Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the EPA

In a move signaling an intention to dismantle President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy, President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the agency he is being nominated to lead.

Pruit, who has written that the debate on climate change is “far from settled,” joined a coalition of state attorneys general in suing the agency’s Clean Power Plan, the principal Obama-era policy aimed at reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. He has also sued, with fellow state attorneys general, over the EPA’s recently announced regulations seeking to curtail the emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector.

In a move signaling an intention to dismantle President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy, President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the agency he is being nominated to lead.

Pruit, who has written that the debate on climate change is “far from settled,” joined a coalition of state attorneys general in suing the agency’s Clean Power Plan, the principal Obama-era policy aimed at reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. He has also sued, with fellow state attorneys general, over the EPA’s recently announced regulations seeking to curtail the emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector.

Environmental groups reacted with alarm Wednesday at the nomination.

“Scott Pruitt has a record of attacking the environmental protections that EPA is charged with enforcing. He has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection,” said Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Our country needs — and deserves — an EPA administrator who is guided by science, who respects America’s environmental laws, and who values protecting the health and safety of all Americans ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.”

(Excerpted from Washington Post 12/07/16)

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Study: Uninsured rate could rise above pre-ObamaCare levels under repeal

Repealing ObamaCare would drive the nation’s uninsured population to levels even higher than before the law went into effect, according to an Urban Institute study released Wednesday.

The number of uninsured people would more than double, increasing by 29.8 million people by the end of President Trump’s first term, with the biggest impact hitting lower-income families, the nonpartisan analysis found.

The 50-page study, written by several leading healthcare researchers, offers the most comprehensive projections yet on a post-ObamaCare landscape in the wake of Trump’s election.

The research is based on the GOP’s repeal bill from 2015, which would strike down the law’s mandates, subsidies and Medicaid expansion but leave in place some non-budget related provisions.

he effects of repeal would be swift and immediate, leading to a “near death spiral” of the individual marketplace.

Federal spending on healthcare would be cut by $1 trillion over a decade, putting states and local health officials on the hook for another $1.1 trillion in uncompensated care over that time.

“This scenario does not just move the country back to the situation before the ACA. It moves the country to a situation with higher uninsurance rates than was the case before the ACA’s reforms,” the report states.

The vast majority of those affected would be in lower-income working families, and about 80 percent of people would have a high school degree or less. About 56 percent of people who would lose coverage would be non-Hispanic whites.

The repeal would also burden hospitals and other providers that previously received government help to pay for what is known as “uncompensated care.”

The 41-page report, which was conducted by the firm Dobson DaVanzo & Associates, showed the hospital industry would lose $165.8 billion through cuts to Medicaid alone.

(Excerpted from The Hill 12/07/16)

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Flynn under fire for fake news

As Donald Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will have to advise the president of the veracity of foreign and domestic threats, separating those that require immediate policy action from propaganda or misinformation.

But Flynn himself has used social media to promote a series of outrageous conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and their inner circles in recent months — pushing dubious factoids at least 16 times since Aug. 9, according to a POLITICO review of his Twitter posts. Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has “secretly waged war” on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for Muslim terrorists.

Now some say Flynn’s fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House’s national security adviser, suggesting that he either can’t spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies.

n the vast majority of instances in the past four months, he was passing along other people’s conspiratorial tweets instead of casting them in his own voice. In one example, he retweeted a post about a Fox News story claiming that the Army had identified Clinton as an “insider threat.” Another time, he reposted a tweet by someone named “Eagle Wings” about an alleged United Nations one-world-government plot called Agenda 21.

Trump himself has faced criticism for his use of social media to spread misinformation, including his evidence-free claim that “millions of people” had voted illegally in the Nov. 8 election. But this kind of rumor-mongering is especially beyond the pale for someone who will have the next president’s ear, said former State Department policy adviser Peter Singer, one of many people who publicly lambasted Flynn after Sunday’s shooting.

“We are not talking about policy toward China or Russia,” Singer, now a national security strategist at the think tank New America, said in an interview Monday. “We are talking about some of the most bizarre conspiracy theories out there. We are down the rabbit hole. How can you take him seriously when he is discussing people in D.C. drinking human blood? It is exasperating.”

Even one of Flynn’s former military colleagues expressed puzzlement Monday at the dark turn his pronouncements on social media have taken.

“That is not typically the behavior of someone who needs the necessary sobriety to advise the president on the most critical matters facing the nation,” said the former military official, who worked with Flynn every day for more than a year in Afghanistan.

(Excerpted from Politico 12/05/16)

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How Ben Carson at Housing Could Undo a Desegregation Effort

President Obama’s civil-rights legacy looked on track, not long ago, to include a major push against America’s deeply entrenched housing segregation. In 2015, his administration rolled out a rule requiring local communities to assess their own patterns of racial and income segregation and make genuine plans to address them.

The move followed years of debate and came as segregated cities like Baltimore and Chicago faced renewed bouts of racial unrest. The federal government, advocates hoped, was finally trying to repair a long-unkept promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Now that rule is likely to be undermined — and possibly erased — by a Department of Housing and Urban Development headed by Ben Carson. President-elect Donald J. Trump offered the cabinet post on Nov. 23 to Mr. Carson, a neurosurgeon and a former presidential candidate, who grew up poor in Detroit but has no experience in housing policy.

Republicans in Congress have tried to defund its implementation. Mr. Carson wrote last year that the new policy followed the government’s history of failed “mandated social-engineering schemes,” and would redirect low-income housing primarily into wealthy, white communities that oppose it.

If he is confirmed by Congress, Mr. Carson would have wide latitude to shape or slow the rollout of the rule, along with broader enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said Mr. Carson’s interpretation of the rule as a social experiment “reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of obligations that have been around since 1968.” The Fair Housing Act passed that year included two mandates: one banning discrimination in the housing market, and the other requiring local communities to “affirmatively further” the fair-housing goal of integration.

The latter language means that it’s not enough to punish landlords or communities who intentionally deny minorities housing. Communities also have a responsibility to actively ensure open housing markets, which exist today neither in public housing clusters on Chicago’s segregated South Side nor in exclusive New York City suburbs that use zoning laws to outlaw multifamily housing.

(Excerpted from Badger, New York Times 11/23/16)

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Trump’s vow on Medicare in doubt after HHS choice

The selection of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to become Health and Human Services secretary is testing President-elect Donald Trump’s vow not to cut Medicare.

But Price does want to touch entitlements.

He is a proponent of a plan, also backed by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), to turn Medicare into a “premium support” system, which Democrats warn would end the program’s traditional guarantee of government-provided coverage for seniors.

Now that Price is set to head HHS, major changes to Medicare as well as Medicaid could be on the agenda — something Democrats fear would put big holes in the healthcare safety net.

Under a Medicare premium support system, seniors would get a set amount of money from the government to help them buy health insurance from a private insurance company, in contrast to the current government-run Medicare program.

Democrats say that because the whole idea of premium support is to save the government money, the government financial assistance would not keep up with rising healthcare costs over time, forcing more and more of the costs onto seniors.

They also suggest that costs could spiral out of control for the people remaining in the traditional Medicare program, which could remain an option, competing alongside private plans. Healthier people could be more likely to choose private plans, leaving the main program with sick people and higher costs.

Price and Ryan, though, have signaled that they are serious about going forward with changes to Medicare next year.

Price told reporters earlier this month that lawmakers could even use the fast-track process known as reconciliation to get a Medicare overhaul through the Senate with 50 votes, meaning it would not need Democratic support.

major rationale for a premium support option is the idea that Medicare is running out of money, so changes have to be made.

Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the program does have long-term challenges, mainly because of an aging population, but the issue is less urgent than it has been in the past.

“Medicare is in relatively good financial shape,” she said, adding that it is projected to be solvent through 2028, a more distant date than has previously been projected.

Medicare spending growth is slowing, a change many experts attribute in part to reforms from ObamaCare, which set in motion many projects aimed at changing how Medicare pays for care.

(Excerpted from The Hill 12/01/16)

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The BOCO Dems December 2016 Newsletter

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An ethical double standard for Trump — and the GOP?

Republicans are deeply concerned about ethics in government and the vast potential for corruption stemming from conflicts of interest. We know this because of the acute worries they expressed over how these issues could have cast a shadow over a Hillary Clinton presidency.

“If Hillary Clinton wins this election and they don’t shut down the Clinton Foundation and come clean with all of its past activities, then there’s no telling the kind of corruption that you might see out of the Clinton White House,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

Presumably Cotton will take the lead in advising Donald Trump to “shut down” his business activities and “come clean” on what came before. Surely Cotton wants to be consistent.

The same must be true of Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chair whom Trump tapped as his chief of staff. “When that 3 a.m. phone call comes, Americans deserve to have a president on the line who is not compromised by foreign donations,” Priebus said earnestly in a statement on Aug. 18.

Priebus, you would think, believes this even more strongly about a president whose enterprises might reap direct profits for himself or members of his family from foreign businesses or governments. Priebus must thus be hard at work right now on a plan for Trump to sell off his assets.

“The deals that she and her husband were pocketing — hundreds of thousands of foreign money,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told the Breitbart website, the right-wing outlet once led by the soon-to-be White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. Issa added that Clinton wanted her activities “to be behind closed doors” and “did that because she doesn’t know where the line is.”

We can assume that Issa will press the president-elect about the dangers of doing business deals “behind closed doors” and instruct him about where the ethical “line” should be.

And it would be truly heartening to know that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a vociferous critic of the Clinton Foundation (“There’s a connection between what the foundation is doing and what the secretary of state’s office is doing”), plans to apply the same benchmarks to Trump.

Republicans did an extraordinary job raising doubts about Clinton — helped, we learned courtesy of The Post, by a Russian disinformation campaign. Does the GOP want to cast itself as a band of hypocrites who cared not at all about ethics and were simply trying to win an election?

If Trump wasn’t ready to put his business life behind him, he should not have run for president. And if Republicans — after all of their ethical sermons about Clinton — do not now demand that the incoming president unequivocally cut all of his and his family’s ties to his companies, they will be fully implicated in any Trump scandal that results from a shameful and partisan double standard.

(Excerpted from Dionne, Washington Post 11/28/16)

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When Public Goes Private, as Trump Wants: What Happens?

he New York Times recently published a series of articles about the dangers of privatizing public services, the first of which was called “When You Dial 911 and Wall Street Answers.” Over the years, the Times has published other exposés of privatized services, like hospitals, health care, prisons, ambulances, and preschools for children with disabilities. In some cities and states, even libraries and water have been privatized. No public service is immune from takeover by corporations that say they can provide comparable or better quality at a lower cost. The New York Times said that since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms “have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life.”

Privatization means that a public service is taken over by a for-profit business, whose highest goal is profit. Investors expect a profit when a business moves into a new venture. The new corporation operating the hospital or the prison or the fire department cuts costs by every means to increase profits. When possible it eliminates unions, raises prices to consumers (even charging homeowners for putting out fires), cuts workers’ benefits, expands working hours, and lays off veteran employees who earn the most. The consequences can be dangerous to ordinary citizens. Doctors in privatized hospitals may perform unnecessary surgeries to increase revenues or avoid treating patients whose care may be too expensive.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons recently concluded that privatized prisons were not as safe as those run by the bureau itself and were less likely to provide effective programs for education and job training to reduce recidivism. Consequently, the federal government has begun phasing out privately managed prisons, which hold about 15 percent of federal prisoners. That decision was based on an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, who cited a May 2012 riot at a Mississippi correctional center in which a score of people were injured and a correctional officer was killed. Two hundred and fifty inmates participated in the riot to protest the poor quality of the food and medical care. Since the election, the stock price of for-profit prisons has soared.

There is an ongoing debate about whether the Veterans Administration should privatize health care for military veterans. Republicans have proposed privatizing Social Security and Medicare. President George W. Bush used to point to Chile as a model nation that had successfully privatized Social Security, but The New York Times recently reported that privatization of pensions in Chile was a disaster, leaving many older people impoverished.

For the past fifteen years, the nation’s public schools have been a prime target for privatization. Unbeknownst to the public, those who would privatize the public schools call themselves “reformers” to disguise their goal. Who could be opposed to “reform”? These days, those who call themselves “education reformers” are likely to be hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and billionaires, not educators. The “reform” movement loudly proclaims the failure of American public education and seeks to turn public dollars over to entrepreneurs, corporate chains, mom-and-pop operations, religious organizations, and almost anyone else who wants to open a school.

In early September, Donald Trump declared his commitment to privatization of the nation’s public schools. He held a press conference at a low-performing charter school in Cleveland run by a for-profit entrepreneur. He announced that if elected president, he would turn $20 billion in existing federal education expenditures into a block grant to states, which they could use for vouchers for religious schools, charter schools, private schools, or public schools.

Charters have several advantages over regular public schools: they can admit the students they want, exclude those they do not want, and push out the ones who do not meet their academic or behavioral standards. Even though some public schools have selective admissions, the public school system must enroll every student, at every point in the school year. Typically, charter schools have smaller numbers of students whose native language is not English and smaller numbers of students with serious disabilities as compared to neighborhood public schools. Both charters and vouchers drain away resources from the public schools, even as they leave the neediest, most expensive students to the public schools to educate. Competition from charters and vouchers does not improve public schools, which still enroll 94 percent of all students; it weakens them.

(Excerpted from Ravitch New York Review of Books 12/08/16 edition )

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An un-American registry

A YEAR ago, just after he said he favored requiring Muslims in the United States to register in a government database, Donald Trump was asked how that would differ from Nazi Germany’s policies in the 1930s singling out Jews, including by having them register property. “You tell me,” he said repeatedly, then refused to answer further.

Under fire, Mr. Trump soon backpedaled to suggest that Muslims in the United States might be subject to “surveillance, including a watch list,” rather than a registry. That stance now seems the kernel of policy, judging from remarks by Mr. Trump’s transition team and allies.

In recent days, Kris Kobach, a prominent anti-illegal immigration hard-liner working on Mr. Trump’s transition, said the team was considering whether to formally recommend a national registry for visitors and immigrants from Muslim countries. A day later, Carl Higbie, who was spokesman for a highly visible super PAC behind the Trump campaign, said a registry for Muslims would “pass constitutional muster.” As precedent, he cited the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II — not that he is urging prison camps for Muslims, Mr. Higbie noted comfortingly.

At the least, those incendiary remarks suggest that the transition team hasn’t gotten the memo from Mr. Trump, who has pledged publicly to seek national reconciliation. If the president-elect’s camp is trying to scare the bejeezus out of America’s 3.3 million Muslims, it’s doing a fine job.

A registry for Muslims, even if masquerading as one for people from “risky” countries,” is no less odious than Newt Gingrich’s proposal this summer, after the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice, to submit all Muslims in the United States to a “test” and deport those who believe in sharia law. Both approaches would screen people based on identity — faith or ethnicity — rather than deeds, and single them out for intrusive and indiscriminate government snooping.

Such a step would be a boon to extremist recruiters and fodder for the Islamic State and other radical groups, which would use it for propaganda purposes as proof of America’s hostility toward Muslims. Equally self-defeating, a religious “test” or registry would risk alienating Muslim citizens of the United States, whose assimilation and loyalty to America are a bulwark against domestic terrorist threats.

In the campaign, Mr. Trump, after dropping his initial proposal for a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants, endorsed what he called “extreme vetting” — specifically, an ideological test to determine whether immigrants are suitable for entry. Rigorous immigration screening is one thing; for the most part, it already takes place. A registry of immigrants is another and would propel the United States into an era of officially induced fear and suspicion.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 11/20/16)

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Michael Flynn: An Alarming Pick for National Security Adviser

Of all the disturbing scenes in the presidential campaign, the Republican Convention speech by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn stood out. During a fiery address in which he lamented the decline of American exceptionalism and lambasted the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, General Flynn joined the crowd in chants of “lock her up!” Smiling slyly, he shouted: “Yeah, that’s right, lock her up!”

It was grotesque, but not entirely surprising for a military intelligence veteran who has earned a reputation for hotheadedness and poor judgment. Americans of all political backgrounds should be alarmed that General Flynn will be President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser. It’s likely, given his record, that he will encourage Mr. Trump’s worst impulses, fuel suspicions of Muslims and bring to the job conflicts of interest from his international consulting work.

The role of national security adviser has grown in power and influencein recent years, with the Bush and Obama administrations vesting the office with great authority on matters including military operations, nuclear proliferation, diplomacy, foreign aid and responses to global pandemics. The job demands a knack for consensus building, the ability to make sense of vast amounts of information and the rigor to present the president with well-thought-out options to respond to complex challenges.

General Flynn played pivotal roles in military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. While his skills served him well in those environments, when he was tapped to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency, his shortcomings as a manager and strategic thinker soon became glaring. His grasp on the truth was so flimsy at times that colleagues began mockingly referring to “Flynn facts.”

General Flynn did not leave quietly after being fired by the Obama administration in 2014. He has since created a self-serving narrative, maintaining that he was dismissed for raising alarms about the threat posed by Islamist extremist groups, which he contends the Obama administration “coddles.”

He has been extraordinarily incendiary in his characterizations of Islam. In February, he posted a link to a video on Twitter warning about the threat of Islam: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” In August, he told The Washington Post that he agreed with some of Mr. Trump’s views about Muslims; he called Islam an ideology and compared it to a cancer that has metastasized.

General Flynn’s fearmongering “only plays into Al Qaeda’s narrative that there is a clash of civilizations,” Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “What he has expressed is dangerous and harmful to us.”

In recent months, even while he advised Mr. Trump, General Flynn took on questionable consulting work, including speaking at a forum hosted by the state broadcaster Russia Today, which is infamous for its propaganda and serves as a mouthpiece for President Vladimir Putin. He also runs a consulting firm that has lobbied for a company with connections to Turkey’s authoritarian president. Just last week, he wrote an article urging the extradition of a Turkish cleric whom the Turkish government said was the mastermind of the attempted coup in July.

A core theme of Mr. Trump’s campaign was making America safer. With this appointment, he is doing the opposite.

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/19/16)

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Donald Trump Building Team of Racists

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign bludgeoned modern norms about the acceptability of racism. The candidate proposed a religious test for immigrants, and called a federal judge unfit on the grounds of his heritage. Trump could have decided to put the racial demagoguery of the campaign behind him, and it could have been remembered as a divisive ploy to win that did not define his administration, like George Bush’s manipulation of white racial panic to defeat Michael Dukakis in 1988. But Trump, perhaps predictably, is making a different choice. His early staffing choices are redefining the boundaries of acceptable racial discourse in Republican politics.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s new national security adviser, would be disqualified from a normal administration on multiple grounds. He is paid by authoritarian regimes in Turkey and Russia, as well as Russia’s propaganda apparatus. Multiple figures who worked with him in the military describe him as “unhinged,” a highly negative quality for a primary foreign-policy adviser.

The singular belief that lies at the core of Flynn’s worldview is indiscriminate hatred of Islam.

eff Sessions, Trump’s new attorney general, originally had the political profile of a white reactionary Alabama politician in the Old South mode. The Senate rejected his bid for a federal judgeship in 1986 over a series of racist remarks he’d made, some of which he confirmed. Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” and accused it of “forcing civil rights down the throats of people,” and he allegedly called a black lawyer “boy” and warned him to be careful how he addressed white people.

Despite his rejection by the Senate, Sessions won election in the state, and his racial repertoire has since expanded beyond the traditional Deep South mode. He has enthusiastically embraced arch-restrictionist stances on immigration. He objected to the National Endowment for the Humanities distributing books about Islam to public libraries. He is obsessed with a shadowy globalist media-business conspiracy in general, and the role of George Soros in particular.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, has attracted perhaps the most controversy. That Bannon’s ex-wife has testified to his hatred of Jews has attracted a great deal of attention, but this fact both over- and understates the racial nature of his beliefs. Bannon’s journalistic work is centrally dedicated to the task of refashioning conservatism along white-identity lines.

The theme connecting Bannon’s ideology with Flynn and Sessions is an intensified and narrow nationalism. The Bannonites see a “real” America as under threat by demographic transformation, and the waves of immigrants eating away at its culture from below are in alliance with a global and disproportionately Jewish media and business elite from above. Their project is to preserve white Christian American identity, and wage a civilizational war against Islam in alliance with other white Christian powers, especially Russia.

Paul Ryan may not like racism — indeed, he conceded that Trump had made the “textbook definition” of a racist comment — but he is willing to work with racists to gut the welfare and regulatory states. If Trump had lost, the GOP would probably have reverted to its traditional anti-government identity very quickly. Now Trump is reshaping it before our eyes.

(Excerpted from New York Magazine 11/18/16)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions? A “Direct Attack” on Nation’s Minorities

President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly chosen Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general of the United States, raising concern and ire among civil rights advocates who said the former federal prosecutor’s record is marred by racism as well as anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible, and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) declared in a searing statement. “No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions.”

Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Justice Department—who must be confirmed by the Senate—”has a long history of opposition to civil rights,” The Nation‘s Ari Berman wrote on Friday.

“The Senate rejected Sessions for a federal judgeship during the Reagan administration because of racist statements he made and for falsely prosecuting black political activists in Alabama,” Berman noted. “He opposed the Voting Rights Act, the country’s most important civil rights law.”

Even before Sessions got the nod, the Los Angeles Times reported on how, under a Trump administration, experts “predict the Justice Department…will be less likely to sue states over voting restrictions that target the poor or minorities, to hold police departments accountable for abuses, or fight in court for the rights of transgender people.”

“Also vulnerable,” wrote the LA Times, “are Justice Department guidelines set under President [Barack] Obama that sought more lenient sentences for nonviolent offenders and restricted racial profiling and surveillance of Muslims.”

With conservative Sessions at the helm, those predictions seem even more prescient.

The Washington Post reported Friday:

The appointment of Sessions is expected to bring sweeping change to the Justice Department as it operated under Loretta E. Lynch and her predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr., who, when he was nominated to be the first black attorney general, pledged to make rebuilding the civil rights division his top priority.

Several former Justice officials predicted that Sessions would reverse the emphasis on civil rights and criminal-justice reform that Holder put in place.

“From his time as U.S. attorney through his service on the Judiciary Committee, he has left serious doubts about whether he would faithfully enforce civil rights laws as attorney general,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “The civil rights division was gutted during the last Republican administration, and the burden of proof is on Senator Sessions to show that he would not follow that same path.”

The ACLU’s statement on Sessions reflected similar anxieties.

“Sen. Sessions has called the ACLU un-American and communist, assertions we flatly reject,” said ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero on Friday.

“His positions on LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion rights, and presidential authority in times of war have been contested by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations,” Romero pointed out. “As the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, the attorney general is charged with protecting the rights of all Americans. In his confirmation hearings, senators, the media, and the American public should closely examine his stances on these key issues to ensure we can have confidence in his ability to uphold the Constitution and our laws on behalf of all Americans.”

“It is outrageous and outright dangerous to have one of the most racist politicians in Congress, who has made it his life’s mission to hurt Latinos, immigrants, and African Americans, as the head of the Department of Justice,” Alex added. “Throughout his career Sessions has proven his contempt for Latinos by leading the charge in the fight against birthright citizenship, immigration reform, legal immigration, and sanctuary cities.”

(Excerpted from Common Dreams 11/18/16)

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Trump’s CIA choice riles civil liberties crowd

President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise decision Friday to nominate Rep. Mike Pompeo to run the CIA would place a hawk who has butted heads with Muslim-American groups and wants to roll back reforms of domestic surveillance programs atop one of the nation’s leading spy agencies.

The choice of the 52-year-old Kansas Republican, a rising star on the Intelligence Committee who was just reelected to his fourth term, alarmed privacy advocates, who are already gearing up to fight his nomination. The American Civil Liberties Union swiftly blasted Pompeo for beliefs it said raise “serious civil liberties concerns about privacy and due process.”

… he has used that perch to be a fierce advocate for expanding U.S. surveillance efforts, both at home and abroad. Washington “is blunting its surveillance powers,” Pompeo wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year, just a few weeks after the deadly 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California.

He also bashed a series of surveillance reforms approved earlier this year that shuttered a program to collect bulk phone records, imposed limits on other types of data collection and instituted new public reporting requirements.

….he has used that perch to be a fierce advocate for expanding U.S. surveillance efforts, both at home and abroad. Washington “is blunting its surveillance powers,” Pompeo wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year, just a few weeks after the deadly 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California.

Pompeo’s nomination could get a frosty reception from Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee during his confirmation. He was a strong critic of its 2014 report on CIA torture of terrorism suspects. The 525-page document detailed evidence of CIA officials condoning torture and misleading government oversight staff about such practices.

“What I can tell you about this report is two simple things,” he said during an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio program. “One, it has made America less safe, that is this release will ultimately cause Americans to be killed. And second, there was no good rationale for putting forth this report. There was literally no news, save for some salacious details that actually put these very warriors at risk.”

Privacy and civil liberties advocates — who bristle at Pompeo’s opinions on both digital snooping and his push to keep open the Guantánamo Bay detention center — have already launched a campaign against the presumptive nominee.

(Excerpted from Politico 11/18/16)

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Civil rights leaders savage Sessions

Civil rights groups reacted with alarm Friday to President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as his nominee for attorney general.

“The choice of Senator Sessions to lead the Department of Justice is more than deeply unsatisfactory; it is a blatantly inflammatory act in a time of heightened focus on violence and injustice against communities of color,” said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of civil rights advocacy organizations. “Sessions’ history of racist rhetoric, insults and persecution is well-known, and put a swift end to his nomination for a federal judgeship years ago. … The proposed nomination of this person as a candidate for this position is a shocking gesture of hostility toward millions of Americans, and should be immediately rejected.”

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to a federal district court seat in his native Alabama. During a contentious confirmation hearing, Sessions was confronted with claims from colleagues that he had made racist remarks, but he denied having done so. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted down his nomination, 10-8, marking only the second time the panel had rejected a judicial nominee in half a century.

Liberal Trump opponents also jumped into the fray on Friday morning, blasting Sessions over the racial allegations from three decades ago as well as his Senate record on issues such as immigration and civil rights.

“The handful of people who might be even less equipped than Jeff Sessions to dispense justice on behalf of the American people typically spend their weekends wearing pointy hats and burning crosses,” Democracy for America’s Charles Chamberlain said in a statement. “Jeff Sessions was too racist to become a federal judge. In the 1980s. The idea that Jeff Sessions might become Attorney General is a genuine threat to our country and the lives and safety of people of color, Muslim Americans, women, and working families.”

(Excerpted from Politico 11/18/16)

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Critics See Stephen Bannon, Trump’s Pick for Strategist, as Voice of Racism

Civil rights groups, Democrats and some Republican Party strategists on Monday denounced President-elect Donald J. Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen K. Bannon to a top White House position, warning that Mr. Bannon represents nationalist and racist views that should be rejected by the incoming president.

…a chorus of critics took to Twitter to lament what they said was a frightening normalization of the fringe views that Mr. Bannon promoted as the chairman of Breitbart News. The site has for years given voice to anti-Semitic, racist and white nationalist ideology.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Mr. Bannon’s selection “sends the disturbing message that anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology will be welcome in the White House.”

That view was echoed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. It insisted that “Trump should rescind this hire.”

“In his victory speech, Trump said he intended to be president for ‘all Americans,’” it said. “Bannon should go.”

Republicans who had long opposed Mr. Trump’s candidacy also took to Twitter on Sunday night and Monday morning to warn that his choice to rely on the advice of Mr. Bannon is an indication of the way that he will govern.

“The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist who ran the presidential campaign of Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio and previously advised Senator John McCain of Arizona. “Be very vigilant, America.”

Jewish leaders and supporters of Israel expressed alarm at Mr. Bannon’s appointment, pointing to anti-Semitic writings on the Breitbart website and to allegations from Mr. Breitbart’s ex-wife that he had made anti-Semitic comments about the students at his daughter’s school.

“In his roles as editor of the Breitbart website and as a strategist in the Trump campaign, Mr. Bannon was responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “There should be no place for such views in the White House.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House, issued a statement on Monday calling Mr. Bannon’s appointment an “alarming signal” that the president-elect is committed to a hateful and divisive vision for the country. “There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration,” Ms. Pelosi said.

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/15/16)

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2016 Likely to Top 2015 as Hottest Year on Record, Scientists Say

This year will be “very likely” the hottest on record, with global temperatures breaking the previous record, set in 2015, scientists with the World Meteorological Organization announced on Monday.

The announcement is no surprise to climate scientists — experts at NASA had already projected that 2016 would be a third year of record heat — and the record will not be definitive until early next year.

But the latest estimate of record-shattering heat comes as world leaders gather in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the annual United Nations talks on limiting the impact of climate change. The meeting is taking place in an atmosphere of alarm. President-elect Donald J. Trump has called human-caused climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese; has vowed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form”; and has named Myron Ebell of the business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute, who has deep oil industry ties, to head his E.P.A. transition team.

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/15/16

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Paul Ryan’s false claim that ‘because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke’

The Affordable Care Act actually strengthened the near-term outlook of the Part A trust fund. The law includes a 0.9 percent payroll tax that hits the wages and self-employment income of wealthier Americans — above $250,000 per couple or $200,000 for a single taxpayer. That was estimated to raise an additional $63 billion for the Part A trust fund between 2010 and 2019. The law also was estimated to cut expenses, including $162 billion in productivity adjustments to provider payments and $86 billion in reduced payments to Medicare Advantage plans.

The net result was that the “insolvency” date was extended by 12 years . Before the law was passed, the trustees said in 2009, the fund was going to be depleted in 2017. “The short-range financial outlook for the HI [hospital insurance] trust fund is substantially more favorable than projected in last year’s annual report, primarily as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” the Medicare trustees said in their 2010 report, saying the fund would last until 2029.

In the 2016 trustees report, the fund was estimated to be depleted in 2028, two years earlier than the 2015 report, primarily because the consumer price index, representing inflation, did not rise as much as anticipated, reducing income projections. (In the long run, however, lower inflation will also reduce Medicare expenditures.) But that’s unrelated to the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, Republicans have vowed to repeal Obamacare, which would in turn make the trust fund’s situation instantly worse unless lawmakers found a way to make up the payroll tax revenue and program savings embedded in the Affordable Care Act.

the House speaker really went off the rails when he said on national television that Obamacare is making the program go broke. That’s the exact opposite of what happened.

Four Pinocchios

(Excerpted from Fact Checker, Washington Post 11/14/16)

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Against Trumpian triumphalism

Let’s be clear: The United States of America is not Donald Trump’s country.

When all the returns are in, Hillary Clinton will emerge with a popular vote lead of some 1.5 million to 2 million votes, according to estimates by both Nate Cohn of the New York Times and Henry Olsen, a conservative voting analyst whose pre-election predictions were close to the actual results.

To point out Clinton’s popular-vote advantage is not a form of liberal denial. It’s a way of beginning to build a barricade against right-wing triumphalism — and of reminding immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos and, yes, our daughters that most Americans stood with them on Election Day.

It is also not true that the emerging political coalition that elected President Obama died on Nov. 8. That alliance maintained its national advantage, as the popular vote shows, and came within a whisker in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan of delivering the election to Clinton despite an onslaught of partisan congressional investigations, Russian meddling and the last-minute political intervention of the FBI.

But there is one piece of the post-election conventional wisdom that is importantly right, yet in ways more complicated than we progressives might wish.

Those who touted the power of the Obama coalition made the grave miscalculation of forgetting that white working-class voters were essential to making the new alliance work. Democrats sorely need to recover ground with white working-class voters, especially after learning that even a candidate as troubling as Trump could not sufficiently loosen the Republican loyalties of many among the college educated — particularly men.

Still, progressives hoping that a heavy dose of populism will be enough to win back the working class must not be under the illusion that the Trump constituency was motivated solely by economics.

In fact, Trump’s immigration stand (he won 86 percent of voters who want to build a wall on the Mexican border, according to CNN’s exit polls ) and his law-and-order appeal (he won 74 percent among those who rejected the idea that the criminal justice system treats black Americans unfairly) were key to his victory. When exit pollsters asked voters to name the most important issue facing the country, he won among those who listed immigration or terrorism; he lost among those who cited the economy. Trump’s hard-edged social conservatism, not just a general anti- establishment appeal, drove up white turnout in many key counties.

(Excerpted from Dionne, Washington Post 11/13/16)

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A clean shave for President Trump — but not a free one

Herblock, the legendary Post cartoonist, spent decades depicting Richard Nixon as a sinister figure with a 5 o’clock shadow. The day after the 1968 election, Herblock sat down to draw the cartoonist’s office as a barbershop, a paper taped to the wall: “This shop gives to every new president of the United States a free shave.” Signed, “H. Block, proprietor.”

Herblock later explained his decision to employ a healing razor: “In spite of his past, it seemed to me that an incoming president, particularly at a time of national divisions and crisis, was entitled to his chance to lead.”

So is President-elect Donald Trump.

His clean shave does not mandate our empty mind. Not about the repulsive things Trump has said and done, nor about his manifest unfitness and unpreparedness for office. Nor does it signify naive optimism about Trump’s willingness — or even his capacity — to change. As Herblock discovered, which surely did not surprise him, “it turned out to be the same old Nixon.”

A clean shave should not be a free one. The price for Trump must be, first, a recognition of reality: that a majority of voters did not support him — indeed, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Second, Trump as president-elect, and as president, must demonstrate some comprehension of constitutional norms.

On these, the evidence, post-election, is unnervingly mixed. Trump struck the right tone in his victory speech and his White House visit. He spoke of the need to “bind the wounds of division.” He pledged “to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.”

And then there was Thursday night’s ominous tweet, characteristically thin-skinned and dismissive of free speech. “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

Trump — or a grown-up with access to his Twitter account and some understanding of the Constitution — cleaned things up early Friday morning. “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country.”

The cynical way to understand this about-face is that Thursday Night Trump is the real, unexpurgated Trump; and Friday Morning Trump is the spin-doctored version. That this is almost certainly accurate — no one thinks Trump woke up and thought better of his intemperate words on his own — does not answer the more salient question: Which Trump will emerge as president?

And will he assemble a Team of Inciters that inflames his worst instincts or a Team of Naysayers that tempers them?

Thursday morning, Rudy Giuliani, a potential attorney general, popped off on “the very close question” of whether to prosecute Clinton.

“It’s been a tradition in our politics to put things behind us,” Giuliani told CNN. Still, he said, “suppose somebody comes along a year from now and is alleged to have stolen $50,000 from a charity — and [she] was never investigated for hundreds of millions.” This is Giuliani deranged, not for the first time this election. No one has suggested Clinton stole anything from the foundation.

A clean shave — sure. But it can only last so long, and the shadow looms.

(Excerpted from Marcus, Washington Post 11/11/16)

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