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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 4/14/2018

The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt:  According to a new study published in the journal Nature, the Great Atlantic Conveyor Belt, which brings warm water up from the equator to the northern hemisphere and brings the cold water back down, is slowing down due to climate change, “suggesting one of the most feared consequences is already coming to pass.” [Emphasis added.] The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has declined by 15% since the mid-20th century. Besides being responsible for temperate weather in western Europe (which recently has been having heat waves), AMOC is responsible for Atlantic coastal fisheries, “a part of New England’s economy that have seen changes in recent years, with the cod fishery collapsing as lobster populations have boomed off the Maine coast.” The additional warming may also be adding to the melting ice sheet of Greenland. (Washington Post)

 

Scooter Libby:  Trump pardoned I. Lewis Libby, Jr. (Washington Post) In case you’ve forgotten, Libby was VP Dick Cheney’s chief of staff who was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury regarding the leak of the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in an effort to support their fabricated lies in order to invade Iraq. (TWW, Plamegate, 8/16/08; Scooter Libby, 12/22/07; Plamegate, 11/24/07) President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence but didn’t pardon him. (TWW, Scooter Libby, 7/7/07) The timing of this is notable given that Trump and his presidential campaign are being investigated for obstruction. Many believe this could be a signal to Paul Manafort (TWW, Russian Investigation and Manafort & Gates, 2/24/18) that he’ll be pardoned. The most interesting response to this news came from Joe Wilson, former U.S. ambassador and Valerie Plame’s husband, “whose family was turned upside down” by Libby’s betrayal, said that this pardon shows Trump’s disregard for national security. “It has nothing to do with Libby, and it has nothing to do with me. Libby’s problem was with the Justice Department. He was indicted, tried, and convicted on obstruction of justice and perjury charges for basically violating the national security of the United States of America. Now, he’s being pardoned for it, which suggests of course that Mr. Trump is willing to allow people to violate the essence of our defense structure, our national security, our intelligence apparatus and essentially get away with it. (Yahoo)

 

Michael Cohen:  On Monday the FBI raided the offices of Trump’s longtime personal attorney, “seizing records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic film actress.” (NY Times) Cohen is under investigation for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations. (Washington Post) You’ve got to wonder what’s going on here. According to Trump’s advisers, there is a “wide-ranging corruption investigation in New York” that “poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel’s investigation.” (NY Times)

 

Panama:  Since the Trump organization was fired as manager of the Panama resort complex (TWW, Panama Tower, 3/10/18), the disgrace continues. Apparently lawyers for the Trump company, seeking to stop its ouster as manager, sent a letter to Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela to “urgently request your influence in relation to a commercial dispute regarding the Trump hotel” and warning that the case could have “repercussions” for Panama’s reputation. According to the Washington Post, “The request was extraordinary. The U.S. president’s company was asking the leader of a U.S. ally to intercede on its behalf, disregarding Panama’s separation of powers.” 

 

Michael Anton:  Trump’s National Security Council spokesperson, “one of the leading voices defending President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ view on foreign affairs,” announced that he was resigning. (Mediaite)

 

Tom Bossert:  Trump’s top Homeland Security Advisor has resigned. Apparently Bossert and John Bolton, the new National Security Advisor, don’t get along. Bossert resigned 2 days after Anton resigned. (Roll Call)

 

Israel:  It continued its “violent suppression” of protests in Gaza. (TWW, Israel, 4/7/18) By Saturday the death toll had climbed to 22. (Ma’an News Ageny

 

Syria:  Dozens of people were killed in an apparent chemical attack “on a besieged enclave near Damascus as government forces escalated their offensive to recapture one of the last rebel strongholds near the capital.” (Washington Post) Trump blamed Russia and Iran. (Roll Call) Then Israel launched a missile strike on a Syrian air base. (Washington Post) And Trump warned Russia - through a tweet - that he intends to launch a missile strike. (Roll Call) But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appears to disagree. He seems to be concerned that “a concerted bombing campaign could escalate into a wider conflict between Russia, Iran, and the West.” (NY Times) Well, who was lying and who just didn’t know what was going on? The U.S. and our British and French allies launched strikes on Syria Friday night. There were 3 targets, all associated with Assad’s chemical weapons program, “including a scientific research center around Damascus.” Mattis warned that there would be more retaliation if there were any more chemical attacks on Syria’s civilians. (Roll Call)

 

Alaska:  In Anchorage voters rejected an anti-transgender bathroom bill. (Vox)

 

Pennsylvania:  The Millcreek Township School District in Erie has distributed 16-inch wooden baseball bats to teachers for them to fight back in case of a mass shooter. I’m not kidding. You can’t make this shit up. (Washington Post)

 

Texas:  U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston, ruling on a case by an LGBT federal employee, said in his decision that federal employees are protected against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Dallas Morning News)

 

Annual Budget:  The budget deficit is probably going to balloon to more than $1 trillion in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If you remember, Republicans pushing last year’s massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy (TWW, New Budget, 2/10/18), claimed that the cuts would push economic growth above 3% a year, generating more revenue than the tax cuts would cost. Everyone knew that was crap. Now the CBO expects the economy to grow at an average annual rate of 1.9% over the next 10 years. (NY Times)

 

Sanctuary Cities:  U.S. District Judge Manuel Real ruled that the Justice Department “cannot favor police departments that are willing to cooperate with immigration agents when it doles out tens of millions of dollars in funding each year.” He issued a “permanent, nationwide ban” from DOJ doing this. “In doing so, Real dealt a legal setback to the Trump administration in its aggressive campaign to crack down on illegal immigration and to force compliance from law enforcement officials.” (LA Times)

 

Work Requirements for Welfare:  Trump signed another Executive Order “that aims to add and strengthen work requirements for public assistance and other welfare programs.” (AP) This was followed shortly thereafter by House Republicans proposing their own bill to expand the mandatory state workfare programs in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better know as food stamps. (Washington Post)

 

TPP:  Trump is considering re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He pulled the U.S. out of the partnership shortly after taking office (TWW, TPP, 1/28/17). It appears that the escalating trade conflict with China is his reason for reconsidering this. (Washington Post)

 

Tariffs:  As predicted (TWW, Tariffs, 4/7/18), Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum are hitting his supporters the hardest. “Throughout U.S. farm country, where Trump has enjoyed strong support, tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are boosting costs for equipment and infrastructure and causing some farmers and agricultural firms to scrap purchases and expansion plans, according to Reuters’ interviews with farms, manufacturers, construction firms, and food shippers.” (Reuters)

 

Post Office:  Trump issued an Executive Order “demanding an evaluation of the Postal Service’s finances, asserting the power of his office weeks after accusing Amazon, the online retail giant, of not paying its fair share in postage.” (NY Times) So Trump is using his office to go after who he views as - at best - a political opponent or - at worst - an enemy. This, folks, is abuse of power.

 

Media Monitoring:  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to monitor “hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top ‘media influencers.’” (Bloomberg) It appears that this would include podcasters. DHS claims it’s doing this over concerns over “fake news” and “foreign interference in elections.” Freedom House, an independent press monitoring organization, in its global media report, blamed “new threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies” and well as “further crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian countries like Russia and China.” The report claims that a list such as this will “fuel predictions of further [journalistic] setbacks in the years to come.” (Forbes)

 

Facebook & Cambridge Analytica:  British and U.S. lawyers have initiated a joint class action suit against Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group Limited, and Global Science Research Limited (GSR) (TWW, What Is Data Mining?, 3/24/18) “for allegedly misusing the personal data of more than 71 million people.” The suit claims the companies obtained users private information “from the social media network to develop ‘political propaganda campaigns’ in the UK and the U.S.” (Guardian)

 

Vulture Capitalism:  The Denver Post is in “open revolt against its owner.” Newspaper journalists publicly “blasted” the private equity firm that owns it, Alden Global Capital. (NY Times) But a Colorado civic group, Together for Colorado Springs, has begun contacting potential investors in the state trying to come up with the money to buy the paper. (NY Times) The Nation has a great exposé about Alden Global Capital. Julie Reynolds wrote: “Stop Alden Global Capital before it kills again.”

 

Mexican Border:  Texas was supposed to send 250 national guard troops to the Mexican border this week. Arizona is planning to send 150 next week. (USA Today) The Pentagon said that the troops “will provide air support through drones and light- medium- and heavy-lift helicopters. . . They will also help maintain roads and other infrastructure, clear vegetation, and assist with facility maintenance, in addition to operating surveillance systems, including cameras and blimps.” They will not be arresting migrants or carrying out armed patrols. (Washington Post)

 

Essure:  The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is restricting the sale and distribution of Essure, “a controversial contraceptive device that some patient advocates want taken off the market. Only healthcare providers and facilities that guarantee women have been told about the device’s risks in advance will be allowed to implant it.” (Washington Post)

 

Keystone Pipeline:  The Keystone pipeline leak last November was reported to have leaked about 5,000 barrels of oil (TWW, Keystone Oil Spill, 11/18/17). Now we know that the leak was nearly double the original estimate, “making it one of the largest U.S. inland spills since 2010.” Nearly 9,700 barrels of oil were leaked. (Reuters)

 

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