Wednesday, February 27, 2019

CONSERVATION - House Passes New Bill

NOTE: This is copied from the e-newspaper, so no link to article.

"House passes land conservation bill" by Rep. Raul Grijalva, San Diego Union-Tribune 2/27/2019

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed its first significant public lands conservation bill in years, designating more than 1 million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.

The House passage of the bill, on a vote of 363-62, sends the measure, which was passed by the Senate this month, to the desk of President Donald Trump.  The vote Tuesday offered a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.

Nonetheless, Trump was expected to sign the bill into law.  But the 1 million acres of wilderness that would be protected by the bill stand in contrast to the administration’s plans to open up for drilling 9 million acres of protected habitat for the sage grouse, 2 million acres of protected land in Utah, parts of the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and most United States coastal waters.

Lawmakers and environmentalists celebrated passage of the bill as a victory for bipartisanship and conservation.

“This bill represents Congress at its best and truly gives the American people something to be excited about,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz) chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.  “It’s a massive win for the present and future of American conservation.”

Grijalva is one of several Western lawmakers from both parties who have worked for four years on the bill.

The bill is packed with parochial provisions designed to help the home states and districts of its authors.  Among those is a provision for a land transfer in La Paz County, Ariz., to allow for the development of a solar farm, and a land exchange of 360 acres in Custer County, S.D., to allow the county to expand its airport.

Among the most consequential provisions is the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program established in the 1960s that uses fees and royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling in federal waters to pay for onshore conservation programs.

Although the program has long enjoyed bipartisan support, Congress typically renews it for only a few years at a time, and it expired on Sept. 30 and has not been renewed.  The new public lands package would authorize the program permanently, ending its long cycle of nearing or passing expiration and awaiting congressional renewal.

Monday, February 25, 2019

PIC FILES - Today 2/25/2019

Montage Memoriam 9/11



OPINION - Shields and Brooks 2/22/2019

"Shields and Brooks on Trump declaration, Bernie Sanders’ 2020 bid" PBS NewsHour 2/22/2019


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week in politics, including how Congress is reacting to President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over immigration, the 2020 candidacy of Bernie Sanders and whether democratic socialism is becoming mainstream.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  From that to what we reported earlier in the show, House Democrats gearing up to fight President Trump on his emergency declaration.

It's time now for analysis on this and more from Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello to both of you.

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Judy.

Judy Woodruff:  So, let's talk about — Mark, what the Democrats announced today.

They said that they were going to do this, but they officially put word out today that they are going to vote on Tuesday basically to just negate, cancel what the President is trying to do, declare a national emergency to find money to pay for a wall on the southern border.

Is this a smart move?

Mark Shields:  Is it the smart move?  Well, it will pass the House.  There are 226 co-sponsors right now.

And if Nancy Pelosi does something well — she does lot of things well, but she knows how to count.  And the question is how many Republicans.  There's one at this point, Justin Amash of Michigan, but others who will come over.

Judy Woodruff:  Only one at this point?

Mark Shields:  At this point, that's right.

So, then it moves to the Senate.  I mean, it's a — I think it's a moment of some truth, reality for Republicans.  I think Susan Collins of Maine has already indicated her own opposition to the President's position.  I think Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is up in a tough race next year, may be another.  There may be others as well.

So, I think our system works best when there's a vitality and an energy in all branches.  And I don't think there is any question that this is protecting the institution.  I mean, when the President goes ahead and appropriates money that was denied by both the Democrats and the Republicans in the conference most recently, you know, I think it's a question of prerogative and responsibility and authority.

Judy Woodruff:  So, David, do the Democrats have a real shot at blocking what the President wants to do?

David Brooks, New York Times:  No, no, because they would have to get a veto-proof majority.  Even if they get it out of the Congress, Donald Trump will veto it.

I think it may also pass the Senate.  I forget.  There were six or seven who — at least when he declared the emergency, six or seven Republicans said, I don't really think it's a good idea.  And I think they may wind up voting against it.

If you're going to vote against Donald Trump about anything, this is the easiest, because you can say, well, it's not really about ideology.  It's not about the wall.  It's just about Congress.  And it's about the way we — it's about the Constitution.

They all took an oath to swear allegiance to the Constitution.  And the Constitution says that Congress originates, has the power of the purse.  And if the President can just spend money on what he wants, that's really not our constitutional system.

Why don't more do it?  If it was an anonymous vote, it would get 90 votes.  They all think that.  But there's a weird — you know, you bug them about this, there's a level of supine passivity, like a learned helplessness, where they don't even — it doesn't even cross the mental barrier that, well, maybe I should buck the President on this one.

I don't know.


Judy Woodruff:  You're talking about the Republicans.

David Brooks:  Yes.  You would have to do studies on maltreated pets or something, like, why don't they get up and do something?

But it's not even in their brain register.  It's just, I'm used to — I go along right now.  I just go along.  And it's not even a conscious choice anymore.

Judy Woodruff:  Doesn't have anything to do with reelection or anything like that?

David Brooks:  Well, of course it does.  But that's the animal instinct at play.

But I think the voters of Ohio or wherever else would understand an occasional vote against the President.  It doesn't doom your career.  There is not, frankly, an issue on which a lot of people are going to be voting on.  It's a procedural issue.  But it's a defense of the Constitution.

Judy Woodruff:  But, Mark, no chance if the President were — he says he's going to veto.  No chance that they could override the veto?

Mark Shields:  No, it would be the first veto of the President's administration.

But I don't see the two-thirds being there.  There may be a reach in the — possibility in the House, if enough Republicans do screw up the courage to do so.

But I just think the Mark Sanford experience, Judy, just haunts Republicans, it terrifies them.  They look over their shoulder, they see shadows on the wall in the sunshine.  Mark Sanford, the former Republican governor and congressman from South Carolina, whom the President just absolutely kind of trashed and endorsed his then — up to then previously unknown opponent in the Republican primary, and Mark Sanford went down to defeat.

David Brooks:  I there's one other little element, the reason they don't leap, is that they have no power now.

Mark Shields:  OK.

David Brooks:  They have already given away their power.  They gave away their power to their leadership, to Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell.

And so that they gave that away long ago, so the idea they could seize power is a big mental leap for them.  And so they're doubly bound into this learned helplessness.

BROADWAY - "Choir Boy"

"‘Moonlight’ writer hopes audiences leave his new play ‘full of questions’" PBS NewsHour 2/22/2019


SUMMARY:  The hit Broadway play “Choir Boy” chronicles an African-American prep school and its star pupil, the choir boy, who happens to be gay.  Written by Tarell McCraney, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, the play explores themes not often addressed publicly within the black community or outside it.  Jeffrey Brown sits down with McCraney to discuss what it means to bring important voices to the stage.


Another Trump Administration scandal.

"Labor secretary under fire as disturbing Epstein details continue to emerge" PBS NewsHour 2/22/2019


SUMMARY:  A federal judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors led by current Labor Secretary Alex Acosta broke the law when he was U.S. attorney in Florida.  Acosta's team allegedly concealed a plea agreement from more than 30 underage victims who had been sexually abused by billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.  Amna Nawaz talks to Julie Brown of the Miami Herald about the troubling details she heard from victims.


Our Generalissimo changes his pea-sized mind.

"After announcing full withdrawal, Trump says U.S. will keep hundreds of troops in Syria" PBS NewsHour 2/22/2019


SUMMARY:  White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that a few hundred American troops may stay in Syria as a stabilizing force after the majority of U.S. forces withdraw.  Still, American allies fear that ISIS will have the capability to create a powerful insurgency as U.S. presence in Syria recedes.  Nick Schifrin talks to Judy Woodruff about President Trump's new plan and the reaction to it.

TRUMP'S TRADE WAR - Who Holds the Cards

"Who holds the power in potential U.S.-China trade war?" PBS NewsHour 2/21/2019


SUMMARY:  With trade negotiations between the U.S. and China now in high gear, President Trump has suggested he might delay the latest round of tariffs on Chinese goods, currently scheduled to take effect March 1.  Paul Solman reports on the disadvantages China faces in these trade negotiations, what options the country may have to retaliate and why trade wars can be "very, very stupid" maneuvers.

McCABE - President Trump is a Threat

I totally agree.

"Why Andrew McCabe sees the President as a threat" PBS NewsHour 2/21/2019


SUMMARY:  Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has published a new book that includes some stunning allegations about President Trump -- including that he is the "most prolific liar" McCabe has ever encountered, despite decades of dealing with sophisticated criminals.  McCabe sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss why FBI investigations aren't political and whether he plans to sue over his termination.

DOMESTIC THREAT - Christopher Paul Hasson

"‘Fantasies of violence’ motivated Coast Guard officer with weapons stockpile" PBS NewsHour 2/21/2019


SUMMARY:  Christopher Paul Hasson, a Coast Guard officer and self-proclaimed white supremacist, is facing drug and weapons charges after federal agents discovered a stockpile of firearms and ammunition at his Maryland home.  Also found was a list of his apparent targets, including Democratic politicians and journalists.  Amna Nawaz talks to the Anti-Defamation League's Oren Segal about the threat.

AFTER THE FIRE - Paradise California

"In Paradise, housing, water, and jobs prove elusive in Camp Fire’s aftermath" PBS NewsHour 2/20/2019

Reminder to my readers, the ENTIRE town was effectively gone.


SUMMARY:  In Paradise, California, thousands of residents are trying to cope with disruption and displacement resulting from November's devastating Camp FireChildren attend school in a repurposed hardware store, where counselors try to help them manage their trauma.  Meanwhile, amidst millions of tons of toxic debris, finding safe and stable housing is a challenge.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

SUPREME COURT - On Civil Forfeitures

"Unanimous Supreme Court decision limits states’ ability to seize personal property" PBS NewsHour 2/20/2019

This is a BIG one.


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to limit civil forfeiture laws allowing law enforcement to seize property from those suspected of committing a crime.  In the unanimous decision, the high court sided with a low-level drug offender who argued that the seizure of his $42,000 Land Rover by law enforcement was an excessive fine.  Amna Nawaz talks to the National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle for more.

VOTE 2020 - Democrats on Health Care Reform

"Where Democratic presidential candidates stand on health care reform" PBS NewsHour 2/20/2019


SUMMARY:  Health care continues to be a major issue on Americans' minds, and as Democratic presidential candidates launch their campaigns, it's also a policy priority for them.  Lisa Desjardins reports on the contenders' various proposals and talks to Dylan Scott of Vox about terminology and branding, political calculations and how Americans view an expanded government role in health care.

TEACHERS - Border Lessons

"Amid immigration debate, top teachers gather to protest child detention" PBS NewsHour 2/19/2019


SUMMARY:  Some of the nation's top teachers recently gathered in El Paso, Texas, to speak out against the government’s practice of detaining children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border.  Dismissing the notion that they shouldn't get involved in political advocacy, teachers said they see some U.S. policy and procedures as "abusive."  Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week reports.

VOTE 2020 - Democrats Motivated

"How poverty and inequality are motivating Democrats on tax policy" PBS NewsHour 2/19/2019


SUMMARY:  Numerous Democrats have already announced or hinted at their candidacy in the 2020 presidential election.  For many of them, tax policy, and specifically, increasing how much the very wealthy pay, is a platform priority.  Lisa Desjardins reports on their proposals and talks to the Washington Post's Philip Bump about why taxes are in the spotlight now and how American voters are likely to respond.

TRUMP DIPLOMACY - Tense Alliances

Trump is just anti-alliance because wants to dictate world policy, just like he wants in America.

"Can partnership between U.S. and European allies survive Trump’s ‘tough love?’" PBS NewsHour 2/19/2019


SUMMARY:  For more than 70 years, global security has been underwritten by the alliance between the U.S. and its European partners, but those bonds have frayed since President Trump took office.  The tension was on display recently at the annual Munich Security Conference.  Nick Schifrin talks to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md), and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind) about rhetoric vs. policy and Trump's "tough love" approach.

NORTH CAROLINA - Ballot Fraud?

"Months after Election Day, N.C. officials grapple with possible ballot fraud" PBS NewsHour 2/19/2019


SUMMARY:  Election Day occurred more than three months ago, but North Carolina's 9th Congressional District has still not certified a winner, as state officials try to determine whether an operative of Republican candidate Mark Harris' campaign handled ballots illegally.  Harris received only 905 more votes than Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results.  Judy Woodruff talks to NPR's Miles Parks for more.

"Do-over election in N.C. congressional district requires new primaries" PBS NewsHour 2/21/2019


SUMMARY:  A new election has been ordered in a North Carolina congressional race still contested after more than three months.  The decision follows four days of hearings on alleged voting fraud by an operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris.  Numerous witnesses testified that McCrae Dowless illegally collected absentee ballots.  Judy Woodruff talks to NPR's Miles Parks about what happens next.

DEMOCRACY - Presidential Power

A very dumb question.....

"Is expanding Presidential power inherently bad for democracy?" PBS NewsHour 2/18/2019


SUMMARY:  The fallout from President Trump’s national emergency declaration over immigration is sparking questions about the scope of executive power.  For analysis, Judy Woodruff talks to Andrew Rudalevige, professor of government at Bowdoin College and author of “The New Imperial Presidency: Renewing Presidential Power after Watergate,” and Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  On this President's Day holiday, we're taking a look at Presidential powers and how they have changed over time.

We're joined now by two Presidential historians Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of several books on the presidency.  And Andrew Rudalevige, he's professor of government at Bowdoin College and the author of "The New Imperial Presidency: Renewing Presidential Power after Watergate."

And welcome to both of you.

Andrew Rudalevige, let me start with you.

How much more powerful is the American presidency today than it was either in the earliest days of this country or even 150 years ago?

Andrew Rudalevige, professor of government:  Well, infinitely more powerful than at the time of the Constitutional Convention.

If you think of the very title President, that comes from the word presider.  There was no idea, I think, that the President would be the main decider, as George W. Bush styled himself.

The real growth is in the 20th and now the 21st century.  You have the great expansiveness of the scope and size of government.  Most of that's in the executive branch, and so the President has more means, many more staff, many more people to help him carry out his preferences.

And you also have, over time, the delegation of great amounts of power to the President by Congress, including things that are specifically delegated to the Congress by the Constitution, trade power, for example.

In other areas, Presidents have sort of pushed hard to try to take over the war power, for example.  And Congress on the whole has been pretty supine about that.

So it's a great growth of power in fits and starts, but, certainly compared, to the founding, a much more powerful office than was anticipated.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Douglas Brinkley, is this mainly because Presidents have been grabbing for more power, or is it because Congress has ceded it, or is it a combination?

Douglas Brinkley, professor of history:  Combination.

I mean, I think it's important to think about when Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1861.  He had a very good reason to, the Civil War.  Then you have the emancipation of slaves under Lincoln.

And Theodore Roosevelt is really the beginning of this.  It used to be called the executive mansion.  He named it the White House.  And from 1901 to 1909, T.R.  used a lot of executive orders, some like going into Panama without Congress.  He went to the Grand Canyon and said, save it.  Congress didn't want it as a National Park.

There was zinc, asbestos, and copper there, and so he declared it a National Monument and as a way station on using executive power, until eventually Congress would take it as a National Park.

Following T.R., you see Franklin D. Roosevelt using executive power all the time, sometimes in positive ways that look well in history, like when he save Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a national — as a national monument in the middle of World War II, but then, alas, the Japanese internment camps, which was upheld by the courts, that he was allowed to do that kind of roundup of American citizens.

And just — it's an increasing of Presidential power, to the degree now that Presidents, so matter who they are, have a 40 or 50 percent approval rating, and Congress is often at 15, 20 percent approval rating.  We are a country of Presidential power.

Judy Woodruff:  Andrew Rudalevige, is it that the American people have watched this happen over time and have just felt, OK, this is just inevitable, it's just going to get — we're going to have a more powerful presidency?

Andrew Rudalevige:  Well, there are good and bad reasons for a powerful presidency.

The government, the role of the United States are much bigger in the world and domestically than they had been prior to the 20th century.  So you have some questions of executive efficiency.  It's not always terrible when Congress delegates power to the President.

On the other hand, especially since, I would say, the 1960s, changes in nominating procedures mean there's a lot more focus on the individual.  Presidents have to promise a lot more individually, and then they are under pressure to live up to those promises.

The gap between the expectations of the presidency and the actual power is somewhat large.  I think Presidents on the whole cannot carry out their promises to the degree that they think they can running for office.

President Trump's emergency declaration is a pretty good example of that, frankly.  But, yes, people tend to support Presidents acting dramatically.  And, to that degree, Presidents will continue to do so.

Judy Woodruff:  And what President Trump has done, Douglas Brinkley, is one the reasons I wanted to talk to the two of you, because people are — some are referring to it as an unprecedented move, an overreach.

But we really wanted to put it in context and look at how this has — how Presidents' desire and determination to take more power under themselves has — it's been happening for a long time.

Douglas Brinkley:  Well, yes.

I mean, Richard Nixon created a lot of problems, I mean, abuse of power, the movement to impeach him.  And out of that grew the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which supposed to make sure you don't go to war without Congress' approval.

Well, alas, Ronald Reagan went into Grenada in 1983 without Congress' approval, and George Herbert Walker Bush went into Panama in 1989 without it.  So you get to see things get watered down.  Presidents act, and let everybody else decide what to do later.

What we're debating now in the United States concerning Donald Trump is another post-Nixon event, the National Emergencies Act of 1976.  And in that regard, we have had 59 of these since 1976, but none like what Donald Trump's doing.

He — this is a big political move by Donald Trump.  It's not going to be construed as a real emergency, in the way Harry Truman tried to grab the steel industry back in 1952 and it wasn't a real emergency, because Presidents can't seize private property.

And if he is — if the Trump administration's hell-bent on grabbing ranchlands, building fencing along private property and along environmental zones, it's just going to rain lawsuits on them, and it'll — it'll end up in the Supreme Court.

But Congress is supposed to have — Congress is supposed to have the purse.  It's supposed to run the money.  Donald Trump now is doing something unprecedented by grabbing the funding from Congress and reallocating it in his own — with his own whims.

Judy Woodruff:  Andrew Rudalevige, so, this is a — this stands apart from what other Presidents have done to take more power unto themselves?

Andrew Rudalevige:  Well, Professor Brinkley talked about the post-Watergate regime, where you had a real effort by Congress to push back on the powers of the President, not just in war powers, but intelligence oversight and covert action and the budget, impoundment of congressional funds, ethics with the creation of the independent counsel, and the National Emergencies Act, right?

All of these things were designed to rein in Presidential power.  But Presidents keep pushing, right?  They are — as I said, they have lots of incentives to keep pushing.  And so, really, what's happened is that Congress has not pushed back.

The National Emergencies Act is a great example of a law that was created to rein in Presidents, but has ended up empowering them, partly because Congress has not lived up to its own responsibilities that it wrote into the law, right, to review these emergencies every six months, to come into session to actually consider them in a serious way.

So we will see if that happens now.

TRUMP - Shutdown Fallout

"Why shutdown’s impact will continue to be felt for ‘years to come’" PBS NewsHour 2/18/2019


SUMMARY:  Although a second government shutdown has been averted, Yamiche Alcindor reports that repercussions from the one that ended in January are still being felt -- and they extend far beyond federal employees.  She also talks to the Partnership for Public Service's Max Stier about the shutdown's long-lasting effects and how they could make federal hiring more difficult.

Friday, February 22, 2019

AMERICA - These Lyrics State What I Believe America Is

American Anthem
by Norah Jones

All we've been given
By those who came before
The dream of a nation
Where freedom would endure
The work and prayers
Of centuries
Have brought us to this day

What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?
Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
*Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
I gave my best to you

Each generation from the plains
To distant shore with the gifts
They were given
Were determined
To leave more
Battles foughts together
Acts of conscience fought alone
These are the seeds
From which America has grown

Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
* (reframe)

For those who think
They have nothing to share
Who fear in their hearts
There is no hero there
Know each quiet act
Of dignity is
That which fortifies
The soul of a nation
That never dies

Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
* (reframe)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

CALIFORNIA - High-speed Rail Project Cast Into Further Doubt

NOTE: This is copied from the e-newspaper, no link to article.

"Trump administration to cancel $929M in high-speed rail funds" by Ralph Vartabedian & Matthew Ormseth (Los Angeles Times), San Diego Union-Tribune 2/20/2019

The fate of California’s high-speed rail project was cast into further doubt Tuesday when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced plans to cancel $929 million in grant funds, a move that some viewed as political payback.

The action marks an escalation in the battle between President Donald Trump and the state of California since Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that the project lacked a path to complete a statewide system and vowed to scale back the $77 billion mega-project.

The Transportation Department also said it was “actively exploring every legal option” to get back an additional $2.5 billion grant that is being used to finance the construction of 119 miles of rail line in the Central Valley.

The two federal grants represent about one-fourth of all the funding for the project to date — money critical to completing the Central Valley portion and finishing environmental reviews for other segments between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  If the funds are lost or tied up in a long legal battle, the state would probably have to either make up the money elsewhere or further curtail the project.

Newsom on Tuesday vowed to block the move, arguing that it was political payback by the Trump administration.

“It’s no coincidence that the Administration’s threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the President’s farcical ‘national emergency,’” Newsom said in a statement, referring to Trump’s emergency declaration to secure funding for his wall on the Mexican border.  “The President even tied the two issues together in a tweet this morning.  This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won’t sit idly by.  This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it.”

Earlier in the day, Trump had said on Twitter, “The failed Fast Train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!

Ronald Batory, chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, the transportation agency that made the grants in 2009 and 2010, laid out a lengthy legal argument Tuesday for why the state was out of compliance with the grant agreement.  Batory said in a three-page letter to California High Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Brian Kelly that the state “has materially failed to comply with the terms of the agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

Batory alleged that the state had failed to spend required matching funds, falling short by $100 million as of December.  He argued that it will fail to complete the Central Valley construction by a 2022 deadline required by the grant.  Batory also said the state has not submitted required financial information — such as reports on what has been delivered to date — that would allow federal regulators to oversee the grants.  It also has failed to take corrective actions after regulators raised concerns in 2017 and 2018.

The letter also cited Newsom’s State of the State speech last week that outlined a plan to build a limited operating segment between Merced and Bakersfield as a “significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment.”

The Rail Authority said Tuesday afternoon that it would respond in detail to those allegations in coming days.

Newsom said in his speech that the project needed to be rethought and that the initial run would be within the Central Valley, not the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles route voters approved a decade ago.

“But let’s be real,” Newsom said in the speech to lawmakers.  “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long.  There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.…  Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.  I wish there were.  However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”

In the hours that followed Newsom’s speech, Trump demanded that California return $3.5 billion in federal funds, and headlines proclaimed the Democratic governor was abandoning the ambitious project championed by his predecessors — a story line that Newsom denied and one that his team has scrambled to correct.

Whether the Trump administration can actually cancel the $929 million grant, which in legal terms is called “de-obligating” the funds, remains unclear.  The possibility of ordering a refund of the $2.5 billion grant that is already being spent is even a bigger legal uncertainty.

Jeff Denham, a former Central Valley Republican congressman who chaired the House rail subcommittee and is an outspoken critic of the project, spent years with his staff trying to figure out whether it would be possible to de-obligate the funding and ultimately decided it could not be done by congressional act.

The federal action to terminate the grant wades into uncharted legal territory.

“I can’t recall of any precedent,” said Art Bauer, a longtime state Senate Transportation Committee staffer who was deeply involved in the early planning on the high-speed rail.  “They never claw back money.  They are saying you are not getting money we committed to you.  They are setting up a big fight.”

But in this case, Bauer said, “the governor unwittingly gave the federal government a reason to back away from the project.”

Although the federal regulators alleged that the state violated the terms of the grant, Bauer said such performance is typical in federal funding for transportation.  “Just look at any highway project.  They are never done on schedule or on budget.  They are often not done within the original scope.”

“The supporters of the project are really going to go through the roof,” he added.  “I imagine a good part of the congressional delegation will gang up on the Department of Transportation and the federal Railroad Administration.  But there is no love lost.”

The Trump administration action is likely to add further fuel to critics, including those in California, who want the project stopped.  Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) said Tuesday that the entire project should be scrapped and funds redirected to Central Valley projects that would benefit the state.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) a vocal critic of the project, said, “It doesn’t matter what the state says about not giving the money back,” he said.  “The feds can, in fact, claw that money back.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

POLL - Do You Approve of Trump's National Emergency

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 2/15/2019

"Shields and Brooks on Trump’s national emergency, Democratic platform shift" PBS NewsHour 2/15/2019


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week in politics, including the President’s national emergency declaration, how congressional Republicans are reacting to it, the 2020 Presidential field and whether Democrats are pushing their platform too far to the left.

Judy Woodruff:  From that growing 2020 Presidential field, to the fight over President Trump's national emergency declaration, it's time for Shields and Brooks.

That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello to both of you.

We are going to talk about the mayor in just a moment, but I do want to start, David, with the President's announcement today that he didn't get enough money to beef up the border as he wanted, and, therefore, he's declaring a national emergency, so that he can spend up to $8 billion on it.

David Brooks, New York Times:  Yes, well, this is awful.

You know, I don't think it has anything to do with any invasion, as he claimed.  I think he lost the government shutdown, so he's giving himself a performance trophy, so he can say, I'm a winner.

I think this is more about his psyche than anything actually in the country.  And it is a complete violation of any constitutional position that any liberal or any conservative should believe in.

The Constitution clearly states that allocations and appropriations are the job of Congress.  And Congress has been ceding power time and time again.  Presidents have been grabbing it.  And this is by far the most egregious grab.

And once you walk down this line, then the constitutional order begins to fray.  And we have seen the fraying of social norms.  Now we're seeing the fraying of constitutional norms.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Mark, the President says it's entirely within his right to do this.  And he points out other Presidents have done similar things.

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Not really similar things, in a sense after they have been rejected by the legislative process, immediately upon following that rejection.

I think, Judy, that you have to say a national emergency is the Great Depression, the polio epidemic, the firing on Fort Sumter, you know, or something that we can agree is an emergency.

This is a political emergency.  It's a political emergency, just as David described, not simply the stinging rebuke of Congress, but, by actual count, 200 times Donald Trump, candidate and then President, has promised that this wall, this tall, unscalable wall, will be built and paid for completely by the Mexican government.

And he obviously has not delivered on that.  I would just point out that, in 2000, Bill Clinton's last year in the White House, there were 1.6 million illegal entries stopped by the authorities at the border.  In 2017, Donald Trump's first year, there were fewer than 400,000.

I mean, this is not — it's not an invasion, as David said.  I mean, it's not an emergency, other than a political emergency.

Judy Woodruff:  And it's going to be challenged in the courts.  We were hearing some of that earlier in the program.

David, what about the fact that Republicans in Congress didn't go along, there weren't enough of them to go along with what the President wanted in terms of money, and now some of them are saying what you two are saying, that they don't like the fact that he's declaring an emergency?

David Brooks:  Yes, this was an interesting thing that, within the negotiations over the last week, the Republicans, and specifically Mitch McConnell, decided basically they were writing the White House out of the negotiations, and they sidelined them.

And so they basically — the deal McConnell said was, we're going to cut them out of the negotiations, we will give them nothing, but we give them this, that I will support this chance to have an emergency.

And that is a bad deal.  Mitch McConnell made a bad deal for the American people.  This — violating the Constitution is worse.  And so I think they should have a vote .  The Congress should assert itself, for once in a lifetime, for the sake of our country.

A few Republicans have come out and criticized the President, Ben Sasse and Marco Rubio.  But a lot have not.  Some who warned him not to do that are suddenly on board.

And so you're seeing rank open opportunism.  It was not long ago, a few years ago, we were sitting at this table, and Barack Obama did something — I thought something egregious.  And every Republican, including me, was — had their hair on fire.

And now suddenly they're fine with an even more egregious grab of White House power.

Judy Woodruff:  How do you see this political — or is it a significant division in the Republican Party?

Mark Shields:  No, it isn't, Judy.

I mean, the Republican Party needs a vertebrae transplant.  It is essentially a political invertebrate.  It has no backbone.

Mitch McConnell is terrified of a primary challenge in 2020.  And that's the power that Donald Trump wields.  Donald Trump has always, in his arsenal, the Mark Sanford experience, the former governor and congressman in South Carolina.

Donald Trump said good words about his opponent and bad words about Mark Sanford, and Mark Sanford's career came to a crashing end in the Republican primary.

And every — virtually every Republican who's up in 2020 is afraid that Donald Trump — to get on the wrong side of Donald Trump.  I don't think there's any question about it.

I think Susan Collins has said some questionable things about questioning the President.  So has Mike Lee from Utah.  It's a small group.  Lamar Alexander has.  He's retiring in 2020.  So, I don't expect any great resistance on the GOP side.

OSCARS - Regina King, 'If Beale Street Could Talk' Best Actress

"Oscar nominee Regina King says ‘Beale Street’ a reminder of black resilience" PBS NewsHour 2/15/2019


SUMMARY:  Set in New York City in the 1970s, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is the film adaptation of a James Baldwin novel about Tish and Fonny, a devoted young couple almost torn apart by racism and wrongful imprisonment.  Jeffrey Brown sits down with actress Regina King to discuss her Oscar-nominated performance as Tish's mother in the film, pledging to work with women and the hardest thing about parenting.

END OF THE CALIPHATE - What About the ISIS Fighters?

"What should happen to thousands of foreign ISIS fighters?" PBS NewsHour 2/15/2019


SUMMARY:  In Syria, U.S.-backed Kurdish forces are retaking the final territory of the Islamic State.  As the caliphate dissolves, however, what will happen to the 40,000 foreign fighters who joined the terror group’s ranks over the past few years?  Many of them have been detained, but the path for prosecuting them, and preventing them from driving an ISIS resurgence, remains unclear.  Nick Schifrin reports.

AMAZON - Nixes NYC Headquarters

"Political, business dynamics prompt ‘stunning reversal’ on Amazon NYC headquarters" PBS NewsHour 2/14/2019


SUMMARY:  Amazon abruptly announced Thursday that it will not build a headquarters in New York, after some local politicians expressed strong opposition toward the company’s plan.  The “stunning reversal” is a major blow to the politicians who helped broker the deal, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.  Judy Woodruff talks to J. David Goodman of The New York Times.

THE INVESTIGATIONS - McCabe '60 Minutes' Interview

"In upcoming interview, McCabe describes ‘panic’ at DOJ after Comey firing" PBS NewsHour 2/14/2019


SUMMARY:  Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, says in an upcoming interview he feared President Trump would undermine the investigation into Russian election interference once Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.  John Yang talks to NPR’s Carrie Johnson about McCabe’s claims of “panic and alarm” in the Justice Department, Trump’s reaction and the latest revelations in the Special Counsel’s probe.

60 Minutes:  Full Andrew McCabe interview

OSCARS - 'Black Panther' Nominated Costume Designer

"How ‘Black Panther’ costume designer found inspiration worthy of a superhero" PBS NewsHour 2/13/2019


SUMMARY:  When it comes to movies, we tend to focus on actors and directors.  But many other factors help determine whether a film resonates with audiences.  In commercial and critical blockbuster “Black Panther,” for example, superhero suits recall actual African heritage.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Ruth Carter, the movie’s Oscar-nominated Costume Designer, about finding inspiration and serving as an example.

MEDICARE FOR ALL - City's Push Back Against Trump Policy

"Democrat-led cities and states move toward universal health care on their own terms" PBS NewsHour 2/13/2019


SUMMARY:  Health care continues to be a top political issue.  While some congressional Democrats consider universal health coverage, state and local governments are already pushing ahead with proposals to corral costs and broaden access to care, including for the undocumented.  Special correspondent Sarah Varney shares stories from California and New York, two states pursuing ambitious health care agendas.

Gov. California Gavin Newsom (D-Calif):  You look around the rest of the world, they're just rolling their eyes, higher life expectancy.  They do chronic disease management better than the United States for roughly half the price.  You look at quality indexes, we dropped to 37 in the world in our quality index last year, below Cuba and Costa Rica.

This is ludicrous, and so it's incumbent upon governors, mayors, to take the lead, in the absence of the federal government doing its job.

AFTER PARKLAND - Anonymous Tip Lines

"A year after Parkland shooting, can anonymous tip lines help students keep schools safer?" PBS NewsHour 2/12/2019


SUMMARY:  This week marks a year since a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and educators.  Since then, a renewed push for school safety has led to the development of initiatives like Safe2Say Something, through which Pennsylvania students can report concerns or red flags via an app.  Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education Week reports.

"Parkland’s legacy: Heightened security, stricter dress codes and political advocacy" PBS NewsHour 2/13/2019


SUMMARY:  A year after a gunman killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the lives and outlooks of students across the country are also permanently altered.  The NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs spoke to several of them about the tragedy’s impact on their daily experiences, how safe they feel and the role of politics.

GUILTY - Joaquin Guzman aka "El Chapo"

"The shocking violence that characterized the reign of ‘El Chapo’" PBS NewsHour 2/12/2019


SUMMARY:  After a trial lasting nearly three months, the Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, more widely known as “El Chapo,” was convicted Tuesday and now faces the possibility of life in prison.  Prosecutors said that during Guzman's reign, the Sinaloa Cartel became the largest and most prolific drug-trafficking operation in the world.  Nick Schifrin talks to Rolling Stone's Noah Hurowitz about the verdict.

TRUMP AGENDA - 'I Demand My Wall'

"How both sides compromised to reach a tentative border security agreement" PBS NewsHour 2/12/2019


SUMMARY:  Lawmakers working to develop an agreement on border funding by February 15 say they have reached a bipartisan deal.  President Trump said he wasn't "happy" with the proposed bill, as it would provide only a fraction of the funding he had originally demanded, but didn't say whether or not he would sign it.  Yamiche Alcindor explains what concessions each side made to arrive at a compromise.

"Why both parties are claiming victory on funding for border security" PBS NewsHour 2/12/2019


SUMMARY:  As members of Congress finally arrive at an agreement over how to fund border security and avoid another government shutdown, both Democrats and Republicans are claiming victory -- and fielding criticism that they caved.  But with only three days before the deadline, it will be a scramble to pass the proposed legislation.  Judy Woodruff gets the latest from Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

"Trump and Congress gear up for a fight over national emergency plan" PBS NewsHour 2/14/2019


SUMMARY:  Congress is preparing to send a government funding package that contains a compromise on allocations for border security to President Trump, who has announced his intention to sign the bill.  However, Trump also plans to declare a national emergency in order to access additional money for a border wall.  Judy Woodruff talks to Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor about what comes next.

"Why Trump’s national emergency plan could present a ‘major Constitutional test’" PBS NewsHour 2/14/2019


SUMMARY:  After signing a congressional funding bill, President Trump plans to declare a national emergency to obtain additional money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  But would such an executive action be lawful?  Judy Woodruff speaks with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about who decides what constitutes a national emergency and whether the President is attempting to circumvent Congress.

"Which funding sources does Trump plan to use for wall money?" PBS NewsHour 2/15/2019


SUMMARY:  President Trump declared a national emergency Friday over immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, so he can redirect billions of dollars to build additional sections of wall there.  Trump plans to take roughly $6 billion from the Defense Department and millions from other sources.  Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor about expected legal challenges and why the President's data is problematic.

OSCARS - 'Vice' Nomination

"Oscar-nominated ‘Vice’ is a character study on the quest for power" PBS NewsHour 2/11/2019


SUMMARY:  Part comedy, part tragedy, the Oscar-nominated movie "Vice" is all raw politics.  The film paints a portrait of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne.  Jeffrey Brown sits down with director Adam McKay and star Amy Adams to discuss how they approached portraying the couple and how the film fits into the current political climate.

'Vice' Official Trailer (2018)

IMMIGRATION - Migrant Detention

aka "Trump's Anti-Immigrant Policies" the blaming of immigrants of fake national ills.  (right out of the Nazi playbook)

"How migrant detention details stalled border security talks" PBS NewsHour 2/11/2019


SUMMARY:  Just weeks after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended, the prospect of a second shutdown looms.  Democratic and Republican negotiators are now at odds over who and how many people should be detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.  Judy Woodruff is joined by Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor for an update on what both sides want.

DENVER - Teacher Strike

"Why performance pay is at the heart of Denver’s teacher strike" PBS NewsHour 2/11/2019


SUMMARY:  Denver public school teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years.  Much of the fight comes down to a pay system known that involves a complicated merit and bonus system, and that teachers say is vastly outdated.  For more, Amna Nawaz is joined by Madeline Will of Education Week.

NATIONAL SECURITY - Targeting U.S. Systems by China & Iran

"Network hacking traced to China and Iran" by Nicole Perlroth (New York Times), San Diego Union-Tribune 2/18/2019

NOTE: This is from the e-newspaper, so no link to article.

Targeting of U.S. systems is more extensive than was previously reported

Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been energized by President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China.

Recent Iranian attacks on U.S. banks, businesses and government agencies have been more extensive than previously reported.  Dozens of corporations and multiple U.S. agencies have been hit, according to seven people briefed on the episodes who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The attacks, attributed to Iran by analysts at the National Security Agency and the private security firm FireEye, prompted an emergency order by the Department of Homeland Security during the government shutdown last month.

The Iranian attacks coincide with a renewed Chinese offensive geared toward stealing trade and military secrets from U.S. military contractors and technology companies, according to nine intelligence officials, private security researchers and lawyers familiar with the attacks who discussed them on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

A summary of an intelligence briefing read to The New York Times said that Boeing, General Electric Aviation and T-Mobile were among the recent targets of Chinese industrial-espionage efforts.  The companies declined to discuss the threats, and it is not clear if any of the hacks were successful.

Chinese cyberespionage cooled four years ago after President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China reached a landmark deal to stop hacks meant to steal trade secrets.

But the 2015 agreement appears to have been unofficially canceled amid the continuing trade tension between the U.S. and China, the intelligence officials and private security researchers said.  Chinese hacks have returned to earlier levels, although they are now stealthier and more sophisticated.

“Cyber is one of the ways adversaries can attack us and retaliate in effective and nasty ways that are well below the threshold of an armed attack or laws of war,” said Joel Brenner, a former leader of U.S. counterintelligence under the director of national intelligence.

Federal agencies and private companies are back to where they were five years ago; battling increasingly sophisticated, government-affiliated hackers from China and Iran — in addition to fighting constant efforts out of Russia — who hope to steal trade and military secrets and sow mayhem.  And it appears the hackers substantially improved their skills during the lull.

Threats from China and Iran never stopped entirely, but Iranian hackers became much less active after the nuclear deal was signed in 2015.  And for about 18 months, intelligence officials concluded, Beijing backed off its 10-year online effort to steal trade secrets.

But Chinese hackers have resumed carrying out commercially motivated attacks, security researchers and data-protection lawyers said.  A priority for the hackers, researchers said, is supporting Beijing’s five-year economic plan, which is meant to make China a leader in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.

“Some of the recent intelligence collection has been for military purposes or preparing for some future cyber conflict, but a lot of the recent theft is driven by the demands of the five-year plan and other technology strategies,” said Adam Segal, director of the cyberspace program at the Council on Foreign Relations.  “They always intended on coming back.”

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Segal and other Chinese security experts said attacks that once would have been conducted by hackers in China’s People’s Liberation Army are now being run by China’s Ministry of State Security.

These hackers are better at covering their tracks.  Rather than going at targets directly, they have used a side door of sorts by breaking into the networks of the targets’ suppliers.  They have also avoided using malware commonly attributed to China, relying instead on encrypting traffic, erasing server logs and other obfuscation tactics.

“The fingerprint of Chinese operations today is much different,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, who once ran the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats division.  Her duties there included determining whether Beijing was abiding by the 2015 agreement’s terms.  “These groups care about attribution.  They don’t want to get caught.”

Federal agencies are also trying to fend off new Iranian espionage campaigns.

After the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified before Congress that her agency was “anticipating it’s a possibility” that Iran would resort to hacking attacks.

The Iranian attacks, which hit more than a half-dozen federal agencies last month, still caught the department off guard.  Security researchers said the hacks, which exploited underlying weaknesses in the Internet’s backbone, were continuing and were more damaging and widespread than agency officials had acknowledged.

Iranian hackers began their latest wave of attacks in Persian Gulf states last year.  Since then, they have expanded to 80 targets — including internet service providers, telecommunications companies and government agencies — in 12 European countries and the United States, according to researchers at FireEye, which first reported the attacks last month.

The current hacks are harder to catch than previous Iranian attacks.  Instead of hitting victims directly, FireEye researchers said, Iranian hackers have been going after the Internet’s core routing system, intercepting traffic between so-called domain name registrars.  Once they intercepted their target’s customer web traffic, they used stolen login credentials to gain access to their victims’ emails.  (Domain name registrars hold the keys to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies’ websites.)

“They’re taking whole mailboxes of data,” said Benjamin Read, a senior manager of cyberespionage analysis at FireEye.  Read said Iranian hackers had targeted police forces, intelligence agencies and foreign ministries, indicating a state-backed espionage campaign rather than a criminal, profit-seeking motive.

There is a long history of Iranian attacks against the U.S., and episodes from five years back or longer are just now being made public.

Representatives for Iran’s Mission to the United Nations did not respond to requests for comment.

The recent Iranian attacks have unnerved U.S. officials.  But after issuing the emergency order about the ones last month, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has largely played them down.

An official with the cybersecurity agency said there was a belief that no information had been stolen and that the attacks had not “materially impacted” operations.  But Read of FireEye and others said there had been a noticeable escalation in Iran’s digital espionage.

“If you tell the Iranians you’re going to walk out on the agreement and do everything you can to undermine their government,” said Brenner, the former counterintelligence official, “you can’t be surprised if they attack our government networks.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2019