Nel's New Day

July 29, 2019

More Fodder for DDT’s Swamp

Determined to surround himself by incompetent sycophants, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) found a candidate for his intelligence chief, in charge of 16 agencies, after getting rid of Dan Coats, a Republican who served in that position for over two years. The new loyalist pick, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), auditioned for director of national intelligence when he slammed special investigator Robert Mueller during last week’s House committee hearings and showed himself to be comfortable with protecting DDT through ignoring Russian interference in U.S. elections. Ratcliffe denied that DDT committed obstruction of justice and criticized Mueller for addressing it in his report. GOP senators will almost likely confirm the nomination.

Like most of DDT’s other appointments, the partisan Ratcliffe has little background for the position for which he is nominated, in this case a position which should be independent. For Ratcliffe, his ignorance is not a huge problem because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, formerly CIA director, sets the agenda for the intelligence agencies.

The order creating the office after 9/11 requires military or intelligence experience for the director. Ratcliffe lacks both. He was a private practice lawyer until he became Chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security for part of Texas for a few years in the early 2000s. During that time, he was also mayor of a city with a population of 8,000 people. In his third term for the U.S. House, he has been on the Intelligence Committee since January. His website states that he “put terrorists in prison,” no evidence exists that he has prosecuted a terrorism case. In opposition to the FBI investigation into Russian election meddling, Ratcliffe claimed that any interference benefitted Hillary Clinton. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) summed up Ratcliffe’s experience for leading 17 intelligence agencies:

“The sum total of his qualifications appears to be his record of promoting Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the investigation into Russian interference and calling for prosecution of Trump’s political enemies.”

GOP senators seem lukewarm about Ratcliffe’s appointment, and they may face more problems with DDT’s appointment of Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten as the next vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after Army Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser renewed her assertion that he sexually assaulted her in a California hotel room. The episode allegedly came after a number of unwanted touchings in 2017. She reported his behavior, but Hyten denied that it happened. During an inquiry, his wife said that his private-sector lie-detector test “did not go well,” and Hyten refused to take one for the Department of Defense. Yet investigators found “insufficient evidence to support any finding of misconduct.” The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding confirmation hearings for Hyten this week after meeting with him and Spletstoser in closed sessions.

After an appointment as chief of naval operations, Admiral William Moran, confirmed in May by a Senate voice vote, declined the position for an early retirement, perhaps because of emails between him and Cmdr. Chris Servello who retired in disgrace. Servello was investigated for allegedly acting inappropriately toward women during a Pentagon holiday party in 2016. The Navy found that his harassment didn’t constitute “criminal sexual harassment,” but Servello retired. He had been chief spokesman for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson who was found to take little disciplinary action for not censuring Servello earlier when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) began an examination into hundreds of sexual assault and harassment complaints in the armed forces. Richard will stay on as Chief until a replacement is confirmed.

DDT has followed his pattern of appointing people to cabinet positions who oppose the agencies’ missions with his nomination of Eugene Scalia, son of a former Supreme Court justice, to lead the Labor Department after Alex Acosta left during the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. The anti-labor lawyer tirelessly worked for large corporations to circumvent regulations and stop employees organizing efforts. His legal efforts benefitted Ford Motor, MetLife, American Petroleum Institute, Steve Wynn’s casinos, and major telecommunications and retail industry trade associations. Other Scalia successes are defeating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Labor Department, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Federal Communications. Commission.

Thanks to Scalia, Walmart won its case against a Maryland law requiring companies with over 10,000 workers to either spend eight percent of payroll costs on health care of pay into a state Medicaid fund. Another Scalia win was against unions arguing that Boeing violated labor law in threats to open a South Carolina assembly plant if the union didn’t agree to a no-strike contract clause. Scalia also worked to protect Wall Street from the Dodd-Frank Act. DDT’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, wanted a far more aggressive anti-labor leader to head up the Labor Department.

Seventeen years ago, George W. Bush appointed Scalia the acting solicitor at the Labor Department in a recess appointment after Democrats opposed Scalia for his opposition to protecting workers from job-related repetitive stress injuries. Scalia was also AG Bill Barr’s special assistant under George H.W. Bush and wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, William Bennett.

Mark Esper, top lobbyist for Raytheon receiving $18.1 billion in unclassified defense contracts last year, easily received confirmation despite his refusal to recuse himself from Raytheon issues. He also declined to commit to not working for a private defense company for four years after he leaves the Pentagon. Only eight senators voted against him, half of them women. A friend and former classmate of Pompeo, he will make a formidable team with the Secretary of State against national defense secretary John Bolton. As Open Secrets shows in this article, DDT seeks out lobbyists for his administration.

The FAA has moved from administration by Boeing to Delta in the Senate’s confirmation of a longtime Delta Air Lines executive Steven Dickson along party lines. He replaces acting secretary Daniel Elwell who had been a lobbyist for Boeing. Democrats opposed Dickson because of the company’s whistleblower retaliation while he was senior vice president of flight operations. Although Dickson said that safety would be a priority for him, Delta pilot Karlene Petitt was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and barred from flying after she spoke out on safety issues, specifically inadequate pilot training and lack of pilot rest. Her whistleblower claim is before an administrative law judge who said that he was “really troubled” by her case. Dickson had failed to mention the case in his questionnaire and downplayed his involvement during the hearings. A medical expert at the Mayo Clinic said that “the evidence … does support an organizational/corporate effort to remove this pilot from the rolls.”

When DDT is not hiring lobbyists and industry officials, he shops for new people at Fox. Monica Crowley, who lost her chance to be on DDT’s National Security Council because of plagiarism, is now the Treasury Department spokesperson as assistant secretary for public affairs. Crowley spread conspiracy theories about President Obama being a secret Muslim on the side of Islam terrorists and being not born in the United States. She follows Morgan Ortagus who recently became the new spokesperson at the State Department who replaced former Fox anchor Heather Nauert. Just before that, former Fox reporter Lea Gabrielle became leader of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center. Cabinet members Ben Carson and Elaine Chao were also on Fox. The “joke” is that people can feed DDT information if they get on Fox—like the video that elicited DDT’s series of racist tweets for the past ten days. More Fox folk for DDT here.

Michelle Moons, White House correspondent for Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, has moved to the office of Domestic Policy Council.

As DDT hires lobbyists and journalists, professionals are moving out of his administration. Former State Department intelligence official Rod Schoonover resigned “in protest” for DDT’s blocking him from presenting evidence and data on the impacts of climate change in Congressional testimony. The excuse in cutting scientific information was that it did not fit with DDT’s official position. Critics of the testimony included National Security Council senior director William Happer who finds carbon dioxide beneficial. Schoonover quit after a decade of federal service at the same time that DDT blocks climate research from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and DDT’s new plan to help polluters, in opposition to EPA assessment that the plan will annually kill 1,400 people.

Lack of support by the UK new prime minister, Boris Johnson, caused Sir Kim Darroch to resign as British ambassador to the U.S. because of Darroch’s uncomplimentary statements about DDT. Even conservative MPs called Johnson’s conduct “contemptible.” Darroch will stay on the job until a new ambassador is appointment which doesn’t look eminent at this time. 

May 28, 2018

Rights’ Relief from Courts – Sometimes

Democracy from people often comes from court decisions. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suspended democratic action by blocking any discussion for President Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court Justice, SCOTUS moved away from people’s rights with Neil Gorsuch’s nomination by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Fortunately, the Supreme Court makes fewer than 100 decisions per year while courts across the nation can rule on constitutional rights in thousands of cases.

Recently, five Supreme Court justices removed rights from workers when five justices determined that employees must settle disputes through individual arbitration behind closed doors rather than through class action in open court. The decision worsens an earlier ruling allowing corporations to avoid class-action lawsuits from consumers. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg read part of her dissent from the bench:

“The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts — including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wage and hours claims only one-by-one. Federal labor law does not countenance such isolation of employees. Trying to arbitrate such claims individually would be too expensive to be worth it, and “the risks of employer retaliation would likely dissuade most workers from seeking redress alone.”

Federal labor law permits employees to work together in improving their conditions and fight low wages, harassment, and discrimination, but the court states that companies can use arbitration clauses, forced on employees if they want the job, to ban joining together in legal actions. Employees must now fight individually against violations of minimum-wage laws, refusal to pay overtime, and requirements to work off the clock. Few private attorneys will take cases for so little money.

The day after this Supreme Court ruling, the National Labor Relations Board delivered an opposing position, that employees have the right to organize, bargain collectively and “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” According to the Board’s interpretation of Section 8, an employment agreement requiring employees to resolve disputes by arbitration or on an individual basis is an unfair labor practice. The question now will be what opinions supersede others.

In a Supreme Court’s decision that states can legally bet on college and professional sports, Justice Samuel Alito said that each state has the right to act on its own if Congress does not regulate sports gambling. Next year, the Supreme Court will hear a case on when federal law trumps state law.

After churches in Morris County (New Jersey) received almost $5 million for repairs, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution forbids using public money for religious purposes. A year ago, the Supreme Court allowed taxpayer monies to be used for repair of a church’s playground in Missouri, but the ruling did not address houses of worship. The case may go to the Supreme Court.

A federal court in California ruled Friday against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in deciding that the agency violated privacy laws by using the Social Security Administration to analyze loan forgiveness for students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. The court ordered debt collection from defrauded students to stop after DeVos stated that only part of federal loans would be forgiven. DeVos is supporting other for-profit colleges. She appointed the dean of DeVry to head a team to investigate these schools, including DeVry. She has also frozen protections for students and reduced loan forgiveness relief for students defrauded by these schools.

Gavin Grimm, a transgender student, fought for years to use the bathroom in high school, and a federal judge ruled the school officials of Gloucester County (VA) violated his constitutional rights for stopping him from using the bathroom matching his gender identity after the 4th Circuit Court sent the case back to the lower court.

Judge Orlando Garcia, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, ruled that the state must comply with the federal National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”) (or “motor voter” law) and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Construction on the final 18 miles of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in St. James (LA), located in an area called Cancer Alley, has been halted after a judge ruled that state regulators violated guidelines in issuing a coastal use permit. Town residents would have no way to evacuate after an explosion or other pipeline failure emergency, a fact not considered in the state’s permit. The company building the pipeline faces a legal challenge for its U.S. Army Corp of Engineers permit through the Atchafalaya Basin, a National Heritage Area and massive river swamp. The 5th Circuit Court began to hear this case the beginning of May, but pipeline builders are already cutting down old growth cypress trees.

DDT cannot block people from his Twitter account, according to a federal judge who wrote:

“The President presents the @realDonaldTrump account as being a presidential account as opposed to a personal account and, more importantly, uses the account to take actions that can be taken only by the President as President.”

DDT can mute people’s accounts so that he doesn’t have to look at their comments.

Another DDT sign came down when a New York State judge ruled that the name “Trump Place” can be removed from a high-rise condo. The bad news is that the condo cannot change its name, and the sign will stay until two-thirds majority of the condo association agrees to remove the signs. DDT’s name has already been removed from three Manhattan buildings and hotels in New York, Toronto, and Panama.

A New York appeals court refused to allow DDT to stay a defamation case by Summer Zervos regarding her claim that DDT sexually assaulted her. At this time, DDT can be deposed in the case, and lawyers can proceed with pretrial discovery, including demands for documents. In addition, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said he’s vetting two more women on their claims that DDT gave them large hush-money payments. Zervos will subpoena documents from the Trump Organization about DDT’s alleged mistreatment of women, recordings from the archives of the president’s former reality show, and surveillance footage from the hotel in which Zervos says she was attacked.

The third federal judge has ruled against DDT over cuts to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program. The judge wrote that ending grants two years early was “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The 73 organizations receiving grants will have to follow DHS’ new requirements to focus on abstinence programs for continued funding while the eight suing organizations will not.

White supremacist Jacob Scott Goodwin has been found guilty of malicious wounding, nine months after he battered a young black man in a Charlottesville (VA) garage before his victim, 20-year-old DeAndre Harris was attacked by other white supremacists who broke his arm and injured his spine. Other attackers are awaiting trial. At the same event, another white supremacist deliberately drove into a crowd, killed Heather Heyer, and injured more than another dozen people. Two days after Goodwin’s guilt was established, white supremacist Alex Michael Ramos was found guilty of “malicious wounding” in the same attack. Both men face 20 years in prison. Two other men face trials for the assault.

Muslim-American Yonas Fikre is suing the government for putting him on its no-fly list to blackmail him into being an FBI informant to provide information about his place of worship, Portland’s largest Sunni mosque. His lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, has asked a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court to continue the suit that had been dismissed after the government removed Fikre’s name from the list stopping him from returning to his home in the U.S. Judges were irritated by the DOJ sudden offer to stop the appeal by promising that Fikre won’t be put back on the list for the same reasons as in 2010. They asked why the DOJ does not think that Fikre deserves declaratory relief after his marriage was destroyed and his business was disrupted. Mayfield has been awarded a $2 million settlement after the FBI wrongly arrested him as a suspect in the 2004 Madrid train bombings and subjected him to the same unconstitutional actions as the government did to Fikre.

Ben Carson, HUD Secretary, is the next cabinet member to be sued. A rule requiring communities to examine and address barriers to racial integration established in 2015 mandated assessment of local segregation patterns, barriers to fair housing, and planning to correct the problems. Carson called desegregation efforts “failed socialist experiments” and suspended the rule. The lawsuit asserts that Carson did not provide for public notice or comment opportunity. Carson said that the process was too burdensome. In addition, the lawsuit claims that HUD violated its duty to guarantee that federal funds promote fair housing—for example, giving millions in HUD grants to white suburbs in Westchester County that refuses affordable housing.

The next branch to be covered is the legislature.

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