Originally Published: 8/18/2018
The Press Fights Back: About 350 news outlets published editorials denouncing Trump’s war on the press. The movement was orchestrated by the Boston Globe. (Time) CNN published a list of the newspapers that participated in telling Trump that “journalists are not the enemy.” It’s about time. Let me point out that when an administration is corrupt, it needs to keep secrets and avoid accountability. This explains Trump’s attacks on the media. As the walls close in he’s using more tactics to silence dissent - the most important of these is demonizing the press. He’s also refused to allow certain credentialed reporters into a press news conference (Politico), disseminated false claims about “fake news” on Twitter and in prominent national speeches, and, when faced with negative coverage, just taken away press credentials. (Press Freedom Tracker) The NY Times editorial noted that “insisting truths you don’t like are ‘fake news’ is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy.” Stephen Colbert naturally had to put his spin on the issue. (You Tube)
Peter Strzok: The FBI agent who engaged in texts with a colleague that were “anti-Trump,” has been fired. Strzok had helped lead the FBI’s investigation of the Russian interference in the 2016 election. Strzok’s attorney said that FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich had ordered the firing even though the director - who usually handles these things - had decided that Strzok should face only a 60-day suspension and a demotion. (Washington Post)
NDAs: Trump apparently admitted what his aides have refused to confirm for months - that Trump’s White House has aides sign nondisclosure agreements. Trump has, for decades, demanded NDAs from people working for or dealing with his companies. So, he’s trying to use the same tool in the government. However, even the White House counsel says that such a tool in government is not enforceable. (NY Times) Trump’s NDAs even prohibit employees from writing “tell-all” books without Trump’s permission. And, if that provision was violated, the NDA terms stipulate that they would have to forfeit all the money they make. (Politico) Bullying.
John Brennan: Trump is really into getting even with people who criticize him. This time it’s former CIA director John Brennan. Trump revoked his security clearance citing Brennan’s “erratic” behavior and “increasingly frenzied commentary.” (NY Times) He’s the first of several people Trump has targeted to revoke their security clearances. (TWW, Security Clearances, 7/28/18) He’s not just silencing his critics. He’s silencing witnesses to his Russian connections.
Military Parade: Trump’s military parade (TWW, Military Parade, 2/10/18) had been scheduled for November. The original estimate was $12 million, but CNBC reported that the new estimate is $92 million, with $50 million paid by the Pentagon and $42 million paid by other government agencies. So, Trump decided to cancel it, “blaming local officials for inflating the costs and saying they ‘know a windfall when they see it.’” (NY Times)
Steven Begakis: He’s just been appointed policy adviser to the Labor Department’s Wages and Hours Division. Begakis is a fundamentalist Christian, an advocate of so-called religious freedom and “natural law.” The Wages and Hours Division (WHD) oversees enforcement of rules regarding family leave, wage theft, and employment discrimination. He is a proponent of the Labor Department’s new directive “instructing its staff to ‘in all their activities . . . take into account recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and White House executive orders that protect religious freedom.” (Rewire)
Steven Howke: One of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s high school football teammates, Howke received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and, until recently, has spent his entire career working in credit unions. He’s now Zinke’s senior adviser to the assistant secretary of policy, management, and budget. His primary job? Reviewing research funding projects primarily for conservation and land acquisition over $50,000 which, until recently, didn’t need the additional review. (Guardian)
Germany: German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier criticized Trump’s tariffs and sanctions policies, “saying such measures were destroying jobs and growth and that Europe would not bow to U.S. pressure regarding Iran.” (Reuters)
Mexico: Former president Vicente Fox did an hilarious video on “How to Speak Spanish in Mexico for Americans.” Obviously Fox doesn’t have a lot of respect for our president, but he does have a great sense of humor. Watch this and enjoy! (Daily Motion)
Okinawa: About 70,000 Japanese islanders gathered to block the U.S. military’s plan to start dumping soil into Henoko Bay in order to relocate our military base. The plan is to move the base from “a crowded neighborhood” to a “less-populated coastal site.” Islanders want the base off the island completely. (Al Jazeera)
Turkey: Since Trump doubled tariffs on imported Turkish metals (TWW, Turkey, 8/11/18), President Erdoǧan is boycotting U.S.-made electronics. (Washington Post) He is also raising tariffs on some products from the U.S., “including alcohol, cars, and tobacco.” (Reuters)
Florida: The red tide striking Florida that I told you about last week (TWW, Florida, 8/11/18) has gotten so bad that Florida has declared a state of emergency. “The red tide has made breathing difficult for locals, scared away tourists, and strewn popular beaches with the stinking carcasses of fish, eels, porpoises, turtles, manatees, and one 26-foot whale shark.” (Washington Post) A main cause of red tide is fertilizer runoff (Real Natural) and it has also been linked to brain damage in sea lions. (Discover Magazine) Makes you wonder if there’s any connection to human brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Nebraska: It became the first state to execute someone using the powerful opioid fentanyl. (Washington Post)
Pennsylvania: According to a report issued by a Pennsylvania grand jury, the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and police officers not to investigate it. The report covered 6 of the state’s 8 Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims. The report described some horrific instances of abuse. I won’t quote it here. Read it for yourself.
West Virginia: The Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted to impeach the state’s entire supreme court. Supreme court members are elected for 12-year terms and the elections are non-partisan. However, the 5 members apparently were all registered Democrats, something that irked the state legislature. The charges are extravagant spending. Allen Loughry, who was the chief justice until February, faces 23 federal counts of fraud, witness tampering, lying to a federal agent, and obstruction of justice. Lawmakers “defeated an amendment that would have cleared Beth Walker of wrongdoing, instead accusing all 4 judges of failing to develop guidelines for the use of public resources, including on court vehicles and gas mileage and office furniture and computers.” (You’ll notice that 3 of the 4 judges are women.) This will give the Republican governor the unilateral power to remake the state supreme court. (Washington Post) According to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans are “assaulting” the judiciary. “In the Trump era, courts frequently appear to be the last line of defense against partisan overreach. But in many states, courts’ vital role in our democracy is under threat.” Lawmakers in 16 states have considered more than 50 different bills to minimize the role of state courts or make it harder for judges to do their jobs. The Brennan Center’s research found that in the past 25 years, just 2 state judges have been impeached, but in West Virginia, in just 1 day, they impeached 4. In North Carolina the Republican-controlled legislature put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to give lawmakers more control over appointing judges. In Arkansas, lawmakers voted to put a measure on the ballot this November that would let them seize control over writing much of the top court’s rules. In Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, lawmakers proposed legislation to gut the role of independent commissions that nominate judges for the governor to appoint and lawmakers in Iowa and Missouri proposed a constitutional amendment to outright eliminate its independent commission that selects judges. And the most blatant was in Pennsylvania where Republican lawmakers filed a resolution to impeach Democratic justices who threw out Republicans’ congressional map. (TWW, Pennsylvania, 3/24/18)
Defense Bill: Trump signed the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which appropriates a massive $717 billion dollars to the Pentagon. This is the first of the annual bills for the fiscal year (FFY) beginning October 1st. Trump called the U.S. military “depleted” and claimed that he is building it “like we never have before.” (Politico) Guess he forgot about World War II. He didn’t forget about his power, though. He added a Signing Statement, claiming he had the authority to override any provisions he deems improper constraints on his executive powers. He found about 50 of the bill’s statutes to be unconstitutional intrusions on his powers. One of them is a ban on spending military funds on “any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea. (NY Times)
Voting: A Def Con security convention last weekend hosted an event where 35 children ages 6 to 17 attempted to hack into replicas of election websites in 6 swing states. “The event was meant to test the strength of U.S. election infrastructure and details of the vulnerabilities would be passed onto the states.” An 11-year-old managed to hack into Florida’s website in 10 minutes and “change names and tallies.” Other participants changed party names and added as many as 12 billion votes to candidates. (Reuters)
Felony Voting: The Campaign Legal Center’s website, RestoreYourVote.org, went online this week to help people navigate state laws about voter registration for people with past convictions or unpaid fines. “It is the latest salvo in a growing movement to politically empower formerly incarcerated people, a group that is disproportionately African-American.” (Roll Call) If you know someone in this predicament, I highly recommend you pass on this website to them.
Cyberattacks: Trump has reversed another Obama-era rule known as Presidential Policy Directive 20 that laid out “an elaborate interagency process to be followed” before the U.S. can use cyberweapons against its adversaries. (Wall Street Journal)
Judges: The Senate confirmed another 2 U.S. Appellate Court judges. These are numbers 25 and 26 for Trump. (Washington Post)
Glyphosate: A California jury found Monsanto liable for a man’s cancer and ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages. The plaintiff in the lawsuit was a school groundskeeper. Monsanto faces more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the United States. (CNBC)
Heat: It now kills more Americans than floods, hurricanes, or other natural disasters, “but cities are facing it almost entirely alone.” Last year a record 155 people died in Phoenix from excess heat. A new study “predicts that a warming climate will drive thousands to emergency rooms for heat illness.” (Guardian) The Guardian posted this map showing cities that need cooling or heating or neither or both. It’s interactive, so you can put in your own city and see what the average highs and lows are. More interesting are the maps showing how the continents are expected to heat up as the years go on. (Guardian)
Fracking: A study from Duke University found that “from 2011 to 2016 the water use per [water] well increased up to 770%” - primarily due to fracking. That means we are losing potable water forever in many regions of the country, while also producing more carbon pollution. In addition to using potable water, the toxic wastewater produced in the first year of fracking production jumped up to 1440%. (Science Advances)
TransCanada Pipeline: A recently-installed TransCanada natural gas pipeline exploded last week in the remote Nixon Ridge area of Marshall County in West Virginia. (WPXI)
Tax Havens: According to a study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, 70% of vessels involved in illegal fishing were registered in tax havens. The researchers also found that 68% of the foreign capital transferred to sectors involved in the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon was moved through tax havens. “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyze how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”
CEO Pay: An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that CEOs of the U.S.’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average. The increase over last year came after CEOs got an average pay raise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of $18.9 million in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, increasing just 0.3% over the year. The pay gap has been increasing steadily since the 1990s. In 1965 the ratio of CEO to worker pay was 20 to 1 (20:1). By 1989 it was 58:1. In 2000 it was 344:1. It has dropped somewhat since, with a ratio of 312:1 in 2017. “Higher CEO pay does not reflect correspondingly higher output or better firm performance. Exorbitant CEO pay therefore means that the fruits of economic growth are not going to ordinary workers. The growth of CEO and executive compensation overall was a major factor driving the doubling of the income shares of the top 1% and top 0.1% of U.S. households from 1979 to 2007. Since then, income growth has remained unbalanced. Profits and stock market prices have reached record highs while the wages of most workers have continued to stagnate.” CEO pay is growing even faster than corporate profits.
Disclosure Regulation: Trump is asking the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to change the requirement that publicly-traded companies file quarterly reports, “disclosing extensive details about their operations, including profit and revenue.” Trump wants the requirement changed to reporting every 6 months because “some chief executives have complained that these type of requirements lead them to focus on short-term profits rather than the long-term health of their companies.” (Washington Post) Hog wash.