Originally Published: 7/14/2018
Brett Kavanaugh: Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court seat now held by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He’s 53 years old and is a Catholic. (Catholic News Agency) If confirmed, the court will be made up of 6 Catholics and 3 Jews, although Gorsuch, raised Catholic, now attends an Episcopal church. (Wikipedia) He worked with independent counsel Kenneth Starr in his relentless investigations into President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton (The Nation) and headed up the investigation into the suicide of Vince Foster. (Mother Jones) In 2000 he represented, on a pro bono basis, then 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez in attempting to prevent his return to his father. Later that year he was on the team that argued Bush v. Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court. (My Palm Beach Post) He was rewarded by becoming a staff secretary in the President’s Executive Office under George W. Bush (Wikipedia) and Bush later nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2003. He was finally confirmed in 2006. “His confirmation hearings were contentious and stalled for 3 years over charges of partisanship.” He’s a member of the Federalist Society. In fact, Leonard Leo, president of the Federalist Society, took a leave of absence for the last couple weeks in order to spend time at the White House advising Trump on who to choose. (Roll Call) And it looks like he may be one of those out-of-control sports enthusiasts. He “incurred tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt buying baseball tickets over the past decade and at times reported liabilities that could have exceeded the value of his cash accounts and investment assets.” (Washington Post) David Graham at The Atlantic asked how he paid these debts down. “It’s strange to imagine that a man of comparatively modest means would put tens of thousands of dollars on credit cards to buy baseball tickets, but even stranger that they would have been paid off so fast. . . The fact remains that Kavanaugh suddenly cleared at least $60,000 and as much as $200,000 in mysterious debt over one year - sums large enough that senators might well want to know who the sources of the payments were.” [Emphasis added.] The first thing he said as a nominee was pretty bizarre. He claimed: “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.” Not only is this false, I’d put money on the fact that Trump wrote it, indicating that Kavanaugh has already become one of his lackeys. (Washington Post) The NY Times charted where they believe Kavanaugh falls on the political spectrum. Since he’s been on the federal court for more than a decade, he has quite a large body of opinions from which to assess how he’ll vote as a Supreme Court justice. Below is a list of some of the issues and where he’s likely to stand on them. It’s also interesting that most of what he’s written has been dissents, meaning he’s spent years disagreeing with the decisions of the majority of his fellow judges.
Presidential Power: Kavanaugh’s decisions incline to the Unitary Executive view (see Unitary Executive Theory) of strong executive power. It is the divine right of kings for the 21st Century. In essence, it holds that if the president doesn’t like a law, he doesn’t need to follow or enforce it. And his authority is unquestionable. For example, the Unitary Executive Theory would hold that Trump could fire the special counsel if he so desires. In a 2016 opinion for a 3-judge panel, Kavanaugh wrote that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) structure was unconstitutional because it gave the director unchecked power, and that the president had the authority to fire the director at will. However, the full court upheld the legality of the structure and said the director could only be fired for cause. (Reuters) Since it’s openly known that “Trump’s grip on the presidency is threatened by the special counsel’s investigation,” it’s no wonder that his pick is someone who believes that the president is above the law. He argued in an article for the Minnesota Law Review, that the president should be excused from the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office and that “the indictment and trial of a sitting President . . . would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arenas.” An interesting position considering he worked on Ken Starr’s investigations into President Clinton. (The Nation)
Roe v. Wade: In 2006 he told the Senate that he would follow Roe v. Wade “faithfully and fully.” Nobody believes it. (Politico) However, he did dissent from the ruling that an undocumented immigrant teen in detention was entitled to seek an abortion. (TWW, Abortion, 6/9/18) (CNN)
Voting Rights: In 2012 Kavanaugh voted to uphold the South Carolina voter ID law that disenfranchised tens of thousands of minority citizens. He wrote: “We conclude that South Carolina’s goals of preventing voter fraud and increasing electoral confidence are legitimate; those interests cannot be deemed pretextual merely because of an absence of recorded incidents of in-person voter fraud in South Carolina.” (Mother Jones)
Affordable Care Act: He dissented in 2015 when the Appeals Court upheld a revised regulation involving contraceptives. Kavanaugh said that filing out the form notifying the government that the employer was opting out would make them complicit and therefore violated their rights to religious freedom. (LA Times) While this dissent illustrates his antagonism to the ACA, it also shows his willingness to allow people to do just about anything they want in the name of religious freedom.
Workers’ Rights: Kavanaugh wrote a dissent, agreeing with an employer who fought against the unionization of its workers and, once unionized, refused to bargain, “arguing that most of them weren’t covered by collective bargaining law because they were undocumented immigrants.” (HuffPost) In 2016 he came to the conclusion in Verizon v. National Labor Relations Board that Verizon’s decision to tell employees to stop displaying union signs in their cars was not an unfair labor practice because a collective bargaining agreement contained a waiver of union members’ right to picket.
Environment: Being against regulations, it’s safe to assume he’ll be against regulations that protect the environment. According to Michael Brune, Sierra Club president, he is “an extreme ideologue who has time and again proven himself hostile to common-sense environmental safeguards.” Last year he wrote a ruling that struck down a rule regulating hydrofluorocarbons used in spray cans and air conditioners. In 2012 he disagreed with a full panel decision to uphold Obama’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. There are other examples. (Reuters)
Net Neutrality: He wrote a dissent against a court decision that upheld the net neutrality rules, arguing that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should have considered the costs of its regulatory measures. (Reuters)
Assault Weapons: He appears to support broader gun rights. “In 2011 he filed a 52-page dissent when a panel of the Appeals Court, by a 2-1 vote, upheld a District of Columbia ordinance that prohibited semiautomatic rifles and magazines holding more than 10 rounds.” (LA Times)
Mueller Investigation: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that the special counsel delivered an indictment of 12 Russian military officers “involved in Moscow’s effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.” The 12 are accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s network, as well as that of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “The military officers allegedly broke into those systems - and others in the United States - to plant malicious software, steal emails, and nab other documents. To conceal their efforts, Rosenstein said, the Russians used networks ‘around the world’ and paid for that access with Cryptocurrency.” These officers “communicated with 2 Americans during the 2016 election cycle,” but so far there is no indication that those Americans knew they were communicating with Russians. Rosenstein’s announcement did not include an assertion that the interference changed the outcome of the election. (Roll Call) Are they going to be able to get their hands on these people and arrest them? I doubt it.
Rudy Guiliani: He has recently become another Trump lawyer - although it’s pretty clear he doesn’t do any legal work. But he continues to work “on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm.” (Washington Post) Anybody else see a conflict of interest?
Peter Strzok: He testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Strzok was the lead agent in the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and is now the subject of an internal misconduct probe. He denied that he let his private political views bias his official actions. Watch the amazing statement he made. (Roll Call) Rep. Trey Gowdy (R, SC), committee chair, asked him how many individuals he interviewed in the first week of the Russia probe in the summer of 2016. He declined to answer, saying he had been directed by the FBI lawyer not to answer questions about the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Gowdy threatened him with a contempt citation. (NY Times) If you want to really be appalled, listen to Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R, TX) statement. (You Tube) And who is it that’s talking about civility in political discourse?
More Pardons: Trump pardoned Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, for the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (TWW, Oregon, 3/26/16) (Reuters) This, to me, is proof that Trump is less interested in reversing an unjust sentence than he is in giving his supporters a high-5. You can’t even call this “thinly veiled.”
Brian Benczkowski: Trump nominated him to head up the Criminal Division at the Justice Department. This would make him the person to fill the shoes of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should he leave. He was confirmed 51 to 48. He used to represent Alfa Bank, a Russian bank with close ties to Russian government officials. Senator Joe Manchin (D, WV) voted to confirm him. (Roll Call)
Bill Shine: The ex-Fox news president accepted a White House appointment as Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications. (Chicago Tribune) Shine was ousted from Fox in May 2017 “after being named in multiple lawsuits for his handling of the network’s mounting sexual harassment scandals.” (Salon) Shortly after the appointment, Shine’s wife, Darla, deleted her twitters where she questioned “why white people would be labeled racist for using the n-word while black people would not.” She also defended the Confederate flag and highlighted instances of black-on-white crime. (Washington Post) Mediaite captured her tweets before they were deleted. Lovely family.
Robert Wilkie: He’s Trump’s pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has endorsed him so we know he’ll be confirmed. Wilkie, 55, is an Air Force reservist. He is currently in charge of military personnel policy for the Trump administration. “He has spent 3 decades working in Washington on military and national security issues, developing deep connections on Capitol Hill and in the White House.” (Washington Post)
James Morhard: Trump has picked him to be the deputy administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He has been the deputy Sergeant-at-Arms for the Senate since the Republicans took control in 2015. Before that he was the staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee who oversaw the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which had jurisdiction of NASA’s budget. (Roll Call) Yup. That makes him qualified to run NASA.
NATO: Trump joined the NATO summit in Brussels, “having called the alliance ‘obsolete,’” and immediately began deriding the members as “deadbeats” and “suggested that American military protection is negotiable.” (NY Times) He “kicked off” his meetings on a contentious note, “calling allies ‘delinquent’ for failing to spend enough on their own defense and attacking Germany as a ‘captive’ of Russia because of its energy dealings.” (NY Times) Merkel hit back, saying Germany “made its own independent decisions and policies.” She added that “she needed no lessons in dealing with authoritarian regimes, recalling she had been brought up in East Germany when it had been part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.” (Guardian) Trump criticized our allies for not meeting their military spending goal of 2% of GDP, although all nations are on track to meet it by 2020. Then he told them to raise it to 4%, but he signed a statement that reiterates the existing principles and commitments. (NY Times) The Pentagon went into “damage control” mode to reassure NATO allies. (NBC) Stephen Colbert had something to say about the visit. (You Tube)
In the UK: Trump arrived in Britain but he’ll be avoiding London and other cities that could host significant protests. “He will instead be kept mainly insulated from the public at various country estates or palaces.” But he started off the visit by stating that Brexit “was heading on a different route to the one the British people expected, and the UK could end up with a closer relationship with the EU than had been predicted.” (Guardian) He then dove right into the issue, saying that May’s plans “to keep close economic ties with the bloc could ‘kill’ a possible trade deal” with the U.S. (NY Times) He stated that he had told May how she should handle Brexit but “she didn’t listen to me.” (The Sun) He also hailed Boris Johnson (see below) as a future prime minister, “accused the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, of doing ‘a bad job’ on terrorism, and said there had been too much immigration in Europe.” (Guardian) Then he went into damage control, “Trump style.” He kind of apologized to May, “but did not entirely back off the critical statements.” (NY Times) I’m so embarrassed.
World Leaders: Anyone else notice Trump’s antagonism toward Angela Merkel and Theresa May? Remember how he was toward Hillary Clinton? I think it’s obvious that he has no regard for women - no matter what positions they hold.
Britain: Prime Minister Theresa May’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, quit “in protest over her approach to withdrawing from the European Union. The resignation deepened a mood of crisis just 8 months before the country is due to leave the bloc.” Johnson was the second minister to leave May’s cabinet in just 24 hours. David Davis resigned the day before. (NY Times) Davis and Johnson both resigned claiming that May’s plans did not live up to their expectations of what Brexit was supposed to do. (AP) However, May was able to get support from the senior ministers and she got an endorsement from Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor and head of the EU. May said her plans “absolutely keeps faith with the vote of the British people. We will do this in a way which will be a smooth and orderly Brexit.” (Reuters)
China: Trump escalated his trade war with China by identifying an additional $200 billion in Chinese products that he intends to hit with import tariffs. He’s looking at things like televisions, clothing, bedsheets, and air conditioners. China is expected to retaliate. (Washington Post) The NY Times put up an interactive graphic attempting to explain how the trade war went from 18 products to 10,000. The Senate approved a criticism of Trump’s tariffs “following failed efforts to block them.” The non-binding measure calls on Congress to have a role in tariffs imposed on the basis of national security. (Washington Post)
Arizona: MVM Inc., a major defense contractor, “quietly detained dozens of immigrant children inside a vacant Phoenix office building with dark windows, no kitchen, and only a few toilets during 3 weeks of the Trump administration’s family separation effort.” Apparently neighbors were alarmed by the children, “dressed in sweatsuits being led - one so young she was carried - into the 3,200 square foot building in early June.” The building also sports “new cameras,” extra locks on the doors, and a paper shredder bin “directly outside the building’s side door.” The building “is not licensed by Arizona to hold children.” MVM leases the building. It has received up to $248 million in a government contract to transport immigrant children since 2014 but it claims publicly that it does not operate “shelters or any other type of housing for minors.” (Reveal) Watch the video taken by a neighbor.
California: The Irvine Company - a real estate firm that operates malls and mini-malls in Irvine, La Jolla, Newport Beach, Redwood City, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale - has been providing data from license plate readers to Vigilant Solutions, a private surveillance technology company that partners with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (EFF)
Delaware: The state Department of Education bowed to intense conservative opposition and “rewrote an anti-discrimination guideline meant to protect transgender students.” (Rewire)
Illinois: Rev. Michael Pfleger’s anti-violence protest “fell apart” last Saturday “as protesters demanded the inbound [Dan Ryan] expressway be shut down.” To accommodate protesters, state troopers had initially closed the 2 right lanes and the shoulder of the inbound Dan Ryan. State vehicles - including ambulances, tow trucks, and prison buses - were deployed to create a barrier between the marchers and the 2 lanes kept open to motor traffic. Apparently Governor Bruce Rauner (R) was enraged. (Chicago Sun Times)
Anti-Semitism: I found this article at Deutsche Welle, a German publication. It covers the upcoming election and the fact that at least 2, and maybe 3, candidates are Holocaust deniers. The author notes that Trump has “rejuvenated white nationalism” along with a spike in anti-Semitism. “The anti-Semitic incidents reported by the [Anti-Defamation League], including more than 1,000 cases of harassment, including more than 160 bomb threats, an increase of 41% over 2016. It also counted more than 950 incidents of vandalism, a jump of 86% over the previous year.”
Reuniting Migrant Families: U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee rejected Trump’s bid to allow long-term detention of migrant families. (TWW, Immigration, 6/30/18) She held that “there was no basis to amend a longstanding consent decree that requires children to be released to licensed care programs within 20 days.” (NY Times) Reunification with the under-5 age group began on Tuesday, with a goal of returning 34 of the 102 children to their parents. (NY Times) Some didn’t recognize their parents. (NY Times) Some will have to file court proceedings to get their kids back. (LA Times) And some are being told they have to pay for their DNA tests to get their kids. (Daily Beast) Many parents have already been deported without their kids. (LA Times) But the worst is the father and toddler who have been separated for about a year - who are both U.S. citizens. (Guardian) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) admitted they knew that the “zero tolerance” policy would lead to children being taken from their parents. (Law & Crime) When grilled about how the reunification is going, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar came up with all kinds of justifications. “It is one of the great acts of American generosity and charity, what we are doing for these unaccompanied kids who are smuggled into our country or come across illegally.” (The Hill) These are kids who have been separated from their parents - by definition that are not “unaccompanied.” Is he this stupid or just conflating the 2 groups hoping the public is stupid enough not to notice? How is all this detention and flying kids around the country being paid for? Budget documents show that funding has been reallocated within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program to pay for it. (Slate)
Trade War: It has begun and it has far-reaching consequences for international relations and the global economy. But what about your pocket? The NY Times estimated it will cost about $60 a year per household. However, that estimate is based on the $80 billion in tariffs - not the additional tariffs that have since been levied. Also this doesn’t include the impact on people who may lose their jobs or see lower incomes because other countries retaliate by taxing American products. “The magnitude is small for now, but prices could rise substantially if a tit-for-tat escalation drives the total of affected goods toward or beyond $1 trillion.”
Democratic Party: Here it is, in a nutshell, the problem with the Democratic Party. A group of 12 interns for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent a letter to the chair, Ben Ray Lujan, requesting they get paid. But they went on - stating that fellow interns who didn’t join them in the letter were “white and wealthy” and had “no real understanding of the perspectives of everyday working Americans.” (Roll Call)
ACA: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) announced that it will stop collecting and paying out billions of dollars to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act’s “risk adjustment” program. (Washington Post) And CMMS also announced that it is eliminating most of the funding for grassroots groups that help Americans get ACA insurance and “will for the first time urge the groups to promote health plans that bypass the law’s consumer protections and required benefits.” (Washington Post)
Breast Feeding: The U.S. delegation to the World Health Organization (WHO) assembly in Geneva “deployed threats and other heavy-handed measures to try to browbeat nations into backing off” the resolution promoting breastfeeding. Why? To support the formula milk industry. “A Guardian investigation . . . found that formula milk firms were using aggressive methods to skirt around the regulations in order to press mothers and healthcare professionals to choose powdered milk over breastfeeding. The measures were particularly intensively deployed in the poorest regions of the world, where most growth in the baby milk formula business in now concentrated.” The resolution was eventually passed after Russia introduced modified text. (Guardian)
CFC-11: The “mysterious source of those illegal ozone-killing emissions (TWW, CFC-11, 5/19/18) has been found. It’s been tracked to plastic foam manufacturers in China. CFC-11 has been banned around the world since 2010. China is a major producer of the rigid polyurethane foams. (Guardian)
Orcas and Salmon: The black-and-white Orcas are dying off. The killer whales of the Pacific Northwest are down to just 75, a 30-year low. Not one calf has been born for the last 3 years. They are “essentially starving” as their primary prey, the Chinook, or king salmon, are dying off. And they’re facing a new threat. “The recent agreement between the Canadian government and Kinder Morgan to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline would multiply oil tanker traffic through the orcas’ habitat by 7 times, according to some estimates, and expose them to excessive noise and potential spills. Construction is set to begin in August, despite opposition from [Washing Governor Jay) Inslee (D) and many environmentalists.” (NY Times)
Starbucks: It has become the largest food and beverage retailer to announce a ban of plastic straws. It will begin phasing them out worldwide, aiming to complete the process by 2020. (EcoWatch)