Originally Published: 5/26/2018
Stock Buybacks: It was predicted that the Republican corporate tax cuts would lead to a stock buyback boom. (TWW, The Problem and The Tax Cut, 1/6/18) CNN Money is reporting a record-setting $178 billion buyback. “That’s a 34% bump from last year and tops the prior record of $172 billion set in 2007, just prior to the start of the Great Recession. Apple rewarded shareholders with $22.8 billion in buybacks - the most of any company in any quarter ever.” (Emphasis added.] However, business spending - the stated goal of the tax cut - hasn’t happened. “Some economists aren’t surprised that the early windfall of the tax cuts is going to Wall Street instead of Main Street. They note that companies have long had access to tons of cash.” And now that banking deregulation has passed (see below), banks will no longer have to hold as much capital to cover losses, meaning they’ll have more cash for more buybacks. Stock buybacks will probably deepen income inequality. Watch this interesting short video. Even iconic American companies like Harley-Davidson are in on the windfall. The tax cut provided it with enough money to buy back “hundreds of millions of dollars worth of its outstanding shares.” But that’s not all. Closing plants is expensive, but Harley-Davidson acknowledged that the corporate tax cut gave them the money they needed to close their Kansas City, Missouri plant, laying off about 800 people. Harley is also expanding its operations overseas “with plans to begin operations at a plant in Thailand later this year.” (CBS)
Investigating the Investigators: On Sunday Trump tweeted that he is demanding (demanding?) that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled” his campaign “at the behest of the Obama administration.” (NY Times) Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the FBI, was put in a precarious position. He sidestepped nicely though, responding: “If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.” [Emphasis added.] (Washington Post) Trump’s calling the issue Spygate. Watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about it. (You Tube) Top law enforcement and intelligence officials met with Trump on Monday “to discuss the brewing controversy.” (Washington Post) The White House “brokered” an agreement “that will allow Republican congressional leaders to view some of the most highly classified information related to the Russia investigation.” (NY Times) The meeting was scheduled for Thursday but would include no Democrats. (Guardian) The attendees were promised the opportunity to “review classified information relating to claims the FBI deployed a confidential source to gather information on Trump’s presidential campaign,” but Democrats were not going to be allowed to see it. (Guardian) There are few reports about the meeting -- or meetings. Another one was held with the Congressional Gang of Eight and Senate leaders from both parties. But the most interesting is the fact that Trump’s lawyer, Emmet Flood, showed up. A defense lawyer for the subject of an investigation being briefed about classified information from that investigation? (NBC) Dems said that no evidence was presented that supports Trump’s allegation. (NewsMax) Since then Trump has continued his gaslighting of America, but the Washington Post is continuing to fact check. Here’s the list of Trump’s “fog of ‘scandals’ and outrages about the Mueller investigation.”
Stefan Halper: This is the FBI source who assisted the Russia investigation by working as an informant within the Trump campaign. He is at the heart of Trump’s demand for an investigation of the investigators. Halper is a “well-connected veteran of past GOP administrations.” Early in the campaign Halper was an emeritus professor at Cambridge. He contacted 3 Trump campaign advisers for brief talks and meetings “that largely centered on foreign policy.” At some point he began working for the FBI. (Washington Post)
Second Trump Tower Meeting: The Trump Tower meeting with all the Russians (TWW, Russian Connection, 7/15//17) wasn’t the only meeting the Trump team had with foreigners. NBC claimed this was the biggest news from last weekend. The Trump team met with a group with the intention of offering help to Trump and “it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months - past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office.” Erik Prince, who owned Blackwater, later known as Xe and now called Academi, arranged the meeting which took place on August 3, 2016. George Nadar, an emissary for 2 wealthy Arab princes, was also at the meeting. He told Donald, Jr. “that the princes were eager to help his father win election as president.” Also at the meeting was Joel Zamel, an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. His company, which “employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.” Whether the proposal was executed and who commissioned it is not yet know. (NY Times)
James Clapper: The former Director of National Intelligence told PBS News Hour anchor Judy Woodruff that the Russians not only affected the outcome of the election, they decided it. “To me, it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election, and it’s my belief they actually turned it.” He believes that the Russians are undermining our fundamental system and “when a foreign nation, particularly an adversary nation, gets involved as much as they did in our political process, that's a real danger to this country.”
Jared Kushner: After more than a year of investigation (TWW, Security Clearances, 3/3/18; Jared Kushner, 2/17/18; Security Clearances, 2/10/18), Kushner was finally granted security clearance. (NY Times)
Panama: Remember John Feeley? He’s the U.S. Ambassador to Panama who resigned saying he no longer was able to serve Trump. (TWW, Panama, 1/13/18) The New Yorker did a piece on Feeley and his interactions with Trump. Incredible.
Blocking Tweets: U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled in favor of the 7 plaintiffs who sued Trump and several of his aides for blocking them from Trump’s Twitter account. She wrote that “the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment.” (NY Times)
Discrediting Journalists: CBS “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl revealed a candid remark by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Stahl pressed him to explain his barrage of insults aimed at journalists, and he said: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.” (CBS) That’s what Spygate (see above) is all about.
Legal Fees: The Republican National Committee (RNC) is still paying out money for lawyers for the Trump investigations. (TWW, Legal Fees, 9/23/17) It has paid out almost $451,780 to represent former White House communications director Hope Hicks and others. (Washington Post)
Kirstjen Nielsen: The Homeland Security Secretary said that she hasn’t seen the intelligence community’s report on Russian meddling in the election. Homeland Security with no knowledge of a major intelligence report? Are you kidding me? (Washington Post)
China: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that Trump has suspended his plan to impose sweeping tariffs on China. “The planned tariffs on as much as $150 billion worth of Chinese goods are off the table while the talks proceed.” (NY Times) And in another nod to China, Trump announced he’s going to allow ZTE Corp to remain open (TWW, ZTE, 5/19/18) “despite fierce bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill, defying lawmakers who have warned that the huge technology company should be severely punished for breaking U.S. law.” (Washington Post)
Italy: The populist parties are now in charge, “crystallizing some of the biggest fears of Europe’s leaders, who were already bracing for turbulence.” They won elections 2 months ago (TWW, Italy, 3/10/18) and are now set to control everything. “The rapid ascent of populists in Italy - the birthplace of Fascism, a founding member of the European Union, and the bloc’s 4th-largest economy - shattered Italy’s decades-old party system.” Giuseppe Conte, a “little-known lawyer with no government experience,” is slotted to become the new prime minister. He’ll lead the new coalition that vows to crack down on illegal immigration, challenge budget rules of the EU, and lift sanctions against Russia. (NY Times) Sound familiar?
North Korea: It threatened to cancel the summit scheduled for June 12th between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, “saying it has no interest in a ‘one-sided’ affair meant to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. (AP) What did Trump say? “We’ll see what happens, maybe it will happen later.” (Washington Post) But Trump had already produced commemorative coins to honor the meeting. The coins, issued by the White House Communications Agency, a military unit assigned to the president, features likenesses of the 2 leaders, and refers to Kim as “Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.” Yeah. I’m not making this up. Check out the picture. (NY Times) Where are the right-wingers on this one? Fiscal conservatives are spending money for a coin tribute (like in Ancient Rome) to a foreign entity seen as an enemy and they have nothing to say about it? So, when Trump scrapped the summit (Reuters), the coins became useless - except as souvenirs of right-wing folly. By the way, for interesting reading here’s the letter that Trump sent to Kim Jong-un. This copy is annotated, so you can read the facts about Trump claims in the letter. He must have written this himself. A psychiatrist would have a field day with it. I’m embarrassed.
Israel: Israel’s supreme court ruled that the government can demolish a Palestinian Bedouin village. Khan al-Ahmar is home to about 180 residents and is located “close to several Israeli settlements east of Jerusalem” in the West Bank. The court said it found “no reason to intervene in the decision of the minister of defense to implement the demolition orders issued against the illegal structures in Khan al-Ahmar.” (Guardian)
Ohio: Civil rights groups and Ohio voters filed a lawsuit “challenging the state’s congressional districts as unconstitutional.” It’s too late to effect November’s election. I wonder what they were waiting for. (Roll Call)
Virginia: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender student “who spent most of his high school years fighting to use the boys’ bathroom.” The judge said that the school board that passed bathroom restrictions violated the teen’s constitutional rights. (Washington Post)
Data Cops: Europe is now the world’s data cop. Known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the EU’s new rules just went into effect. They’re meant to define how citizens’ data is handled but the Internet knows no boundaries so the effects will be felt globally. Silicon Valley firms have been busy changing things but many aren’t ready. (The Verge) Some websites are just blocking EU users for now. (Guardian)
Taking a Knee: Owners of NFL teams have come to an agreement regarding the national anthem. Teams will be fined if their players are on the field or sidelines but do not stand during the national anthem, “though players will be allowed to stay in the locker room if they choose.” Trump said he was “pleased” with the new policy, but he didn’t think players should be allowed to stay in the locker room. He said that if a player isn’t standing for the national anthem, “Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” (NY Times)
Sexual Harassment: The Senate passed a bill to address sexual harassment by its members. It’s an up-date to the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act that “governs workplace harassment and discrimination claims in Congress.” One thing that - if you can believe this - was a major sticking point was to make members pay for their own settlements rather than taxpayers paying it. With this bill settlements would be paid from the Treasury and members would have 90 days to repay it or their salaries would be withheld. The House passed rules on this back in February. (TWW, Sexual Harassment, 2/10/18) This also creates a new Office of Congressional Workplace Rights which would replace the Office of Compliance and “would be required to report annually to Congress and to publish on its website all awards and settlements when members are found to be personally liable from the previous year.” (Roll Call)
Dog Experimentation: The Intercept did an exposé on the breeding of dogs to sell for experimentation. The business is “poorly regulated” and “highly profitable.” Dogs, as well as cats and rabbits, are bred for the sole purpose of “often torturous experimentation, after which the dogs are killed because they are no longer of use.” The majority of dogs are beagles “because of their docile, human-trusting personality.” According to the USDA, there were 61,000 laboratory dogs in the U.S. in 2016.
Cruel Hunting: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing a new regulation to overturn the Obama-era rule that protects iconic predators in Alaska’s national preserves. (Federal Register) The new rules will allow hunters to “go into den sites and shoot wolf pups and bear cubs, lure and kill bears over bait, hunt bears with dogs, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou.” These methods were banned on federal lands in 2015. (Buzz Flash) There is a public comment period until July 23rd. You can weigh in on this at Regulations.gov. Put Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 1024-AE38 in the search box. This will take you to the comment page.
Medicaid: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rejected a request by Kansas to limit Medicaid eligibility to just 3 years. But Administrator Seema Verma went further. She said that she “will not allow any states to impose lifetime limits on Medicaid.” (The Hill)
Water Pollution: Tuesday was the first day of the National Leadership Summit on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) held at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters. An AP reporter was allegedly shoved by an EPA guard when she tried to enter the event. Many were barred. (The Hill) On the 2nd day EPA staff continued blocking journalists. “EPA communications staff had told news outlets in advance that the sessions would be closed to journalists.” (The Hill)
Sea Level Report: The National Park Service (NPS) has released a new, uncensored report Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Projections for the National Park Service. “The study’s lead scientist said she was ‘extremely happy’ that mentions of climate change were restored.” But the report was released “quietly” with no mention of it by NPS, the Interior Department, or Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary. The report highlights the climate risks at 118 coastal national park sites. “While the impact will vary depending on the location and how much global temperatures increase, the report finds that parts in North Carolina’s Outer Banks are at the greatest risk from sea level rise.” (Think Progress)
Mandatory Arbitration: In a 5 to 4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that companies can require workers to accept individual arbitration over wages and other workplace disputes rather than banding together in collective actions. (Washington Post) This is a blow to workers’ fundamental right to join together to address workplace disputes. The National Labor Relations Act guarantees working people the right to join together to improve their wages and working conditions. Congress can act to remedy this outrageous decision by passing a bill barring employers from forcing employees to sign away their right to seek justice in the courts.
Federal Workers: Trump signed a series of Executive Orders “making it easier to fire federal government workers and to curb the workplace role of unions that represent them.” (NY Times)
Banking Bill: The House has finally decided to buy into the bank deregulation bill that the Senate passed last March. (TWW, Dodd-Frank, 3/17/18) If you remember, it’s stated aim is to help community banks who are going up against Wall Street power. Quite a few Democrats voted for this thing. (TWW, Bank Deregulation, 3/10/18) “But banking industry analysts say the bill is already having the opposite effect, and its loosening of regulations on medium-sized banks is encouraging a rush of consolidation, all of which ends with an increasing number of community banks being swallowed up and closed down.” (The Intercept) The House finally passed the Senate’s version with 33 Democrats voting for it. (GovTrack) Must be all that campaign money they’re getting from financial institutions. The bill has gone to Trump for signature. (Washington Post)