Nel's New Day

March 18, 2020

Barr Fixit Guy for Authoritarian DDT

When Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) named Bill Barr the U.S. Attorney General, he found a kindred spirit in authoritarianism. Barr hid information in the Mueller report, appointed someone to investigate the FBI for investigating DDT’s campaign, intervened in Roger J. Stone Jr’s sentencing to lower it, and picked an outside prosecutor to view the case against Michael Flynn. Barr also created a back door for DDT’s private lawyer Rudy Giuliani to deliver him “dirt” on Joe Biden and tried to bury the whistleblower complaint that initiated the impeachment inquiry. DDT was disappointed in former AG Jeff Sessions because, although a lying racist, the AG had a small core of ethical behavior. Sessions’ recusing himself from all things Russian crushed DDT, but he kept Sessions until he found the perfect fixit, his own Ray Cohn, for the former Department of Justice. The situations below are only the tip of the iceberg: with Barr as AG, justice is gone.  

Gabe Ortiz wrote the DOJ “doles out mercy and second chances to the undeserving, the rich, and the powerful, but none for the most vulnerable and for whom a decision quite literally means life or death.” In early March, Barr changed the definition of torture for asylum seekers using it as a basis for staying in the U.S. Because immigration courts are under the rule of DOJ, Barr can override decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals. He has used that right so many times immigration lawyers and judges call it abuse and a check on his judges if decisions don’t match DDT’s immigration agenda of destroying due process. Barr’s decision makes the definition of torture so narrow that every applicant is guaranteed failure. New immigration judges are hired to follow DDT’s anti-immigrant position. Their training is to follow DDT’s enforcement. Dana Leigh Marks, president emeritus of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said, “What’s happening now is that all the norms are breaking. All the wheels are coming off the car.” Barr could decide to use his personal definition of “justice” on far more people than immigrants.

Part of Barr’s job is to protect DDT, and he’s done it by dropping federal charges against two Russian shell companies as defendants in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian troll farm case. Two of the original 16 defendants accused of interfering with the 2016 presidential election are no longer involved in the trial. The case exposes a big part of Russian influence operation in the U.S., using social media to spread disinformation and exploit social divisions. Barr’s excuse to drop charges was that the companies were using the case to access information from prosecutors about the government’s sources and investigation methods.

DDT declared a commitment to “safeguarding the American consumer” days before a study shows that DOJ prosecutions of white-collar criminals fell to an all time low in January. The 359 white-collar criminals prosecuted in January represented a drop of 25 percent from five years ago. At this rate, the number of prosecutions will be half those during the Obama administration. The study was reported in early March when DDT promised to prosecute “bad actors seeking to harm and exploit honest and hardworking people through deception and other nefarious tactics.” Last month, DDT pardoned high-profile white-collar criminals such as “junk bond king” Michael Milken and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Last September, a court filing revealed that Barr is still covering up for the Saudi government part in the 9/11 terror attacks that killed almost 3,000 people. He said that the “state secrets” privilege allows him to block the release of an FBI report about the relationships between some of the 19 hijackers and Saudi government officials. Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi citizens. Eight days after the attack, at least 13 relatives of Osama bin Laden, one of them a #1 on Washington’s “most wanted” list and linked to a terrorist organization, left the U.S. on a chartered flight with bodyguards and associates.  Saudi, the world’s biggest purchaser of U.S. weapons, is central to the wars for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Like many people, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, first nominated by Ronald Reagan, ruled that Barr’s handling of Robert Mueller’s report indicates that the DOJ cannot be trusted to redact the document. In early March, Walton determined that his court will review the redactions to guarantee that the blacked-out portions don’t improperly hide information from the public. He criticized the Barr’s letter supposedly summarizing Mueller’s conclusions before Barr made portions of the report available to Congress. Walton suggested that Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided view of the report that differed from the report itself.

“[A] review of the redacted version of the Mueller Report by the Court results in the Court’s concurrence with Special Counsel Mueller’s assessment that Attorney General Barr distorted the findings in the Mueller Report.”

Walton declared two major representations of the report by Barr. He said Mueller did not establish DDT’s involvement in the 2016 Russian election interference although Mueller found several “links” between the campaign and Russia which he said were not a criminal conspiracy. And second, Barr omitted Mueller’s determination not to make a prosecutorial decision about whether DDT obstructed justice but listed extensive analysis and evidence about DDT’s commission of the crime of obstruction. Mueller had said that Congress or a prosecutor could perhaps try for his conduct.

Walton wrote that because of discrepancies between Barr’s public representation and Mueller’s findings, Barr may have “made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.”

Walton also wrote:

“The Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility. These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility.”

Last October, Walton told U.S. prosecutors to either charge former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe or drop their long-running investigation into whether he lied to investigators about a media disclosure. Walton said that such a long wait undermined the DOJ’s credibility with impression that the DOJ was hounding one of DDT’s enemies. In a February hearing, Walton stated that DDT’s repeated attacks on McCabe raised concerns about the investigation’s motives:

“I just think it’s a banana republic when we go down that road and we have those type of statements being made that are conceivably, even if not, influencing the ultimate decision. I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undue inappropriate pressure being brought to bear….

“I think as a government and as a society we’re going to pay a price at some point for this.”

McCabe wasn’t charged.

In an Atlantic article, journalist/attorney Peter M. Shane claimed that DDT is trying to put federal administrative adjudicators under his personal control. These thousands of federal employees don’t direct courtrooms but preside over trial-like disputes. Shane wrote:

“[They] preside over trial-like disputes, hear evidence and testimony, and make decisions that can deeply shape people’s lives, such as the granting of asylum and veterans benefits. These executive branch employees are administrative adjudicators.”

If DDT succeeds in dictating their rules governing how disputes with agencies are resolved, all of them must follow DDT’s whims, removing the descriptor “independent” from these agencies.

Barr is finally the subject of an ethics complaint to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) because of his allegedly prejudicial “inflammatory and disparaging” comments about the DOJ’s active probe into the FBI investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 election. An earlier ethics complaint cites a pattern of bias by Barr to protect DDT at expense of carrying out DOJ mission to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice.” Barr’s “failure to recuse resulted in” DOJ “mishandling” the whistleblower was the subject of another complaint last week.

DDT has support from another fixit guy—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). After ignoring the 400+ House bills to rapidly push through judges and other confirmations, McConnell is personally asking older judges to retire so that he can put in highly conservative and young unqualified judges, just like the others. He said they would have to retire by early fall, a couple of months before the election, to be replaced. This from the man who blocked President Obama’s nomination for a Supreme Court justice for almost ten months.

December 22, 2018

DDT: Week 100 – Not Very ‘Positive’

Day One of GOP/Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) government shutdown: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) who fought to close down the government said that workers without paychecks is “actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position.” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) said, “Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” He’s talking about 78 percent of fulltime workers.

The House Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), demanded that the FBI vet over 3,400 pages of transcripts of investigation into the DOJ, including former FBI director James Comey, within two days, but the FBI said that the shutdown kept it from meeting that deadline. Materials cannot be released without an evaluation for classified, sensitive, or personally revealing information. Goodlatte, retiring this year, is single-handedly holding up a bill, unanimously passed in the Senate, to hopefully lower the incredibly high rate of violence against Native American women. He complained that states with high percentages of this population would receive grants for this purpose.

Failing to get an agreement on the CR today, the Senate adjourned and took their paychecks home for Christmas, leaving 800,000 government workers, over half of them still working, without pay.

Yesterday, DDT told reporters:

“We have had a very busy two or three days. It’s been very positive.”

Some of these “positive” events:

DDT’s pullout from Syria worsened—if possible—after Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy to the global coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, quit because he disagrees with DDT’s decision and statement about ISIS being defeated.

DDT’s shutdown of the government after conservative media goading and the chaos that he’s causing by pulling troops out of the Middle East with no plan made even stalwart Republican legislators at least raise eyebrows, especially after his Defense Secretary resigned in protest.

A senior Justice Department ethics official concluded that acting DOJ AG Matt Whitaker should recuse himself from overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian scandal, but Whitaker refuses to ask for an official ethics decision. The DOJ has notified Congress of Whitaker’s refusal.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified that she has no idea how many immigrants have died in custody under her watch. In a hearing about the death of a 7-year-old girl while in DHS custody, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said, “There have been at least 12 deaths under your watch,” Jayapal said. Nielsen also lied again that “we do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) told Nielsen that his committee plans to do its job of “meaningful oversight,” beginning in January. Note that Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) tried to save Nielsen by comparing the situation to Robert Mueller separating Paul Manafort from “his two beautiful children”—who happen to be 30 years old.

Nielsen said later that asylum seekers will be kept in Mexico instead of allowed to enter the U.S. This decision may not hold up in court after two judgments the past week. The D.C. appeals court struck down DDT and DOJ policies that refused asylum to victims of domestic and gang violence, and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices to block DDT’s attempts to turn asylum seekers from the border. The ruling supported the decision of U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, who DDT called an “Obama judge,” that DDT’s new rules were illegal.

Latest nominee for DOJ AG William Barr sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and Assistant AG Steven Engel last summer giving arguments against Robert Mueller’s right to investigate DDT for potential obstruction of justice and refuting the government’s ability to even question DDT. Barr also sent the memo to DDT before he was appointed.

In a tweet announcing the signing of the farm bill, DDT provided the clip of himself singing the Green Acres theme song at the 2005 Emmys, a performance not to be missed. When the final bill failed to punish some food stamps recipients who did not have jobs, DDT planned an executive order to eliminate legal waivers that would take food from almost 800,000 people, a decision that may be determined illegal.

Instead of going free for giving up information after lying to the FBI, former national security adviser Michael Flynn has another 90 days to tell more secrets after an irritated judge accused him of selling out his country for pushing Turkish interests in the U.S. during DDT’s campaign and blaming the FBI for his lies because they didn’t tell him it was a crime. Flynn’s business partner Bijan Kian has been charged as an illegal agent of Turkey and conspiracy in his efforts to get a Turkish cleric extradited from the U.S., an 80-year-old man who would certainly killed if he were sent to Turkey after living in the U.S. for almost 20 years. DDT said that he would “take a look” at the man’s extradition, obviously not concerned about killings after his indifference to the torture and dismemberment of longtime U.S. resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi royalty.

A conservative Texas judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, bad news for DDT and Republicans because 53 percent of people have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act. People voted Democrats into the House to keep their health care. Approval in a November KFF Health Tracking Poll:

  • 82 percent – Young adults stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26
  • 82 percent – Health insurance exchanges for small businesses and people to shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits
  • 81 percent – Financial insurance premium help to low- and moderate-income Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs
  • 81 percent – Gradually closure of the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” so people will no longer be required to pay the full cost of their medications
  • 79 percent – No out-of-pocket costs for many preventive services
  • 77 percent – State expansion of existing Medicaid programs to cover more low-income, uninsured adults (now in three-fourths of the states)
  • 65 percent – No denial of coverage because of a person’s medical history

Republicans were in the majority in all of the above.

DDT’s sort-of lawyer Rudy Giuliani contradicted his boss by saying DDT knew that fixer Michael Cohen was negotiating with Russia for a Trump Tower in Moscow long after DDT said it had stopped ten months before his election, perhaps after June 2016, the date that Cohen gave. A letter of intent from DDT to move forward with his negotiations four months into his campaign has also emerged. Giuliani claimed that DDT knew nothing about it, but  DDT signed a letter of intent four months into his campaign for the project.

Documentation proves that DDT also broke his pledge to have no new business deals while he is in the Oval Office by acting as partner in the development of a proposed beachside resort in the Dominican Republic. Taxpayers provide the high costs of business trips for travel and security by DDT’s children in a business that opens up opportunities for more money laundering on the part of the Trump Organization.

DDT’s charitable foundation, called “a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests” by the New York AG, has been closed with any assets distributed under court supervision. The AG office is now pursuing a lawsuit to prevent DDT and his three oldest children from membership on boards of any other New York charities and force the payment of $2.8 million in restitution and penalties.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who made her first appearance since November to declare that the FBI “ambushed” Flynn, also attacked Comey on her official government Twitter account, an ethics issue. After his second six-hour House hearing, Comey, a Republican until 2016, exhorted Republicans:

“At some point someone has to stand up and face the fear of Fox News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets, stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement but stand up and speak the truth.”

Instead of the spending spree called the “Santa rally,” the Dow Jones’ seven-percent fall had its worst week since 2008—the year of George W. Bush’s recession—and dropped to the same number as 15 months ago. The Standard & Poor, down 11.4 percent thus far this month, is headed toward its worst December since 1931. DDT is blaming the Federal Reserve, but long time Republicans are blaming DDT. Crude oil plunged 11 percent during the past week for its worst weekly performance in three months.

DDT tweeted that he was negotiating with Democratic leaders about the shutdown for a bipartisan deal and announced a “large group” for a White House lunch but invited only GOP lawmakers and officials, primarily immigration hardliners. Conservatives keep repeating the wall as DDT’s promise but avoid the other promise that Mexico would fund the project.

This NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was taken before DDT’s “positive” busyness this past week:

  • 71 percent: DDT regularly makes “misleading” statements.
  • 62 percent: DDT has not been honest and truthful about Russia.
  • 60 percent: Lawmakers should make compromises to reach consensus on legislation.
  • 54 percent: Disapprove of the job that DDT is doing; negative feelings about DDT.
  • 50 percent: Mueller’s investigation has provided more doubts about DDT’s presidency.
  • 33 percent: The country is headed in the right direction.

Who should take the lead in country’s policies? Trump – 19 percent; GOP – 21 percent; Democrats – 48 percent.

The funniest news of the week: Funds raised by an online campaign We the People Will Fund the Wall—up to $14 million for 241,601 donors for 2/3 of a mile—will end up in the general fund for “general use” or “budget needs,” according to law. These funds are controlled by congressional appropriations. With this law, funds may be returned because GoFundMe prohibits “not using funds for their stated purpose.” Brian Kolfage, creator of the funding project has a background of sites with conspiracy theories. Another GoFundMe site has been introduced called “Ladders to Get over Trump’s Wall.”

If necessary, the money will be donated to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees.

September 28, 2017

Ask a Computer If You’re Gay

Can a computer determine whether a person is lesbian or gay by appearance? Stanford University researchers decided that they could do this and caused a firestorm in the media. Early in their announcements, the mainstream media accepted their research:

“Advanced computer analysis … found that gay men and women tended to have ‘gender-atypical’ features: fixed features such as the shape of one’s nose or jaw, and transient features such as hairstyle and facial hair…. ‘The results show that the faces of gay men were more feminine and the faces of lesbians were more masculine than those of their respective heterosexual counterparts. Among men, the data-driven measure of facial femininity positively correlated with the probability of being gay.’”

The study reported that gay men had narrower jaws and lesbians had larger jaws. The assumption is from the questionable theory that these characteristics come from levels of hormone exposure, in particular testosterone, in the uterus. The study used only white people, according to the researchers, because the source gave them insufficient numbers of people of color. The computer was programmed to focus on the nose, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, hairline and chin of males and the nose, mouth corners, hair and neckline were more important for women. The abstract also stated that gay men and lesbians have “gender-atypical … expression and grooming styles.”

Researchers Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang wrote:

“We used deep neural networks to extract features from 35,326 facial images. These features were entered into a logistic regression aimed at classifying sexual orientation. Given a single facial image, a classifier could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81% of cases, and in 74% of cases for women. Human judges achieved much lower accuracy: 61% for men and 54% for women. The accuracy of the algorithm increased to 91% and 83%, respectively, given five facial images per person. Facial features employed by the classifier included both fixed (e.g., nose shape) and transient facial features (e.g., grooming style).”

Among their criteria is that “heterosexual men and lesbians tended to wear baseball caps” and that “gay men were less likely to wear a beard.” Lesbians don’t wear eye makeup, but straight women do. And lesbians wear “less revealing clothes,” have darker hair, and smile less than straight women,

Only after all the hype did the media start looking into the research methodology and results:

  • All photographs were taken from an online dating site.
  • The photographs of white people were based on researchers’ pre-conceived assumptions about ethnicity.
  • Only two sexual orientations—straight and lesbian/gay—were assumed for the study. No bisexuals, asexuals, questioning, etc.
  • All the subjects were under the age of 40.
  • Everyone lived in the United States.
  • They were all open about their sexual orientations on a website by identifying the gender—“men” or “women”—of  the subject for relationships. No closeted people.
  • The study addressed a rigid sexual and gender binary, ignoring people with non-binary gender identity or sexual orientation.

A response to an article about the research’s accuracy had valid points:

“My face would look different if I were single. If I were trying to attract a woman, I would go to the gym more, which would slim down my face. I would get haircuts more often. I would trim my beard more often, and shave more often. It’s intuitive to me that this would be common. Some people might put more effort into styling their hair, doing their makeup, treating their acne, wearing contacts instead of glasses, etc. (I’m not saying people who wear glasses are less attractive; I’m saying people who wear glasses might feel they’re less attractive than they would be without glasses.)”

Researchers said that the computer could select gay people with a 91-percent accuracy rate only applies when the computer program knew that one of two images belonged to a gay person. Selecting 1,000 men at random with at least five photographs, the ratio of success dropped to seven in every 100. When given 100 males that researchers through were most likely to be gay, only 47 of them self-identified as gay.

One person evaluating the research said that “it’s a description of beauty standards on dating sites that ignores huge segments of the LGBTQ community, including people of color, transgender people, older individuals, and other LGBTQ people who don’t want to post photos on dating sites.”

After greater scrutiny of the study, the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which had tentatively accepted it for publication, decided to take a “closer look.” An editor addressed the journal’s concerns:

“In the process of preparing the [manuscript] for publication, some concerns have been raised about the ethical status of your project. At issue is the use of facial images in both your research and the paper we accepted for publication. The acceptance was conditional on the ethical clearance of the work to be published. We typically do this by having authors state the [Institutional Review Board] status of their work. However, in this particular case, there turns out to be some idiosyncratic issues that must be cleared before your paper can be set ready for publication.”

The editor continued by stating that the images were copyrighted and that “the owners of the images posted them for different purposes. It may therefore be deemed unlikely that all of them would have granted consent for the use of their images in your research work.”

GLADD stated that technology can only “recognize … a pattern that found a small subset of out white gay and lesbian people on dating sites who look similar.” Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation said that the industry may want to “buy and sell this information with purposes of social control.” She pointed out that judging a person by appearance can increase institutional discrimination. Also frightening is extending the purported use to technology identify other characteristics such as those assumed to belong to Jewish people.

Ashland Johnson, Director of Public Education and Research at the Human Rights Campaign, pointed out how the “dangerously bad” research was “likely to be taken out of context” and possibly “threaten the safety and privacy of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people alike.” He gave as an example “a brutal regime’s efforts to identify and/or persecute people they believed to be gay.”

In Wired, Sophia Chen drew attention to the researchers’ excuse for developing the program: “[Our] findings expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women.” Chen responded:

“They built the bomb so they could alert the public about its dangers.”

Ethicist Jake Metcalf of Data & Society social scientists lack clear ethical deadlines to keep from harming people. He explained that outdated and irrelevant guidelines for social experiment allow researchers to make up the rules themselves. Government-funded scientists must get the approval of an institutional review board that developed its rules 40 years ago for such human interactions as drawing blood or conducting interviews. In this study about identifying lesbians and gays, the researchers assumed they didn’t have to consult a review board because they didn’t interact with anyone; they just took their photos off an online dating site.

Last month, researchers released a free app to guess ethnicity and nationality from names for an 80 percent accuracy. A scientist at the affiliated Stony Brook University, Steven Skiena, said the purpose was to prevent discrimination. Yet no one has any way to control the use of the app. It’s the same problem with a possibly inaccurate method of identifying lesbians and gays.

July 7, 2017

DDT’s Swamp Becomes More Ethics-Challenged

Some people say that they go inside an institution because it’s the best place to fight injustice. Walter Shaub took the opposite direction. The Office of Government Ethics director who fought the ethic-challenged practices of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has now resigned. In his resignation letter to DDT, Shaub wrote that the staff and the community of the Office of Government Ethics is “committed to protecting that principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty in the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” Appointed by George W. Bush, Shaub had only six months left, and it’s unlikely that DDT would ask him to continue in the position.

The resignation, however, gives him the opportunity to immediately being a struggle against the massive conflicts of interest initiated with DDT’s inauguration less than six months ago. Upon his departure, Shaub will become the senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a group that watches politicians, super PACs, and dark money groups giving money to elections. The CLC also tracks voting rights and efforts to suppress voting through ID laws and gerrymandering. Shaub said he would greater freedom to push for stronger ethics. His current office can only advise and recommend without any power to enforce rules. Only Congress and the Department of Justice has any ability to enforce ethics rules.

“At the Campaign Legal Center, I’ll have more freedom to push for reform. I’ll also be broadening my focus to include ethics issues at all levels of government.

“There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation.”

Unconstitutional ethics issues addressed regarding DDT:

  • No “blind trust” for his business because DDT’s sons are running his businesses and telling him about them.
  • Operation of the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. that DDT leases from the government.
  • DDT’s appointments to key federal officers who fail to submit appropriate materials before confirmation hearings and votes.
  • Failure to require DDT family members to comply with conflict of interest laws even if they don’t take salaries.
  • DDT’s family members use of White House contacts to enhance their businesses.
  • Refusal to release ethics waivers for at least 16 former lobbyists and industry insiders who continue to be involved in policy decisions regarding former clients.
  • Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway’s hawking First Daughter (Lady?) Ivanka Trump’s fashion on Fox.

DDT’s holdings include 16 hotels, 17 golf courses, a modeling agency, a production agency, and at least 25 residential real estate properties (a minimum of 17 domestically and eight overseas). He has over 500 companies with dealings in 25 countries. He leases his DC hotel from the federal government and appoints the head of the agency that monitors his lease. And he owes millions in loans, including over $300 million in loans to Deutsche Bank, under investigation by the federal government, and to at least seven other banks for his heavily mortgaged properties, one from the state-owned Bank of China.

As Shaub knows, a 1962 law forbids federal executive branch employees from involvement in government matters in which they or their immediate family members have a financial interest. A 1974 decision from the Justice Department exempted the president and vice-president from that law, and laws in 1978 and 1979 reinforced that position. The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, however, prevents gifts “from any king, prince, or foreign state” to any “person holding a federal office of profit or trust.” The supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the president.

Presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson have voluntarily put the assets in blind trusts managed by an independent entity or liquidated assets. President Obama did not put assets in this kind of trust because the money was in U.S. treasury bonds and other funds without conflict. These practices are not required by law, and DDT has maintained ownership and knowledge of his assets.

Richard Nixon’s Watergate was the reason for the founding of the ethics office. The Office of Government Ethics has a staff of 80 FTE and a $15 million budget. The director is nominated by the president. DDT has made Walter Shaub famous because DDT began his office of president-elect by claiming that a president cannot be guilty of conflict of interest.

Shaub is not alone in his resignation. Last month, Hui Chen left her position as the top lawyer for compliance in the Justice Department. She said that she could not demand that companies behave in an ethical manner if the administration refused to comply. She wrote:

“To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic.”

DDT may decide to leave Shaub’s position empty to follow white supremacist Steve Bannon’s goal, “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Shaub’s letter of resignation was dated July 6, 2017, two days after the celebration for the founding of the country. One event on the 4th of July demonstrated the anger and ignorance of people who support DDT and his corruption. On that day, National Public Radio tweeted the Declaration of Independence in 113 posts. It has communicated this document to the public for the past 28 years, but this year the words hit a nerve with DDT supporters. They called on NPR to be defunded (government provides only five percent of its funding) and described it as biased, propaganda, and even trash. Evidently the reference to King George III in 1776 as a “tyrant” made them suspicious of NPR.

These are some parts of the Declaration of Independence that DDT supporters found offensive:

“He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

NPR’s Morning Edition has broadcast the Declaration of Independence aloud for almost three decades, this year from over two dozen NPR journalists reading the document. As broadcaster Mary Louise Kelly noted that it is “a document from a deeply divided time. It was a time when Americans turned against each other.”

Although the document that NPR read and tweeted is about the founding of the United States 241 years ago, DDT supporters may be right in its reference to the man inaugurated as president less than six months ago. Two of his appointments for the five-member National Labor Relations Board are a management attorney and a former GOP staffer who can help kill the ability of workers to unionize. The 3-2 GOP majority will allow DDT to control his own employees as well as shrink the 6.4 percent of unionized private sector workers as well as risking the ability of workers in franchises and graduate students at private universities to unionize.

DDT’s proposed budget slashes programs of housing for the poor and continues to reward wealthy landlords—including DDT who takes millions of dollars a year a part owner of Starrett City, the country’s largest subsidized housing complex. He has made $38 million since his inauguration, a steady income that has kept him solvent throughout his large number of bankruptcies. Starrett City was an inheritance from his father.

The proposed tax plan (reform meaning tax cuts for the wealthy) would be to the DDT’s advantage. Cutting the corporate rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and then applying the lower rate to “pass-throughs,” such as LLCs and S corporations, could give DDT $65 million a year in reduced taxes. The repeal of the estate tax on large inheritances that affects only 0.2 percent of people in the U.S. could enhance his children by $10 billion. (Of course, he’s had to die first.) The repeal of the alternative minimum tax, created to guarantee that rich people don’t avoid their taxes, could drop his tax rate by 80 percent. DDT would have saved $31 million in just 2005 without that tax.

And these few items are just the tip of the iceberg of DDT’s conflicts of interest.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said:

“[Ethics] sort of starts from the premise that everybody wants to be in compliance. This idea of, ‘What if they’re not interested in getting into compliance?’ has not really been tested.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great author of Democracy in America,  wrote:

“The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of customs; and customs can make advantage of the worst laws.”

DDT has filled his personal swamp in the capital with crocodiles like him, and there’s no one with teeth to enforce any ethics laws. Unfortunately, people like that always find ways around any ethics laws. The only way to maintain ethics is to elect people with appropriate intentions. DDT has destroyed all faith in politicians.

January 3, 2017

Day One of the 115th Congress, Its Stumbles

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 10:22 PM
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The 115th Congress is one day old, and a strange thing happened: some Republicans seemed to exhibit shame—or perhaps just fear of constituents. Their embarrassment began yesterday when GOP members of the House voted in a closed session to put the House in charge of ethics charges for House members. The process seems to be a redux of the 2004 GOP decision to weaken ethics rules in the GOP-controlled House, led by then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) who was later convicted of violating election law. Vice-president Mike Pence, a representative at that time, strongly supported the move.

After the vote to weaken the ethics procedures, a large number of House members, almost all Republicans, were caught in illegal scandals—one of these the Abramoff affair—that put some of them in prison. When Democrats ran against this “culture of corruption” in 2006, they won both congressional chambers and set up an independent committee to take care of House ethics matters.

History repeated itself yesterday when GOP House members voted 119-74 to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the House Ethics Committee despite opposition for leadership House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Yet the majority had decided to keep investigations from public view and allow the House committee to stop investigating at any time, based on a House vote. Anonymous tips would not be investigated, and crimes could not be sent to law enforcement, a practice not only unethical but also unconstitutional. The full House would have to agree to move forward on an investigation, but the committee had no ability to search for evidence to get the approval.

The decision was not a done deal: the entire House had to vote on this change as part of the rules package today. Judicial Watch, the conservative group which pushed to get the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails, described the change as “shady and corrupt, a “drive by effort.” Phones lit up and tweets flew. Donald Trump (DT) sensed the disturbance and tweeted that the House should do other things first that favored him personally. After all, he thinks he cannot be investigated:

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”

DT’s staff disagreed with him. His counselor, Kellyanne Conway praised the weakening of ethics, saying that it will cut down on “overzealousness.” She lost. Only a few of the 119 supporters were willing to go public or admit that they were in favor of it. GOP constituents constantly supported the change until an emergency GOP conference meeting reversed yesterday’s vote by unanimous consent. DT took credit for this action, but one representative said that the strong public opposition had killed it before DT wrote anything.

One conclusion from Day One of the 115th Congress suggests that shame works. Without public outcry, the Republicans would have moved ahead to hide all their illegal activities. This reversal could even set a precedent when the GOP tries to eliminate health care, Social Security, Wall Street regulations, taxes for the wealthy, etc. Protest!

Of course, it’s not over. The GOP can revert to their idea when they think no one is watching or hide it inside a major bill. House Ethics Chair Susan Brooks (R-IN) said that the ethics panel will review the proposal make recommendations in late summer or early fall—probably hoping that people will be on vacation then.

A major question is whether the GOP House leadership has any more control over their members. Despite top-level arguments against weakening the ethics rules, the caucus decided to move forward on it—briefly. The Republicans in Congress have been badly split since the Tea Party revolution of 2010, creating a dilemma on negotiation. Who does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or DT work with if Ryan and McCarthy don’t agree with the underlings.

While the House was dithering about ethics, the Senate, with less attention, bragged about repealing “Obamacare.” Today they put together an introduction to the “reconciliation process” to out-maneuver a Democratic filibuster against any health care repeal bills. The process can be used only in bills affecting spending and revenue and must be approved by the Senate Parliamentarian before the vote can move forward.

Last year, the GOP passed the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act (RAHFRA, which probably can’t be pronounced) using the reconciliation process. Budget parts of the Affordable Care Act such as insurance subsidies, Medicaid expansion, tax increases, and the mandate to buy coverage were approved to be covered by reconciliation. Left standing was covering young people through age 26 on their parents’ policies and pre-existing conditions.

The process cannot be used for legislation increasing the deficit in ten years or more. That’s the reason that George W. Bush’s tax cuts, passed by reconciliation, had to expire in 2011.

Afraid of protests from people losing their health care or charged more for insurance, Congress wants to move quickly and hope that no one will notice the problems. Two thirds of the people in the U.S. think that the ACA either didn’t affect the number of people with health insurance or caused more people to be uninsured. With no replacement, ACA repeal will leave 22 million people without coverage and millions others suffering from the havoc in the individual insurance market.

Conway, DT’s counselor, promises that no one with health insurance will lose their coverage.  GOP legislators will most likely not live up to her promise. The half-hearted suggestions for replacement go from almost nothing to keeping the ACA marketplaces, in general disadvantaging older, sick people and offering less financial help to people who use more insurance. Costs can skyrocket for people who need more health care.

With no replacement, the loss of the ACA can drastically drop coverage even if the planned repeal is years from now. Conway said that DT doesn’t have a plan ready because Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) has not been confirmed as Secretary for the Health and Human Services Department. Price wants a fixed tax credit starting at $1,200 a year for buying insurance on the private market and state high-risk pools—the ones that miserably failed in Florida and 33 other states.

Another way that the GOP is hiding its increase in deficit by repealing the ACA came from the rules package requiring the director of the budget office to prepare an estimate of whether any bill would cause a boost in spending in excess of $5 billion over the next four decades. Any bill, that is, except a bill, joint resolution or amendment that would repeal Obamacare. A major advantage of ACA was its reduction of the deficit so repealing the law would increase the deficit. To avoid the issue, the reconciliation bill keeps cuts to Medicare doctor payments, thereby scoring the bill as reducing the deficit.

Today’s budget proposal from the Republicans raises the national deficit from about $600 billion next year to a $10 trillion increase within the next decade. The bill has to pass both chambers of Congress; the question is how long Republicans can hide the increase in the deficit under the pretense that the bill concerns the repeal of Obamacare. This bill covers no specific spending. Other bills will have to do that–expenditures such as repealing the ACA, building the wall, cutting taxes for the wealthy, etc., all acts that vastly increase the deficit.  Lawrence O’Donnell explains the situation here, beginning about Minute 32.

Like a dog chasing a bus, the GOP has been chasing the repeal of health care for six years. What happens when they catch it?

The GOP House members did approve a rules package that fines members who take pictures or video from the House floor. Evidently transparency is not high on their list, especially after their embarrassment from the 26-hour sit-in protesting Ryan’s refusal to allow any votes on gun safety bills.

March 2, 2012

Study Shows Wealthy Less Ethical

After decades of trusting banks, Alan Greenspan finally admitted that he was mistaken: “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” Rough translation—he thought that the financiers were ethical. Too bad he didn’t have access to a recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the “upper class,” words, are more likely to behave unethically than those of us with less money.

Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues explored the ethics of the upper class and found that they were more likely to break the law while driving, lie in negotiation, and take candy from children. According to Paul Piff, the pursuit of self-interest is a “fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing.” Their experiments suggest that some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial.”

The tests used in the study ranged from studying video to seeing whether people obeyed traffic laws. In the traffic tests, about one-third of drivers in higher- status cars cut off other drivers at an intersection monitored by researchers, about double those in less costly cars. Additionally, almost half of the more expensive cars didn’t yield when a pedestrian entered the crosswalk while all of the lowest-status cars let the pedestrian cross.

Another test had participants playing a game in which a computer rolled dice for them, for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. Wealthier participants were more likely to lie about their score. “A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year,” said one the study authors. “So why are they more inclined to cheat?” According to Piff, poorer participants must rely more on their community and therefore adhere more to community standards. “Upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self- interested patterns of behavior,” he said.

Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said, “Greed has been on the upswing for 20 years. Wealth or power that comes with high socioeconomic status means you are indeed enabled to ignore other people and might think that rules that apply to other people don’t apply to you.”

The study doesn’t state that all wealthy people believe in one way and all poorer people behave differently. But it does show that many of the rich are more likely to lie and cheat for a small prize. The Wall Streeters who helped crash the economy probably knew they are doing something wrong. Or maybe not, if they this that rules don’t apply to them and greed is good. Earlier research has shown has shown that students who take college economics classes are more likely to describe greed as good.

Alan Greenspan learned his lesson too late for the nation’s well-being. It’s time for the bottom 99 percent to teach the rest of the wealthy this lesson.


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