Originally Published: 5/27/2017
Trump’s Budget: Trump has released the details of his budget request. Since both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have declared it to be “dead on arrival,” (NBC) I won’t go too much into it. However, since it is a policy statement about where Trump wants to take us, I’ll cover the major parts. I also think that this could be a “bad cop/good cop” scenario. House Republicans may improve this slightly and then tout how much better their budget is. But if it’s anything close to Trump’s plan - and don’t doubt it, it will be - we’re in trouble. So let this be a clarion call.
Spending Cuts: According to the Washington Post, Trump is proposing cutting spending by $3.6 trillion over the next 10 years. On the butcher block are, naturally, things that help ordinary folk. Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, released a statement that reads, in part, that his budget has “huge tax cuts for the richest Americans and big corporations, all to be shouldered by middle- and working-class Americans. Health care, public schools, affordable housing, medical research, Pell grants, on-the-job training for workers, and even Meals on Wheels are all on the chopping block - all so that the president and congressional Republicans can deliver enormous tax cuts to their wealthy supporters and Trump himself.” Trump’s plan “culls or eliminates numerous programs that the White House says are a waste of money or create too much dependency.” Included in this are Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps), which provide benefits for up to one-fifth of all American. (Washington Post) The Washington Post has a great graph of the biggest cuts.
Medicaid: Trump is proposing slashing Medicaid, making it important enough to earn its own paragraph here. He wants to cut $800 billion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates this would cut off about 10 million low-income people from health care. It also calls for “changes to anti-poverty programs that would give states new power to limit a range of benefits.” (Washington Post)
Infrastructure: After all his campaign promises about rebuilding infrastructure, Trump’s budget cuts more federal spending for it than he adds. (Washington Post) This is in anticipation of his private investment plan where he’s calling for spending $200 billion over 10 years to “incentivize” private investment. (Washington Post) He already has a fund in place at Blackstone. (see Infrastructure Investment below.)
Energy: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the top target for Trump, with a proposed 31% cut. (Washington Post) The plan raises revenues - about $36 billion over the next 10 years - by selling off energy resources and infrastructure, “opening up vast new areas of public land for oil and gas drilling, and redirecting state revenues from oil and gas royalties back to Washington.” I’ll bet Alaska will love that. AlterNet goes through the history of schemes like this, noting that this is what Russia did to create its many oligarchs. His plan also cuts $3.1 billion from energy research programs. (NY Times)
Post Office: Buried in the budget’s Appendix is a line that says that “the budget proposes operational reforms to reduce costs and improve revenue, including . . . authority to reduce mail delivery frequency where there is a business case for doing so.” This will revive the arguments about profitizing the post office.
Revenue: The proposed budget relies on a key assumption - that the economy will grow much faster than it has in recent years. (NPR) Trump’s budget estimates a 3% growth rate - $2 trillion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a growth rate of 1.9%. (Think Progress) It’s this $2 trillion that he’s using to cover his tax cuts. Jason Furman, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Obama, said that this budget includes “the expected gains from the tax cuts without accounting for the losses. In other words, if the tax plan is revenue-neutral, there would be $2 trillion in additional revenue from economic growth - but $2 trillion less in revenue from reduced tax rates.” (Washington Post) So they’re using the $2 trillion twice. A mistake? Don’t believe it. They just think everyone is stupid but them. Some are calling the $2 trillion “mystery money.” (Washington Post) Stephen Colbert really went off on this one. (You Tube)
Trump’s Lawyer: Trump retained a lawyer to help with the Russia investigations. He is Marc Kasowitz of the firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York. He and Trump go way back. He’s represented Trump in numerous cases, including his divorces, real estate transactions, and “allegations of fraud at Trump University.” (Washington Post)
Russian Connection: Former CIA Director John Brennan, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, said that “it became clear last summer that Russia was attempting to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, and that he warned the head of Russia’s FSB security service that such interference would hurt U.S. ties.” (Reuters) The NY Times reported that American spies collected information last summer “revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence” over Trump through his advisers. The conversations focused on Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. “Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.” And the Senate Intelligence Committee requested - not subpoenaed - Trump’s political organization to turn over “all Russia-related documents, emails, and phone records going back to his campaign’s launch in June 2015.” (Washington Post)
Jared Kushner: The Washington Post reported that investigators are now focusing on a series of meetings held by Kushner with the Russian ambassador and a Moscow banker. The authors opine that this may be the new focus of the investigation mentioned last week. (TWW, Russian Connection, 5/20/17) I’ll bet it has something to do with the scoop that the Washington Post got. Kushner and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak “discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.” This is what Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow, “according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials.” Oh, wow.
Paul Manafort: Trump’s former campaign chair turned over 305 pages of documents to both the House and Senate committees investigating the Russian Connection. They haven’t yet been fully reviewed “but people familiar with them said they include calendar entries, speech drafts, and campaign strategy memos that mention Russia or individuals from Russia. They also cite some specific meetings, including 2 large group sessions that involved Russia’s ambassador to the United States - one at the Republican National Convention and the other at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington when Trump gave his first major foreign policy address.” (Washington Post) Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch “once close” to Manafort, “has offered to cooperate with congressional committees,” in exchange for full immunity. But both the Senate and House committees turned him down “because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators.” (NY Times)
Jeff Sessions: Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions failed to report meetings he had with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance to serve as AG. (Washington Post) Lying on federal forms is a crime. He should be removed from office.
Hillary’s Emails: “In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server.” The document “played a key role” in the investigation into her emails, yet it “has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake.” [Emphasis added.] (Washington Post)
Trump Asked for Help: Trump asked both Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and Mike Rogers, Director of the NSA, to “say publicly that they saw no evidence the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election.” Coats and Rogers were so concerned about it that one wrote a memo about it and the two “exchanged notes about their conversations with the president.” (NBC)
Michael Flynn: Flynn refused to comply with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee to turn over documents. This is considered an attempt to invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. (Washington Post) Can he do this? “The answer is yes, in the sense that you can also refuse to comply with an order from a police officer. That is, he can refuse - but there will likely be consequences.” According to a federal criminal defense attorney, the Fifth Amendment “doesn’t have the same level of protection” when it comes to documents. “Put another way, the Fifth Amendment protects you from making incriminatory comments about yourself - but it doesn’t protect you from things you’ve said in the past. Documents are similarly a form of past behavior to which the Fifth Amendment doesn’t apply.” (Washington Post) So the Senate Intelligence Committee issued 2 new subpoenas for Flynn’s business records. Apparently a business does not have the right to take the Fifth. But they did not issue a contempt citation. (Guardian) Senator Richard Burr (R, NC), chair of the committee, said that they were keeping “all options on the table,” meaning a criminal charge of contempt could still be forthcoming. (McClatchy)
Ethics Office: The Trump administration is at odds with Walter Shaub, Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Shaub sent a memo in April to the White House and federal agencies “asking for information” about waivers granted to lobbyists and other appointees working in the administration. Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has not complied, saying he questions OGE’s ability to ask for information. “Shaub fired back” saying that the request was “well within bounds.” (Guardian)
Manchester Bombing Leak: Information on the bombing in Manchester England was published by the NY Times. “Suspicion on who leaked it to the U.S.-based reporter rested on U.S. officials, who have been feeding a series of details about the Manchester bombing to American journalists.” (Guardian) Business Insider reported that these leaks potentially jeopardized the ongoing investigation. The leaks “renewed concerns over leaks from Donald Trump’s administration 2 weeks after the U.S. president revealed classified information, apparently from Israel, to Russia’s foreign minister in a White House meeting. Critics warn that U.S. allies may be less willing to share intelligence in the future.” [Emphasis adde.] (Guardian) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went to the UK “to deliver in person an apology for leaks by U.S. officials of details of the police investigation.” (Guardian)
Rodrigo Duterte: Trump extended an invitation to the Philippines president, despite the bloody drug war he’s carrying out in his country. The Intercept obtained a transcript of Trump’s April 29th phone call with Duterte. Besides divulging the location of 2 of our submarines, Trump praised Duterte for his human rights abuses. This is amazing and I highly suggest you read it.
Calista Gingrich: The wife of Newt Gingrich, “one of the president’s most vociferous defenders,” will be nominated ambassador to the Vatican. (Guardian) Her qualification? She’s Catholic.
Stingray: Let me remind you about this snooping device that imitates mobile phone towers to intercept mobile phone information. Last August a panel of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals struck down evidence from Stingrays as illegal. It was the second court to do so. (TWW, Stingray, 8/13/16) But it’s still being used. The Detroit News obtained an unsealed federal search warrant and found that Stingrays are being used by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track down undocumented immigrants. The News pointed out further that the Michigan State Police has owned the device for about a decade. “The equipment, originally designed for military and intelligence agencies, was upgraded 2013, and an internal memo indicates it was used 3 years ago on 128 cases ranging from homicide to burglary and fraud, but not terrorism.” Under Justice Department policy, all data from targeted mobile phones “must be deleted immediately after the device is located. Under this policy, Stingrays cannot be used to collect emails, texts, contacts, or images during an investigation.” However, this is federal policy only. There is no similar policy governing local law enforcement agencies.
Warrantless Surveillance: The Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Virginia ruled that the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of Internet communications is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment privacy rights. It reversed a federal District Court judge’s decision. This thing is probably headed to the Supreme Court. (NY Times)
Honduras: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “lied about its role in a bungled anti-narcotics operation in Honduras that left 4 innocent villagers dead, then misled Congress, the Justice Department, and the public as it tried to cover its tracks.” The operation in 2012 “was part of a militarized DEA program that led to a series of deadly confrontations and has now been abandoned.” (Guardian)
Iran: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an 18 to 3 vote, passed a bill that will kill the Iran Nuclear Deal. (District Sentinel)
Iraq: The Pentagon admitted that its strikes on Mosul in March killed 105 civilians, but it blames ISIS. (Al Jazeera) Witnesses at the site, however, dispute this. They say it was air strikes, pure and simple. (Washington Post)
Saudi Arabia: Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia included signing a $110 billion arms deal. The agreement includes a discounted radar system that Jared Kushner bartered for with Lockheed Martin. (NY Times) The State Department had a press release on it titled “Supporting Saudi Arabia’s Defense Needs” and calls the sale of tanks, artillery, helicopters, combatant ships, and the radar system, among other things, part of the Department’s slogan “Diplomacy in Action.” Geez. Still Trump managed to put us in position for another war. His speech put the U.S. on the Sunni Muslim side of the “sectarian war with Shias.” According to the Independent, his speech gave a green light “to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East to carry on torturing and oppressing minorities.” By identifying Iran as a despotic state and calling for regime change, he lined the U.S. up with Sunni countries. This isn’t good, folks.
Syria: The Syria Civil Defense, commonly called the White Helmets, has been filmed for a second time “assisting in a public execution.” The White Helmets have received at least $23 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (AlterNet)
Turkey: Last week I told you about the confrontation between Turkey’s bodyguards and Kurdish protesters. (TWW, Turkey, 5/20/17) Now Turkey is blaming the U.S. for the altercation. The Turkish Foreign Ministry lodged a formal protest with the U.S. ambassador over “aggressive” actions by American security personnel. (Washington Post)
California: Remember the money that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao wouldn’t release for electrifying the commuter rail line Caltrain? (TWW, California, 2/25/17) Well, the Federal Transit Administration finally released the $647 million. (Washington Post)
Montana: Republican Greg Gianforte was elected to the vacant House seat - even after attacking a journalist. (NY Times)
Vermont: Governor Phil Scott (R) vetoed a bill that would legalize marijuana. (Business Insider)
Voting Districts: The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to 3 decision, affirmed a lower court decision and ruled that North Carolina illegally packed black voters into 2 voting districts. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the Opinion in Cooper v. Harris. Concurring were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and, get this, Clarence Thomas. Dissenting in part were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. (The Hill)
Campaign Restrictions: The Supremes declined to hear an appeal by the Republican Party of Louisiana which argued “that a provision of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violates free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.” The Act imposes a campaign finance restriction “that prevents political parties from raising unlimited amounts of cash to spend on supporting candidates.” This leaves the lower court decision in place that rejected the Republican challenge. “The brief order noted that conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch favored hearing the case.” (Reuters)
Patents: The Supremes “tightened rules for where patent lawsuits can be filed.” The 8 to 0 ruling will make it harder for patent “trolls” to launch dodgy patent cases in “friendly courts.” This upends 27 years of law governing patent infringement cases as now suits can only be filed in courts located in the jurisdiction where the targeted company is incorporated. (Reuters)
NATO: Trump was in Brussels this week and “punctured any illusions that he was on a fence-mending tour of Europe.” He “explicitly” endorsed NATO’s mutual defense pledge but “lashed out at fellow members for what he called their ‘chronic underpayments’ to the alliance.” (NY Times) Trump claimed that 23 of the 28 NATO members haven’t met their commitments. (Business Insider) Apparently Trump doesn’t understand how this works. All member nations have committed to deposit into the alliance 2% of their economic output on defense, “but that is merely a guideline.” According to CNN, “NATO members spend money on their own defense. The funds they send to NATO directly account for less than 1% of overall defense spending by members of the alliance.” Look at their chart. We’re sending them too much money.
Pentagon Slush Fund: According to documents acquired by the Washington Post, the Defense Department has been selling gasoline to the armed forces at rates much higher than what they are paying for it. The excess income goes into a fund, called the “bishop’s fund,” and is being used to cover mismanagement or for underfunded military programs. The scheme has generated almost $6 billion over the past 7 years.
Lost Weapons: The Army “failed to properly keep track of hundreds of Humvees, tens of thousands of rifles, and other pieces of military equipment that were sent to Iraq.” This is a nice way of saying they were lost. The amount? More than $1 billion. (Washington Post)
Travel Ban: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th District left the freeze on Trump’s travel ban in place, “handing the administration another legal setback in its efforts to block the issuance of new visas to citizens of 6 Muslim-majority countries.” (Washington Post) AG Jeff Sessions confirmed that they will be appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. (Guardian)
Infrastructure Investment: I’m sure you’re familiar with Blackstone, the hedge fund that has been securitizing rental receipts (TWW, Rental Securitization, 2/18/17) and is doing everything it can to create another housing crash (TWW, Another Housing Crash, 12/7/13). It has created a new fund for infrastructure investors. The fund “would invest in toll roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects.” (Market Watch) In other words, they’re prepared to jump to Trump’s proposition that the U.S. borrow trillions of dollars to partner with private firms to rebuild our infrastructure. This week Saudi Arabia dived into the investment fund with a $20 billion investment. According to Market Watch, these large investors want to “buy up airports, pipelines, and other public projects, particularly in the U.S.”
Education Vouchers: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is rolling out her school choice plan. It will provide tax credits to corporations and individuals who donate money to groups and schools that provide school choice scholarships. (CBS)
OSC Access Act: H.R. 2195, sponsored by Rep. Rod Blum (R, IA), would “amend federal law to clarify that the Office of Special Counsel has the authority to obtain all of the documents it needs for an investigation.” (Congressional Budget Office) I wonder what they’re up to. OSC primarily investigates whistleblower complaints and whistleblowers themselves.
ACA: Trump has a new way to kill the Affordable Care Act. He wants to stop subsidy payments, “a move that could send the health law’s insurance markets into a tailspin.” (Politico) The NY Times editorial board opined that “the president thinks this will get Democrats to negotiate changes to the 2010 health law.”
AHCA: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) released scoring of the Republican American Health Care Act. The estimate includes a series of last-minute revisions Republicans made to get the bill passed. (TWW, Trumpcare, 5/6/17) CBO estimated that the Act would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured within a decade but it would only reduce the deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026, a reduction that is $32 million less than what Republicans originally estimated because they added in more money for risk pools. “The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid and from the replacement of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) subsidies for nongroup health insurance with new tax credits for nongroup health insurance. . . Those savings would be partially offset by other changes in coverage provisions - spending for a new Patient and State Stability Fund, designed to reduce premiums, and a reduction in revenues from repealing penalties on employers who do not offer insurance and on people who do not purchase insurance.” See the CBO’s chart on the net budgetary effects. Also included: 14 million people will lose Medicaid and there's an expected premium increase in 2018 of 20%.
Republican Investments: According to the Daily Beast, 40 House Republicans who voted for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) “held shares in healthcare companies valued at $23 million and earned more than $2 million off those investments. . . Several Republicans with key roles in passing the bill held more than $500,000 in medical company shares.”
Interior Department Press Release: A group of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists published a paper highlighting the link between sea-level rise and global climate change, “arguing that previous studies may have underestimated the risk flooding poses to coastal communities.” The Department of Interior, which the USGS is under, “deleted a line from the news release on the study that discussed the role climate change played in raising Earth’s oceans.” (Washington Post)
Dakota Access: The pipeline and a feeder line “leaked more than 100 gallons of oil in North Dakota in separate incidents in March.” (Guardian) And it isn’t yet completed.
Carrier: As promised (TWW, Carrier, 12/10/16), Carrier will begin laying off 632 Indiana employees and moving the jobs to Mexico. (Washington Post) So much for Trump’s promise to save American jobs.
Fiduciary Rule: Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced that the new fiduciary rule will take effect on June 9th. The rule “requires brokers offering retirement investment advice to act in the best interest of their customers.” Republicans hate it that brokers must advise their clients if they have a conflict of interest. Trump has ordered Acosta to review the rule. (Reuters)