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Updated: 8 hours 36 min ago

How Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo blew it at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

8 hours 41 min ago

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote against the nomination of Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State on Monday — which would be the first such vote for a secretary of state nominee.

CIA Director Pompeo, who would replace Rex Tillerson (who was fired in March), has thus far not received the support of a single Democrat on the SFRC (nor Kentucky Republican Rand Paul).

Bracing for the SFRC vote, Trump tweeted on Monday morning that it was partisan politics, not Pompeo’s own track record, that was standing in the way of his confirmation:

Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State. The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2018

Despite Monday’s looming snub, Pompeo is still on track be confirmed by the Senate later this week. But anyone listening to his five-hour confirmation hearing before the SFRC on April 12 might be surprised to hear that his confirmation would stand a chance in the Senate.

Pompeo faced several hours of mostly tough questioning on his views, and by all measures, failed to give straight answers.

He also did not provide much in the way of coherent foreign policy answers. That wasn’t the worst of it, though, as far as several of the senators questioning him were concerned.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) repeatedy asked Pompeo if he would “champion diplomacy” and push back against Trump’s “worst instincts.”

Pompeo makes it pretty clear he wouldn’t stand up to Trump on key issues

Pompeo gave no indication that he would stand strong against the president should he move to fire Special Council Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election, or on a potential preventive attack against North Korea (something National Security Advisor John Bolton advocates).

It was also clear, under questioning by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), that Pompeo still does not support same-sex marriage, and has a major Islamophobia problem.

Even as he admitted that Iran has at no point violated the terms of the nuclear deal, and is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, Pompeo said the deal needs to be “fixed.” In 2014, he was in support of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and wrote in 2016 that the deal puts the United States at “increased risk.”

Senator Booker just destroyed Pompeo on his Islamophobia and homophobia

But despite all of this, Pompeo seems to have the support he needs to get confirmed by the Senate, having at least two Democrat votes already in the bag. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who is up for reelection in a largely pro-Trump state, announced her support for Pompeo on Thursday. On Monday, Sen. Joe Mancin (D-WV) also said he would vote to confirm Pompeo.

If indeed confirmed later this week, Pompeo, the country’s top diplomat, will be in the position of discussing human rights with other countries, even as he has in the past supported the U.S. torture program, said that Guantanamo Bay is a “goldmine” for intelligence, and called for the execution of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Pompeo would also be tasked with setting the country’s refugee policy, even though in 2016, he co-sponsored a bill that would have banned all refugees from resettlement in the United States pending changes to resettlement procedures, including having the Government Accountability Office report on refugees receiving benefits under certain programs, like Medicaid.

In a statement following Pompeo’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) said that she does not believe he is the right person for the job:

“The Secretary of State is a very different role than CIA director, and it’s not the kind of position you learn on the job. I sense a certain disdain for diplomacy in Mike Pompeo that I believe disqualifies him from being our next senior diplomat. I urge President Trump to nominate someone capable of proudly representing all of America in the pursuit of peace.”

Additionally, Pompeo failed to disclose that a company he owned did business with a state-owned Chinese company.

He also did not serve in the Gulf War — a claim that has been made by those around him. Pompeo hasn’t made the claim himself, but nor has he corrected it. The claim, reports Quartz, was repeated by several major news outlets, and appears to have originated in an an anonymously-edited Wikipedia entry.

The IP address linked to the edit seems to have come from Richmond, Virginia, where the CIA has facilities.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Iran nuclear deal and trade top French president’s White House visit

8 hours 44 min ago

French President Emmanuel Macron has a tough mandate in his visit with President Donald Trump on Monday: He aims to talk Trump into sticking with the Iran nuclear deal and into reversing plans to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on European trade partners.

Macron’s visit will include a state dinner — the first one hosted by President Trump since he took office in January 2017.

But hanging in the balance is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — a deal signed by Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany that saw Iran scaling back its enrichment program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Trump has repeatedly called the JCPOA the “worst deal ever” and has called for pulling out or renegotiating the deal throughout the campaign and presidency.

European partners try — and fail — to pass new Iran sanctions to appease Trump

Iranian officials, meanwhile, have been meeting with European counterparts to make clear that Iran will not stay in the deal should the United States pull out. And there is every indication that Trump will do just that.

Sanctions waivers are up for renewal on May 12, and President Trump said in January that he would not extend the waivers unless the European partners “fix the terrible flaws” of the JCPOA.

France’s Macron uses his Davos speech to roast Trump’s climate denial

In an attempt to appease Trump, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom tried and failed to pass new sanctions in the European Union, and Iran has grown increasingly agitated with the threat of brutal banking sanctions being snapped back, threatening its fragile economic recovery.

In the lead up to his visit, Macron on Sunday said there is no “Plan B” if the JCPOA is torn up, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif agreed with him, tweeting that the JCPOA is an “all or nothing” agreement.

President Macron is correct in saying there's no "Plan B" on JCPOA. It's either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage President Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more importantly to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 23, 2018

In a Sunday interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, Zarif said that by pulling out of the deal, President Trump would isolate the United States, proving it to be an unreliable partner and setting a “bad precedent.” Zarif added that the United States was not the only party in the JCPOA with options:

“No, we have put a number of options for ourselves and those options are ready, including options that would involve resuming at a much greater speed our nuclear activities. And those are all envisioned within the deal. And those options are ready to be implemented and we would make the necessary decision when we see fit.”

Macron might also discuss easing trade sanctions against Russia, and the Associated Press reported on Monday that he is likely to push for extending exemptions on steel and aluminum tariffs to European trade partners.

E.U. exemptions from the 25 percent and 10 percent tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum imports respectively expire on May 1, with the European Union threatening to apply $3.4 billion in tariffs on American products, such as bourbon and denim, if it doesn’t get the exemptions.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Rising seas hit U.S. coastal property values: ‘A pricing signal from climate change’

8 hours 55 min ago

The trillion-dollar coastal property bubble is ready to burst as global warming-driven sea level rise and storm surges threaten more and more property with flooding.

We are now seeing “a pricing signal from climate change” in the relatively depressed prices for the coastal property most at risk for flooding, as Harvard real-estate professor Jesse Keenan told the Wall Street Journal Friday.

Keenan is the lead author of a new study of Miami single-family homes that found the “rates of price appreciation in the lowest elevation” homes “have not kept up with the rates of appreciation of higher elevation” homes since about 2000 (see chart). That is, the homes along Miami’s coast most at risk from climate change are seeing their value drop over time compared to homes less at risk of flooding.

Flooding driven by climate change is affecting home prices in Miami. Via Wall Street Journal.

A second, broader study, “Disaster on the Horizon: The Price Effect of Sea Level Rise,” found that “Homes exposed to sea level” are being priced 7 percent lower than homes that are the same distance from the beach, but that are less exposed to flooding.

The study, which used Zillow data from around the country, concluded that the pricing gap between riskier homes and safer homes was being driven by the “more sophisticated investors.” For that group, the gap is about “11 percent and has increased over time, coinciding with the release of new scientific evidence on the extent and timing of ocean encroachment.”

The trillion-dollar coastal property bubble is ready to burst

The economic risks from rising seas are enormous — but the Trump administration’s policies all but guarantee a worst-case scenario plays out.

A 2014 Reuters analysis of this “slow-motion disaster” calculated there’s almost $1.25 trillion in coastal property whose value is being propped up by the National Flood Insurance Program’s below-market rates.

Climate change poses ‘nightmare scenario’ for Florida coast, Bloomberg warns

The risk will rise as sea levels rise, and when that happens, you’d expect your property value to fall,” as Lloyd Dixon, the director of the RAND Center for Catastrophic Risk Management and Compensation, explained in October. “At some point, the property becomes worthless.”

Moreover, the latest science and politics are both ominous. On the one hand, the Trump administration’s policies — to abandon the Paris climate deal while working to gut both domestic climate action and coastal adaptation programs — make the worst-case climate scenarios more likely while undermining efforts by coastal communities to prepare for what’s coming.

On the other hand, the latest science makes clear such policies will destroy every last bit of U.S. (and global) coastal property in the coming decades. That science was recently reviewed by scientists from 13 federal agencies in November’s National Climate Assessment (NCA), which the Trump administration reviewed and cleared before releasing.

This is what America will look like if we follow Trump’s climate policies

The NCA examined scenarios where the Paris climate agreement fails and found seas could rise 1.4 to 1.8 feet by 2050, which is in the time frame of 30-year mortgages that banks will soon be considering. When banks stop providing those mortgages, property values will plummet.

Remember, the storm surge from future Harveys and Sandys will be on top of whatever sea level rise we see, which is why studies find that, in high emissions scenarios, Hurricane Sandy-type storm surges could occur every year or two by mid-century.

Sean Becketti, the chief economist for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, warned in 2016 that the coastal property bubble will burst sooner than expected: “Some residents will cash out early and suffer minimal losses. Others will not be so lucky.”

As Bloomberg put it last April, “Demand and financing could collapse before the sea consumes a single house.” The studies discussed above make clear that process may already be starting.

Given that the coastal property bubble must burst sometime in the not-too-distant future — and that the early sellers of overpriced coastal property will do a lot better than the later ones — the initial deflation we’re now seeing may well hasten the inevitable sell-off.

Here’s the ultimate question for owners of coastal property, and the financial institutions that back them: Who will be part of the smart money that gets out early – and who will be with the other kind of money?


Categories: SCCDP Allies

This Republican bill would punish teachers for going on strike in Colorado

9 hours 24 min ago

Colorado teachers are preparing to stage walkouts in favor of higher wages and more education funding later this week, but Republican legislation in the state Senate could penalize them for striking — with far-reaching punishments that include fines and jail time.

The measure, SB18-264, would prohibit public school teachers and unions from participating in or organizing a strike. If a strike is planned, the school would be authorized to seek an injunction from the district court. Teachers who violate the injunction would be “punished with fines or up to 6 months in county jail, or both.” The legislation would also allow a public school to fire teachers who do not comply with the injunction.

The bill was introduced last Friday, just as teachers in the southern city of Pueblo, Colorado voted to go on strike, and informed state legislators of their plans to do so. If Colorado’s education and labor agency doesn’t intervene by the first week of May by trying to reach a resolution, teachers could go on strike as early as May 4. If the agency does intervene, however, discussions to broker a deal could last up to 180 days.

Teachers elsewhere in the state are planning walkouts for Thursday and Friday, with some school districts planning to close because of the planned protest. Their actions follow last Monday’s protest at the state Capitol, where hundreds of teachers called for raises and for protection of their retirement benefits.

Colorado educators file into the Colorado State Capitol to meet with legislators to call for increased education funding on April 16, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Credit: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner (R) cited Colorado’s already restrictive strike laws in defending the legislation to KOAA News 5.

“It is already against the law in Colorado for state employees to strike, so this is just an addition to that,” Gardner said. “The idea that it interferes with their First Amendment right is just absurd.”

Pueblo Education Association President Suzanne Ethredge told KOAA News 5 that she was “shocked by the harshness of the language that is in this bill. I think it’s very dangerous for teachers across the country. They would no longer be able to assert their right to strike, their right to speak out if conditions warrant it.”

What all the states where teachers are striking have in common

While the measure has little chance of becoming law, its introduction points to the stark differences between the views of those in power and the rest of the country. A recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that most Americans don’t think teachers make enough money, with half of the respondents saying they’d be willing to pay higher taxes to grant teachers a raise.

Colorado is the latest state that has become a battleground for education funding in recent weeks. Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have also organized strikes and walkouts for the same reasons. In many of these states, school funding is far below what it was before the Great Recession of 2008.

According to a 2017 report by the National Education Association, Colorado ranks 46th in the country when it comes to average teacher salaries and 49th when it comes to the average salary of other instructional staff.

And as local ABC affiliate Denver7 reported last week, despite the increase in the number of students in Colorado schools over the past two years, schools have not seen increases in education funding. Indeed, Colorado ranks 42nd in the United State with respect to funds spent per student, Denver7 reported, well below the national average by about $2,500.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Democrats probe scope of Koch influence on Trump climate policy

9 hours 52 min ago

Senate Democrats are probing the Koch brothers’ influence on a number of Trump administration policies at agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Interior.

The move comes after a report circulated to members of a seminar last year linked to the conservative billionaire Koch family appeared to take credit for a number of policy decisions, including the rollback of the Clean Power Plan and efforts to scale back national monuments.

Through a series of letters sent to various agency leaders and the White House on Friday, six Democratic lawmakers took aim at the leverage wielded by the Kochs. The wealthy family has spent decades directly and indirectly funding hardline conservative policies, undermining environmental protections and supporting think tanks that promote climate denial.

Writing to President Trump, the senators highlighted the prominent role the Kochs have played since the president took office.

“Long-standing members of the Koch network fill the ranks of the federal government, raising concerns about the network’s access to and influence over federal decision-making,” wrote Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), who is leading the effort. “Americans have a right to know if special interests are unduly influencing public policy decisions that have profound implications for public health, the environment, and the economy.”

Whitehouse asked for virtually all correspondence with federal employees to or from Koch employees or other representatives of Koch Industries — the largest privately owned energy company in the United States — or its subsidiaries and related groups. Data on political hires with Koch ties was also requested.

The letters are co-signed by Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as Tom Udall (NM), Ron Wyden (OR), and Catherine Cortez Masto (NV).

The letters come after a report from the Koch-backed Seminar Network last December hailed victories in the first 11 months of Trump’s tenure in office. Among the efforts labeled as a success was Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Also included were efforts to streamline infrastructure project permitting and a review of the Antiquities Act, a more than 100-year-old law protecting archaeological sites on public lands and allowing the president to protect and designate national monuments.

In addition to Trump, letters were also sent to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, among others. Senators asked Pruitt for documents relating to the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which worked to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with a focus on reigning in coal and encouraging renewable energy alternatives. The Trump administration has sought to repeal the initiative in an effort to help revive the coal industry.

Pruitt prioritized giving speeches to Koch and Mercer funded groups in his first year at EPA

Pruitt was also asked about the repeal of the Waters of the United States rule outlining federal water protections, which Trump has called “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.”

Senators indicated they were also seeking information on a shift away from so-called “sue and settle” policies at the EPA. Under Pruitt, the agency has moved towards fighting lawsuits with environmental organizations in court, rather than settling them, a change that has been criticized by activists.

Zinke was similarly queried for documents pertaining to environmental policies linked to Koch influence, including ending a ban on fracking and backing a plan to reduce several national monuments.

In December, Trump announced plans to shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 1.1 million acres, along with another Utah monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, which the administration wants to reduce to half of its original size. Documents obtained by the New York Times last month indicate oil and gas drilling served as a key incentive in the decision, despite condemnation by indigenous communities including the Navajo Nation.

It is common for special interests to lobby the government, but the extent of Koch influence on Trump administration officials has alarmed progressives and environmental advocates.

A recent ThinkProgress review of Pruitt’s public calendar found that the EPA administrator scheduled 10 speeches to be given at conservative think tanks during his first year at the agency — many of them funded or backed by the Kochs in some way.

Zinke has also given speeches to Koch-backed organizations and Interior Department-backed efforts to reduce national monuments in Utah have been linked directly to the conservative Utah-based Sutherland Institute, which receives much of its funding from the Kochs.

Following the letters, Democrats reportedly plan to raise the issue in the Senate this week, highlighting the “web of Koch-funded front groups advocating for business-friendly policies, sowing doubt in the public debate on important issues, and planting operatives within the halls of government.”

The Labor and Treasury Departments also received letters, as did the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Recipients have until May 15 to respond to the requests.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s big idea for health insurance excludes maternity care and barely covers addiction treatment

10 hours 38 min ago

The Trump administration’s “affordable alternative” to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is short-term health plans, but a new Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study published on Monday shows just how bare-bones this coverage actually is.

A KFF review of short-term health health plans offered on two large private insurance websites, eHealth and Agile Health Insurance, in 45 states and Washington, D.C. shows these plans rarely if at all pay for essential coverage: no plans cover maternity care; 43 percent do not cover mental health services; 62 percent do not cover substance use disorder treatment (both alcohol and other drugs); and 71 percent do not cover outpatient prescription drugs.

NEW: Analysis finds most short-term health plans don't cover substance abuse or prescription drugs at all; none cover maternity care https://t.co/LOZmJbPKMB pic.twitter.com/EcFezmaWnL

— Kaiser Family Foundation (@KaiserFamFound) April 23, 2018

KFF found that seven states — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah — did not cover any of the four aforementioned benefits. In five states, short-term plans aren’t offered on these websites, primary because of state laws that regulate these plans.

The country is current facing multiple public health crises, including the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world and the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history. And short-term health plans, a favorite GOP policy, could exacerbate this. As HuffPost’s Jeffrey Young writes, “The Republican Party’s brightest idea for how to fix [the health care system]? Make health insurance worse — is to free up access to insurance that does not cover maternity care and hardly covers addiction or mental health services.”

Short-term plans have been around for a long time and predate the ACA. These plans aren’t meant to be a long-term insurance option, but simply cover gaps between coverage — like for a person in between jobs, waiting for health benefits to kick in.

In February, the White House released a proposal to permit people to purchase these plans for up to 364 days, rather than the current three-month limit. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also requesting comment on whether to make these plans renewable. The comment period for this proposed rule ends Monday.

With the requirement that individuals have ACA-compliant health plans or face a tax penalty gone starting in 2019, it’s possible more people will purchase short-term plans, says KFF. The Trump administration told reporters that anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 people would desert ACA-compliant plans for short-term health plans, but most experts believe this is a conservative estimate. The Urban Institute estimates 4.3 million people will purchase short-term plans next year, with more than half (2.7 million) abandoning comprehensive health plans.

The Trump administration argues that these plans provide people a more affordable option — but this only accounts for monthly premiums. While premiums for short-term plans are cheaper than the cheapest ACA plan (priced at 20 percent or less), this isn’t the only insurance expense — and short-term plans don’t protect consumers from extremely high cost sharing costs. There isn’t a set out-of-pocket limit; meaning, cost sharing in a short-term plan can be, for example, effectively capped at $20,000 per person compared to an ACA-mandated cap of $7,350. This is particularly concerning given the lack of benefits covered in short-term health plans.

Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation

Short-term plans could be harmful for people purchasing this coverage, and bad for those left on the ACA marketplace, as exits — particularly from those who are healthy — could drive up costs for those left on the exchanges. America’s Health Insurance Plans, an insurer lobbying group, warned against loosening regulations around skimpy plans for this reason on Monday, saying in a letter to HHS they will destabilize the markets.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Alabama cops tackle, arrest black woman in Waffle House over ‘the f-bomb’

10 hours 58 min ago

White police officers violently arrested a black woman in a Waffle House in suburban Mobile, Alabama, early Sunday morning in an incident sparked by some combination of plastic forks and the word “fuck.”

“I heard the f-bomb,” the officer who initially laid hands on the woman and later threw her to the floor says in one of the roughly 15 short video clips the woman’s friend was able to capture of the incident. The videos were removed from the friend’s public Facebook page late Monday morning, though a censored version of the clips remains on YouTube.

The woman’s top slips down during the tackle, leaving her breasts exposed for minutes as a trio of officers cuff her. Responding to the woman’s distressed questions about why she’s being treated this way, the officer shouts back “I’ll break your arm, that’s what I’m about to do.”

Both women react with alarm at the threat as the officers insist that the passive, horizontal woman is resisting arrest. “Alright now you’re being belligerent,” one officer responds.

The moment where an officer brandishes a weapon -- though not his firearm -- at the woman. CREDIT: Screenshot/Facebook

A moment later, the third officer on hand appears to brandish his taser at Clemons’s head as the officer who threatened to break her arm keeps her pinned. At another, an officer retrieves a square object that had fallen off the front of his uniform that appears to be the shape and size of a body-worn recording device. A spokeswoman for the Saraland Police Department declined to say whether tasers and body-worn cameras are standard equipment in the city.

“I can say that what it looks like on the video is probably what it is,” she said, “but we will be giving out clearer information later this evening.”

The detective declined to comment on the reason for the arrest or any of what the video appears to show, saying the department will be releasing more information late on Monday. Local police and city officials are meeting with state government officials about the incident as well, she said, while declining to specify who would attend the meeting.

The woman’s family says the incident began over flatware. Store employees told her she’d be charged an extra 50 cents for plastic utensils, to which she said she’d never been charged for them before, prompting the Waffle House employee to cancel her order. The woman had just asked for a phone number for a district manager when police arrived, her family said.

The video gives little indication of why police were there. It does not capture the woman using vulgar language at any point, though it does show her appealing to another officer from her seat after the first cop puts hands on her.

The spokeswoman declined to say if the officers were simply on hand by coincidence or if they had been called to the store. She said a police report might eventually be released but that the city has no immediate plans to publish the document, which would likely clarify the precise official reason officers gave for using force to effect an arrest.

Cursing in public is technically a crime in many jurisdictions. SPD charged the woman with disorderly conduct, which Alabama law defines as “in a public place us[ing] abusive or obscene language” among other things.

She was also charged with resisting arrest, which policing analysts say is one of the most broadly misused categories of charge in all of law enforcement. Directing a curse word at a police officer, or lying still as officers yank unsuccessfully at a person’s arms, is often enough to trigger a charge for resisting even absent the more active type of noncompliance the term implies.

Supporters in the community rallied at the Waffle House location on Sunday. Speakers noted parallels to other ugly incidents where black people in chain restaurants have been subjected to heavy-handed police treatment with little clear justification, including a recent viral video from a Philadelphia Starbucks.

Waffle House’s corporate communications office jumped into things late Sunday, with a spokesman telling AL.com that “the information we have received at this point differs significantly from what has reportedly been attributed to Ms. Clemons and strongly supports the actions taken by the Saraland Police Department.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Net Neutrality is officially dead

11 hours 22 min ago

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially ended Net Neutrality on Monday, scraping the regulations from the Federal Register and hastening the introduction of a corporate-controlled internet.

The final ruling ends the Obama-era regulations, which prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon from slowing down or blocking access to certain websites. Instead the FCC chose to end the public-utility regulation of the internet and “restore the light-touch regulatory scheme that fostered the internet’s growth, openness and freedom.”

In February a group of Senate Democrats attempted to stop the FCC’s de-regulation by introducing a motion of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which could have allowed Congress to nullify the FCC’s proposal with a simple majority — but were unable to get enough votes to pass the legislation up to the President.

Under the new rules, the FCC has also passed the authority to regulate broadband to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This is important not only because the FTC possess less understanding of broadband issues then the FCC does (hence Communications Commission rather than Trade Commission) but also doesn’t have the power to make any new rules — giving corporations even more freedom to dictate how the internet is run.

By restoring the “light-touch regulatory scheme,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that consumers will “benefit from greater investment in digital infrastructure which will create jobs, increase competition, and lead to better, faster, and cheaper internet access.”

The FCC just decided to repeal net neutrality. Here’s why that’s really, really bad.

The reality however is that the FCC’s repeal will drastically tip the scales of the internet in favor of some of America’s most powerful companies, strangling the ability of tiny start-ups to create the next Facebook, Skype or Google by pitting them against corporate behemoths. Big ISPs also have a history of trying to stifle access to competitor products — in 2012, for instance, the FCC fined Verizon $1.25 million when it asked Google to remove applications that allowed users to skirt a $20 Verizon tethering charge.

But while net neutrality is gone at the federal level, there is still some hope for the principle in the states. Attorneys general in 23 states plus the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit challenging the repeal, while over thirty states, most recently Alaska, have begun legislation to preserve their own statewide net neutrality.

Meanwhile on a grassroots level, locally-owned broadband networks are giving options for fast, cheap internet to individuals in rural or low-income networks. Kentucky, for instance, is moving forwards with ambitious plans to build a state-wide fiber-optic cable network designed to provider cheaper internet to rural areas. The Equitable Internet Initiative has also begun to build high-speed internet in low-income areas of Detroit.

“Washington and the big telecoms are letting us down,” Mark Howell, chief information officer in the town of Concord, MA, wrote in the Washington Post. “But local leaders can protect people’s rights and expand access to quality Internet with municipal broadband.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Pennsylvania’s most homophobic lawmaker lashes out at liberals in unhinged rant

12 hours 19 min ago

One of Pennsylvania’s most notorious lawmakers let loose in a homophobic rant on Facebook Friday. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) lashed out at several of his past critics, including “lying homosexual” Rep. Brian Sims (D) and “constant touchy-feely” Rep. Matt Bradford (D) — a reference to an incident last December when Metcalfe’s homophobia was on grand display. In the rant, he also admitted that he uses his position as chairman of the House State Government Committee to block all legislation brought by Democrats.

The rant seems to have been provoked by another Democratic lawmaker who had a troubling interaction with Metcalfe. Last week, Rep. Chris Rabb (D), a freshman lawmaker from Philadelphia, submitted a letter to House officials indicating that he felt Metcalfe had threatened him. In a heated disagreement about last-minute changes to a redistricting bill, Metcalfe allegedly told Rabb, “We’d have a very different conversation on the street.” Rabb said that he perceived this as a threat of violence and also noted that “it is widely rumored that Rep. Metcalfe carries a firearm on him inside of the Capitol complex.”

Incidentally, House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin originally responded to Rapp’s letter by saying, “They poke and prod to get reaction out of the chairman and we are not playing that game. The chairman is not playing that game.” But judging from Metcalfe’s Facebook rant, the chairman very much is playing that game.

The “profanity” Rapp reportedly used was “bullshit.” Before Metcalfe had even published his rant, Rapp, who is African American, addressed concerns about his language. “The problem that I have with people like Daryl Metcalfe is they pretend to be upstanding and they believe that because they don’t curse, their vulgarity is any less awful,” Rapp said. “Their vulgarity is the racist policies and the rhetoric that they spew.”

It’s not known for sure whether Metcalfe actually carries a weapon, but he has been a fervent opponent of gun violence prevention. After the Parkland shooting, he criticized the “students” (in quotation marks) who were lobbying for gun control measures, implying that he believed the conspiracy theories that the students were actually crisis actors.

In the rant, Metcalfe claims former Rep. Leslie Acosta (D) lied about him, calling her “now convict Acosta.” While it’s true that Acosta resigned after it came to light that she had secretly pleaded guilty to money laundering, that doesn’t excuse how Metcalfe treated her. In 2015, he introduced an “English-only” bill that would have required all of Pennsylvania’s state and local government records to be in English. When Acosta — an immigrant who was the state’s first Latina legislator — disagreed, Metcalfe actually cut off her mic to silence her. Acosta told ThinkProgress at the time, “This is overt racism in the 21st century.”

Metcalfe’s friction with Sims, Pennsylvania’s first openly gay lawmaker, dates back years. In 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s first same-sex marriage ruling (overturning parts of the Defense of Marriage Act), Sims attempted to speak about the significance of the decision. Metcalfe invoked a House rule to cut him off, openly admitting it was because of his religious beliefs. He thought Sims’ comments “would have been an open rebellion against Almighty God and God’s word, against God’s law.”

Last summer, Metcalfe also called Sims “emotionally unhinged” after he allegedly called him an “ignorant, racist bigot” for supporting an anti-sanctuary cities bill. In fact, Metcalfe recorded a video about the incident, calling Sims’ reaction “blatant liberal intolerance from the radical left.” He insisted, “We must continue to defeat the left, defeat unruly progressive mobs, and defeat all other enemies of liberty.”

Metcalfe’s encounter with Bradford occurred this past December. Bradford touched him on the arm during a committee meeting, and Metcalfe blew up in an overly defensive reaction about his sexuality. “Rep. Bradford, look, I’m a heterosexual,” he said in the viral clip. “I have a wife, I love my wife, I don’t like men as you might but stop touching me all the time. Keep your hands to yourself. If you want to touch someone, you have people on your side of the aisle who might like it. I don’t.” In a follow-up interview with PennLive.com, Metcalfe defended bringing up sexuality because “the homosexual side brings up their sexuality continually and it’s supposed to be accepted in our culture that they can talk about their homosexuality all the time.”

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party was quick to condemn Metcalfe’s latest Facebook rant. According to executive director Sinceré Harris, “Daryl Metcalfe’s public admission that he is a partisan hack who abuses his power at the expense of making government better for Pennsylvanians is absolutely disqualifying.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fox News host calls on Trump to fire Scott Pruitt

12 hours 34 min ago

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing more friendly fire after this weekend, as a fourth Republican representative along with a Fox News host called on Pruitt to resign following a barrage of scandals.

On Sunday, in response to a question on Twitter, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) said that Pruitt “should resign” and that he was the “wrong fit from the start for [sic] agency dedicated to protecting our environment.”

Yes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should resign. Wrong fit from start for agency dedicated to protecting our environment. #EarthDay2018 reinforces our need to promote pristine planet via clean air & water, leaving it better for future generations. Requires leadership & balance. https://t.co/kxuU0os8F9

— Frank LoBiondo (@RepLoBiondo) April 22, 2018

LoBiondo is the fifth Republican lawmaker, and fourth Republican representative, to call for Pruitt to resign. In the House, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) have all called for Pruitt to step down. In the Senate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) remains the only Republican to call for Pruitt’s resignation, though a number have expressed concern with Pruitt’s apparent various ethical lapses.

Last week, 170 lawmakers — all Democrats — from both the House and the Senate introduced a resolution calling for Pruitt to resign.

170 lawmakers sign resolution calling for Scott Pruitt’s resignation, including zero Republicans

But Pruitt is also facing fire from outside of the halls of Congress. On Sunday, former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and L.A.-based Fox News host Steve Hilton called for Trump to fire Pruitt, arguing that the EPA administrator has become a walking example of the kind of “swampy” mentality that Trump promised to end.

“What we need is for President Trump to take the lead, fire Scott Pruitt, and throw out the lobbyists from his administration,” Hilton said.

Hilton’s call for Pruitt’s resignation isn’t the first time that Fox News has taken an antagonistic position towards the administrator’s growing canon of scandals.

In early April, Fox News reporter Ed Henry pressed Pruitt on whether he approved raises for two political aides despite the White House not approving those pay increases. Pruitt denied he had knowledge of the raises, but later reporting revealed that Pruitt was privy to the details.

The growing chorus calling for Pruitt’s resignation comes as new information broke late last week about Pruitt’s dealings with a lobbyist couple from whom he rented a room in Washington.

In early April, ABC News reported that for a six month period during his first year as administrator, Pruitt rented a luxury condo on Capitol Hill from the wife of Steven Hart, a prominent D.C. energy lobbyist. Pruitt paid just $50 a night for the condo, and his daughter stayed there for a period of time during the summer while she was interning in D.C. — leading ethics experts to question whether the agreement constituted a gift from the lobbyist family.

Everything we know about Scott Pruitt’s infamous Capitol Hill apartment

Pruitt and Hart maintained that neither engaged in any business between the EPA and any of Hart’s clients while Pruitt was staying in the condo. On Sunday, however, the Guardian reported that Pruitt and Hart did indeed meet at the EPA in July of 2017 (while Pruitt was staying in Hart’s wife’s condo) to discuss efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.

Also on Sunday, White House legislative director Marc Short told NBC’s Chuck Todd that President Trump still has full confidence in Pruitt.

“Scott Pruitt is doing a phenomenal job and the president is happy with him,” Short said on “Meet the Press.”

On Friday, Hart announced that he would be stepping down from his role of chairman at Williams & Jensen, a D.C.-based lobbying firm that represents companies like Exxon and Enbridge.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Joe Arpaio steals the show, lashes out at critics, at Bikers For Trump rally

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 8:02pm

NEW RIVER, ARIZONA — His wife is cancer free, and he isn’t running for the Senate to raise money, thank you very much. That was the message Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, gave to a small group of reporters at a Bikers for Trump rally Sunday night.

Arpaio, who as Maricopa County’s top lawman was best known for running a jail he called a “concentration camp” in which he tortured hundreds of immigrants and minorities, made an appearance at the Roadrunner Restaurant and Saloon Sunday evening. The event, put on by Bikers for Trump, was purportedly to support Debbie Lesko, the Republican nominee to replace former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) in Tuesday’s special election. But it was Arpaio who ultimately stole the show. After giving a short speech about the importance of supporting Trump and calling on attendees to vote for Lesko Tuesday, Arpaio spoke to three reporters and lashed out at his critics.

Arpaio was pardoned by Trump last year after he was charged with criminal contempt of court for defying a court order to stop profiling Latinos. Now, he’s running to replace the retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Last January, Flake belittled Arpaio’s plan, quipping that he didn’t expect the former sheriff’s candidacy to last very long. It’s a remark about which Arpaio still seems to be upset.

“I already raised half a million dollars in two months. I’m in it to win,” Arpaio said Sunday. “For all those people who say I’m just doing this — like Flake — ‘He’s not serious,’ I’m going to tell you, I am running to win. They can say whatever they want, that I’m just doing it to get publicity. I can get publicity every day. I do anyway. I don’t have to run for Senate to get any publicity.”

Arpaio continued in this vein, saying, “And by the way, my wife is cancer free, so anybody that wants to keep throwing that out, I got news for them. I’ve been married 60 years, I know my wife, and she’s behind me 101 percent.”

Arpaio was joined at Sunday night’s rally by Kelli Ward, who is also running for Flake’s seat. Asked by ThinkProgress why he believes voters should support him over Ward or Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the establishment favorite for the seat, Arpaio said, “Look at my resume. You got about five hours so I can tell ya?”

Arpaio insisted that voters on the campaign trail were enthusiastically supporting his run.

“I’m getting a great response. What are you, kidding? Great response,” he said. “I’ve been around for 24 years as the longest serving sheriff in Arizona. I’ve been the top law enforcement official in Mexico, Texas, Arizona, sheriff, so I have 38 years law enforcing experience, the top guy in both Mexico and the United States border.”

Notably, Arpaio was voted out of office in 2016, and though he was stationed in Mexico during his 25-year career with the Drug Enforcement Administration, he was never the top law enforcement official in Mexico.

Arpaio said Sunday that he doesn’t know if and doesn’t care whether Trump will endorse him.

“I was with [Trump] from day one. Now you got everybody for him, but that’s great. Glad they joined the team,” Arpaio said. “I’ll be with him ‘til the end. He can endorse whoever he wants, I’m still for him, I’ll win this race, I never asked for an endorsement, I go to the people, but I don’t know what he’s going to do, I don’t ask him. I don’t talk about needing him and all that, OK?”

Arpaio told reporters Sunday that he has big plans if he’s elected, too, and that priority number one is opening an office on the border. If he’s elected, he also said he plans to only serve one term. (He made a similar promise in 1992 when he first ran for sheriff. He is now, however, 85 years old.)

“I’m not going to Washington to make a career out of it and to start raising money the minute [I] get there,” he said. Then, he added, “I got a lot of exciting things to talk about, you guys will learn about it. I’m not ready to talk about it. I’m here to win.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Romney’s failure to secure Utah nomination points to continued struggles for GOP mainstream

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 11:04am

Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney failed to secure the party’s nomination for Utah’s senate race on Saturday — he came in a close second behind Utah state representative Mike Kennedy who casts himself as a conservative outsider.

No candidate secured the necessary 60 percent needed to head to the November election ballot unopposed. Receiving 49.12 percent of the vote at the end of yesterday’s GOP convention, Romney will now compete against Kennedy (who secured 50.88 percent) in a primary set for June 26.

The results are a setback for Romney’s attempts at a political comeback and serve as a reminder of his 2012 comment that “this ain’t bean bag” — a phrase dating back to the turn of the 20th century which suggests politics is a game meant only for tough men.

His failure to secure the GOP bid also highlights the continued struggles facing the party’s mainstream.

Thank you to all the delegates who hung in there with us all day at the Convention. I appreciate the support I received and look forward to the primary election.

— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) April 22, 2018

After the 2016 presidential election saw a groundswell of support for political outsiders on both sides with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, it has not been easy for mainstream candidates to push through.

And now, on the heels of the Roy Moore and Rick Saccone debacles, national Republicans are starting to worry about the party’s ability to win big in the midterms.

Most recently, they’ve been focusing their attention — through launching attack ads — on former coal baron Don Blankenship who is increasingly popular in the GOP’s West Virginia Senate primary. This is despite the fact that Blankenship is currently on probation after serving one year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards following a deadline mine accident.

Romney went into Saturday’s GOP convention as the favored candidate — his poor performance will likely add to the party establishment’s woes.

After launching his Senate campaign in February, Romney has been meeting with delegates across the state. And his campaign has been trying to cater to conservatives by toning down his past criticism of President Trump. Throughout his Utah tour he has sought to emphasize that he agrees with Trump’s policies but takes issue with some of his extreme rhetoric.

At one point during the 2016 campaign Romney billed himself as a “Never-Trumper” during a speech in which he called the presidential nominee a “fraud” and a “cheat.” Romney has also criticized Trump’s response to Charlottesville, saying the president’s comments at the time caused “racists to rejoice.”

After previously saying he wouldn’t accept an endorsement from the president, in February Romney happily accepted Trump’s support for his Senate bid.

And during a Republican event at the end of March, Romney said he is more conservative on immigration than the president is — a position which doesn’t match his previous statements.

“I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president,” he told the event’s audience. “My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the country legally.”

On Saturday, Romney told CNN he didn’t know yet whether he would support Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, leaving him room to promote himself as an independent voice for Utah.

“As a person of political experience, if I endorse someone, I’ll want to know what’s in it for Utah and what help would he provide for us on key priorities in Utah,” he said. “So, I’m not a cheap date.”

Romney will head into the June primary with substantially more money than his competitor — at the end of March he had $1.1 million compared to Kennedy’s $257,000. Whoever wins, they are expected to face Democrat Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman, in the general election.
Categories: SCCDP Allies

Corker supports his potential Senate replacement—but he won’t campaign for her

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 11:00am

Sen. Bob Corker (R.-TN), who will be retiring later this year, has long been one of the more outspoken critics of President Donald Trump.

Now, he may be one of the most prominent voices not to publicly campaign for his own potential replacement, Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Corker described Blackburn’s Democratic rival, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, as a “friend.”

“I’m not going to campaign against him,” Corker added, “but I’m supporting our nominee.”

Bash asked Corker why he was supporting Blackburn, at which point things became a bit awkward for the senator.

Bash: “Can you tell my why Republican Marsha Blackburn is better to represent your state in Tennessee, and take your seat, than Phil Bredesen?”

Corker: “Well I think most people in our state — it is a red state — will focus on the first vote she makes, and that’s the vote to elect the majority leader. And I think at the end of the day that’s going to be a big factor in the race. But you know, Dana, the rest of the story wasn’t written during the interview that I have with the Christian Science Monitor.”

Bash: “So, Senator, that’s not a ringing endorsement of Marsha Blackburn to say that she should be elected just because she’s going to vote for Mitch McConnell.”

Corker: “Well, Dana, you know I’m supporting the nominee. I’ve worked with the nominee for some time, and I don’t know what else to say.”

This is awkward. https://t.co/0cGAxkvekK

— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) April 22, 2018

Corker was referencing an event last week, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, where he praised Bredesen’s candidacy.

Bredesen, according to the most recent polling, currently has a 10-point lead over Blackburn.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Celebrate Earth Day with these renewable energy milestones

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 9:25am

More than a year into the Trump administration, it can be easy to focus on the cascading scandals and anti-environment policies pushed by the president and his cabinet. But despite the administration’s anti-regulatory agenda, renewable energy is still breaking records both in the United States and around the world, thanks in large part to the rapidly declining costs of renewable energy technology.

Here are five renewable records to celebrate this Earth Day.

California solar

With its sunny climate and environmentally-focused policies, California has long been a leader for solar in the United States. But in March of 2018, the state broke a solar record when the California Independent System Operator — which manages the flow of electricity for 80 percent of the state — saw an all-time record for peak demand of electricity met by solar energy: 49.95 percent on March 4, up from the previous peak of 47.2 percent set on May 14, 2017.

Utility operators credit the record to a few factors, from the fact that it was a relatively cool day (so no need for air conditioning, which can drive up electricity use) to the fact that it was a weekend, when energy use is typically lower.

California just hit an incredible solar power milestone

The state broke another solar record the next day, producing 10,400 megawatts of solar power on California’s main power grid — a 500 megawatt increase from the previous record.

No coal in England

Britain — birthplace of the Industrial Revolution — made historic strides toward a greener power grid this month, when it went more than two days without using coal to produce electricity, something that hadn’t happened for 136 years.

According to the Independent, the 55-hour stretch marked the longest that the country had gone without using coal power since Britain’s first coal-fired power plant opened in London in 1882.

Instead of using coal-fired power, the country relied on a mix of renewable energy and nuclear power. Wind power produced the most electricity, followed by nuclear, biomass, solar, and hydro.

The coal-free stretch came just weeks after the United Kingdom broke a record for total electricity generated by wind power — 14 gigawatts.

Still, renewable energy in the United Kingdom faces a potentially precarious future, after investment fell 57 percent in 2017 — the largest investment drop in any country in the world.

Portugal’s renewable excess

In March, Portugal made headlines for producing more renewable energy than the country consumed. The country’s renewable energy production for the month was 4,812 gigawatt hours, 4.3 percent more than the country’s electricity consumption for the month of 4,647 gigawatt hours. It managed that feat even as electricity consumption increased 9.7 percent over last year.

Portugal still used some fossil fuel-powered energy for electricity in March, though renewables accounted for some 86 percent of the country’s consumption. It also went 70 hours during March where renewable energy was the sole source of electricity. The country primarily relied on wind and hydropower, which accounted for 42 and 55 percent of Portugal’s electricity needs, respectively, throughout the month.

United States record in 2017

Despite the Trump administration’s promise to revitalize the domestic coal industry and spur fossil fuel production both inland and offshore, 2017 marked an important year for renewable energy — especially solar and wind power — in the United States.

For the first time in history, in March and April of 2017, wind and solar provided more than 10 percent of all U.S. power, according to a report released in November by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Renewable energy just passed a major milestone in the United States

Renewable energy has making notable strides particularly in red states. According to an analysis released last week by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — all states that voted for Trump in the 2016 election — all produced more than a third of their electricity from wind turbines. In Texas, the nation’s leading producer of wind power, wind can now provide more electricity than coal.

Despite federal policies aimed at undermining renewable energy research and technology, cities and states continue to move forward with aggressive renewable energy targets. According to the Sierra Club, 59 cities, eight counties, and one state (Hawaii) have all committed to goals of 100 percent renewable energy.

Record-breaking around the world

But it’s not just the United States that is seeing major, historic strides for renewable energy. Globally, the world installed a record amount of solar energy technology in 2017 — 98 gigawatts, which was more than the total amount of installed coal, nuclear, and gas capacity combined.

The increase in installed solar technology was driven largely by China, which installed 53 gigawatts — more than half the global total — and invested some $86.5 billion in solar technology. China has pledged to invest $360 billion in solar technology by 2020.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump administration health announcement is latest blow to transgender Americans

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 8:16am

The Trump administration’s campaign to make life more difficult for transgender Americans entered a new phase this weekend. On Saturday, according to the New York Times, the administration announced that it would gut an anti-discrimination statute when it comes to health care access for transgender patients.

The rule, passed under the Obama administration in 2016, had prevented health care providers receiving federal financial assistance — including those receiving Medicare and Medicaid payments — from discriminating based on “gender identity.” A recent ruling out of Texas, however, found that segments of the rule were unlawful, opening the door for the Department of Health and Human Services to rewrite the rule.

The new rule, per the Times, has been submitted to the White House, which is currently “reviewing the proposed rule on ‘nondiscrimination in health programs’.” While the details of the new rule remain unclear, the Trump administration will likely allow health insurers to prevent coverage of treatments that help a person transition to another gender.

The new rule could have potentially devastating effects on America’s transgender community. As POLITICO reported last month, over 30 percent of transgender Americans “lack regular access to a medical provider, even as their community suffers from high rates of depression, exposure to violence and HIV infection.” Now, health care providers and insurers will make it easier to prevent gender reassignment surgeries — and potentially other procedures as well — for transgender Americans.

Federal judge shuts down Trump’s ‘new’ transgender military ban

The announcement presents the Trump administration’s latest salvo against rights for transgender Americans. Not only has the Education Department repealed Obama-era guidelines for transgender students, but President Donald Trump has made barring transgender Americans from serving in the military — a diktat that is still passing through the court system — one of the key planks of his first two years in office.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Two people who helped Scott Pruitt buy an Oklahoma City house now hold top jobs at the EPA

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 7:59am

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has been embroiled in scandal for weeks, ever since it was revealed that he got a sweetheart deal last year on a Capitol Hill condo linked to an energy lobbyist. But as new details revealed by the New York Times this weekend show, this wasn’t the first time Pruitt turned to a lobbyist for his housing needs.

In 2003, while working as a state senator, Pruitt bought an Oklahoma City property from a retiring telecommunications lobbyist. But Pruitt was not the sole owner. Instead, the house was bought through a shell company linked to a friend and business partner — Kenneth Wagner — and the mortgage was financed by a bank run by another friend — Albert Kelly.

Both Kelly and Wagner now hold top positions in the EPA. Kelly, who was banned from the banking industry for life for violating federal banking laws, is in charge of the EPA’s Superfund program. Wagner is a senior advisor for regional and state affairs.

As with Pruitt’s $50 a night condo deal, Pruitt got a good price on the house which boasts a grand staircase and a view of the State Capitol’s white dome.

According to the Times’ investigation, the home was bought for $375,000. This is $100,000 less than what the lobbyist — Marsha Lindsey — paid for it just one year prior. Reports state that Lindsey’s employer, telecom giant SBC Oklahoma picked up the difference. (State records show that during the early 2000s Pruitt sided with the telecom company on several of its lobbying issues, including a deregulatory bill that would allow it to raise rates.)

Pruitt’s apartment deal might be a serious ethics violation

The deal went down like this: Lindsey turned the deed over to a relocation company hired by SBC, which then signed the property over — at the discounted rate — to Jon Jiles, a health care executive and a donor to Pruitt’s campaigns. Jiles then transferred the deed to the shell company — Capitol House LLC — where he was listed as a manager. Wagner was listed as the registered agent. After this, Kelly’s bank — Spirit Bank — approved a mortgage for a higher value ($420,000) in the name of the shell company.

These real estate records did not include Pruitt’s involvement in the deal according to the New York Times. However, an EPA spokesperson confirmed to the newspaper that Pruitt was one of five investors in that shell company.

None of Pruitt’s financial disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the shell company. This is a “potential violation of the state’s ethics rules” the Times wrote. According to Oklahoma ethics rules, officials are required to disclose their businesses or entities which hold securities valued at $5,000 or more.

Pruitt’s business relationship with both Wagner and Kelly extends beyond just this one housing deal, however. Pruitt at the time held a second job at Wagner’s corporate law firm. And Kelly’s bank helped finance several of Pruitt’s ventures, including his move from a suburban home in Tulsa to a lakefront property, and the purchase of a significant stake in a minor league baseball team.

As with Pruitt’s condo deal, the EPA told the Times that Pruitt’s business arrangements with Kelly and Wagner “were ethical,” adding that Pruitt’s stake in the shell company was “a simply real estate investment.”

“Mr. Wagner and Mr. Kelly left high-profile positions in law and banking in Oklahoma, to serve in the administration,” the EPA spokeswoman told the Times. “They are dedicated EPA employees who have earned the respect and admiration of EPA career employees across the country.”

Pruitt is facing mounting calls to resign or be fired from both Democrats and Republicans. And there are a series of investigations being conducted by government into his questionable spending and management practices. So far, President Trump has maintained his support for Pruitt — who continues to give priority to the fossil fuel industry and climate science deniers.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Georgia rally is latest disappointment for American extreme right

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 7:20am

If American white supremacists plan a rally and almost no one turns out, does it still count? That’s the question facing America’s neo-Nazis and neo-fascists this weekend.

Yesterday’s rally in the small town of Newnan, Georgia, was supposed to represent the greatest gathering of American white supremacists following last year’s event in Charlottesville, Virginia — a rally that itself drew some 1,000 supporters and resulted in the death of one counter-protester.

Yesterday, though, saw an altogether different turnout, with counter-protesters and law enforcement both significantly outnumbering the neo-Nazis in attendance. According to Slate, some 700 law enforcement officers oversaw the rally, presenting a “massive militarized police presence” to counter the event, hosted in Greenville Street Park.

So #Newnan is a town of 38,000 and their police look like this today pic.twitter.com/zX54ATnCgH

— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) April 21, 2018

The Nazis' sound system was cut off and they were kicked out of the park promptly at 5pm, when their permit ended #Newnan pic.twitter.com/13vNi0PLxG

— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) April 21, 2018

All told, only a few dozen neo-Nazis and white supremacists attended the rally, which was organized by the National Socialist Movement. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the NSM “anticipated between 50 and 100 people, but it appeared Saturday that only a couple of dozen of them showed up.”

The rally, unlike last year’s events in Charlottesville, was largely peaceful, with no injuries reported. Newnan Police Chief Douglas “Buster” Meadows told USA Today that he was “very relieved” and “so proud of the community.” The rally ended, as Slate reported, as “much ado about nothing.”

Still, as Huffington Post reporter Christopher Mathias found, the rally wasn’t without its moments of tensions — especially when it came to the police presence at the event. As Mathias witnessed, at least one officer “pointed what seemed to be a modified AR-15 at the faces of counterprotesters, none of whom appeared to be armed.” Police also arrested 10 counter-protesters.

A cop points a gun at a protester #Newnan pic.twitter.com/wsQuy6LqVx

— Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias) April 21, 2018

As it is, the rally appears the latest setback in a litany of post-Charlottesville stumbles for the American far-right. The movement’s leadership, from Richard Spencer to Matthew Heimbach, appears on its heels, facing declining interest and potential jail time. Given the paltry numbers seen yesterday, the movement as a whole appears, if not in tatters, then at least facing a crisis of relevancy.

Still, it would be foolish to say that the low turnout portends the end of the movement as a whole. For instance, the #Newnan hashtag this weekend has been the second-most-popular trending hashtag on ThinkProgress’ Extreme Right Dashboard.

The turnout may not have been there, but there still appears at least some interest in the rally’s impact — and what may come next for America’s white supremacists.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Shooting at Tennessee Waffle House leaves four dead

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 7:19am

Four are dead and two others are injured after a gunman opened fire during the early Sunday morning hours at a Waffle House just southeast of Nashville, Tennessee.

According to WSMV Nashville, witnesses described the gunman as using an AR-15 and wearing nothing but a green jacket as he carried out the shooting. The shooting, which began in the parking lot and moved into the restaurant, took place at roughly 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee.

Add a Waffle House in Nashville to the list. AR-15s attack with the same firepower used by highly-trained INFANTRY TROOPS and therefore do not belong in the hands of normal civilians. pic.twitter.com/pdNW7yhwpO

— Jaclyn Corin (@JaclynCorin) April 22, 2018

A witness told The Tennessean that the shooter “did not say anything,” and that he “pulled up, got out of his car and was all business.”

According to Reuters, one diner, who had been hiding in the restaurant’s bathroom, managed to pull the rifle from the gunman. One victim remains in critical condition, while another remains in critical but stable condition.

Nashville police have identified Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, Illinois, as a person of interest in the shooting, tweeting earlier this morning that the vehicle in which the gunman arrived was registered to Reinking.

Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron told CNN that an unarmed customer at the Waffle House had “wrestled the gun away” from the shooter. The Tennessean identified the customer as 29-year old James Shaw Jr., who reportedly wrestled the gun away from the shooter and threw it over the counter.

A 29-year-old man saved numerous lives during Antioch Waffle House shooting, police say https://t.co/GYMn6ZG1jr

— Tennessean (@Tennessean) April 22, 2018

“I don’t really know, when everyone said that (of being a hero), it feels selfish,” Shaw Jr. told the Tennessean. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”

The shooter then removed his jacket and fled the scene on foot, according to Aaron. The shooter’s whereabouts are still unknown, although a “shirtless man wearing pants believed to be Reinking” was spotted in nearby woods, according to Reuters.

A man believed to be Travis Reinking was last seen in a wood line near Discovery at Mountain View Apts. on Mountain Springs Dr. near the Waffle House. The man was seen wearing black pants and no shirt.

— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) April 22, 2018

Nashville police announced that murder warrants had been drafted against Reinking in response to the shooting.

Nashville Mayor David Briley tweeted on Sunday that it was “a tragic day” for the city.

It’s a tragic day for our city anytime people lose their lives at the hands of a gunman. My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded in this morning’s shooting. I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.

— Mayor David Briley (@MayorBriley) April 22, 2018

The incident was the second mass shooting in Antioch since September, when a masked gunman opened fire in a church in the city, killing one and injuring either others.

This post has been updated.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

The reality of black anxiety in white spaces: a Q&A with Elon James White

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 5:00am

On Monday morning, as news spread across the nation about the arrest of two black men sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop, Elon James White ventured from his home in search of a breakfast sandwich and cup of coffee.

The implicit bias of Starbucks’ implicit bias training

But as White, a black man who lives in a predominately white neighborhood in another part of Philadelphia, walked up and down a nearby commercial strip, he felt a familiar unease — one he says black people often share among themselves about their fears and concerns when they’re surrounded by white people.

“You feel it in your chest, the hyper-awareness of everything around you,” White told me during a phone interview. “I’ve had so many white people say that they have anxiety, but they’ve never considered black people would feel the way I feel when I’m in white spaces.”

With the Starbucks issue dominating conversations about race and media, White tapped out a series of tweets which offered his followers a very intimate and revealing glimpse into how uncomfortable he felt that day. His narrative struck a viral nerve, prompting conversations across the Web and elsewhere.

I decided to make myself go outside of my home to work today. I live near a main drag in my neighborhood where a bunch of stores, bars and restaurants are. There’s a @Starbucks here which is where is normally go but obviously they are not an option.

— Elon James White (@elonjames) April 17, 2018

White — a writer, performer and founder of “This Week in Blackness,” a multimedia digital platform dedicated to bringing diverse voices and perspectives within media — spoke about the waves his threaded Twitter story made on social media in a column about the Starbucks situation for NBCNews.com:

On social media, many white people expressed shock. Who hasn’t ducked into a local Starbucks to take advantage of its bathroom or internet or electrical outlets? But this simply is not the experience of many black people, myself included, who know all too well the pressure to buy something unwanted or unnecessary in order to avoid added scrutiny — a Black Tax, if you will….

Looking beyond Starbucks, the mistreatment and subsequent denials of our reality aren’t simply frustrating. They hurt the black community in diverse and measurable ways, both psychologically and physically.

Struck by White’s candor and passion, I asked him to share how his perceptions of race in America veer so wildly away from the course of many white people, who often fail — or even refuse to recognize — what black Americans describe as their daily experiences as they move through white spaces.

You began your Twitter feed by saying you don’t talk about what happened most times “because it’s so normal.” What’s your normal?

I feel as if only in recent years, and in certain circumstances recent months, have I started to recognize what my normal is and what is actually normal. I guess that’s what is the whole concept of “woke” or whatever. When you start to realize, “Wait, wait, hold on. I’m living under a system that is problematic as f–k and I don’t even notice how problematic it is and how I’ve internalized some of this stuff.”

This isn’t normal. But it is normal for you and all of the people you know. So you realize you live in a certain way and your community around you lives in a certain way and it’s a part of the culture, you just don’t talk about that. I mean I’m not going to talk about the fact that I breathe every day or that I have to take a shower every day. These are things that you don’t discuss because it’s just part of your life. …

This is just how it is to be black.

How did you come to learn that’s not normal?

Actually, I started talking about it out loud. I guess realizing that when I would say something out loud, the immediate pushback that I would get from white folks. It got to the point where I would get self-conscious about even mentioning anything. And then at some point I started realizing that they just don’t seem to get it. Nobody understood what white privilege was. That privilege is invisible; they literally can’t see it.

So, I was, like, wait. I’m not crazy. You literally don’t know what you’re talking about. Then I would ask: “Have you ever experienced this?” I would talk about it on air, on the show. I would talk about it on social media.

And white people would (say): “I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s never happened to me before. If it didn’t happen to me, it didn’t happen to you.” And that’s when I realized, like holy shit, this is something that’s very, very, very confined to marginalized groups, and especially to black folks in America.

For example, when the conversation came up after Trayvon [Martin shooting] about “The Talk” that black parents give their kids. White folks were so shocked by this. And I’m like: what are you shocked about; I had The Talk when I was 7 or 8 years old…That was normal. I didn’t know anybody who hadn’t had The Talk.

Why did you talk/Tweet about it this time?

After watching the shock and disbelief of white America about this Starbucks incident, I was like: Are you kidding? It was me responding to the Starbucks situation.

I talk about mental health a lot because I think it’s important, especially as a black man to be very vocal about mental health and my own struggles with depression or anxiety or anything like that. I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and work with it every day, so I talk about these things.

I was talking about the Starbucks situation from the perspective of someone who has anxiety. So imagine you have anxiety, and for a lot of people they don’t understand it and sometimes it’s even hard for me to explain it even to friends and loved ones. So I said, try to imagine it: you feel it in your chest, the hyperawareness of everything around you, it builds up. Now, imagine that…and then you have to deal with white people’s fear of you.

People say, Oh, oh! I didn’t think of that. I’ve had so many white people say to me that they have anxiety, but they never considered black people would feel the way I feel when they’re in white spaces. They didn’t even consider it. So when people started responding like that so much, I said: “Wait, you really don’t know what it feels like?

This stuff is like looking at someone who has burns all over his body and wanting to know why they don’t want to sit next to the uncovered fire pit.

And so I happened to go out that morning, as this experience was happening and I was walking through the neighborhood and I was, like, having a hard time finding a coffee shop. I was looking in shops and I saw people looking back at me…I was going through the whole thing and then I had that Eureka moment: This isn’t something normal for white people. This is something that is very normal for my community and for people I know, but this is not normal for white folks.

You mention feeling uncomfortable as a black man moving around in a white area and the reactions of the people you encounter. What do you make of those feelings?

Some of the pushback I got for talking about this was that I am a paranoid delusional. It was all in my head and that I’m putting all this stuff out there in my head as if it was real and that I need to get help. In reality, I understand when something is made up or I’m putting a lot of focus on something that might not actually be real.

Black anger is looked at as a bigger problem than any transgression that is done towards us.

I also understand the shared experience of a community where all of these discussions are the norm and none of this is remarkable. And so, when I think about white people’s shock, I’m like, you guys are amazingly lucky that you never really had to deal with this…like you really think that black folks are just making things up.

I use a metaphor in one of the threads that [people who say] I’m oversensitive about this stuff is like looking at someone who has burns all over his body and wanting to know why they don’t want to sit next to the uncovered fire pit.

I know that the pushback when black people want to talk about this stuff is that we’re making it up and it isn’t real. I’m addressing this in almost every thread I wrote about this idea of it being in my head.

Maybe I am making this up. Ok, cool. But answer me this: Why do I have it in my head? Why am I looking out for something like this in order for my life to be preserved?

This is not paranoia on my end. This is literally self preservation.

Would it be better for you to only live and move among other black people exclusively?

In certain circumstances, I would probably argue yeah.

When I lived in Oakland, I lived in a black neighborhood. I am also married to a white woman…but there are times when I’m in a white situation.

I was media director of NetRoots Nation, which is and was predominately white, and I’ve had to move in through those situations. I’ve worked with a number of progressive groups and organizations that are predominately white. I end up moving within these organizations because I feel often times we have to be sitting at the table. For example, NetRoots Nation was getting critiqued up the wazoo about their race problem. I thought the platform was important enough that it needed to address these things.

I know a lot of black people who have no choice, at times, but to move through white spaces. I can’t decide I’m going to never leave blackness. Ever. I can’t make that decision with the work I do, with the community I run in, that’s just not a reasonable thing to do.

And it’s completely not fair. Sometimes the things you really want or that sandwich you want that is really amazing is in a white neighborhood. Am I not allowed to go get a sandwich because white people are going to be afraid? That’s not reasonable.

Is this about white fear more than anything else?

Yes, absolutely. Everyone who wanted to push back on me, wanted to push back about my paranoia, about my fear, as opposed to the fact that my fear is based and a reaction on white fear.

Black anger is looked at as a bigger problem than any transgression that is done towards us.

White privilege is denied on a regular basis because “I didn’t grow up rich” and so immediately you don’t have white privilege, but you’re not worried about being arrested just by walking past a store twice.

You said at the end you were angry but didn’t realize how angry you were.  What’s that about?

I realized that if I’d gotten pissed, what happens now when I get angry…what happens now when I get angry. I know if the cops came, now, I’m the problem.

When that happens enough, it takes a toll on how you interact. I’ll admit, as I’ve gotten older, I fight less than I did when I was younger because I’m tired. I don’t want to get into a big rigmarole. I’m used to these instances occurring and you get to the point where I just want a sandwich. Can I have a sandwich? No? I’m going home. Fuck all, ya’ll, I’m going home.

What is your take-away from your experience and can it be generalized over what happened in Philadelphia at the Starbucks?

I’m not going to say that my experience is how Philadelphia works. This isn’t a Starbucks situation. This isn’t a Philadelphia situation.  This is an America situation. This is a problem that America has and it still hasn’t reckoned with racism and how systemically it works.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Colin Kaepernick receives a humanitarian prize — but no NFL job offers

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 1:05pm

He can’t get an NFL team to hire him, but former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — whose “take a knee” protest against racism sparked a nationwide movement — was awarded another major human rights prize Saturday, this time from Amnesty International.

The international human rights group honored Kaepernick, 30, with its Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2018, in recognition of his sideline protests against racial inequality. The former San Francisco 49ers star was given the award at a gala ceremony in the Netherlands.

“When high-profile people choose to take a stand for human rights, it emboldens others,” Augusta Quiney, an official with the global organization, told Time Magazine, speaking about the award. “For us, this is an opportunity to be on the right side of history.”

According to the Associated Press, Kaepernick, in his acceptance speech, said that “racialized oppression and dehumanization is woven into the very fabric of our nation — the effects of which can be seen in the lawful lynching of black and brown people by the police, and the mass incarceration of black and brown lives in the prison industrial complex.”

“How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates, ‘freedom and justice for all,’ that is so unjust to so many of the people living there?” he said. “While taking a knee is a physical display that challenges the merits of who is excluded from the notion of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, the protest is also rooted in a convergence of my moralistic beliefs, and my love for the people.”

Previous recipients of the Amnesty International award — the highest honor given out by the rights group — include South African President Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani education advocate who won the Nobel Prize at 17 years old.

One man started a movement: Tracking the Kaepernick effect

Kaepernick first began his protests in 2016, kneeling during the anthem to draw attention to instances of police brutality against Black citizens. He was not signed for the 2017 season following his release by San Francisco and as subsequently filed a grievance alleging that NFL owners were “colluding” to shut him out of a job.

The quarterback was reportedly invited to work out for the Seattle Seahawks last week. But according to ESPN, the team postponed the visit when Kaepernick said he would not abandon his protests next season.

In response to players’ demonstrations, which were taken up by players across the league and indeed, around the world, the NFL has agreed to commit $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

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