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Trump puts public school safety and trauma counseling funding on the chopping block

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 12:41pm

With school mass shootings on the rise across the country, the Trump administration is proposing major funding cuts for violence prevention and recovery assistance programs at public schools.

Funds targeted for reduction or elimination in President Donald Trump’s FY’19 budget request, which was released two days before the tragedy at a high school in Parkland, Florida, have helped pay for counselors in schools and violence prevention programs. In fact, the funding levels sought by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would “completely abdicate responsibility” for school safety, violence prevention, and recovery, according to a report released Friday by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Immediately after Wednesday’s mass shooting, DeVos called on Congress to hold hearings on school safety but did not seek to mobilize the Department of Education’s resources to support students, families, and educators affected by the violence, the CAP report said. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at CAP.)

In the meantime, the Broward County (FL) Public Schools system is providing counseling for anyone who needs support in the wake of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Trump and DeVos say they want to make schools safer, but their budget guts funding that helps reduce gun violence and ensure school safety. New from me and @ChelseaCParsons

— Scott Sargrad (@scottsargrad) February 16, 2018

In his budget request, Trump is seeking to cut $25 million, or 36 percent, from the Education Department’s funding for school safety activities. The department has called for the complete elimination of the Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) and Project Prevent Grant programs.

Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Project SERV provided more than $6.4 million over three years to Newtown, Connecticut, for immediate recovery, trauma counseling, therapy, and other programs, according to the CAP report. Project Prevent provides students with counseling and social and emotional supports to help cope with trauma, anxiety, and the other effects of violence.

The GOP downplays policy solutions to prevent school shootings. Here’s one idea.

“Incredibly, Trump and DeVos are calling to eliminate this funding that could specifically help the Parkland community heal from the tragedy,” Chelsea Parsons, vice president of gun violence prevention at CAP, and Scott Sargrad, managing director of K-12 education policy at the center, wrote in the report.

For both FY’18 and FY’19, Trump and DeVos also proposed eliminating a separate $400 million program that addresses student safety and health. Under the program, school districts must use at least 20 percent of their funding from this program for efforts such as violence prevention programs, mental health services, and training for crisis management and conflict resolution.

As with every mass shooting, the tragedy in Florida is also generating calls for lawmakers to restrict or ban the sale of military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 that was used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is suspected of killing 17 people and injuring 15 others at the high school. In an address to the nation on Thursday, Trump made no mention of gun control but said he is committed to “tackling the difficult issue of mental health” during a conference with governors later this month.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump spokesperson defends Russia, blames election interference on the mainstream media

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 11:46am

Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley claimed during an appearance on Fox News on Saturday that Democratic politicians and the mainstream press have done more to interfere in the electoral system than Russia has.

Responding to a question about the indictment handed down by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday — which accused 13 Russians and three Russian companies of a coordinated social media campaign to bolster Donald Trump and undermine Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election — Gidley brushed aside the allegations against Russia, and quickly pivoted to other scapegoats.

“What the Russians were trying to do, as outlined by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, was create chaos in the American election system,” Gidley said.

“And I will just say this: There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians, and that’s the Democrats and the mainstream media, who continued to push this lie on the American people for more than a year — and quite frankly Americans should be outraged by that.”

Fox News’ Rachel Campos-Duffy was quick to endorse Gidley’s spin and downplay the significance of Friday’s indictment. “The good news is, Hogan, if you poll the American people they were never buying the Russian collusion story anyway,” Campos-Duffy said. Gidley agreed.

Mueller’s 37-page indictment provides detailed evidence of massive Russian social media interference before and after the 2016 election. Russian operatives effectively disseminated pro-Trump and anti-Clinton propaganda through online platforms, often by impersonating Americans.

While Friday’s indictment did not confirm any instances of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, the investigation into possible collusion remains ongoing — and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has not ruled out the possibility of future allegations in this area.

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, acknowledged Saturday that, with the addition of Mueller’s latest indictment, the mounting evidence of Russian election interference is now irrefutable.

The misleading claims Republicans are already using to downplay the Mueller indictment

Nonetheless, with the help of Fox News, Republicans have wasted no time finding ways to downplay the latest indictment from the special counsel — arguing that the president has been completely exonerated from allegations of collusion, that Russian operatives were actually organizing against Trump and for Bernie Sanders, and that Russian collusion was all President Obama’s fault. 

Defenses of Russia from the Trump White House have bigger implications on the international stage. Because top Trump administration officials — including the president himself — have repeatedly denied that Russia had any influence over the 2016 election, it’s given Russian leaders cover to argue the same thing.

At a conference in Munich on Saturday, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov downplayed the accusations in Friday’s indictment as “just blabber” and cited the Trump officials who have said the latest presidential election results weren’t influenced by any outside force.

UPDATE: Gidley’s comments are playing well with Russian propaganda network RT, which summarized his argument as “Democrats and [mainstream meda] wreaked far more havoc than Russians.”

‘Democrats & MSM wreaked far more havoc than Russians’ – White House spokesman

— RT (@RT_com) February 17, 2018


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Serious questions are mounting about Jared Kushner’s security clearance

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 10:43am

Serious questions are swirling around Jared Kushner’s security clearance — which is still pending more than a year after he entered the White House, even as Kushner reportedly requests more intelligence information than almost any other White House official.

According to new reports by the Washington Post, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced on February 16 that starting next week some people with interim security clearances will not be able to access top-secret information. This could include Trump’s son-in-law, whose clearance has been the subject of controversy for some time.

A great WaPo piece on Kushner making the most of his interim clearance to obtain sensitive security intel while appearing unlikely to ever get his five-year clearance

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 17, 2018

The news comes at the same time as Talking Points Memo reveals Kushner had to update his financial disclosure logs yet again — he has now had to make more than 40 changes since his original filing last March.

Kushner is a senior adviser to the president and has been tasked with leading efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, spearhead criminal justice reform, and tackle the opioid epidemic, among other things. His role has allowed him to meet with officials from China and Saudi Arabia. Kushner also reportedly receives a copy of the Presidential Daily Brief — a daily compilation of the country’s top intelligence information.

Kushner has been given an interim clearance allowing him to access this sensitive information and work in such a high-level position. Kushner, however, has yet to be granted full security clearance. As one official told the Washington Post, Kelly’s memo released on Friday puts a “bull’s eye” on Kushner.

While Kushner’s lawyer maintains he will not be affected by Kelly’s memo, other officials don’t expect Kushner to get permanent security clearance.

WTF is going on with Jared Kushner’s security clearance?

One of the main issues holding back Kushner’s clearance is the number of amendments he has had to make to a form detailing his contact with foreign officials. Last year he filed three updates to this form. These forms, filled out by those who require security clearance, are scrutinized to determine whether someone can be trusted with top-secret information, and whether that individual could be vulnerable to influence or blackmail by a foreign government.

According to experts, it is incredibly rare to hold interim security clearance for a long period of time; most last only 12 months. Kushner is now at more than 13 months.

Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington this week called for Kushner’s clearance to be revoked. In a complaint addressed to Kelly, the group calls Kushner’s access to classified information “a security threat”.

“Failure to revoke Mr. Kushner’s temporary clearance would set a dangerous precedent for these other cases by signalling a willingness to tolerate unacceptable national security risks,” the letter continues.

Last summer also saw multiple attempts by House Democrats to revoke Kushner’s clearance after it was revealed he met with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin in June 2016.

Senator demands White House turn over names of staffers lacking full security clearances

Kushner, however, isn’t the only one facing this problem. Issues over security clearances have plagued the White House in recent weeks. A report by CNN on February 9 claimed that 30 to 40 Trump administration appointees still did not have the full security clearance required to do their jobs.

This came shortly after former White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post following allegations of spousal abuse. Porter had been operating under an interim security clearance.

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office has called the current security clearance system “high risk” and warned it is in need of reform.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Parkland massacre survivor issues powerful call to action to hold politicians accountable

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 8:52am

The school shootings won’t stop. Hundreds of students will die in the coming decades at the hands of men who have easy access to guns and who have grown up in an age where violence is glorified in American culture.

That’s the cynical view held by older generations who have seen policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels become wholly owned subsidiaries of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

But many of the young people who survived this week’s massacre of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, still believe they can play a role in stopping what most Americans now view as inevitable.

Parkland shooting survivors are sick of ‘thoughts and prayers’

“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises. And so, I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now,” Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where this week’s massacre happened, wrote in an op-ed published Friday on “Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience — our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.”

After waiting in fear for hours, Kasky and his brother Holden were able to escape the school grounds, surviving one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Two days later, Kasky was able to overcome the trauma of the massacre and issue a call to action for his fellow students to rise up against the pro-gun politicians.

After each of these school massacres — Parkland was the 18th shooting at a U.S. school in 2018 — the voices heard are typically the police, the parents, and the politicians. But students took the lead after the Parkland tragedy.

“This time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account,” Kasky emphasized, referring to do-nothing politicians. “This time we are going to pressure them to take action. This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses.”

These are the victims of the Parkland shooting

Many of Kasky’s classmates share his sentiment. Along with writing articles like Kasky’s, students have stood in front of cameras and taken to social media to explain how they feel about what happened to them. They aren’t giving up, even though the gun lobby has grown more powerful in the nearly two decades since the Columbine massacre where two young men killed 13 people at a high school in Colorado.

A 16-year-old named Sarah, who identified herself as a student, tweeted in response to President Donald Trump’s statement sending condolences to the Parkland victims’ families. “Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again,” she demanded.

Some observers have attributed the students’ ability to communicate so effectively after such a traumatic event as a product of the all-digital world of social media in which they grew up.

“Communicating immediately and effectively is second nature. Even in their pain and fear — no, especially in their pain and fear — they knew what to do,” Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote in a piece published Saturday.

Students Kelsey Friend (left) and David Hogg recount their stories about the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed, on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. CREDIT: Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Parkland students aren’t naive. Many understand the NRA is a super-lobbying force that will take years to weaken. And they know politicians paid off by the NRA and other gun lobbying groups will put up obstacles to ending gun violence in their schools. The students hear politicians talk about the sorrow they feel for the families of the victims. But then they see these same legislators go back to their offices and do nothing to prevent the ownership of guns that can kill and injure dozens of people within a matter of minutes.

In his op-ed, Kasky singled out Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida who is one of the top recipients of money from the NRA and who refuses to take responsibility for the role gun culture played in the massacre. According to Kasky, though, Republicans like Rubio aren’t the only ones to blame for the American public’s easy access to an AR-15 semi-automatic rifles or similar military-style weapons.

“The truth is that the politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. The Republicans, generally speaking, take large donations from the NRA and are therefore beholden to their cruel agenda. And the Democrats lack the organization and the votes to do anything about it,” explained Kasky.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School concede they don’t have all of the answers. “However, even in my position, I can see that there is desperate need for change — change that starts by folks showing up to the polls and voting all those individuals who are in the back pockets of gun lobbyists out of office,” Kasky wrote.

Because Kasky won’t be able to vote in the elections this fall, he asked opponents of mass shootings to go the polls on behalf of him and his fellow classmates. “We can’t vote, but you can, so make it count,” he wrote.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The GOP downplays policy solutions to prevent school shootings. Here’s one idea.

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 7:29am

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) plans to introduce a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase rifles from 18 to 21.

Under this proposed legislation, it would make it more difficult to purchase military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 that was used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who is suspected of killing 17 people and injuring 15 others in a Florida high school last week.

The incident is the 18th school shooting and 40th mass shooting of 2018. And the weapon chosen by Cruz is the same type of assault rifle that’s been used in other similar tragedies.

Currently, federal law allows licensed gun sellers to sell long guns — including assault rifles — to individuals 18 years or older. You must be 21 years or older to purchase handguns.

“This policy is dangerous and makes absolutely no sense,” Sen. Feinstein said in a statement.

“If you can’t buy a handgun or a bottle of beer, you shouldn’t be able to buy an AR-15. This is common sense, and I hope my Republican colleagues will join me in this effort.”

I plan to introduce a bill to require ALL firearms purchases from gun dealers be restricted to individuals who are at least 21 years old. If you can’t buy a handgun or a bottle of beer, you shouldn’t be able to buy an AR-15.

— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) February 17, 2018

Last fall, following mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, Feinstein along with other Senate Democrats introduced a bill to ban assault weapons and a device that would allow semi-automatic weapons to simulate automatic fire — allowing a gun to fire more bullets more quickly.

In the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, some Republican lawmakers, however, have argued that there is no policy solution to stop a similar event from happen again.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) — who received more than $1 million from the National Rifle Association during the 2016 election — said in a speech on the Senate floor the day after the high school shooting: “The struggle up to this point is that most of the proposals that have been offered would not have prevented, not just yesterday’s tragedy, but any of those in recent history.”

Florida school shooting suspect’s AR-15 was legally obtained

Meanwhile, in a speech to a sheriff’s convention in Washington on February 15, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said all that needs to be done is to simply enforce the laws that already exist. “It is not good if we got gun laws that say criminals can’t carry guns and they never get enforced,” he said. “So we intend to enforce our laws.”

This, however, wouldn’t have stopped Cruz, who is reported to have bought the gun legally — he had no criminal record and was of legal age to buy a military-caliber weapon. In Florida, the law only prohibits “furnishing weapons to minors under 18 years of age or persons of unsound mind.” While there is a three-day waiting period for buying a handgun, there is no waiting period for long guns.

No ID? You can’t vote in Florida, but you can buy a gun.

When it comes to unlicensed gun dealers, however, the rules are even weaker. The minimum age is 18 when buying handguns and there is no age restriction when it comes to long guns.

As law professor Adam Winkler and pediatrician Cara Natterson explained in a 2016 Washington Post op-ed: “This has the perverse effect of forcing young people to buy handguns from sellers who — because they aren’t licensed — don’t have to conduct background checks.”

They also explained that people under the age of 25 “are responsible for a disproportionate amount of America’s gun violence,” including nearly 50 percent of all gun homicides.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s national security adviser says the evidence of Russian election interference is irrefutable

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 6:52am

President Trump’s national security adviser acknowledged on Saturday that the evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is irrefutable — after more than a year of Trump characterizing accusations of Russian election interference as a “hoax.”

Speaking to an audience at an international conference in Munich, H.R. McMaster said the evidence of Russian interference “is now incontrovertible” after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment, which was handed down on Friday.

The indictment accuses 13 Russians and three Russian companies of mounting “interference operations” to sway the presidential election away from Hillary Clinton and toward Donald Trump. According to the indictment, this effort involved hundreds of people engaged in disseminating material on social media platforms to disparage Clinton’s campaign and boost support for Trump’s.

Mueller’s indictment demolishes Trump’s narrative that Russian interference was a hoax

McMaster’s latest comments are a sharp departure from the way Trump himself typically talks about potential Russian interference.

Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, saying that he takes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word for it. He has called such allegations “fake news,” accusing Democrats of making up the story to compensate for their loss in 2016.

Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2017

The Trump team’s repeated denials have provided convenient cover for Russian officials to brush aside the alleged Russian plot to sway the latest U.S. presidential election.

At the same conference where McMaster acknowledged the “incontrovertible” evidence of interference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov downplayed the accusations in Mueller’s latest indictment. “Until we see the facts, everything else is just blabber,” he said. Lavrov pointed out that some Trump officials themselves have denied that the 2016 election results were influenced by any outside force.

McMaster also recently suggested there is some evidence of Russian interference in Mexico’s upcoming presidential election, which will take place in July.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The NRA donated $10,000 to help train the Parkland shooting suspect to use a rifle

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 4:00pm

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who charged with murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, honed his marksmanship skills in a school program supported by the NRA. Cruz was, according to the Associated Press, a member of the school’s four-person varsity marksmanship team, which received a $10,000 grant from the NRA in 2016.

MSD JROTC Marksmanship team would like to thank the NRA for their grateful donation of nearly $10,000 to upgrade and replenish equipment!

— MSDJROTC (@MSDJROTC1) September 21, 2016

The marksmanship team was part of the schools’ JROTC program. On the team, Cruz trained with “air rifles special-made for target shooting, typically on indoor ranges at targets the size of a coin.”

Cruz discussed his AR-15 with other team members and was given the nickname “Wolf.” Another member of the team described him as “a very good shot.”

The NRA declined to comment on the donation. In 2015, the NRA Foundation gave $2.2 million in similar grants promoting gun use to schools around the country. This includes grants “to elementary and middle schools.”

The NRA Foundation’s website says it’s “investing in the next generation of America’s leaders” by devoting “a significant majority” of the group’s grants to “youth shooting sports.”

NRA Foundation Website

The NRA Foundation operates the Friends of the NRA program, which raises money for youth shooting sports as a way of recruiting young activists to fight gun regulation.

Friends of the NRA describes itself as “a 100% grassroots effort fueled by a united front to secure the Second Amendment and raise money for the shooting sports.”

The NRA has been actively commenting on the Parkland massacre on social media, arguing that the only way to prevent future tragedies is more guns.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mueller is still investigating Trump’s campaign for possible collusion

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 2:06pm

major indictment released Friday by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused 13 individuals and three Russian companies of “interference operations targeting the United States.”

The White House was quick to claim that the indictment exonerates President Donald Trump of any suspected collusion with Russia during the 2016 United States election — even though that isn’t what the indictment actually says.

In a statement released shortly after the indictment was announced, the White House said in a statement that the action further indicates that there was “NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.”

In the statement, Trump says it is now “time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories.”

White House statement on Mueller indictment

— Shannon Pettypiece (@spettypi) February 16, 2018

Additionally the president took to Twitter to reaffirm his campaign’s innocence, again claiming “no collusion!”

Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018

Unfortunately for Trump and his administration, however, repeating “no collusion!” over and over doesn’t make it true.

In fact, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Bloomberg reported Friday afternoon. A source close to the special counsel’s probe told the news outlet that the Friday indictments should be seen as an effort by Mueller to raise awareness about what Russia is capable of doing as the 2018 midterms draw nearer. The source additionally told Bloomberg that it is still possible Mueller will indict Americans for knowingly helping Russia.

Mueller’s indictment demolishes Trump’s narrative that Russian interference was a hoax

During a Friday press conference announcing the indictments, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge, and the nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appears that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on a virtual private network here in the United States so if anybody traced it back to the first jump they would appear to be Americans.”

The caveat of “in this indictment” is key — officials are not ruling out the possibility of allegations of collusion against the Trump campaign in future indictments.

Friday’s indictment focused on efforts by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian organization responsible for spearheading Moscow’s social media interference operations during the 2016 election, ThinkProgress’ Casey Michel reported. The indictment didn’t reveal any new fake Russian Facebook or Twitter bots that hadn’t already been reported on, but it did detail the efforts of groups already identified, including “Secured Borders,” “United Muslims of America,” “Blacktivist,” and “Heart of Texas,” confirming that the size of many of the pages “had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.”

In the fall of 2017, The Daily Beast published a bombshell report revealing that Kremlin propagandists had  impersonated American advocacy groups by digitally executing real-world rallies in support of Donald Trump on American soil during the 2016 election.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mueller’s indictment demolishes Trump’s narrative that Russian interference was a hoax

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 2:00pm

Over the past year, President Trump has repeatedly denied Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

He has ignored the joint assessment of his own intelligence community and instead took the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S.’s Cold War rival did not interfere in the electoral process. His view reportedly remained undeterred even after CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Chris Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats all testified that such meddling definitely occurred before a Senate panel on Tuesday.

Bombshell indictment details Russian election interference operations

But it’s going to be hard for Trump to continue denying Russian interference following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest bombshell indictment on Friday — which completely undermines Trump’s favored narrative that election meddling is fake news.

The 37-page indictment accuses 13 individuals and three Russian companies of “interference operations targeting the United States” by pushing support for Donald Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton via social media, by coordinating with unsuspecting Trump campaign staffers, and posing as political and social activists.

According to the indictment, a Russian operation called Project Lakhta — which was led by the Internet Research Agency in coordination with several LLCs out of St. Petersburg — employed hundreds of employees who created fake personas, provided data analysis, and created graphics, attempting to influence the election via YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Russian operatives traveled the U.S. under the guise of Americans to collect intelligence or gain access to U.S. servers to mask their Russian location on social media posts and conspired to obstruct “the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit.” The operatives made election expenditures without registering as a foreign agent carrying out political activities within the U.S. and obtained visas through fraudulent statements.

White House statement on Mueller indictment

— Shannon Pettypiece (@spettypi) February 16, 2018

The White House has emphasized that Mueller’s indictment found no evidence of collusion — which is true, although the investigation into possible collusion remains ongoing — but has not addressed whether the president finally acknowledges he was wrong about the existence of election interference.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The misleading claims Republicans are already using to downplay the Mueller indictment

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 1:46pm

Republicans are working quickly to downplay Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment, which was released on Friday and which focuses on 13 Russians accused of attempting to sway the 2016 election using social media.

While the indictment itself outlines a number of troubling accusations that support the notion of Russian interference, many on the right have instead chosen to focus on several cherry-picked details to try and claim the special counsel’s investigation is unfounded.

Bombshell indictment details Russian election interference operations

The Republican National Committee debuted especially brash talking points on Friday afternoon, with spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany telling Fox News’ Melissa Francis that the indictment was “astonishing” proof that the left had “deceived the country.”

“Today marks the day that the Democrats’ Russia collusion conspiracy unravels,” McEnany said. “What we learned is astonishing. We learned the Russians were also organizing for Bernie Sanders, we learned that, in late November 2016, they turned their efforts to be against President Trump, that their goal was to sow discord and chaos — not to promote a certain candidate — and that no Americans were involved in this plot they uncovered. This is astonishing, it backs up what the Democrats have said all in along. […] Democrats deceived this country and they were caught today.”

The indictment released on Friday details myriad explosive allegations against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities, who the special counsel’s office claims engaged in a widespread social media campaign to undermine the 2016 election. This effort was coordinated by the Internet Research Agency, an organization based in St. Petersburg that carries out campaigns on behalf of the Russian government.

In an accompanying press conference on Friday afternoon, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein dubbed the effort “Information Warfare.”

Nonetheless, McEnany and other conservative figures are already skewing the details in the 37-page indictment to fit a very specific narrative: that Democrats were lying about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, and that those Russians were, in fact, working against Trump the whole time.

Here are the claims that are already gaining ground, most of which are easily refuted.

The Russians were actually organizing for Bernie Sanders

McEnany claimed on Friday that, contrary to popular belief, the Russians behind the hacking of the 2016 election were actually “organizing” for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I). While it’s true that some of the accounts created by the Internet Research Agency were supportive of Sanders, a large portion of the Russian efforts were done to paint Trump in a more favorable light and denigrate Clinton.

“Certain organization-produced materials…used election-related hashtags, including #Trump2016, #TrumpTrain, #MAGA, #IWontProtectHillary, and #HillaryForPrison,” the indictment reads. “Defendants and their co-conspirators also established additional online social media accounts dedicated to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the Twitter account ‘March for Trump’ and Facebook accounts ‘Clinton FRAUDation’ and ‘Trumpsters United.'”

The indictment alleges that the defendants also worked to promote third-party candidates like Jill Stein, purchasing social media ads using accounts with names like “Blacktivist” to push them.

The Russians were organized against Trump

It’s true that the Russian entities and individuals cited in Mueller’s indictment did eventually orchestrate efforts to protest Trump, as McEnany stated on Friday. However, those efforts came after the 2016 election had taken place.

In November 2016, the defendants allegedly organized several rallies and marches both in support and protest of then-President-elect Trump. On or around November 12, the indictment states, the group orchestrated a rally designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump”; that same day, using another Internet Research Agency organization, they also held a rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President.” On November 19, the Russian defendants orchestrated an anti-Trump rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The 2016 presidential election was held on November 8, 2016.

White House statement on Mueller indictment

— Shannon Pettypiece (@spettypi) February 16, 2018

The indictment proves the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia

McEnany claimed this week that the latest Mueller indictment marked “the day that the Democrats’ Russia collusion conspiracy unravels.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, the indictment highlights the fact that the Russians did communicate with several individuals who were “associated with the Trump campaign” at the grassroots-level — in other words, low-level supporters and volunteers. While Rosenstein noted in Friday’s press briefing that “[no] American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he stopped short of suggesting that Mueller’s investigation was over, or that any high-level members of the Trump campaign were innocent bystanders.

The 3 most important words Rosenstein said about the Mueller indictment

Republicans have honed in on this point to try and claim there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Trump team had colluded with Russians, misleadingly suggesting the investigation into the matter is closed.

“President Donald J. Trump has been fully briefed on this matter and is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected,” the White House said in statement on Friday. “President Trump says, ‘it is more important than ever before to come together as Americans. We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful. It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions.”

Neither Rosenstein nor any member of the Justice Department or special counsel’s office have said that the Trump campaign is innocent of potential collusion or that the investigation as a whole is nearing a close.

Obama is to blame for Russian interference

During a separate interview on Fox News, former House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz repeated Rosenstein’s assertion that the Russian interference highlighted in Friday’s indictment did not influence Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. Rather, Chaffetz shifted focus to Trump’s predecessor, Obama, claiming he hadn’t taken the threat seriously.

“I think a lot of people were very concerned, even at a small level, that this was happening. [Current House Oversight Chairman] Devin Nunes [(R-CA)] has been talking about this for a couple of years,” he said. “President Obama kind of pooh-poohed the idea that anybody could even interfere, but I think clearly — the more we’ve learned, particularly after the election, yes, there were people improperly trying to manipulate the election.”

Several right-wing media figures have also claimed that the bulk of the blame should go to Obama because the activities described in the indictment occurred on his watch, as early as 2014.

However, according to Vice President Joe Biden, Obama had been aware of the Russian interference well before the election took place and had even met with members of Congress to inform them of the problem. Speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations event in January, he stated that it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who had stopped the administration from speaking out, refusing to sign a bipartisan statement identifying the threat as coming from the Russians.

If Obama had violated that trust, Biden argued, it could have undermined the legitimacy of the election.

“Can you imagine if the president called a press conference in October, with this fella, Bannon, and company, and said, ‘Tell you what: Russians are trying to interfere in our elections and we have to do something about it,'” Biden said, referring to Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign chairman. “What do you think would have happened? Would things have gotten better, or would it further look like we were trying to delegitimize the electoral process, because of our opponent?”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Before Adam Rippon, there was Rudy Galindo

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 12:25pm

As the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games progress, one face is arguably stealing more attention than many others: 28-year-old Adam Rippon, one of the first openly gay athletes to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics. Rippon’s star has received a significant amount of positive media coverage, a dramatic shift from the treatment queer athletes have traditionally faced.

But Rippon’s fame (and freedom) is largely thanks to the work of other queer athletes before him — like Rudy Galindo, the most decorated Latinx figure skater in the United States.

A California native, Galindo grew up skating, with his family foregoing luxuries like home-buying in order to fund their son’s passion.

“My dad gave everything, his whole paycheck, so my sister and I could have skating lessons and stay off the streets,” Galindo said in an interview with NBC. “He worked hard, and we never could afford to move into a house because all of his earnings went for our lessons.”

That investment paid off: Galindo skated his way to numerous distinctions and championships at a young age, both in single and pairs skating. Galindo’s former coach, Jim Hulick, paired the athlete with eventual Olympic and World Champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, before she opted to pursue a solo career. As a pair, the duo won the 1988 World Junior title, going on to become U.S. National Champions in 1989 and 1990. Galindo even lived with Yamaguchi’s family for several years. She has described him as “like a brother.”

Galindo’s singles career also brought him fame. The figure skater won the 1987 World Junior title, in addition to being the 1996 U.S. National Champion and 1996 World Bronze medalist. He retired that year, going on to tour with ice show Champions on Ice (COI) until 2007, when COI went out of business. He now coaches at Sharks Ice San Jose.

Here are the queer women Olympians competing in Pyeongchang

For better or worse, much of Galindo’s legacy is in the context of his sexuality. Shortly before winning his national title, Galindo came out as gay. The announcement made him the first openly gay figure skating champion in the United States, a major distinction at the time. Four years later, Galindo revealed that he was HIV-positive. He began treatment around that time. The disease notably took a toll on Galindo’s life in more ways than one — his brother, George, died from AIDS in 1994; two coaches, Hulick and Rick Inglesi, both died from the disease as well.

Still, Galindo persevered, going on to coach a new generation of figure skaters, including Yamaguchi’s daughter, Emma Hedican. Speaking with NBC, Galindo downplayed his historic role in the sports world.

“I guess I was ahead of my time,” he said. “But I wanted to be me, to be out of the box, to be over the top, and some judges back then, well, they wanted a certain type of skater.”

That’s debatable, back in the 1990s and today. In 2018, the sports world still poses a challenge for queer and transgender athletes. While a record 13 openly LGBTQ athletes are competing in Pyeongchang, they represent only a tiny sliver of the overwhelming number of athletes competing more broadly. Many still face extraordinary stigma, backlash, and a shortage of sponsorship opportunities — the income many athletes rely on to survive.

Rippon’s popularity is an indicator that things are closer than ever to shifting, but that isn’t saying much. It’s still unclear if the figure skater will draw the same interest from brands that his straight counterparts have. And that’s just Rippon, a white gay male. Queer women are still struggling with a major invisibility problem, something made clear by the lack of attention given to athletes like out speed skater Brittany Bowe. Openly queer athletes of color, along with transgender and non-binary athletes, have remained notably absent from the world stage.

Galindo, a queer HIV-positive Latinx man, never made it to the Olympics. His early trailblazing played a key role in allowing athletes like Rippon and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy to excel at the Games, but Galindo lamented the dearth of figure skaters like himself in the sport more generally to NBC.

“It is an expensive sport, with costs for training, travel, coaches, choreographers, ice time, and costumes,” he said. “I was lucky that my father gave up so much for me; I wish there were more Latino skaters because it would be really nice to see.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Steve Scalise’s terrible answer to a good question about an assault weapons ban

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 12:23pm

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) dismissed legislative gun control efforts, and argued that more guns will help prevent gun violence, during an interview on Thursday’s edition of Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

Following a school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, Ingraham asked Scalise to respond to a tweet from former President Bill Clinton — who pointed out that an assault weapons ban like the one enacted during his tenure may have prevented Nikolas Cruz from legally obtaining the AR-15 he used in this week’s shooting.

But Scalise argued that no new law could have prevented the carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“You know, you go find your law that was gonna prevent this or the next shooting, and first of all, whatever criminal did these actions violated a whole host of other laws too, so if you think there’s some magic unicorn law that is gonna stop it from happening, just keep in mind that he violated probably dozens of laws already,” Scalise said, ignoring that Cruz had no criminal background.

Florida school shooting suspect’s AR-15 was legally obtained

Scalise went on to link the Parkland school shooting to the near-death experience he had last summer, when he was shot during a congressional baseball team practice. For him, the lesson in both cases is that more guns help prevent gun violence.

“Shooters know that if you go into a gun-free zone, you’re the only one with a gun. Fortunately with me, I had two law enforcement agents with me that had guns that could counter the shooter, and ultimately that’s what took him down,” Scalise said. “These people that want to take away your rights, guised under all of these tragedies — go pray for the families, care about the families, don’t try to promote your agenda in the middle of a tragedy.”

The ‘good guy with a gun’ myth has also been invoked by President Trump, most notably in the wake of a mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas in November. But the evidence indicates that more guns actually correlates with more danger.

A comprehensive study by the Violence Policy Center found guns “are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.” In 2012, “for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 32 criminal homicides,” researchers concluded. Another study by the University of Pennsylvania found that someone carrying a gun is “4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault.”

When a man allegedly began firing “nonchalantly” at shoppers in a Colorado Walmart in early November, the fact that other people in the store were armed actually caused more problems than it solved. Police said that the investigation was complicated by the fact that so many people pulled their own weapons as shots rang out. Ultimately, the shooter wasn’t apprehended for five hours.

Fox News pushes for more guns in schools, ignoring that guards in Parkland were already armed

Scalise’s comments also overlook that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School already had an armed guard who was unable to stop the shooting on Wednesday. Prominent Republicans have responded to that fact fact by arguing that one guard wasn’t sufficient, with some going so far as to suggest that schools should become more like military checkpoints.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The 3 most important words Rosenstein said about the Mueller indictment

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:15am

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 individuals and a trio of Russian companies for “interference operations targeting the United States,” which was handed down Friday afternoon, does not allege that the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential election — but in a news conference on Friday, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein did not rule out the possibility that such allegations could be made in the future.

Bombshell indictment details Russian election interference operations

Alluding to the latest indictment’s allegation that some of the defendants were in communication with Trump campaign officials, a reporter asked Rosenstein, “Were campaign officials cooperative, or were they duped?”

Rosenstein’s response to the question included an important caveat.

“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge, and the nature of the scheme was the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appears that they were ordinary American political activists, even going so far as to base their activities on a virtual private network here in the United States so if anybody traced it back to the first jump they would appear to be Americans,” he said.

That was the second time during the news conference that Rosenstein emphasized there is no allegation of collusion “in this indictment” — leaving open the possibility that allegations of collusion against Trump campaign officials could be made in future indictments.

While already know that the Trump campaign was willing to collude with Russian agents. Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. released emails indicating that in June 2016, Trump campaign officers were eager to meet with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised them political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The curious timing of Trump Jr.’s first Wikileaks tweet

Three months later, Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages with WikiLeaks — the organization that published stolen Clinton campaign emails in the weeks leading up to the election.

While Rosenstein left open the possibility that collusion allegations could be made in the future, Trump supporters quickly seized upon the fact that no such allegations are included in Mueller’s latest indictment — along with the fact that it claims Russians were pushing pro-Bernie Sanders messages — to argue that it actually exonerates the president.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Miami holds gun show with free admission for children under 12 just days after Parkland shooting

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 11:14am

Just three days after 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one of the state’s biggest gun-expo organizers is holding a gun convention in Miami — just 46.9 miles away.

The Florida Gun show has had their 600-booth convention planned for months, and despite the fact the South Florida community is still reeling from the shooting, the convention will go on.

“Yes, the show is still scheduled for this weekend,” organizers confirmed to the Miami New Times.

“Enjoy an enormous array of firearms, ammunition, shooting supplies, knives, and so much more!” the Florida Gun Show organizers boast in a promotional video posted on their Facebook page. The group will also host a gun show at Fort Walton Beach this weekend too, in the state’s panhandle.

For the low cost of $13 per adult (children under 12 get in free), convention attendees can take advantage of some of the weakest gun laws in the country.

You don’t need a license or registration to own a gun. Assault weapons are unregulated. For rifles and shotguns, you do not need a permit to conceal carry (though handguns do require it). You can buy as many guns at one time as you want. A gun seller in Florida needs no license to sell guns in the state. An individual has to be 21 years of age to purchase a handgun, but only 18 years old to purchase an AR-15, as was the case with the Parkland shooter.

In Florida, it is easier to buy a gun than it is to vote.

Florida also has a massive loophole for weapons bought at gun shows, like the one in Miami this weekend: At gun shows, like most other online or private gun sales, criminal background checks are not required.

This isn’t the first tone deaf gun event in the wake of the Parkland shooting. A Republican congressional candidate in Kansas, Tyler Tannahill, is holding a raffle for an AR-15 rifle just days after the tragedy in Florida.

“I don’t think more laws could have prevented [the shooting],” Tannahill told the Kansas City Star, adding that the winner of the raffle would have to pass federal background checks before receiving the gun. The Parkland school shooter, Cruz, also passed federal background checks to legally obtain the AR-15 he used to murder 17 people.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fox News’ first response to Russian election meddling indictments: blame Obama

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:43am

Amid news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals on charges of conspiracy related to meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Fox News returned to a favorite strategy: blame Barack Obama.

Former House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), now a Fox News contributor, was asked about the indictments on Friday afternoon.  He immediately downplayed the notion that this interference may have had any impact on Donald Trump’s victory in the incredibly close 2016 election and suggested that it was the fault of the previous president.

“I think a lot of people were very concerned, even at a small level, that this was happening. [Current House Oversight Chairman] Devin Nunes [(R-CA)] has been talking about this for a couple of years. President Obama kind of pooh-poohed the idea that anybody could even interfere, but I think clearly  — the more we’ve learned, particularly after the election, yes, there were people improperly trying to manipulate the election,” Chaffetz explained.

He then implied that the Russian effort had absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s win: “Even if they weren’t successful… I don’t think there’s been any indication that it would’ve changed the outcome of the election but the fact that they were trying, I am glad there are going to evidently be some indictments and I hope they are prosecuted and put in jail for a long time. “


Last month Vice President Joe Biden said at a Council on Foreign Relations event that then-President Barack Obama met with the congressional leadership in 2016 and informed them of Russia’s apparent effort to illegally meddle in the election. The information was not made public at the time, he recalled, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked a bipartisan statement of condemnation.

Chaffetz led multiple unsuccessful investigations of the Obama administration before resigning from Congress after Trump became president.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Bombshell indictment details Russian election interference operations

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:32am

A bombshell indictment released Friday by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused 13 individuals and a trio of Russian companies of “interference operations targeting the United States.”

The indictment primarily details the efforts of the Internet Research Agency — the Russian organization responsible for spearheading Moscow’s social media interference operations during the 2016 U.S. election. While the 37-page indictment doesn’t identify any new Facebook or Twitter accounts created by the IRA, it does detail the methods with which the Russian operatives skirted and allegedly broke U.S. law — as well as hints at the Americans with whom they communicated.

The biggest takeaway from the indictment — alongside the details of the operations, from bank transfers to false identities — likely comes with the confirmation that Russian social media interference operations were dedicated to “supporting the presidential campaign of [Donald Trump] and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” As the indictment reads:

[Russian operatives] engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump… Specialists were instructed to post content that focused ‘on politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).

One Russian operative, according to the indictment, was even “criticized for having a ‘low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton’ and was told ‘it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton’ in future posts.”

The indictment describes how Russian operatives impersonated Americans, traveled to the U.S. for intelligence gathering operations, and, in at least one instance, “communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization.” The indictment doesn’t identify the individual or the organization, but notes that the “U.S. person [said] they should focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.’”

All told, the defendants are accused of “conspir[ing] to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit, including by making expenditures in connection with the 2016 U.S. presidential election without proper regulatory disclosure; failing to register as foreign agents carrying out political activities within the United States; and obtaining visas through false and fraudulent statements.”

While questions remain as to which Americans the Russian operatives communicated with, the indictment makes clear that the Russian operatives tried to primarily support Trump’s campaign, while undercutting Clinton’s. Indeed, some of those identified “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign,” as well as “other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

Coordinating with a number of LLCs and operating out of St. Petersburg, Russia, the operation, per the indictment, “employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support,” including data analysis and a graphics department. Approximately 80 employees within the broader Russian apparatus focused primarily on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.

Some of those employees, including defendants like Aleksandra Krylova — at one point the third-highest ranking employee in the organization — traveled to the U.S. “under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform” their operations. Others “oversaw the procurement of U.S. servers… that masked the [organization’s] Russian location when conducting operations within the U.S.”

The Russian operatives traveled extensively through the U.S., including to states like Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York — all “to gather intelligence.” An additional trip to Atlanta provided further intelligence. While in the U.S., the defendants, according to the indictment, “posed as U.S. persons and contacted U.S. political and social activists.”

As it is, the indictment doesn’t shed any new light on specific fake Russian Facebook or Twitter accounts; rather, it details the efforts of groups already identified, including “Secured Borders,” “United Muslims of America,” “Blacktivist,” and “Heart of Texas,” confirming that the size of many of the pages “had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.” According to the indictment, the Russian operatives further tracked engagement using an assortment of metrics. As the indictment reads:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also regularly evaluated the content posted by specialists… to ensure they appeared authentic — as if operated by U.S. persons. Specialists received feedback and directions to improve the quality of their posts.

The indictment also details some of the methods with which the defendants purportedly purchased ads on Facebook as well as disbursed money, including opening PayPal accounts with fake identities. The operatives further “used, possessed, and transferred… the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons’ knowledge or consent.”

But the efforts weren’t solely dedicated to undercutting Clinton’s campaign, or to sowing division across the U.S. As the indictment points, the Russian operatives “began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election” — or even to support third party candidates like Jill Stein. As one post read, “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”

Mueller’s office announced an additional guilty plea on Friday. The plea, connected to Mueller’s ongoing Russia probe, details how a California man named Richard Pinedo “offered a variety of services designed to circumvent the security features of large online digital payment companies,” while also selling bank account numbers online. Pinedo, according to the plea, additionally “knew that many of the persons to whom he sold bank account numbers were outside the United States.” The plea does not detail where Pinedo’s customers were located.

This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information. 

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Drug companies flooded this small town of 400 with 5 million opioid pills

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:25am

Drug companies shipped five million opioid doses to a town of just 400 people in one two-year period, a shocking reminder of the industrial nature of an addiction crisis often depicted as a matter of individual failings rather than systemic corporate profit-seeking.

Zooming out a bit further, the ratio of pills to people only gets even more ridiculous. The 400-person community of Kermit, West Virginia sits about 30 miles west of Stollings, a town of about 300 people. To drive between the two, a person must pass through relatively sprawling Mt. Gay-Shamrock, home to roughly 1,800. Thirty miles south of that, about 3,200 people call Williamson home. These four towns combined host fewer than 6,000 people. Yet a trio of drug companies dumped more than 130 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone into pharmacies there in recent years.

The numbers, cited by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in letters sent to the three companies on Thursday, come primarily from lawsuits filed by the West Virginia Attorney General. The five million pills Kermit got in just two years came from a company called McKesson, which may be unfamiliar to most Americans but is the fifth-largest company in the country. Cardinal Health, Inc. sold another 27 million doses to Williamson and Mt. Gay-Shamrock pharmacies from 2006 to 2016. Together with AmerisourceBergen, responsible for 90 million of the doses sent to the towns, the companies make up 85 percent of the nation’s drug distribution industry.

Journalists and local lawyers have been familiar with the scale of the over-supplying of drugs to these communities for years. The Charleston Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer for a 2016 investigation that showed 780 million painkillers had been shipped into the state in just five years. Salon and Alternet also sent reporters to Kermit back in 2012. Wholesalers like McKesson and pill makers like Perdue Pharmaceutical have faced down lawsuits in West Virginia going back to the George W. Bush presidency.

But with opioid misuse now recognized as a crisis worthy of national attention, powerful eyes are combing backward through 20 years of history and resurfacing startling factoids. In popular understanding, addiction to pain pills has historically been treated as an individual failing: A person slides from one post-surgery prescription into a lifelong cycle of drug abuse, presumably because they lacked willpower.

But centering addiction on individual choices lets the systems surrounding pain management off the hook. Thursday’s letters from Congress aim to redress that narrative failure and bring the pill industry back into the spotlight.

It’s hard to miss the statistics on what opioid misuse is costing the country. Scientists now attribute upwards of 40,000 deaths per year to opioids and their closest chemical cousin, heroin. A 2016 study from the American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that two million people in the United States were addicted to prescription painkillers while nearly 600,000 more had a heroin problem.

But it’s been fairly easy to overlook just how much money is being made off of these addictions and deaths. McKesson’s annual revenues of roughly $190 billion come from a much wider array of products than just opioids, of course, but the drugs accounted for somewhere on the order of $3 billion in sales for the firm in 2015 according to Fortune. McKesson, which has repeatedly denied all wrongdoing in state and federal court, has gotten out of jail cheap. It settled a federal case for $150 million early last year and $13.25 million in a similar suit in 2008. That’s a rounding error next to multi-billion-dollar pill revenues year after year for decades.

Scrape down one level further in the deadly money-mill of prescription drug development and distribution, and the blood starts getting onto just about everybody’s hands. Yes, McKesson executives like CEO John Hammergen make the easiest targets — Hammergen alone took home about $400 million in pay and stock from 2007 to 2017 — but the behemoth firm is also linked to millions of working people’s financial well-being through the market-based retirement systems that have replaced traditional pensions since the Reagan era. Firefighters and schoolteachers in Oregon and Texas have part of their portfolios wrapped up in what’s best for McKesson. Vanguard, State Street, and Fidelity, three of the largest financial firms in the country and stewards to the retirement investments of tens of millions of working people, also hold roughly one out of every seven shares of all McKesson stock.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Court’s energy efficiency ruling a blow to Trump’s anti-climate agenda

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 10:23am

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for President Donald Trump as he seeks to gut environmental rules and standards. Federal courts have stood in his way at times over the past year, ruling in favor of environmental groups that are investing a significant amount of resources into stopping the implementation of the president’s anti-environment agenda.

The groups’ latest victory occurred in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Thursday when a judge ordered the Trump administration to end its hold on rules that would strengthen appliance energy efficiency standards.

Environmental groups, along with state attorneys general, viewed the decision to allow the implementation of the standards as an important step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving consumers money on their monthly utility bills.

Other legal victories over the past year include a federal court’s decision last October to reinstate a move by the Department of the Interior to delay compliance with rules curbing the burning off of leaking methane by oil and gas companies. That victory was short-lived, however, as the department published a rule in the Federal Register this week delaying the methane regulation.

In another triumph, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reversed course on its plan to delay by one year enforcement of the Obama administration’s ozone pollution regulation. Public health and environmental organizations sued the EPA on July 12, and asked the D.C. Circuit Court to immediately strike down or block the delay. The EPA’s withdrawal of the delay came the evening before its response to the lawsuit was due.

At issue in the energy efficiency case were four standards — proposed by the Obama administration in late 2016 — that would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 99 million tons over 30 years, the equivalent of taking 705,000 cars a year off the road, and save consumers billions of dollars on their energy utility bills over that time period.

Energy efficiency is a huge money saver — but the Trump administration is against it

None of the standards were especially controversial, among both environmental groups and appliance manufacturers. And yet, Trump’s Department of Energy (DOE) delayed their implementation, creating regulatory uncertainty for manufacturers who require long lead times to incorporate new technologies into their products.

“The Trump administration’s baffling decision to block the final procedural step could have cost Americans $8 billion in higher energy bills and created uncertainty for U.S. manufacturers,” Kit Kennedy, senior director of the climate and clean energy program for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said Thursday in a statement. “Today’s ruling reaffirms that the Trump administration must follow the laws designed to ensure America’s consumers and businesses aren’t forced to pay needlessly higher energy bills.”

The NRDC was one of several environmental and public interest groups that sued the DOE last June to force the department to implement the standards. Attorneys general in California and New York filed a separate lawsuit against the DOE, also accusing the agency of violating the law by refusing to implement the standards.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said Thursday in a statement that his state will continue to hold the Trump administration accountable. “The stakes could not be higher,” he said, “climate change is the most important global environmental issue of our time. Our citizens have a right to be part of the climate change solution.”

In his first year in office, Becerra has stayed busy fighting the Trump administration. In 2017 alone, the California attorney general filed 25 environmental lawsuits against the administration. Becerra’s colleague in New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), has brought more than 50 environment-related legal and administrative actions against Trump, including lawsuits that Becerra joined.

Most recently, Schneiderman led a coalition of 11 attorneys general, who filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration earlier this month for suspending the Clean Water Rule, a federal regulation designed to ensure the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands receive proper protection under the federal Clean Water Act.

In Thursday’s decision, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled that the DOE had “breached” its duty under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to publish the four energy efficiency standards in the Federal Register. The judge ordered the DOE to publish the standards within 28 days of the ruling.

Trump administration ignores legal mandates to update appliance efficiency standards

The four standards aim to increase the energy efficiency of portable air conditioners, battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out, air compressors used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, and packaged boilers that heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial space.

Federal law requires the DOE to set energy-saving standards for specific categories of appliances and then to update them every six years. According to the lawsuits, the department last updated its standards for commercial boilers in 2009 but has no current standards for the other appliances.

In its fall regulatory agenda, released in December, the Trump administration took 20 appliance standards that it had marked as “under review” in its spring regulatory agenda and moved them to a “long-term action” status. The Office of Management and Budget defines a long-term action as one in which no regulatory action is expected within the next 12 months.

The standards have historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support and demonstrated clear results. “It’s a long tradition of bipartisan support because these are standards that save consumers money,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, told ThinkProgress. “Even if you don’t prioritize climate change or pollution reduction, these standards still make sense. They help to make our energy systems more resilient.”

In response to Thursday’s ruling, Becerra and Schneiderman noted their states have significant interests in increased energy efficiency and reduced energy use as they seek to reduce global warming’s impacts.

“Our coalition of attorneys general has made it clear that we’ll use every tool at our disposal to protect our public health, our environment, and consumers’ pocketbooks,” Schneiderman said. The court decision, he said, “is an important victory in fighting back against the Trump Administration’s ‘polluter first’ agenda.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

West Virginia teachers are on the brink of their first statewide strike in nearly 30 years

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 9:58am

West Virginia teachers could stage a statewide strike for the first time in nearly 30 years. This week, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-West Virginia and West Virginia Education Association announced that teachers authorized a statewide strike. Teachers said they want better salaries and benefits. Vacancies and issues with the state’s insurance provider are also a source of concern for teachers.

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a salary increase for teachers and school service personnel on Tuesday, which provides a 2 percent raise for teachers next year and 1 percent each of the following three years. Next, it goes to the Senate. But teachers do not appear satisfied with this raise. Earlier this month, the Senate approved annual pay raises of 1 percent or about $400 a year, which many teachers balked at. Insurance premiums are also scheduled to increase on July 1.

Evin Pearson, who teaches fourth grade, said at a Spring Valley High School rally on low teacher pay, “I feel like we’re getting a raise just to have to pay more. I don’t feel like that’s fair.”

Christine Campbell, president of AFT-West Virginia, released a statement on Wednesday. Campbell said teachers and service personnel “have reached their breaking point.”

Campbell said of the meeting to authorize a strike, “Leaders from all across West Virginia—some driving as much as four hours to attend the meeting—made it clear that teachers and service personnel are appalled by the lack of attention that legislators are paying to education priorities.”

She added, “Our members want to see movement in a positive direction—not a negative direction—period. For far too long, our members and the students they serve have suffered because qualified, experienced teachers are leaving the state in search of adequate pay and benefits elsewhere.”

Here is where most of Trump’s education cuts come from

On Saturday at 1 p.m., teachers, school staff, and community members plan to rally at the state capitol grounds in Charleston to urge lawmakers to support a “decent” compensation and benefits package for educators. Executive vice president of the National Education Association, Becky Pringle, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker, and the heads of the West Virginia AFT and NEA, Christine Campbell and Dale Lee, will be at the rally. Communications Workers of America President Elaine Harris is also attending the rally to show support for West Virginia teachers.

According to a 2016 Learning Policy Institute (LPI) report, the average starting salary in West Virginia in 2013 was $32,533. (For comparison, the lowest starting salary for teachers is in Montana at $27,274.) According to the NEA, the average salary for a West Virginia teacher in 2016 was $45,622, which ranked 48th among all states. In 2014, 3.45 percent of the state’s teachers weren’t certified and 10.5 percent were inexperienced, according to the LPI report.

The last time West Virginia teachers striked was in March of 1990. It lasted 11 days and involved 47 of the state’s 55 counties, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The main issue then was the same as it is now: low salaries. Average teacher pay was $21,904 then, which was only higher than Mississippi. In 1990, the West Virginia Education Association said the state’s 5 percent raise in February wasn’t enough and said no to the state’s additional 5 percent raise offer, according to the New York Times. The governor at the time, Gaston Caperton (D), said he wouldn’t hold meetings with teachers until ”calm and reason are restored and the teaching force returns to the classrooms.” Teachers union leaders and House and Senate leaders reached a settlement eventually, however, and the governor approved of improvements in teacher pay.

The 1990 strike was illegal then and still would be illegal for teachers in West Virginia today. The West Virginia attorney general at the time, Roger Tompkins, said, “There is no right to strike against the state” and Caperton threatened legal action. He did not act on those threats. A 2014 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 36 states didn’t allow teachers to go on strike. But that doesn’t always stop them. In 2016, Detroit teachers went on strike by calling in sick to work, despite those strikes being illegal in Michigan.

John F. Lyons, a historian, said that between 1960 and 1974, there were more than 1,000 teachers strikes involving more than 823,000 teachers and that collective-bargaining agreements covered the majority of public school teachers by the end of the ’70s. These public sector union strikes continued into the ’70s and ’80s but after the 1981 PATCO strike, things changed when President Ronald Reagan fired thousands of air traffic controllers who went on strike. This action excited opponents of these unions and soon, school boards wanted more concessions from teachers. Then public sector union membership growth leveled off, according to the Labor and Working Class History Association. Last year, there were only seven strikes that involved 1,000 or more workers, compared to 15 in 2016, making it the second lowest year for large-scale strikes since the Labor Department started keeping track in 1947.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Republicans leave immigrants’ lives hanging in the balance, say it’s time to move on

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 3:25pm

In a series of afternoon votes, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down a number of immigration plans Thursday. Afterward, Republicans were quick to blame Democrats and emphasize they were ready to move on from debating immigration, after just a few days and with immigrants’ lives still hanging in the balance.

Among the failed proposals was a bipartisan plan that would have paved a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children, commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” in exchange for $25 billion for border security — the same amount of funding requested by the White House in their immigration framework. The bill failed 54-45, just 6 votes shy of the 60 votes needed to pass.

The measure that most closely resembled the framework put forth by the White House, a plan which would have substantially increased federal deportation powers and significantly reduced legal forms of immigration while also ending the diversity visa, failed by the largest margin — 39-60. There were reports Wednesday evening that Trump vowed to veto any immigration proposal other than his own plan.

Amendment based on Pres Trump's immig framework FAILS in the Senate (each need 60):
1- (FAILS 52-47) McCain-Coons (Just #DACA + Border)
2- (FAILS 54-45) Toomey (penalized sanctuary cities)
3- (FAILS 54-45) Rounds-King (bipartisan bill)
4-(FAILS 39-60) Grassley (Trump's framework)

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 15, 2018

The failure to arrive to a consensus on an immigration plan arrives just as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) Friday deadline looms. On Tuesday, McConnell said the Senate would limit its work to this week only to provide a permanent framework following the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — establishing a definitive deadline for piece of immigration legislation with bipartisan support that would grant earned citizenship to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants and likely amp up immigration enforcement.

“Senators have had plenty of time to prepare,” McConnell said, according to Politico. “There’s no reason why we should not reach a bipartisan solution this week. But to do this, we need to get the debate started, look past making political points and focus on actually making law.”

In response to Thursday’s failure to produce a compromise on legislation, McConnell and other Senate Republicans elected to blame the Democrats, despite the fact it was a Republican president who ended DACA in the first place, a Republican president who backed out of previous DACA deals, and a Republican president’s immigration proposal that was the least popular out of the bunch.

McConnell on failure to advance something on immigration: Democrats failed to produce a solution..I thought we may be able to resolve this..Our friends across the aisle were unable to get something done..They turned away from a golden opportunity to resolve the issue

— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) February 15, 2018

.@sendavidperdue: “Today, Senate Democrats crushed the dreams of many people who were counting on them to deliver” #immigration

— Megan Whittemore (@MeganWhittemore) February 15, 2018

Now that all the immigration proposals have failed, Congress is back to where it started and will likely move on to other issues.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told CNN shortly after the failed votes that he is “ready to move” on after “wast[ing] a whole week” on immigration, despite it being only three days.

Republican Sen. Kennedy on immigration: “I’m ready to move one. We wasted a whole week here. And I’m ready to move on. There are other issues in front of us.”

— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) February 15, 2018

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters he doesn’t foresee any additional floor time for debating DACA, saying, “We’ve got other things we have to do.”

After four failed votes, Cornyn sticks a fork in immigration debate for year. Any more floor time? “I don’t see it. We couldn’t get it together this week. We’ve got other things we have to do . .. If I were [McConnell], I’d be reluctant to spend another week of wasted time.”

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 15, 2018

But what will become of the 122 Dreamers who lose their DACA status every day since Trump announced he would end the program last September? Their fate is uncertain. In January, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency announced  it would accept renewal applications for DACA, following San Francisco’s federal court ruling that same month that blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end the program.

USCIS said in a statement on its website, “Until further notice, and unless otherwise provided in this guidance, the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017.”

What DACA recipients need, however, is a permanent solution, because the safety net of DACA renewals may not last for very long. The Justice Department said it would take the “rare step” of asking the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

Categories: SCCDP Allies