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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 4/22/2017

North Korea:  Just over a week ago the White House declared that an American aircraft carrier was heading into the Sea of Japan. (TWW, North Korea, 4/15/17) President Trump said: “We’re sending an armada.” (MSNBC) The problem was that the Carl Vinson carrier and 3 other warships were, at the very moment Trump said this, were headed in the opposite direction on their way to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean. The White House said they had been relying on the Defense Department for information. (NY Times) What happened? Well, according to the Guardian, on April 11th Defense Secretary James Mattis said the flotilla was “on her way up” to the Korean peninsula. And press secretary Sean Spicer said, “When you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that [it] is clearly a huge deterrence.” It was the next day that Trump made the infamous statement. On April 19th Reuters reported that the Pacific Command explained the situation, saying that the strike group “had to complete a shorter-than initially planned period of training with Australia.” But that it was now “proceeding to the West Pacific as ordered.” In other words, the U.S. Navy had to change it’s plans to cover up the incompetent statements by the politicos. The ships are now headed to North Korea. (Independent) The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had a great intro this week. (You Tube)

 

Ivanka:  As President Trump was meeting with Chinese president Xi Jimping, China “quietly” approved trademarks for her brand “covering jewelry, bags, and spa service.” (Guardian)

 

Scott Garrett:  Garrett is a former Republican representative from New Jersey. Twice he voted against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank and he’s consistently been a critic of the Bank. This week Trump nominated him to head up the Bank. (Washington Post)

 

Scott Brown:  Trump nominated this former Massachusetts senator as ambassador to New Zealand. Since his defeat by Elizabeth Warren (D, MA), Brown has been a commentator for Fox News. (Washington Post) In 2016 Fox News host Andrea Tantaros filed a lawsuit against him for sexually harassment. (Boston Globe)

 

Conflicts of Interest:  The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) reported a “public alarm over President Trump’s potential conflicts of interest.” To put this in context, during the 2 fiscal quarters covering Obama’s first election and inauguration (October 2008 to March 2009), the OGE fielded 733 inquiries from the public. During the comparable period for Trump (October 2016 to March 2017) the office has received 39,105 inquiries, “an increase of roughly 5,200%.” Unfortunately, the OGE can only advise the executive branch, “it doesn’t have the power to investigate potential violations or enforce its own guidelines.” (Washington Post)

 

Arkansas:  Last week I told you about Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issuing a restraining order on the scheduled executions and that a federal judge was weighing a request to block them. (TWW, Arkansas, 4/15/17) Well, during the week there were multiple decisions in multiple courts with stays being instituted, lifted, etc. (CNN) (NBC) (THV 11) (Fox) (Washington Post) (Guardian) I got completely confused. However, on Thursday night the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay for Ledell Lee. The vote was 5 to 4 with Justice Neil Gorsuch casting his first vote with other conservatives. (Washington Post) So, on Friday, while the state’s plan to execute 8 prisoners in 11 days appears to be upended, Lee was executed. (Guardian)

 

California:  A special report by Reuters found that across Los Angeles toxic levels of lead can be found in all neighborhoods, “from affluent hubs to low income or gentrifying areas.”

 

Maryland:  Now Trump supporters are considered a protected class. 2 teen girls in Princess Anne have been charged with a hate crime for destroying a Trump/Pence campaign sign. In order to get it into the hate crime category, police charged them with “intentional burning of these political signs, along with the beliefs, religious views, and race of this political affiliation.” (Baltimore Sun)

 

Tennessee:  2 anti-abortion laws similar to Texas measures that were struck down by the Supreme Court last year will not be enforced by state officials, including attorney general Herbert Slatery. One law requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and another mandates clinics that provide more than 50 abortions annually to operate as ambulatory surgical care (ASC) centers. (The Tennessean)

 

West Virginia:  Governor Jim Justice (D) signed a bill making the state the 29th to allow medical marijuana. (Vox) However, it doesn’t allow edibles and is limited to certain conditions like terminal illnesses, cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, PTSD, and severe pain. So it will be hard to qualify for it. And it doesn’t take effect until July 2019. (Marijuana Policy Project)

 

Exoneration Rule:  In a 7 to 1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Colorado's Exoneration Rule violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. When people are convicted of a state crime they can, and usually are, required to pay several thousand dollars for “court costs, fees, and restitution” to the state. But if their convictions are overturned, the Exoneration Rule required that they must prove their actual innocence “by clear and convincing evidence,” to be exonerated of these fees. Guess who dissented. Oh, you know. Justice Clarence Thomas. (Washington Post)

 

Taxes:  In another Executive Order Trump directed the Treasury Department “to review measures put in place by the Obama administration, setting the stage for a rollback of regulations that were intended to curtail corporate tax evasion and prevent another financial crisis.” (NY Times)

 

Hire American/Buy American:  Trump signed an Executive Order to review the H-1B Visa program and the government procurement rules. (Reuters)

 

ExxonMobil:  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that they would not grant ExxonMobil a waiver from the sanctions against Russia to allow them to drill in the Black Sea. (NY Times)

 

Immigration Arrests:  Since Trump has been president, immigration arrests have risen 32.6%, “with newly empowered federal agents intensifying their pursuit of not just undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but also thousands of illegal immigrants who have been otherwise law-abiding.” (Washington Post)

 

Sanctuary:  Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanded that 9 jurisdictions “produce proof that they are communicating with federal authorities about undocumented immigrants or risk losing grant funding.” The demands went to Chicago; Clark County, NV; Cook County, IL; Miami-Dade County, FL; Milwaukee County, WI; New Orleans; New York City; Philadelphia; and the entire state of California. (Washington Post)

 

The Wall:  Trump’s Border Wall is being partially funded by a $1.5 billion cut in block grants for community development, $1.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health research grants, $50 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and $30 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant program. (Michigan Daily)

 

WikiLeaks:  Attorney General Jeff Session is preparing charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “Prosecutors have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange, but now believe they have found a way to move forward.” (CNN) You think they’ll be able to arrest him? Sweden has been trying for years. He’s currently hiding in Ecuador.

 

Marijuana:  A survey by Yahoo News and Marist University demonstrates how much pot has become a part of everyday life for millions of Americans. This is an extensive survey and there are lots of interesting findings. Among the most notable: 52% of Americans 18 years or older have tried marijuana. 22% of adults use marijuana and 63% of them say they use it regularly. 56% of Americans say using marijuana is “socially acceptable.” More than half of marijuana users are parents. The Washington Post summarized the findings nicely and provided some interesting charts. Also, last year researchers found that Medicare recipients were opting for marijuana over prescription drugs. (Health Affairs) This year those same researchers looked at Medicaid recipients and found the same thing. (Health Affairs) Do you realize how much money Medicare and Medicaid programs could save by the legalization of marijuana? According to a recent Quinnipiac Poll, most voters support legalized marijuana.

 

Repeal and Replace:  The fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with something else goes on. While on vacation this week the congress critters continued working on it with a lot of pressure from Trump. (Politico) An Amendment to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which died a few weeks ago (TWW, Trumpcare, 3/25/17), was proffered by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R, NJ). The MacArthur Amendment “aims to attract enough conservatives and moderates that the measure can pass in the House.” It would allow states to obtain permission from the federal government to write their own list of essential health benefits and it would allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums, “as long as they also make a high-risk pool available to those patients.” As a concession to moderates, the Amendment would also “add back federal requirements for essential health benefits.” (Washington Post) So, each state can write their own “essential” benefits and you can expect that contraception won’t be on some of them. And it appears that no one can be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, but they can charge more, potentially making coverage out of reach. The Center for American Progress estimated that premiums would escalate substantially for even mild pre-existing conditions. “The surcharge for diabetes would be $5,600 per year. . . Insurers would charge about $17,320 more in premiums for pregnancy, $26,580 more for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders, and $142,650 more for patients with metastatic cancer. After accounting for a 1.5% reduction in overall premiums from the risk sharing program, the surcharges would still remain astronomically high: $4,270 for asthma, $17,060 for pregnancy, $26,180 for rheumatoid arthritis, and $140,510 for metastatic cancer. . . And this analysis does not account for surcharges as a result of individuals’ previous health conditions.”

 

Artificial Sweeteners:  Researchers claim that “consuming a can a day of low- or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia.” 1 can a day, they found, was associated with 2.96 times the risk for stroke and 2.89 times the risk for Alzheimer’s. However, they also found, contrary to previous studies, that “sugared drinks did not raise the risk of either serious outcome.” So, they found a correlation but not a causal link. (Guardian)

 

Rover Pipeline:  This new pipeline being built by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company that is building the Dakota Access pipeline, spilled 2 million gallons of drilling fluids into an Ohio wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River in Stark County. “The spills occurred as part of an operation associated with the pipeline’s installation.” (EcoWatch)

 

Conflict Minerals:  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suspended its enforcement of the rule that corporations had to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals in their products after a court remanded it back to the regulator because part of it violates the U.S. Constitution.” The conflict minerals rule was required by the Dodd-Frank Act. (Reuters)

 

Regulators’ Authority:  Trump ordered the Treasury Department to review regulators’ authority in some instances. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin explained the order, saying that it “would immediately put an end to regulators’ ability to use emergency authority without the president’s permission or to name any firms as risky until a thorough review has been completed.” Regulators also will not be able to label non-bank firms like insurance companies, private equity firms, and hedge-funds as risky institutions. (CNN)

 

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