Originally Published: 4/8/2017
Neil Gorsuch: Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court justice moved to the floor of the Senate Wednesday. Senator Jeff Merkley (D, OR) spoke against Gorsuch for about 15 hours. “He also lambasted Republicans for not moving ahead with [Obama’s] nomination of Merrick Garland to the court last year.” (Washington Post) Democrats filibustered his confirmation. A vote of 55 to 45 limited debate and fell short of the 60 needed for cloture - that is, to send it to the floor for a vote. (Roll Call) But, rather than find a new nominee more acceptable, Senate Republican leaders triggered the “nuclear option,” meaning only 51 votes were needed to confirm. (NY Times) [Please note: Right now, the filibuster against legislation remains in place. In 2013 Democrats used the nuclear option for judicial and executive appointments. (TWW, Going Nuclear, 11/23/13) I belief that rule is still in place.] The Washington Post did an interesting piece on recent Supreme Court confirmations, saying they were “not nearly as partisan as Judge Gorsuch’s.” This chart shows how recent confirmations have gone. Gorsuch was confirmed on Friday 54 to 45. (NY Times) Check and see how your senators voted. (NY Times) Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Manchin (WV) and Independent Joe Donnelly (IN) voted for him. And watch what Stephen Colbert had to say about this. (You Tube)
A Rant: The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote a series of opinions about Trump. This is very good, folks, and I recommend you read them all. Each is not very long. The first is “Our Dishonest President.” The second is “Why Trump Lies.” Then there’s “Trump’s Authoritarian Vision,” “Trump’s War on Journalism,” “Conspiracy Theorist in Chief,” and “California Fights Back.”
Russian Connection: According to U.S., European, and Arab officials, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) arranged a secret meeting January 11th in the Seychelles between Erik Prince - the founder of Blackwater and the sister of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos - and “a Russian close to” Putin “as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump. (Washington Post) Remember, Trump was told before Christmas that U.S. spies had picked up some of his people having telephone discussions with Russians. (TWW, Trump ties to Russia, 1/14/17) So by January he had to find some other way to maintain contact. And we now know that Carter Page, Trump’s foreign policy adviser to his campaign, “met with a Russian intelligence operative in 2013 and provided him documents about the energy industry.” The Russian, Victor Podobnyy, “was one of 3 men charged in connection with a cold war-style Russian spy ring. According to the court documents, Podobnyy tried to recruit Carter Page, an energy consultant working in New York at the time, as an intelligence source.” Page is “among the Trump associates under scrutiny.” (Guardian)
Russian Investigation: Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee that is looking into the Russian connection, has “temporarily” stepped down as chair due to complaints filed against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). (Reuters) And the NY Times reported that CIA officials told “senior lawmakers” last summer “that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect [Trump] president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later.” Apparently then CIA director John Brennan “was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for 8 top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.” Keith Olbermann has some interesting thoughts on the investigation. (You Tube)
Financial Disclosures: The White House released the financial disclosures about the personal finances of some of the senior staff members. Steve Bannon’s file shows an estimated net worth of at least $10.7 million. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn’s career at Goldman Sachs helped him accumulate assets of at least $252 million. Son-in-law Jared Kushner’s 54-page filing “is a web of real estate LLCs and also gives a glimpse into the finances of Ivanka Trump.” Ivanka’s disclosure isn’t available yet. (The Hill) The Washington Post found that “27 top aides together held assets worth at least $2.3 billion when they entered the White House.” Michael Flynn didn’t disclose payments from RT TV, a Russian television network, or from Volga-Dnepr Airlines, a Kremlin-funded entity. (Reuters) Guess who’s disclosure wasn’t included. You got it. Trump’s.
Inciting Violence: There is a lawsuit against Trump “accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville. Trump’s attorneys attempted to have the case dismissed based on free speech grounds, “arguing that he didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.” But U.S. District Judge David Hale for the Western District of Kentucky “noted that speech inciting violence is not protected by the First Amendment and ruled that there is plenty of evidence that the protesters’ injuries were a ‘direct and proximate result’ of Trump’s words.” The lawsuit continues. (Washington Post)
Steve Bannon: He’s been removed from the National Security Council. A senior White House official said that “the change is not a demotion, and that Bannon had accomplished what he’d set out to do on the National Security Council.” (Washington Post) I wonder what he could have accomplished in just a few weeks. Later it was reported that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army 3-star general, is “increasingly asserting himself over the flow of national security information in the White House.” So McMasters is now in charge of both the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. (Washington Post)
Canada: British Columbia amended workplace legislation to prevent employers from forcing women to wear high heels at work. (Guardian) This was really happening?
Iran: General John Hyten, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said that the agreement with Iran is working, that Iran is not attempting to acquire nuclear weapons and that “it is abiding by the terms of the deal.” (District Sentinel)
Syria: Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack this week which killed more than 80 civilians. “The Pentagon announced that 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. The missiles were aimed at Syrian fighter jets, hardened aircraft shelters, radar equipment, ammunition bunkers, sites for storing fuel, and air defense systems.” (NY Times) This evoked an angry response from Russia “which described the strike as an ‘aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.’” The Russian foreign ministry announced it is suspending a deal with the U.S. to exchange information about their flights to avoid incidents in the crowded skies over Syria. Moscow has also called for a meeting of the UN security council to discuss the strikes.” (Guardian) Check out this map of Syria that shows all the parties in control of parts of the country. How does anyone know who to bomb? (Reuters) Is this what we can expect every time Trump’s approval ratings drop below 35%? There is much discussion over the constitutionality of the strike. It was not authorized by Congress, as required by the Constitution. Trump made the statement that the strike was a matter of vital national security - referencing the old Bush-era Authorization for the Use of Military Force as justification. (See also, TWW, The Kill List & Drones, 2/9/13; NDAA, 1/21/12; Geneva Conventions, 8/13/11; Detaining Suspects, 9/26/09; Gitmo Appeals, 8/30/08; No Need for Congress, 3/8/08) The Nation has a good discussion on the issue.
UN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has withdrawn funding for the United Nations Population Fund, “an agency that promotes family planning in more than 150 countries.” The State Department said that the fund “supports or participates in a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China.” (BBC)
Arizona: Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill which changes how state money can be used to educate students, “making it easier for parents to enroll their children in private schooling at public expense.” (NY Times)
Florida: More than 90% of the state is in a drought. (WGCU)
Indiana: U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt blocked a provision of a law that forces patients undergoing an abortion to have an ultrasound at least 18 hours prior to the procedure. The requirement went into effect in July. “Prior to the 18-hour mandatory ultrasound requirement, patients in Indiana were forced to have an ultrasound before receiving abortion care, but could schedule and have it on the same day as the abortion.” So this change forces patients to make an extra trip, something difficult for people who have to travel long distances. Pratt wrote that the new requirement “creates significant financial and other burdens,” particularly for people with low incomes. “Judge Pratt noted that about 75% of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky patients had incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty line.” (Rewire)
Massachusetts: The state sued Copley Advertising and John Flynn, its owner, a Boston-based firm that was hired by anti-choice groups in California to target “abortion-minded women” while they were visiting medical clinics, “through tracking the location of the women’s cell phones.” State attorney general Maura Healey announced that the state has settled the case with the firm. “Flynn used a technique called ‘geo-fencing,’ which allows marketers to see the mobile devices within specific geographical boundaries, and to marry the unique identifiers associated with each device to reams of data about the person using it. The combination of location with demographic information, as well as browsing and purchasing history, allows marketers to learn and infer astonishing amounts of information about people.” (Rewire)
Trump’s Budget: In addition to slashing funding for the arts, education, climate change research, worker protections, and much more, his budget also eliminates all federal funding for Amtrak’s national train network, “meaning 220 cities will lose all passenger service.” (Common Dreams)
Civil Rights: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act “protects gay workers from job discrimination, expanding workplace protections in the landmark law to include sexual orientation.” (NY Times)
Police Reform: Police departments have been reforming after all the civilian deaths in the last few years. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions is obviously not happy about it. He has ordered his department “to review reform agreements . . . saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime.” (Washington Post) Police unions are happy as clams. They like being able to do whatever they want to do. “But many police chiefs and politicians who have been living under agreements struck with the Justice Department” have vowed to continue making changes “with or without the [Justice Department’s] imprimatur.” (NY Times) The Justice Department quickly moved ahead with its plans. “As part of its shift in emphasis, the Justice Department went to court on Monday to seek a 90-day delay in a consent decree to overhaul Baltimore’s embattled Police Department.” (NY Times) But U.S. District Judge James Bredar approved Baltimore’s overhaul, “an action that rebuked arguments from the new administration at the Justice Department which had spent a week asking the court to delay proceedings on the plan.” (Washington Post)
Black Lives Matter: If you don’t think police departments need revamping, check this out. The Guardian received documents that were produced in a lawsuit showing that New York police officers infiltrated small groups of Black Lives Matter activists and “gained access to their text messages.” The records “provide the most detailed picture yet of the sweeping scope of NYPD surveillance during mass protests over the death of Eric Garner in 2014 and 2015. Lawyers said the new documents raised questions about NYPD compliance with city rules.”
H-1B Visas: The application season for these visas started on Monday. These visas “allow employers, primarily technology companies, to bring in foreign workers for 3 years at a time.” (See Hiring Foreign Workers; TWW, H-1B Visas, 6/6/15; Immigration Reform, 5/18/13; 4/27/13; Unemployment, 4/11/09) A couple weeks ago the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced that it is suspending expediting these visas. (TWW, Visas, 3/11/17) For the last few years they’ve been so swamped by applications that the government has stopped accepting them after a week. “And this year, the rush has escalated to an all-out scramble because the future of the H-1B program is unclear.” (NY Times)
Higher Education: Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D, WA) have introduced a bill that would make public colleges and universities tuition-free for working families. I won’t go into the details as it hasn’t a chance in hell of passing.
Marijuana: For 24 hours the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officially declared what many had suspected all along, “If you have a prescription, you can fly with marijuana.” On its website’s “What Can I Bring?” page, it was listed as okay. But it didn’t last long. The page was changed to say it was not allowed. The TSA tweeted: “We’re sorry for any confusion. A mistake was made in the database of our new ‘What Can I Bring’ tool.” Currently there are only 6 states that ban marijuana in all forms, but anti-marijuana advocates were delighted with the change. (Guardian) Do you really believe this was a database issue? John Oliver had an interesting segment on the history of marijuana and problems with state versus federal laws, among other things. (You Tube)
Dakota Access: The movement to defund the pipeline (TWW, DAPL, 3/4/17) is gathering momentum. Individuals, cities, and tribes have divested more than $5 billion from the banks that are financing it. (Indian Country Today)
Unemployment: The U.S. gained only 98,000 jobs in March, “putting a chill on Trump’s promises.” (Guardian)
Trade Orders: Remember the trade issues I told you about last week? (TWW, Trade Deficit, 4/1/17) Well, after all the hoopla about these executive orders, Trump “abruptly” walked out of the oval office on Friday without signing them. Where’d he go? No one knows. (CBS)