Originally Published: 2/18/2017
Michael Flynn: After the report of Michael Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador (TWW, Russia, 2/11/17), all hell broke loose. If you don’t want to read all this, you can watch Stephen Colbert give a great synopsis. (You Tube) The big question is whether Flynn violated the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized individuals from negotiating with foreign governments. (Talk Media News) Then it came out that Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, told the White House “late last month” that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador. She warned that Flynn “was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.” (Washington Post) It is claimed that he lied to then VP-elect Mike Pence about his conversations, but I think this may be spurious. “Current and former officials said that although they believed that Pence was misled . . . they couldn’t rule out that Flynn was acting with the knowledge of others in the transition.” (Washington Post) And Trump was aware for weeks that Flynn had misled Pence about his talks. (Reuters) But Pence claims he didn’t know he was lied to until last week. (Washington Post) What I want to know is who told Flynn to have any discussions with Russia. I don’t for a second believe he acted on his own. Flynn resigned - or was fired, there are 2 stories on this - as National Security Adviser. (NY Times) Here’s the resignation letter. But this probably won’t be the end of it. Not only did Flynn lie last month to the FBI about his discussions with Russia (Washington Post), “Critics are questioning whether top Trump administration officials were misled, lied to - or perhaps complicit. . . [T]he circumstances surrounding Flynn’s departure will almost certainly increase scrutiny of others in Trump’s inner circle who allegedly have ties to Russia.” (Roll Call) If you’re still wondering about the Russian connections, this should cinch it. “The heads of the foreign affairs committees in both Russia’s upper and lower houses of parliament” are defending Flynn. (Washington Post) James Hohmann at the Washington Post wrote that there are still 10 unanswered questions. Like, what, if anything, did Trump authorize Flynn to tell the Russians before his inauguration and why was Trump planning to stand by Flynn?
Russian Connection: The day after Michael Flynn’s departure as National Security Adviser, a bombshell NY Times story reported that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that members of Trump’s campaign were in close contact with the Russian intelligence officials during the campaign. But don’t forget that intelligence officials confirmed months ago that the Russian government did interfere in our election in order to help Trump win. (NY Times) Now there’s evidence that Trump campaign officials were in constant communication with the same Russian actors that were trying to tilt the election. (CNN) Business Insider has a lengthy timeline of Trump’s ties to Russia and line up “with allegations of conspiracy and misconduct.” And Newsweek has a piece on information our allies have found. “As part of intelligence operations being conducted against the United States for the last 7 months, at least one Western European ally intercepted a series of communications before the inauguration between advisers associated with President Donald Trump and Russian government officials.” Currently the NSA is “so concerned” over Trump’s ties to Russia that they’re withholding information from presidential briefings. (Independent)
Lying: The White House is getting quite a reputation for lying. Check out Stephen Miller’s tirades. (See below.) Watch as John Oliver goes over the many lies coming out of this administration. (You Tube) Morning Joe, after listening to more lies, sent a message to the White House: “You keep lying, we’re going to keep reporting about it. You stop lying we’ll actually do what every Republican on the hill told me quietly, ‘I wish you would shut up, so you guys could talk about policy.’” (AlterNet)
Mar-a-Lago: Trump has spent 2 of his 4 weekends as president at his exclusive resort in Palm Beach Florida, Mar-a-Lago, the “Winter White House.” (TWW, Presidency Profit, 1/28/17) Last Sunday night wealthy diners had front-row seats to watch Trump’s response to news of a ballistic missile test by North Korea. Also in attendance was Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Club members were allowed to take photos as Trump and Abe huddled over their computers, everyone listened as Trump and Abe made phone calls. Trump posted several photos on Facebook. Look at this one carefully. Guests are lighting their mobile phones for better lighting. Unbelievable. And he worries about leaks? Yet press secretary Sean Spicer claimed that Trump was briefed “in a secure location.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT) is asking the White House for details about his security protocols for handling sensitive information at Mar-a-Lago. (Washington Post) Richard Wolffe, at the Guardian, wrote: “Never mind classified information. Here is a president who is so careless that he can’t handle a national security incident in a confidential manner.” The NY Times referred to this as “a national security crisis in the open.” The NY Times has a great piece on Mar-a-Lago and what went down.
Stephen Miller: You’ve probably heard about Trump’s adviser for domestic policy and his rants on last Sunday’s shows. Watch MSNBC’s Morning Joe which has clips of Miller’s performance and the critique that followed. (You Tube) While his autocratic diatribe is shocking, I strongly suspect it reflects Trump’s beliefs, as well as those of the entire White House staff. The Washington Post pointed out that Flynn’s lies led to his firing, but Miller’s lies got him kudos from the president. Media Matters has an extensive review of Miller’s lies regarding voter fraud. And for a little humor, watch Stephen Colbert on Miller. (You Tube)
Press Conference: Trump held his first solo press conference. PolitiFact fact-checked what he said and, unfortunately, much of it was lies. The Washington Post Fact Checker found the same thing. Trump gave a Jewish correspondent a tongue-lashing (NY Times) and an exchange with a black reporter “raised eyebrows.” (ABC) I just couldn’t resist putting up Stephen Colbert’s monologue on this. (AlterNet)
Steven Mnuchin: He was confirmed as Treasury Secretary. (Roll Call)
Scott Pruitt: He’s been confirmed, along party lines, to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. (Washington Post) In case you forgot, this is the guy who, as Oklahoma’s AG, sued the EPA several times and there’s still a suit pending. So, he’s the plaintiff and defendant in the case. Democrats thought this might be a conflict of interest, but Republicans didn’t agree.
David Shulkin: “In a break from the partisan rancor,” senators backed Shulkin as Veterans Affairs Secretary. He is a hold-over from the Obama administration. (Roll Call)
Mick Mulvaney: The Senate confirmed Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R, SC) as director of the Office of Management and Budget. (Roll Call) He’s a Tea Partier. His philosophy is cut, cut, cut.
Andrew Puzder: He’s pulled his nomination for Labor Secretary. His hearing was pushed off 4 times because he failed to complete the paperwork. (TWW, Andrew Puzder, 2/11/17) At least 6 Republican senators said they couldn’t support him. (Roll Call)
National Security Adviser: It seems Trump is going to have a hard time finding a replacement for Michael Flynn. He offered the job to Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, but Harward turned him down. (Washington Post) Does he want to keep his well-paid job as a senior executive at Lockheed Martin or does he not want to be affiliated with this administration?
Alex Acosta: Trump nominated Florida International University law school dean R. Alexander Acosta for Labor Secretary. (Sun Sentinel)
David Friedman: Trump has chosen him as ambassador to Israel. According to the Washington Post, many senators are skeptical that he can be fair-minded. He’s publicly doubted the creation of a Palestinian state and supports more settlements in the West Bank.
Afghanistan: The UN Coalition fighting in Afghanistan conducted air raids on Helmand’s Sangin district and killed at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children. “The UN said the strikes had been conducted by ‘international military forces,’ but only U.S. aircraft have been involved in recent coalition strikes, according to U.S. military officials.” (Al Jazeera)
Iran: Yukiya Amano, the head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reported that Iran is implementing the deal on its nuclear program as per the agreement with world powers. Trump “is considering insisting” that the IAEA “toughen its policing of Iran’s compliance, including demanding access to military sites.” But he would need support from the other 34 countries who sit on the IAEA board of governors. (Reuters)
Arizona: Arizona has come up with a solution for the problems with lethal injection drugs. The Department of Corrections’ “latest execution protocol states that attorneys for death row inmates are welcome to bring” their own drugs. (Guardian)
Colorado: Cynthia Coffman, the state’s Republican attorney general, is suing Boulder County over its moratorium on new oil and gas development that’s been in place for 5 years. In a letter to Boulder County Commissioners last month she threatened legal action “if the county didn’t begin permitting new oil and gas development including fracking on unincorporated county land by February 10th. The County didn’t succumb. (KUNC)
Florida: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that Florida doctors may talk to their patients about gun safety, “overturning a 2011 law that pitted medical providers against the state’s powerful gun lobby.” (NY Times)
Voter Fraud: They finally caught one, an immigrant with a green card who’s been voting in Texas for years. It looks like a mistake, apparently she thought she was doing her civic duty. But she was caught in 2015 and, therefore, didn’t vote in 2016. However, the clincher is she registered as a Republican and voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. She was sentenced to 8 years in prison and deportation thereafter. (Washington Post)
Voter Suppression: According to a new study published in The Journal of Politics, before 2006 no state had a voter ID law. Today there are 10 states that do. A total of 33 states, representing more than half the nation’s population, have some version of voter identification. The researchers found that these laws “have a differentially negative impact” on the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in primaries and general elections. “We also find that voter ID laws skew democracy toward those on the political right.”
Public Safety: Trump’s new crime policies that were rolled out last week (TWW, Public Safety, 2/11/17) are being criticized by “liberals and civil rights groups.” However, they are also being criticized by “prominent police chiefs and prosecutors” who say that Trump’s administration “is out of step with evidence that public safety depends on building trust, increasing mental health and drug addiction treatment, and using alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.” (NY Times)
Inequality: A new report by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that over the last 37 years the top 10% of all Americans saw their incomes rise by 115% and the top 1% saw an increase of 198%. But the bottom half not only failed to see any gain at all, their incomes actually declined 1978 to 2015. There are some great charts in this report.
DREAMer: A DREAMer has been detained. As far as anyone knows, he’s the first. These are people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Obama had the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provided them with a green card. Of course, these people are registered with the U.S. government. I wondered how long it would take the Trump administration to start looking for these people. (Reuters) His lawyers filed suit with the Department of Homeland Security “alleging unlawful seizure and detention’ and “leading chief U.S. magistrate judge James Donohue to order the government to justify its actions.” (Guardian)
Guns: Last week the House passed a bill to undo an Obama regulation restricting gun access from certain mentally ill people. This week the Senate passed it. Trump will sign it. (Washington Post)
ACA: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a draft of proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. According to the Guardian, it’s filled with ideas written by private insurance companies. “Proposed changes would shorten the window to enroll in coverage from 3 months to 6 weeks, increase out-of-pocket costs to consumers, and give regulatory authority for health plans to states - all proposals that insurance companies have called for.” The plan “leans heavily” on tax credits “to finance individual insurance purchases” and “sharply” reduces federal payments to the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility. The plan includes no estimates of the number of people who would gain or lose insurance under the plan. (NY Times) A white paper was drafted by House leadership “and the staff of the House and Senate committees that oversee health policy.” It lays out the structure of the proposal. “It would greatly expand the number of Americans who could benefit from federal help in buying health insurance, but it would change who benefits most from that support.” Someone very rich would benefit the same as someone living in poverty. (NY Times) Robert Reich wrote that the real reason Republicans want to repeal the ACA is because “it would mean a huge tax windfall for the wealthy.” He said it would mean an average of $33,000 of tax cuts for the 1% each year, “and a whopping $197,000 of tax cuts” for the top 0.1%.
Healthcare Spending: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) are estimating that healthcare spending will increase from $3.4 trillion in 2016 to $5.5 trillion by 2025. That’s an average of 5.6% increase per year, “driven by inflation in the cost of medical services and products and an aging population.” (Washington Post)
Genetic Engineering: The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine are now supporting “the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations.” (NY Times)
DAPL: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe joined in a motion filed by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe “seeking a temporary restraining order to stop construction of the final section of the Dakota Access pipeline, which began this week.” (ABC) But U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in the District of Washington, D.C. denied the motion. He said he was not ruling on whether the pipeline is “a good or bad idea,” but that whether its continued construction would cause “imminent harm.” He set another hearing on the tribes’ request for a preliminary injunction to revoke the Army Corps of Engineers’ easement for February 27th. (ABC)
Climate Change: According to a report published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, the impact of human activity on earth is causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces. For the past 4.5 billion years astronomical and geophysical factors have been the dominating influences on the Earth. but over the past 6 decades human forces “have driven exceptionally rapid rates of change in the Earth system.”
Fracked Oil: The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that 60% of the majority of crude oil produced in the U.S. by 2040 will come from fracked wells. It reported that fracking oil production is expected to reach 6 million barrels per day. The industry refers to it as “tight oil.” The agency projects “that output will continue to slide this year, before picking back up again in 2018.” (District Sentinel)
Mariana Trench: Scientists have discovered “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution “in the most remote and inaccessible place on the plant - the 10 km deep Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.” Using a robotic submarine, they were able to capture small crustaceans that live down there and found they were contaminated with 50 times more toxic chemicals than crabs that survive in heavily polluted rivers in China. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.” (Guardian)
Environmental Damages: Every 2 years the Government Accountability Office (GAO) does a risk analysis of problems facing federal agencies. This year it released a report saying that taxpayers are on the hook for about $447 billion in environmental clean-up costs - up from $217 billion in 1997. This estimate doesn’t include any future costs. It’s just “to date.” The Energy Department (DOE) alone accounts for 80% of the total, “mostly related to nuclear waste clean-up.” Half of DOE’s liabilities come from just 2 nuclear clean-up sites, one in Washington State and another in South Carolina.
Green Cities: WalletHub analyzed data to “determine the cities promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle.” They compared the 100 largest cities across 20 key “green” indicators. “Our data set ranges from ‘greenhouse-gas emissions per capita’ to ‘number of smart-energy policies and initiatives.’” No surprise, most of the top cities are in California, with the exception of Honolulu coming in at #2. At the bottom are red states. Check and see where your city is.
Cardin-Lugar: Trump signed a bill eliminating the Cardin-Lugar regulations, established under the Dodd-Frank Act, which forced oil companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments in order to secure mining and drilling rights. “The rules aimed to help fight corruption, and critics charge that Tuesday’s move handed ‘an astonishing gift to the American oil lobby.” (Guardian) According to the District Sentinel, this is the first of many deregulation measures “pushed by Congressional Republicans” using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). (TWW, CRA, 2/4/17)
Rental Securitization: If you remember, back in 2013 I told you about the securitization of rental receipts. Hedge funds and private equity firms were buying up foreclosed properties cheaply and renting them. Blackstone, the largest private equity firm in the world, was picking up thousands. Then Wall Street started issuing bonds backed by securitized rental payments. (TWW, Another Housing Crisis, 12/7/13) One of the last things Obama did before he left office was to give “a completely unjustified bailout to private equity landlords.” Fannie Mae is “guaranteeing the income of all but the bottom tranches of Blackstone’s latest rental securitization.” Naked Capitalism wrote that there is “absolutely no policy justification for this.”