Nel's New Day

July 22, 2017

DDT: Week Twenty-Six – ‘Made outside America’

Biggest news of week along with the current failure of Trumpcare and the dissing of AG Jeff Sessions is Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) claim that he can pardon himself as well as his family and associates. The jury is out on that one, but even a DDT success in that arena doesn’t get him out of trouble. By accepting a pardon, DDT—or anyone else he pardons—admits guilt and then has to face state charges. The use of pardons for one’s own crimes can also be considered an abuse of power or obstruction of justice. Similarly, firing special investigator Robert Mueller doesn’t necessarily get DDT out of trouble because state prosecutors can hire Mueller and his team. All this can be done without impeachment or congressional investigation by Republicans. Mueller and his lawyers could also be called as witnesses in the civil litigation about emoluments and the hacking conspiracy.

During his campaign, DDT warned that the nation would face a constitutional crisis with a Hillary Clinton presidency because she would face multiple criminal investigations? That Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders would “sit back and they would laugh and they would smile” during a years-long investigation.

“She would be under protracted criminal investigation and probably a criminal trial, I would say. So we’d have a criminal trial of a sitting president…. Our country will continue to suffer.”

Litigation is spreading over into DDT’s cabinet. Last week the U.S. Treasury fined ExxonMobil $1 million for signing agreements with Russian-owned Rosneft while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was Exxon’s CEO. Exxon filed a legal complaint naming Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as lead defendant.

One other strategy from DDT is impugning Mueller’s character. Even his own team of lawyers reportedly opposes it, and Mark Corallo quit the team after only one day. His departure briefly preceded Press Secretary/Communications Director Sean Spicer as collateral damage from DDT’s administration. Also gone is DDT’s long-time lawyer Marc Kasowitz. That makes at least 19 “resignations” during DDT’s first six months.

On his first day, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci appeared at the first on-camera White House press conference in nine days to declare his and everyone else’s love for DDT and announce Spicer’s leaving. Scaramucci said that he hoped Spicer “goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.” Just two years ago, Scaramucci called DDT a “hack politician” and member of the “Queen County bullies association” but now plans to erase all his negative tweets about DDT. The new press secretary is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has been holding most of the recent press conferences. White supremacist Steve Bannon almost quit when DDT hired the Goldman Sachs alumnus, nicknamed “The Mooch.”

Four days before DDT’s inauguration, Scaramucci met with Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian $10 billion state-run investment fund, which the U.S. sanctioned in 2015. When Scaramucci criticized the sanctions, DDT said that he might ease them. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said during his confirmation hearing that he would ask for an investigation into Scaramucci who also sold his hedge funds investment firm, SkyBridge Capital, to China for $11.5 billion. Scaramucci’s only experience in “political communication” was a few appearances on television. SNL aficionados may miss Spicer, but Scaramucci is sure to make an appearance.

DDT understands that he lacks the power that he thought a president holds, but he’s still exceeding that power. This week he interviewed Jessie Liu before he nominated her to a U.S. attorney seat. His action breaks precedence of separating this position from political influence. If confirmed, Liu would have power in Washington, D.C. where DDT is being sued for his hotel/restaurant’s conflict of interest.

A few DDT losses this week:

DDT’s administration is using taxpayer money intended to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act for a PR campaign to kill the law with video testimonials and social media to damage public opinion of a law works quite well. Tom Price led HHS in producing over 130 videos from almost 30 interviews that occurred at the department’s internal studio. Contractors may have charged $550 an hour for their work from DDT’s request of $574 million for “consumer information and outreach.” Funds also paid for people to travel to Washington, D.C. for this purpose. HHS is also leading the anti-ACA messaging and replaced information on its website about applying for coverage with critical information about ACA encouraging people to use private brokers.

A group suing DDT has gained access to DDT’s Mar-A-Lago visitor logs; they will be publicly released in early September. The suit regarding White House visitor logs is ongoing.

In California, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III denied DDT’s request to strip funding from cities providing haven to undocumented immigrants. Orrick ruled that spending power is vested in Congress, not the president.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is requesting DDT campaign documents about Russian contacts and requested “all communications to, from, or copied to the Trump campaign relating to” a list of 41 individuals that includes presidential candidate Jill Stein.

After spending almost an entire hour telling national security advisers the he didn’t want to preserve the nuclear agreement with Iran, DDT declared that Iran is complying with its agreement. The GOP needs its failure to support their opposition, but DDT has twice confirmed Iranian compliance.

Business is shrinking at DDT’s branded properties, especially in L.A. and the Bronx.

Identification of the eighth person at a collusion meeting with DDT’s son-in-law and oldest son reveals Irakly Kaveladze who may be part of a $1.4 billion money-laundering scheme of Russian and Eastern European money through U.S. banks. The major figure in the meeting, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, denied any connection to the Kremlin, but she represented the Russian spy agency FSB which followed the KGB.  Russian president, Vladimir Putin, worked for the KGB until 1999.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker will block U.S. arms sales to six Middle East nations until they settle the blockade against Qatar. DDT sided against Qatar, but U.S. intelligence found that the conflict started after the United Arab Emirates planted false information on Qatari government news and social media sites.

DDT’s approval rating of 38.8 percent for his second quarter is below all other presidents in over a half century, in some case far below.

DDT’s week theme, “Made in America,” creates media attention to DDT’s “Made outside America” approaches:

Much of DDT-branded products are manufactured offshore—clothing in Mexico and China as well as steel and aluminum in China.  But he’s already coming under fire for the move, given that Trump-branded products are often manufactured overseas.

Ivanka Trump’s fashion lines are produced by low-wage workers in places such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and China. The company said that it won’t be selling clothing and shoes made in the U.S.

DDT has expanded the H-2B visa program for temporary workers from 66,000 to 81,000. Some of these workers will be at DDT’s Florida properties. DDT said that the U.S. suffers from a shortage of workers.

Jared Kushner is still selling visas and green cards for $500,000 to foreigners who invest in his properties.

DDT is slashing funds for a government program that helps U.S. companies stay ahead of foreign rivals. He is also cutting a number of other programs to improve jobs, including ones in manufacturing, in the U.S.

One year ago, DDT said, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” –Donald J. Trump, August, 2016  Zeke Miller, White House correspondent for Time, reports that Trump will be at his Bedminster, NJ golf course from August 3rd to the 20th.  Told senators to stay in town until they gave him a health bill, but he’s headed on vacation for his 200th day—and a lot of others. Trump has already spent $47,378,438 on his wasteful sixteen golfing trips. He’s spent a total of eleven days at Bedminster and twenty-five at Mar-a-Lago. Of his first 200 days, he’s spent 20 at Bedminster (NJ) and 25 at Mar-a-Lago. More DDT/golf stories here. That’s over 22 percent of his first 200 days in the White House. There would be more if he hadn’t spent three weekends or traveling from Europe. DDT complained how much time President Obama spent on the links—once in his first 14 weeks in office. DDT has golfed three times more than the combined golfing of his past three predecessors. Last weekend he bragged in seven separate tweets about seeing the Women’s Open while he spent the time at his Bedminster (NJ) resort.

Losing DDT, however, might exalt VP Mike Pence into the top U.S. position. One example of Pence’s narrow world view is his co-sponsorship of Ralph Drollinger for bible study. Pence and at least six cabinet members have joined congressional members to learn from Drollinger. Beyond his bigotry toward LGBTQ people, Catholics, and females, Drollinger states that God hears prayers only from “Christians”—no Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc. need apply.  He also claims that the bible does not support “influential” separation, that the church should win politicians’ souls or replace them with people who are “strong in Christ Public Servants.” The nation should have “God-fearing righteous judges,” not ones who support abortion or “make up rights for the unrighteous.”

During his campaign, DDT asked blacks what they had to lose by voting for him. For the second year in a row, he has refused to speak at the NAACP conference, the first sitting president who denied the invitation in over 30 years.

December 19, 2016

Rex Tillerson: Oil in Trump’s Swamp

Kakistocracy: a fine English term going back to 1829 that means government by the worst element of a society, a government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Forbes writer Michael Lewitt explains its usage: “Corrupt, dishonest and incompetent politicians, regulators and bureaucrats were put in charge by self-absorbed, selfish and ignorant citizens.” Trump cabinet nominees collectively have more wealth than a combined one-third of American households. They are the most conservative, very white, and very male with almost no experience. In addition, they resemble DT—egotistical, megalomaniacal, bumbling liars. The nation’s future government will be a blend of “nepotism, oligarchy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, demagoguery, alt-right values and a disturbing tendency toward fascist white nationalism.” (Quote from Sophia A. McClennen, professor of international affairs and comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University.)

The Electoral College has voted, and Donald Trump (DT) is now the formal president-elect of the United States. In building his kakistocracy, DT has appointed a number of inexperienced oligarchs for his cabinet. A series of postings on this blog will begin with Rex Tillerson, nominee for the Secretary of State.

rex-tillerson

AP Photo / Manuel Balce

tillerson-putinThe outrage against Tillerson from both Democrats and Republicans began with the nominee’s extremely close relationship with Vladimir Putin. Exxon missed the U.S. fracking boom and moved to the Russian and Arctic oil fields, perhaps 20 percent of the world’s untapped resource. Toward that end, the company signed deals between 2011 and 2013 with the Russian state-owned oil company, Rosneft, for exploration in the Black Sea, development of shale resources in western Siberia, and drilling in the Arctic. According to Rosneft, these areas could contain more oil than the Gulf of Mexico. The year after Tillerson and Exxon signed the deal with Rosneft, Russian president, Vladimir Putin gave the country’s Order of Friendship medal to Tillerson. (Above: Russia President Vladimir Putin (R) and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (L) attend the signing of an agreement between Rosneft and ExxonMobil in the Black Sea port of Tuapse on June 15, 2012. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Exxon is so wealthy and powerful that it’s like a country of its own with its own foreign policy. Its pockets are deep, and it employs such Tillerson advocates as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates. President Obama’s sanctions on Russia’s oil industry for its 2014 “participation” in the Ukraine and annexation of Crimea smashed Exxon’s dreams—until DT was elected last November. Russia needs Western expertise to drill in places such as the Arctic, and DT can give it to them.

Tillerson’s connection with Rosneft also connects him with oligarch Igor Ivanovich Sechin, head of the oil company. A close relationship with oligarchs from major world powers puts Tillerson into a position to set up his own U.S. oligarchy and what better place to do it than the White House. He has been open about his goals. Asked in March 2013 what he would do if he worked in the White House, he laughed and said, “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” His idea of international diplomacy—the Secretary of State’s job—is that it “is an enormous amount of interference with that process of discovery and perfection and improvement.”

Improvement to Tillerson doesn’t mean controlling global warming. Exploitation of the Russian and Arctic resources would vastly increase warming above four degrees, but he doesn’t worry about climate change. He has said, “To say that you’re addicted to oil and natural gas seems to me to say you’re addicted to economic growth.”

For almost the entire four decades of Tillerson’s tenure at Exxon, the company has lied about their awareness of catastrophic effects from climate change and spent millions of dollars to block any bills that address the problem. Forty years ago, the company took the problem of climate change seriously and developed programs to explore the issue. Within a few years, however, Exxon started dismantling its own climate change programs and moved on to suppress evidence, spread doubt about science, and block any action to control greenhouse gases. It also created the misnamed Global Climate Coalition to stop any government action to curb fossil fuel emissions.

By the beginning of the 21st century, Exxon used the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of corporations that writes measures for U.S. legislators, to block emissions control. Tillerson was CEO for 12 of those 17 years. In addition, Tillerson’s block of Exxon shareholders successfully opposed a measure from the Rockefeller family to expand the company’s investment in alternative energy sources.

Tillerson’s current position on climate change is that it’s merely an “engineering” issue because, he claims, people can adapt to anything. Asked about models of greenhouse gas concentrations, he replies that “models simply are not that good.” He has no answer for what to do if the sea levels surge and freshwater pulses into the ocean from a collapse in the West Antarctica.

Yet Tillerson’s egregious business dealings go much farther than just his pandering to the Russian government which recently arranged for the release of hacked emails in order to get Tillerson’s possible new boss elected to his leadership position of what people like to call the most powerful country in the world.

Many people are unaware that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating Tillerson and Exxon. Under his leadership, the company failed to accurately value its oil reserves in order to keep stocks high. A correct disclosure of its lower valuations would cost Exxon billions of dollars if the initiation of drilling is more costly from the “price of carbon” or regulations that force reductions to greenhouse gas emissions. With this high cost, Exxon might have to drop projects, and that shrinks its profitability. Even if Tillerson manages to get DT to leave the Paris climate accord, Exxon’s worldwide business may lose money because it does business with other countries that remain in the pact.

The SEC is also investigating the reason that Exxon does not record its reserves values when oil prices drop. The price of a barrel of oil dropped from $115 in 2014 to under $28 by last February, but that the company didn’t include that loss in future calculations. Fabricating future profits not based on fact is an act of securities fraud against investors.

DT as president would greatly benefit Exxon because the investigation could get stymied with Tillerson as Secretary of State. The SEC could also be remade with DT as president. Seven top officials, including chair Mary Jo White, have already resigned, and DT can appoint three new commissioners on the five-member panel. Whether Tillerson becomes Secretary or stays Exxon CEO, the oil company benefits. Last week DT referred to the free market as the “dumb market,” indicating that government should be in control, a total reversal of past GOP philosophy.

Another lawsuit plaguing Tillerson and Exxon accuses the company of discrimination against LGBTQ people in its hiring practices. ExxonMobil is the only corporation in history to get negative ratings on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index for lacking any protections for LGBTQ employees in 2012 and 2013. President Obama’s executive order barring federal contractors from anti-LGBT employment discrimination—probably to be soon revoked by DT—caused the company to adopt an LGBT non-discrimination policy, but the lawsuit is still pending. Exxon has received over $1 billion in federal contracts during the past decade.

Tillerson’s conflicts of interest are overwhelming. He personally owns at least $218 million in Exxon stock and holds a pension worth $70 million. At least he wouldn’t have to pay any taxes if he has to sell them for a Cabinet position because divesting stocks based on a potential conflict interest for this position is tax-free.

In another connection with Russia 20 years ago, Tillerson became a director  and then president of Exxon Neftegas, a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, a country with zero corporate taxes where Exxon has registered at least 67 companies. Exxon reported that Tillerson was no longer a director after he became Exxon’s CEO in 2006, but the secrecy of the nation may cause difficulty in determining Tillerson’s investments. Conflict of interest may be somewhat legal for the president and vice president but definitely not for Cabinet members or other government officials.

Oh yes, and Tillerson has literally no background in diplomacy or public service—just like DT.  With pushing from oil oligarchs like Dick Cheney and deep-pocketed campaign donor Robert McNair as well as Gates and Rice, skeptical GOP senators like Marco Rubio are showing signs of falling into DT’s swamp—the one filled with oil.

May 31, 2012

ALEC Continues Downhill Slide

ALEC used to be the secret right-wing group that provided millions of dollars to write conservative laws such as “stand your ground,” voter repression in the name of identifying fraud, and unconstitutional anti-choice laws. I say “used to be” because  the American Legislative Exchange Council was forced out of the closet into the light of media’s day last month. Until today the list of corporations running away from ALEC had included 19 large corporations such as amazon.com, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have dropped from ALEC. Nonprofits like the gigantic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also separated themselves from the far-right Koch-sponsored organization. Today both retail giant Wal-Mart and Medtronic, a medical device company, dumped ALEC.

ALEC has more than 2,000 legislative members, primarily Republican, from all 50 states, nearly one-third of all sitting legislators and more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered “alumni.” Approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector groups are other, higher paying, members. ALEC’s chair, currently David Frizzell (IN)  rotates with a new legislator appointed to the position each year.

Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker is the poster-child for ALEC with its anti-consumer, union-busting, voter-repression laws while giving huge tax cuts for corporations and the richest of its citizens. Of the 132 legislators, 49 are ALEC members, including top leadership in both houses.  Walker began his devastation with an ALEC “omnibus” tort bill, making it harder for Wisconsin residents to hold corporations accountable after dangerous products injure or kill people.

Another poster-child, albeit much quieter than Wisconsin, is Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal used ALEC bills that advocate for the privatization of traditionally public services, like health care, prisons and education based on the misguided conservative belief that the results will be more efficient and competitive. Privatization is far more costly and less efficient as seen by the replacements in the military and prisons.

In Louisiana, laws were rushed through without any thought, for example the “parent trigger” law that allows a majority of parents connected with one school to change it into a charter school. There is no evaluation for the converted school, either before or after, and no way for failed charter schools to be “re-triggered.” Student placement is also limited. ALEC advice is to push a large quantity of bills very fast, to get them passed before people notice.

One influential trade association staying with ALEC is the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) that represents companies providing water services to almost 73 million people in the country. That’s almost one-fourth of the population. The goal of NAWC and ALEC is to legislate loopholes for water protections and federal oversight of fracking, a method of extracting oil that forces millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground. This practice not only puts drinking water resources at risk but also may be the reason behind the increasing number of earthquakes in the Midwest.

Another powerful corporation—and ALEC member—pushing for fracking is ExxonMobil. Model legislation from ALEC, based on a Texas law, gives guidelines for the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through fracking. The model bill has loopholes allowing energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, meaning that companies—like ExxonMobil—are then allowed to use any contaminants that they want without anyone knowing what these are.

One organization dropping ALEC last month is the national certifying body for teachers in the United States, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Supposedly a non-profit organization focusing on teacher certification, NBPTS also takes positions on political positions affect teacher certification.

Some legislators seem incredibly naïve about how ALEC truly lobbies. For example, state Rep. Paul Bandy, co-chair of the New Mexico branch of ALEC, said in an interview that he didn’t solicit donations from ALEC, that money just appears in his mailbox from ALEC-connected corporations. I guess he considers himself really lucky. He did understand that the ALEC laws might not pass if people know their origin. Bandy opposes the use of tax-deductible money for political purposes but didn’t seem to object using ALEC’s tax-deductible money for political purposes.

The South Carolina legislature is so supportive of ALEC that it has created a special ethics exemption for the organization. Lobbying rules that govern how public officials can interact with lobbyists prevent legislators from having their lodging and transportation provided by lobbyists—with the exception of ALEC—because “the outings that ALEC organizes for politicians are essential to its influence. At these retreats, ALEC officials work with state lawmakers to craft new legislation.” They certainly do!

When ALEC’s activities became widely known last month, there seemed to be a slight bit of hope after the organization announced that they would eliminate its Public Safety and Elections task force. Hope was short-lived, however, after the task force’s chair, state Rep. Jerry Madden (R-TX) said many of the issues would be transferred to other committees. ALEC’s definition of “public safety” is passing laws allowing people to go after others if they “feel threatened” and kill them if necessary, as happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida a year ago.

Disturbed when ALEC dropped its voter suppression arm, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) stepped in and formed a “Voter Identification Task Force.” The NCPPR also criticized ALEC for withdrawing the voter-oppression task force after losing only 11 corporate sponsors. Part of NCPPR’s past activities have been to help Jack Abramoff launder millions of dollars and to raise funds by “bombarding senior citizens with ‘fright mail,'” money used to do things like help Exxon Mobil oppose efforts to address climate change.

One organization is fighting back against ALEC through its fraudulent tax-exempt status. The watchdog Common Cause has obtained hundreds of pages of documents and shared these with the New York Times. They are also using these documents and public records to support its Internal Revenue Service complaint, stating that ALEC does not deserve its tax-exempt status because it is a lobbying organization. ALEC denies that it is writing laws, but its membership brochure bragged that the group introduces over 1,000 bills annually and passes about 17 percent of these.

ALEC also sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Alan P. Dye, a lawyer for ALEC, acknowledged that the group’s practice of communicating with lawmakers about specific bills could meet the federal definition of lobbying. His justification is that these communications were a result of “nonpartisan research and analysis.” Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy disagreed, stating that as of last August, all but one of 104 leadership positions within the organization were filled by Republicans and that the policies ALEC promoted were almost uniformly conservative.

Common Cause has made progress in at least one state. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will investigate ALEC for lobbying violations in that state. The board will likely address the complaint in July. In Minnesota, Common Cause also filed a complaint with state Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that ALEC has misrepresented its role by filing as a 501 (c) (3).

The icing on the cake is within the IRS procedures: According to IRS policies, an analyst in the Whistleblower Office must consider the information provided by Common Cause. Common Cause could receive between 15 and 30 percent of any taxes, penalties and interest collected, if certain requirements are met. Only the IRS can challenge a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status because of court rulings.

The only thing better than ALEC having to pay taxes is for a watchdog organization to get some of it!

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