July 20, 2017

How to handle something like the Trump regime

Ten tips from Turkey

Manafort owed big sums to pro-Russia interests

NY Times - Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.

The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

Trump and Deutsche Bank: Follow the bouncing buck

NY Times - During the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump pointed to his relationship with Deutsche Bank to counter reports that big banks were skeptical of doing business with him.

After a string of bankruptcies in his casino and hotel businesses in the 1990s, Mr. Trump became somewhat of an outsider on Wall Street, leaving the giant German bank among the few major financial institutions willing to lend him money.

Now that two-decades-long relationship is coming under scrutiny.

Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele, according to three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly. The regulators want to know if the loans might expose the bank to heightened risks.

Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts, according to two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

More on that 8th guy at the Trump Tower meeting

As Politico reported, "The eighth attendee at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump associates and a politically connected Russian lawyer is a business associate of a top Moscow oligarch and was once the focus of a congressional money-laundering probe."

Former Senator Carl Levin -In 2000, as Senior Democrat on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, I was looking into how foreign persons established US corporations with hidden ownership as a way to launder money through U.S. banks. Many states in the U.S., Delaware being a popular one, allow individuals to set up corporations without revealing the true owner. This allows individuals to set up shell companies -- companies that can function as a vehicle through which they can anonymously pass money and which can readily be used to launder ill-gotten gains.


I asked GAO to review shell corporations and how their bank accounts are set up. GAO came across the numerous corporations and bank accounts established by Irakly Kaveladze on behalf of people in Russia. As GAO reported, Kaveladze established some 2000 U.S. corporations and bank accounts for a number of them. The owners of those accounts then moved some $1.4 billion through those accounts. Kaveladze claimed he did all this without knowing for whom he was doing it. Based on the example of Kaveladze, who was in a sense the poster child of this practice, and other examples we uncovered over the years, we've been trying for decades to end the hidden ownership of American corporations. This has been a bipartisan effort, and there continues to be proposed legislation in Congress to do just that with the very strong support of the law enforcement community and the banks.


Kaveladze's conduct also helped us reinvigorate the requirement that banks know the true owner of their accounts, a policy that hadn’t been enforced over the years. It has recently been required by regulation.

Mueller looking into Trump business transactions with Russians

Bloomberg - The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday he was unaware of this element of the investigation. "Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code," he wrote in an email.
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Trump regime demotes climate scientist who spoke out

NPR -A former head policy adviser at the Interior Department is accusing the Trump Administration of reassigning him to a lesser position for speaking out about the dangers of climate change.

Joel Clement, a scientist who was director of the Interior Department's Office of Policy Analysis for much of the Obama Administration, was recently reassigned to work to an "accounting office," the agency's Office of Natural Resources and Revenue.

In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Washington Post, he wrote that he believes he was retaliated against for "speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities." He says that he's turning whistleblower on an administration that "chooses silence over science."

Trump regime using Obamacare funds to attack Obamacare

Daily Beast -The Trump administration has spent taxpayer money meant to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act on a public relations campaign aimed at methodically strangling it.

The effort, which involves a multi-pronged social media push as well as video testimonials designed at damaging public opinion of President Obama’s health care law, is far more robust and sustained than has been publicly revealed or realized.

The strategy has caught the eye of legal experts and Democrats in Congress, who have asked government agencies to investigate whether the administration has misused funds and engaged in covert propaganda in its efforts to damage and overturn the seven-year-old health care law. It’s also roiled Obama administration veterans, who argue that the current White House is not only abdicating its responsibilities to administer the law but sabotaging it in an effort to facilitate its undoing by Congress

Trump warns Mueller not to do his job

NY Daily News - President Trump cautioned the Justice Department’s special counsel from straying too far from his Russia probe.

When asked if Robert Mueller would be crossing a “red line” by investigating Trump’s personal finances, the President adamantly defended his business dealings in a meandering interview with the New York Times.

“I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia,” Trump said Wednesday, then appearing to dare Mueller to try examining his financial filings.

Public moving towards governmment funded healthcare

Christian Science Monitor - Americans aren't enthralled with "Obamacare" and they definitely don't like the Republican plans offered in Congress, so what does the public want the government to do about health care?

A new poll suggests the country may be shifting toward the political left on the issue, with 62 percent saying it's the federal government's responsibility to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage, while 37 percent say it is not.

The survey findings from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicate a change in public attitudes over the past few months, as concerns mounted about GOP legislation estimated to leave tens of millions without coverage.

Trump using bank lawyer to kill bank regulatons

Intercept -President Trump and Republicans in Congress have broadcast their every intention to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The president’s budget attempted to defund it and leading Republicans have called for its director to be fired and replaced with a more Wall Street-compliant regulator.

But much like the bulk of Trump’s agenda, that assault remains in the aspirational phase, and the agency continues to do its work. Earlier this month, the CFPB released a major new rule, flat-out barring financial institutions from using forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts to stop class-action lawsuits.

Now, Trump has sent out his lead attack dog to overturn the arbitration rule – a former bank lawyer who has used the very tactic CFPB wants to prevent.

MORE

July 19, 2017

Help the editor: Need best public relations and/or psycholgical approaches to someone like Trump

Have seen lots of stories about how good Trump is at PR and what a nut he is, but can't find any good stories on how to deal with these problems. Send good links to here

Republicans still want healthcare action that would kill more Americans than the Vietnam War

Update here

Healthcare vs. Vietnam stats

Inside Trump's assault on fair voting

Trump names casino consultant to Russian government corporation to State Department

Daily Beast - When Jonathan Galaviz left his job at a casino consulting firm to go work for the Trump State Department, he didn’t have any concerns about job security. The firm—which consults for at least two Russian state entities, according to its website—proudly announced that Galaviz would be back after his stint at State. Galaviz himself consulted for a Russian government corporation on casino gambling. Until Tuesday afternoon, the company’s website listed Galaviz as its chief strategist.

Trump Tower gets $130,000 a month in rent from US military

Independent, Uk - The US military has a lease with Trump Tower in New York City to rent a space for $130,000 a month, where Donald Trump has a residence but has yet to spend a single night since becoming President. Lease documents were obtained by the Wall Street Journal that showed an 18-month lease at $2.39 million for a 3,475 square foot space from 11 April 2017 to 30 September 2018, making it one of the most expensive rental properties in Manhattan.

Republican state of New Hampshire decriminalizes marijuana

The Hill - New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed a new law decriminalizing marijuana, making the Granite State the 22nd in the nation to eliminate the possibility of jail time for those convicted of simple possession.

The measure passed the Republican-led legislature with huge majorities in May and June. When it takes effect in about two months, the new law will reduce fines for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana from $2,000 to just $100 for a first or second offense.

Poll: Hillary Clinton less popular than Trump

According to the latest Bloomberg National Poll, Trump has a net favorability of 41% whereas Clinton has a net favorability of 39%. If Democrats are to escape the political wilderness, they will have to leave Clinton and her brand of politics in the woods.

July 18, 2017

High school students with A average grows, but SAT scores stay the same

USA Today - Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen. In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.

Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A's on report cards might be fool's gold.

Sessions plans to increase the amount of goods police steals from unproven criminals

Independent, UK - Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he will be issuing a new directive this week aimed at increasing police seizures of cash and property.

Asset forfeiture is a highly controversial practice that allows law enforcement officials to permanently take money and goods from individuals suspected of crime. There is little disagreement among lawmakers, authorities, and criminal justice reformers that “no criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.” But in many cases, neither a criminal conviction nor even a criminal charge is necessary — under forfeiture laws in most states and at the federal level, mere suspicion of wrongdoing is enough to allow police to seize items permanently.

Additionally, many states allow law enforcement officers to keep cash that they seize, creating what critics characterise as a profit motive. The practice is widespread: in 2014, federal law enforcement officers took more property from citizens than burglars did. State and local authorities seized untold millions more.

Since 2007, the DEA alone has taken over $3 billion in cash from people not charged with any crime, according to the Justice Department's Inspector General.

Voice of Kermit the Frog fired after 27 years

Trump's LA golf course losing business

Democrats lead Trump in polls

The Hill - President Trump trails former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and three Democratic senators in a new poll from a Democratic firm testing possible 2020 matchups.

The survey of registered voters, conducted by Public Policy Polling, found Trump trailing by wide margins against Sanders — 52 percent to 39 percent — and Biden — 54 percent to 39 percent.

The poll also found Trump losing in hypothetical matchups against Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), although by smaller margins.

Trump trails Warren by 7 points, 42 percent to 49 percent; Booker by 5 points, 40 percent to 45 percent; and Harris by 1 point, 40 percent to 41 percent.

Trump's proposed mass health manslaughter more deadly to Americans than Vietnam war

This is something we published back in May, but is on point again with Trump calling for repeal of Obamacare.  To put these estimates in perspective, depending on which one you use, repeal of Obamacare could result annually in 41% to 75% of the total number of American troops killed in the Vietnam War, most of which occurred over a nine year period. 

The most Americans, 16,899,  were killed in Vietnam in 1968. By comparison, repeal of Obama care would kill between 1.4 and 2.6 times as many every year.

 Calling the GOP repeal of Obamacare an act of mass manslaughter is hardly an exaggeration. For example, one definition of the crime includes;

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when one person, while committing an unlawful or reckless act, unintentionally kills another.
There's no question but that the GOP Don't Care Bill is a reckless act and there is no question that, should it be passed in both houses, it would kill thousands of people. Whether this is intentional o the Republicans' part is an arguable point, but manslaughter is a reckless consequence rather than a purposeful act.

Passing such a bill now  is dramatically different than if there wasn't any Obamacare. It has the same effect, say, of quietly removing the brakes on thousands of people's cars. And there is a strong argument that it is a criminal act.

How many people will be killed as a result is debatable, but here are some of the estimates:





DC allows death with dignity prescriptions

WTOP - Doctors and pharmacies in the nation’s capital are now allowed to prescribe life-ending medications to terminally ill patients.

The Death with Dignity Act of 2016 became law with the signature of Mayor Muriel Bowser in December of 2016. Now the Bowser administration has announced the implementation of the law in the District.

The city said the law allows terminally ill D.C. residents over the age of 18 to legally obtain a physician’s prescription for medications to end their lives in a humane and peaceful manner.

For a person to elect to end his life legally in the District, the individual must work with doctors and pharmacies licensed in D.C. that are willing to prescribe and dispense the lethal medications.

For doctors and pharmacies, participating in the Death with Dignity program is voluntary.

The city requires patients to make two oral requests to end their life to a doctor, with 15 days between each request. A written request on a city form must be given before the second oral request.

Tales from the attic: A mountain disaster too close to forget

A friend has sent me a long, recent story from the Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News site, Philly.com  about one of Canada's worst mountain disasters that occurred 62 years ago. The reason he sent it to me was because one of the seven boys killed went to my school and was a member of Boy Scout Troop 188, where my  friend's father was scoutmaster, and where one of those partly responsible for the disaster, Donald Dickerson, was an assistant scoutmaster. I was a member of Troop 188 and wrote later about the troop and the incident:

In the 1950s I joined Boy Scout Troop 188, specifically the Rattler Patrol. I initially regarded the Scouts as training for a life of adventure, but I was soon disabused of this notion by a more knowledgeable member who pointed out that with my interest in writing and his political clout, I could easily become troop scribe, thus achieving instant status without the tedium of earning merit badges. It was, he correctly pointed out, the troop council, and not the goody-goodies with all their badges, who actually ran the place.

I readily joined his political machine and never rose above second class. I was more than content to be a member of something and, for a few hours a week, to hang out with other boys engaged in normal boylike activities. My most notable outdoor achievement was to lead a three-hour hike that mystically and unintentionally brought us right back to where we started without ever having viewed our assigned destination. I also learned that the outdoors was more uninviting than I had envisioned -- the ground was hard, the food marginal, and even a spring night could be cold.

This view would be strengthened shortly after I graduated from Germantown Friends School, when our ex-Marine assistant scoutmaster helped lead a group of boys, aged 13 to 16, to Canada’s Banff National Park in order to climb the 11,656 foot Mt. Temple. The hikers were ill-trained and ill-equipped (some made the climb in sneakers) and the mountain was one of the toughest in the region. Only a year earlier, four Mexican climbers had died in an avalanche four and half miles from where my scout leader and his squad were hiking.

The group made it to within 2000 feet of the summit before deciding to turn back. Then, according to an AP story:
"As they started down, a mass of snow and rock roared upon them, tossing them 300 feet down the slope. One died instantly, rescuers said. Three others succumbed to multiple injuries and exposure to the bitter weather last night before search parties could reach them."
Seven students died, two others, along with the two leaders, were injured. Our assistant scoutmaster, Don Dickerston, responded to press criticism saying, "How do you equip for an avalanche?"

[According to the Philly.com story, Dickerson's wife "learned about his role in the tragedy only after he died and she discovered old news clips hidden in a box in the basement. Dickerson died of emphysema in 1974 at age 48. In retrospect, she believed, 'it was a tragedy that brought an early death to my husband. He felt guilty.;"]

Listverse, which included it in a collection of 10 tragic mountain accidents reported:
On July 11, 1955, in one of Canada's most tragic mountaineering accidents, seven American male teenagers were killed on the southwest ridge route....They were clad in only light clothing and there was only one ice axe in the group. Some wore baseball cleats for better friction, and they were tied together on a manila rope.

At 4:00 p.m. they reached 2,750m and gathered to assess the situation, as the warm summer day had caused several nearby avalanches. After talking it over, the boys decided to start back down. A few minutes later a large avalanche thundered down towards the group. One of the boys dug in his ice axe and the rope went taut before it broke. Ten boys, ages 12 to 16 were swept 200 m down the snowfield and through a bottleneck, smashing into the rocks along the way. Before the day was over, seven of them would be dead in one of the worst avalanche accident in Parks Canada history.

July 17, 2017

Trump health klll in big trouble

CNN - Hours after the Senate was gaveled back into session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was handed devastating news Monday evening: Two more defections on his health care bill that could doom the entire effort for the foreseeable future.

The dramatic simultaneous announcement from Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah means McConnell officially does not have the votes to even begin debate on his legislation to overhaul Obamacare.

In announcing their opposition to the bill, Moran and Lee said they would vote "no" on the motion to proceed -- a vote that McConnell had hoped to hold this week but was already forced to postpone due to Arizona Sen. John McCain's absence from Washington.

EPA chief laughs about killing agency

Mother Jones - Even though Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to “get rid of” the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,” it’s rare for his EPA administrator to go around and admit that’s just what they’re doing.

Usually, EPA chief Scott Pruitt sticks to a familiar set of talking points during his interviews, insisting he is refocusing the agency’s core mission defined by Congress to protect air and water. Yet he confirmed environmentalists’ worst suspicions on a conservative Birmingham-based radio program on July 6, when he responded to praise from co-host Andrea Lindenburg. “I like what Donald Trump has done here as president,” she said. “He took a guy who wanted to get rid of the EPA—dismantle it—and put him in charge of it.”

Pruitt replied with a chuckle: “Ha. That’s right.” The former Oklahoma Attorney General launched 14 lawsuits against the Obama administration’s EPA before his appointment.

Pruitt [said] that the EPA has taken “over 22 significant regulatory actions” in his first four months, referring to the EPA’s dozens of delays and reversals of Obama-era water, air, and climate regulations. The Trump administration plans to reduce the agency’s workforce by more than 3,000, to its lowest level in recent history, through budget cuts, early retirements, and buyouts.

Federal judge rules filming farms is protected right

Truth Out - In a major victory for animals and supporters of free speech, a federal judge has ruled that Utah's law making it illegal to film what happens at farms and slaughterhouses is unconstitutional.

These laws -- which have become known as ag gag laws -- are blatant attempts to hide what's happening on farms and criminalize anyone who attempts to bring the truth to light. They started popping up in the early 1990s, when North Dakota, Kansas and Montana all passed legislation that make it illegal to enter facilities that are closed to the public, or to take photographs, or audio and video recordings.Since then, attempts to pass similar laws have been tried and defeated in a number of states, but a few have unfortunately succeeded in passing various versions of them.

McCain's recovery may take longer than he indicated

Daily Beast - Concerns have arisen over Sen. John McCain’s health after the lawmaker underwent a craniotomy this weekend, with medical experts saying the recovery time for his surgery may delay his return to Washington by a few weeks. While the Senate awaits his return to consider a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, neurosurgeons interviewed by The New York Times said the recovery time for such a procedure is usually several weeks—not one week, as a statement from McCain’s office implies. “Usually, a blood clot in this area would be a very concerning issue,” Dr. Nrupen Baxi, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told the Times. Other surgeons interviewed said the recovery time may depend on the cause of the clot, which could have been a stroke, a blow to the head, or brain changes tied to aging. McCain’s office has not provided details on what caused the blood clot but said the senator is in “good spirits” after undergoing a “minimally invasive” craniotomy.

New report slams solitary confinement for mentally ill

Naked Capitalism - The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a shocking report last week, detailing the continued use of solitary confinement to house mentally-ill inmates– despite a 2014 policy change that was touted as getting such prisoners access to appropriate mental health care.

Prisoners are being held in solitary confinement for too long– in contravention of the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) own guidelines– denied medical treatment, and in some prisons, held in confinement cells of 58.5 square feet (well below the American Correctional Association’s minimum recommendation of 80 square feet), according to a Jurist report,

Michael Pence, the vice liar in chief

Salon - Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence delivered one of the most obvious lies about the embattled, possibly doomed [healthcare] legislation. Speaking to the National Governors Association, Pence said, “When it comes to Medicaid, not only does the health care bill expand state flexibility, it ensures that every state in America has the resources you need to take care of your most vulnerable.”

He also tweeted the following message — twice: “Let me be clear: The Senate health-care bill strengthens and secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society.” And he added, “We’re saving Medicaid for the sake of our most vulnerable and providing all Americans with access to high-quality, affordable health insurance.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” program and said, “We’re going to be able to cover more individuals on this bill than are currently covered.”

None of that is true. None of it. The Congressional Budget Office will hand down its verdict on the latest version of the bill sometime on Monday, but it’s not expected to significantly revise the numbers revealed in previous scorings of the Republican health care legislation, either the House or Senate versions. In the June report based on the more moderate Senate version, we learned that 3.3 million Americans — disabled people, children and senior citizens, mostly — would have their Medicaid coverage stripped away due to Trumpcare’s $774 billion cuts to the program, including the phase-out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. That’s 3.3 million people out of a total 22 million people who will have their health insurance stolen from them by President Trump and the GOP. Twenty-four out of the 31 Medicaid-expansion states would roll back coverage to pre-ACA levels.

In other words, and to repeat, Pence lied to America’s governors and, of course, to the American people when he preposterously guaranteed that Trumpcare “strengthens” and “secures” Medicaid. Nor does it save Medicaid, as Pence promised. In reality, it’ll do exactly the opposite. Likewise, Secretary Price lied when he confoundingly promised that Trumpcare will cover more people. Not only will 22 million more people lose their coverage, according to CBO estimates, but Americans on the periphery of the system — those with pre-existing conditions and the like — will be forced onto pointless, dodgy plans with massive deductibles that cover virtually nothing.

As I’ve been saying for months now, this “repeal and replace” strategy is turning out to be nothing more than a repeal. A “replacement,” on the other hand, suggests something comparable or at least vaguely similar. Trumpcare fails on that front, too, and the Republicans aren’t even trying to create a lateral alternative to the ACA, chiefly because modern conservative ideology is incompatible with creating affordable, universal health care. It can’t be done.

So there are a pair of reasons for the GOP’s shockingly transparent lies about this bungled and botched legislation.

First, Republicans understand that the Obama administration didn’t do enough to educate the public on how health care works or the benefits of the ACA. Health care, as Trump once said, is complicated — though almost everyone except the president already knew that. Consequently, for its first several years, few Americans understood the full scope of Obamacare, allowing the GOP to fill the gaps with lies and disinformation — making the ACA all about the Healthcare.gov website and the marketplaces.

Notice how Trump never mentions the historically successful Medicaid expansion, nor does he talk about the consumer protections, such as the elimination of lifetime or annual limits. He also doesn’t talk about the essential health benefits: the array of mostly preventative treatments that must be covered, whether by marketplace plans or employer-based coverage. He doesn’t mention these things because they compose roughly two-thirds of the ACA and they’re, to repeat, hugely popular and thriving.

Second, the Republicans aren’t talking to you, or to any anti-Trump voters of either party. The GOP’s messaging, and especially the White House’s messaging, is aimed squarely at the 35 percent: the cult-like voters who will support Trump until the bitter end. Trump’s base. This is their micro-targeted “moneyball” gambit. Trump and the GOP are betting they can retain their current majorities, as well as the White House, by exclusively marketing to the 35 percenters who will believe literally anything their Scientology-like auditors tell them.

Whether the message is that it’s perfectly normal to conspire with a hostile foreign government while it attacks and invades American sovereignty, or whether it’s that the ACA is “imploding,” the pro-Trump loyalists will believe anything they’re told. We can fact-check all we want and it simply doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter, reality doesn’t matter, and for Trump and his disciples, words have no meaning. As long as the 35 percent, with their “MAGA” hats and “fuck your feelings” T-shirts, are energized, the Republicans can hang onto their seats.

If Trump's tax plan goes through, America would rank 59th in country tax fairness

Guardian -Donald Trump’s tax reform plans would, if enacted, increase the gap between rich and poor Americans and see the US slip below Greece on a new global index of inequality.

According to the Commitment to Reducing Inequality index, developed by researchers at  Oxfam and Development Finance International, the US already distinguishes itself among wealthy countries by doing “very badly” at addressing inequality. Which countries are the most (and least) committed to reducing inequality? But it would fall a further six places from its ranking of 23rd overall if Trump’s tax reform effort is successful, with the US’s specific rating on tax policies plummeting 33 places from 26th to 59th – just below Peru, Chile and Sri Lanka.

July 16, 2017

American notes

Finding new homes for the moral and the decent
Brain drain: the hazards of grad school politics
Normalizing failure
The war that never ended
When wrong becomes the norm
The collapse of the First American Republic
The end of treason
Top Rot
Love of trains
Elite emmigration
American beconing a corporate colony
How to get along with other Americans
What's new with me
Backing off of hate
Coming of age with "On the Road"
Eternal fundamentals of leadership (Rev. 8/14/11)
Football and American empire
Why hip is no longer hip
In technocracy we trust
Freedom as a local option
What's a humanities?
Global dumbing: the politics of entropy
Practicing anthropology without a license
The war of the terrified
Factories of fame
Notes on the end of the First American Republic
Notes from a lousy time
Why everything's so hard today
Quiet storm: blowin' in the wind of cultural decay
On the care and feeding of theories
Learning from Orwell & Mussolini
How minorities change America

TV news climate change coverage lowest since 2009

Think Progress - In 2016, the major networks’ coverage of climate change dropped by two thirds compared to 2015. In fact, climate coverage last year was close to its lowest levels since 2009, according to a new analysis by Media Matters of the evening and Sunday news programs that air on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. This drop is despite historic wildfires, extreme weather events like Hurricane Matthew, and month after month of record-breaking global temperatures.

More including charts

Sessions wants to bring back failed DARE drug program

Federal court rules against governmemnt body allowing only Christian invocations

Huffington Post - A federal appeals court ruled that a government prayer practice in North Carolina was unconstitutional because a local board of commissioners only allowed its elected representatives, all of whom are Christian, to deliver religious invocations.

For years, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners has opened its twice-monthly meetings with a prayer delivered by one of its five members. The prayers are “invariably and unmistakably Christian in content,” according to the ruling, and a review of recorded meetings showed that 97 percent of the invocations mentioned “Jesus,” “Christ” or the “Savior.” Prayers also occasionally implied Christianity was superior to other faiths, or proselytized by asking attendees to accept the Christian faith.

July 15, 2017

Trump hires lawyer with background in corruption cases

NPR - President Trump has hired a former federal prosecutor to assist in how the White House handles its response to the expanding Russia probes.

Ty Cobb, whose legal expertise lies in white-collar crime and congressional investigations, will be "in charge of overseeing the White House legal and media response" to the investigations, according to Bloomberg News.

A bio on the website of Cobb's former firm, Hogan Lovells, says that "Clients managing crises, allegations of corruption, and other critical matters turn to Ty to guide them."

New York City's Russian mafia and Donald Trump

Fortune, May 17  - Donald Trump said in a recent interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, "I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant — which I owned for quite a while — I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia."

The reality, however, is that Trump couldn’t be more wrong. The President has deep Russian connections that far exceed what he admitted to Holt.

In a 2007 deposition that Trump gave as part of his unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against reporter Timothy O’Brien, he describes efforts to launch real estate ventures in Russia through Bayrock Associates, a shady Russian-connected outfit. Bayrock had partnered with Trump on at least four major but failed American projects: the Fort Lauderdale Trump Tower, the Trump Ocean Club in Fort Lauderdale, the SoHo condominium-hotel in New York, and a resort in Phoenix.

Bayrock had its office on the 24th floor of Trump Tower, and its 2007 glossy brochure featured a photo of Trump and Tevfik Arif, a principal Bayrock partner, who served for 17 years in the Soviet government before emigrating to the United States. It called the Trump Organization a “strategic partner,” and listed Trump as their primary reference.

Felix Sater, a Russian-born managing director at Bayrock, was convicted of assault in 1991. Then, in 1998, federal prosecutors convicted Sater of fraud, for running a $40 million penny stock fraud in collaboration with the New York and Russian Mafia. In return for a guilty plea, Sater reportedly agreed to work as a government informant.

New Republic -In “Trump’s Russian Laundromat,” veteran journalist Craig Unger details how the Russian mafia has used the president’s properties—including Trump Tower and the Trump Taj Majal—as a way to launder money and hide assets. “Whether Trump knew it or not,” writes Unger, “Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base of operations for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.”

Based entirely on the extensive public record, the piece offers the most comprehensive overview of the deep debt that the president owes the Russian mafia. “The extent of Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia—and the degree to which he relied on them for his entire business model—is striking,” says Eric Bates, editor of the New Republic. “After reading this story, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the president continues to exhibit a deep loyalty to the world of shady Russian operatives who have invested vast sums in his properties.”

USA Today, March 28 -  To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.

The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

Among them:

• A member of the firm that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York is a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia.

• An investor in the SoHo project was accused by Belgian authorities in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme.

• Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan were accused in federal indictments of belonging to a Russian-American organized crime group and working for a major international crime boss based in Russia.

• A former mayor from Kazakhstan was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2014 of hiding millions of dollars looted from his city, some of which was spent on three Trump SoHo units.

• A Ukrainian owner of two Trump condos in Florida was indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving a former prime minister of Ukraine.

Trump's Russian connections are of heightened interest because of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian operatives to interfere in last fall's election. What’s more, Trump and his companies have had business dealings with Russians that go back decades, raising questions about whether his policies would be influenced by business considerations.

The new GOP health bill

Ballotpedia - The Senate released a revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The bill included the following changes:
  • Any individual may purchase a catastrophic health plan (under the ACA, this was restricted to individuals under 30 or those who meet a hardship exemption).
  • Tax credits could be used to purchase catastrophic plans.
  • An additional $70 billion between 2019 and 2026 would be provided to states for individual market stabilization.
  • The ACA's 0.9 percent payroll tax for Medicare would be retained.
  • The ACA's 3.8 percent tax on investment income would be retained.
  • Withdrawals from health savings accounts could be used to pay health insurance premiums.
  • A total of $45 billion would be provided to address the opioid epidemic.
  • Individual health plans in effect after January 1, 2019, would be required to enforce a six-month waiting period on coverage for individuals who could not prove that they'd had continuous health insurance for the previous 12 months.
  • Health insurers could offer plans off the exchanges that do not comply with ACA standards if they also offer one gold-level and one silver-level ACA compliant plan on the exchanges.
  • A fund would be established that reimburses health insurers for the cost of covering high-risk individuals.
According to The New York Times, Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) remained opposed to moving the bill to the floor for debate. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) said it was unclear to him if the bill was an improvement, and Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) expressed concern over the Medicaid provisions, which were largely unchanged in the revised bill. An analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office is expected early next week.

DC government censors our news

Here an email we got from the DC government:
Your recent message for xxx.xxx titled UNDERNEWS JULY 14 contains unacceptable words or phrases. Please contact OCTO Citywide Messaging for assistance or re-word your message.
The word: "bitch." The source: Trump's lawyer

Bike lanes increase Brooklyn home values

Planetizen - New bike lanes in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick started raising property values within a year."Sale prices for buildings on streets with freshly painted bike lanes jumped 16 percent in a matter of months, compared with prices throughout the entire neighborhood that dipped slightly during the same time," reports Gwynne Hogan. Those figures come from a study completed by Adrew Lax, an independent real estate analyst.

"Purchase prices for homes and commercial buildings along Cornelia Street, Hancock Street, Knickerbocker, Jefferson and Irving avenues, which all got bike lanes in 2016, increased from an average of $348 per square foot in the second half of last year to $402 in sales through June this year," adds Hogan to explain the findings.

US healthcare ranks bottom of developed countries

Time- The U.S. health care system has been subject to heated debate over the past decade, but one thing that has remained consistent is the level of performance, which has been ranked as the worst among industrialized nations for the fifth time, according to the 2014 Commonwealth Fund survey 2014. The U.K. ranked best with Switzerland following a close second.

Although the U.S. has the most expensive health care system in the world, the nation ranks lowest in terms of “efficiency, equity and outcomes,” according to the report. One of the most piercing revelations is that the high rate of expenditure for insurance is not commensurate to the satisfaction of patients or quality of service.

A striking take-home from the report was a need for equity throughout the nation. “Disparities in access to services signal the need to expand insurance to cover the uninsured and to ensure that all Americans have an accessible medical home,” it said. A lack of universal health care was noted as the key difference between the U.S. and the other industrial nations.

Trump quietly hires 71 to deregulate government oversight

The Outline - According to a joint report from The New York Times and ProPublica, Trump has quietly appointed 71 individuals to “deregulation teams,” 28 of which are conflicted in some significant way.

From the Times article:
The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

Drivers spend 17 hours a year looking for parking spaces

USA Today - Motorists spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for spots on streets, in lots, or in garages, according to a report ... by INRIX, a leading specialist in connected car services and transportation analytics.

Overpaying — caused by drivers' inability to estimate how long they need to park or forking over extra at a garage to avoid the risk of getting a parking ticket — costs Americans more than $20 billion a year or $97 per driver, the report estimated.

July 14, 2017

Best and worst places

BEST PLACES
Best based on ratings, incidents & practices in past year

STATES
Minnesota
Maine
Massachusetts
California
Colorado
Hawai
Vermont
Iowa
Washington
 
CITIES
Seattle
San Francisco
Minneapolis
Washington DC
Portland OR
Boston
Honolulu
Austin
 
WORST PLACES
Worst based on ratings, incidents & practices in past year

STATES
Arkansas
Oklahoma
Mississippi
Louisiana
Alabama
West Virginia
Kentucky
South Carolina
Texas
Georgia
 
CITIES
Miami
Detrout
New Orleans
Memphis
Cleveland

Donald Trump to Emmanuel Macron's wife Brigitte: 'You know, you're in such great shape... beautiful'

Trump lawyer's email: "Watch your back, bitch."

The Hill - President Trump's attorney on Russian matters, Marc Kasowitz, used a series of profanities in several emails published by ProPublica on Thursday in response to someone who had urged him to resign and quit defending the president.  "Watch your back , bitch," Kasowitz concluded in one of the bizarre emails. The person who emailed Kasowitz also sent him a previously published article by ProPublica that alleged Kasowitz abuses alcohol at work and has contributed to a hostile work environment.

Federal judge weakens Trump' anti-Muslim travel ban

Salon - A U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii weakened President Donald Trump’s travel ban on Thursday, expanding the category of people exempt from the ban to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws. U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson ... knocked the administration’s definition of a close familial relationship.

“Government’s definition represents the antithesis of common sense,” the order read. “Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents. Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”

NYC privatizing some public housing

IVN -New York City Housing Authority is in crisis. It needs $17 billion to update public housing that has fallen into disrepair.

New York City is home of the US’s largest public housing population, with 650,000 residents. Federal funding for NYCHA, and low-income housing across the country, has sharply declined in the past two decades.

To make up funding needs, NYCHA has turned to leasing government housing to private developers. Many NYCHA residents are worried that their beloved communities will be destroyed by privatization, and that private developers will ultimately push low-income residents out of their own communities, leaving them among the growing homeless.

Major court decision: It's okay to laugh at Jeff Sessions

Huffington Post  A D.C. judge has tossed out a jury’s conviction of a protester who laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing, finding on Friday that the government had made improper arguments during the trial.  Desiree Fairooz, 61, who was associated with the group Code Pink, had been convicted of disorderly and disruptive conduct and demonstrating inside the Capitol. But Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia tossed out the guilty verdict because the government had argued that the laugh in and of itself was enough to warrant a guilty verdict.

How Americans sleep

July 13, 2017

An American agenda


If today was yesterday


State Department spends over $15k for rooms at Trump hotel

Daily Beast - The State Department paid more than $15,000 for 19 rooms at the new Trump hotel in Vancouver in February, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. This is the first evidence of the State Department funding expenses at a Trump-brand property since President Trump took office.

Pence spokesman won't say if his boss met with Russians

July 12, 2017

Stupid Afghan war plan #136

NY Times - President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

Healthcare debate problem

74% of public has favorable view of Medicaid, but only 38% know #Trumpcare has major cuts to Medicaid.

How many could lose health insurance in your state thanks to the Republicans

Qatar businessman denied Kuchner half billion dollar investment

intercept - Not long before a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.

Kushner is a senior adviser to President Trump, and also his son-in-law, and also the scion of a New York real estate empire that faces an extreme risk from an investment made by Kushner in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, where the family is now severely underwater.

Qatar is facing an ongoing blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and joined by Egypt and Bahrain, which President Trump has taken credit for sparking. Kushner, meanwhile, has reportedly played a key behind-the-scenes role in hardening the U.S. posture toward the embattled nation.

That hard line comes in the wake of the previously unreported half-billion-dollar deal that was never consummated. Throughout 2015 and 2016, Jared Kushner and his father, Charles, negotiated directly with a major investor in Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ for short, in an effort to refinance the property on Fifth Avenue, the sources said.

Connecticut joins fair forfeiture states

Forbes - Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed HB 7146 on Monday, which curbs the state’s civil forfeiture laws. Not only did the bill earn endorsements from the Yankee Institute for the Public Policy and the state chapter of the ACLU, HB 7146 even passed both the House and the Senate without a single no vote.

Under the new law, in order to permanently confiscate property with civil forfeiture, the property must be first seized in connection to either a lawful arrest or a lawful search that results in an arrest. If prosecutors do not secure a guilty verdict, a plea bargain or a dismissal from finishing a pretrial diversion program, the government must return the property to its rightful owner. With the stroke of a pen, Connecticut now becomes the 14th state to require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases.

Department of Hmm...

Talking Points Memo Philip Bump at the Post just flagged this Trump speech from June 7th, four days after Rob Goldstone’s first contact with Don Jr and two days before the meeting at Trump Tower on June 9th. Trump promises big news about Hillary Clinton’s crimes in a speech on “probably” June 13th.”

Trump's tax plan to cost middle class dollars

Washington Post - The White House has promised the biggest tax cut in the history of the country, and the promise of tax relief was a crucial aspect of Trump's pitch to voters as a candidate. Many Americans are probably expecting that Trump will bring down their taxes.

In fact, while Trump has not yet laid out a detailed plan, the proposals that administration officials have put forward so far would result in an increase in taxes for nearly one in five American households, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center .

And among those in the middle class, almost a quarter would see their taxes go up, according to the TPC analysis. For households with annual incomes between $49,000 and $86,000, those facing a hike would see an average annual increase of $1,000.

Among the other three-quarters of taxpayers in that range who would enjoy a tax cut, the average annual decrease of their household tax bill would be about $1,320, according to the TPC.

Trump was a fraud on 'Apprentice,' too

Washington Post - Donald Trump’s starring role on the reality television show “The Apprentice” transformed the mogul’s image in the public eye, establishing him as a frank, tell-it-like-it-is businessman capable of making tough decisions.

Each episode’s most dramatic moment ended in the corporate boardroom, with Trump decisively eliminating a contestant by delivering his famous catchphrase, “You’re fired.”

According to one former competitor on the “Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump didn’t actually decide when to fire a contestant.

“He didn’t make those decisions, he didn’t fire those people,” said Clay Aiken, 38, who competed on the show in 2012 and was also a contestant on “American Idol.”

The show’s producers from NBC made those calls, giving Trump instructions through a teleprompter on his desk that looked like a phone, Aiken said in an interview on Domecast, a podcast from the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., his hometown.

It isn’t the first time the veracity of “The Apprentice” has been questioned. As The Post has reported, Trump frequently offered to give away thousands of his own dollars, often to console a fired or upset celebrity. The Post examined all of the “personal” gifts that Trump promised during 83 episodes and seven seasons, and could not confirm a single case in which Trump actually sent a gift out of his own pocket.

The importance of problem solving courts

Greg Berman, Director, Center for Cout Innovation The number of New York City residents behind bars declined by 31,120 between 1996 and 2014, even as the city’s population increased by one million and crime rates continued to fall.

New York’s problem-solving courts played an important role in this remarkable success. New York’s drug courts demonstrated to policymakers that treatment instead of incarceration wasn't just notionally the right thing to do -- it actually makes a difference in the lives of defendants. That’s why the New York court system has made such a large institutional investment in these programs under the stewardship of the last three state chief judges.

Many researchers are coming to the conclusion that the active ingredient in problem-solving courts, the element that makes them work better than conventional courts, is procedural justice.

Procedural justice is an idea, developed by Yale Law School professor Tom Tyler, that suggests that how defendants are treated is just as important, if not more, than the outcome of their cases. By treating defendants with dignity and respect – and communicating with them in plain language – courts can not only improve public perceptions of justice, they can promote voluntary compliance with the law.

This idea was tested most recently in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where my agency helped to develop the Red Hook Community Justice Center in partnership with the court system, the DA’s Office, and local defense attorneys. In Red Hook, we have altered the atmospherics of the criminal justice system in some fundamental ways: eliminating the bars in holding cells, shrinking the height of the judge’s bench so that he can look most defendants in the eyes, and improving signage so that court users understand how to navigate the building. The Red Hook judge, Alex Calabrese, also takes pains to ensure that defendants understand their obligations to the court and praises participants when they succeed in alternative programs.

Researchers from the National Center for State Courts conducted an independent evaluation of the Red Hook justice center, tracking participants in the program over the course of three years. It found that Red Hook reduced recidivism among both juvenile and adult defendants. It also found that Red Hook had improved perceptions of justice – defendants preferred Red Hook to the regular criminal court. This quote from a defendant was typical:
I went to Brooklyn Criminal Court before Red Hook, horrible place, horrible. They should do a tour there, just so people could see. I wouldn't wish that place on my enemy. Red Hook is 100 times better...[The Red Hook judge] allows you to speak...he likes to interact and get your opinion. I don't get the feeling that he's one of those judges that looks down on people. To me, he's fair, I'll put it that way. The court officers treat you like a person too, not like that other court over there. I learned that there's two different types of ways that courts treat people. You have these obnoxious goons and then you have those that look at you like, ‘OK, you made a mistake.’

Pentagon may end successful program for immigrants

American Immigration Council - The Pentagon is considering halting a program that allows immigrants with urgently needed skills to serve in the military, putting the thousands of soldiers promised expedited citizenship in exchange for their service at risk for deportation.

According to an undated Defense Department memo, the Pentagon may terminate the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, an initiative that has allowed non-citizens with specialized linguistic and medical skills to enlist in the military and receive fast-tracked citizenship. Since the program’s launch in 2009, these immigrant troops have filled in the gaps for jobs deemed critical to the military’s operation, but are in short supply in American-born troops.

The memo, however, cites the “potential threat” posed by these immigrant troops, referencing their “higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services.” Officials have now assigned threat level tiers to the 10,000 troops in the MAVNI program—the majority of whom serve in the Army—despite the rigorous vetting they endured to enter the military in the first place.

States with the most residents born there

78% Louisiana
76% Michigan
75% Ohio
73% Pennsylvania
71% Wisconsin

GOP healthkill bill would slash Medicaid by over $2 trillion in second decade

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities - The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate Republican health bill’s Medicaid cuts would deepen significantly in the second decade, with the cuts growing from 26 percent in 2026 to 35 percent in 2036, relative to current law. Now, based on CBO estimates and data, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the Senate bill would cut Medicaid by roughly $2.6 trillion over the second decade (2027-36), on top of Medicaid cuts of $772 billion in the first decade.

Maine is only the sixth most native state



July 11, 2017

Trump story must read

Great Vanity Fair article on early Donald Trump's relationship with sleazy lawyer Roy Cohn, who would eventually be disbarred. Cohn, who was grotesque counsel for the McCarthy hearings, taught Trump some of his bad habits... Like always pretending you won when you lost.

NY Times zaps Trump Jr

NY Times - The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Member of Trump's screw voters commission posted a million Social Security numbers on the web

Contractors claim Trump Hotel owes them $5 million

NPR - Documents obtained by NPR show three Washington-area companies have filed liens against Trump International Hotel totaling more than $5 million.

One company, Joseph J. Magnolia Inc., filed a $2.98 million mechanic's lien in December. According to the filing, the firm worked on the hotel from September 2014 to December 2016 and "completed all plumbing, mechanical and HVAC work, along with site sewer, water, storm and water services."

AES Electrical Inc., based in Laurel, Md., says it's owed $2.075 million for its work on the hotel for the same period of time as Magnolia.

Sterling, Va.,-based A&D Construction filed a lien in November saying it was owed $79,700. The firm's lawyer, Richard Sissman, says A&D is a small, Hispanic-owned company that was subcontracting on the Trump hotel project.

"The nature of the work was ... trim and casework and architectural millwork, wall base, crown molding; this is all fine carpentry," he says.

Trump has faced many liens — and lawsuits — for alleged nonpayment for work in the past.

Steven Schooner, a contracts specialist with the George Washington University law school, says resolving the liens in this case could ultimately involve the federal government because it holds the lease on the building where the Trump hotel is located.

Trump Jr. hires mob lawyer

Alternet - Donald Trump Jr. has hired New York lawyer Alan Futerfas to represent him in ongoing investigations regarding his father Donald Trump and his potential ties to Russia, according to Reuters. Futerfas, a criminal defense lawyer, has had experience in the past representing members of organized crime mobs, particularly the Gambino, Genovese, and Colombo families.

Trump threatens to spend $10 milion of his own money to defeat senator

Independent, UK - Insiders told Politico that Mr Trump has spoken openly of spending $10m out of his own pocket to defeat Arizona Senator Jeff Flake in the 2018 midterms.

The Senator was critical of Mr Trump throughout his campaign, especially following the release of “Access Hollywood” footage that showed the then-candidate bragging about sexual assault.

Mr Flake has also criticized Mr Trump’s actions as president, clashing with the leader on issues such as immigration and international trade. He is also one of the most outspoken critics of the GOP's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, which threatens to leave 22m more people uninsured by 2026.

Reelection has always been uncertain for Mr Flake, who only narrowly won his seat in 2012. He is already facing a challenge from former state Senator Kelli Ward, an ardent Trump supporter, and may attract more. A February poll from Political Marketing International showed Ms Ward leads him in the polls by a margin of seven per percent .

Eight states move to suppress voting

NBC News - Missouri is one of eight states that have passed or are implementing laws with more rigorous voter identification requirements this year.

Fueled by President Donald Trump, who has claimed, without evidence, that voter fraud deprived him of the popular vote in 2016, there's more energy behind election legislation than ever before. Trump has appointed a federal commission to find and combat voter fraud — a problem experts say doesn't exist on a large scale.

With turnout in the United States already low — 55.7 percent of voting-age Americans cast ballots in 2016 — critics say voter ID legislation disproportionately affects minorities, low-income Americans and younger voters. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has estimated that as many as 11 percent of Americans — 21 million of them voting age by 2000 Census data — were without photo IDs, while 4.5 million more have IDs that may not reflect their current names or addresses.

Some studies have found that ID laws depress turnout: One study that controlled for outside effects found that they depressed turnout among both Republicans and Democrats but hurt Democratic and minority turnout the most, while other analysis has noted that turnout can be influenced by everything from the weather to that year's batch of candidates, indicating that the effect of voter ID requirements is hard to measure.

Opponents say the real intention is not to guarantee the integrity of elections but to disenfranchise certain groups, those that often vote Democratic.

Texas and Missouri are requiring affidavits — legal documents that voters without the required ID must first sign to cast ballots. Any falsification is a felony.In Georgia, voter registration forms must exactly match other state data, which means a data error or a misplaced hyphen could derail voters. Iowa has mandated that voter rolls be purged of suspected non-citizens.


"Those things are just tattooed in my lexicon in thinking about what's right and fair for people," she said. "It's immensely taxing to think that we'd go back to revisiting something I thought was fixed — fixed in our souls." New laws, new restrictions

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Missouri, or anywhere else, and yet voter fraud legislation has never been as popular as it is now.

At least 99 bills to restrict access to the polls have been introduced (or have been carried over from previous sessions) in 31 states this year; that's already more than double the number last year, according to data compiled by the Brennan Center. Voter ID — requiring voters to prove who they are with identifying documents — is the most common requirement, but changes to the voter registration process, such as asking people to prove their U.S. citizenship, are a close second.

"The problem is when a law prohibits a certain class of people" from voting because they lack "access or ability" to obtain one of the approved forms of identification, said Myrna PĂ©rez, who leads voting rights efforts for the Brennan Center. "They offer our society very little public benefit, in that they only stop an incredibly rare type of voter fraud."

Six state laws have passed this year, double the number in the previous two years, while two more are being implemented. Six of the eight came after courts stepped in to stop past efforts.

Seattle approves tax on wealthy

Reuters - Seattle's city council unanimously passed a pioneering income tax on the city's highest earners on Monday, a measure that has become a clarion call for Democrats there even though it is likely to face a swift legal challenge over violating state law.

The measure created a 2.25 percent tax rate on individuals earning above $250,000 and married couples jointly earning above $500,000. The tax will add roughly $140 million in new annual revenue and affect fewer than 20,000 residents in the city of more than 660,000, supporters say.

States with the worst and best finances

Washington Examiner - New Jersey and Illinois unsurprisingly are the two states with the worst finances, according to a new ranking published by the Mercatus Center, a libertarian think tank at George Mason University.

Those two blue states led by Republican governors, which have been wracked by fiscal crises in recent days, were joined at the bottom of the rankings this year by a third: Massachusetts.

Kentucky and Maryland round out the top five fiscally mismanaged states.

On the other end of the spectrum, five red states can claim to be the best managed: Florida, the Dakotas, Utah and Wyoming.

Entropy update: Republicans dislike higher education

Salon - For the first time, a majority of Republicans think that colleges and universities have a negative impact on the country. Fifty-eight percent say that colleges “are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country,” according to Pew.

The poll found that positive views of colleges among Republicans under the age of 50 sunk by 21 percentage points from 2015 to 2017. Democrats and independents who lean Democrat, on the other hand, continue to hold a positive attitude toward such institutions, with 72 percent saying they approve of higher education.

Word: Trump talk

Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg News - [Trump] speaks like a rock star plays old hits: The words have long lost their meaning, but the audience sings along.

Sanders most popular senator among his constituents

Washington Examiner - Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is the most popular member of the U.S. Senate, according to a Morning Consult poll released Tuesday that said 75 percent of Vermont voters approve of him.

The former Democratic presidential nominee was followed by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who has a 69 percent approval rating from voters in his home state. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, has a 67 percent approval rating, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., came in fourth at 66 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the least popular senator, according to the poll. Only 41 percent of Kentuckians approve of him while 48 percent do not — no senator had a higher disapproval rating.