Originally Published: 10/28/2017
Political Divide: The Pew Research Center issued an interesting report on the partisan divide “on political values” and how they are growing wider. Jocelyn Kiley at Pew developed a great chart based on that research. It illustrates the shift in the American public’s political values over the past 2 decades. “The share of Americans with ideologically consistent values has increased over this time and these political values also have become more strongly associated with partisanship. These shifts are particularly pronounced among politically engaged Americans.” The chart shows that 95% of Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat and 97% of Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. The graphs represent all those who identify with one party or the other, but Pew also broke out the charts based on how politically engaged the respondents were. This is some fascinating stuff. And the Washington Post also did a poll finding that 70% of Americans believe our political divisions “are at least as big as during the Vietnam War.” Again, there’s some great information here, but the most fascinating I found is this chart showing that much of the shift in the political divide can be attributed to Trump.
Political Typology: Pew Research Center also released a fascinating 152-page report on the nation’s political typology. Based on in-depth interviews with more than 5,000 American adults, they divided everyone across the political spectrum into 8 groups, along with a 9th group of politically disengaged “bystanders.” James Hohmann at the Washington Post wrote: “The report highlights fissures under the Republican tent on a host of issues. In many cases, the dividing lines are not necessarily new. But several of the areas which Republicans are most torn about have moved to the front burner because of Trump’s disruptive campaign and presidency, from trade to immigration and America’s role in the world.”
Opposition Research: Frequently called “oppo,” this is a traditional practice of collecting information on a political opponent to weaken the adversary. Frequently a candidate will do oppo research on him/herself to find out what kind of information an opponent will use on him/her. (Wikipedia) The famous Trump dossier (TWW, Trump Ties to Russia, 1/14/17) was just such oppo research. This is what we know so far. Back in January we were told that the research was ordered by the GOP but we now know that Fusion GPS was hired in October 2015 by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, funder of the conservative website The Washington Free Beacon and a supporter of Republican candidate Senator Marco Rubio. Singer wanted oppo research on many of Rubio’s adversaries. He cancelled the contract in May 2016 when Trump was sewing up the Republican nomination. In April 2016 Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) also hired Fusion to do oppo research on Trump. Fusion then hired Christopher Steele to do the research. There it is. (NY Times)
J. Steven Gardner: Trump has nominated him to be director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). It’s the Interior Department’s “top regulator of the coal mining industry.” Gardner is the president of the engineering firm ECSI and was “a frequent critic of environmental rules during the Obama administration, including those from the OSM.” (The Hill)
China: It’s been shutting down factories across the country due to pollution. “In the past year, China’s Ministry of Environment has sent inspectors to 30 provinces, where they’ve reprimanded, fined, or charged officials in more than 80,000 factories with criminal offenses. Entire swaths of Eastern China have halted production, prompting some companies to move entire supply chains to countries like India and Bangladesh to meet their orders.” (NPR)
Italy: 2 of Italy’s wealthiest northern regions voted overwhelmingly to have greater autonomy “in the latest example of the powerful centrifugal forces reshaping European politics.” Voters in the Veneto region, which includes Venice, and the Lombardy region, which includes Milan, backed the plan to separate from Rome. (Guardian)
Spain: Catalonia’s Parliament declared independence from Spain. The NY Times is calling this a “territorial conflict” and sets up “a showdown with the central government.” And the showdown came. The Spanish Senate “authorized the government to take direct control” of Catalonia. And Madrid immediately took control of Catalonia, “firing the regional government and dismissing the head of the local police force.” (Guardian)
Arizona: Senator Jeff Flake (R) said he will not run again. (Roll Call)
Hawaii: Honolulu has instituted a fine for staring at a smartphone while crossing the street. The fine is $35 for the first offense, $75 for the second, and $99 thereafter. (Guardian)
Mississippi: The Biloxi public schools superintendent reversed his decision (TWW, Mississippi, 10/21/17) and will now allow students to read To Kill a Mockingbird if they have a note from a parent. (Guardian)
Puerto Rico: The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid to a small Montana firm. Whitefish Energy has never handled a project of this size. In fact, when the contract was awarded it had only been in business 2 years and had only had 2 employees. So, how did it get the contract? Well, it’s based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Zinke knows the owner, Andy Techmanski, “whose son worked a summer job at one of Techmanski’s construction sites.” The problems with this contract go on and on. Read it at Vanity Fair. And, according to the Daily Beast, the company “is primarily financed by a private-equity firm founded and run by Joe Colonnetta, a big donor to the Trump Campaign. Interestingly, whether this has anything to do with it or not, White Supremacist Richard Spencer’s “home town” is Whitefish. (Wikipedia) The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stated that the contract was awarded by PREPA but it is looking into whether the contract “followed applicable regulations to ensure that federal money is properly spent.” Here’s some good news, though. Tesla put up a bunch of solar panels in the parking lot of the children’s hospital so they now have energy. (Independent) The article doesn’t say what the island is paying Tesla.
Texas: Texas has banned any contractor who supports the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign from receiving state funds. A new law prohibits the state from entering into contracts with businesses that are not pro-Israel. (The Intercept)
Budget Resolution: The House passed 216 to 212 to concur with the Senate’s Budget Resolution (TWW, Budget Process, 10/21/17), “that would provide for $3.1 trillion in new budget authority in fiscal 2018, not including off-budget accounts.” It allows for the cap on defense spending to be raised to $640 billion and the deficit can be raised by no more than $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. (Roll Call) 20 Republicans voted against the resolution. No Democrats voted for it. (Common Dreams) The sticking point is the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes. (Reuters)
GOP Tax Cuts: Rep. Kevin Brady (R, TX), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, is the lead on drafting the budget bill that includes tax cuts. No one has yet seen the plan as it’s still in the draft phase, but stuff keeps leaking out (TWW, Budget, 10/7/17) and so we’re getting a pretty good picture. We do know it is geared to providing massive tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals. Trump promised middle-class tax cuts, but that’s not what they’re doing. The Republican claim of a cut for the middle class has not even been defended by Republicans. (Washington Post) We also know that 49% of the income Republicans are trying to preserve through the tax cuts that they claim is for “small businesses” is actually going to the top 1%. (Economic Policy Institute)
401(k)s: Trump has been making promises that Republicans can’t or won’t keep. (Washington Post) In fact, Trump is making it difficult for the GOP to put together the bill they want. And that’s what set off Senators Bob Corker (R, TN) (Washington Post) and Jeff Flake (R, AZ) (Washington Post). They have no problem with Trump. It isn’t his agenda - they’ve both voted for Trump’s agenda all along. As Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) said, in essence, they will put up with anything because Trump will sign their tax cuts. (CBS) What angered them was Trump’s saying that the 401(k) accounts were off limits in the new tax plan. This is because the 401(k) accounts are very much at play. They’re upset that Trump’s Tweet will keep them from getting the tax cuts. See, they need to come up with $1.5 trillion to offset the tax cut. Along with proposed cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Education, and a host of other programs, they’re also looking for revenue to offset the loss due to the tax cuts. So, the plan is to take the cap on 401(k)s from $18,000 a year - $24,000 if you’re over 50 - to $2,400 a year. Those 401(k) deposits are free of taxes, significantly reducing the tax burden. This action will result in significantly more tax burden on the middle class - the ones who use the 401(k) accounts. (NY Times)
Disaster Aid: The Senate passed the $36.5 billion disaster bill, “with only 17 senators” voting against it. “Only” 17? The bill passed the House a couple weeks ago (TWW, Disaster Relief, 10/14/17) and so it now goes to Trump for signature. (Roll Call)
Gilded Age: According to the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report, the world’s super-rich “hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the U.S. Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century.” Billionaires increased their combined global wealth “by almost a 5th last year to a record $16 trillion - more than twice the GDP of the UK.” [Emphasis added.] There are now 1,542 billionaires across the world, “after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into 9-zero fortunes last year.” (Guardian)
Refugees: Trump signed another Executive Order ending his temporary ban on refugee admissions to the U.S. (TWW, Travel Ban, 9/16/17) and calling for a 90-day review of the program for 11 countries he deems “high risk.” (Guardian)
ICE Raids: The Intercept obtained a “cache of internal emails exchanged between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Texas in February, while the first mass raids of the Trump administration were underway.” One thing they found was a directive from then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to “try to portray undocumented immigrants swept up” in the mass raids as criminals.
Immigration: The 17-year-old undocumented woman in custody in Texas fighting the Trump administration for an abortion (TWW, Immigration, 10/21/17), won the day. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 6 to 3 without oral argument that she be allowed to get her abortion immediately. (Business Insider) The next day she had the abortion. (NPR)
FCC: Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (D) is calling for an investigation into the agency’s ties with Sinclair Broadcast Group. She claims: “All of our media policy decisions seem to be custom built for this one company.” The decisions, she says, are paving the way for approving Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune. (TWW, Sinclair & Tribune, 5/13/17; Sinclair Consolidation, 7/8/17) “Rosenworcel blasted a recent Commission rule change, the UHF discount, saying it circumvents a market cap mandated by Congress. In 2004, President George W. Bush signed into law legislation prohibiting a single broadcaster from reaching more than 39% households.” The FCC recently voted 3 to 2 to “scrap a rule that forced local broadcasters to have a studio where they’re licensed - the so-called Main Studio Rule.” (District Sentinel)
Student’s Rights: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has not been shy about her plans to roll back key civil rights guidelines and protections. Last Friday she proposed rescinding 72 policy documents that outline the rights of students with disabilities. (Washington Post)
Testing Drones: Until now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restricted drones from “flying over people, operating at night, or buzzing beyond the visual line-of-sight of the ground-based pilot.” No more. “Trump signed a memorandum that allows states, municipalities, and tribal groups to test drones for a sweeping array of activities such as disaster response, mapping, agriculture - and delivery of goods.” (McClatchy) Bet Amazon is happy.
Travel Advisory: The NAACP has issued another travel advisory (TWW, Missouri, 8/5/17), this time for American Airlines. They’ve collected a “growing list of incidents suggesting racial bias” which “reflects an unacceptable corporate culture and involves behavior that cannot be dismissed as normal or random.” (NBC)
Retired Pilots: Trump has signed another Executive Order that will allow retired military pilots to be recalled to active duty. “But the broad wording of the executive order seemed to imply that the executive branch would have the power to call up retired military officers and force them back into service for any reason, as the ‘emergency’ Trump used to justify the executive order was extremely vague.” (Salon) Great. I know a guy who’s 74 years old. Will he get called up?
Affordable Care Act: The IRS announced that it will begin rejecting tax returns filed electronically that don’t complete the information required about having health insurance coverage. (NY Times) If you remember, Trump’s first Executive Order last January was to give agencies wide latitude to change, delay, or waive ACA provisions. (TWW, Executive Order, 1/21/17) So, why is the IRS enforcing this provision that it has never enforced before? The order had to have come from Trump.
Uninsured: Since Trump took office, 3.5 million people have lost their health insurance, “and the uninsured rate is now the highest it’s been since 2012. “The spike in the uninsured rate comes just after it hit a record low in 2016. . . Those hardest hit by the increase . . . are Hispanics, the middle-aged, and low-income workers - unless Washington takes action things are likely to get worse.” (U.S. News & World Report)
PFOA: Last May Nancy Beck was appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water. Up to this time she had been an executive with the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association. She wasted no time, immediately demanding more than a dozen revisions. One rule she revised makes it harder to track the health consequences of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been linked to “kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders, and other serious health problems.” PFOAs used to be used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick cooking pans. The rule was implemented to keep PFOAs out of drinking water. (NY Times)
Climate Change: A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) urges the Trump administration to take climate change risks seriously and begin formulating a response. It says that different sectors of the economy and different parts of the country will be harmed in ways that are difficult to predict. “Climate-related impacts, such as coastal property damage, have already cost the federal government billions of dollars, and these costs will likely rise in the future. We found that information on the economic effects of climate change is developing and imprecise, but it can convey insights into the nation’s regions and sectors that could be most affected.”
Climate Change Research: Trump is preventing government scientists from presenting climate change-related research at a conference. 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientists and one contractor were forbidden to present the results of a 3-year investigation on the status of Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary. Scientists are protesting. (Washington Post) Isn’t this an abuse of power?
Oil Spill: The LLOG Exploration Company’s oil spill (TWW, Oil Spill, 10/21/17) is twice as big as originally estimated. Who’s surprised? Last week we were told they spewed about 340,000 gallons of oil. Now, according to the Coast Guard, the discharge is about 672,000 gallons. (EcoWatch)
Auctioning Off the Gulf: Trump’s Interior Department is proposing auctioning off almost 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to companies wanting to purchase federal oil and gas leases, “the largest offering ever in the United States.” (Washington Post)
Emission Standards: The EPA plans to repeal the emission standards for truck components, “a rule adopted in the final months of the Obama administration aimed at controlling traditional air pollutants as well as greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.” The rule “has been widely embraced by the trucking industry.” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met privately in May with the manufacturer “that stands to benefit most from the rules repeal.” (Washington Post)
Alberta Clipper: Enbridge is building another tar sands pipeline which will pump nearly 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil to the U.S. While the Keystone XL is still awaiting approval, the Alberta Clipper got a permit from the Trump administration last week. It will ship even more crude oil than Keystone XL would. How they did this is amazing. They initially applied to ship 890,000 barrels per day but got approved in 2009 for only 450,000 barrels. Since the Keystone XL approval was stalled, the State Department allowed them to connect this line to a parallel pipeline which was already permitted to ship the full volume. Now they want to expand that line. (Inside Climate News)
Bank Consumers: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) spent years putting together a new rule that would allow consumers to band together in class action lawsuits against financial institutions. The Senate overturned the rule in a 50 to 50 tie which was broken by VP Pence. (NY Times)