Originally Published: 2/25/2017
Media War: The Washington Post changed its masthead this week. It now says “Democracy Dies in Darkness” under the title. It’s good timing since a recent Quinnipiac poll found that its respondents say they trust the media more than President Trump. (It also found that Republicans are out of step with U.S. voters on key issues, like legalized marijuana.) Maybe this is because Trump gets his information from Fox and from - if you can believe this - Alex Jones. Don’t know Alex Jones? Let Stephen Colbert tell you about him. (You Tube) But Trump isn’t giving up. He’s back on the “fake news” bandwagon and, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week, “issued a blistering attack on news organizations he dubbed ‘fake news,’ appearing to threaten those outlets and again calling them an ‘enemy of the people.’” (Roll Call) Again, Stephen Colbert has the skinny on Trump’s fight with the press. Make sure you hear Senator John McCain’s (R, AZ) comment: “If you want to preserve democracy as we know it you have to have a free - and many times adversarial - press and without it I’m afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.” (You Tube) But Trump wouldn’t give up. The White House blocked a number of news outlets from covering press secretary Sean Spicer’s “gaggle” (a question-and-answer session) Friday afternoon. It was held in his West Wing office rather than the briefing room. Banned were CNN, the New York Times, the Hill, Politico, BuzzFeed, the Daily Mail, the BBC, the Los Angeles Times, and many others. However, “journalists from several right-leaning outlets were allowed into Spicer’s office, including Breitbart, the Washington Times, and One America News Network as well as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Reuters, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy. (The Hill) The Guardian was also banned. The White House Correspondents’ Association, representing the White House press pool, “released a statement indicating that it was ‘protesting strongly’ against the way the briefing was handled.” (Washington Post) While Trump has been at odds with the media since he’s been elected - during the campaign they were great friends - but this is a new high. What’s behind it? Maybe it has something to do with the Russian connection. After the FBI rejected the White House’s request to stand down on the investigation (see below), they enlisted “senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia.” These officials “made calls to news organizations last week . . . with the aim of contesting reporting on Russia.” Apparently the news organizations did not acquiesce and, thus, we have these stepped up attacks. (Washington Post)
Exxon and Russia: Back in December I told you about Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Russia. “Rosneft and Exxon are jointly developing oil and gas properties in the Arctic.” (TWW, State Department, 12/17/16) Here’s some background on this. Back in 2014 Russia and Exxon hit oil in a well drilled in the Arctic Ocean and the Financial Post wrote: “the region has the potential to become one of the world’s most important crude-producing areas.” GQ had a great piece on the Trump dossier (TWW, Trump Ties to Russia, 1/14/17; Getting Ignored and Oleg Erovinkin, 2/4/17) and what it tells us about the connection. But let me summarize. Russia and Exxon are going to make zillions off the oil but the sanctions the U.S. put on Russia because of its annexation of Crimea and its incursions into Ukraine put a crimp in the plan. So, Trump made Tillerson, Exxon’s CEO, Secretary of State. A week before Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser, “a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.” It is being pushed by: Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer who delivered the document; Felix Sater, “a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia;” and “a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.” (NY Times) Manafort has a long history of working with Russia (TWW, Trump on Russia, 7/30/16) and resigned as Trump’s campaign manager “amid damaging reports about his involvement with a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.” (The Hill) Now, any questions about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador?
FBI Investigation: The FBI “rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign. . . But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate.” (CNN)
Leaked Tape: Politico obtained a tape leaked from a source in the room at the Bedminster, New Jersey golf club last November where Trump “invited partygoers to stop by the next day to join” his interviews for potential cabinet nominees. He said: “We’re doing a lot of interviews tomorrow - generals, dictators, we have everything. You may wanna come around. It’ll be fun. We’re really working tomorrow. We have meetings every 15, 20 minutes with different people that will form our government.” [Emphasis added.]
Trump’s Taxes: Congressional Democrats “are attempting to use an obscure, decades-old law to try to force Donald Trump to publish his tax returns.” A law passed in 1924 gives congressional committees that decide tax policy the right to examine tax returns. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D, NJ), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, has asked chair Kevin Brady (R, TX) “to order the Treasury Department to release the President’s tax returns to the committee.” (Independent) Tom Toles, editorial cartoonist at the Washington Post, seems to think that Trump’s taxes are “the very first place anybody should have looked for a Russia-Trump connection.”
Craig Deare: Trump fired this National Security Council aide “after receiving reports that he had publicly criticized the president and his senior aides, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, at an event hosted by a Washington think tank.” Read the report at Politico. Deare had lots of complaints about Trump and his senior staff.
First Month: The Washington Post has a great piece on how Trump has spent his first month in office. Since being sworn in he has spent 744 hours in office at the end of precisely 1 month. “The president spent a little under three-quarters of his time in and around Washington . . . A little less than half of that was time during which he was officially working.” How they calculated this is interesting.
H.R. McMaster: Trump nominated Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to replace Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser. (Washington Post)
Data Mining: More than 200 people were arrested in the protests during Trump’s inauguration. (CNN) They were charged with felony riot charges “which carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.” AlterNet confirmed that Apple and Facebook are being compelled “to hand over the personal information of users who were arrested.” Apparently they are cooperating.
Fake News: Europe is fighting it, too. The NY Times refers to it as a new foe of political stability. Now “an 11-person team known as East Stratcom serves as Europe’s front line against this onslaught of fake news.”
Arms Trade: The global arms trade has “risen to its highest level since the end of the Cold War.” According to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “The U.S. is by far the world’s biggest arms exporter, accounting for 33% of all weapons exports in the 5 years through 2016.” [Emphasis added.] Russia is the second biggest supplier, with China coming in third. (CNN)
South Sudan: The UN has declared famine in parts of the country. Due to “war and a collapsing economy” 100,000 people are facing starvation. (Guardian)
Alabama: On the first day of the new legislative session a bill was introduced to authorize a bond issue of $800 million to build 4 new state prisons. (Al.com)
Arizona: A bill filed in the state senate would expand the state’s racketeering laws to include rioting. “And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others.” It appears that this would give law enforcement the ability to prosecute and seize the assets of everyone involved in planning a protest as well as everyone who participates. (Arizona Capitol Times) But this isn’t the only state. At least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to “curb mass protests in what civil liberties experts are calling ‘an attack on protest rights throughout the states.’” (Washington Post)
California: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “has put the brakes on $647 million for Caltrain to go electric - and in the process pretty much killed hopes for high-speed rail coming to San Francisco anytime soon.” In January all 14 California Republican representatives sent a letter to Chao calling for the Caltrain money “to be put on hold until a full audit is done.” Chao obliged them. (SF Gate)
Missouri: A Jewish cemetery was vandalized in St. Louis “amid growing concern about a U.S.-wide rise in antisemitism.” (Guardian)
Texas: A group of global investors “with $11 trillion in managed assets,” told Texas “not to enact legislation restricting access to bathrooms for transgender people, saying it is discriminatory and bad for business.” (Reuters)
Town Halls: Congress was in recess this week to do constituent services. This is the week when town halls are held. Many, fearing outrage from constituents, refused to hold town halls. (CNN) (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) In Issaquah, Washington protesters took to the street to protest Rep. Dave Reichert’s (R, WA) not holding a town hall. (Twitter) But some brave souls did. Most of these, like Senator Tom Cotton (R, AK), expected their right-leaning states to be great. Cotton was in for a surprise. He was not met with happy people. AlterNet has lots of clips from his meeting with constituents. Even Iowa gave Senator Chuck Grassley (R, IA) an earful. (Think Progress) Most of the people were concerned about losing their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is gutted. According to 2 surveys released this week, “support of Obamacare is at an all-time high.” (CNN)
The Election: A petition for writ of mandamus seeking to nullify the results of the 2016 election has been filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Diane Blumstein, Donna Soodalter-Toman, and Nancy Goodman. The main argument is that, per Article IV §4 of the U.S. Constitution, it is the responsibility of the federal government to keep U.S. territory safe from foreign invasion and the petition cites evidence of such an invasion - the Russian hacking. SCOTUS has “original jurisdiction” over cases involving foreign states. Petitioners argue that there is no remedy for the foreign cyber invasion other than complete nullification.
Transgender Students: Trump rescinded Obama’s protections for transgender students “that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.” The Justice Department issued a directive that “nondiscrimination laws” do not require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.” They cited state’s rights and local school district supremacy in making these decisions. (NY Times) This is the first time in our history where civil rights were rolled back rather than extended.
Death Penalty: In the case of Duane Buck (TWW, Death Penalty, 10/8/16) the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6 to 2 decision, reopened his death sentence in Texas because expert testimony was racially prejudiced. A psychologist testified that “blacks were more violent than others” which “unfairly tainted a jury’s decision about whether he should receive life in prison or death.” Dissenting were Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Anyone surprised? (Washington Post)
Lethal Injection: The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal from an Alabama death row inmate “who said the state intended to kill him using chemicals that could cause excruciating pain.” But Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer issued an 18-page dissent, saying the inmate “should have been allowed to make the case that one of the chemicals in Alabama’s lethal injection protocol, the sedative midazolam, could contribute to ‘prolonged torture.’” (NY Times) Sotomayor said that lethal injection “may turn out to be our most cruel experiment yet.” (Washington Post)
State Department: New Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got right to work laying off a lot of people. “Much of the 7th floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told” last week “that their services were no longer needed.” (CBS)
Immigration: John Kelly, Homeland Security Secretary, signed new guidelines “giving federal authorities more power to aggressively detain and deport undocumented immigrants.” He’s hiring thousands of new enforcement agents. The new guidelines will “widen the classification of immigrants who should be prioritized for removal” and will “speed up deportation hearings.” He’s also going to use local police to make the arrests. The new rules “replace almost all previous rules.” (The Hill) The Chicago Tribune said that this crackdown on immigrants “will strain an already tight U.S. job market, with one study suggesting that removing all of them would cost the economy as much as $5 trillion over 10 years.”
Assault Rifles: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in a 10 to 4 decision, upheld Maryland’s ban on assault rifles, “ruling gun owners are not protected under the U.S. Constitution to possess ‘weapons of war.’” (Reuters)
ATF: A collective of tobacco farmers is suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in a racketeering suit. The farmers claim “they were swindled out of $24 million.” They are also suing a pair of ATF informants who, they claim, received at least $1 million each. This all stems from a “web of shadowy cigarette sales” the ATF used to “funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account.” The operation was not authorized by the Justice Department. It “gave agents an off-the-books way to finance undercover investigations and pay informants without the usual cumbersome paperwork and close oversight.” [Emphasis added.] (NY Times)
Marijuana: We knew this was coming. Press secretary Sean Spicer said that “he expects states to be subject to ‘greater enforcement’ of federal laws against marijuana use.” (Washington Post) Yup, they’re coming for your pot. Several representatives, both Republican and Democratic, have introduced a bill called “The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act.” (Daily Chronic) Let’s see how far that goes. It was introduced before and died for lack of support.
Glyphosate: Molecular profiling has found that glyphosate, found in the herbicide Round-Up, is causing “serious liver damage to rats at low doses permitted by regulators.” The findings suggest that residues of glyphosate in food “could be linked to rises in the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity, diabetes, and ‘metabolic syndrome.’” (Ecologist)
Women Doctors: Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health “analyzed how both the nature and gender and the surrounding social patterns have real-life, quantifiable health impacts: Patients treated by women doctors fared better than those treated by their male counterparts.” The Nation asks, “So why are women doctors paid less than their male counterparts?”
DAPL: North Dakota police evacuated Oceti Sakowin, “a key encampment in the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline.” Only a few dozen people remained at the encampment after Wednesday night’s eviction deadline. 10 people were arrested. North Dakota governor Doug Burgum (R) said he expected they would have “unfettered access” to continue the pipeline construction. (Guardian)
Coal: If you remember, last December the Interior Department finalized a new rule that forced coal mining companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, or threaten forests. (TWW, Coal, 12/24/16) Last week Trump signed a bill that “quashes the rule. (The Hill)
401(k)s: “One of the major problems facing workers today is the inability to save for retirement.” There are few defined benefit pensions left. (TWW, Retirement, 4/16/16) “Roughly half the workforce now has access to a 401(k) defined contribution plan at their workplace, but we know that these generally are not providing much support at retirement.” Why is it that most workers fail to accumulate much in their accounts? Part of the reason is that they often change jobs. But something everyone needs to think about is how much these plans charge in fees. People often don’t know how much is charged, “since the financial companies operating the plans usually don’t like to advertise their fees. The average fee is close to 1% of the money saved, with many charging fees of 1.5% or higher. If this sounds like a small matter, imagine that you were able to save $100,000 in a 401(k). . . A fee of 1% means that this worker is giving $1,000 a year to the financial industry. If they are paying 1.5%, then they are giving the financial industry $1,500 a year.” If you leave that $100,000 in your account for a 20-year period, that’s $20,000, or $30,000 if the charge is 1.5%. (Truthout)