Originally Published: 3/3/2018
Congressional Wealth: According to Roll Call: “The people’s representatives just keep getting richer, and doing so faster than the people represented.” The cumulative net worth of senators and representatives “jumped by one-fifth in the 2 years before the start of this Congress.” The total wealth of all current members was at least $2.43 billion when this Congress began, “20% more than the collective riches of the previous Congress, a significant gain during a period when both the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose slightly less than 10%. Watch this short video putting all the data in a nutshell and look at the list of the top 20 wealthiest congress critters. Rep. Darrell Issa (R, CA) is by far the richest. Interestingly, women in Congress are wealthier than men - on average - and senators are wealthier than representatives. Roll Call also reported that some of the most vulnerable incumbents are worth at least $1 million. “Personal money isn’t always advantageous in a tough campaign, but it can be helpful. Just one of these members has donated or loaned money to their campaign [sic] so far this cycle.” But so far 44 current lawmakers “have announced they are retiring at the end of the year or seeking new offices away from the Capitol. And collectively, they now account for nearly a third of the $2.43 billion in cumulative riches.” And 4 of the 10 richest are leaving. (Roll Call) Will they be replaced with people who look like us? I doubt it, but maybe they’ll look more like us than this Congress does!
Schiff Memo: If you remember, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to make the classified Democratic memo rebutting the Nunes Memo (TWW, Nunes Memo, 2/3/18) public. Trump eventually signed off on its release, but then decided not to release it. (TWW, Schiff Memo, 2/10/18) Now, House Democrats have released it anyway, albeit heavily redacted. (NY Times) You can read it here.
Nunes Must Go: Here’s the story. Senators Richard Burr (R, NC) and Mark Warner (D, VA), the top people on the Senate Intelligence Committee, were attempting to arrange a meeting with Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump dossier. According to the NYTimes, the Senate’s investigation is “effectively the last bipartisan investigation on Capitol Hill into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.” To that end, Warner had texted Adam Waldman, “a Washington lawyer who knows Steele,” about arranging a meeting with Steele. Somehow Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee got hold of the texts and leaked them, probably to connect Warner with the Russians. “To the senators . . . the leak was a serious breach of protocol and a partisan attack by one intelligence committee against the other.” Burr and Warner demanded a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) and, at that meeting, raised concerns “about the direction” of the House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R, CA). It’s time for him to go.
Security Clearances: Jared Kushner’s security clearance, and those of other White House aides working on highest-level interim clearances, have been downgraded from a high-level clearance to “secret,” specifically in regard to foreign affairs. (Politico) So what? Trump will just tell him anyway. And 4 high-level political appointees at the Commerce Department lost their jobs because of problems with their background checks. (Washington Post)
Jared Kushner: According to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on this matter, officials in at least 4 countries - United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico - “have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner . . . by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties, and lack of foreign policy experience.” (Washington Post) “Their discussions were shared with the White House after national security adviser H.R. McMaster in spring 2017 requested all such intelligence involving White House staff.” That countries attempt to leverage their contacts with White House staff isn’t surprising. What’s different this time is that Kushner failed “to run foreign contacts through official channels.” (Washington Post) Now, his meetings in December 2016, as Kushner was on Trump’s transition team, with a Chinese insurance company and a Russian banker, as well as the Kushner Companies’ efforts to get $1.2 billion of funding to cover a debt from a Qatari source, are coming under new scrutiny. (Washington Post)
Using Power: Early last year Joshua Harris, founder of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm, met several times with Kushner to advise on infrastructure policy. Then, in November, Apollo lent $184 million to the Kushner family real estate firm, Kushner Companies, to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper. “It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm.” But Kushner Companies received an even larger loan from Citigroup last spring - $325 million “to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.” The loan was made shortly after Kushner met in the White House with Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael Corbat. (NY Times)
Rick Gates: Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked the court to dismiss “a series of criminal charges against Gates, including tax and bank fraud, in exchange for his guilty plea and testimony in the wider probe into the 2016 presidential election.” Gates was also granted permission by the court to take his children to Boston for their spring break. (Politico) He must be talking up a storm. Any bets on who he’s giving up? I think it’s Paul Manafort. And maybe getting Manafort is a step to going higher up.
Hope Hicks: The White House communications director “and one of President Trump’s longest-serving and closest political advisers,” said she’ll resign. At only 29 years old, she began working for Trump before he announced his candidacy 3 years ago. She testified this week before the House Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Hicks told the committee that she sometimes stretched the truth on minor matters at Trump’s direction.” (Washington Post)
Trump Income: After the Republican National Committee (RNC) came under pressure for paying Trump’s legal bills (TWW, Legal Fees, 9/23/17), and that of his son, in special counsel Muller’s Russia probe, it started covering the expenses for his re-election campaign, including paying more than $37,000 a month in rent for office space at the Trump Tower. The RNC is also paying “thousands of dollars” in monthly salary to VP Mike Pence’s nephew. It appears that this is legal. (CNBC)
Donations: The Trump Organization announced that it has donated its profits from “foreign government patronage” at its hotels last year to the U.S. Treasury, “but declined to identify those foreign customers or the amount of the contribution.” (Washington Post)
William Otis: Trump has made his nominations for the Sentencing Commission, one of whom is this guy. (White House) Otis has “spent years staunchly advocating for harsher penalties and a larger prison population.” He’s a tough-on-crime guy who believes more people should be in prison and judges should be reined in. It’s a sign that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are resurrecting the 1980s and 1990s war on drugs. (Washington Post)
Canada: The township of Ristogouche Sud-Est in Quebec has won it’s lawsuit against Gastem, a Montreal-based oil and gas company. After Gastem was granted a permit to drill in the province, the town passed a law that “set out a 2 km (1.2 mile) no-drill zone around its water supply.” Gastem sued but the town has won the court case. The judge determined that the town was “within its rights to protect its water supply.” (Guardian)
China: The Chinese Communist Party abolished term limits on the presidency, allowing Xi Jimping to stay in power indefinitely. (NY Times)
Mexico: President Enrique Peña Nieto “scuttled” his trip to the White House “after a testy call” with Trump “ended in an impasse over Trump’s promised border wall.” (Washington Post)
Russia: President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has developed and is testing “a new line of strategic, nuclear-capable weapons that would be able to outmaneuver U.S. defenses, suggesting a new arms race between Moscow and the west.” (Guardian) Did anyone else notice that Trump never mentioned this? He just talked about his meetings with the NRA.
Syria: The UN Security Council unanimously called for a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire. Russia agreed “only after forcing 2 days of delays that critics said allowed ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to pursue a renewed bombing campaign blamed for hundreds of recent deaths in a rebel-controlled area.” (Washington Post)
California: U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel rejected a suit by the state of California and environmental groups to stop the government from building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. The suit alleged that the wall violates federal environmental standards “as well as constitutional provisions regarding the separation of powers and states’ rights.” Curiel said that the Trump administration “had not exceeded its legal authority in pursuing the project.” (Reuters)
Florida: The state legislature, both the house and senate, rejected a ban on assault rifles. The vote in both houses was along party lines. (Think Progress)
Georgia: Lt. Governor Casey Cagle responded to Delta Air Lines’ announcement that it would stop offering discounted fares to National Rifle Association (NRA) members. Cagle said he would kill legislation giving Delta a tax break unless Delta re-established its relationship with the NRA. (Washington Post) Delta didn’t give in so Georgia lawmakers took it on. There was a large tax-relief bill for Delta that had already been approved by the state house. It included a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel. The Georgia senate approved the bill without the jet fuel exemption and the house approved the change. “Both houses are controlled by Republicans.” Governor Nathan Deal has pledged to sign it. “In addition to being one of Georgia’s biggest employers, Delta is the economic engine of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the busiest airport in the world and a bragging point in the city’s claim to national and even international stature.” Obviously, this puts business-minded Republicans and gun-rights Republicans at odds with each other. (NY Times) Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, later announced that Delta will end providing discounts “for any group of a politically divisive nature.” (Washington Post)
House Spending: The House approved a resolution allowing members to buy bulletproof vests and hire security personnel with taxpayers’ money. (Roll Call) I guess they’re afraid of being shot but they’re not real concerned about children being shot at school.
Cop Shootings: Think Progress collected and analyzed data and found that, during the last decade alone, at least 33 police officers have been shot by individuals “either actively involved with or affiliated with far-right extremism.” These include white supremacists, sovereign citizens, and lone wolf attacks. Far-right extremists “pose a consistent threat to law enforcement, particularly in more rural areas away from the national media spotlight.”
Cyber Security: National Security Agency (NSA) director Admiral Mike Rogers, who is also the chief of U.S. Cyber Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has not received directions from Trump “to disrupt Russian efforts to meddle in U.S. elections.” He said that what has been done isn’t enough but that he needs direction from the president in order to do more. (Guardian)
Detaining Immigrants: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 3 - with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself - that “immigrants can be held by U.S. immigration officials indefinitely without receiving bond hearings, even if they have permanent legal status or are seeking asylum.” (The Hill)
DACA: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Trump’s request to review the lower court rulings (TWW, DACA, 1/20/18; DACA, 1/13/18) keeping the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place while the cases are going through the legal process. (NY Times)
More Tariffs: Trump announced he will impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and 10% tariff on aluminum, “thwarting some of his top pro-trade advisers and rattling stock markets as the prospect of a global trade fight loomed.” (NY Times) This announcement sent the Dow Jones into a tail spin, closing on Thursday down by more than 400 points. S&P and Nasdaq also dropped. (Washington Post) But congressional Republicans are livid. In the Senate they’re calling for changes to the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 - known as Section 232 - which “allows the president to impose unlimited tariffs if a federal investigation determines it poses a threat to national security.” Orrin Hatch (R, UT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said his committee will be looking at this. (Roll Call) It’s being predicted that this will backfire on American business. China, the European Union, and Brazil are expected to file a legal challenge with the World Trade Organization (WTO). (Washington Post) Canada is seeking an exemption “and is vowing to retaliate if it’s slapped with any new tariffs.” (CBC)
Insider Trading: Carl Icahn, a billionaire investor and former Trump adviser, dumped a million shares of stock in the steel industry a week before Trump announced the tariffs. (Washington Post)
Opioid Addiction: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded medication-assisted therapy for opioid addicts. It will allow pharmaceutical companies to sell medications that help the cravings, “even if they don’t fully stop addiction.” The change is part of “a wider effort to expand access to so-called medication-assisted treatment.” (NY Times) Gotta get those profits up.
Drinking Water: According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), one of the country’s leading water testing organizations, more than 170 million Americans, about 52% of our population, may be at risk of radiation exposure through their drinking water. This report is highly technical and scientific so I’m not even going to attempt to explain it. But if you’re concerned about your water, you can check the EWG’s interactive map. You might also consider getting a water filtration system.
Climate Change: A new poll sponsored by the conservative non-profit Alliance for Market Solutions (AMS) found that “millennials overwhelmingly support action to fight human-caused climate change.” [Emphasis added.] 77% of young voters think we should try to stop or slow climate change - 89% of Democrats, 77% of Independents, and 57% of Republicans.
Workplace Discrimination: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd District ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, also bans workplace discrimination due to sexual orientation. (Buzz Feed)
Gun Sales: Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would immediately cease selling assault-style rifles and will no longer sell high-capacity magazines. It will also require that buyers be 21 years old, “regardless of local laws.” This isn’t the first time Dick’s has weighed in on school shootings. In 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting, Dick’s removed assault-style rifles from its main retail stores but later began carrying them again at its hunting chain, Field & Stream. And Walmart, the biggest gun seller, announced it would not sell any gun to anyone under 21 years old and it, too, will stop selling “items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns.” (NY Times)
Berkshire Hathaway: Warren Buffet reported a record quarterly and annual profit for his company. Net worth during 2017 was $65.3 billion, but only about $36 billion came from the business’s operations. “The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. tax code.” [Emphasis added.] (Guardian)