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Oil lobby groups are using EPA’s ‘secret science’ proposal to argue against clean water rules

5 hours 1 min ago

Internal emails reveal two major fossil fuel trade groups are lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from updating a decades-old list of toxic chemicals found in petroleum wastewater — and they’re using the Trump administration’s controversial “secret science” proposal to make their case. 

The EPA currently monitors for 16 types of chemicals in wastewater, or effluent, released by petroleum refineries under the Clean Water Act. However, in the more than 40 years since the list was developed, scientific understanding around the number of chemicals and their toxicity levels has grown. As a result, the EPA is in the early stages of determining whether the priority list of chemicals needs to be updated.

But according to emails released to the Sierra Club and reviewed by ThinkProgress, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) are lobbying to limit the scope of the EPA’s study.

The fossil fuel trade groups want to ensure that two categories of chemicals known to be toxic to aquatic life, and potentially harmful to humans, are excluded from the study: alkylated polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (alkylated-PAHs) and naphthenic acids (NAs). The industry even goes so far as to state that including these in a study would risk “legal challenges.”

These two sets of chemicals are not currently on the EPA’s priority list. There are hundreds of different variations of PAH chemicals and levels of toxicity (alkylated-PAHs, for instance, are a derivative of the main “parent” PAH compounds). Burning coal and oil is the main source for these chemicals.

Yet, according to Jan Andersson, a chemistry professor at the University of Münster in Germany who has studied the EPA’s list, roughly 97 percent of the PAH chemical compounds found in crude oil are alkylated chemicals, making any lobbying against their inclusion quite significant. Meanwhile, NAs are found primarily in the byproduct of tar sands oil; the non-biodegradable compounds are stored in giant tailings ponds.

Excluding these types of chemicals from the EPA study would therefore serve to preemptively limit the scope of any potential rule changes in the future.

“They’re trying to cook the books at the very earliest stages of a study for petroleum refinery and ignoring the considerable data that’s out there that alkylated-PAHs are absolutely at least as toxic, if not more toxic, than the ones everybody monitors for right now,” Betsy Southerland, former director of the EPA’s Office of Water’s Office of Science and Technology, told ThinkProgress. Southerland worked for the EPA for 30 years before resigning in 2017 in response to the change in leadership.

At high or prolonged exposure, PAH chemicals can cause tumors in aquatic life and birds as well as impact their reproduction, development, and immunity. Studies show that NAs have similar impacts, along with causing liver and heart damage in mice. Some known health effects to humans from PAH exposure include eye and skin irritation, nausea, and diarrhea, as well as longer-term impacts such as kidney or liver damage and asthma-like symptoms.

Scientists are still studying how the various chemicals impact humans; a range of PAH chemicals are classified as suspected or possibly carcinogenic to humans. What is known though, is that alkylated-PAHs are likely more toxic than other types of PAHs. They also take a longer time to biodegrade in the environment.

The ‘secret science’ argument

Issued by the EPA in 1976, the list of 16 types of PAH chemicals is used to determine which chemicals must be monitored for risks to drinking water and human health. Under the Clean Water Act, petroleum wastewater effluent guidelines establish a national floor — a baseline limit — for these chemicals. So, if there is a discharge of waste such as the release of industrial wastewater, stormwater runoff, or oil spills, only these 16 chemicals are tested to determine the level of toxicity.

The simplicity of the list has made the process easily applicable and cost-effective, and other countries have also turned to it as a resource. The list hasn’t just been used to monitor wastewater, either — environmental studies frequently use it as a basis for research. However, as a 2015 article co-authored by Andersson and published in the academic journal Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds notes, the list leaves out three large groups of these chemical compounds, including alkylated-PAHs. As the paper states, crude oil and coal are “rich” in alkyl compounds.

Despite the potential impact on human health and the environment, the levels of these chemicals currently found in petroleum wastewater is unknown; that’s one thing the EPA’s study would determine. PAH concentrations can vary from site-to-site and by the source of the crude oil. The findings would then help guide any necessary changes to the list of chemicals that should be regulated.

As part of its argument against the EPA measuring these chemicals, the trade groups are using the EPA’s proposed “secret science” rule to argue against disclosure of NAs because that would constitute a risk to companies’ proprietary data.

The proposed rule, also known as the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule, was introduced last April by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The rule has been supported by climate science deniers and effectively aims to restrict the use of scientific evidence in the rule-making process. The plan has been stalled under Administrator Andrew Wheeler, but if adopted, it would require the EPA to rely only on scientific studies where the underlying data used by the researchers is made public. Critics argue the bill would severely limit the kind of science the EPA could use in justifying regulations (excluding public health data, for instance) and would place a number of unnecessary burdens on EPA scientists.

Some in the chemical and fossil fuel industries, both of which maintain close ties with the Trump administration, have also warned that the rule would expose confidential corporate information. In a June 8, 2018 letter attached to an email to Brian d’Amico, branch chief at the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, API and AFPM wrote that using the industry’s own proprietary method of analyzing naphthenic acids would be a “clear contradiction” to the EPA’s proposed secret science rule.

“Independent validation is clearly not possible when a proprietary analytical method is used to generate the data,” the organizations argued. “In the interest of transparency, per its own proposed rule, EPA should abandon the use of this proprietary method in the Detailed Study.”

“Data derived from these methods could result in the EPA facing substantial scientific and legal challenge,” API and AFPM warned.

In other words, under the hypothetical scenario where the EPA decides to update its chemicals list at a time when the secret science rule is officially adopted, it would require the results of the EPA’s effluent study be made public, as that would be considered underlying data used to introduce the new chemicals rule. But doing so would, in the eyes of the fossil fuel industry, violate their proprietary methods used to analyze the chemical and so the chemicals should instead be simply excluded from the very beginning to avoid such a scenario.

“Quoting a rule that has not even gone final yet for the reason why [the EPA] shouldn’t be allowed to monitor it is pretty outrageous,” said Southerland.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment from ThinkProgress about whether or not it will be studying the two types of chemicals the fossil fuel industry has been lobbying against. The API and AFPM also did not respond to requests for comment.

‘Obsolete’ list

The fossil fuel industry is also arguing that the EPA doesn’t have sufficient data to claim that these two groups of chemicals should be regulated. As Roger E. Claff, senior scientific adviser at API, wrote in a February 2018 email to d’Amico, among the concerns is a “lack of toxicity data for decision-making.”

But as Southerland explained, that’s precisely why the EPA is initiating its study; growing scientific findings suggest these chemicals are highly toxic and therefore updates might be warranted. Meanwhile, she said, “API is saying ‘hell no.'”

Andersson made the case for updating the list in his 2015 paper. The 1976 list was created based on what was commercially available at the time, but many more variations of PAH chemicals exist now. Meanwhile, toxicology has improved understanding of the adverse health impacts of a wide range of these chemicals, and “a wealth of new compounds have been added to the inventory of confirmed or suspect carcinogens.”

“This list of compounds is not suitable,” Andersson told ThinkProgress. “Most of them are pretty innocuous… [there are] many that are much more toxic that don’t appear on this list because in 1976, people didn’t know about them. This list looks pretty obsolete.”

‘Collaboration through the years’

The first meeting between the EPA and the fossil fuel trade groups on this issue occurred in May 2016, under the Obama administration. And as a January 2018 slide show presentation to the Trump administration shows, the industry highlighted its “collaboration through the years” with the EPA.

Internal emails released to the Sierra Club show a January 2018 presentation by API to the EPA.

Of course, some degree of collaboration is needed in order for the EPA to properly conduct its study and gather the necessary data. However, the internal emails provide insight into the scale of influence the fossil fuel lobby is trying to exert at the very early stages of decision making.

Dalal Aboulhosn, who works on federal water policy for the Sierra Club, said this shows how under the current administration industry “is allowed to come in and pretty much write their wish list.”

On water specifically she said, there has been a pattern of industry approaching the EPA under both Pruitt and Wheeler with policy ideas before the EPA has actually decided to move on the issue. Shortly after, a change is announced.

“It’s very blatant and it’s across the board when it comes to issues in the agency, and we’re seeing it very starkly on water issues,” Aboulhosn said.

Indeed, after arguing last June that “the science and data for the toxicity of NAs and alkylated-PAHs are still a work in progress,” the two trade groups go so far as to suggest that, should the EPA wish to study them, the agency must address these two groups of chemicals “in a project outside of the Study.”

They argue the EPA should make a new official rule in order to create a new “method” for studying these chemicals. This separate project should undergo “the appropriate public notice and comment period required to gain method approval,” the trade groups’ letter states.

This, however, would be highly uncommon given public notice and comment periods typically apply to new regulations, or changes to existing regulations (such as repealing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan or introducing the “secret science” rule); it would also serve to delay the process by several years.

“It sounds like they’re trying to set some new bar to any future detailed studies,” Southerland said, “where no analyses can be done unless there’s a standard method… that would be a bar not just for petroleum refinery but every industry category.”

It quickly becomes a “chicken and egg” situation, Southerland said; you need a study to determine if a new rule is needed, but the industry is arguing you need a new rule before conducting the study.

But as the June 2018 industry letter to the EPA reads, “API and AFPM members believe in due diligence and support EPA in developing sound science.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump administration plan to offer lump-sum payout to private pension holders is a Wall Street scam

5 hours 1 min ago

The Trump administration has quietly rolled out a technical change to current Treasury Department policies that will allow corporations the leeway to alter their existing pension arrangements. The move, announced in early March, puts the private sector retirement benefits that millions of Americans have earned at risk.

The change allows businesses to offer retirees and their families a one-time payout to replace the monthly or yearly pension checks they currently receive.

Such lump-sum buyouts can be tempting for older beneficiaries, who generally underestimate their life expectancy. As such, these one-time payouts often fall far short of what they might otherwise be due under their existing pensions.

“It’s not that people are greedy, it’s that they’re afraid,” Economic Policy Institute (EPI) retirement expert Monique Morrissey told ThinkProgress. “And they have no way of evaluating this. They believe they’re being protected and they’re not.”

Though the large numbers involved in a lump-sum offer can look generous on paper, recipients often suffer from a lack of context and comparison when evaluating their choices. Researchers have found that such buyouts almost always cheat retirees, costing them a significant amount of money when they are compared to the proceeds to which they would have been entitled under their original pension or even a privatized annuity system. The difference is big enough that when the Obama administration had the opportunity to act, the Treasury Department issued rules which effectively banned firms from offering such buyouts.

“It really is a rip-off for workers,” said Amy Traub, a researcher for liberal public policy think tank Demos. “There may be somebody out there who’s telling them they can manage the money far better than the old pension plan ever would have, but in practice that’s not true, and people run out of money quickly compared to the lifelong guarantee they had from their pensions.”

Though almost no new workers are offered traditional defined-benefit pensions today, the old system’s legacy is substantial. More than 20 million Americans currently rely on pensions from their current or former employers. The White House’s hasty rollback of the Obama-era lump-sum rules draws a big, green target on their backs.

Moreover, companies are under increasing pressure to offload the future costs and risks of pension promises. Restoring the lump sum option makes it easier for them to do so.

But where does that pressure come from? In a word: Shareholders. Where firms once valued their long-term outlook and viewed their investors as only one of several groups to which it owed responsible conduct, the modern U.S. or multinational corporation is driven to realize perpetual improvements in its stock price or ability to pay dividends.

It’s not that business owners used to be high-minded, selfless communitarians. The old way of thinking was more practical than moral: A promise to take care of workers into old age helped firms recruit and retain the best talent, and offering a gentle off-ramp when productivity naturally dips served all parties in good stead. Pensions were a key part of this compact between bosses, workers, capital managers, and government.

“It’s this old idea that when you give your life to work for an employer that employer will support you and your spouse in your old age,” Traub said. “[T]hat goes against the idea of companies being lean and mean, contracting out labor, relying on temporary labor and independent contractors, and minimizing any obligation to the people who make a company function every day.”

But influential Wall Street interests have, over time, eroded this social contract, and now view pensions simultaneously as impediments to profit and a ripe source of plunder. Instead of a model in which businesses planned for long-term sustainability by balancing the interests of all stakeholders, including their workforce, companies have adopted a different mindset that’s come hand-in-hand with a broader Wall Street takeover of the economy. Progressive economic wonks often refer to this shift as “financialization.”

Financialization has played a substantial role in the broader inequality of income and wealth that grabbed so much popular attention in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. And the changes wrought by financialization often manifest themselves as a sort of “mission creep,” in which companies redefine their goals around shareholder interests instead of just making and selling good products and services.

The rise of stock buybacks, to which the Trump-era tax bill has provided a steroidal boost, has been one recognizable result of this shift. Firms looking to employer pensions as a potential source of profits, to be skimmed off for shareholder use, is another. In all cases, the virtuous cycle in which the productivity wrought from hard work pays off for all parties begins to break down.

“That means this is a zero-sum game where the other stakeholders are seen as cost centers to squeeze money out of, including workers,” the Roosevelt Institute’s Katy Milani told ThinkProgress. “One obligation that corporations had to workers beyond their salary was pensions.”

Of course, a generation of corporate leaders didn’t just wake up one day and decide to stop honoring their obligations. Rather, it is the end result of diligent ideological campaigning, supported since the 1970s by a free-market think tanks and right-wing media outlets underwritten by the hyper-rich. And so it’s come to pass that abandoning pension promises to workers via lump-sum buyouts, as the Trump administration’s new IRS guidance, first reported by CNN, encourages firms to do, is officially called “de-risking” by the business community.

Ironically enough, companies don’t even make productive use of the capital they free up by ditching retirees in this fashion. Instead, this boodle is bundled off to the very investors who brought this pressure in the first place, effectively enshrining a competitive stock share value as a corporation’s pre-eminent product. A fissure, between workers and the nominal productive goals of the firms for which they toil, naturally emerges.

And that fracturing eventually exacts a cost on the lives of those outside these arrangements. Pensions help retirees mitigate the extent to which they will need to lean on public programs or private subsidies that shift service costs – like hospital bills, for instance – to other consumers. The 401(k) system touted as an alternative to pensions produces far worse outcomes for the relatively few workers who even have access to these products.

The widening of these financial strains beget additional economic dislocation and its attendant anxieties — and further the fearful environment that makes trading a lifetime pension for a lump-sum payoff more attractive. This efficient allocation of burdens is the end result of a logic that Demos’ Traub says “Wall Street wants to see, because it makes shareholders a bigger profit more quickly.”

As the EPI’s Morrissey notes, the casual deception of these retirement payouts doesn’t just position the poaching of hard-earned employee benefits as a responsible act, it helps to mask the extractive reality of the financial sector in ways that have made the investor class almost untouchable for politicians throughout their free-marketers’ cold war on working people.

“Their supposed value to society is that they are distributionally efficient, allocating capital to the most productive use. But so much of what they’ve been doing lately,” he says, bears “only the most indirect relationship to any investment in a productive growing economy, and everything to do with skimming money off people.” Reader beware: That lump sum offer, promising freedom from economic fear, is just one more grasping hand reaching for your pocket.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Indiana Republicans push anti-trans legislation days after gender-neutral license victory

5 hours 1 min ago

Indiana lawmakers are trying to make it harder for transgender and non-binary people to correct the gender on their ID cards and driver’s licenses only a few days after Indiana became the sixth state in the nation to provide non-binary people with a gender marker option.

A new amendment, introduced by a Republican state representative, would require people who want their correct gender marker on their ID card to first change their birth certificate — something that is often impossible for people born in a different state.

“It’s obvious to Indiana’s trans people that this attack is spiteful and not motivated by an attempt to protect anyone or fix anything anything that was broken in the BMV bureaucracy,” Kit Malone, advocate and educator with the ACLU of Indiana, told ThinkProgress. “It was simply that a news item caused people who are against trans equality to notice that there was something they could take away from us and they are working as quickly as they can to do that.”

A week ago, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) announced it would issue driver’s licenses and identification cards that provided a third gender option for non-binary and gender nonconforming people. It would designate their gender with X, rather than M and F for men and women. Susan Guyer, BMV spokesperson, told the Indianapolis Star that the decision was a “response to constituents requesting a non-binary marker.”

The change came about two years after Katherine Wood, an attorney with Indiana Legal Services, sought to change the ID policy. Ash Kulak, a public defender who advocated with Wood for the non-binary option, was reportedly the second person to get a non-binary ID, according to NBC News.

“Personally, I like knowing that I can hand over my ID and not have someone immediately know what a doctor thought about my sex assigned at birth, not have someone from an institution try to confirm their suspicions about what I could possibly be,” Kulak said to NBC News.

But on Wednesday, the House transportation committee voted to amend a bill, called Senate Bill 182, unrelated to the issue of gender markers, to say that people must use a birth certificate corresponding to their gender to get the correct gender marker on their ID. Rep. Holli Sullivan (R) proposed the amendment. Right now, transgender and non-binary people can provide a doctor’s statement to change their ID, a policy the BMV has held for a decade, according to the ACLU of Indiana. The committee meeting was not publicized far in advance, the Star reported, and no members of the public were present to testify in favor of or against the amendment. The GOP-led panel voted along party lines.

One day prior, another Republican lawmaker attempted a similar attack on trans rights. On Tuesday, Rep. Matt Hostettler proposed an amendment to a bill related to veterans seeking special license plates. That amendment outlawed the gender neutral designation. But after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers, he abandoned the effort.

“The issue with [Sullivan’s amendment] is that many people who live in Indiana were born in states that do not allow the updating of a birth certificate,” Malone said. “Those people would be left with no ability to change and get an accurate driver’s license. It actually removed the ability of the BMV to issue driver’s licenses for folks who are unable to change that birth certificate for any number of reasons. That’s really problematic and leaves a lot of people in this limbo where they can’t do anything.”

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine also provide a gender neutral option, along with the District of Columbia. In D.C., Oregon, Minnesota, and California, there is an option other than male or female for ID cards and licenses and no provider certification is required. In Indiana, Colorado, and Maine, you must provide certification.

State policies on changing gender markers on IDs varies widely. The National Center for Transgender Equality has also rated states according to how trans friendly their driver’s license gender change policies are. Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming received an F for proof of surgery, court orders, or a required amended birth certificate. 

Given the long history of anti-LGBTQ bills in Indiana, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Malone isn’t surprised lawmakers immediately sought to implement additional hurdles in response to an inch of progress for trans residents.

“[RFRA] would have enshrined religious discrimination into our state code. We were on the cutting edge of those kinds of laws back in the day,” she said. “Anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-trans attack has been sort of an annual feature of our legislative session where trans people in Indiana seem to be a popular punching bag for the legislature and we have been here to fight this.”

Paul Castillo, counsel and students’ rights strategist in the South Central Regional Office of Lambda Legal, said that if this proposal does become law, there is some potential for a legal challenge.

“When you’re making a change in the law to target a population then, it carries with it a risk that litigation is going to be responsive to targeting non-binary and other gender nonconforming individuals when there has been no issue or problems with the process in the past,” he said. “But they’re doing it specifically in response to a change that the BMV said it can implement with no problem. You’re erecting additional barriers that weren’t there and so it does certainly create a likelihood that if passed, the state could be facing a legal challenge in the courts.”

Castillo added that this change would essentially force people to carry false identification and put people in vulnerable situations.

“Particularly with people who can’t update their birth certificate because they were born in a different state, it makes no sense for any state to require an individual to carry an identification document that is false,” Castillo said.

“Not only does it make it harder, in many cases, people who carry documents that aren’t correct are subjected to harassment and violence as a result. State governments should be in the business of making it easier for every person to carry accurate documents and not placing them in a situation where they may be subjected to harassment and other hurdles.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

WATCH: How Fox helps Trump weaken our democracy

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 3:06pm
While the feedback loop between President Donald Trump and Fox News has been well established, less attention has been paid to the effect that Fox News' propaganda has on its viewership. A new study comparing the sentiments of Fox viewers to non-viewers found that the network has dramatically normalized the ways Trump undermines democratic norms and public institutions.
Categories: SCCDP Allies

Kushner accused of using private messaging for official White House business

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 2:51pm

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House aide, uses private messaging services to conduct official government business, according to new information released Thursday by congressional Democrats. As a candidate, Trump, his surrogates, and his supporters repeatedly advocated locking opponent Hillary Clinton in prison for using a private email server to conduct government business when she was secretary of state.

On Thursday afternoon, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to the White House detailing Kushner’s use of both private email and encrypted apps like WhatsApp to conduct official White House business. The revelations stem from conversations in December between Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, and Cummings, who is currently the chair of the House Oversight Committee.

The letter adds that White House officials, such as Kushner, who use private messaging services for official communications appear to be violating the Presidential Records Act.

“Specifically, when asked whether Mr. Kushner had ever used WhatsApp for official business, Mr. Lowell confirmed that Mr. Kushner has used — and continues to use — WhatsApp as part of his official duties in the White House,” the letter notes.

It’s unclear what specific government business Kushner was conducting through the private messaging services. Previous reports linked Kushner’s usage of WhatsApp to his communications with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Lowell did not rule out that Kushner may have used them to transmit classified information. “That’s above my pay grade,” Lowell said when asked about Kushner potentially sharing classified information, according to Cummings’ letter.

Former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who served as the chair of the House Oversight Committee before Cummings took over this year, was also present for the December meeting between Cummings and Lowell.

Cummings’ letter also noted that Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, used private email for communications. It also added that former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland used an account to conduct official business, including instances of discussing the possibility of supplying “sensitive U.S. nuclear technology” to Saudi Arabia.

In the letter, Cummings requested pertinent documents from the White House, including information on individuals like Kushner and Ivanka Trump who have used personal email accounts. Cummings also requested information pertaining to White House policies on personal messaging services.

In a separate letter on Thursday from Lowell, obtained by POLITICO, the attorney disputed Cummings’ recollection. “I specifically said that ‘If there was a question about Jared’s use of WhatsApp, that is a question for White House counsel, not me,'” Lowell wrote. Lowell added that Ivanka Trump has forwarded all “official business” to her White House account as of at least September 2017.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fox viewers think Trump’s the best president, and that’s far from their worst misconception

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 2:36pm

If there was any doubt about the dangerously divisive impact of Fox News on U.S. democracy, a new poll by a team of progressive researchers underscores the delusional effects the cable network’s pseudo information has on Republican-leaning supporters.

Nearly eight in 10 Republicans who watch Fox News told pollsters that President Donald Trump is the most successful president in history, nearly 90 percent support the GOP tax law, and fewer than one-fifth support the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 election — all views at great variance with opinions shared by the broader U.S. public.

The findings were in a report released Thursday by Navigator, a collaborative project led by Global Strategy Group, GBA Strategies, and activists allied with progressive policies. (Among those serving on Navigator’s advisory committee is Navin Nayak of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

The report found an “alternate reality” for Fox viewers, one in which the network informs and shapes their political views. In short, Fox News reinforces skewed perceptions of the people and concerns affecting the nation.

“One thing is clear: where Republican partisan affiliation and the Fox News echo chamber overlap, there is near unanimity on the politics and even the facts defining the Trump presidency,” Navigator said in a statement that accompanied the report.

“This is the ‘FoxHole,'” the report said, adding that “this particular segment of the public is… vastly different” from other news consumers.

Researchers at Global Strategy Group contacted more than 1,000 registered voters in an online poll that analyzed differences between Fox News viewers and those who don’t watch the channel. Among the findings of the poll, which was conducted from March 1 to 4:

  • 12 percent of those in the FoxHole believe climate change is mostly caused by humans, compared to 62 percent of all other Americans (53 percent total);
  • 77 percent are very concerned about the Democratic Party moving in too socialist a direction, compared to 20 percent of all others (31 percent total);
  • 89 percent express support for the Republican tax law, compared to 22 percent of all others (35 percent total);
  • 84 percent support President Trump declaring a national emergency to start building a border wall, compared to 21 percent of all others (33 percent total);
  • 20 percent support the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, compared to 67 percent of all others (58 percent total);
  • 78 percent believe the Trump administration has accomplished more than any administration in history, compared to 17 percent of all others (29 percent total).

Truth be told, these top-line findings won’t come as a great surprise to anyone existing outside of the “FoxHole,” and just as likely, those who dwell there will dismiss it as more “fake news” from liberal media.

But drill deeper, and some important insights can be gleaned. The poll offers ample proof that changing the views of Fox News viewers may not be worth the effort, while focusing on reasonable Republicans who don’t live and die by the cable channel may prove more fruitful.

For example, people who identified as Republicans but said they didn’t watch Fox News were more likely than Fox News-watching Republicans to believe in human-caused climate change and were far less likely to be concerned about socialism among Democrats.

Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) Republican Fox News viewers told researchers they believed people inside the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies were working to undermine Trump, compared to 49 percent of non-Fox News viewing Republicans and just 8 percent of non-Fox News viewers who didn’t identify as Republican.

“Progressives should be mindful of the challenge from the Fox News echo-chamber and how it skews public perceptions,” the Navigator statement said.

“At the same time, there may be opportunities to reach people who aren’t in the chamber: Republicans who don’t watch Fox News, and non-Republicans who do.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

MAGAbomber Cesar Sayoc pleads guilty

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 2:29pm

Less than six months after he mailed homemade bombs to frequent targets of right-wing conspiracist ire, so-called “MAGAbomber” Cesar Sayoc pleaded guilty Thursday to multiple felonies.

Sayoc had initially entered a not-guilty plea in federal court after being charged with 65 counts pursuant to the mail-bombing campaign. His reasons for changing his plea were not immediately clear.

Sayoc’s targets included former President Barack Obama, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and major liberal donor George Soros — each of whom has been the subject of paranoid and sometimes violent commentary by right-wing figures from both the distant fringe and central core of the modern conservative movement. None of the devices detonated as intended.

Soros in particular has been a bugaboo to Fox News hosts and white supremacist rabble-rousers for more than a decade. The wealthy philanthropist and activist is often portrayed in flagrantly anti-Semitic terms by voices on the far right. Barely 24 hours after Sayoc’s arrest in October, another man seemingly involved in those same online anti-Semitic conspiracist circles walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and murdered seven worshipers. The shooter had posted online about his belief that a Jewish cabal was smuggling criminal migrants across the southern U.S. border.

Sayoc had also decorated a van he owned with text and images celebrating President Donald Trump. The president has frequently asserted that southern border migration amounts to an invasion of U.S. territory and has wielded xenophobic smears of Central American emigrées throughout his political rise.

Bomber suspect Cesar Sayoc was victim of Wall Street’s fraudulent foreclosure grindhouse

In the years prior to his bombing campaign and arrest, Sayoc had lived a chaotic life at the economic margins. He declared bankruptcy after getting underwater on a mortgage that bears all the hallmarks of the illegal foreclosure practices that plagued the country in the years following the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008.

Investigators have previously warned the public should not take the failure of any of Sayoc’s devices to detonate as evidence they were fakes. They contained real detonation mechanisms and explosive and, in some cases, shrapnel.

“I was aware of the risk that they would explode,” Sayoc reportedly said in court Thursday. “I knew these actions were wrong. I’m extremely sorry.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump said ISIS would be ‘gone by tonight.’ Let’s check in on that.

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 12:03pm

President Donald Trump on Wednesday promised that the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) will be “gone by tonight.”

Holding up a paper printout showing ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq, Trump told reporters “…everything in the red — this was on Election Night in 2016 — everything red is ISIS. When I took it over, it was a mess. Now, on the bottom — that’s the exact same — there is no red,” he said, adding, “In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot which will be gone by tonight.”

“So this is ISIS on Election Day, my Election Day, and this is ISIS now. So that’s the way it goes.”

Of course, by Thursday, the fight was still continuing.

As experts quickly pointed out, the map the president is relying on contained inaccuracies.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, noted that the president’s map ignored that ISIS effectively still has control over the Badiya region in southeastern Syria.

Interesting that @POTUS/@realDonaldTrump knowingly shared a map that shows #ISIS retains a "residual" presence in vast areas of #Iraq & some areas of #Syria.

The map is also inaccurate – #ISIS also remains de facto in control of Badiya territory east of the #Euphrates in #Syria.

— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) March 21, 2019

There’s also more to eliminating an extremist group than taking away the territory it controls.

The Pentagon and United Nations estimate that roughly 30,000 ISIS fighters remain in the Levant region, with experts fearing the emergence of an ISIS 2.0 in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Syria that the president is pushing for (and that is set to happen by the end of April).

ISIS has been active in several countries in North Africa and Central Asia. On Thursday, the group claimed responsibility for a series of explosions in Afghanistan that killed at least six and wounded dozens.

Trump has repeatedly taken credit for defeating ISIS and failed to acknowledge those who have helped fight against the extremist group. For instance, the fight to free one of the largest territories held by ISIS — the Iraqi city of Mosul — started under former President Barack Obama in October 2016, before Trump had even been elected.

President Trump said ISIS was defeated. John Bolton says it’s still a threat.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump claimed he would defeat ISIS in 30 days if elected. That didn’t happen — and no one with a semi-reasonable grip on the news would have expected that it would.

This isn’t to say that ISIS has not suffered huge territorial losses. U.S.-backed forces, fighting alongside an international coalition — including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Iranian-backed Hasdh al-Shaabi militia in Iraq, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces — have made great gains in taking back towns and villages from ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

As former Amb. Frederic Hof pointed out in a piece for the Atlantic Council, while “a measure of self-congratulation is indeed appropriate for the erasure of the ‘physical caliphate’ in a remote corner of Syria…Trump would also do well to ask and answer some questions.”

Notably, wrote Hof:

Is the United States doing all it can in the Arab world and beyond to help develop the region’s greatest natural resource: its human capital?  Promoting educational reforms so millions can function in the twenty-first century?  Encouraging students from the Muslim world to attend US universities? … Projecting a sincere, deep-seated respect for Islam?  Convincing people around the world that rule of law, human rights, and the United States’ permanent struggle for ‘a more perfect union’ have universal applicability and an honored place in US foreign policy?

The answer to these questions, especially under the Trump administration, is a resounding “No.”

This administration has avoided discussing human rights with countries that have some of the worst human rights violations, from China to Saudi Arabia. The president has cast Muslims as global villains, slapped travel bans on several Muslim-majority countries, and cut back on the number of refugees the United States will accept, as Syrian and Iraqi families fleeing violence are still being internally displaced in significant numbers.

The fight to defeat ISIS has been especially deadly for civilians, whose lives have been defined by ISIS’s attempts to superimpose a caliphate over their homes and communities for around six years now. They continue to pay a heavy price as Trump tries to take yet another victory lap.

According to The International Rescue Committee (IRC) over 2,000 women and children arrived on Wednesday night at the al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, as U.S.-backed Syrian forces try to clear the town of Baghouz of ISIS fighters.

The camp already holds over 70,000 people (over half of them children), and the IRC’s country director issued a statement saying the latest arrivals are “in the worst condition we have seen since the crisis first began,” some badly injured by shrapnel.

At least 138 people have died on their way to al-Hol, with babies comprising a significant number of those fatalities.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Jacinda Ardern’s ‘no notoriety’ response to New Zealand mosque shootings has paid off

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 11:13am

In the United States, there have already been more than 60 mass shootings in 2019, according to statistics compiled by the Gun Violence Archive. In New Zealand, such events do not happen with the same frequency, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking on the challenge of ensuring that it stays that way.

Last week, two mosques in New Zealand became the latest venue for senseless violence after a gunman, targeting Muslims at prayer, murdered 50 people. For context, last year there were 49 homicides in the whole of New Zealand.

But after vowing that action would be taken to ban assault rifles within 10 days, the prime minister has delivered on her promise in under a week. On Thursday, Ardern announced that she’d secured the agreement of the government and both opposition parties to enact just such a ban, which will also include high-capacity magazines as well as bump stock modifications. New Zealand’s legislature is expected to introduce a bill in mid-April.

But Ardern’s rapid response to these tragic events began with a groundbreaking demand: Do not speak the gunman’s name. Her decision garnered international attention and set the tone for everything that followed.

On Tuesday, during her address to the New Zealand Parliament, Ardern said, “You will never hear me mention his name.”

She continued: “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing — not even his name.”

Advocacy groups have cautioned that it does a disservice to public safety for politicians and media professionals to wax poetic about the perpetrators of mass violence. Giving such criminals any semblance of infamy or celebrity provides them with validation — and motivates copycat killers.

Tom Teves, the co-founder of the No Notoriety campaign, warns that giving providing mass-shooters with too much attention — even in the well-intended service of trying to reckon with their motivations — runs the risk of creating a “narrative that they’re an anti-hero…and that’s a false narrative.”

No Notoriety, was founded by Teves and his wife Caren in 2012 in the wake of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, at which the couple’s son, Alex, was among the slain. Since then, they’ve dedicated their lives in the service of convincing journalists to stop giving gunmen the attention they seek. They recommend that these killers not be identified by name more than is minimally necessary, and that there should be reasonable restraints on the time spent analyzing their behavior, manifestos, and lives in the search for overcomplicated answers and base speculation.

“What we are doing is asking the media to just report responsibly,” said Teves. “If you need to use the name as a point of reference, then use it once. If you need to use a picture, then use the one of them in chains, because that’s where they’re going to end up.”

Teves, whose son was killed as he attempted to shield his girlfriend from the Aurora gunman’s bullets, said, “What we’re trying to do really, is we’re trying to save your child, because it’s too late for ours.”

In the years since his son’s death, Teves has observed No Notoriety’s recommendations take root, with a distinct shift in how the media approaches its coverage of mass murders seemingly underway.

“They’re focusing more on the victims than they ever did,” he said. Nevertheless, his feelings remain somewhat mixed: “The optimist in me says people are starting to get the message. The pessimist in me says that that’s what they decided is their cost of entry so that they can still sensationalize the murder.” 

However, Teves has been thrilled to see New Zealand’s prime minister execute his dream approach to mass shootings — rapid action on gun laws, coupled with a restrained rhetoric around this shooting.

“It’s terrific! I think she’s doing the completely right thing. I think she’s exactly right, they want to be anti-heroes, that’s what [the gunman] wants. Don’t give it to him.“

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Kellyanne Conway says she won’t leave her job over Trump’s feud with her husband because of feminism

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 11:10am

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway spoke to Fox Business Thursday morning about the growing animosity between her husband, attorney George Conway, and her boss, President Donald Trump, saying she had never considered quitting over the feud because, among other things, it would send a bad message to “feminists everywhere.”

One day earlier, speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump called George “a whack job” in retaliation for a number of critical tweets posted by the attorney. On Thursday, Conway said she appreciated “the president defending what he thinks is unfairness.”

Speaking specifically to her husband’s critiques of the president, Conway said she believed derogatory comments about Trump should be kept private and that she preferred not to comment on the couple’s relationship or conversations. When asked whether George Conway had asked her to leave her White House job over the feud, she pushed back, suggesting such a move would be anti-feminist.

“I know George was quoted recently as saying ‘I wish she didn’t work there.’ … But what message would that send to the feminists everywhere who pretend they’re independent thinkers, and men don’t make decisions for them?” she said. “They can talk it and I can walk it. I can live it.”

“I’m very focused on my work, and I feel so blessed to be serving this country that I love so much, that has given me so much,” Conway added, noting her role gave her the ability to wield increased power behind the scenes for “the good of the country.”

The Trump-Conway feud ratcheted up this week after the president tweeted insults about George Conway, suggesting the attorney was jealous of his wife, who had been invited to work in the White House.

“George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted,” Trump wrote. “I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”

Conway herself addressed this during her Fox Business interview on Thursday, noting her husband had originally been up for consideration as solicitor general in the Trump administration, and later for head of the civil division of the Justice Department, which he turned down.

Speaking to the recent media coverage, the White House counselor criticized journalists for not including her husband’s reasoning in their reports.

“When George took himself out of contention for a top job in the Department of Justice — almost two years ago now — he put out a public statement that many in the media refuse to cover now, which is that we’ve decided as a family it’s not the right time for both of us to have big jobs in the federal government,” she said.

George did put out a statement in June 2017, stating, “Kellyanne and I continue to support the President and his administration, and I look forward to doing so in whatever way I can from outside the government.”

Since then, however, he has said the reason he didn’t take that job is because, in his opinion, the Trump administration is a “shitshow in a dumpster fire,” specifically referencing Trump’s televised admission that he fired former FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation.

“Why would anybody want to do this?” he said on the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery in November, referring to the Justice Department role he had turned down.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

It’s presidential campaign season. Time to talk about reparations again.

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 10:16am

Like clockwork, the issue of reparations for descendants of U.S. slaves surfaces every presidential election cycle, and it’s back on the campaign agenda in 2020.

To be sure, mounting scholarly research and aggressive community activism has made it increasingly obvious to many Americans that the nation’s history of slavery and racism continues to adversely impact black Americans.

No less an authority than the Federal Reserve found in a recent Survey of Consumer Finances for every dollar owned by the average white American family, the average black family has just 10 cents, adding fuel to arguments that African Americans continue to suffer from historic discrimination.

The discussion tends to be confined during off-election years to obscure academic lectures or barber shop debates about the unlikely future of reparations. But it has evolved into a wider, series of public conversations about the possibility of it actually happening. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 essay in The Atlantic contributed to the discussion, pushing the topic into the purview of deep thinkers and mainstream media pundits. The New York Times’ conservative columnist David Brooks flipped his argument and came out earlier this month in support of reparations on the newspaper’s editorial page.

Inevitably, the flurry of attention over reparations wended its way this year to the campaign trail. The growing cast of candidates is an exceptionally diverse group which so far includes two African Americans, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Both are making a pointed effort to court black voters, who this year have greater influence over the primary process, even while campaign-tracking reporters pose questions that went largely unasked in previous campaigns.

Many of the declared Democratic candidates feel compelled to offer varying degrees of support for reparations. When they do, they choose their words with the utmost caution, at the risk of alienating a vital constituency needed to win the nomination, or offending a broader group of voters required to win the general election.

Several of the announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have offered measured endorsements for federal studies of reparations or have backed broad, race-neutral programs that would benefit all Americans, but that have the unarticulated goal of assisting black Americans. They are tip-toeing through a minefield energized by an activist, hard-left, which is demanding answers to long-ignored concerns about racial equity, police brutality, unequal housing and education policies and other social concerns that disproportionately harm black Americans.

Button tying Dr. Martin Luther King's dream to the payment of reparations to African Americans. CREDIT: David and Janice Frent/Getty Images


So far, the candidates expressing views on reparations include:

  • California Sen. Kamala Harris: Harris said on the nationally broadcast radio show “The Breakfast Club,” that the federal government should pay black Americans to address the legacy of slavery and discrimination. She repeated that view in an interview with The New York Times. “We have to be honest that people in this country do not start from the same place or have access to the same opportunities,” Harris said. “I’m serious about taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities.”
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren: At a CNN town hall meeting this week, Warren endorsed House legislation aimed at studying reparations for families of formerly enslaved black Americans. She declined, however, to promise support for direct payments. “This is a stain on America and we’re not going to fix that, we’re not going to change that, until we address it head on, directly,” Warren said. “And make no mistake, it’s not just the original founding. It’s just what happened generation after generation.”
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro: In repeated media interviews, Castro has called for reparations, including earlier this month on CNN’s State of the Union. “If under the Constitution we compensate people because we take their property, why wouldn’t you compensate people who actually were property?” he asked.
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker: Offering a “baby bonds” plan as the cornerstone of his campaign platform, Booker proposes creating a federally backed savings account for all U.S. children. He argues that his program wouldn’t be exclusive to black Americans, but would be a form of reparations because the money provided would be disproportionately passed along to poor African American children. “It’s certainly accurate to see to see the baby bonds legislation as a form of reparations through that lens,” said Booker spokesman Michael Tyler told National Public Radio.
  • Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke: — While campaigning in Iowa, O’Rourke acknowledged enjoying “privileges” as a white man in America not afforded to black Americans, and voiced support for a study looking into ways to make society fairer. “As a white man who has had privileges that others could not depend on, or take for granted, I’ve clearly had advantages over the course of my life,” he said recently on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I think recognizing that and understanding that others have not — doing everything I can to ensure that there is opportunity and the possibility for advancement and advantage for everyone — is a big part of this campaign and a big part of the people who comprise this campaign.”
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Stopping short of endorsing monetary reparations, Klobuchar told reporters that her preferred approach would be to make federal investments in “those communities that have been so hurt” by slavery and racial discrimination. “It doesn’t have to be ‘direct pay’ but invest in communities hurt by racism,” she said on Meet the Press.
  • Writer and lecturer Marianne Williamson: Unquestionably the most outspoken advocate for reparations, but also among the least known candidates, Williamson has outlined in her presidential platform an ambitious plan to spend $10 billion per year over a 10-year period on reparations for descendants of enslaved African Americans. “I believe $100 billion given to a council to apply this money to economic projects and educational projects of renewal for that population is simply a debt to be paid,” Williamson said in an interview with CNN’s New Day.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders: As he did during his 2016 presidential primary campaign, Sanders has declined to support reparations. He says, however, that he favors federal policies that would help distressed neighborhoods — an approach he said would be of particular benefit to black communities. Pressed about his position during a CNN town hall, Sanders questioned the idea of reparations, in general. “What does that mean?” Sanders said in response to Wolf Blitzer’s “up-or-down” question about his position on reparations. “What do they mean? I don’t think anyone’s been very clear.”

Sanders’ comments faintly echo statements he made during his previous presidential nomination run, when he described discussions over reparations as “divisive” and dismissed as impractical efforts to get it passed. Asked directly during a 2016 televised interview with Fusion, if he would support legislation as president to provide reparations to black Americans, Sanders flatly rejected the idea:

First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.

So I think what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.

His more recent brittle response during his CNN town hall may have shown him to be the most reluctant supporter of reparations among the Democratic hopefuls, even if his response was refreshingly candid. It also underscored the absence of a consensus as to what reparations policy looks like, or more practically, or how such a policy could be achieved.

With the exception of the long-shot Williamson campaign, none of the Democratic candidates who have spoken about reparations have done so in a way that would exclusively target black Americans. Instead, reparations-friendly candidates — specifically Booker, Harris and Warren — say they want programs that are universal in approach, not just for a set of policies or programs that benefit black Americans.

However, reparations supporters — most prominently, the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement, a largely online group — demand that political leaders target their efforts to obtain reparations exclusively for descendants of slaves. According to the ADOS website, its agenda calls for “set-asides for American descendants of slavery, not ‘minorities,’ a throw-away category which includes all groups except white men.” But even among supporters for reparations, there’s debate about whether reparations should be exclusively for black Americans who can credibly trace their ancestors to U.S. slaves.

Frank Newport, a senior scientist with Gallup, noted in a recent issue brief that “the term ‘reparations’ is a little like ‘socialism.’ It means very different things to different people.” And support among black Americans — as well as a lack of support among most white Americans — for reparations is neither unexpected nor universal. “Overall, blacks in the U.S. have continuing concerns about discrimination and structural impediments to their success, and most believe that the government must step in and do more to help this situation,” Newport wrote.

“The concept of reparations per se is broad, and the exact level of black support for the idea depends on how it is defined. But we know that at least a majority of blacks appear from past polling to be in favor — not surprising given the general context of black support for the government actively addressing race inequalities in the U.S. today.”

As columnist Perry Bacon recently noted on FiveThirtyEight, reparations is a “very controversial idea” — that is to say, a deeply unpopular one — with the American public.  “A July 2018 survey from the left-leaning Data for Progress found that 26 percent of Americans supported some kind of compensation or cash benefits for the descendants of slaves,” Bacon wrote. “A May 2016 Marist survey also found that 26 percent of Americans said the U.S. should pay reparations as ‘a way to make up for the harm caused by slavery and other forms of racial discrimination.'”

To her detriment, Harris discovered recently that expressing an opinion on reparations, even before a predominately black and supportive audience, can be risky. While attending the recent Power Rising 2019 conference in New Orleans, where she spoke in support of reparations, Harris sat for a video interview with the black-oriented website The Grio. She cited her support for the LIFT Act, an ambitious tax plan and cash income program targeted to provide $500 monthly to working families and single people. Pressed during the interview about how it would exclusively help black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved several generations ago, Harris balked.

“So, I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m gonna do something that’s only gonna benefit black people,” Harris said. “No. Because whatever benefits that black family will benefit that community and society as a whole and the country, right?”

Harris’ response didn’t sit well with ADOS activists, who took to social media outlets in outrage and insisted they wouldn’t allow any Democratic presidential  candidate to dismiss their concerns. Stung by President Barack Obama’s failure to embrace reparations during his two terms in the White House, ADOS co-founder Antonio Moore pledged this election cycle will be different. “We will not go through what we went through with Obama,” Moore told The Grio in response to the Harris interview.

Kamala Harris got flustered during Grio interview and finally came out and said she's not doing anything that's only for us. It's understandable that she's still so unable to stay on message. After all, we hit her so hard she thought the Russians did it!

— ProfessorBlackTruth (@ProfBlacktruth) February 27, 2019

The heated debate over reparations is nothing new. Going back to the closing days of the Civil War, Gen. William T. Sherman issued a “Special Field Order 15,” granting captured land from white slaveholders to freed enslaved people. Sherman recognized that freeing people from bondage should be only the first step. The Union promised every emancipated African American a parcel of land and a means to provide for themselves, birthing the phrase “40 acres and mule,” which became the freedman’s claim to a stake in the nation’s life.

Of course, such a policy was never enacted. In the ensuing centuries, black Americans suffered a series of racial setbacks from Reconstruction to legalized segregation to institutional social and economic racism.

Calls for reparations went unheeded, including those by former Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, who introduced a bill into every session of Congress for decades before his 2017 retirement, demanding the federal government “study and consider” how to give reparations to black Americans for the harm committed during slavery. Conyers’ legislation languished, receiving a hearing only in 2007 and never advancing further. Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has expressed support for the legislation, now sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) along with 35 co-sponsors.

William “Sandy” Darity, the Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy at Duke University, said the current interest in reparations suggests it’s a movement that may last beyond the current political season. He said in an interview with Think Progress that if Congress forms a commission to seriously study past historical wrongs endured by black Americans and makes the case for correcting them, then reparations would become a reality.

“I certainly don’t think that could happen now, but with a change in the composition of Congress in 2020, which isn’t that far distant, then there is a path that can be charted for reparations,” said Darity, who has discussed various reparation proposals with some of the Democratic hopefuls. “I think it’s a risk that has to be taken,” he added. “Real political leadership,” he said, “requires people to encourage the American people to do the bold things that need to be done.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The stunning hypocrisy of JP Morgan and CEO Jamie Dimon on climate change

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 10:00am

JPMorgan Chase and its chief executive Jamie Dimon claim to be strong supporters of climate action and the Paris climate accord. But in reality, they are “the world’s worst banker of climate change” according to a major new analysis.

Just this week, the company launched a wildly misleading attack on the Green New Deal, asserting that its goals of rapidly decarbonizing the U.S. economy “are not in the realm of the possible.”

According to a report by the Sierra Club and other leading environmental groups, however, JPMorgan Chase has provided a staggering $196 billion dollars in financing for fossil fuels and fossil fuel expansion since the December 2015 Paris Agreement, in which 200 nations unanimously agreed to leave most fossil fuels in the ground.

In Historic Paris Climate Deal, World Unanimously Agrees To Not Burn Most Fossil Fuels

Just before the Paris deal, JPMorgan Chase signed a statement with Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and other big financial companies embracing the need for strong action. “Our institutions are committing significant resources toward financing climate solutions,” the statement read.

But since the Paris Agreement, those institutions have devoted $700 billion in financing to fossil fuel expansion, including coal mining, coal power, the tar sands, and oil drilling in remote locations like the Arctic — the very things that are destroying our livable climate the fastest.

In 2017, Dimon also said he “absolutely” disagrees with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the historic climate deal. However, this week’s report shows that JPMorgan Chase has since become the leading banker of fossil fuels and fossil fuel expansion.

Indeed, the banking report finds that the company is responsible for $1 out of every $10 of fossil fuel financing provided by the 33 major global banks it tracked. JPMorgan Chase’s funding of the top companies expanding fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure ranks in 68 percent higher than second place Citibank.

Both Dimon and JPMorgan Chase have spent this week trashing the Green New Deal, a non-binding resolution aimed at developing a plan consistent with the dire nature of current climate science.

Scientists say Ocasio-Cortez’s dire climate warning is spot on

On Monday, Michael Cembalest, chief investment officer at JP Morgan Asset Management, published the company’s annual energy paper, titled, “Mountains and Molehills: Achievements and Distractions on the Road to Decarbonization.”

The paper criticizes the Green New Deal, claiming it “mandates zero net emissions for the US by 2030 for the entire energy sector (not just from electricity generation), and does so while phasing out nuclear power and relying heavily on carbon sequestration by forests.”

In fact, the Green New Deal is a “nonbinding” resolution, as its leading proponent, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), tweeted Wednesday.

The resolution calls for full decarbonization of the electricity sector alone by 2030, while calling for decarbonization of other sectors like transportation over the next decade “as much as is technologically feasible.”

Meanwhile, the resolution is completely silent on nuclear power, and carbon sequestration is one of many strategies offered.

Despite this, Cembalest concluded this week that the deal’s goals were “not a useful foundation for a serious policy discussion.”

Beto O’Rourke is right on climate, and the AP ‘fact-check’ is wrong

Given JPMorgan Chase’s vast financing of fossil fuels, the world’s worst banker of climate change appears poorly positioned to criticize any resolution that takes seriously the Paris goal of keeping total warming “well below 2°C” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

In an interview with CNN Tuesday, Dimon was dismissive of the Green New Deal, saying “I don’t spend much time worrying about things I can’t effectuate.” He also questioned the approach, “Can you focus on climate change in an intelligent way that doesn’t damage the economy?” 

As an alternative, he offered up a carbon tax.

Dimon, of course, can’t “effectuate” a carbon tax. And the one thing the JPMorgan Chase executive could effectuate — stopping his bank from financing the destruction of the climate — he has chosen not to do.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

After promising to bring a woman onto his staff, Tampa Bay Bucs coach Bruce Arians hires two

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 8:23am

Last month, at the Women’s Careers in Football Forum, which exists to aid the National Football League in identifying “qualified women to join its next generation of leaders,” newly minted Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians announced his plan to hire a woman as a full-time assistant coach this season. On Wednesday, Arians over-delivered on his promise by hiring two full-time female coaches: Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Lori Locust as assistant defensive line coach.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the last couple of decades about the best way to increase diversity in the the NFL’s coaching ranks. But Arians has led the way forward with a deft demonstration of his process: He simply…hires women and people of color!

“I know how hard it can be to get that first opportunity to coach at the highest level of professional football,” Arians said in a statement released by the Buccanneers. “Sometimes, all you need is the right organization to offer up the opportunity.”

In 2015, it was Arians — then the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals — who made history when he hired Jen Selter as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and preseason, making her the first woman to ever coach in the NFL. She wouldn’t be the last.

In 2016, Kathryn Smith became the first full-time female assistant coach in league history, when Rex Ryan hired her to be the special teams quality control coach for the Buffalo Bills. In 2017, the New York Jets hired Collette Smith as a defensive backs coaching intern for training camp. Last year, Kelsey Martinez became the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, Jennifer King was hired as a coaching intern for the Carolina Panthers, and Phoebe Schecter earned a year-long coaching internship with the Bills.

Most of these coaching stints have been short-term hires only; Katie Sowers, who has spent three years as an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers, is the longest-tenured female assistant in the league. She is also the only openly gay coach in the NFL.

Locust played semi-professional football for four years, then launched her career as a coach, most recently working as a coaching intern for the Baltimore Ravens during last year’s training camp, a defensive line/linebackers coach and co-special teams coordinator of the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the National Arena League, and a defensive line coach for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football.

Javadifar — who played college basketball at Pace University — earned a doctorate of physical therapy degree from New York Medical College, and completed her sports physical therapy residency at Virginia Commonwealth University in August 2018. Most recently, she worked as a physical therapist at Avant Physical Therapy in Seattle.

“I have known Lori going back to my days at Temple University and I’ve seen firsthand just how knowledgeable and passionate she is about this game,” Arians said. “I was equally impressed with Maral’s background in performance training and physical therapy and I know she will be a valuable asset to our strength and conditioning program.”

Busting the barriers to coaching careers is nothing new to Arians, who has also been a leader when it comes to hiring black men as coaches. Despite the fact that 70 percent of the league’s players are black, the NFL is continues to struggle with this task. But during his tenure with the Cardinals, Arians pro-actively recruited and mentored recently-retired black players on his coaching staff. Now in Tampa, all three of his top assistant coaches are black — offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

If Arians has proven anything, it’s that it isn’t hard to diversify your staff. The candidates are there; hire them.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

State legislatures shore up Obamacare with 2020 prospects uncertain

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 5:00am

While the Democratic Party determines where it wants to go next on health care — whether it’s Medicare for All, Medicare for America, or any one of the other 2020 health proposals — state lawmakers are shoring up the party’s signature policy, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

So far in 2019, state legislatures in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, and New Mexico are moving bills to bolster the 2010 health law, like securing consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Some of these same states are going even further by pursuing a public option.

The ACA has taken quite the beating since Donald Trump became president. By signing the GOP tax bill into law in 2017, and thus zeroing out the tax penalty for not having health insurance, the president has left the law especially vulnerable. In 2018, a Texas federal judge struck down the entire ACA on the grounds that the health law couldn’t stand without the individual mandate. (Although, legal experts think the Supreme Court will disagree with the highly partisan judge.)

The Trump administration has also bypassed Congress to undermine the ACA marketplace and Medicaid expansion. This has been done by significantly cutting open enrollment marketing and outreach, freeing up access to skimpy health plans, and allowing states to implement Medicaid work requirements. Federal officials have also hobbled other bits of the law, like rolling back the birth control mandate.

A lot of this executive action has been met with lawsuits. But state lawmakers have also rebuked the administration through legislative action, as they can’t afford to wait for folks in Washington, D.C. to address the issue. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to pass bills to stabilize the ACA, but the legislation’s political outlook is uncertain as Republicans still control the Senate and the White House.

“NO guarantee we’ll retake [the White House],” tweeted Charles Gaba, who tracks the ACA on his website, “STATES need to protect/strengthen ACA in the meantime.”

“The country is going to have a major conversation about the basic structure of American’s health care system. Whether it gets resolved in 2021, 2023, it’s not going to be enacted overnight. So the question is, what will we do before that important conversation is settled and implemented, because people are hurting right now,” said Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation and senior fellow, Families USA.

Some states are taking action. The Maine and New Mexico legislatures passed bills, enshrining federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions in case the Texas ruling is upheld. Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) just signed the measure into law, and also recently rejected Medicaid work requirements pursued by her predecessor, Paul LePage (R).

What started off as Marylanders trying to solve for the lack of national individual mandate, evolved into something else: a bill that would use state tax forms to identify the uninsured and refer them to Medicaid or marketplace plans.

“It’s become a method to expedite, streamline enrollment into health coverage,” said  Dorn. (Families USA helped devise the proposal.) “I’ve already heard from people in other states that there is some real interest.”

Over the weekend, the Maryland House of Delegates passed the unprecedented bill. Most states are mitigating damage done by the GOP tax bill by passing state-level mandates, as was the case in New Jersey and Vermont.

“Right now we are focused on making this bill work to see how many people we can get insured through extensive use of the tax system… other states should do the same thing,” said Maryland Health Care for All Coalition President Vincent DeMarco. DeMarco is also a part of a Maryland state panel tasked with monitoring and responding to Republican attempts to chip away at the ACA.

“The most important thing we can do is protect and build on the Affordable Care Act,” DeMarco told ThinkProgress, adding that he’d like to see a 2020 Democratic candidate committed to “protecting and building” on the ACA.

This is what experts want Congress to do about Obamacare

The ACA has accomplished a lot, with more than 20 million people gaining health coverage. Despite historic gains, 28.5 million still did not have health insurance in 2017.

“Tuning and fiddling is required” of every major legislation, particularly in its early years, said Dorn. But the ACA requires more tinkering because of how it was passed. For example, Republicans never wanted to engage with Democrats and pass a technical corrections bill, which is standard for something as paramount as the ACA.

That’s why states are trying to get creative.

New Mexico lawmakers are looking into a public option now that Democrats have a state government trifecta, thanks to the midterm elections. Lawmakers recently introduced a Medicaid Buy-In bill that allows any resident to enroll in the federal-state health program if they’re currently ineligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or ACA subsidies and don’t have employer-based insurance. Just north of New Mexico, lawmakers in Colorado are also working on their own public option.

Colorado lawmakers also reintroduced a bill last month that aims to drive down insurance premiums by creating a reinsurance program, which is basically insurance for insurers. The administration has approved various reinsurance programs in Alaska, Maryland, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, GOP-led states are continuing to roll back the ACA after Republicans on Capitol Hill repeatedly failed to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s landmark health law. Kansas, where Republicans are working to allow companies to sell insurance that skirts federal law, is a good example of this, notes the Huffington Post. There, lawmakers are trying to resurrect pre-ACA insurance policies that do not include key health benefits coverage.

Amid all of this legislative action, one thing is certain: as Democrats decide whether they can even radically transform the health care system, it’s already changing for people depending on zip code.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

New North Carolina bill would hold doctors accountable for sexual assault

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 3:46pm

A new bill making its way through the North Carolina Legislature seeks to ensure doctors are held accountable for sexually assaulting their patients. The bill is partly influenced by Larry Nassar, a former doctor and convicted serial sexual predator who, during his time at USA Gymnastics, molested hundreds of young girls and women.

The legislation, House Bill 228, cleared the House Health Committee on Tuesday and has been re-referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Rep. Greg Murphy (R), the legislature’s sole practicing doctor, sponsored the measure, which would make it a Class C felony for a doctor to communicate to a patient that sexual contact or penetration between them is necessary or would be beneficial to their health. It would also become a Class C felony for doctors to engage in sexual contact or penetration with a patient while the patient is incapacitated. In addition to this, doctors could be charged with other crimes for the same actions, such as rape.

The legislation would also require doctors to report suspected sexual violence and drug abuse by other doctors or risk losing their medical licenses.

Murphy’s office told ThinkProgress that although the bill was partly intended to update North Carolina Medicaid Board rules, Nassar’s crimes also motivated lawmakers to act.

Nassar was an osteopathic physician and associate professor at Michigan State University from 1997 to 2016, employment that overlapped with his role as the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics from 1996 to 2014. Over several decades, Nassar molested hundreds of young girls and women. In 2017, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison, in part due to the possession of 37,000 images of child pornography. In 2018, he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years for 10 counts of sexual assault and 40 to 175 years in prison for seven counts of sexual assault, respectively.

Many, though not all, of his victims were abused under the guise of a legitimate medical procedure, which made it particularly difficult for victims to question his actions. He was a well-respected physician and his victims, who were girls and young women, were often not knowledgeable of their own bodies. He readily took advantage of these huge disparities in power.

“How was I supposed to know at the age of 13 what was medically acceptable and what the boundaries were?” Kara Johnson, one survivor of Nassar’s abuse, said in her statement.

Melissa Imrie said that in 1997, when she was 12 years old, Nassar said he needed to massage her muscles anally to treat a fractured tailbone. He then penetrated her vagina with his fingers.

“I just remember being in so much pain, tears streaming down my face, holding onto the table, just shaking, screaming, gritting my teeth,” she said of the experience.

Remember the women who spoke out against Larry Nassar

A number of people in positions of authority enabled Nassar’s predation of gymnasts, including those on the U.S. Olympic Committee, as well as law enforcement. No one told the Michigan Medical Board about allegations against Nassar in time to prevent a slew of sexual assaults against gymnasts. In 2017, after an administrative complaint was filed by the state attorney general’s office, Nassar’s license was temporary revoked, and then permanently revoked in 2018.

The North Carolina bill seeks to address the issue of enablers within its reporting system. “If there is a process where someone is being accused, then the medical board needs to know about that and be able to track that,” Murphy told WRAL.

Research and media investigations on physician sexual violence suggests that major reforms are necessary to stop doctors from preying on patients for years without any accountability. In cases where medical boards have been alerted to sexual harassment and assault by doctors, many doctors have ended up keeping their licenses, a 2018 Associated Press investigation found. When doctors did experience some form of discipline, they were often given a short suspension and mandatory therapy. A 2016 Atlanta-Journal Constitution investigation revealed similar findings.

Azza Abbudagga, a health services researcher with Public Citizen, shared her report on sexual violations by physicians with the AP. Her report looked at 253 doctors reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank, a computer database run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who were sanctioned for sexual misconduct or paid a settlement due to a sexual misconduct allegation. Out of those 253 physicians, 170 were not disciplined by their state medical boards.

A 2017 study researching sexual abuse by doctors found that in the 101 sexual violation cases they studied, 69 percent of whistle-blowers were patients, 94 percent of cases involved investigations by medical boards, and 89 percent involved criminal prosecutors. In 87 percent of the cases, the perpetrator lost or surrendered their medical license. But the article notes that this loss was often temporary or restricted to one state.

The researchers couldn’t accurately estimate the prevalence of sexual violations in medicine but wrote that when it does occur, it is usually repeated behavior and physicians perpetrate these violations for years before they are stopped. Researchers recommended reform among state medical boards and the National Practitioner Data Bank and said the American Medical Association and Federation of State Medical Boards should provide more leadership on the issue, such as “developing policies and procedures to prevent the transfer rather than removal of perpetrators.”

Michigan recently reintroduced legislation inspired by the Nassar abuse case that would include coaches and trainers in the state’s mandatory reporter law, take steps to ban people in authority from interfering with sexual assault and harassment reports, and provide more options for judges to admit evidence of a defendant’s history of sexual assault. Last fall, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring doctors to tell patients if the state medical board put them on probation for sexual misconduct, drug abuse, or improper prescribing.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Why was Franklin Graham schmoozing with a sanctioned Russian official this month?

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 2:24pm

Franklin Graham, America’s most prominent evangelical leader, says Vice President Mike Pence signed off on his trip to Russia earlier this month. While there, Graham met with sanctioned Kremlin officials — even as U.S. investigations ramped up into Moscow’s election interference efforts. One official Russian governmental social media account touted the meeting as a way to “[intensify] contacts between the State Duma and the U.S. Congress.”

In an interview with RIA Novosti, a major Russian state-run outlet, Graham said he called Pence directly to tell him of the trip. “He was very happy to hear the news,” Graham said. “And he admitted that he fully supported my decision.”

Neither Pence’s office nor the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association responded to ThinkProgress’s requests for comment.

According to interviews in Russian media and photos on his own social media accounts, Graham, currently the chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveled to Moscow earlier this month to meet with a number of prominent Russian figures. Most notably, Graham had a sit-down meeting with Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, who is close to President Vladimir Putin and who has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2014 for his role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Per a captioned photo re-posted from the Duma Instagram account to Graham’s own Instagram account, the meeting with Volodin focused “on the current state of U.S.-Russia relations,” including “the possibility of intensifying contacts between the State Duma and the U.S. Congress.”

Volodin (left) and Graham (right) sat down to discuss, among other things, how to strengthen ties between American and Russian legislators. CREDIT: INSTAGRAM

Graham added in a separate post that it was an “honor” to meet Volodin, whom Graham described as “a very gracious man.” That meeting was also promoted on the official Instagram account of the Russian Duma.

Graham also posed in front of a map of Russia and next to a portrait of Putin.

While in Russia, Graham also met with a number of Russian religious figures. One of those figures included including Patriarch Kirill, allegedly a former KGB agent.

On Twitter, Graham described the meetings with Russian officials as a “blessing.”

I’ve been in Moscow this week & had the privilege of meeting w/Patriarch Kirill of Moscow & All Russia. It was also a blessing to meet w/evangelical leaders & other officials while there. Pray for them & for more opportunities to share the truth, hope, & life found only in Jesus.

— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) March 7, 2019

Graham directly addressed the tensions between the Kremlin and Washington in his first post from Russia, writing, “#Collusion? I’m in Russia right now — Moscow to be exact — and I’m meeting with the Russian churches on how we can share with more young people about faith in Jesus Christ! That’s not ‘collusion,’ but it is collaboration for the sake of souls. #GoodNews”

Graham, the son of arch-evangelical Billy Graham, is arguably America’s most prominent evangelical figure, and often defends President Donald Trump against concerns that the thrice-married president isn’t sufficiently Christian.

Partners in Moscow

Though American evangelicals have been building ties with Russia for years — Graham even met with Putin himself, in 2015 — no one of Graham’s stature in the evangelical community has ever crossed American sanctions to meet face-to-face with a Russian official sanctioned by the U.S. The White House has personally identified Volodin as one of the key figures responsible for Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the first forced annexation in Europe since World War II — a fact that seemed to matter little to Graham.

Far-right Christian groups have other ties to sanctioned Russians: Later this month the U.S.-based World Congress of Families (WCF) — a Christian fundamentalist group that has previously been linked to sanctioned Russian oligarchs like Vladimir Yakunin and Konstantin Malofeev — will be hosting its annual conference in Italy. Just last year, the WCF hosted sanctioned Russian official Elena Mizulina as one of its featured speakers at its 2018 conference. The WCF’s Russian representative is also Alexey Komov, who works directly for Malofeev.

These prominent Americans are speaking at far-right Russia conference linked to sanctioned oligarchs

Graham himself has a track record of praising the Kremlin, such as when he lauded Putin for “protecting Russian young people” via Moscow’s virulently anti-LGBTQ policies. He has previously called for the U.S. to “ally” with Russia in the “fight against Islamic terrorism,” and, in 2015, traveled to Russia to complain about former President Barack Obama “promot[ing] atheism.”

During that 2015 trip, Graham met directly with Putin. It was around the same time that Russia began launching its social media interference operations, that Russian agent Maria Butina began infiltrating the highest ranks of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and shortly before Russian hackers stole Democratic emails that were then funneled to Wikileaks for public dissemination.

I was in Russia in 2015 and met with President Vladimir @PutinRF_Eng.

— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) April 4, 2017

As Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar noted in All the Kremlin’s Men, his 2016 book examining Putin’s inner circle, Volodin — described as the Kremlin’s “gray cardinal” — has also played a seminal role in attempting to unwind Washington’s Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky. Those sanctions, according to Zygar, left Volodin “livid.” Volodin helped craft the Russian response, which included specifically banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.

The participants in the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting — including Donald Trump, Jr., as well as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — used Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act as pretext for that face-to-face meeting.

But Magnitsky-related sanctions aren’t the only pieces of American legislation in which Volodin has taken a special interest. In 2014, America targeted Volodin with sanctions for his role in Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Per the Treasury Department, “Putin’s decision to move into Crimea is believed to have been based on consultations with his closest advisors, including Volodin.”

Volodin, bending Putin’s ear, has also played an outsized role in crafting the Kremlin’s hard-right turn following Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. From pushing to target civil society groups as “foreign agents” to defending the rollback of protections for victims of domestic violence, Volodin has grown his influence over Russian domestic policy as much as he’s cultivated a hardline, anti-democratic view. Russian anticorruption activists like Alexey Navalny have accused Volodin of massive graft along the way.

None of this information about Volodin — including even American sanctions — seemed to give Graham pause. As Graham wrote on Instagram, “Remember to keep [Volodin] in your prayers.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fact-checking Ari Fleischer’s claims about the Bush administration and Iraq

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 2:15pm

Wednesday marked the 16th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The 2003 military action, authorized by President George W. Bush and predicated on the false belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of millions more, and the rise of ISIS.

Officials later said they initially had concerns regarding the intelligence used to justify the invasion, as well as the administration’s decision to move forward with the campaign regardless of that apprehension. A viral catchphrase, “Bush lied, people died,” was born after the public began questioning just how forthcoming the president and his cabinet members had been.

But in a series of tweets this week, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer pushed back, claiming the Bush administration did not mislead the public during the buildup to the Iraq War, but was the victim of a “major intelligence failure.”

The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed "Bush lied. People died." This accusation itself is a lie. It's time to put it to rest.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

The fact is that President Bush (and I as press secretary) faithfully and accurately reported to the public what the intelligence community concluded.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

The CIA, along with the intelligence services of Egypt, France, Israel and others concluded that Saddam had WMD. We all turned out to be wrong. That is very different from lying.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

“There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed ‘Bush lied. People died.’ This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest,” Fleischer tweeted.

He continued, “The fact is that President Bush (and I as press secretary) faithfully and accurately reported to the public what the intelligence community concluded. The CIA, along with the intelligence services of Egypt, France, Israel and others concluded that Saddam had WMD. We all turned out to be wrong. That is very different from lying.”

In a point by point thread, the former press secretary attempted to back up his claim, noting that a bipartisan panel of experts later concluded a “major intelligence failure” had occurred.

Fleischer did not explain why, after concerns about that intelligence were flagged for the administration, the president decided to move ahead with the invasion.

As Mother Jones noted, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney claimed in 2002 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s government was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

However, in a February 2004 speech, almost a year after the U.S. military invaded Iraq, then-CIA director George Tenet explained that intelligence officials had initially informed the administration that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapon “and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009.”

“Keep in mind that no intelligence agency thought that Iraq’s efforts had progressed to the point of building an enrichment facility or making fissile material. We said that such activities were a few years away,” Tenet said. “…We believe that Iraq had lethal biological weapons agents… but we said we had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.”

Additionally, chemical weapons that were discovered in Iraq after the invasion were found to have been produced decades earlier. “Saddam didn’t know he had it,” Charles Duelfer, former head of the Iraq Survey Group that searched for weapons of mass destruction during the Iraq War, told The Intercept in 2015. “This is stuff Iraqi leaders did not know was left lying around. It was not a militarily significant capability that they were, as a matter of national policy, hiding.”

A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation backed by multiple Republicans later determined that “the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Undeterred, Fleischer claimed Wednesday that Bush’s administration had been vindicated by a report that was written “after the war” in 2005 — even though U.S. troops remained in Iraq through 2011.

After the war, a bipartisan group was created to determine what went wrong, particularly why the intelligence community's conclusions about Iraq were so different from what was found on the ground after the war.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

The group of experts was named the Robb-Silberman commission. It's report was issued in March 2005. It can be found in full here:

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

Its key finding was that that a "major intelligence failure" took place. It also stated that no intelligence service was pressured by the Bush Administration to conclude that Saddam had WMDs.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

Notably, the Robb-Silberman report, which Fleischer quoted in several tweets, stated that the commission was “not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community.” Rather, the commission was solely instructed to examine the intelligence community’s findings.

Fleischer wrapped up his by referring to the administration’s lies as a “liberal myth.”

Which leads me to conclude that there was a liar and his name was Saddam Hussein. He created an elaborate system of lies to fool western intelligence services and he succeeded. He wanted us to believe he had WMDs.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

The allegaton that "Bush lied. People died" is a liberal myth created to politically target President Bush. I understand the anger that was felt after no WMDs were found.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

But that doesn't justify calling the President a liar. I can only hope that serious historians and other experts do their homework and resist falling for this myth.

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) March 20, 2019

In addition to its many false claims about weapons of mass destruction, Bush’s White House also attempted to link Hussein’s government to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, through a supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer. However, the CIA and FBI — and later the 9/11 Commission — had already determined that the meeting never occurred when the White House made those claims.

The 9/11 Commission revealed later that Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had received a memo from counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke’s staff one week after the attacks. The memo stated there was no “compelling case” that Iraq had planned or perpetrated the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Bush’s administration also claimed Hussein procured aluminum tubes “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” The State and Energy departments disagreed with that conclusion at the time, but their dissents were kept from the public until 2015.

Members of the Bush administration have spoken out over the years about the days leading up to the invasion.

Michael Morell, a former CIA analyst who served as Bush’s intelligence briefer during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, has since stated that the administration misrepresented intelligence while advocating for military action. And former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has said that removing Hussein from power was discussed during the first meeting of Bush’s National Security Council in early 2001.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2004. “[It was] all about finding a way to do it.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Pentagon to set up task force to investigate military sexual assault at Sen. McSally’s request

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 2:03pm

The Pentagon has agreed to form a task force to investigate sexual assault in the military, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) said Wednesday.

McSally, who recently revealed that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force, requested in a letter earlier this week that the Department of Defense institute a task force that would “begin meeting immediately with a goal of having recommendations ready” to mark up the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“Thousands of sexual assaults continue to be reported each year, yet very few are held accountable at trial,” McSally said in the letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. “Although much effort has been put towards prevention and response to military sexual assault, these numbers are just intolerable.”

McSally said in a statement Wednesday that Shanahan responded quickly after she sent her letter and agreed to form the task force.

“My goal, and the goal of the Department of Defense, is to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment in the United States military,” Shanahan said in a release Wednesday. “DoD leadership is committed to fixing this and I look forward to working with Senator McSally and our taskforce to find solutions that will eliminate this issue from our ranks.”

The task force will include McSally herself, along with military and civilian experts. She noted at a recent hearing that there are 6,769 sexual assaults reported across the military in 2017, in addition to “likely thousands of others that were not reported.”

McSally was appointed in January to fill the Senate seat once held by late Sen. John McCain, after she lost a close election in November against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema for a different Senate vacancy.

Sexual assault is pervasive in the military. A 2013 survey estimated that the number could be as high as 26,000 per year, and according to a another study published the same year in Medscape, more than 30 percent of women in the armed services have been sexually assaulted and 80 percent have been sexually harassed.

Additionally, many service members face repercussions for reporting abuse, both professional and social. As ThinkProgress reported in 2016, thousands of military sexual assault survivors are denied health care after reporting assault because of a practice of putting “PD” — or “personality disorder” — on their records without a standard diagnosis.

“Many steps have been taken by the military over the last years and this body — over 100 legislative actions,” McSally said at a recent hearing. “But it’s not enough.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Supreme Court ruling to strip immigrants of due process rights has major repercussions, experts say

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 11:47am

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents can arrest and indefinitely detain undocumented immigrants and green card holders released from custody years ago due to past minor crimes, thanks to a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court Tuesday.

The five conservative justices in Nielsen v. Preap argued that a “mandatory detention” provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act warranted such a strict interpretation. The federal law states that federal agents shall “take into custody any alien who […] is deportable by reason of having committed any offense [… ] when the alien is released.” Justice Samuel Alito concluded that immigrants who had not been immediately detained after they are released from criminal custody still qualify as “mandatory detainees,” adding that even if immigration agents are late in executing arrests, it is “better … late than never.”

Plaintiffs in the case, however, argued that if ICE wants to detain an immigrant without bail, they must detain them at the moment of release — instead of waiting years after they have successfully built a life in the country, and should be eligible for bond release rather than immediate detention.

The court’s liberal justices worried that the decision in this case grants significant power to the government, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing in the dissent, “It is a power to detain persons who committed a minor crime many years before. And it is a power to hold those persons, perhaps for many months, without any opportunity to obtain bail.”

Breyer notes that the conservative interpretation of the law could permit federal agents to detain undocumented immigrants indefinitely without bail for minor drug offenses of even “crimes of moral turpitude, such as illegally downloading music or processing stolen bus transfers.”

“I fear,” Breyer added, that the majority’s decision “will work serious harm to the principles for which American law has long stood.”

Access to a bond hearing is critical for immigrants seeking to stay in the United States and denying anyone of that access could have serious repercussions on the lives of immigrants who have spent decades building a life in the United States.

“A bond hearing is everything,” Rachel Naggar, the Board of Immigration Appeals Pro Bono Project attorney at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., known as CLINIC, told ThinkProgress. “It is an opportunity for someone to show the judge that they are not a danger to society and that they are likely to show up for their court date.”

Naggar also mentions that immigrants in detention are less likely to have access to counsel, which drastically impacts their ability to win their case. According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, “detained immigrants are 11 times more likely to pursue relief when they have legal counsel and are twice as likely to obtain relief than detained immigrants without counsel.” 

Naggar adds that detention centers are often in remote locations and far from their families, who are typically able to provide evidentiary support to help bolster their cases.

Under the statute upheld by the Supreme Court’s majority, there are two different classes of immigrants who are classified as “removable.” The first are people who haven’t committed crimes, but are facing deportation for another reason. The second are people who are facing deportation because of their criminal convictions.

Undocumented immigrants in that first group are allowed a “bond hearing” once they are detained for removal. Bond hearings are important they allow immigrants to appeal to an immigration judge, during which time they can argue that their release poses no threat and that they will show up for their “removal hearing,” where they must prove to a judge why they should not be deported.

Last fall, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants in the second group had to be detained until their cases were resolved — even if that takes years or months — and cannot request bond hearings. On Tuesday, the court ruled that the same applies for immigrants who were detained by immigration agents long before they were released from criminal custody.

“What we are seeing is a continual erosion of the due process of immigrants and the continuation of indefinite detention,” Liz Martinez, the director of advocacy and strategic communications at Freedom for Immigrants, told ThinkProgress. “Not having access to a bond hearing is like clipping away a birds wing, because you’re taking away their freedom while they wait for their case to be processed.”

Freedom For Immigrants, which runs a National Bond Fund to provide relief for undocumented immigrants caught up in the system, believes the ruling may impact their ability to reunite families. The bond fund has raised over $339,000 so far to secure the release of over 100 people from immigration detention in 2018.

While the ruling in Preap doesn’t create any new powers for ICE — as mandatory detention without bond is common in most U.S. jurisdictions — it does underscore the Trump administration’s goal of targeting as many vulnerable immigrants as possible and of emboldening ICE to continue detaining record-high numbers of immigrants.

In fiscal year 2018, ICE conducted 158,581 arrests, up from 110,104 in 2016, when Trump was elected, and 143,470 in 2017, his first year in office. According to the agency, 66 percent of the individuals arrested in 2018 were “convicted criminals.” More than half of those were convicted for drunk driving.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Marco Rubio says 9 justices are enough on the Supreme Court

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 11:19am

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is introducing legislation to keep the number of Supreme Court justices at nine, as some Democratic presidential candidates have expressed openness to expanding the Court.

“Court packing is quickly becoming a litmus test for 2020 Democratic candidates as this ugly, winner-take-all rhetoric gains prominence in progressive circles,” Rubio wrote in an opinion piece published by Fox News Wednesday. “To prevent the delegitimizing of the Supreme Court, I will introduce a constitutional amendment to keep the number of seats at nine.”

There is nothing “magical” about having nine justices, Rubio wrote. But, he added, “There is something inherently good and important about preventing the further destabilization of essential institutions.”

Earlier this week, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), all 2020 contenders, told Politico they would be open to the idea of expanding the court as part of their bids for the White House.

“It’s not just about expansion, it’s about depoliticizing the Supreme Court,” Warren told Politico, adding that one option could be bringing appellate judges onto Supreme Court cases.

“It’s a conversation that’s worth having,” she said.

Harris went so far as to say the country is “on the verge of a crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court.”

“We have to take this challenge head on, and everything is on the table to do that,” the California senator said.

Gillibrand, echoing her colleagues, told Politico she also believes Justice Neil Gorsuch possesses an illegitimate seat after Obama nominee Merrick Garland was denied a hearing ahead of the 2016 election. She also called for imposing “strict ethics rules” on Supreme Court justices.

Two other Democratic 2020 candidates, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, have also signaled openness to expansion. Last week, O’Rourke floated the idea of having as many as 15 justices.

“What if there were five justices selected by Democrats, five justices selected by Republicans, and those 10 then picked five more justices independent of those who chose the first 10?” he said. “I think that’s an idea we should explore.”

O’Rourke also expressed some openness to term limits for Supreme Court Justices.

Buttigieg, for his part, said in an interview with the podcast Pod Save America that, given Garland’s lack of a hearing, the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is a conversation worth having. Buttigieg also floated a 15-member court.

“So, to me, this idea of adding justices is one way to do it. It may actually not be the most compelling way to do it,” he said.

“I mean, I’m interested in a policy where you would have five appointees of Republicans and five of Democrats on a 15-member court. And where you get the other five from is a consensus of the other 10 which has to be unanimous.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies