Originally Published: 3/25/2017
Gorsuch Ties to Anschutz: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch went before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week for his confirmation. The hearings started just as the NY Times unveiled his ties to billionaire Philip Anschutz, who “inherited an oil and gas firm and built it into an empire that has sprawled into telecommunications, railroads, real estate, resorts, sports teams, stadiums, movies, and conservative publications like The Weekly Standard and The Washington Examiner.” As a Colorado lawyer, Gorsuch represented Anschutz and, in 2006, Anschutz “successfully lobbied Colorado’s lone Republican senator and the Bush administration to nominate Judge Gorsuch to the federal appeals court.” Since then Gorsuch “has been a semi-regular speaker at the mogul’s annual dove-hunting retreats for the wealthy and politically prominent at his 60-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch.” The Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, which developed the list of potential Supreme Court nominees from which Trump selected Gorsuch, receive funding from Anschutz.
Gorsuch Decisions: In addition to his ties to the wealthy and powerful, Gorsuch’s decisions have come under scrutiny. As a Justice Department attorney, Gorsuch represented the Bush administration defending the right to torture prisoners. (NY Times) He ruled in the Hobby Lobby case and the Little Sisters of the Poor case against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance cover contraceptives. (Washington Post) And there’s plenty more. See ScotusBlog for Gorsuch’s decisions while serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. And while Gorsuch was in the hot seat defending his decisions, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling in effect calling Gorsuch wrong. (See Supreme Court Decisions below.) Watch Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D, RI) opening statement as he lays out the problems with recent court decisions. (CNN)
Other Problems: Former law students and a former law clerk claim that Gorsuch said that employers, specifically law firms, “should ask women seeking jobs about their plans for having children and implied that women manipulate companies starting in the interview stage to extract maternity benefits.” (NPR) The National Partnership for Women & Families wrote that Gorsuch is a “threat to women, workers, and all those who face discrimination.” AlterNet posted 4 very good reasons why Gorsuch should not be confirmed. And he was grilled on how he would rule on the investigation of Trump. (Guardian)
Filibuster: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D, NY) announced he is opposing Gorsuch’s confirmation and will lead a filibuster on it. (Boston Globe) But some Dems are considering voting for him. (Politico) As long as Trump’s administration is under an FBI investigation, I don’t believe he should be allowed to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch should be blocked.
Resist: Need a reason to resist? How about listening to Keith Olbermann’s summary of Trump’s first 60 days as president? He lists ALL the reasons, and there are many. (You Tube) This is good, folks.
Trump’s Taxes: House Ways and Means Committee chair Kevin Brady (R, TX) has decided to move forward with a resolution to get Trump’s tax returns. (TWW, Trump’s Taxes, 2/25/17) Brady made this decision “hours” after the defeat of the House healthcare bill (see Trumpcare below). (Roll Call) Is this maybe Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R, WI) revenge?
Monitoring Loyalty: Trump has installed senior aides in agencies who are “charged” with “monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty.” According to the Washington Post: “This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA.”
Travel: Apparently Palm Beach is tired of paying for Trump’s visits to his “lavish” Mar-a-Lago resort. He’s going again this weekend, his 5th visit since his inauguration. CBS reported that we taxpayers fork out more than $3 million each time Trump goes to his Winter White House. But it’s also costing Palm Beach County a boatload of money. It’s proposing a special tax on Trump “to reimburse the county for the millions it has shelled out for roadway management and security assistance during the president’s frequent trips here.” (Palm Beach Post) And who do you think would end up paying that tax? And don’t forget that New York City is spending $1 million a day to protect Trump and his family since his wife won’t move to Washington. (TWW, New York, 11/26/16) The Secret Service requested an additional $60 million for next year’s budget to cover the costs of protecting the Trump family in New York, Palm Beach, and travel. (Washington Post)
Ivanka: The first daughter is getting her own office in the White House, complete with security clearance. So now she can sit in on all top-security meetings. She will also be provided with communication devices, paid for by us, but she won’t be getting a salary. (CNN) And don’t forget her husband is an adviser. Anyone heard of nepotism? You think maybe she’s being installed to rein in her father?
Great Deal: China’s Anbang Insurance Group is buying a building owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The family bought the New York City building in 2006 for $1.8 billion “which at the time was the highest sales price for a single building in Manhattan.” Anbang is investing $4 billion in a project to redevelop it. “Some real estate experts” consider this “unusually favorable for the Kushners.” They’ll make $400 million on the deal. (Time) DeZeen has the details of the project.
Jay Clayton: He went before the Senate Banking Committee for confirmation as Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair. Clayton is currently a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, a Manhattan-based law firm “with numerous clients in the banking and securities industries. Among his specialities are ‘regulatory and enforcement proceedings.’” He admitted that he would have to recuse himself “from a wide range of cases involving heavy-hitters in the financial industry.” (District Sentinel) If he’s recusing himself from most of the work that SEC does, then what’s he going to do? Get paid for sitting in the office?
Iraq: Last week a U.S.-led coalition strike in Mosul killed as many as 200 civilians. They’re investigating what happened. “If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. (NY Times)
New Zealand: It has forced a U.S. diplomat to leave the country “over allegations he was involved in a serious criminal incident” which occurred in the early hours last Sunday in the area of the U.S. embassy. He had left the scene before officers arrived. He is protected by diplomatic immunity but the police asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to waive the immunity. The Ministry agreed “because the alleged crime was serious, meaning one which carries a penalty of imprisonment of one year or more.” The Ministry appealed to the U.S. embassy to waive the man’s immunity, which it declined to do. So, the diplomat left the country. TVNZ named the diplomat as Colin White, a technical attache. (Guardian)
Syria: U.S. officials said they fired missiles and dropped a 500-pound bomb in the town of Jinah in Aleppo Province, killing “dozens” of militants “at a meeting” of al-Qaeda. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring network, reported that at least 46 civilians in a mosque were killed when the mosque was bombed, calling it a “massacre.” (Chicago Tribune) And a U.S. air strike “on a school being used as a shelter by families displaced from the ISIL-held Syrian city of Raqqa killed at least 33 people . . . in the latest high civilian casualty raid by the coalition.” (Telegraph)
California: “Dozens” of California communities have rates of childhood lead poisoning that “surpass those of Flint, Michigan.” One Fresno area is “showing rates nearly 3 times higher.” (Reuters)
Presidential Powers: In a 6 to 2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court “limited the president’s ability to put certain high-level officials in positions in an acting capacity while awaiting confirmation by the Senate.” They rejected the government’s argument that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 applied only to people serving in the role of ‘first assistant’ and not to other officials. The statute, the court said, prohibits anyone who has been nominated to lead a federal agency from performing the job in an acting capacity.” Dissenting were Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Washington Post)
Special Education: In a unanimous ruling, the Supremes “raised the bar for the educational benefits owed to millions of children with disabilities in one of the most significant special-education cases to reach the high court in decade.” They rejected the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, on which nominee Neil Gorsuch sits. The Court said that a child’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” even if the child is not fully integrated into regular classrooms. (Washington Post)
Comey Testimony: FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday. He “publicly confirmed” there is an investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election and “whether associates of the president were in contact with Moscow.” According to CNN, he has “information that indicates associates” of Trump “communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” He also said he had “no information” to support Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped him. (NY Times)
Russian Investigation: What evidence Congress has seen is still not known. However, last Wednesday House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R, CA), who was on Trump’s transition team, went to the White House “to personally brief” Trump about the intelligence he has seen. Nunes said that the surveillance “could have been inadvertently picked up the president or members of his transition team.” (Washington Post) Should the chair of the committee investigating someone tell that someone what they’ve found? I don’t think so. Nunes not only told Trump, he had a press conference before he’d briefed his committee members. Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post reporter, wrote an op-ed piece and said that Nunes is unfit to head a committee. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D, MD) suggested that Nunes should be investigated. He said: “Basically what [Nunes] has done is he has scuttled and put a cloud over his own investigation and he has become the subject . . .” Nunes did apologize to committee members for not briefing them first before going public. (Roll Call) If you’re having trouble following all this, check out this timeline from Vox.
Paul Manafort: A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents “allegedly showing” that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort “laundered payments” from a Ukrainian political party “using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.” Manafort had worked for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions for nearly a decade. He resigned as Trump’s campaign chair last August (TWW, Exxon and Russia, 2/25/17; Russian Hacking, 1/21/17; Trump on Russia, 7/30/16) “after his name surfaced in connection with secret payments totaling $12.7 million by Yanukovych’s party.” FBI Director Comey was quizzed about the documents at his hearing (see above) but he “declined to say whether the FBI is coordinating with Ukraine on an investigation of the alleged payments to Manafort.” (Washington Post) According to a report from the Associated Press, Manafort “once offered to help Vladimir Putin advance Moscow’s interests as part of a multimillion-dollar contract agreed with a Russian billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.” (Guardian) In an amazing twist, Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian lawmaker and a critic of Putin, who had fled to Ukraine because he feared for his life, who had promised to testify for the prosecution “in a criminal case against former Russia-alligned president Victor Yanukovych,” was assassinated. Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, said “He knew everything about everybody.” (NY Times) You think maybe he knew something on the Trump regime’s connections? Maybe we’ll find out. Manafort has volunteered to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. (Washington Post)
Travel: The U.S. is now banning carry-on electronic devices like laptops and tablets on flights arriving from 10 airports in the Middle East. “Hours after the distribution of a ‘confidential’ edict from the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), senior Trump administration officials told a hastily convened press briefing on Monday night the ban had been brought in after ‘evaluated intelligence’ emerged that terrorists favored ‘smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items.’” Devices larger than a mobile phone will be allowed to be stowed in checked-in baggage on flights from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. “None of them are covered by the Trump administration’s ban on travel from 6 other mostly Muslim nations; all, in fact, are in countries which are close U.S. allies.” (Guardian) If there’s a bomb wouldn’t it bring the plane down just as well if it’s in cargo as in the passenger compartments? And why only some airports? Britain also imposed a laptop ban but it affects 6 UK carriers - British Airways, Easy Jet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook, and Thomson - and 8 overseas carriers - not airports. Trump’s ban doesn’t affect U.S. carriers. (Israel National News) According to the Washington Post, “3 of the airlines that have been targeted for these measures . . . have long been accused by their U.S. competitors of receiving massive effective subsidies from their governments. . . This may be retaliation.” Last February Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and “pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.”
Visas: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent diplomatic cables last week to all American embassies, instructing them to increase scrutiny of people seeking visas to enter the U.S. The order applies to visas for tourists, business travelers, and relatives of American residents. (NY Times)
Deportations: Trump has reassigned some judges to 12 sanctuary cities “in a bid to speed up the deportation of undocumented persons with outstanding criminal charges across the country.” New York, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, Baltimore, Bloomington, Minnesota, Omaha, and Phoenix are on the list. “In Texas, El Paso and Harlingen were also targeted along with Imperial in southern California.” (Telesur) But some local police departments are refusing to help the feds with deportations. Homeland Security, in accordance with a January order from Trump, has begun to issue “a weekly list of crimes committed by noncitizen immigrants and to identify agencies that refused to hold those people in jail on civil immigration-violation charges until federal agents could pick them up.” The first list is out. (Washington Post)
Trade: Trade Secretary Steve Mnuchin went to the G20 summit in Germany. A statement from the “other leading economies that warned against the perils of trade protectionism” was rejected by the U.S. (Washington Post) It’s interesting to note that Germany does have trade protections. They just don’t have import fees. They use value added tax (VAT) to encourage exports and limit imports.
Trumpcare: The House GOP came up with changes on Tuesday so that the bill would be ready for a vote on Thursday. They believed that the changes would “win over enough members to secure its passage.” The House Freedom Caucus (the former Tea Party) had threatened to “tank” the legislation, “arguing that it does not do enough to undo” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Changes they liked were accelerating the expiration of the taxes that support the ACA and “further restricting” the Medicaid program. After the changes they said they would not take any formal action on the bill and would not block it. There was also a push from moderate representatives to allow the Senate to increase tax credits for older Americans. And “several” Republicans from Upstate New York “won an amendment that would allow counties in their state to keep hundreds of millions of dollars of local tax revenue that they forward to the state government to fund its Medicaid program.” (Washington Post) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at the changes and found that spending reductions wouldn’t be as great but that 24 million people would still lose the insurance. Then the Koch Brothers stepped in and set up a new fund for Republican 2018 re-election races, “but they’ll only open it up to GOPers who vote against the bill. (CNN) So, conservatives all withdrew their support and the House cancelled its Thursday vote. (Roll Call) Remember Koch Industries is the biggest non-Canadian lease holder in the Alberta tar sands. (Washington Post) And it owns most of the refineries that would be receiving the oil via the pipeline. (Wikipedia) Maybe that’s why Trump took this time to announce the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, thinking the Kochs would pull back. Why should they? Trump gave them what they wanted so why give him what he wants? Great negotiator, huh? But Trump then demanded that the House hold a vote, probably thinking the Kochs would cave. (NY Times) So the House scheduled a vote for Friday. (Roll Call) However, on Friday Republicans pulled the rewrite of the bill (Washington Post) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) went to see Trump to tell him he just couldn’t get enough votes to pass the bill (Roll Call) and finally canceled the vote. (Roll Call) Trump even called Washington Post reporter Robert Costa to say they’d “pulled” the bill. He blamed it on Democrats, saying he couldn’t get 1 Democratic vote and that when Obamacare “explodes” the Dems will take the blame. Costa noted: “There was little evidence that either Trump or House Republicans made a serious effort to reach out to Democrats.” So much for the self-proclaimed deal maker.
Marijuana: No one has ever died from using marijuana. But people have died from swat teams performing raids. “Since 2010 at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have turned deadly.” The list of deaths includes “small-time dealers and people who sold the occasional joint to a friend, as well as people suspected of dealing in more serious drugs like crack or meth, but who were found to be in possession of only marijuana after the fact. It also includes 4 police officers who were killed during the raids, intentionally or otherwise.” Check out the pie chart. (Washington Post)
Endocrine Disruptors: We’ve covered this before. (TWW, Plastic and Human Life, 4/30/16) Plastic carries endocrine disruptors (EDCs) which are linked to many human health hazards. Now EDCs have been linked to semen quality and fertility in men. (NY Times)
Keystone XL: Trump granted a permit for the construction of the pipeline, calling it “the first of many infrastructure projects” that he would approve. (Washington Post)
Dakota Access: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia “refused a request” from the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes for an emergency order to prevent oil from flowing through the pipeline. (Guardian)
Arctic Sea Ice: Winter ice in the Arctic has dropped to its lowest recorded level. “The extent of ice cover - a record low for the third straight year - is another indicator of the effects of global warming on the Arctic, a region that is among the hardest hit by climate change.” (NY Times)