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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 7/8/2017

Operation Crosscheck:  This is the system of voter suppression that investigative reporter Greg Palast exposed in 2014 (Reader Supported News) and was used extensively in 2016. (Rolling Stone) It was developed by Kris Kobach, then Kansas Secretary of State. In the last election data was processed through a system called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. According to Palast’s 2016 analysis, the Crosscheck list “disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic, and Asian-American voters - with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina.” 28 participating states shared their voter lists. When a similar name of someone in a targeted state showed up on the voter rolls in another state, that person was thrown off the rolls as being registered in multiple states. So if James Q. Brown was registered in Ohio and there was a James P. Brown registered in Indiana, James Q was removed from the rolls. In 2016 in Virginia alone 342,556 names were thrown off the voter rolls from this program. Read the Rolling Stone piece for more details. Now Trump has created, by Executive Order, the Voting Integrity Commission to ostensibly tackle the problem of voter fraud. However, a report by the NY Times, which looked at more than 137.7 million ballots cast in November, could confirm only 1 allegation of voter fraud. Voter fraud is a dog whistle for voter suppression. Kobach, creator of Crosscheck and now co-chair - along with VP Mike Pence - of the commission, wants Operation Crosscheck to go nationwide.

 

What the States Are Saying:  As of Tuesday 44 states had stated they would not comply with the request. (District Sentinel) Louisiana (Tom Schedler), Wyoming (Casper Star-Tribune), Tennessee (The Tennessean), South Dakota (U.S. News), Arizona (Michele Reagan), and Kentucky (Alison Lundergan Grimes) said they will not comply. Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Delbert Hoseman, said: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from.” Even Kansas will be releasing only Kansas’ publicly available information. (Kansas City Star) However, not all states find the request unconscionable. Colorado’s Secretary of State, Wayne Williams, said: “We are very glad they are asking for information before making decisions.” Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft (known as “Jay,” he is the son of the former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft) said: “The commission’s questions are fair and we will be glad to assist in offering our thoughts on these important matters. I look forward to working with Sec. Kris Kobach and the commission on its findings and offer our support in the collective effort to enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the elections process.” Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill said he would comply. Some states are undecided. For a complete list of where the states stand at this time, see this CNN piece.

 

What the States Are Doing:  What the states are doing is not what they are saying. Again, reporter Greg Palast obtained the records from Kansas and found that they turned over almost 3 million files to Kobach earlier this year, including birthdates and Social Security numbers. Mississippi, who said the commission could jump in the Gulf, has already turned over 2,092,886 files. According to Palast, “21 states listed by CNN as refusing Kobach his demands for voter files have already turned over voter files to Kobach’s office.” [Emphasis added.] Check out the map. States with a Republican Secretary State (red) have said they will resist the request but they have already handed over the files. 4 states with a Democratic Secretary of State (blue) have made the same inaccurate claim. Please check out Palast’s example of the so-called duplicate voters. (Progressive) And please know this: Even though some states have stated that they will not participate in Operation Crosscheck by removing any voters from their rolls, their voter rolls may be used by other states to find similar names and eradicate voters.

 

Going to Court:  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed suit in U.S. District Court asking for a restraining order blocking the requests for voter data. The Trump administration told the court that it plans to keep all the voter data on White House computers under the direction of VP Pence. (Washington Post)

 

Walter Shaub:  The Director of the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has resigned “nearly 6 months before his term is scheduled to end.” (Washington Post) He has been highly critical of the Trump administration, urging Trump to fully divest from his business empire (TWW, Trump Business Plans, 1/14/17) and “chastising” senior advisors for violating ethics rules. (TWW, Ethics Office, 5/27/17; Steve Mnuchin, 4/1/17) Who do you think Trump will pick to replace him?

 

Jared Kushner:  Maybe the latest news about Kushner was what pushed Shaub to resign. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed an ethics complaint against Kushner stating that he failed to disclose his ownership of Cadre, a real estate tech startup he co-founded. This links him to billionaires George Soros and Peter Theil, both of whom have stakes in the company. An article in the Wall Street Journal last May mentions Goldman Sachs as also having a stake. 

 

Wiretapping:  A 2016 single wiretap order allowed an unknown government agency to carry out “real-time intercepts of 3.29 million” mobile phone conversations over a 2-month period. The order was supposed to help authorities track 26 people suspected of illegal drug and narcotic-related activities in Pennsylvania. The wiretap cost $335,000 and led to a dozen arrests but there was no incriminating intercepts “and none of the handful of those arrested have been brought to trial or convicted.” (ZDnet)

 

Etihad Airways:  It has been exempted from the laptop ban (TWW, Laptop Ban, 7/1/17) for flights from Abu Dhabi International Airport. It’s the only airline that has been exempted. It makes about 45 flights each week between Abu Dhabi and 6 U.S. cities. “Etihad passengers clear U.S. Customs at the Abu Dhabi airport, in the only facility of its kind operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in the Middle East. When they arrive in the United States, they are treated as domestic passengers and do not have to pass through customs a second time.” (Washington Post)

 

France:  It will ban gasoline and diesel powered vehicles by 2040 “as part of an ambitious plan to meet its targets under the Paris climate accord.” (Guardian)

 

Germany:  In the first half of 2017 Germany produced 35% of its power from renewable energy. In 2016 it produced 33% so it’s on track to increase its production this year. (Independent)

 

North Korea:  It conducted “what may be its most successful missile test yet.” It fired an intermediate-range weapon “that could be powerful enough to reach Alaska.” (Chicago Sun-Times) Trump told Pyongyang that the U.S. would use “the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat.” He then followed up by announcing a joint military exercise with South Korea where they “fired ballistic missiles in the waters along the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.” (NY Times)

 

Florida:  A new law allows any resident to challenge what kids learn in public schools. It “requires school boards to hire an ‘unbiased hearing officer’ who will handle complaints about instructional materials, such as movies, textbooks, and novels, that are used in local schools. Any parent or county resident can file a complaint, regardless of whether they have a student in the school system. If the hearing officer deems the challenge justified, he or she can require schools to remove the material in question.” The statute includes general guidelines about what counts as grounds for removal: “belief that the material is ‘pornographic’ or ‘is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group.’” (Washington Post)

 

Illinois:  After 2 years (TWW, Illinois, 7/1/17) they finally have a budget. The state house voted to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s (R) veto. The Senate overrode the veto earlier. Rauner has been vetoing any budget for the past 2 years that didn’t include his anti-worker agenda. (Workers Independent News)

 

New Jersey:  Island Beach state park was closed last Sunday “due to a budget standoff” in a “health insurance battle with the Democrat-led legislature.” Everyone attempting to go to the beach was turned away by police, except for Governor Chris Christie (R) and his family and friends. (Guardian)

 

New York:  State attorney general Eric Schneiderman (D) has filed a suit against “a coalition of anti-choice protesters, along with ‘anyone acting in concert with them.’” He is also seeking an immediate preliminary injunction to end the “persistent, dangerous harassment and threatening of patients, families, escorts, and clinic staff at the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens.” (Rewire)

 

Oregon:  Confrontations between Republicans and “anti-fascist” protesters at Republican events has been escalating. So the  Multnomah County GOP voted to hire “heavily armed militia groups” to provide security at their events. (Guardian)

 

Texas:  The Justice Department has endorsed Texas’ new voter ID law as being just dandy and saying that the courts should not take any further action. (Texas Tribune)

 

Travel Ban:  U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ruled that grandparents and other extended relatives are not exempt from Trump’s travel ban. (TWW, Travel Ban, 7/1/17) Watson wrote that he would not “usurp the prerogative of the Supreme Court” and “if those suing over the ban wanted relief, they should take their claims there.” (Washington Post)

 

Russian Radio Station:  The Russian state-sponsored news outlet Sputnik “is entering the Washington, D.C. radio market in an effort to push back against what it called ‘constant attacks’ by U.S. media companies.” It has taken over 105.5 FM, which used to air bluegrass and country music. (The Hill) Last February the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed the rules to allow foreign ownership of our public airways and approved Sputnik’s application. (Democratic Underground)

 

Sinclair Consolidation:  Sinclair Broadcast Group has found that it’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media “will cause it to exceed the national television ownership limit while also arguing the deal is in the public’s interest.” (Baltimore Business Journal) The FCC will have to approve this and, given the Sputnik approval (above), I’m sure they won’t have a problem with it. But there’s is a real problem with one broadcasting group owning so much of our public airways. It effects our views on policy and political issues. Sinclair has been taking over many television stations and is the perfect example. John Oliver explains how and why this is happening and what it means. (You Tube)

 

Student Debt:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delayed an Obama-era rule designed to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges. (TWW, Student Loans, 4/15/17) Now 18 states and the District of Columbia are suing her for the delay. (NY Times)

 

Gender Pay Gap:  The pay gap between women and men White House staffers “has more than tripled in the first year of the Trump administration.” The gap is now 37%, more than double the 17% nationally. Under Obama the gap was 11%. It’s even wider than the national pay gap was in 1980. The analysis was done by economist Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and excluded Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. “Perry notes that the highest-paid staffers in the Trump White House are primarily men: Nearly 74% of the top 23 staffers are male. By contrast, in the Obama White House of 2015 only 52% of the highest paid staffers were men.” (Washington Post)

 

Drug Prices:  According to a report from Bloomberg, the U.S. pays “a lot” more for brand-name drugs than other developed countries. “The drug industry has argued it’s misleading to focus on U.S. prices that exclude discounts struck behind closed doors with insurers.” But Bloomberg’s analysis found “that even after these discounts, prices are higher in the US. than abroad. 7 of 8 top-selling drugs examined still cost more in the U.S. than most other countries.” According to Steve Miller, chief medical officer for Express Scripts Holding Co., the largest U.S. manager of prescription-drug benefits: “We can no longer sustain a system where 300 million Americans subsidize drug development for the entire world.”

 

Watts Bar 2:  This is the new nuclear plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). It went online last October. This past March it was shut down. Failing components in the condenser caused it to cease functioning. It is still closed. (LA Times)

 

Methane Emissions:  A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. District determined that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot suspend the rule to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. (NY Times)

 

Unemployment:  The U.S. added 222,000 jobs in June, “beating economists’ expectations for a 179,000 gain.” But unemployment crept up to 4.4% from 4.3%, probably because more people are looking for work. (Reuters)

 

Wages:  While a tightening job market historically has meant an increase in wages, this is not happening now. Wages are lagging behind. The Fed said it’s possibly because of “the weak pace of productivity growth in recent years.” (NY Times) Maybe that’s because so much of our economy is service rather than production. You can only get so much productivity out of cleaning a hotel room or making a hamburger. And if many of the jobs are part-time, there isn’t much incentive to work faster or ways to be more efficient.

 

Oil:  Prices fell 3% this week. Why? Because we have a glut of unused oil. U.S. production rose and OPEC exports “hit a 2017 high.” (Reuters)

 

Hobby Lobby:  It has agreed to pay a $3 million fine “for illegally importing thousands of ancient clay artifacts smuggled into the United States from Iraq.” It will also forfeit “thousands of clay bullae, cuneiform tablets, and cylinder seals that were falsely labeled and shipped to the company through the United Arab Emirates and Israel.” The privately-owned company bought more than 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million “from an unidentified dealer.” Hobby Lobby’s owners are evangelical Christians who’ve been collecting a variety of artifacts for years. (Washington Post) I guess their Christian values don’t support the Commandment that says “Thou shall not steal.” And since these were bought on the black market in Iraq, does that mean they were doing business with ISIS?

 

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