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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 7/28/2018

Earth Overshoot Day:  This is the day on which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate. They began calculating this in the 1970s when Earth Overshoot Day occurred on October 15th. This year it comes on August 1st. “While ever greater food production, mineral extraction, forest clearance, and fossil-fuel burning bring short-term (and unequally distributed) lifestyle gains, the long-term consequences are increasingly apparent in terms of soil erosion, water shortages, and climate disruption.” It is reversible. “Replacing 50% of meat consumption with a vegetarian diet would push back the overshoot date by 5 days. Efficiency improvements in building and industry could make a difference of 3 weeks, and a 50% reduction of the carbon component of the footprint would give an extra 3 months of breathing space.” (Guardian) I’d add that reducing the world’s population would make a huge difference.

 

Carter Page:  Trump released the October 2016 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) application to wiretap Page (TWW, Carter Page, 4/15/17), along with several renewal applications, in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the NY Times and other news organizations. (You can read them here.) The application stated, in part: “This application targets Carter Page. The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeting recruitment by the Russian government.” According to the NY Times, a line was redacted at this point, and then the text picks up again with “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law. Mr. Page is a former foreign policy adviser to a candidate for U.S. president.” This is the first time in 40 years where application materials have been released. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have been publicly accusing the FBI of abuse of its surveillance powers in getting this warrant. Here’s a copy of committee chair Devin Nunes’ (R, CA) memo and the White House memo authorizing Nunes to release classified material. (TWW, Nunes Memo, 2/3/18) The FISC documents thoroughly debunk Nunes’ claims.

 

Cohen-Trump Tape:  Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, escalated his dispute with the president and released the recording of their conversation wherein Trump demonstrates he has knowledge about the hush money payments to Karen McDougal. (TWW, There are Tapes, 7/21/18) Cohen can be heard telling Trump that he will need to set up a shell company to arrange the payments. CNN published the tapes but, if you don’t want to listen, the Washington Post published the annotated transcript. You’ll notice that this is clearly a conversation about the campaign. CNN also hired an audio expert to analyze the tape and clear up some of the confusion over what was said on it. Watch Stephen Colbert’s reaction. (You Tube)

 

Emoluments Lawsuit:  U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland will allow the plaintiffs to proceed with their case against Trump, alleging he is violating the Constitution by continuing to do business with foreign governments. Last March he ruled that plaintiffs have standing to sue. (TWW, Emoluments Lawsuit, 3/31/18) “This ruling appeared to mark the first time a federal judge had interpreted those Constitutional provisions and applied their restrictions to a sitting president.” (Washington Post)

 

Jay Sekulow:  He’s one of Trump’s lawyers. (TWW, Investigative Questions, 5/5/18; Jay Sekulow, 7/1/17) He’s using Trump’s “scrutiny of Planned Parenthood to raise money for his conservative activist group, which has directed millions of dollars to his law firm and to his family.” (Guardian)

 

Rod Rosenstein:  House conservatives introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “in a move that marks a dramatic escalation in the battle over the special counsel investigation.” The resolution was led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R, NC) and Jim Jordan (R, OH). They claim that Rosenstein isn’t turning documents over to them fast enough. (Washington Post) House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) doesn’t support the measure but that has nothing to do with the fact that nothing is being done. The House left for an extended recess. (Reuters) The resolution was just a warning shot over Rosenstein’s bow.

 

Security Clearances:  No. Not Jared’s. It’s the clearances for all the former officials who have criticized Trump over his “rhetoric and actions” toward Russia that Trump is considering revoking. They are: former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. (Washington Post) What’s interesting is that most of these people no longer have security clearances. I guess Trump doesn’t know that.

 

Trump and the Media:  At a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, Trump attempted to discredit the media by saying, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” (Vote.net) I can’t even comment.

 

Andrew Oldham:  The Senate confirmed him 50 to 49 to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, “the narrowest of any Texas judicial nominee under Trump.” He is the 4th alumnus of the Texas attorney general’s office to join the court since Trump took office. He’s currently Governor Greg Abbott’s (R) legal adviser. He’s 39 years old. He faced heavy disapproval from Democrats because at his confirmation hearing he refused to say whether Brown v. Board of Education, was correctly decided. (Texas Tribune)

 

NATO:  A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would prevent Trump from withdrawing the U.S. from NATO “without the prior approval of the Senate.” The bill would require that Trump secure the support of two-thirds of the Senate before he could withdraw. (Washington Post) Another useless maneuver meant to boost their reputations before the election.

 

Tariffs:  Trump claims he made a deal with the European Union “to ease trade tensions and avoid further tariffs.” Trump said the deal will work toward zero tariffs. “And both sides will work together to reform the World Trade Organization.” (Washington Post) Listen to what he said. “We will work together toward . . .” And “We’re working on this.” There is no agreement. Try to follow what he said. I dare you.

 

Gaza:  Last week Israeli warplanes launched a large-scale attack on the Gaza Strip, “one of the fiercest in years,” after a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier along the border fence during a day of escalating hostilities.” (NY Times) Later Hamas announced that it had reached a deal with Israel, “ending the Israeli onslaught on Hamas positions and other violence that resulted in the deaths of 4 Palestinians and 1 Israeli solder on Friday.” (Al Jazeera)

 

Iran:  President Hassan Rouhani warned Trump that he could not prevent them from exporting oil and warned him that a confrontation with them would be the “mother of all wars.” He said: “Do not play with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it.” (Al Jazeera) Trump retorted with a tweet: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!” (NY Times) It apparently didn’t bother Iran. “Iran dismissed the U.S. president’s threats as psychological warfare designed to appeal to his electoral base ahead of the midterm elections.” War monger John Bolton, our National Security Adviser who has wanted war with Iran for decades, “doubled down” on Trump’s tweet, repeating that Iran will “pay a price few countries have ever paid.” (Guardian)

 

Japan:  It’s record-breaking heat wave has been declared a natural disaster. So far, 80 have died. (EcoWatch)

 

Portugal:  In 2015 it “defied critics who insisted on austerity” imposed by European creditors and started spending. “The country reversed cuts to wages, pensions, and social security, and offered incentives to businesses.” Creditors “railed against” the spending but “business confidence rebounded” and “products and exports began to take off.” Greece is still reeling while following Europe’s austerity plans. (NY Times)

 

Budget Deficit:  The Republican tax cuts are pushing the federal deficit to $1 trillion. “The amount of corporate taxes collected by the federal government has plunged to historically low levels in the first 6 months of the year, pushing up the federal budget deficit much faster than economists had predicted.” While corporate profits are at an all-time high, corporate tax receipts are at a 75-year low. (NY Times) This isn’t a surprise to the Republicans who pushed it through. This is the plan. Drive up the deficit then cut all social programs because the deficit is too high.

 

Tax Reform 2.0:  Republicans are so certain that their tax cuts will lead them to significant victory this November that they’ve decided to add to it. Yup. They’re introducing more tax cuts. It’s a 3-bill package they’re calling “Tax Reform 2.0.” They plan to release it after the summer recess in September. The primary purpose is to make the individual tax cuts permanent. Currently they’re set to expire. The other 2 bills “will focus on retirement and business innovation tax incentives, respectively. Proposals include creating a Universal Savings Account and allowing start-up businesses to write off more of their initial costs.” (Roll Call)

 

Election Security:  House Republicans eliminated funding for the states to strengthen election security. (Truthdig)

 

Supreme Court Facts:  The Constitution doesn’t specify the number of justices, leaving it to Congress to determine. The 1789 Judiciary Act established the number of justices at 6, with a chief justice and 5 associate justices. Through legislation the number has fluctuated, with as many as 10 justices. In 1869 the number was set at 9, where it has remained. Although Congress determines the number of justices, that hasn’t prevented presidents from trying to wield influence. President Franklin Roosevelt often clashed with the conservative court in the 1930s over his New Deal programs. (NY Times) In 1937 he pushed a plan that would add a justice, up to a total of 15, for each justice over the age of 70 who didn’t retire. (At that time 6 justices were over 70.) Roosevelt’s effort failed, but the Senate Judiciary Committee said, “It is a measure which should be so emphatically rejected that its parallel will never again be presented to the free representatives of the free people of America.”

 

Cybersecurity:  After White House cybersecurity czar Rob Joyce left, Trump eliminated the position on the National Security Council (NSC), something John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, has long wanted to do. Cybersecurity experts are very concerned. While the Defense Department and Homeland Security also monitor cyber threats, the cybersecurity czar was the person who would aggregate the information for the president. Without such a post, “the West Wing might fail to see the big picture.” Justin Cappos, a professor of computer science at New York University, said: “If we entered into a conflict with a [foreign power] and they wanted to cause damage to us, they could go after our critical infrastructure, like our power grids. They could go after our cars. They could cripple air traffic control. They could do very substantial damage to military targets. They could substantially damage our country as a whole.” (NBC)

 

Black Homicide Victims:  According to a study done by the Washington Post, black victims are the least likely of any racial group to have their killings result in an arrest. The study mapped about 55,000 homicides in major American cities. In almost every city surveyed, arrests were made in killings of black victims at lower rates than homicides involving white victims.

 

Reunifying Families:  The court deadline for reunifying families came up this week. Officials reported that it would meet the deadline “but hundreds of children remained in federal custody.” (NY Times) Earlier this week the Trump administration told the court that more than 450 parents whose children had been taken had already been deported, “raising questions about whether the parents fully understood that they were being deported without their children.” (NY Times) Some experts warn that many parents won’t be reunited with their children for years. (Guardian) Let me point out that these articles, as well as all other articles and broadcasts I’ve heard, keep referring to this people as “migrants.” They are not migrants. They are refugees.

 

The Courts:  Trump, as I’ve mentioned before, is installing conservative judges at a record pace. He’s fulfilling his promise to remake the federal judiciary. With the confirmation of Andrew Oldham (see above), he has pushed through “the largest number of federal judges than any recent president in his first 2 years.” So far Trump has nominated 23 judges who have been confirmed. (Clinton had 19 in his first 2 years, Bush had 17, and Obama had 16). The Washington Post noted that Trump judicial appointments “will hear cases on hot-button topics such as abortion and LGBT rights, race-based affirmative action, and immigration restrictions.” There are still 179 vacancies which Trump is determined to fill.

 

Trade Wars:  In order to ease the pain that farmers will suffer due to the trade wars, Trump is pledging $12 billion in emergency relief. (NY Times) Let me remind you that the majority of U.S. “farmers” are industrial farmers, known as agribusiness. (Washington Post) That’s who’ll get most of the $12 billion.

 

Education:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed amending the loan forgiveness rules for students defrauded by for-profit colleges and “requiring that student borrowers show they have fallen into hopeless financial straits or prove that their colleges knowingly deceived them.” (NY Times) She also plans to eliminate the regulations “that forced for-profit colleges to prove that they provide gainful employment to the students they enroll.” These changes by DeVos would be “the most drastic in a series of moves that she has made to free the for-profit sector from safeguards put in effect during the Obama era.” (NY Times)

 

Economy:  U.S. economic growth jumped in the second quarter, “a boost” for Trump and Republicans. It expanded at an annualized rate of 4.1%, “the fastest growth since the third quarter of 2014 and a sharp jump from the first 3 months of the year, when the economy grew at a tepid 2.2%.” Trump, of course, is crowing, saying it’s his wonderful prowess as a leader that has caused the growth. However, most independent economists say the growth was “juiced” by “stimulus from the trillion-dollar tax cut and a one-time rush by foreign companies to stock up on U.S. goods before Trump’s trade war escalated and tariffs kicked in on many products.” (Washington Post)

 

Fuel Efficiency:  The Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is preparing to freeze fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks for 6 years and challenge the right of California and other states to set their own tailpipe standards. (Washington Post)

 

Mountaintop Mining:  A team of researchers merged images from the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat and from Google Earth and got a dataset that shows the effects of mountaintop removal on a year-by-year basis. They also used an earlier collection of data, covering the mid-1970s through 1984, to come up with the 40-year total. The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science (PLOS), estimated that between 1985 and 2015 an average of 21,000 acres was converted to bare earth and rubble in central Appalachia each year.

 

National Monuments:  The Interior Department released some documents earlier this month, and retracted them a day later. Why? I guess they decided it wasn’t good to have them out, but it was too late. The documents contained evidence that national monument sites, like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante (TWW, National Monuments, 3/10/18; Mining & Drilling, 2/3/18; Bears Ears Uranium, 12/16/17), “boosted tourism and spurred archeological discoveries. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (and his senior officials) ignored the report and conducted a “survey” of the protected sites “to emphasize the value of logging, ranching, and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments.” (Washington Post)

 

Arctic Exploration:  Trump is considering a proposal to conduct seismic testing for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). “If the plan moves forward, vehicles with ‘shakers’ - diesel-powered equipment that sends tremors through the landscape - will be deployed along Alaska’s northern coastal plain in an effort to map underground hydrocarbon deposits. . . Biologists and environmentalists argue that the testing will cause irreparable harm to the pristine wilderness.” (Guardian)

 

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