The Fix Needs a Fix

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Chaos Reigns after Trump’s Backdown on the Separation of Immigrant Families

Media outlets across the political spectrum seemed to agree on only one point:  The Trump executive order stopping the separation of immigrant children from their arrested parents is proving to be immediately chaotic. No one seems to know exactly how this is supposed to work.

Again, a simple plea from this citizen: How about thinking things through before you pull the trigger on policy changes?

Here’s where things seemed to stand:

  • For the 2,300 children detained since May, it was not clear that they would be reunited with families any time soon. Then, the government said 500 had been reunited since May, which may not include the full 2,300 still detained, and that three were sent to parents from the facility that Melania Trump visited yesterday, triggering a side discussion about her jacket, reading “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?”
  • For 10,000 other children detained as minors who crossed the border illegally by themselves, the executive order is silent.
  • The federal government must go to court under a previous court order that sets a 20-day clock on the detainment of immigrant families with children. If their cases are not considered in that time period, the government must either free the family or, by consent, deport all of them — exactly the kind of change in the law that the president is seeking legislatively.
  • The Defense Department now is being tapped to provide family housing for families with children crossing the border, which may mean building containment buildings. The Pentagon said it had been told to prepare for at least 20,000 detainees.
  • The more severe of two congressional, Republican bills meant to solve immigration lost in a House vote, and the more “moderate” version was delayed. The importance is that even among Republicans, there is deep division, while Democrats are withholding support for either approach.
  • Other immigrant populations, like the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) were left totally adrift. Meanwhile, ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement police, raised a Midwest meat processing factory and arrested 146 as illegal immigrants without, of course, charging any manager or owner.
  • Gen. Jeff Sessions’ rulings that neither gang violence or domestic violence could be counted in claims of asylum requests continued to exasperate the futility of a lot of the claims for special treatment at the border. Indeed, a tiny percentage of asylum requests are being okayed.
  • Trump himself issued tweets and held a rally in which he downplayed his reversal of his own policy.

So, bottom line, though there was a lot of cheerleading on various sides, there was agreement only on the idea that things are confusing for all parties and the issues remain unresolved.

On Thursday, Trump suggested many asylum-seekers are essentially crisis actors who are coached to say “passwords” to enter the United States. “We shouldn’t be hiring judges by the thousands, as our ridiculous immigration laws demand, we should be changing our laws, building the Wall, hire Border Agents and Ice and not let people come into our country based on the legal phrase they are told to say as their password,” Trump tweeted.

The tweet followed days after a speech in which he alleged that asylum-seekers “have professional lawyers… and they tell these people exactly what to say. They say, ‘say the following’ — they write it down — ‘I am being harmed in my country, my country is extremely dangerous, I fear for my life’ — ‘say that, congratulations, you’ll never be removed,’” Trump said. “This is being given to them by lawyers that are waiting for them to come up… in a way, that’s cheating.”

Trump also continued to beat up on Democrats for not caving into Trump’s demands to build the Wall, reduce legal immigration as well, and to eliminate requirements to remain eligible for a positive ruling.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, someone is eligible for asylum if they meet the following criteria: Any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Nevertheless, from 2012 to 2017, the majority of asylum cases from Mexico, Haiti, El, Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — the top five nationalities who had asylum decisions during that time — were denied.

Mother Jones and other outlets have reported ports of entry don’t have enough resources to process all asylum claims, meaning families have to camp out for days on end just to have the opportunity to get their case heard. Many have been turned away.

It remains a mess.

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As Homeland Security Puts Children in Cages, Dogs Get Resort Treatment

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Sheepskin Bedding, Maid Service, Playtime

In light of the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is placing undocumented children in literal cages to sleep on mats under tin foil–colored space blankets, you might think its accommodations for dogs would be even worse.

But you’d be wrong.

Instead of space blankets, dogs in the custody of Customs and Border Protection, a division of DHS, will be treated to “plush double-sided sheepskin bedding” at the Peninsula Pet Resort in California, according to federal procurement records reviewed by TYT. The records identify the contract as a CBP purchase for “canine kenneling.” They do not indicate whether the contract is for dogs CBP owns or seizes.

The dogs will sleep indoors in the resort’s 177 separate doggie suites, which feature “frequent maid service and clean bedding every day,” as well as “raised kennel decking,” according to Peninsula Pet Resort’s website. The site also says, “MOST IMPORTANTLY—WE PROVIDE LOVING CARE!”

By contrast, CBP reportedly has made undocumented detainees sleep in “freezing cold” cells on concrete floors without mats. President Trump has referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals.”

Temperature is unlikely to be a problem for the dogs, as the resort includes heating in all indoor areas. They’re even in the process of installing air-conditioning.

Another advantage the dogs may have over detained children is outdoor playtime. Although detention centers reportedly permit children to play outside for two hours each day, Peninsula Pet Resort allows its guests up to four hours of outdoor playtime daily.

The contract, worth $67,324, is listed as lasting for 11 months, from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2019. Which is 12 months.

Ken Klippenstein is a freelance journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: kenneth.klippenstein@gmail.com. This article first appeared at TYT Investigates.

Featured image: Play area at Peninsula Pet Resort, San Carlos, Calif. (Twitter)

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Trumps Backs Out of the Mess He Made for Himself … Sort of

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

But How Will He Make Things Right for the Thousands of Children He Took Away?

It was as if the world was suddenly ringing with words you’d never expect to hear from Donald Trump: “I Was Wrong.”

OK, you never heard the words directly, but nothing says “wrong” like a complete backtracking on policy, despite whatever language fudge was dripping from the event.

Let’s just consider that we’ve been living a crisis about immigrant children being forcibly separated from their families that was created by President Trump’s administration, in what seemed to be a bald, attempted lever to get what he wanted from Congress, only to find that there is no consensus among Republicans alone about what to do about the immigration issues.

And while blaming all of this on Democrats and former presidents and sending his people out to deny that there even is a problem of putting immigrant children in cages, the president apparently decided to fix the problem he created—by an executive order that may well violate other federal court decisions.

In other words, so many people found so much morally corrupt about the president’s actions that he finally was forced to move to stop it. There is no other way to say it: The president backed down from his holier-than-thou, anti-immigration slogans, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen at a quiet White House ceremony.

Still, questions about exactly how Trump’s executive order will actually work already are launching a whole new round of cross-currents and dissatisfaction, starting with what is being done to match 2,300 existing separated child detainees (or 12,000 minor adults without parents) with their families. It has been an exhausting week of truth-seeking, public protest and bungled problem-solving on this problem alone.

Even in trying to get what he wants—$25 billion in one lump sum from Congress to pre-pay for construction of his vaunted border Wall plus reductions and changes in legal immigration—the president managed to confuse Republican congressional colleagues about which of two current bills he would back, or both, or neither, to say nothing of sitting down to talk with Democrats, who would have to contribute nine votes to a Senate majority vote for any law to pass.

From all accounts, a White House meeting between Trump and Republican senators over getting his Wall money ended in fury and shouting as the senators present explained how annual budgets work—which involved an annual payment for such a project, not the whole thing at once. Then the president met with House RepublicansTuesday night to discuss the two bills pending – one from immigration hard-liners and one from slightly more moderate Republicans – in a session that sent the congressmen out of the room shaking the heads to understand whether Trump had back both bills or neither.

Among the House Republican leaders, there has been consensus not to advance a bill, which could win the bare minimum of 218 votes, unless that bill met with the approval of the president. The problem all week is that Trump has been less than clear about what he wants. For his part, Trump has insisted against all advice, odds, science, geography, social history and American values, that he will only sign a bill that pays the full cost of the Wall, lowers legal immigration levels, changes visa lotteries to merit-based immigration systems, and ends the practice of allowing relatives of legal immigrants to enter the country as well. He calls these his “four pillars” for immigration.

Among those left dangling in these bills are the legal future of DACA residents—children whose parents had brought them here as children who have lived here their whole adult lives, serving in the military or in law enforcement or as teachers, scientists, and business people. Under the two bills, DACA resident either get no permanent relief or are sent to start a multi-year, no-legal infraction period that could last years before becoming eligible for naturalization.

All week, Trump has insisted that only Congress could end the non-stop show of cruel images; nevertheless, at the end of the day, Trump took the action himself. The executive order ends the separation of families at the border by indefinitely detaining parents and children together, which raises the issues of trying to get around an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention—even if they are with their parents—for more than 20 days.

Details aside, the executive order is a clean-up tool to address a problem that should never have gotten to this point.

For weeks, Trump refused to end his government’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents, saying that the alternative would be to fling open the nation’s borders and allow immigrants who cross the border illegally to remain in the country.

That popular opinion and the constant airing of images of young people held inside chain fencing found the separation issue as morally bankrupt should not be overstated. Trump’s voters have been felt to be so personally loyal to the president as to keep anti-Trump opinion neutralized. I take hope in thinking that there is still enough moral backbone left in the country to get the president to own up to a bad mistake.

The fact is that only extremely bad publicity and denunciation from his own wife and daughter as well as the private sentiments of influential Republicans could make the president see the awful truth of his own machinations.

That is very scary.

Given how Trump conducts government business, it ought to become a lot easier to say he was wrong.

Featured image: This mural is in a facility in Texas holding more than 1,400 immigrant children. The quote is from Trump’s “Art of the Deal” and refers to his failed effort to evict tenants in 1985. 

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Tax Cheating Is as American as Apple Pie

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

New Research Reveals that the US Has Become the Tax Haven of Choice for the Super-Rich

James S. Henry

Which country do rich people willing to break the law to escape taxes favor most as the place to hide their money? Chances are you’re in it right now.

Public records reveal there are two major tax havens of almost equal size. Few journalists ever look at such records, much less analyze them, but scrutinizing them is our specialty at DCReport.

In first place is the spiderweb of British protectorates including Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man. Virtually equal in size, and growing fast, is the United States.

America has 22.3% of the global illicit money-hiding business while the British spiderweb is at 22.6%.

Next, and far behind, is tiny Luxembourg at 12.6%, followed by Singapore at 4.6% and Switzerland at 4.5%.

These top destination havens play several crucial roles,” writes James S. Henry, DCReport’s editor for investigative economics.

“First, they are the penultimate safe harbors for wealthy individual investors, offering low tax rates, anonymity, stability, liquidity and legal security. Second, they are also very attractive corporate havens for multinational corporations and banks. Finally, they are also residential havens, where wealthy offshore investors can spend long periods of time, virtually tax free.”

These rich tax evaders enjoy their money without sharing in the burdens of government. Instead they silently shove their burdens onto the rest of us, who as a result suffer from a combination of more taxes, less government services and more government debt than if the tax laws were enforced. We could, of course, fix this if we had a president who was not himself a confessed tax cheat who lost two income-tax-fraud civil trials, as I detailed in my book The Making of Donald Trump.

Henry’s new report includes a revealing chart showing the explosion of suspicious activity reports, a measure of likely money laundering, since 1996:

 

Among those who facilitated egregious money laundering was Donald Trump with his Taj Mahal casino, which was fined $10 million in March 2015 for “willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act” in the form of “significant and long-standing money-laundering violations.”

Henry writes that “by now we (should) all know that global trade wars, as well as imperial wars, can be costly. But the high costs of global tax competition, deregulation wars, and financial secrecy wars have received much less attention. Unfortunately… the United States, which has long prided itself on being one of the world’s leading proponents of progressive taxation, multilateral cooperation, and stiff sanctions for white-collar financial crime, is now actually leading this race to the bottom.”

“Indeed,” Henry adds, “the United States is on the verge of fulfilling one of the most hyperbolic fantasies of ultra-economic libertarians—as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) put it way back in 2013, this is ‘to make the United States the largest tax haven in history’.”

Under Trump policies that seems certain. Cuts in the Internal Revenue Service budget, attacks on federal law enforcement, the appointment of numerous high officials whose histories show they worked for the tax evaders, money-laundering banks and otherwise helped tax cheats have been documented by DCReport. You can review some of our stories on how Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress gave aid and comfort to tax cheats here and here.

Henry knows of what he writes about illicit money flows. While still in his 20s Henry was chief economist at McKinsey, the big global business consultancy, and then he became a General Electric executive reporting directly to CEO Jack Welch. Henry gave all that up decades ago to pursue investigating corrupt banking practices, money laundering, tax avoidance and other financial crimes. Henry was also a consultant on the Panama Papers expose by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

In March 2017 Henry wrote DCReport’s intensely documented exposé of the ties between Wilbur Ross, who was named Commerce secretary by Trump, and the corrupt Bank of Cyprus, a leading money launderer for Russians. Ross served as vice chairman alongside an appointee of Vladimir Putin.
We summarized Henry’s story here and ran it in full here.

In his new report. Henry notes the crucial role played by weak state laws that let people hide who actually owns American corporations set up as shells to move and conceal wealth. You can learn more about how state laws help international tax dodgers (and can help terrorists, too) by reading an excellent 2011 Reuters exposé by reporters Brian Grow and Kelly Carr.

Driving home this point about how the weak corporate disclosure laws of Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming help tax dodgers, Henry’s new exposé quotes a question at a 2008 money-laundering conference and the answer from a senior partner of a Panamanian law firm:

Q: “So where else do you advise clients to set up their offshore companies and trusts?”

A: “We think Delaware is pretty good. They have over a million companies and trusts there, and no beneficial ownership registration. No one can find you.”

Henry’s full report, including 50 footnotes for those who want to dive really deeply, is available here from our friends at The American Interest online magazine.

Featured image: Tax Day protest in New York, 2012. Photo by Michael Fleshman (Flickr)

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Trump and Mulvaney Keep Hacking Away at the Finance Protection Bureau

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Latest Move: Shutting Down a CFPB Online Database of Financial Firms’ Thievery


The Trump administration took down online records about abusive animal breeders, and now they’re considering ending an online complaint database about illegal fees, inaccurate debt collection and other chicanery by banks and other financial institutions.
Mick Mulvaney, who took $55,000 in campaign contributions from the payday-loan industry when he was a South Carolina congressman, told bankers he’s not required in his new job as acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to keep complaints online about dirty bankers.
“I don’t see anything in here that I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government,” Mulvaney said. “I don’t see anything in here that says I have to make all of those public.”

Action Box/What You Can Do About It

Comment online about the importance of an online consumer complaint database or mail your comments to Comment Intake, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 1700 G Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20552. Please use the identification number Docket No. CFPB-2018-0014. Comments can also be emailed to FederalRegisterComments@cfpb.gov. Please use Docket No. CFPB-2018-0014 in the subject line of the message. Comments must be received by July 16.
Contact Mick Mulvaney at 855-411-2372 or on Twitter.
Public Citizen can be reached at 202-588-1000.


Eight of the 10 financial institutions with the most complaints in the database made $82,500 in campaign contributions to Mulvaney with political action committees, according to Public Citizen.

  • Equifax Inc., with 83,252 complaints, contributed $5,000.
  • Bank of America, 74,221, $19,000.
  • Experian Information Solutions Inc., 72,188, $6,000.
  • Wells Fargo & Co., 62,142, $12,000.
  • JP Morgan Chase & Co., 51,139, $10,500.
  • Citibank, 41,598, $19,000.
  • Capital One Financial Corp., 26,822, $9,000.
  • Navient Solutions LLC, 24,243, $2,000.

“The talk of eliminating it fits right in with the Trump administration’s mission to shield companies from accountability,” said writer Russ Kick whose web site, AltGov 2, features government data.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture removed detailed online reports about abusive animal breeders on Feb. 3, 2017, just two weeks after Trump took office. The Humane Society of the United States puts out a list of the worst dog breeders in our nation each year. In this year’s list, the names of about a fourth of the worst breeders are missing because their names aren’t online, and the Trump administration wouldn’t release the names.

I don’t have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.

The agency also told the Humane Society that it hadn’t revoked any dog breeder licenses in the past year.
“The vast majority of puppy mill licenses still have no name or business name listed on them, so we can see the violations, but not who was responsible for them or exactly where those businesses are located,” said Kathleen Summers who works with the puppy mill campaign at the Humane Society.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking comment on its complaint process, something agencies typically do before making changes.
Paul of Greencastle, Pa., told Consumers Union that the bureau forced Bank of America to refund fees that were caused by debit card charges that were timed to make him overdraft.
Mulvaney is doing his best to prevent the bureau from helping people like Paul. He’s asked Congress to weaken the bureau by giving Congress control of its funding and mandating that the bureau’s major rules need Congressional approval.

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Women Storm the Primaries

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

The Widening Gender Gap Could Determine the Mid-Term Elections

Female candidates are holding strong midway through the primary season. If there are any significant changes in November, it will be because of a widening gender gap and a surge in Democratic female voters.

To date, 101 female candidates have won their primaries across the nation and are headed to the general elections in November. What’s remarkable here is that these are non-incumbent candidates.

Add these women to the roughly 20% of women who make up the 115th Congress and are running for re-election and women may have a chance at having a more meaningful say in politics.

At the start of the primary season, roughly 385 women had filed for candidacy, almost 70% of them Democrats. A female candidate could be found on the ballot in more than half of the 56 most competitive House races in the nation. And roughly half the country has yet to vote in primary elections, which run into mid-September.

Republican Carol D. Miller is the front-runner in her race for a West Virginia congressional seat. A bison rancher, she describes herself as “pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-coal, pro-Second Amendment and pro-Trump.”

According to a report by The Washington Post, there are nine female candidates expected to win their races, including eight Congressional candidates and one gubernatorial candidate.

There are 23 candidates in competitive races, which include 21 more Congressional candidates from coast to coast, a Senatorial candidate for Nevada and a gubernatorial candidate for New Mexico.

Then there are an additional 69 female candidates across the country who will be on the ballot for Congress, Senate and gubernatorial elections who are not expected to win their races, according to the report.

But it’s a long road to November, and if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen. If any of the female candidates mentioned above are expected to win, it will be Democratic female voters who will put them in power.

Voting Resources

U.S. House of Representatives Financial Disclosure Database—Use this site to view the financial disclosure statements for Congressional members and candidates.

United States Senate Financial Disclosures—This site provides the financial reports for Senators, former Senators and candidates from January 2012 to present. Senator reports are available until six years after the Senator leaves office; candidate reports are available for one year after they run for office.

 

What may be truly notable this year is the gender gap, according to The Cook Political Report. Early polling in this primary season showed the gender gap ranging from 11 to 17 points. That compares to recent mid-term elections where the gap has been in the single-digits. According to that report, this year could shatter that record. If women turn out the vote, and vote Democratic, as expected, it could impact election results significantly. Women traditionally make up roughly 52% of the mid-term vote. Recent polling shows women turning away from Republicans for Congress while men are expected to skew Republican this mid-term election.

There’s also been a notable gender gap in campaign donations this year. Women have accounted for 30% of all federal contributions so far, which is higher than usual, though not a record. They have contributed almost 70% to Democrats and liberal outside groups, which is also higher compared to previous cycles. By contrast, male voters have donated 48% to Democrats and liberal outside groups. But that’s a 20% gender gap – the largest since at least 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The female Republican candidates certainly feel the fundraising pain. While Democratic female challengers can raise about 93% of what male challengers have raised, because of reasons outlined above, that’s not so for the few female Republican challengers. Female GOP challengers had only raised 22% of what their male counterparts had raised, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics in November 2017. But in races for Open House seats, Republican women can roughly match the fundraising efforts of their male challengers.

Female candidates across the aisle face fundraising hurdles when it comes to receiving PAC support, even for open seat campaigns. Female candidates account for about one-third of the open seat candidacies yet receive less than 20% of PAC support—further proof that it will be down to the female voter if there’s any significant shift in gender power and Democratic gains this November.

Featured image: Texan Veronica Escobar, an El Paso County judge, said Trump’s “rampant corruption and collusion” prompted her run. A Democrat, she is one of two women likely to be the state’s first Latinas in Congress.

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Republican Representatives Block Effort to Bring Grizzly Bears into the Northwest

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Plan Would Replenish Hugely Reduced Native Population


Republicans have sabotaged efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades in Washington state where trappers and bounty hunters killed off most bears by 1860.

The House Appropriations Committee voted against funding bear reintroduction efforts in fiscal 2019 to 9,800 square miles of the North Cascades between Interstate 90 and the Canadian border. It’s an area so remote that the young bears from Montana and British Columbia would be brought in by helicopter.

“I have heard my constituents loud and clear on their opposition to transporting grizzly bears to the North Cascades,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) who sponsored the amendment.
Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the amendment would prohibit federal biologists from working on the project.

Action Box/What You Can Do About It

Contact your representative and senators and tell them to support reintroducing grizzly bears.
The Center for Biological Diversity can be reached at 520-623-5252 or center@biologicaldiversity.org

 

“No money is saved because those staffers will just work on other projects,” Hartl said. “Instead, this amendment was driven…(by) ideological opposition to recovering endangered species.”

The full House and the Senate would also need to approve not funding grizzly bear restoration efforts for this to be left out of the 2019 budget.

Federal wildlife officials have worked since 1991 to bring grizzly bears back to the North Cascades, the second-largest federal grizzly bear recovery area in our country. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke supported those efforts, traveling to Sedro-Woolley, Wash., to say that grizzly bears should be in the North Cascades National Park and surrounding areas.

“The loss of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades would disturb the ecosystem and rob the region of an icon,” Zinke said.

Grizzly bears are almost extinct in the Cascades. Only four grizzly bears have been detected in the last decade in the Cascade Mountains, and those bears were in Canada. The bears have not recovered from the trapping heyday of the 1800s when 3,788 grizzly bear hides were shipped from forts in or near the North Cascades from 1827 to 1859.

“Without help, that population will not recover on its own,” said Frank van Manen, head of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

Grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, but area ranchers and other area residents have opposed efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears.
“People deserve a choice,” said wilderness outfitter Steve Darwood. “If they want to see grizzlies, they can go to Yellowstone.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which has spent $123,000 on federal lobbying so far this year, opposes reintroducing grizzly bears in the North Cascades. The association has given $63,500 to members of the House Appropriations Committee in this election cycle, including $10,000 for Newhouse.

About 97% of the North Cascades in our country is public land. Federal officials have estimated that if the grizzly population reached 200, the bears, which mostly eat plants and insects, would kill one cow a year and two sheep.

 

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Lawsuit Uncovers Trump Family Values: To Whom Much Is Given, Take More

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

New York Governor Could Order Criminal Charges Next 

David Cay Johnston

The civil lawsuit filed against Donald Trump, three of his children and the Trump Foundation has brought to light a major shortcoming in New York state law that enables criminal fraud conducted through private foundations to escape state prosecution. Manhattan is a major center of private foundations.

Under New York state law the attorney general lacks fundamental legal authority to bring criminal cases. Indictments can be sought only after another state agency makes a referral to the state attorney general. The state charities bureau could make such referrals, but because it is under the attorney general no indictments could be brought.

The state civil lawsuit alleges years “of illegal conduct by the Foundation and its board members includes improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”

NY Atty. Gen. Barbara Underwood

Trump used $258,000 of charity money to settle lawsuits, a clear violation of the law. There’s the $12,000 of charity money Trump spent to buy himself a signed Tim Tebow football helmet, a story The Washington Post broke in July 2016.

Barbara Underwood, the state attorney general, referred criminal matters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Elections Commission.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

There is one person who can persuade Underwood to indict Trump, his three oldest children and others—New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

He can direct the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to refer the matter as a tax crimes offense. Underwood could then seek indictments.

Cuomo takes email via this form. His Twitter is @NYGovCuomo.

Call his office at 518-474-8390.

His mailing address is The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo / Governor of New York State / NYS State Capitol Building / Albany, N.Y. 12224.

 

The Trump Foundation case meets every federal standard for criminal prosecution. The behavior is significant in terms of dollars, it involved many actions over many years, was flagrant and multi-faceted with explanations that lack credibility. It also meets the Justice Department ’s general deterrence standard, which includes bringing cases that will encourage broad compliance because they are high profile prosecutions.

“There’s almost no way for the state attorney general to bring a criminal case” over the private foundation fraud, said Sean Delaney, executive director of the New York Lawyers Alliance, which serves nonprofits. Delany is a former head of the State Charities Bureau.

Because that bureau is part of the state attorney general’s office, which means when it finds evidence of criminal fraud those findings would not allow the attorney general to bring criminal charges.

Under current New York law, even if the New York city police uncovered the fraud, a prosecution for violating state law could only be initiated by Cyrus Vance Jr., the local district attorney in Manhattan, who has shown a deep aversion to pursuing anything involving Trump.

Private foundation fraud is likely to go undetected because tax audits of private foundations are rare. This creates a low-risk opportunity for people like Trump to use charitable funds for personal benefit, which is a crime as well as a civil offense.

Contrast this with the audit of the Clinton foundations, which raised money from despots and billionaires and used it for work that has saved at least 11 million lives.

Auditors typically sample records, but in the Clinton foundations audit every single check, in and out, was reviewed along with the supporting documentation. The audit report turned up nothing amiss, only the kind of minor discrepancies anyone will find in their check register.

The last time Congress looked deeply into private foundation abuse, in the late 1960s, it found extensive fraud including thousands of foundations into which wealthy people made tax-deductible gifts and then traded scholarships among each other’s children.

The investigations by Wright Patman, a populist Texas Democrat, resulted in major reforms of foundation law. It also spurred foundations eager to protect their reputations to fund the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy,  which exists to watchdog philanthropies, a subject I’ve written about for four decades.

Trump tweeted that he would fight what he called “this ridiculous case.” It was a typical Trumpian response, ignoring established facts and attacking law enforcement.

In this case, Trump has little to fear in terms of prosecution at the federal level. Only about 1,600 criminal tax cases are filed each year, most of them connected to drug trafficking and officials who took bribes. That’s roughly one prosecution for every 96,000 individual and corporate tax returns.

Further, Trump claims the power to stop any Justice Department investigation or criminal case,  even though the Justice Department has previously prosecuted people for far less egregious conduct, according to Marcus Owens, former head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division.

And, of course, if Trump were worried about prosecution at the federal level he claims that our Constitution gives him the power to pardon himself.

 

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Republicans Wage a Guerrilla War on Your Healthcare

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Trump Doesn’t Have the Votes to Kill Obamacare So Now He Just Won’t Enforce It

While Trump preens in the afterglow of his questionable achievements at the negotiating table with North Korea, let’s take a look elsewhere—at the Trump administration decision to abandon Obamacare requirements that health insurance cover pre-existing conditions.

Late last week, the government said in filings in a federal court case that the requirement to cover those who need healthcare the most will become “unconstitutional” next year as well as protections forbidding insurers to deny coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Indeed, the Justice Department declined to defend the federal law in a suit brought by states against the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Just how that fits with an administration that seems fixated on “law and order” is a little hard to explain, but if it comes down to defending a law with which the administration disagrees, I guess that is within bounds.

The Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that he wants to preserve access to affordable insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions, but he declined to disclose his view of an administration move that could undercut such consumer protections. He called the government’s move “a constitutional position . . . not a policy position” and sidestepped questions about whether he agreed with the legal decision.

Several senators, mostly Democrats, attacked the decision.

As The Washington Post noted, “The administration’s legal stance injects profound uncertainty into the political debate and the health-care landscape at a critical moment, just as insurance companies are developing rates for the coming year and as candidates head into a summer campaign season that both parties will try to use to solidify a foothold for their agendas.”

We can expect that this issue will top every local Democratic agenda in the mid-term elections in November.

Across the board, Republicans, Democrats and health professionals all say they have plans for providing healthcare, but none of these ideas ever seems to make it into legislation. So, instead, we have a guerrilla war underway with each state firing individual bullets at different targets. The government and individual states have taken various aspects of the overall Obamacare law to court.

Clearly lost in the discussion is anything resembling ways to assure that Americans are guaranteed access to actual healthcare.

The federal court suit over the Affordable Care Act became a potent threat to pre-existing conditions when the Justice Department filed a brief arguing that as of Jan. 1, 2019, those protections should be invalidated. The Justice Department argued that the judge should strike down the section of the law that protects people buying insurance from being charged higher premiums because of their health histories.

According to a 2016 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 52 million Americans under the age of 65 could find their access to health insurance at risk because of a wide range of pre-existing conditions, from diabetes to cancer to pregnancy. Health insurers have for years been raising premiums, complaining about uncertainty and withdrawing from the business of selling individual insurance plans; more changes could further destabilize the market.

Still, many Republicans this weekend insisted they continued to support coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. The policy, unlike some elements of the Affordable Care Act, has widespread support. Several Republicans expressed bewilderment at the notion that this protection could be declared unconstitutional or overturned. “I certainly do not believe the provision on pre-existing conditions is unconstitutional. I don’t even understand what the legal argument would be,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) told the Post.

Democrats leaped on the filing to re-issue healthcare as a party mainstay issue. More liberal Democrats are publicly favoring a Medicare-for-all approach to healthcare, something that Republicans clearly oppose.

This renewed argument comes as insurers are deciding whether to participate in the individual marketplaces created under the law in 2019 and, if so, what filing rates with state regulators will be. A central rule of ACA health plans is that they must welcome all customers, healthy and sick, and not charge higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions. The possibility that a Texas judge could, at the administration’s urging, wipe out this rule—with an inevitable appeal to higher courts—introduces a new source of instability that insurers detest.

According to health-policy experts, a court ruling in favor of the suing GOP states and the administration would trigger what one called “immediate chaos” in the law’s insurance marketplaces created under the law.

In 2010, Obamacare created insurance “exchanges” in every state to sell federally subsidized coverage to individuals who do not have access to affordable health benefits through a job. These marketplaces have had their troubles—with many commercial insurers defecting and prices spiking—but their basic contours have remained intact. That could change if Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas agrees with the Justice Department argument that the mandates including protections for people with pre-existing conditions will become unconstitutional in January, when new tax rules end existing penalties for people who flout the law’s requirement to carry health insurance.

Several congressmen said that if the administration did prevail, it would be their responsibility to step in and restore protections for people with preexisting conditions. Yet how they would do so was far from clear, especially given Congress’s inability so far under the administration to pass healthcare legislation.

The president last fall ended “cost-sharing reduction payments” to insurers that offset discounts that the law promises to lower-income customers in the out-of-pocket costs for ACA health plans. Health officials halved the sign-up period to buy ACA health plans, cut from $100 million to $10 million an advertising budget to help encourage consumers to sign up, and slashed funds for grassroots organizations that helped people enroll. Also, the administration is in the midst of rewriting federal rules to make it easier for people to buy two types of insurance that are relatively inexpensive because they bypass the ACA’s requirements for benefits that health plans sold to individuals and small business must include.

And Republicans in Congress are moving to eliminate $800 million for Medicaid.

How about we use the election for some straight talk about healthcare?

Featured image: Protesters opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act were arrested in Congressional offices last summer. (Reuters)

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How AT&T, Comcast and Other Telecom Giants Have Won the Internet … Forever

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

What’s In Store for You Online? Higher Prices, Fewer Voices.

David Cay Johnston

Two major developments this week promise to change the way you access and use the internet, both for the worse.

First, AT&T won approval Tuesday from a federal judge to purchase of Time Warner, which owns CNN among other properties. Donald Trump had opposed the $85 billion deal, his comments laced with invective against CNN’s coverage of him. The deal cannot close for at least six days to give the Justice Department time to appeal if Trump so orders.

The ruling by Judge Richard Leon is likely to signal more mergers among telecom giants, something I wrote about four years ago as a major economic and political problem when Comcast tried to buy Time Warner.

While there is reason to feel some sympathy for AT&T because of Trump’s personal grudge and its lack of news channels and movie studios like those owned by competitor Comcast, consumers benefit when we have more competition, not less.

The second adverse development came the day before with the end net neutrality—treating equally all users of what we used to call the World Wide Web.

In this action by the Federal Communications Commission, the  Trump administration embraced what the cable companies know is good for them, but not what’s best for you.

This major policy change is one more example of the bait-and-switch con artistry of Trump, who said he would drain the swamp and has since turned Washington into a profiteering paradise for swamp monsters, as we shall see below.

The big internet service providers are now free to put their own content on superfast lanes of what we used to call the Information Superhighway while shunting competitors onto the cyberspace equivalent of rural Irish roads where wandering sheep often block the way.

In time we may see these companies block or strangle traffic from websites that criticize them or Trump, something government cannot do it directly. Now that the Trump administration has given these corporations what they want to maximize their profits and limit who gets access, any effort by them to throttle critics will likely to become a court test of First Amendment suppression-by-proxy.

Remember that Trump wants the law changed from the open debate of the First Amendment to banning any articles that he does not like.

“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws,” candidate Trump said two years ago.  “We’re going to open up libel laws, and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

Trump, before taking office, has said that no one should be allowed to publish articles about him that he does not like.

Such is the way of dictators everywhere—shut down speech you dislike, prosecute your political opponents and use litigation to wear down your critics, especially news organizations.  Trump admires dictators from Kim in Pyongyang to Putin in Moscow to Xi in Beijing to Duterte in Manilla to emerging dictators like Erdogan in Ankara.

Don’t expect prompt, bold, and obvious moves by internet service providers to limit what you see in your browser or the ease with which shows produced by competitors stream to your television. The big cable companies are too sophisticated to do anything so obvious and blatantly detrimental in the public square.

Instead, expect incremental changes phased in over months or years, changes done subtly so you are likely to notice little to nothing as the Internet gets remade from a robust source of information, political discourse and intense competition for audience into a corporate managed public square. Only strong and sustained public pushback may persuade internet companies to not throttle competitors and views they dislike, but since most of America has only one to two high-speed options for internet access, pricing may prove more powerful than fairness to consumers.

Ending net neutrality is part of a larger trend toward narrowing voices into a range favored by big corporate interests, which do not want their power and perks questioned except in the mildest way.

It’s the cyberspace component of a decades-long trend that has turned many public spaces into private places. Think of how retail has moved from storefronts on downtown public streets to malls, where protests and independent musicians, petitioners and speakers are generally banned.

In his inaugural address, Trump said “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People. For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

Within days Trump promoted a former Verizon lawyer, Ajit Pai, from a member of the Federal Communications Commission (appointed by President Obama), to FCC chairman.

Pai’s policies fit neatly with those of his former employer, which got tens of billions of dollars of subsidies for a fiber optic system that it never finished building, as I have shown here and former telephone company insider Bruce Kushnick has shown here.

In addition to failing to complete the fiber optic systems it was paid for in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, I have shown how both Verizon and AT&T have worked hard to end universal access to mere telephone service, a government policy that allowed people to live and do business in sparsely populated areas like the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska and West Texas. Even in densely populated New York City, there are apartment buildings with fiber optic lines running down the street, but no service. When Verizon believes too few people would sign up to make its service profitable it just refuses service, despite the laws and contracts it signed to make its Fios available.

Pai said his “light touch approach” to regulation will prove “tremendously positive” for customers of cable, fiber optic and satellite internet companies.

He also insists that any internet service provider which slows the flow of content created by its competitors, most of whom own television and movie studios, will have to deal with another agency, the Federal Trade Commission. In other words, Pai is like Trump: make big promises, stay vague on specifics and shift responsibility onto others.

 

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