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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 9/15/2018

Losing the Afghan War:  17 years at war. More than 2,200 Americans dead. More than $840 billion expended - more (in current dollars) than the Marshall Plan which rebuilt Europe after World War II. And what do we have to show for it? Not much, but the investments have created “intense pressure for Americans to show the Taliban are losing and the country is improving.” According to an in-depth report by the NY Times, this isn’t true. “Since 2017 the Taliban have held more Afghan territory than at any time since the American invasion.” Just look at the map. The U.S. Government says the Taliban only controls or contests 44% of districts. But military analysts say the Taliban controls 61%. In just 1 week last month, “insurgents” killed 200 Afghan police officers and soldiers, overrunning 2 major Afghan bases and the city of Ghazni. “The Taliban have seized several districts across the country in recent years and carry out near-daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces. (Al Jazeera) The misinformation from the government continues when it estimates there are 314,000 Afghan forces but Afghan officials estimate only 207,000. And, of course, the estimation of Taliban forces is just as much off base. The report also notes that U.S. officials claim that we have improved Afghan living standards, although this is also exaggerated. Maternal mortality, “one of the most important indicators of a society’s health,” has gone unchanged as has life expectancy. This report is quite extensive. If you’re not interested in reading it, remember this. We have accomplished nothing except killing Americans - and an uncounted number of Afghanis - and spending a boatload of money. I don’t know what makes U.S. war mongers think that we will be any more successful in Afghanistan than were the British (see First Anglo-Afghan War) or the Soviets (see Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan). 

 

Paul Manafort:  Manafort pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. “Prosecutors in the case dropped 5 of 7 charges” pending against him. The charges to which he pleaded guilty are 1 count of conspiracy against the United States “involving money laundering, tax fraud, failing to file Foreign Bank Account reports, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and lying and misrepresenting to the Department of Justice.” The second count, conspiracy to obstruct justice, “is tied to his efforts to guide witness testimony after he was indicted last year.” (TWW, Paul Manafort, 6/16/18) (NBC) Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who blogs at emptywheel, believes that all the secrecy when this information first came out was because Mueller made “silence” part of the deal. No one outside of the deal knew that it included cooperation until Manafort had already pleaded. “And at this point, the deal is pardon proof. That was part of keeping the details secret: to prevent a last minute pardon from Trump undercutting it.” [Emphasis added.] Wheeler goes on to state that Manafort has probably already testified and some of the dismissed charges are financial ones “that can be charged in various states.” She sums it up: Mueller has “sewed up the key witness to implicate the President.” Also, as part of the deal the government will seize 4 of Manafort’s homes as well as the money in a number of his bank accounts. (NY Times) According to estimates, the value of the properties, a life insurance policy, and 3 bank accounts may be worth as much as $42 million. (Washington Post) It looks like Manafort’s agreement will pay for the cost of Mueller’s investigation.

 

New Poll:  A new CNN poll conducted by SSRS found that Trump’s approval rating has fallen 6 points in the last month “and stands at a new low among political independents.” Overall, just 36% approve of the way Trump is handling his job, down from 42% in August. Among independents, the drop has been sharper, from 47% approval last month to 31% in this poll.

 

George Papadopoulos:  Trump’s former adviser made public comments after being sentenced to 14 days incarceration. (TWW, George Papadopoulos, 9/8/18) He said that many members of Trump’s campaign team were “fully aware” and in many cases supportive of his efforts to broker a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said: “The campaign was fully aware of what I was doing.” (ABC)

 

Afghanistan:  National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC) with sanctions “if it pursued an investigation of American troops in Afghanistan.” Bolton called the ICC an “illegitimate court.” He said: “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists in an ICC investigation of Americans.” (NY Times) I wonder what he’s afraid they’re going to find. Evidence of war crimes, maybe?

 

Italy:  Matteo Salvini, the interior minister, met with Steve Bannon (TWW, Bad Boys of Brexit, 6/30/18) and “joined the anti-European establishment group, the Movement, founded by Bannon. The group is fighting against people like Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron. (Guardian)

 

Palestine:  Trump is going to close the Palestinians’ office in Washington, D.C., saying they’ve failed to make peace with Israel.” (Washington Post)

 

Sweden:  An election last weekend resulted in an increase in a nationalist surge, “as one of Europe’s most liberal nations turned right amid fears over immigration.” This Reuters piece also summarized what I’ve been pointing out bit-by-bit: “Far-right parties have made spectacular gains throughout Europe in recent years as anxieties grow over national identity and the effects of globalization and immigration following armed conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.” [Emphasis added.] In Sweden there have been 163,000 asylum seekers since 2015, “the most in Europe in relation to the country’s population of 10 million.” It has “polarized voters and fractured the long-standing political consensus.”

 

Venezuela:  According to CNN, U.S. officials “met secretly with Venezuelan military officers who were plotting a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.” They met “several times” over the last year, “but Washington ultimately decided against supporting the coup.” Decided? Who decided? And should this come up anyway? Reminds me of the support we gave Pinochet’s coup in Chile. (Wikipedia) If you want more info on that, watch the movie Missing.

 

New York:  While everyone had their eyes on the governor’s and attorney general’s race, a very important thing was happening. A group of Democratic state senators, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), has, for years, been caucusing with Republicans, “giving the GOP a constructive majority in a Democratic legislature.” All 8 members disbanded the IDC last April “in a move that’s been interpreted as an attempt to mitigate criticism ahead of primary challenges.” (The Intercept) It didn’t work. In Thursday’s primary voters ousted 6 of the 8 turncoats. (Vox) Let me point out that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) supported the IDC.

 

North Carolina:  Faced with the science by its own Coastal Resources Commission that sea levels could rise by 39 inches over the next century, North Carolina lawmakers jumped on it. Yeah. They passed a law that bans policies based on such forecasts. (Guardian) So no city, county, municipality can use this information to set policy - like limiting or abandoning development in coastal regions. Wanna put money on who pushed for this?

 

From FEMA to ICE:  Last month Trump transfered almost $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pay for immigration detention centers. (CBS) Just in time for the hurricane season. A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that just 4 disasters in 2017 created “unprecedented demand for federal disaster help.” But Trump saw fit to cut the funding.

 

More for ICE:  Tal Kopan, writing at CNN, called the $10 million transfer to ICE a “drop in the bucket.” This summer Trump “quietly redirected” $200 million from all over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ICE, “despite repeated congressional warnings of ICE’s ‘lack of fiscal discipline’ and ‘unsustainable’ spending.” I guess it’s still not enough since ICE has requested an additional $1 billion dollars in its next budget “to meet Trump’s aggressive deportation goals.” (Washington Post)

 

Farm Bill:  Negotiations over this spending bill are falling apart. The stalemate centers on the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The House version ramps up work requirements on SNAP recipients. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this will bounce about 1.2 million people off the program but the think tank Mathematica put the number at 2 million. The House also has a section which forbids states and other political subdivisions from imposing restrictions on pesticides. They also want to remove the law that bars farmers with more than $900,000 in income ($1.8 million for couples) from receiving crop subsidies. And there are other details with which the Senate does not agree. (Mother Jones)

 

Deportation:  It costs money, you know. So Trump sent a notice to Congress that he intends to take $20 million out of the appropriation for foreign assistance and send it to Mexico for them to help pay for us to deport 17,000 people. (NY Times)

 

Brett Kavanaugh:  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has a document related to Kavanaugh. She has refused to let other Democrats on the committee see it. The document is reportedly a letter from a California constituent. Different sources have provided different accounts of the contents of the letter, but “one consistent theme” is that it describes “an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school.” (The Intercept) According to the New Yorker magazine, “The complaint came from a woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were both in high school, more than 30 years ago.” Feinstein said the writer “strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward, or press the matter further.” So, Feinstein has turned it over to the FBI. (Washington Post) And the Democratic Coalition, “a controversial PAC, filed a perjury complaint against Kavanaugh with the Justice Department. It will also be filed in the U.S. District Court for the D.C. circuit and, with that, guess who’ll review it. Merrick Garland. (Mediaite) Poetic justice? You can read it at The Dworkin Report.

 

Children in Detention:  An investigative report from ProPublica found that at least 99 children who have been separated from their families and held in a Chicago detention facility are dealing with the long-term consequences of the separation. The children were all forcibly removed from their parents, suffering emotional crises and in some cases wanting to die. Heartland Human Care Services, which runs 9 different facilities in the Chicago area, claims that the children have suffered “incalculable harm” as a result of Trump’s zero-tolerance police. (TWW, Migrant Children, 9/8/18; Reunifying Families, 7/28/18; Immigration, 6/30/18; Immigrant Children, 6/23/18) Many children still have not been returned to their parents, despite a judge’s order. (TWW, Separation Policy, 6/23/18) The records show that some of these children have been held for well over a year. According to data obtained by the NY Times, “the overall number of migrant children under detention has exploded to the highest ever recorded - a significant counternarrative to the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the number of undocumented families coming to the United States.” The total this month is 12,800. There were 2,400 in May 2017. [Thus, the need for taking $10 million from FEMA as noted above.]

 

Asylum Seekers:  An agreement has been reached between asylum seekers and the government. About 1,000 seekers whose claims for asylum were rejected, “under traumatic circumstances of family separation,” will get a second chance. “While the government did not agree to return parents already removed from the country, it said it would consider ‘individual cases in which plaintiffs’ counsel believes the return of a particular removed’ class member ‘may be warranted.’” The agreement still needs to be approved by the court. (Washington Post)

 

Refugees:  Arrests of families seeking asylum in the U.S. rose 38% in August. They are being arrested for illegally entering the U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested nearly 13,000 members of “family units,” the highest August total ever recorded. (Washington Post)

 

Protecting Students:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lost her lawsuit brought by 19 states and the District of Columbia which accused the department “of wrongfully delaying” implementation of the Borrower Defense regulations, drafted under Obama, “meant to protect students who took out loans to attend college from predatory practices.” (TWW, Education, 7/28/18; Student Debt, 11/18/17) U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss wrote in his decision that the Education Department’s postponement was “procedurally improper” and denied students “of several concrete benefits that they would have otherwise accrued.” (Bloomberg)

 

Indian Country:  Tara Sweeney, the recently-installed Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs, issued a decision “that paves the way for a reservation to be taken out of trust for the first time since the termination era.” The homelands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe “are now on the chopping block.” Senators Ed Markey (D, MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) have introduced legislation that would bar the government from taking any lands out of trust. (IndianZ.com)

 

Palestinian Rights:  Kenneth Marcus, the new head of civil rights at the Education Department “has reopened a 7-year-old case brought by a Zionist group against Rutgers University, saying the Obama administration, in closing the case, ignored evidence that suggested the school allowed a hostile environment for Jewish students.” Marcus, a long-time opponent of Palestinian rights, is making a significant shift in civil rights enforcement and is injecting federal authority over events on university campuses. He has also redefined Judaism as ethnicity. (NY Times) Put this in perspective. Trump has moved our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (TWW, Israel, 5/19/18), moved to cut off aid to the Palestinian authority (TWW, Palestinians, 9/1/18), and closed the Palestinian office in Washington (see Palestine above).

 

ACA:  The latest attempt by 20 GOP-led states to dispose of the Affordable Care Act was heard this week. If you remember, Trump’s Justice Department was refusing to defend the ACA in this lawsuit. (TWW, ACA, 6/16/18) “At issue are core principles of the law, including protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions and limits on how much older customers can be charged.” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor made no ruling following the 4-hour hearing. (Washington Post)

 

OxyContin:  Richard Sacklar’s family-owned company Purdue Pharma created the highly addictive opiate. Now the company has been granted a patent for a new drug designed to help wean people off their addition to the drug. (Daily BeastMake money getting them addicted then make money getting them off the stuff.

 

Methane:  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), working tirelessly to destroy the air we breathe, is proposing weakening another Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks. Oh, yeah, and the Interior Department is going to release the final version of its new rule that “repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and ‘flaring,’ or burning, of methane from drilling operations.” (NY Times)

 

Pipeline Explosion:  A natural gas pipeline in Beaver County, Pennsylvania exploded causing a large fire and prompting the evacuation of dozens of homes. The 24-inch pipeline owned by Energy Transfer Partners and its subsidiary Sunoco was buried 3 feet deep and just put into use on September 3rd. (EcoWatch) Energy Transfer Partners (TWW, Energy Transfer Partners, 11/5/16) is the owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline (TWW, Dakota Access, 6/3/17), the Bakken Pipeline (TWW, Bakken Pipeline, 4/9/16), the Rover Pipeline (TWW, Rover Pipeline, 8/26/17; 4/22/17), and the Mariner East 2 Pipeline (TWW, Pennsylvania, 5/6/17). Waterkeeper Alliance and Greenpeace documented more than 500 spills and millions of dollars in fines and property damage by Energy Transfer Partners. Check out the map of these incidents.

 

Harley-Davidson:  Despite Trump’s calling for a boycott of Harleys (TWW, Harley-Davidson, 6/30/18), the Secret Service is still buying them. (Roll Call)

 

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