Originally Published: 8/4/2018
Cannabidiol: Last April 30th a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco denied a petition filed by the Hemp Industries Association that challenged the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) authority to establish a new administrative drug code specifically for marijuana extracts. I don’t know why no one has reported this. Certainly I hadn’t heard about it until this week. But here it is: CBD is now a Schedule 1 controlled substance. States that allow CBD, even if they don’t allow the sale of high-THC marijuana, “are violating federal law.” (Statesman Journal) The Court rejected the petitioners’ arguments, saying that DEA’s classification of marijuana extracts does not conflict with the provisions of either the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill) or the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which limits the Justice Department from spending federal dollars to intervene in state-sanctioned activities involving marijuana or industrial hemp. The Court also dismissed the petitioners’ argument that the rule substantively amended the federal Controlled Substances Act. I’ll bet this will be appealed. Let me remind you that the DEA is an agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ is headed by the Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who has vowed to wipe out all laws legalizing marijuana. He’s already asked Congress to undo the federal medical marijuana protections (TWW, Marijuana, 6/17/17 and declared open season for federal prosecutors to bring charges in states where it has been legalized. (TWW, Marijuana, 1/6/18) (See his memo here.) It was this memo that caused banks to stop taking credit and debit cards for marijuana purchases. You think it’s gonna end here? Not hardly.
Over the Line: Trump finally stepped over the line. He called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut down the Justice Department’s special counsel investigation into allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and the possible charge of obstruction of justice against Trump. “Members of both political parties have cautioned Trump to avoid such public statements, and to resist the urge to simply give Sessions an order to end” the investigation. (Roll Call) Listen to what Stephen Colbert had to say about it. (You Tube)
Loyalists: The White House assumed control over hiring at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), “a small federal agency that promotes economic growth in poor countries.” They are using MCC as a dumping ground for Trump loyalists, “installing political allies and loyalists in appointed jobs intended for development experts.” Until the Trump regime, “only the chief executive and several other top officials of . . . [MCC] were selected by the White House. . . The chief executive, in turn, used authority granted to the agency by Congress to appoint about 2 dozen other staffers, primarily for their technical expertise.” But the Trump White House is using MCC to place political allies. (Washington Post)
Trump Hotel: At Trump’s hotel in New York, revenue went up this spring after 2 years of decline, “thanks to a visit from big-spending Saudis.” According to the Washington Post, “Neither Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman nor members of the royal family stayed at Trump’s hotel.” Apparently it didn’t have “suites big enough to accommodate them.” But due to his close relationship with Trump, they “were able to accommodate many of the accompanying travelers.”
The Facts: According to the Washington Post, Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims in 558 days. Susan Glasser, at The New Yorker wrote: “the recent wave of misstatements is both a reflection of Trump’s increasingly unbound Presidency and a signal attribute of it. The upsurge provides empirical evidence that Trump, in recent months, has felt more confident running his White House as he pleases, keeping his own counsel, and saying and doing what he wants when he wants to. . . . At this point, the falsehoods are as much a part of his political identity as his floppy orange hair and the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan. The untruths . . are Trump’s ‘secret sauce.’”
Peter Wright: He’s been appointed by Trump as assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and he’ll run the Superfund program. He’s a lawyer “steeped in the complexities of restoring polluted rivers and chemical dumps.” He spent more than a decade working on a cleanup of Dow Chemical’s massive pollution in Midland, Michigan. “But while he led Dow’s legal strategy there, the chemical giant was accused by regulators, and in one case a Dow engineer, of submitting disputed data, misrepresenting scientific evidence, and delaying cleanup.” He spent 19 years at Dow. (NY Times)
Iran: According to an Australian news service, senior figures in the Trumbull government say that Trump is ready to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities and a strike could happen as early as this month. A senior security source told ABC News that Australian defense facilities “would likely play a role in identifying targets in Iran, as would British intelligence agencies.”
North Korea: U.S. spy agencies “are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.” (Washington Post) So much for the great peace Trump said he negotiated. (TWW, China Summit, 6/16/18) Remember the latest intelligence reported that it has increased its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. (TWW, North Korea, 6/30/18) Maybe he just doesn’t believe his spies.
Louisiana: In 2014 a New Orleans businessman started the American Ethane Company (AEC). Seed money for the business was provided by Russian investors. “And these weren’t just any Russians. They were among the world’s richest men, with strong ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. One of them had been Putin’s chief of staff. 2 others are among the richest oligarchs in Russia. Another is now in the news for having funded the Russian gun-rights campaign of Maria Butina.” What’s really interesting is that WWL-TV obtained records showing that AEC lobbyists, “who were trying to influence members of Congress,” did not disclose the identities of the Russians who own about 88% of the company.
New York: The State Public Service Commission voted to revoke its approval of the 2016 merger between Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable. It alleges that the cable company failed to meet its obligations related to its buildout of broadband in the state. (CNBC)
Unilateral Tax Cut: Trump is considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut by adjusting for inflation in determining capital gains. “According to the budget model used by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, indexing capital gains to inflation would reduce government revenues by $102 billion over a decade, with 86% of the benefits going to the top 1%. A July report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said that the additional debt incurred by indexing capital gains to inflation would most likely offset any stimulus that the smaller tax burden provided to the economy.” (NY Times)
Shutdown: While Congress has been working to get a budget done by the end of the fiscal year, September 30th, Trump has screwed his fellow Republicans over again by announcing that he’ll shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for his Mexican wall. (Washington Post) I think he realizes that there’s a chance Democrats will take control of the House and he’ll never get his wall, so he’s pushing what may be his last opportunity.
Religious Liberty Task Force: AG Jeff Sessions announced a new task force to help the Justice Department (DOJ) “fully implement our religious guidance.” In a speech at the DOJ’s Religious Liberty Summit, Session said the goal of the task force will be to protect religious groups from persecution. (CNN) You think he’s concerned about Islam? I don’t think so. According to The Hill, this is just an offshoot of Trump’s executive order to protect Christian religious beliefs. (TWW, Civil Rights, 1/20/18; Church & State, 5/6/17)
Political Influence: Facebook said it has identified a political influence campaign “that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues.” (NY Times) Does this really make a difference?
Ghost Guns: U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle issued an order stopping the release of blueprints to make untraceable and undetectable 3D-printed plastic guns. 8 Democratic attorneys general had filed a lawsuit seeking to block of the blueprints arguing it would be a safety risk. (Guardian) Defense Distributed, a Texas-based nonprofit organization, got permission last month from the State Department to post the schematics for homemade firearms. (NY Times) Lasnik said in his ruling that there are “serious First Amendment issues” that will need to be worked out later but for now the blueprints should not be posted. He set a follow-up hearing for August 10. (NY Times)
Campaign Contribution: A “politically connected” federal contractor made a $500,000 contribution to a pro-Trump super PAC “the day after it received a payment of almost the same amount as part of a Department of Defense contract.” So we taxpayers gave the contractor a half million dollars and he donated it to Trump. Great. This and another similar donation have been turned over to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to review. “The donations represent rare violations of a 75-year-old ban on campaign contributions from federal contractors.” (Roll Call)
Death Penalty: Pope Francis declared that the death penalty is “inadmissible in all cases” because it is “an attack” on the “dignity of the person.” What a change for the Catholic Church. (NY Times)
Medicare for All: The Mercatus Center, a Libertarian think tank funded by the Koch Brothers, has done a cost analysis of the Medicare For All bill put up by Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT). Its report concluded that the program would cost about $32.6 trillion over 10 years. Pretty shocking, huh? But Matt Bruenig at Jacobin pointed out that this sum is actually $2 trillion less than what the U.S. as a whole will spend under the existing system. Bruenig also pointed out that the Mercatus report acknowledged this.
Crappy Health Insurance: Trump issued new rules “to encourage more Americans to buy inexpensive, skimpy health plans originally designed for short-term use.” The policies, currently available for only 3 months at a time, will now be available for up to 12 months, “and customers will be able to renew them for additional years.” These plans are not required to cover pre-existing conditions and may exclude certain health care that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires. (Washington Post)
Land Use: I found this interesting piece on how U.S. land is used. Agricultural land takes up about 20% of the country. Cropland takes up more than 20% of the 48 contiguous states. Pasture and rangeland cover most of the western U.S. “Yet the actual land area used to grow the food Americans eat is much smaller - only about the size of Indiana, Illinois, and half of Iowa combined. More than a third of the entire corn crop is devoted to ethanol production. Most cropland is used for livestock feed, exports, or is left idle to let the land recover.” 80% of Americans live, work, and play in an urban area. “The 10 most productive metropolitan areas alone contributed to about 40% of U.S. GDP in 2016.” And we’re becoming more urban at an average rate of about 1 million additional acres a year. (Bloomberg)
Auto Emissions: As expected (TWW, Fuel Efficiency, 7/28/18), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Transportation Department jointly published new plans that will roll back the 2012 rule requiring automakers to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles to an average of about 54 miles per gallon by 2025. “It would halt requirements that automakers build cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars including hybrids and electric vehicles.” The new rules also challenge the right of states, particularly California, to set their own standards. (NY Times)
Pesticides: The EPA has rescinded more Obama-era policies, this time the ban on pesticides and the prohibition of planting biotech crops. They also rescinded the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in wildlife refuges. (Guardian)
Youth Lawsuit: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to block the lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the U.S. government “for crafting policies that support climate-changing fossil fuels.” (TWW, Children Sue, 8/15/15) The Supremes said that the administration’s motion to dismiss was “premature.” (EcoWatch)
King Penguins: The world’s largest King Penguin colony on the Île aux Cochons in the Southern Indian Ocean has declined by 90% since 1982. At that time the colony consisted of 500,000 breeding pairs. Now there are about 60,000 breeding pairs. Researchers suspect that climate change “could be playing a role, as it has with other colonies of penguins in parts of Antarctica. But competition for resources, diseases, and relocation may possibly have contributed to population losses.” (NY Times)
Executive Pay: More studies have confirmed that workers are experiencing historically low wage growth (TWW, Wage Growth, 6/9/18), while companies are responding to the Republican’s recent tax cut by routing their profits predominantly to top executives and big shareholders in the form of stock buybacks. (TWW, Buyback Economy, 6/16/18; Stock Buybacks, 5/26/18) The Wall Street Journal looked at how 1,111 companies pay their workers. Many of the companies have been actively padding the wallets of their largest shareholders through stock buybacks. The National Employment Law Project and the Roosevelt Institute found that between 2015 and 2017 “companies spent almost 60% of net profits on buybacks.” And the restaurant industry spent more money on buybacks than they earned in profits.
Unemployment: Job growth slowed in July with only 157,000 jobs added. Still, the unemployment rate fell to 3.9%. (Reuters)
Amazon: It earned $5.6 billion in U.S. profits in 2017 but paid $0 in federal income tax. “That’s largely attributable to ‘excess stock-based compensation deductions’ and the effect of the 2017 Tax Act.” (Fox) Outrageous. They get nothing from me.
Disneyland: Unions representing nearly 10,000 Disneyland workers accepted Disney’s 3-year contract to raise the starting hourly wage to $15 beginning next year. (CNN) This is what a union gets you. By the way, this is Disneyland in California, where workers have a union. Disney World in Florida is not effected.