March 19, 2018

How we got into this mess

Sam Smith -  Disasters like President Trump don’t just happen; they typically have years of unattended, unnoticed and uncorrected precedents. For example, I have argued for at least a decade and a half that America had quietly ended its first republic and that we were in an ill-defined succession perhaps best described by a term used in Latin America: a culture of impunity.

Which is to say one based on hegemonic liberty i.e. the more power you have the more freedom you have to use it. Traditional external factors such as democracy, history, law, community, religion and cultural values move to the rear or disappear. As I described it:

In a culture of impunity, rules serve the internal logic of the system rather than whatever values typically guide a country, such as those of its constitution, church or tradition. The culture of impunity encourages coups and cruelty, and at best practices only titular democracy. A culture of impunity differs from ordinary political corruption in that the latter represents deviance from the culture while the former becomes the culture. Such a new culture does not announce itself.

In a culture of impunity, what replaces constitution, precedent, values, tradition, fairness, consensus, debate and all that sort of arcane stuff? Mainly greed. We find ourselves without heroism, without debate over right and wrong, with little but an endless narcissistic struggle by the powerful to get more money, more power, and more press than the next person. In the chase, anything goes and the only standard is whether you win, lose, or get caught.

The major political struggle has become not between conservative and liberal but between ourselves and our political, economic, social and media elites. Between the toxic and the natural, the corporate and the communal, the technocratic and the human, the competitive and the cooperative, the efficient and the just, meaningless data and meaningful understanding, the destructive and the decent.

While one can’t put a date on such a shift, a good approximation would be the Reagan administration. As I wrote in his wake:

Ronald Reagan … applied principles he had used to sell Chesterfield cigarettes to hawk a toxic form of government described well by Robert Lekachman:

"Ronald Reagan must be the nicest president who ever destroyed a union, tried to cut school lunch milk rations from six to four ounces, and compelled families in need of public help to first dispose of household goods in excess of $1,000".

There is considerable evidence that the collapse of the First American Republic began in no small part with Reagan’s inauguration:

- The number of federal inmates increased from approximately 25,000 in FY1980 to nearly 219,000 in FY2012.

- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an all-time record 49 percent of all Americans live in a home where at least one person receives financial assistance from the federal government. Back in 1983, that number was less than 30 percent.

- From 1947 to 1979 family income of the bottom 20% went up 116% and those in the top 20% went up 99%. Between 1980 and 2009, the bottom 20% went up 15% while the top 20% went up 95%

- Hours worked per employees are the highest since the 1980s.

- Middle class debt is the worst since the 1980s.

- Personal bankruptcies are up 400% since the 1980s.

- Student loan debt is the worst since the 1980s

- In the 1980s there were 50 corporations controlling most of the major media. Now there are six.

- During the Reagan administration the number of families living below the poverty line increased by one-third.

Just recently David F. Ruccio wrote that: “In 2014, the top 1 percent (red line) owned almost two thirds of the financial or business wealth, while the bottom 90 percent (blue line) had only six percent. That represents an enormous change from the already-unequal situation in 1978, when the shares were much closer (28.6 percent for the top 1 percent and 23.2 percent for the bottom 90 percent).

There are other aspects of the Reagan years we tend to forget. For example, the Reagan administration was among the most corrupt in American history including, by one estimate, 31 convictions of top officials. By comparison 40 government officials were indicted or convicted in the wake of Watergate. 47 individuals and businesses associated with the Clinton machine were convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes with 33 of these occurring during the Clinton administration itself.

David R. Simon and D. Stanley Eitzen in Elite Deviance, report that 138 appointees of the Reagan administration either resigned under an ethical cloud or were criminally indicted.

The Reagan administration also had secret plans for an unconstitutional takeover of the federal government under an ill-defined national emergency. Members of the government created by the coup had been selected and included Richard Cheney.

Reagan's policies also led to what was then the greatest financial scandal in American history: the savings & loan debacle which cost taxpayers billions of dollars.


Contrary to our faith in national immortality,  anthropologist Alfred Kroeber noted that elements of a culture do die out, "dissolve away, disappear, and are replaced by new ones. The elements of the content of such cultures may have previously spread to other cultures and survive there. Or their place may be taken at home by elements introduced from abroad. Or they may survive, with or without modification, at home, in the different configuration that gradually takes the place of the old one as a successor culture." 

As an example, Kroeber says that there came a time when the ancient Egyptians had clearly attained "the greatest military might, expansion, wealth, excellence of art and development of thought. The inherent patterns of their culture may be said to have been fully realized or to have been saturated then. After that, with pattern potentialities exhausted, there could be only diminished or devitalized repletion; unless the patterns can be reformulated in the direction of a new set of values - which would be equivalent to recasting the civilization into a new one or into a thoroughly new phase of one. This latter did not happen in Egypt; so more and more sluggish mechanical repetition within the realized but fully exhausted patterns became the universal vogue."

So while it is easy to blame Trump for everything that is going wrong, it is important that we recognize these and other factors. For example: 

- The rise of television advertising which shifted politics  from a community-based to an image based standard, aided by factors like the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court

- The rise, thanks in no small part to cable, of round the clock television news and commentary. Before cable, people got their news from a relatively few programs that tended to be more objective. Steady coverage quickly runs out of actual news. It also makes news programs increasingly dependent on highly biased but convenient sources such as the White House. As seen on TV, presidential news conferences, for example, were once far less frequent than they are now. 

- The over reliance by national news programs on politicians and other journalists, with a noticeable decline in the use of those outside the political establishment such as professors, ministers, local and state officials and leaders of non-political organizations. 

- The close ties of major media to corporate America described in one article this way: “Project Censored researched the board members of 10 major media organizations from newspaper to television to radio. Of these ten organizations, we found there are 118 people who sit on 288 different American and international corporate boards proving a close on-going interlock between big media and corporate America.”

- The media’s growing distance from those to whom it is reporting. When I started out as a Washington reporter in the 1950s, only about half of American journalists had more than a high school degree. They naturally identified with their readership rather than with their publishers or elite sources. I didn't let anyone know I had gone to Harvard because that would not have improved my standing either with staffers on the Hill or colleagues in the media.

Ben Bagdikian, a bit older than myself, described the craft in his memoir, Double Vision, this way:

"Some of us on that long-ago paper had college educations but we learned to keep quiet about it; there was a suspicion that a degree turned men into sissies. Only after the war did the US Labor Department's annual summary of job possibilities in journalism state that a college degree is 'sometimes preferred.'"

All this hasn’t helped the reputation of the media among the public. For example the British paper, the Independent, noted:

Almost a third of Americans support Donald Trump’s belief that the media is an “enemy of the American people” and favor government restrictions on the press, according to a new survey.

A smaller but still significant number of Americans — roughly a quarter — endorsed allowing the government to halt publication of “a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate,” an extraordinary rebuke of precedent barring such government control of the media.

-The rise of corporatism  -  In countries such as Italy, corporatism was the precursor of fascism. We’re not quite there yet, but seem at times clearly headed on the path. 

Until the last decades of the 19th century, Americans believed in a degree of fair distribution of wealth that would shock many today. Most free workers in this country were self-employed well into the 19th century. They were thus economic as well as political citizens. James L. Huston writes in the American Historical Review:

"Americans believed that if property were concentrated in the hands of a few in a republic, those few would use their wealth to control other citizens, seize political power, and warp the republic into an oligarchy. Thus to avoid descent into despotism or oligarchy, republics had to possess an equitable distribution of wealth."

Although the practice was centuries old, the term capitalism -- and thus the religion of the same name -- didn't even exist until the middle of the 19th century.

Americans were instead intensely commercial, but this spirit was propelled not by Reaganesque fantasies about competition but by the freedom that engaging in business provided from the hierarchical social and economic system of a monarchy. Business, including the exchange as well as the making of goods, was seen as a natural state allowing a community and individuals to get ahead and to prosper without the blessing of nobility or feudalism.

In the beginning, if you wanted to form a corporation you needed a state charter and had to prove it was in the public interest, convenience and necessity. During the entire colonial period only about a half-dozen business corporations were chartered; between the end of the Revolution and 1795 this rose to about a 150. Jefferson to the end opposed liberal grants of corporate charters and argued that states should be allowed to intervene in corporate matters or take back a charter if necessary.
It wasn't until after the Civil War that economic conditions turned sharply in favor of the large corporation.

Says Huston: "The rise of Big Business generated the most important transformation of American life that North America has ever experienced."

By the end of the 19th century the Supreme Court had declared corporations to be persons under the 14th Amendment, entitled to the same protections as human beings. It was during this same time that the myth of competitive virtue sprouted, helping to justify one of the great rapacious periods of American business

The populist, progressive and New Deal eras helped to reverse much of this. But all that is now in the past. The new robber barons are not only underpaying and mistreating their workers they are moving their jobs overseas.

The political movement of populism, which Jonathan Rowe called the "last spasm of economic freedom in an American context," did battle with the new corporations but lost, as did the eurocentric socialists who followed. Save during the depression, generations of Americans would come to accept the myth of the free markets and free enterprise. Today, only about 7 percent of non-farm workers are self-employed.

 - The rise of a gradocracy.  In the 1950s universities were turning out less than 5,000 MBAs a year.

By 2005,  these schools graduated 142,000 MBAs in one year.

There are plenty of worthy arguments to be made correlating the rise of business school culture with the decline of our economy and our country. A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product has become wasted energy. And not just the physical sort. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, 

planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout and the rise of the killer hedge fund.

And it was not just business school graduates that were the problem. In 2009, the Washingtonian Magazine estimated there were 80,000 lawyers in Washington.

The law has always been a favored profession for the Congress. Even Thomas Jefferson complained, “If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour? "

It was a given until recent times, that from a political point of view, understanding law or economics or business was a valuable asset but one that fell far behind social intelligence upon which successful politics relied. As my father, a lawyer who worked in the New Deal, would tell my buddies, “Go to law school, then do something else.” Roosevelt wasn’t as gracious towards the academic elites: “"I took economics courses in college for four years, and everything I was taught was wrong."

Today, the gradocracy has increasingly determined the views and strategies of liberals. People with less education are considered a lesser group and even, to borrow the word of the last Democratic presidential candidate, “deplorables.”

One of the effects is that instead of organizing, liberals increasingly analyze, criticizing the very people they should be converting or activating. The term “white privilege,” for example, isn’t all that appealing to that portion  of white America in poverty, a group twice as large as blacks of all incomes. And the analyses rely heavily on errors of history making me wonder sometimes whether we haven’t become a national dysfunctional family, forever trapped in our past rather than breaking out of it. As I  hope this essay illustrates, history can be  useful, but to let it define today’s limits can be painfully ineffective.

- The decline of study of matters of importance to maintaining a democracy. The current indifference to matters such as history and civics in our schools means that we are creating generations that don’t have a firm handle on what a democracy is and how it functions.  We don’t even talk about it. But a recent poll found that in 1995, only 16% of 16 to 24-year-old Americans believed that democracy was a bad way to run the country. By 2011, that share had increased to 24%. Further, only 43% of older Americans did not think that the military should be allowed to take over when the government is incompetent or failing to do its job. Amongst younger people the figure is much lower at 19%.

- The decline of community – With urbanization as well the niche building of cable television and the Internet, communities and their values are less important. One of the characteristics of a community is that it is common ground for varied souls. In a small community, you learn to speak decently to those with whom you may not agree in religion or politics because you still share something in common. Identity politics, for example, emphasizes self-realization and pride but often combined with a harshly judgmental attitude towards others.  I find myself wondering sometimes whether Martin Luther King – who admonished his colleagues that among their dreams should be that  someday their enemies would be their friends –could have flourished in today’s atmosphere. 

- The damage to the voting system. Citizens United, redistricting, and numerous requirements designed to reduce voting by certain groups have caused great damage to voting system.

- The unravelling of the Democratic Party – With the arrival of Bill Clinton on the national scene, his party lost interest in the issues that had created the New Deal and the Great Society. The party became Republican Lite . 

After Clinton’s first term, I wrote, “Even that otherwise egregious warlock of Whittier, Richard Nixon, practiced domestic affairs in the tradition of social democracy. He was, in fact, our last liberal president, an amazing claim until one considers that he favored a negative income tax; revenue sharing; a guaranteed income for children; supplementary programs for the aged, blind, and disabled; uniform application of the food stamp program; better health insurance programs for low income families; aid to community colleges; aid to low-income college students; the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities; and increased funding for elementary and secondary schools. Today someone of Nixon's domestic political tendencies might be considered too radical for C-SPAN.
The party and the media also ignored the Arkansas corruption and that of the Clintons in a manner later replicated in many ways by the media coverage of the Trump campaign. Hegemonic power had begun trumping reality. 


All this began happening well before Donald Trump took office and it makes more sense to recognize that he is the outcome of recent years of failure on our collective part rather than its creator. We have moving towards a Trump regime for a long time. 

There are things we can do about it, but I’ll leave that for another day. 

This essay includes excerpts from previous articles by the author.

March 18, 2018

US healthcare costs soar over other high-income countries

JAMA Network -  In 2016, the United States spent nearly twice as much as 10 high-income countries on medical care and performed less well on many population health outcomes. Contrary to some explanations for high spending, social spending and health care utilization in the United States did not differ substantially from other high-income nations. Prices of labor and goods, including pharmaceuticals and devices, and administrative costs appeared to be the main drivers of the differences in spending.

Importance Health care spending in the United States is a major concern and is higher than in other high-income countries, but there is little evidence that efforts to reform US health care delivery have had a meaningful influence on controlling health care spending and costs.

Meanwhile. . .

According to someone close to Andrew McCabe, the fired FBI official has given memos of his conversations with Donald Trump to Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Russian links to Cambridge Analytics 

Cambridge Analytics gather informtion on 50 million Facebook users


New stody on binge drinking

Generic House poll

Jared Kushner's company routinely filed false New York City paperwork

What is Cambridge Analytica?

Guardian  -Cambridge Analytica is a company that offers services to businesses and political parties who want to “change audience behaviour”.

It claims to be able to analyse huge amounts of consumer data and combine that with behavioural science to identify people who organisations can target with marketing material. It collects data from a wide range of sources, including social media platforms such as Facebook, and its own polling.

With its headquarters in London, the firm was set up in 2013 as an offshoot of another company called SCL Group, which offers similar services around the world.

In an interview with the website Contagious, Cambridge Analytica’s founder, Alexander Nix said it had been set up “to address the vacuum in the US Republican political market” that became evident when Mitt Romney was defeated in the 2012 presidential election.

March 17, 2018

Study finds Trump connected hotel in Panama was used for drug money laundering

Newsweek -President Donald Trump made tens of millions of dollars in profits by allowing Colombian drug cartels and other groups to launder money through a Trump-affiliated hotel in Panama, according to a new investigation by the organization Global Witness.

In the early 2000s, Trump was having financial difficulties and began selling his high-profile name to real estate developers around the world, the report said. One of these developed Panama’s Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower.

The report said the drug cartels purchased hotel units to hide the origins of money earned through drug trafficking and other criminal activity, and Trump is estimated to have earned tens of millions of dollars from the deals.

The report said the Panama project is a textbook case of money laundering.

“Investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely,” the report noted. “Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere.”

27 women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct

Mnuchin wastes large sums of public money on air trips

Salon -A new report by a nonpartisan ethics watchdog group claims that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been spending taxpayer money on expensive flights using military and non-commercial aircraft — and completely avoiding commercial.

"Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has billed taxpayers for the most expensive flight options available at every turn, appearing to never even consider flying commercial as his predecessors did," explained Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. ...

"The documents CREW obtained show that between the spring and fall of 2017, he took eight separate trips on military aircraft at a total cost of nearly $1 million," the report explained.

Democratic lawmaker offer McCabe a job

The Hill -Democratic lawmaker offered to hire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe in an effort to help McCabe qualify to receive his pension after being fired from the agency two days before he qualified to receive it.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) was responding to a tweet from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who said the former FBI official might still be able to receive his pension if he’s hired by a member of Congress.

Key figure in Mueller probe once sentenced for child pornography

Newsweek -The Lebanese-Amrican businessman who features prominently in special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry was once sentenced to six months on child pornography charges in Virginia, Newsweek has learned.

George Nader, 58, has emerged as a key player in the investigation. An adviser to the Emirati crown prince, Nader is believed to have represented the kingdom’s interests in White House meetings, and frequently met with Jared Kushner during the early months of the Trump administration to discuss U.S. policies toward Persian Gulf states.

But before he reemerged as a Middle East power broker, the onetime publisher of a niche foreign policy magazine accrued a record of criminal charges. In 1985, federal authorities charged Nader for importing sexually explicit materials, including magazines and pictures that depicted “nude boys,” and other materials showing boys “engaged in a variety of sexual acts,” according to federal court records. The case was dropped shortly before trial. And in 2003 he was convicted on 10 counts of sexually abusing underage boys in the Czech Republic, the AP reported Thursday. Nader served one year in prison abroad for those charges.

Finland rated happiest nation

GuardianIf you can’t buy happiness, perhaps you should move to Helsinki. Finland has emerged from a 10-year economic depression to be ranked by the UN last week as the happiest place to live on the planet. The most important factor in Finland topping the UN’s happiness ranking is the country’s history of equality. It has managed to strike an amicable balance between the sexes, between workers and bosses, and within the education and welfare systems. An equal society can bond together to survive the bad times when so many countries pull themselves apart.


Trump names another task traitor

Mondoweiss  -Any day now, the Senate will consider President Trump’s nominee for Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, Kenneth Marcus. This is a vote that could have widespread and lasting consequences for the safety and rights of students and faculty across the country, in particular those of people of color, women, and LGBTQ students.

Marcus has long opposed affirmative action, which seeks to correct past and present-day exclusion of Black students, as “racial prejudice” against white students. For Marcus, the fact that Black students are underrepresented at elite universities isn’t due to the legacy and persistence of racism, but the “cultural dysfunction” of Black families. This offensive racial stereotyping is not only factually incorrect but also downright offensive to the millions of Black students who excel in the sciences, art, business, law, etc. in schools across the country. Marcus cannot be entrusted with protecting the civil rights of students of color when he neither understands systemic racism nor respects people of color.

LGBTQ students and faculty can expect a similarly hostile response if they seek to challenge campus homophobia. When Marcus previously served at OCR as Assistant Secretary during the Bush Administration, he argued that universities that tried to address harassment of LGBTQ students were guilty of “religious discrimination.” Many LGBTQ students find it difficult to succeed in the face of harassment and other forms of discrimination on campus, but Marcus isn’t likely to be their ally. As Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), he opposed investigating violations of the rights of LGBTQ persons. This record is particularly concerning in light of the Department’s hostile actions to date toward LGBTQ students under President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.


Just a thought

Sam Smith - If what Stormy Daniels has said so far is worth $20 million in damages suggests that Trump is really worried about what else they might lead to.

March 16, 2018

Trump puts Andy Borowitz on his mark

 Recent Andy Borowitz articles

The Pentagon has turned down Donald J. Trump’s request for a grand military parade in Washington, D.C., citing a sudden outbreak of bone spurs that would prevent men and women in uniform from participating.

Calling the result “close but no cigar,” Vladimir Putin has conceded defeat in Tuesday night’s special congressional election in Pennsylvania. “Our social-media trolls did some of their finest work to put Rick over the top, but, in the final analysis, we were a day late and a ruble short,” the Russian President said.

Hours after an armed teacher in a Northern California classroom fired a gun and injured a student, the head of the National Rifle Association proposed placing a second armed teacher in every classroom, to shoot the first armed teacher before he or she can do harm.

73% of teachers oppose teachers and staff carrying guns in schools

What the establishment (including the media) is brushing off about Gina Haspel

Jefferson Morley, Alternet - A declassified CIA memo, obtained by the ACLU, details the torture techniques Haspel proposed for Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi member of al-Qaeda, arrested in Pakistan in 2002. They included:

“attention grasp, walling technique, facial hold, facial or insult slap, cramped confinement, wallstanding, stress position, sleep deprivation, waterboard ONE LINE REDACTED and mock burials. To this was added the placement of harmless insects in the confinement box (based on AZ’s apparent discomfort with insects).”

"Cramped confinement" means stuffing an adult male into a box 30 inches tall, 30 inches wide and 21 inches deep. After consulting with the Justice Department, Haspel eliminated “mock burial” as a torture technique and adopted all of the others, including the insects.

Haspel knew the torture might kill Abu Zubaydah and planned accordingly. In a memo attributed to her by Just Security, she wrote:

"If subject develops a serious medical condition which may involve a host of conditions including a heart attack or another catastrophic type of condition, all efforts will be made to ensure that proper medical care will be provided to subject. In the event that subject dies we need to be prepared to act accordingly keeping in mind the liaison equities involving our hosts. If subject dies, we plan on seeking [redacted] assistance for cremation of the subject."

... In hindsight, Obama’s decision in 2009 not to investigate or indict those who engaged in torture, perhaps understandable at the time, left a legacy of impunity that renders the unspeakable defensible and paves the way for torturers to return to positions of power.

Philadelphia's new DA redefines prosecution

Mother Jones -Newly minted Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was elected on a platform of bringing criminal justice reform to the office and attacking mass incarceration. Now Krasner, a former civil rights attorney, seems to be making good on his promise. He issued a remarkable memo to his assistant DAs that swaps the office’s traditional tough-on-crime approach in favor of one intended both to reduce the number of people in city jail and prisons, and to shorten the duration of their stays.

The memo instructs prosecutors to cease charging certain offenses entirely—including possession of marijuana, regardless of the weight carried, and prostitution in some circumstances. It also encourages assistant DAs to punish people with house arrest, probation, and alternative sentencing much more frequently, and to seek shorter probation sentences. Krasner’s subordinates must now get permission before seeking sentences of more than six months for a minor probation violation, or more than one year for a more serious one.

Krasner’s memo also directs prosecutors to offer plea deals with shorter sentences than suggested by state sentencing guidelines, and to get his permission before offering more-punitive deals—a crucial change, as more than 90 percent of criminal convictions nationwide are the result of a plea.

Americans can't save enough for retirement

CNBC -Despite a low unemployment rate and increasing wage growth, Americans still aren't saving much. That's according to a new survey from, which found that 20 percent of Americans don't save any of their annual income at all and even those who do save aren't putting away a lot.

Only 16 percent of survey respondents say that they save more than 15 percent of what they make, which is what experts generally recommend. A quarter of respondents report saving between 6 and 10 percent of their income and 21 percent say they sock away 5 percent or less.

Bankrate estimates that half of the American population won't be able to maintain their standard of living once they stop working. A report from GoBankingRates found similar results: Over 40 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire.

Word: Conor Lamb's victory in Pennsylvania

Kate Aronoff, In These Times -   Lamb’s victory isn’t an unambiguous sign that out-and-out progressives can sail to victory in areas carried by Trump. A former federal prosecutor, Lamb supports both coal and fracking, is “personally opposed” to abortion (though doesn’t support laws banning it), and rejects both Medicare for All and a $15 minimum wage.

Yet at a time when organized labor faces existential threats at the federal level, Lamb’s heavily union-backed campaign also signals that Democrats running as explicitly pro-labor can win—even in the face of $14 million worth of Republican opposition. Lamb enjoyed hearty backing from Pennsylvania unions, including the United Steelworkers, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the United Mine Workers of America, and he ran on bread-and-butter economic issues such as protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Unions, in turn, got out the vote against Lamb’s avowedly anti-union opponent, state Rep. Rick Saccone. “Organized labor built Western Pennsylvania, tonight they have reasserted their right to have a major part in our future,” Lamb said in his victory speech.

March 15, 2018

Mueller subpoenas files from Trump Organization

NY Times -The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known time that the special counsel demanded documents directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump’s business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.

Only about a half of Trump backers think charges of adultery are a problem

Huffington Post -Only about half of the people who voted for President Donald Trump say it would be immoral if he had an affair with pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. The other half say it is not immoral, or they are not sure, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey.

Three-quarters of Trump voters also contend that, even if Daniels’ allegations are true, they are not relevant to Trump’s presidency. In fact, they claim to be barely concerned about a president’s private life at all: Seventy percent say an elected official who has committed an “immoral act” in his or her personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill duties in the public and professional sphere.

Study: Nearly all bottled water contains microplastics

Treehugger -It turns out that sea salt isn't the only grocery item to regularly contain particles of microplastics. A recent study by journalism non-profit Orb Media has found microplastics in 93% of the 250 bottled water samples it tested. Samples were purchased around the world, and from 11 different major brands.

Great moments with Larry Kudlow

Alternet - In 2010, Kudlow warned that the choice of Janet Yellen to become vice chair of the Federal Reserve risked unleashing a devastating wave of inflation. Her focus on reducing unemployment risked letting the money supply rise uncontrollably, dooming the recovery from the Great Recession.

Of course, none of that happened. Inflation has been on average below target since 2009. Yellen became the Fed chair in 2014, and her policies helped spur the steady economic growth and low unemployment rate for which Trump thinks he deserves all the credit.

As Jonathan Chait explains, Kudlow was seeing signs of economic recovery in July 2008 — after evidence of the housing crisis had long been apparent, but well before the country sank to the greatest depths of the recession.

Chait also chronicles Kudlow's long history of supporting the Republican dogma that all tax cuts are good, completely ignoring the reams of evidence to the contrary.

Using the Nuremberg defense for Trump's CIA choice

Intercept - During the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, several Nazis, including top German generals Alfred Jodl and Wilhelm Keitel, claimed that they were not guilty of the tribunal’s charges because they had been acting at the directive of their superiors.

Ever since, this justification has been popularly known as the “Nuremberg Defense,” in which the accused states they were “only following orders.”

The Nuremberg judges rejected the Nuremberg Defense, and both Jodl and Keitel were hanged. The United Nations’ International Law Commission later codified the underlying principle from Nuremberg as, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

Many members of the Washington, D.C. elite are now stating that it in fact is a legitimate defense for American officials who violate international law to claim they were just following orders.

Specifically, they say, Gina Haspel, a top CIA officer whom President Trump has designated to be the agency’s next director, bears no responsibility for the torture she supervised during the George W. Bush administration.

Haspel oversaw a secret “black site” in Thailand, at which prisoners were waterboarded and subjected to other severe forms of abuse... John Kiriakou, a former CIA operative who helped capture many Al Qaeda prisoners, recently said that Haspel was known to some at the Agency as “Bloody Gina” and that “Gina and people like Gina did it, I think, because they enjoyed doing it. They tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information.” 

The new Democratic public works plan

March 14, 2018

Details about torturer Trump has named as CIA chief

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s choice for the CIA’s number two position, was more deeply involved in the torture of Abu Zubaydah than has been publicly understood, according to newly available records and accounts by participants.  The Story

Since EPA is no longer doing its job, its top officials can also work elsewhere

Think Progress -The Environmental Protection Agency is giving top officials permission to moonlight for private companies in their off-time, a practice that could conflict with their official duties at the federal agency.

Two of the most prominent EPA officials currently under scrutiny are John Konkus, who serves as the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for the Office of Public Affairs, and Patrick Davis, an EPA senior adviser.

Konkus received approval from ethics officials at the EPA to work outside the agency as a media consultant. He was approved to advise clients on “strategy, mail and media production,” according to an ethics form signed last August, E&E News reported Monday. The EPA is refusing to disclose Konkus’s clients, raising more questions about potential conflicts of interest with his official and outside work.

Davis, a top official in the EPA’s Denver office and former director of Trump’s presidential campaign in Colorado, was given approval in February 2017 to work as the sales director for Telephone Town Hall Meeting, which does outreach for legislators and political campaigns.

Israel invokes right to strip Palestinians in Jerusalem of right to live there

Portside -The Israeli parliament has passed a law that allows the minister of interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian in Jerusalem on grounds of a "breach of loyalty" to Israel.

Under the new measure, Israel's Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox political party Shas, will be able to strip the residency documents of any Palestinian whom he deems a threat.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, described the law as "an extremely racist piece of legislation.

"By unethically stripping the residency of Palestinians from Jerusalem and depriving the rights of those Palestinians to remain in their own city, the Israeli government is acting in defiance of international law and is violating international human rights and humanitarian laws," said Ashrawi, according to a statement published on Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.

Despite Israel's claims that occupied East Jerusalem is part of its "eternal, undivided" capital, the Palestinians who are born and live there do not hold Israeli citizenship, unlike their Jewish counterparts.

Palestinians in the city are given "permanent residency" ID cards and temporary Jordanian passports that are only used for travel purposes. They are essentially stateless, stuck in legal limbo - they are not citizens of Israel, nor are they citizens of Jordan or Palestine.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said such residency revocations, which force Palestinians out of Jerusalem, "could amount to war crimes" under the treaty of the International Criminal Court .

The real Mike Pompeo

You'd never guess it from the subservient coverage of the mass media,  but Mike Pompeo is a considerable danger to the United States, aggressively ignorant about climate change, a religious extremist, and pro-tortur.e Here's more about the nominated Secretary of State from Wikipedia:

Military and national security


Pompeo supports the surveillance programs of the National Security Agency, referring to the agency's efforts as "good and important work". Pompeo stated, "Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed."


In a 2013 speech on the House floor, Pompeo said Muslim leaders who fail to denounce acts of terrorism done in the name of Islam are "potentially complicit" in the attacks. The Council on American-Islamic Relations called on him to revise his remarks, calling them "false and irresponsible".


Pompeo opposes closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp

He criticized the Obama administration's decision to end secret prisons and its requirement that all interrogators adhere to anti-torture laws.


Pompeo worked to undermine the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran that was supported by the Obama administration. Referring to the agreement, he stated, "I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism." He also stated that a better option than negotiating with Iran would be to use "under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces."

Energy and environment

Speaking about climate change in 2013, Pompeo said: "There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There's some who think we're warming, there's some who think we're cooling, there's some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment."

He has stated, "Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda." He has referred to the Obama administration's environment and climate change plans as "damaging" and "radical". He opposes the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the United States, and supports eliminating the United States federal register of greenhouse gas emissions


Pompeo opposed the Affordable Care Act. Pompeo has been criticized for saying that he supports funding for certain programs that are part of the ACA, yet he opposes them when they are a part of the ACA.

Social issues

Pompeo has stated that life begins at conception and believes that abortions should be allowed only when necessary to save the life of the mother. In 2011 he voted for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would have banned federal health coverage that includes abortion. Also in 2011, he voted for a prohibition on funding the United Nations Population Fund.

He opposed same-sex marriage and had sponsored bills to let states prevent same-sex couples from marrying.


He is a lifetime member of, and has been endorsed by, the National Rifle Association.

Pompeo opposes requiring food suppliers to label food made with genetically modified organisms. He introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 to block states from requiring mandatory GMO food labeling.