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Trump looks to boost offshore drilling in protected waters with new executive order

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 6:06pm
As with many of Trump’s orders, it is expected to trigger lawsuits.President Donald Trump signs an executive order in March. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stands behind him. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

During his campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to open federal waters to more offshore drilling on “day one.”

But because nobody knew how complicated setting policy can be, that move is coming on day 99 of the Trump presidency. On Friday, Trump will issue an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to review U.S. policies on offshore drilling, including an Obama-era move to block the entire Eastern Seaboard from offshore drilling.

“President Trump will continue on the success of his first 100 days in office and sign the America First Offshore Energy Executive Order,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters during a Thursday evening press briefing. “This order will cement our nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security for the benefit of American people without removing any of the stringent environmental safeguards that are currently in place.”

The order also directs the Secretary of Commerce to review maritime monuments and sanctuaries designated under the Antiquities Act in the last 10 years, which will include a portion of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlantic, not including the Gulf of Mexico, was left out of the most recent five-year leasing plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). An early draft of the 2017–2022 plan had proposed offering oil leases in an area off the Southeastern states. That proposal launched a massive grassroots opposition movement.

BOEM eventually concluded that the Atlantic should not be included in the plan, in part because of local opposition, but also because the Department of Defense has opposed oil development off the Eastern Seaboard.

Obama designates first-ever Atlantic Ocean marine monument

During the last years of the Obama administration, more than 100 towns and municipalities along the Atlantic coast — including the entire coastline of South Carolina — passed local resolutions against oil drilling or seismic testing, a pre-drilling activity that uses massive sonic blasts to test the composition of the ground beneath the ocean floor. Seismic testing has itself been a sensitive issue in the region, since it can disturb the fishing and wildlife that are critical to tourism and commercial fishing interests.

Zinke avoided saying whether the administration would definitely pursue Atlantic offshore drilling on Thursday, but he was more forthright about testing. “Seismic? No doubt,” Zinke told reporters.

But in the seven years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, the local appetite for risk has not increased.

“The opposition to drilling off the Atlantic Coast has just gotten stronger over the past year,” Frank Knapp, founder of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, told ThinkProgress. Knapp’s group, which just added the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, represents 41,000 businesses, mostly from New Jersey to Florida, as well as 500,000 fishing families that depend on the Atlantic for their livelihoods.

A protester outside the White House in 2016 calls for a ban on offshore drilling. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Knapp and his group talk not only about the risks of drilling, but also the reality of drilling. The Eastern Seaboard is remarkably lovely. Oil infrastructure is industrial.

“Where on the Atlantic Coast are we going to have industrialized areas? What community is going to volunteer for this?” Knapp asked. “Where along the South Carolina coast are you going to industrialize and push out the tourism?”

Just this week, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced a bill to ban seismic testing in the Atlantic, which would put a damper on any development. On the other side of the Capitol, a group of 27 senators — all Democrats — wrote a letter to Zinke on Thursday, opposing opening new areas for offshore drilling. They also introduced a bill that would prohibit the administration from reviewing the current five-year plan.

While that move is unlikely to gain traction, opposition to offshore drilling has a remarkable amount of bipartisanship, advocates say.

“We’ve seen so many coastal, Republican members of Congress look to their beach communities,” Oceana’s Nancy Pyne told ThinkProgress. Knapp’s business group, too, is not politically aligned.

The day before Trump’s offshore drilling order, lawmakers step up to protect their communities

As with many of Trump’s executive orders, it is hard to say what policy may actually come out of Friday’s announcement. It takes years to develop a five-year plan.

The administration will be wasting no time, though, in touting its oil industry-friendly approach. On Monday, Zinke will appear in Houston as “a featured speaker at the Offshore Technology Conference,” discussing “President Trump’s strategy for achieving energy independence, bringing jobs back to communities across the country, and working more effectively with industry to expand oil and gas development in federal waters.”

Trump looks to boost offshore drilling in protected waters with new executive order was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump picked an unfortunate day to tout how ethical his administration has been

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 2:08pm
Trump’s “100 Days of Accountability” release would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

As part of an ongoing effort to put a positive spin on President Donald Trump’s unfortunate first 100 days in office, the Trump administration on Thursday blasted out a press release touting “President Trump’s 100 Days of Accountability.”

The release ticks off a number of things Trump claims to have done to follow through on his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” — a promise he was undermining just two days after the election by stocking his transition team with lobbyists.

Team Trump sent out this email on the same day news broke that Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general for taking money from foreign governments without permission — even after he had been specifically warned not to.

When the topic came up during Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s press briefing, Spicer blamed President Obama for giving Flynn a security clearance — even though Obama fired Flynn from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

But it would be hard to blame Obama for the Trump administration’s tidal wave of other ethical slips and relaxed ethics rules.

For one thing, the Trump administration’s boast about the “tough new lobbying standards for political appointees” they’ve implemented is absurd. Less than two weeks ago, the New York Times and ProPublica reported that Trump “is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.”

“In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules,” the report continues. “But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.”

In late January, Politico reported that Trump’s “much-hyped ban on administration officials becoming lobbyists removed some of [Obama’s] ethics rules instead of strengthening them.” One way in which Trump weakened the rules is by giving the White House the ability to issue ethics waivers without disclosing them, as was the policy during the Obama administration. The webpage where the Obama administration posted them now looks like this:

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It also omitted an Obama rule directing OGE to publicly report ethics pledge waivers. The WH website says it will post those. That page rn:

 — @lachlan

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ProPublica criticized the Trump administration’s release in a tweetstorm, citing the secret waivers and the fact that at least three Trump transition/administration employees — including Flynn — simply never signed the ethics pledge that was supposed to prevent them from lobbying.

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@WhiteHouse 2/ Tough talk on lobbying, but the admin's issuing secret wavers for lobbyists to work on issues they'd prev lobbied https://t.co/UNld70yR43

 — @ProPublica

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@WhiteHouse 6/ In the press release, Trump brags about this ethics pledge - too bad not everyone has to sign it!

 — @ProPublica

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In another blow to transparency, the Trump administration recently announced it is breaking both with Obama administration policy and with Trump’s campaign rhetoric and keeping White House visitor logs secret. That policy will allow Trump to meet with lobbyists and donors without the public ever knowing about it.

Meanwhile, Trump steadfastly refuses to release his tax returns, despite repeatedly promising to do so during his campaign. His refusal has come under new scrutiny this week, as he’s pushing a vague tax reform proposal that would save people as rich as he claims to be millions of dollars each year.

Mnuchin can’t promise Trump’s ‘middle-income tax cut’ won’t raise taxes on middle class people

But perhaps Trump’s stickiest ethical entanglement stems from his unprecedented refusal to divest from his business.

Ethics experts broadly agree that the conflicts of interest created by Trump’s business interests — including his ongoing ownership of the Trump International Hotel just blocks from the White House — mean he’s violating the Constitution by accepting gifts from foreign governments. Trump has already been sued by a government watchdog group for that reason.

Tthe State Department has used its webpages and social media platforms to promote Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club. Membership there doubled to $200,000 days after the inauguration. Trump has visited a Trump-branded property each of the last 12 weekends, at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, despite having no qualifications, Trump’s daughter and son-and-law — Ivanka Trump and Jared Kusher — both serve in senior White House roles. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that a major business partner of Kushner’s comes from a wealthy Israeli family whose patriarch is “under scrutiny by law enforcement authorities in four countries” for alleged bribes and money laundering.

“Dealings with the Steinmetz family could create complications for Mr. Kushner,” the Times reported. “The Justice Department, led by Trump appointees, oversees the investigation into Beny Steinmetz. Even as Mr. Kushner’s company maintains extensive business ties to Israel, as a top White House adviser, he has been charged with leading American efforts to broker peace in the Middle East as part of his broad global portfolio.”

Last but certainly not least, Trump’s campaign is currently the subject of numerous investigations — including one being conducted by the FBI — for its shady dealings with Russia. Numerous members of Trump’s inner circle — including Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — were caught lying about their communications with Russian officials. Trump repeatedly blasted the intelligence community after it went public with its conclusion that Russian officials meddled in the presidential on Trump’s behalf, and has blatantly contradicted himself in public statements about whether he has a relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Trump gets caught in lie about his relationship with Putin

Trump’s “100 Days of Accountability” release comes two days after his administration blasted out one about his accomplishments that was riddled with errors.

Trump picked an unfortunate day to tout how ethical his administration has been was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Homeland Security is not happy with your calls about space aliens

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 1:55pm
They don’t want to know about your crop circles.Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the opening of a hotline meant for victims of crimes committed by “criminal aliens,” a term used by the agency to describe criminal immigrants.

The phone banks began lighting up almost immediately. But to the great dismay of DHS officials, it appears many callers took the agency’s words at face value, and are making use of the hotline to report encounters with criminal aliens…of the extraterrestrial variety.

Critics of the newly minted Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office argue that the real purpose of the hotline is to disparage immigrants, not offer any meaningful assistance for victims. In addition to the hotline, VOICE is also tasked with publicly tracking and highlighting crimes committed by both legal and undocumented immigrants. Immigrant advocates are concerned administration officials are using the office to elevate the perception of immigrants as criminals, an impression rooted in President Donald Trump’s own rhetoric equating immigrants with criminals, terrorists, and few good people.

Trump creates office that allows victims of crimes to blame immigrants

In response, the internet came together to instead use the hotline to report close encounters of the third kind. Some people said they were met with wait times of up to 20 minutes before they were able to get through to an operator.

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update on the new @dhsgov VOICE immigration crime victims hotline: The wait time is 20 minutes.

 — @ALT_uscis

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Alexander McCoy, a Marine Corps veteran, told BuzzFeed News that he was inspired to tell people on Twitter to report that they were victimized by space aliens in part because he felt the Trump administration was using the office as a “racist propaganda tool” and there’s no real way of knowing if a perpetrator is an immigrant at the time the victim gets hurt.

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VOICE exists ONLY to collect anecdotes for Trump and his allies to demonize and de-humanize out immigrant neighbors and families.

 — @AlexanderMcCoy4

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VOICE isn't about victims, it's information warfare against the American people, who I served in uniform to defend. #VetsVsHate

 — @AlexanderMcCoy4

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Even though it appears pranksters have succeeded at overwhelming the system within 24 hours, DHS says it will keep the hotline up and running. For now.

“The VOICE line remains in operation,” ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox told ThinkProgress. “As yesterday was its first day I can’t give you any sense of whether this group had any impact at all on wait times or call volume because there’s no prior data to compare.”

In a fiery response to a ThinkProgress inquiry, an ICE official pointed out that the VOICE office gives public information about criminal immigrants to victims, regardless of immigration status. The official also said that it was “absurd” and “shameful” that the creation of the VOICE can be considered racist, as immigrant advocates and others have alluded to. And the official condemned pranksters of “openly obstructing and mocking victims” that could “harm victims.”

Homeland Security is not happy with your calls about space aliens was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Facebook releases plan to halt government manipulation of the platform

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 1:04pm
The social network is working around the clock to stop the spread of misinformation and manipulation of public discussions.Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at his company’s annual F8 developer conference, April 18, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. CREDIT: AP Photo/Noah Berger

Facebook is taking a hard stance against the weaponized use of fake news.

In a security report the social network released Thursday, the company named “information operations” or strategic actions governments and individuals use to distort public opinion as one of the platforms biggest challenges.

Unlike clicks-for-pay scams and hacks, information operations, which can amplify false news through fake accounts, are complex and not easily deterred. But Facebook said it will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to better identify and eliminate fake accounts that amplify false stories for political influence.

The 2016 presidential election, which saw multiple controversies around fake news and politically motivated hacks, was the impetus for the cybersecurity report and revealed evidence that larger disinformation campaigns were in play.

“During the 2016 U.S. presidential election season, we responded to several situations that we assessed to fit the pattern of information operations,” the report states. “We have no evidence of any Facebook accounts being compromised as part of this activity, but, nonetheless, we detected and monitored these efforts in order to protect the authentic connections that define our platform.”

Facebook didn’t say which state actors were linked with the information operations during the election, but said its “data does not contradict” the U.S. Director of National Intelligence report issued in January. The DNI named Russian President Vladimir Putin as behind the influence campaign targeting the election.

Facebook’s report follows its suspending more than 30,000 accounts earlier this month ahead of the first round of voting in France’s presidential election, and months of scrutiny and criticism of the company’s slow response to the fake news phenomenon.

Since the U.S. election’s conclusion, Facebook has released several initiatives and tools aimed at helping users identify reputable news stories and sources, but has called information operations “insidious” because it “ obscures and impairs” people’s ability to have genuine conversations.

Ultimately, the report concluded that while Facebook will do everything it can to stop information operations, it’s up to society as a whole to protect itself from falsehoods online.

“In the end, societies will only be able to resist external information operations if all citizens have the necessary media literacy to distinguish true news from misinformation,” amplified through leaked or stolen data and fake news, Facebook wrote.

Facebook releases plan to halt government manipulation of the platform was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

LGBT Republicans defend Trump’s first 100 days with delusions

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 1:01pm
LGBT people defending the GOP are not the same as Republicans defending LGBT equality.At an October campaign event, then-candidate Trump held up a vandalized upside-down pride flag he had been handed indicating “LGBTs for Trump.” CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

As President Trump closes out his first 100 days in office, his presidency thus far is serving as a litmus test for LGBT Republicans. Their perspectives provide the clearest indication yet that they are Republicans first, LGBT second.

It’s actually an age-old conundrum for the individuals who have one foot in both camps. Are they advocates for the LGBT community who nevertheless happen to otherwise identify as a Republican? Or are they advocates for the Republican Party who happen to identify as LGBT? Because the GOP has staunchly opposed LGBT equality in just about every form, how a person reconciles those dueling identities is vital in determining whether or not they should be trusted as partners in advocating for LGBT equality.

The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) aren’t leaving room for doubt. Though the group didn’t endorse Trump in the election, it regularly advocated for his election. And now, 100 days in, they’re as enamored as ever.

Speaking to the Washington Blade, LCR president Gregory T. Angelo shrugged off the so-called “non-troversies” about anti-LGBT actions the Trump administration has taken, calling them “fundraising ploys to rile up dejected LGBT liberals still reeling from Hillary Clinton’s loss.”

When asked to grade Trump’s first 100 days, Angelo gave Trump an A-. All of the other LGBT organizations the Blade spoke to gave him an F.

CREDIT: The Washington Blade

In a New York Times op-ed Thursday, Angelo also insisted, “Trump isn’t anti-LGBT.” His brief explanation why includes a fairly short list of things Trump either hasn’t changed from the status quo or hasn’t done yet.

Angelo’s comments to the Blade and Times this week follow his recent profile on WNYC’s new queer-themed podcast Nancy. In those interviews, he boasts that LCR has the ear of the Trump administration and stands to be a bigger influence than the other LGBT groups that don’t want to work with the administration at all.

When BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden called Angelo to ask about whether LCR had expressed concern when the Trump administration rescinded the federal guidance protecting transgender students, all Angelo could offer was, “We’ve certainly expressed our opposition to it.” He claimed “there wasn’t sufficient time that we had to push back on this that would’ve been effective,” even though Vice President Mike Pence promised the guidance would go away way back in October — before the election even took place. “We have communicated with the administration and let them know that we are disappointed in this decision to rescind the guidance. I don’t know what else we can do at this point.”

In a follow-up interview, Angelo said he was still optimistic that the Trump administration could rectify the situation or take other pro-LGBT actions, explaining that his job as head of LCR depends upon that optimism.

That optimism is shared by Caitlyn Jenner, who has been doing numerous prominent interviews to promote her new book. In just about every interview, she has been asked whether she stands by her vocal support of Trump and the Republican Party, and she has constantly equivocated — avoiding any responsibility for her support while continuing to defend his administration.

Transgender Republicans say Trump seriously failed his first LGBT litmus test

“My loyalties do not lie with Donald Trump; my loyalties do not lie with the Republican Party,” she told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Monday. “My loyalties and what I’m fighting for is my community, the LGBT community, and particularly the trans issues that are out there.” Though she thought Trump would be “pretty good,” she said that he has “disappointed” her on those issues.

The following night, she told CNN’s Don Lemon that Trump has “made some mistakes” on LGBT issues — or “LBGT” as she said several times. “I don’t support him in everything that he does,” Jenner said, “but we needed to shake the system up.” Her suggestion about what to do with Trump’s anti-LGBT actions is just to “watch him very closely.”

https://medium.com/media/0ec3ce524585da7b378d8049bf0e3393/href

In addition to praising Trump or glossing over his words and actions, some gay Republicans are simply trying to divert attention away from him, like Charles T. Moran and Matthew Craffey, past and present chairmen of the California Log Cabin Republicans. In an op-ed published Thursday in The Advocate, Moran and Craffey complained that the Los Angeles Pride Parade — like Pride celebrations in many other cities like New York City and Washington, D.C. — has been repurposed as a civil rights march in response to the Trump administration.

Describing the plan as a “short-sighted and politically fueled tirade,” Moran and Craffey insist that it will do “little to celebrate and inform.” They believe the call to “#resist” will only serve to “#divide” the community (i.e. they’ll feel ostracized because they aren’t willing to oppose Trump to support LGBT equality).

Instead of making the parade political, their preferred diversion is to focus on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Unsurprisingly, they use that anniversary to sound the familiar dogwhistle of homonationalist Islamophobia, the idea Trump campaigned on that the LGBT community should rally with him against radical Islamic terrorism.

Somehow, Moran and Craffey believe that marching for equality “does nothing to keep us safe from terrorists who hate us” and “does nothing to memorialize the lives lost in Orlando.” They accuse the organizers of L.A. Pride of not being willing to “stand up to recognize the victims who gave their lives at the hands of a terrorist on that hallowed day.”

Besides the fact that advocating for equality and inclusion is exactly what is necessary to avoid future hate-fueled attacks on the LGBT community, Moran and Craffey seem to forget — in their zeal to avoid partisan divisions — that the roots of LGBT pride celebrations are entirely political. The first Pride, originally known as Christopher Street Liberation Day, was held in June of 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots the year before. Though they object to a #Resist-themed Pride, the Village Voice called the original Pride “the out-front resistance that grew out of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn one year ago.” It was a march for visibility and a march for advocacy.

To suggest that Pride should not be political is to erase the very history of LGBT civil rights. But this erasure is exactly what LGBT Republicans are looking for. They want to distract from the litany of anti-LGBT actions the Trump administration has taken, including:

These are in addition to the many ways LGBT people will be negatively affected by other Trump actions, such as the Muslim ban (there are LGBT Muslims), the global gag rule (which impacts clinics that provide HIV services and LGBT-affirming treatment), and the crackdown on immigration (there are LGBT immigrants, and trans immigrants in particular are notoriously mistreated in detention facilities).

The only credit Trump can be given on LGBT issues, as Angelo subtly admitted in his op-ed, is for the anti-LGBT actions he has not taken (yet). And though that measure is hardly laudable, groups like the Log Cabin Republicans seem to nevertheless want credit for it, even though they have no receipts they can show demonstrating that they have actually had any impact whatsoever.

What seems more likely is that LGBT Republicans appreciate that the GOP controls both the White House and Congress and they just want to be seen as relevant and influential. They might even believe they can be, despite the fact even LCR described the 2016 Republican platform as the “most anti-LGBT… in the Party’s 162-year history.”

At best, however, all they’ve really managed to do is remind the world that they exist while propping up those eager to discriminate against them.

LGBT Republicans defend Trump’s first 100 days with delusions was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Opposition to Trumpcare 2.0 swells

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 12:25pm
The American Medical Association said it opposes the Republican health care bill.House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 17, 2016. CREDIT: AP/Andrew Harnik

The opposition to Trumpcare is growing. The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, and Catholic Health Association were the latest groups to voice their opposition to the bill on Thursday.

GOP senators, moderate House Republicans, and Democrats are also either critical of or totally oppose the latest version of Trumpcare. With the proposed addition of an amendment championed by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), and thus named the MacArthur amendment, Republican leaders won the support of far-right conservatives in the Freedom Caucus but may have lost the support of moderate Republicans. The amendment, which was announced on Tuesday, would essentially eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

MacArthur is a co-chair of the Tuesday Group, a 50-member moderate Republican group, but did not negotiate with the group’s blessing, Politico reported. Some moderate Republicans oppose the rollback of the Medicaid expansion and said the bill doesn’t address the concerns they have about how it could affect their constituents.

Rep. Leonard Lance told Politico, “I ran in support of a plan that lowers premiums, increases access and lowers health care costs across the board… Until I see a Congressional Budget Office score that says the revised bill achieves those goals I remain a ‘no’ vote.”

Trumpcare just became even more cruel

House Democrats are so opposed to the bill that they are threatening to vote against a short-term spending bill if Republicans schedule a vote for the health care bill this week. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement to reporters, “If Republicans announce their intention to bring their harmful TrumpCare bill to the House Floor tomorrow or Saturday, I will oppose a one-week Continuing Resolution and will advise House Democrats to oppose it as well,”

Some GOP senators are still opposed to Trumpcare or continue to have questions about whether it is passable at all. Several influential health care groups also expressed opposition to the bill on Thursday.

The American Medical Association (AMA) said it is “deeply concerned” that millions of Americans would lose their current health insurance coverage and said nothing in the MacArthur amendment would “remedy the shortcomings of the underlying bill.” The AMA added that it did not believe the high-risk pool mechanism would be sufficient to provide people affordable health insurance or prevent discrimination.

The American Hospital Association said the amendment proposed this week would “dramatically worsen the bill” and said the bill would “put health coverage in jeopardy” for many Americans, especially for older and sicker patients.

Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association released a statement saying that the bill is a “giant step backward” and added that the recent amendments, “intended to make it more palatable to those who did not support it initially, are even more disastrous for people who may have just gotten health care.”

Opposition to Trumpcare 2.0 swells was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump administration blames Obama for Trump hiring Michael Flynn

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 11:58am
What?White House press secretary Sean Spicer, wearing an Easter bunny tie, talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, April 17, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The Trump White House is now blaming former President Obama for embattled former National Security Adviser’s Michael Flynn’s place in the Trump administration.

“My only point is that when General Flynn came into the White House he had an active security clearance issued during the Obama administration with all of the information that’s being discussed that occurred in 2015,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during the Thursday press briefing. “So, I guess my only point is to explain how the process works and who adjudicated that.”

Flynn was fired from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, during the Obama administration.

According to a 2014 report, at that time, 5.1 million Americans had security clearances, a large percentage of which are carried out by independent contractors.

https://medium.com/media/3337abfb74817fb801af93ba1cadc61c/href

Flynn was one of Trump’s top advisers during the campaign. He had a short tenure as National Security Adviser before resigning following revelations that he had lied about back channel conversations he held with Russian officials before Trump’s inauguration.

Even after Flynn’s resignation, Trump referred to him as a “wonderful man” who “has been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”

Since then, revelations have showed that Flynn was also working on behalf of the Turkish government at the height of the Trump campaign, and had traveled to Moscow and accepted $30,000 from the Russian government without disclosing it on his security clearance forms.

Documents made public on Thursday showed that he had been warned in 2014 that taking such payments from foreign governments without getting advance permission would be illegal.

Flynn was warned against accepting foreign payments, but he did it anyway

He’s currently under investigation by the House Oversight Committee and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense.

The Trump administration has been bullishly supportive of Flynn and earlier this week, stonewalled Congressional requests for documents on his tenure.

During the press conversation on Thursday, reporters peppered White House Press Secretary over questions about the Trump administration’s vetting process — and the fact that Michael Flynn was placed in such an influential position given these violations.

Spicer responded by blaming the Obama Administration for issuing Flynn’s security clearance.

https://medium.com/media/4b6c2ca9fb8c8e56cca6d13f20f34f1c/href

“So the issue is, you know, he was issued a security clearance under the Obama Administration in the spring of 2016,” Spicer said. “So obviously there’s an issue the Department of Defense and Inspector General are looking into. All of that clearance was made during the Obama administration with the knowledge of the trip that he took. That’s how the process works.”

Spicer did not answer questions about the current administration’s vetting process for their employees, whether the Trump administration believed they had made mistakes in their own vetting process of Flynn, or why, according to his own defense, the Trump administration apparently did not vet Flynn beyond his existing clearance.

Trump administration blames Obama for Trump hiring Michael Flynn was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Like prevention, only not

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 11:27am
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Householder

The EPA is getting ready to implement a repeal-and-replace approach to lead prevention programs. That is a spectacularly bad idea.

ICYMI: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin can’t promise President Trump’s “middle-income tax cut” won’t raise taxes on the middle class.

CREDIT: Diana Ofosu

Trump says he’s stopping U.S. jobs from going abroad. But here’s the truth.

Reading List

Ivanka Trump’s new empowerment fund for women is a legal (and ethical) nightmare.

Tech workers are appalled by Trump’s first 100 days — so they’re joining the climate justice movement.

Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page really thinks he has it rough.

Soundbite

“Gorka is, how do you say in English — a peddler of snake oil.”

— A Hungarian official to BuzzFeed News, speaking about Donald Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka

Like prevention, only not was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

IRS raids offices of ‘prosperity gospel’ preacher Benny Hinn

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:40am
Hinn was also the subject of a 2007 Senate investigation.Benny Hinn in 2002. CREDIT: AP/Ronen Zilberman

IRS agents have been raiding the offices of famed televangelist and “prosperity gospel” preacher Benny Hinn for nearly two days, raising questions about whether a tax-evasion investigation is underway.

According to the Associated Press, anywhere from 40 to 50 federal agents descended on the offices of the popular televangelist on Wednesday morning in Grapevine, Texas, hauling boxes of evidence out of a building. As of Thursday morning, IRS officials and Postal Inspection Police were reportedly still continuing to work.

Agents at the scene would not detail the nature of the investigation, but told local ABC affiliate WFAA that their unit is tasked “primarily [with] investigating Title 26, which is tax evasion and general fraud against the government.”

Hinn was not present during the raid, as he is believed to be in Paris, France.

The pastor is widely known for his energetic preaching style and regular use of “faith healing,” an often dramatic spectacle where participants claim to be healed through touch. Hinn is also considered to be a preacher of “prosperity gospel” theology, a belief system that teaches devotees they can achieve personal, physical, and financial success through a combination of Christian faith and giving money to their church.

[An official] told local ABC affiliate WFAA that their unit is tasked “primarily [with] investigating Title 26, which is tax evasion and general fraud against the government.”

“[God] is the ultimate Giver!” Hinn declares on his website in a post declaring that God will forgive the debts of believers (the post itself is flanked by “donate” buttons). “And as we imitate Him with obedient giving, the potential of the harvest from our seed is truly limitless.”

Prosperity preachers like Hinn often accumulate vast fortunes over time, which has made them the subject of harsh criticism from both conservative and progressive Christians who say individual riches are antithetical to Christian teaching. According to an ABC News report, Hinn’s ministry rakes in an estimated $100 million annually as of 2009, primarily from donations.

The extravagant wealth of Hinn and others like him — which often includes huge estates and private jets purchased with money provided by congregants — has caught the eye of the federal government in the past. Hinn was one of six televangelists and prosperity gospel preachers who were subject to a Senate investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in 2007. The probe was halted three years later, however, with only two of the six ministries instituting financial reforms recommended by investigators — one of which was Benny Hinn Ministries.

Hinn was also the subject of a separate IRS investigation in 2005, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Prosperity preachers have become increasingly popular in recent years, with pastors such as Joel Osteen boasting some of the largest congregations in the country. “Health and wealth” pastors have also emerged as a political force in recent months: President Donald Trump surrounded himself with prosperity preachers throughout his campaign, and Trump himself helped Osteen launch his Sirius XM radio ministry in 2014.

Hinn was invited to join a delegation of pastors to meet with Trump during the 2016 campaign, but sent an emissary instead. The Daily Beast speculated that his absence may have had something to do with the presence of Paula White, another prosperity preacher and Trump’s closest spiritual adviser, who was accused of having an affair with Hinn in 2010 (he refuted such accusations).

An IRS spokesperson declined to comment for this story, as did a representative for Benny Hinn ministries.

IRS raids offices of ‘prosperity gospel’ preacher Benny Hinn was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The myth of ‘liberal’ ESPN

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:13am
To quote SportsCenter host Michael Smith, “‘Don’t hit women’ isn’t politics.”Former quarterbacks and ESPN announcers Trent Dilfer, left, and Steve Young work before an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. CREDIT: AP Photo/Wade Payne

Yesterday was a horrible day at ESPN, and for sports journalism as a whole.

The company reportedly laid off 100 of its reporters and analysts, and while names are still trickling out, the casualties of this cut include ESPN giants like NFL reporter Ed Werder; NFL analyst Trent Difler; espnW and NFL reporter Jane McManus; college basketball expert Andy Katz; and analyst and radio host Danny Kannell. The list goes on and on.

ESPN tried to dress up the cuts with corporate buzzwords, but ultimately, this was about the bottom line. ESPN’s business model is dependent upon people purchasing cable subscriptions, and thanks to Hulu and Netflix and the streaming culture in general, fewer people are doing that in today’s world.

But that didn’t stop extremely vocal factions of the internet for inventing their own reason for the cuts: ESPN has become too political. The liberals are ruining everything. The network is being punished for not sticking to sports.

I truly wish this went without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Reports of ESPN’s political agenda have been greatly exaggerated, and politics are absolutely not to blame for the cuts this week.

ESPN is not a political network. Its analysts do not spend hours debating the latest poll numbers, reporting on proposed legislation, or counting down to lawmakers’ town halls in their home districts.

ESPN covers sports. It just doesn’t pretend that those sports happen in a vacuum.

That means ESPN will cover stories like Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, a team of WNBA players wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts during warm-ups, and the domestic violence allegations against an potential NFL draftee.

Sports are an escape, yes, but they are also enriched and impacted by the real-life events happening around them. Covering these topics accurately and fairly when they directly intersect with the sports world isn’t politics, it’s journalism.

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If you see ESPN as culturally and politically far left, it says far more about your worldview than ESPN's https://t.co/55Lb2duI46

 — @patrick_hruby

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“The word ‘politics’ has become too all-encompassing,” SportsCenter host Jemele Hill said on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch in February. “Mike and I aren’t … breaking down the Affordable Care Act. That’s politics. Understanding somebody’s right to speak out against injustice, oppression, and police brutality, isn’t a political matter. It’s right or wrong.”

“‘Don’t hit women’ is not politics,” her co-host Michael Smith added.

“Sorry we don’t tolerate bigotry here. Why are you taking offense to us suggesting that African Americans — breaking news — have been treated differently and unfairly for the entirety of this country? That’s not a hot take.”

Of course, what Hill and Smith are touching on here is that when people complain about anything getting “too political,” it’s a safe bet the criticism is actually that it’s too liberal. And that usually implies it’s too diverse or too outspoken about inequality.

The president of the company has pushed back against this idea, too.

“The Walt Disney Company and ESPN are committed to diversity and inclusion,” ESPN President John Skipper said last year in response to similar accusations that the company had gotten too liberal. “We do not view this as a political stance but as a human stance. We do not think tolerance is the domain of a particular political philosophy.”

ESPN has gotten notably more diverse over the past few years. Nothing exemplifies the advancements made in that area more than Hill and Smith, a black woman and black man, who co-host the 6:00 p.m. ET SportsCenter.

“Understanding somebody’s right to speak out against injustice, oppression, and police brutality, isn’t a political matter. It’s right or wrong.”

But it’s still a company run by rich white men — not exactly the most liberal demographic. It still has many commentators on the air with conservative viewpoints, be it Outside the Lines host Bob Ley, host Sage Steele, or Will Cain. And even more importantly, it has thousands of other front-facing employees whose political leanings are unknown to the general public.

A Media Matters study released this week found that coverage of domestic violence and sexual assault took up less than .35 percent of ESPN’s programming during the first quarter of this year, and a third of that coverage came from airing of a documentary about the false allegations against the Duke Lacrosse team. Furthermore, 74 percent of the time, men were the ones on air talking about domestic violence and sexual assault. Those aren’t exactly statistics that scream “liberal agenda.”

That’s not meant to knock ESPN’s treatment of domestic violence and sexual assault cases, which has at times been nuanced and thorough. It’s just an example of how perception and reality don’t always match.

Looking at the list of names of those who were fired, there are no overarching political viewpoint that ties them all together. I don’t know who most of these people voted for in the last presidential election. I don’t know their stance on big government vs. small government, or their position on tax cuts for the rich. I don’t know whether they support the fight for $15 movement to raise the minimum wage, or their thoughts on health care reform.

I do know that they worked hard, respected the subjects they reported on, and added nuance, color, and context to the world of sports, both on the field of play and off of it. Sports fans, whether they lean left or right, are worse off without them.

The myth of ‘liberal’ ESPN was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Kids take to the steps of the Supreme Court to demand climate action

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 9:43am
Plaintiffs from a youth climate lawsuit against the federal government traveled to D.C. to demand action.CREDIT: Natasha Geiling/ThinkProgress

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of kids and young adults currently suing the federal government for its role in fueling climate change weren’t arguing their case inside of the Supreme Court on Thursday, but they hope to get there someday soon.

“It’s pretty cool to be talking about this case in Washington, D.C, on the steps of the Supreme Court, to know that we are fighting for our rights and future generations’ rights,” Zealand Bell, a 13-year-old plaintiff from Eugene, Oregon, told ThinkProgress. “It’s pretty much the fate of our whole world. If we don’t fight back, climate change will keep going. We need to act now so we can get stuff done.”

“Our lawsuit is pretty much the only thing that Trump is good for. He is providing so much amazing evidence against the U.S. government.”

They also described how the case has taken on a new sense of urgency under the Trump administration, which blatantly rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” while his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has contradicted widely-accepted climate science on national television.

“Our lawsuit is pretty much the only thing that Trump is good for,” Jacob Lebel, a 20-year-old plaintiff in the case told ThinkProgress. “He is providing so much amazing evidence against the U.S. government.”

Can This Group Of Kids Force The Government To Act On Climate Change?

The plaintiffs — ranging from age nine to 21 — are part of a lawsuit against the federal government aimed at forcing climate action on a federal level. It has been described by legal experts as a landmark lawsuit because it bases its arguments not in traditional environmental statues, like the Clean Air Act, but in constitutional law.

“What this case is doing… is really getting into core fundamental human rights that are preserved by our constitution,” Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for the plaintiffs, told ThinkProgress. “And that’s getting into the core of climate change, that it threatens our fundamental rights.”

The federal lawsuit was first filed against the government in August of 2015, to mirror similar lawsuits filed in 2011 in every state in the country. The lawsuits are all spearheaded by an Oregon-based organization called Our Children’s Trust, which seeks to protect natural resources and a stable climate for future generations.

Thus far, the lawsuits’ success at the state level has been limited. Many have been thrown out by courts immediately, though a judge in Washington state ruled in the plaintiffs favor in 2016, ordering the state’s Department of Ecology to promulgate an emissions reduction rule.

The Trump administration really doesn’t want this climate lawsuit to go to trial

The federal case also notched an important victory in 2016, with U.S. Federal Judge Ann Aiken ruling that the case could move forward to trial. That decision is currently being challenged by the federal government and the fossil fuel industry, which argue that the plaintiffs lack proper standing in the case. If the case is allowed to go forward, Olson expects the trial to begin sometime before the end of the year.

At Thursday’s rally, plaintiffs took turns reading lines from Aiken’s November decision, which described the case as “no ordinary lawsuit.”

“I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” Aiken wrote.

Despite incremental progress being made under President Obama, the lawsuit still argued that government actions — like continuing fossil fuel subsidies — were in violation of the plaintiff’s rights to a livable climate. And that case has perhaps only gotten stronger under the current administration, which seems intent on rolling back any climate action made in the past few years. In Trump’s first 100 days, he has signed multiple executive orders aimed at rolling back domestic and international climate policies, from approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to ordering the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan.

Trump made a lot of dumb promises, but he’s following through on destroying the globe

But despite facing perhaps the most environmentally-unfriendly White House in decades, the youth plaintiffs still have hope that in a courtroom — where “facts matter,” as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said at the rally — their case will prevail.

“The judicial branch is really flexing it’s muscle as a co-equal branch of government. That’s amazing to watch, and it gives me hope for this lawsuit,” Lebel said. “Trump is really scary. I’m actually very glad I was in this lawsuit when he was elected, because it gave me hope.”

Kids take to the steps of the Supreme Court to demand climate action was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

EPA considers repealing, replacing programs that help prevent childhood lead exposure

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 9:30am
Environmentalists brace for the worst, and advocates say the move will leave children more exposed to lead.University of Michigan-Flint lecturer Veronica Robinson draws blood from Ketisa Looney’s 7-year-old son Zyontae during a lead-testing clinic held in March 2016 at Richfield Public School Academy in Flint, Michigan. Thousands of Flint parents have had their children tested at free clinics run by the Genesee County Health Department since residents became aware that their water had become contaminated with lead after the city began drawing water from the Flint River to save money. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Householder

Environmental advocates are bracing for potentially “catastrophic” changes to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations that protect children from dangerous lead exposure across the country. Advocates say if the agency moves forward with its plans to repeal or replace programs that regulate hazardous lead levels, lead poisoning prevention efforts would be set back decades.

The advocates plan to voice their concerns at a May 1 public meeting that the EPA is hosting in Washington D.C. to seek input on regulations “to make them less burdensome,” according to an email the EPA sent last week to stakeholders. That email cited Donald Trump’s presidential order directing federal agencies lower regulatory burdens.

The lead regulations, which are part of the Toxic Substances Control Act, affect how hazardous lead levels in dust, soil, and paint are identified, remediated, and disclosed. Legal advocates expressed concern that these potential changes will relax standards rather than strengthening lead protections at a time when communities across the country are discovering that lead contamination is more pervasive than previously thought.

A lead epidemic threatens to return

Emily Benfer, a clinical professor of law at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, described the potential repeals and changes as “catastrophic.”

“It was the lack of regulations that originally created the lead epidemic and this completely preventable public health crisis that we are still in the trenches fighting today,” said Benfer. “These regulations, these certification programs, the lead poisoning prevention programs, the funding that goes with them—this isn’t about burdening the American people. This about protecting our children, and we have an obligation, we have a duty, frankly to do that.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that no level of lead in children is safe, and experts have emphasized that primary prevention is essential to eliminating the threat of lead exposure.

Scientific research on the neurotoxic effects of lead on the developing brain has shown that elevated lead levels can cause a host of lasting damages: increased aggression, lack of impulse control, hyperactivity, inability to focus, and delinquent behaviors. And a growing body of evidence has shown that low blood lead levels are associated with a host of issues such as lowered IQ levels, attention-related behaviors, and poor academic achievement.

To eliminate childhood lead exposure would require that the EPA not just retain its existing regulations, but improve upon them, said Benfer.

“Removing these regulations — that will result in a neurotoxin being released into the environment and permanent brain damage for children — will place an additional burden on American people,” said Benfer. “If we truly want to support Americans and our country and our future generations, we have to protect them from lead poisoning as they’re starting out in life.”

Politicizing lead safety programs

Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly slash its budget, and an agency memo indicates the EPA plans to cut two lead-based paint programs. That, and the possible repeals and changes to the lead regulations, conflict with statements that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made during a visit earlier this month to a lead Superfund site in East Chicago. There, he pledged to get the agency “back to the basics of protecting human health and the environment.”

Pruitt said one of his top priorities is to deliver “real results” for the people of East Chicago, where neighborhoods such as the West Calumet public housing complex have dealt with the toxic fallout from a lead smelter facility.

“I was glad to witness some of this work firsthand today and hear from residents who are rightfully concerned with the cleanup of their community,” stated Pruitt in an EPA press release. “Their concerns were heard loud and clear, and I am committed to ensuring that the EPA works with our federal, state, and local partners to find solutions that protect the health and safety of East Chicago.”

Pruitt’s verbal commitment to lead safety is in sharp contrast to the president’s directive to aggressively hamper the EPA’s ability to enforce existing rules, let alone establish further safety measures.

Among the programs and regulations in danger of being repealed are the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program, which requires that certified firms perform lead-based-paint repairs and renovations in homes, childcares and preschools built before 1978; and the Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule, which requires that home sellers and landlords disclose known lead hazards in residences built before 1978. The latter rule ensures sellers and landlords provide buyers and renters with a lead hazard information pamphlet, and that they offer an opportunity for an independent lead inspection of the home. Also being considered for repeal or replacement are the residential hazard standards for lead in paint, dust, and soil.

Removing and weakening the disclosure rule in any way would be a step backward. Benfer said it would create a false sense of security and safety for buyers and renters.

“It was the lack of regulations that originally created the lead epidemic… we are still in the trenches fighting [a public health crisis] today.”

“These laws are designed to put people on notice that there is an issue, that there is lead in the environment, before the child identifies it with their blood lead levels,” said Benfer. “Now people will be operating under the false belief that it must be safe because ‘in the past I’ve relied on the government to protect me from this harm.’”

Ignoring the science

The EPA has come under sharp criticism from environmental organizations and community groups who have said for years that the agency’s residential hazard standards, which are meant to protect children by identifying and removing lead hazards in homes, are obsolete. Those advocates point out the standards don’t align with scientific research, which indicates they must be stricter.

Last year, the San Francisco-based environmental law organization Earthjustice sued the EPA for failing to update the standards in a timely manner, a process that the agency launched in 2009 in response to a citizens’ petition. That same year, the EPA acknowledged that the hazard standards might not be sufficiently protective, according to the lawsuit.

In a court declaration responding to the lawsuit, the director of the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics stated that the agency has continued to study the matter and may not update the standards, if it moves forward to do so, until 2023.

“There is no need to study further whether kids are harmed by lead. We know the answer: That at any level, lead is harmful,” said Eve Gartner, one of the litigators at Earthjustice who filed the lawsuit.

Gartner said the EPA doesn’t have the authority to repeal large portions of these regulations, which went into effect after Congress passed a law mandating the creation of a national strategy to eliminate lead-based paint hazards in housing as quickly as possible. This was in 1992.

“It’s a fairly comprehensive — if it were well done — aggressive program to reduce kids’ exposure to lead. But it’s required by statute, so all of the regulations are within a program that [the] EPA doesn’t have the discretion to eliminate,” said Gartner, who oversees efforts to protect people from toxic chemicals in the Healthy Communities Program at Earthjustice.

“There is no need to study further whether kids are harmed by lead. We know the answer: That at any level, lead is harmful.”

The EPA has some discretion to, for example, select the proper health protective standards using its expertise, but the agency doesn’t have the discretion not to pick a standard at all, she said.

“So there may be at the margins some small pieces of the regulations that [the agency] could eliminate and that wouldn’t violate the statute, but on the whole, this is a program that Congress has said must exist,” said Gartner. “And EPA can’t eliminate it and the White House can’t eliminate it.”

Federal safety standards that work

These and other federal regulations to reduce lead exposure are credited with significantly reducing blood lead levels among American children over the past 40 years. But much work remains, and any modifications that weaken lead standards could potentially reverse advances that have been made in recent decades, said Benfer.

“If we remove these, we still have within society 38 million homes with lead paint that will eventually become a hazard, and 23 million homes that have a lead hazard right now,” said Benfer.

“Without these regulations in place that outline and have specific requirements for how you remediate a home, homes are much more likely to be remediated in an unsafe way that will put all of the occupants in harm’s way.”

In East Chicago, the EPA announced last week that the agency was working with the state and city to coordinate lead water service line replacement, and had plans to remove contaminated soil in high priority properties, as well as clean up the yards of an estimated 120 properties.

But it’s inconsistent, Benfer pointed out, for the EPA to announce this progress while simultaneously announcing the repeal of the rules that would ensure that this work is done effectively.

For example, if the EPA moves forward to repeal or reduce funding for the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program, this would impact the grants the program offers states to train contractors on how to properly remove lead-based paint.

“It would place the burden of responding to the issue in East Chicago, on the state of Indiana — a state that is home to long-standing Superfund sites and is strapped for resources,” said Benfer, noting that there are more than 1.7 million homes in Indiana built before 1978, the year the federal government banned lead-based paint for residential use.

Last year, the EPA provided the state of Indiana a total of $262,497.00 via a Lead-Based Paint Program grant. Without that funding, the responsibility would fall on states alone to fund such programs, said Benfer.

“There’s no universe in which the EPA could both protect human health and the environment, and repeal the only EPA regulations aimed at protecting children from exposure to a neurotoxin,” said Benfer.

EPA considers repealing, replacing programs that help prevent childhood lead exposure was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mnuchin can’t promise Trump’s ‘middle-income tax cut’ won’t raise taxes on middle class people

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 9:05am
The Treasury Secretary also won’t rule out a cut for the rich — something he explicitly promised wouldn’t happen.CREDIT: ABC screengrab

During several interviews Wednesday and Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin characterized the Trump administration’s vague tax proposal as being first and foremost about “a middle-income tax cut.” But he also wouldn’t rule out that middle class people could actually see their taxes rise under the plan.

During an interview with Tucker Carlson on Wednesday, Mnuchin was asked what Trump’s plan would mean for a family of four making $70,000 a year.

“They’re going to have a middle-income tax cut,” he replied.

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Are you ready for the "biggest tax cut" in U.S. history? https://t.co/uCXyMIHRDr

 — @TuckerCarlson

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But hours later, Mnuchin wasn’t so sure. During a Good Morning America interview Thursday, Mnuchin wouldn’t guarantee that “no one in the middle class is gonna pay more.”

“I can’t make any guarantees until this thing is done and on the president’s desk, but I can tell you that’s our number one objective in this,” he said.

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Mnuchin says it's "our objective" that middle class won't pay more under Pres. Trump's tax plan, but "can't make any guarantees." https://t.co/EmXHMJ0ANB

 — @ABCPolitics

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Mnuchin also wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the plan may provide an absolute tax cut for rich people — something he explicitly promised would not happen during his confirmation hearing.

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Mnuchin can't promise there won't be any absolute tax cuts for the wealthy. "We will see where we get from here." https://t.co/30bwgiLJ70

 — @kylegriffin1

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Cutting taxes for wealthy American is something Trump promised not to do during his campaign. He unambiguously came out in favor of raising taxes on the rich, including himself.

But when Mnuchin was asked if he is standing by the promise not to cut taxes for the rich that both he and Trump made, he demurred, saying, “That’s the objective… We will see where we get from here.”

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Mnuchin can't promise there won't be any absolute tax cuts for the wealthy. "We will see where we get from here." https://t.co/30bwgiLJ70

 — @kylegriffin1

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Yet during an interview on Thursday’s Today show, Mnuchin was back to claiming that the plan “is about a middle-income tax cut.”

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WATCH: "This isn't about a dramatic cut in taxes for the wealthy." Treasury secretary @stevenmnuchin1 https://t.co/ZI7CrNqrYX

 — @TODAYshow

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We do know, however, that at least one person will get a tax cut if the Trump administration’s plan becomes law. Repealing the individual alternative minimum tax and taxing pass-through companies as businesses instead of through the individual code will save millions of dollars each year for someone as wealthy as President Trump claims to be.

Since Trump refuses to release his tax returns, we don’t know how big his cut would be under his plan. On Thursday, Mnuchin again defended Trump’s lack of transparency, asserting that what the American public cares about is not Trump’s taxes, but about “creating jobs and economic growth.”

Treasury Secretary confirms Trump plans to break promise, not release tax returns

But a 65-year study by the Congressional Research Office found no correlation between cutting taxes and economic growth. Meanwhile, nearly 75 percent of Americans think Trump should release his returns — something he repeatedly promised to do during the campaign.

Mnuchin can’t promise Trump’s ‘middle-income tax cut’ won’t raise taxes on middle class people was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Flynn was warned against accepting foreign payments, but he did it anyway

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 8:44am
The former National Security Adviser got payouts from the Turkish and Russian governments.In this Feb. 1, 2017 file photo, then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) just released three damning new documents on former Trump administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The documents, provided by the Department of Defense, show that the Pentagon warned Flynn in 2014 that he could not legally take money from foreign governments without getting permission in advance.

The same documents also confirm that Flynn did not ask for permission before taking payments — emoluments — from Russia. Flynn, despite the warning, accepted the payments and failed to disclose them on his application for security clearance in 2016. He similarly failed to disclose his lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government.

“These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” said Cummings, who is the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee.

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Rep. Cummings says no evidence that Flynn disclosed his payments or obtained permission to accept foreign payments https://t.co/T5uqoA85rO https://t.co/r4U8meqDUY

 — @CBSNews

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According to Cummings, the new documents also contradict Flynn’s lawyer’s claim on Tuesday that Flynn actually had received proper permissions from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) before a trip to Moscow in December 2015.

“DIA did not locate any records referring or relating to LTG [Lieutenant General] Flynn’s receipt of money from a foreign source. … DIA did not locate any records of LTG Flynn seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source,” the letter says.

According to previously-released documents, Flynn was paid over $30,000 for a speech in Moscow at an event celebrating Russian propaganda outlet RT.

Cummings and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said on Tuesday that Flynn’s failure to disclose the payments on his security clearance application likely broke the law.

The Inspector General of the Department of Defense told the House Oversight Committee that they had launched their own investigation into whether Flynn had failed to receive the required approval before taking emoluments from foreign governments.

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Cummings says the White House is "covering up for Michael Flynn ... it makes the American people think the White House has something to hide" https://t.co/Zq3VBN5wY9

 — @BraddJaffy

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Michael Flynn has been a continued source of controversy for the White House.

He resigned early in Trump’s administration after reporting surfaced on backchannel discussions he had conducted — and concealed — with the Russians prior to Trump’s inauguration. And in addition to the payments and dealings with Russia, Flynn also failed to disclose $530,000 his company received at the height of the Trump campaign for work benefiting the government of Turkey, which he retroactively registered as foreign lobbying last month.

Despite the mounting evidence of wrongdoing, the White House has been bullish in their support of Flynn. Even after Flynn’s resignation, President Donald Trump described him as a “wonderful man” who “has been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”

And earlier this week, the White House denied a bipartisan request for documents relating to Flynn and his position as National Security Adviser.

Speaking on Thursday, Cummings questioned the White House’s refusal to furnish the requested documents.

“I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn. I don’t get it. After the president fired him for lying,” said Cummings. “It does not make any sense, and it makes the American people think the White House has something to hide.”

Flynn was warned against accepting foreign payments, but he did it anyway was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

BuzzFeed investigation finds alleged ‘snake oil’ peddler in the White House

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 7:56am
National security aide Sebastian Gorka is “a peddler of snake oil,” a Hungarian intelligence official told BuzzFeed.CREDIT: Screengrab via VOANews.com

From day one of the Trump administration, national security adviser Sebastian Gorka has had a rough go of it.

First, reporters started asking awkward questions about his sartorial choices at President Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities. That’s because Gorka, a British-born Hungarian national, showed up in garb that evoked Vitézi Rend, a far-right Hungarian group linked to the Third Reich. Then the Forward, a Jewish-American publication, started digging into Gorka’s political activities during his years in Budapest, and found extensive links to other right-wing, anti-Semitic organizations. Most recently, the Forward alleged that Gorka has been a member of Vitézi Rend for decades.

Now BuzzFeed has released the findings of its own investigation into Gorka’s past. It has some good news and bad news for the former Breitbart contributor. The good news: Hungarian officials denied to BuzzFeed that Gorka is a Nazi. The bad news: Those same Hungarian officials also described Gorka as a complete fraud.

“Gorka is, how do you say in English — a peddler of snake oil,” one former Hungarian intelligence official told BuzzFeed.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in London and pursuing a brief stint in the British army reserves, Gorka spent the better part of the 1990s getting involved in post-Cold War Hungarian politics and defense policy. According to BuzzFeed, Gorka tried to bolster his CV by boasting that he had been a member of the British intelligence service MI6 — a claim that appears to have been false.

BuzzFeed’s Hungarian intelligence source offered this cold assessment:

“These claims were not considered credible because by this point we understood that Gorka and many like him didn’t return to Hungary because of patriotism or skills but rather because they couldn’t be successful in the West, where they were born or raised, and thus wanted to come to Hungary. So do we believe that he was an MI6 agent like he claimed? No, he’s not smart enough or well-trained enough.”

If Gorka did, in fact, invent a fictional espionage career for himself, that might not be the only vial of snake oil he’s sold. Multiple scholars have also called Gorka’s academic credentials into question — a particularly sore spot for a man who reportedly can’t stop reminding people he has a doctorate.

Gorka earned that doctorate at Hungary’s Corvinus University. A handful of American experts who have read his doctoral dissertation came away with a low opinion of it.

“I would not characterize it as a work of scholarship. I am confident that it would not earn him a doctorate at any reputable academic department in the United States,” wrote Georgetown University political scientist Daniel Nexon in a post on the blog Lawyers Guns and Money. “Indeed, it would be unacceptable as an undergraduate thesis for the Department of Government or the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. My guess is that Gorka wanted to call himself ‘Doctor,’ and his PhD-granting institution was happy to oblige.”

A diagram from Gorka’s dissertation. CREDIT: lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com

Andrew Reynolds, a professor of political science at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, wrote on his academic page that Gorka’s dissertation “was approved by a fraudulent panel of examiners,” two of whom (out of three) did not, themselves, have doctorates.

“ In sum, Gorka’s Ph.D is about as legitimate as if he had been awarded it by Trump University,” wrote Reynolds.

Gorka did not reply to BuzzFeed’s multiple requests for comment. Earlier this week, he fled a Georgetown University panel after students asked about his Vitézi Rend links and Islamophobic Breitbart posts.

BuzzFeed investigation finds alleged ‘snake oil’ peddler in the White House was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Carter Page says he’s the real victim of the Trump-Russia scandal

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 7:49am
He previously compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, speaks at a news conference at RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page considers himself a “victim” of a civil rights violation because the U.S. government is looking into his alleged ties with Russian intelligence and the Kremlin.

Page — who was investigated for his connections to Russian intelligence — claimed Tuesday that U.S. surveillance on him was based on a “dodgy dossier” a federal judge used to find probable cause to issue a warrant of surveillance. The “dodgy” source comes from the now-infamous intelligence dossier that includes explosive allegations about President Donald Trump and his campaign.

U.S. investigators have been able to corroborate some details of the dossier, including about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals, CNN reported, on the same days and locations described in the 35-page document written by an ex-British spy.

“Chris, the main reason is the fact that I have been the victim of one of the most horrendous civil rights violations in recent U.S. election history,” Page said during a CNN interview. He insisted he was unfairly targeted because of speeches he gave in Russia as a “private citizen.”

“So you think that because you say things in Russia and elsewhere that are negative about American policy, the United States intel services decided to take you down and invaded your privacy and hurt your civil rights in the process?” Cuomo asked. “Is that your theory?”

“I’m basing it on recent reports, Chris, with the fact that the most recent dossier was used as a false basis saying there is probable cause when there is absolutely zero,” Page responded.

“There is no probable cause, and there could be no probable cause based on anything I’ve ever done with Russia or any Russian person,” Page added, saying he would take legal action against the “dodgy dossier.”

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Carter Page to @ChrisCuomo: "I've been the victim of one of the most horrendous civil rights violations...

 — @CNN

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But there was probable cause. Under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the FBI secured a warrant to monitor communications from Page last summer after having reason to believe he acted as an “agent of a foreign power.” Kremlin intelligence also reportedly tried to recruit Page as an asset in 2013 and allegedly came in contact with him again during the ramp-up to Trump’s campaign. Trump’s aides have tried to minimize Page’s role in the campaign and Trump has denied knowing him personally. (Trump gave a shout out to Page as a foreign policy adviser during a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board in March 2016.)

There are multiple ongoing investigations into whether Russia interfered in the U.S. election, including by the FBI, and House and Senate intelligence committees. Page previously alleged that reports of Russian influence are “false narratives” and a “political stunt.”

Perhaps more egregious than Page exaggerating his victimhood was that he previously compared “surveillance of him to the eavesdropping that the FBI and Justice Department conducted against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr,” the Washington Post reported. King fought for civil rights and gave his life to advance equality.

Carter Page says he’s the real victim of the Trump-Russia scandal was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump says he’s stopping jobs from going abroad. Here’s the truth.

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 6:06am
At least 11,934 Americans have lost or are losing their jobs to production moved overseas since Inauguration Day.Signs from Trump rally’s and from protests of Trump’s visit to Carrier Factory; CREDIT: Diana Ofosu

Susan Haines and Sharon Vanacker knew something was wrong when their CTS Corporation factory in Elkhart, Indiana shut down production one afternoon in June of last year.

That “never happens, unless it’s a holiday or something,” Vanacker said. “Even on weekends they don’t shut down all production.”

All of the sensor and actuator plant’s employees were asked to attend a town hall style meeting with a company vice president. It was there that they found out that everyone at the factory would be losing their jobs beginning in January 2017. The work will instead be moved to factories in Mexico, China, and Taiwan.

Employees were blindsided by the announcement. “We had no clue, none at all,” Haines said.

The company knew the news would be difficult to swallow. “They asked us, everyone, to leave the building after the meeting,” Vanacker said. Production was kept idled for the rest of the weekend. “They locked the gates so no one could get in, which they haven’t done in years.” It seemed they were worried about angry employees who had all just learned they were losing their jobs.

They were right. “It was a lot of shock, I think a lot of sadness,” Haines said, describing the mood after the announcement. “Then everybody got really mad.”

Employees didn’t let their jobs go without a bit of a fight. Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese tried and failed to offer the company incentives to stay. And once President Donald Trump started running for president and promising to keep American jobs from being moved overseas, union officials at the UAW and IAM that represent the factory employees reached out to him to see if he would intervene.

CREDIT: Diana Ofosu/AP Images

So far, nothing has come of their overtures. “We’ve had… many people reach out to him,” Haines said of the president, “and we haven’t heard anything.”

“Now everybody’s just accepted it,” she said.

They aren’t optimistic. “I don’t see any Hail Marys in our future,” Vanacker said.

If nothing changes soon, by the middle of 2018, 230 people who worked for CTS in Elkhart will have lost their jobs and watched them move to other countries.

Jobs are still leaving the country

This is the very kind of job loss Trump repeatedly promised—on the campaign trail and from the Oval Office—would come to a full stop under his watch. “We’re just shipping company after company after company is leaving the country and leaving jobs behind. And I’m going to get it stopped,” he promised in early 2016.

“Believe me. Nobody’s leaving,” he said later in the year.

Not only would he stop the losses, he claimed, but he pledged to act immediately. “We are going to stop it day one,” he said. “A Trump administration will stop the jobs from leaving America… Promise.”

But so far, that promise is going unfulfilled. Haines and Vanacker aren’t the only ones waiting to see if their president will intervene to save their jobs.

Since Trump was sworn in on January 20, at least 11,934 American jobs have either been moved abroad or are in the process of leaving the country, according to Department of Labor data analyzed by ThinkProgress.

The 11,934 figure is gleaned from the DOL’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program and offers the best, most accurate baseline, though the actual number is almost certainly much higher. There is no accurate, complete dataset that tracks how many Americans are losing their jobs because they get shifted overseas. “Nobody has really been able to count the number of workers that have been affected by offshoring,” said Dan Marschall, director of the Working for America Institute at the AFL-CIO.

The lost jobs span geography and industry. Workers have been laid off from Maine to Florida, from Arizona to Wisconsin. While plenty are in industrial manufacturing, a range of other industries are represented: medicine, technology, even finance.

https://medium.com/media/4eafdda83eb5e59c36ba55e9936ef21d/href

To get Trade Adjustment Assistance, workers who suspect their job losses are caused by trade in some way must send a petition to the DOL. Then the department investigates and makes a determination as to whether they should be certified.

“There are lots and lots of workers who would qualify for TAA but don’t know about it or don’t have the wherewithal and resources to go through the paperwork,” said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO. Unions can help facilitate the process, but less than 7 percent of the private sector workforce is in a union. Meanwhile, employers themselves may be averse to advertising it, knowing that if their employees get certified it becomes public knowledge that they’re outsourcing jobs.

CREDIT: AP Images

Out of all jobs affected by trade — those that are moved overseas as well as those eliminated thanks to competition with exports, outsourcing, and other factors — just a small share end up in TAA filings. “A minority of a minority of a minority of the people who are adversely affected apply and get approved for TAA,” said Howard Rosen, a former Peterson Institute visiting fellow.

His research, now a decade old, found that the approximately 718,000 workers who were certified in the TAA program between 2002 and 2007 was dwarfed by other measures of how many workers are broadly impacted by trade, such as a finding of 6.45 million jobs lost to import competition between 1979 and 1999.

By comparison, Trump’s deal with Carrier to save about 800 jobs is less than 7 percent of the nearly 12,000 jobs jobs lost or leaving since he took the oath of office.

Decades of work disappears

Mike Julian started at Commercial Intertech 22 years ago, before it was bought by Parker Hannifin Corporation, a motion and control technology manufacturer, in 2000. The original company was started by a family in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1920s. Lore had it that the CEO used to walk around at Christmastime and shake people’s hands, wishing them a happy holiday.

The Parker Hannifin plant. CREDIT: Mike Thompson

Julian got a job there in 1994, when there were still four divisions in the company that made industrial equipment parts: a stamping division, a cylinder division, a foundry, and a hydraulic pump division, where he worked. The new job offered him $12–13 an hour, a big step up from the $7 or $8 he had made in his previous job. “Better paying job, had health benefits, paid vacations, all that stuff,” he said.

Those same qualities attracted Bob Gaia to the company 23 years ago. He left the job he got right out of high school working in a warehouse for a job at Commercial Intertech that doubled his pay and actually offered benefits.

But over the years, Parker Hannifin sold off or closed the other three divisions. “This was something they did piecemeal,” Mike Thompson, who worked at Parker Hannifin for 27 years, said. The workers argue the company never invested adequately in what remained. Instead, work kept getting farmed out to plants in Mexico and Asia.

By the fall of 2015, the hydraulic pump factory was the last one standing. That’s when the plant’s union committee was called into a meeting with corporate higher ups. “We had a bad feeling as soon as we saw that,” said Zechariah Mathews, who was on the committee, “because they usually don’t ever come to Youngstown.”

The Parker Hannifin executives had a message for employees: the hydraulic pump factory they worked in would be closing and most of the production would move to China. Some, like Julian, felt that the writing had long been on the wall. Others were completely taken aback. “When they told us, it was like a total shock,” remembered David Hight, who had worked there for 24 years.

Morale quickly plummeted. “Everybody was obviously not happy and it was a bad work environment,” Mathews said. To add insult to injury, executives from China at one point come through to tour the plant. “Obviously that didn’t rub anybody the right way.”

Hight thought he could retire from Parker Hannifin. “I thought we’d live through the storm,” he added. “I was 54, my plan was to get to 59.”

“Parker came along,” Julian said, “And basically gave my job to somebody else, somebody in China. I’m not happy about it because that’s my livelihood.”

Julian had planned to stay on at Parker Hannifin through retirement. “I’m expecting to work 26 more years at least,” he said. “I had no plans of going nowhere else.” Now he’s back to square one. “I’m 45 years old,” he said. “Now I got to get another job.”

He’s currently going back to school to get an associate’s degree, making a bet that by the time he’s out things have improved. “I’m just hoping when I’m done that could help me get a job that pays closer to what I was making before,” he said, which was about $20 an hour. “There’s no guarantee of that.”

In the meantime, he and his wife have had to rethink their budget. “I don’t have spending money,” he said. “We don’t get to go out and go shopping and do all that stuff… I eat at home all the time, a lot of ramen noodles.”

CREDIT: Diana Ofosu/AP Images

“They took everything I worked for. All that time, I’ll never get that back,” he said. “What I’ve worked for for the last 22 years has been taken from me through no fault of my own.”

For the 137 people who lost their jobs at Parker Hannifin as of April of this year, getting back on their feet might be tough. “Our average age in our plant…was something like 38,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be hard for them to get jobs back in the Youngstown area. The jobs aren’t there that they once were.”

“We all knew when we left we weren’t going to find a job that was going to pay us what we were making on our union scale,” Gaia agreed. “We’re going to take a pay cut.” He’s now trying to find another job, but every one he’s interviewed for offers much less pay even though the responsibilities are greater. “They expect you to work harder,” he said, yet “the pay is severely less.” One wanted him to do what would have been two separate jobs at Parker for $7 less an hour.

Former Parker Hannifin employees. CREDIT: Zechariah Mathews

Mathews had the same experience. Now he’s done with the industry. “There was never anything that I did not enjoy in manufacturing,” he said. But “I wanted nothing to do with manufacturing after this whole stint, I was done.” He now has a job as a quality control specialist for a commercial HVAC company.

The plant closing has also taken a personal toll. “We were like a family, honestly. All the people I worked with, we’d go golfing together, meet out places, have fantasy football together,” Julian said. “I feel like they basically broke up my family.”

A presidential candidate promises hope

The plant’s closing played out at the same time as the presidential campaign, one in which issues like trade and jobs were hotly debated. The plant was about evenly split in supporting either Trump or Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. In the past many had typically voted Democratic, thanks in part to their involvement with the union. But “everybody realized they were losing their jobs, Trump was talking the talk, and everybody wanted to see that type of change,” Mathews said.

Even so, few were hopeful Trump would actually help them. The closing had been announced so long ago, and plans were so far along, there was little optimism that a deal could be struck. “Everyone in the workplace already knew that it was done for Parker,” Mathews said. He voted for Trump and still supports him. “He obviously is doing what he can to be president of the United States and bring jobs back.”

Gaia is cautiously hopeful that Trump can improve things for other people. “They all promise change, just like the last guy promised change,” he said. “I guess show me. Show me you can do it.”

For his part, Julian never really had any hope that politicians could save their jobs. “The politicians are blind to what’s going on,” he said. “They just don’t care.”

He’s not particularly loyal to any one party; he points out proudly that he has voted for Ross Perot, Al Gore, John Kerry, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Barack Obama. In the most recent election, he voted for Trump. “Believe me, Trump’s got his flaws. But the guy has run a business, kept things in budget,” he explained. “I’m hoping he can get some stuff done, I’m hoping things will change.”

He’s not disappointed that Trump didn’t manage to save his job. “So many of us are losing our jobs, he can’t know everything. He can’t know that 150 people in Youngstown, Ohio are losing their jobs,” Julian said of Trump.

In March, Trump assured an audience assembled at the White House that jobs have stopped leaking out of the country. “They’re not leaving our country anymore folks,” he said. “They’re not leaving, they’re staying and they’re building right here.”

https://medium.com/media/f8b5373b64a158e93c8e8d121f3688b5/hrefAfter the layoff, starting from square one

Susan Haines started at CTS in 1996 as a machine operator and worked her way up to production coordinator over the years. Sharon Vanacker began at CTS two years earlier than Haines and has had a number of different positions, moving up the ranks of seniority. Their tenure, coupled with advancement, have earned them better shifts, more predictable hours, and decent pay.

CREDIT: AP Images

They had planned to stick with CTS until they were ready to stop working altogether. Both women are in their fifties. “We’re not that far” from retirement, Vanacker said. “Another 10 or 12 years and we’d have been retiring.”

They’ll have to give that all up as soon as they leave CTS. “We’ll have to work,” Haines said. “We’re in our fifties. You can’t retire for another ten plus years.”

Haines doesn’t know what she’ll do in the next chapter of her life. “A whole new career at 55,” she said, sounding a bit baffled.

Vanacker thinks she may try to get trained in computer programs for her next job. “I want to try computers or something more secure where I’m not going to lose my job because they move my job to another country,” she said.

But what they do know is that they can’t expect the same pay and benefits that they had worked so long and hard to secure at CTS over two decades. “You start over,” Haines said. Any new job will require her to work night and weekend shifts with little control over scheduling. “We’re used to a lifestyle, and now we have to change it because obviously we’re not going to be able to make the kind of money we do now.”

CREDIT: Diana Ofosu/AP Images

Even retirement plans, once they can be put into place, are changing. “We won’t be retiring like we thought we’d be retiring anymore,” Vanacker said.

In the meantime, both women have suffered some indignities. Employees from the Mexico plant came to the factory in Elkhart and Haines, Vanacker, and the other employees had to show them how to make the parts they produce. “It didn’t go so well,” Haines said. “It’s nothing against the people themselves, it’s the fact that they’re going to be doing our jobs.”

And until the plant is fully shut down next year, the company has been hiring temporary workers to get things done. “We went through a few hundred temps [so far] I’d have to guess,” Vanacker said. It’s even come to the point that both of their supervisors are now temp workers.

And they still don’t even know exactly when they’ll be asked to leave. Haines was supposed to depart last month but now it could be the end of the year. Vanacker thinks she’ll be at the factory until next year. “Nobody really knows because it keeps getting longer and longer,” she said.

The pending layoffs have now become a central focus of their lives. “Everything we do is, ‘When am I going to lose my job?’” Haines said.

Josh Israel and Ryan Koronowski contributed reporting.

Trump says he’s stopping jobs from going abroad. Here’s the truth. was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The day before Trump’s offshore drilling order, lawmakers step up to protect their communities

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 6:01am
Seismic airgun blasting is used to find offshore oil — but can seriously harm marine mammals and ocean ecosystems.CREDIT: iStock

The day before President Donald Trump will reportedly sign an executive order opening previously protected waters to offshore drilling, a bipartisan group of representatives is introducing a bill aimed at preventing one of the most dangerous practices associated with offshore drilling: seismic airgun blasting.

“The seismic pulses from airgun blasts threaten the aquatic species many coastal communities depend on,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement. “Marine life and ocean biodiversity are essential not only to coastal environments, but to local and regional tourism, recreation, and fishing industries.”

Fossil fuel companies use seismic airgun blasts to locate oil or gas beneath the sea floor, which is then extracted through offshore drilling. But blasting the sea floor with airguns can cause hearing loss in mammals, and interrupt important feeding and breeding behaviors. According to Oceana, airguns used in the testing are so loud that they can be heard from 2,500 miles away. A study conducted by the Department of the Interior found that the practice could injure 138,000 marine mammals, and disrupt the feeding, breeding, or behavioral patterns of 13.6 million more.

Don Beyer wants to make the House Science Committee great again

Beyer, one of Congress’ most outspoken climate hawks, is a natural fit to introduce the bill. But the bill also enjoys support from at least one Congressional Republican: co-sponsor Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), whose district includes several municipalities that have passed resolutions opposing seismic blasting.

And that’s not a rare move for cities, municipalities, and towns located along the Atlantic Coast: according to data compiled by Oceana, as of January, more than 120 East Coast municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing more than 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed either offshore drilling, seismic airgun blasting, or both. The opposition has been largely bipartisan, bringing together groups concerned about the environmental impact as well those concerned about the potential economic impact. In many areas along the Atlantic Coast, the primary industries are fishing and tourism, which could suffer huge losses in the event of an oil spill.

In response to widespread opposition,the Interior Department released a revised five-year plan for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in March of 2016, which closed much of the Atlantic to offshore drilling through 2022. Towards the end of his presidency, Obama also permanently protected 3.8 million acres of underwater canyon along the Atlantic Coast from fossil fuel production, and denied all pending permits for seismic testing in the Atlantic.

“Reinstating drilling and seismic blasting in the Atlantic would be terrible for our coastal economies.”

With Trump apparently aiming to reopen parts of the Atlantic to offshore drilling, however, seismic airgun blasting could also make a return to the Atlantic. And that has lawmakers whose constituents oppose seismic testing or offshore drilling looking for ways to make sure the practice doesn’t harm their district’s coastal environments or economic livelihoods.

“Reinstating drilling and seismic blasting in the Atlantic would be terrible for our coastal economies,” Beyer told ThinkProgress in an email. “If that concern doesn’t move President Trump, he should consider that NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Department of Defense have also raised concerns about adverse effects which drilling could have on their operations. Opposition to drilling is widespread up and down the Atlantic coast, and leaders in Washington should listen.”

The day before Trump’s offshore drilling order, lawmakers step up to protect their communities was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Ivanka’s new ‘women-empowerment fund’ is a legal and ethical nightmare

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 2:20pm
If she’s already raised money, she could be breaking the law.In this April 24, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka Trump, talks via video conference with International Space Station Commander Peggy Whitson from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Ivanka Trump told Axios on Wednesday that she was working to start a “massive fund” with donations from both nations and companies to boost female entrepreneurship. According to the report, she was working with the President of the World Bank, with whom she recently co-authored an op-ed on female empowerment, to develop the fund.

Immediately, the prospect of Ivanka Trump founding and directing her own global foundation, and soliciting foreign donations, while also shaping foreign policy, set off a firestorm. Later on Wednesday, Axios added an update from the World Bank, saying that the World Bank would be in charge of the fund instead.

The World Bank themselves told The Washington Post that they were “in discussions” with Ivanka about the fund, and that nothing had yet been agreed to. They also said that no definitive plans had been made, and no money had yet been raised.

Yet, in direct contradiction, Axios reported that “Canadians, Germans and a few Middle Eastern countries have already made quiet commitments, as have several corporations.”

If Ivanka has indeed already secured commitments, then she may be in legal trouble, according to Tom Watson, the president and founder of CauseWired, a non-profit advising consulting firm and the author of a book on non-profits.

“If you are raising funds for a non-profit in the U.S., you have to file with the IRS. Not doing so is a violation of tax law. And you also have to file reports on a yearly basis,” said Watson. “We don’t know if any of that has been done.”

The legal problems

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, in part because the public is learning details solely through scattered reporting, rather than open disclosures.

“It’s incredibly non-transparent. We don’t know if there has been any filing. We don’t know how it’s structured — is it a 501(c)3, an LLC, what is it?” Watson told ThinkProgress over the phone. Per the World Bank’s account, that is still up in the air — which means they could not possibly have filed the necessary documents to begin fundraising.

Without more information, though, he added it was impossible to tease out the legal ramifications of the unique situation.

That doesn’t mean that presidents and their families are prohibited from engaging in philanthropy, or that it’s entirely unprecedented: the U.S. has a long history of public-private partnerships stretching back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s involvement with the March of Dimes.

Such partnerships, however, have to go go through elaborate approval processes, because the risk for corruption and the perception of conflict is so high.

“The approval process is elaborate, because of the many risks, including illegal quid pro quos when the private partners contribute large sums of money. Then there is the risk of giving those partners special access and influence, which is wrong and in some cases illegal,” Norm Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama told ThinkProgress via email.

And, it’s rare for White House affiliated-organizations to have an international focus.

“They’ve mainly been domestic. And they are subject to transparency and regulations and filings,” Watson said. He added, however, that while it could theoretically be possible to structure it in a way that it would work, it would require immense front-end planning.

“It just doesn’t seem like there’s been that kind of thought going into this. And it’s bad form to start talking about it without having those ducks in a row, because that means that ethical questions are going to come up right away,” he said.

And ethically, the project is already raising red flags.

The ethical problems

Ivanka’s role in the fund is uncertain, but according to both reports she would play some sort of fundraising role — while also officially serving as an adviser in the White House. Her role and influence at her father’s side is highly visible, and she will, in her White House capacity, have a role and influence on foreign policy decisions.

“This is not a theoretical thing where, if someone is elected and they once served as Secretary of state and if they once took money from a country, will it under the harshest reading of the situation be a conflict,” said Watson, referencing the criticism of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s role during the election. “This is literally a day-to-day conflict.”

One of the countries, for example, that Axios reported Ivanka had secured commitments from was Canada. Yet at the same time, President Trump just escalated a trade squabble with Canada over lumber, announcing a heavy tariff.

So while in one White House office, the U.S. government is claiming to crack down, in another, a representative of the government — the President’s daughter and one of his top advisers, no less — is asking for handouts. What influence might Canada’s commitment to Ivanka’s fund have on her father’s disposition to the country’s trade behavior?

The actual answer may be impossible to determine. At the very least, however, there would be a perception of conflict of interest. Such a foundation, with Ivanka’s involvement, could be yet another avenue for foreign governments to attempt to influence the presidency.

The problem with the Trump businesses

The other problem is the persistent ethical baggage the Trump family has brought to the White House.

“Here we have some added Trump family factors: the broken White House ethics and compliance system and the fact that Ivanka, her husband, and her father all have maintained outside business ownership interests that may create conflicts when other businesses, perhaps their partners, are solicited for these funds,” said Eisen. “It’s like a slow-motion train wreck unfolding before our eyes.”

Ambassador’s tweet accidentally reveals that Trump is violating the Constitution

Watson, who advises non-profits on how to raise money, said that’s exactly what he would advise a client to do.

“Here’s a question: Is she going to Trump family business partners in these countries to solicit donations? If I were her funding counsel, and she wasn’t in government, that’s what I would recommend.”

And that would raise red flags on both sides of the conflicts issue — because as a government employee, Ivanka is supposed to be separate from her businesses.

The hypocrisy problem

From her own description, Ivanka’s project is based on a public-private partnership. One of the most successful examples of such an organization is the Clinton Foundation — the very organization her father slammed as “the most corrupt enterprise in political history.”

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Crooked @HillaryClinton's foundation is a CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE. Time to #DrainTheSwamp! https://t.co/89eOMTsIjt #BigLeagueTruth #Debate

 — @realDonaldTrump

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Much of Trump’s criticism of the Clinton organization revolved around unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, foreign donations and overlap between the Clinton’s political and philanthropic donors.

Although the foundation remained in operation while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, it took numerous steps to remove the appearance of conflict, including publicly disclosing all its donors. Despite Trump’s allegations of corruption, the foundation spends 87 percent of its money directly on programs, and has won top accolades from charity review watchdogs.

Trump’s own philanthropic foundation was shut down due to self-dealing and legal compliance issues. It once used its money to purchase a portrait of Trump himself for $20,000.

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When will we see stories from CNN on Clinton Foundation corruption and Hillary's pay-for-play at State Department?

 — @realdonaldtrump

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“There’s the rank hypocrisy of coming into office in part by criticizing an organization that was legitimately helping people,” Watson told ThinkProgress about the Trump’s new plans.

President Trump, according to Axios, “is a huge supporter of his daughter’s idea.”

Yet, while the Trumps appear to be steering global philanthropy into projects they have a hand in, the Trump administration writ large has been focused on gutting foreign aid and programs that would help the very populations Ivanka claims to be concerned with.

Recently, Trump eliminated U.S. funding for the U.N. Population Fund, which provides maternal and child-health services in 150 countries around the world. His budget proposal would cut aid to developing countries by over one-third. He wants to slash $650 million from the World Bank, the very organization in talks with Ivanka.

Ivanka’s shallow narrative of women’s empowerment at the W20 summit

And, while Ivanka is publicly promoting the importance of investing in female entrepreneurship, Trump has proposed eliminating the government’s Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs (PRIME). The PRIME program disproportionately benefits women’s businesses, because they tend to be smaller and work with smaller amounts of capital.

That means that the Trump White House is slashing aid for established organizations, while touting philanthropic efforts and funneling aid through Trump-affiliated, untested channels.

“Who’s gonna run it? Who’s the staff? How do you apply? All those kinds of things are wide open,” Watson told ThinkProgress. Usually, he said, similar public-private partnerships are done “in partnership with existing organizations, so ethical rules and the programmatic side is in place, so things can actually get done.”

If the project is carried out in partnership with the World Bank, then, it may have a higher chance of being effective, but the question remains: If empowering women, girls, and developing countries is actually a priority, then why would the White House so severely undercut the organizations that are already helping people on the ground?

Ivanka’s new ‘women-empowerment fund’ is a legal and ethical nightmare was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump creates office that allows victims of crimes to blame immigrants

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 2:18pm
Little victories for Trump could spell big trouble for immigrants.Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just a few days before President Donald Trump hits his symbolic 100-day benchmark in office, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled a new office to serve victims of criminal acts committed by immigrants.

That office, which also highlights crimes committed by immigrants, fits neatly into Trump’s own playbook in which he portrays certain immigrants as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers. Equating immigrants with criminals has long been part of Trump’s bombastic campaign speeches, and has helped inspire several incidents of violence against people of color and people of faith since he came into the national spotlight.

On Wednesday, DHS Secretary John Kelly and Acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan announced the opening of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, housed within the ICE agency. The new office aims to track crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, a proposal the president first announced during an address to a joint session of Congress in February. That was later crafted into an executive order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” The order calls on DHS to create an office to support victims of crimes committed by immigrants.

“There is nothing but goodness in what we’re doing in establishing this office, particularly as outreach to victims of these crimes,” Kelly remarked as he took the stage in a packed room inside ICE headquarters.

Kelly also acknowledged the first four rows of attendees, which were reserved for DHS personnel, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants. Some relatives wore “45” hats in support of the current president and donned Trump stickers.

“The name fits — we’re giving people who were victimized by illegal aliens for the first time, a voice of their own,” Kelly continued. “All crime is terrible, but these victims, as represented here, are unique and are too often ignored. They’re causalities of crime that should have never taken place — because the people who victimized them oftentimes should not have been in the country in the first place.”

These victims of illegal aliens aren’t data points, they’re people.

“These victims of illegal aliens aren’t data points, they’re people,” Kelly added.

Through the VOICE program, people can call a hotline staffed by more than 20 ICE community relations officers and 27 victim assistance specialists, who provide them with “what information is available and to help victims understand the immigration enforcement and removal process,” according to a press release.

“If you were to call, we wouldn’t be asking for your status,” an ICE official who spoke on background told ThinkProgress. He vehemently insisted the program wasn’t for people to report criminal activity or for them to report a suspected undocumented immigrant. Rather, the official said the program was for individuals to receive additional criminal or immigration history about a criminal immigrant and have access to social service professionals. The office would also help victims track the status of an immigrant in federal custody — so they can have answers to questions like, “is [the criminal immigrant] behind bars? Is he out of the country?”

The program was well received by the family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants. That includes Billy Inman, who seethed as he recalled the horrific event when an undocumented immigrant driving at high speed rear-ended his car. The accident killed his teenage son and left his wife wheelchair bound and now the immigrant is likely living in Mexico, Inman said.

“He changed our lives drastically. He killed our son and put my wife in the kind of shape she’s in,” he told ThinkProgress, pointing towards his wife who sat next to him in a wheelchair. Inman was grateful for the VOICE program because he saw it as “another avenue for a normal person to go to, to see which way they need to go about what happened to him.”

“I want to help families like mine and hold some people accountable, is what I’m looking for out of this,” Inman said. He noted President Trump had previously assured him the office would be created for families like his.

“This is the reason he’s doing what he’s doing for what happened to my family,” Inman said.

But Inman had other thoughts about undocumented immigrants, saying they are “taking the country over” and claimed, “you can’t go down the street and get a job.”

“It’s their decision to be legal or illegal, just like it’s your decision, my decision to believe in God or not,” Inman said. “They need to be held accountable. This breaks my heart that this is even happening.”

“I’m not racist,” Inman quipped without provocation.

New Study Demolishes 3 Pernicious Myths About First-Generation Immigrants In America

The death of Inman’s son and that of other people killed or injured by undocumented immigrants is beyond tragic. Yet, immigrant advocates and congressional Democrats worry the creation of such an office —which is entirely reliant on the exploitation of emotionally-charged stories of horrific deaths— will negatively stereotype immigrants in a way that portrays them as criminals.

“The VOICE office will feed into the wrong-headed and destructive narrative that there are ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants,” Laura Barrett, executive director at the Interfaith Worker Justice, said in a press statement. “The tradition of immigration in the United States has never been merit-based and it should not start now.”

“The establishment of this office sends a message that the Trump Administration is fixated on continuing to stir fear of immigrants while spreading myths about undocumented immigrants and crime,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “Looking at the facts, it is clear that there is no epidemic of immigrant crime that the President all too often asserts.”

It is blatantly racist and a dangerous new tool.

“It is blatantly racist and a dangerous new tool for extremists and white supremacists,” Salvador Sarmiento, National Campaign Coordinator for the advocacy group National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) said. “Trump’s weapon is fear. Trump wants white people to fear anyone who is not white. And he wants all of us to fear him and his administration.”

Trump has long campaigned on harsh immigration policies that would broaden the scope of crimes punishable by deportation. During his address to the joint session on Congress, the president brought relatives of people killed by immigrants as his guests of honor.

But the data doesn’t support Trump’s suggestion that immigrants should be feared. First-generation immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, various studies have found, although it would appear that the second generation, now assimilated, catches up to their native counterparts.

Trump creates office that allows victims of crimes to blame immigrants was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

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