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O’Rourke and Cruz clash in heated first debate as climate flies under the radar

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 7:26pm

AUSTIN, TEXAS —  Locals jammed into a packed bar in East Austin wasted no time in their reactions during the first senate debate between Ted Cruz (R) and Beto O’Rourke (D) on Friday night.

As the hardline conservative incumbent slammed his opponent on immigration, health care, and criminal justice, onlookers loudly booed. That chorus of dissent quickly turned to cheers as O’Rourke, currently a representative serving the city of El Paso, fired back, contrasting his own progressive platform with Cruz’s libertarian views.

But one issue flew beneath the radar, to the chagrin of several of the debate’s sweating viewers. When it came to opportunities to discuss climate or the environment, the debate’s moderators punted, allowing potential openings to slide by.

Cruz and O’Rourke offer radically different outlooks on issues like climate change, fossil fuels, and the Paris climate agreement. And at times during the quick-paced, hour-long debate, it seemed those differences might bubble up to the surface.

Cruz hit his opponent on his support for the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, arguing that the regulation hurts farmers. O’Rourke, who has touted sustainable agriculture as part of his platform, pushed back, but the conversation quickly derailed into a larger conversation about the lawmaker’s stance on the legalization of drugs like marijuana.

Other opportunities also went untapped. Touting his dramatic fundraising numbers, O’Rourke emphasized that he takes no money from political action committees, or PACs, while Cruz, by contrast, is heavily backed by oil and gas interests.

In contrast, O’Rourke has vowed not to take donations from fossil fuel companies specifically and has taken stances against oil and gas drilling along with controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. But again, the conversation raced ahead, leaving neither men any room to engage on the issue.

In Texas, a climate denier faces off against a man with a green vision

That didn’t sit well with some of the debate’s viewers, who admitted to being disappointed that pressing topics like climate change didn’t factor into the debate.

“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” Sarah Beasley, 49, told ThinkProgress. One major missed opportunity for viewers to contrast the candidates, she said, was Hurricane Harvey.

“He [Cruz] even started talking about Harvey at one point,” she said. “They should’ve talked more about that.”

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane last year, devastating southeastern Texas. In the time since, conversations about climate change have become more common in the deeply conservative state. Numerous studies have found that warming waters off the Gulf of Mexico allowed Harvey to supercharge and drench areas like Houston with rain, displacing thousands of people and destroying homes across the region.

O’Rourke has made his views on climate change clear in the past, calling for the United States to rejoin the Paris agreement and highlighting the threat of global warming. Cruz, by contrast, applauded President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the agreement last year and has repeatedly downplayed climate change. When he mentioned Harvey’s impacts during the debate, it was to slam O’Rourke for failing to understand “Texas values.” He skirted the issue of climate change entirely.

The candidates may not have fleshed out such points of disagreement on Friday night, but that doesn’t mean Texans don’t care. Before the showdown had even begun, several of those gathering to view the event expressed their hope that climate and environmental issues would be raised during O’Rourke and Cruz’s first face-off.

“Climate issues definitely factor into my vote,” Cedric Silan, 31, told ThinkProgress, although he acknowledged that he had not read extensively about O’Rourke’s views in that area.

“I haven’t looked,” he admitted, but explained that he knows a lot about Cruz’s positions on the environment. O’Rourke, Silan said, “is definitely more environmentally conscious.”

Others shared similar sentiments. Beasley said she was only vaguely familiar with many of O’Rourke’s stances on issues like climate change, but that she felt confident he would prove a better friend to green advocates than his opponent.

“I would hope,” she asserted, “that he’s pro-regulations for the corporations responsible for the dumping, for the fracking, for natural gases. And I would hope he would vote on bills that would keep public lands protected. I would hope he would move us back to the Paris agreement, that he would regulate coal.”

The most vulnerable Texans never recovered from Harvey

Energy issues remain a crucial point of interest for Texans, even in Austin, where sectors like technology and the arts are more common than in cities like Houston, where oil and gas are bigger employers. Muttered accusations about “Big Oil” and fossil fuel money rippled through the crowd at multiple points when Cruz spoke.

True to form, Beasley said one of her biggest concerns was renewable energy. “I hope that matter would be at the forefront of whatever a leader in Texas does,” she said, noting that fossil fuels still have a hold on Texas, a state where advocates for wind and solar have struggled to make headway with some conservative lawmakers.

Climate issues may not have come up on Friday, but O’Rourke and Cruz are scheduled to debate two more times before November. In the meantime, polls show the two men increasingly close to each other, which is good news for O’Rourke — Texas has not had a Democrat in the Senate in almost 30 years.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, progressives try to push agenda on migration

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 3:15pm

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — While the high-level debates and speeches capture most of the attention surrounding the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting, numerous side events provide a unique window into some of the most pressing global issues.

On Friday, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) hosted a discussion on progressive migration issues in the lead-up to the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in December. Conversation focused on the need to see migrants and asylum seekers as humans with rights rather than threats, creating a process to handle their movement, and incentivizing good practices — issues that are all, in the current global political climate, considered extremely thorny.

One of the speakers, Astrid Silva, a Mexican-American political activist, was born in Mexico and raised in the United States. Silva, 30, arrived in Texas with her mother, in an inner-tube, at the age of four.

As a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — a program that was rescinded by President Donald Trump last year — Silva could go to college, drive, and generally not live in constant fear.

“For six years, I’ve had this incredible sense of freedom… not complete freedom, but it was life-changing,” she told ThinkProgress. But now, like many, she’s in limbo as she had to renew her status and isn’t sure it will be approved.

“I’m hoping it’ll get renewed so I can continue my life past March,” said Silva, who runs Dream Big Nevada, an organization connecting immigrants to services and sources of information.

She wants the international community and the U.N. to focus on what it means for immigrants to be returned to countries of origin if, like her, they have no community or support there. She’s also hoping for a normalization of migration — not just as a means of escaping violence.

Astrid Silva speaks at the FEPS migration event in New York on Sept. 21, 2018. CREDIT: D. Parvaz/ThinkProgress

“It shouldn’t be that [you migrate because] you have a machine-gun to your head,” she said. Why can’t other people move for work, for instance, like Americans do?

“You get to be expats; we only get to be immigrants,” she said.

The migration compact addresses these issues and others, including providing safe passage for migrants while maintaining border security and creating a mechanism for people to move without dying in deserts, drowning in the Mediterranean, or being detained in Libya’s horrible detention centers.

The FEPS event was dizzying at times, with panels set up at four corners of the room (political, civil society, academia, and think tanks, including The Center for American Progress, associated with ThinkProgress) and the moderator jumping between them, leaving the attendees spinning around in their seats to keep up.

Most of the panelists were on the same page, at least in spirit, though each promoted their own approach for solving “the problem” of migration. This, they all agreed, is not a “numbers” problem so much a human one, and still they talked about numbers — because, frankly, when it comes to domestic politics, that’s what gets votes. Recent elections in countries such as Sweden, Italy, and Austria attest to the fact that the far-right often uses numbers of asylum seekers — factual or made up — to attract voters to their camp.

The global migration compact was not signed by two countries: the United States and the staunchly anti-immigrant Hungary. 

Silva was stung to hear the U.S. had refused to sign the agreement.

“The country that I believe in, the country that I was raised in is telling me that they won’t even sign a compact that talks about my humanity. It was rough, hearing that,” she said.

What no one wanted to acknowledge, even when asked directly by ThinkProgress, was the role of the European Union — or that of their member states — in paying off Turkey, Libya, and Greece to contain migrants and perspective asylum seekers in an attempt to lower the number that can remain in Europe and to dissuade them from attempting to go there in the first place.

The closest the discussion came to this was Michel Foucher, a former diplomat and a geopolitician, who worried that authoritarian governments will learn from the E.U. deal with Turkey, for instance, and see that as a means for obtaining funding.

While Europe alone can’t accommodate the millions of migrants and asylum seekers hoping to head west, demographics, a dwindling labor force, and a weakening pension system mean European countries actually need migrants, but they’re shutting them out, largely over fears of being “Muslimized,” said Josep Borrell, Spain’s minister of foreign affairs.

“Migration is being used as an arm in a political fight,” he continued, adding that it’s easy to use migration to whip up panic against outsiders.

Greece to move 2,000 refugees to mainland after increasing suicide attempts by children

So as comprehensive as the compact may be, there is an awareness built into the document that its success “rests on the mutual trust, determination and solidarity of States to fulfill the objectives and commitments contained in this Global Compact.”

Here’s where things get sticky. It’s one thing to agree on the policies. It’s another to implement them in one’s own country. The new Italian government, for instance, which is almost rabidly anti-immigrant, is unlikely to play along.

Eugenio Ambrosi, regional director of the International Organization for Migration in Europe, acknowledged that this is a “paradox” that has to be overcome.

“But in terms of knowing how it will get done, I don’t have a solution at this point,” he said.

As for somehow getting the U.S. to sign on, Ambrosi laughed, “I can’t think of anything it [the U.N.] could do.” The manner in which the U.S. is pulling out of various agreements and councils — from the Paris climate agreement to the U.N. Human Rights Council — suggests a shift in what the U.S. sees as its role and its relationship with the United Nations.

One thing is clear, though. The other member states, especially in Europe, will have to come up with an agreement they can stick to, creating “trust and credibility.”

“Otherwise, when the next crisis happens… it’s be difficult for the E.U. to say, as it has before, that borders should be kept open, when [the E.U itself]  has been practicing containment, control and restraint,” said Ambrosi.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

New emails show NRA’s sway over Florida government officials

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 2:04pm

The Tampa Bay Times released hundreds of emails between NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and the Florida Department of Agriculture on Friday, revealing a close relationship between one of the most influential champions for gun rights and the agency tasked with regulating the nearly 2 million Floridians who carry concealed weapons.

Hammer, now 79 years old, has for pushed some of the most dangerous gun laws through the Florida legislature, including big, controversial laws like Stand Your Ground and smaller statues, like the one that prevented Florida mayors from implementing their own municipal gun regulations after this year’s horrific school shooting in Parkland.

Concealed weapons licenses, in most states, are regulated by law enforcement agencies. Florida, however, is different; the agriculture department is in charge of licensing and Hammer says she is the reason why.

“It was just me,” Hammer told the Times. “Just NRA.”

According to the newly released emails, Hammer’s influence goes far beyond gun legislation, underscoring the iron grip she has on the agriculture department.

In emails to agency officials, Hammer was able to control a variety of topics at the department and was rarely ever told no.

“Who on earth was arrogant and antigun enough to authorize this?” she asks in one email.

” … put this at the top of the priority list and do it right away,” she orders in another.

After the department of agriculture denied someone’s renewal for a concealed weapons license, Hammer sent an email demanding to know what happened.

10 Florida mayors are suing the state for the right to implement stricter gun laws

“Guys, this is your first test from me since Ken moved to his new position,” Hammer wrote, referring to an agency official. “Do him proud and find out what the heck is going on.”

Almost immediately, Paul Pagano, the assistant director in the department’s licensing division, replied, “Ms. Hammer, I’ll research it first thing in the morning and provide answers.”

Even though the application wasn’t notarized correctly, Pagano went ahead and approved it anyway, because Hammer had asked him to.

Any changes the department’s concealed weapons program are sent to Hammer “for your consideration” or “for your review” before even the legislature can look at them. On the off-chance any new proposals or changes don’t go by Hammer first, she makes sure she gets her hands on them.

“I understand some of your people are walking around some new language dealing with (concealed weapons) licensing and Tax Collectors fees,” Hammer wrote an agency official. “Care to share it with me?”

Most of Hammer’s ability to develop such a close relationship with agriculture department officials and state legislators has had a lot to do with the Republicans in charge. With former agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam (R) out after a failed run for governor, there is a grassroots movement for a progressive change in the department, especially as the state reels from toxic algae bloomsRecent polling shows Democrat Nikki Fried leading the race for commissioner. 

Unfortunately for Hammer, Fried, a former medical marijuana industry lobbyist, has said she would address the state’s notoriously lax gun laws.

“One helps sick and dying Floridians and is over-regulated,” Fried says of medical marijuana in a campaign ad. “And the other one is used to terrorize our schools and our communities, and is barely regulated at all.”

Despite all its lobbying, the NRA has recently found itself in a bit of financial trouble, losing tens of millions of dollars in membership dues since the 2016 election. The gun lobby is reportedly more than $30 million in debt, according to an audit obtained by OpenSecrets. Its troubles are most likely linked to the dozens of companies that ended relationships with the group following the Parkland shooting, along with recent news that the NRA has been connected to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and accused of illegal coordination with a Republican senate candidate.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Alex Jones and InfoWars banned from PayPal

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:12pm

In recent weeks, Infowars — the go-to website for the tinfoil hat brigade — has seen its audience plummet after companies like Apple, Spotify, and Google removed the publication one by one from their platforms.

Before it was removed, more than two million people were subscribed to the network’s YouTube channel, which had amassed billions of views for its conspiratorial videos. Millions more followed the site’s social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. And as those audiences shriveled, the site’s proprietor Alex Jones increasingly urged his remaining followers to fill the site’s coffers through donations.

Alex Jones banned by Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and YouTube

That job got harder on Friday when online finance giant PayPal announced it was cutting off Jones and Infowars from its service as well. The site’s online store — which traffics mostly in an assortment of supplements with pseudo-scientific names like “Superblue Fluoride-Free Toothpaste” and “Bio-True Selenium” — relies on PayPal to process transactions. Infowars will have 10 days to find another company to process payments.

PayPal was the focus of an ongoing campaign to pressure companies that do business with Infowars to cut ties with the publication over its continued harassment of the families of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims and dissemination of racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted content.

“Our values are the foundation for the decision we made this week,” a PayPal spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. “We undertook an extensive review of the Infowars sites, and found instances that promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religions, which run counter to our core value of inclusion.”

Naturally, Infowars took the news of PayPal’s decision in stride.

“PayPal banning Infowars is the ultimate culmination of what represents a de facto Communist Chinese-style social credit score, where first you are demonized, then censored, before your basic ability to operate freely in the marketplace is withdrawn,” posited one of Jones’ acolytes via Twitter.

In an article (a screenshot of which can be seen here so you don’t have to click through to their website), one Infowars contributor wrote that PayPal’s decision “represents nothing less than a political ploy designed to financially sabotage an influential media outlet just weeks before the mid-term elections.”

They are correct about the timing of the midterm elections, and perhaps even about being financially sabotaged. But “influential media outlet?” Certainly not anymore.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

This is why Californians with convictions can’t move on with their lives

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 11:06am

When Jay Jordan walked out of prison in 2011, after serving seven years for a robbery he committed in Northern California when he was 19, he was determined to get past his conviction and start a new life. He sought out work, first looking for employment as a barber, a job he had while he was in. But after sending out more than 30 different applications, he remained jobless, and nearly hopeless. Rejection after rejection cited his conviction as the reason employers had refused to consider him for a position.

Jordan quickly realized that he wasn’t alone. According to a report published in early September by the group Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), which Jordan himself helped spearhead, 1 in 5 Californians are currently living in the shadow of a conviction. The report notes that, of that figure, a “vast majority have never actually served time in prison,” yet all of of them are affected by the thousands of barriers blocking those with convictions from living a productive life.

“Nearly 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed a year after release,” the report reads.

A conviction on someone’s record in the state of California means they’re often barred from obtaining gainful employment, safe housing, and public benefits. It also complicates immigration, buries people in fines and fees, and can have adverse effects on people’s health.

The report also breaks down the systemic marginalization those living with convictions face. “A wealth of evidence indicates educational programming is one of the most effective approaches to reducing recidivism. Still, individuals with convictions, particularly if they have been incarcerated, must overcome significant obstacles in accessing educational and vocational training programs,” the report notes.

Lower educational attainment, the authors state, is “directly associated with increased arrest and incarceration rates,” particularly among men.

“Nationally, roughly 40% of incarcerated individuals lack a high school diploma or GED; among individuals with a high school diploma or GED, 46% lack post secondary education,” they write. “Decreased access to education makes it harder for an individual to access well paying jobs, forge strong community ties and disengage from risk-taking behaviors—thus increasing the likelihood of crime involvement.”

Additionally, even those who are incarcerated or who have convictions on their records who manage to make it into college or technical school face massive hurdles to completing their degrees.

The study notes that, under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA), incarcerated individuals are prohibited from obtaining Pell Grants, which unlike loans do not need to be repaid. The study also notes the Higher Education Act was amended in 1998 to prohibit those with drug convictions from “receiving federal financial aid to attend an institution of higher learning,” though “the act was later amended to only apply to those who committed a drug offense while receiving federal financial aid,” the authors write.

For his part, Jordan found some luck in fueling his frustration into activism. He took on an array of jobs — field director for a political campaign, external affairs consultant for a software company, community organizer — before being hired on with CSJ in 2016, according to LinkedIn, which offered him the support he needed to get over his employment hurdles.

“But I’m affected by every other [barrier],” he said.

This is how Florida makes it nearly impossible for ex-felons to get their voting rights restored

Jordan told ThinkProgress that he and his wife had looked into adopting, for instance, only to learn that because of his conviction they are barred from applying. The couple also closed on a home recently, though Jordan wasn’t able to join their Home Owner Association. The two have also discussed wanting to start a company together but Jordan wouldn’t be able to apply for the licensing, as his record stands.

The CSJ report — which took up to a year to complete and was compiled by Jordan and a diverse group of at least 30 people — is the first step in a movement, Time Done, another campaign launched by CSJ’s sister organization, the Alliance for Safety and Justice. With Time Done, Jordan hopes to create a policy that will create a clear track to sun-setting convictions. (Jordan was extremely clear that Time Done was not advocating for sun-setting all convictions, such as violent sex offenses or convictions for those who may still pose a major risk to society.)

“This is not about shorter sentences,” he said. “This is not about people who just got out. This is about people who are out and have served their time, have paid their debts, and remain crime free and have proven that they can live in society and be productive. All we’re saying is let’s not put our foot on their necks as a country.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Maryland police admit fault, won’t charge man who shot two cops in wrong-door raid

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 10:46am

Police are entirely capable of resolving encounters with armed individuals without killing anyone, an extraordinary exchange of gunfire in Maryland proved on Wednesday.

A Prince George’s County man fired his shotgun on officers who raided his home based on an inaccurate tip from a drug informant, striking two of them. One officer fired one shot into the home in response, but the ballistics stopped there. Realizing the men who’d banged in his door were police and not robbers, the man dropped his gun and implored officers not to shoot his daughter, who’d been napping next to him on the couch when the warrant team burst in on the sleeping duo.

The two officers struck by buckshot will be okay, PG County Police Chief Hank Stawinsky said Thursday in a press conference. One has already been released from the hospital and the other remains in care but is stable.

Stawinsky said the department would suspend all warrant-serving activity for at least 24 hours in hopes that stricter scrutiny of the information underlying the department’s most dangerous routine activities can prevent a repeat of the near-catastrophe Wednesday.

A police informant had told officers that the man living at the upstairs address in an apartment complex was a drug dealer. He is not. “A law-abiding, hard-working citizen and his daughter were home at the point where we began to execute that search warrant,” the chief said.

Stawinsky also noted that officers had not simply misread the number plates. They went to the address provided by the informant, but the information was wrong. Dozens of times in the past two decades, law enforcers around the country have harmed or killed citizens after either acting on bad information or misidentifying an address and ending up at a different house than they intended to raid. The two quite different forms of erroneous violence are sometimes interchangeably referred to by students of the drug war and paramilitary policing as “wrong-door raids.”

The man who shot the officers will not be charged with any crime, Stawinsky said, after he decided in conjunction with local prosecutors that the man had no criminal intent when he defended his home. The chief said the man had almost immediately told officers, “You’ve got the wrong address. Don’t shoot my daughter.”

Though the circumstances differ in important ways, the Maryland incident’s contrasts to recent police killings involving an armed civilian are instructive.

Thurman Blevins’ family angrily demanded that cops be charged for killing him, despite video evidence that the 31-year-old Blevins had a gun in hand and may have been twisting his body to fire at the officers chasing him through north Minneapolis in June. Chicago’s black community erupted in anger after police killed Harith Augustus, then were expected to retreat into acceptance based on just a thirty-second clip from one body camera that proved Augustus’ right hand had fallen to the butt of his holstered pistol just as officers opened fire.

The PG County incident this week suggests — not for the first time — that the simplistic official handling of some on-duty killings is misleading. Sometimes a subject with a gun does something that crosses a red line and officers feel they have no choice but to shoot preemptively. Other times, officers are capable of bringing a man in alive and unhurt even after he’s fired a weapon at them.

The difference may often come down simply to compliance versus defiance — a grim reminder that many police officers are trained to believe that challenges to their authority are the real delineation point between people who can be reasoned with and people who must be harmed into submission.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Extreme right begins Twitter campaign to defend Kavanaugh, undercut his accuser

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 10:35am

Beleaguered Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, reeling from accusations of sexual assault, has found an unsurprising ally in his push for the highest court in the land: the extreme right.

White supremacists, white nationalists, and members of the so-called “alt-lite” have rushed to defend Kavanaugh’s candidacy, which has been battered by accusations that Kavanaugh attempted to rape Christine Blasey Ford.

Rather than waiting to hear out Ford’s accusations, though, the overwhelming sentiment among far-right accounts tracked by ThinkProgress is that the allegations as little more than fabrication and Ford is a tool for Democrats to prevent Kavanaugh’s ascension.

McConnell says Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court ‘in the very near future’

As illustrated by ThinkProgress’ Extreme Right Dashboard, which tracks approximately 2,000 extreme right Twitter accounts, discussions around Kavanaugh and Ford have soared over the past few days.

For instance, the top trending hashtag currently floating around the extreme right networks is #kavanaughaccuser, with a 600 percent jump over just the previous day. Among the top hashtags associated with those tweeting about #kavanaughaccuser in the extreme right networks: #slander, #smearjob, and #votedemsout.

Likewise, the second most popular hashtag in general among the extreme right networks is #kavanaugh — which landed just behind #maga. Other hashtags in the top 10 include #confirmkavanaugh and #dearprofessorford.

The topics of the tweets in these extreme right networks — which span far-right conspiracy theorists like Laura Loomer and Mike Cernovich to outright white supremacists — vary, but are almost entirely centered on undercutting Ford’s accusations and bolstering Kavanaugh’s chances of getting through to the Supreme Court.

Loomer, for instance, has not only dismissed the accusations outright, but even managed to somehow link the accusations back to Hillary Clinton.

Cernovich, meanwhile, has pushed the notion that Democrats are little more than hypocrites — especially in light of the fact that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) remains in office, despite accusations of domestic abuse.

InfoWars conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, once a proponent of the notion that chemtrails were a government plot, has settled on a more traditional track. To Watson, Ford is simply a Democratic sympathizer, saying that her accusations “look increasingly like a desperate political ploy.”

While Kavanaugh — and Ford’s accusations against him — remains a dominant theme in extreme right Twitter circles, these accounts have also tried to push other links to sources outside Twitter that also undercut Ford’s accusations.

As the Extreme Right Dashboard shows, the most popular link shared in these networks isn’t about Donald Trump or something funny from YouTube. Rather, it’s a Thursday story from notorious conspiracy site Gateway Pundit, pointing to a widely dismissed Twitter thread from Ed Whelan, the head of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. That thread claims that Ford’s accusations may be accurate — but that the person responsible for the assault wasn’t Kavanaugh.

Whelan has since deleted and apologized for the thread. But the Gateway Pundit post, which was updated with his apology, remains up — and remains the most popular link among the extreme right on Twitter.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

In bipartisan push, new Delaware law says ‘no drilling ever on our coastlines’

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 10:10am

Delaware has become the latest state to take a hard line against offshore fossil fuel efforts, with a bipartisan push to protect the coastal state’s waters from oil and gas development.

Two bills allowing Delaware to both withhold permits from oil and gas drillers offshore and pursue legal action against them were signed into law on Thursday by Gov. John Carney (D).

Both bills enforce Delaware’s Coastal Zone Act, which already prohibits new activities like drilling in the state’s waters. Senate Bill 200 allows the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to refuse the permits while Senate Bill 207 authorizes Delaware’s Department of Justice to sue over action in waters further away from the coast.

The legislation also hopes to protect against the fact that most oil and gas drilling occurs farther away from Delaware’s coast in federal waters — Delaware’s waters only extend three miles offshore. The Interior Department signaled in January that nearly all of the country’s federal waters will be open to offshore drilling between 2019 and 2024, including the Outer Continental Shelf off Delaware’s coast.

A handful of state Republicans voted against one or both of the Delaware bills, but opposition to offshore drilling runs deep in both parties.

“Our beaches belong to us and they’re not here for the taking,” said Sen. Ernie Lopez, a Republican who sponsored one bill. “Together we make that unequivocal by clearly stating no drilling today, no drilling tomorrow, no drilling ever on our coastlines.”

New Jersey votes to ban offshore oil and gas drilling

Carney signed the bills in Rehoboth Beach on the area’s boardwalk, not far from Cape Henlopen State Park. The governor noted Delaware’s bipartisan consensus on offshore drilling as he gave the legislation his signature.

“I also had this real feeling of Delaware coming over me as I thought about everybody who’s sitting here; Democrats and Republicans, town people, county people and state officials,” he said. “And we’re all standing up and we’re saying no.”

Opposition to the Trump administration’s efforts to open the Atlantic Ocean up for drilling have been widespread. All East Coast state governors, with the exception of Maine’s Paul LePage, a Republican, have expressed dissent, with several seeking exemptions for their states.

Drilling opponents have widely pointed to the disastrous 2010 BP oil spill, which released nearly 5 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That spill, the worst in U.S. history, impacts the Gulf Coast to this day and the region is still grappling with the disaster’s health and environmental ramifications.

Bipartisan effort emerges countering Trump on offshore drilling

A number of lawmakers have sought to protect their states through legislation in Congress, working across the aisle to do so. Reps. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Walter B. Jones (R-NC) introduced a joint rejection of offshore drilling in June. This was part of an effort to prevent the Interior Department from “issuing leases for the exploration, development or production of oil and gas” on the Outer Continental Shelf. Both Virginia and North Carolina are among the states that would be impacted by drilling off of the coast in that area.

Some states are also taking matters into their own hands without federal assistance. New Jersey passed the nation’s most aggressive legislation on offshore drilling in April, with only one lawmaker opposing the effort. On the West Coast, California followed suit earlier this month, prohibiting new leases for oil and gas projects off the state’s coast.

In lieu of offshore oil and gas drilling, several coastal states including New York and New Jersey are eyeing investment in offshore wind farms instead. While fisherman have raised concerns about such efforts, proponents argue offshore wind could be a vital energy source, in addition to potentially helping protect coastlines from hurricanes.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump gives up the game, admits he doesn’t care what Kavanaugh’s accuser has to say

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 9:55am

President Trump indicated Friday that he does not particularly care what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has to say.

“Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!” Trump tweeted, referring to the possibility that Ford participates in a congressional hearing next week to address her accusations.

Senator Feinstein and the Democrats held the letter for months, only to release it with a bang after the hearings were OVER – done very purposefully to Obstruct & Resist & Delay. Let her testify, or not, and TAKE THE VOTE!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018

Beyond misrepresenting how Ford’s accusation became public knowledge — a confidential letter Ford wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was leaked, not “released” by the senator — the tone of Trump’s tweet represents a shift from his previous comments on the matter.

Trump told reporters on Wednesday that if Ford offered “credible testimony” about the alleged assault, he would have to “make a decision” about Kavanaugh’s nomination.

At that time, it was unclear whether Ford would be willing to testify or not. But now that she’s signaled she’s conditionally willing to do so, Trump is urging senators to “TAKE THE VOTE!” regardless of what she might have to say.

There is no compelling reason for Republicans to rush a vote on Kavanaugh, beyond concerns that delaying it could result in more damaging information about him emerging and potentially prevent Republicans from getting another conservative Justice on the Supreme Court before November’s midterm elections.

Top Grassley aide locks account after defiantly tweeting he’s ‘unfazed’ in confirming Kavanaugh

Trump is not the first Republican involved in Kavanaugh’s nomination to give up the game in this way. On Wednesday evening, Mike Davis, chief counsel for nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), posted tweets indicating he’s not even pretending to take Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh seriously.

“Unfazed and determined,” Davis wrote. “We will confirm Judge Kavanaugh.”

Mike Davis is @ChuckGrassley’s lead staffer for the SCOTUS nomination.

Here’s what he tweeted last night, proving the GOP machine has no intention of taking the attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford seriously.

It’s dereliction of duty and he’s just locked his account.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Coal ash may be flowing into river upstream from downtown Wilmington, NC

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 9:49am

Coal ash from a retired power plant could be spilling into the Cape Fear River upstream from Wilmington, North Carolina, according to the Associated Press Friday morning. Floodwaters also caused a power plant to be shut down overnight.

On Thursday, Duke Energy issued a “high level” emergency alert from Florence’s floodwaters spilling into the north end of a cooling pond, called Sutton Lake, that could contain some of the hundreds of tons of coal ash which spilled from an adjacent landfill.

One day later, on Friday, the company said the dam separating Cape Fear River from the cooling pond on the southern end had breached, spilling back into the river — Cape Fear River water levels have been rising steadily due to Florence’s historic rainfall.

A map of Lake Sutton, which sits adjacent Cape Fear River. (Credit: Google Maps)

Here is aerial footage of the flooding, captured by local station ABC 11. It starts at the very bottom channel southeast of Sutton Lake and zooms out looking east. Much of the topography in the above photo is underwater.

According to the AP, the company acknowledged that “coal ash may be flowing into the Cape Fear River,” and that “floodwaters also had overtopped a steel retaining wall containing one of three large coal ash dumps lining the lakeshore.”

So, coal ash from this large dump next to the lake, in addition to whatever was in the lake from the previous spill, threatens to flow back into the river.

Duke Energy said in a statement that cenospheres — small particles left behind by the combustion of coal — “are moving from the 1971 ash basin to the cooling lake and into the Cape Fear River.” It also said that there is no visible ash in the cooling lake.

“Overnight flooding” has also, according to Duke Energy, caused the company to shut down the combined cycle natural gas power plant on the site of the old coal plant.

On Thursday, the company pushed back on press reports that significant amounts of coal ash had flowed into Sutton Lake from a spill caused by a collapse in a coal ash landfill on the site. It said water tests found that there was no threat posed to health or the environment, but some cenospheres were floating on the lake.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

3-D printed gun advocate Cody Wilson arrested in Taiwan

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 8:42am

Cody Wilson, the gun enthusiast who has been the center of national debate over 3-D printed guns, was arrested in Taiwan Friday after being charged with sexual assault in Texas, according to Taiwan News.

Wilson, who missed his flight home from Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday, was wanted by Texas authorities for allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The girl said in an interview last month that she met Wilson on, and the two exchanged nude photographs before meeting in person.

A very detailed affidavit for arrest warrant in Travis County, Texas, alleges 3D printed gun blueprints maker Cody Wilson met a 17-year-old girl through, and they had sex in an Austin hotel.

— Steve Dorsey (@steve_dorsey) September 19, 2018

In late August, a federal judge blocked Wilson from sharing blueprints for 3-D printed firearms online. Attorneys general from 19 states and Washington, D.C. had filed suit, claiming that the weapons would increase gun violence across the county. The decision came after the federal government reversed course under Trump and settled Wilson’s lawsuit, allowing his Texas-based company, Defense Distributed, to post the blueprints on the internet on August 1st.

When he first posted the blueprints online in 2013, they were downloaded roughly 100,000 times before the State Department ordered him to stop.

Despite the August order blocking Wilson from posting the blueprints, he has continued sharing them anyway. Instead of publishing them on the internet for free, Wilson said he would comply with the court order by selling copies of his 3D-printed gun files for a “suggested price” of $10 each, according to Ars Technica.

Gun control advocates claim that unlike traditional guns, 3D-printed guns can be obtained without a background check, can’t be identified by metal detectors, and do not have serial numbers that can be traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have said the blueprints will allow criminals, terrorists, and other people legally prevented from purchasing guns under current law to get their hands on weapons.

Wilson has shrugged off concerns that the weapons, which can be made at home, could be used to inflict violence.

The scramble to stop 3D-printed gun designs

“I literally believe in the Second Amendment, to the point that it’s alright and it should be expected that there will be social costs for protecting a right like this,” he said in an interview with Fox News Sunday. “Why is the people’s right to keep and bear arms on the Bill of Rights? Why is it even protected? Because we know that there are downsides and that there are consequences to allowing free people to own the means of self defense. Of course we should expect and have a mature attitude that bad things can happen.”

Wilson is also a supporter of pro-gun candidates. He has contributed thousands of dollars to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’s campaign for reelection — a race that the Cook Political Report called a toss-up on Friday. Representatives for Cruz’s campaign did not respond to ThinkProgress’ inquiry about whether they plan to return the contributions from Wilson.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Vulnerable Republicans omit key detail in campaign ads touting their work on the opioid crisis

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 5:00am

When it comes to health care, Republican incumbents are waging defensive campaigns, attacking challengers who support Medicare for All or defusing criticism over their position on pre-existing conditions. But some vulnerable conservatives have found solace in one bipartisan issue: the opioid crisis.

Drug overdoses are ravaging Republicans and Democrats alike. So in an effort to capture more voters, Republican incumbents in tight races are touting their legislative work on combating the epidemic.

“With people like Vern on our side, we have a fighting chance,” says a mother who lost her son to drug addiction in a political advertisement for Rep Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

According to the ad, the Florida congressman has “led the charge to crack down on drug abuse.” But a closer look at his record shows this isn’t true. Indeed, legislation he supported could have exacerbated a crisis that’s killed more than 5,000 Floridians within one year, as of Feb. 2018. And he’s hardly alone with this framing.

Buchanan has introduced various opioid bills and the House even passed one of his proposals in June that would centralize all federal opioid prescribing guidelines. The bill, the Centralized Opioid Guidance Act, was bipartisan and applauded by Rep. Conor Lamb (D-MA). 

But experts told The New York Times that 50 opioid bills, including Buchanan’s, that the House passed over the summer “fall short of the coordinated response warranted by an epidemic” — albeit, it’s a step in the right direction.  

Alternatively, Buchanan voted to eliminate a systems approach to the opioid crisis by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides greater access to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. In other words, he voted for the American Health Care Act, which would have undermined Obamacare insurance gains and the requirement to cover essential health benefits including SUD treatment. The bill would have also phased out Medicaid expansion and capped funding — and, as addiction-treatment advocate Andrew Kessler recently told ThinkProgress, “no public health problem can be solved without it.”

ThinkProgress identified four other Republicans who are campaigning on solutions, but who’ve backed proposals that undermine the fight against the opioid crisis in other ways.

Voting to repeal Obamacare

Reps. John Faso (R-NY) and Kevin Yoder (R-KS) aired ads mentioning the opioid crisis, but with a law enforcement edge.

“John’s legislation is empowering law enforcement to stop this drug from coming into this country,” says one mother whose son was addicted to the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

“We’ve got to secure our border to stop the drugs causing the opioid crisis from flowing into our communities,” says Yoder during his “For All of Us” ad.

It’s unclear whether this message resonates with voters. Frontline experts, for one, are wary of a law and order approach. When The New York Times in February asked 30 experts — including a police chief, governor, and medical director — how they’d spend $100 billion to solve the opioid crisis, the panelists spent more money on treatment than anything else, including law enforcement. No dollars went to border security.

Like Buchanan, Faso and Yoder voted to repeal Obamacare. Ultimately, Republicans were unsuccessful in their efforts. While these lawmakers aren’t actively campaigning on repeal and replace (in fact, Yoder’s 2018 campaign website scrubbed any such reference to the law unlike his 2016 site), the Vice President admitted that Republicans will try again if midterm elections go well for the party.

Governors who dismiss Medicaid

Governors Scott Walker (WI-R) and Henry McMaster (R-SC) are campaigning on the national drug crisis. Walker finds himself in an especially tight race this November with Democrat Tony Evers; a recent poll puts Evers ahead. Meanwhile, McMaster is expected to hold on to his seat.

In Walker’s ad, the governor alludes to the fact that he’s signed about 30 opioid bills into law. “Together, we passed bipartisan legislation to reduce opioid abuse and increase drug treatment to save lives,” he says.

But local officials have criticized his efforts, with one calling them “narrowly-targeted opioid proposals,” because Walker continues to oppose the ACA. In fact, Walker has refused to expand Medicaid, arguing, “if we were to take the Medicaid expansion, we would be going contrary to what my intentions were which is to help people not be dependent on the government.” He’s also asked the Trump administration to allow Wisconsin to condition Medicaid access on work and drug tests, which experts call insulting and say will lead to losses in coverage.

Credit: Henry McMaster campaign website

McMaster — who’s in a less competitive race — actually ran an ad touting his support for Medicaid work requirements. However, McMaster may never get his work rules, as the Trump administration has yet to approve a request from a state like South Carolina, which didn’t expand Medicaid.

By not expanding Medicaid, McMaster is rejecting federal dollars for more treatment. Research from five states shows Medicaid expansion was associated with a significant increase in people filling prescriptions for addiction medication. So even though the governor declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, he didn’t take advantage of all resources at his disposal — a fact he omitted in his campaign site.

Republicans’ parsing the opioid crisis from their entire health record is likely deliberate. Polls suggest that parts of the GOP health care agenda will hurt Republicans in November.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

How used electric car batteries will turbocharge the renewables revolution

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 5:00am

Plummeting battery costs have made electric vehicles (EVs) a truly disruptive technology.

In fact, EVs now use more lithium ion batteries than consumer electronics. But Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projects EV-battery demand will rise another 25-fold by 2030 — and EVs will represent more than half of all new car sales by 2040.

This means that millions of used EV batteries will eventually be flooding the market — batteries that may have as much as 70 percent of their original power capacity, even though it can no longer meet the strict requirements for powering its car.

No wonder every major car company in the world is exploring how much value their EV battery has in its “second life.” After all, BNEF projects that over the next three decades, companies will spend some $550 billion “in home, industrial and grid-scale battery storage.”

Why Used Electric Car Batteries Could Be Crucial To A Clean Energy Future

This potential second life for EV batteries is a clean energy game changer for two reasons.

Firstly, these used EV batteries can deliver much cheaper electricity storage for renewables than is available today.

And secondly, if used EV batteries have value, then EV makers can charge less for their cars — because they can make up the difference reselling the battery later — making them even more affordable.

Used or second life EV batteries can still be used for electricity storage for many years before they are recycled for raw materials. CREDIT: Renault.

Together, these two factors make EVs even more disruptive than most people realize, particularly for enabling deep and rapid penetration of renewables in the 2020s.

We already knew electric cars hold the prospect of providing low-cost storage directly : by making use of the 95 percent of the time that a parked car battery isn’t being used.

Now imagine what the potential flood of millions  of second-life EV batteries into the electricity storage market will mean. Already, BNEF calculates that “repurposing a battery will cost as little as $49 per usable kilowatt-hour in 2018, compared to $300 for a new battery.”

That is a game-changer.

Here are some of the companies working on repurposing old EV batteries —  from Chevrolet in Michigan and Eaton in South Africa, along with Nissan in Amsterdam and Japan, and BYD in China.

The companies are testing used EV batteries for stationary storage. BMW, for instance, has completed over 18 months of testing that demonstrates its used batteries can deal with “demand response” requests from California’s Pacific Gas & Electric utility. Demand response is rewarding consumers and businesses for adjusting their electricity use during peak hours (or during times when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing).

In the more than 200 tests conducted, PG&E would alert BMW that the grid was short of electricity, and BMW would then signal vehicles to stop charging (thereby reducing the load). If a vehicle wasn’t plugged in or the customer wasn’t participating, then the array of second-life batteries would be used.

The test proved that used EV batteries could provide monetizable value. More than 90 percent of consumers participating in the test said they would probably participate again.

As with all other aspects of electric cars are batteries, it’s no surprise which country is leading the way on battery reuse and recycling: China.

The country has 60 percent of all global lithium ion cell production. At the same time, electric cars and buses in China alone use more Li-ion batteries than all electronic devices worldwide.

A report last November from Circular Energy Storage Research and Consulting  finds that China dominates the global battery reuse market — and that near-monopoly is poised to grow in the years ahead.

China poised to dominate market for EV battery reuse.

So, as with manufacturing solar cells and wind turbines, the United States is poised to lose out on another rapidly growing job-creating clean energy sector.

But the good news for the entire world is that when the trickle of second-life batteries turns into a flood, the business of electricity storage and demand response —  both of which enable far deeper penetration of renewable power  —  will never be the same.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

ICE is arresting the sponsors of undocumented children

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 3:56pm

The Trump administration is using the process of placing undocumented immigrant children with sponsors as a way to track down and arrest undocumented individuals, according to a CNN report.

From early July through early September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 41 undocumented immigrants who came forward to take care of undocumented children in government custody, and the agency is reportedly planning to go after more.

Children who arrive in the U.S. unaccompanied are often placed with family or members or in the homes of adults who applied to care for the children as they fight to legally stay in the country. That means some of the sponsors arrested over the last few months could have been relatives of the children.

Without their sponsors, undocumented immigrant children fall back into federal custody, maintaining the cycle of indefinite detention.

This news was initially made public on Tuesday, when ICE senior official Matthew Albence testified that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and ICE signed a memorandum of agreement to fingerprint and perform background checks on any potential sponsors of immigrant children.

ICE confirmed that the arrests occurred after the agreement was signed and that 70 percent of the arrests were because the agency discovered the individual was in the country illegally.

The move to put potential sponsors through a harsher vetting process was in response to concerns over whether unaccompanied minors were being placed in potentially dangerous situations and HHS’ inability to account for the whereabouts of hundreds of “missing” children.

Just as ThinkProgress reported back in April, when the #WhereAreTheChildren hashtag went viral, these children were never really “missing” at all. In reality, once undocumented children are placed with sponsors (which is a family member 85 percent of the time) they are no longer HHS’ responsibility. The agency’s only obligation is to conduct a cursory wellness call to the child’s sponsor.

What you should know about the 1,500 ‘missing’ immigrant children

Occasionally, a sponsor will miss the call from the government, forcing HHS to admit that it can’t say with certainty where that child is at that moment. But for sponsors who are undocumented, they likely will choose not to further interact with immigration officials out of fear of the child’s safety or their own ability to remain in the U.S.

The Trump administration appears to have caught on to that and is using the child placement process to find and detain undocumented immigrants.

A side effect of harsher vetting processes, however, would be fewer potential sponsors for unaccompanied minors — something federal immigration agencies and HHS can’t really afford right now, considering the record number of children in detention facilities.

According to recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), 13,312 immigrant children were in federal custody as recently as Wednesday, with existing ORR facilities at 92 percent capacity. In May 2017, the number of immigrant children in federal custody was around 2,400.

It is important to reiterate that the increase in children at federal detention centers is not the result of an influx in border crossings, but rather because of how the administration has sharply reduced the number of children being released, placing an immense strain on the migrant shelter network tasked with looking after them.

Keeping the deportation and detention machine running, however, is extremely costly.

In order to keep up with the spiking detentions, HHS is planning to divert $266 million dollars in funding originally allocated for programs like Head Start, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and cancer research, in order to help pay for the detention of undocumented children. And that’s not even including the $169 million the Trump administration cut from other programs to pay for ICE detentions.

According to immigration officials, an average of 43,000 immigrants are being detained every day, which is more than Congress authorized in the current budget. As a result, ICE is requesting an additional $1 billion from the federal government, according to a budget document obtained by The Washington Post. If Congress denies its request, the agency has threatened that thousands of immigrants in federal custody could suffer “reductions in services.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Rubio gets mad at John Kerry for talking to Iran, forgets he signed Republicans’ 2015 letter to Iran

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 2:15pm

Former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, has come under scrutiny from conservatives for his relationship with Iran.

The Massachusetts Democrat told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he has been communicating with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the nuclear deal he helped negotiate under President Barack Obama in an interview that aired last week.

“What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better. What do you do to try to get peace in Syria? I mean, those are the things that really are preoccupying, because those are the impediments to people, to Iran’s ability to convince people that it’s ready to embrace something different.”

Trump responded by tweeting that Kerry’s “illegal meetings” would “undercut our great work.”

John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people. He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2018

In a news conference the following day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Kerry’s “unseemly and unprecedented” conversations were “literally unheard-of.”

Now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is getting in on the act. The Florida Republican asked the Department of Justice to investigate Kerry’s actions on Tuesday.

I have asked the @TheJusticeDept to determine if John Kerry has violated federal laws by meeting with Iranian officials in an effort to save the #IranDeal. #FoxNews

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 18, 2018

Rubio retweeted Fox & Friends on Thursday morning to argue that Kerry had violated the Logan Act, which forbids private citizens from having “any correspondence” with foreign governments.

Any citizen who without authority of the U.S. commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign govt or any officer or agent thereof…with intent to defeat the measures of the U.S…shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 3 years or both #LoganAct

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 20, 2018

Later Thursday, he went on Fox News to suggest Kerry had broken the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires “public disclosure” of relationships with international entities. The segment was tweeted out from the official Twitter account for Rubio’s press office.

On @foxandfriends I discussed why @TheJusticeDept should investigate whether John Kerry’s recent meetings with Iranian officials on the #IranDeal is in violation of the #LoganAct and #FARA.

— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) September 20, 2018

There are several possible flaws with these accusations. As USA Today explained, “FARA’s provisions don’t extend to activities conducted entirely overseas, so where Kerry interacted with (Zarif) matters.” Kerry told Hewitt that the meetings took place at global conferences in Norway and Germany. Also, the incidents in question reportedly occurred before Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. And it should be pointed out that no one been convicted of violating the Logan Act since it was passed by Congress 219 years ago.

As Kerry noted to Fox News last week, most former secretaries of state have continued to be involved in global affairs without accusations of impropriety:

“Every secretary of state, former secretary of state continues to meet with foreign leaders, goes to security conferences, goes around the world. We all do that. And we have conversations with people about the state of affairs in the world in order to understand them. We don’t negotiate. We are not involved in interfering with policy. But we certainly have reasonable discussions about nuclear weapons, the world, China, different policies obviously.”

Of course, Rubio was one of the 47 Republican senators who signed a letter sent to Iran’s leadership in 2015, while Obama’s White House was negotiating the nuclear deal, that said any agreement between the two nations without their approval could be undone by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.” Rubio has not commented on whether his 46 Republican colleagues or he should also be subjected to potential FARA or Logan Act charges.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted of FARA violations and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was accused of FARA violations. It has also been suggested that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner may have violated the Logan Act with their involvement in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents. In addition, Kushner could have committed FARA violations, according to the financial disclosures forms that he has revised over 40 times since filing them.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The depths of one of Europe’s largest money laundering scandals have been exposed

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 2:03pm

For years, the Estonian branch of the Denmark-based Danske Bank ignored repeated warnings about specific clients and the source of their money.

The warnings came from regulators and government officials alike — even from the Russian Central Bank. Now, more than a decade later, we’re just beginning to understand the total cost of the bank’s unwillingness to heed any concern about its clients and the source of the billions the bank was helping launder.

This week, Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, released the findings of an investigation into the Estonian branch’s work from 2007 to 2015. The conclusions were staggering. The bank revealed that it had handled over $230 billion in that time period, a significant percentage of which was suspicious — representing, as the Financial Times noted, “one of the largest money laundering scandals ever uncovered.”

Here’s how the U.S. is helping massive theft in Venezuela

All told, the bank investigated some 15,000 non-resident clients and nearly 10 million payments, as well as over 8 million emails. Focusing on over 6,000 of the non-resident clients in particular, the “vast majority have been found to be suspicious,” according to the investigation.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of the entire investigation? The bank still has no idea exactly how many clients poured tens of billions of dollars through the bank in order to clean the cash. As the bank wrote, “We are not able to provide an accurate estimate of the amount of suspicious transactions.”

Heads have already begun to roll. On Wednesday, Danske Bank CEO Thomas Borgen announced his resignation. “Even though the investigation conducted by the external law firm concludes that I have lived up to my legal obligations, I believe that it is best for all parties that I resign,” Borgen said.

The bank also announced that over 40 “employees and agents” were “involved in some suspicious activity” regarding the transactions, and reported these employees to Estonian authorities. The bank described the employees’ actions as potentially fitting the bill of “internal collusion.” 

“It is good that Danske Bank has published this investigation, but the fact that they ignored thousands of high risk accounts for years demands accountability,” wrote pro-transparency watchdog Global Witness in an analysis.

Global Witness analysis points to the importance of centralized EU anti-money laundering oversight in the wake of massive Danske Bank scandal. See ASD’s earlier post from @JoshKirschGMF on the importance of aggressive fines.

— Securing Democracy (@SecureDemocracy) September 20, 2018

The fallout, though, has just begun. Given that the bank has still failed to identify all of the suspicious transactions in particular — and the fact that American authorities recently announced an investigation into the bank — further information on which officials, politicians, and businessmen were using and abusing Danske Bank’s lax oversight is likely forthcoming.

But the bank did reveal that numerous clients appeared linked to some of the most notorious other money laundering operations of the past few years. For instance, the bank wrote that some 75 customers were involved in the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” the primary money laundering scheme from Azerbaijan’s dictatorship.

And Bill Browder, the former hedge fund manager who has become one of the primary activists behind new sanctions against Russia, has long alleged that Danske Bank played a key role in helping launder proceeds from a tax scheme that Browder’s former accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered. Magnitsky was later killed while imprisoned by Russian authorities for uncovering the scheme; the U.S.’s Magnitsky Act, which sanctions corrupt Russian officials, is named in his honor.

This is truly shocking. After being at the helm of the bank with the biggest money laundering scandal in European history, Danske CEO Thomas Borgen will still receive a bonus of €2.8m-€3.6m

— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) September 19, 2018

BREAKING: From the Danske Bank Russian money laundering report. 42 employees and agents have been involved in suspicious transactions. 8 have been referred to the Estonian police

— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) September 19, 2018

Ironically, one of the most notable warnings about the Estonian branch’s money laundering operations came not from Western partners, but from the Russian Central Bank. In 2007, the Russian Central Bank warned Danske about possible “criminal activity in its pure form, including money laundering.” The Russian Central Bank estimated that the Estonian branch may have been laundering “billions of rubles monthly.”

Years later, according to the Wall Street Journal, Danske Bank’s anti-money laundering head identified a number of clients at the Estonian branch who had been placed on the Russian Central Bank’s blacklist. Danske Bank, though, appears to have done nothing about it — and we still have no idea how much money was laundered in the interim.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Russian anti-doping program reinstated despite failing to meet key guidelines

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 1:34pm

In an unsurprising yet somehow still stunning decision, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted on Thursday to lift their ban on Russia’s anti-doping program (RUSADA), which was suspended in 2015. After “missing” just one Olympics — the 2018 winter games in South Korea — Russia’s pseudo-exile from the international sporting community appears to be coming to a swift end, well before the next summer Olympics in 2020.

Travis T. Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, released a no-holds-barred statement calling the decision “bewildering and inexplicable,” and a “devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes.”

In the years since RUSADA was first decertified, more information has been made public about the extent of the state-sponsored doping programs in Russia. In the summer of 2016, an investigation commissioned by WADA (the McLaren Report) found that the Russian Ministry of Sport erased at least 312 positive doping tests between 2011 and 2015. Additionally, in 2016, a whistleblower exposed the way that he would swap dirty urine samples with clean ones in the middle of the night during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in what was called “one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.”

WADA previously set forth a roadmap to reinstatement for RUSADA, which primarily included fully accepting the findings of the McLaren Report, and opening up the doors of the RUSADA laboratory for inspection by WADA.

RUSADA is currently 0-for-2. It didn’t matter.

The dirty secret behind Russia’s 2014 Olympic success

Last week, the BBC reported that WADA reached a “compromise” with RUSADA — it narrowed the scope of what RUSADA had to admit to in terms of the McLaren Report, and offered to have an independent expert examine select samples and data from the Moscow laboratory, in lieu of full access.

The international sporting community is, understandably, outraged.

Vicki Aggar, a former Paralympic rower for Great Britain and a member of the WADA athlete committee, said this was the “wrong, unethical decision” in a piece for the BBC.

“I know I speak for the majority when I say I am immensely frustrated that WADA — the global anti-doping authority no less — has substituted backing the rights of millions of clean athletes worldwide for the appeasement of a handful of sports administrators instead,” Aggar said. “Put simply, they want this put behind them – and they want Russia back at any cost.”

Tygart said that the only way forward is to completely reform WADA, which is notoriously underfunded and increasingly inept:

The world’s athletes want the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – and the conflict that their involvement brings to clean sport – to stay well away from WADA. They want a WADA with teeth, authority, sanctioning power and the determination to get the job done of cleaning up sport and restoring the trust of the billions of sports fans and athletes worldwide. Today, that job must start – and it starts by reforming WADA and giving it the power to regulate as any good global watchdog must do. It starts by WADA actually listening to the world’s clean athletes who are speaking up, right here and right now. It starts by removing the inherent conflict of interest that comes about from the IOC fox guarding the WADA henhouse.

Even some within WADA’s executive ranks have spoken out against the organization’s vote.

“This casts a dark shadow over the credibility of the anti-doping movement,” Linda Hofstad Helleland, the Vice President of WADA and one of two executives to vote against RUSADA’s reinstatement, said in a statement.

“This is one of the most critical decisions the anti-doping community has ever been confronted with. As an organization, WADA’s number one job is to be true to our values of fair sport. And today we made the wrong decision in protecting the integrity of sport and to maintain public trust in the anti-doping work.”

It’s unclear where the future of the anti-doping movement goes from here, but it’s clear that trust in WADA is eroding at a rapid pace.

“Today we failed the clean athletes of the world,” Helland said.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

HHS to cut funds from Head Start, cancer research to pay for the detention of immigrant children

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 12:45pm

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning to divert millions of dollars in funding originally allocated for programs like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to pay for the growing number of detained immigrant children, according to an HHS letter obtained by Yahoo! News.

The letter was addressed to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and outlined HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s plan to reallocate up to $266 million in funding for the current fiscal year, which ends in less than two weeks. The funding would go to the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program housed inside the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Of the $266 million, $80 million will come from other refugee programs within HHS that have faced serious budget cuts as the Trump administration continuously reduces the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.

The remainder will come from programs like Head Start, an HHS-funded initiative that provides early-childhood education to low-income pre-kindergartners. Nearly $6 million will be pulled from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and $13.3 million from the National Cancer Institute. According to the letter, funding for programs dedicated to mental and maternal health is also being reallocated, as is money for women’s shelters and substance abuse programs. 

The news comes just one week after it was reported the Trump administration diverted another $200 million from other programs in order to pay for the continued detention of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Trump used $169 million from other programs to pay for ICE immigrant detention

HHS will likely use the funds to keep up with the growing number of detained immigrant children.

According to recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 13,312 immigrant children were in federal custody as recently as yesterday. In May 2017, that number was around 2,400.

With the capacity of ORR’s existing facilities approaching 92 percent, HHS is looking for ways to accommodate the growing population.  As ThinkProgress has previously reported, HHS officials have said they would add an additional 3,800 beds at the Tornillo, Texas-based emergency tent-city for immigrant minors, effectively tripling its current capacity. The estimated cost of operating at these emergency facilities is $750 per child per day — nearly triple the cost of a regular ORR shelter.

It’s worth noting that immigration detention facilities are not facing capacity shortages due to a recent influx of children crossing the border, but rather because of the broken immigration system in the U.S. The current administration has sharply reduced the number of children being released and allowed to live with families and other sponsors, which has a placed an immense amount of strain on the migrant shelter network tasked with looking after them.

And this is likely just the beginning. In Azar’s letter to Sen. Murray, Azar stated that, based on  “an increased length of time needed to safely release unaccompanied alien children to sponsors, HHS is preparing for the trend of high capacity to continue.”

Immigration law enforcement agencies are having some difficulty keeping up with the Trump administration’s haphazard deportation and detention demands, so much so that ICE has requested an additional $1 billion from the federal government, according to budget document obtained by The Washington Post.

According to immigration officials, an average of 43,000 immigrants are detained every day, which is more than Congress authorized in the current budget.

ICE has threatened that thousands of immigrants in federal custody may suffer “reductions in services” if Congress denies the funding they requested.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Anti-transgender bigots sink to new low with latest ad

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 12:44pm

This November, Massachusetts voters will consider Question 3, a referendum on whether to retain a 2016 law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places. Opponents of the law — who call themselves “Keep MA Safe” — have unveiled their first ad of the campaign season, and it regurgitates all of the same demonizing “bathroom safety” tropes from past fights against trans equality.

Unlike previous anti-trans ads, which focused on children, the “No on 3” ad instead shows an adult woman making use of a women’s locker room. A creepy cisgender man is already waiting in the bathroom stall, eyeing her as she undresses and letting out a guttural moan. “What does Massachusetts Question 3 mean to you?” the ad asks. “It means any man who says he is a woman can enter a women’s locker room, dressing room, or bathroom at any time — even convicted sex offenders.”

The ad goes on to claim that women who complain to authorities about someone suspicious in the bathroom will themselves be arrested and fined up to $50,000. “This bathroom bill puts our safety at risk,” the ad concludes. “It goes too far.”

The facts of the ad are nonsense. As a recent academic study — and many analyses before it — concluded, there is zero evidence to suggest that protecting transgender people from discrimination in any way makes facilities less safe for women and children. It just doesn’t happen.

Massachusetts’ law even contains a provision to ensure that it would remain illegal to assert a gender identity “for an improper purpose,” like the one portrayed in the ad.

Likewise, the claim that women will be punished for reporting suspicious activity seems to be invented out of whole cloth. None of the laws related to discrimination dictate fines more than a few thousand dollars, and that’s for actual discriminatory acts. Even false reporting of a crime only results in fines up to $500 under Massachusetts law.

No on 3’s new ad follows in a long line of very similar ads portraying transgender protections as threats to safety. A previous version of the ad showed a young girl using a restroom as a man entered her stall. It first appeared in the 2015 fight over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and was later recycled in North Carolina and in a campaign against Target for its trans-inclusive policies.

A 2012 ad against LGBTQ protections in Anchorage, Alaska (also recycled in later campaigns), shows animated gym owner Steve, who would be “forced to open the women’s locker room to anyone who claims a female identity.” It also includes the same warning about how Steve could be fined or jailed if he doesn’t comply.

Another version of the trope dates back as far as 2008. That version of the ad, also used in multiple campaigns, shows a playground scene with another creepy guy following a young girl into the women’s restroom. Here’s a version of that ad that attacked the Gainesville, Florida City Commission for protecting transgender people from discrimination.

The message of the ad hasn’t changed in over a decade — nor has the lie at its core — though it has certainly gotten more menacing with each passing rendition. But that’s because for many voters, the scare tactic still works. Even in a blue state like Massachusetts, polling has been relatively split on Question 3.

Proponents of keeping the protections are vastly outspending their opponents, and they are capitalizing on research showing that transgender visibility can reduce transphobia and increase support for transgender equality. Their ads primarily show transgender people — including transgender kids — discussing their experiences and the importance of the law.

A similar strategy was successful at convincing voters in Anchorage to retain a similar LGBTQ ordinance when it was challenged in a referendum earlier this year.

Nevertheless, the campaign itself, along with its demonizing ads, will likely have damaging effects on the mental health of transgender people across the state.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Duke Energy issues ‘high-level’ emergency alert, toxic coal ash ponds risk flooding after Florence

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 11:21am

On Thursday morning, almost a week after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina, the storm’s floodwaters overran a lake which had been flooded by tons of coal ash earlier in the storm. Residents now risk coal ash-polluted water flowing back into a river upstream of Wilmington.

The Associated Press reported that Duke Energy, the power company that runs the retired coal power plant which generated several large dumps and landfills of toxic coal ash on the banks of the Cape Fear River, “activated a high-level emergency alert” Thursday morning.

The river overtopped an earthen dike separating it from Sutton Lake, which is a former cooling pond from the retired coal plant. This took place just a few miles upstream from Wilmington, North Carolina, the city which has seen the worst of the storm.


A Duke Energy spokesperson told the AP that the earthen dike did appear stable in spite of the river waters flooding over it into the lake. With the power plant retired, the lake is now a destination for recreational fishing and boating.

Over the weekend, one breach acknowledged by Duke (and another disclosed by the EPA but denied by Duke) caused the landfill to dump at least 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash into Sutton Lake, which is enough to fill 180 dump trucks.

A Duke Energy press release from Wednesday claimed no effect on water quality but did acknowledge the presence of cenospheres — coal combustion byproducts — in Sutton Lake.

Now, with the floodwaters mixing into Sutton Lake, residents face the alarming possibility of coal ash-polluted water flowing back into a river upstream of Wilmington.

Nuclear plant declares emergency, second breach reported at coal ash site amid Florence’s rains

The Sutton site was cited for a stormwater permit violation in 2014, and Duke submitted plans to close the coal ash ponds at the former power plant location.

This is not the only site of coal ash dumps being taken away by floodwaters. On Sunday, the AP reported that “three old coal ash dumps capped with soil were inundated by the Neuse River,” at a different site farther north, closer to Greenville.

In addition to coal ash, Florence’s rains have also caused 30 hog manure lagoons to overtop and spill feces and urine into the environment. Three lagoons have breached, with a total 132 sites at risk as of Thursday afternoon.

Beyond the long-term effects of coal ash and pig waste flowing into the water system, the toxins and contaminants could pose risks for residents already hit by the storm. Some Florence refugees resorted to bathing in the storm’s floodwaters when their shelters or homes ran out of clean water.

Opponents decry Scott Pruitt’s plan to roll back groundwater protections at coal ash sites

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has taken steps to relax regulations on coal ash ponds and hog waste lagoons.

Before Florence hit, President Trump said that his administration was “all ready” to respond to the storm, and told reporters, “we’re getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people.”

Right now, everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence – and they are 100% correct. But don’t be fooled, at some point in the near future the Democrats will start ranting…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 18, 2018

As the storm finished dumping record levels of rain on the Southeast, Trump bragged that “everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies