Nel's New Day

April 26, 2018

Zinke Possibly Next for Limelight

Much has been said about the corruption and environmental destruction by EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has flown under the radar. Yet Zinke is bent on razing public land in the United States while illegally using taxpayer monies. He also consistently brags about being a “geologist,” sometimes under oath, to give weight to all his opinions about endangered species, oil drilling, climate change, and anything else he declaims. Zinke’s only background in geology, however, comes from his college major. He attended the University of Oregon on a football scholarship and said he chose his major by “closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog.”

Zinke also failed to disclose information to ethics officials, promoted the birther conspiracy about President Obama, inappropriately reassigned a large number of Native Americans in his agency, frequently decried “diversity,” and inappropriately used taxpayer funds for his unnecessary travel and that of his wife who needed to go to her campaign events. He also reassigned a scientist who revealed the negative impact of climate change on Alaska Native communities. Zinke was also criticized for a 2014 campaign email asking for donations and reporting that he “served as a Team Leader on SEAL Team Six—the team responsible for the mission to get Osama Bin Laden.” Osama bin Laden was killed three years after Zinke retired.

Other Zinke issues:

  • Threatening Alaska’s GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, with penalties for their state if they didn’t vote for a health care plan.
  •  Ignoring the National Park System Advisory Board—refusing to even meet with them—until three-fourths of them quit.
  • Relying on a top energy industry lobbyist for help with a list of regulatory rollbacks.
  • Requiring extra work from his staff for coordinating his wife’s access to high-level politicians and donors to benefit her position chairing the senatorial campaign for GOP Troy Downing who is running against incumbent Sen. Jon Tester.
  • Promising Florida that he wouldn’t drill of its coast after planning coastal oil drilling off the other 13 states despite their governors’ objections. (Zinke said that Florida is “unique”: he might mean that Mar-a-Lago is in Florida and that Gov. Rick Scott is running against Democrat Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate.)
  • Spending $53,000 on three helicopter trips, including one to go horseback riding with VP Mike Pence. (He paid for one of them out of wildfire preparedness funds until someone pointed out that it was inappropriate.)
  • Failing to disclose shares in a gun company that lobbies the government on “defense appropriations and authorizations” and “carbon fiber barrels.” (The company got an $11.4 million contract last year.)
  • Demanding confidential energy data for others’ use.
  • Illegally blocking plans to expand Native American tribes from expanding casino operations in Connecticut which benefitted politically connected MGM Resorts International.
  • Spending almost $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in his office.
  •  Taking a taxpaid security detail on his vacation with his wife to Turkey and Greece.

More Zinke problems:

  • Changed regulations to allow seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Lifted restrictions on new coal leasing on public lands.
  • Proposed the elimination of safety requirements to protect communities from methane pollution by oil and gas drilling on public lands.
  • Renewed mining leases near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
  • Proposed a 90-percent cut to America’s most important conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • Eliminated a policy asking parks to create plans for preserving natural resources and protecting them from threats like climate change.

Zinke has some esoteric positions. When he is in the building, he flies a special Department of Interior flag. A security staff takes the flag up the elevator to the seventh floor and climbs the stairs to the roof where he hoists the flag. At night, he repeats the journey to take down the flag. Zinke’s spokesperson called the flag “a major sign of transparency.” (The only other specialized flying flag in the government is above the State Department, but it’s always there.) Zinke arrived for his first day at work on horseback and kept a glass-case display of hunting knives until he was told to remove them because of security risks. His wood-paneled office walls sport animal heads. In a speech to fossil fuel executives, he complained that 30 percent of his agency are “not loyal to the flag.” (He didn’t say which one.)

Zinke also created a “challenge coin” for the Interior Department with his name emblazoned on the front. These coins began as a military tradition during World War I when Ivy League students slapped their coins on the table. The person without one had to buy a round of drinks for the others.

National Park Service officials have scrubbed every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in connection with sea-level rise and storm surge. Delays in releasing reports have blocked information about hurricane forecasts, safeguarding artifacts, and locating buildings. (Over at the EPA, Scott Pruitt tried to create a better coin with his name but omitting the EPA logo.)

Zinke’s 15-member “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee is composed of representatives from fishing, shooting sports, motorized vehicles, hospitality, and national park concessions interests, three of them having conflicts of interests. Missing are any nominees recommended by the Outdoor Industry Association advocating outdoor sports. Most members on the Royalty Policy Committee come from fossil fuel and mining industries. His new International Wildlife Conservation Council is mainly comprised of trophy hunters and individuals with ties to President Trump’s oldest son, who is an avid hunter. Member Peter Horn owns a hunting preserve in conjunction with Eric and Don Jr. Trump.

Zinke has made BLM staff in Western states propaganda tools by requiring them to wear “vision” cards with illustrations of an oil rig and cows grazing. The cards reference “customers” instead of “public” and list the purpose as improving “the health and productivity of the land.” Because BLM has no director, Zinke has taken that role, moving forward with plundering the lands resources. A key phrase in supporting the America First Energy Plan is “to serve industry.”

Zinke’s BIA Director Bryan Rice, appointed only six months ago, has resigned. As of this writing, nobody is talking about the reason.

Although only Florida is exempted from offshore oil drilling, Zinke is cooling off about drilling in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic off Maine. He told the Senate Energy Committee that these places had little recoverable oil and gas. In another loss, he has backed down from a monstrous increase in park entrance fees of $45 to an extra $5, thanks to the vociferous public protest. He also postponed selling over 4,000 acres of leases near the sacred tribal site of Chaco Canyon after protests from indigenous people and withdrew 17,300 acres from a fossil fuel lease auction in Montana.  A big political loss was the election of Democrat Conor Lamb to be the representative after a special election in Pennsylvania despite Zinke’s show of presenting a check for a coal mine reclamation with GOP candidate Rick Saccone in attendance. Once again Republicans have gotten away with violated the Hatch Act.

Despite criticism, Zinke continues his destruction of public land. In his testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he repeated his plans to cover the National Park Service maintenance backlog with revenue from mining and drilling. Republicans in both congressional chambers already have bills in accord with Zinke’s desires. If they get their way, they will sell off sensitive wildlife habitat such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies too build park bathrooms. Other national monuments would be opened to mining and drilling. The plan will likely fail because it requires an oil price that are double the current level.

Zinke is unhappy about being questioned for his profligate spending, and he’s sure to hate this hilarious—and accurate—segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight which includes the Interior Secretary throwing the “Second Lady,” Karen Pence, around like a “sack of unbleached flour.”  Zinke banned a reporter from Outside from his presence for pointing out that Zinke had rigged his fly rod backward. That’s considered bad form in Montana.

Recently dark money is paying for ads, and Zinke is meeting with deep-pocketed donors. A polling firm has called Iowa GOP voters, testing Zinke’s name recognition for a 2024 presidential run. With all his problems, he may need to wait before he measures for drapes in the Oval Office. He might first run for Montana governor because he exempted Montana from moving public lands to the private sector.

During Zinke’s confirmation hearings, he promised that he would follow Teddy Roosevelt in being a steward of the lands with his concern about global warming. Once confirmed, he started selling off national monuments to the highest bidder and dropping regulations to satisfy business interests. Sen. Ron Wyden said it best when he stated that voting for Zinke was “one of the biggest regrets of my time in public service.”

August 26, 2017

DDT: Thirty-One – The King of Mean

Today, August 26, 2017, commemorates Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment (1920) awarding the women the right to vote. As this analysis shows, last year’s proclamation from President Obama was about ways to make life better for women in the United States. This year’s statement from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) discussed women in relationship to men and focused on women in the economy. To keep the rights that the current administration is taking from women—and men—people need to evaluate candidates’ histories and political positions instead of believing the lies delivered on the campaign trail.   

The “Friday dump” refers to news released during the last day of the work week with the hopes that no one will notice. In yesterday’s case, the news was also consumed with the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 disaster that displaced 16 million people—five percent of the nation’s population—with either the hurricane or ensuing tropical storm. Unfortunately for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), at least three big stories still made the headlines.

During his campaign, DDT said that he was far more protective of LGBT people than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. This past week, he signed an order to prevent transgender people from joining the military and to stop payment for sex reassignment surgeries for military members. Transgender service members are in limbo because Defense Secretary Jim Mattis can tell any transgender military members that they cannot stay in the service.

In a support of white supremacy,  DDT pardoned the Arizona county sheriff who violated a federal judge’s order ordering him to stop illegally detaining people solely based on Latino appearance. DDT’s endorsement of Joe Arpaio endorses the former sheriff’s discrimination and favors a political supporter who supporter DDT’s racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. Martin Redish, a constitutional law expert, gave his perspective before the pardon was a fait accompli:

“Should the president indicate that he does not think Mr. Arpaio should be punished for [violating constitutional rights in defiance of a court order], he would signal that governmental agents who violate judicial injunctions are likely to be pardoned, even though their behavior violated constitutional rights, when their illegal actions are consistent with presidential policies….

“If the president signals to government agents that there exists the likelihood of a pardon when they violate a judicial injunction that blocks his policies, he can all too easily circumvent the only effective means of enforcing constitutional restrictions on his behavior. Indeed, the president could even secretly promise a pardon to agents if they undertake illegal activity he desires.”

Arizona’s GOP senior senator, John McCain, said DDT’s pardon “undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law” because Arpaio “was guilty of criminal contempt” and “has shown no remorse for his actions.” A more muted statement from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was still critical. The pardon meets none of DOJ’s guidelines: five years past prison release or conviction if no prison time, expression of remorse, and an application to the Office of Pardon Attorney. DDT’s pardon for Arpaio’s horrific actions demonstrates open white nationalist rule in the U.S.

Last spring, DDT asked AG Jeff Sessions to drop the case against Arpaio, but Sessions said he couldn’t interfere in the federal case. DDT then decided to pardon Arpaio if he were convicted.

Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka has left the White House. He claims that he resigned, but a White House official indicated his departure was not voluntary. Gorka’s wife, Katharine, is still national security adviser and working to eliminate a $400,000 DHS grant to Life after Hate founded by former white supremacists who renounced racist ideology and help help others transition out of hate groups and re-assimilate into society. Gorka’s aim is to put all funding toward fighting “radical Islamic terrorism.” DHS also revoked funding from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American Muslim advocacy organization for an approved $393,800 grant to create community resource centers throughout the country. Like her husband, Katharine Gorka pushes conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the government and media.

Also gone from the White House is Andy Hemming, the director of rapid response. Hemming didn’t explain, but the WH said it was a “mutual decision.” He was responsible for circulating positive news articles about DDT, usually from the conservative media, to reporters. He’s the third member of the communications department, after Anthony Scaramucci and Michael Short, to leave within a month.

The last intelligence head to accuse Russia of meddling in the presidential election may lose control over cyber issues after DDT decided to separate the U.S. Cyber Command from the NSA. DDT is considered another general to lead the cyber agency National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers refused to deny DDT’s campaign collusion with Russia.

Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin has already been fired “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command” after four Navy accidents since last January, two of them with sailors missing or dead in two separate collisions. Addressing the ten missing sailors in the recent collision between a Navy destroyer and an oil tanker, DDT said, “That’s too bad.”  Sen. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) said about DDT’s statement:

“There’s some attribute of his character that makes him seemingly incapable of introspection and a broad understanding of what the country really needs.”

In his continued pursuit of alienating congressional Republicans, DDT blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan for the “mess” surrounding the debt ceiling. Thursday’s tweets:

“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They…

“…didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!”

DDT was referencing the veterans bill that he signed last Wednesday which shortens the appeals process time for disability claims. The absolute deadline to raise the debt ceiling is September 29; the Treasury department has been fudging bill payment for months. Congress will have 12 contentious days after they return in September to solve the debt ceiling and pass a budget as well as address the tax cuts for the wealthy that DDT wants. No one knows when DDT made the suggestion to connect the two. McConnell had said, “There is zero chance—no chance—we won’t raise the debt ceiling.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wants a “clean” vote, but conservatives want to include Democrat-opposed spending restrictions. The Senate bill needs support from at least eight Democrats.

Another DDT target last week was Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who said that DDT “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” During DDT’s campaign, Corker had been considered a possible running mate, and after the inauguration, DDT’s secretary of state.  Of the eight GOP senators running for re-election in 2018, DDT has already attacked three of them—Corker, Flake, and Nevada’s Dean Heller—as well as opposing law year’s presidential candidate Ted Cruz from Texas.

The National Institutes of Health has removed the word “change” after the word “climate,” per administrative orders. Perhaps it’s DDT’s method of turning around climate change.

The Interior Department has stopped a study about health risks from mountaintop-removal coal mining that West Virginia officials had requested. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also recommended shrinking the boundaries of some public land national monuments in a secret report to DDT. Watch for court and congressional fights. Nobody is sure what is happening because the two-page summary provides no information and his statement is only that he’s recommending size reductions for an unspecified “handful” of national monuments. Industries are sure that they will be opened up to mining, drilling, and killing the life on them.

Ronald Reagan will be inducted into the Labor Department’s Labor Hall of Honor. Reagan may have been a union leader while in Hollywood, but he fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers and decertified their union.

DDT may cause substandard care in nursing homes by blocking their residents from suing for injuries from bad care, abuse, or neglect. He can act on this by undoing the rule preventing nursing homes from requiring agreement to resolve disputes through arbitration instead of litigation.

Watch for another “Friday dump” this next week from DDT. The deadline to continue DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is September 5, and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is considering DACA’s elimination, thus destroying the lives of almost 800,000 people involuntarily brought into the country as children by removing their work permits. The campaigning DDT said:

“We are gonna deal with DACA with heart…I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.”

The economy would lose $460.3 billion in GDP over ten years without the 685,000 DACA workers, and DDT’s rejection of them would annually cost states billions of dollars in GDP–$1.3 billion in Arizona and $1.5 billion Florida. DACA supporters include Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and three-fourths of DDT supporters.

The U.S. is facing war around the planet—the Middle East, Venezuela, and North Korea for a few countries—plus Russian control of the U.S. election process, and DDT attacks transgender people and working Latinos.

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