Tuesday, August 14, 2018

THE RALLY - White Supremacist Washington DC 8/13/2018

The Daily Show
with Trevor Noah

There's nothing funnier than watching a white supremacist ask a black cop for a favor.

Monday, August 13, 2018

DRUG COSTS - The Middlemen

This is a "DUH?" question.  Of course middlemen drive up costs.

"Do prescription drug middlemen help keep prices high?" PBS NewsHour 8/11/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any country in the world, and the pharmaceutical industry earns billions in profits each year.  Critics blame Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs, for a portion of those high costs through their role as middlemen between insurance plans, drug makers and pharmacies—but PBMs say they save consumers money.  NewsHour Weekend Megan Thompson reports.

MEGAN THOMPSON (NewsHour):  So Falkowitz did some research online.  His aunt was taking eight drugs for things like dementia and high blood pressure.  She was paying close to $103 in insurance copays for those drugs every month.  Falkowitz found he could get those exact same drugs for $65, if he paid out of pocket at an independent pharmacy, not using his aunt’s insurance plan at all.  That’s nearly 40 percent less.  Falkowitz manages a medical practice and deals with insurance plans all the time.  He says it was a total surprise.

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 8/10/2018

"Brooks and Marcus on the Charlottesville rally anniversary, EPA and climate change" PBS NewsHour 8/10/2018

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SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join William Brangham to discuss the week’s news, including the anniversary of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the politics of racially charged rhetoric, the implications of Tuesday’s close elections, the EPA moving away from global climate change efforts, and more.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Now we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus.  That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus.  Mark Shields is away.

Welcome to you both.

So, we — as we were just hearing, this weekend is the one-year anniversary of the spasm of racism that we saw in Charlottesville.

David, I’m curious.  The President, we saw what his reaction was a year ago.  And since then, he’s continued a steady stream of racially charged rhetoric, criticizing immigrants, linking them with crime and MS-13, criticizing NFL players.

In this past year, is it your sense that anything has changed in that regard?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  No, not with Donald Trump.

White identity politics has been his calling card for a long, long time, maybe stretching back generations of the Trump family.

The Institute for Family Studies did this study asking how many people, how many Americans actually sympathize with what the alt-right stood for, what the people in Charlottesville stood for.  And they identified three core beliefs.

The first was, do you have a strong sense of white identity, [1] do you have a belief in the importance of white solidarity, [2] that all white people should stick together, and [3] you have a sense of white victimization, that whites are often the victim of discrimination?

And 6 percent of Americans share those three beliefs.  And so that’s pretty much a core set of people who have high — one would say, a high degree of white identity, verging into racism.

And so that’s a group of people who can be whipped up.  And then there’s a large group that share one of those things.

But, to me, Donald Trump’s main failure is constantly whipping up that sense of white identity.  Not many even Republicans 20 years ago thought that being white was a strong part of their identity.  But now it’s like 55 percent.  And so he has stirred that up.

And then the second problem is, you just can’t have a party that’s basically all white, because when you overlay our racial problems with our political problems, you get instant poison.

And so the failure to do anything about that is by itself a gigantic problem.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Ruth, do you see any good news in that, in that just 6 percent — I know it is — does seem like an enormous number of people identifying with white supremacy — but maybe there’s a silver lining there?

RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post:  Well, I do see some good news in the response of the American people in the last year.

The first good news was the response to Charlottesville and to the President’s response to Charlottesville, where almost — most people, in fact, many people in his administration, some publicly, recoiled at the President’s assertion that there were fine people on both sides.

I think we have seen in recent months a kind of slow-motion version of Charlottesville, as people have recoiled from the family separation policy and its racial overtones.

We are better as a people, even despite that 6 percent, than our President.  The bad news is that, as David said, the President has not been chastened — and, as you mentioned — the President has not been chastened in the last year.  He has just continued to do what he has done all along.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  You mean he hasn’t suffered political repercussions?

RUTH MARCUS:  He hasn’t suffered political repercussions.  And he has gone on his merry, very ugly way.

And it’s not the 6 percent that I worry about.  It’s the people who do not think of themselves as racists, people who think of themselves as decent people, wouldn’t subscribe to those extreme views.  But there’s a way in which the President’s rhetoric about S-hole countries, about animals, and his actions, like family separation, just legitimize and kind of encourage a belief in some people as lesser than others, and allowing comments like Laura Ingraham’s comments just the other day about immigrants to be viewed as somehow more acceptable than they were before Donald Trump.

And one last thing.  The numbers bear it out.  There was a recent poll; 57 percent of people thought race relations have got — think race relations have gotten worse under Donald Trump.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Gotten worse.

RUTH MARCUS:  Fifty-seven percent.

Need to point out, 37 percent thought they got worse under Barack Obama as well, but…

DAVID BROOKS:  Right.  Right.

Yes.  Well, I certainly think they have gotten worse.  Even measuring by segregation levels in the schools, we’re much more segregated at schools, residentially, and then the political thing that’s tearing — on the Laura Ingraham comment…

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  This was Laura, the FOX News host who basically went on a diatribe the other day, saying that it is undeniable that America is changing, and it’s largely due to demographics, and that these open borders, and the Democrats seem to celebrate it, and it’s a catastrophe for the country.

DAVID BROOKS:  And nobody asked us.  And she said it’s legal immigration and illegal immigration.

So it was a pure play of, we used to be white, and now we’re less so.  That — basically, that…

RUTH MARCUS:  It’s not too subtle.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes.

And so I suppose I’m perfectly willing to have a debate about immigration, but when it’s constantly accompanied by racial superiority and race — and us/them thinking, and racial cries, you can’t even have that debate.

TRUMP TARIFFS - Tweets and Turkey

"Trump’s tariff tweet inflames Turkey’s economic crisis and strained U.S. relations" PBS NewsHour 8/10/2018

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SUMMARY:  President Trump turned a simmering conflict with Turkey to a boil, tweeting that he would double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum.  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey was at economic war, as the country's currency tumbled as much as 20 percent to a record low.  Already, U.S.-Turkey relations have been strained over an array of conflicts.  Nick Schifrin reports.

TRUMP AGENDA - Immigration, Sofi's Story

A story of a heartless Trump policy.

"For 7 weeks, Sofi begged to go home.  Now reunited, her journey isn’t over" PBS NewsHour 8/10/2018

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SUMMARY:  When a young girl named Sofi and her grandmother came legally to a U.S. immigration checkpoint, they tried to apply for asylum but were separated by U.S. officials.  After 47 days, their story took a happier turn late Thursday in California.  Amna Nawaz joins William Brangham to share an update.




"3-year-old ‘Sofi’ reunites with her mother" PBS NewsHour 8/10/2018

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SUMMARY:  Seven weeks ago, Angelica and her 3-year-old granddaughter, Sofi, were separated after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at a legal point of entry, seeking asylum.  On Thursday, they were reunited in San Francisco.  The PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz has been following their story.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "#NeverAgain"

"David and Lauren Hogg never thought it would happen in Parkland.  Now they say #NeverAgain" PBS NewsHour 8/9/2018

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SUMMARY:  It’s been almost six months since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed.  But out of that tragedy emerged a group of students dedicated to preventing future school shootings, including David and Lauren Hogg.  Hari Sreenivasan recently spoke with them about their movement and new book, “#NeverAgain.”

TRUMP & THE INVESTIGATIONS - The Nunes Tapes

"Secret recording highlights Nunes’ concern with protecting Trump in Russia probe" PBS NewsHour 8/9/2018

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SUMMARY:  A secret recording acquired by MSNBC captures House Intelligence chairman Republican Rep. Devin Nunes at a fundraiser discussing the Russia probe -- specifically how Republicans should protect President Trump from the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference.  Lisa Desjardins joins William Brangham to break it down.

SPY GAMES - Russian Double-Agent Attack Blow-Back

"What new U.S. sanctions for Skripal attack say to Russia" PBS NewsHour 8/9/2018

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SUMMARY:  The Trump administration on Wednesday announced new sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s use of a nerve agent on a former Russian double-agent and his daughter earlier this year in Britain.  Russia has denied any involvement.  William Brangham gets reaction from former State Department official Daniel Fried.

NEVER ENDING WAR - Israel & Hamas

"Israel and Hamas seem to pull back from the brink of war after violence flares" PBS NewsHour 8/9/2018

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SUMMARY:  Israel and militant group Hamas have agreed to a tentative truce to calm tensions that have risen dramatically in recent days and the last 24 hours.  Militants have fired rockets and mortars toward Israeli towns, while Israeli jets pounded targets in Gaza.  Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports that when wars in Gaza start, it’s often civilians who pay the biggest price.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "Crux"

"A journalist’s journey, guided by curiosity for her father’s illness" PBS NewsHour 8/8/2018

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SUMMARY:  Jean Guerrero’s "Crux" is the odyssey of a daughter in search of herself as she comes to terms with her own mentally ill father.  Amna Nawaz talks with the author, who is also a journalist for KPBS [San Diego], about how she told her own family’s story.

FAKE NEWS - InfoWars Goes Down!


"Why kicking Alex Jones off social media is not legally censorship" PBS NewsHour 8/8/2018

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SUMMARY:  iTunes, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube, have all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ audio and video content from their platforms, saying he violated their hate-speech policies.  P.J. Tobia takes a closer look at his media operation, and William Brangham examines the pushback and legal questions with Lyrissa Lidsky, dean of the University of Missouri School of Law.

QUAKE WARNING! - It's an App

"How an earthquake alert app could eventually give the West Coast vital warning" PBS NewsHour 8/8/2018

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SUMMARY:  West Coast residents go about life knowing seismic threats are lurking, but there's a lot that people can do before an earthquake hits if they have even a few seconds of warning.  A system called "ShakeAlert" picks up seismic information streaming in from sensors, and there's a big push this year to distribute the alerts more widely.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports from Seattle.

TRUMP AGENDA - His Shadow Government

"‘Shadow leadership’ is wielding vast influence at Veterans Affairs, report says" PBS NewsHour 8/8/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A new report questions how the Veterans Affairs Department is being run in the Trump administration.  ProPublica says the VA has three "shadow rulers," three men who have never served in the U.S. military or government but have outsize influence over all department decisions.  Nick Schifrin talks with Isaac Arnsdorf of ProPublica, and Melissa Bryant of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

HEMINGWAY - "A Room on the Garden Side"

"Long-lost Hemingway story captures Paris liberation" PBS NewsHour 8/7/2018

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SUMMARY:  In August 1944, Paris was liberated from Nazi occupiers, and embedded with the soldiers was a giant of American literature.  More than a decade later, Ernest Hemingway captured the mood and the moment in a short story that bears the hallmarks of his classic works.  Now "A Room on the Garden Side" has been published for the first time.  Jeffrey Brown reports.



REF:  "Revisiting Paris: The Story Behind Hemingway's Unpublished 'A Room on the Garden Side'" by Kirk Curnutt, Strand Magazine 8/2/2018

GUN CONTROL - Reasonable Actions

"How red flag laws could help families grappling with guns and mental illness" PBS NewsHour 8/7/2018

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SUMMARY:  While some states have "red flag" laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove a mentally ill person's access to guns, it's not easy to balance their rights with the need for public safety.  Special correspondent John Ferrugia of Rocky Mountain PBS reports on how families wish they could have been more empowered to help ailing loved ones and prevent deadly violence.




"How Chicago communities are trying to stop gun violence" PBS NewsHour 8/7/2018

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SUMMARY:  Sixty-six people were shot over the weekend in Chicago, and behind those numbers are stories of the victims and their families.  Nick Schifrin talks with Lance Williams of Northeastern Illinois University, and Tamar Manasseh of "Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings."

THE MANAFORT TRIAL - Star Witness

"As Rick Gates details Manafort’s alleged financial crimes, defense tries to erode his credibility" PBS NewsHour 8/7/2018

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SUMMARY:  Rick Gates, the key witness in the trial of President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, took the stand again Tuesday to face tough questions from Manafort’s legal team.  As Gates offered detailed testimony about Manafort's alleged financial crimes, the defense sought to portray him as an unreliable witness.  William Brangham learns more from former federal prosecutor Seth B. Waxman.

CYBERWARS - Can America Fend Off Cyber Attacks

"How prepared is the U.S. to fend off cyber warfare?  Better at offense than defense, author says" PBS NewsHour 8/6/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  “We spent years worrying about the giant cyber-Pearl Harbor,” says David Sanger, author of “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age.”  But, he argues, that has blinded us to more subtle uses, in which we are all collateral damage.  Sanger joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the threats and realities, how the U.S. wages cyber warfare, and how prepared the U.S. is to stop attacks.

TRUMP - String of Lies

"Trump’s latest justification of 2016 meeting sets off flurry of new questions" PBS NewsHour 8/6/2018

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SUMMARY:  President Trump offered a new reason for a controversial June 2016 meeting that has become a central question of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the election.  The President tweeted on Sunday that the meeting was "to get information on an opponent" and "totally legal" -- the latest justification in a year of shifting stories.  Yamiche Alcindor reports.

WILDFIRES - California, the American West, Western Europe

"Climate change is making wildfires more extreme.  Here’s how" PBS NewsHour 8/6/2018

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SUMMARY:  High winds, high temperatures, pervasive drought.  These extreme conditions are driving two enormous fires in California, and many more throughout the American West and much of Northern and Western Europe.  William Brangham talks with Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University about the ways climate change is contributing to the danger and destruction.




"Weary California crews fighting unpredictable fires prepare for worst yet to come" PBS NewsHour 8/7/2018

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SUMMARY:  Across California, 17 major wildfires are burning, the most devastating in the north.  Overnight, the Mendocino Complex Fire grew into the largest in state history, breaking a record set just eight months ago.  As Nick Schifrin reports, officials admit the expanding fire season is taking a heavy toll on their resources.




"Massive California wildfires take a toll on residents and air quality" PBS NewsHour 8/9/2018

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SUMMARY:  The Mendocino Complex is a fire of unprecedented size, but the scenes are strikingly familiar: thick haze, homes charred, evacuees at shelters.  At its peak, the fire displaced almost 20,000 people, and there are more than a dozen more blazes burning across California.  Special correspondent Cat Wise joins William Brangham from Ukiah to discuss how the fires are affecting air quality.




"In some areas, controlled fires can prevent runaway blazes" PBS NewsHour 8/11/2018

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SUMMARY:  As massive fires continue to rage in California, firefighters are setting backfires, dropping flame-retardant from planes and hoping for a break in hot, dry conditions.  Another method is to intentionally set fires to tamp down the prospect of larger blazes.  Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

ONE ON ONE - John Bolton on Trump Diplomacy

"John Bolton: North Korea has not ‘taken effective steps’ to denuclearize" PBS NewsHour 8/6/2018

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SUMMARY:  National Security Adviser John Bolton on Monday criticized North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, saying leader Kim Jong Un was not living up to the commitment he made to President Donald Trump at their June meeting in Singapore.

“What was significant about Singapore was the North Korean commitment to denuclearize, and they have not taken effective steps to do that,” Bolton said in an interview with PBS NewsHour correspondent Nick Schifrin.  Closing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site with no international observers present, as North Korea did in May shortly before the summit, does not qualify, he said.

After the summit in Singapore, critics argued Trump failed to reach a substantive deal with Kim on winding down North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  The President and senior administration officials have claimed the meeting was a success.

Bolton said the Trump administration was working to send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo back to Pyongyang to meet with Kim again.  Pompeo was in Singapore for the summit and has led the United States’ negotiating effort.

“We’re not looking for rhetoric here.  We’re looking for performance of North Korea’s own commitment made to us, made to South Korea beforehand, to denuclearize,” Bolton said.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION - The Shadow Government


"The Shadow Rulers of the VA" by Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica 8/7/2018

How Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter and two other Mar-a-Lago cronies are secretly shaping the Trump administration’s veterans policies.

Last February, shortly after Peter O’Rourke became chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs, he received an email from Bruce Moskowitz with his input on a new mental health initiative for the VA.  “Received,” O’Rourke replied.  “I will begin a project plan and develop a timeline for action.”

O’Rourke treated the email as an order, but Moskowitz is not his boss.  In fact, he is not even a government official.  Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-service “concierge” medical care.

More to the point, he is one-third of an informal council that is exerting sweeping influence on the VA from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida.  The troika is led by Ike Perlmutter, the reclusive chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who is a longtime acquaintance of President Trump’s.  The third member is a lawyer named Marc Sherman.  None of them has ever served in the U.S. military or government.

Yet from a thousand miles away, they have leaned on VA officials and steered policies affecting millions of Americans.  They have remained hidden except to a few VA insiders, who have come to call them “the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.”

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman declined to be interviewed and fielded questions through a crisis-communications consultant.  In a statement, they downplayed their influence, insisting that nobody is obligated to act on their counsel.  “At all times, we offered our help and advice on a voluntary basis, seeking nothing at all in return,” they said.  “While we were always willing to share our thoughts, we did not make or implement any type of policy, possess any authority over agency decisions, or direct government officials to take any actions…  To the extent anyone thought our role was anything other than that, we don’t believe it was the result of anything we said or did.”

VA spokesman Curt Cashour did not answer specific questions but said a “broad range of input from individuals both inside and outside VA has helped us immensely over the last year and a half.”  White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters also did not answer specific questions and said Perlmutter, Sherman, and Moskowitz “have no direct influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

But hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell a different story — of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight.  The Mar-a-Lago Crowd spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions.  They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views.  “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official said.

If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States.  Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the President visits Mar-a-Lago.  “On any veterans issue, the first person the President calls is Ike,” another former official said.  Former administration officials say that VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-A-Lago Crowd were pushed out or passed over.  Included, those officials say, were the secretary (whose ethical lapses also played a role), deputy secretary, chief of staff, acting under secretary for health, deputy under secretary for health, chief information officer, and the director of electronic health records modernization.

At times, Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman have created headaches for VA officials because of their failure to follow government rules and processes.  In other cases, they used their influence in ways that could benefit their private interests.  They say they never sought or received any financial gain for their advice to the VA.

The arrangement is without parallel in modern Presidential history.  The Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 provides a mechanism for agencies to consult panels of outside advisers, but such committees are subject to cost controls, public disclosure and government oversight.  Other Presidents have relied on unofficial “kitchen cabinets,” but never before have outside advisers been so specifically assigned to one agency.  During the transition, Trump handed out advisory roles to several rich associates, but they’ve all since faded away.  The Mar-a-Lago Crowd, however, has deepened its involvement in the VA.

Perlmutter, 75, is painstakingly private — he reportedly wore a glasses-and-mustache disguise to the 2008 premiere of “Iron Man.”  One of the few public photographs of him was snapped on Dec. 28, 2016, through a window at Mar-a-Lago.  Trump glares warily at the camera.  Behind him, Perlmutter smiles knowingly, wearing sunglasses at night.

When Trump asked him for help putting a government together, Perlmutter offered to be an outside adviser, according to people familiar with the matter.  Having fought for his native Israel in the 1967 war before he moved to the U.S. and became a citizen, Perlmutter chose veterans as his focus.

Perlmutter enlisted the assistance of his friends Sherman and Moskowitz.  Moskowitz, 70, specializes in knowing the world’s top medical expert for any ailment and arranging appointments for clients.  He has connections at the country’s top medical centers.  Sherman, 63, has houses in West Palm Beach and suburban Baltimore and an office in Washington with the consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal.  His legal work focuses on financial fraud, white collar investigations and damages disputes.  His professional biography lists experience in eight industries, none of them related to health care or veterans.

Moskowitz and Sherman helped Perlmutter convene a council of health care executives on the day of the Trump-Perlmutter photograph, Dec. 28, 2016.  Offering more private healthcare to vets was a signature promise of Trump’s campaign, but at that point he hadn’t decided who should lead an effort that would reverse the VA’s longstanding practices.

A new name surfaced in that meeting: David Shulkin, who’d led the VA’s health care division since 2015.  Perlmutter then recommended Shulkin to Trump, according to a person familiar with his thinking.  (Shulkin did not respond to requests for comment.)

Once nominated, Shulkin flew to Mar-a-Lago in early February 2017 to meet with Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz.  In a follow-up email a few days later, Moskowitz elaborated on the terms of their relationship.  “We do not need to meet in person monthly, but meet face to face only when necessary,” he wrote.  “We will set up phone conference calls at a convenient time.”

Shulkin responded diplomatically.  “I know how busy all of you are and having you be there in person, and so present, was truly a gift,” he wrote.  “I found the time we spent, the focus that came out of our discussions, and the time we had with the President very meaningful.”

It wasn’t long before the Mar-a-Lago Crowd wore out their welcome with Shulkin.  They advised him on how to do his job even though they sometimes seemed to lack a basic understanding of it.  Just after their first meeting, Moskowitz emailed Shulkin again to say, “Congratulations i[t] was unanimous.”  Shulkin corrected him: “Bruce- this was not the confirmation vote- it was a committee vote- we still need a floor vote.”

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman acted like board members pounding a CEO to turn around a struggling company, a former administration official said.  In email after email, officials sought approval from the trio: for an agenda Shulkin was about to present to Trump for a research effort on suicide prevention and for a plan to recruit experts from academic medical centers.  “Everything needs to be run by them,” the first former official said, recalling the process.  “They view themselves as making the decisions.”

The Mar-a-Lago Crowd bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful.  On phone calls with VA officials, Perlmutter would bark at them to move faster, having no patience for bureaucratic explanations about why something has to be done a certain way or take a certain amount of time, former officials said.  He issued orders in a thick, Israeli-accented English that can be hard to understand.

In one instance, Perlmutter alerted Shulkin to what he called “another real-life example of the issues our great veterans are suffering with when trying to work with the VA.”  The example came from Karen Donnelly, a real estate agent in Palm Beach who manages the tennis courts in the luxury community where Perlmutter lives.  Donnelly’s son was having trouble accessing his military medical records.  After a month of dead ends, Donnelly said she saw Perlmutter on the tennis court and, knowing his connection to Trump, asked him for help.  Perlmutter told her to email him the story because he’s “trying to straighten things out” at the VA, she recalled.  (Donnelly separately touched off a nasty legal dispute between Perlmutter and a neighbor, Canadian businessman Harold Peerenboom, who objected to her management of the tennis courts.  In a lawsuit, Peerenboom accused Perlmutter of mounting a vicious hate mail campaign against him, which Perlmutter’s lawyer denied.)

Perlmutter forwarded Donnelly’s email to Shulkin, Moskowitz and Sherman.  “I know we are making very good progress, but this is an excellent reminder that we are also still very far away from achieving our goals,” Perlmutter wrote.

Shulkin had to explain that they were looking in the wrong place: Since the problem was with military service records, it lay with the Defense Department, not the VA.

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman defended their intervention, saying, “These were the types of stories of agency dysfunction and individual suffering that drove us to offer our volunteer experience in the first place — veterans who had been left behind by their government.  These individual cases helped raise broader issues for government officials in a position to make changes, sometimes leading to assistance for one veteran, sometimes to broader reforms within the system.”

Right after meeting Shulkin, Moskowitz connected him with his friend Michael Zinner, director of the Miami Cancer Institute and a member of the American College of Surgeons’ board of regents.  (Zinner declined to comment.)  The conversation led to a plan for the American College of Surgeons to evaluate the surgery programs at several VA hospitals.  The plan came very close to a formal announcement and contract, internal emails show, but stalled after Shulkin was fired, according to the organization’s director, David Hoyt.

Besides advocating for friends’ interests, some of the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s interventions served their own purposes.  Starting in February 2017, Perlmutter convened a series of conference calls with executives at Johnson & Johnson, leading to the development of a public awareness campaign about veteran suicide.  They planned to promote the campaign by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange around the time of Veterans Day.

The event also turned into a promotional opportunity for Perlmutter’s company.  Executives from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, joined Johnson & Johnson as sponsors of the Veterans Day event at the stock exchange.  Shulkin rang the closing bell standing near a preening and flexing Captain America, with Spider-Man waving from the trading pit, and Marvel swag was distributed to some of the attendees.  “Generally the VA Secretary or Defense Secretary don’t shill for companies,” the leader of a veterans advocacy group said.

The VA was aware of the ethical questions this event raised because of Shulkin’s relationship with Perlmutter.  An aide to Shulkin sought ethics advice from the agency’s lawyers about the appearance.  In an email, the aide noted, “the Secretary is friends with the president of Marvel Comics, Mr. Ike Perlmutter, but he will not be in attendance.”  The VA redacted the lawyer’s answer, and the agency’s spokesman would not say whether the ethics official approved Shulkin’s participation in the event.

Perlmutter did not answer specific questions about this episode.  His joint statement with Moskowitz and Sherman said, “None of us has gained any financial benefit from this volunteer effort, nor was that ever a consideration for us.”

Perlmutter also facilitated a series of conference calls with senior executives from Apple.  VA officials were excited about working with the company, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what they had to collaborate on.

As it turned out, Moskowitz wanted Apple and the VA to develop an app for veterans to find nearby medical services.  Who did he bring in to advise them on the project?  His son, Aaron, who had built a similar app.  The proposal made Apple and VA officials uncomfortable, according to two people familiar with the matter, but Moskowitz’s clout kept it alive for months.  The VA finally killed the project because Moskowitz was the only one who supported it.

Moskowitz, in the joint statement, defended his son’s involvement, calling him a “technical expert” who participated in a single phone call alongside others.  “Any development efforts, had they occurred, would not have involved Aaron or any of us.  There was no product of Dr. Moskowitz’s or Aaron’s that was promoted or recommended in any way during the call,” the trio said.  “Again, none of us, including Aaron, stood to receive any financial benefit from the matters discussed during the conversation — and any claims to the contrary are factually incorrect.”

Moskowitz had more success pushing a different pet cause.  He has spent years trying to start a national registry for medical devices, allowing patients to be notified of product recalls.  Moskowitz set up the Biomedical Research and Education Foundation to encourage medical institutions to keep track of devices for their patients to address what he views as a dangerous hole in oversight across the medical profession.  At one point, the foundation built a registry to collect data from doctors and patients.  Moskowitz chaired the board, and Perlmutter’s wife was also a member.  Moskowitz’s son earned $60,000 a year as the executive director, according to tax disclosures.

Moskowitz pushed the VA to pick up where he left off.  He joined officials on weekly 7:30 a.m.  conference calls in which officials discussed organizing a summit of experts on device registries and making a public commitment to creating one at the VA.  In an email to Shulkin, the VA official in charge of the project referred to it as the “Bruce Moskowitz efforts.”

When the summit arrived, on June 4, Moskowitz and his son did not attend.  It’s not clear what role they will have in setting up the VA’s registry going forward — their foundation has shut down, according to its website, and Moskowitz’s son said he’s no longer involved.  But in his opening remarks at the summit, Peter O’Rourke, then the acting secretary, offered a special thanks to “Dr. Bruce Moskowitz and Aaron Moskowitz of the Biomedical Research and Education Foundation” as “driving forces” behind it.

Over the course of 2017, there was growing tension within the Trump administration about how much the VA should rely on private medical care.  During the campaign, Trump championed letting veterans see any doctor they choose, inside or outside the VA system.  But Shulkin warned that such an approach was likely to result in poorer care at a higher cost.  His preferred solution was integrating government-run VA care with a network of private providers.

In September 2017, the Mar-a-Lago Crowd weighed in on the side of expanding the use of the private sector.  “We think that some of the VA hospitals are delivering some specialty healthcare when they shouldn’t and when referrals to private facilities or other VA centers would be a better option,” Perlmutter wrote in an email to Shulkin and other officials.  “Our solution is to make use of academic medical centers and medical trade groups, both of whom have offered to send review teams to the VA hospitals to help this effort.”

In other words, they proposed inviting private health care executives to tell the VA which services they should outsource to private providers like themselves.  It was precisely the kind of fox-in-the-henhouse scenario that the VA’s defenders had warned against for years.  Shulkin delicately tried to hold off Perlmutter’s proposal, saying the VA was already developing an in-house method of comparing its services to the private sector.

Shulkin also clashed with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd over how to improve the VA’s electronic record-keeping software (the one episode involving the trio that has previously surfaced, in a report by Politico).  The contract, with a company called Cerner, would cost more than $10 billion and take a decade to implement.  But Moskowitz had used a different Cerner product and didn’t like it.  He complained that the software didn’t offer voice recognition, even though newer versions of Cerner’s product do.  For months, the Mar-a-Lago Crowd pressured Shulkin to put the contract through additional vetting.

On Feb. 27, 2018, Shulkin flew to Mar-a-Lago — not to see Trump, who was back in Washington, but to meet with Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman.  The trip was supposed to close the deal on the Cerner contract, according to two people familiar with the meeting.  By then, Shulkin’s stature had been badly diminished by an ethics scandal, and he expected he didn’t have much longer in the job, but he wanted to finish the Cerner deal first.

Shulkin brought O’Rourke, an ex-Trump campaign aide who stepped in as chief of staff after the ethics scandal led to the departure of Shulkin’s top aide.  O’Rourke took the opportunity to ally himself with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.  “It was an honor to meet you all yesterday,” he wrote in a follow-up email.  “I want to ensure that you have my VA and personal contact information.” He then provided his personal cell phone number and email address.  (Using personal email to conduct government business can flout federal records laws, as President Trump and his allies relentlessly noted in their attacks on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.)  “Thank you for your support of the President, the VA, and me,” O’Rourke wrote.  (O’Rourke didn’t answer requests for comment.)

Perlmutter welcomed the overture.  “I feel confident that you will be a terrific asset moving forward to get things accomplished,” he replied.

The Mar-a-Lago Crowd grew frustrated with Shulkin, feeling like he wasn’t listening to them, and Perlmutter came to regret recommending Shulkin to Trump in the first place, according to people familiar with his thinking.  That aligned them with political appointees in the VA and the White House who started to view Shulkin as out of step with the President’s agenda.

One of these officials, senior adviser Camilo Sandoval, presented himself as Perlmutter’s eyes and ears within the agency, two former officials said.  For instance, in an email obtained by ProPublica, Sandoval kept tabs on the Apple project and reported back to Moskowitz and Sherman.  “I will update the tracker, and please do let me know if this helps answers [sic] questions around Apple’s efforts or if additional clarification is required,” he wrote.  Sandoval, who didn’t answer requests for comment, knew Perlmutter because he worked on the campaign with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is also close with Perlmutter.

In December, White House adviser Jake Leinenkugel sent Sandoval a memo outlining a plan to upend the department’s leadership.  Leinenkugel would not say who asked him to write the memo.  But it was clearly not intended for Sandoval alone, since it refers to him in the third person.  Three people familiar with the situation said the memo was sent to Sandoval as a channel to Perlmutter.  The spokeswoman for Perlmutter, Sherman and Moskowitz said they didn’t know about the memo.

The memo recommended easing Shulkin out and relying on Perlmutter for help replacing him.  “Put [Shulkin] on notice to exit after major legislation and key POTUS VA initiatives in place,” the memo said.  “Utilize outside team (Ike).” Although several factors contributed to Shulkin’s downfall, including the ethics scandal and differences with the White House over legislation on buying private health care, three former officials said it was his friction with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd over the Cerner contract that ultimately did him in.

Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman dispute that contention.  “Any decisions of the agency or the President,” they noted in their statement, “as well as the timing of any agency decisions, were independent of our contacts with the VA.”

But it wasn’t just Shulkin — all the officials that the Leinenkugel memo singled out for removal are now gone, replaced with allies of Perlmutter, Sherman, and Moskowitz.  The memo suggested that Sandoval take charge of the Office of Information and Technology, overseeing the implementation of the Cerner contract; he got the job in April.  The memo proposed removing Deputy Secretary Tom Bowman; he left in June, and the post hasn’t been filled.  The memo floated Richard Stone for under secretary for health; he got the job on an acting basis in July.  Leinenkugel himself took charge of a commission on mental health (the same topic Moskowitz had emailed O’Rourke about).  O’Rourke, having hit it off with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd, became acting secretary in May.

Trump initially nominated White House doctor Ronny Jackson to replace Shulkin, with Pentagon official Robert Wilkie filling in on a temporary basis.  On Wilkie’s first day at the VA, Sherman was waiting for him in his office, according to a calendar record.

Within a few weeks, Wilkie made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago.  He tacked it onto a trip to his native North Carolina, and O’Rourke caught up with him in Palm Beach.  They visited a VA hospital and rehab facility, then headed to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman, according to agency records.

The Mar-a-Lago Crowd gave Wilkie and O’Rourke rave reviews.  “I am sure that I speak for the group, that both you and Peter astounded all of us on how quickly and accurately you assessed the key problems and more importantly the solutions that will be needed to finally move the VA in the right direction,” Moskowitz told Wilkie in a follow-up email.

Perlmutter was similarly thrilled with the new regime.  “For the first time in 1½ years we feel everyone is on the same page.  Everybody ‘gets it,’” he said in an email.  “Again, please know we are available and want to help any possible way 24/7.”

Wilkie replied that the honor was his.  “Thank you again for taking time to see me,” he wrote.

Soon after, Jackson’s nomination imploded over allegations of misconduct as White House physician.  (Jackson denied the allegations, and they’re still being investigated.)  At that point, Perlmutter’s endorsement cleared the way for Trump to nominate Wilkie.

Wilkie, who was sworn in on July 30, now faces a choice between asserting his own authority over the VA or taking cues from the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.  Wilkie reportedly wants to sideline O’Rourke and Sandoval and restock the agency leadership with his own people.  But people familiar with the situation said the Mar-a-Lago Crowd’s allies are pushing back on Wilkie’s efforts to rein them in.  As his predecessor learned the hard way, anyone who crosses the Mar-a-Lago Crowd does so at his own risk.

Monday, August 06, 2018

OPINION - Brooks and Klein 8/3/2018

"Brooks and Klein on 2018 election security threats, Koch-Trump brawl" PBS NewsHour 8/3/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Ezra Klein of Vox join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the contrast between President Trump’s lambasting of the Russia investigation and his administration’s heightened warnings about election threats, plus a fringe internet conspiracy theory surfaces at a Trump rally and the rift between Trump and the influential Koch network.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  Now back to Presidential politics and the rally President Trump attended last night in Northeastern Pennsylvania to boost Republican Congressman Lou Barletta’s run for the U.S. Senate.

The President’s freewheeling remarks included his characterization about his summit last month with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

President Donald Trump:  I had a great meeting with Putin.  We discussed everything.  I had a great meeting.

Now, we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax.  It’s a hoax, OK?  I will tell you what.  Russia’s very unhappy that Trump won.  That, I can tell you.

Judy Woodruff:  Of course, Putin said in Helsinki last month that he favored Mr. Trump’s election.  And U.S. intelligence officials have said repeatedly that Russia’s efforts in 2016 were intended to help Mr. Trump and hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The President’s remarks last night also stood in contrast to this warning from his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, yesterday in the White House Briefing Room.

Dan Coats:  In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging — messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States.

These efforts are not exclusive to this election or future elections, but certainly cover issues relevant to the election.

Judy Woodruff:  And that brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Klein.  That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Ezra Klein, editor-at-large for the news site Vox.com.  And Mark Shields is away this week.

Hello to both of you.

David, to you first.

So, on the same day that his leading national security and intelligence officials are saying, we must take this Russia threat seriously, the President is out a few hours later saying, it’s all a hoax.

Do we take this government effort seriously or not?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Well, the head of the opposition now uses the White House Briefing Room to oppose the administration policy.  I have never seen anything like it.

I have never seen an administration where a President says one thing or emphasizes one thing, and his entire staff basically emphasizes the complete opposite.

And so what’s the effect?  I think the deep state is still doing its work to try to head off Russian interference.  The Trump apparatus understands there is that interference, and they can do some prophylactic measures to try to head it off, which is what they seem to be doing.

But unless you have the President involved, it’s going to be microactivity, not macroactivity.  And so it’s hard to imagine the Russians, let alone Putin, being at all intimidated by U.S. policy.

And so it’s reasonable to expect that interference will continue, as it seems to be continuing to this day.

Judy Woodruff:  Ezra, do we take seriously that the Trump administration is working diligently to fend off any Russian interference this year?

Ezra Klein, Vox:  No, of course not.

I’m fascinated by the kind of lying Donald Trump did in that clip.  It’s one thing to say, hey, I had a great meeting with Vladimir Putin and the problem is, the opposition, they don’t want us to talk, right?

It’s one thing to shave the truth, or it’s another thing to try to say, hey, look, people are just impeding me, and they’re wrong about it.

But to then go and say, I will tell you what, Russia never wanted Donald Trump to win, Russia hates the idea that Donald Trump won, there’s something about his belief that reality can be that completely manipulated that I find different.  It’s different than the way politicians normally lie.

It’s a different level of confidence in one’s ability to shape reality.  But then, on the other side, to your point, of course Vladimir Putin doesn’t think this would be a problem to do again, because it’s clear Donald Trump on some level welcomed it.

Putin helped him when he needed help.  He’s tried ever since have a great relationship with Vladimir Putin.  And it’s just not credible to say that, if more Russian efforts are uncovered in the future in American politics, that, as long as Donald Trump is in office, that will redound to Putin’s disadvantage.

David Brooks:  There’s one issue of how Republican Party foreign policy has changed.

And so Donald Trump said, I had a great meeting with Vladimir Putin, one of the most anti-democratic, anti-American dictators in the world today, and a Republican rally cheers.  And that’s just a weird, jarring moment.

But then, in Congress, within the Trump administration themselves, and among even John Bolton, the foreign policy apparatus of the Republican Party is still pretty much where it was.

And so which is the future of the party?  Is it a party that looks a lot more like Donald Trump in the foreign policy realm?  Or is it one that looks like the rest of his administration?  I don’t know.  But I suspect it’s a little more like Trump.

Ezra Klein:  There’s another thing on that side I think is interesting, and it’s a flip of what you just said.

The Democratic Party is so angry at Russia that the stakes for Putin in the election get that much higher.  If Trump wins in 2020, he retains an ally.  If he loses, then he’s got a Democratic Party that has spent four years blaming him personally for everything that they believe has gone wrong in the country.

And so when you’re thinking about Russian engagement in the 2012 election, I feel like that’s a dimension of this too, that the parties have polarized on how they treat Russia in a way that has made the incentives for Russia to try to keep their ally in and their enemies out all the higher.

David Brooks:  Rabid anti-communist Democrats now.

(LAUGHTER)

Judy Woodruff:  Well, before we get to 2020, Ezra, you were just talking about manipulating reality.

David, you mentioned the deep state.

At the Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania rally last night, and then at a rally earlier in the week in Tampa, Florida, there were in the crowd fans cheering wildly the President, people wearing T-shirts QAnon or holding up the letter Q.

And we have looked into this.  We interviewed our reporter P.J. Tobia this week, who explains it’s this conspiracy theory.  It’s grown.  It’s been out there for months.  But it’s now at the point where it’s come out into the open.  Essentially, what they believe is, there’s a group of people supported by the Clintons, by President Obama, even by President George W. Bush, who are trying to overthrow this President, and they’re going to stop that from happening.

How did we get to this place?

(LAUGHTER)

David Brooks:  Well, I used to say, we tried to bring democracy to the Middle East, and we ended up Middle Easternizing our democracy, because we now have become a realm of suspicion and conspiracy theories.

Remember the alleged child pornography ring that was happening in a pizzeria on Connecticut Avenue here in D.C.?  These things come and go.  The John Birch Society back in the ’50s, they were filled with conspiracy theories.  These things come and go.

The question is, is there a William F. Buckley, is there a Ronald Reagan, is there a Democratic establishment that can quash them?  And now it’s quite the opposite.

And so what’s happened is, the mainstream — a lot of us mainstream journalists have become delegitimized in the eyes of a lot of Trump supporters, sometimes for our own fault.  We — if — it turns out if you don’t hire from large segments of American society, you becomes attached from them, and they write you off.  And a lot of that’s happened.

But then the fans have been — the fires have been fan by Trump himself.  And, basically, what seems to be happening is a complete inversion of where information comes from.  And the those of us in the mainstream media who used to provide information are now discounted in large sections.

And this new thing has arisen.

Judy Woodruff:  How worried should we be about all that, Ezra?

Ezra Klein:  About the…

Judy Woodruff:  Do we take it — do we take it seriously?  I mean, I’m asking the same question, in a way.

Ezra Klein:  The QAnon conspiracy itself, which is — which is a fascinating conspiracy, right — the argument of the QAnon conspiracy is it Donald Trump, on some level, has this all in hand, that we’re seeing a lot of chaos, but the chaos is all carefully orchestrated, and that, at some point, there’s going to be this big reveal, and Donald Trump and the people he’s working with are going to come out and basically root out all the corruption that has been endemic in Washington for so long.

There’s comfort in believing something like this.

It is hard for me to tell if QAnon is a more profound or wide-reaching conspiracy theory than the ones we have had in the past.  I mean, I think back, even in the Clinton years, to the widespread belief that the Clintons killed Vince Foster, that they were running cocaine out of Arkansas.

I mean, this kind of thing in American politics is not new.  It does have a lot of salience in social media.  It’s a kind of thing that we cover more aggressively nowadays than we used to.

The thing that I do find strange about it is, I tend to associate this kind of conspiracy theorizing with the folks who are out of power.  That’s when you tend to see this stuff take hold.

But Donald Trump and a lot of his supporters act like an out-of-power group, despite being in power.  There’s this talk of the deep state.  There’s as an alienation from a government that they actually have to some degree authority over.  And that’s a weird piece of it that could lead it to go in unusual directions.

Judy Woodruff:  But it’s thriving under a President who’s in office, David.

David Brooks:  Yes, the underlying feature is social distrust, tremendous distrust of institution, dismissal of any institution; so an assumption that every institution, whether it’s a hospital, a newspaper, they’re all corrupt, they’re all in it for themselves.  It’s all a con on the American people.

And once you embrace that as your fundamental truth, this is sort of what happens.

AT THE MOVIES - "Eighth Grade"

"Eighth Grade’ captures our need to connect" PBS NewsHour 8/3/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Following a week in the life of a middle schooler, the new film "Eighth Grade" sets the familiar fumblings of adolescence against the constant glare of a glowing screen or Snapchat filter.  Jeffrey Brown takes a look at why it’s drawing strong critical praise for its raw portrayal of the challenges of being a teenager in the digital age.

TRUMP'S TRADE WAR - Tail of Two Factories

"How Trump’s tariffs changed the fates of these two factories" PBS NewsHour 8/2/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  How are President Trump's tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum affecting manufacturers and workers?  At two different Missouri factories, there are two very different stories.  Mid Continent Steel and Wire, which makes nails, has already eliminated 100 jobs.  But about 60 miles away at Magnitude 7 Metals, the reopened aluminum smelter is back up and running with hundreds of jobs.  John Yang reports.

MIDTERM ELECTIONS - States Securing the Vote

"What do states need to secure upcoming elections?" PBS NewsHour 8/2/2018

It will be hard as long as Russia's puppet is in the White House.

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The country’s top intelligence and national security officials gave stark warnings Thursday on Russia's ongoing efforts to meddle in November’s elections.  Agency heads acknowledged the threat, while touting the Trump administration’s stepped-up election security initiatives.  California Secretary of State Alex Padilla tells Judy Woodruff that states need more resources to stay ahead of the threat.

TRUMP AGENDA - Fuel Standards

"Trump administration plans rollback of fuel standards, setting up legal fight with states" PBS NewsHour 8/2/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Over President Obama's tenure, rules were put in place that would have nearly doubled the average fuel economy standard in the U.S., which the Trump administration has argued goes too far.  Now a new EPA proposal would set standards to far lower to protect manufacturers, and consumers from costs.  Judy Woodruff reports that Thursday's announcement sets up a looming legal battle with some states.




"How would Trump’s fuel standard rules affect Americans?" PBS NewsHour 8/2/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Trump administration called on Thursday for rolling back the Obama-era fuel standards to make cars get better gas mileage and emit less pollution.  Judy Woodruff gets reaction from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who plans to join the legal challenge, as well as Mary Kate Hopkins from Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian advocacy group that has applauded the move.




"Trump administration set to face off with California over fuel standards" PBS NewsHour 8/4/2018

Message to Trump from a Californian - FU!

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Trump administration proposed on Thursday to rescind an Obama-era regulation that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring automakers to design vehicles that would average 50 miles per gallon by 2025.  The move pits the federal government against California, the country’s largest car market.  The Wall Street Journal’s Timothy Puko joins Alison Stewart for more.

TRUMP AGENDA - Backdoor Elimination of 'Obama Care'

"Look.  Our heal care system will cost you less!" shouts the carny barker.  Of course he fails to tell you that you get what you pay for, aka cheap health care means minimal (don't get sick) health care.

"Short-term health plans allowed by Trump come with a major caveat" PBS NewsHour 8/1/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Trump administration took another step toward eliminating the Affordable Care Act by changing rules that will allow consumers to buy cheaper, shorter-term health insurance and for longer.  But insurers would not have to cover pre-existing conditions or offer the same benefits as required by law.  Lisa Desjardins learns more from Julie Appleby from Kaiser Health News.

OFF THE GRID - Navajo Nation

PART-1:  "How off-the-grid Navajo residents are getting running water" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2018

"Does solar power offer a brighter future for off-the-grid Navajo residents?" Part-2 PBS NewsHour 8/1/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Bypassed in the ‘30s and '40s, one third of homes in Navajo Nation still have no access to grid electricity.  Yet ironically, it's a huge electricity exporter, with one of the biggest coal-fired plants churning out power sold to millions.  And now a plan to shut down the plant could sorely cost the reservation.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports that some are seeing a new opportunity.

TRUMP AGENDA - Putting Color Communities in Their Place

aka "Back of the Bus"

REMINDER:  Trump loves praise, so what would you expect when black leaders praise Trump?

"What do Trump’s policies mean for communities of color?" PBS NewsHour 8/1/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Several black pastors said at the White House on Wednesday that President Trump had helped improve life in inner cities.  Yet HUD Secretary Ben Carson has looked into tripling rents for poor tenants on federal assistance, and slowed an anti-segregation initiative.  Yamiche Alcindor talks with Bishop Harry Jackson, a member of Trump's evangelical advisory board.

RACE MATTERS - Powerful Local Government?

"The arguments for and against more powerful local government" PBS NewsHour 7/31/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Recently, NewsHour analyst David Brooks wrote a New York Times column arguing that it's time for a resurgence of localism, flipping power and decision-making away from the federal government.  Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, another NewsHour regular, says that idea fails to take account of the elephant in the room in America: race.  They both join Judy Woodruff to talk about it.



REF:  WEAVE - The Social Fabric Project

NRA MURDER INCORPORATED PROMOTIONS - 3D Printed Guns

"How some states are fighting to stop ‘undetectable’ 3D-printed guns" PBS NewsHour 7/31/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In 2013, a gun rights enthusiast posted designs online for a 3D-printed, functional handgun.  In June, the State Department reversed a past decision and allowed it to be posted online by Texas-based group.  Attorneys general from eight states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit in a last-ditch effort.  John Yang gets reaction from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.




"Trump ‘looking into’ 3D guns, says he’s consulting with NRA" from AP PBS NewsHour 7/31/2018

OK, so in 'Trump World' the NRA is an official consulting firm on U.S. policy?  NOT!

President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday he is consulting with the National Rifle Association over whether it makes sense for a Texas company to publish downloadable blueprints for a 3D-printed gun.

Trump tweeted he is “looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public,” adding that he “already spoke to NRA.”



The President expressed doubt, saying “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”  He did not offer further details.

The National Rifle Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump spoke after eight states filed suit against the administration, contending the hard-to-trace plastic weapons are a boon to terrorists and criminals and threaten public safety.

Unlike traditional firearms that can fire thousands of rounds in their lifetime, experts say the 3D-printed guns normally only last a few rounds before they fall apart.

The suit, filed Monday in Seattle, asks a judge to block the federal government’s late-June settlement with Defense Distributed, which allowed the company to make the plans available online.

Joining the suit were Democratic attorneys general in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maryland, New York, and the District of Columbia.  Separately, attorneys general in 21 states urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Monday to withdraw from the settlement with Defense Distributed, saying it “creates an imminent risk to public safety.”

People can use the blueprints to manufacture a plastic gun using a 3D printer.  But gun industry experts have expressed doubt that criminals would go to the trouble, since the printers needed to make the guns are very expensive, the guns themselves tend to disintegrate quickly and traditional firearms are easy to come by.

Unlike traditional firearms that can fire thousands of rounds in their lifetime, experts say the 3D-printed guns normally only last a few rounds before they fall apart.  They don’t have magazines that allow the usual nine or 15 rounds to be carried, instead, they usually hold a bullet or two and then must be manually loaded afterward.  And they’re not usually very accurate.

Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, first published downloadable designs for a 3D-printed firearm in 2013.  It was downloaded about 100,000 times until the State Department ordered him to cease, contending it violated federal export laws since some of the blueprints were downloaded by people outside the United States.

The State Department reversed course in late June, agreeing to allow Wilson to resume posting the blueprints.  The files were published on Friday.

The company filed its own suit in Texas on Sunday, asserting that it’s the victim of an “ideologically fueled program of intimidation and harassment” that violates the company’s First Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, Defense Distributed agreed to block temporarily Pennsylvania residents from downloading the plans after state officials went to federal court in Philadelphia on Sunday seeking an emergency order.  The company said it has also blocked access to users in New Jersey and Los Angeles.

ON TRIAL - Paul Manafort

"What we learned from Paul Manafort trial opening statements" PBS NewsHour 7/31/2018

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Paul Manafort, the first defendant charged by special counsel Robert Mueller to go to trial, is accused of working as an unregistered lobbyist for several pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.  William Brangham joins John Yang from the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, to explain the contours of the case so far.




"Prosecutors say Paul Manafort believed he was above the law.  Manafort said associates failed to keep track of his income" by Chad Day and Eric Tucker (AP) PBS NewsHour 7/31/2018

Paul Manafort orchestrated a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to evade U.S. tax and banking laws, leaving behind a trail of lies as he lived a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors said Tuesday as they laid out their case against the former Trump campaign chairman.

During his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told the jury that Manafort considered himself above the law as he funneled tens of millions of dollars through offshore accounts.  That “secret income” was used to pay for personal expenses such as a $21,000 watch, a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich, and more than $6 million worth of real estate paid for in cash, Asonye said.

“A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him — not tax law, not banking law,” Asonye said as he sketched out the evidence gathered by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in Manafort’s bank fraud and tax evasion trial.

It’s the first trial arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and Russia.  Mueller was not present in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Thomas Zehnle said in his opening statement that Manafort trusted others to keep track of the millions of dollars he was earning from his Ukrainian political work.

He made clear that undermining the credibility of Rick Gates, his former business associate and the government’s star witness, is central to the defense strategy. Zehnle said Manafort, earning millions as a political consultant helping officials in other parts of the world, relied on Gates and others — including a professional accounting firm — to keep watch over the money.

It’s the first trial arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.  Mueller was not present in the courtroom.

Money’s coming in fast.  It’s a lot, and Paul Manafort trusted that Rick Gates was keeping track of it,” Zehnle said.  “That’s what Rick Gates was being paid to do.”

He warned jurors that Gates could not be trusted and was the type of witness who would say anything he could to save himself from a lengthy prison sentence and a crippling financial penalty.

Gates, who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine and is also accused of helping him falsify paperwork used to obtain the bank loans, cut a plea deal with Mueller earlier this year.  Gates also worked as an aide on Trump’s campaign.

Manafort, who has been jailed for nearly two months, wore a black suit and appeared fully engaged in his defense, whispering with his attorneys during jury selection and scribbling notes as the prosecution began its opening statement.

Before the start of jury selection Tuesday, prosecutors filed an expanded list of its evidence exhibits, including several email chains between Manafort and Stephen Calk, a Chicago bank chairman.  The added evidence also appears to include documents related to bank accounts in Cyprus.

The government intends to show that Manafort funneled more than $60 million in proceeds from his Ukrainian political consulting through offshore accounts and hid a “significant” portion of it from the IRS.

Asonye said Manafort created “bogus” loans, falsified documents and lied to his tax preparer and bookkeeper to conceal the money, which he obtained from Ukrainian oligarchs through a series of shell company transfers and later from fraudulently obtained bank loans in the U.S.

But Zehnle disputed prosecutors’ account that Manafort was trying to conceal his earnings by storing money in bank accounts in Cyprus.  He said that arrangement was not Manafort’s doing but was instead the preferred method of payment of the supporters of the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party who were paying his consulting fees.

Defense lawyers also sought to address head-on Manafort’s wealth and the images of a gaudy lifestyle that jurors are expected to see during the trial.

“Paul Manafort traveled in circles that most people will never know and he’s gotten handsomely rewarded for it,” Zehnle said.  “We do not dispute that.”

The judge even interrupted the prosecutor during his opening statements to caution him against suggesting there was something criminal about being a multimillionaire.

“It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said.

Prosecutors made no reference to Trump in their opening statement nor discussed in any way Manafort’s leadership of the Trump campaign, or the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the president’s associates.  Despite that, Manafort’s case is widely viewed as a test to the legitimacy of Mueller’s ongoing probe, which Trump has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”

“There was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!”  Trump tweeted early Tuesday.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

“It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said.

At jury selection earlier Tuesday, the pool faced questions from both sides and the judge as they tried to weed out potential prejudice in what has become a highly publicized and politically divisive investigation.  A jury of six men and six women was ultimately selected, along with four alternate jurors.

Manafort has a second trial scheduled for September in the District of Columbia.  It involves allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the U.S. government.

The other 31 people charged by Mueller so far have either pleaded guilty or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom.  Three Russian companies have also been charged.  One of those companies has pleaded not guilty and is fighting the allegations in federal court in Washington.