Coal Jobs Aren’t Coming Back, No Matter What the Trump Administration Says

Newsweek Politics

Coal Jobs Aren’t Coming Back, No Matter What the Trump Administration Says

Alexander Nazaryan,   Newsweek   June 6, 2017

They did it for Pittsburgh. As he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement last week, President Donald Trump made clear that the interests of the American worker were even more important than the inexorable destruction of the planet.

In the days that followed, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, known for his close relationship with the energy sector during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general, made several press appearances in which he made an astonishing claim, one that seemed to bolster Trump’s argument of putting jobs ahead of the environment: “Since the fourth quarter of last year until most recently, we’ve added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs.”

He repeated the claim as he made his circuit of Sunday political talk shows.

This is an incredible number. It would be even more incredible if it were true. Alas, it is not. As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler points out, during Trump’s short and turbulent time in the Oval Office, only about 1,000 coal jobs have been added nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So where does 50,000 come from? In subsequent press appearance on Sunday, Pruitt referred to coal and mining jobs, seemingly recognizing that he’d grossly inflated the number of coal jobs gained, yet badly wanting the original number to stick with the public as one of the administration’s beloved “alternative facts.”

In fact, as Kessler and others have noted, 50,000 is also both an inflation and misrepresentation. That number has to do with jobs gained in a sector identified by the BLS as “support activities for mining,” of which there have been about 30,000 added since Trump took office. Nor can those gains be attributed to Trump’s striking down of Obama-era environmental regulations. Rather, it’s a simple swing of the market, as Kessler explains: “The plunge in oil prices that started in 2014 wiped out nearly 200,000 jobs in the oil and gas support sector by October, but a recent stabilization in oil prices has helped bring some of those jobs back. It has little to do with administration policy—and nothing to do with coal mining.”

It is Republican mantra that environmental regulations are a “job killer” and that American industry is being hampered by Prius-driving liberals who wouldn’t know a coal mine from an iron smelter. Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have long made the argument, even as major corporations like General Electric go increasingly green, in recognition of the high costs of climate change.

That coal is a dying industry is not a liberal wish but confirmable fact. For one, solar and wind power are now cheaper than fossil fuels. That’s one of several reasons that a report by the federal Department of Energy last year found that coal production had dropped precipitously in recent years, to levels not seen since 1981.

At the same time, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the disastrous ramifications of global warming. A survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change conducted last month found that 69 percent of registered voters polled nationwide wanted the United States to stay in the Paris agreement.

But now we’re out, and the Trump administration is having a difficult time of making the case for why that was necessary. In large part, it has relied on the Pittsburgh-not-Paris politics of resentment mastered by chief White House strategist and ultra-nationalist Steve Bannon.

Pruitt’s defense of those policies, though, continues to go poorly. On Tuesday, the EPA chief appeared on Morning Joe, smirking away as he explained that “when you make decisions on environmental decisions internationally that we put America’s interests first.”

An irritated Joe Scarborough had none of it, pressing Pruitt: “Mr. Pruitt, it’s a simple question. Have you ever talked to the president about whether he believes climate change is real?”

Instead of answering the question, Pruitt fell back on his talking points.

Or at least tried to.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Scarborough interrupted, growing visibly annoyed. “I got to stop. I want to stop it. This interview has to stop in its tracks until I just get a yes/no answer from you on whether you think it’s important that Americans find out whether their president believes that climate change is a conspiracy theory based out of China.”

Pruitt eventually conceded that Trump does understand that the climate is changing.

Trump is finding it easier to tear down old policies than to build his own

The Washington Post Politics

Trump is finding it easier to tear down old policies than to build his own

By Jenna Johnson, Juliet Eilperin and Ed O’Keefe    June 4, 2017

Builder-turned-president Donald Trump has in many ways made good on his promise to be a political wrecking ball.

Last week, he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord. He has worked to roll back dozens of health, environment, labor and financial rules put in place by former president Barack Obama, and he scrapped a far-reaching trade deal with Asia as one of his first acts in office.

But he and his fellow Republicans have made little progress in building an affirmative agenda of their own, a dynamic that will be on display when Congress returns this week with few major policies ready to advance.

Voters are still waiting for progress on the $1 trillion package of infrastructure projects Trump promised, the wall along the Southern border he insisted could be quickly constructed and the massive tax cuts he touted during the campaign. Even debate over health-care reform is largely focused on eliminating key parts of the Affordable Care Act and allowing states to craft policies in their place.

After being the “party of no” during the Obama years, Republicans are trying to figure out what they want to achieve in this unexpected Trump era — beyond just rolling back what Obama did.

“We are in an ugly era of people who do not understand what the legislative branch is even for,” said Andy Karsner, who served as assistant secretary of energy for efficiency and renewable energy in the George W. Bush administration and is now based in California, working with entrepreneurs as managing partner of the Emerson Collective.

The Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress, Karsner said, “have no skill set, they have no craftsmanship. They have no connection to the time when people passed legislation.”

Trump’s aides fervently push back at the idea that the president is not already in building mode. Marc Short, Trump’s director of legislative affairs, rattled off a list of things the president has built so far: A better job environment with fewer regulations, relationships with fellow foreign leaders and U.S. lawmakers, a budget and a plan for overhauling health care, along with nominating Neil M. Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration plans to roll out a number of infrastructure projects this week and tackle tax reform this fall, along with getting started on building a border wall, he said.

“The American people elected him president, in part, to undo much of the damage that President Obama did to our economy,” Short said.

But even some Republicans have raised questions about what the party now stands for, as opposed to what it is against.

Asked during a recent interview for a Politico podcast what the Republican Party stands for now, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responded: “I don’t know.”

Sasse said that both parties are “intellectually exhausted” and too focused on winning the next election, prompting them to get caught up in day-to-day fights instead of looking to the future. Later, Sasse was asked to give one word to describe the Republican Party, and he said: “Question mark.”

Short said the Republican Party stands for keeping the country secure and freeing businesses so the economy can boom and taxpayers can keep more of their money. He added that the president has been slowed by congressional Democrats who dragged their feet in approving Cabinet nominees and continue to obstruct Trump’s agenda.

Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the appearance that Trump and Republicans are only focused on reversing Obama-era executive actions stems from the fact that “there’s a lot to do there.”

“The one thing that I think is underappreciated is the extent to which the entire Obama agenda in the last term was executed through executive order. Much of what President Trump was elected to do was roll that back,” Holmes said. “To the extent that a lot of this is focused on that, that’s the way you handle it. Most administrations, there are legacies left by signature legislative accomplishments — and [Obama] had health care and Dodd-Frank, but he basically spent six and a half years doing nothing from a legislative perspective.”

Holmes, like many other Republicans, stressed that it’s early in Trump’s term, and he was encouraged to see the president focus on American taxpayers and improving the economy in announcing his decision to leave the Paris climate agreement on Thursday. That sort of focus will help rally support for tax reform, he said.

“I would be concerned if the trajectory didn’t improve. In the next couple of months, you don’t need signature accomplishments, but you need progress towards it,” Holmes said. “I think tax reform is critically important for this administration — critically important. They’ve got to get it right.”

For many Democrats, all they see in Trump and his fellow Republicans is a bulldozer. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that the past six months have shown that “the hard right, which has enveloped the Trump administration, is seasoned at being negative but can’t do anything positive.”

Republicans have used the Congressional Review Act to nullify 14 rules enacted by the Obama administration. Before this year, it had only been used successfully once in 20 years. If Trump and Republicans had not reversed these rules, then companies applying for federal contracts would have had to disclose their labor violations; coal mines would have had to reduce the amount of debris dumped into streams; telecommunications companies would have had to take “reasonable measures” to protect their customers’ personal information; individuals receiving Social Security payments for disabling mental illnesses would have been added to a list of those not allowed to buy guns; states would have been limited in the drug-testing they could perform on those receiving unemployment insurance benefits; certain hunting practices would not have been allowed on national wildlife refuges in Alaska; and states could have set up retirement savings plans for those who don’t have the option at work.

Short said the fact that Trump was able to use the Congressional Review Act more than a dozen times when it had only been used once before is “a pretty significant accomplishment” and one that he says will benefit the economy by billions of dollars each year.

“We look at that as one of the biggest accomplishments,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) recently touted this rollback of Obama-era regulations while visiting a nuclear power plant in Tonopah, Ariz., bragging that Republicans were able to “reach back into the old administration and pull some of the regulations and start fresh.”

Within agencies, the Trump administration has also worked to scrap regulations that it says hindered businesses.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, the administration has revoked several Obama-era policies aimed at reducing pollution and confronting climate change. Trump has signed an executive order to open up oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has signed a secretarial order to revisit drilling plans in two reserves in Alaska.

Trump has directed the Labor Department to reverse Obama-era rules imposing restrictions on major banks and investment advisers, and the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also rolled back multiple regulations aimed at fostering worker protections. These include the delay of a rule requiring employers report worker injury and illness records electronically so they can be posted online, and the cancellation of a directive allowing a union official to accompany an OSHA inspector as an employee representative into a nonunion shop.

Multiple agencies have jettisoned or played down policies aimed at fostering LGBT rights. The Department of Housing and Urban Development revoked guidance for a rule requiring that transgender people stay at the sex-segregated shelter of their choice, while the Department of Health and Human Services has removed questions about sexual orientation from two of the surveys it conducts. The Justice and Education departments, moreover, withdrew guidance issued last year that instructed school districts to provide transgender students with access to facilities that accord with their chosen gender identity.

And while Republicans continue to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration has begun to unwind aspects of the legislation through executive action, including no longer enforcing a fine for those who do not have health insurance, broadening exemptions for the contraception mandate and encouraging states to file waivers with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Trump has also proposed significant budget cuts, including reducing the State Department budget by 33 percent, the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, the departments of Agriculture and Labor by 21 percent each, the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent, the Commerce Department by 16 percent and the Education Department by 14 percent.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that career employees at the EPA and departments of Labor and State have told him that Trump’s “destroy not build” approach is causing harm that could last for decades.

“They see their life’s work crumbling, because they see a president taking a sledgehammer to really complex aspects of policy,” he said. “They realize there’s pros and cons and conflicting interests, and they’ve tried to reach compromises that he just impulsively destroys because it was a good campaign slogan.”

Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Donald Trump’s Biggest GOP Critics Are Very, Very, Very Sad


Donald Trump’s Biggest GOP Critics Are Very, Very, Very Sad

Eliot Nelson,  HuffPost    June 4, 2017

Whither the Never Trumper?

It’s been a difficult few months for the small but outspoken group of prominent Republican consultants, operatives and media figures who opposed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Since Trump’s inauguration, these party renegades have had to come to terms with the political ascension of a man hellbent on sabotaging a party and an agenda they’ve worked decades to promote.

Put simply: The Never Trumpers have been better. If you’re envisioning a bunch of people in business attire swaddling themselves in bed all day, you wouldn’t be far off.

“I’m emotionally unwell,” quipped Jeb Bush’s former communications director, Tim Miller, “but I’m doing my best.”

“I guess there’ve been some points that haven’t been as brutal as others,” said Meghan Milloy, a co-director of Republicans for Hillary. “It kind of fluctuates day to day based on the news cycle.”

A lot of people and things aren’t faring well during the Trump presidency ― immigrants, women, Muslims, refugees, the LGBTQ community, European Union officials, workers, people with pre-existing conditions, Syrian civilians, arctic ice sheets, Sean Spicer, diplomatic protocol officers, endangered species, journalists and Seth Rich’s family, to name a few. In such an environment, one isn’t inclined to feel much sympathy for a group of GOPers estranged from their party establishment. Far worse fates can befall a person than not landing a West Wing office or being unable to nab GlaxoSmithKline as a lobbying client because that person isn’t tight with Jared Kushner.

But let’s spare a moment for the Never Trump Republican, if only because it’s a significant development when so many of the biggest detractors in the ruling party are disillusioned and in disagreement over whether there is anything to be done about their predicament.

The Never Trumpers interviewed for this piece were uniformly appalled by the fire hose-like stream of White House scandals inundating the news. But they’re more despairing over the president’s abandonment of key conservative principles, along with a sense that he has blown the opportunity to advance the principles he does support.

“It’s frustrating for me as a conservative,” said former Ted Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler. “We were told if we won the House and got our speaker in there that all of these wonderful things would happen and that wasn’t true.”

Those “wonderful things” include efforts to overhaul the tax code, repeal Obamacare and gut Wall Street regulations ― ambitions that the Trump administration’s myriad organizational shortcomings and the investigations into Russian connections have largely sidelined.

As if Trump’s own goals weren’t agonizing enough, Never Trumpers fret over the president’s ongoing rhetoric targeting longheld conservative principles. Rick Wilson, a veteran GOP consultant and pundit, took particular umbrage with the president’s proposed budget.

“You can’t pretend that proposing a giant, budget-busting, fantasy math budget like they proposed is fiscal conservatism,” Wilson said, adding that he wasn’t surprised that the president abandoned “most [fiscal] conservative principles and engaged in a narcissistic daily temper tantrum.”

“We’ve got a president who’s telling companies what they can and can’t do, where they can and can’t move, where their workers can and can’t go. [Conservatives] complain about the size of government all the time. To administer Trumpism, you’re going to have to wildly expand the role of government in the private sector,” he said.

The president’s embrace of Russia and confrontational attitude toward NATO hasn’t exactly earned himself plaudits from this crowd, either.

“In foreign policy, he’s moving in exactly the opposite direction as Ronald Reagan did,” said Liz Mair, a Republican communications consultant who has previously worked with would-be Republican presidential candidates Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry.

Things could’ve been different, of course. Many of these Never Trumpers were once well-positioned for White House jobs, having worked for lawmakers who went on to run in 2016, or taking part in 2016 Republican primary campaigns directly. That a bunch of people they see as utterly incompetent are now occupying these dream gigs only compounds the hurt.

“The problem with this team on all levels is they haven’t done the work of putting out a communications plan to inform the country of what it is they’re trying to do,” said Tyler. “They don’t have plan. It’s just a continuous campaign.”

“I can’t imagine if I were somebody who was supposed to be working on something important like policy or presenting the president’s image,” echoed Mair. “Working in communications, a lot of complaints I hear are, ‘Oh my God, their communications operations!’ and I’m like, ‘What the fuck did you people expect?’”
Working in communications, a lot of complaints I hear are, ‘Oh my God, their communications operations!’ and I’m like, ‘What the fuck did you people expect?’ Liz Mair, Republican communications consultant

Some members of the Never Trump movement are trying to combat the trends that led to this despair. After the November election, Meghan Milloy and her Republicans for Hillary co-founder Jennifer Pierotti Lim rechristened the organization Republican Women for Progress. The group, according to its co-founders, seeks to restore the socially progressive, economically conservative brand of Republican once personified by Nelson Rockefeller by recruiting, training and promoting female Republican candidates.

“One big problem is that there aren’t many women in leadership,” said Milloy, “and I think that’s due in large part to the fact that the GOP doesn’t have the support organizations and actions in place like EMILY’s List that specifically cater to women.”

Pierotti Lim said female lawmakers in Congress have proven more willing to “chart their own course” and not walk in lockstep with the president, citing Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), among others. Republican Women for Progress aims to cultivate that approach.

“I think a few Republican women have been able to walk the line of not being 100 percent supportive of the Trump administration,” Pierotti Lim said.

But Milloy and Pierotti Lim’s relative optimism is in short supply. Few Never Trumpers believe there is much hope for a near-term correction of the political and demographic trends that contributed to Trump’s rapid takeover of the GOP.

“From an ideological standpoint, the center of gravity is moving toward the populist right,” said Miller. “I don’t see us swinging back.”

A number of Never Trumpers told HuffPost that Trump’s election prompted a sobering realization: that the largely academic brand of conservatism they support ― actively small-government and interventionist ― doesn’t sync with the beliefs and outlooks of many Republican voters.

“American conservatism has become anti-liberalism,” said veteran conservative commentator Charlie Sykes. “It is united by hating the media and hating the left ― as opposed to supporting small government.”

White House officials dismissed the criticism as textbook wound-licking from people whose side lost.

“The President is holding his promises to the American people by growing the economy, creating jobs, protecting our boarders [sic] and ensuring that every American is safe and prospering,” a White House spokesman said in a curiously spelled statement provided to HuffPost.

Republican officials in Congress also expressed frustration with the criticism, citing a need to deal with the inescapable reality of Trump’s presidency and his support among an overwhelming majority of Republicans.

“We certainly appreciate their advice on Twitter,” quipped one senior GOP aide.
It’s suicidal, it’s self-destructive, it’s a time bomb waiting to go off that will ruin their careers and political legacies Rick Wilson, GOP consultant and pundit

Never Trumpers aren’t unsympathetic to the political bind in which Trump has placed his congressional colleagues.

“I think they’re in a tough spot,” said Miller, who cited polling showing Republican support for the president in the high 80s. “The base of the Republican Party and the people that these Congress folk respond to ― the small-dollar donors, the people who knock on doors, the people who are engaged in the political process ― they overwhelmingly want them to support Trump and his agenda.”

However many more Never Trumpers were exasperated by the relative absence of elected Republicans standing up to Trump.

“I have maintained my entire political career that the Republican Party is one of the most gutless collections of individuals on the planet,” said Mair. “They are some of the most spineless individuals on the planet.”

Others warned that the party will suffer political consequences for inaction.

“I remain absolutely convinced that [Trump] remains unfit for office, but that does not mean that I think anyone will take steps to do anything,” said Sykes, adding that anyone who assumes otherwise “fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the current Republican Party.”

“This is a party that rolled over and nominated Donald Trump despite all their doubts,” he continued. “With every passing day it becomes the defining characteristic of this party that they won’t stand up to Donald Trump and that many of them on a daily basis find ways to pretzel themselves into rationalizing his conduct.”

Rick Wilson was no less blunt in his assessment.

“It’s suicidal, it’s self-destructive, it’s a time bomb waiting to go off that will ruin their careers and political legacies,” he predicted. “Every one of them who comes out and talks about how they’re small-budget conservatives and want to balance budgets should be struck by lighting.”

But, hey, it’s not all bad ― or at least as bad as they thought. Most praised a number of Trump’s Cabinet picks, in particular Secretary of Defense James Mattis and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“There are a few areas where he’s proving to be not 100 percent horrible,” said Mair. “Everybody’s got to find some bright spots in their day.”

Wilson was more Zen about the situation.

“When you expect the worst,” he said, “you get precisely what you expected.”

Michael Bloomberg, U.S. mayors vow to meet Paris targets even without Trump

CBS News

Michael Bloomberg, U.S. mayors vow to meet Paris targets even without Trump

By Katiana Krawchenko, CBS News     June 2, 2017

Leading members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced Friday they are unified in their bipartisan opposition to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and affirmed their commitment to meet environmental goals despite the president’s decision, while across the Atlantic, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a similar vow.

“We don’t need Washington to tell us,” the Republican mayor of Burnsville, Minn., Elizabeth Kautz said. “We’re going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

The non-partisan organization is made up of all 1,408 mayors of American cities with populations greater than 30,000.  Speaking on behalf of his counterparts, Jon Mitchell, a Democrat from New Bedford, Mass., argued while it’s hard to quantify the exact level of carbon emissions that cities have achieved, he believes what is clear is that initiatives have long been underway in cities across the country. He listed LED lighting, proliferation of solar technology, and the promotion of bike share programs as examples of how cities across the nation are doing their part to help.

“Virtually every city in America is doing these things,” Mitchell said. “And to the extent that any of these initiatives are cost prohibitive, most of the states have incentive programs in place to fill the market gaps. So, regardless of what the president says, these things are not going to slow down. The commitment is there and the rationale is compelling.”

That’s precisely the attitude Bloomberg took in building his own coalition of local officials, businesses and other groups to help reach climate benchmarks. After meeting in Paris Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Bloomberg announced his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, will help coordinate a U.S. effort called “America’s Pledge” and will submit a societal NDC – nationally determined contribution – in lieu of a government one.

He’s pledged to provide the $15 million that he says the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat will lose from President Trump’s withdrawal from the pact.

“Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitment, and Americans are not going to let Washington stand in the way of fulfilling it,” he said. “That’s the message mayors, governors, and business leaders all across the U.S. have been sending.”

It remains unclear how Bloomberg’s newly formed group and the U.S. Conference of Mayors will work together, if at all.

The White House appeared to encourage cooperation among state and local entities Friday afternoon, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer said they have the right to govern as they please.

“If a mayor or a governor wants to enact a policy…they’re accountable to their own voters and that’s what they should do. We believe in states’ rights and so, if a locality, municipality or a state wants to enact a policy that their voters, or their citizens believe in, then that’s what they should do.”

“Let me tell you that the mayors won’t quit, because for us – we live close to our people and we care about the environment,” Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. “We care about energy efficiency and we want to make sure that people know that mayors won’t quit.”

Bloomberg said he has asked Macron and Hidalgo to convey to other national leaders that the United States, “through strong action by local leaders, businesses, and investors, remains committed to fulfilling the Paris Agreement” and that the United Nations has been receptive to his proposal.

Paris Exit Was ‘Victory Paid and Carried Out’ by Republican Party for the Koch Brothers


Paris Exit Was ‘Victory Paid and Carried Out’ by Republican Party for the Koch Brothers

Lorraine Chow   June 2, 2017

The 22 Republican senators who sent a letter to President Donald Trump last week urging the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement received more than $10 million dollars in campaign funds from fossil fuel interests.

The two-page letter was signed by a number of Republican heavyweights from coal/gas/oil-rich states, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Ted Cruz of Texas.

The Guardian calculated that the 22 senators received a total of $10,694,284 from oil, gas and coal money in just five years. (See the breakdown below.)

However, that sum does not even come close to the amount of undisclosed funds coming from the deep pockets of Charles and David Koch’s coal, oil and gas conglomerate, Koch Industries, and other outside groups.

As the Guardian explains:

“Visible donations to Republicans from those industries exceeded donations to Democrats in the 2016 election cycle by a ratio of 15-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that does not include so-called dark money passed from oil interests such as Koch industries to general slush funds to re-elect Republicans such as the Senate leadership fund.

“At least $90m in untraceable money has been funneled to Republican candidates from oil, gas and coal interests in the past three election cycles, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.”

Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, shared recently his views on Trump’s climate walkout.

In an interview with Bloomberg Surveillance, Sachs referenced the senators’ letter and specifically cast blame on the billionaire oil barons for pulling the strings of Republican party leaders such as McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who both supported exiting the Paris accord.

“This is the victory paid and carried out for 20 years by two people, David and Charles Koch,” Sachs said. “They have bought and purchased the top of the Republican party. Trump is a tool in this.”

Notably, most of the Republican signatories of the letter do not support the belief that human activity contributes to climate change.

During an appearance on MSNBC, Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts explained why he thinks his Republican colleagues do not believe in the science of climate change.

“This Conservative party in the United States is funded by the Koch brothers [and] it’s funded by the coal industry,” Markey said. “[They] insist that Scott Pruitt—the Attorney General of Oklahoma that actually sued the EPA 19 times on clean air, clean water, soot, mercury issues—becomes the head of the EPA in our country.”

The 22 Republican signatories’ funding from Big Oil, Gas and Coal in the past three election cycles (2012, 2014 and 2016):

James Inhofe, Oklahoma

Oil & gas: $465,950 + Coal: $63,600 = $529,550

John Barrasso, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $458,466 + Coal: $127,356 = $585,822

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $1,180,384 + Coal: $361,700 = $1,542,084

John Cornyn, Texas

Oil & gas: $1,101,456 + Coal: $33,050 = $1,134,506

Roy Blunt, Missouri

Oil & gas: $353,864 + Coal: $96,000 = $449,864

Roger Wicker, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $198,816 + Coal: $25,376 = $224,192

Michael Enzi, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $211,083 + Coal: $63,300 = $274,383

Mike Crapo, Idaho

Oil & gas: $110,250 + Coal: $26,756 = $137,006

Jim Risch, Idaho

Oil & gas: $123,850 + Coal: $25,680 = $149,530

Thad Cochran, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $276,905 + Coal: $15,000 = $291,905

Mike Rounds, South Dakota

Oil & gas: $201,900 + Coal: none = $201,900

Rand Paul, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $170,215 + Coal: $82,571 = $252,786

John Boozman, Arkansas

Oil & gas: $147,930 + Coal: $2,000 = $149,930

Richard Shelby, Alabama

Oil & gas: $60,150 + $2,500 = $62,650

Luther Strange, Alabama (Appointed in 2017, running in 2017 special election)

Total: NA

Orrin Hatch, Utah

Oil & gas: $446,250 + Coal: $25,000 = $471,250

Mike Lee, Utah

Oil & gas: $231,520 + Coal: $21,895 = $253,415

Ted Cruz, Texas

Oil & gas: $2,465,910 + Coal: $103,900 = $2,569,810

David Perdue, Georgia

Oil & gas: $184,250 + Coal: $0 = $184,250

Thom Tillis, North Carolina

Oil & gas: $263,400 + Coal: $0 = $263,400

Tim Scott, South Carolina

Oil & gas: $490,076 + Coal: $58,200 = $548,276

Pat Roberts, Kansas

Oil & gas: $388,950 + Coal: $28,825 = $417,775

Are You Proud to Be an American Today?


Are You Proud to Be an American Today?

The Rose Garden’s dumbest moment on record.

Charles P. Pierce   Jun 1, 2017

It used to be the young bucks and their T-bones, or the welfare queen with her Cadillac, who were leeching off good, hard-working Real Americans. It turns out Ronald Reagan was modest. On Thursday, in a speech that was such a towering pile of complete horseshit that it may well reach the moon, President* Donald Trump told the country that the rest of the world is now the craftiest welfare queen of them all.

I didn’t think he could top his ghastly American Carnage inaugural address for sheer fact-free and paranoiac mendacity, but he managed to do it on Thursday. By announcing that the United States was withdrawing from the groundbreaking Paris Accords regarding the world climate crisis, the president* wallowed in rank, xenophobic victimhood while basking in the scattered applause of the otherwise unemployable yahoos whose self-respect is sufficiently low that they still work for him. Any doubt that Steve Bannon is running this White House now, either personally or through his finger-puppet, obvious anagram Reince Priebus, now has evaporated. The transformation of the American government into a Breitbart comments thread is complete.

It was appalling. It was condescending. It was awful content delivered by a dolt who wouldn’t know the Paris Accords from a baguette without the shoddy talking points that someone put in front of him. For example, he read off a fanciful list of “consequences” for adhering to the Paris Accords down through the next decades. Afterwards, Ali Velshi, a welcome addition to the MSNBC cast of regulars, pointed out that the president* was reading from a debunked report that presumed in its analysis that the U.S. would fulfill every one of its agreed-upon conditions while no other participating country would fulfill any of theirs. This is not surprising. The president* would have read a commercial for hair-replacement if someone had put it in front of him.

The least objectionable element of the speech was its utter internal incoherence.

The United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian economic and financial burden the agreement imposes on our country.

Paris was a non-binding and ineffective agreement, but it was “draconian” nonetheless. The economy is booming under his leadership, but the Paris Accord was destroying it at the same time. This was a speech written by a fool, to be delivered by a fool, with the presumption that a great percentage of its target audience is made up of fools.

But the really noxious stuff was the attempt at transforming a worldwide agreement to combat an existential threat to life on this planet into what he stupidly called a scheme to redistribute our wealth to China, as if we’re all not going to be buying our solar panels from China for the next 50 years because of this cluck. The really noxious stuff was all that simpering about how the rest of the world is playing us for suckers and laughing at us, as though the rest of the world doesn’t think we’ve lost our mind as a nation simply by electing a vulgar talking yam. The really noxious stuff was all his crocodile tears about the Forgotten People, as though a lot of them are not suffering through drought, or losing their houses to floods and to landslides, about which he and his people care nothing at all.

The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement. They went wild. They were so happy, for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. A cynic would say that the obvious reasons were for economic competitiveness and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is that we continue to suffer from this self-inflicted economic wound.

You see what’s happening. It’s pretty obvious to those who want to keep an open mind. At what point does American get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us at a country? We want fair treatment for our citizens, and fair treatment for our taxpayers and we don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more.

It was a speech written by an angry child, to be delivered by an angry child, with the assumption that its targeted audience was made up of angry children, too. And it was of a piece with that lunatic Wall Street Journal op-ed from Tuesday in which H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn pretty much decided that international diplomacy is nothing more than a larger-than-usual barrel of cannibalistic crabs.

Not content to have lined the United States up with the anti-science side of the most pressing global issue of our time, he brought up Scott Pruitt, the head vandal at EPA, after the speech, so that Pruitt could say great things about him, and actually talk about freeing the government from “special interests” without his tongue turning to sand. (Pruitt, you may recall, is the guy who, while Oklahoma’s attorney general, literally passed an oil company letter along to the EPA by signing his name to it. He also doesn’t believe that human activity causes the climate crisis.) The idea that these people put together a party in the Rose Garden to celebrate the withdrawal of American leadership in the world leads me to believe that they’d host a barbecue to celebrate a public execution.

None of that matters. While the president was speaking, as it happens, a huge chunk of Antarctica was preparing to break off. Meanwhile, Wednesday was the first day of hurricane season, and this president*, who cares so much about the duties of his office and the people of this great land, still hasn’t bothered to appoint a FEMA director yet. The nonsense he spewed on Thursday doesn’t matter, either, even if it continues to gull the suckers out in the sticks. The oceans are not listening to him.

Let’s understand why Illinois has the highest property taxes


Let’s understand why Illinois has the highest property taxes

Phil Kadner, Columnists       June 1, 2017 

Chris Kennedy, a Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois, ripped this state’s property tax system as “corrupt” and “extortion,” joining a chorus that now includes just about every politician in Illinois.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected, in part, because he denounced this state’s property taxes as the highest in the nation.

Rauner has called for a property tax freeze and Democrats in the state Senate voted to do just that in the most recent session of the state Legislature, although the two-year cap they wanted wasn’t sufficient to gain Republican backing.

None of this posturing is new. Governors and state legislators have been screaming about high property taxes in this state for 30 years, and except for Dawn Clark Netsch, who ran for governor back in 1994, few have been willing to point out the real problem.

Property taxes are high because the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional mandate to fund public education.

This mandate was once considered so important that Article X of the Illinois Constitution is devoted to it. Netsch understood its importance because she was a member of the 1970 Constitutional Convention that wrote it.

“A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities,” the Article states.

“The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law.

“The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

That’s a clear language. The goal is to educate every child in this state to their fullest potential and it is the state’s primary responsibility to fund that system of education.

Yet of all the money actually spent on public education in Illinois, this state contributes only 26 percent. Since state lawmakers have deliberately failed to adequately fund education, as directed by the Constitution, property taxpayers must pick up 67 percent of the cost.

At one point, under Gov. Jim Thompson, the state paid about 40 percent of the tab, but that was a long time ago.

Due to that reliance on property taxes, this state has the largest spending gap between poor and wealthy school districts in the nation.

Because property taxes are high, people who own homes and businesses in this state are pretty angry. Many of them don’t understand why property taxes have increased so much or how their property tax bills are calculated.

In the meantime, governors and state legislators continue to use property taxes as a campaign gimmick, while actually forcing them to skyrocket.

Democrats in the state Legislature pushed through a long-sought and needed school funding formula reform this spring, but failed to address the real issue: The lack of money for education.

The school funding mess in Illinois is a result of bi-partisan mendacity, which is another way of saying elected officials lie whenever they talk about education funding.

While they talk about freezing property taxes, they say nothing about adequately funding the state’s public schools. Relying on property taxes to finance education means the poorest communities in Illinois have less money to spend on their schools and suffer under the highest property tax rates.

It’s a system rigged to benefit wealthy homeowners and wealthy communities, while punishing the working class and small businessman. And it allows elected leaders to escape their constitutional obligation while spending your tax money on other things.

People whine that Illinois has no budget, but this state has shirked its responsibility for decades and few cared because only disadvantaged children suffered. The property tax system is corrupt.


Green energy has a bright future — even without Trump

Yahoo Finance

Green energy has a bright future — even without Trump

Rick Newman June 2, 2017

President Donald Trump is trying to revive the coal industry and extend the lifespan of the oil business. But renewables like solar and wind power are still likely to thrive.

By withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord, Trump has made the United States the only advanced economy that lacks a commitment to curb carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. But many energy analysts think coal is doomed anyway, because businesses and governments are shifting rapidly toward cleaner-burning fuels that are coming down in price. Oil has a longer shelf life, due to its use as a transportation fuel, but will still most likely decline as alternatives like battery-powered electric vehicles become cheaper and more efficient.

While most of the press attention focuses on energy policies formed in Washington and other capitals, an arguably more important shift has been going on among investors who think renewable energy sources—especially solar and wind—are now viable investments likely to pay respectable returns.

“The consensus among asset managers is that prices are coming down and this is a technology play,” says Matthew Weatherley-White, managing director of investing firm the Caprock Group. “There’s a lot of smart money here.”

That distinction as a technology play is important, especially with regard to solar. That means cost is likely to decline indefinitely as usage increases, the same pattern consumers have gotten used to from microprocessors that get smaller, faster and better, even as the price drops. The famed “Moore’s Law”—the doubling of processing power roughly every 18 months—doesn’t necessarily apply to energy technology, but the general principle does. As the technology catches on, scale ratchets up, prices come down and capability improves.

Battery technology, which is essential for electric vehicles, is also improving, though perhaps at a slower pace than solar panels. Wind power follows a different paradigm, with larger blades being more efficient, but also more expensive. Yet all of these technologies have scaling advantages over commodities such as oil and coal, which by definition become more scarce, and more expensive, as consumption reduces supply. Fracking has changed the equation for oil, to some extent, because it has increased supply. But there’s still a cost to pulling it out of the ground.

The development of renewable energy has been subsidized by governments in the United States and other countries, and even by state and local policies, such as tax credits for electric vehicles and access to high-occupancy lanes for anybody with a car that meets stringent emission standards. And there are two important tax breaks Congress passed in 2015 that Trump doesn’t seem so bothered by—one for solar, and one for wind and other renewables. Before 2015, Congress had traditionally extended those incentives for just one year at a time, leaving investors unsure of their long-term benefit. But the 2015 law put them in place for 5 years, giving investors a stronger incentive to bet on renewables.

“The big spook was that Trump would rescind those credits,” says Weatherley-White. “But he hasn’t even talked about that.”

Government subsidies have undoubtedly helped establish a market for renewables, but costs have now dropped enough that in some instances they’re competitive with the cost of coal or natural gas. And if cost isn’t a factor, government officials and business leaders are much more keen to invest in energy facilities likely to pollute less, since that aligns with public opinion and provides better options if the need to curb emissions grows more acute in the future.

Trump loves to stick up for coal miners, even though solar workers in the United States now outnumber them by more than 2-to-1. In fact, there are now slightly more Americans employed in renewable-energy jobs (about 750,000) than in coal and oil (about 675,000). Natural gas, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel viewed as a bridge between carbon and renewables, accounts for about 400,000 US jobs.

Since 2010, the number of solar-panel installations in the United States has surged by more than 1,600%, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. At the same time, the average cost of solar energy to consumers has fallen by more than 70%. Wind-power capacity in the United States has doubled since 2010, according to the American Wind Energy Association, with prices falling by nearly the same proportion as solar. Natural gas and coal prices have dropped during the same time frame, though not as dramatically.

By some measures, renewables are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels, a trend that should intensify as renewables become more popular. It’s difficult to directly compare the cost of different types of energy, since there can be big regional variations and costs pop up all along the supply chain, from drilling well to power plant to residential outlet. Solar panels are more effective in some climates than others, for instance, and fossil fuels are usually cheaper when they’re closer to where they’re burned. But the World Economic Forum said recently that most nations will reach “grid parity” within a few years, with renewables matching or undercutting fossil fuels on price. Since that is likely to happen with or without government help, Trump’s fondness for the fuels of the last century won’t hold back the fuels of the next.

Confidential tip line: 

Who really pays if Trump quits the Paris accord

Vox on CNBC Politics

Who really pays if Trump quits the Paris accord

Vox, Jim Tankersley  June 1, 2017 

No laid-off coal miners will get their jobs back if President Trump pulls the United States from the Paris accord on climate change. No extra oil rigs will sprout in the Gulf. There is no employment upside to an “America First” retreat from global leadership on one of the few issues that can accurately be described as a potentially existential threat to humankind.

There is only the profound immorality of abdication — of gleefully passing a mounting problem on to our children, and on to the poor.

Reports suggest Trump is set to fulfill a campaign promise and withdraw the US from the agreement, which aims to put the world on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that he will announce a decision soon; when he makes it, he will almost certainly cast the departure in terms of job growth, particularly for the coal industry.

There is no evidence, though, to suggest the Paris deal is holding back coal or any other industry in America today. Trump’s position amounts to nothing more than a dollop of false hope for downtrodden coal communities, in exchange for a ton of additional risk heaped on everyone, particularly the poorest people in the world.

As more carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, and global average temperatures continue to rise, the odds of calamitous future environmental outcomes increase. Swamped cities, scorched crops, pandemics — nothing you would wish upon your children, or anyone else’s

“It is a decision made for domestic political purposes that puts the livelihood and lives of millions of people in developing countries at risk,” says Trevor Houser, a former climate negotiator for President Barack Obama who is now a partner with the Rhodium Group. “This is a craven, symbolic political move without any direct benefits for the constituents he’s targeting.”

The Paris agreement is only a step toward the reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions that scientists roundly agree is necessary in order to reduce the most catastrophic risks of climate change. But it is a crucial step, won through years of diplomatic grunt work, including a sustained effort to rebuild American climate credibility that had been torched by the Bush administration.

“It’s morally reprehensible to walk away from climate action.  It’s an act everyone will recall as kids gasp for air during heat waves, as homes are wiped out by larger storms, as larger fires displace homes, and as droughts lead to crop failure.” -Keya Chatterjee, US Climate Action Network executive director

The agreement will persist even if Trump pulls America from it, as he is reportedly set to do. But the accord will be weakened, and, much more importantly, so will the fragile international coalition to fight what Jason Bordoff, a Columbia professor and former climate adviser to Obama, calls “one of the most global problems.”

Ideally, the current administration would be pushing partner countries to strengthen their commitments under the agreement; instead, it is giving them an excuse to slack off.

The decision will punish the poor

For the global poor, the reduced ambition could prove disastrous. The World Bank estimates climate effects could push 100 million people worldwide into poverty over the next 15 years. A recent report from the Climate Impact Lab projects that the most damaging effects of climate change will be concentrated in “hot, poor countries” in regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change is already associated with falling crop production due to record-setting drought.

“In our benchmark estimate,” the authors write, “average income in the poorest 40% of countries declines 75% by 2100 relative to a world without climate change.” Richer, cooler countries in Europe tend to fare better, but, notably, not the United States. It would suffer economically — and on the international stage.

“It’s morally reprehensible to walk away from climate action,” says Keya Chatterjee, the executive director of the US Climate Action Network. “It’s an act everyone will recall as kids gasp for air during heat waves, as homes are wiped out by larger storms, as larger fires displace homes, and as droughts lead to crop failure.”

It won’t create jobs

Trump has said the agreement gives “foreign bureaucrats” control of America’s energy reserves. (It doesn’t.) He’s cast it as a job killer. (It’s not.) Many US corporations support the agreement, including some large oil and gas companies, like Exxon Mobil. Clean energy advocates worry that stepping away from the deal would hamstring renewables here, which are growing so fast that there are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs in the US.

“It’s the equivalent of a president saying, ‘There’s no future for the US in medical research,'” says Josh Freed, the clean energy vice president at the centrist think tank Third Way. “The president is purposely giving up on an entire sector that could drive global economic growth.”

The most notable corporate support for exiting the deal comes from the coal industry, which is hoping against hope — and the economics of low-cost natural gas — that a complete abandonment of emissions-reduction efforts will lead to an industry renaissance. It’s a last gasp, and unlikely to work, as Houser and Bordoff wrote in a detailed recent analysis.

And it will hurt American leadership

Once Trump quits the deal, he will inflict lasting damage on American foreign policy efforts, well beyond collaboration on environmental issues.

The agreement is in many ways emblematic of how leaders in Washington — on both sides of the aisle — have long viewed America’s role in the world. It does not commit the US to a go-it-alone effort. To the contrary: It leverages promised US emissions cuts to win pledges from the world’s fastest-growing carbon polluters, China and India, as well as other Western and developing countries.

By exiting, Trump would forfeit that leverage. He would return the US to its days of being distrusted by the international community on the issue, and further the belief, particularly in Europe, that America is an unreliable partner.

A future administration could take steps to rejoin the agreement — or to reengage in global climate talks, if Trump walks away from them entirely. But the damage would linger. In Copenhagen in 2009, efforts to forge an international climate deal were hampered, in part, by the deep-rooted suspicion Obama’s team (including Houser) faced from European, Chinese, and other negotiators in the wake of the Bush administration’s foot-dragging on emissions reductions.

It took years, and a batch of controversial regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, to rebuild that credibility and pave the way for Paris. To now quit that agreement would, Houser says, “be the second time Lucy has pulled the football.” The world might not give us a chance for a third.

Commentary by Jim Tankersley, policy and politics editor at Vox.

Single-payer healthcare plan advances in California Senate — without a way to pay its $400-billion tab

Los Angeles Times Essential Politics

This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Ballot measures California Legislature. Reporting from Sacramento.

Single-payer healthcare plan advances in California Senate — without a way to pay its $400-billion tab

Patrick McGreevy June 1, 2017

A proposal to adopt a single-payer healthcare system for California took an initial step forward Thursday when the state Senate approved a bare-bones bill that lacks a method for paying the $400-billion cost of the plan.

The proposal was made by legislators led by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) at the same time President Trump and Republican members of Congress are working to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Despite the incredible progress California has made, millions still do not have access to health insurance and millions more cannot afford the high deductibles and co-pays, and they often forgo care,” Lara said during a floor debate on the bill.

The bill, which now goes to the state Assembly for consideration, will have to be further developed, Lara conceded, adding he hopes to reach a consensus on a way to pay for it.

Republican senators opposed the bill as a threat to the state’s finances.

“We don’t have the money to pay for it,” Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) said. “If we cut every single program and expense from the state budget and redirected that money to this bill, SB 562, we wouldn’t even cover half of the $400-billion price tag.”

Berryhill also said the private sector is better suited to provide healthcare.

“I absolutely don’t trust the government to run our health system,” he said. “What has the government ever done right?”

Lara’s bill would provide a Medicare-for-all-type system that he believed would guarantee health coverage for all Californians without the out-of-pocket costs. Under a single-payer plan, the government replaces private insurance companies, paying doctors and hospitals for healthcare.

The California Nurses Assn., which sponsored the bill, released a fiscal analysis this week that proposed raising the state sales and business receipts taxes by 2.3% to raise $106 billion of the annual cost, with the rest proposed to come from state and federal funding already going to Medicare and Medicaid services.

Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado Hills) called the plan “reckless” and said the taxes would hurt businesses and families while financially crippling the state government.

“It’s offensive to the people who have to pay for it,” he said.

Some Democrats felt the bill was rushed and undeveloped. Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) withheld his vote on the bill on grounds it does not provide enough detail of what a single-payer system would look like.

“This is the Senate kicking the can down the road to the Assembly and asking the Assembly to fill in all of the blanks,” Hueso said. “That’s not going to happen this year.”

Lara said action is required because of what is happening in Washington.

“With President Trump’s promise to abandon the Affordable Care Act as we know it — for one that leaves millions without access to care — California is once again tasked to lead,” he told his colleagues.

He said his father recently had heart bypass surgery but went through the emergency room for help after his insurance company initially turned him down.

Even if the bill is approved, it has to go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been skeptical, and then voters would have to exempt it from spending limits and budget formulas in the state Constitution. In addition, the state would have to get federal approval to repurpose existing funds for Medicare and Medicaid