Originally Published: 6/3/2017
Withdrawal from Paris Accord: Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Accord saying that it’s not in the U.S.’s best economic interests. However, he said he’ll stick to the withdrawal process laid out in the agreement, which could take nearly 4 years to complete, meaning a final decision will be up to voters. Trump said that he will begin negotiations to re-enter the accord or an entirely new one “on terms that are fair to the United States.” (NY Times) He cited “dubious facts and unbalanced claims” to make his case that the agreement would hurt the economy. The Washington Post Fact-Checker has the skinny on his many mis-statements. Many Republicans urged pulling out of the deal. The Guardian reported that 22 senators who wrote a letter to Trump encouraging him to back out of the pact received more than $10 million from oil, gas, and coal companies during the past 3 election cycles.
Paris Accord: The agreement is an historic global pact to curb climate change. It took effect last year. However, remember that it is an agreement, not a treaty, which means it’s voluntary. It requires no particular policies at all and emissions targets are not legally binding. If Trump truly believes that the targets are too onerous, he could simply adjust them. There is no need to exit the Paris accord in search of a better deal. But, at the G7 summit last week, he promised to pull out of the agreement and now he’s fulfilled that promise. 195 countries have signed the agreement. In fact, only Syria and Nicaragua haven’t joined and Nicaragua stayed out because it didn’t believe the agreement went far enough. If you’re not familiar with the details of the pact, the NY Times has a great piece. It also has a graph showing that the U.S. is the greatest emitter of CO2 in the world. (NY Times) But let’s face it. Even with our participation in the Paris Agreement, global warming will continue. But without the Agreement humans have little chance of survival. The agreement seeks to keep global temperatures from increasing 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Check out the graph by the NY Times that illustrates the effects of the accord. “This is a good time to remember that even 2 degrees of change will have significant global ramifications. Temperature records of the past will be yearly events, most years will likely have an ice-free Arctic, and extreme precipitation events are projected to markedly increase. After 200 to 300 years, 2 degrees of warming would eventually lead to sea levels rising by up to 4 meters (13 feet) which would partially flood present-day London and New York, and completely submerge the New Orleans metropolitan area.” (Washington Post)
Impact of Withdrawal: Withdrawing from the agreement will damage U.S. competitiveness as other countries take the lead in global transition to clean energy. Efforts to slow climate change are expected to boost the world economy by $19 trillion. (Bloomberg) We won’t get a piece of that pie. The rest of the world will invest, innovate, and export and we’ll be left behind. It will also do serious damage to U.S. strategic interests around the world by alienating U.S. allies and undermining U.S. policy. (National Interest) And, indeed, some are seeing our exit as a shift in alliances. China “is expected to fill any leadership vacuum created by the U.S. retreat, both in climate change and trade.” (Washington Post) And, of course, there’s the impact on climate change. More than a thousand businesses (Low Carbon USA) and a majority of American voters (Washington Post) support the agreement. Just last month a dozen Fortune 500 companies including Apple, Microsoft, and Google wrote a letter to Trump urging him to remain in the agreement. Even ExxonMobil supported remaining in the deal. (Financial Times) Didn’t have any effect on Trump. But, not everyone is laying down and taking this. Tesla founder Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger have quit Trump’s high-powered business advisory panel. (Guardian) And a group of 30 mayors, 3 governors, more than 80 university presidents, and more than 100 businesses are going to submit a plan to the United Nations “pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets” despite Trump’s decision. According to Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor who is coordinating the effort, “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed.” He believes that cities, states, and corporations can achieve, or even surpass, the pledge of the U.S. under President Obama. (NY Times) And Europe and China vowed to stay on track. (Guardian)
Russian Connection: U.S. intelligence intercepted conversations during the 2016 election with Russian officials discussing having potentially “derogatory” information about Trump and some of his top aides. “One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to U.S. intelligence that Russians believed ‘they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.’” (CNN)
Russian Property: Remember last December President Obama expelled Russians from their compounds here in the U.S. and expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the U.S.? (TWW, Russian Hacking, 12/31/16) Well, Trump is going to give the Russians their property back. “Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg. 2 days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate.” (Washington Post)
Business Profits: Before taking office Trump pledged that his business would donate to the U.S. Treasury “all profits accumulated from guests connected to foreign governments.” So the House Oversight Committee asked him for documents indicating how this was done. Trump sent them a “glossy pamphlet full of hotel pictures” and said he is not attempting “to track whether guests at his hotels or other properties are representatives from foreign governments.” Instead he is relying on them to self-report themselves. (Business Insider)
Lobbyists: Last week I told you about the Trump administration refusing to comply with the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) request for information about waivers granted to lobbyists. (TWW, Ethics Office, 5/27/17) Eventually the White House revealed that it has granted 17 ethics waivers to various members of Trump’s staff, allowing them to continue to interact with former clients. But the Washington Post obtained data which show the “extent to which former lobbyists have made their way into the administration.” 20 work for the executive office of the president, including 4 so-called “super-lobbyists,” defined as those who represented at least 10 different companies or organizations before coming to work for the government. Check out this chart. What’s more, of the 74 lobbyists identified, 49 now work for agencies they used to lobby.
Purging: With all the stuff surrounding Trump, he’s begun purging his administration to shake things up. After only 4 months. The first to go is Mike Dubke who resigned as the White House communications director. (Washington Post)
Press Briefings: Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that he will no longer answer any questions about Trump’s links to Russia. (Guardian)
Coat of Arms: Trump has a coat of arms. Yup. It’s on display at his golf courses across the U.S. But he has a different coat of arms over his golf courses in Scotland. That’s because his U.S. coat of arms “belongs to another family.” It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, “the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort.” Trump claimed the coat of arms for his own, replacing the word “integritas,” with “Trump.” Davies’ descendants are complaining. (NY Times)
Torture Report: Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee spent years investigating the CIA program of detaining people in secret prisons and interrogating them in a manner that has been called torture. “It is the most comprehensive accounting of the Bush-era program that exists, and a declassified executive summary of the report was made public in December 2014 - with the support of some Republicans on the committee.” (See TWW, Torture, 12/13/14) But the entire classified report was sent to at least 8 federal agencies, “asking that they incorporate the report into their records.” This means they would be subject to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. So, Trump has decided no one should see it. He has begun sending the copies of the classified report to Congress, “complying with the demand of a top Republican senator who has criticized the report for being shoddy and excessively critical of the CIA.” This means that the 6,700-page report “could be locked in Senate vaults for good - exempt from laws requiring that government records eventually become public.” (NY Times)
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel, “speaking after bruising meetings at NATO and the G7 group of wealthy nations last week,” said that Europe can no longer completely rely on its longstanding British and U.S. allies. She said that the EU must now be prepared to “take its fate into its own hands.” According to the Guardian, she “suggested the postwar western alliance had been badly undermined by the UK’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.”
Israel: Trump signed an Executive Order keeping the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv rather than moving it to Jerusalem as he promised during his election campaign. (NY Times)
California: The number of homeless people in Los Angeles has reached a new record. A recent count over several nights found 55,188 homeless people, “up more than 25% from last year.” (Guardian)
Minnesota: Governor Mark Dayton (D) signed 10 budget bills but refused to sign the bill that cut taxes by $650 million. There was also a provision “that would withholding funding for the Department of Revenue unless the governor signed its package of tax cuts.” Instead he eliminated funding for the legislative branch, leaving the executive branch funding intact and setting the stage for “a high-stakes constitutional clash.” House speaker Kurt Daudt (R) said they are suing. (Minnesota Star Tribune)
Ohio: State attorney general Mike DeWine (R) filed a lawsuit against 5 pharmaceutical companies that make addictive painkillers. “DeWine said pharmaceutical companies spent $168 million in 2014 alone through sales representatives ‘peddling prescription opioids to win over doctors with their smooth pitches and glossy brochures that downplayed the risks and highlighted the benefits.’ The companies would ‘deny and trivialize’ the impact of opioids on patients, ‘leading to our state’s worst public health crisis.’” (Columbus Dispatch)
Oklahoma: As you know, the state budget is in crisis since lawmakers cut taxes “slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.” So funding for schools has been shrinking. “Class sizes have ballooned, art and foreign-language programs have shrunk or disappeared,” and teacher salaries remain low. Now many districts have cut the class week to just 4 days. (Washington Post)
Litigation Award: The U.S. Supreme Court set aside a multi-million dollar award against 2 Los Angeles County officers “who shot a couple after bursting into their shack while looking for someone else.” In an 8 to 0 decision, the justices said “the lower courts had erred in upholding a $4 million award” to a man and his pregnant girlfriend who were seriously wounded. An appeals court had allowed the claim of excessive force when an officer “intentionally or recklessly provokes a violent confrontation.” But Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the decision, said that the appeals court ruling “provides a novel and unsupported path to liability in cases in which the use of force was reasonable.” (Washington Post)
Toner Cartridges: The Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling and remanded a case ruling that Lexmark, maker of laser printers and toner cartridges, had “exhausted its patent rights in toner cartridges sold in the United States through its ‘Return Program’ and that it cannot sue Impression Products for patent infringement with respect to cartridges Lexmark sold abroad.” Impression Products acquired the cartridges from purchasers and imported them into the United States. The 7 to 1 decision came about “because an authorized sale outside the United States, just as one within the United States, exhausts all rights under the Patent Act.” Dissenting, in part, was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (ScotusBlog)
Tax Evasion: A new paper entitled Tax Evasion and Inequality shows that global tax evasion is probably much more prevalent than previously thought. The authors’ estimates indicate that the top .01% of the wealth distribution owns about half of all offshore assets and may be hiding roughly a quarter of their wealth offshore. And the United States is quickly becoming the world’s largest tax and secrecy haven. The Washington Post has a short video that explains how it works.
Debt Ceiling: Our rush to hitting the debt ceiling is being accelerated by wealthy Americans and business owners who are putting off paying their taxes in the hopes that Trump and Congress will “deliver big cuts.” Federal data and “anecdotes from tax advisers reveal that a significant number of taxpayers are postponing cashing out on investments and other financial decisions, hoping to pay less later if the White House and congressional Republicans pass a huge reduction in tax rates.” (Washington Post)
Transgender Students: A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender student’s challenge to a Wisconsin school district’s policy limiting his restroom usage. The court ruled that the lower court’s preliminary injunction holds, stating that the school district “has not demonstrated that it will suffer any harm from having to comply” with the court’s order. (BuzzFeed)
Immigration: If you remember, Trump reduced the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. annually from 110,000 to 50,000 and “suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days.” (TWW, Travel Ban, 3/11/17) But now the State Department lifted those restrictions and has begun notifying refugee groups that “they could now begin bringing people to the U.S. ‘unconstrained by the weekly quotas that were in place.’” (Independent)
Net Neutrality: A campaign group, Fight for the Future, has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “over its refusal to erase fake comments from a consultation on net neutrality.” 14 people say their details were used without permission to file anti-net neutrality views. (BBC) But the fake comments have ballooned. “On Wednesday last week, 128,000 of these particular identical comments . . . had been filed. That number is up to more than 440,000.” Gizmodo reported that this, and other things, are evidence that a “bot” is being used to file these comments. The Verge said that about 2.6 million comments have been posted, although many are fake.
Travel Ban: As expected (TWW, Travel Ban, 5/27/17), Trump has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. However, he's asking for permission to put the ban into effect while he’s waiting for their ruling. (Vox)
Contraception Rule: Trump has drafted a new rule that will allow religious employers to stop covering birth control in their health plans. (Washington Post) The rule expands the number of employers and insurers that could qualify for exemptions “by claiming a moral or religious objection, including for-profit and publicly traded corporations.” (NY Times)
High Risk Pools: If you still are confused by the high risk pools that Republicans want to establish under the American Health Care Act (AHCA), watch this short video at NY Times.
Coral Bleaching: Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef last year was even worse than expected, “while the full impact of the most recent event is yet to be determined.” Surveys taken throughout 2016 confirm that the bleaching is escalating. According to Russell Reichelt, chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and . . . it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017.” (Guardian) Coral bleaching is also attacking the U.S.’s most protected corals. Scientists warn that U.S. reefs “are on course to largely disappear within just a few decades because of global warming.” (Guardian)
Children’s Lawsuit: Remember the lawsuit filed by children in Oregon, suing the federal government for violating their constitutional rights by not protecting them from climate change? (TWW, Children Sue, 8/15/15) The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), “prominent trade groups in the oil and gas industry,” along with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), have dropped their attempts to intervene in the suit “after failing to reach an agreement on a unified legal position on climate science.” The 3 groups “were arguing that a judgment requiring the government to tighten environmental regulations would harm their business interests. But discord arose among them after a judge ordered them to submit a joint filing stating their views on climate science.” Their lawyer said they were “unable to agree on the causes and effects of human activity and greenhouse gas emissions on the climate.” Another reason for leaving the case? “Laying out in court the scientific findings they accept on climate change could bind them to specific positions in other legal proceedings.” (Reuters)
ExxonMobil: Shareholders “compelled” the company “to be more open about the impact of climate change on its business.” In a vote Wednesday 62% of shareholders voted for a resolution, “and against Exxon’s management,” at the annual meeting in Dallas. “The vote to more clearly report how climate change affects Exxon’s business comes as investors are increasingly demanding companies disclose the likely impact of global warming and follows the passing of similar proposals at 2 smaller energy companies earlier this month.” (Guardian) Now, to be honest, these people aren’t marching against global warming. They’re worried about their investments. Still, this is a big deal.
Dakota Access: The Intercept received more than 100 leaked documents and more than 1,000 documents through a public records request that show that TigerSwan, the security contractor hired by Energy Transfer Partners to fight the Water Protectors, “spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters.” The documents show that TigerSwan, “a shadowy international mercenary and security firm,” used “military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least 5 states.” TigerSwan communications compare the Water Protecters to jihadist fighters and to post-Soviet Afghanistan. Its report warns: “While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora . . . aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies.” [Emphasis added.] Battlefield? Insurgencies? These guys don’t know what country they’re in. And, oh, yeah. On the day that Trump decided to pull us out of the Paris accord, the pipeline went into commercial service. (District Sentinel)
NLRB: The United Steelworkers Union has analyzed Trump’s budget request and found that it calls for an 18% cut to the National Labor Relations Board. “The budget blueprint also says the Trump administration wants to ban the board from instituting a rule to permit electronic voting in union representation elections. Workers and their allies have been pushing for electronic voting to take advantage of new technology and to lessen the potential for boss’ intimidation at voting sites.”
Unemployment: The U.S. job growth was weak in May, adding just 138,000 jobs. Still, unemployment is down to 4.3%. (NY Times)