participants are a wide-ranging group, from a neuroscientist who is marching “for the thousands of people suffering from spinal cord injury” to sci-fi fans who are marching “Because you can’t have science fiction without science!” to a scientist marching to honor “the many, many women and young girls interested or involved in science” to those marching “because we know climate change is real.”

Celebrating and advocating for science is a good way to mark Earth Day. I’ll be in Ottawa, where a march is also taking place. David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington and I will launch our new book, Just Cool It!, at an Ottawa Writers Festival event that also features award-winning Nishnaabeg musician, scholar and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions at the highest levels of society are endangering human health and survival. Our book is a comprehensive look at the history and implications of climate science, the barriers to confronting the crisis and the many solutions required to resolve it.

It’s discouraging to witness the current attacks on science, and the ever-increasing consequences of climate change, diminishing ocean health and other human-caused problems, but seeing so many people standing up for science and humanity is reason for optimism. Of all the many solutions to global warming and other environmental problems, none is as powerful as people getting together to demand change.

Every day should be Earth Day, but it’s good to have a special day to remind us of the importance of protecting the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we all depend on for health and survival. Politicians are supposed to work for the long-term well-being of people who elect them, not to advance the often short-sighted agendas of those who pay large sums of money to get their way regardless of the consequences. Standing together to make ourselves heard is one of the best ways to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.

EcoWatch

Climate Nexus   April 20, 2017

We Now Know Who Funded Trump’s Inauguration

Exxon,  Chevron and other fossil fuel interests wrote big checks to fund President Trump’s inaugural festivities, according to Federal Election Commission filings released Wednesday.

Contributions from the energy industry totaled more than $7 million, with Hess Corp CEO John Hess donating $1 million, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Citgo Petroleum each chipping in $500k. Coal company Murray Energy, which gave enthusiastically to the Trump campaign while simultaneously laying off workers, threw in $300k.

For many of these donors, the early months of the Trump administration have been particularly fruitful: Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, who donated $250k, saw the president sign an executive memo ordering the construction of the ETP-owned Dakota Access Pipeline merely four days after the inauguration.

More than 1,500 corporate and individual funders for the inauguration raised $107 million all together—twice as much as Barack Obama’s inauguration raised in 2009, and more than any other inaugural event in history.

For a deeper dive:

New York Times, AP, InsideClimate News, The Hill, Politico

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

DeSmog

Clearing the PR Pollution that Clouds Climate Science

One Community’s Fight for Clean Air in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

By Julie Dermansky April 19, 2017

It doesn’t take carefully calibrated measurements to realize there is something wrong with the air around the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana.

From a small plane, I photographed the petrochemical manufacturing facility, until recently owned by DuPont, noting its proximity to the community around its fence line. The emissions were horrible. Breathing them while circling the plant twice left me with a headache that lingered for hours.

The surrounding communities and I were inhaling emissions of chloroprene and 28 other chemicals, which the plant uses to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene.

Chloroprene is nasty stuff. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2010 toxicological review of the chemical resulted in the agency reclassifying chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen. Also according to the EPA, short term exposure to high concentrations of chloroprene can affect the nervous system, weaken immune systems, and cause rapid heartbeat, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes, among other health issues.

From Petrochemical Corridor to Cancer Alley

St. John the Baptist Parish lies in the middle of a stretch of land along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which contains more than 100 petrochemical factories. Once known as the Petrochemical Corridor, the area is now referred to as “Cancer Alley.”

According to the EPA’s latest National Air Toxics Assessment, which evaluates air contaminants and estimates health risks, residents near Denka’s plant in the town of LaPlace have a lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution 800 times higher than the national average. The population in six St. John the Baptist Parish census tracts closest to the Denka facility have the highest risk of air pollution-caused cancer in the country.

The DuPont plant emitted chloroprene for more than 40 years before selling the facility to Denka Performance Elastomer LLC, which continues to produce Neoprene. The only other plant in the United States that made Neoprene was another DuPont facility in Rubbertown, a heavily industrialized neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. It closed in 2008, moving its remaining production to the LaPlace plant in Louisiana, after pressure from workers and environmental groups.

Emissions Reductions Not Enough

Robert Taylor, a homeowner, lives in Reserve, a small, predominantly African-American community adjacent to the plant. He is one of more than 32,000 people who have possibly been exposed to chloroprene emissions from the plant for decades. He founded Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, and is a spokesperson for the group.

In January, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with the EPA, issued an Administrative Order on Consent to which Denka agreed. It requires Denka to install emissions-reduction devices by the end of this year that are expected to decrease the plant’s chloroprene emissions by 85 percent. Yet that reduction will still fall short of bringing its chloroprene emissions to the level recommended by the EPA.

The Concerned Citizens group doesn’t believe the measures settled upon go far enough. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), which is helping the group, concurs.

The group wants Denka to ensure emissions will not exceed the standard recommended by the EPA. It also wants Denka to cut production while the new devices are installed.

Marylee Orr, LEAN’s director, thinks the requests are reasonable. “The community has already been subjected to the chloroprene emissions for over 40 years,” she said. “How much longer should they have to wait to get clean air?”

While Denka has agreed to make some changes to reduce its chloroprene emissions before the end of 2017, which the company said would cost $17.5 million, it has not cut production. That would lower chloroprene emissions right away.

Denka emphasized that its operations are in compliance with its existing permit, which is true. However, the permit the company took over from DuPont was granted long before the EPA classified chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen.

Wilma Subra, LEAN’s technical advisor, meets regularly with Concerned Citizens of St. John to go over the results of air monitoring tests that EPA started six months ago. The results show that Denka’s emissions have increased since the monitoring began, with emission spikes that are hundreds of times greater than EPA’s standard.

State Downplays Concerns About Emissions, Health Effects

DEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown presented on the Denka plant situation at a St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting last December. Brown told the council that he came to bring them facts and to clear up fear-mongering surrounding the plant’s emissions.

The Concerned Citizens group worries that despite the measures Denka is taking, by not meeting the EPA recommended 0.2 milligram standard for chloroprene emissions, the air quality would not reach an acceptable level. Brown took aim at these concerns.

“That number was set for guidance,” Brown stressed. Only after all Denka’s emission-cutting measures are operational will it be possible to determine what the limit should be, he said.

Brown went on to downplay the significance of the air monitoring tests. He pointed out that spikes in emissions don’t reflect long-term exposure.

”It’s not like there’s a smoking gun somewhere in St. John Parish,” Brown said. “Believe me, if we felt there was an imminent threat, we would be taking the appropriate measures to deal with that threat. We’ve got these measures in place. We’re going to evaluate effectiveness. We’re going to continue to go through this together.”

He expects the emissions levels to start trending downward soon.

Brown also downplayed the risk of cancer. Chloroprene, he told the council, is a “probable” — not a proven — carcinogen. The Louisiana Tumor Registry, the state’s cancer registry, “doesn’t show any elevated levels of cancer at all in any group of people,” Brown said.

Louisiana’s state health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, followed Brown’s presentation at the council meeting. He called it promising news that the area doesn’t have an elevated cancer rate, and he doesn’t think the situation in the parish is a health emergency. Guidry did, however, acknowledge that “no one should have to breathe chloroprene.”

“They lie on people’s death certificates all the time”

But some contend that holding up the tumor registry’s results doesn’t give an accurate picture. “It’s impossible to tell from that data whether there is any increase in liver cancer, which is the type of cancer most clearly linked to chloroprene,” Sharon Lerner, The Intercept’s environmental crime reporter, wrote. Unless data is reported by zip code or census tract, detecting increases in particular types of cancer within the county is virtually impossible.

A new bill sponsored by state Rep. Katrina Jackson and supported by the Louisiana coalition known as the GreenArmy, could change that. The bill would require the state to track cancer by zip code and census tract.

“You can’t go by what the tumor registry says,” Geraldine Watkins, a member of the Concerned Citizens group who lives close to the Denka plant, told me.

“They lie on people’s death certificates all the time,” she said. “They will put down that someone died of pneumonia or a heart attack when they were in the hospital for cancer.” Watkins couldn’t think of a single household in her neighborhood where cancer hasn’t struck.

Members of the Concerned Citizens group who attended the council meeting were outraged by Brown’s presentation. “Brown mentioned Denka is spending $50 million, far more than what Denka has said it is spending,” Robert Taylor said. “Why is how much money Denka is spending a concern of Brown’s anyway? Shouldn’t his concern be the community’s well being?”

The Concerned Citizens group countered Brown’s presentation by making one of their own at a parish council meeting on March 28. They arrived wearing red t-shirts printed with “Only 0.2 will do,” emphasizing their point that chloroprene emissions not exceed the EPA’s recommendation.

While the parish council expressed support for the Concerned Citizens group, it passed a memorandum endorsing the agreement signed by the EPA, DEQ, and Denka, which ignored the group’s concern that the emissions measures don’t go far enough.

Uncertain Futures for Cancer Alley Communities, EPA Programs

Concerned Citizens member Kellie Tabb was disappointed with the council’s move, but not surprised. Tabb has suffered her share of health issues: part of one lung removed, a carcinoid tumor, and a rapid heartbeat. “For the council to acknowledge that the measures being taken don’t go far enough to protect us would mean they’d have to do something,” she said.

Tabb had hoped that once the EPA stepped in, the community would be protected. But at this point her hope for clean air in LaPlace has evaporated. Now she says she is searching for the means to leave the area before the chloroprene causes her cancer to return and kill her.

The group worries that proposed EPA budget cuts could end the area’s air-monitoring program. The agency did not respond to my questions about how those cuts might impact that work or its programs that exposed the chloroprene emissions issue in the first place.

It is no surprise that the EPA program reviewing the health risks of chemicals is unpopular with industry and that it is one of the programs likely to be on the EPA chopping block. Without it, the EPA will no longer be making sure chemicals on the market and in the air — deemed safe by their makers  — are, in fact, safe.

Taylor told me the group isn’t done fighting back by a long shot, though it is clear the odds are stacked against them. The Concerned Citizens group is considering taking legal action.

Taylor likened the gas attacks in Syria to what is happening to his community. He understands the outrage against people being attacked with chemical weapons, but doesn’t understand the lack of outrage over communities like his being slowly poisoned.

At one Concerned Citizens group meeting, a member left in frustration after stating that she thinks it will take people dying in the streets before they get clean air. At this point, Taylor isn’t even sure that would be enough.

DeSmog

Destroying EPA Protections Will Disproportionately Hurt Children

By Farron Cousins     April 18, 2017

President Donald Trump’s proposed 31 percent budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is devastating for anyone who isn’t financially connected to the fossil fuel industry. Reversing the course on projects that include reducing carbon emissions, protecting rivers and streams from industrial pollutants, and investments in renewable energy is not only bad for the planet, but it is a disaster for human health. And those most at risk of a potentially more toxic environment are children.

There are several reasons why children are more susceptible to pollution than adults, with the most obvious being that they spend more time outdoors and are more likely to come in direct contact with dirt, water, and plant life.

But the real danger to children lies in their biology.

As the Center for Disease Control explains, children require more food, oxygen, and water than adults in comparison to their body size. This means that a contaminant in any one of those areas will have a greater presence in the body of a child compared to the body of a full grown adult.

The CDC also says that some organ systems within the body do not fully mature until a child is in their teens, and a developing system is far more susceptible to pollutants than an established organ system, as different pollutants can delay or alter development.

The CDC lays out how different types of environmental contaminants effect children differently than adults:

“Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcomes in children compared with adults. A well-known example is the effect of lead on young children’s developing nervous systems. Lead does have effects on the nervous systems of adult workers, which result in peripheral neuropathies. For children, however, intellectual development is exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of lead; this sensitivity is not seen in adults.”

The last few decades have seen a reduction in the amount of environmentally induced illnesses in children as a result of stronger federal safeguards to reduce pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals. As CNN notes:

“The Children’s Health Study, one of the largest and most extensive studies of air pollution’s long-term effects, found that living in areas with higher pollution levels caused measurable damage to children’s lungs including respiratory infections, higher risk for asthma and reduced lung growth and function.

But it also found that children’s lungs have improved over the past two decades as pollution levels in the study area have decreased. The ongoing study, conducted by the University of Southern California, has involved more than 11,000 area schoolchildren since 1992. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, enforced and regulated by the EPA, has helped cut ground-level ozone — a component of smog — by more than 32 percent nationwide since 1980, according to the agency’s air trends data.”

These advances in child health could be undone if Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the EPA become reality.

However, it is important to also understand that the proposals do not necessarily do away with environmental protections (with the exception of gutting the Clean Power Plan). Instead, the budget and staffing cuts at the agency will prevent the EPA from effectively monitoring health and safety issues and governing corporate compliance with existing laws.

To put it bluntly, most of the safeguards will still be in place, we just won’t have anyone looking over the shoulders of a corporation to make sure they are obeying the law.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have pointed out that the majority of studies on the effects of things like air pollution and other forms of toxic exposure have focused only on adult populations or the effects on developing fetuses, leaving the area of childhood and adolescence inadequately studied to determine the full effects that pollution has on this population.

Unfortunately, the health-related costs (both in terms of money and life) are often omitted from discussions of environmental safety regulations. Instead, the conversations tend to focus solely on the compliance costs that businesses face.

This is why the conversation has to change.

The health-related costs of addressing pollution and climate change far outweigh the economic costs that businesses face, and a far greater number of people will be affected if these budget cuts become a reality. Public health is more important than corporate profits, and the collective health of the public will always suffer when the environment isn’t properly protected.

ABC News

Overflowing landfills choke Puerto Rico amid economic crisis

By danica coto, associated press

TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico — April 21, 2017

At first glance, it looks like people have abandoned this rural community tucked into Puerto Rico’s soft rolling hills: the windows are shut, the doors closed and the gates locked.

But everyone is still here, just sealed inside their homes to shield themselves from the stench, flies and feral dogs of the nearby landfill that has expanded so much it is now just steps away their front doors in Villa Albizu near Puerto Rico’s north coast.

“You have no idea what it’s like to gulp in that smell 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Yahaida Porrata, whose house is roughly 10 steps from the landfill. “You have to shutter the house completely because you can’t breathe … If I had the money, I would have moved a long time ago.”

The majority of landfills across Puerto Rico are over capacity and groaning under tons of liquefied garbage seeping into the tropical soil and posing threats to people and the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nineteen of the island’s 29 landfills are violating federal laws, yet they still accept a large portion of the 8,500 tons of garbage that Puerto Ricans generate daily. The EPA has ordered local officials to close 13 of those landfills including the one in front of Porrata’s home because of the health risks they pose, but a decade-long economic crisis has prevented that from happening.

Puerto Rico is struggling to restructure a $70 billion public debt load that has forced the government to declare a state of emergency as its revenues dwindle. Officials say they are barely covering the costs of essential services such as education, health and public safety.

Municipalities say they simply don’t have the $3 million to nearly $30 million needed to implement the environmental and engineering measures to close a landfill. The government never required municipalities to set aside money for closures, according to the EPA. As a result, landfills keep expanding beyond their capacity as garbage piles up.

“This is a crisis,” said Carmen Guerrero, director of the EPA’s Caribbean environmental protection division. “This is one of the agency’s environmental priorities in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.”

The EPA has the authority to intercede when there’s an emergency situation, but it is Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board that is supposed to ensure that landfills comply. It is not clear why this hasn’t happened. Spokesman Aniel Bigio did not return multiple messages seeking comment.

Only two of the 13 landfills the EPA ordered closed have done so, while two others including the one in Toa Baja, where Villa Albizu is located, opened new areas that meet federal requirements. The EPA filed its most recent order of closure this month, and for the first time it was done unilaterally, meaning there is no room for negotiation with the municipality like in previous cases.

“The conditions are so critical and the threat so great to the population and environment that there was no other choice,” Guerrero said.

The order states the landfill in Toa Alta, just south of Toa Baja, must close by year’s end, something that residents there are celebrating. There are more than 100 homes and businesses within 400 yards (meters) of the landfill, which was originally built in a sinkhole that forms part of one of the largest and most productive groundwater sources in Puerto Rico. The landfill has since expanded 3 acres (1.2 hectares) outside its boundaries and lacks a system to collect liquefied garbage, control storm water runoff or monitor the groundwater to ensure it is not contaminating drinking water.

A water treatment plant that lies downstream from the landfill draws some 2 million gallons of water daily from a nearby river. The plant is closed and being renovated so it can draw up to 3 million gallons a day, raising concerns among residents in that area.

“This is the biggest environmental disaster I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Concetta Calise, who lives near the landfill and recently fought off a plague of flies. “I could not even open the door. It was horrible. I’ve never seen it like that before.”

But the mayor of Toa Alta, Clemente Agosto, told The Associated Press that he can’t meet the EPA’s deadline because the municipality can’t afford the estimated $15-$20 million to close the landfill. In addition, he said the municipality doesn’t have the money to pay for its garbage to be taken elsewhere if their landfill closes.

“We want to follow the law, but they have to give us time to find the economic means,” he said. “You just don’t throw a lock on it and that’s it.”

While he understands people’s frustrations, he said the municipality is in such dire financial straits he had to establish a four-day workweek to cut costs.

“We’re going to do everything in our power so that no one is affected by garbage collection or by operations at the landfill,” he said.

Residents in Toa Alta worry they will soon encounter worse problems than those Porrata faces in Toa Baja.

Porrata has a deep cough she can’t shake and her two teenage children have skin ulcers. They visit the doctor at least once a month, and Porrata has to wash dishes before and after using them because of the amount of dust that settles inside her house. Recently, she thought one of her children left powdered chocolate milk inside a cup only to find out it was dust.

She is forced to buy bottled water after the island’s water and sewer company warned them the tap water was not safe to drink.

“This has been a living hell,” she said. “I never saw this coming.”

Independent

Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has run out of rubbish

Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has to import rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. What lessons can we learn, asks Hazel Sheffield

Hazel Sheffield December 8, 20116 

Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than 1 per cent of Swedish household waste was sent to landfill last year or any year since 2011.

We can only dream of such an effective system in the UK, which is why we end up paying expensive transport costs to send rubbish to be recycled overseas rather than paying fines to send it to landfill under The Landfill Tax of 1996.

The UK has made strides in the proportion of waste recycled under an EU target of 50 per cent by 2020. This has underpinned hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into recycling facilities and energy recovery plants in the UK, creating many jobs. We’re not quite at that target yet. Recycling in the UK peaked at around 45 per cent of all waste in 2014.

Since then, provisional figures from the ONS have shown that figure has dropped to 44 per cent as austerity has resulted in budget cuts. The decision to leave the EU could be about to make this situation worse. While Europe is aiming for a 65 per cent recycling target by 2030, the UK may be about to fall even further behind its green neighbours.

Why are we sending waste to Sweden? Their system is so far ahead because of a culture of looking after the environment. Sweden was one of the first countries to implement a heavy tax on fossil fuels in 1991 and now sources almost half its electricity from renewables.

“Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse,” says Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association.

Over time, Sweden has implemented a cohesive national recycling policy so that even though private companies undertake most of the business of importing and burning waste, the energy goes into a national heating network to heat homes through the freezing Swedish winter. “That’s a key reason that we have this district network, so we can make use of the heating from the waste plants. In the southern part of Europe they don’t make use of the heating from the waste, it just goes out the chimney. Here we use it as a substitute for fossil fuel,” Ms Gripwell says.

Sweden’s heating network is not without its detractors. They argue that the country is dodging real recycling by sending waste to be incinerated. Paper plant managers say that wood fibre can be used up to six times before it becomes dust. If Sweden burns paper before that point it is exhausting the potential for true recycling and replacing used paper with fresh raw material.

Ms Gripwall says the aim in Sweden is still to stop people sending waste to recycling in the first place. A national campaign called the “Miljönär-vänlig” movement has for several years promoted the notion that there is much to be gained through repairing, sharing and reusing.

She describes Sweden’s policy of importing waste to recycle from other countries as a temporary situation. “There’s a ban on landfill in EU countries, so instead of paying the fine they send it to us as a service. They should and will build their own plants, to reduce their own waste, as we are working hard to do in Sweden,” Ms Gripwall says.

“Hopefully there will be less waste and the waste that has to go to incineration should be incinerated in each country. But to use recycling for heating you have to have district heating or cooling systems, so you have to build the infrastructure for that, and that takes time,” she adds.

Swedish municipalities are individually investing in futuristic waste collection techniques, like automated vacuum systems in residential blocks, removing the need for collection transport, and underground container systems that free up road space and get rid of any smells.

In the UK, each local authority has its own system, making it difficult for residents to be confident about what they can recycle and where. “We need more of a coherent national strategy in England to the collection of recyclable materials, rather than the current approach, whereby it is largely left to individual local authorities to determine their own collection policies,” says Angus Evers, partner at Shoosmiths and a convenor of the UK Environmental Law Association’s Waste Working Party.

Local authorities will often start by recycling the highest volume materials because they are measured according to the proportion of waste recycled, so bigger items count for more. “Whatever we end up with in the UK, we need a system which collects all recyclable materials rather than cherry-picking the easiest and cheapest,” says Richard Hands, chief executive of ACE UK, the drink carton industry’s trade association.

Mr Hands points to his own drinks carton industry, which includes Tetra Pak, SIG Combibloc and Elopak. Through ACE UK, these brands have driven up carton recycling, more than doubling the number of local authorities collecting cartons from 31 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent in 2016.

He says that the UK needs to build infrastructure around recycling plants so that it can stop sending waste overseas. Some local authorities already have a “no export” policy to achieve this. “Growing the UK waste industry will create jobs and generate UK-based revenue for the economy,” Mr Hands says.

Angus Evers says a better domestic recycling system should be a part of our strategy for leaving the EU. “The materials we currently export represent a huge drain of valuable resources going out of the UK that could be used in the UK economy to make new products and reduce our imports of raw materials. If we have aspirations to be less dependent on Europe, then we need to be more self-sufficient and recycle more,” Mr Evers says.

And what will Sweden do if we stop sending it rubbish to feed its heating system? Ms Gripwall says the Swedes will not freeze – they have biofuels ready to substitute for our exported waste.

The Nation

120,000 Americans Demanded Trump’s Taxes This Weekend, Organizers Say

Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns was his biggest violation of norms of conduct for presidential candidates—and most Americans are still mad.

By Joshua Holland April 15, 2017

On Tax Day, April 15, protesters in Goshen, NY, marched in a rally organized by the Orange County Democratic Women to demand that President Trump release his tax returns. (Courtesy of Orange County Democratic Women)

Donald Trump and his surrogates claim that the public doesn’t care about his tax returns. Polls consistently find that they’re dead wrong, and even most Republicans think he should release them.

On Saturday, at least 120,000 people took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities across the country to drive that point home, according to an unofficial estimate provided to The Nation by Joe Dinkin, national communications director for the Working Families Party, one of a coalition of 69 groups behind the protests.

As one might expect, there were big crowds in New York and DC and Los Angeles and in other big blue cities. But forecasts calling for scattered showers didn’t keep around 350 protesters from coming out in Goshen, New York, a bedroom community of around 15,000 mostly white people, 65 miles or so north of Manhattan.

In a scene that played out in small towns across the country, residents marched with homemade signs down Goshen’s main street, which is called Main Street and is lined with American flags and blooming fruit trees. Goshen’s no liberal enclave–it’s located in Orange County, which went for Trump by six points in 2016, and there’s only one Democrat on the town council. (One marcher told me that the community is more or less equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, “but Democrats don’t vote.”)

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that “someone should look into who paid” for the rallies–likely referring to a popular conspiracy theory on the right which holds that protests against Trump are funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. But in Goshen, that someone was a middle-aged woman named Joan Hutcher, treasurer of Orange County Democratic Women, who was passing around a jar stuffed with coins and crumpled bills to support the group’s work. She wore a t-shirt which read, “And You Thought I Was A Nasty Woman Before? Buckle Up Buttercup.” Before I could finish asking if her organization has seen an uptick in enthusiasm since Trump’s win, Hutcher cut me off by saying, “It’s been tremendous.”

“People are really wound up,” she said. “What you hear over and over again are things like, ‘I’ve never been active in politics but this is just not acceptable,’ or I’ve never done anything like this but I can’t take it anymore.’ People are really angry and really frightened.” She said that the Tax March was especially important to her “because his conflicts of interest seem overwhelming but we don’t really know. We have no idea.”

In one sense, the Tax March was narrowly focused, but the salience of Trump’s refusal to release his taxes goes beyond what they might reveal about his net worth or potential conflicts of interest. It was his biggest violation of long-agreed-upon norms of conduct for presidential candidates—as Kevin Kruse wrote for Esquire, he was the first candidate to refuse to release a detailed accounting of his finances since Watergate—and he got away with it. The same media that reported almost obsessively on Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server, another process story, largely forgot about Trump’s taxes. We can’t know what’s in Trump’s head, but having gotten away with being the least transparent candidate in modern presidential history signaled that he could run the least transparent administration –and continue profiting from the family business–with impunity.

Legal experts say that his refusal to divest from the family business almost certainly violates the constitution’s emoluments clause. As David Cole wrote in The New York Review of Books:

Trump has somewhat gleefully asserted that the conflict-of-interest rules don’t apply to the president. He mixed together personal business and official diplomacy during several meetings and conversations with foreign officials during the transition. And despite his widespread private holdings in commercial real estate, condominiums, hotels, and golf courses here and around the world, he has refused to follow the lead of his predecessors by selling his assets and placing the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, he has transferred management, but not ownership, of the Trump Organization. He retains his ownership in full. And he has assigned operational responsibility not to an independent arm’s-length trustee, but to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

And just this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s re-election committees “continued to direct funds to his companies in the first quarter of the year, paying close to $500,000 to Trump-owned hotels, golf clubs and restaurants.”

THE STAKES ARE HIGHER NOW THAN EVER. GET THE NATION IN YOUR INBOX.

In all likelihood, what we know of these kinds of conflicts barely scratches the surface. One thing that makes it difficult to hold Trump accountable is the opacity of his holdings. In December, The Wall Street Journal offered an example of the labyrinthine nature of Trump’s holdings in the form of a helicopter Trump owns in Scotland. “To be more precise,” wrote Jean Eaglesham, Mark Maremont, and Lisa Schwartz, “he has a revocable trust that owns 99% of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99% of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red ‘TRUMP’ on the side of its fuselage.”

Trump’s taxes would probably reveal more hidden conflicts. Perhaps more important, enforcing the norm that presidents must be transparent about their personal finances—and the law barring them from profiting from the office—would signal that Trump isn’t an emperor and can’t just operate above the law with impunity.

After promising repeatedly to release his taxes at some point in the future, Trump’s made it clear that he never will. Congress has the power under a 1924 law to force his hand, but in February, 229 House Republicans voted to keep his tax returns from the public. Their refusal to provide oversight is why Democrats winning back the House in 2018 is so important. Ultimately, it’s also why tens of thousands of Americans felt that they needed to take to the streets last weekend.

Chicago Suntimes Editorial

Because of EPA, Chicago is cleaner and safer — let’s not go back

Chicagoans today, compared to our grandparents’ generation, can breathe a lot more easily because of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Our air is clearer. Our water cleaner. Our children healthier.

The battle over the EPA’s budget may be waging far away in Washington, but many of the agency’s big success stories can be found right here in the Chicago area. To go back now on that commitment to a cleaner environment would be foolish. To return to the days of ozone alerts and children eating peeled lead paint would be unconscionable.

In Washington, President Donald Trump wants to cut the EPA budget by 31 percent, hobbling an agency we rely on every day, even if we don’t know it. A fifth of the agency’s positions would be eliminated, and Trump wants to slash scientific research.

That would matter plenty to Chicago, a city on the precious Great Lakes that has moved on — but is still cleaning up — from a heavily polluted industrial past. A city that likes its fancy new Riverwalk, which would be folly if the Chicago River were still the open sewer it once was.

EDITORIAL

Reminders of why Chicago should support a fully functioning EPA are all around us.

  • Municipal sewage treatment plants throughout the region have been updated to EPA standards, making water cleaner. The EPA also took a lead role in ensuring that wastewater from sewage treatment plants is disinfected before it is discharged into Chicago area waterways.
  • The EPA has coordinated a multiyear effort to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The EPA also plays a role in preventing new invasive species from being dumped into the lakes from the ballast water of oceangoing ships.
  • When the operators of BP’s oil refinery in Whiting, Indiana, wanted send more toxic pollution into the air, that was OK with the State of Indiana. But the EPA stopped it. In 2007, when the refinery got a permit to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended solids into Lake Michigan each year, the EPA stopped that, too.
  • Dangerous heavy metals from an H. Kramer and Co. smelter that got into residential yards in Pilsen will be cleaned up because of an EPA investigation. The EPA also cleaned up the site of the former Loewenthal Metals in Pilsen.
  • The EPA provides funding for beach monitoring, so we all know when it is safe to swim.
  • The EPA did a study showing mountains of petcoke stored on the South Side were causing chronic health problems. Only the EPA has the authority to install the monitors that measure the petcoke on surrounding neighborhoods.
  • The EPA played a major role in detecting lead in the municipal water supply of Flint, Michigan – work that led to a program to get lead out of drinking water in Chicago’s schools.
  • The EPA won a court fight in 1977 to reduce the amount of industrial waste getting into Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River from U.S. Steel’s Gary Works.
  • The EPA runs the Great Lakes National Program Office, which plans for the protection and restoration of the lakes for years to come.
  • With the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA is paying to dredging and remove toxic sediments in the heavily polluted Grand Calumet River in Indiana. If not removed, those pollutants eventually will move into the lake.
  • It was the EPA that found that residents of East Chicago, Indiana, had lead in their drinking water. The EPA put 30 people on the ground to investigation environmental contamination from the former USS Lead site in East Chicago.

The U.S. EPA’s budget already has been squeezed in recent years. If its budget now is decimated, that will hobble the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, too. The IEPA gets a fifth of its funding from the U.S. EPA.

Our city, region and state cannot afford such cuts. Too much work remains undone throughout the region.

As Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, put it: “Everybody has a basic belief they will have clean air and water without having to wake up in the morning wondering if that is going to happen.”

The proposed cuts to the EPA are huge. If they go through, you can bet Chicago will be wondering what might happen again.

The Verge

Inside the renegade Republican movement for tackling climate change

Will the GOP listen?

by Alesandra Potenza April 7, 2017

When Alex Bozmoski was in college, he didn’t believe climate change was real. He was “a very active conservative Republican,” he says, who “loved making noise.” In high school, he started a newspaper called The Right Idea; the logo was an eagle gripping a Christian cross. And at Georgetown University, after George W. Bush won the election in 2004, he carried a cardboard cutout of the president around campus until he was tackled by a liberal student and Bush was broken in half.

So when Bozmoski enrolled in a climate science class taught by Nathan Hultman, his primary goal was to heckle the professor. But every time he brought up something he had heard on a conservative radio talk show, Hultman asked him to back up those claims with actual scientific evidence. Soon, Bozmoski realized climate skepticism was unfounded, and that climate change is a very serious issue that his own political party was completely ignoring.

“I felt alienated that my tribe has been so out of the loop and not even working on it,” Bozmoski says. “To me, it seemed like just an easy way out, like a coping mechanism more than a governing strategy.”

“I felt alienated.”

So a few years after his college graduation, Bozmoski began traveling around the country, speaking to conservatives about climate change and free-market options to tackle it. He visited church groups, federalist societies, chambers of commerce, universities — alone or together with Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who introduced a bill to tax carbon emissions. (Inglis’ views on climate change cost him his House seat in 2010.) As Bozmoski did more of these talks, he says, “it became pretty clear that when people heard from us, a lot of conservatives were very motivated to get involved.”

In 2014, Bozmoski and Inglis founded republicEn, a group of about 3,000 people all over the US trying to create a grassroots movement of “conservative climate realists.” “We want to give them a voice,” Bozmoski says. “We want members of Congress to see that big chunks of their conservative constituency are deeply passionate about the environment and care deeply about taking responsible action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

It’s not just Bozmoski and Inglis — or even just their group. Around the US, conservative leaders and organizations are trying to get people on the right involved in conservation, renewable energy, and climate change action. They do it by appealing to whatever it is these constituents care about: economic growth, hunting wildlife, or national security. The goal is making sure the US is prepared to tackle one of the most serious challenges facing our country and our planet — global warming.

Some in the GOP are taking notice. In February, a group of Republican elder statesmen released a proposal to tax carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. And in March, a group of more than a dozen GOP lawmakers introduced a climate change resolution to the House of Representatives, calling for action against the looming threat of rising sea levels and warming temperatures. “It’s important that we take climate change very, very seriously because the threats that are posed by that are very serious,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), who signed the resolution, told The Atlantic. “I’m just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it.”

“I’m just not a person that believes we should be turning a blind eye to it.”

Unfortunately, many other Republicans are turning a blind eye to it. The GOP has a track record of opposing environmental regulation and a party platform that supports burning fossil fuels. Certain Republican members of Congress don’t even believe that global warming is caused by human activity. (It is, according to the vastest majority of scientists.) At the same time, Republican president Donald Trump, who called climate change a “hoax,” ran a campaign on the promise to bring back highly polluting coal. Last week, he signed an executive order to start dismantling the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy. And his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is a known climate change denier.

The GOP’s stance is at odds with what many Republicans feel. A poll from last year showed that 71 percent of liberal / moderate Republicans and 47 percent of conservative Republicans believe that our planet is warming — and that number is increasing. (The percentage of conservative Republicans who believe in climate change has jumped 19 percentage points since 2014, more than any other group.) The majority of Republicans also support more funding for energy sources like wind and solar, and believe heat-trapping pollutants like carbon dioxide should be regulated.

So why are Republican lawmakers looking the other way when it comes to global warming? They don’t live in Miami, says the city’s mayor Tomás Regalado, a member of the Republican Party. Residents there experience regular flooding from rising sea levels, and certain banks are very hesitant about granting loans for mortgages for 30 years, he says. “This is a real issue that people have experienced here,” Regalado says. “We have a problem, and [Republicans] have to recognize that this is not only a philosophical debate, it’s a real economic issue.”

The next town over, called Coral Gables, is facing similar problems. Streets and parks are flooded during high tides. “You look out your door, you see an octopus in your basement … or the mullets swimming around our parking lots, you get it,” says Mayor Jim Cason, also a member of the Republican Party. Cason isn’t waiting for Washington to step in — his administration has already been working on a sustainability plan for the town, and is updating building codes to increase the height of the most vulnerable facilities when they need repairs. But when I ask him whether he’s doing all this because his constituents are worried about climate change, and demanding action, Cason says residents actually aren’t expressing much concern. “Basically silence,” he says.

“you see an octopus in your basement”

Bozmoski believes that’s exactly why Republican lawmakers aren’t acting on climate change. “I think the answer boils down to one phrase that we hear over and over from members of Congress: ‘My constituents rarely call me about climate change. I rarely get phone calls about this. It is not on the mind of our constituents,’” Bozmoski says. It’s also true that the fossil fuel industry overwhelmingly gives campaign donations to Republicans rather than Democrats. But in poll after poll, climate change does seem to be at the bottom of the list when Americans wonder what to worry about. And for conservatives, “it’s not a national movement right now,” Bozmoski says. So that’s the movement he’s working to create.

He travels around the country, telling people about global warming and ‘republicEn’s’ free-market vision for tackling it: no to subsidizing renewables; yes to a carbon tax; no to American export taxes; yes to government’s investment in basic research to find new forms of energy. To energize this still-infant grassroots movement — “we’re a scrappy bunch” — Bozmoski also talks about the science of climate change. If you don’t believe in the science, you’re out. “Moving past the science is not how we’re going to deal with this,” Bozmoski says. “The climate science is so central to the urgency of action that you can’t lose it and not lose the urgency.”

Other conservative groups, however, try to steer away from talking directly about climate change. “With older conservatives, if you say anything about climate, they immediately shut you down,” says Michele Combs, the founder and chair of Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. “The younger generation do not feel that way; they grew up recycling. It doesn’t have that stigma.” So Combs approaches the problem from another angle: energy reform. Her group, which counts 100,000 members, hopes to sway the national discourse over energy policy, by encouraging the use of renewable energy. To help conservatives embrace renewables, she often invites retired military generals to speak at her events.

The US Army has been vocal about wanting to boost clean energy. The advantage is twofold: US troops who rely less on oil can spend less time convoying that oil in foreign countries and risking to be blown up; and reducing greenhouse gases is paramount for addressing climate change, which the military sees as a serious national security threat. (Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events will lead to a more unstable, conflict-prone world, according to a Defense Department report.) When these respected military leaders speak to conservatives, it generally works, says Brian Smith, who used to work on renewable energy for the Defense Department and now volunteers at Young Conservatives for Energy Reform. “I think it resonates with most people,” he says.

Combs says that climate change action is not the end goal of her group, but more of a side effect. “We come in with the clean energy, because cleaner energy is going to take care of the problem,” she says. A similar approach — when it comes to conservation — is taken by some conservative groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. The sportsmen’s organization focuses on preserving wildlife habitats, and protecting clean air and water on public lands, but it doesn’t address climate change directly. Conservation is what hunters have been doing for more than 150 years, says Land Tawney, the president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, it resonates with hunters much more than a politicized term like climate change.

“I call them the flat-Earth society.”

The group works for keeping public access to public lands, so they’re not sold for private development. It also advocates for oil and gas development to be done in a safe way, so that core habitats and migration routes are kept pristine. If animals can move more freely and expand their ranges, they will be able to better adapt to warming climates, by moving to higher latitudes for example. This is, of course, just a step toward addressing climate change. “All the conservation work that we’re doing has an effect on that,” Tawney says. “You’re really still working on it but you’re not directly working on it.”

That’s not how all hunters approach climate change. Randy Newberg, a hunter and advocate for hunting on public lands, has no qualms about acknowledging the problem. “If you spend as much time in the hills as I do, I don’t know how you could deny that climate is changing,” he says. Deniers exist, “but honestly, I call them the flat-Earth society,” he adds. Many hunters see climate change as a serious threat to the wildlife and public lands they want to protect for future generations. That’s what’s been driving the conservation movement for decades in the US, and it should not be a liberal or a conservative issues, says Newberg, who identifies as an Independent. “Maybe I’m naive and too idealistic for today’s political world,” he says, “but I struggle to understand how is it that clean air and clean water and productive lands are a partisan issue. To me, they’re an American issue.”

For now, the White House hasn’t been very responsive, but it might be just too early to tell, says Bozmoski. Some proposals coming out of Washington — like the carbon tax and the climate change resolution — seem to bode well. “It really stokes our optimism on the Eco Right, that our family has gotten bigger and more powerful,” Bozmoski says. At the same time, he says, it will take time for Republicans to come together and put forward a climate change policy — they will need to get over the divisions within their own party and develop an actual policy. That’s what groups like republicEn are there for, Bozmoski says. And he has high hopes. “The prospects for a coalition of lawmakers moving forward with a solution is better now than it has been in any point since 2010,” Bozmoski says. “There’s no more pussyfooting around climate change out of fear.”

Huffington Post Politics

REUTERS April 17, 2017

Trump Advisers To Meet Tuesday To Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Trump in the past has said the United States should “cancel” the deal.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to recommend that he withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, a White House official said on Monday.

The accord, agreed upon by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015, aims to limit planetary warming in part by slashing carbon dioxide and other emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. As part of the deal, the United States committed to reducing its emissions by between 26 and 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Trump in the past has said the United States should “cancel” the deal but he has been mostly quiet on the issue since he was elected.

A White House official said Trump’s aides would “discuss the options, with the goal of providing a recommendation to the president about the path forward.”

White House officials, led by the National Economic Council, have recently been asking publicly-traded energy companies for advice on whether to stay in the agreement.

Major publicly traded coal companies such as Cloud Peak Energy and Peabody Energy confirmed to Reuters that they have told White House advisers it is in their interests for the United States to remain in the Paris agreement to ensure there was a global role for high-efficiency coal plants.

“By remaining in the Paris Agreement, albeit with a much different pledge on emissions, you can help shape a more rational international approach to climate policy,” Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall wrote in the letter dated April 6.

The advisers expected to attend Tuesday’s meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Perry, a former Texas governor, at his confirmation hearings in January softened a previous position that the science behind climate change was “phony.”

Last week, Pruitt, a former Oklahoma Attorney General, said the United States should “exit” the agreement because it was a “bad deal” for the country.

The meeting comes ahead of a summit of the Group of Seven wealthy nations in late May, which White House spokesman Sean Spicer said was the deadline for the decision.

Politico on Friday first reported a possible meeting of Trump advisers.

 

Change.org

An interview with Earth Day Initiative — and what you can do to help the planet.

Since its beginnings in 1970, Earth Day has become an annual to protect and consider the welfare of the planet on which we all live.

But we all know that concern for and commitment to the planet calls for more than one day. It takes sustained dedication and hard work — by environmentalists, elected officials, and everyday people who want the Earth and other non-human animals to prosper.

That’s why we recently sat down with John Oppermann, the Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative  — an organization that promotes year-round environmental awareness and solutions through partnerships with schools, community organizations, businesses, and governments — to chat about the current state of environmental issues, how civic engagement has changed over the last few months, how we can all positively contribute regularly, and much more.

Check out the interview below, and be sure to check out environmental related petitions on Change.org, in addition to looking into the ways you can participate in Earth Day activities this Thursday, April 20th — and year round!

A.J. — ​Barack Obama and Donald Trump differ on their understanding and approach to environmental issues. What’s your take on the new administration, and how do you understand Earth Day Initiative’s role in this current milieu?

John Oppermann — There’s obviously a big divide in the two administrations’ views on the urgency of our environmental challenges. The Obama administration recognized the importance of coordinated action, working with businesses, government, and civil society to address our looming challenges, which obviously includes climate change. Obama also took a more global perspective of the issue,saw what was happening around the world, and made efforts to place America as a leader in the transition to clean energy and the fight against climate change. He made sure that we as a country were placed in the driver’s seat on a movement that he recognized was moving forward with or without us.

I think the current administration lacks an understanding of both the challenges that face us and the gift we’ve been given in the form of functioning institutions set up to protect our natural resources and environment. We’ve seen a lot of discussion on the lack of respect for science and the use of alternative facts to support one’s alternative reality. But I think equally important is the lack of respect for what we have done as a society. Fifty years ago we set up an institution to protect the environment we live in and depend on. We now take for granted the fact that we have clean air, clean water, and mechanisms for addressing environmental disasters as they arise. The rest of the world does not necessarily have that. Other countries are suffering from the terrible effects of uncontrolled pollution and mismanagement of natural resources. Just as some of these countries are waking up to the importance of protecting the environment, we’re at risk of forgetting what we came to realize 50 years ago.

Across the globe, particularly in the West, we’ve seen an increase in civic engagement around a host of issues. Will you say more about the changes you’ve noticed as it relates to the environment, and how is engagement different now than in the past?

It’s also an interesting time in that I see a lot of parallels to the time around the first Earth Day in 1970. A sort of perfect storm came together around that time with a mix of widespread activism, high-profile environmental disasters, and a general heightened awareness of humankind’s place in the global ecosystem. Just as that perfect storm helped turn out 20 million people for the first Earth Day and very quickly led to sweeping efforts to address environmental issues, including the creation of the EPA, I think the perfect storm of increased public engagement, high-profile climate-related natural disasters, and heightened awareness of our environmental challenges could lead to real progress in addressing those challenges. As scary as some of the latest headlines are, in terms of both environmental catastrophes and policies, we have reason to be hopeful that those headlines will push us to real positive action.

What are some of the biggest challenges you all face at Earth Day, and more generally, what do you think are the most pressing issues we face on a global scale?

The biggest challenge we face is complacency. While people seem to be very engaged right now, we must stay engaged all the time. People tend to get engaged in fits and starts. Environmental catastrophes spark people to take action. We should absolutely use those moments to galvanize people to do good on a broad range of environmental issues, but we really need people to be engaged all the time — not just in the wake of a catastrophe. Otherwise we risk backsliding into our past mistakes. We see this not just in the environmental field but across a broad spectrum of issues. We forget the constant threat of letting xenophobia go unchecked, of not standing up for the most vulnerable communities in our society, or letting powerful interests capture our governing institutions so that they start to serve their own interests more than society’s. The cliche that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it is a cliche for a reason. The reason is because it’s true. So if we don’t constantly keep in mind the lessons of history and appreciate that we have environmental protections in place for a reason, we really are at risk of losing those protections.

Will you say more about the ways environmental issues intersect with other social concerns?

Environmental challenges and the way we address them definitely intersect in predictable ways with socioeconomic factors. Powerful and influential people are able to manage environmental challenges in ways that people who are less powerful and less fortunate are not able to. One thing that I think very much sets the current climate movement apart from the earlier environmental movement is that activists are making a conscious effort to build more inclusive coalitions. Climate activists are trying to make sure that the movement takes on more environmental justice issues that affect minorities, as well as traditionally disadvantaged groups. The earlier environmental movement was criticized for very quickly becoming a white and upper middle class movement, and the hope is that that mistake is not repeated.

You’re a professional activist and environmentalist, but how might the everyday person — the armchair environmentalist — play a role in bringing about substantive change in their own communities?

Every year the most common question we get is “What’s one thing I can do for the environment?” Earth Day acts as an annual touchstone for people to think about how they can do something to green their lifestyles, support an environmental cause, or just somehow make a positive impact. I think the challenge is people get bogged down by lists of dozens of things they could do to green their lifestyles. So we’re making it simple with a new campaign that we’re launching as a countdown to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s aimed at cutting through the noise by asking people to do just one thing. We’re focusing in on the intersection between impact and convenience by asking people to sign up for clean energy via their utility bills. In some states you can sign up without even entering credit card information — you just enter your utility account number. It’s incredibly easy. By taking just a few minutes to sign up, you then have an ongoing impact, as every month your utility bill goes to support clean energy. You’re making a micro investment from dirty energy and supporting clean energy on an ongoing basis. And the way things are going right now, clean energy can use all the help it could get. People can check it out at countto50.org.

Earth Day is coming up. What’s on your agenda?

We’re looking forward to a few high-profile efforts to galvanize people around environmental action with the launch of our own Count to 50 campaign, the March for Science on April 22, and the People’s Climate March on April 29. It’s a lot of energy packed into the span of a couple of weeks. The fact that so much of this centers around Earth Day is heartening. It illustrates just what a pivotal moment that first Earth Day in 1970 was when people stood up and called for real action to protect our communities and the ecosystems we rely on. The fact that, 50 years later, this is the one time of year when such a broad swath of people take a moment to think about how we can live more sustainably together shows what a difference those organizers and environmentalists in 1970 made. It was the birth of the modern environmental movement. Now it’s time for the next movement.

A.J. Walton is the Senior Communications Manager at Change.org

 

ThinkProgress

 Natasha Geiling, Reporter at ThinkProgress   April 20, 2017

Scalia returns from the grave to pollute America’s water

A leaked draft of the Clean Water Rule rewrite circulating around Washington has Scalia’s legacy all over it.

On Tuesday, February 28, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the process of rolling back the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.

That rule was finalized in 2015, so Trump couldn’t unilaterally undo it with the stroke of a pen. Instead, he asked the appropriate agencies to rewrite the rule and redefine “navigable waters” — a term that has plagued courts for decades — according to the definition put forth by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2006. And while that might seem like a small change, legal experts say that directive could vastly reduce the federal government’s ability to protect the nation’s streams, rivers, and wetlands from pollution.

A draft of the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of the rule obtained by ThinkProgress confirms it is indeed taking an extremely narrow position in its definition of “navigable waters,” by applying Scalia’s opinion almost word-for-word to the rule rewrite. The draft, which has been circulating throughout the EPA and Capitol Hill for weeks, defines waters of the United States to mean only waters that have been used for interstate or foreign commerce, or interstate waters and wetlands, and requires such waters to be “relatively permanent.”

That would break considerably from a different opinion, also offered in 2006, by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who argued that waters could fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act if they have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters.

“There is no way to quantify the impact except to say it would represent the most dramatic reduction in federal protection for streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes and other water bodies in the history of the Clean Water Act,” Pat Parenteau, a professor at the Vermont Law School, told ThinkProgress in an email, after reviewing the draft. “It has no basis in science, law, history or sensible water quality policy.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government can regulate pollutants from “point sources” into “navigable waters,” though Congress did not explicitly define what constituted navigable waters. That lack of definition has created a regulatory vacuum, especially in situations where it’s not clear whether a particular body of water is “navigable” in a literal sense — wetlands, seasonal streams and rivers, or tributaries. Courts have attempted to fill that gap through their own interpretation of the phrase, but a mishmash of rulings has left courts and the government without a universally agreed upon definition.

Instead, regulatory bodies and lower courts have relied on two opinions from a 2006 court case, Rapanos v. United States, which pitted a Michigan developer, John Rapanos, against the federal government. Years earlier, the government brought criminal charges against Rapanos, alleging that he had violated the Clean Water Act by dumping sand into wetlands without a permit. Rapanos was convicted, but appealed, arguing that the wetland was miles from anything that could be considered a “navigable waterway” under the Clean Water Act.

The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where a plurality of justices sided with Rapanos, denying the EPA’s interpretation of navigable waters as any waters that connect to traditionally navigable waters. That decision produced two opinions that have shaped water law and policy for almost a decade. Scalia’s interpretation, on one hand, relied on a dictionary definition of “waters” to define navigable waters as being relatively permanent waters, or having some kind of continuous surface connection to permanent waters.

Kennedy’s interpretation, on the other hand, defined waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act as waters that had a significant nexus to traditionally navigable waters. Kennedy also took issue with Scalia’s requirement that bodies of water be relatively permanent — under that definition, he argued, a number of rivers in the Western part of the country, which run dry for part of the year, would not qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.

“It would represent the most dramatic reduction in federal protection for streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes, and other water bodies in the history of the Clean Water Act.”

Several legal experts told ThinkProgress that the leaked draft of the rules would constitute an unprecedented reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act. In addition to codifying Scalia’s opinion that the Clean Water Act should only apply to permanent and continuous waters, the Trump administration’s rewrite of the rule also explicitly defines what counts as a tributary, something that was not spelled out in the Clean Water Rule. According to the draft rule, the Trump administration considers tributaries a continuously flowing body of water that has “relative permanence” — a fairly vague term that could open the rule up to legal challenges if it were finalized.

“If this rule were adopted, it would be an outrageous contraction of the scope of the Clean Water Act that is contrary to Congress’ clear intent, and this arbitrary reversal would never withstand review in court,” Karl Coplan, a professor at Pace Law School, told ThinkProgress.

But finalizing a rule based on Scalia’s interpretation in the Rapanos case could lead to legal trouble down the road for the administration. Lower courts have generally been split in their decisions about giving deference to Kennedy’s definition, or Kennedy and Scalia’s definition together. No court has upheld the Scalia opinion on its own — it’s always been taken in conjunction with the Kennedy test.

Read: Why the EPA’s clean drinking water rule is so controversial thinkprogress.org

That means the Trump administration’s rewrite directly contradicts how the Court of Appeals has been interpreting the Rapanos decision, and throws into question how favorably the Court of Appeals would view the Trump administration’s rule if it were ever challenged in court. And if the challenge were to reach the Supreme Court while Kennedy was still on the bench, convincing a majority of justices to side with the administration’s rule would mean convincing Kennedy to disagree with his own opinion in favor of a definition he rejected more than a decade ago.

“If the Trump administration proposes a new rule along the lines of what is in the current draft I would bet good money that it would be overturned in court, and I say that without even knowing how they might embellish the record or try to defend this new approach,” Mark Squillace, professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told ThinkProgress in an email after reviewing the draft.

Perhaps further complicating matters concerning the Trump administration’s rewrite of the rule, industry groups close to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are reportedly pushing for the EPA to outsource rewriting the rule to private law firms. That would allow Pruitt to bypass career EPA employees who worked on promulgating the Obama administration rule, and would mean less public scrutiny of the decision-making process. Legal experts told Politico that such a move would be “likely legally doable,” but “almost unheard of.”

On April 19, amid rumors of outsourcing the rule-making process and Pruitt’s reported intention to rewrite the rule as quickly as possible, 26 environmental and conservation organizations sent Pruitt a letter asking the agency to reconsider basing the rewritten rule on Scalia’s opinion.

“We especially fear the damage that a final rule would inflict on the nation’s waterways if, as Executive Order 13,778 forecasts, it relies on a legal test that a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court rejected and that would weaken the federal rules so that they protect fewer resources than they have in several decades,” the letter read.

If the Trump administration moves forward and finalizes a rule based on Scalia’s opinion, the rule is certain to face a suite of challenges from environmental groups in court. And while the draft of the rule could certainly change before being finalized, Ann Powers of Pace Law School said that drafting a rule based on Scalia’s opinion certainly represents a step towards rolling back clean water protections for much of America’s wetlands and waterways.

“This is not a done deal tomorrow, but it is certainly a critical step in the path to undoing a great deal of protections for our national wetlands,” Powers said. “It would be very unfortunate if this were to be implemented.”

Thanks to Kiley Kroh.

Popsugar

Trump Office of Science and Technology Policy Jobs

Trump Doesn’t Appear to Be Hiring Anyone Who Studies Climate Science

Eleanor Sheehan April 20, 2017

President Donald Trump is demonstrably unconcerned with the environment. Following through with his campaign commitment to discrediting climate science to promote the fossil fuel industry, Trump’s administration has yet to fill the majority of positions at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The ofice currently employs only 44 out of the 114 positions that it did in Barack Obama’s administration, according to a list obtained by Motherboard — and none of them are climate scientists.

The OSTP was established in 1971 to encourage the president to make more informed policy decisions about science. While Obama was president, the office was responsible for orchestrating the administration’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, reports The New York Times. However, in President George W. Bush’s administration, the office only employed 50 people.

Related
Read: New Head of the EPA Does “Not Agree” Humans Have Led to Climate Change

Of the positions Trump has filled at the OTSP, none of those include titles with the word “climate.” The positions at the OTSP center around technology and assist Trump’s innovation effort, which is currently spearheaded by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. There are a few positions that employ scientists, but the titles are vague and it’s unclear what they do. Some of those jobs include “natural disaster resilience assistant director” and “senior policy adviser for oceans and the environment.”

Though Trump’s team has been atypically slow in staffing the White House, the OSTP’s vacancies seem to be intentional considering his stance on climate change. If Trump’s climate-science-denying Environmental Protection Agency director is any indication of how his administration plans to address global warming, it’s safe to say those positions will not be filled any time soon — if ever.

Salt Lake Tribune

Letter: Toward a safer, cleaner future

April 19, 2017

More scientists seem aware of the political reality of climate change, as there’s a March for Science this Earth Day. Why have they waited until the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is over 400 parts per million, while the threat has been known since before it was 300 ppm? Don’t get me wrong, protest has a role in policy debate. A huge effort was required to change the previous administration’s stance on Keystone XL, but most scientists were silent. Many said they didn’t want to jeopardize funding.

The March for Science’s stated mission is championing for robust funding, but time is up for researching climate change. There’s a scientific consensus. When James Hansen addressed Congress in 1988, we could have protected our planet by reducing emissions 1 percent per year, but after decades of silence, it’s increased to 7 percent. To safely make this transition, many economists and politicians support legislation putting a modest price on greenhouse gas pollution that steadily rises and to refund the collected fees equally to every American citizen.

Perhaps the marchers could take public stances by sending letters to the editor and to our representatives to generate the political will for this step towards a safer, cleaner energy future.

Kevin Leecaster     Salt Lake City

ThinkProgress

Kiley Kroh  Senior Editor at ThinkProgress. April 20, 2017  

Dow Chemical gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, now wants pesticide risk study buried. The chemical manufacturer also pushed for a potentially dangerous insecticide not to be banned.

Andrew Liveris, president and CEO of Dow Chemical Company, is quite pleased with the new atmosphere in the White House. Liveris, who also heads Trump’s American Business Council, has praised the president’s business sense and cheered the administration’s regulatory rollback, saying Trump and his team have “managed to move the ball in 45 days on regulatory reform more than in the previous eight years.”

Dow Chemical also joined several other major corporations in ponying up for Trump’s inauguration — giving $1 million to the organizing committee. Donors at that level “received tickets to a luncheon with Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders,” CNBC reported.

Two months later, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, announced that he would not follow the recommendation of the agency’s own scientists to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that has been linked to severe health consequences, particularly in children and farm-workers.

Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical. Dow has argued against a ban, claiming the science regarding potential health impacts is inconclusive. In announcing his decision to reject the ban, Pruitt said his agency was “returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”

Since then, Dow has already moved on to its next request. Last week, lawyers representing Dow sent letters to three of Trump’s cabinet heads asking them to ignore government studies regarding the harmful effects of a group of pesticides on endangered species, according to an Associated Press exclusive published Thursday.

“Over the past four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages indicating the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied,” the AP reported. “Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.”

Read: EPA rejects calls to ban pesticide linked to brain damage, the agency sided with the chemical company manufacturing the product, putting farmworkers most at risk. thinkprogress.org

As with its fight against the potential human health impacts of chlorpyrifos, Dow sought to cast doubt on the scientific findings regarding the threat its pesticides pose to endangered species. For years, environmental groups have pressured the EPA to more closely scrutinize the harmful effects of pesticides on humans and endangered species.

“Dow Chemical wants to suppress the science showing that chlorpyrifos is harmful to everything it contacts. It damages children’s brains, contaminates drinking water, poisons workers, and threatens to wipe out Pacific salmon and other endangered species,” Patti Goldman, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Northwest regional office, said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “Each time independent scientists reveal the dangers of this pesticide, Dow commissions its own ‘science’ and tries to delay the inevitable — banning this outdated and harmful pesticide.”

Dow Chemical has devoted a significant sum of money to influencing policy and lawmakers — spending $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016 alone, according to the AP report. The chemical giant gave $250,000 to both the Republican and Democratic party conventions last year, according to Federal Election Commission records, and its corporate PAC spent more than $1 million in the 2016 campaign cycle, acording to OpenSecrets.

“Dow actively participates in policymaking and political processes, including political contributions to candidates, parties and causes, in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws,” Rachelle Schikorra, director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, told the AP. “Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity.”       Thanks to Ned Resnikoff.

Business Insider

An infamous chemicals company wants Trump to kill a pesticides study that’s bad for business

Michael Biesecker, Associated Press   April 13, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dow Chemical is pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.

The letters, dated April 13, were obtained by The Associated Press.

Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities.

Over the last four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages showing the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied. Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.

The industry’s request comes after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last month he was reversing an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children’s brains. In his prior job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt often aligned himself in legal disputes with the interests of executives and corporations who supported his state campaigns. He filed more than one dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.

Pruitt declined to answer questions from reporters Wednesday as he toured a polluted Superfund site in Indiana. A spokesman for the agency later told AP that Pruitt won’t “prejudge” any potential rule-making decisions as “we are trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.”

“We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic and we are reviewing petitions as they come in, giving careful consideration to sound science and good policymaking,” said J.P. Freire, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs. “The administrator is committed to listening to stakeholders affected by EPA’s regulations, while also reviewing past decisions.”

The office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Natural Marine Fisheries Service, did not respond to emailed questions. A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, referred questions back to EPA.

As with the recent human studies of chlorpyrifos, Dow hired its own scientists to produce a lengthy rebuttal to the government studies showing the risks posed to endangered species by organophosphates.

The EPA’s recent biological evaluation of chlorpyrifos found the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” 1,778 of the 1,835 animals and plants accessed as part of its study, including critically endangered or threatened species of frogs, fish, birds and mammals. Similar results were shown for malathion and diazinon.

In a statement, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos said its lawyers asked for the EPA’s biological assessment to be withdrawn because its “scientific basis was not reliable.”

“Dow AgroSciences is committed to the production and marketing of products that will help American farmers feed the world, and do so with full respect for human health and the environment, including endangered and threatened species,” the statement said. “These letters, and the detailed scientific analyses that support them, demonstrate that commitment.”

FMC Corp., which sells malathion, said the withdrawal of the EPA studies will allow the necessary time for the “best available” scientific data to be compiled.

“Malathion is a critical tool in protecting agriculture from damaging pests,” the company said.

Diazinon maker Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., which does business under the name Adama, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Environmental advocates were not surprised the companies might seek to forestall new regulations that might hurt their profits, but said Wednesday that criticism of the government’s scientists was unfounded. The methods used to conduct EPA’s biological evaluations were developed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Dow’s experts were trying to hold EPA scientists to an unrealistic standard of data collection that could only be achieved under “perfect laboratory conditions.”

“You can’t just take an endangered fish out of the wild, take it to the lab and then expose it to enough pesticides until it dies to get that sort of data,” Hartl said. “It’s wrong morally, and it’s illegal.”

Originally derived from a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany, chlorpyrifos has been sprayed on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops for decades. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.

As a result, traces of the chemical are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

In 2005, the Bush administration ordered an end to residential use of diazinon to kill yard pests such as ants and grub worms after determining that it poses a human health risk, particularly to children. However it is still approved for use by farmers, who spray it on fruits and vegetables.

Malathion is widely sprayed to control mosquitoes and fruit flies. It is also an active ingredient in some shampoos prescribed to children for treating lice.

A coalition of environmental groups has fought in court for years to spur EPA to more closely examine the risk posed to humans and endangered species by pesticides, especially organophosphates.

“Endangered species are the canary in the coal mine,” Hartl said. Since many of the threatened species are aquatic, he said they are often the first to show the effects of long-term chemical contamination in rivers and lakes used as sources of drinking water by humans.

Dow, which spent more than $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016, has long wielded substantial political power in the nation’s capital. There is no indication the chemical giant’s influence has waned.

When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.

“Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,” Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir.

Rachelle Schikorra, the director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, said any suggestion that the company’s $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee was intended to help influence regulatory decisions made by the new administration is “completely off the mark.”

“Dow actively participates in policymaking and political processes, including political contributions to candidates, parties and causes, in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws,” Schikorra said. “Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity.”

Associated Press reporters Jack Gillum in Washington and Sophia Tareen in East Chicago, Indiana, contributed to this story.

MSNBC

The Rachel Maddow Show/ The MaddowBlog

Debate over pesticides enters Donald Trump’s ‘swamp’

By Steve Benen April 20, 2017

At first blush, it may seem like an obscure, technical debate. The Associated Press reports that a four-year review conducted by government scientists of three pesticides – chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion – found that they “pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied.” Federal agencies are poised to issue findings on how to limit use of these pesticides.

The story takes on a broader political significance, however, when we consider what one of the pesticide manufacturers is up to. The AP explained:

Dow Chemical is pushing the Trump administration to scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.

As one might imagine, Dow is pointing to its own research, which is in conflict with the information compiled by government scientists.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s controversial far-right choice to lead the agency, decided two weeks ago to side with Dow Chemical – against the advice of the EPA’s researchers – on the use of chlorpyrifos, one of the insecticides in question.

Now, apparently, Dow Chemical wants Team Trump to side with the company once more.

And while I’m not privy to the administration’s deliberations, it seems Dow Chemical has reason to be optimistic about its chances. Not only is the Trump administration ideologically predisposed to agree with corporate interests over environmental interests, but in this case the ties between the company and the president run deep.

The AP reported added, “Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities…. When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.”

At a certain level, this is a classic elections-have-consequences moment. American voters were given a choice in presidential candidates, and just enough of them sided with the Republican who’d create conditions like these. The country is now stuck, at least for four years, with the consequences.

But stories like these also shed new light on what Trump meant when he vowed to “drain the swamp.” The phrase, a staple of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, has become a laughable cliché, but let’s not forget its purpose: the GOP candidate took aim not only at D.C., but also at the city’s culture and legal corruption. Trump assured voters that he – and he alone – would change how the system in the capital worked.

We now know that meant making things quite a bit worse. Dow Chemical wrote a $1 million check to Trump’s shady inaugural committee; Dow Chemical’s CEO became a presidential adviser; and now Dow Chemical wants its friends on Team Trump to “set aside” scientific research.

I’d recommend caution before entering Donald Trump’s Swamp. It’s likely to soon be filled with some potentially harmful pesticides.

Explore: The MaddowBlog, Culture of Corruption and Donald

EcoWatch

Lorraine Chow April 19, 2017

Widely-Opposed Pipeline ‘Confirms Worst Fears’ After Two Spills Into Ohio Wetlands

Energy Transfer Partners’ new Rover Pipeline has spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluids into Ohio’s wetlands. Construction of the $4.2 billion project only began last month.

According to regulatory filings obtained by Sierra Club Ohio, on April 13, 2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled into a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. The next day, another 50,000 gallons of drilling fluids released into a wetland in Richland County in the Mifflin Township. The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline’s installation.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the same operator behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Rover Pipeline’s construction in February. The 713-mile pipeline will carry fracked gas across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan and Canada, and crosses three major rivers, the Maumee, Sandusky and Portage, all of which feed into Lake Erie. The pipeline is designed to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of domestically produced natural gas per day.

Completion of the Rover Pipeline is planned for November 2017. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told Bloomberg that the spills will not change the project’s in-service date.

“Once the incidents were noted, we immediately began containment and mitigation and will continue until the issues are completely resolved,” she said.

Environmental groups are fighting to stop the pipeline’s construction.

“Construction just began just a few weeks ago, yet Energy Transfer has already spilled more than 2 million gallons of drilling fluids in two separate disasters, confirming our worst fears about this dangerous pipeline before it has even gone into operation,” said Jen Miller, director of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We’ve always said that it’s never a question of whether a pipeline accident will occur, but rather a question of when. These disasters prove that the fossil fuel industry is unable to even put a pipeline into use before it spills dangerous chemicals into our precious waterways and recreation areas.

“Construction on the Rover Pipeline must be stopped immediately, as an investigation into Energy Transfer’s total failure to adequately protect our wetlands and communities is conducted.”

LA Times Editorial

Surprise us, Mr. President, and embrace the Paris climate agreement

Donald Trump has been president for only three months and already he’s given up or reversed course or been stymied on a wide range of campaign promises. Given how awful some of those ideas were — ending Obamacare, declaring China a currency manipulator, ordering a blanket federal hiring freeze (done, but since lifted) — it is not necessarily a bad thing for the country that he’s fallen down on the job.

Now, we’re mildly heartened to learn that Trump also may be moving away from his ill-advised campaign pledge to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement of 2015, under which nearly 200 nations pledged to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Climate change, of course, is viewed skeptically by the new president. He once described the idea that human activity is heating up the oceans and atmosphere in potentially catastrophic ways as “a total, and very expensive, hoax” that was “created by and for the Chinese” in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He appointed a climate skeptic, Scott Pruitt, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, a department Trumps hopes to reduce by 31%, according to the budget proposal he sent to Congress. The administration also is pushing plans to roll back Obama-era limitations on methane emissions from oil and gas wells on public lands (an effort that, fortunately, may die in the Senate), and to consider weakening the aggressive fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles established under Obama.

Trump also has drawn a target on the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to significantly reduce emissions from primarily coal-fired power-generating plants responsible for a third of the nation’s greenhouse gases.

That the Trump administration is even debating the issue rather than blindly carrying out its ill-conceived campaign promise offers a hopeful sign.

His hostility to the science of climate change poses a global risk. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter of carbon and other greenhouse gases. It was instrumental in crafting the Paris agreement, a milestone in international environmental cooperation even if experts say its goal of capping the rise in temperatures by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius isn’t ambitious enough if the world is to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

It’s slightly encouraging that there seems to be an internal debate underway between a set of Trump advisors who want the president to keep his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement and another set urging him to stick with the pact but loosen the Obama goal of reducing by 2025 U.S. emissions by up to 28% of 2005 levels. That the Trump administration is even debating the issue rather than blindly carrying out its ill-conceived campaign promise offers a hopeful sign that the president’s position could change, and that he might still join the rest of the world in trying to address the potentially existential threat of global warming. For the United States to back off from the Paris accord now not only would imperil the chances of global success, but would marginalize the U.S. as a leader in a defining issue of our era.

At the same time, if the U.S. were to stay in the Paris agreement while weakening the United States’ commitments, that still would be a losing proposition for the nation, and the world, given that emissions need to be even more sharply curtailed than already planned. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is a difficult challenge, but it needs to be done. Yes, there will be economic hits to the oil and gas industries, but alternative renewable energy already has become a significant part of the global economy and it is growing quickly. Given the worldwide damage that will be caused by rising seas — one estimate puts it at $1 trillion a year by 2050 — insuring jobs today at the expense of the future is the definition of penny-wise, pound-foolish.

The president is in a position to prove his critics wrong — to demonstrate that he can weigh (actual, not alternative) facts and frame positions based on reality and in the best interests of the nation. We invite him to do so by sticking with the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan, and by directing the government to find ways to reduce U.S. emissions even further. Those are steps that a sagacious and respected world leader would take. We hope Trump moves in that direction, away from his reckless campaign stance on this enormously important issue.

The Buffalo News

Even at Wyoming County food bank, unwavering support for Trump

Jerry Zremski  April 16, 2017

PERRY – The crowd at a monthly food pantry in this Wyoming County town of about 4,500 turned out to be a perfect microcosm of the most pro-Trump county in New York, where 72 percent of voters pulled the lever for the rebellious Republican candidate for president.

Waiting to gather their food from a nonprofit that might have to shut down if President Trump’s budget becomes law, seven out of 10 people interviewed last week said Trump was still their man, their president, no matter what his budget says.

“I’d vote for him again 20 more times if I could,” said Hal McWilliams, 59, a self-employed contractor from Portageville. “Build the wall! …Democrats do everything in their power to destroy this country. Hillary Clinton was everything I am against. She was out to destroy the culture that made this country: Hard work, guns, freedom.”

Voters talk like that in every corner of this county of rolling farmland just east of East Aurora, where the 40,000 human residents are, according to federal statistics, outnumbered by the cows by a margin of about 2 1/2 to 1.

You will hear some strikingly different comments, though, from the people who run that food bank, from some of the county’s 16 town supervisors – all Republicans –  and from some of the farmers who tend to those cows.

Many of them speak of Trump’s actions as president with varying measures of concern, none more so than Connie Kramer, executive director of Community Action for Wyoming County. The nonprofit, which runs that monthly food bank, projects it would lose about 90 percent of its funding if Congress were to approve Trump’s proposed budget.

“That is our core funding, and that definitely would cause us to look at the viability of the agency and whether it could continue,” Kramer said.

Praise for the president

Community Action runs a host of programs, from job training to rental assistance to housing weatherization, all funded by the Community Services Block Grant and other federal programs that Trump wants to eliminate or dramatically cut.

That seemed to be of little concern to most of the people packing their pickups with fresh produce and other items at last week’s food bank.

Told that the food bank was in danger, McWilliams shrugged and said: “I grow most of my own food anyway.”

Meantime, Reggie Clark, a 51-year-old chef from Castile, said he thinks Trump will back off from his budget cuts, which is possible, given that members of Congress oppose many of them.

What matters more to Clark is what he sees from the new president day in and day out.

“He’s about action,” said Clark, who didn’t vote for Trump but said he would do so if he could vote again now. “I believe he’s doing pretty much everything he promised to do.”

That’s what Keith and Bobbi Muhlenbeck think, too.

“We love him,” said Keith Muhlenbeck, 46. “We support him in everything he’s doing. He’s a businessman who knows how to get things done, and you can tell he has America’s best interests at heart.”

Washington pundits might be criticizing Trump for his recent reversals on a number of policy issues, including trade with China and the future of the Export-Import Bank. But Bobbi Muhlenbeck sees the president as a tough talker who stands his ground.

“I like that he doesn’t back down,” said Muhlenbeck’s wife, 49.

Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad found that out the hard way, her husband noted, citing Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian air base to retaliate for Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people.

“This country used to stand for something, and now we’re a joke,” he said, arguing that former President Barack Obama projected weakness – something Trump obviously doesn’t do.

“There’s iron in the glove now,” he said.

As for Trump’s proposed budget cuts, Muhlenbeck doesn’t worry that the food bank his family depends on will be forced to shut down.

“I’m sure they’ll find the money somewhere,” he said.

A troubled county

The Muhlenbecks, who live on government disability payments due to assorted ailments and injuries, were among about 200 people who lined up in a parking lot outside the Cornerstone Outreach Center for free groceries last week.

The line at the food bank should come as no surprise, given the state of the Wyoming County economy. Heavily dependent on agriculture, the local job market swings with the seasons. The unemployment rate sank to a mere 4.3 percent last August, but then shot up to 7.7 percent in February.

Beyond the farms, the county lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs over the past decade, and locals complain that young people continue to move away in pursuit of the jobs they can’t find here. The Census Bureau estimates that the county has lost 3.3 percent of its population in this decade alone, continuing a 20-year trend that has seen the county shrink by 7.2 percent.

In other words, Wyoming County is much like the struggling rural counties of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin that made Trump president.

While Wyoming County has long been heavily Republican, Trump exceeded the vote total of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, by 8 percentage points here, as voters embraced his promise of bringing back jobs that had disappeared.

Locals – especially farmers – came to see Democrats as job-killers, several Wyoming county residents said last week. Farmers in particular pointed to an Obama-era regulation that expanded Clean Water Act protections to small wetlands and streams, a move that could have limited how farmers use the ponds and creeks on their own property.

“When you talk about why Trump did so well here, it’s things like that,” said Daniel Leuer, supervisor of the Town of Middlebury.

Trump quickly moved to repeal that Clean Water rule, and it’s those sorts of moves that make him popular here, said Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, whose district includes Wyoming County.

“These folks don’t like government,” said Collins, a strong Trump supporter who himself fought that Clean Water rule for years.

Besides, people in Wyoming County could relate to Trump far better than they could Clinton, his Democratic opponent, said Tom Marquart of Marquart Brothers Farming, a dairy and produce farm in Gainesville.

“Hillary and Trump, they live in a different world, but at least he knows what the other world is,” said Marquart, who thinks Trump inherited “a big mess” and is doing his best to clean it up.

Despite Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, even some of the Bhutanese refugees who work as farm laborers here voted for Trump, said Pat Standish, founder of Angel Action, a Community Action effort that enlists volunteers to work on everything from early childhood education to emergency help for families in need.

“One of them told me that Trump loved the country more than his party,” Standish said.

Concerns about Trump

Now, though, the reality of the Trump presidency is starting to shake some Wyoming County community leaders.

The failed Republican health care bill would have cost the Wyoming County Community Health System $800,000 a year, the state hospital association projected, making matters far worse for an already-strapped rural hospital.

“We’re just hanging by a thread here,” A.D. Berwanger, supervisor of the Town of Arcade and the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said of the local hospital in Warsaw.

Meantime, Supervisor James R. Brick of the Town of Perry noted that his town and others could benefit from federal funding to expand their water systems. That’s something that could be included in the billion-dollar infrastructure bill Trump promised but hasn’t delivered.

Trump has, however, moved forward with plans to build a wall at the Mexican border. That could be troublesome, said Leuer, the Middlebury supervisor, because Mexico is a huge trading partner that buys dairy products from Wyoming County.

That’s just one reason some local farmers are starting to worry a bit about some of Trump’s policies.

Pat McCormick, a Wyoming County farmer who serves as a top official with the New York Farm Bureau, said farm labor shortages – a growing problem for several years – could grow worse because of Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrant workers. He also worries that Trump’s Department of Agriculture is not fully staffed and not prepared to deal with a Canadian government action that’s limiting the shipping of milk north of the border.

“I don’t agree with everything he’s done,” McCormick said of the new president.

Then there’s the matter of Trump’s budget cuts, which would cost 5,302 families in the county their home heating aid while probably shuttering Community Action, a nonprofit that essentially serves as an adjunct to the county Department of Social Services.

“Community Action is a key human services agency for us,” said Ellen Grant, supervisor of the Town of Bennington. “If they don’t have the funds to continue to operate, a lot of the services are going to fall back on our Social Services office.”

“Trump is a go-getter”

Those realities seemed not to matter much to the Trump supporters at last Thursday’s food bank.

Frances Daley, 90, of Castile, said she doesn’t agree with some of Trump’s budget cuts. But she quickly added: “I think he’s doing a good job. He’s more down to earth and speaks to the people. The Congress needs to cooperate with him more.”

A middle-aged woman, who identified herself only as Sherri, agreed that Trump is doing well – despite the roasting he’s taken in the mainstream media for the failed attempt to repeal Obamacare, the palace intrigue inside the White House and a continuing stream of controversial tweets.

A resident of Java, Sherri complained that the Obama administration fought her effort to get Social Security disability payments and otherwise produced a stagnant economy all across the nation.

In contrast to Obama, “Trump is a go-getter,” she said. “There’s no bull … with him. He’s up front on everything.”

Not everyone in line at the food pantry agreed.

“I think he’s going to ruin the country,” said Carol Green, 53, a Clinton voter from Warsaw who worried that Trump sets a poor example for young people.

Yvonne Barnhardt of Silver Springs, who was collecting groceries for her 87-year-old mother, was fully aware of Trump’s budget cuts.

“He’s taking away stuff we might need,” said Barnhardt, 55.

Barnhardt didn’t do anything to stand in the way of a Trump presidency, though.

She’s not registered to vote. “I never thought about it,” she said as people in front of her in the line snagged their free groceries.

The Grand Old Party’s ‘Tarbaby’ in Chief, Donald J. Trump, Gets Stickier Every Day.

April 4, 2017   John Hanno

The Grand Old Party’s ‘Tarbaby’ in Chief, Donald J. Trump, Gets Stickier Every Day.

What does this collection of Trump Administration cabinet members, advisors, consultants, close associates, confidants, immediate and extended family members and hangers on, all have in common? Its surly not their competence; all they’ve accomplished so far is to embarrass themselves and our country. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, only 35% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing and 52% of voters now say they’re embarrassed to have Trump as president.

The ‘Signer in Chief’ has orchestrated a b-grade primetime show in the oval office every day but it’s just a reality show con. The executive orders stuck under his nose for approval do nothing to raise America from its deeply divided malaise or solve any real problems; but do give us a hint at the GOP’s script for their new America. So far, it’s a remake pieced together from “Places in The Heart,” “O Brother Where Art Thou,” “Our Daily Bread” and of course, the “Grapes of Wrath.”

The Koch brothers HR department exerted their influence assembling this wrecking crew, with their single minded obsession with totally eradicating any hint of common sense Federal regulation. The Kochs and the fossil fuel and chemical industries have already begun stockpiling rewards (and presidential signing pens) for their campaign investments. The Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, reported on new EPA memos that explain the new system for eliminating environmental regulations; maybe that’s why only 29% of voters approve of the way Trump is handling the environment. Watch the video at theMaddowBlogonMSNBC.

And the gambling addicted banksters have been chomping at the bit ever since Barack Obama and the Dems installed watered down Dodd Frank regulations designed to reign in the worst excesses that caused the financial collapse and great recession. They’ve already begun dismantling what’s still in place.

It’s not this cast’s lofty credentials, or years of governing experience; no, that was the Obama Administration’s forte. This crew has little if any government expertise, and it shows in the floundering attempts at responsible governance.

Is it their political instincts and ability to compromise to get things done? No, these Winuts think any hint of compromise will be interpreted, by the Trump base and tea party voters, as total capitulation. The “Art of the Deal” is as credible as Trump University.

When Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court instead of healing the political divide by re-nominating Merrick Garland, he betrayed the American workers who voted for him and who will be harmed for decades by the extreme right anti-worker, pro business Gorsuch. Democrats are united in their opposition and the Republicans in the Senate threaten the nuclear option. But considering the quickly changing American demographics, Republicans should think long and hard about giving up legislative safeguards that protect minority interests.

Is it their sense of duty to serve their country during troubled times? No, what all these folks (with a few exceptions like General’s Mattis, Kelly and McMasters) have in common, is their unfailing and single-minded preoccupation at self dealing and self aggrandizement. They will forsake every ounce of empathy, decency, integrity, concern for the environment and American’s health and safety, and any sense of duty, patriotism or national pride, to enrich themselves and their families. That’s why 61% of American voters believe Trump is not honest.

It also appears that Trump, his family and everyone associated with him, were pliable dupes for Russian intelligence operatives bent on undermining American democracy and installing a compliant comrade in the White House.

Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hayes, Joy Reed and others at MSNBC and NBC, nightly untangle the intricate web of characters embroiled in Trumps conflicts of interest, their conduct bordering on treason, and the kompromat collected by Putin and his Russian operatives when they dangled fame and fortune in front of these nefarious profiteers.

Trump’s total dismantling of America’s diplomatic corps, lack of interest in manning up the State Department with peace makers, and throwing pallets full of money at the Pentagon, who already squander too much of America’s treasure, will do untold harm to American leadership in the world.

This administration has so far dodged the foreign affair crisis bullet, but that can’t last forever. Russia’s westward encroachment, China’s South China Sea incursions and North Korea’s resident crazy man, are dark clouds on the diplomatic horizon. Only 33% of voters approve of the way Trump is handling foreign policy.

I can’t even imagine what these Republi-crits would be doing if this soap opera was being orchestrated by Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I’m sure every congressional committee with office space, would be holding impeachment hearings, attempting to “lock him/her up.”

This unprecedented tragic epic will not end well for all the folks who reluctantly jumped on the Trump train. Self identified conservatives and evangelicals have lost what little credibility they still had, when they sold their souls to these Kleptocratic devils.

The uneducated white men entertaining suicidal tendencies, white women who ignored Trumps misogynistic treatment of their sisters, and workers left behind in the new world order (especially union labor) will not be rewarded for their misguided fealty. Workers who’ve dropped out of the work force long ago and who believed Trumps promise of living wage jobs, will only be let down again. Those won over by the promise of trillions in infrastructure spending will be disappointed, unless they hold campaign contribution IOU’s from Trump and the Republi-cons. Only 41% of voters believe, self described business superstar, Trump is doing a good job handling the economy.

Taxpayers who were counting on Trump for leveling the playing field, with comprehensive tax reform, will not be happy unless they’re in the same tax bracket neighborhood as the Donald and his hedge fund billionaire buds.

And since the ruse to fashion a tax cut for the rich and powerful by repealing Obamacare, failed to pass muster, Trump will need to raid the social programs his red state voters depend on for their bare existence, if he and Ryan are to make good on their promise to cut taxes for their corporate and wealthy benefactors. Trump’s approval rating on health care is 28%. And if Trump goes along with Ryan’s plan to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, seniors who believed Trumps insane promises, should finally be shocked from their deep sleep. 61% of voters believe Trump does not share their values and 57% believe Trump doesn’t care about the average American. Dah! This new White House and the Republi-con controlled congress have, and will continue to hoodwink their loyal voters and reward only the rich and powerful.

The din of American Democratic resistance from the left and center grows louder and more defiant every day. But so far, that principled resistance includes no one with a Repub in front of their name. It’s not surprising only 21% of voters approve of the job Republicans in congress are doing and 70% disapprove. How long will the party faithful stay stuck to this Trump Tarbaby? How long can this political house of cards survive?

Organizations like Indivisible, and others, might want to watch, and modify, the powerful speech of Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in “The Grapes of Wrath.” He tells his mother:

“I’ll (we’ll) be all around in the dark. I’ll (we’ll) be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll (we’ll) be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin up a guy, I’ll (we’ll) be there. I’ll (we’ll) be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll (we’ll) be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll (we’ll) be there too.”         John Hanno

 

EcoWatch

How the Koch Brothers Won the White House

By Lee Fang April 4, 2017

If the billionaire Koch brothers turn to the White House for favors, they will see many familiar faces.

Newly disclosed ethics forms reveal that a significant number of senior Trump staffers were previously employed by the sprawling network of hard-right and libertarian advocacy groups financed and controlled by Charles and David Koch, the conservative duo hyper-focused on entrenching Republican power, eliminating taxes and slashing environmental and labor regulations.

Some of the relationships were well-known. Marc Short, for instance, now Trump’s chief liaison to Congress, previously led Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the dark money nonprofit used by the Koch brothers and their donor cohort to dispense money to allied groups. Freedom Partners, which maintains an affiliate Super PAC, was at the center of the Kochs’ $750 million election effort during the campaign last year.

But the ethics forms, made available to the public on Friday evening, reveal a number of previously undisclosed financial ties between the Koch network and Trump’s inner circle of political aides.

Donald McGahn, Trump’s campaign attorney turned White House counsel, provided legal services to a range of outside Koch groups working to influence the election. McGahn, through the law firm Jones Day, advised Freedom Partners, as well as i360, the Koch’s big data firm set up to identify and target voters and Americans for Prosperity, the election advocacy and grassroots lobbying organization run by the Koch brothers. Ann Donaldson, McGahn’s chief of staff, came to the White House from McGahn’s law firm. Her financial disclosure shows that she also provided legal services to Freedom Partners and i360.

Kelleyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager turned close White House advisor, consulted over the last year for Americans for Prosperity’s national foundation, as well as for the Michigan and Ohio chapters of the group. Conway served as a board member for the Independent Women’s Forum, a Koch-backed group whose goal is “increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.”

The fact that Trump’s political team worked for the Koch network during the campaign adds a new wrinkle to the relationship between the president and the most well-known pair of Republican billionaires.

The Koch network has long pioneered a strategy of backing GOP campaigns by using seemingly independent nonprofits and outside election groups. Election law prohibits organizations that raise and spend unlimited funds, such as the Freedom Partners’ Super PAC and Americans for Prosperity, from directly coordinating with candidates.

But those rules are rarely enforced. Moreover, campaigns and Super PACs have danced around the coordination prohibition by employing individuals who split their time between candidates and outside groups, making them a crucial conduit for potential coordination.

Despite the common myth that the Koch network, in the words of Politico, “sat out” the presidential campaign, Koch groups were active in battleground states that proved critical to Trump’s victory. Americans for Prosperity employed 650 staff members during the campaign, with many stationed in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri. The field staff, using the new data tools from i360, focused on making sure Republican voters made it to the polls.

In the aforementioned states, Americans for Prosperity also aired negative ads attacking Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of the campaign, linking her to Democratic candidates and problems allegedly caused by the Affordable Care Act. The ads, which blanketed swing state television stations, held Clinton responsible for healthcare with “higher cost, lost coverage, lost doctors.”

The election effort swept the GOP to a level of national power not seen since the 1920s. And the Koch network has been quick to seize upon unified Republican control of Washington to quickly score a range of policy and political victories.

Freedom Partners Vice President Andy Koenig told the Los Angeles Times after the election that his group hoped Trump would “walk in with an eraser” and wipe out as many Obama reforms as possible. The group formulated a “Roadmap to Repeal,” a memo calling for the administration to prioritize revoking the Paris climate change treaty, repealing clean water rules and eliminating limits on pollution from coal-fire power plants.

In recent weeks, Trump and congressional leaders have used a little-known procedure called the Congressional Review Act to swiftly roll back the very regulations identified by the Koch memo. And they have been aided by a team that came to the White House policy staff directly from the Koch network.

Koenig, the former Freedom Partners vice president, is now working in the White House as a policy assistant. Koenig’s financial disclosure shows that he made $320,000 at the group before moving through the revolving door.

In addition, Andrew Bremberg, now the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Betheny Scully, an official working in Trump’s Office of Legislative Affairs, both worked for Freedom Partners. Bremberg’s disclosure shows that he consulted for the group through a consulting firm he owns called Right Policy LLC.

The Trump policy team includes Brian Blase, a special assistant to the president working on healthcare issues, who came to the White House from the Mercatus Center, the Koch network think tank at George Mason University.

A number of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff also came directly from Koch organizations. Andeliz Castillo, named earlier this year as a Pence senior aide, came from the Libre Initiative, the Latino outreach arm of the Koch network. Stephen Ford, Pence’s director of speechwriting, previously worked as a speechwriter for Koch’s Freedom Parters.

To be sure, there is not perfect harmony between the Koch brothers and Trump. The Koch network harshly criticized the American Health Care Act, attacking it for not doing enough to repeal Obamacare. And the groups have lobbied against the so-called border adjustment tax, a proposal favored by some in the Trump White House.

But if the latest member-wide email from Americans for Prosperity is any indication, the Koch brothers have much to celebrate with Trump in the White House.

The email, titled, “Thank you, President Trump,” hails the president for issuing an executive order to repeal of Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” the biggest pillar in the previous administration’s climate change strategy. The message goes on to boast that Americans for Prosperity is providing the lobbying muscle, along with paid advertisements and mobilizing calls to Congress, to help confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.

Newsweek

Meet the Billionaires Who Run Trump’s Government

By Nina Burleigh      April 5, 2017

They’ve been coaxed out of their mansions and off their yachts by President Trump to make America great again—for the very, very rich.

Mr. Monopoly, that mustachioed fat cat with the Taftian profile, was about as close as most Americans got to a New York City billionaire until candidate Donald Trump started flying his jet to their cities and villages last year. Now they are practically an everyday sight, because President Donald Trump has coaxed a pack of them out of their penthouse triplexes, yachts and private jets to either join his Cabinet or sit on his councils and advisory boards. Trump voters know they’ve had a government for billionaires—that’s one reason they’re so mad—but to have one by billionaires means the Mighty Oz is now setting the nation’s agenda, and there is no curtain.

Anybody with $1 billion in net worth possesses a tranche of wealth greater than the gross domestic product of 60 nations. So what can a president give to these men who have everything? And what can they do for him and to the rest of America? The answer may be found in the most famous line from the Italian classic novel The Leopard, about the decaying Sicilian aristocracy: “Everything must change so that everything can remain the same.” The best gift Trump can give his rich friends from Manhattan is to appear to be shaking up the system while leaving their myriad tactics for manipulating and amassing capital unaffected by federal regulation and higher taxes. Less than three months into his presidency, Trump is well into that agenda—quietly deregulating the financial industry, stripping Barack Obama’s climate change rules from fossil fuel producers and promising to lower taxes on the very rich.

A billionaires’ takeover of the U.S. government was not one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, but in retrospect it was obvious he wasn’t going to bring in the sustainability MBAs—he doesn’t know any. Instead, he set up a government of, by and for his peers (or men the famously insecure Trump wishes to call his peers). His Cabinet of millionaires and billionaires is the richest in American history. The New York billionaires, though, have more in common with Russian oligarchs and Nigerian petro-magnates than with almost any other Americans—whether they are flipping burgers at McDonald’s or performing heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic. They have been sold to the public as men who will help Trump run the country “like a business,” in which the public is the consumer. After careers in which they put growing their colossal bank accounts ahead of the interests of small towns, working stiffs and the common weal, there is no reason to believe they will worry about how predatory lending or letting Obamacare “explode” affects real people. Trump’s billionaires are not government-hating ideologues like the Koch brothers or mega-donor Robert Mercer. They are more like what Trump used to be—unaffiliated centrists. And their agenda—and now the country’s agenda—is defined by those matters that affect their wallets.

Pity the Poor, Misunderstood Billionaire

“The rich aren’t rich anymore,” says society writer David Patrick Columbia. “My friend inherited hundreds of millions. She said to me, ‘I’m not rich anymore.’ They didn’t lose their money, but these other people make billions—some of them make a billion dollars a year. And that’s all they really care about. All those guys love talking about how much money they have. It’s what they like to do.”

Most of the billionaires Trump has lured to D.C. are, like him, members of the 1980s generation of leveraged-buyout tacticians, junk bond kings, corporate raiders and vulture capitalists. They got rich off of emerging financial tactics crafted to take advantage of Ronald Reagan’s great gift to Wall Street—ripping up the regulations put in place after the Great Depression. Trump adviser and corporate raider Carl Icahn (net worth $16.6 billion) is said to have been a model for Michael Douglas’s “Greed is good” character in Wall Street. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ($2.5 billion), policy adviser Stephen Schwarzman ($11.8 billion) and unofficial intel adviser Stephen Feinberg ($1.2 billion) all made their fortunes in the kind of investment banking that came into vogue after Wall Street decreed that social responsibility and business—the Jimmy Stewart banker model—were antithetical.

The New York real estate developers now advising the president—Steven Roth (net worth $1.1 billion) and Richard LeFrak ($6.5 billion)—spent their professional lives (as did Trump) in a mosh pit with politicians, city regulators, 50-story crane operators, cement mobsters and the motley crew of characters, unsavory and otherwise, responsible for the New York skyline and the surrounding area’s malls, golf courses and housing developments.

Whether they earned their money in investment banking or New Jersey strip malls and high rises, Trump’s billionaires have much in common with the rest of the New York’s 1 percent. They don’t pay much in taxes, and most don’t think they should pay much more. They loathe government regulations, and they are ferociously competitive. “They all know each other. They finance each other. And they all compete with one another,” says Holly Peterson, journalist, author of It Happens in the Hamptons and daughter of Peter Peterson, one of the New York billionaires who is not in Trump’s camp. “They sniff each other like dogs.”

But none of them are—again, like the president—burrowed into New York high society. In 1983, when Paul Fussell wrote his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, examining class in the U.S. from top to bottom, he described how one sign of top status was inherited wealth, and another the discreet display of that wealth. Those rules don’t apply anymore, at least not in New York society. Trump and his billionaires are elaborately and publicly rich, and while some of their dads were wealthy, they didn’t all start out that way. Schwarzman, the chairman of Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, is the son of a Pennsylvania dry goods store owner, and he now divides his time between a 37-room Park Avenue triplex, a Hamptons estate and villas in Palm Beach, Florida, and Jamaica. He is famous for blowing millions on his birthday bashes. Icahn went to a public high school in Far Rockaway, long before he bought himself a 177-foot yacht.

With the exception of Ross and his $250 million art collection, they aren’t aesthetes—even if their names are sometimes chiseled into the granite of gracious old public properties like main building of the New York Public Library (Schwarzman) or embossed in brass on the soaring buildings that house their companies. Trump famously smashed precious historic Bonwit Teller building’s architectural elements—coveted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art—to bits because to preserve them would have delayed work on Trump Tower by two weeks. Roth once left a massive eyesore of a hole in midtown Manhattan for nearly 10 years at the site of a department store he’d bought and demolished, in part to gain more city incentives to develop it.

New York billionaires are sometimes known for their noblesse oblige or devotion to civic causes, but not this crew. They are social-circuit philanthropists. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (the eighth richest man in the world, net worth $47.8 billion) invested his name and money advocating for gun control and famously pushed for a more environmentally friendly New York City while he was in office. New York billionaire Peter Peterson, Schwarzman’s former partner, put $1 billion into an economic think tank. And, along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 40 other billionaires, he signed the Giving Pledge, in which all promised to donate the majority of their wealth to charity. Schwarzman gave the New York Public Library $100 million, but only after being mocked a month before in The New Yorker for stinginess. (“He has given, but not remotely what he could,” sniffed one anonymous critic in that article.) Financial writer James B. Stewart has described how Schwarzman had trouble booking a prime table in the Grill Room at the Four Seasons, a high-society lunchtime scene. Schwarzman asked his then-partner, Peterson, about it, who explained, “It takes more than just money.”

Trump’s billionaires, while the richest men in New York City, are a tier below the cultural-financial establishment, the aristocracy. “I think the nature of all these guys is that they are not a part of a power or moneyed establishment,” says one Manhattan private equity investment banker who knows most of them. “You can be very, very rich without being terribly important here. It’s not like [Trump] has assembled a cabal of pathbreakers who disrupted the 21st century.”

They have been disruptors of another sort—as vulture capitalists or, more euphemistically, investors in distressed companies. Icahn was one of the first corporate raiders, and he invented “greenmail,” a now-outlawed 1980s practice in which big New York money would swoop in, buy up a block of stock, then force a company’s board to buy it back or risk a takeover. Among his many pelts in a career of corporate raiding, Icahn gets credit for killing the airline giant TWA.

Like Icahn, but of a generation younger, Feinberg made his name buying up and reorganizing companies. He founded the ominously named Cerberus Capital (in Greek mythology, Cerberus was the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of hades), which picked apart companies like Anchor Hocking, a glass factory in Ohio, bringing down a small town of Lancaster with it—a community tragedy told in the best-seller Glass House. Feinberg’s real passion is weaponry and military contracting; he bought up American gun companies and founded a weapons conglomerate called Freedom Group that, among other offerings, produces automatic weapons favored by the likes of the Sandy Hook school shooter. He also owns a private military training site, and his DynCorp is a leading defense contractor. Feinberg’s name is rarely published without the qualifiers “mysterious” or “reclusive.” Last year, a corporate spy reported to The New York Observer that Feinberg warned his Cerberus shareholders to stay out of the news. “We try to hide religiously,” he said. “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” (None of the billionaires in this story responded to requests for comment, but only Feinberg’s office called back and verbally declined.)

New Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth $500 million), though not a billionaire, is another profits-over-people legend. He bought a California bank after the 2008 housing crash, and rehabilitated it by evicting tens of thousands of people, including many elderly and veterans. The subsequent protests—the newly homeless set up camp around his Los Angeles mansion—contributed to the demise of his second marriage.

Retired New York Post society columnist Liz Smith has known Trump since his first marriage, to Ivana, in the 1970s, and she watched New York society at first recoil from him, and then simply give in, as the corporate raiders who became Trump’s billionaire buddies took over Manhattan. “The current importance of money and big business and no ethics is discouraging,” she says. “In the beginning, the upper crust were all looking at the fact that he was a rich man, and they thought they could extract money from him for their charities. They found out fairly quick he was stingier than they were. I think the billionaires are supporting him with trepidation. They are nervous. They depend on the presidency for stability. They are patriots, most of them. They can’t help it if they’re rich.”

What Do You Give to the Man Who Takes Everything?

Trump’s billionaires share his two chief goals: a massive tax overhaul and deregulation, allowing them to make even more money, unimpeded by government intervention. The 99 percent have only the dimmest understanding of the strategies by which the 1 percent operate and profit. To most Americans, for example, bankruptcy is a disaster, a catastrophic credit rating hit, a personal failure and embarrassment suggesting sleeping in one’s car or moving back home with mom and dad. For Trump’s billionaires, bankruptcy—or as Trump put it, “the chapter laws”—is just another tool in the capitalist box, which includes various legal forms of stock manipulation, shorting pensions, crafting commercial building exchanges to avoid taxes and forcing a distressed or targeted company to buy back its own stock to raise its price.

Another magic trick of billionaire-dom is not paying taxes. Warren Buffett has pointed out that he and other billionaires pay lower taxes than a school teacher. Trump’s posse doesn’t share Buffett’s horror. Trump has avoided paying hundreds of millions in taxes over the years—legally—and so have his billionaires. Trump’s administration has made it very clear that it will expand tax benefits for billionaires. Mnuchin promised during his confirmation hearing that “there would be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” But lower taxes for the rich was always behind the Republican rush to repeal Obamacare and replace it with their still-born Trumpcare bill. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the proposal would have left 24 million people uninsured, mostly older and poorer Americans, while giving top earners a $158 billion tax savings on investment income. Trump blurted out the truth in a campaign style speech in Louisville, Kentucky, a week before the plan failed. “We’ve got to get this done before we can do the other,” Trump told the crowd. “In other words, we have to know what this is before we can do the big tax cuts.”

Trump’s tax overhaul plan, touted as the first real reform in 30 years, remains short on details, but one version gives the top 1 percent of Americans a 6.5 percent tax savings, compared with savings of 1.7 percent or less for middle and lower earners. Trump has promised to kill the alternative minimum tax levied on people like him, when their deductions can zero out their tax bill. According to his 2005 tax bill, Trump was taxed at 24 percent, thanks to the AMT.

The top executives of private equity firms—like Schwarzman, Icahn, Feinberg and, until he divested, Ross—all theoretically qualify for the carried interest deduction, which halves their tax rates. When Obama was stalking the carried interest deduction in 2010, Schwarzman nearly wet himself. “It’s a war,” he said at a July 2010 board meeting. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” He later apologized.

Special tax deals aren’t just for Wall Street tycoons. Real estate magnates like Trump can take advantage of a deduction Congress carved out for them in the 1990s. While average joes who lose money on real estate deals can no longer take full deductions, people who qualify as “real estate professionals” (Trump, LeFrak and Roth) can deduct their losses. Congress also allows developers to deduct the supposed depreciation of their property values over the course of 27 to 40 years, depending on the property type, despite the fact that real estate generally increases in value over time. That means, according to Morris Pearl, formerly managing director at the BlackRock Fund and director of the pro-tax Patriotic Millionaires, developers—and their heirs—never have to pay tax on property. “There are certain things the free market cannot do,” he says. “If you prefer a safer society over the long term, you want regulations. But the billionaires have a different perspective on things than other people. If you are Steve Schwarzman and your insurance company goes out of business because of shady deals, you don’t need the insurance regulator, you just find other insurance. If you are Steve Schwarzman, you pay about half the amount of taxes as other well-paid New Yorkers. Very few people care about carried interest tax deduction, but Schwarzman thinks he deserves it. Maybe he thinks there is a shortage of people willing to be fund managers, so we need to offer them special tax incentives.”

In addition to slashing their tax bills, some of the Trump billionaires have very specific requests and are not shy about expressing them. Special regulatory adviser Icahn is a majority investor in a Texas oil refinery that could have saved $205.9 million last year were it not for the Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable-fuel standard, which requires refiners to ensure that corn-based ethanol is blended into fuel. Since Trump’s election, Icahn has engaged in a lobbying blitz to change that rule, personally vetting EPA Director Scott Pruitt on it, and urging Trump to dump it.

Trump is also looking to tear up the Dodd-Frank financial reform law with its raft of regulations on the financial industry, and he announced it while sitting beside Schwarzman. Trump referred to discussions with “Steve” about the hated regulatory framework and said he looked forward to Schwarzman’s advice on how to improve the economy “for all Americans.” He then announced plans to roll back the work of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which lawmakers passed to protect consumers from predatory lending practices after the ’08 crash. He also signed an executive order that set the stage for rescinding the fiduciary rule, ultimately allowing financial advisers to again sell plans to clients that benefit the advisers themselves.

Trump’s billionaire boys club is theoretically on board with his anti-globalist stand. Commerce Secretary Ross announced in March that the formal process of renegotiating North American Free Trade Agreement was imminent. He has also announced plans to collect billions of dollars, mainly from China, in fines for breaking U.S. sanctions and other global trade rules. But nationalism is only a billionaire’s concern in the limited ways his holdings are affected by international affairs or global trade wars. While Trump’s alleged ties to Russians could prove his political downfall, in the world he and his billionaire posse inhabit, national borders are much less important than the relationships between multinational fiefdoms and the banks that back them.

The Trump Organization does deals all over the world, from Dubai to Istanbul to Moscow, but the president’s global branding operation is capitalism lite compared with, say, Ross’s multinational empire. Before his confirmation hearing, Ross agreed to divest hundreds millions of dollars in assets, including his piece of the Bank of Cyprus, which the Russian mob has reportedly used for money laundering. He is keeping his stake in a transoceanic tanker giant called Diamond S Shipping Group Inc. The Center for Public Integrity looked at that company’s operations and found its vessels sail under Chinese flags, and one of its ships has traveled to an Iranian port—which Diamond S has said was legal. Ten percent of its business comes from a Swiss company with stakes in Russian national oil giant Rosneft.

Ross’s internationalism is hardly unique. Feinberg’s DynCorp has reportedly trained Afghan police and has contracts in Saudi Arabia. Roth is building a New York apartment tower for the über-wealthy, with one of its units reportedly priced at a record $250 million—and the project is financed by nearly a billion dollars in Bank of China loans. It’s a good bet that the billionaires will probably see to it that Trump’s xenophobia doesn’t interfere with business.

If there’s one issue that binds almost all New York billionaires—even those who don’t support Trump—it’s a loathing of federal regulations, especially on the financial industry but also on commercial developments and industry. While not as historically active fighting regulations as, say, the Koch brothers, Icahn can’t wait for Trump to deregulate everything. He hailed his friend’s inaugural speech as a sign that “our dangerous slide towards socialism is over.”

In the chaotic first few months of his presidency, Trump’s signature achievement has been rampant deregulation. He has been ripping out, at a record pace, regulations covering everything from the financial industry to pollution to food safety to firearms. His billionaires and their accountants already know how this activity can improve their bottom line. What remains to be seen is whether average Americans will reap any collateral benefits, besides the newly won freedom to drive cars without mileage or emissions standards, take medications for off-label uses, drill for oil in national parks and, if mentally ill, buy a handgun.

 

Newsweek

Trump’s Billionaire Boys Club Directory

By Nina Burleigh   April 5, 2017

Trump’s Cabinet and squadron of advisers is the richest in American history. They have been sold to the public as men who will help Trump run the country “like a business,” in which the public is the consumer. Here is a handy guide to their net worth, habitats and evil deeds.

Carl Icahn, $16.6 Billion

Provenance
Queens, New York, 1936. B.A., Princeton University.

Company
Icahn Enterprises LP, a conglomerate with more than 90,000 employees and a wide array of investments, from auto parts to casinos to food packaging, fashion and real estate.

Famous Evil Deed
One of the original 1980s corporate raiders, he gets credit for killing TWA, but perhaps Icahn’s dirtiest claim to fame was masterminding the now-illegal practice of “greenmail,” buying blocks of stock in companies and then forcing those companies to buy them back at inflated rates as ransom to save themselves from takeover.

Stephen Schwarzman, $11.8 billion

Provenance
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, 1947. Son of a dry goods store owner. Undergrad at Yale where he was in Skull and Bones with George W. Bush. MBA, Harvard.

Company
Co-founder of Blackstone Group, a multinational private equity firm and one of the largest alternative investment outfits in the world. Alternative investments include real estate, precious metals, commodities and art. It has $367 billion in assets.

Famous Evil Deed
He has been accused of being kind of a jerk, who says things like raising taxes on the working poor would make them try harder because they’d have “skin in the game,” and objects to his servants’ squeaky shoes. In 2008, when he was worth only $8 billion, he complained to a New Yorker writer that he didn’t feel rich.

Stephen Feinberg, $1.2 billion

Provenance
Bronx, New York, 1960. B.A., Princeton.

Habitat
Divides his time between a $50 million Manhattan townhouse (the former Egyptian Embassy, which boasts its own movie theater) and a 2,500-square-foot home in Connecticut.

Company
Cerberus Capital Management LP, a hedge fund, private equity shop and investment bank with assets of $120 billion and stakes in at least 50 companies, including a grocery store chain, Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental concerns, Burger King and Air Canada, and the $1 billion defense contractor DynCorp. At one time, it also owned a piece of General Motors, and it profited from the taxpayer-funded bailout of the auto industry.

Big Toy
He owns a private 800-acre military site outside Memphis, Tennessee, called Tier 1, which has shooting ranges, on-road and off-road driving courses, and a parachute-drop zone, as well as an “urban-combat compound” designed to look like an Afghan village. He is also an avid big-game hunter.

Famous Evil Deed
He named his private equity company after the mythical three-headed dog at the gates of hades, so you know the list is too long for the brief entry in this taxonomy. To pick but a few, after his Cerberus Capital played a big role in gutting Ohio’s Anchor Hocking Glass Co. (the sordid details of that saga are laid out in Brian Alexander’s book Glass House ), he turned to collecting gun companies, and his Freedom Group now controls at least a dozen gun manufacturers, including companies that make the assault rifle used in the Sandy Hook school massacre and other mass shootings.

Trump Post
An unofficial adviser on the intelligence community. Donald Trump at one point suggested he would assign him to investigate intelligence leaks. Recently photographed with Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis on an aircraft carrier.

Wilbur Ross, $2.5 billion

Provenance
Weehawken, New Jersey, 1937. Undergrad at Yale. MBA, Harvard.

Company
Founded WL Ross & Co. LLC.

Big Toy
Maintains a $125 million art collection with his wife.

Famous Evil Deed
His Cabinet confirmation was nearly derailed over his partnership with Russian oligarchs in the Bank of Cyprus, which is believed to be a money-laundering hub.

Trump Post
Commerce secretary.

Steven Roth, $1.1 billion

Provenance
Bronx, New York, 1941. Undergrad at Dartmouth, Tuck School of Business MBA.

Company
Chairman and CEO of Vornado Realty Trust, which, according to Crain’s, holds 50 buildings and is New York’s largest commercial landlord. Until last year, it also had a giant portfolio in Washington, D.C.

Trump Post
Co-chairman, Trump’s infrastructure committee.

Richard LeFrak, $6.5 billion

Provenance
New York City, 1945. B.A., Amherst College. J.D, Columbia University.

Habitat
Manhattan and Southampton. He’s super-private, so details are sketchy.

Company
Like Trump, LeFrak is the son of a real estate magnate who inherited and expanded a large New York family brand. LeFrak’s father, Sam, came to America as a designer for Tiffany’s and started a company in 1905 that (like Trump’s father) built middle-class housing in Queens. The LeFrak Organization is now one of the biggest landlords in the tristate area, with some 94,000 rental units. It also owns oil companies and operates as a private equity investor.

Favors to Trump
After Trump’s inaugural address, LeFrak went on CNBC and tried to calm the public, claiming his friend has “more good sense” than he gets credit for. “There’s always a bit of negotiating posture in a lot of the things he says.”

Trump Post
Co-chairman, Trump’s infrastructure committee.

Robert Woods “Woody” Johnson IV, $6.3 billion

Provenance
New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1947. Undergrad at University of Arizona.

Company
Johnson Company Inc. a private investment firm. But his real fortune derives from his inherited piece of the Johnson & Johnson global medical products multinational, founded by his great-grandfather Robert Woods Johnson in 1885.

Big Toy
The New York Jets.

Famous Evil Deed
Not known around Manhattan for doing evil (unless you’re a Jets fan) but thought to be a little “mellow.” He was such a stoner in college that he once took a break from a party in Arizona to urinate and fell off a cliff, breaking his back.

Trump Post
Ambassador to the U.K., a position once filled by the likes of Joseph Kennedy and five men who later became president. His only known connection to Britain is that the Jets once played a game in London.

 

Raw Story

Evangelical slams Trump voters for accepting his ‘warped morality’ in jaw-dropping Christian magazine essay

Sarah K. Burris  April 5, 2017                 

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laughed at a video of President Donald Trump praying for an increase in ratings for “The Apprentice” earlier this year during the National Prayer Breakfast. But many evangelical Christians aren’t laughing at Trump’s “warped morality” and casual Christianity.

In an op-ed for the Christian Post, Marvin Thompson, a former missionary who spent 25 years in Africa, called out hypocritical Evangelical Christians who continue to support Trump.

He began by citing an April editorial in the Los Angeles Times that called Trump “a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters.” He emphasized the “worst in American voters,” noting the “gravity of the situation for a community that professes to stand on the infallible truth of the Gospel and on immutable biblical principles.”

Trump overwhelmingly won the Christian evangelical vote in November, according to exit polling data. In fact, Trump has the voting block to thank for ensuring he made it through the Republican Primary elections.

“Consider, further, what we know about Trump, about his lack of a moral compass and his unabashed embrace of it,” he wrote, citing Trump’s many attacks on women, the disabled and what he called Trump’s “contempt for God.”

“Nothing has changed since his election as President,” he continued. “Except, he now has the power to propagate his warped morality. This power was given to him by the evangelicals.”

Thompson wondered if evangelical Christians have somehow decided it was morally acceptable behavior or that they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. If it’s the latter, he believes it calls into question whether evangelicals actually have a grasp on the meaning and understanding of the Bible, to begin with. He goes on to take the “charitable” position that Trump-supporting evangelicals lack the knowledge of God and what is actually required for Christians to maintain “godly integrity in a morally corrupt society.”

“Just like elections have consequences, there are consequences for evangelicals’ lack of knowledge,” he went on.

After citing scripture, Thompson closed by warning evangelical Christians that the only thing to come of an alliance between good and evil “is the dissolution of the good.”

“The worst in American voters speaks of those who empowered Trump,” he concluded. “What made evangelicals bypass candidates with obvious biblical principles and more godly character for a man so devoid of those virtues? Alas, he appealed to their core values of character and morality. That is an indictment on evangelicals because their overt support validates and elevates his crassness and gutter character. The problem for evangelicals and the Church is convincing the world of sinners, skeptics, and cynics that there remains any abiding morality.”

 

ProPublica

Trump Can Pull Money From His Businesses Whenever He Wants — Without Ever Telling Us

Previously unreported changes to President Trump’s trust stipulate that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request.”

by Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw    ProPublica, April 3, 2017

When President Donald Trump placed his businesses in a trust upon entering the White House, he put his sons in charge and claimed to distance himself from his sprawling empire. “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh you did a good job,’” Trump said at a Jan. 11 press conference. Trump’s lawyer explained that the president “was completely isolating himself from his business interests.”

The setup has long been slammed as insufficient, far short of the full divestment that many ethics experts say is needed to avoid conflicts of interest. A small phrase buried deep in a set of recently released letters between the Trump Organization and the government shows just how little separation there actually is.

Trump can draw money from his more than 400 businesses, at any time, without disclosing it.

The previously unreported changes to a trust document, signed on Feb. 10, stipulates that it “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request” or whenever his son and longtime attorney “deem appropriate.” That can include everything from profits to the underlying assets, such as the businesses themselves.

“It’s incredibly broad language,” said Frederick J. Tansill, a family estate and trust attorney outside Washington, D.C., who reviewed the documents for ProPublica.

There is nothing requiring Trump to disclose when he takes profits from the trust, which could go directly into his bank or brokerage account. That’s because both the trust and Trump Organization are privately held. The only people who know the details of the Trump trust’s finances are its trustees, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer. Trump’s other son, Eric, has been listed as an adviser to the trust, according to this revised document.

The Trump Organization did not answer detailed questions about the trust. In a statement to ProPublica about the companies’ corporate structures, a Trump Organization spokeswoman, Amanda Miller, said, “President Trump believed it was important to create multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decision.” (Sic.)

There is a chance Trump will list his profits in his next federal financial disclosure, in May 2018, but the form doesn’t require it. The surest way to see what profits Trump is taking would be the release of his tax returns — which hasn’t happened. Income has to be reported to the IRS, whether it comes from a trust or someplace else.

“For tax purposes, it’s as if the trust doesn’t exist at all,” said Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “It’s just an entity on paper, nothing more.”

It’s not clear why Trump added the language to the trust document. His original trust document, which ProPublica obtained in January, designated Trump as the “exclusive beneficiary.” It did not include any restrictions on when Trump could get the money.

Taking profits regularly could benefit Trump in a variety of ways. It would give the president yet more details on the ongoing finances of his businesses. Trump’s son Eric recently told Forbes he plans to update his father on the company regularly, though the revised trust document states that the trustees “shall not provide any report to Donald J. Trump on the holdings and sources of income of the Trust.”

Trump could also simply find the income helpful, even as president. The trust document shows that Trump has “broad rights to the trust principal and income to support him as necessary,” Tansill said.

The General Services Administration released the document last week when it approved the Trump Organization’s plan to address conflicts involving the Trump International Hotel in D.C. (The GSA, which handles procurement for the government, owns the land and Trump has a 60-year lease for the building.) In response to criticism about Trump being, in effect, both tenant and landlord, he agreed to not take any profits from the hotel while in office.

The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust

DJT Holdings LLC

Money flows

Trump National Golf Club, Philadelphia

(TNGC Pine Hill LLC)

Profits will go into a separate company account, which can only be used for hotel upkeep, improvements or debt payments. Watchdog groups have derided that deal as insufficient, noting that pouring profits back into the hotel will make it more valuable in the long term.

With Trump’s hundreds of other businesses, including golf courses, hotels and branding deals, profits from each go to a holding company and eventually into Trump’s trust. Other corporate documents we obtained, reflecting changes made after President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, show how money flows from a golf club outside Philadelphia to the president’s trust (as shown at left).

There soon could be many more Trump family businesses.

The Trump Organization has recently touted plans to open hotels across the country, including a second one in Washington, D.C. “It’s full steam ahead,” Trump Hotel CEO Eric Danziger said recently. “It’s in the Trump boys’ DNA.”

Derek Kravitz is the research editor at ProPublica.

Al Shaw is a news applications developer at ProPublica.

ProPublica

Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock

While in Congress, HHS Secretary Tom Price acted to help kill a rule that would hurt drug company profits shortly after his broker bought him up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stock.

by Robert Faturechi    ProPublica, March 31, 2017

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ProPublica’s ongoing coverage of the 45th President.

On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.

Stock trades made by Price while he served in Congress came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The lawmaker, a physician, traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry, but Price has said his broker acted on his behalf without his involvement or knowledge. ProPublica previously reported that his trading is said to have been under investigation by federal prosecutors.

On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. Previous reports have noted that, a month later, Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration, which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t necessarily improve patient outcomes.

What hasn’t been previously known is Price’s personal appeal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the rule, called the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model.

The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.

“Chairman Price may briefly bring up … his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”

The call was scheduled for the following week, according to the emails.

An HHS spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment from Price. DiBlasio and Conway didn’t respond to questions about the phone call.

Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services traded stocks of health-related companies while working on legislation affecting the firms. A source says Bharara was overseeing an investigation. The White House didn’t immediately comment.

The proposed rule drew wide opposition from members of both parties as well as industry lobbyists and some patient advocacy groups. It was meant to change a system under which the government reimburses doctors the average sales price for drugs administered in their offices or inside clinics, along with a 6 percent bonus. Some health analysts say that bonus encourages doctors to pad their profits by selecting more expensive treatments.

Critics argued that the rule might cause Medicare enrollees to lose access to lifesaving drugs. Lawmakers worried the federal government was potentially endangering patients and turning them into guinea pigs in a wide-scale experiment in cost savings.

However, supporters of the rule said the experiment in payments was the kind of drastic action needed to rein in soaring health costs. “We are actively reforming every other aspect of our health-care system to pay for value except pharmaceuticals,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said at the time. “Drug manufacturers are the only entity that can charge Medicare anything they want.”

The six companies that Price invested in were steadfastly opposed to the rule. McKesson formally warned investors in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that such a change could hurt share prices. The firms lobbied the government to kill the plan.

And at two of the six companies Price invested in, people who used to work for the congressman were part of the lobbying effort.

Price’s former chief of staff, Matt McGinley, lobbied House members for Amgen, disclosure records show. Another former Price aide, Keagan Lenihan, lobbied on behalf of McKesson, where she was director of government relations at the time. Lenihan has since reunited with Price, returning to government to work as a senior adviser to her old boss at HHS.

Neither McGinley nor Lenihan responded to requests for comment.

Although Price said he wasn’t aware of his broker’s trades at the time they were made, he would have learned of his holdings no later than April 2016 when he signed and filed his latest financial disclosure forms. In earlier disclosures, Price signed forms listing his other health-related holdings, which included some drug stocks.

Price’s personal intervention raises more questions about the overlap between his investments and his work as a member of Congress.

According to House ethics guidelines, “contacting an executive branch agency” represents “a degree of advocacy above and beyond that involved in voting” on legislation where a financial conflict of interest may exist.

“Such actions may implicate the rules and standards … that prohibit the use of one‘s official position for personal gain,” the guidelines state. “Whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests, the Member should first contact the Standards Committee for guidance.”

Tom Rust, chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment, saying any consultations with members of Congress are confidential.

In December, after Trump was elected and named Price as his choice to lead HHS, Obama administration health officials scrapped their plan to change the drug reimbursement system. “The complexity of the issues and the limited time available led to the decision not to finalize the rule at this time,” a spokesman said.

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica.

 

Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Said to Have Been Investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price

Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services traded stocks of health-related companies while working on legislation affecting the firms. A source says Bharara was overseeing an investigation. The White House didn’t immediately comment.

by Robert Faturechi   ProPublica, March 17, 2017

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ProPublica’s ongoing coverage of the 45th President.

Update, Mar. 19, 2017:

Asked about this report during an appearance today on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he and his lawyers haven’t received any indication of a federal investigation into his stock trades. “I know nothing about that whatsoever,” Price said.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.

Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.

Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.

The investigation of Price’s trades by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, said the person.

Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara’s firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.

When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara’s resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.

“I did not resign,” he wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Moments ago I was fired.”

“By the way,” Bharara said in a second tweet, “now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.”

Bharara was referring to a commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission’s work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.

Bharara referred questions from ProPublica to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson there declined to comment. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price’s trades.

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while taking actions that could have affected those companies. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee and sat on the Ways and Means Committee’s health panel.

In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics — a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted “investigational new drug” status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process.

Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA. As ProPublica has reported, Price’s office has taken up the causes of health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.

Innate Immunotherapeutics’ CEO Simon Wilkinson told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and have no knowledge of authorities looking at Price’s stock trades.

Another transaction that drew scrutiny was a 2016 purchase of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet.

Price has said that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker.

After hearing from a company whose CEO was a campaign contributor, a congressional aide to Donald Trump’s HHS nominee repeatedly pushed a federal health agency to remove a critical drug study from its website.

In a third case, reported by Time magazine, Price invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading a legislative and public relations effort that eventually killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those companies.

Louise Slaughter, a Democratic Congress member from New York who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price’s stock trades. “The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge,” she wrote.

What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is not known.

Along with the Price matter, Bharara’s former office is investigating allegations relating to Fox News, and has been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump has received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business. Bharara’s former deputy, Joon Kim, is now in charge of the office, but Trump is expected to nominate his replacement within weeks.

ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and research editor Derek Kravitz contributed to this story.

For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on how Tom Price’s office went to bat for a pharma company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica.

 

BuzzFeed

A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy

Carter Page told BuzzFeed News that he had been in contact with at least one Russian spy working undercover out of Moscow’s UN office in 2013.

Ali Watkins BuzzFeed News Reporter, Posted on April 3, 2017

NEW YORK — A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013.

The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.

A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed News has confirmed that “Male-1” is Page.

The revelation of Page’s connection to Russian intelligence — which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump — is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump’s orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump’s campaign-era associates — including Page — had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the course of the election. Page has volunteered to help Senate investigators in their inquiry.

It remains unclear how connected Page was to the Trump campaign. He rose to prominence seemingly out of nowhere last summer, touted by then-candidate Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page was quickly cut from the Trump team following reports that federal investigators were probing his ties to Russian officials. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last month that the campaign had sent Page cease and desist letters last year, demanding he stop associating himself with it.

A US intelligence official said that investigators intend to question Page eventually, but that he was not considered a high priority. “There’s so many people that are more relevant,” the official said.

The court filing includes a colorful transcript of Podobnyy speaking with Sporyshev about trying to recruit Page.

“[Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. … He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up,” Podobnyy said. “I also promised him a lot … This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself.”

Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Monday that he is “Male-1” in the court filing and said he had been in contact with Podobnyy, who was working at the time at Moscow’s UN office in New York City under diplomatic cover, although he was really an SVR agent. Pressed on details of his contact with Podobnyy, Page said their interactions did not include anything sensitive.

According to the complaint, Page met Podobnyy in January 2013 at an energy conference in New York. It says that from January to June of that year, Page met with, emailed with, and “provided documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business.”

After federal investigators were looking into the ring, focusing on Podobnyy, Sporyshev, as well as a third man, Evgeny Buryakov, Page was interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agent Gregory Monaghan and another unnamed FBI agent in June 2013, the filing reads.

Podobnyy and Sporyshev were charged in absentia — working under official cover positions, they were afforded diplomatic immunity and were whisked out of the country. Buryakov, who worked under unofficial cover as an employee of state-controlled Vnesheconombank in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was due to have been released from a federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, on Saturday, and returned to Moscow.

Speaking with BuzzFeed News, Page suggested that the complaint was written so that it was obvious he was the Gazprom-connected man Podobnyy talked about recruiting.

“In this city? Give me a break,” he said. “It is so obvious.”

In a previous conversation, when asked if he had ever met with Russian intelligence operatives, Page told BuzzFeed News in a message on the Telegram messaging app: “I’M VERY CAREFUL WHEN I SAY ‘NEVER’ BUT EVEN IF I HAD INADVERTENTLY HAD ‘CONTACT’ SUCH AS BRIEFLY SAYING HELLO TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT FALL UNDER THAT LABEL IN PASSING NOTHING I EVER SAID TO THEM OR ANYONE ELSE WOULD’VE EVER BROKEN ANY LAW.”

A dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, used to brief then-president Obama, then-president-elect Trump, and Gang of Eight congressional leaders in January, cited a Kremlin official as saying that the Kremlin had sought a relationship with certain figures in the US, including Page, and had indirectly funded some of their visits to Russia. Page denied playing a role in the Kremlin’s attempt to undermine the US election in conversations with BuzzFeed News.

“I didn’t do anything wrong…. including meeting with any of those people I’m falsely accused of in that Dodgy Dossier,” Page told BuzzFeed News in a message last month.

Ali Watkins is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.

 

The Nation, Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement

An explosion of new activism offers a ray of hope in these dark political times.

By Joshua Holland     February 6, 2017

The election of Donald Trump was a catastrophe for progressive America, but the damage may be mitigated over the long term by a remarkable surge of energy on the left in response to his election. As many as 5.2 million people participated in hastily organized Women’s Marches across the country, senators’ phones have reportedly been jammed with calls protesting Trump’s cabinet nominees and other early moves, and, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, more than one in three Democrats say they plan to become “more involved in the political process in the next year” as a result of the election. That’s true of 40 percent of Democratic women, and almost half of self-identified liberal Democrats.

The widely held view that Trump is an illegitimate president who’s poised to enact an agenda combining the worst of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “granny-starving” fiscal conservatism with White House consigliere Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalism has fueled the formation of dozens of new grassroots resistance groups. Some were launched by seasoned political operatives, others by people who hadn’t engaged in activism in the past. Some were germinated during chats on long bus rides to the Women’s March. Not all of them will succeed—some false starts are a given—but like any collection of innovative start-ups, it only takes a few successes to change the landscape.

Here’s an overview of some of the new efforts launched since November 9. It’s by no means comprehensive, but we started with a list of 75 new groups and whittled them down to some of the most interesting or promising. They’re not presented in any kind of ranked order. Our hope is that knowing how others are standing up to Trump will inspire more readers to get involved.

Indivisible

When a handful of current and former congressional staffers posted a guide on Google Docs outlining the most effective ways for ordinary people to lobby their representatives, they had no idea it would blow up the way it has.

“We believe that Donald Trump’s agenda does not depend on Donald Trump–it depends on members of Congress rubber-stamping that agenda,” says Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project. “And perhaps the only great thing about Congress is that members are responsive to their constituents. Every member of Congress wakes up thinking about re-election.”

Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of “practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.” This, he adds, “was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff—going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”

Within hours of posting the guide, the website crashed under the weight of traffic—Levin says that 1.5 million people have downloaded it so far. “Blown away” by the response, they decided to expand the project with a local focus. “The really exciting thing that’s happened is the emergence of Indivisible groups across the country,” says Levin. The website allows you to enter your zip code and connect with like-minded people in your community. Levin says that 5,300 groups have registered so far, and 200,000 have signed up to participate. “And what’s so exciting is that the majority are brand new people who are coming together post-election to figure out what to do.”

#KnockEveryDoor

#KnockEveryDoor co-founder Zack Malitz says that “in the 2016 election, Democrats didn’t invest enough in going door to door and talking to voters. And where they did, they didn’t reach out to people who needed to be persuaded or who were perennially discouraged from voting.” So he and some other former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers and volunteers got together and decided to organize canvassers to…knock on every door in the country.

“Talking to every voter requires a new approach to organizing,” says Malitz. “You’ll never be able to hire enough field organizers to support that kind of effort if you assume that a volunteer has to be directly in touch with a campaign staffer before they can get to work. So our approach is radical trust in volunteers—not just to knock on doors, but to organize their neighbors to knock on doors, to lead canvassing trainings, to barnstorm their communities, and even to run critical pieces of campaign infrastructure and technology. That’s the only way you can organize at a scale where it really is possible to knock on every door.”

The group launched just two weeks ago, and 2,000 people have already signed up to participate. Last weekend, they held 17 canvassing events around the country. You can join the effort at the link above or chip in a few bucks to support this work.

Swing Left

Swing Left was launched by a small group of friends who had little experience with political activism. The goal is to sign up progressive activists in safe congressional districts to canvas in the nearest swing district and ultimately flip the House to Democratic control in 2018.

“Voters in ‘safe’ districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions,” says co-founder Miriam Stone. “At the same time, House midterm elections, including in swing districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of swing districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races. We believe there’s something powerful in the idea of individuals personally connecting with each other and rallying around specific, local Swing Districts.”

Over 280,000 people have signed up so far, according to Stone. So far, the organizers have covered the costs of the operation out of their own pockets, and they’re now looking for funding as well as volunteers.

Run for Something

This organization, launched January 20, is committed to recruiting and supporting millennials running for down-ballot offices. “If you’re a young progressive who’s not necessarily part of the system or familiar with politics, there was really nowhere for you to go to ask for help if you wanted to run,” says Amanda Litman, a former Clinton campaign staffer and co-founder of the group. “Candidate recruitment is a time-intensive activity that requires a lot of manpower and resources, and it’s something that the state parties and state committees just couldn’t do properly because they’re already doing so much. So we’re trying to fill that gap.”

Millennials who want to get into electoral politics will be able to access training, pick the brains of experienced mentors, and in some cases get help with funding and staff. Litman says that in less than two weeks since the project’s launch, they’ve signed up almost 3,000 young candidates to run for local office. She says that the group didn’t expect the response they’ve gotten, and are now building out infrastructure to handle the demand.

Operation 45

Freedom of Information Act guru Ryan Shapiro, who has been a thorn in the side of both the Bush and Obama administrations, calls FOIA a “radical experiment in transparency,” at least in theory. In practice, government agencies have become adept at deflecting or deferring FOIA requests, and it takes a special skill set to navigate these bureaucracies.

Shapiro and attorney Jeffrey Light, a specialist in FOIA litigation, had been doing their work part-time, but, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, the duo decided that they needed to redouble their efforts. “Jeffrey and I have been doing this work for years,” says Shapiro. “We have thousands of FOIA requests in motion with various federal agencies. We currently 15 fifteen active FOIA lawsuits against the FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, and other agencies, as well as numerous additional lawsuits in the pipeline.”

Shapiro says that he and Light had “expected to continue fighting government secrecy under Hillary Clinton. But on November 9, faced with Donald Trump’s overt contempt for transparency, freedom of the press, and the Constitution itself, we realized we now needed to significantly expand our efforts. We founded Operation 45 so we can focus on this work full-time, as well as bring on other people to assist as we scale up to take on the Trump administration. We have the expertise and the vision, now it’s just a question of resources.” You can get more information at the link above, or chip in a few bucks toward their efforts at GoFundMe.

Movement 2017

Technically, we’re cheating here: There was a #Movement2016 website, but it was sort of a work-in-progress. After the election, organizers revamped the project and relaunched it as #Movement2017, and it’s a useful tool for those who want to offer financial support to lesser-known organizations in their communities.

Veteran organizer Billy Wimsatt, who launched the effort, says that while the big progressive advocacy organizations will play an important role in the resistance, the idea behind Movement 2017 is that small-dollar donations to local grassroots groups can often make the difference between their succeeding and fizzling out.

But how can one know that one of these groups is using its resources wisely and doing valuable work? Movement 2017, says Wimsatt, is “a platform to donate to the resistance in a vetted way. We feature 200 of the best, local progressive vote groups in key 2018 states, along with selected national groups. There are a zillion donate lists floating around, but most aren’t vetted and they tend to focus on large brand names. We focus on scrappy groups that offer the biggest bang for the buck.”

The Pussyhat Project

Who would have thought of knitting as a vehicle for defending women’s rights? Two erstwhile non-activists from Los Angeles—architect Jayna Zweiman and screenwriter Krista Suh. And they appear to have hit on something, given how rapidly the Pussyhat Project has taken off.

The idea was to bring people together in knitting circles, where they would produce handmade pussyhats for participants in the women’s marches, as well as family and friends, and while they’re at it, plot the resistance.

“The traditional knitting circle is a fantastic opportunity to have discussions,” says Zweiman. “People are coming together to create something, but they’re also there with a group of like-minded people, often for several hours, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about women’s rights and come up with ideas about what we can be doing—for creating a community around activism.”

The other goal was to give people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a protest an opportunity to participate in the movement. Zweiman was recovering from a concussion during the Women’s March, and couldn’t deal with large crowds. She says that, “when you see that sea of pink hats, you understand that it’s not just about the people out in the street marching, but also those supporting the marchers.”

Movement Match

In November, a group of friends–most of them longtime activists–got together to console one another in aftermath of the election. “We started talking about what keeps us going in the face of hard realities. We realized that what gives us hope and energy to keep going with our work is the fact that we are members of activist groups,” says Talia Cooper, who co-founded the project with Pippi Kessler, Sonia Alexander, and David Mahfouda. “We realized that a lot of people got activated since the election, and some of them say that they’re not sure what to do. So we’re working to direct people who are new to the movement to organizations led by experienced activists and seasoned organizers.”

They developed a quiz to help match newly hatched activists with the right organization, and what began as a six-week project has now expanded into something more, with 70 volunteers working on one aspect of the campaign or another. Cooper says that over 10,000 people have taken the quiz so far. At this point, they’ve focused primarily on groups working in the New York–Philadelphia region and the Bay Area, but the group plans on taking their database nationwide.

It’s been an all-volunteer effort so far, but Cooper says, “we’re realizing that this might start to cost us some money. If people want to support us in that they can donate.” You can also suggest worthy groups to include in the campaign.

Some other noteworthy groups and campaigns…

Brought to you by the scrappy organizers behind what’s been described as the largest march in US history, the Women’s March 10/100 Campaign is trying to keep the momentum going. Sign up and commit to participating in ten concrete actions during the first 100 days of the Trump regime.

THE STAKES ARE HIGHER NOW THAN EVER. GET THE NATION IN YOUR INBOX.

The Town Hall Project is an unfunded, crowdsourced, Facebook-based project that researches “every district and state for public events with Members of Congress,” and makes the info available via a Google spreadsheet in the hope that people will engage their representatives face to face. They also “have a team of organizers that works with local groups on the ground to coordinate efforts and encourage citizens to amplify their voices,” according to their “about” page.

#ResistTrumpTuesdays is a joint project of The Working Families Party, MoveOn, and People’s Action. Its goal is to turn large numbers of activists out every Tuesday to fight back against a different element of Trump’s agenda. You can follow the action by clicking on the Twitter hashtag above.

Co-founded by The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, Justice Democrats is recruiting progressive candidates to challenge “corporate-backed Democrats” in primaries and “rebuild the party from scratch.”

Millennials for Revolution, a group of former People for Bernie organizers, wanted to “take the opposition to DC,” but realized that activists, especially younger ones, need a base of operations in the belly of the beast—a place to strategize and if necessary stay for a few nights. They’ve neared their goal of raising $50,000 to cover rent on a space near the Capitol for a year—90 percent of their donations turned out to be $27—and signed a lease on a property this week. For more info, or if you want to support their effort, check out District 13 House.

You can sign up for a weekly “act of resistance,” and pledge to follow through, at wall-of-us, another new effort to capitalize on the energy of the Women’s March.

Organizers are planning a Scientists’ March on Washington, DC, on April 22.

The ACLU reportedly raised $24 million during the weekend following the announcement of Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” but there are dozens of local legal aid groups that will also need support as the resistance spreads. Rewire compiled a list of 24 of these smaller legal-aid organizations, with brief descriptions of each.

Concerned about the spread of fake news? It’s a difficult problem to tackle, but Eli Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy and author of The Filter Bubble, launched a humble spreadsheet to crowdsource ideas, and it has since “become a hive of collaborative activity, with hundreds of journalists and other contributors brainstorming strategies for pushing back against publishers that peddle falsehoods,” according to Fortune. The spreadsheet, titled “Design Solutions for Fake News,” is here.

You can also hit Breitbart News and other sites that peddle in bigotry and white nationalism in their pocketbooks by getting involved with a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants. Their strategy is simple: Make sure that corporations are aware of the kind of content that appears alongside their ads. This New York Times story offers more detail about the campaign.

Feeling overwhelmed by the rush of real news about the Trump regime? Matt Kiser, a tech writer by day, launched a side project chronicling “the daily shock and awe in Trump’s America.” The goal of whatthefuckjusthappenedtoday.com, according to the site’s “about” page, “is to capture the most important news in a digestible form.”

It may be a Hail Mary pass, but the organizers behind ImpeachTrumpNow, John Bonifaz, and Norman Solomon, are veteran progressive activists who lay out a compelling case at the link above.

Buycott Trump is trying to get people to vote with their dollars. Organizers have launched a new campaign on top of an existing app that allows you to scan barcodes and QVCs, and offers you information about the politics of the companies who make the products you see on store shelves. You can find links to download the app at the link above.

You can also enter your phone number at White House, Inc. or DialItUpNow.com, and be randomly connected to a Trump property somewhere in the world, where you can politely discuss the issues that matter to you—and in the process keep their lines tied up.

With Trump in the White House, and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, popular resistance has never been more important. It’s too soon to tell which of these groups will take off and succeed, but it’s not too early to throw yourself into one of these worthy efforts. And if we’ve overlooked a new effort that you think is important, let other readers know about it in the comments.

Listen to Joshua Holland on the growing resistance to Trump on the Start Making Sense podcast.

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Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything, Frances Fox Piven

The People Are Leading the Politicians in the Fight Against Trump, Joan Walsh

‘Republi-conicare’

John Hanno March 14, 2017

‘Republi-conicare’

Don’t be bamboozled; this ‘pig in a poke’ health insurance farce is not a ‘health care plan.’ It’s first of all, a ‘tax cut plan’ for the richest Americans and an ‘un-health plan’ for the rest of us. Senator Bernie Sanders believes this (1% er, American Health Care Plan) is simply a “$275 billion tax cut plan, transferring enormous amounts from the poorest and oldest Americans to the very rich.”

These Republi-cons have been lying to voters for the last 8 years. Obamacare is not collapsing; is not in a death spiral. 63% of folks think Obamacare is good, want to keep it and want to improve it, not destroy it. West Virginia, our poorest health care state went from 17.6% uninsured to 7%. A success by anyone’s standards. And dozens of other poor, particularly Red states, have also benefited from the ACA. 45 states had statistically significantly reductions in the uninsured. Arkansas dropped from 23% to 9.6%, Kentucky, with arguably the most successful ACA implementation, dropped from 20.5% to 7.5% and Oregon dropped from 19.5% to 7.3%.

The Republi-cons cried over and over that the Democrats pushed the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) through without any input from the Republicans; but President Obama, his experts and the Democrats worked extremely hard, through endless Republican obstruction, holding more than 70 meeting over 14 months to cobble together that bill. President Obama begged the Republicans to come up with credible amendments instead of obstructing the process. This high-pocritical Republican crew just held a couple of bull crap closed door hearings and are attempting to rush this bill straight to the House floor with not one hearing with the Democrats.

King Donald repeated throughout the campaign that he would repeal and replace Obamcare on his first day in office and that his replacement plan would be much better and far cheaper, “a beautiful thing.” He said he would do something “unlike any of the other Republicans running,” that “its a very un-Republican thing to say,” but he would make sure everyone was covered, even the bottom 25% of the poorest Americans who can’t afford private health care. He said no one now covered by the ACA would lose their coverage. But during the last few weeks, he’s flipped his rhetoric (no surprise) to now say everyone would have ‘access’ to his health care plan.

Having ‘access’ to health care is not the same as having health care. I have access to Four Seasons Hotels and many exclusive vacation resorts but the only accommodations I can afford is staying with Tom Bodett at the Motel 6 or in a tent at a State Park camp grounds. I have access to some really nice golf clubs, some of which Trump might own, but the only ones I can afford are run by our local park districts. I have access to cars at exclusive Mercedes and Audi auto dealerships, but with my budget restrictions, I shop for 5 or 10 year old used vehicles.

The 50% of American’s who live on $16,000 a year or less would not be able to purchase health insurance under any circumstances, whether they’re able bodied workers or not. They can’t afford even the cheapest insurance unless it’s heavily or fully subsidized.

We already suspected, that under this phony Paul Ryan Republi-con plan, millions of Americans would lose coverage or, as was common before the ACA, pay more for less and less care, while the wealthy haul in billions through tax breaks. Yet the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) analysis portrays even more punitive consequences than we imagined.

Under the Paul Ryan’s proposed American Health Care Act, supported by billionaire Trump, the CBO claims 24 million Americans would lose their health care by 2026 and 14 million by next year alone. Insurers would be able to substantially raise premiums on older enrollees and could charge them 5 times as much as younger folks. Premiums will rise between 120 and 125% for those between age 50 and 64. And because this plan would also defund Planned Parenthood, clinics that provide critical women’s health services throughout the country would have to close.

The experts believe up to 14 million folks dependent on Medicaid would lose their coverage. 1.5 million of those folks on Medicaid are cancer patients undergoing treatment. This plan will cut 25% ($880 Billion thru 2026) from Medicaid and limit it’s growth. Children, poor people, the elderly receiving long term care, folks with mental health problems and the disabled are the beneficiaries of Medicaid and will suffer so that billionaires and multi-millionaires can get their tax breaks.

More than 50% of American, those low income folks who don’t pay federal income taxes, would not benefit at all from health insurance tax incentives proposed by the Republi-cons.

The Republi-con, con job is in full spin mode, led by ‘Con Man In Chief,’ Donald Trump. The Donald promised the far right skeptics of his plan, that if they vote against Drumpf-care, he will let the ACA go down in flames. Typical Republi-con ‘my way or the highway.’

House Speaker Ryan claims he’s really encouraged by the CBO estimates (he’s the only one), and believes it’s actually better than he thought it would be. He’s become very adept at making these statements with a straight face.

And the Republi-con promise, that merely having the ability to purchase insurance policies across state lines, will make a big difference in costs, is another big lie! There are no Federal restrictions on companies selling across state line! The companies and the states control where they will sell. And the lack of competition, caused by insurance companies leaving the ACA in some states, is because of a backroom deal, by Sen. Rubio and other Republicans, designed to cripple the ACA by cutting reimbursements to insurance companies in the first 3 years of the plan.

The Republi-cons say this plan will reduce costs. Bull Pucky! The 10% reduction scored by the CBO means that policy prices will rise, as always, but the rise will be 10% less than under the ACA. But those savings will be more than offset by large increases in deductibles and out of pocket costs and by large losses in subsidies, especially for those between 50 and 64 years of age. Bottom line-Billionaires will reap a windfall of at least $275 billion (and much more in the future) on the backs of children, women, the poor, the elderly who need extended care, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the 10’s of millions of Americans addicted to legal and illegal drugs and who need life saving treatments.

The Nation’s John Nichols wrote on his Twitter feed about the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer press briefing spin job that went viral. “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to be imitating Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live imitation of him when he tried to make the argument for replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare by placing a copy of the final version of the 974-page law next to the sketchy Republican substitute. Forget about the contents, argued Spicer. “Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123—much smaller, much bigger—so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion. We’ll undo this. And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part. So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.”

“Say what?” said Nichols.

“[Look] at the size. This is the Democrats, this is us. You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not,” said Spicer during Tuesday’s press briefing, as he moved back and forth, hovering over the two stacks of paper. “And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.… I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.”

As if the most important thing about a bill passed by Congress is the number of pages. I’m so looking forward to this Saturdays SNL skit showing McCarthy’s version of Spicer’s PB. Please, Please, Please!

Alas, every credible health care expert, not paid by insurance companies and or big pharma, believes the only way to improve Obamacare is to make it single payer universal health care. No matter if these Republi-cons are somehow able to repeal the ACA, and against all odds, get some similar ACA replacement clone passed through congress, 5 or 7 years down the road, we will, no doubt, have universal healthcare. Every single developed country has universal health care except the U.S. There is no place in the world where a free market based health care system exists. We’re at the bottom of the list for health care outcomes considering the enormous money we spend. Most developed countries spend half as much with better health outcomes. In this category, America is in the third world neighborhood. The Republi-cons like to say that most Canadians come across the boarder to access health care. All big lies. Canadians love their system, live longer and spend much less for better outcomes.

Agreed, our health care system is too expensive. We have too many folks who must do a better job of staying healthy; they must eat better and stay more active. Obamacare made big strides in attempting to help by emphasizing preventative care. But make no mistake, unless we transition to universal health care, America’s economy will never recover. Living wage jobs will not spring forth in ‘Trump World’, because we will not be able to compete with the rest of the world on a level playing field. We must also force our elected officials, to demand fair treatment from the drug and health care industries benefiting from our out of control health care system, instead of demanding more campaign largess in return for their indifference. There are no checks and balances on drug and medical suppliers. America pays the brunt of these inflated costs for much of the worlds medical research.

Obamacare is not perfect, but an awful lot of smart folks spent a lot of time, effort and capital, on attempting to mitigate America’s bastardized health care calamity. It took a lot of compromise. The Dems had to give up on single payer, and a public option and had to incorporate the Republican idea of a mandate so that the plan wouldn’t blow up the national debt. They had to accommodate health care providers, the insurance industry and big Pharma, in order to drag the plan over the finish line. It wasn’t pretty but they passed a comprehensive health care plan, something most U.S. Presidents have been trying to accomplish since Teddy Roosevelt more than a hundred years ago. It was a start.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act focused on covering as many uninsured Americans as possible and also, at the urging of our best and brightest health care providers like the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics and others, finally focused on preventive health care. Since the ACA was passed, the customary double digit yearly insurance increases, slowed to the lowest rate in 2 decades. It also wrested the insurance industries stranglehold on consumers, which punished women and folks with pre-existing medical conditions and lifetime cap problems. It was a valiant beginning on the road to a universal health care system, already embraced by the rest of the developed world.

But this Republi-con crew in charge, don’t know how to govern. All the conservatives who knew how to legislate and compromise have been drummed out of the party. All that’s left are the bomb throwers who are only good at throwing sand into the gears of American progress.

The Donald finally realized that getting comprehensive health care passed is “complicated.” He could saved a lot of grief and simply placed a call to his predecessor. Trump vows to “come after” congress-folks who vote against Trump-Care. But the Koch brothers pledge to defend them against Trump’s retaliation. Even if this wounded duck stumbles through the House, the Senate will no doubt put it out of it’s misery. The only ones still pushing this bad bill, are those who lied to the voters about being able to fashion a much better alternative to Obamacare. Rubber, meet the road!

Even though this plan has Paul Ryan’s finger prints all over it, the blame will be heaped on Trump. He will, as usual, try to blame someone else, probably the Congress (or the media), but this bogus TrumpCare buck, passed or failed, will stop at the Donald’s desk for sure.                                        John Hanno

 

Medscape March 15, 2017

State of the Union and Healthcare:

100 Years of Good Intentions

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): The Origins of National Healthcare

We must go back more than 100 years to Theodore Roosevelt’s administration to find the nidus of national healthcare. In his 1907 address, he said, “There is a constantly growing interest in this country in the question of the public health. At last the public mind is awake to the fact that many diseases, notably tuberculosis, are National scourges. The work of the State and city boards of health should be supplemented by a constantly increasing interest on the part of the National Government. The Congress has already provided a bureau of public health and has provided for a hygienic laboratory. There are other valuable laws relating to the public health connected with the various departments. This whole branch of the Government should be strengthened and aided in every way.”

The following slideshow tells the very long, difficult story that defines American healthcare through 70 years of presidential State of the Union addresses, with a final bow to an earlier president. Beginning with FDR’s address, every US president (with one exception), whether Democrat or Republican, has communicated during a State of the Union address a proposal for improving the nation’s health. The purpose of this slideshow is not to debate whether such programs were achieved or are even achievable but to briefly illustrate the typically good — but usually thwarted — intentions of nearly all of our recent presidents and to demonstrate how long the Executive Office has wrestled with this massive challenge.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): Healthcare Is a Right

In his 1944 address, FDR announced “…a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.” Among these rights he included employment, housing, and good education. He also spoke of “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” Public health had been a major federal effort since Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, but with this proposal FDR became the first president to explicitly suggest that medical care itself was a right for each American and should be addressed by the federal government.

 

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): Advocates a National Healthcare System

During his administration, Harry Truman consistently advocated a national healthcare system, and it was during his time in office that Congress enacted new programs to improve mental health, the health of mothers and children, and hospital construction. In his 1948 State of the Union address, Truman said, “We are rightly proud of the high standards of medical care we know how to provide in the United States. The fact is, however, that most of our people cannot afford to pay for the care they need.” He went on to advocate a “national system of payment for medical care based on well-tried insurance principles. This great Nation cannot afford to allow its citizens to suffer needlessly from the lack of proper medical care. Our ultimate aim must be a comprehensive insurance system to protect all our people equally against insecurity and ill health.”

 

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): Establishes the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

Dwight Eisenhower continued to advocate for a more comprehensive national plan for healthcare. In his 1956 State of the Union address, he said, “We must aid in cushioning the heavy and rising costs of illness and hospitalization to individuals and families. Provision should be made, by Federal reinsurance or otherwise, to foster extension of voluntary health insurance coverage to many more persons, especially older persons and those in rural areas. Plans should be evolved to improve protection against the costs of prolonged or severe illness. These measures will help reduce the dollar barrier between many Americans and the benefits of modern medical care.” Although such efforts failed to materialize over the course of Eisenhower’s time in office, he strengthened the US Food and Drug Administration and increased funds for medical research.

 

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): Calls for Healthcare for the Elderly

Fifty years ago, in his 1961 State of the Union address, Kennedy said, “Medical research has achieved new wonders — but these wonders are too often beyond the reach of too many people, owing to a lack of income (particularly among the aged), a lack of hospital beds, a lack of nursing homes and a lack of doctors and dentists. Measures to provide healthcare for the aged under Social Security, and to increase the supply of both facilities and personnel, must be undertaken…” And he continued to advocate reform in his final address: “Our working men and women, instead of being forced to beg for help from public charity once they are old and ill, should start contributing now to their own retirement health program through the Social Security System.”

 

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): Enacts Medicare/Medicaid

It was in 1965, under Lyndon Johnson’s administration, that Social Security Act amendments were passed which resulted in the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Although snarled in Vietnam, Johnson made a case for health reform in his 1967 State of the Union address: “We have brought medical care to older people who were unable to afford it. Three and one-half million Americans have already received treatment under Medicare since July.” He also sought to improve global health in his 1966 address: “I will also propose the International Health Act of 1966 to strike at disease by a new effort to bring modern skills and knowledge to the uncared-for, those suffering in the world, and by trying to wipe out smallpox and malaria and control yellow fever over most of the world during this next decade.” (This bill was never enacted.)

 

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974): An Unexpected Reformer

Although not known for a stand on healthcare reform, in his 1971 address, Richard Nixon, a Republican, proposed major reforms that are echoed in today’s Affordable Care Act, including the following:

  • A program to ensure that no American family will be prevented from obtaining basic medical care by inability to pay;
  • A major increase in aid to medical schools;
  • Incentives to improve the delivery of health services, particularly in low-resource areas;
  • Greater use of medical assistants;
  • New programs to encourage better preventive medicine;
  • Incentives to doctors “to keep people well rather than just to treat them when they are sick”; and
  • An additional $100 million to find a cure for cancer.

During his address he asserted, “America has long been the wealthiest nation in the world. Now it is time we became the healthiest nation in the world.”

 

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977): Confronts the Growing Costs of Healthcare

Gerald Ford, who inherited the presidency after Nixon’s resignation, wrestled with the problems of illness and individual financial hardship in the face of rising healthcare costs, not only for patients but for the nation as well. In his 1976 address, Ford sought to deal with these issues by proposing “catastrophic health insurance for everybody covered by Medicare.” To finance it, he suggested raising fees for short-term care and lowering costs for senior citizens: “[N]obody after reaching age 65 will have to pay more than $500 a year for covered hospital or nursing home care, nor more than $250 for 1 year’s doctor bills.” But Ford also made clear in his speech that he did not support a national healthcare program, although he suggested that “we combine 16 existing Federal programs, including Medicaid, into a single $10 billion Federal grant. Funds would be divided among States under a new formula which provides a larger share of Federal money to those States that have a larger share of low-income families.”

 

James “Jimmy” Carter (1977-1981): Pushes Harder for Universal Healthcare Coverage

In his 1891 address, Jimmy Carter pushed even harder than his predecessors “to reach the goal of comprehensive, universal healthcare coverage.” Features that he proposed included:

  • Fully subsidized and comprehensive coverage for 15 million additional poor persons;
  • Prenatal and delivery services for all pregnant women and coverage for all acute care for infants in their first year of life;
  • A limit of $1250 on annual out-of-pocket medical expenses and no limits on hospital coverage for the elderly and disabled;
  • Mandated employer coverage of health insurance for all full-time employees and their families, at least for major medical expenses; and
  • Medicare and Medicaid combined and expanded into an umbrella federal program.

His proposals for healthcare cost control included voluntary hospital cost guidelines and moving away from the fee-for-service payment model “toward a system of prospective reimbursement, under which healthcare providers would operate within predetermined budgets.”

 

Ronald W. Reagan (1981-1989): Ignores Healthcare Reform and Focuses on Cost

Ronald Reagan raised the issue of healthcare in 3 of his 8 addresses, but only briefly, and mostly focused on cost cutting, without detailing any programs for extending coverage. His 1982 speech urged a need to reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs, with a focus on weeding out fraud. He also said, “I signed a bill to reduce the growth of these programs by $44 billion over the next 3 years while at the same time preserving essential services for the truly needy.” In 2 other addresses, Reagan briefly acknowledged the problem of catastrophic illness but without outlining any specific ideas. In his 1983 address, he said he would “submit legislation to provide catastrophic illness insurance coverage for older Americans.” And in his 1986 speech, he directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to recommend how the private sector and government could work together to address the problems of affordable insurance for those threatened with financially catastrophic illness.

 

George H. W. Bush (1989-1993): Re-Engages the Healthcare Reform Battle

The elder George Bush mentioned healthcare as a problem in 2 of his early speeches, and he tackled the issue in more detail in his last address, which was in 1992. Recognizing the need for reform, he said that there were 2 options: implementing a national healthcare system, which he opposed, or providing insurance security for everyone while preserving choice. To accomplish this, he proposed to make basic health insurance affordable for all low-income persons who were not currently covered by providing a health insurance tax credit of up to $3750 for each family, and to ensure that all Americans had access to basic health insurance even if they changed jobs or developed serious health problems.

 

William J. Clinton (1993-2001): The Attack Dog for Healthcare Reform

The movement toward true healthcare reform began under Bill Clinton, who proposed significant changes in the healthcare system in every one of his presidential addresses. Despite Hillary Clinton’s failure to achieve consensus on an enactable healthcare plan, Clinton pushed on. In his 1995 address, he said, “[L]ast year we almost came to blows over healthcare, but we didn’t do anything…Let’s do whatever we have to do to get something done. Let’s at least pass meaningful insurance reform.” Congress did extend health coverage to 5 million children, and Clinton ended his administration with a budget surplus, which he hoped would ensure the future of big entitlement programs like Social Security. In his 1999 address, he proposed, “Listen to this: If we set aside 60% of the surplus for Social Security and 16% for Medicare, over the next 15 years, that saving will achieve the lowest level of publicly held debt since right before World War I, in 1917.”

 

George W. Bush (2001-2009): Keeps the Healthcare Debate Alive

George W. Bush may have had his hands full with preventing terrorism and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he continued the discussion on healthcare in every presidential address with some very aggressive proposals. In his 2005 address, he urged Congress “to move forward on a comprehensive healthcare agenda with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health savings accounts, and medical liability reform that will reduce healthcare costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need.” He expanded on these ideas in later addresses and continued to push for major changes in healthcare.

 

Barack Obama has taken ideas from every past president — Republican and Democrat — to try to create a solution to the American healthcare challenge. His signing of the Affordable Care Act has been criticized by the left for not going far enough and by the right for going too far. In his 2011 address, he summed up the current situation: “Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new healthcare law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you…What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition…So I say to this chamber tonight: Instead of refighting the battles of the last 2 years, let’s fix what needs fixing, and let’s move forward.”

The Fight to Save the Affordable Care Act Is Really a Class Battle

Starting to mitigate America’s yawning class divide is exactly what the ACA did. And that’s exactly what the Republican plan would undo.

By Angela Bonavoglia   March 10, 2017

The escalating battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act—heightened now that House Republicans have released their Obamacare-repeal legislation—is revealing a fundamental fault line in American society. Even the most vociferous opponents of the ACA defend some features of the law, like parents’ ability to keep children under the age of 26 on their insurance and the ban on insurance companies’ refusing coverage for people with preexisting condition. Those defenders include Republican lawmakers, who incorporated both of those features in their repeal bill. What we rarely hear defended is the ACA’s role as an instrument of social justice. Yet, at its most basic, starting to mitigate America’s yawning class divide is exactly what the ACA did. With this proposed legislation, that is exactly what the Republicans are trying to undo.

Prior to passage of the ACA, most low-income adults could not receive Medicaid because income-eligibility limits were downright draconian in most states—well below the current federal poverty level (FPL) of $11,880 a year for an individual. In a blatant gesture of discrimination, federal law excluded non-elderly, non-disabled adults without dependent children entirely from Medicaid eligibility. How sick you were, what health crisis you were facing, did not matter. If you suffered, you suffered. If you died, you died, as an estimated 20,000 to 45,000 Americans did each year because they did not have health insurance. That had become the American way.

The ACA began to change that. With Medicaid expansion, the ACA went a long way toward increasing access to health care for many of America’s forgotten poor, near poor, and disabled. The expansion made 11 million non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,394 a year for an individual) newly eligible for Medicaid, with no or very-low-cost premiums, leaving them responsible only for other nominal health-care costs. It opened the door to Medicaid for adults who had no dependent children. And it expanded Medicaid eligibility for more people with disabilities. That not only made them healthier; it also protected them from lives of forced institutionalization. Medicaid is the primary payer for the cost of long-term support services that are critical to the ability of low-income people with disabilities to live, work, and be active in the community; private insurers and Medicare provide precious little support for these or related services.

The ACA also brought more of the uninsured into the health-care market by giving a financial leg up to people who earned too much to be eligible for Medicaid but still much less than would enable them to buy private insurance independently. It enabled those with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,880 to $47,520 for individuals, $24,300 to $97,200 for a family of four) to buy health insurance on the public exchanges with the aid of premium tax credits—as long as they didn’t have access to a qualified plan through an employer. An estimated 85 percent of the 11 million people who bought health insurance on the state or federal marketplaces did so with the aid of tax credits that lowered their premiums. In addition, more than 6 million of the lowest-income people, those with incomes from 100 percent to 250 percent of the FPL, also became eligible for cost-sharing reductions, which cap out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays.

The structure of the ACA extended health insurance to 20 million formerly uninsured low- and moderate-income people, sending our uninsured rate to a record low of less than 9 percent. While that has been an enormous achievement, controversy accompanied the law from the start. It was passed without a single Republican vote. Major computer snafus made the inaugural sign-up for individual policies on the federal exchange a disaster. In time, premiums rose for those buying without credits or subsidies, as high as 145 percent in one location. But premiums on the individual market had been rising pre-ACA too, up 20 percent in 2010 over the previous year. In fact, according an analysis by Brookings researches, average premiums in the individual market actually dropped significantly upon implementation of the ACA, even as coverage improved. The combined amount a person could be responsible for in deductibles and co-pays with the ACA climbed as well: In 2016, the ACA capped those out-of-pocket maximums for all insurance plans on and off the exchanges at $7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family. But deductibles had been on the upswing, too; Kaiser reported that more than a quarter (26 percent) of the people who bought their own insurance in 2010 faced a $5,000 or higher annual deductible. Finally, the number of insurers willing to participate in the exchanges dropped precipitously in many locations, and many people could no longer find the doctors they trusted in their networks.

With people just beyond the cutoff for Medicaid or premium subsidies being required to pay full freight for their health care, some resentment was inevitable. One Kaiser survey focusing on the experiences and opinions of those who buy their own health insurance within or outside the exchanges found that the majority of those who got a tax credit (58 percent) were more likely than those who did not get a tax credit to feel they benefited from the law (even though they did, from such features as no-cost preventive care and requirements that insurers cover 10 essential services). Another Kaiser poll found that, while 50 percent of the public thought low-income people were better off under the ACA, only 27 percent thought those who bought their own health insurance were better off.

Newly eligible Medicaid recipients came in for resentment, too. In late December last year, Kaiser held six focus groups with Trump voters in three Rust Belt states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan). Three groups were held with those on Medicaid and three with those who had marketplace insurance with subsidies. Some of those with marketplace insurance, especially those battling severe health problems, saw the subsidies as insufficient and felt left behind by the law. Some, wrote Kaiser President Drew Altman in The New York Times, “saw Medicaid as a much better deal than their insurance and were resentful that people with incomes lower than theirs could get it.” But, despite their resentment, reported Kaiser, those participants felt that expanded Medicaid coverage “was important and should be retained.”

An unanticipated consequence of the ACA may be a change in the American mindset about government involvement in healthcare.

In fact, an unanticipated consequence of the ACA may well be a change in the American mindset about government involvement in health-care provision. The American public’s position on Medicaid appears to be gradually shifting from a grudging acceptance of what has been seen as an expensive, unearned handout to a greater recognition of Medicaid’s crucial place in our social safety net. By 2005, pre-ACA, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of adults said Medicaid was a very important government program, ranking close behind Social Security (88 percent) and Medicare (83 percent). However, as the authors of a seminal review of 25 years of public opinion on health-care policy published in 2006 observed, “Medicaid is often discussed both positively and negatively. It is seen as the country’s safety net program for low-income people, but also a program that is becoming too expensive and is threatening the stability of future federal and state budgets.” As a result, they reported, polling in 2005 found that 61 percent of respondents believed that Medicaid was in a financial crisis or had serious problems; 44 percent favored reducing the number of people qualifying for the program as one solution.

Contrast that to the responses to the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid—a program that today covers over 70 million children, adults, people with disabilities, and seniors, one in five Americans. A just-released Kaiser tracking poll found that 84 percent of those polled believed it was important for states that expanded Medicaid with federal funds to continue to receive those funds, including 69 percent of Republicans. While only 12 percent of Americans said they wanted to see Medicaid funding decreased, nearly half (48 percent) wanted funding to stay the same and more than a third (36 percent) wanted funding increased. Faced with Republican proposals to replace open-ended Medicaid funding to states with limited block grants, nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) said Medicaid “should continue largely as it is today, with the federal government guaranteeing coverage for low-income people, setting standards for who states cover and what benefits people get, and matching state Medicaid spending as the number of people on the program goes up or down.”

As for those premium tax credits based on need, there have been complaints, both from those who make too much to receive them and from those who receive them but feel they are insufficient. Still, no one is suggesting abolishing them. A Kaiser poll from November of last year found that 80 percent of those polled favored providing financial help to low- and moderate-income Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage—including 67 percent of Republicans.

But an even more telling finding emerged in January from a Pew Research Center Survey. Asked if it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health-care coverage, 60 percent of Americans said yes, the highest percentage in nearly a decade. While far more Democrats than Republicans agreed with that statement, there were significant changes by income: A majority of Republicans (52 percent) with incomes under $30,000 agreed with the proposition (up from 31 percent in 2016), as did over a third of Republicans making $30,000 to $74,999 (up from 14 percent in 2016). Those making the most (over $75,000) agreed the least: 18 percent, up from 16 percent the year before. Even though a majority (67 percent) of Republicans said that the government does not have a responsibility to ensure health-care coverage, more than half (56 percent) said it should continue both Medicare and Medicaid.

Despite all of the controversy around the ACA, the most recent polls show that it has reached its highest approval level ever.

Despite all of the controversy that has grown around the ACA, the most recent polls show that the health-care law has reached its highest approval level ever, 54 percent in the latest Pew Research Center poll, and another high, 48 percent, in the latest Kaiser poll. The message may well be that, despite the ACA’s shortcomings, a growing group of Americans don’t want the federal government out of the health-insurance business; they want it to do a better job.

This picture speaks to a powerful coalition in the making. By guaranteeing coverage to a much larger share of the American public through Medicaid, and by convincing Americans of the justice implicit in providing financial assistance to those who cannot afford health insurance on their own, the ACA began to move us closer to a commitment to universal health coverage. While those words have become hopelessly politicized, what they refer to, according to the World Health Organization, is simply a system whereby “all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.” Ours is a patchwork system, but it is a system nonetheless. In terms of paying for that system, interestingly, while there is widespread resistance to the ACA mandate that fines those who don’t sign up for insurance—viewed favorably by only 35 percent of Americans—there has been widespread acceptance of the current system of paying taxes for guaranteed care under Medicare (70 percent in 2015 when the program turned 50).

The Republicans’ new American Health Care Act (contained in two bills, one from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the other from Ways and Means) would repeal major provisions of the ACA that made health insurance a reality for those 20 million people, while leaving an estimated 28.5 million people who still have no health insurance, mostly low-income families with at least one worker, untouched.

It would greatly diminish opportunities for people to receive Medicaid at all and for that coverage to be adequate. It would end the current federal support for Medicaid expansion in 2020. It would turn Medicaid into a one-size-fits-all program, replacing open-ended federal payments to states with fixed payments capped per person, which may or may not meet a person’s actual health-care needs. And it would make it impossible for Medicaid recipients to use their insurance at Planned Parenthood, because the legislation bans Medicaid payments to “prohibited entities,” a description tailored in the legislation, without naming it, to Planned Parenthood.

The proposed law would end the cost-sharing subsidies that help very-low-income Americans pay deductibles and co-pays. It would replace the ACA credits based on need with credits from $2,000 to $4,000 based on age alone, which would only begin to phase out for earners above $75,000. People could put more money into their health savings accounts, which benefit only higher-income people. Obamacare fees that helped support the health-care expansion would be repealed, like those on health-insurance companies and manufacturers of brand-name prescription drugs. And the legislation would eliminate the requirement that larger companies provide their full-time employees with affordable insurance as well as the individual mandate. However, it would replace the individual mandate with a back-door penalty—a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for anyone who lets their insurance lapse.

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The Congressional Budget Office has not yet provided the numbers; we do not know how many people will gain or lose coverage as a result of this legislation or what the program will cost. Yet the two House committees reportedly plan to vote on the bill even without those estimates, and hope to get it to the full House for a vote before their Easter recess begins on April 7.

At their town-hall meetings and in the streets, Republican lawmakers have witnessed the angry backlash against their disorganized efforts to repeal Obamacare, which led some prominent Republicans these past few months to express grave concerns about the risks to consumers, the insurance industry, and their own political lives. “We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created,” Representative Tom McClintock of California was quoted in the Washington Post saying at a closed-door meeting back in January. “That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”

We cannot know now if the emerging cross-class coalition will hold, if ordinary people will challenge Republican efforts to protect the wealthy and corporate interests while leaving the poor, near poor, and struggling middle-class to once again fend for themselves. What we do know is that with the ACA we took a few small steps into a future inhabited by the rest of the developed world, which sees health care as a right. To go back to the bad old days when empty pockets meant living in terror of an unexpected illness, unrelenting suffering, and early, preventable death would be nothing if not a national shame.

Angela Bonavoglia, MSW, is a journalist and health communications consultant and the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church.

 

Yahoo News –

Why the Republican health care bill is doomed to fail — even if it passes

Matt Bai’s Political World March 16, 2017

The old Superman comic books used to feature a character named Bizarro, who looked exactly like the Man of Steel, except for his blocky, Frankenstein-like features and the fact that everything about him was reversed. Whereas Superman could burn things with his eyes, the lumbering Bizarro could freeze them; while Superman’s X-ray vision couldn’t handle lead, Bizarro’s could penetrate only lead. You get the idea.

That’s the image that kept popping into my head this week as I watched Republicans hurtle their way toward an ill-conceived overhaul of the health care system. In a sense, what Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan — a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

They now seem bent on making exactly the same mistakes Democrats did in 2009, but in exactly the inverse way.

At about this time eight years ago, I was hanging around Capitol Hill and the White House, putting together a preview of the looming health care fight for the New York Times Magazine. (The piece holds up pretty well, I think, but judge for yourself.)

The pivotal Democrat on the Hill then was Max Baucus, the Montana senator — and later President Obama’s ambassador to China — who chaired the Senate Finance Committee. Like Obama, Baucus thought CEOs, health care providers and politicians who had once opposed reform could now be persuaded to support it, as long as the plan promised to get soaring costs and federal spending under control.

And Baucus told me that any new law had to have at least some measure of bipartisan support, even if that required painful compromises. That’s because no piece of massive social legislation had ever been perfect from the start, and in order to preserve and fix it, you needed at least a few members of the minority to be invested in its success.

A transformational law of this size, Baucus said, would be “unsustainable” if one party decided to enact it alone.

What Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan – a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

The problem for Baucus was that most Democrats, especially in the House, didn’t care at all about corporate competitiveness and public debt. They cared about bringing down the number of poorer Americans who couldn’t afford insurance, and they weren’t open to painful fiscal choices in order to get that done.

So while Obama and his congressional allies sold their plan to industry and the public as an economically necessary reform that would “bend the cost curve,” the law they ultimately passed was really more a wealth transfer program that birthed new regulations and taxes in exchange for expanded coverage for the poor and some middle-class protections — a program very much in the tradition of the Great Society.

The most difficult decisions involving public spending were pushed off years into the future, for some other group of politicians to worry about. And of course, as it turned out, Democrats ended up passing the law along strictly partisan lines, using a budgetary gimmick known as “reconciliation” to help it along.

This wasn’t their call, to be fair; they really weren’t given a whole lot of choice. But what all of this meant, practically speaking, is that Baucus was right — the law was probably politically unsustainable from the start.

What came to be known as “Obamacare” was wildly successful in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by more than 20 million, but the public saw little of the economic benefit it was promised. (Although in truth, health care costs have risen more slowly than they might have otherwise.) Democrats couldn’t make necessary fixes in the sprawling law, because no one on the Republican side had any interest in seeing the law fixed.

Jump ahead now to where congressional Republicans are this week with their American Health Care Act — which is precisely the upside-down version of where Democrats were eight years ago. Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.

They may advertise their bill as a market-based solution to health care inequities, but in fact, what Republicans really care about right now is shedding the new revenue and spending in Obama’s health care law — specifically by repealing taxes and eliminating subsidies for the poor and the Medicaid expansion in the states.

President Trump has promised that “you’ll see rates go down, down, down and you’ll see plans go up, up, up,” and, in distinctly Trumpian terms, that the new system will be “a thing of beauty.”

But the Congressional Budget Office, which is led by a Republican appointee and has a slightly better record than Trump when it comes to veracity, estimates that the plan will cost 24 million Americans their health insurance while saving the government more than $300 billion over the next 10 years.

This time there’s not even a question of bipartisanship. Republicans have been plotting a three-stage legislative process, including a reconciliation measure of their own, to pass their plan without a single Democratic vote — although it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that they will settle anytime soon on a plan that wins over both House conservatives and Senate moderates.

The problem — especially if you’re one of those moderates who actually care about governing and have to get elected statewide — is that the Bizarro health care bill wouldn’t be any more lasting than its predecessor.

Before long, the public would figure out that the law isn’t going to do anything to make coverage more affordable or the choices more vast, as promised, but rather the opposite. Eventually, the popular protections that Republicans say they’ll keep are likely to become unworkable without mandates and subsidies.

Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.

Mostly the bill would spare some small businesses and wealthier Americans from paying additional taxes and cut back the Medicaid rolls. The issue of what to do about the uninsured would roar back into the public debate.

And good luck trying to amend the bill in ways that would mitigate its harshest effects, because Democrats may well gain seats in the ensuing elections, and they’re not going to feel the slightest motivation to help clean up the mess.

In some ways, Republicans are in a more precarious position with the Bizarro bill than Democrats were in 2009. Obama, at least, managed to cobble together support from insurers and providers, which muted some of the criticism when premiums started to rise. Trump and Paul Ryan, the House speaker, haven’t even tried to assemble a coalition.

You have to remember, too, that Republicans are playing with something here that neither party has ever attempted on such a scale before: a rollback of benefits the public already has. It’s one thing to ram through a program with lots of subsidies and new rights attached. It’s an untested proposition to unilaterally take that stuff away.

Here’s what we do know: With a policy area as complicated as this one, and as reliant on theories about how the markets and consumers will respond to various incentives, you’re never going to pass one law and be done with it. Responsible governing in Washington — if we can still conceive of such a thing — means being able and willing to reassess and adjust to reality as time goes on.

Democrats were never going to be able to do that because of the dubious ways in which they sold and enacted their law. And Republicans won’t have that option, either, even if they manage to come up with something that satisfies their dueling factions.

Superman and Bizarro never actually resolve anything. They just retreat to their parallel universes and live to fight again.

The Humanist.com

Christcare: What Would Jesus Do about the GOP Healthcare Plan?

by Patrick Hudson  March 15, 2017

“This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus said of his follower Lazarus, as he heard of the latter’s ailment. Lazarus had fallen ill and subsequently had passed away. Jesus—let’s call him the heroic symbol of universal healthcare—arrived in Bethany near Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead. After Lazarus did reportedly rise four days after his death, he surely never fretted over deductibles or co-pays, nor had he been forced to decide whether to feed his family or live.

The Lazarus tale is one of a number of parables in the Bible where Jesus heals the sick, cures the blind, and saves lepers, all at no cost. I would love to sit here and say that our government stands in agreement and that Jesus’s example of universal healthcare had ossified, but that’s simply not the case.

Just this week House Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act (AHCA), known in some parts as “Trumpcare.” Even though he jumps at the chance to plaster his name on just about anything, Trump distances himself from that moniker, while Breitbart News has nicknamed the plan “Ryancare.” No matter where you look, it seems as though this bill is so bad, its nickname is being passed around like a polio-potato. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that twenty-four million people will lose insurance in ten years under the AHCA, with the sixty-five and older age group standing to lose the most. The sad reality is that age group overwhelmingly voted for the individuals who introduced this bill, conned by lies that Obamacare was hurting them and wrapped up in the idea that their values were being attacked by non-Christians. The religious right ensured that Christians headed to the polls, fearful that their lifestyle was under attack from rabid secularists hell-bent on persecuting them.

What’s amazing to me is the religious right’s ability to dismiss certain parts of the Bible, while wholeheartedly accepting other passages. Last week in the Humanist.com we saw how sandwiched in between Leviticus’s two verses condemning homosexuality was a passage urging Christians to accept immigrants and refugees as if they were native-born. How many people were aware of that passage? How many times did conservative politicians and religious right leaders stand before their constituents and congregations and proclaim: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born”? Both the Freedom Caucus and the Liberty Caucus remained silent then, just as they remain silent now, as twenty-four million Americans face losing their insurance under the AHCA. As Liberty Caucus member and chair of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said, they’ll have to avoid getting an iPhone to pay for it. This fundamental detachment from the reality of the working class is what drives this bill. Health insurance costs roughly $10,345 a year (though the deviation is quite wide), while the cost of a brand new iPhone 7 costs $729. The reality that Chaffetz does not understand is that the choice is whether to get health insurance or put food on the table.

However, the most damning assertion came from Republican Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents Kansas’s First District (and is an embarrassment to my ancestral home). Marshall affirmed in full confidence that poor people would not only reject “free” healthcare, but would also reject health care altogether, “just like Jesus said.” Now, ignoring the grossly inappropriate manner in which Marshall invoked religion in his official capacity, this argument is fundamentally flawed. Marshall insultingly stated that poor people “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.” This is verifiably incorrect; as a Harvard study reported last August, Obamacare’s insurance and Medicare expansion led to more working-class people receiving primary and preventative care. Insurance incentivizes people to go to the doctor, as they don’t fear financial repercussions. But lo, Marshall says Jesus said, Harvard is but an academic institution! We must learn about our current system of healthcare from those who lived over 2,000 years ago.

While I won’t go so far as to say that everyone in the GOP holds such disdain for the working class, I do believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the working-class experience and a sickening amount of pandering from both political parties. Hillary Clinton attempted to link her father’s business to her understanding of the working-class culture, while Donald Trump feigned empathy. And the GOP has consistently conned the religious working class, pushing a fake “war” on Christianity and Christian values, and instilling a persecution complex within them, all while cutting taxes for the top 1 percent. The religious right will always exist—their fear tactics will always exist. It is up to all American citizens to demand a government that works for us all.

Patrick Hudson is the Communications Assistant at the American Humanist Association.

 

Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump’s Health-Care Debacle

The White House falsely claims the Trump/Ryan Obamacare replacement scheme is what “everyone has been asking for.”

By John Nichols Twitter March 2017

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to be imitating Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live imitation of him when he tried to make the argument for replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare by placing a copy of the final version of the 974-page law next to the sketchy Republican substitute.

Forget about the contents, argued Spicer. “Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123—much smaller, much bigger—so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion. We’ll undo this. And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part. So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.”

Say what?

“[Look] at the size. This is the Democrats, this is us. You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not,” said Spicer during Tuesday’s press briefing, as he moved back and forth, hovering over the two stacks of paper. “And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.… I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.”

Support for the Affordable Care Act has soared, as Americans say they want it expanded—not repealed.

Needless to say, the Spicer “size” video went viral.

But it was another Spicer statement—or, to be more precise, alternative fact—that should have gone viral, that should have been noted by the reporters in the room, and by the commentators on the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a scheme that Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva says “ends affordable healthcare,” and that Congressman Keith Ellison says “hurts nearly all working Americans by gutting Medicaid, defunding Planned Parenthood, stripping protections and benefits and increasing costs.” “At the same time,” notes Ellison, “it provides a huge handout to the wealthy and insurance corporations. Which begs the question: who exactly are the Republicans trying to help with this legislation?”

The Spicer alternative fact that ought to be reported, and addressed, is a repetition of the spin that has been used by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to peddle their latest scheme to redistribute wealth upward.

“This is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for, the plan that the President ran on, and the plan that will ultimately save the system,” the White House press secretary announced in the takeaway quote of the day.

Apart from the fact that the plan proposed by Trump and Ryan makes things worse (as opposed to saving the system), and apart from the fact that Trump ran on roughly a dozen different health-care platforms (flirting with everything from single-payer to survival-of-the-fittest, but always promising to make things “great”), there is no truth to the statement that “this is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for.”

To be clear, if Donald Trump “ran on” this plan, then it was not the choice of everyone. It was not the choice of the majority of voters. It was not the choice even of a plurality of voters. Fifty-four percent of American voters rejected Trump last November; his main opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, beat him by almost 3 million votes.

The claim that everyone was asking for this plan, or even for a replacement of the Affordable Care Act, is an alternative fact. It’s fake news. It’s a lie.

Poll after poll after poll provides an illustration of the truth. And so, since Spicer is so enamored of illustrations, let’s turn to them. Check out the headlines that appeared in the weeks before the Republican plan was released:

NBC News (January 17): “As GOP pushes repeal, Obamacare has never been more popular.”

CNBC (January 20): “New poll shows Obamacare is more popular than Donald Trump.”

Business Insider (February 2): “Obamacare getting more popular.”

Politico (February 22): “Support for Obamacare is rising.”

CNN (February 24): “Support for Obamacare at all-time high.”

The Hill (February 27): “More than 6 in 10 oppose Obamacare repeal.”

Survey research tells us that the popularity of the Affordable Care Act is rising. Rapidly.

New polling from the Pew Research Center finds that 54 percent of Americans approve of the ACA, while 43 percent oppose it. That, reported CNN, is the highest level of support for President Obama’s health care–reform measure ever recorded by Pew. The latest polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that the ACA has “the highest level of favorability measured in more than 60 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls conducted since 2010.”

Polling numbers fluctuate. But here is the interesting twist: Surveys frequently show that, among those who favor altering the ACA, most want it to be made stronger—not weaker, as Trump, Pence, Ryan, and Spicer propose.

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A new McClatchy/Marist survey, released a few days before Spicer’s press conference, found that 65 percent of Americans would like to see portions of the Affordable Care Act retained. According to The Hill, “Twenty percent say lawmakers should let the health care law stand as is, while 38 percent want any changes to enable it to do more and 7 percent hope alterations make it capable of less.”

Only 31 percent supported complete repeal.

Why would Spicer peddle the fantasy that Americans called for the Republican plan, when that is clearly not the case?

Maybe Spicer is lying because the truth is inconvenient.

Maybe Spicer is lying to himself.

Whatever the excuse, Spicer is peddling alternative facts and, as Chuck Todd so ably explained on the day that the Trump team first floated the phrase, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

John Nichols Twitter John Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent. He is the co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of  People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizens Democracy, published in March 2016 by Nation Books.

 

ABC  Good Morning America

Major health groups oppose proposed changes in ‘Trumpcare’ bill

GILLIAN MOHNEY, ABC News, March 9, 2017  

Physician and hospital groups are voicing opposition to the new health care bill, the American Health Care Act, over concerns that many patients could lose health coverage.

Those opposed to the bill include the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Dr. James Madara, the CEO of the AMA, said the bill could harm vulnerable patients in its current form, especially those covered by the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which provides federal matching funds for states who choose to opt-in and offer Medicaid to adults who are up to 138 percent above the poverty line.

“While we agree that there are problems with the ACA that must be addressed, we cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations,” Madara wrote on behalf of the AMA, the largest association of physicians and medical students in the U.S.

He cited concerns about the plan outlined in the AHCA to stop Medicaid expansion in 2020. Under the AHCA, states that offer the Medicaid expansion would continue receiving federal funds for those already enrolled, but would not receive federal funds as of 2020 for new candidates who only qualify for Medicaid under expansion rules.

“Medicaid expansion has proven highly successful in providing coverage for lower income individuals,” Madara said.

The American Hospital Association also sent a letter voicing “significant concerns” about the current bill. Specifically, it believes the bill could lead to “tremendous instability” for people seeking affordable health insurance.

“Absent Congressional Budget Office analysis, our assessment of this legislation as currently drafted is that it is likely to result in a substantial reduction in the number of Americans able to buy affordable health insurance or maintain coverage under the Medicaid program,” officials from the American Hospital Association said in the letter.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 physicians specializing in medical care for children, teens and young adults, opposed the bill in a letter to members of Congress, saying it would undo recent gains in health insurance coverage for children. The group estimated that 95 percent of children are now insured, including those covered through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act.

The AAP opposed Medicaid changes under the American Health Care Act, such as moving away from an entitlement program, with states receiving open-ended federal funds for Medicaid recipients, to block grants, with states receiving per person allotments that cannot exceed designated totals.

“Medicaid has been a crucial source of health care coverage for children for over 50 years,” the group said, reporting that 36 million children are currently covered via Medicaid. “Per capita caps would degrade the quality of care offered in the Medicaid program and would hinder the ability of states to respond to public health crises and other fluctuations in health care costs and the need for services.”

 

How Marco Rubio is quietly killing Obamacare

By Marc A. Thiessen December 14, 2015

There’s a Cuban American first-term senator running for president who has done more than any Republican to stop Obamacare.

No, I’m not talking about Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

I’m talking about Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The battle against Obamacare has been Cruz’s signature struggle. In 2013, Cruz took to the Senate floor and promised to speak out against Obamacare “until I am no longer able to stand.” To fill the time, he even read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” His filibuster, and the government shutdown over Obamacare it sparked, launched Cruz into the political stratosphere — inspiring conservatives eager for a principled fighter who does not back down.

But while the shutdown may have helped boost Cruz into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders, it had zero impact on undermining Obamacare.

Rubio, by contrast, didn’t read Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor, but he has quietly pushed Obamacare into what may prove to be a death spiral.

When the Obama administration was crafting Obamacare, it came up with a crony capitalist solution to entice reluctant insurers to join the exchanges. Many insurers worried that there would not be enough healthy people paying in to cover the costs of sick people. So the administration created a “risk corridor” program to help prop up insurers who lost money in the first three years of the law. Profitable insurers would pay some of those profits into a pool to help insurers who lost money. If the amount insurers lost exceeded what the companies paid in, the government would step in and make up the difference.

Calling this “a taxpayer-funded bailout for insurance companies,” Rubio last year quietly inserted language into the omnibus government spending bill that barred the Department of Health and Human Services from dipping into general funds to pay failing insurers. “While the Obama administration can still administer the risk-corridor program, for one year at least, they won’t be able to use taxpayer funds to bail out insurance companies,” Rubio said.

His provision sparked little opposition at the time, but it has proved to be a poison pill that is killing Obamacare from within.

Last year, insurers lost $2.9 billion more than expected on Obamacare. But insurers had paid only $362 million into the program — leaving it more than $2.5 billion short. Thanks to Rubio’s provision, the administration was allowed to pay only 13 cents of every dollar insurers requested. Without the taxpayer bailouts, more than half of the Obamacare insurance cooperatives created under the law failed. One, Health Republic of Oregon, was expecting a $7.9 million bailout from the government. Instead, thanks to Rubio, it got only $995,000 — not a penny of it from the taxpayers. The Oregon co-op announced in October it was closing its doors. Soon, two other insurers — WinHealth Partners in Wyoming and Moda Health in Washington state — pulled out of the exchanges. And United Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest insurers, announced that it may leave the Obamacare exchanges in 2016. If that happens, and other insurers follow United’s lead, that could spell disaster for Obamacare.

The Hill newspaper called Rubio’s provision “the biggest blow in the GOP’s five-year war against Obamacare.” The New York Times declared in a front-page story, “For all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican presidential hopeful has actually done something toward achieving that goal,” adding that Rubio’s provision has “tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law.”

Now that the Obama administration understands the grave threat Rubio’s provision poses to Obamacare, Democrats are pushing to block it from this year’s omnibus spending bill so that they can bail out the insurers. According to Politico, “HHS officials . . . maintained that insurers will eventually receive the requested payments during the next two years of the temporary program.”

The insurers are joining the fight. In talking points obtained by BuzzFeed, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s chief executive, Scott Serota, warned congressional Democrats that Rubio’s provision “will result in massive premium increases and could cause private insurers to become insolvent.” In other words, Rubio’s provision poses a mortal threat to Obamacare.

Rubio maintains that if it takes a taxpayer bailout of big business to save Obamacare, that alone proves the law is unsustainable. He is pushing to keep his bailout ban in the final bill. “Let’s be clear, the reason these health insurance companies are enduring a financial loss is that Obamacare is a disastrous law,” Rubio declared in a letter to House and Senate leaders. “It broke the promise to lower health insurance premiums . . . Now the very architects of this law are attempting to place taxpayers on the hook.”

He’s right — and now it’s up to GOP leaders to back him by refusing to agree to any omnibus spending bill that allows a taxpayer bailout for insurance companies that made a bad bet on Obamacare.

And Rubio deserves credit at Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate as the only candidate on the stage who has done more than talk about killing Obamacare.

 

Raw Story

Trump supporter credits Trumpcare — which hasn’t taken effect — for dramatically lower health costs

Travis Gettys March 17, 2017

A Tennessee woman who backs President Donald Trump credits God and the Republican health care bill — which hasn’t been voted into law — for her family’s dramatically lower insurance costs.

Charla McComic’s son recently lost his job, and his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to $88, which she described as “a blessing from God” and a gift from the new president, reported the Washington Post.

The 52-year-old former first-grade teacher thinks the change is due to tax credits that would be offered under the so-called “Trumpcare” law, if and when it’s approved by Congress and signed into law — but the price drop is actually a feature of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Workers who lose their jobs and employer-based health care coverage may enroll in Obamacare, which offers coverage based on income or possibly Medicaid for those with little or no income — like McComic’s son.

McComic, who attended Trump’s rally this week in Nashville with four family members, told the Post she’s not worried that her 33-year-old son or 3-year-old granddaughter will lose their Medicaid coverage under the GOP plan.

“So far, everything’s been positive, from what I can tell,” she told the newspaper. “I just hope that more and more people and children get covered under this new health-care plan.”

McComic, who campaigned for Trump with some relatives by forming a motorcade and driving through their hometown shouting his name, said she’s never trusted a president as much as the real estate developer and former reality TV star.

“We said: ‘Who else would we do this for, besides Trump?’” McComic said. “We agreed on the Lord. We would stand here for the Lord, but that’s about it.”

 

Trump Promises Tea Party Groups He Will Punish America: If TrumpCare Fails, He Will Let ACA Fail

By First Amendment March 9, 2017

Title of this diary is stark, but it’s true and we must frame our arguments in these stark terms. Donald Trump literally wants to harm Americans, by sabotaging it’s current healthcare system.

Truly unbelievable. Donald Trump is a President that is willing to harm millions of Americans, because he might not get his way on his disastrous TrumpCare plan.

What’s striking here, Trump has no problem punishing Americans for political gain and yet, he will never, ever criticize Vladimir Putin. He will go out of his way not to criticize his Putin. Even calling Putin “very smart”, yet he treats Americans like they were dumb. This is Trump at his elitist, narcissistic best. I got mine, so I could give a damn about you America.

He would allow our healthcare system to fail, so he can blame Democrats and in turn this would destroy the lives of millions and millions of Americans. Make America Great Again or screw it over constantly?

Make no mistake folks, Trump will attack America and Americans at will every single chance he gets. Whether it’s the enemy press, the enemy former President and now the enemy healthcare system, etc. No other way to put this, but Donald Trump is just pure evil and no other way to spin Trump’s response on healthcare.

This should be a huge story.

 

Raw Story

‘I grew up in Canada’: MSNBC host whoops GOPer for claiming people hate universal health care

David Edwards March 9, 2017

MSNBC host Ali Velshi clashed with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) over the popularity of universal health care systems.

Jordan argued during a Thursday interview on MSNBC that Republicans should do a “clean” repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law before trying to replace it.

“This is so logical,” Jordan insisted. “We know Obamacare is a mess: fewer choices, higher premiums, higher deductibles. It’s a complete disaster.”

“I hear this talking point all the time,” Velshi interrupted. “There have always been higher premiums. Higher premiums every year. And under Obamacare, the premium increase has been lower. I heard you guys at your press conference yesterday sort of mincing words with that one.”

“We do have to acknowledge that,” the MSNBC host continued. “There were higher premiums before Obamacare, there are higher premiums during Obamacare. But the rate of increase has been slower.”

Deflecting Velshi’s point, Jordan complained that the current law meant “more taxes, more regulations, drive up the cost of insurance, mandate people buy it, and if they don’t they get penalized.”

“There was never affordable insurance,” Velshi observed. “Nowhere on the face of the Earth is there a free health insurance market that works. If you could point me to one and say that a free market works — it’s just one of those areas that a free market doesn’t work.”

“It will work much better than it’s working now under complete government control!” the Ohio Republican promised. “Do you think that people are satisfied now? How about people in the individual market who went from paying $100-200 a month to paying $500-600 a month.”

Velshi, who is from Canada, stepped in to defend the success of universal health care systems throughout the world.

“You know, sir, in all those countries, in all those countries that have single payer systems or universal health care, happiness about health care is actually substantially greater than it is in the United States.”

“Then why do they all come here?” Jordan asked.

“They don’t all come here!” Velshi shot back. “Republicans say that all the time. They don’t all come here. People in Canada, people in Norway, people in the United Kingdom, people in Sweden, people in Denmark — they don’t all come to the United States for health care. Why do you say that?”

“Because you see it all the time,” Jordan opined.

“It’s just not true!” Velshi pointed out.

“People in Canada come her for extensive surgery,” Jordan said. “They come here and get it done in the United States.”

“I grew up in Canada,” Velshi revealed. “I lived in Canada, my entire family is in Canada. And nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I’m sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It’s not actually statistically true.”

“You think Obamacare is great?” Jordan quipped.

“No, I’m not arguing Obamacare,” Velshi noted. “I’m arguing the fact that you keep on saying that a free market works. Just name me one country, one country in the world where a free market system for health care works.”

Instead of answering the question, Jordan said that Republicans have a mandate from voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Watch the video below from MSNBC, broadcast March 9, 2017.

 

How the House Republicans’ proposed Obamacare replacement compares

On Monday, House leaders released legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. If it passes, here’s what would change.

By Darla Cameron and Leslie Shapiro  March 7, 2017

Who would be covered

Under two plans drafted by separate House committees, the government would no longer penalize Americans for failing to have health insurance.

OUT

Enforcement of the individual mandate requiring coverage

IN

30 percent surcharge on premiums that insurers would be able to impose on consumers who purchase a new plan after letting their previous coverage lapse — a strategy to encourage people to remain insured

OUT

Employer mandate on larger companies to offer affordable coverage

How they would pay for coverage

The plans would replace federal insurance subsidies with a new form of annual individual tax credits.

OUT

Income-based premium subsidies to lower- and moderate-income consumers would end as of 2020.

IN

Age- and income-based refundable tax credits

How the new tax credits would work

The new legislation would break people into five age groups, each receiving a different amount in tax credits to purchase health insurance: Age Tax credit 20 – 29: $2,000 30 – 39: $2,500 40 – 49: $3,000 50 – 59: $3,500 60 and older: $4,000

These credits begin to phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and joint filers making over $150,000. Other restrictions include:

  • For each $1,000 in additional income above the limits, a person would be entitled to $100 less in credit.
  • Credits would be limited to a maximum $14,000 per family.
  • Credits could be used for any health plan allowed in a state, including ones providing only catastrophic coverage.
  • Credits could not be used to buy health plans that cover abortion.

OUT

Insurers can charge older customers up to three times what they charge younger customers.

IN

Insurers would be able to charge older customers up to five times what they charge younger customers.

OUT

Individuals can contribute up to $3,400 and families up to $6,750 to pre-tax health savings accounts.

IN

Starting in 2018, individuals could contribute up to $6,550 and families could contribute up to $13,100 to pre-tax health savings accounts.

OUT

Cost-sharing subsidies, which were provided to insurers to help their ACA customers cover deductibles and co-payments (ending in 2020)

IN

States would receive $100 billion over 10 years through a new Patient and State Stability Fund for safety-net needs and possible “high-risk pools” for consumers with expensive medical conditions.

Proposed changes to Medicaid

Here’s how the legislation would address Medicaid.

OUT

Medicaid as an entitlement program with open-ended, matching federal funds for anyone who qualifies

IN

Medicaid would be funded by giving states a per-capita amount based on how much each state was spending for the fiscal year that ended in September.

How Medicaid expansion would be affected

Under Obamacare, 31 states broadened their Medicaid programs to cover people making up to 138 percent of poverty-level income.

Under the GOP plans, the states would continue getting enhanced federal funding until 2020. After that, the government would keep paying 90 percent for beneficiaries already on the rolls as long as they remain eligible.

After 2020, new beneficiaries would be funded at a lower level.

NM IN KY LA AR OH WV MI NJ CO MN IL NY IA ND MT WA OR CA AK HI AZ NV PA MA NH VT RI CT DE MD DC

Other key elements of the plans

The legislation would preserve some of the most popular features of the 2010 health-care law, while targeting Planned Parenthood.

IN

Insurers would still be banned from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

IN

Dependents would still be able to stay on parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

IN

Caps on annual or lifetime coverage would still be banned.

IN

Insurers would still have to cover certain categories of specified benefits first covered by the ACA.

OUT

Planned Parenthood is eligible for Medicaid reimbursements or federal family-planning grants (but federal money cannot fund abortions)

IN

Planned Parenthood would face a one-year funding freeze

Source: The American Health Care Act, House Republican briefing.

 

Business Insider

The GOP’s Obamacare replacement is going to disproportionately affect one group

Lydia Ramsey and Andy Kiersz, Business Insider  March 13, 2017

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its report on the American Health Care Act, the healthcare bill proposed by House Republicans.

The CBO estimated that under the Republican healthcare bill as many as 24 million more people could be uninsured and the federal budget deficit would shrink by more than $300 billion over the next decade.

As part of the report, the nonpartisan agency also detailed its estimates for what premiums might look like under the proposed legislation.

The net premiums — that’s accounting for tax credits — for different age groups might look quite different under the proposed AHCA compared to the Affordable Care Act.

Under the AHCA, premium tax credits would solely account for age, rather than factoring in both age and income as it exists under the ACA. The effect, according to the CBO, is that older people with lower incomes would see a significant increase in their net premiums.

(Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from CBO)

 

How the Republican plans to replace Obamacare could affect you

Michael Phelan  Social Security Works

Many analysts doubt whether the plans Republicans put forward would have provided coverage that was adequate or available to enough people.

More Americans are insured than ever before. But the political consequences for both sides may not have been worth it.

Republicans have wasted little time declaring war on seniors.

The new GOP plan to gut the Affordable Care Act will give massive tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, elderly and sick. It does this by raiding $346 billion from the Medicare trust fund to pay for giveaways to the wealthy, and in turn intentionally weakens Medicare’s finances.

Immediately after Election Day, Paul Ryan “justified” his plan to gut Medicare by saying, “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. ACA has in fact extended the lifespan of the Medicare Trust Fund. But the GOP’s plan is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Weaken Medicare in order to destroy the program through privatization.

The bill removes protections that limit the amounts health insurance companies can charge older Americans. This would be particularly devastating to people in their fifties and early sixties, who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare.

The bill also threatens the financial security of millions of families due to cuts in Medicaid. About 10 million seniors are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid―with Medicaid covering the majority of long-term nursing home costs for low-income seniors. Cuts to Medicaid would deprive millions of seniors of needed nursing home coverage, forcing families to scramble to either make up the difference or provide in-home care instead. The bottom line is that this bill would make insurance more expensive and lower quality for millions of Americansstarting with seniors.

Together we must fight any attempt to destroy Medicare and Medicaid―threatening the healthcare and financial security of millions of Americans.

 

The Independent

Texas woman changes homeless man’s life after he stood on same street corner for three years

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith,The Independent March 2017

A woman has helped to change a homeless man’s life in a matter of months by setting up a Facebook page, after discovering why he stood on the same street corner every day.

Ginger Sprouse, who runs Art of the Meal in Clear Lake, Texas, drove past 32-year-old Victor Hubbard on the corner of El Camino Real and Nasa Road 1 four times a day, no matter the weather.

The corner was the last place Mr Hubbard saw his mother and he would wait there for her to return. He was homeless and suffering from mental health issues when Ms Sprouse first started first started to offer him help, and had been waiting on the corner for three years.

“I began to get more and more concerned as I knew winter was coming and I thought, ‘So what’s going to happen now?’” Ms Sprouse told MyBayArea Radio, explaining that she had started visiting Mr Hubbard on her lunch break and they had struck up a friendship. “So he and I started talking about maybe how would he feel about sometimes coming to my house to get out of the bad weather, and that’s how we started.

“It’s been quite the journey,” she said.

She created a Facebook page called “This is Victor” as a way for the community to get to know Mr Hubbard better and to take part in getting him the help he needed. In her first post Ms Sprouse wrote: “I drove by Victor’s corner at least four times a day. I listen to people talking around town and keep hearing, ‘Someone needs to do something about that guy’. So, I will be the organiser and hope that we as a community can be ‘someone’ together.”

Since taking action in December, Ms Sprouse has managed to get Mr Hubbard into mental health clinics, helped him off the streets and has given him a job in her business’s kitchen. A GoFundMe page raising money to help with Mr Hubbard’s living costs has seen more than $15,400 (£12,700) donated and over 200 people showed up to a recent block party to show their support for the man they had seen on the same corner every day.

“She came around and she kind of saved me. It’s like grace,” Mr Hubbard said of Ms Sprouse on KHOU.com.  

The Facebook page has been liked by more than 15,000 people and has a stream of comments from locals expressing their relief that Mr Hubbard is receiving care, while updates are regularly posted by Ms Sprouse, including videos about his improvements and messages he has recorded for his friends.

The community has also responded by helping Mr Hubbard get clothes, eye tests and to be seen by doctors, and the local fire station has vowed to oversee his medication needs. Ms Sprouse and her family are currently working to get him sheltered accommodation.

Since the publicity of the Facebook page and community project, Ms Sprouse was able to get in touch with one of Mr Hubbard’s uncles and was eventually able to help him see his mother again.

“I got to talk to her and I really feel like I accomplished something,” Mr Hubbard told the TV station.

The Russian Tarbaby

March 9, 2017     John Hanno

‘The Russian Tarbaby’

One advantage of growing older is that you acquire the ability to quickly recognize bull pucky when you hear, see or smell it. King Donald and his Court of Putin wannabe’s has spun a tangled web indeed. Is the Trump Inc. cover-up worse than the crime, or is all this thick smoke just the tip of a massive conspiracy worthy of a blockbuster David John Moore Cornwell, alias John le Carre novel. Forget “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” the next le Carre opus arriving at Amazon.com will be “The Trump Double Spook who got Stuck to the Russian Tarbaby.” Move over George Smiley, former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, may soon be talking to American intelligence investigators (and consulting on a big screen project), about the 35 page dossier he compiled on Trump and his associates collaboration with the Russian Autocrat.

Their obfuscation and bold faced lies have super-charged every investigative journalist to turn over every rock that might uncover which Trumpet is sleeping with which Russian operative.

At the top of that list is The Rachel Maddow team of sleuths at MSNBC, who nightly present the latest chapter of that tangled web of double agents. They remind one of a hungry bloodhound devouring a round bone chock full of creamy marrow. And dozens of  journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Daily Kos, The Nation, Esquire, Politico, Raw Story, Foreign Policy, The National Memo and all the ones I forgot, have undertaken what the Grand Old Party’s Congressional pretenders have failed to do, get to the bottom of this administration’s obvious collusion, Comrade Putin’s interference in our Democratic election and Trump’s and his comrades dodgy business interests.

U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Ca) House Intelligence Committee has asked for an independent investigation into the Trump administrations ties to Russia and has put together a flow chart of the connections of more than a dozen members of this cabal. See following article.

It’s hard to keep up with all the twists and turns but everyone who fancies themselves a patriotic American (or a spy novel aficionado), owes it to themselves and their family to pay attention.

Why does Trump “love” Wiki leaks and Vladimir Putin? They are not America’s friends. Why has every member of Trumps campaign, his transition team and cabinet, who has or had ties to Russia, including Trump himself, lied about their contacts with the Russians? Why was Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page kicked to the curb as soon as their implications with the Russians became public? Why did Michael Flynn’s direct line to the Kremlin cause his resignation? Why didn’t Jeff Sessions tell the Russian ambassador to stop trying to hack our election during his three meetings with the Russian Ambassador? Why did the Russian oligarch pay the Donald $100 million for a property he had just purchased for $40 million, never used it and then tore it down without ever visiting the property? Was the Donald involved with best friend and new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in the Russian laundering business? Why did Trump insist countless times he had no dealing with Putin and the Russians when his own son said they had an enormous amount of investments and deals with Russians?

Trump quickly fired numerous senior career State Department staff and proposed a 37% cut in the State Department’s budget, while Trumps new Secretary of State, ex Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillison, who also has close ties to Putin, hasn’t said a word about the carnage in his department.

America’s longest serving diplomat, Ambassador Daniel Fried, who served 6 presidents over 40 years was not retained by the Trump State Department. You have to ask, where is this administrations attention focused? Proposing increasing the defense budget by $54 billion dollars and cutting the State Department budget by 37% in Trumps first few weeks, is apocalyptic. We should have two peace makers at State for every soldier at the pentagon.

Yet no matter what new revelations spill out from this White House, Trumps supporters only stiffen their support. 88% of Republican supporters approve of his administration and a growing number of these dupes even approve of the murderer Putin.

What if President Obama and or Hillary Clinton were as embedded as this Republi-con cast of characters? What if they failed to turn over their obviously conflicted tax returns? What if, instead of eight years of scandal free Obama governance, they offered up this daily dose of conflicts and scandals? There would be investigations in every committee in the Republican controlled House and Senate and every member would be so apoplectic that they wouldn’t be able to talk out of the other side of their mouths.

Putin hates everything about America. They hate that we caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, hate that we support NATO and a United European Union, hate that no matter how hard despots like Trump and Bannon try to turn America into a failed Russian state, our entrenched free democratic institutions and the intrepid journalists within our fact based media keep standing firm.

The sooner the Republi-con Congress puts aside its partisanship and lives up to their oath of office, the sooner we can get to the bottom of this constitutional crisis. As usual, this tar will leave a stain on the GOP.   John Hanno

Raw Story

‘Everyday, a new piece falls into place’: Maddow brilliantly spells out the Trump-Russia connection

Elizabeth Preza  March 8, 2017

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday continued her brutal takedown of Donald Trump’s repeated denials that he or anyone in his campaign were involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election, arguing, “Everyday, a new piece of it falls into place.”

Maddow described a Politico report, released Wednesday, that revealed authorities investigated Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, over Kilimnik’s suspected ties Russian intelligence.

Maddow explained that authorities are “looking into a Russian citizen in conjunction with one of the incidents on the Trump campaign last year which defied explanation at the time.” That incident, Maddow said, was the Trump campaign’s decision to gut a GOP party platform that encouraged a hardline approach against Russia.

“This was one of the first direct signs that something strange was up,” Maddow said, explaining that while much of the GOP party platform last year didn’t “seem very Trumpian,” the campaign “let everything else in the platform slide” except for the adversarial stance against Russia.

Maddow said it was “weird at the time,” but it wasn’t until recently that we learned the platform change was made “specifically at Donald Trump’s request.”

“You can feel the pillars sort of start to sway here, right?” Maddow asked.

Maddow then turned her attention to the bombshell Trump dossier, a 35-page document released on Jan. 11 that alleged misconduct and direct ties between the president and the Russian government. The MSNBC host said she was bringing up that unverified dossier because the “baseline allegations of [it] actually appears to be about that platform change.”

“Everyday a new piece of it falls into place,” Maddow said, later adding, “all the supporting details are checking out.”

According to the MSNBC host, everyday another part of the “increasingly corroborated dossier” is verified, while the Trump administration’s “previous denials are all falling apart.”

Daily Kos

By Liberal in a Red State, March 6, 2017

Rachel Maddow delivering exceptional Journalism on Trump and Russian ties-digging in deep

The Rachel Maddow Show-Doing amazing reporting on Trump / Russian ties

I can’t say enough about how outstanding Rachel Maddow’s recent reporting has been. She has a way of digging in on stories and laying them out in a very engaging, informative, effective and understandable manner. She is truly worth watching at 9:00 PM ET on MSNBC.

On Friday, March 3, 2017 her entire episode was a riveting deep dive into Russia and peeling back more and more layers of that corrupt, toxic and dangerous onion. One segment she did should be front page news in every newspaper and top story on every broadcast — yet it is crickets.

Intriguing overlap in paths of Russian oligarch, Trump campaign

Rachel Maddow looks at a line of investigation into the intersections of the travel of a prominent Russian oligarch’s plane and the Donald Trump campaign … “Nice place, Concord, NC …www,msnbc.com/…

As she previously reported, Dmitry Rybolovlev, known as the “King of Fertilizer” is the obscenely rich Russian oligarch who in 2008 bought Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion in Florida for nearly $100 Million dollars, making it the most expensive house sold in the US.  money.cnn.com/…

And Trump had bought the mansion just two years earlier for only $40 million and had never lived in the house — made zero upgrades. en.wikipedia.org/…

So fast forward to 2016 and apparently, during the campaign Dmitry Rybolovlev has been flying his luxury private jet to several places that Donald Trump was also flying … ending up in places like Concord, NC, Charlotte, NC, Las Vegas, and most recently in January 2017 in Miami — ON THE SAME DAY AND TIME THAT DONALD TRUMP WAS IN THESE PLACES. They are tracking the flight numbers and even have photos of their planes on the same airport on the same day.

She ends her report with, “is Dmitry Rybolovlev an emissary for Putin?”

Again — very much worth the watch. www.msnbc.com/…

Can’t wait to see what she reports tonight. Trump is in deep with the Russians and we need an independent investigation to connect all these threads. In the meantime, we need to help her get this excellent reporting exposed even more … more outrage, more eyes, more questions… We need to beat the drums that he was meeting with the Russians during the campaign — at least at half a dozen airports.

This should be national news on every channel.

Raw Story

Trump keeps finding himself in the same city as Russian billionaire who paid him $95 million for mansion

Travis Gettys  March 10, 2017   

Russian billionaire paid Donald Trump $95 million for a Palm Beach mansion nearly a decade ago — a substantially higher price than the future president had paid several years earlier and more expensive than any other home for sale at the time.

Dmitry Rybolovlev paid Trump an unusually high $50 million premium to Trump in 2008 for the property, which the Russian billionaire bought as an investment rather than a residence, reported the Palm Beach Post.

The mansion, which Trump had bought for $41.35 million in 2004, turned out to have a mold problem and was torn down last year and divided into three lots, once of which sold afterward for $34 million — although that buyer remains a mystery.

Rybolovlev, who made his fortune selling fertilizer potash, denied “directly or indirectly” owning any property in Florida during divorce proceedings a couple years after purchasing the mansion through an LLC.

Somebody paid me $100 million,” Trump told a reporter in February 2011.

At the time, the purchase was the highest price paid for any single-family home in the country.

Rybolovlev, who recently lost $150 million in an art deal, claims he has never met Trump — but he has often flown his private plane to cities where Trump is visiting.

Federal Aviation Administration records show Rybolovlev’s private plane arrived in Las Vegas in October, an hour after a Trump campaign event began.

The following month, Rybolovlev’s plane arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, 90 minutes before Trump’s plane arrived for a campaign event five days before the election.

The two men’s planes were both at Miami International Airport last month, on the same weekend Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

Trump also denies ever meeting Rybolovlev, an investor in the Kremlin-friendly Bank of Cyrus — which came up in the confirmation hearings of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a vice-chairman of the bank since 2014.

“No member of the Trump campaign or Mr. Trump met with Mr. Rybolovlev during the campaign or any other time,” a White House official told Business Insider this week.

“No one was even aware of the plane until receiving a similar email about this (Monday),” the official said. “For a press corps so obsessed with evidence, proof and feigning a general disgust at even the hint of conspiracy, this is pretty rich.”

Democratic senators were unhappy with the response of Ross to questions about whether the Bank of Cyprus had extended loans to the Trump campaign or Trump Organization, although the investor verbally told lawmakers he didn’t know of such transactions.

Hey, Look, Another Russian Connection in Trump’s Cabinet

How many does that make now?

Charles Pierce   February 27, 2017

I have to say that, judging from his press availability, and as a first impression, Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a very impressively arrogant fellow. From contemptuously shuffling the Logan Act aside (“You a Logan Act guy?” he asked one reporter.) to his arch dismissal of the calls for a special prosecutor, to his clammy misuse of the word “McCarthyism,” to his robotic insistence that the real problem here are the leaks about possible Russian influence over the administration—rather than, say, Russian influence over the administration—Nunes is going to be someone to watch going forward. But let’s write something new about Russia anyway.

The essential folks at McClatchy have raised some questions about the ownership stake in a Cyprus bank held by Wilbur Ross, who by eight o’clock tonight likely will be your Secretary of Commerce. The bank that does a lot of business with various Russian oligarchs, including, it is alleged, as a spin cycle for money that the Russian kleptocracy would like to have cleaned.

More recently, he led a rescue of Bank of Cyprus in September 2014 after the Cypriot government — in consultation with Russian President Vladimir Putin — first propped up the institution. “Cyprus banks have a long and painful history of laundering dirty money from Russians involved with corruption and criminality,” said Elise Bean, a former Senate investigator who specialized in combating money laundering and tax evasion. “Buying a Cyprus bank necessarily raises red flags about suspect deposits, high-risk clients and hidden activities.” The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system. Oligarch Dmitry Ryvoloviev took a nearly 10 percent stake in Bank of Cyprus in 2010. Two years earlier, amid the U.S. financial crisis when real-estate prices were softening, Ryvoloviev purchased Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $95 million. The transaction generated questions because of its inflated market price, about $60 million more than Trump had paid for the Florida property four years earlier. When Europe’s debt crisis spread and affected Cyprus in 2012 and 2013, that nation’s second biggest bank, Laiki Bank, was closed. The government imposed losses on uninsured deposits, many belonging to Russians.

As you might imagine, this whole business came up to no great effect during Ross’s confirmation hearings.

Ross had little history in global banking, but in 2011 he took an ownership stake in Bank of Ireland, the only bank in that nation the government didn’t seize. Ross tripled his investment when he sold his Irish stake in June 2014, then months later, he took a gamble on Bank of Cyprus. Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus, including Viktor Vekselberg, a longtime Putin ally, and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former vice chairman of Bank of Cyprus and a former KGB agent believed to be a Putin associate. Aides to several of the senators confirmed late Friday that Ross hadn’t responded to their questions. The White House sent McClatchy to a Commerce Department transition aide, who didn’t respond to questions.

(David Cay Johnson’s DC Report adds that, when Ross took over the Bank of Cyprus, he installed as chairman a guy who had left Deutsche Bank under a cloud, including a $650 million fine for laundering Russian money. Deutsche Bank, Johnson reminds us, is the president*’s largest known lender.)

It is nothing close to McCarthyism to point out that the entire Cabinet will be full to the gunwales with people who have done serious business with the Russian kleptocrats. At least they’ll all have a lot to talk about over vodka at lunch.

Daily Kos

Ouch! Newsweek exposes Trump as the business fraud he is.

By Fokozatos Siker   August 2, 2016

Trump’s big line is he should be president because he is a successful businessman. After reading this devastating Newsweek story, no Trump apologist can ever say that again.

The story goes through the bankruptcies of course, but there are defaults, people ripped off, and lie upon lie upon lie upon lie.

My favorite stuff from the article:

  • Trump lied to Congress.
  • Trump was publicly insulting Native Americans while other real business people were making deals to help manage their casinos.
  • Trump signed a deal with one Native American casino, and they paid him $6 million to go away.
  • Trump punched his second grade teacher
  • Trump lied in his books, then blamed the same woman he blamed for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech.
  • Trump lied in a filing with a bank where he was trying to get a loan about how much he was worth.
  • Trump lied about how much money he got from his dad.
  • Trump’s dad gave him illegal loans by taking cash to his casino, turning it over at a craps table, loading up a suitcase with $5,000 chips, and leaving.
  • Trump’s earliest deals all lost money and he only did well when his dad guaranteed loans.
  • Trump spent $1 million per plane to turn a shuttle into a luxury trip that no one wanted to take. The planes were only worth $4 million each.

There is just so much more. I want to give a few quotes:

Lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults, deceptions and indifference to investors—Trump’s business career is a long, long list of such troubles, according to regulatory, corporate and court records, as well as sworn testimony and government investigative reports. Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.

He is also pretty good at self-deception, and plain old deception. Trump is willing to claim success even when it is not there, according to his own statements. “I’m just telling you, you wouldn’t say that you’re failing,” he said in a 2007 deposition when asked to explain why he would give an upbeat assessment of his business even if it was in trouble. “If somebody said, ‘How you doing?’ you’re going to say you’re doing good.” Perhaps such dissembling is fine in polite cocktail party conversation, but in the business world it’s called lying.

Trump tells everyone he is a gazillionaire. How does he decide his net worth?

Trump is quick to boast that his purported billions prove his business acumen, his net worth is almost unknowable given the loose standards and numerous outright misrepresentations he has made over the years. In that 2007 deposition, Trump said he based estimates of his net worth at times on “psychology” and “my own feelings.” But those feelings are often wrong—in 2004, he presented unaudited financials to Deutsche Bank while seeking a loan, claiming he was worth $3.5 billion. The bank concluded Trump was, to say the least, puffing; it put his net worth at $788 million, records show. (Trump personally guaranteed $40 million of the loan to his company, so Deutsche coughed up the money. He later defaulted on that commitment.)

And the money quote:

Trump’s many misrepresentations of his successes and his failures matter—a lot. As a man who has never held so much as a city council seat, there is little voters can examine to determine if he is competent to hold office. He has no voting record and presents few details about specific policies. Instead, he sells himself as qualified to run the country because he is a businessman who knows how to get things done, and his financial dealings are the only part of his background available to assess his competence to lead the country. And while Trump has had a few successes in business, most of his ventures have been disasters.

It’s a long article, but it puts the lie to Trump’s lie that he is a successful businessman. He’s just a guy who inherited money.

LA. Times

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell wants an independent probe into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia — and he has charts

Phil Willon March 9, 2017

Check out the flow chart on Phil Willon’s web page at the LA Times.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-california-congressman-wants-an-1489087000-htmlstory.html

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) created a webpage detailing the Trump administrations ties to Russia. (Office of Rep. Eric Swalwell)

Northern California Rep. Eric Swalwell really wants an independent investigation into President Donald Trump and his administration’s ties to Russia.

And he has some handy charts and graphics to prove his case.

Swalwell, a Democrat from Dublin, launched a new page on his official congressional website— which he titled “Protecting our Democracy” — detailing the alleged web of connections between Trump administration officials, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian interests.

Swalwell is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating Russia’s alleged election meddling.

“President Trump has also surrounded himself with people who do business with and are sympathetic to Russia,” his site declares in boldface type.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Putin had authorized an operation to try to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

Trump has rejected calls for an independent investigation of his ties to Russia.

The Global Politico

‘Don’t Be So Desperate to Rub up Against Russia’

America’s longest-serving diplomat has some parting advice for President Donald Trump.

By Susan B. Glasser  March 06, 2017

America’s most senior diplomat just hit the exits from President Trump’s melting-down State Department after 40 years of being the man in the room when Russia was involved.

And now Daniel Fried, a career Foreign Service pro who spent decades holding his tongue publicly while serving six presidents of both parties, is speaking out forcefully for the first time amid an escalating scandal here in Washington over the new administration’s Russia entanglements, warning about the threats posed by President Vladimir Putin’s aggression – and Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

“Russia despises the West. And it is doing what it can to weaken the West,” Fried says in a new interview for The Global Politico podcast, his first extensive comments since leaving government. I had asked Fried, who until a week ago was the top diplomat responsible for overseeing American sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its 2014 armed takeover of Crimea and ongoing military incursions in Ukraine, about the Russian intervention in last year’s U.S. presidential election, an intervention now the subject of multiple congressional and law-enforcement inquiries as to whether the Trump campaign knew about or colluded with the Russians in any way.

Fried, known to his colleagues as an indefatigable negotiator and history buff, warned that the Russians are intent upon reconquering more former Soviet territory and won’t stop unless strongly countered by the U.S. “They are rapacious, because they want back as much of their empire as they can grab. And we need to resist that.”

The last serving member of a generation of Foreign Service officers who saw the Cold War to a successful ending in Russia and Eastern Europe, Fried closed his career with the State Department he loved in what many officials have described as nothing short of demoralized turmoil, and he rallied the increasingly disgruntled diplomats with a rousing goodbye speech that warned both of a Cold War victory “under assault” by a resurgent Russia and of the new Trumpian vision of American nationalism. “The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox,” he said, in remarks that were widely shared afterwards.

Tony Blinken, the State Department No. 2 under President Barack Obama, called Fried’s exit speech a “powerful defense of the liberal international order.” Damon Wilson, a colleague from President George W. Bush’s administration, said it was a “clarion call for the U.S. to lead.”

It came as foreign policy hands in both parties are increasingly concerned about the marginalization of the State Department under Trump. The president has already cut his new secretary of state, longtime ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, out of key meetings; proposed a massive cut of up to 37 percent of the department’s budget; fired top career officials while refusing to allow Tillerson to name his own staff for key positions; and turned to a national security staff long on uniformed generals and short on diplomats and civilian expertise.

Even the fact that Fried left as America’s most senior diplomat reflected the Trump-imposed tumult; until a few weeks ago, he was the third most senior career official at the State Department, but then Trump cashiered the two top officials ahead of Fried, dumping them unceremoniously in his first week in office and leaving key posts open.

Washington And The World

The State Department is Already Running on Fumes

By Ilan Goldenberg

In the interview, Fried recounts his close dealings with presidents and secretaries of both parties (he considers both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton “wonderful”), recalls being in the White House Situation Room on 9/11 and the “ill-considered” Iraq war that followed, and notes the “weak hand” Obama gave Secretary of State John Kerry on Syria. Now, he says he is as worried about Trump’s foreign policy course correction as he is about the institutional threats to a State Department that has often been a “punching bag” in American politics.

“What does it mean to say ‘America First’? … Are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals others kids’ lunch money?” Fried asked. “Apart from the nervousness about budgets and personnel and all the rest of it, there’s an underlying concern that we’re losing sight of what, to use the phrase, made America great.”

But it is Fried’s warnings about Russia that are the most striking. He has watched presidents in both parties over the last 25 years try and fail to come up with a workable post-Cold War policy toward a Russia that has now turned, once again, to becoming “an aggressive, revisionist power.” Fried said he hadn’t heard directly from the new Trump White House and found “puzzling” Trump’s repeated admiring comments about Putin and indications during the campaign that he wanted to lift the sanctions Fried has worked so hard with America’s European allies to impose after the Crimea takeover.

What would he have told Trump if asked?

“Don’t be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.”

He might find Trump puzzling but this latest strange twist in the U.S.-Russia relationship is one that Fried the Kremlinologist has been watching coming for years now – over a career that gave him a front row seat among America’s Russia watchers for the last four decades.

Fried has made a professional study of Russia since the late 1970s, when he joined the Foreign Service at the start of the Carter administration. He was posted to Soviet Leningrad in the early 1980s and tells me he considers President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz to have been the gold standard of the secretaries he worked under, because he was able to pursue a “walk and chew gum” policy of opening negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev while also pushing back on the Soviets aggressively.

By the late 1980s, Fried had become the Poland desk officer at the State Department, when he ran up against a bureaucratic obstacle: He couldn’t get the higher-ups to listen to his increasingly pointed analyses warning that Polish Communism was coming unraveled. He reached out to an up-and-coming National Security Council official in George H.W. Bush’s White House, a Soviet expert named Condoleezza Rice. She told him, “Meet me at the checkpoint with a plain brown envelope” containing the papers he wanted approved. In the flurry of the next few years, Fried would go on to become ambassador to Poland as post-communist economic reforms were enacted and a top NSC official dealing with the former Soviet Union for President Bill Clinton.

 

Washington And The World

How Anti-Democratic Propaganda Is Taking Over The World

By Christopher Walker

A key assignment was helping to outline options for the eventual expansion of NATO to include countries in the former Soviet Union such as Poland and the three Baltic states – a key complaint these days of the Kremlin, which argues that NATO’s encirclement of Russia once those countries joined is a major factor in the region’s current tensions.

Not so, insists Fried, who remembers that, at the time in the mid-1990s, the United States was in fact pulling its troops out of Europe and even potentially envisioning a NATO that could include Russia. “This Russian notion of encirclement is, let us say, an alternative fact,” he said. “It’s just flat wrong.”

After a little more than a decade of post-Soviet tumult, Fried would be sitting next to Rice, by then the national security adviser to Bush’s son, as President George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time and famously looked into his “soul.” (“Not in the talking points!” Fried noted in our interview.) Ever since, he has watched as Bush and Obama struggled – and often failed – to figure out how to deal with the former KGB spy in the Kremlin.

Rice, as he recalls it, was one of many to make the wrong – but “reasonable” at the time, Fried says – “case that Putin was going to be one of these reassemblers of a Russian state which had fallen on hard times, that he would be a czar-restorer in a way. He may be mildly authoritarian, but a modernizer, and able to work with the West.” Obama, too, proved eager to work with the Russians, but wrong in hoping that Dmitry Medvedev, his temporary placeholder in the Russian presidency, would prove more than an interim seat warmer for Putin.

The Global Politico

Ambassador Dan Fried: The Full Transcript

By Susan B. Glasser   March 06, 2017

For the fifth episode of Politico Magazine’s Susan B. Glasser’s new podcast, The Global Politico, she sat down with Ambassador Dan Fried, who recently retired as America’s longest-serving diplomat. A transcript of Glasser and Fried’s conversation, and the podcast, follows:

Hi, I’m Susan Glasser. Welcome back to The Global POLITICO. This week, we have a very special guest who’s joining us: Ambassador Dan Fried. One week ago, he retired as America’s longest-serving diplomat. For 40 years, he’s worked as an American Foreign Service officer, a career that has spanned the arc of the Cold War at its coldest, the remarkable end of the Cold War in 1989, and the years of disillusionment and difficulty that followed.

Dan left office as he has occupied it, with incredible insight and clarity about the nature of America’s position in the world. He gave a rousing speech. I’ll read you a few quotes from it to start off our conversation. He talked about his experience of 40 years in the American Foreign Service, and the long arc of it covering the Soviet Union, and then the remarkable collapse of the Soviet Union, and everything that’s come since over the last 25 years.

“Nothing,” he said, “can be taken for granted. And this great achievement is now under assault by Russia. But what we did in my time is no less honorable. It is for the present generation to defend, and when the time comes again, extend freedom in Europe.” Dan, thank you so much for being with us today. I’m really—I’m—I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. You are a man liberated, if not entirely at least partially, so I’d love to talk to you a little bit about what that going away speech was like for you, why you decided to speak out and say what you did.

Fried: Well, thank you for the opportunity. My farewell speech really took 40 years to write, and it turned out, I did have something to say. I wanted to speak out about what I consider to be America’s grand strategy in the world, and we often talk about what the United States did after 1945, building the liberal world order on the ruins of World War II. And after 1989, when we extended freedom in Europe to help the hundred million liberated Europeans, and that’s all good.

But the American tradition of foreign policy exceptionalism, our grand strategy as a nation, reaches back much further. Really at the turn—the end of the 19th century, when we achieved power a generation after the Civil War, the outlines of an American vision came into focus, and what we—it was based on two things. One, our realization that our values and our interests were the same, and that our business interests would advance as our values advanced in the world.

And the second precept of the American grand strategy is that our security and prosperity didn’t work unless other nations were also secure, and prosperous. There had to be something in it for them, so we weren’t looking simply to grab territory, or widen our sphere of influence, or anything like that. We wanted to make the world a better place, and get very rich in the process. That’s the American grand strategy; a combination of breathtaking ambition, apparent naivete, but actual insight, and it worked out in the 20th century. I wanted to talk about that, and I also wanted to talk about America’s identity.

Glasser: A lot of people here in Washington have been worrying not just since President Trump came into office, but certainly with an accelerating or escalating decibel level since President Trump came into office, that this is a moment that is the end of the liberal order that you celebrate. You wrote in your goodbye speech: “our mistakes, blunders, flaws, and shortcomings notwithstanding, the world America made after 1945 and 1989 has enjoyed the longest period of general peace in the west since Roman times, and decades of prosperity.”

A lot of people now think it’s on the way out the door. Tony Blinken, who was the deputy secretary of state, called your speech, “a powerful defense of the liberal international order.” “Clarion call for the United States to lead,” is what Damon Wilson, one of your colleagues from the Bush administration, had to say about it. How worried are you that this is the end of the liberal international order?

Fried: I don’t believe it’s the end. I believe the liberal international order is under assault from Russia, and from other authoritarian regimes, and it is being questioned from within the West by nationalists, by nativists, and by people who doubt our—doubt the values of the West. We’ve gone through periods like this before; in the ‘70s, after Vietnam and Watergate, and certainly in the ‘30s, when people thought liberal democracy was dead, and the future belonged either to the fascists or the communists.

Glasser: But the thing that’s surprising about this, right, is that it is now at least a faction of the party that controls the American White House, including potentially the President of the United States himself, who seems to be the ones attacking the liberal order, that in fact, the United States, not only largely built and secured, but has benefited disproportionately from. That’s different.

Fried: It is different, and it’s unusual, because Republicans—Reagan but also George W. Bush—believed in freedom, and they believed in America’s role. To have the governing party speak in terms of a zero-sum world, or speak in terms of America’s purpose as no more than grabbing the largest share possible in the short run, goes against our foreign policy tradition that goes back to 1900, really…

Glasser: So, that’s again, this is what’s so remarkable about this moment here in Washington. It’s hard to convey fully to people who are outside of it, right, that’s why you see a very almost non-partisan reaction, right. You know, you have conservatives, liberals, people who are used to arguing with each other, who are now making common cause in their concern about this potential break with decades of American foreign policy. Give us a little bit of a sense about what things are like inside the State Department these days. Trump not only ran against the foreign policy establishment, there’s a lot of questions about his proposed budget cuts of up to 37 percent of the State Department’s budget, he hasn’t hired a lot of people; there’s a lot of uncertainty. What is it like to feel that your profession is under attack by the leadership?

Fried: Well, the Foreign Service and the State Department have always been a punching bag for a certain part of the political spectrum; I don’t take that too seriously. Yet. The issue is a larger one: we hear the phrase America First, and that from the president. Of course, of course we should keep our country’s interests uppermost in mind. No argument there. But what does it mean to say America First? How do we understand our interests?

In a narrow, short-term sense, are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money? Or do we think in bigger, more ambitious terms? And it seems to me a broader, not a narrow vision of America’s interest, is one which suits our nation, and has worked out for us well. So, I think apart from the nervousness about budgets and personnel and all the rest of it, there’s an underlying concern that we’re losing sight of what to use the phrase, made America great.

Are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money? Or do we think in bigger, more ambitious terms?”
Glasser: Well, I should point out, and it’s really a very crucial point, you are a classic representative of a kind of person who may or may not exist 20 years from now in Washington, but has a long tradition in the Foreign Service. You’ve served presidents of all parties, starting, I believe, back in 1977. You joined the Foreign Service when Jimmy Carter was still president. You worked under Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, the second Bush, Obama, and very briefly under Donald Trump. You worked very closely with many of those presidents, and you know, it’s interesting that you were able to have high-ranking positions in both the administration of Bill Clinton, but also the administration of George W. Bush. How is that possible in this partisan age?

Fried: I didn’t change my views, and I didn’t change the kinds of policies I recommended to both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush—did the same thing in Europe. Both of them, very different personalities, advanced freedom, and they did so not to hem in Russia, but to respond to the interests and—both of America, the West in general, and those 100 million Europeans from the Baltic to the Black Sea—the Poles, the Czechs, the Balts and others, who wanted to live in security.

And both presidents helped realize a Europe whole, free, and at peace. That was a pretty good achievement, and I was proud to be part of it.

Glasser: And they weren’t suspicious of you?

Fried: Oh, well, the Bush people, at first, thought I was a Clinton person; the Obama people thought I was a Bush person. God knows what the current team thinks; I don’t think they’ve thought about me at all. But it’s interesting, George W. Bush did not care about partisanship, not at all. It’s interesting that the Bush administration kept on holdovers from the Clinton administration, and treated them quite well.

President Bush once teased me about not being a Republican, which I will not confirm or deny, because partisanship is not part of my professional makeup, but he didn’t care. What he cared about is: Are you going to do your job? Are you serious about it? And what are your policy values?

Glasser: Probably he wanted to know what was really going on behind the scenes in the Clinton White House anyways. Was he trying to get the scoop out of you?

Fried: Well, I didn’t have much idea about the Oval, but I did know President Clinton, and I thought he made some crucial right decisions, and it is just interesting that both Presidents Clinton and Bush came out the same way on the crucial issues of the time.

Glasser: Defined as what?

Fried: Well, I mean about NATO enlargement; about support for European Union enlargement, and support for the—in Clinton’s time, the newly liberated peoples of Europe.

Glasser: All right, so I want to roll up our sleeves and really talk about Russia, because that is the thread that runs through a lot of your career. I should say that you really—you started out when it was the Soviet Union; you were in Leningrad before it turned back to St. Petersburg; you met with and knew the Refusniks, back in the beginning of your career as a Foreign Service officer. You then switched—you became the ambassador to Poland, and were a key figure in that country’s transformation from its communist days to maybe you couldn’t have even envisioned its role as a pillar of both NATO and the EU today.

But, you know … then you came back here to the United States. You basically mastered and worked inside the National Security Councils under Clinton and Bush, and then of course, were the assistant secretary for Europe in the middle of a very difficult period during the Iraq war, as well as some key moments during the U.S. relationship with Russia, I think, when George W. Bush was really souring on, or changing his view about Russia.

And then of course in the Obama administration, in many ways, right, the last few years of your portfolio have been some of the toughest jobs handed to you. You have been working both on the closure of Guantanamo Bay—I want to ask you about that, and getting prisoners to be accepted by other countries as part of the effort—the unsuccessful effort by Barack Obama to close it. And then of course, the last couple years you’ve worked on perhaps the even harder issue of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and takeover of the Crimea and its activities in eastern Ukraine.

So, basically, you’ve had a knack for getting in the middle of some very difficult issues, and Russia is the common theme throughout. Let’s start at the end first, though, and talk about sanctions. What is going on with them and President Trump?

Fried: Well, our sanctions policy remains intact, and it will remain intact until it changes, if it does, and I’m not sure it will. It is certainly true, and it is puzzling to me that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke both consistent—in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions. It’s puzzling to me.

It is puzzling to me that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke … in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions.”
Russia committed an act of aggression in Ukraine, and that’s the first time since 1945 a European country has seized the territory of another European country. That’s serious business. They started a war with their neighbor. Their troops as well as the separatists funded and controlled by Russia are killing people just about every day.

The West responded with sanctions, and the West responded with unity. I think that unity probably kept things from getting worse, and they could have been much worse. They gave the Ukrainians time to resist. And I think the sanctions have helped push the Russians into accepting at least in theory a framework for solving the eastern Ukrainian problem, if not the Crimean problem.

So, sanctions are a strong and agreed element of the West’s response to Russia’s aggression. It is, as I said, puzzling to me that there is so much skepticism about the sanctions. I don’t understand it.

Glasser: Well, it goes back to this question of A, how seriously do you view Russia’s intervention in the American elections? Is this something that we should really be spun up to Defcon 5 over here in the United States, and in our political system, which is right now pretty much in a tizzy over this?

Fried: I don’t have any particular inside knowledge. I’ve read the unclassified and the classified version of the report, but I don’t have any inside knowledge. But I will say this: Russia despises the West. And is doing what it can to weaken the West. What they did in our election is no different from what they appear to be doing with respect to a number of European elections coming up.

They are using the tools at their disposal to weaken Western solidarity, to create doubt, to support nationalist parties, just as the old Soviets supported leftist parties. We need a united Western response to this multi-pronged threat. Now, I am not against working with Russia in areas of common interests at the same time. We’re smart enough, or we should be smart enough to have a dual track policy. You know, walk and chew gum at the same time.

George W. Bush tried working with the Russians after 9/11; Obama had the reset. Both presidents achieved less than they wanted, but they both achieved something. Those policies made sense, and it’s to the credit of both Presidents Bush and Obama that even as they reached out to Russia, they did not sacrifice core American interests, or core American values. We didn’t give the Russians on the altar of better relations other countries. We were able to do two things at once.

And that reminds me of what Reagan did; best Soviet policy we ever had. Ronald Reagan reached out to Gorbachev. At the same time, we were pushing back against the Soviets all over the world. He was able to do two things at once, and it worked out very well for us.

So, there is nothing wrong when the Trump administration says it wants to find areas of common ground to work with Russia—perfectly reasonable. The question is, are you willing to pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of working with them in areas that are supposed to be of common interest, and that—I don’t see the American interest in doing so.

Glasser: Did you have anyone ever explain this to you? Were you able to ever have any time where you heard from former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his 24 days in office?

Fried: No. I never met with him. I won’t go into any details of meetings I was in while I was still in office, except to say that I never heard any explanation—I didn’t even hear an explanation with which I disagreed. I heard no explanation for why it would be in our interest to unilaterally abandon Ukraine, or unilaterally weaken the sanctions. Now, let’s take for a moment what might be—and I’m not saying it is, but might be the Trump administration grand strategy.

Let’s say that ISIS—that they’re right. That ISIS is the near-term threat, and that the longer—or the mid-term challenge is managing the rise of China. There’s some evidence that that’s the thinking of the administration. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach. Well, if that’s the case, then you surely want to have a united West to deal with both, and you want to have Russia alongside, but maybe not this Russia while it’s busy trying to undermine your chief asset, which is a united West.

You want to be able to push back against Russia now, the better to work with them later. So, show some patience and don’t be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.

There is nothing wrong when the Trump administration says it wants to find areas of common ground to work with Russia—perfectly reasonable. The question is, are you willing to pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of working with them in areas that are supposed to be of common interest?
Glasser: Well, it’s interesting, they didn’t consult with you, obviously, and it sounds like you haven’t even heard from their own formulation of this shift that they have talked about, but only in very general terms. If President Trump had come to you for the exit interview that you and I are now having—

Fried: Unlikely.

Glasser: What would you—unlikely. Let’s stipulate. Perhaps it’s not unlikely that, you know, you’ll hear from General McMaster now that he’s the national security adviser. What would you tell them? What is it that you think is missing from the understanding of Russia? You talked about Russia as basically putting under assault the liberal order, as it’s been constructed.

Fried: I would say that Russia is—comes from a place of deep resentment against the West, in general, and the United States in particular. They are rapacious, because they want back as much of their empire as they can grab. And we need to resist that. At the same time, we should be able to look for areas of common interest. Again, this is the Bush policy and it’s the Obama policy.

And we should think about the future. That is, Putinsim is not necessarily the end state for Russia. Russia has moved in many directions since the early 1980s. We should not assume that Russia is doomed to live according to its worst traditions. In fact, in Russian history, failed efforts at external aggression, when they fail, usually bring on areas of internal reform.

And internal reform in Russia would require a better relationship with the West. So, why should we assume that that historical pattern in Russia has ended? I’m not talking about regime change; it’s not our responsibility and it’s not our objective. But if we blunt Russian efforts now to be aggressive, we may be pleasantly surprised by the policy options that become available to us, in terms of working with a better Russia. Remember, the American grand strategy works when other countries feel secure. But it doesn’t work if we acquiesce in the aggression of other countries.

Glasser: Well, I think you would never really define Russia as secure in its post-Cold War state, right? I mean, it’s almost the definition of a kind of a swaggering—an insecure power looking to go outwards.

Fried: The Russian myth that they broadcast to the world, and have their various surrogates in the West repeat, is that somehow the West took advantage of them, that we were mean to them. That writes out of history everything Strobe Talbott and Bill Clinton tried to do with Boris Yeltsin. Strobe Talbott leaned forward doing everything he could to help the Russians, and frankly, I have little patience for the notion that we gave them nothing but bad advice.

The same people the Americans sent over—that we sent over to advise the Russians, we also sent over to advise the Poles about how to build a post-communist economy. Same people, same advice, with radically different results, which leads to suspicion it’s not our advice which was the crucial variable. It was the Poles, on one hand, and the Russians on the other. The Poles succeeded; the Russians didn’t. Don’t blame us.

Glasser: You know, it’s interesting. You were involved very directly in another key aspect of the Russian complaint today, right, their complaint which is that NATO was expanded, and enlarged in a way that was meant to threaten and surround them, and you hear this from Putin, you hear this from his top lieutenants. It’s been a consistent complaint and theme of Russian nationalists.

Fried: That’s true.

Glasser: What was your thinking, and tell us a little bit back in the Clinton administration how that played out? There was a real debate at the time whether that was a good idea or not.

Fried: Debate—I would say at the beginning, about 95 percent of the foreign policy establishment was against it. The argument against was, well, the Russians won’t like it, and you don’t really need it, because it’s a new world. And that is attractive until the consequences begin to emerge. So, what message would we have given under this scenario to the Poles, the Czechs, and others?

That you—we’re going to hang a sign around your neck: property of Russia to be reclaimed when convenient? That they were going to live in a gray zone? That their reward for having been under—having overthrown communism peacefully was that they become part of Russia’s outer empire? How is perpetuating the line of the Cold War in America’s interest?

In political terms, I’ll tell you a story. We were in the middle of this debate when Bill Clinton took his first trip to Europe. It was January, 1994; he goes to Prague and he meets with the Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and Slovak leadership separately. And you have all four of them pounding him on this very issue. [Polish President] Lech Wałęsa and [Czech Republic President] Vaclav Havel—very different people with exactly the same message delivered in somewhat different ways. They said, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding? You’re going to take this moment in history, and you’re going to retreat because you’re worried about hurting Russia’s feelings? We’re 100 million Europeans, and you have a chance to finish the work of World War II, of the Atlantic Charter, and you should take it.” And the policy that Bill Clinton decided on after getting pounded by these guys—

Glasser: And how did he react to the pounding, by the way?

Fried: Well, he reacted politically, and I mean that as a compliment. He basically said, “Man, this policy is not going to work. You know, I cannot tell these guys to be patient. You got to get me something else,” he said, basically, to Tony Lake, and Tony Lake turned to me and some other—some close colleagues like Nick Burns and Sandy Vershbow, and we came up with a dual track strategy: NATO enlargement, but in parallel working the NATO/Russia relationship.

And the theory was, these two tracks could proceed as quickly as possible as these countries were ready, and we put no artificial limit on the NATO/Russia track. I even thought it was conceivable, and you didn’t want to shut the door, that Russia could become a member of NATO. You didn’t want to rule it out. This was an open period. We didn’t know what was going to happen.

Now, in the end, it worked out the way it worked out, but there was an open-ended policy, not one designed to hem in Russia. And by the way, while all of this was happening, American military forces in Europe were beginning to be drawn down. This Russian notion of encirclement is, let us say, an alternative fact. It’s—well, it’s just flat wrong.

The United States pulled back on its military deployments in Europe, and it was perhaps ironic that the Obama administration, which starts off with a reset with Russia, is the administration that then leads NATO to put in forces into the Baltics and Poland, after Russia has started its second war against its neighbors—Georgia in ’08, Ukraine in 2014, and that was enough.

Glasser: So, okay, you’re skipping ahead a little bit.

Fried: Yes, I am.

Glasser: Okay, so we have NATO enlargement. You’re right in the thick of it. Bill Clinton says, “Give me another policy. Give me another policy.” You give him another policy, but it’s bet hedging, because you don’t really know, as you said, where things are going to turn out. Now, flash forward to the surprising ascent of Vladimir Putin. A lot of people would say that America’s experts got Putin wrong, or at least enough of them did that our policy basically was not successful in dealing with him.

Fried: Well, you know, I was there in the early days after 9/11, when Putin reached out to Bush.

Glasser: You were at the National Security Council.

Fried: I was at the NSC. I was responsible—I was the senior director for Europe and Eurasia, which it—for a while, included Russia. And I remember these conversations with Condi Rice. She knew Russia very well, and it was possible to make the case that Putin was going to be one of these reassemblers of a Russian state which had fallen on hard times; that he would be a czar-restorer in a way.

He may be mildly authoritarian, but a modernizer, and able to work with the West, and we would be able to work with him. Now, it didn’t turn out that way, but you could, in those early days, make a reasonable case for that. And so, I’m certainly not going to criticize a policy that at the time I supported. And Condi Rice made that case, and, you know, President Bush had his famous meeting in Slovenia where he looked into his soul. It was not in the talking points.

Glasser: By the way, did—you must have known at that moment that it would forever be associated with Bush?

Fried: I would say this: I was sitting in the sort of bleachers watching this with Condi Rice, and when he said that, you could see her just sit up a little bit, very understated. If you didn’t know her, you would have missed it. But I thought, right. That’s a novel way of putting it, but President Bush was reaching out to Vladimir Putin. You have to understand what he was trying to do, and it was a reasonable position to take.

Glasser: When did your view of Putin change? When did you understand just the nature of his project, both in terms of restoring a more authoritarian government inside Russia, and also the nature of his views towards the West?

Fried: When Putin started going after the independent media.

Glasser: Well, that was pretty early on.

Fried: That was. That was 2002, 2003. And I’ll tell you another story: I think that President Bush was ahead of most of his government, in realizing that Putin was not the person we thought he was. And I remember a conversation he had with Tony Blair, basically, in October ’03, about that. And they were ahead of their advisers.

I think that President Bush was ahead of most of his government, in realizing that Putin was not the person we thought he was.”
I think President Bush and Prime Minister Blair had understood Putin pretty early. Now, we were still trying to work with them, and there was, as I said, good reason for doing so. I think the real turn came with Putin’s very aggressive speech at the Munich security conference; that was ten years ago. It was ’07, and I think Putin—I think if we made a mistake of judgment, it was that we didn’t fully understand Putin’s reaction to the Color Revolutions. Those were the democratic movements in Georgia and Ukraine, and a little bit Kyrgyzstan, which the Russians thought we had orchestrated.

We knew we hadn’t, and we dismissed it, but I think we should have understood that Putin took this seriously. I mean, the whole thing is laughable, to think that at the time, we were unable to master political developments in Iraq, despite resources and American troops; that with no budget at all, we would manage a Ukrainian political revolution? I mean, we’re not that good. I wish.

But Putin thought we were, and it took—I think we did not fully appreciate that.

Glasser: Well, and both Bush and Obama, right, at various periods of time, believed in scenarios that didn’t come to pass when it came to Putin’s own behavior in office, right. So, Bush and his—at least some of his top advisers, including Condi Rice, at times believed that Putin would step out of power, and here we are, all these years later, and he’s still in power. President Obama clearly hoped that Dmitry Medvedev could be built up to be more of a real leader, and not just a leader in name or a placeholder for President Putin. Tell me a little bit about, you know, were they getting bad advice from people? You know, what—

Fried: I went through the—I wasn’t part of it, but I was watching President Obama’s reset, and Mike McFaul, our ambassador to Russia, and a real Russia expert, was behind that. That was based on an assumption that Medvedev, who was for a time the president of Russia, was a new generation figure, and more and better disposed to the West. And frankly, there was some evidence for that. It didn’t turn out that way, I realize, but I’m not going to go back and criticize them.

There was a reasonable basis for that, and we—the reset with Russia achieved something, especially, by the way, because Joe Biden, at the very beginning, abounded the reset by saying, “Yeah, we’re not going to recognize Russian dismemberment of Georgia; we’re not going to give Russia a veto over NATO membership, but under those conditions, we can do a reset.”

So, the Biden corollary to the reset meant that the Obama administration could proceed with the reset without ever messing up our policy, and they—Mike McFaul did a pretty good job. He—it was—it didn’t work out, but there are a lot of policies that don’t work out that are nevertheless worth doing.

Glasser: Well, that’s an interesting question when you look at this issue of where Putin and Russia are today, and this restoration of them as, at least on the European continent, our main adversary. Do you think that was inevitable? I mean, Trump maybe doesn’t speak in fully realized policy terms when he talks about this, but he is representing a critique that exists on both the right and the left that somehow the United States, if we’d been more successful in understanding what Putin was doing, and in countering it, we wouldn’t be in this position today. Is there anything to that? As you retire, are you doing any soul-searching on this front?

Fried: There is a rhetorical question; what would you have had us do? Not enlarge NATO and the European Union? Well, in that case, we’d be dealing not with the People’s Republic of Luhansk, but quite possibly the People’s Republic of Narva in Estonia. The Russians were going to come back.

I would have regretted it had Strobe Talbott not been so forward-leaning. He was right to do so. It didn’t work out but we were right to try. Could we have done things differently? Maybe as I said, we should have been more sympathetic to Russia’s alarm over the Color Revolutions. I think that that was—I don’t know what we would have done in operational terms different, but we might have realized that earlier.

Had we not—Fiona Hill, a smart, wise Russia hand—said—

Glasser: Who is now going to be President Trump’s senior director at the National Security Council.

Fried: That hasn’t been announced, but I’ve read the press accounts, and I hope it’s true, because she’s just top rate. She’s excellent and commands respect of just about all the people in the field. But she made the case that American support for Kosovo independence in 2008 was so opposed by the Russians that they were going to take revenge, and this might’ve been a contributing factor to the Georgian war.

And I understand where she’s coming from on this, but Russia didn’t have real stakes in Kosovo. We had troops there as part of the United Nations-mandated mission. Had we not acted in Kosovo, we would have gone from being liberators to being occupiers of a radicalizing population. I’m not going to put our—policy which puts our troops at risk, and other countries’ troops at risk for the sake of not offending the Russians where they don’t have any real interests other than sentiment. Can’t do it.

But anyway, Fiona is great. That was the best thing to hear that she might take that position—best news of the day.

Glasser: All right, so you worked really pretty closely, or you certainly had a bird’s eye seat to watch a number of presidents both at the crucial period at the end of the Cold War, and all the way up to—

Fried: George H. W. Bush I don’t think has been given sufficient credit for the way he handled the year 1989. He just nailed it. At the time, he was criticized for being too reserved, and not triumphalist, but his cool tone, yet forward-leaning support for Poland and Hungary who were sort of the first people that were busting through the bars, so to speak, just nailed it. He just nailed it.

I’ll give you a specific. The way he was able to calm some of the Polish communists, his low-key conciliatory approach, I think, gave Jaruzelski the confidence to go ahead and surrender power, which turned out to be—I don’t know that ____ could have reversed it, but it could have been bloodier, it could have been I didn’t work in the Bush 41 White House.

I was the Polish desk officer. I was in a low position but at—I got—I met Condi Rice, and every—I was the one saying communism is coming down in Poland this year. Just watch this space.

So, she sort of brought me over. I started—I’ll have to tell you a story. I couldn’t get any papers cleared out of the State Department, because I was saying things like “communism in Poland is coming down,” “[Solidarity] is going to win.” I couldn’t get that stuff cleared. So, one day, I said to her, “I can’t get anything to you. From this moment forward, I work for you. If you want papers to appear on your desk as if by magic—this is a pre-email era—you just let me know.” She said, “Hmm. Meet me at the checkpoint with a plain brown envelope.” And I started feeding her papers.

Glasser: That’s amazing. And that’s how the bureaucracy, right—you have to find ways around it.

Fried: Well, the only excuse for the insubordination I demonstrated in the spring of 1989 is when you win.

Glasser: Well, tell me a little bit about the different secretaries of state that you saw. Which ones would you go back and work for again?

Fried: Well, I think George Shultz, who was Reagan’s secretary of state, put together the best Soviet policy we ever had. And I still go back to some of his precepts. The way he cut through a lot of the nonsense about linkage—that you couldn’t work with the Soviets in any area until everything was fine, he just dismissed that. He was wonderful to watch.

He said, “No, we either link or we don’t link; that’s our business. That’s our policy. We’re going to advance our relations where it is in our interests.” It was terrific, so I think George Shultz was one of the great secretaries of state. I think Madeleine Albright understood in her guts the challenge of the moment, which is—was to extend freedom in the institutions of the West and central Europe, while we had that chance. And she leaned forward. She was the right person at the right time. Just terrific.

And honestly, I think Condi Rice was a wonderful secretary of state. She—the Bush administration was unpopular in Europe and around the world, and so every time she walked—it’s as if every time she walked out of the door, she’s in the—she’s in a gale, you know, an ice storm beating on her, and she just went ahead. And she’s an example of how a secretary of state can capture the building and the respect and affection of the whole Foreign Service, which she did.

Glasser: Well, she was also an example, though, of—obviously, she was very close to the president himself, and that was a key asset for her when she was going out around the world and representing the White House. People knew that she was speaking for the president; obviously, that was also something that Jim Baker had during Bush 41’s presidency.

Fried: That’s right.

Glasser: How important is that in the end, in getting things done?

Fried: Well, it was—her closeness with the president and her closeness with Steve Hadley, who was the national security adviser, meant that the president trusted the State Department, and Condi trusted the Foreign Service. She had the confidence to know that people would follow her.

Glasser: But that—it’s so interesting, too, because you’ve seen—that’s a very different approach than the new Trump White House, in the sense that they just, like the Bush White House, must’ve known that historically the Foreign Service probably wasn’t really on their side; that the invasion of Iraq, as you said, was very unpopular in Europe, but it was also unpopular with your colleagues.

Fried: Sure, but look what Condi Rice was able to do. Sure, the Iraq war was unpopular, but I’ll tell you, the State Department people would’ve walked 100 miles barefoot through snow for her, and she led them.

Glasser: And how much were they willing and able to speak their mind when they disagreed with a policy?

Fried: She was open to all kinds of views. She was—she had the advantage of being secure, both bureaucratically—her relationship with the president—but intellectually secure, and she knew perfectly well what the criticisms were. And she wanted loyalty of service, but not subservience intellectually.

Glasser: Now, you were actually—if I have the chronology correct—inside the White House and the NSC during the period when the Iraq war was decided upon, and then you moved over to become assistant secretary—

Fried: Yes, during the second term.

Glasser: So, what was that like? People talk a lot now about Trump—is he blowing up the inter-agency process, and you know, the regular decision making, but there’s evidence that Bush sort of bypassed that process in making the decision to go to war in Iraq anyways. What was it like to be there at that time?

Fried: I was not part of that decision-making process. I was responsible for trying to assemble as big a coalition as we could get, so we wouldn’t do it alone. After 9/11, there was kind of an inner war cabinet established, and there were a number of, frankly, bad decisions made, and I think if you read Condi Rice’s memoirs closely, you will see that she recognizes that.

But I will say this: these were bad decisions made in the wake of 9/11. That wasn’t made up.

Glasser: Where were you on 9/11? Were you in the White House?

Fried: I was in the White House. I was in—when the second—when the news of the second plane hitting the, you know, the towers came through, I was in the regular senior staff meeting, and the word came through. Condi Rice stood up, dismissed the meeting, and things went into motion.

I saw the vice president being evacuated. It was a bad day. I spent several hours that day in the Situation Room helping out, but I didn’t have a particularly important role. I was just doing what I could.

9/11 was a genuine trauma, and President Bush rallied the country. I think the Iraq war was ill-considered, but there—it was done in the wake of a national trauma. And that the errors made under such circumstances are different than errors made in the cold.

Glasser: So, coming back to the cold: Russia today. This current controversy here in Washington may be a lasting one or not—we don’t know. But it certainly risks papering over what’s happening in Russia itself and in Europe with the expansionist tendencies that you now see in Russia, which was not the case just a few years ago.

Fried: Russia is an aggressive revisionist power. And they are working—there’s evidence they’re working to interfere not just in our electoral process, but the electoral processes of Europeans with the same toolkit—money, fake news, propaganda, and what those Soviets used to call aktivniye meropriyatiya, active measures. This is serious.

Glasser: Well, you’ve talked about, I mean, not just those kind of measures, but also poisonings, killings, assassinations.

Fried: Yeah, they have—this was also what the Soviets did.

Glasser: If you Google Dan Fried and Wikileaks, you will find that the one thing that came up that got a lot of attention was a cable in which you discussed the poisoning of Litvinenko in Great Britain, and that was obviously an early indicator, perhaps, of the more aggressive outside the country measures that the Russians were taking. You said in this account that was included in these cables that you believed that Putin was a very hands-on leader of the country, and that he would not have, you know, something like that wouldn’t have happened probably without his knowledge.

Fried: Wikileaks. I will neither confirm nor deny, but I certainly will not discuss the contents of a cable that shouldn’t have been leaked, but I’ll say this, that the character of Russia has been clear to a number of us for some years. And I am not one of these people that believes that Russia is doomed, or somehow, you know, inevitably disposed to act according to its worst traditions. But all the more reason, therefore, to resist their aggression and take it seriously.

Glasser: Russia could be, in fact, it would have to be a different Russia, but it could be a splendid ally. I will say this for the Russians: on their—in their favor, they have the intellectual capacity and the habits of mind to act in the world on a strategic scale, and were they do to so in service of a better cause than their current set of grievances, they would be a natural partner. And to that degree, the Trump administration is right, but don’t mistake the Russia you want to exist for the Russia that there actually is. Be realistic.

Glasser: Well, you know, you talked in your going away speech, and that’s a good way to bring it back, about the so-called realists. Your critique of them, basically, is that they have an unrealistic view of Russia.

Fried: Well, realism is important in foreign policy. You have to be realistic about what you can achieve, and about the pitfalls, and problems along the way, of which there are plenty. Nothing is easy. It’s always rough. Be careful about a policy generated with enthusiasm in the rush of a moment. It usually doesn’t turn out well, but I’m talking about—in my speech, I was talking about realism as a foreign policy doctrine.

Which means basically you don’t care about values; you consider them a luxury, and it leads to a kind of acquiescence in spheres of influence. Now, spheres of influence sound good if you’re a graduate student, or a certain kind of—an academic with a certain habit of mind. But in fact, spheres of influence don’t work out very well, certainly not for the victims, and there are always victims.

But they don’t work out for the great powers in the end, because no great power is ever satisfied with its sphere of influence. They never are.

Glasser: But you’ve seen many secretaries of state who are seduced by this idea that they’re going to have this sort of Kissingerian grand bargains and deals between great powers, arguably even your most recent secretary, John Kerry, was attracted to that vision of diplomacy.

Fried: Well, John Kerry tried to work with the Russians on Syria, and the man was honorable, because he was trying to do the right thing, and frankly, playing a very weak hand, a hand that was weak not because of him, okay. He did the best he could, but I will say this to his enormous credit: he never offered a dirty deal. You can have Ukraine if you only help us out on Syria. Never—he never did that.

Glasser: And when you say he was playing a weak hand, that was because you believe that President Obama had constrained him by making so clear that he was not willing to consider other options in Syria.

Fried: I remember in the—that week in which it looked like we were preparing military action in concert with some of our European allies, John Kerry made not one but two speeches in favor of it. It was pretty clear, and those were compelling speeches; that was powerful stuff. And I think he was right, and the fact that we changed our mind meant that his diplomacy was a lot weaker.

Diplomacy is not merely talking somebody into something; it’s talking to somebody from a position of strength. You put your power on the table to open up the conversation; that’s diplomacy.
Diplomacy is not merely talking somebody into something; it’s talking to somebody from a position of strength. You put your power on the table to open up the conversation; that’s diplomacy. That’s when you can have a productive discussion. Secretary Kerry did the best he could, and his stamina and determination was probably responsible for getting us the Iran deal, which I think is certainly in the national interest, and a good achievement. So, I admire and respect what Kerry was doing. No, I don’t think he’s guilty of that kind of sphere of influence grand bargain thinking. It’s usually attributed to Kissinger, but Kissinger was working in a different era. He was working to manage a Cold War that people thought would go on forever.

Glasser: So, one name that hasn’t come up at all, is Hillary Clinton. A lot of people think that she was more hawkish, quote-unquote, on Russia than Barack Obama, and that there would have been a different policy towards Russia, had she come into office. The Russians certainly are more critical of her. What was your view of Hillary Clinton, just as a boss, and then also, on Russia?

Fried: She was a wonderful boss. She was a wonderful boss. I’ll tell you a story. I had the job—in fact, she gave me the job of being the special envoy for trying to close Guantanamo.

Glasser: Yes, you know, that doesn’t seem like such a prime job, Dan.

Fried: Yes, it’s not a great job. But I will say this for her: she knew when she hired me that I would push hard, that I wasn’t going to go through the motions. By God, I would bear down on it, and I pushed, and when I pushed, she backed me all the way, and I am grateful to this day. She didn’t have to do that.

There are lots of secretaries who send off special envoys and yes, say, “Do a great job,” and that’s fine until it costs you something. And then they cut you off. Never—she never did that. She backed me all the way.

Glasser: Were you aware at the time that this was pretty much of a hopeless cause?

Fried: She was aware of it. The trouble is, in foreign policy, you have to mean it. You can’t go through the motions. Don’t start something if you’re not serious. As Napoleon said, “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” If you set out to close Gitmo, close Gitmo, which means, you’re going to have to stare down the opposition. She was willing to do so.

But it became clear that the new Obama administration had miscalculated the politics; they thought that because the Bush administration wanted to close Gitmo, which it did, by the way, and because John McCain wanted to close Gitmo, that there was a bipartisan consensus. Well, wrong. That fell afoul of politics. And they hesitated. Now, there’s more of a story to that.

There were some people in the Obama White House, like Greg Craig, who were determined to do it, and other people let us say less determined. And in the end, we were—we did not stare down the opposition, and some of the Republicans smelled weakness. But she backed me all the way, which says something about her, and it was—there was no political profit whatsoever for her to do that. It sometimes—she’s sometimes accused of being calculating. There was no profit whatsoever in her support for my efforts to close Gitmo, and yet she backed me up 100 percent, all the way.

I’m one of the many people who has said that the Hillary Clinton we know in private was effective, strong, courageous, and funny. And the campaigner we saw was less so, more scripted. Many people have made that observation, and it was my observation, too, but I’m grateful for what she did. She didn’t have to do that.

Glasser: So, what about her, quickly, on Russia?

Fried: Well, I was there when she gave the misspelled reset button to Lavrov. It was worth a try. I think she was properly careful not to cross any lines, and I do think she was on the more hawkish side. I think that she has an appreciation that American power needs to be put in the service of American values, which is an American tradition and a pretty good one, and I think she was willing to do that.

The Russians—it’s said that Putin can’t stand her. I don’t know that for a fact, but it certainly looks that way, but I think her approach to Russia stands up pretty well.

Glasser: So, in many ways, we’ve talked a lot about Russia, but I think it’s striking to me that in your goodbye speech, you ended it by coming back to America, and your conclusions about what kind of a country we are, and you said—and I’ll read this. “America’s grand strategy did not come from nowhere. It followed from our deeper conception of ourselves, and our American identity. Who are we, Americans? What is our nation? We are not an ethnostate with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”

Who are we, Americans? What is our nation? We are not an ethnostate with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”
Fried: Yeah. Isn’t it odd that simply channeling Lincoln’s political thought is regarded as some sort of a statement, but there we are. And Lincoln is quoted more often than he’s understood, and he understood that the founding principle of our nation is, in fact, the Declaration of Independence. We are a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That’s what makes us Americans.

When we sign onto that belief, we sign onto the core American identity, and that’s very deep in us. That makes us who we are, and it means that we are not an ethnostate. We are not rooted in blood and soil. The Civil War was fought, in a sense, over whether that sentence—all men are created equal—is to be taken literally. And the southerners in the 1850s argued that it was not.

And I thought it’s important—I thought it was important to remind people of that, because our grand strategy doesn’t come from nowhere; it comes from that conception of ourselves. We have a deep sense of American equality and opportunity, and that informs the way in which we brought our American power to the world, because we thought that other nations were entitled to that same opportunity in a rules-based system.

Now, George Kennan, who is basically a realist as well as one of the great American diplomats of all time, called it our moralistic, legalistic tradition, and he didn’t have much use for it. But I disagree; I think that’s our glory.

Glasser: A lot of people thought George Kennan was a greater analyst of the Soviet Union than of the United States.

Fried: George Kennan was dead right when he analyzed the Soviet Union and punctured the liberal illusions we had about them. He was dead right, and the containment policy that he articulated, but that Acheson and Truman and Marshall put into effect, was the grand strategy that wins the Cold War two generations later, absolutely brilliant. That is George Kennan’s great contribution. He nailed it. But in terms of understanding our country, Lincoln was—Lincoln understood who we are, and then Lincoln redefines the way we think about ourselves, so much so that we assume that that’s who we are.No, we think of ourselves that way because Lincoln taught us to think that way, and I wanted to make that point. We are not a white man’s republic.

Glasser: Dan, you came to serve your country 40 years ago in the midst of the Cold War. You leave it with the Cold War having been over for 25 years, but America as or more divided politically than at any time since you’ve been serving the country. We are grateful, all of us, to you, and for sharing this time with us, and I hope that all of you listeners out there will not only thank Dan, but keep listening to The Global POLITICO, and subscribe to our podcast. I hope you’ll rate us, and please, any time, send me an email at sglasser@politico.com, giving us feedback, ideas for guests, or just telling us what you thought of the episode. Thanks again.

Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.

Trump Takes on The Blob

By Susan B. Glasser

Was there any soul-searching to be done, I asked Fried, about why the West was confused for so long about Putin, despite his years of cracking down on domestic opposition, reconsolidating power in the Kremlin and making increasingly muscular demands on independent neighbors he still sees as part of Russia’s rightful sphere of influence?

“What would you have had us do?” Fried responded. “Not enlarge NATO and the European Union? Well, in that case, we’d be dealing not with the People’s Republic of Luhansk” in embattled eastern Ukraine, “but quite possibly the People’s Republic of Narva in Estonia. The Russians were going to come back.”

Still, Fried like other Russia experts in the United States in recent years, believes that much of Putin’s motivation has been to shore up his own support at home – both by demonizing the West and by making sure he is not vulnerable to the fate of other leaders in the region who have been toppled by what Putin considers to be U.S.-funded revolutions.

“If we made a mistake of judgment,” Fried said, “it was that we didn’t fully understand Putin’s reaction to the Color Revolutions” in former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Georgia. “We knew we hadn’t [made those revolutions], and we dismissed it,” Fried said, “but I think we should have understood that Putin took this seriously.”

Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.

FP     Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him

Max Boot, Foreign Policy Magazine, March 6, 2017

It didn’t last long.

Immediately before and after his well-received speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, President Trump curtailed his use of Twitter. “For precisely four days, eight hours and five minutes, Trump refrained from tweeting anything inflammatory,” the Washington Post noted. “That’s 6,245 consecutive minutes!”

That self-restraint began to break down on the evening of March 2, just two days after his big speech, when Trump accused Democrats of having “lost their grip on reality” and engaging in a “total ‘which hunt.’” Just before 1 p.m. the next day, he tweeted a picture of Vladimir Putin and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) having coffee and donuts, lifted directly from the Drudge Report, accompanied by the mock demand for “an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!” Then a few hours later came a picture of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2010 underneath the caption: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” (It took the president with the “very good brain” three tries to spell “hereby” correctly, having first tried “hear by” and “hearby.”)

The presumption behind those tweets was that there was some kind of ethical or legal equivalence between the public meetings that Democratic lawmakers held with Russian leaders and the lies — in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s case under oath — that Trump aides told about their own private meetings with Russian representatives while Putin was intervening in the presidential election to help Trump. This notion can only be credible to the most purblind Trump partisans — the same people who would take seriously Trump’s even more sensational allegations, soon to come.

At 6:35 a.m. on Saturday, March 4, the president of the United States tweeted from his weekend getaway, Mar-a-Lago: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” A few minutes later: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” Followed by: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” (“Tapp”? “Hearby”? Doesn’t Trump’s phone have a spell-checker?)

Having supposedly uncovered a scandal comparable to Watergate, what did the president do next? He took a respite from Twitter for more than an hour, until 8:19 a.m., when he sent out an insult against the actor who replaced him on The Celebrity Apprentice: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.” (So much for Trump’s premature claim to Congress on Tuesday night that the “time for trivial fights is behind us.”) And then he headed out for a nice round of golf.

It was left to Trump’s aides, the news media, and members of Congress to answer the “Huh??? What???” questions. Had Trump actually gotten his hands on classified information that the FBI had wiretapped him during the Obama administration? There are only two ways this could have occurred: Either the FBI had presented a court with evidence that Trump was engaged in criminal activity or was an agent of a foreign power, or Obama had ordered an illegal wiretap. Either conclusion would be scandalous. But after a frantic weekend of fact-checking, no evidence whatsoever was presented by the White House to support Trump’s allegations, which were denied by everyone from Obama’s spokesman to James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, and FBI Director James Comey.

It’s possible that Trump aides were wiretapped as part of a broader FBI probe into the connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin or were simply recorded, as had been the case with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, during the routine monitoring of Russian officials. But there is no reason to think that Trump himself had been a target of the wiretapping, nor that Obama interfered in the lawful workings of the FBI. It appears that Trump had gotten his information not from a top-secret briefing but from a Breitbart article long on innuendo and short on verifiable facts.

One would be tempted to say that the president’s reliance on “alternative facts” to smear his predecessor is the real scandal here were it not for the fact that an actual, honest-to-goodness scandal — one that may conceivably rival Watergate — is at the bottom of this ruckus. Why, after all, did Trump have a midweek meltdown that dashed pundits’ hopes that he would act in more sober fashion? The answer is as obvious as it is significant: On the evening of March 1, the day after his lauded speech, major new revelations emerged about the mysterious links between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.

The New York Times was first out of the gate that evening with a story reporting: “American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”

The Times story would have been big news were it not almost immediately overshadowed by a Washington Post article with an even more alarming finding: “Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.”

Smaller but still significant revelations followed the next day. The Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump Jr. “was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.” (What could Trump Jr. say that would possibly be worth $50,000?) J.D. Gordon, Trump’s national security advisor during the campaign, admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had directly intervened at Trump’s instigation to remove the language in the 2016 Republican platform which had called on the United States to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. And campaign advisor Carter Page admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had met with the Russian ambassador at the Republican National Convention. It is hard to imagine why so many people would lie if they didn’t have something pretty significant to cover up.

Out of all of these revelations it was the news about Sessions — which may open him to perjury charges — that was the most significant. In response to the Post report, the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Kremlingate inquiry, much to the fury of President Trump, who was not consulted about this decision. This is what led to Trump’s wild-eyed rants on Twitter, designed to distract from the real scandal and to convince his more credulous followers that he is the victim of a plot by his predecessor.

But why would Sessions’ recusal make Trump so unhinged? The president must have felt relatively confident that the “Kremlingate” probe would go nowhere as long as it was in the hands of Trump partisans such as Sessions, Rep. Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But with Sessions out of the picture, the way is now clear for the deputy attorney general — either the current placeholder, career Justice Department attorney Dana Boente, or Trump’s nominee to replace him, Rod Rosenstein, another career government lawyer — to appoint a special counsel because of the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding this case.

A special counsel would not have the same degree of autonomy as the independent counsels who in the post-Watergate era probed executive-branch misconduct until the law authorizing such appointments expired in 1999. Independent counsels were appointed by, and answerable to, a three-judge panel; special counsels can be appointed, and fired, by the Justice Department. But a special counsel would be expected to investigate much more aggressively than the White House would like, and firing a special counsel would only aggravate the scandal. In addition to a special counsel, Congress could and should appoint a joint select committee to look into Kremlingate and issue a public report, but a special counsel would be likely to conduct a more professional investigation and, unlike lawmakers, would possess the power to indict, which may help loosen the tongues of suspects.

There is a good reason why Trump and his partisans are so apoplectic about the prospect of a special counsel, and it is precisely why it is imperative to appoint one: because otherwise we will never know the full story of the Kremlin’s tampering with our elections and of the Kremlin’s connections with the president of the United States. As evidenced by his desperate attempts to change the subject, Trump appears petrified of what such a probe would reveal. Wonder why?

The Atlantic

President Trump’s Untruths Are Piling Up

Conor Friedersdorf  March 3, 2017

The need for Congress to figure out why he and his team keep misleading the public about Russia grows more urgent by the day, even if they are ultimately exonerated.

Let’s be clear from the start: There is no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign coordinated with Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee’s emails or funnel them to Wikileaks; no evidence that they are puppets of Vladimir Putin; and no proof that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president.

There are suspicions voiced by members of Congress, leaked by parts of the intelligence committee, held by journalists at respected publications who are investing lots of time and money chasing down leads, and of concern to millions of Americans.

And that status quo is unhealthy for American democracy.

I would welcome proof that Trump is innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter, because the alternative is a compromised president, the possibility of a constitutional crisis, and consequences that are hard to predict.

If he is guilty of anything I want the truth to out.

Either way, the major obstacle is Trump’s untrustworthiness. He is a frequently mendacious man, and many of his associates possess the same deficiency in character. I do not know if the many untruths Trump and his team have uttered on this subject are making them appear guiltier than they are or obscuring a shocking reality.

But the contradictions cannot be ignored.

A couple weeks ago, Trump gave a lengthy, combative press conference where he was asked, “Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?”

He said no, aside from Mike Flynn, who ostensibly resigned from the Trump administration for misleading Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Then Trump went much farther.

Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me a few days ago. We had a very good talk, especially the second one … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine.

Even two weeks ago,  Trump’s claims were highly dubious.

Now consider what we have learned in the last 24 hours.

“Three weeks before Election Day, Donald Trump Jr. left the campaign trail and the country to speak at a private dinner in Paris organized by an obscure pro-Russia group that promotes Kremlin foreign policy initiatives and has since nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize,” ABC reported.

Then CNN reported that J.D. Gordon, a former national security adviser to Trump, attended an event with the Russian ambassador at the GOP convention. Trump national-security advisers Carter Page and Walid Phares were there, too. And Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn met with Russia’s ambassador at Trump Tower in December.

One can imagine non-nefarious explanations for all of these meetings. USA Today’s writeup of the Cleveland RNC event makes it sound especially innocuous.

But they inevitably create suspicion when they directly contradict bygone untruths told by the president and his team; follow Manafort and Flynn resigning over matters related to Russia; concern a president who will not release his tax returns; and dovetail with a dossier that alleges alarming ties between Trump and the Kremlin.

Look again at Trump’s words from his press conference: “I have nothing to do with Russia,” the president said. “To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.”

That is bullshit. Among many other things, Russia’s ambassador clearly made a concerted effort to interact with many on the Trump team and succeeded spectacularly.

Nor do the contradictions end there.

On CNN, Jim Acosta reported more about his phone conversation with J.D. Gordon.

“Gordon said he was part of the effort pushed by the Trump campaign to put some language in the GOP platform that essentially said that the Republican Party did not advocate for arming the Ukrainians in their battle against pro-Russian separatists,” Acosta related. “He said that his is the language that Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March at a meeting at the unfinished Trump hotel here in Washington D.C. J.D. Gordon says then-candidate Trump said he did not want to ‘go to World War III over Ukraine,’ and J.D. Gordon says at the Republican convention in Cleveland he advocated for language in that Republican Party platform that reflected then-candidate Trump’s comment.”

In my view, there was nothing substantively wrong with softening the language in the Republican Party platform. I find establishment Republicans and hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton terrifying when they seem eager for conflict with Russia.

But Team Trump’s behavior surrounding the change was very odd.

After The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign orchestrated the change in the GOP platform, the Trump campaign denied any involvement. Paul Manafort went on Meet the Press, where he could not have been any clearer about the matter:

Chuck Todd: There’s been some controversy about something in the Republican Party platform that essentially changed the Republican Party’s views when it comes to Ukraine. How much influence did you have in changing that language, sir?

Paul Manafort: I had none. In fact, I didn’t even hear of it until after our convention was over.

Todd: Where did it comes from then? Because everybody on the platform committee had said it came from the Trump campaign. If not you, who?

Manafort: It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign. And I don’t know who everybody is, but I guarantee you it was nobody that was on the platform committee–

Todd: So nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?

Manafort: No one, zero.

That seemed even more unlikely later that month when Trump gave an interview to George Stephanopolous:

George Stephanopolous: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

Donald Trump: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

Stephanopolous: Your people were.

Trump: Yeah. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

Stephanopolous: Do you know what they did?

Trump: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

Stephanopolous: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves. Why is that a good idea?

Trump: Look, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

Stephanopolous: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

Trump: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.

Trump appeared to acknowledge that his team pressed for the change. And days later, The Daily Beast quoted four sources in the room who confirmed the campaign’s involvement. Eric Brakey, a Maine delegate who favored the change, told the web site, “Some staff from the Trump campaign came in and … came back with some language that softened the platform. They didn’t intervene in the platform in most cases. But in that case they had some wisdom to say that maybe we don’t want to be calling … for very, very clear aggressive acts of war against Russia.”

That’s where the matter rested … until Thursday, when CNN’s Jim Acosta filed his standup dispatch in front of the White House suggesting that Trump was, at the very least, involved in the matter directly, and more deeply than he led us to believe.

Gordon’s story doesn’t reveal any nefarious plot, or even any surprising view. Trump was constantly touting his desire to get along with Russia and avoid World War III. He repeatedly said things about Russia and Putin on the campaign trail that were far more controversial and eyebrow-raising then a desire to soften platform language. So why did Team Trump strain itself to obscure its involvement?

For months I’ve urged Congress to assert itself more on this matter.

As the weeks pass, the press continues to uncover contradictions, and Team Trump’s demonstrable untruths pile up, making it impossible for the public to trust their president when he denies inappropriate contacts with a foreign adversary because they can’t trust anything he says, the need to get to the bottom of whatever they are hiding only grows more urgent—whether to exonerate a president who creates the appearance of serious impropriety with every absurdity he utters about Russia, or to uncover whatever nefarious truth he is contorting himself to hide.

Top Trump Advisor Reveals HORRIFIC Plan On Live Television, Constitutional Experts Are Disgusted

Allan Davis, 3 weeks ago

People are waking up, and Americans are really showing that we do indeed have the capacity to protest on a large scale! There has even been a viral post making the rounds on the internet about the best and most effective ways to resist Trump and create a meaningful opposition that will surely be triumphant.

And in some ways, it’s almost as though Trump himself is helping out the protests…because the absurd things he is doing are turning even more people away from him, even some that initially supported him! No one likes totalitarianism, after all. And now Stephen Miller, one of President Trump’s top advisers, told a national TV audience on Sunday that his boss’s power is absolute.

In an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, Miller argued to host John Dickerson that the federal court overturning Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries and halting the refugee resettlement program was unfair and should be reversed. To make his point, Miller made an unusually despotic claim:

“[O]ur opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial, and will not be questioned,” Miller said. Um, yeah, that is incredibly disconcerting and not at all something that should be tolerated.

This is terrifying, and there’s never been a more important time to stand up to fight and defend your country. If you are ready to join the opposition but aren’t quite sure how to get involved, take this grassroots call to action today!

Daily Kos

Garrison Keillor

Author and beloved radio producer/personality of Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor has been on a social media roll for months. He seems to have the right words when describing and destroying Donald Trump relaying his prose with a twist of humor — and a whole lot of truth.

Below are some excerpted highlights from two of his op-eds in The Denver Post. The first titled, What Mark Twain Killed, Donald Trump has revived. Keillor starts off with “The Constitution does not allow 13-year-olds to become president and after last week we can see why.” and in most of his pieces he addresses Trump as “the Boy President.” Keillor writes about how Trump “proudly holding his latest executive order up for the cameras, to show that he knows right-side-up from upside-down.” (The image Keillor is referring to has been mocked countless times showing the words of the EO saying things a elementary child would write and phrases like “I don’t know what I’m doing” — or really anything that makes Trump look like the ass he is.)

Garrison Keillor brings up Trump hanging up on Australia’s prime minister, his clueless and callous reference to Frederick Douglass, and the ‘so-called judge’ who interrupted his travel ban. Keillor says:

“You think, let the man be president but please don’t put him in charge of the Weather Service or Amtrak or the TSA.”

In response to Trump’s tribute to the Navy Seal Ryan Owens last month (before his March Joint Session speech to Congress), Keillor writes:

“His homage to the Navy SEAL killed in the botched raid in Yemen showed off his style. He has only one, the Jerry Lewis Telethon style: ‘Very, very sad, but very, very beautiful. Very, very beautiful. His family was there. Incredible family, loved him so much. So devastated — he was so devastated. But the ceremony was amazing.’ Bill Murray destroyed this style, so did Ray of Bob & Ray, Ring Lardner, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain and every satirist who ever lived, and here it is, still walking around, and it will be the voice of our government for years to come.”

With snark and disgust, Keillor mocks the pieties in Trump’s administration. Keillor writes:

“Every elected official must now wear a flag pin; more and more public meetings now begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, grown people whose allegiance used to be assumed now required to stand and salute the flag, like obedient grade-school pupils. Why not recite the multiplication tables and the parts of speech? And then there is the official prayer breakfast, which shows the reason for separation of church and state: because politicians corrupt the church. Jesus was rough on those who pray for show, but there was the Boy President complimenting the Senate chaplain for his fine prayer, as if it were a performance.”

Keillor brings up how Trump cites his agent and his TV show and how 45 said “as long as we have God, we are never alone” adding he supposed grew up in a “churched home.” Keillor seemed entertained when Trump said “We each have a soul.” Keillor writes:

“I’d like to believe that he does have one and that we just haven’t seen it yet. I would’ve been moved if he had said a prayer at the prayer breakfast. A classic Christian prayer, such as “Lord God, You know that I am unworthy to be here as president. You know that I have lied and worked hard to incite fear and intolerance and to capitalize on it politically. I have seduced your believers and made myself their Great White Hope, even though I am not one of them and never was. You know that I am not capable of executing my duties as the American people deserve. Lord, I come to You in my unworthiness and shame and I ask You to take this cup from me.”

Trump didn’t use those words, says Keillor sarcastically, but “there will be more opportunities.” (Let’s hope not too many more.) In his second op-ed by Garrison Keillor titled, Donald Trump’s tremendous Sermon on the Mount, Garrison Keillor decides to write a mock “Sermon on the Mount” as if he himself were Jesus (as he’s been described by some of his supporters — or second to Jesus).

‘Religious Trump’ begins:

The Lord is my shepherd. OK? Totally. Big league. He is a tremendous shepherd. The best. No comparison. I know more than most people about herding sheep. And that’s why I won the election in a landslide and it’s why my company is doing very well. Because He said, “I’m with you, Donald. You will never want.

It gets worse and funnier.

’Religious Trump’ says:

So He was saying to me, Blessed are the deal-makers for theirs is the kingdom. Big time. Blessed are they who scorn: for they shall be comfortable. Blessed is machismo for it wins again and again. Blessed are they who are persecuted by the dishonest press for they shall continue down the paths of righteousness and that’s what is going on here. We are bringing righteousness to Washington for the first time and making incredible progress. I’ve done more in the past month than most presidents do in a year. Washington was without form and void and I issued an executive order, “Let there be light” and did I get credit for it? No, the dishonest press said, “It hurts our eyes.”

Even on Trump’s Sermon on the Mount, he attacks the media.

‘Religious Trump’ says:

I tell you, I have been walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death. I have to say that. Terrible. Because of the dishonest Midianites, or, as I call them, the media, including a lot of you here in this room, writing stories about chaos. Where’s the chaos? We’ve got light and darkness, day and night. There is no chaos. I know what’s true and the level of dishonesty is unbelievable. The story about the rich man in hell and the beggar Lazarus in heaven — fake news. Totally fake. … I am not a bad person. You don’t get to 306 electoral votes by being a bad person.

Keillor mocks Trump’s insecurities we see every day.

‘Religious Trump’ says:

I inherited a mess, the instability, divisiveness, darkness, iniquity, leprosy, madmen, but nonetheless the Lord has prepared a tremendous table before me in the presence of my enemies. Beautiful table. Steaks, seafood, tremendous wines, anything I want, …  but the media is still bitter about Hillary losing in a landslide and the Lord anointing my head with oil which people make fun of and that’s OK, let them laugh at my hair, I got 306 Electoral College votes. They said there’s no way to get 222. No way, Jose. I got 306. That’s what I call the cup running over. Filled the cup and then it ran over. The overflow was tremendous. Huge overflow. Biggest overflow ever. Fantastic. Through the ceiling.

Keillor ends his second piece with Trump saying. “So it looks like I am going to be dwelling in the house of the Lord forever and I’m having a good time. I love this. I am having fun.” These are just samples of Garrison Keillor’s two op-eds. To take a look at them in full (encouraged) or others your can visit The Denver Post.

It’s hard to stomach Donald Trump, a man of such chest-beating, pompous evil, but Garrison Keillor helps get us through. Many of us need, at minimum, a daily dose of humor to keep our simmering internal pressure cookers from blowing our tops. In reading his words, Keillor helped me make it through one more day. Cheers to Mr. Keillor for continuously calling out a madman.

Who Will Save Us From The Conspiracy Theorist In Chief?

Gene Lyons,  March 8, 2017

You know, along with having the impulse control of a seven year-old boy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald J. Trump just ain’t real smart. He’s a cunning self-promoter, but dim. He did manage to go bankrupt in the casino business, you know. That’s really hard to do.

Trump showed losses of close to a billion dollars operating his grandiose gambling dens in Atlantic City. In the process, he stiffed investors and contractors alike, right down to the guys who installed the toilets and slot machines. Around the same time, Trump Air — his personal airline — also went bust. U.S. banks basically quit lending him money.

So he turned to the Russians.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Trump eventually made good playing a tycoon on a scripted “reality program,” dabbling in professional wrestling on the side. If he hadn’t inherited a fortune, odds are he’d have ended up a sideshow barker luring hayseeds to see the bearded lady. Instead, with a little help from Vladimir Putin they made him president of the United States.

Anyway, let’s keep it real simple. A smart person, if he wanted to accuse his predecessor as president of the United States of a serious felony — such as an illegal wiretap against Trump himself, which would constitute the worst crime against American democracy since 1860 — that person would assemble an airtight case before opening his mouth. Only an impulsive fool would blurt out such an incendiary charge with no evidence whatsoever.

A man not fit to lead the Mayberry PD, much less the USA.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You think that Obama, that two-faced Muslim pretender, maybe did it. Fine, then show me the proof. Not some desperate rationalization cooked up to convince yourself Trump’s playing with a full deck. Face it, he’s not.

Meanwhile, ever wonder what it must be like for the White House flaks — Spicer, Conway, Sanders — tasked with explaining away Trump’s overnight Twitter-storms? Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago:

The whole country is learning how exhausting it can be to live with a seriously mentally ill person: the constant feeling of apprehension and unease over what kind of manipulative, delusional nonsense is coming next. The uncertainty about how to react…Will calling the police make things better, or worse? Is it too early to seek an order of commitment? Or too late?

My fellow Americans, we’re there.

So am I saying Trump’s mentally ill? Not in the sense of having a treatable brain disease, no. Nor am I a psychiatrist, although I spent years writing a book (Widow’s Web) about a couple of characters like Trump, one a politician who eventually sabotaged himself by making wild allegations he could never prove.

Most professionals who have weighed in on Trump’s mental health mention Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic’s website says about it:

If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful, or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having ‘the best’ of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club, or medical care.

At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.

So did you read about President Trump screaming and cursing at White House aides last week before flying off to his Florida castle to launch a bizarre Twitter-storm against Obama? Or as the inimitable Charles P. Pierce put it, “Ensconced in Camp Runamuck, the president is a voracious consumer of angry paranoid junk food. We are all now living in Talk Radio Hell.”

So now what? Writing in Columbia Journalism Review, Lee Siegel put it this way:

We don’t need to be told by a doctor that the guy who is coughing and sneezing at the other end of the train car is probably sick…All we know is that the safe thing to do is to stay away from him.

When someone is compulsively lying, continuously contradicting himself, imploring the approval of people even as he is attacking them, exalting people one day and abusing and vilifying them the next, then the question of his mental state is moot. The safe thing to do is not just to stay away from him, but to keep him away from situations where he can do harm.

Barring some unpredictable (if quite likely) disaster, it’s basically up to the Republicans, who have it in their power to keep the presidency while saving the nation from Trump.

I am not holding my breath.

Heavy

Christopher Steele: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Tom Cleary January 11, 2017

The former British spy who wrote the unverified report on President-Elect Donald Trump’s alleged activities and connections in Russia has been identified as Christopher Steele, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Sources told the Wall Street Journal, that Steele, 52, wrote the dossier, which includes accusations that Russian officials have blackmail on Trump, and that his campaign staff maintained close ties with Russian connections during the election.

Steele, a former intelligence officer who was based in Russia in the 1990s, now runs an intelligence firm in London.

Trump has denied the allegations and said the information in the report is fake. Russia has also said the information in the report is not true and is a “hoax.”

“It’s all fake news,” Trump said at a Wednesday press conference. “It’s all phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

At a press conference, Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said, “The Kremlin has no compromising dossier on Trump, such information isn’t consistent with reality and is nothing but an absolute fantasy,” the New York Times reports.

The full report was published Tuesday by Buzzfeed News, after it was reported on by CNN, which said Trump and President Barack Obama had been briefed on a synopsis of the document. Another report, by NBC News, disputes that Trump was briefed about the synopsis. NBC reports that U.S. intelligence leaders were prepared to brief Trump on the synopsis, but did do so.

The 35-page document had been circulating among Washington D.C. insiders for several months, dating back to before the election. Its release came 10 days before Trump’s inauguration.

The document, made up of memos apparently written by Steele from June to December 2016, contains many spelling errors and other mistakes, and some of the information has already been proven to be untrue.

Here’s what you need to know about Steele and the report:

1. Steele Runs a London-Based Intelligence Firm & His Partner Would Not Confirm or Deny That They Were Behind the Report

Chris Steele, of Surrey, runs a London-based intelligence firm called Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd.,  The company was founded in 2009.

His business partner, Christopher Burrows, would not “confirm or deny” Orbis produced the Trump dossier when contacted by the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper reports.

Orbis, “a leading corporate intelligence consultancy that provides senior decision–makers with strategic insight, intelligence and investigative services. We then work with clients to develop and implement strategies which protect their interests worldwide,” Christopher Burrows is Christopher Steele’s business partner and co-founder of Orbis.

According to the Journal, Steele’s neighbor told a reporter Steele would be away for a few days. The newspaper reports that Steele has declined “repeated requests for interviews” because the subject is “too hot.”

Steele’s London-based company provides corporate intelligence, along with investigations and insight, according to its website:

The team now draws on extensive experience at boardroom level in government, multilateral diplomacy and international business to develop bespoke solutions for clients.

Our tailored approach means the Directors are closely involved in the execution and detail of every project, supported by an in–house team of experienced investigators and professional intelligence analysts.

Our global network of senior associates is made up of regional, industry and academic experts, as well as prominent business figures. We call upon their expertise and closed network of contacts to help our clients frame business decisions, protect our clients’ reputations, and problem–solve for companies facing complex issues worldwide.

Ethical business practice is a fundamental value for the Orbis Business Intelligence team. Our documented procedures, developed in conjunction with external legal counsel, ensure compliance with relevant UK, US and EU legislation.

Burrows, 58, told the Journal that the company’s “the objective is to respond to the requirements set out by our clients. We have no political ax to grind.”

Speaking generally about corporate intelligence, he said when a client asks Orbis to investigate something they “see what’s out there,” and later do a “stress test” of their findings against other evidence, according to the Journal.

  1. He Was Stationed in Russia for Several Years & Has a ‘Good Reputation’ in the Intelligence World

Steele in British intelligence and was stationed in Russia for several years, the Wall Street Journal reports.

John Sipher, who retired from the CIA in 2014, told the Wall Street Journal that Steele has a “good reputation” in the intelligence world. Sipher specialized in Russia and counterintelligence while in the CIA, the Journal reports.

Steele’s Linkedin profile does not provide details of his career prior to working for Orbis Business Intelligence, but CNN reported the author of the report is a former MI6 agent who worked in Russia in the 1990s and is considered to be credible.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Intelligence officers often use diplomatic postings as cover for their espionage activities.”

He is named on a diplomatic service list published by the British government as being posted at its Moscow embassy in 1990 with the title “Second Secretary (Chancery),” Forbes reports.  

It does not say how long Steele was stationed in Moscow, but he is also listed as having been a “First Secretary” with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2003, and as “First Secretary (Financial)” at the British embassy in Paris in 1998, according to Forbes.

Steele is also listed as a “former intelligence officer” as a speaker at a black tie gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of MI6, according to Forbes.

Forbes reports that Steele is also a director of Walsingham Training, a company that according to its website provides “understanding and mitigating the cyber and physical risk posed by hostile states, criminals and companies,” in “how to gain traction in complex markets like Russia” and “how to recognize misinformation.”

The Guardian describes Steele as “a retired western European former counter-intelligence official, with a long history of dealing with the shadow world of Moscow’s spooks and siloviki (securocrats).” But the newspaper did not name him in its report on the dossier.

One of Steele’s first assignments in the private sector was helping the FBI bring down corruption in FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, Reuters reports.

U.S. officials told Reuters they gave credence to his memos on Trump because of his work with the FBI in the FIFA case.

Emails seen by Reuters indicate that, in the summer of 2010, members of a New York-based FBI squad assigned to investigate “Eurasian Organized Crime” met Steele in London to discuss allegations of possible corruption in FIFA, the Swiss-based body that also organizes the World Cup tournament.

People familiar with Steele’s activities said his British-based company, Orbis Business Intelligence, was hired by the Football Association, Britain’s domestic soccer governing body, to investigate FIFA. At the time, the Football Association was hoping to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. British corporate records show that Orbis was formed in March 2009.

According to Reuters, Steele was looking into corruption allegations surrounding the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Moscow and the 2022 competition to Qatar. Steele met with FBI investigators leading to a major investigation that led to dozens of indictments in the United States, including several prominent soccer officials, and the eventual resignation of FIFA’s longtime president Sepp Blatter.

Chris Burrows, the co-founder of Orbis, worked as a first secretary with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1990 to 1999 and as a counsellor with the same office from 2000 to 2009.

3. Steele Left His Cat With a Neighbor & Went Underground, Fearing ‘Potentially Dangerous Backlash’ From Russia

The Telegraph reports that that Steele went underground prior to his name was released, fearing “potentially dangerous backlash,” from Russia.

He left his cat with a neighbor and said he would be gone “for a few days,” disappearing on Tuesday after realizing his name would be released, according to The Telegraph.

A source told The Telegraph that Steele was “horrified” when he learned his nationality had been published in the CNN report and is “terrified for his and his family’s safety.”

He is married and has children. They were also not at his home Wednesday, according to The Telegraph.

“He asked me to look after his cat as he would be gone for a few days,” his neighbor told The Telegraph. “I’m not sure where he’s gone or how to contact him. I don’t really know much about him except to say hello. We’re all pretty secretive round here to be honest. All I know is he runs some sort of consultancy business.”

After Christopher Steele’s name was published Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal, the British media received a “D-Notice,” from Andrew Vallance, the Air Vice-Marshal of the Defence and Security Media Secretariat, according to the Register.

A “D-Notice,” essentially a gag order, is a “peculiarly British arrangement, a sort of not quite public yet not quite secret arrangement between government and media in order to ensure that journalists do not endanger national security,” according to The Guardian.  

The notice relating to Steele says that “in view of media stories alleging that a former SIS officer was the source of the information which allegedly compromises President-Elect Donald Trump, would you and your journalists please seek me for advice before making public that name. Irrespective of whether or not the stories are true, the public disclosure of that name would put the personal security of that individual directly at risk.”

At least one British-based news organization, The Telegraph, appears to have deleted its story on Steele, while another, the Financial Times, does name the former spy in its report.

But the notice was later lifted and British outlets have published Steele’s name.

According to The Mirror, Steele worked with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned with polonium-210 in 2006 in London. Litvinenko was a former FSB agent who fled from Russia after criticizing Vladimir Putin.

A source told The Mirror that emergency measures were taken to secure Steele after he was named:

Once his name came out the view was that he could be under threat so steps are being taken to protect him and put him in a more secure environment. The safest place for him is in Britain but it’s highly probable that MI6 will want to distance themselves from this as it was done commercially. He will likely plug into a well-established network of contacts and disappear for a while to a safe place or safe house with friends or contacts. Any protection will almost certainly be a police matter in terms of security but it is possible MI5 may be consulted about whether there is a threat to him here from Russia. Russia does have a history of exporting violence against people who act against its interests as we saw with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

According to The Mirror, the “D-notice” asked British newspapers and media outlets not to name Steele until after 10 p.m. on Wednesday, to allow for more time for him to be made safe. Sources told the news site that it is possible he was taken to an emergency safe house, possibly in a different country.

4. Trump Has Said the Unverified Report Was Funded by His Political Opponents & Is a ‘TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE’

Trump has claimed the document was paid for by his political opponents.

His first reaction to the report came in a tweet on Tuesday, which read “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

He took to Twitter again Wednesday morning to fire back at the report, tweeting, “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” Very unfair!”

He then followed that with a series of tweets in which he asked, “are we living in Nazi Germany?”

CNN has reported that the report paid for first by anti-Trump Republicans during the presidential primary, and then was also funded by Democrats.

The BBC reports a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s campaign first commissioned the report from the D.C. firm FusionGPS. Steele continued working for Fusion GPS after Trump’s win, and his research was passed on to Democratic Party figures, and eventually the media.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “No presidential campaigns or super PACs reported payments to Orbis in their required Federal Election Commission filings. But several super PACs over the course of the campaign have reported that they paid limited liability companies, whose ultimate owners may be difficult or impossible to discern.”

According to The Telegraph, Orbis was hired by a Washington, D.C. firm, and Steele gave his information to them. He also passed along the information to the FBI, The Telegraph reports.

At the same time, Steele began providing the dossier to several journalists, including David Corn, of Mother Jones. Corn wrote about the report in October 2016, but did not reveal any details of the report, saying it came from an unnamed “former spook.”

The Guardian, which did not name Steele in its story, reports that the former agent grew frustrated at the lack of action taken by the FBI after he gave them the report. The Guardian also reports, however, that the FBI applied for a warrant through the FISA court to monitor members of Trump’s campaign as part of an investigation into the campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, but the application was denied.

According to The Guardian, the report was first paid for by a Republican opponent of Trump, but by the time Steele completed his investigation, the primary was over. A Democratic client of the D.C. firm that contracted Steele to investigate Trump’s Russian ties then paid for further research, according to The Guardian. It is not clear if the person who purchased the report was connected directly to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“Opposition research is frequently financed by wealthy individuals who have donated all they can and are looking for other ways to help,” according to The Guardian.

The Guardian reports that Steele collected his information from Russian sources he trusted, including those in Moscow and oligarchs living in the western part of the country.

“He delivered his reports, but the gravity of their contents weighed on him. If the allegations were real, their implications were overwhelming,” The Guardian reports, so he went to the FBI as well. He never heard back from them.

He later met with Senator John McCain after a former senior western diplomat who had seen the documents told the Arizona senator about them, according to The Guardian:

The emissary hastily arranged a transatlantic flight and met the source at the airport as arranged. (The Guardian has agreed not to specify the city or country where the meeting took place.) The meeting had a certain cold war tradecraft to it, as he was told to look for a man with a copy of the Financial Times. Having found each other, the retired counter-intelligence officer drove the emissary to his house, where they discussed the documents and their background.

The emissary flew back within 24 hours and showed McCain the documents, saying it was hard to impossible to verify them without a proper investigation. McCain said he was reluctant to get involved, lest it be perceived as payback for insulting remarks Trump had made about him during his rambunctious campaign.

McCain later gave the documents to the FBI, despite hesitation about getting involved because he had been targeted by Trump in the past.

“Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the Director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue,” the senator said in a statement to The Guardian.

5. The Lurid Details of Alleged Sexual Activities Involving Trump & Prostitutes at a Moscow Hotel Blew Up on Social Media

The detail getting the most attention in the report is a detailed description of alleged sexual activities involving Donald Trump and Russian prostitutes at a Moscow hotel.

The report says that while Trump as visiting Moscow in 2013, he stayed in the Ritz Carlton’s Presidential Suite, where President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had previously stayed. The report alleges that Trump wanted to defile the bed out of hatred for the Obamas, and employed “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

The report claims the hotel was under surveillance by the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, with microphones and concealed cameras. The allegation is that Russia could use that video as kompromat, or compromising information, to blackmail Trump.

That detail claimed the most attention on social media, with “golden showers” and “GoldenShowerGate” trending on Twitter.

Trump addressed “Golden Shower Gate” during his press conference Wednesday. He said when he went to Moscow, on a trip for the Miss Universe contest, he knew cameras would be watching him, and he said he tells people all the time to be careful of that.

“I told many people, be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place,” Trump said. “Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me.”

The document also contains allegations that Trump campaign staffers had close ties to Russia officials and were coordinating with them during the election.

Russia has been accused of hacking emails of Democratic officials in an effort to interfere with the election. The report claims Trump had been cultivated for years by Russia.

At least one Trump staffer named in the report, his attorney, Michael Cohen, has denied the allegations and has said he has proof information in the report was not true.

The report claimed Cohen had met with Russian officials in Prague, but Cohen said he has never been to Prague, and was on a trip with his son at the time the report says he was in the Czech Republic, visiting the University of Southern California. Reports have confirmed Cohen was at USC with his son at the time.

On Wednesday morning, CNN reported that it was actually a different Michael Cohen who went to Prague in 2016.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement Wednesday night that he does not believe the document was leaked by a member of the U.S. intelligence community, and said he spoke to Trump about the issue.

“We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC,” Clapper said. “The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”

Clapper said he told Trump, “I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.”

Trump, who earlier criticized the intelligence community, “again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the intelligence community,” Clapper said.

Tom Cleary is a reporter and editor for Heavy.com. Tom was a breaking news reporter at the Connecticut Post and an editor at the Register Citizen and New Haven Register.

IBT

Nigel Farage visits Julian Assange’s Ecuadorian embassy hideout after WikiLeaks CIA dump

Josh Robbins,  International Business Times  March 9, 2017

Former Ukip leader turned radio host Nigel Farage was photographed leaving the Ecuadorian embassy on 9 March. It is the building where Julian Assange has been holed-up since 2012.

Farage reportedly spent 40 minutes in the building and left at noon. He was said to be with Christian Mitchell, head of operations at LBC radio, the station where Farage now hosts nightly call-in shows.

Quizzed by reporters as to the nature of his visit to the West London embassy, Farage said he could not remember. When asked directly if he had been to see WikiLeaks figurehead Assange, Farage replied: “I never discuss where I go or who I see.”

There are no known ties between Farage and Assange. But Assange is regarded to have aligned himself with Donald Trump in the run-up to the US election and Farage likes to think of himself as part of the US President’s inner circle.

Trump told a campaign rally in Pennsylvania: “I love WikiLeaks!” in October 2016 after the organization released troves of documents that were damaging to Hilary Clinton’s campaign. The US accused WikiLeaks of being part of a plan – potentially with Russian state involvement- to destabilize the Clinton campaign and ensure that Trump got the keys to the White House.

On Tuesday WikiLeaks dumped a cache of files known as Vault 7, believed to be genuine CIA hacking technique manuals including details of how to remotely transform smart televisions into listening devices. Once again there are suspicions of Russian involvement in the leaks.

Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge since mid-2012 when Swedish Police announced that they wanted to question him in relation to two allegations of sexual assault.

A spokesperson for Farage confirmed to IBTimes UK that he had visited the embassy but would not give any details as to why.

Dis-United States INC.

John Hanno February 24, 2017                                                 

 

                                       “Dis-United States INC.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Hanno

 

ABC NEWS

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

By James Hill   February 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Michael Walsh, Reporter Yahoo News  February 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DeSmog

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

By Steve Horn, February 22, 2017

By Steve Horn, Sharon Kelley and Graham Readfearn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cut and Paste”

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

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

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

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

Koch Ties

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

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

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

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

Too Little, Too Late?

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

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

 

 

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

Michael Walsh 7 hours ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hill

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

By Dave Johnson February 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

This is who they are.

“We Just Need A President To Sign This Stuff”

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

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

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

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

Stream Protection Rule

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

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

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

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

Oil Company Transparency Rule Repeal

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

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

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

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

THIS was the priority of the Republican congress.

Retirement Advice Fiduciary Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is Who They Are

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

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

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

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

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

 

EcoWatch    Climate Nexus

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

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

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

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

As the Washington Post noted:

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

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

 

Leonard Pitts: Open letter to our so-called president

By Leonard Pitts Jr. The Miami Herald

February 16 2017

Dear Mr. So-Called President:

So let me explain to you how this works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just who the hell do you think you are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell no.

 

Vox

A Russian newspaper editor explains how Putin made Trump his puppet

“They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician.”

February 22, 2017

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

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

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

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

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

Why was he so afraid of a Clinton victory?

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

Has Putin made a puppet of Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

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

Sean Illing

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

Mikhail Fishman

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

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

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

New York Times

What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

David Brooks     February 17, 2017

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does that look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esquire

President* Trump vs. His Environment

The Trump administration could be catastrophic for combating climate change.

By Charles P. Pierce   February 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GQ Politics

James Comey Has Some Goddamn Explaining to Do

 

By Jay Willis  February 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Nation

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

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

By Hebert J. Gans

February 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Matt Bai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which, by the way, is a substantial understatement.

 

The Salt Lake Trib

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

By Brian Klaas Special To The Washington Post

February 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dems tap former Kentucky governor to counter Trump speech

DONNA CASSATA,   Associated Press     February 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA Times

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

Joy Resmovits January 17, 2017

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

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

Sanders (I-Vt.) wasn’t deterred.

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

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

“That’s possible,” she said.

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

DeVos said she thought she would have been.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeVos said yes.

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

 

Huffington Post  Politics

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

It’s good to be a donor.

By Paul Blumenthal February 3, 2017

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

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

Campaign Contributions To Senators By The DeVos Family

HuffPost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeVos Questions If Schools Should Provide Free Lunch

Pranshu Rathi, International Business Times February 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

McClatchy DC Bureau

Politics & Government   

Trump’s pick for commerce leaves Russia questions unanswered

By Kevin G. Hall February 26, 2017

WASHINGTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Goldstein in Washington contributed.

 

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

David Dayen January 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the evidence to support that conclusion is considerable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In These Times

Even Trump Can’t Stop the Tide of Green Jobs

BY Yana Kunichoff   February 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green jobs today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An existential threat to the environment and labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

February 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Donald J. Trump, To Tell The Truth?

John Hanno     February 10, 2017

 

Donald J. Trump “To Tell The Truth?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Misreading the Trump mandate

Matt Bai    January 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Washington Post

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

Republican town halls across the country hit by protests

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry Utahns pack Chaffetz’s home state town hall

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Newsweek   

Eichenwald: Kellyanne Conway Throws Gutter Ball, Massacres Facts

By Kurt Eichenwald   February 2, 2017

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Jimmy Carter brings massive solar array to his hometown

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

Michael d’Estries     February 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time

Legal Scholars: Why Congress Should Impeach Donald Trump

James C. Nelson, John Bonifaz  February 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, he swore to uphold the Constitution.

 

The National Memo

Why Deutsche Bank Remains Trump’s Biggest Conflict Of Interest

Jesse Eisinger   February 10, 2017

 

Reprinted from Pro Publica.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A Patomak spokeswoman declined to comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Huffington Post  THE BLOG

The Dakota Access Pipeline Doesn’t Make Economic Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published at Dollars & Sense

 

Donald Trump’s universe of alternative facts

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

February 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad news is ‘fake news’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The media conspiracy

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

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

Trump claims media won’t cover terror attacks.

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

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

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

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

A false narrative

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

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

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

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

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

Undermining opponents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.

 

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

Oil Change International

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By Andy Rowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Do:

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

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.