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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 7/7/2018

Minority Protections:  On July 3rd, when few were paying attention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was rescinding 24 guidance documents that he believes are “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.” He did this upon the recommendation of the Justice Department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force that Trump established. (Politico) “Curiously enough, each point of guidance, document, or tool rescinded by Sessions . . . was initially drafted to offer basic legal and political understanding to various and distinct minority groups, broadly defined, throughout the United States.” Law & Crime put up a summary of the revocations. Revocations 1-7 deal with the way children are treated when they are suspected or accused of breaking the law. The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, signed by President Ford, contains 4 “core” requirements, one of which requires that juveniles in custody not be housed with adults. Revocation 8 involves a federal program which pays back state and local governments for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens who have committed serious crimes. Revocation 9 deals with research into whether schools disproportionately dole out punishments on the basis of race, national origin, native language, sex, or disability. It also deals with research into the role of school resource officers. Revocations 10-11 deal with advice for home buyers and home owners. #10 involves seeking a mortgage and #11 involves warnings against “predatory” home equity loans. “It warns people, especially those with poor credit and the elderly, to carefully review the terms of home improvement loans.” Revocation 12 revokes a document that alerts all Americans about the unconstitutional nature of being discriminated against based on national origin. Revocations 13-14 deal with workers’ rights for various classes of immigrants. #13 targets a document that assists immigrants who encounter employment discrimination. #14 targets a document titled “Refugees and Asylees Have the Right to Work.” I guess that speaks for itself. Revocations 15-17 target people who don’t understand English very well, “but who may nevertheless occasionally find themselves in need of accessing the court system.” Revocations 18-24 are aimed at various recipients of affirmative action policies.

 

Senate Investigation:  The Senate Intelligence Committee released the results of its investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 election and called the intelligence assessment (TWW, Russian Hacking, 12/10/16) solid. The report states that the Committee found that Moscow did indeed interfere “with the aim of helping President Trump win.” The Committee is chaired by Senator Richard Burr (R, NC). The ranking Democrat on the Committee is Senator Mark Warner (D, VA) who serves as the vice-chair. Both have previously made statements supporting the intelligence community’s assessment. (LA Times

 

Money Laundering:  A collaborative investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the Dutch TV documentary program Zembia, and McClatchy has found “the specific offshore companies used to route into a Trump-branded property more than $3 million linked to a massive fraud case in Kazakhstan.” The trail of money connects Trump’s SoHo project in New York to Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov. The money was used to finance Kazakh investments in the United States with the help of ex-Trump associate Felix Sater. (TWW, Moscow Deal, 9/2/17; Russian Connection, 3/4/17; Exxon and Russia, 2/25/17) This is some really complicated stuff, but if you’re interested in the details you can find them at McClatchy.

 

4th of July:  Republicans celebrated Independence Day by using their taxpayer-funded expense accounts to travel to Moscow “meeting with the people who helped win the White House for their party.” Senators Richard Shelby (R, AL), John Kennedy (R, LA), John Hoeven (R, ND), Jerry Moran (R, KS), Steve Daines (R, MT), John Thune (R, SD), Ron Johnson (R, WI), and Rep. Kay Granger (R, TX) were accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (TWW, Russian Property, 6/3/17; The Investigation, 5/13/17) and other top Kremlin leaders to “personally assess the threats Russia poses, and what actions are necessary to keep our nation secure.” (Washington Press)

 

Alienating Allies:  Trump is going to Europe next week “amid fears that he will blow up a key summit focused on Europe’s defense and then offer concessions to NATO’s main adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Our allies worry about Trump’s combative approach to foreign policy. He has shown little interest in the history of our alliances “or the collective foreign policy expertise of the U.S. government.” Instead he relies on his personality - his ability to forge personal bonds. But he’s destroying our alliances, which is frightening. (Washington Post) John Oliver (You Tube) pointed out that worldwide people are making fun of our president. [Note: Watch this to the end.]

 

Andrew Wheeler:  He will become the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after the resignation of Scott Pruitt. (See below.) (Roll Call) The Senate just confirmed him for the position in April and I’m betting they knew he would be taking over when they did so. His most recent job was as an energy lobbyist. He worked for the largest coal mining company in the U.S. He’s also the vice president of the Washington Coal Club, “a powerful yet little-known federation of more than 300 coal producers, lawmakers, business leaders, and policy experts who have dedicated themselves to preserving the uncertain future of our dirtiest fossil fuel.” He also lobbied the Interior Department to open portions of the Bears Ears National Monument to uranium mining. Wheeler previously worked for Senator James Inhofe (R, OK), the most virulent climate denier on Capitol Hill. (Natural Resources Defense Counsel)

 

Canada:  It’s imposing $16.6 billion (U.S. dollars $12.5 billion) on 40 steel products and a 10% tax on more than 80 items, including toffee, maple syrup, coffee beans, and strawberry jam.” (CNN)

 

Denmark:  They are introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves that the government calls ghettos, “saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.” Starting at age 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, “not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in Danish values, including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language.” Noncompliance could result in the stoppage of welfare payments. (NY Times)

 

Estonia:  James Melville, the U.S. ambassador to Estonia, “abruptly” resigned last week. He told friends that “he cannot abide” Trump’s hostility toward institutions “that have stabilized Europe since the end of the Cold War” - like NATO. He said: “The honorable course is to resign. Having served under 6 presidents and 11 secretaries of state, I never really thought it would reach that point for me. For the President to say the [European Union] was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go.” (Washington Post)

 

Germany:  Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to build camps for asylum seekers and “to tighten the border with Austria.” Apparently she’s trying to save her government. (NY Times)

 

Mexico:  Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected president, “a landslide victory that upended the nation’s political establishment and handed him a sweeping mandate to reshape the country.” Obrador is a leftist who’ll now be in charge of Latin America’s second largest economy for the first time in decades. (NY Times)

 

Poland:  The Polish government purged its supreme court, “eroding the judiciary’s independence, escalating a confrontation with the European Union over the rule of law, and further dividing this nation. Tens of thousands took to the streets in protest.” (NY Times)

 

Venezuela:  Last August, with Venezuela unraveling, Trump asked his top aides “why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country?” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration, were stunned. They tried to explain to Trump “how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments.” The idea, however, has persisted in Trump’s head. (Washington Post)

 

Tennessee:  About 40 states have laws that suspend or revoke people’s driver’s licenses because they haven’t paid court costs or traffic fines, which can run into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger in Nashville declared Tennessee’s law as unconstitutional because it fails “to provide an exception for people who were too poor to pay off court debts, even if they wanted to.” The decision only applies to Tennessee. (NY Times)

 

Tax Cuts:  There’s a special provision in the Republican tax cuts for real estate developers, like Donald Trump. They’ll get a roughly $67 billion giveaway from taxpayers over the next 10 years. (Think Progress)

 

Reuniting Families:  DNA tests are being performed on children and parents in an attempt to reunite the migrant families separated at the U.S. border. They’re claiming this is to keep the children from being picked up and trafficked. But these people, particularly the children, can be tracked for the rest of their lives. (CNN) Trump is having a tough time reuniting the families. Volunteers are being called in to sort through records and DNA tests, but records linking children to their parents have “disappeared,” and in some cases have been destroyed. “The effort is complicated by the fact that 2 federal agencies are involved in detaining and sheltering migrants, and they did not initially share records with each other.” (NY Times) On Friday Judge Dana Sabraw ordered that the government provide a list of the children under 5 years old they have in custody by tonight. (Reuters) But Trump cannot meet any of Sabraw’s deadlines (TWW, Immigration, 6/30/18), so he’s asking for more time. (Washington Post) Check out this map. These kids are all over the United States.

 

Asylum Seekers:  U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington D.C. ruled that the government cannot arbitrarily detain people seeking asylum. He also ordered review of the more than 1,000 asylum-seekers “who have been denied release” in 5 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices where there is “no hope of being released.” The offices are in Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Newark, and Philadelphia. (NPR)

 

Affirmative Action:  Trump rescinded the Obama-era guidance to colleges and universities on how they can use race in admissions decisions. He wants them to use race-blind admissions standards, no longer using race to diversify their campuses. The Supreme Court settled this a few years ago (TWW, Affirmative Action, 6/25/16; College Admissions-Background, 12/12/15) but Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ team found 7 policy guidelines they believe can be purged. (NY Times) This appears to be a thing with Sessions. If you remember, last August he directed his civil rights division to investigate and sue universities over discrimination against white applicants. (TWW, Affirmative Action, 8/5/17)

 

Immigrants in Military:  Trump’s hunt for immigrants is extending to the military. At least 40 immigrant Army recruits, some from countries that speak languages critical to national security, were suddenly discharged or are having their legal status questioned before they have served long enough to qualify for expedited naturalization. Some of these immigrants will now carry discharge documents that unjustly and incorrectly label them a security risk. Their path to citizenship will be delayed or perhaps never happen. (AP)

 

Minimal Education:  U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy ruled that “access to literacy,” which he referred to as a “minimally adequate education,” was not a fundamental right when he dismissed a suit filed by students at some of Detroit’s most underperforming schools. (NY Times)

 

Trade War:  The war with China officially began on Friday. Trump imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products. Beijing responded with tariffs on $34 billion of U.S. goods. (Guardian)

 

Oil Prices:  Trump accused the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) of driving up gasoline prices. He tweeted: “Reduce Pricing Now!” (Reuters) You think the OPEC nations (see Wikipedia for members) will do what he tells them?

 

Scott Pruitt:  He finally resigned this week. (Roll Call) Good thing. Following his shenanigans was taking a lot of time. (TWW, Scott Pruitt, 6/30/18) Even Stephen Colbert had stuff to say about him. (You Tube) He currently has 18 federal investigations into his behavior. (Medium) This week we learned that he asked Trump to fire Attorney General Jeff Session and let him run the Justice Department. (CNN)

 

Hottest Week:  Last week had the hottest weather ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. “Large areas of heat pressure or heat domes scattered around the hemisphere led to the sweltering temperatures.” In Northern Siberia along the coast of the Arctic Ocean temperatures were over 90 degrees. Many places in the United States hit all-time records, with San Francisco going to 106 and Southern California hitting 108. In Europe Scotland and Ireland went over 89 degrees and Spain registered more than 116. Tbilisi Georgia was almost 105 degrees and Yerevan Armenia over 107 degrees. In the Middle East Oman hit 109 degrees, Pakistan posted over 122 degrees with the town of Turbat going to 128. Iran soared to almost 129 degrees. (Washington Post) Canada recorded more than 30 deaths due to the extreme heat. (Guardian)

 

Plastic Straws:  They’re not just bad for the environment, they’re bad for you. Most of the adverse effects of using them, according to the Washington Post, are cosmetic: sucking sweet drinks through a straw exacerbates tooth decay, sucking creates wrinkles. However, it’s also important to know that sipping from a straw introduces air into the digestive tract, contributing to gas and bloating. And most of the straws are made from polypropylene, “a type of plastic commonly made from petroleum.” 

 

Income Increase:  According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), pay is rising faster for the top 1% of earners compared with those on average salaries in the richest countries. Even though unemployment rates are close to or below the pre-2008 crash, wages aren’t growing. We found this in the U.S. recently (TWW, Wealth of Millionaires, 6/23/18; Falling Wages, 6/16/18), but now OECD is recording it in all rich countries. (Guardian) As to the U.S., the report shows that our unemployed and at-risk workers are getting very little support from the government “and their employed peers are set back by a particularly weak collective-bargaining system.” Those facts have contributed to the U.S. “having a higher level of income inequality and a larger share of low-income residents than almost any other advanced nation.” [Emphasis added.] (Washington Post)

 

Unemployment:  We added 213,000 jobs in June but the unemployment rate ticked up to 4%, “suggesting the start of an international trade war has so far done little to dent the robust jobs market.” (Guardian)

 

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