In a Fit of Pique, Trumps Takes Us Down Another Rabbit Hole

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

He Revokes a Persistent Critic’s Security Clearance, Lists Others 

Leave it to the master disrupter to invent a new way to publicly undercut a persistent critic, even while trying to distract attention from other bad publicity.

To counter continuing criticism by former CIA director John Brennan, Trump yesterday revoked Brennan’s security clearance.

While he was at it, Trump said he is reviewing security clearances for several other frequent critics, including former Deputy Atty. Gen. Sally Yates, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, former FBI director James Comey Jr. and the newly fired FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the decision at a White House briefing, reading a statement from Trump that accused Brennan of making “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and television — about this administration.”

For those of us on edge about Trump’s steps towards authoritarianism, this move stands out.

Forget the fact that such moves are “not done” in Washington – the government might need seasoned intelligence figures for inclusion on some real problem (not unlike Russia, say, trying to meddle in U.S. elections). Concentrate instead on the fact that these were all people who have annoyed Trump with public criticism. So, the president just flicked away their security clearance – just for personal pique. And he relied on his expansive view of presidential power alone to do so; he did not even tell his own Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and may not have told National Security Adviser John Bolton.

That action won’t silence anyone, of course, but it will keep them from any inclusion in government business or even work for government contractors.

What makes it remarkable, however, is not the mere fact of the revocation, but the idea that Trump did it by dismissing any of the usual procedures for such a move. Those usual procedures involve having a substantive reason, and holding a hearing, even allowing for an appeal. None of the previous government administrations had revoked security clearances for their predecessors’ advisers, regardless of public criticisms.

For those of us now on edge about Trump’s steps towards authoritarianism, this move stands out.

If Trump can do this based on eliminating anyone who offers personal criticisms of him, why can’t he remove Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, or Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Why can’t he just reach out to order revocation of security clearances for all Democratic senators? How far does Trump think this new power can take him?

“I never, ever thought I’d see it here in the United States,” Brennan said on MSNBC. “I believe all Americans need to take stock of what is happening right now in our government — how abnormal and how irresponsible and how dangerous these actions are. If Mr. Trump believes this is going to lead me to just go away and be quiet, he is very badly mistaken.”

Admittedly, Brennan has been pretty outspoken, particularly about the president’s response to the all-things-Russia investigation, but more broadly about how Trump has handled himself in office. Brennan criticized Trump for the language he used to attack Omarosa Manigault Newman, his former top aide, whom Trump called a “dog.” Wrote Brennan: “It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity. Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person. So disheartening, so dangerous for our Nation.”

The New York Times reported that the list of possible revocations also includes Bruce Ohr, a high-ranking Justice Department official, whom Trump has criticized because of his association with Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing damaging information about Trump. Ohr was friends with Mr. Steele, and Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the research firm that commissioned the dossier.

Press Secretary Sanders sidestepped a question about why Trump did not simply fire Ohr, rather than threaten to revoke his security clearance, which would render him unable to do his job. She said she had no personnel changes to announce.

The Washington Post quoted a presidential historian as saying “The public outcry of Brennan being stripped will echo long and far in the annals of American history. It will be seen like McCarthyism — a dark stain on our democracy.”

The revocation drew hurrahs from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) but darts from Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

For myself, I am less concerned with “distraction” or even with next steps for Brennan himself. I see this as one of those steps that we will look back on as a maniacal step towards authoritarian rule using this unique view of powers for the president.  It must be challenged.

 

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No, Trump Voters, Your Wages Aren’t Going Up

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

Unless You Were Already Making More than $1 Million a Year

David Cay Johnston

We’ve got some disappointing news for all those people who voted for Donald Trump because he promised rising wages.

While Trump keeps saying wages are rising the official government data show that’s just not true.

Consider a worker paid the median wage, half make more and half less, of $600 a week in round numbers. If she got the average 2.8% raise on July 1, her gross pay rose by a bit under $17.

This article is the first in a series in which David Cay Johnston will examine the real effects of Trumponomics. Future articles will look at taxes and trade.

Now consider inflation since her last raise a year earlier. Inflation ran 2.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That means our model worker is actually making less in real wages. Its only 60-cents less each week, not that she’d notice, but less is less and most definitely is not more no matter how often Trump says otherwise.

Back in January, during his State of the Union address, Trump declared that “after years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.”  Trump and the White House have repeated that claim over and over ever since.

PolitiFact rated that mostly false “because…wage growth began under President Barack Obama.”

Indeed, I reported two years ago that the government’s best wage data showed that, after considering inflation, the median wage was lower in 2012 than in 2000. For the bottom half of workers, pay increases are rare.

As Obama’s second term began, however, the median wage began to not just outpace inflation, but to grow at a rapidly accelerating pace.

In 2013 the median wage increased by only a little, about $2 a week above inflation. The next year the increase tripled. In 2015 it more than tripled again. Together three years of increasing wages raised median pay by $30 a week.

No matter how you slice it, less is less.

More is more, in that case, a lot more—and it was all on Obama’s watch. In contrast, 20 months into Trump’s watch, real wages are down slightly. No matter how you slice it, less is less, not the more that Trump promised.

For the past 38 years, most wage hikes have gone to workers making more than this, especially workers at the top.

Think of a money pie filled with all the wages and salaries earned by everyone from janitors to CEOs. The slice of pay pie going to high-end workers more than tripled over those two decades, as the table accompanying this column shows.

Consider workers make more than $1 million a year in 1995 and, with an adjustment for inflation, two decades later.

There were six times as many highly paid workers in 2015 as in 1995. And thanks to rising wages, their combined pay grew even more, as the table here shows.

When the data for 2018  becomes available you can be sure it will show that most wage growth benefitted higher paid workers, not those toiling at the median wage of about $600 a week.

For the millions of people who believed Trump the master con artist when he insisted that he alone could save them, that he would bring about higher real wages, here’s the question:

Who are you going to believe? Trump or your paycheck?

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Foxconn Gets a Pollution Pass for Its Wisconsin Factory

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

Trump and Walker OK Plant Pumping Clean Lake Michigan Water and Then Dumping Polluted Water Back

Get paid to pollute!

That’s the unspoken new policy of the Trump administration and its ally in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker. Their administrations are giving environmental protection waivers together with billions of dollars in subsidies to Foxconn, the giant Taiwan manufacturer best known for assembling iPhones.

Foxconn will be allowed to suck up to 7 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan and then dump that water, which may be laced with pollutants from making liquid crystal display panels, back into the lake.

Local officials are aghast. They understand the dangers to health and tourism if America goes back to the pre-Nixon policies of treating the Great Lakes as an industrial toxic waste pond.

Foxconn has not revealed what toxic metals and chemicals will be used but said it plans to distill the water it uses to decrease water use and recycle water.

The Trump administration helped arrange a $10 billion deal for Foxconn, which has started construction in Mount Pleasant, a Racine County village of about 26,000 people. If fully built out the industrial complex would be three times the size of the Pentagon.

Gov. Walker exempted the Foxconn factory from any major environmental review. Last-minute changes by Trump political appointees at the EPA could keep Foxconn from making expensive improvements to reduce smog.

Action Box/What You Can Do About It

Call EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at 202-564-4700 to tell him your thoughts about protecting our Great Lakes or write him at EPA Headquarters / William Jefferson Clinton Building / 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW / Mail Code: 1101A / Washington, D.C. 20460

Midwest Environmental Advocates can be reached at 608-251-5047 or advocate@midwestadvocates.org

“We can protect our natural resources and support job creation at the same time,” said Ann Hasenberg, a Walker spokeswoman.

These pro-pollution favors are being challenged in court by Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general.

Walker met with billionaire Terry Gou, the chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, in April 2017 in the office of Trump’s chief of staff. That meeting came just days after a White House aide called an executive at a Wisconsin economic development organization. The meeting between the two has been portrayed as part of the romance between Foxconn and Wisconsin that the company and the state claim will bring up to 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin. Notice that “up to.”

But the legalese and fine print underlying the deal suggest that Gou was more interested in how best to exploit our nation’s Great Lakes, home to a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. Mount Pleasant is a “straddling community” only partly in the Great Lakes basin. Such communities can tap water from the Great Lakes provided the water is used “solely for public water supply purposes.”

Wisconsin, known under Walker for rarely enforcing its own standards for industrial water pollution, approved using water from Lake Michigan for the 22-million-square-foot industrial complex’s water needs.

Local officials understand the dangers if America goes back to treating the Great Lakes as an industrial toxic waste pond.

An LCD plant coats glass sheets with dozens of layers of thin material that conduct electricity. Washing the glass as each layer is applied uses millions of gallons of water.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources brought in a manager to oversee quick environmental permitting for Foxconn.

“We can get these jobs going on the ground and still have the environmental protection – and I will even say enhancement – as a result of this project,” Cathy Stepp, then the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said in 2017.

Stepp, who campaigned for Trump, later joined the EPA and is now a regional administrator in the Midwest for the EPA where her duties will include overseeing some of the chemicals used at Foxconn. The former deputy secretary at the Wisconsin DNR, Kurt Thiede, is now Stepp’s chief of staff.

Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers said it had no jurisdiction over wetlands that would be filled. Wisconsin gave up state authority over wetlands on the Foxconn property.

“Right now, we don’t have any authority on the site,” said Todd Vesperman, a Corps section chief.

Featured image: Polluted water at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China (2012 photo by Jordan Pouille)

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Democrats Learn to Love Big Oil … Money

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

The Kochs Come Calling, and the Party Reverses Its Two-Month-Old Ban on Fossil Fuel Donations 

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) just reversed its ban on donations from the fossil fuel industry, saying it now welcomes donations from industry workers and employers’ political action committees – a stark turnaround to a stance the organization took just two months ago when it adopted a ban on donations from fossil fuel companies’ political organizations. And it comes less than two weeks after Charles Koch, leader of Koch Industries, the top-ranked political donor the fossil fuel sector, and the powerful Americans for Prosperity political action committee, said he is open to backing Democrats in the midterms.

This latest announcement by the DNC has many Democrats up in arms because it goes against the organization’s platform to combat climate change. Though DNC Chairman Tom Perez characterized the move as a commitment to organized labor, it’s hard to see it as anything but a cash grab.

Christine Pelosi, a DNC member who co-authored the June resolution, offered an amendment that would remove the words “employers’ political action committees” to discourage donations from corporate PACs, saying it would reaffirm the party’s “commitment to overturning Citizens United and banning corporate PAC money” while still accepting employee donations. But she was outvoted, 4 to 28, on Friday, Aug, 10.

Koch, who is heading the political front of the Koch brothers fortune, since brother David Koch retired due to illness earlier in June, said the group plans to pour some $400 million into this election cycle, on policy issues and political campaigns, according to a recent article in The Washington Post.

Koch’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity, recently put out ads thanking Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for co-sponsoring legislation rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations. It also put ads out attacking Trump’s pick for Senate Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) for his vote to increase federal spending.

The Koch political network spans 700 donors who contribute at least $100,000 annually to groups aligned to Koch Industries. In the 2016 election cycle, the super PAC spent $13.3 million supporting Conservative candidates and causes. To date, Americans for Prosperity has spent just shy of $3 million on the 2018 election cycle.

And while Charles Koch himself has been critical of Trump’s policies, from the zero tolerance immigration debacle to the White House’s trade policy, don’t expect the oil and gas magnate to stop funding the GOP anytime soon. In January, the Koch political-spending strategy was to use that $400 million to help the Republicans keep hold of the Senate.

In early March, Koch Industries donated $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Since March, it has contributed a total of $135,000 to the conservative super PAC 35th Inc. and then sunk another $25,000 into the PAC in May. In June, it donated $50,000 to the conservative super PAC Tennesseans for a Better Tomorrow.

So far this election cycle, the fossil fuel sector has contributed a total of more than $50 million, mostly to Republican candidates and Conservative causes. Koch Industries tops the list with $5.7 million spent in contributions to candidates.

Voters’ Resources

Represent.Us – A bipartisan anticorruption site with information on current laws, policies, national and local resources to help make a difference in political financing.

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.

 

Primary Previews

Four states are holding primaries on Tuesday. Here’s what to watch for in each state.

Connecticut: The 5th Congressional District is a race that is expected to stay with the Democrats after Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D) announced she would not seek re-election following criticism for mishandling a scandal in her office. The state could elect its first African-American representative if candidate Jahana Hayes, a progressive newcomer with the backing of Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) takes the primary and the election in November. Her biggest challenger is Democrat Mary Glassman. On the Republican side, Ruby O’Neill is the frontrunner, followed by Rich DuPont.

Incumbent Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is also up for re-election but is expected to retain his seat. His lead challenger on the Republican side is Dominic Rapini, an Apple executive.

Minnesota: The big race to watch is the special election to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Al Franken (D), who stepped down amid sexual harassment accusations. Sen. Tina Smith (D) was appointed to fill his vacancy and is now running. High-profile third-party candidate Richard Painter, who left the GOP and has become an outspoken Trump critic, is expected to be a tough opponent. He served as an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush Administration. On the Republican side, state Sen. Karin Housley has the endorsement of the GOP. She’s married to Phil Housley, the head coach to the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.

Vermont:  Not much is expected to change in Vermont. Despite running for the Democratic endorsement, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may not accept it and may remain Independent.

The one race that is garnering attention is the Democratic gubernatorial primary. And that’s because there’s a 14-year-old candidate, Ethan Sonneborn.

Wisconsin: The interesting race here is the one for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) seat in the 1st Congressional District. Democrats are backing frontrunner Randy Bryce, an ironworker, also known as the “Iron Stache”. He’s up against a local school board member Cathy Myers and has significantly outraised her. But he’s a controversial candidate, due to past arrests and a recent claim by Myers that he converted campaign funds for personal use.

On the GOP side, Ryan has endorsed Bryan Steil, his former staffer, a University of Wisconsin regent and lawyer for a manufacturing company. Four other Republicans are vying for the seat.

Featured image: A Koch subsidiary testing flare technologies to combust flammable gasses or liquids. (Koch Industries Instagram)

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Getting By With A Little Help from a Friend

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

FEMA Recommendations Stand to Benefit Agency Chief’s Former Employer

By Jonathan Larsen, TYT Investigates

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is calling for greater involvement by the private sector in disaster preparedness and response–which could directly profit the agency’s former employer, federal documents show.

In July, FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long signed off on an agency report assessing its performance during the 2017 hurricane season. As TYT previously reported, the report drew attention for accepting blame–but not for its suggested remedy of leaning more heavily on local governments and private contractors.

In his letter prefacing the report, Long writes, “As a nation, closer partnerships with the private sector are crucial in providing commodities and support to survivors.” Such partnerships stand to benefit not just the private sector broadly, but also, potentially, Long’s former employer.

For more than six years, up until his confirmation by the Senate in June 2017, Long served as an executive vice president at Hagerty Consulting, a disaster preparedness firm. Hagerty Consulting clients include the kinds of local governments that FEMA suggests should form partnerships with the private sector.

Asked about the possibility of benefiting from Long’s policy recommendations, Hagerty Consulting spokesperson Matt Hochstein told TYT the company “disagrees with your inference that we, as an organization, have benefited from Brock Long being appointed as FEMA Administrator.”

Regarding potential future benefits for the private sector, Hochstein said, “While this is one point of view, our point of view is that local emergency management is the first line of defense in a disaster… What the FEMA Administrator is suggesting is that the emergency management community utilize the private sector to reduce the time it takes to help disaster survivors. He’s also suggesting that in a catastrophic event, no one organization will have the capability to meet the entire need, and thus, engaging the private sector and their resources before the event will reduce response times and the dependency on the Federal government to address all capability gaps presented by disasters.”

FEMA Private Sector Deputy Director Lea Crager told TYT, “The idea of public-private partnerships isn’t new to the agency or the emergency management community.”

She pointed to FEMA’s Private Sector office, created by the 2006 Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act, “to enhance communication and collaboration between the private sector and the agency to help support capabilities and enhance national preparedness.” Crager also cited similar measures undertaken later, during the Obama Administration.

According to the Hagerty Consulting website, the company currently has an ongoing federal contract, as well as local government contracts in states including Florida, California, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia.

Long’s disclosure form last year listed additional Hagerty Consulting contracts with local government entities in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Crager said that, “FEMA provides new employees with ethics training that covers conflict of interest laws and regulations. In certain circumstances, such as the case of Administrator Long, employees may also complete a recusal memo, and the agency can put screening arrangements in place to ensure those matters covered do not come before the employee.”

Hochstein said, “All contract awards with FEMA are publicly available, and Hagerty Consulting has not been awarded any prime contracts with FEMA since Brock Long was appointed as Administrator.  Hagerty Consulting completely severed ties with Brock upon his appointment and have maintained that distance in a professional and ethical manner.”

According to Long’s disclosure forms, Hagerty paid him a pro-rated performance bonus of $37,478.45 upon his departure.

The company has been involved in response to some of the nation’s worst national disasters. In 2010, a Louisiana recovery official said he was forced out of his job in New Orleans after writing an internal memo warning that the city would run out of rebuilding money due to increased payments to private contractors. The memo said the cost of the city’s Hagerty Consulting contract increased from nearly $300 thousand to $2.3 million.

This January, Hagerty Consulting registered to open an office in Puerto Rico, according to public records. Hochstein told TYT that it has no physical presence on the island. “Hagerty has begun the registration and tax processes in PR in case we decide to pursue / take on work for the people of Puerto Rico,” Hochstein said.

A new study found that Hurricane Maria killed 1,139 people in Puerto Rico, more than ten times the official death toll. To pay off billions in debt to Wall Street, Puerto Rico has begun privatizing services ranging from education to electricity. The island’s power grid has not yet been fully repaired. The 2018 hurricane season is forecast to last through Nov. 30.

Featured image: FEMA Administrator Brock Long (speaking) with Trump and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello in the Oval Office in 2017. (AP)

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White House Targets Legal Immigrants

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

Proposal Ignores Congress, Would Force Long-Time Residents to Leave the Country

Having pretty much cemented its campaign against undocumented immigrants with ICE raids, family separations at the border and demands for a Wall on the southern border, the White House is now focusing its weaponry on legal immigration.

Stephen Miller (AP/REX/Shutterstock)

Turning their back on generations of immigrants who have built this country on their manual and intellectual labors, the Trump team is moving full-steam to limit legal immigration levels and to force temporary residents to self-deport.

NBC reported earlier this week that The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public benefit programs, including Obamacare. NBC News quoted four unnamed sources with knowledge of the plans.

The pursuit of such limits should alarm Republican congressmen as well as Democrats, but the silence so far is overwhelming.

But here’s the kicker: The plan is being hatched with regulations that do not need Congressional approval. In fact, the White House would specifically seek to avoid Congressional review.

Under the leadership of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, Trump would use a variety of tools to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year. Details of the rulemaking proposal are still being finalized, but based on a recent draft seen last week and described to NBC News, immigrants living legally in the U.S. who have ever used or whose household members have ever used Obamacare, children’s health insurance, food stamps and other benefits could be hindered from obtaining legal status in the U.S.

Just to remind us, buying into health insurance is not “welfare.” In my mind, treating those who would protect themselves with the legally available form of Obamacare as grifters is obnoxious. The point of food stamps, housing subsidies and other benefit programs are meant to help those not yet making it to have the stability to do so.

The idea is that America now only wants immigrants who can guarantee that they would be self-supporting. That apparently is the new definition of “merit” that Trump uses as a standard for legal immigration.

A Washington Post Plum Line commentary noted this week: “Republicans become deeply offended when you suggest that their party is in the process of adopting a white nationalist agenda, and that many of their voters are motivated by xenophobia. No no, they say, we acknowledge that America is a nation of immigrants; we just want a secure border and all the laws to be enforced. We welcome legal immigrants; it’s illegal immigration we have a problem with.”

But now a broad-based attack on legal immigration threatens that façade. “So much for the idea that Republicans only want to eliminate illegal immigration. Donald Trump — who, let’s not forget, got elected by saying he’d ban Muslims from entering the country and build a wall on our southern border — is following through on his vision, and that of people like Stephen Miller, that America should no longer welcome immigrants, and kick out as many of those who are already here as they can.”

  • Already, the administration has seriously reduced the number of green cards they grant each year, and the number of green card holders being granted citizenship has been cut.
  • The number of legal immigrants a year was reduced in more than half to 45,000 last year, and Trump has now proposed cutting that number in half. (Of course, he also has asked for H-1 temporary work visas for seasonal workers at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.)
  • The Department of Justice is rewriting asylum rules to eliminate domestic and gang violence as grounds for consideration, a move that has drawn a legal challenge from the ACLU.
  • The administration has stepped up ICE raids on immigrants who have been in the country for years, has sought to end the DACA (Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals) and has supported the idea of separating children, including infants, from migrant families.

Taken along with constant and repeated public harangues against sanctuary cities, wrongly tagged with supporting open borders, fake charges of widespread voter fraud involving illegal immigrants, targeting those from majority-Muslim countries from being able to travel to the United States, there is little doubt that there is sincerity in the contempt that Trump, Miller and the White House crowd have for immigrants.

Linked to public statements describing originating countries of color as “shitholes” when compared with, say, Norway, and other incidents involving antipathy against non-whites, it is an easy jump to conclude that the White House finds these racially insensitive remarks part of a disgusting campaign to appeal to a populist need for scapegoats for those lagging in the nation’s prosperity.

As to the benefits issue, a recent Cato Institute study found that “immigrants are less likely to consume welfare benefits and, when they do, they generally consume a lower dollar value of benefits than native-born Americans.”

“Trump knows that he has to keep feeding his base red meat on immigration, and one of the benefits of this policy is that it wouldn’t require congressional approval. Another benefit is that it can easily play into the misconceptions and prejudices Americans already hold,” argued Plum Line. “The NBC story used the word “welfare” when referring to programs like food stamps, the Affordable Care Act, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. As it happens, extensive research has shown that term is racially charged and turns people against whatever policy you’re using it to refer to. The strategy is clear: portray legal immigrants as a drain on the system, taking advantage of hard-working people like you.”

The wider argument holds that the White House wants the November elections to be about immigration, which is why Trump broadly paints the fight as supporters of a Wall against Democrats who want open borders and who invite crime by immigrant gangs.

Regardless of political orientation, we all should be able to agree that legal immigration has been a strength for this country. The White House should back off.

Featured image: The American Dream USA Services, Berlin.

 

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Missing the Full Forest

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

Trump Weighs In on the California Fires … and Get’s Everything Wrong

Even hundreds of miles from the multiple wildfires in Northern California, smoke from the fires turns the sky gray. These wildfires are huge and dangerous, as well as sneaky and hard to put down.

Apparently, the scientific and emotional reality from that danger doesn’t really reach Washington – or Washington in exile at the Trump resort in Bridgewater, N.J.

Trump decided to wade into the forest firestorms, which are bringing up anew conversations about the effects of climate change, by tweeting earlier this week.

 

NASA satellite view of the smoke and fires in Northern California.

 

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear stop fire spreading!”

But this tweet, as usual, has a couple of reality problems.

This is a tweet worth examining. There are no “lies” in it, just policy misunderstandings. Simply put, to me, any president, Trump included, should be able to describe accurately what problem his administration is trying to solve. So, inaccurate linkages of wildfires to water management or hiding a business-leaning set of deregulation moves behind causing wildfires is plain lazy. He is not doing his homework. Or he is turning a disaster that is burning homes into a partisan political statement on a totally unrelated water management issue.

For openers, available water does not seem to be the problem in these wildfires. There are nearby lakes and reservoirs, and the prime tools for fighting these fires include creating fire breaks and dropping chemical retardants; water suppression generally plays less of a dousing role.

Secondly, the reference to bad environmental rules probably is about the long-term debate between big farms, which want free irrigation waters, and environmentalists, who want to maintain natural wetlands as water moves downstream.

And then Trump also throws in forest clearing, as if that is related to the cause of the fires. Indeed, his administration is moving to allow commercial logging of healthy green pine trees for the first time in decades in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles, a tactic the U.S. Forest Service says will reduce fire risk, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The tweet never mentions climate change, because Trump views it variously as a “hoax” manufactured by the Chinese or bad policy because it unduly punishes U.S. investment and business growth. It is not about adding jobs.  Nor does it reflect any empathy for those who have lost their homes.

Scientists – people Trump apparently disdains – say that the earth is warming, which in turn is drying areas like California, that weather patterns are becoming more extreme in too much rain and flooding, or too much heat, leading to drought. Overall, California is facing dry forests and conditions in which wildfires can take hold quickly. Gov. Jerry Brown has said this dryness is the new norm.

The L.A. Times noted that the brunt of Trump’s tweet attempts to tie the fires ravaging Northern California to complaints by members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation about environmental protections that have reduced water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley agriculture. But Scott McClean, deputy chief of the state Department of Forest and Fire Protection, says, “We’re having no problems as far as access to water supply. The problem is changing climate leading to more severe and destructive fires.”

Meanwhile, the White House is seeking to reopen some of the most sensitive and sought-after public lands in the state not just for timber production, but also for potential solar, wind, broadband infrastructure, mining, off-road vehicle and grazing uses. Environmental groups have long argued that the logging industry has used fire as an excuse to plunder forests, cutting big trees and leaving behind only small, unmarketable timber.

The timber industry, however, says that in order to remove flammable deadwood and stop the spread of insects to still-healthy trees, it needs greater access to more valuable live trees.

So far this year, an estimated 4,800 fires have burned about 550,000 acres, destroying more than 1,000 homes and killing eight people including four firefighters, authorities say.

Since the early 1990s, when people started moving in greater numbers to forested areas, the Forest Service has been under pressure from the environmental movement and the timber industry to come up with a strategy acceptable to both. Timber harvesting in Southern California has been largely restricted to post-fire thinning and salvage logging operations in and around alpine communities such as Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains, and Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. Most of the marketable wood generated by those efforts was cut and sold as firewood.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue raised annual timber production targets for the Los Padres National Forest from 200,000 cubic feet of wood in 2017 to 400,000 cubic feet this year.

L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik said that Trump “deserves some sort of award for most glaring misstatements about (climate change and water policy) in the smallest number of words.” Hiltzik adding that “It’s proper to note that the environmental policies being promoted by the Trump White House will make climate change worse, further endangering forest areas.

Trump “has no idea what’s causing the wildfires this season, no conception of how to fight them and no plan in place to alter the trend of more fires or more severity. Doing so means devoting attention to a complex problem that involves science, nature and government action. That can’t be accomplished via a Sunday night tweet.”

Amen.

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Truth Is Whatever Trump Dribbles Out When He Dribbles It

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

It Took a Year to Admit Donald Jr.’s Infamous ‘Trump Tower Meeting’ Was About Russians Spying

That Donald Trump could blithely now just blurt out that the notorious meeting in Trump Tower actually was a blown attempt to get dirt on opponent Hillary Clinton seems at once a significant development and a sad reflection about the role of truth.

The president’s weekend tweet, issued to protect his son, Donald Jr., was an admission that should draw yet increased attention from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is exploring the degree to which Russian meddling in the election was invited, developed and coordinated with the Trump campaign.

Legal niceties aside, the admission should be seen as evidence towards consideration of any charges related to collusion.

And it certainly should underscore the case the special counsel is making to interview President Trump about his actions, statements and oversight of his campaign.

As Axios noted, “It’s one of the most striking public reversals in modern presidential history, even though he made a similar point before, and even though it was done casually via an early morning tweet. It involves Russia, Air Force One, a presidential son, shady operatives, allegations of collusion and a federal probe — all in one.”

This is the President admitting on the record that he misled the American people about the purpose of that meeting – which he still says he knew nothing about in advance.

Given Trump’s record on closely tracking all things that affect him personally, that claim seems another misleading note; are we really to believe that Donald Jr. would not have told his father of the approach by Russian lawyers who turned out to be operatives? Besides, we now have indications from former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen that Trump indeed did know and discuss the coming Trump Tower meeting before it happened.

Why has it been necessary for Trump and his lawyers to deny the events, lie about them even, for more than a year?

The tweet itself raised more questions than it answered. Trump tweeted: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

After all, if there is no collusion, and collusion is not generally referring to a crime, why has it been necessary for Trump and his lawyers to deny the events, lie about them even, for more than a year?

But it was Trump who had dictated a statement to the media saying the meeting was about primarily about the adoption of Russian children, not campaign dirt offered by shady Russians with connections to Putin. “Fake news” indeed – it was Trump who manufactured fake news about the reasons for the meeting.

As for fabricating reports from within the White House that his own people have heard the president bemoan that his son might be caught in collusion investigations, why is this the fault of the press?

It is Trump and his lawyers who now are arguing that there is no crime in colluding with the Russians. The Federal Election Commission regulations prohibit foreign nationals from directing, dictating, controlling, or directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process in elections, and bar soliciting or accepting money or contributions of value from a foreign party.

It seems pretty clear that setting up the meeting – soliciting the meeting and dirt – is legally verboten.

A year ago, during a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump said: “I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.  It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent.” He added: “Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information.”

Maybe Trump should have just owned up to the meeting and its circumstances up front, and not wait the year plus that he now decries as “Witch Hunt” to acknowledge a basic truth. Maybe he should not have spent the year continually distancing himself from the meeting. Maybe he should have used the findings about the meeting, along with a load of other contacts with Russian meddlers, to actually tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin that it needs to stop now.

To remind us, The Washington Post noted that the Trump Tower meeting also included Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, who is on trial over tax and bank fraud charges after being indicted by Mueller. Trump’s tweet conflicts with a statement that Trump Jr. released to the New York Times in July 2017, as the newspaper prepared to report about the meeting. In that statement, Trump Jr. indicated that the meeting had been “primarily” about the issue of the adoption of Russian children by Americans. Amid an uproar over the meeting, the president’s son was forced to release follow-up statements, ultimately acknowledging that the meeting’s true purpose had been to get dirt about Hillary Clinton from a lawyer he had been told was working for the Russian government.

Donald Jr. repeated that adoption line in testifying to congressional investigators, meaning that Donald Jr. could face a legal problem with perjury to Congress.

By itself, this is just another tweet, sort of admitting something, sort of continuing to muddy the waters.

As part of the Trump record, however, this tweet is an important sign that Trump has no respect for the American public, for the state of the nation or for the office of the presidency. He cares about himself and his family, and he cannot tell the difference between self-serving remarks and truth. That’s a bad combination.

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Federal Judges Block Trump Immigration Moves

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

Separate Cases—on Family Separations and on DACA—Show There Are Still Some Adults in the Government

Two of Trump’s immigration initiatives were rejected on Friday by the courts, surely fueling both some relief that there is common sense somewhere in the system and more vitriol from the administration for judges who are not hand-picked.

Federal district court judges ruled that it is the Trump administration that has the sole burden to locate migrant parents who had been separated from their children during immigration procedures on the southern border and that the administration must re-start the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program that it had ordered terminated.

In a pretty nutty court proceeding last week, the Department of Justice had argued in a brief that the ACLU, which filed suit on behalf of separated families,  should take the responsibility for finding parents who have since been deported back to Mexico or Central American countries to facilitate reunion with their children, using its “considerable resources” through supporting organizations.

Together, these decisions by the courts are the latest legal blows against Trump’s moves against limiting immigration. DACA was an Obama-era program, which offered deportation relief to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee to the bench in California, disagreed, and chided the government, saying: “The government has the sole burden and responsibility and obligation to make this happen.”

To me, at least, this argument seemed pretty cheeky from a government that had intervened – sometimes in legal asylum request proceedings – to separate the children from parents. The administration has been squirrely through these last months about taking responsibility for the start, never really owning up to the obvious policy statement that the U.S. government was adopting the separation plan to keep down the number of recently unwanted border crossings. The reunification process is an ongoing effort set in motion by the judge’s June 25 order that required the administration to join families that had been split apart at the border.

The judge added, “The reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child. And that is 100% the responsibility of the administration.”

The Justice Department said that 1,979 children had been reunified with parents or sponsors, but 572 children had parents who were either deemed ineligible for reunification or “not available for discharge at this time.”

For every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child. And that is 100% the responsibility of the administration.—Judge Dana Sabraw

Of the remaining separated children in federal custody, 410 had a parent outside the U.S., likely as a result of deportation or voluntary departure. Another 68 children had parents who were released into the U.S., but hadn’t been contacted yet. In the cases of 15 children, the parents’ locations remained “under case file review.” Of the deported parents, only 12 or 13 appeared to have been located, according to the court filing.

The federal judge told the Trump administration to develop a plan to track down the missing parents and appoint an official to oversee the process.

The judge also ordered the ACLU to come up with its own reunification plan that explains how it will use information provided by the government to assist reunification efforts. The civil liberties group should designate the lead attorney or nongovernmental organization to spearhead the effort, he said.

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. District Judge John Bates ordered the Trump administration to restart in full the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The judge denied a Justice Department motion to reconsider an earlier decision, saying there were still deficiencies in the administration’s rationale for rescinding DACA.

Bates, another George W. Bush appointee, said, “The court has already once given [the Department of Homeland Security] the opportunity to remedy these deficiencies — either by providing a coherent explanation of its legal opinion or by reissuing its decision for bona fide policy reasons that would preclude judicial review,” said Bates, “So it will not do so again.” He threatened to vacate the memo ending DACA — and thereby restore the program in full — if Trump officials could not present an adequate reason for ending it.

It sounded as if the government’s argument, a memo issued by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, was simply legally inadequate. Bates said the Nielsen memo, like Duke’s before it, “offers nothing even remotely approaching a considered legal assessment that this court could subject to judicial review.”

The judge made clear that he was not against ending DACA, if the government could provide a good reason.

More than 700,000 undocumented immigrants are enrolled in the DACA program. If Friday’s ruling goes into effect later this month, the administration will be required to accept new applications from people who meet DACA’s eligibility requirements.

Apart from all else, the rulings are a reminder that we need a strong, independent judiciary as the Trump administration widens its campaign of disruption of most existing governmental programs.

 

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It’s Down to the Wire in a Crucial Ohio Special Election

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

Tuesday’s Vote Is Seen as Bellwether of the Blue Wave

The GOP has suddenly gotten spooked about Ohio. In a congressional race that is said to be a bellwether of the might of the Blue Wave, Republicans have done everything possible to try to push their candidate over the finish line in Ohio’s 12th district—Columbus suburbs—special election on Tuesday. At least they can console themselves with that, should they come up short.

They sent in the big guns: Trump held a rally Saturday night where he mentioned the candidate, state Sen. Troy Balderson (R), for a few minutes in a long-winded ramble that was mostly a tirade against the media and the Trump-Kremlin conspiracy investigation and praise of his election win in 2016, where he carried the district by 11 percentage points. Helpful? Hard to say.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made a recent trip to the Buckeye State to campaign for Balderson, as has Vice President Mike Pence.

And then there’s the cash that has been pouring in on his behalf. Some $6 million in outside spending has been spent on ads against his opponent, Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor (D-Ohio) and for him, including an ad Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) made in support of his candidacy. Balderson himself has sponsored only 566 ad spots while the Congressional Leadership Fund, a pro-GOP super PAC, has put out more than 2,400 ads on his behalf, according to a recent report by the Wesleyan Media Project.

By comparison, Danny O’Connor has aired more than 1,900 ads, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee adding another 380 spots to the mix.

So, no matter how you look at it, this is a hot race and the GOP is sweating it.

Voters’ Resources

Represent.Us – A bipartisan anticorruption site with information on current laws, policies, national and local resources to help make a difference in political financing.

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.

 

A month ago, polls showed O’Connor trailing Balderson by 11 points in a Republican district that has had a Republican congressional representative for 36 years—including Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio), who resigned in January (Kasich held the seat in the 1990s). Now, that same poll, by Monmouth University, conducted the last week of July, had O’Connor at 45% to Balderson’s 46.7%–a statistical dead heat.

The closing of the gap is likened to Rep. Conor Lamb’s (D-Pa.) campaign in March and the presence of a third-party candidate in both special elections. Ohio’s 12th Congressional District has Green Party candidate Jonathan Alan Veley (L) on the ballot, which seems to be pulling from both O’Connor’s and Balderson’s votes. In the end, that could work in O’Connor’s favor. The second factor is Trump’s disapproval rating among Democrats.

As the nation watches this special election so close to the midterms, there are big stakes involved. Ohio could go Democrat, from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D)’s re-election to the gubernatorial race. But more importantly, as a recent report by CNN noted, if Balderson loses, it may signal the Democrats have a real seize on the House control, which could cause some Republican donors to reconsider donations as we get closer to November. Now, that should really spook the GOP.

Primary Preview: Kansas, Missouri, Michigan

Three states hold primaries on Tuesday. Here are the hot races to watch in each state.

Kansas – There are two Congressional battleground races to watch, the 2nd Congressional District and the 3rd Congressional District.

In the 2nd Congressional District, seven candidates are vying for the open seat that Incumbent Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) is vacating. The problem is, nothing really distinguishes the candidates from each other and none is a real heavyweight. Some political trackers have even moved this race from the “likely-Republican” category into “toss-up” territory. Democratic candidate Paul Davis (D) has a healthy war chest of $1.5 million, almost triple the size of the Republican frontrunner, Steve Watkins.

The 3rd Congressional District race has gained national attention as six Democratic hopefuls try to unseat Incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder (R). The district voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election by a margin of 1% and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put it on its target list for 2018. Labor lawyer Brent Welder (D) has received endorsements from Our Revolution and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as from Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), winner of a high-profile primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District. Lawyer, economic adviser and former mixed martial arts competitor Sharice Davids (D) has the backing of EMILY’s List and would be the first Native American woman in Congress if elected. Meanwhile, Trump tweeted his support of Rep. Yoder and Vice President Pence attended a fundraiser for him.

Michigan – The Republican Senate primary is a heated affair between Sandy Pensler and John James as both look to unseat incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D), who is running uncontested. Army veteran James has the party support and endorsements from Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well as Reps. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.) and Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.). He also has the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which spent more than $60,000 on his campaign. But venture capitalist Sandy Pensler has plenty of capital and invested more than $5 million of his own money through the second quarter. Meanwhile, Stabenow has raised more than $15 million to date, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

11th Congressional District – This race is interesting for a few reasons. The seat is open because Trump-critic Rep. Dave Trott (R) called it quits. The district straddles two counties that voted for Hillary Clinton in a state that voted for Trump in 2016. And the Chairman of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel lives in the district. So, there’s a lot of attention and outside funding flooding in. There are five candidates on each side. Business owner and co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Michigan campaign Lena Epstein (R) leads the pack for the GOP contenders with $1.6 million raised. And entrepreneur Suneel Gupta (D), the brother of CNN medical specialist, Sanjay Gupta, is the frontrunner for the Democrats.

13th Congressional District – Special Election to replace seat held by longtime Congressman Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), who left amid sexual harassment allegations. No Republicans are running in the race; just six Democrats. The frontrunner is Detroit state representative Rashida Tlaib, who has raised more than $1 million, followed by Ian Conyers, John Conyers’ great-nephew and a first-term state senator.

Josh Hawley with Trump

Missouri – The races to watch here are the primaries for U.S. Senate. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) will surely win her primary easily. But Republicans think her seat could be up for grabs in November. The frontrunner for the GOP is Josh Hawley, Missouri Attorney General. He’s got the support from the Republican Party, including Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Before he even declared his candidacy, the PAC Club for Growth reportedly raised $10 million to support his run, according to an article by Politico.

In June, the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with McConnell, announced it was reserving $10.5 million in ad dollars to boost Hawley, according to an article by The Hill. That same article has Democrats running ads claiming Hawley took money from a campaign donor, then looked the other way when the donor was slapped with an ethics violation.

Hawley also took money from employees, individuals and PACs affiliated with the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., which has owned local assets of Ride the Ducks operation and is named in a $100 million federal lawsuit over the terrible accident on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Herschend donated $10,800 to Joh Hawley’s Senate Campaign. As Attorney General, Hawley has opened a criminal investigation into the recent Duck Boat accident. And Sen. McCaskill has introduced legislation seeking safety improvements for the Duck Boats following the July accident that killed 17 passengers. Should Hawley win the primary, as he surely will, it could make for some heated debates before the general election.

Additional reporting by Sarah Okeson.

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