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GreyhoundFan

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Because this sham administration doesn't follow the rules: "Interior secretary extends the tenure of federal lands chief — without a presidential nomination"

Spoiler

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Tuesday extended the tenure of William Perry Pendley as effective head of the Bureau of Land Management — without a presidential nomination to the post.

The administration has left the position of BLM director empty for President Trump’s entire presidency.

Bernhardt delegated “all functions, duties, and responsibilities” to Pendley, who has been a stalwart supporter of selling or opening up federal lands to drilling, mining and other commercial use. The move will last until April 3, unless Bernhardt extends it or Trump nominates Pendley or someone else on a permanent basis.

Pendley’s nomination as the actual head of the BLM would face tough Senate confirmation hearings because of his ultraconservative views.

Pendley has been running the BLM since July 2019, when Bernhardt appointed him to a lower position: deputy director for policy and planning.

Bernhardt also delegated duties to four other department officials.

The BLM is the caretaker of 245 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of natural resources. The agency is in the midst of moving most of its headquarters employees to Grand Junction, Colo.

As a senior official in the Reagan administration, Pendley opened up some federal land for coal leasing; the Government Accountability Office (then the General Accounting Office) sharply criticized his relationship with coal lobbyists at the time as unethical.

Pendley was later president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has frequently sided in court with oil and gas drillers, towns and ranchers. In September, Pendley filed a 17-page recusal list of 56 clients and one stock holding.

Environmental groups sharply criticized the latest move to keep him on at the BLM.

Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, said in an interview that Pendley — who wrote a book, “Sagebrush Rebel,” about Reagan’s battle with environmentalists — was “a self-described rebel, but the only thing he’s consistently rebelled against is that public lands should remain in public hands.”

“Secretary Bernhardt’s redelegation of the BLM director’s authority to anti-public lands zealot Pendley is a slap in the face to all public land users and the U.S. Constitution,” Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill said in a statement. He said putting Pendley “in charge of the BLM again is the equivalent of the Trump administration openly putting America’s public lands up for sale.”

But an Interior Department spokesperson, Melissa Brown, said in an email that “Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Department and commitment to carry out the priorities of President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt for the better of the American people.” Brown said Pendley’s appointment was “intended to ensure uninterrupted management and execution of” duties.

Brown derided the environmental groups as “extremists” and said for them “to call themselves sportsmen and conservationists” was “laughable.”

During Pendley’s term at the BLM so far, there has been an increase in leasing oil and gas prospects on federal lands. In Nevada, instead of holding traditional quarterly lease sales, the BLM began holding monthly lease sales in September. The agency offered nearly 1.8 million acres of land, much of it in big game migration areas or sage grouse habitats, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

At a September lease sale in Colorado, the BLM offered over 21,000 acres for leases in North Park. The agency has also run into conflicts with environmental groups concerned about grouse, big game and water resources, coldwater fisheries, and several parcels in the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.

Also in September, the BLM announced that it planned to offer more than 19,000 acres for lease in North Park at a March 2020 sale.

O’Neill pointed to the recent lease sale in which the agency offered companies 4 million acres for oil exploration in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Bids were made on only a little more than 1 million of those acres.

When Pendley ran the small Mountain States Legal Foundation, he sued the Interior Department on behalf of an oil and gas prospector, sought to undermine protections of endangered species such as the grizzly bear, and pressed to radically reduce the size of federal lands to make way for development.

“The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote in a National Review magazine article in 2016. “Westerners know that only getting title to much of the land in the West will bring real change,” he said.

 

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I’ve been tasked with editing all the web pages in my department to change all Trump’s political appointees and add the word ‘Former’. It is a huge job but I don’t care. Hell I’d work over time for fr

I love how Pete trolls the former guy!

If people think this coup is over, I hope they ask themselves how many bosses immediately seat new employees in their last week.  

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GreyhoundFan

With this administration, it's always about the cruelty: "Why Donald Trump’s new food stamp rule is about cruelty, not responsibility"

Spoiler

The myth of the welfare freeloader remains one of the most pervasive and damaging stereotypes in American society, even as it has no basis in fact. We all know the caricature: An able-bodied person who refuses to work, instead bilking government programs not only to survive, but to live luxuriously — driving expensive cars, eating lobster, selling their SNAP benefits (food stamps) on the black market or using them to buy alcohol and cigarettes.

These distortions fuel the punitive programs that Donald Trump and his Republican allies have pushed throughout his administration. Most recently in December, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue outlined a new rule that makes it more difficult for states to obtain waivers for able-bodied SNAP recipients who need extra time to meet the current workfare requirements. His news release, titled “USDA Restores Original Intent of SNAP: A Second Chance, Not A Way of Life,” panders to negative stereotypes of poor people as willingly dependent on government handouts.

The new rule — set to take effect in April — will remove approximately 700,000 current SNAP recipients from the program, making it likely that people will go hungry and reinforcing harmful narratives about the program’s recipients. Rather than addressing the deeper social and economic issues that make food insecurity a consistent problem, the rule instead threatens to undo over half a century’s worth of efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in our country.

That the program is vulnerable to punitive rule changes today is rooted in its origins which came from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 Food Stamp Act. Never intended as a welfare program — and not part of the 1960s War on Poverty legislation — the USDA’s original Food Stamp Program had multiple objectives. It aimed both to relieve farmers of their surplus crops and, as the legislation stated, to “provide for improved levels of nutrition among low-income households.” The program’s structure encouraged building sustainable habits of consumption for people pursuing a path out of poverty, in part by allowing recipients to make their own food choices and shop in any participating grocery store.

Passed during an era of widespread prosperity, many people found it hard to believe that any Americans could not afford food. As a result, the 1964 Food Stamp Program required recipients to first purchase a portion of their stamps before receiving the full aid. Until 1977, when this requirement was abolished, many of the country’s poorest people could not afford to receive food stamps, or had to choose between paying for food stamps or paying for other necessities like medical prescriptions, rent, utilities or child care.

Policymakers’ assumption that poor Americans could never be totally destitute was grounded in gendered stereotypes about counted as work. Social welfare programs created in the 1960s were built on the idea that the welfare check or food stamp coupons would replace the male breadwinner whose income supported a “traditional” nuclear family (a heteronormative formula consisting of a husband, wife and two kids). This conception of family informed the addition of work requirements for “able-bodied adults” in the Food Stamp Program beginning in the 1970s.

The problem: many food stamp recipients didn’t conform to this expectation. Single parents — often mothers — could not meet the unrealistic demands of holding down one or multiple jobs while also finding ways to care for their children. They were either criticized for receiving federal aid and remaining out of the workforce to care for their children, or seen as irresponsible for going off to work without securing proper child care, which they could not afford. Either way, they were perceived as deviant or second-class citizens for failing to live up to the idea of a traditional nuclear family.

It wasn’t only single mothers and their children who suffered.

In the 1970s, there was backlash over college students and striking union workers’ having eligibility for food stamps. Critics charged that they could afford food if only they worked and taxpayers shouldn’t support such “irresponsible” choices. An irony lay in the fact that union workers who went on strike often did so precisely to earn wages sufficient to be a breadwinner, trying to live up to the ideal underpinning the Food Stamp Program, not because they were shirking work.

The debates around food and work undermined the initial intentions of the Food Stamp Program. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman — the primary architect of the program — among others, reiterated that it determined eligibility based on financial need, not on the reasons an applicant lacked financial resources. But the public silenced these pleas by expressing widespread sentiment that government aid should only go to those deemed “deserving.” This, for example, excluded college students, because if they had the luxury of putting off work to pursue higher education to increase postgraduate income, they did not deserve federal food assistance.

The interplay between public ideas about food rights and the political agendas of lawmakers shaped the development of food stamp legislation. In 1967, activist and lawyer Marian Wright Edelman had testified before Congress about starvation in the Mississippi Delta. When Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) witnessed the deprivation firsthand, he pushed for expanding the Food Stamp Program and the public rallied behind these calls. However, by the late 1970s and into the 1980s, both the public and politicians shifted their views on feeding hungry Americans, thanks to cases like the striking union workers and the eligible college students. They became more concerned with policing the stereotypical lazy welfare freeloader than supporting Americans going hungry.

Conservative politicians fueled this sentiment by conflating food stamps with welfare and characterizing it as an expensive and wasteful program. The solution: ever more stringent work requirements and tightening eligibility. But these provisions misinterpreted unemployment and punished it, instead of tackling systematic political, social and economic inequalities that keep poor people in a perpetual state of dependency. In reality, most people receiving federal food assistance — then and now — are actively in the workforce. They make wages that are too high to receive cash assistance but too low to cover basic living necessities, which leaves them hungry and suffering.

Even food stamp recipients without jobs should not be framed as lazy freeloaders. They too are simply trying to find ways to survive as they confront other financial challenges like inadequate or too expensive child care — even not being able to afford diapers that day-care centers often require — or the need for more education or job training to secure work. Many who require waivers from work requirements are staying home to care for a sick family member or child or struggling with illiteracy or language barriers.

But rather than recognizing their humanity and needs President Trump and his administration continue to assume and project the worst about SNAP recipients. This was best exemplified by his February 2018 proposal to replace SNAP benefits with what Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney called a “Blue Apron-type program.” The idea of boxes with prepackaged meals in lieu of SNAP benefits advanced the assumption that low income people lack the capacity to make good nutritional choices simply because they are poor. It also advanced the idea that poor people were unworthy of gaining access to fresh produce and other healthy foods.

The USDA’s new rule is another step in assuming the worst about SNAP recipients. It politicizes and commodifies food in such a way that stigmatizes and even dehumanizes struggling people instead of helping them to succeed and thrive. Assuring that none of us goes hungry while eliminating barriers to work ought to be our goals, not punishing those struggling.

 

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Smash!

I recently listened to an episode of Gaslit Nation and it became clear as it can be why this evil administration does what it does: People who struggle to have enough food or are getting bankrupt because they have a broken arm won‘t pay attention to politics. They can‘t afford to be informed citizens who hold the administration accountable because simply they have bigger problems to worry about. They also won‘t engage in grassroot organizations that eventually elect politicians who serve the working class and not the rich. Authoritarian regimes all over the world have played that game: Keep the people undereducated and poor, then you can do whatever you want.

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GreyhoundFan

"Ben Carson’s HUD will propose new rule, further weakening enforcement of fair housing laws"

Spoiler

The Trump administration will propose a new rule, as early as Friday, that would reduce the burden on local governments to meet their fair housing obligations, further scaling back civil rights enforcement.

Among the changes sought by the Department of Housing and Urban Development: redefining what it means to promote fair housing, eliminating the assessment used to examine and address barriers to racial integration, and encouraging cities to remove regulations that stand in the way of affordable housing, according to the proposed rule obtained by The Washington Post.

Fair housing advocates say the proposal reduces the financial pressure on local governments to end residential segregation and discrimination, as required by the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and is the latest erosion of Obama-era regulations designed to enforce the landmark legislation.

Under 2015 regulations, communities were supposed to take meaningful action to overcome long-standing segregation by analyzing housing patterns, concentrated poverty and disparities in access to transportation, jobs and good schools.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson has characterized those steps as “overly burdensome” and “too prescriptive,” saying that transforming segregated living patterns and poor neighborhoods into areas of opportunity is often not within a community’s control.

The proposed rules focus on increasing what the administration is calling “fair housing choice” — through greater housing supply along with safe and sanitary housing conditions that HUD says will better allow families to live where they want — rather than racially integrating communities.

“The proposed rule entirely ignores the essential racial desegregation obligations of fair housing law,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Thomas Silverstein, a fair housing attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said “discrimination and segregation will continue unabated when HUD doesn’t provide meaningful fair housing oversight of local governments.”

HUD officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The housing agency also wants to rank communities based on housing costs and fair market rents, among other criteria, and give top performers priority for federal housing grants.

The administration says such incentives would bolster the availability of affordable housing. But Silverstein said doing so would punish high-cost coastal cities with great housing needs — areas that are less supportive of Trump — and reward smaller, cheaper ones.

The proposed rules, to be published in the Federal Register ahead of a 60-day public comment period, come two years after Carson suspended the 2015 rule requiring more than 1,200 communities receiving federal housing dollars to draft plans to desegregate their communities — or risk losing billions in federal funds.

Fair housing advocates unsuccessfully sued HUD in 2018 over what they characterized as its failure to enforce fair housing laws.

HUD subsequently withdrew a computer assessment tool that provided communities with data and maps to help them gauge neighborhood segregation.

Housing advocates said the new rule represent a dangerous and fundamental misunderstanding of fair housing issues. The provision known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing was put in place five decades ago to prompt communities and public housing authorities that receive federal funds to address and cure harmful, lingering effects of their historical actions, said Lisa Rice, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance.

“Those lingering effects are still with us today,” Rice said. “There is an inextricable link between race, place and opportunity. The fact is that communities of color disproportionately do not have banks, do not have grocery stores, do not have basic infrastructure or equal access to municipal services and amenities like sewer lines and paved roads.”

The proposed rule also limits enforcement by only toughening federal scrutiny of communities sued by the federal government — and not private entities including civil rights and fair housing organizations, Rice said. That means jurisdictions found liable for discrimination through private lawsuits would still be eligible to receive federal funding, she said.

“Secretary Carson is scrapping years of extensive input and intensive work that went into the fair housing rule and essentially reverting to the agency’s previous flawed and failed system,” Yentel said. “In doing so, Secretary Carson continues his pattern of attempts to weaken and disrupt the agency’s responsibility to uphold its fair housing duties.”

Carson has long criticized federal efforts to desegregate American neighborhoods as “failed socialist experiments.” When questioned about the agency’s intention regarding the fair housing provision during congressional hearings last spring, Carson testified that it “costs a lot of money and man hours to do that analysis.” He signaled that he intended to focus on building affordable housing across all communities by deregulating and easing zoning restrictions.

“Why do you have segregation in housing? Not because George Wallace is blocking the door. It’s because people can only afford to live in certain places,” Carson said at a House hearing in May.

 

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smittykins
13 hours ago, GreyhoundFan said:

With this administration, it's always about the cruelty: "Why Donald Trump’s new food stamp rule is about cruelty, not responsibility"

  Hide contents

The myth of the welfare freeloader remains one of the most pervasive and damaging stereotypes in American society, even as it has no basis in fact. We all know the caricature: An able-bodied person who refuses to work, instead bilking government programs not only to survive, but to live luxuriously — driving expensive cars, eating lobster, selling their SNAP benefits (food stamps) on the black market or using them to buy alcohol and cigarettes.

These distortions fuel the punitive programs that Donald Trump and his Republican allies have pushed throughout his administration. Most recently in December, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue outlined a new rule that makes it more difficult for states to obtain waivers for able-bodied SNAP recipients who need extra time to meet the current workfare requirements. His news release, titled “USDA Restores Original Intent of SNAP: A Second Chance, Not A Way of Life,” panders to negative stereotypes of poor people as willingly dependent on government handouts.

The new rule — set to take effect in April — will remove approximately 700,000 current SNAP recipients from the program, making it likely that people will go hungry and reinforcing harmful narratives about the program’s recipients. Rather than addressing the deeper social and economic issues that make food insecurity a consistent problem, the rule instead threatens to undo over half a century’s worth of efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in our country.

That the program is vulnerable to punitive rule changes today is rooted in its origins which came from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 Food Stamp Act. Never intended as a welfare program — and not part of the 1960s War on Poverty legislation — the USDA’s original Food Stamp Program had multiple objectives. It aimed both to relieve farmers of their surplus crops and, as the legislation stated, to “provide for improved levels of nutrition among low-income households.” The program’s structure encouraged building sustainable habits of consumption for people pursuing a path out of poverty, in part by allowing recipients to make their own food choices and shop in any participating grocery store.

Passed during an era of widespread prosperity, many people found it hard to believe that any Americans could not afford food. As a result, the 1964 Food Stamp Program required recipients to first purchase a portion of their stamps before receiving the full aid. Until 1977, when this requirement was abolished, many of the country’s poorest people could not afford to receive food stamps, or had to choose between paying for food stamps or paying for other necessities like medical prescriptions, rent, utilities or child care.

Policymakers’ assumption that poor Americans could never be totally destitute was grounded in gendered stereotypes about counted as work. Social welfare programs created in the 1960s were built on the idea that the welfare check or food stamp coupons would replace the male breadwinner whose income supported a “traditional” nuclear family (a heteronormative formula consisting of a husband, wife and two kids). This conception of family informed the addition of work requirements for “able-bodied adults” in the Food Stamp Program beginning in the 1970s.

The problem: many food stamp recipients didn’t conform to this expectation. Single parents — often mothers — could not meet the unrealistic demands of holding down one or multiple jobs while also finding ways to care for their children. They were either criticized for receiving federal aid and remaining out of the workforce to care for their children, or seen as irresponsible for going off to work without securing proper child care, which they could not afford. Either way, they were perceived as deviant or second-class citizens for failing to live up to the idea of a traditional nuclear family.

It wasn’t only single mothers and their children who suffered.

In the 1970s, there was backlash over college students and striking union workers’ having eligibility for food stamps. Critics charged that they could afford food if only they worked and taxpayers shouldn’t support such “irresponsible” choices. An irony lay in the fact that union workers who went on strike often did so precisely to earn wages sufficient to be a breadwinner, trying to live up to the ideal underpinning the Food Stamp Program, not because they were shirking work.

The debates around food and work undermined the initial intentions of the Food Stamp Program. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman — the primary architect of the program — among others, reiterated that it determined eligibility based on financial need, not on the reasons an applicant lacked financial resources. But the public silenced these pleas by expressing widespread sentiment that government aid should only go to those deemed “deserving.” This, for example, excluded college students, because if they had the luxury of putting off work to pursue higher education to increase postgraduate income, they did not deserve federal food assistance.

The interplay between public ideas about food rights and the political agendas of lawmakers shaped the development of food stamp legislation. In 1967, activist and lawyer Marian Wright Edelman had testified before Congress about starvation in the Mississippi Delta. When Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) witnessed the deprivation firsthand, he pushed for expanding the Food Stamp Program and the public rallied behind these calls. However, by the late 1970s and into the 1980s, both the public and politicians shifted their views on feeding hungry Americans, thanks to cases like the striking union workers and the eligible college students. They became more concerned with policing the stereotypical lazy welfare freeloader than supporting Americans going hungry.

Conservative politicians fueled this sentiment by conflating food stamps with welfare and characterizing it as an expensive and wasteful program. The solution: ever more stringent work requirements and tightening eligibility. But these provisions misinterpreted unemployment and punished it, instead of tackling systematic political, social and economic inequalities that keep poor people in a perpetual state of dependency. In reality, most people receiving federal food assistance — then and now — are actively in the workforce. They make wages that are too high to receive cash assistance but too low to cover basic living necessities, which leaves them hungry and suffering.

Even food stamp recipients without jobs should not be framed as lazy freeloaders. They too are simply trying to find ways to survive as they confront other financial challenges like inadequate or too expensive child care — even not being able to afford diapers that day-care centers often require — or the need for more education or job training to secure work. Many who require waivers from work requirements are staying home to care for a sick family member or child or struggling with illiteracy or language barriers.

But rather than recognizing their humanity and needs President Trump and his administration continue to assume and project the worst about SNAP recipients. This was best exemplified by his February 2018 proposal to replace SNAP benefits with what Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney called a “Blue Apron-type program.” The idea of boxes with prepackaged meals in lieu of SNAP benefits advanced the assumption that low income people lack the capacity to make good nutritional choices simply because they are poor. It also advanced the idea that poor people were unworthy of gaining access to fresh produce and other healthy foods.

The USDA’s new rule is another step in assuming the worst about SNAP recipients. It politicizes and commodifies food in such a way that stigmatizes and even dehumanizes struggling people instead of helping them to succeed and thrive. Assuring that none of us goes hungry while eliminating barriers to work ought to be our goals, not punishing those struggling.

 

Someone on my FB feed posted a meme saying “When you haven’t worked all year, but you’re getting 8K back from taxes.”

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GreyhoundFan

It's pitiful that the DNI has to keep such a file. Of course, when you have a mango moron/Putin's puppet in charge, this is what you get.

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GreyhoundFan

Max sycophant level has been reached: "Mnuchin seeks delay of proposed disclosure of Secret Service spending on presidential travel until after election"

Spoiler

The Trump administration is seeking to delay a Democratic effort to require the Secret Service to disclose how much it spends protecting President Trump and his family when they travel — until after the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The issue has emerged as a sticking point in recent weeks as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and key senators have been negotiating draft legislation to move the Secret Service back to his department, its historic home.

Mnuchin has balked at Democratic demands that the bill require the Secret Service to disclose the costs related to the travel of the president and his adult children within 120 days after it is passed, according to people with knowledge of the talks. Mnuchin has agreed to Democrats’ push for a requirement that the Secret Service report its travel expenses but wants such disclosures to begin after the election.

In a statement, the Treasury Department confirmed that Mnuchin has been working with Secret Service Director James Murray and congressional committees on a bill to transfer the Secret Service from the Department of Homeland Security to Treasury, but did not address the dispute about the reporting requirement.

“Conversations about the return of the Secret Service to the Treasury Department are ongoing, and we decline to comment on individual aspects of those conversations,” said a Treasury official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing negotiations.

The administration’s resistance to disclosing how much taxpayer money has been spent on presidential travel has drawn criticism from Democrats, who say the public has a right to know the price of his frequent visits to his resorts in Florida and New Jersey.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to “rarely leave the White House” and cut back on what he called wasteful travel by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Since taking office, however, Trump has made more than 50 visits to his properties outside the Washington area, according to a tally kept by The Washington Post.

The government spent about $96 million on travel by Obama over eight years, according to documents obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch. A report by the Government Accountability Office, which serves as the congressional watchdog on federal spending, estimated that Trump’s travel cost $13.6 million in just one month in early 2017. That total included the costs of travel for Secret Service and Defense Department personnel, and the costs of renting space and operating equipment such as boats and planes. If spending continued at that pace, Trump would have exceeded Obama’s total expenses before the end of his first year in office.

The extensive international business travel and vacations of his grown children, with Secret Service agents in tow, as well as the expense the Secret Service incurs to secure numerous Trump properties, have added to the agency’s financial strain, according to its budget requests.

Since their father was elected, Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. have made business trips to overseas locales including Ireland, Scotland, Dubai, Uruguay and India. In 2017, Eric Trump’s visit to a Trump building under construction in Uruguay cost taxpayers $97,000.

But exactly how much the frequent travel of Trump and his family has cost taxpayers is unknown.

A 1976 law allows the president to designate one primary residence outside the White House for the Secret Service to protect full-time. It also requires the agency to report to Congress semiannually the costs of securing that property. The measure did not anticipate a chief executive who regularly visited that one property, as well as multiple others.

The Secret Service has failed or been late in recent years to provide even those limited cost reports. The agency did not file such reports in 2016 or 2017, according to the GAO. It has delayed submitting subsequent reports, filing a recent report in November that was due in March.

Agency officials have cited staff changes as the reason for its failure to submit two years of reports.

The Secret Service did not respond to a question about its required reports. A spokesperson declined to answer questions about its spending on presidential travel, saying the agency does not discuss “protective means and methods.”

The White House has also declined to share information with the GAO about how much it spends to coordinate Trump’s travel. In March 2017, the office sought to tally the cost of Trump’s frequent travel to Mar-a-Lago based on a question from Congress. But for two years, the White House Counsel’s Office failed to answer questions about the costs associated with coordinating travel for the president, according to a GAO report.

Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other Democratic lawmakers saw an opportunity to push for more transparency and strengthen the reporting law when Mnuchin began seeking bipartisan support for a bill to move the Secret Service, which the Treasury Department said would improve the agency’s ability to carry out its mission.

Originally created by Treasury in 1865 to help stop rampant counterfeiters, the agency was housed there until 2003, when it moved to the new Department of Homeland Security created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Secretary Mnuchin came to me last year with a proposal to move the Secret Service to the Treasury Department,” Feinstein said in a statement. “As part of that effort, I proposed that the cost of presidential travel be included for greater transparency, accountability and oversight associated with protection during travel of presidents and their families.”

Feinstein wants the Secret Service to make annual reports of its travel costs, but beginning a few months after Congress authorizes its transfer, according to people familiar with the talks.

But in a Dec. 23 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mnuchin said he was strongly opposed to that earlier reporting requirement. Instead, he is seeking an annual report that begins in fiscal year 2021, releasing information in December 2020 at the earliest.

His demand for the delay in reporting is likely to reduce Democratic support for the bill, according to people monitoring Mnuchin’s proposal.

The available records about Trump’s travel provide only snapshots of the costs to the public: The GAO, for instance, found that his first four trips to Mar-a-Lago in 2017 cost the Secret Service about $1.3 million each. (Other agencies also spent money on those trips, bringing the federal government’s total spending to $3.4 million per visit to Mar-a-Lago.)

Trump has made 22 more trips to Mar-a-Lago since then, according to a Post tally. If the Secret Service’s costs remained constant, that would mean more than $28 million in further spending by the Secret Service alone, and $75 million from the government in all — and just on a small fraction of Trump’s total travel.

Another snapshot came in March 2017, as the Secret Service was still adjusting to Trump’s large family and frequent golfing trips. The agency asked Congress to add $60 million to its budget just to handle Trump’s travel, according to internal agency documents reviewed by The Post.

The Secret Service has also disclosed how much it spends on golf carts, to protect Trump and escort him during his golfing outings. These carts — leased from third-party vendors, not Trump himself — have cost the government $588,000 since 2017, according to federal spending data posted online.

The Secret Service spent at least $250,000 at President Trump’s properties in just the first five months of his term, according to records of federal charge card expenditures released last year to a watchdog group, Property of the People. The documents were released two years after they had been requested, and only after the group sued. It is not clear whether some of this spending was also counted in the GAO report.

The records released by the Secret Service last year give very little detail — saying only the date of the purchase, the dollar amount and the kind of Trump property involved. They do not give the reasons for the purchases.

 

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WiseGirl
On 1/3/2020 at 6:40 PM, Smash! said:

I recently listened to an episode of Gaslit Nation

I love them but sometimes it is scary af to listen to them. Sarah Kendzior knows and has been predicting this shitstorm for quite a while.

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GreyhoundFan

"White House shares photo celebrating ‘first snow of the year’ — on a day when temperatures in D.C. hit 70"

Spoiler

Shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday, a photo appeared on the official White House Twitter account. It showed the White House’s stately exterior lit up against a dark sky. Countless snowflakes dotted the image, illuminated by the camera’s flash.

“First snow of the year!” read the photo’s cheery caption, which was punctuated by a single snowflake emoji.

But many who saw the picture were instantly confused. As people pointed out, the photo seemed at odds with reality. There was no snow in Washington on Sunday. In fact, temperatures hit a high of 70 during the day, prompting residents to trade their winter coats for T-shirts and light jackets. By nightfall, the weather still mirrored the “springlike warmth” that’s been affecting parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in recent weeks, making even the lightest dusting of snow an impossibility.

“What???” one person tweeted in response to the photo. “I was wearing shorts this afternoon.”

“Huh? It’s 54 degrees right now in DC,” another Twitter user commented.

It didn’t take long for the White House picture — which was actually taken during the city’s first snowfall on Tuesday — to go viral Sunday night, sparking a flurry of reaction from social media commentators struggling to make sense of the tweet and its unusual timing. By early Monday, the photo had been retweeted more than 3,300 times, amassing close to 10,000 comments.

The picture was first shared by the White House to Facebook on Friday night with the same five-word caption, drawing a number of compliments from commenters who called the shot “beautiful” and reminisced about visiting the nation’s capital during winter.

“Look forward to the pictures tomorrow when the snow has covered the ground,” one person wrote.

Washington residents quickly set the record straight. It wasn’t snowing in the District Friday night, they commented, and there would definitely be no snow over the weekend as forecasts called for “unseasonably warm” weather with temperatures reaching mid-60s to around 70.

Then, two days later, at the end of an uncharacteristically balmy January weekend, the picture and caption popped up again — this time on the White House’s Twitter account.

At first, social media users were perplexed, sharing images of forecasts indicating that temperatures in and around Washington on Sunday were well-above freezing.

“Not only is it not snowing here, last night it was so warm (68ish) I had to take off a light jacket because I was sweating,” one person tweeted.

Some users, including The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, attempted to quell the confusion by explaining that the photo had been taken last week. Several hours after the picture was shared on Twitter, the White House also tweeted a link its official Flickr page, which included a detailed caption indicating that the image was shot Tuesday afternoon “during a snow flurry.” The follow-up tweet later appeared to have been deleted, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one person also supplied a theory about why the White House may have waited to post the wintry photo: the date of the first snowfall coincided with Iranian forces launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases used by U.S. troops in Iraq.

“There were more important things to communicate earlier last week than the first snowfall so the WH just saved the tweet for tonight,” tweeted Steve Guest, the Republican National Committee’s rapid response director.

Still, the various attempts to make sense of the tweet did little to silence derision from critics who pointed to it as an example of the latest weather-related gaffe to be committed by the Trump administration. Last year, President Trump was widely criticized for displaying an official chart forecasting the path of Hurricane Dorian that was altered with black marker, a controversy that has since been dubbed “Sharpiegate.”

“This will henceforth be known as Trump’s ‘White Pointillist Sharpie’ period of fictional weather illustrations,” tweeted Joshua A. Geltzer, a former Justice Department and National Security Council lawyer, referencing the “first snow” photo.

Meanwhile, as reactions ranged from outrage to suggestions that the image was actually “some sort of secret communication,” others found humor in the hubbub sparked by what would normally be considered an inoffensive tweet.

“I’m laughing at the people losing their minds [because] the White House posted a photograph of snow from last week,” tweeted meteorologist Ryan Maue. “There’s no secret meaning, no agenda. It’s just a photograph of the White House while snowing.”

 

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GreyhoundFan

More undoing of good Obama policies: "As remote work rises at U.S. companies, Trump is calling federal employees back to the office"

Spoiler

About a quarter of workers at U.S. companies now dial into meetings, consult with clients and do a multitude of other tasks from their laptops at home, as employers seek to cut real estate costs and keep their staffs content in a red-hot job market.

The federal government, though, is calling its employees back to the office.

After a big push toward telework in the Obama administration, President Trump’s government is scaling it back at multiple agencies on the theory that a fanny in the seat prevents the kind of slacking off that can happen when no one’s watching.

The about-face began at the Agriculture Department in 2018, after Secretary Sonny Perdue was angry to discover that an employee he needed to meet with was working from home, according to three administration officials. In response, he slashed by half a robust program used by tens of thousands of employees.

A USDA spokesperson, who acknowledged the program had been dialed back, said the Perdue story was “inaccurate” but would not elaborate.

The Education and Interior departments and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as parts of Commerce and Health and Human Services departments, soon followed.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, where telework is popular in the benefits division, is pushing for restrictions in contract talks. The Social Security Administration abruptly canceled a six-year-old pilot program for 12,000 operations employees in November, citing “increased wait times and unacceptable delays” to customer service.

Trump’s war on telework represents a milestone in how his administration is changing the culture of the federal government as it seeks more accountability from employees — and moves to weaken their unions. Employees are chafing at their lost freedom, but the managers reining them in say that, in the long run, taxpayers benefit. Overall, data on productivity is inconclusive, workplace experts say.

“Agencies have been digging deep to say, ‘The way of work in our agency — is it achieving mission, service and stewardship objectives?’ Particularly when it comes to service, we have to ask the question, ‘What is the best modality for delivering service?’ ” Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said in an interview. “Telework is not proving the most effective way of delivering.”

Employees report they are more productive at home and suspect the administration of other motives. Scaling back telework is “a subtle way of getting rid of old-timers,” said Uylaine Barringer, 69, a compliance assistance coordinator for the EPA’s hazardous waste program in Chicago.

Barringer lives on three acres in the small town of Princeton, Ill., 120 miles from the city, where she also cares for retired Chicago police horses.

For years she worked four 10-hour days each week — home two days, trekking downtown two others and taking off Fridays, which she reserved for grooming the horses and seeing the veterinarian, as well as for her own medical appointments after surviving cancer.

But last summer, the EPA scaled back telework to two days a month for employees with her schedule. She made the difficult decision to move up her planned retirement by a year, to Jan. 20. It will cost her several hundred dollars a month in pension credits. “It’s a job that I really enjoy,” she said. “I know the program inside and out. But it wasn’t tenable.”

Retro implications

The Census Bureau’s American Time Use Survey found that 24 percent of private-sector employees teleworked at least some of the time in 2018, a steadily growing share despite retreats in recent years by companies such as Yahoo and IBM.

Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer for the Society for Human Resource Management, which tracks workplace trends, said the option to work from home is a “huge” tool in recruiting and maintaining talent.

In the government, though, “I think they want to discourage federal employment and make it less attractive,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), co-sponsor of a 2010 law that prods agencies to allow telework to save on energy and commuting costs. “It’s sort of a Neanderthal move by the administration.”

Working from home has grown steadily in the past decade and is a go-to alternative on snow days.

About 43 percent of the 2.1 million civil servants were eligible for one or more days a week of remote work in fiscal 2017, the last year for which data is available from the Office of Personnel Management. That’s down from 44 percent in fiscal 2015. An OPM spokesperson said telework has remained stable in the Trump administration, but the agency’s annual report to Congress notes that agencies have trouble collecting accurate data.

By private-sector standards, the recent federal retreat would hinder the government’s ability to participate in a knowledge-based economy in which collaboration among far-flung employees is now the norm. Some technology companies have abandoned the bricks-and-mortar office altogether.

The backtrack has upended child-care schedules, raised commuting costs and led some like Barringer to quit because their office is too far to drive to daily. It also could make the government less competitive in recruiting and keeping employees. And with many federal offices redesigned to fit fewer people, it’s unclear if there’s room for them now.

The rollback comes as the White House advances a crackdown on federal employee unions after a successful court battle last year over a series of executive orders. They give management an upper hand in collective bargaining and limit union duties on the job.

Agencies are reopening and renegotiating contracts that in the Obama era had renewed automatically. Restricting telework is a high priority.

“It’s doctrinal. It’s punitive,” said David Cann, director of field services and education at the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union.

“When Trump came in, federal employees understood they were the ‘swamp’ to this administration and it would be tough on them,” Cann said. “But we have yet to hear from any agency that telework is imparting any harm.”

Some agencies have continued to support telework, including the Patent and Trademark Office and the Defense Department, where a third of the 366,000 civilians eligible used the option in fiscal 2017, the last year data was collected.

The General Services Administration, which shrunk its Washington headquarters during a 2013 renovation, continues to shed leased office space and requires employees to reserve desks when they come in.

GSA “relies on telework to attract and retain a talented workforce,” a spokesperson said in an email, touting the agency’s continuity of operations during a disaster or bad weather. About 85 percent of GSA employees telework multiple days a week.

Little data

Those on either side of the divide have little data to back up their case, workplace experts say. Most research does not account for whether employees were strong or weak performers to begin with, skewing results. Studies tend to lump multiple jobs together.

The Government Accountability Office found similar obstacles in a 2016 report that found few quantifiable results from expanding telework. Agencies could not back up their claims that it benefited them.

Today they do not back up claims that it’s hurting them, but they appear to be changing course based on a gut feeling that productivity is suffering.

At the USDA, where multiple days a week of remote work were common, employees now must show up at the office four days a week.

“USDA’s telework policy is designed to be responsible to the taxpayers and responsive to the customers who depend on our services,” a spokesperson said in a statement, citing “longstanding concerns about the previous policy.” In cases where offices do not have enough space to accommodate employees, supervisors can approve more work from home.

Social Security set off a furor in the fall when Commissioner Andrew Saul canceled a popular telework pilot program that let employees work remotely up to three days a week.

Spokesman Mark Hinkle said the program had “little or no controls to ensure” that it was properly evaluated and that front-line employees were needed in the office to stanch growing wait times and delays to service.

“Given our current service challenges and lack of data on [the policy’s] impact on public service, now is not the time to experiment with working at home,” Hinkle said in an email.

But employees and unions, backed by Democratic lawmakers, mounted a successful campaign on Capitol Hill to restore the program, blaming management for failing to track its effectiveness.

“If you’re data driven, why would you come back years later and say, ‘We’re not gauging if we’re successful in this pilot?’ ” asked James Muhammad-Mason, a debt specialist in the Chicago office who worked from home one day a week.

He said he was more focused that day and not distracted by “office banter.”

“The real reason they took it away? ‘Federal employees are lazy. Why would you let them work more from home?’ ” Muhammad-Mason said, mocking a popular attack on government workers. “If you have a problem with certain employees, you need to address it.”

The pushback worked. The spending deal that Trump signed in December requires the agency to come up with a plan within 60 days to reinstate the program.

The Education Department, where 94 percent of the workforce was eligible for multiple telework days a week, surveyed employees last summer, nine months after slashing telework to one day a week.

The results were universally negative, according to a copy of the survey obtained by The Washington Post.

Sick leave and vacation requests grew. A majority of employees reported no increased productivity, collaboration or communication with colleagues when they returned to the office — the stated reason telework was cut. And two-thirds of employees said they were considering leaving.

The department acknowledged that “a significant number of employees and managers are still adjusting to the change.” But Secretary Betsy DeVos decided to continue the agency’s “efforts to achieve the intended outcomes of improved collaboration and productivity” and limit working from home.

 

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When you have a president who encourages racism: "TSA apologizes to Native American traveler after agent snaps braids, says ‘giddyup!’ during pat-down"

Spoiler

The Transportation Security Administration apologized to a traveler at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, who used her social media platform to call out the “unacceptable behavior” she faced Monday from a TSA agent who mimicked using her braided hair as reins during a security pat-down.

Tara Houska is an attorney and indigenous rights activist who was in Minnesota to protest the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline project. She had flown from Washington, D.C., where she participated in the Fire Drill Friday climate protest.

On Twitter, Houska spoke about her treatment at the security checkpoint. “Going through @TSA at @mspairport, the agent said she needed to pat down my braids. She pulled them behind my shoulders, laughed & said “giddyup!” as she snapped my braids like reins,” she wrote.

Houska described feeling hurt by the agent, who she said “humiliated” her. “When I informed the middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me, she said ‘Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry. Your hair is lovely.’ <— that is NOT an apology and it is NOT okay,” she added.

It has long been an issue that women of color face in going through TSA checkpoints, where hair worn in braided, twisted or natural styles leads to flags on scanners that prompt agents to pull them aside for more invasive screenings.

It was even addressed in an “Ask TSA” response about hair pat-downs in the case that the “hair area alarms for a potential explosive” or when someone’s “hair looks like it could contain a prohibited item or is styled in a way an officer cannot visually clear it.”

“My hair sets off those scanners always, like pretty much every single time,” Houska says. “That’s something I’m very used to, and my hair has been patted down hundreds and hundreds of times.”

In a statement, the agency said: “TSA was made aware of allegations made by a traveler about her screening experience at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Monday morning. TSA officials investigated the incident and on Tuesday afternoon, TSA Federal Security Director for Minnesota Cliff Van Leuven spoke with the traveler. He apologized for actions and a comment that were insensitive and made by a TSA officer to the traveler during the screening experience.”

“TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct and any type of improper behavior is taken seriously,” the statement continued.

In a letter to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (also known by code MSP) staff Tuesday, Van Leuven confirmed the incident took place. “Did it actually happen? Yes. Exactly as described? Yes.” He described the agent’s behavior as “insensitive” during the screening and said he spoke with and apologized to Houska directly for the treatment she endured.

Van Leuven said Houska wasn’t seeking discipline for the agent involved but rather wanted the incident to be a learning opportunity for TSA to “educate staff about the many Native American Tribes/Bands in our state and region to better understand their culture.” Houska said TSA extended an offer for her to come speak to agents or do a training video on sensitivity toward indigenous issues, which she plans to accept.

Houska, who is Ojibwe, said she travels frequently for speaking engagements and shared with Van Leuven that she hasn’t had any concerns with TSA in Minnesota respecting sacred items or Tribal IDs before, which added to her surprise during the incident Monday.

“We all make mistakes,” Van Leuven said. “Treating the public we are sworn to serve and protect with dignity and respect is our calling — every passenger, every day. We’ll learn from this.”

Houska acknowledged the apology on Twitter and was emphatic that training be taken seriously. Her takeaway is that she wants people to show more empathy toward one another and to highlight the poor treatment indigenous people continue to face to this day.

“I really, really hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else moving forward,” she wrote.

 

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This administration not only wants our kids to grow up without learning, they want them to grow up unhealthy: "More pizza, fewer vegetables: Trump administration further undercuts Obama school-lunch rules"

Spoiler

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken another whack at former first lady Michelle Obama’s signature achievement: Establishing stricter nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches. And on her birthday.

On Friday, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps proposed new rules for the Food and Nutrition Service that would allow schools to cut the amount of vegetables and fruits required at lunch and breakfasts while giving them the ability to sell more pizza, burgers and fries to students. The agency is responsible for administering nutritional programs that feed nearly 30 million students at 99,000 schools.

Lipps said the changes will help address what he described as unintended issues that developed as a result of the regulations put in place during the Obama administration. For example, when schools were trying to implement innovative solutions such as grab-and-go breakfast off a cart or meals in the classroom, they were forced to give kids two bananas to meet minimum federal requirements.

But Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that the proposed rules, if finalized, “would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day.”

He says that limiting the variety of vegetables served allows french fries to become even more central to students’ diets. He says the potato lobby has been pushing for this change, and that the potato industry was behind a change that happened quietly last March. The USDA allowed school food authorities participating in the School Breakfast Program to substitute potatoes in place of fruit without including vegetables from other subgroups in the weekly menus.

“The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 has been called one of the most important obesity-prevention policy achievements in recent decades,” Schwartz said. “Yet the Trump administration seems intent on sabotaging it. While there’s plenty of room to strengthen school nutrition further, these proposals taken together instead are basically aiming a flamethrower at it.”

Kam Quarles, the chief executive of the National Potato Council said that they would provide comments on the USDA announcement once they’d had a chance to review it, but that “potatoes are a nutrient dense vegetable, which contain more potassium than a banana and 30 percent of the daily value of vitamin C along with 3 grams of protein, fiber and carbohydrates that school children need to perform their best at school.”

Specifically, the proposed rules would allow schools to cut the amount of fruit included in breakfasts served outside of the cafeteria from one cup to a half cup. The remaining calories could be filled with sweet pastries and granola bars. For lunches, the proposals would allow schools to offer potatoes as a vegetable every day and gives them the flexibility to provide pizza and burgers over more nutritious choices.

Nancy Roman, president of Partnership for a Healthier America, said that these proposed rule changes, “sound like a step in the wrong direction. If anything, the science of the past few years suggests that we need even more fruits and vegetables at each meal, and the less processed the better. It’s not just what is on the plate, but how it is prepared. And particularly young children need more exposure to unprocessed, easy-to-eat, fruits, vegetables and greens.”

These changes come on the heels of other controversial program alterations rolled out by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in 2019, weakening school nutrition standards for whole grain, nonfat milk and sodium, all of which had been tightened during the Obama administration. Perdue cited food waste and nonparticipation as key rationales for the shift. The rule was part of USDA’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to President Trump’s executive order to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The rule provided the option to offer flavored, low-fat milk to children participating in school meal programs, and to participants ages six and older in the Special Milk Program for Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program; it reduced the whole grain requirements to half of the weekly grains served; and it provided more time for schools to comply with reduced sodium levels in meals.

In essence, these shifts allowed foods served in schools to be saltier, fattier or more processed in the name of palatability. Kids can get more than half of their daily calories from school meals. About two-thirds of the 30 million children who eat school meals every day qualify as low-income and are getting meals free or for a reduced price. Low-income kids are disproportionately affected by obesity and are less likely to be fed healthy meals at home, so the nutritional makeup of school meals is impactful.

Many of these changes flout the good news about the nation’s school nutrition programs reported by last year’s USDA “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” which was the first comprehensive assessment of school meals after the implementation of Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Under the Obama administration, the nutrition guidelines for schools that participated in the National School Lunch Program shifted, requiring cafeterias to increase their offering of fruits and vegetables, serve only skim or low-fat milk and cut trans-fat from the menu altogether. They also required school cafeterias to cut sodium in the food they were serving.

The study showed that, after the implementation of these healthy food changes, the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), a multicomponent measure of diet quality, shot up dramatically for both school-provided breakfasts and lunches: Scores went from 49.6 out of 100 in school year 2009-2019 to 71.3 by 2014-2015.

And while Perdue has argued that healthier food offerings mean more food waste and lower participation in the programs, the USDA study revealed that there was greater participation in school meal programs at schools with the highest healthy food standards and that food waste remained relatively unchanged.

The School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and school food professionals, has frequently advocated for less stringent nutritional requirements. The SNA recently released a 2020 Position Paper, which calls on Congress to preserve the current flexibility on whole grains, sodium and milk.

SNA president Gay Anderson said the organization would study the proposals further. She called the Obama era standards for school meals “a tremendous success overall,” but noted that a few of the requirements contributed to reduced lunch participation, high costs and food waste.

Mary Story is a professor of Global Health, and Family Medicine and Community Health at Duke and has been on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. With these changes, the administration, she says, “is going against their own findings from their study which showed that the updates in nutrition standards have had a positive and significant effect. This makes absolutely no sense. Politics and industry pressure should not interfere with what is best for children’s health.”

 

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I'm guessing Azar is going to be on the way out: "Trump lashes out at HHS secretary after briefing shows Democrats leading on health care"

Spoiler

President Trump lashed out at Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for not doing enough on health care and drug pricing during a campaign meeting this week after he was briefed on polling that showed the public trusted Democrats more than Republicans on the issue, according to four people present at or briefed about the meeting.

Campaign advisers were updating Trump at the White House on Thursday on polling from battleground states, including Florida, that showed which party voters trusted more on various issues. One of those issues was health care, which often polls as the top voter concern, and the data showed the public trusted Democrats more than Republicans.

Trump reacted furiously and said the Democrats would “kill us” on health care, according to the four people, who requested anonymity to candidly describe the private meeting. The president then picked up the phone, called Azar and put him on speakerphone in the middle of the meeting, the people said.

“You’re not getting it done,” Trump told Azar, referring to lowering drug prices, according to one of the people in the meeting and another briefed on the discussion. He told Azar he needed to “hurry up” on lowering drug prices and more quickly allow for the importation of drugs from Canada. “Why aren’t we getting these drugs from Canada?”

Azar reminded Trump he had rolled out a final rule allowing states, distributors and wholesalers to import select drugs from Canada during a December event in Florida with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has pushed for the policy for months. Azar emphasized to the president that he also wanted the rule done as fast as possible and noted the rule was in the middle of a 75-day comment period and that other states had expressed interest in it.

Trump has often fixated on lowering drug prices, especially as the 2020 presidential campaign approaches, because health care and prescription drug prices consistently poll as top voter concerns. Yet lowering drug prices is a byzantine and glacial process with powerful, entrenched industry interests.

Democrats won control of the House in 2018 on a message to protect and strengthen the Affordable Care Act after Republicans repeatedly tried to repeal and replace the sweeping health reform law that extended health insurance to 20 million Americans. House Democrats also passed an ambitious bill late last year to lower drug prices by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate the prices of up to 250 drugs.

Some Republicans worry Democrats have maintained the upper hand on health care and will replicate their 2018 success in 2020 if Republicans do not have a strong health-care message of their own.

“We do not comment on conversations or meetings between Secretary Azar and the president,” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement. “The Trump administration has done more than any other administration in history to lower the high cost of prescription drugs and we fully anticipate this momentum will continue.”

Trump also asked Azar for an update on HHS’s work on lowering drug pricing, and the two discussed the fact that drug importation was popular with the public. They also shared frustration about the number of health-care regulations that had been stopped by the courts — including a rule that would require drugmakers to post the list prices of their medications in television ads and state requirements that Medicaid recipients work to maintain their coverage — and by the lack of media coverage of the administration’s health-care and drug pricing policies.

Azar told Trump he was doing everything he could but that much of his work was being stopped or hampered.

Trump also complained that he should have never taken on vaping as a political issue. After he first announced a ban in the fall on most flavors, he vacillated for several months after seeing campaign poling before settling on a more limited ban earlier this month. Trump implied he should have just left the issue to the Food and Drug Administration, the people said.

The existence of a phone call between the two men on Thursday was first reported by the New York Times.

“There’s no daylight between the White House and HHS as we work to implement the president’s policies and improve the American health care system for everyone,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “While the radical left has sweeping proposals for a total government takeover of health care that will eliminate private insurance for 180 million Americans, the Trump administration has achieved real solutions that are providing Americans with the options and control they want.”

 

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Yet Trump’s tax returns have supposedly been “under audit” for years...riiiiight...

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The logo for the new Space Force has been released and looks suspiciously similar to the Starfleet logo from Star Trek. "George Takei: The ‘Star Trek’ vision was hopeful. Trump’s is the mirror image."

Spoiler

There’s a famous episode of “Star Trek: The Original Series” called “Mirror, Mirror,” in which half the bridge crew of the USS Enterprise suddenly find themselves in a parallel universe where the peaceful United Federation of Planets is now an “Empire.” In this terrifying version of reality, violence and cruelty have displaced peace and diplomacy as the hallmarks of governance.

The “evil” version of my own character, Sulu, plots to kill both Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock so that he can take command of the ship. In classic “Star Trek” style, the script for this episode carried loaded meaning. The writers were issuing a warning: A free and democratic society can flip in the blink of an ion storm, and all that we take for granted about the rule of law, the chain of command and the civilized functions of government can be gone in an instant.

I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee:

image.png.5c62f6dd13bac3899ea081ead45e7027.png

Apparently, the new logo is just another iteration on the former Air Force Space Command logo, which also featured an upward pointing delta, but the final product with its concentric rings and swooping orbits looks so much like Starfleet’s, I fear it could easily confuse any Vulcans and Klingons who see it.

This somewhat comical appropriation of “Star Trek” imagery carries a certain irony. The universe of “Star Trek” has always provided a hopeful, near-utopian vision for humanity, where we have finally learned to set aside things like racial prejudice and gender inequality, and we all work together toward a common purpose and quest. Money is a thing of the past because no one wants for any material need, and we have united much of the galaxy in a peaceful assembly of sovereign worlds.

Contrast that for a moment with the current administration’s values and practices: racial resentments and fear stoked for cynical political purposes, the wealthy made even more obscenely so through grift and political influence, coarse and bullying behavior masquerading as diplomacy, to name but a few. Even the notion of a “Space Force” seems patently absurd coming from an administration where science is mocked and disregarded.

At times it truly feels like the past three years have had us beamed into a parallel universe, where instead of a president we have a mendacious thug, and where notions like the U.S. Senate being a deliberate, serious body that serves as a vital check on presidential power now seem quaint and naive.

True to the “Star Trek” vision, “Mirror, Mirror” has a hopeful ending. The “evil” version of Spock, having Vulcan-mind-melded with Dr. McCoy to understand why someone would spare the life of his enemy, has an epiphany. After listening to an impassioned Kirk argue that the overthrow of the empire is inevitable, the evil Spock helps the “good” bridge crew escape. The optimism and message is unmistakable: The nightmare will end if we work to end it. Normalcy can be restored if we believe in the goodness of humankind.

This year seems like a good time to test that lesson. We have not slipped so far into the mirror universe that we do not recognize ourselves or our institutions. As Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) told the Senate this week, what is right still matters. The truth still matters. Most Americans still want to hear the truth. They still want President Trump to be held accountable, and many even want him removed from office for his actions. Overthrowing Trump is something we can achieve at the ballot box this November. We can find our way back to our familiar, normal universe.

In the meantime, may I suggest that Trump find inspiration from a more politically aligned logo for his Space Force? If you don’t recognize the emblem on the character below, it’s the imperial sigil from that “other” space fiction franchise. I’m sure Lord Vader won’t mind.

image.png.b700a9867b243a950bcb5643e5bcbb83.png

 

 

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Because this administration wants to kill off people who can't afford expensive health insurance:

 

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This has Stephen "Nosferatu" Miller's fingerprints all over it: "Trump suspends Global Entry, traveler programs for New York residents over ‘sanctuary’ policies"

Spoiler

The Trump administration will no longer allow New York residents to enroll in Global Entry or other Trusted Traveler programs, citing new “sanctuary” policies that limit federal access to state driver’s license data, acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf said on Fox News late Wednesday.

Wolf told host Tucker Carlson that he sent a letter to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles informing the agency that the state’s new limits on information-sharing with U.S. Customs and Border Protection made it impossible for federal authorities to process travelers’ applications for Global Entry and other programs.

The measure appears to be one of the Trump administration’s most significant retaliatory moves against “sanctuary cities” and other jurisdictions that limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. President Trump on Tuesday night blasted sanctuary cities during his State of the Union address and pledged to encourage action against their policies, which he says endanger U.S. citizens because they allow criminal immigrants to evade deportation.

An official with the Department of Homeland Security, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the plan, said late Wednesday that the move would affect the approximately 150,000 New York state residents who apply to the traveler programs each year. Travelers currently enrolled in Global Entry and programs such as SENTRI and NEXUS would not lose their status, but they will not be able to renew.

In his letter, Wolf said the state Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, more commonly known as the Green Light Law, enacted last June, made it impossible for DHS to properly vet applicants for the Trusted Traveler programs.

“Although DHS would prefer to continue our long-standing cooperative relationship with New York on a variety of these critical homeland security initiatives, this Act and the corresponding lack of security cooperation from the New York DMV requires DHS to take immediate action to ensure DHS’s efforts to protect the Homeland are not compromised,” Wolf wrote.

In addition to major international airports, New York also has busy border crossings with Canada, where drivers and pedestrians who cross frequently use the SENTRI program.

DHS officials rely on DMV data to obtain criminal records, corroborate addresses and physical characteristics, and obtain vehicle and property data, Wolf’s letter said.

By prohibiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from obtaining license plate data, even for suspects with violent criminal records, the sanctuary laws are placing federal officers at greater risk, he wrote.

Wolf also told the New York DMV that vehicle exports from the state will face significant delays because the sanctuary policies do not allow the government to verify the ownership of used vehicles being shipped abroad.

Those checks will now have to be done in person, said the DHS official with knowledge of the plans.

In December, New York state began issuing driver’s licenses and permits to applicants regardless of their legal status. Trump singled out New York for criticism during his State of the Union address, and his administration also has blasted California and other jurisdictions that have policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Another DHS official with knowledge of the deliberations said the department does not plan to take immediate steps against other states and cities. But Wolf’s letter indicates that the measures for New York were only part of an initial assessment of the impact of sanctuary policies on traveler programs, suggesting additional measures could follow.

 

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GreyhoundFan

The administration push to kill off poor people: "The Trump administration’s new attempt to gut Medicaid"

Spoiler

Thwarted on the issue in Congress, the Trump administration announced last Thursday that it was inviting states to end Medicaid as we know it.

That’s not what President Trump’s health officials said, of course. In a detailed letter, they encouraged states to submit proposals to change the way that a big chunk of Medicaid — the joint federal-state health program for the poor — is paid for. Once accepted, these proposals will afford states “new levels of flexibility” while “providing federal taxpayers with greater budget certainty.”

But there’s no mistaking that the Trump administration is moving to transform Medicaid from an entitlement program covering all the poor into a selective welfare program funded by fixed and limited block grants — a shift that, over time, could starve the program of funding.

As matters stand, states get a fixed number of federal dollars for every dollar they spend on Medicaid. Under traditional Medicaid, for example, the federal government covers somewhere between half and three-quarters of the states’ costs. And in the Affordable Care Act, Congress said that it would contribute $9 for every $1 in state spending on people at or near the poverty level who weren’t previously covered. The unusually generous 90 percent match rate was meant to shield the states from incurring excessively burdensome financial obligations on account of Obamacare.

Because Medicaid is an entitlement program — if you qualify, you’re covered — Medicaid payments grow during recessions and contract when the economy is sound. That’s good public policy: Medicaid should be there when people need it most. But its structure exposes both the federal government and the states to big financial fluctuations. If the economy sours, an expensive new drug is approved or a pandemic hits, payments inevitably grow.

The administration’s new proposal would change that. For states that ask for and receive a waiver from the Trump administration, federal expenditures for certain groups — mainly the population receiving coverage through the ACA expansion — would be capped at current levels, subject to adjustments for inflation or for new enrollment. The federal government wouldn’t pay a dime for medical expenses over the cap.

In exchange, states will gain “flexibility” — meaning the freedom to restrict access to the program. Under the Trump administration’s proposal, the flexibility would only affect adults under 65 who aren’t disabled. States could ask those people to shoulder more financial costs, limit their access to prescription medications and even adopt restrictive new eligibility rules.

States could also sidestep federal regulations designed to guarantee that Medicaid beneficiaries can access medically needed care. As matters stand, those regulations prevent states from cutting their payment rates to the degree that no doctors will see Medicaid patients. Now, however, the Trump administration is telling states they can write their own oversight rules.

Under one approach sketched out in the letter, the states will be allowed to keep a portion of the money they save for the federal government, so long as they devote those “shared savings” to programs that have something to do with health — whether the programs help the poor. The letter offers, as an example, running a tobacco cessation program open to the general public (not just Medicaid enrollees).

As a result, the stingier the states are with Medicaid, the more federal money they can channel to other purposes. Pruning the Medicaid rolls will thus yield a financial windfall for them. In a striking example of doublespeak, the Trump administration is calling this new program Healthy Adult Opportunity — as if the chance to go without health insurance counts as “opportunity.”

The agenda here isn’t subtle. Republicans see “block granting” Medicaid — turning it into a fixed yearly payment rather than one that automatically rises to meet needs — as a way to limit the federal government’s obligations to the poor. There’s a clear parallel to 1990s-era welfare reform. In 1996, President Bill Clinton cut a deal with Republicans to transform cash assistance to the indigent into block grants to states — “to end welfare as we know it,” as Clinton famously said.

The size of those block grants hasn’t budged in more than two decades. In real terms, they’re worth about one-third less than they initially were, even as the U.S. population has swelled by 60 million.

With the erosion of cash assistance, the very poor have been left high and dry. By early 2011, as many as 1.5 million households in the country were living on less than $2 a day, as sociologist Kathryn Edin and professor of public policy Luke Shaefer have documented. “Reformers didn’t merely ‘replace’ welfare,” they write. “They killed it.”

The Trump administration wants to run the same game plan for Medicaid. But it faces a challenge: The American public doesn’t dislike Medicaid the way it disliked “welfare” in 1996. A lopsided 74 percent of Americans adults say that they have “very” or “somewhat” favorable opinions toward Medicaid, including 65 percent of Republicans, according to a 2018 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The program’s popularity goes some distance to explaining why Republicans couldn’t block-grant Medicaid when they moved to repeal and replace Obamacare in 2017, despite controlling both Congress and the White House. The public increasingly seems to view Medicaid not as a stigmatized welfare program, but as a crucial part of a broader social commitment to universal health coverage.

Undeterred by public sentiment, the Trump administration is trying to achieve through executive action what it couldn’t get done in Congress. But while its authority to waive Medicaid rules is broad, it is not unlimited. In particular, the Trump administration doesn’t have the power to waive the section of the Medicaid law that fixes the relative contributions of the federal and state governments.

Changing their relative contributions, however, is exactly what the Trump administration means to do. No longer would a state get $9 for every $1 it spends on the expansion population, for example. Instead, if a state exceeds its annual cap, federal payments would cease and the state’s share of Medicaid spending would increase. On the other hand, if a state keeps its expenditures down and retains some of the savings, the federal government would pick up a larger share of the tab.

Either way, the waivers would make an end run around Congress’s prohibition on changing how Medicaid is paid for. Litigation is inevitable, and the courts have so far displayed little patience with the administration’s stretching of its waiver authority. A federal judge, for example, has already struck down waivers allowing Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire to kick people off Medicaid if they don’t work enough hours in a month. The courts may be even more impatient with waivers that purport to make a more fundamental change to the state-federal program.

Which raises a question: Why would any state take the administration up on its invitation? The courts are likely to pull the plug — and if they don’t, there’s also the risk that the waivers would be revoked if a Democrat wins the presidential election this year. In both cases, any money spent retooling Medicaid will be wasted.

Tennessee, Alaska and Oklahoma, however, have already signaled their interest in block grants. Other states may follow suit. Tampering with Medicaid in this manner won’t be popular with most Americans. It certainly won’t help the poor. But it’s of a piece with Republicans’ long-standing commitment to slashing federal support for the neediest among us.

 

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GreyhoundFan

The sycophants are pushing out the qualified people:

 

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GreyhoundFan

So Twitler's next pick for the Federal Reserve is a real peach /sarcasm: "GOP senators face new loyalty test: Whether to approve Trump’s controversial Fed nominee Judy Shelton"

Spoiler

President Trump’s unconventional pick for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, Judy Shelton, will face tough questions next week from some key GOP senators. Her performance at her hearing could make or break her confirmation.

An outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve, Shelton is best known for her controversial views on monetary policy. She has suggested that the United States does not need a fully independent central bank and has advocated for the nation to return to something akin to the gold standard. Several GOP senators on the Banking Committee said they have questions for her. The Senate Banking Committee is split along party lines, 13 to 12, so yes votes from all Republicans will probably be necessary to advance her confirmation.

“There are a lot of questions about her,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Banking Committee, which must approve Fed nominations. “I have a few, but I’m not the only one.”

Shelby said he planned to listen closely to her answers at the Feb. 13 hearing, which will also include Trump’s other nominee, economist Christopher Waller of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Democrats on the Banking Committee are likely to vote against Shelton.

“I have an interest in having solid, mainstream people on the Fed,” Shelby said in an interview. “Some people say that she’s not, others say she is. Let’s see what she says.”

How Shelton responds to lawmakers’ questions could make or break her nomination, according to five banking lobbyists who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the confirmation hearing. Although much media attention has focused on Shelton’s views about gold, the banking community is more alarmed by her desire to end federal deposit insurance, which secures account holders’ deposits of up to $250,000 at U.S. banks, and her recent questioning of the Fed’s overnight borrowing market, referred to as repo operations, which helps the Fed keeps cash flowing through the financial system.

Trump’s last four Fed nominees failed to make it through the confirmation process, a rare defeat for the White House with a GOP-controlled Senate. Politically, it would be difficult for Republican senators to go up against Shelton after just voting to acquit the president of impeachment charges. And Trump’s reelection campaign is humming along with substantial funding.

Although many of Shelton’s views are outside the mainstream, many Republicans and financial insiders say she presents little risk to the Fed — or the broader economy. If confirmed, she would be one of seven members of the Board of Governors and one of 12 voting members on the Fed’s committee that sets interest rates, meaning her influence would be narrow.

“I don’t think she belongs on the [Fed] board, but it’s not going to be the apocalypse,” said Tony Fratto, a former Treasury official under President George W. Bush who runs a consulting firm. “She’s not going to change the direction of monetary policy.”

Some observers have voiced concern that Trump is positioning Shelton to be the Fed’s next chair, a role that would give her extensive influence and power to enact more unconventional policies. Trump appointed current Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell, though the president has frequently expressed regret over that decision and looked for ways to remove him. Powell’s term ends in early 2022.

“Anyone who thinks Shelton would be just one of 12 votes on monetary policy hasn’t been paying attention to her courtship of the White House and Trump’s feud with the Fed. You can’t support Powell and vote to confirm her,” said Sam Bell, an avid Fed watcher and the founder of Employ America, a policy group that advocates for full employment and higher wages.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chair of the banking committee, is moving quickly to push through the nominations, which has alarmed some in the industry who would prefer a well-vetted process.

“This fast tracking of the Shelton nomination is mind boggling. It is as if they have not read anything she has said,” tweeted Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “She is not only unqualified, she is dangerous. She has advocated policies removing deposit insurance and policies that would undermine community banking.”

But Shelton has already won over Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who played a key role in sinking businessman Herman Cain’s Fed nomination last year. Cramer met with Shelton on Tuesday and said he intends to support her despite “what some might consider her more exotic views.”

“I kind of like having somebody that challenges status quo like Judy on it,” Cramer said. “I wouldn’t want five members like her.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another Banking Committee member, also anticipated a lively confirmation hearing. But like many Republicans, he brushed off some of her more contentious views by arguing that they don’t matter, since there’s no way the United States is going to return to the gold standard anytime soon.

“I’m sure the gold-standard question will come up. Honestly, there’s no way to do it given where we are with our balance sheet,” Tillis said. “There’s just no way the math works right now.”

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) has also expressed concern about trying to move the United States back to the gold standard, which most economists say is a mistake that would severely hamper the nation’s ability to climb out of a recession. Toomey’s office declined to comment on Shelton this week.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a high-profile banking committee member, has called Shelton’s views “radical” and questioned the nominee’s apparently flip-flopping views on interest rates.

In the wake of the Great Recession, when Barack Obama was president, Shelton frequently criticized “ultralow” interest rates. But in recent months, she has become an advocate of lower interest rates, a view critics say is more politically driven to align with Trump.

In past interviews with The Washington Post, Shelton has stressed that she does not speak with Trump and has always been an independent thinker. Shelton served as an informal adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign and was his pick for U.S. executive director to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a position for which she was confirmed by the Senate in 2018.

Shelton, who holds a PhD in business administration from the University of Utah, spent much of her career writing books and heading up the Sound Money Project, an economic research body. “We make America great again by making America’s money great again,” Shelton wrote in a 2018 essay for the libertarian Cato Institute.

Waller, the other Fed nominee to go before the Banking Committee next week, has spent the past decade as an economist and research director at the St. Louis Fed. He is an outspoken supporter of Fed independence and is widely viewed as a noncontroversial nominee. Banking lobbyists said pairing Waller and Shelton together was a shrewd move by the White House that could help ease Shelton’s confirmation.

The Post surveyed 18 Wall Street economists and financial lobbyists last summer shortly after Trump floated the two candidates’ names on Twitter. All supported Waller, but only eight said Shelton should be confirmed

A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said that the administration does not anticipate any problems getting Shelton confirmed. Her meetings with senators have been successful, the official said, and “her confirmation process in committee remains on track.”

One of Trump’s previous Fed nominees, Marvin Goodfriend, weathered a rough confirmation hearing in early 2018. He struggled to explain why he was wrong in predicting that high inflation would ruin the economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the Fed lowered rates and stimulated the economy. (Goodfriend died in December.) Republican leaders did not think they had enough votes to confirm him and never brought him up to be confirmed by the full Senate. Shelton’s nomination risks a similar fate if she cannot make it through her hearing relatively unscathed.

 

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Audrey2
3 hours ago, GreyhoundFan said:

Although many of Shelton’s views are outside the mainstream, many Republicans and financial insiders say she presents little risk to the Fed — or the broader economy. If confirmed, she would be one of seven members of the Board of Governors and one of 12 voting members on the Fed’s committee that sets interest rates, meaning her influence would be narrow.

“I don’t think she belongs on the [Fed] board, but it’s not going to be the apocalypse,” said Tony Fratto, a former Treasury official under President George W. Bush who runs a consulting firm. “She’s not going to change the direction of monetary policy.”

The FDIC came about during the Great Depression. When so many banks failed during the Great Depression, people lost everything, including their life savings. This insurance was created so if a bank does go under, people get up to $250,000 of their money back through the bank's deposit insurance. This absolutely terrifies me looking toward the future. If we have another depression, or even a recession like we did 12 years ago, people automatically lose their money in the stock market (including what they saved in 401ks). Without the FDIC they would also lose their savings if their Bank goes under and you would have people who are destitute who have saved and done the right thing- putting money away where they thought it was secure. 

I don't have strong enough words to express my disgust and my anger toward Shelton.

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How disgusting....and emblematic of this whole nasty administration: "VA chief Wilkie sought to dig up dirt on woman who complained of sexual assault, agency insiders say"

Spoiler

The Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general is reviewing a request from a top House leader to investigate allegations that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sought to dig up dirt on one of the congressman’s aides after she said she was sexually assaulted at VA’s Washington hospital.

The appeal late Friday from House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) came after he received information from a senior VA official, confirmed by The Washington Post, that Wilkie worked to discredit the credibility of the aide, senior policy adviser Andrea Goldstein.

Wilkie, who led the Pentagon’s vast personnel and readiness operation before his VA appointment, quietly began inquiring with military officials last fall about Goldstein’s past, according to three people with knowledge of his efforts. That’s when Goldstein said a man groped and propositioned her in the main lobby of the VA Medical Center in Washington. Authorities closed the case in January without bringing charges.

Over several months, Wilkie shared his findings with his senior staff at morning meetings on at least six occasions, three current or former senior VA officials confirmed. Wilkie said his inquiry into Goldstein’s military service found that the Navy veteran, who currently serves as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, had filed multiple complaints, according to three people with knowledge of what Wilkie said. Wilkie also served as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve.

The information shared with the committee and with The Post said Wilkie was concerned with Goldstein’s “credibility and military record.” The VA official who shared it said Wilkie described Goldstein to his staff as a “serial sexual assault/harassment complainant in the Navy who made baseless allegations for example when she was not satisfied with a fitness evaluation.”

“The strong inference was made that all were false allegations,” the VA official wrote. A fitness evaluation in the military is the equivalent of a civilian performance review.
The information was shared anonymously with the committee, but The Post has determined that it was sent by a senior VA official. The allegations were first reported by ProPublica.

In an interview with The Post, Goldstein said she filed a formal complaint with the Navy just once before her experience at the VA hospital. The Post typically does not name people who report a sexual assault but Goldstein has spoken publicly about her experiences.

Wilkie suggested to several people on his staff, including his public affairs chief, that they use the information to discredit Goldstein, a current and former senior official said. They declined.

Wilkie denied making inquiries into Goldstein’s past. “These allegations are false. Period,” James Hutton, VA’s assistant secretary for public affairs, said. “Secretary Wilkie did not and never would do anything of this sort.”

“VA takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously, which is why the department immediately reported Ms. Goldstein’s allegations to VA’s independent inspector general as well as the deputy attorney general,” Hutton said.

Inspector General Michael Missal said he is reviewing Takano’s request to investigate. “We take this matter seriously and are considering the request at this time,” he said.

The Post was unable to independently determine whether Wilkie or anyone on his behalf asked to access Goldstein’s service records. “As a matter of policy, the DoD would not support any such improper request if such a request were received,” Defense Department press secretary Alyssa Farah said.

A Takano spokeswoman, Jenni Geurink, said in a statement that the committee “has received details from an individual with knowledge of decision making by senior VA leaders that shows they attempted to gather ‘damaging information’ about a member of our staff and may have improperly utilized government time and resources to do so.”

“In light of these developments,” she wrote, “the Committee is considering all investigative options to determine to what extent VA leaders attempted to tarnish a staff member’s character and spread false information about her past in retaliation for her reporting of a sexual assault at the D.C. VA Medical Center.”

As Wilkie delved deeper into Goldstein’s military service, he also told his staff that he had invited Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) a former Navy SEAL officer, to his office, according to the current and former VA officials. Crenshaw and Goldstein had once deployed on the same Middle East mission.

After Crenshaw’s visit, Wilkie said the congressman agreed with his findings that Goldstein had filed multiple complaints of harassment and assault, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.

Justin Discigil, a spokesman for Crenshaw, denied that the congressman had “ever been asked” about the Andrea Goldstein case.

“The notion that anyone at the VA reached out to Congressman Crenshaw to dig up dirt on this staffer has no basis in reality,” Discigil wrote in an email. “It never happened and Mr. Crenshaw has never been contacted by anyone at the VA about this case.”

Hutton said Wilkie and Crenshaw had breakfast last fall, but that Andrea Goldstein “did not come up.”

Wilkie’s search for damaging information on Goldstein, according to the sources, took place as the inspector general was conducting a formal investigation into her sexual assault complaint.

After that case was closed, Wilkie issued a public letter to Takano referring to “unsubstantiated claims raised by you and your staff” that “could deter our veterans from seeking the care they need and deserve.”

The wording of the letter seemed to disparage Goldstein. Several senior VA officials had urged Wilkie to use more neutral language, fearing it would look like he was blaming a victim of sexual misconduct, according to current and former agency officials. Wilkie overruled them.

Wilkie’s letter prompted an angry rebuttal from Takano, and from Missal, who disputed Wilkie’s characterization of Goldstein’s allegations. Missal said that just because no charges were filed did not mean her claims were unsubstantiated. The man in the incident was a hospital vendor.

Hutton, the spokesman, on Friday said Wilkie regretted the language he used in the letter.

Goldstein said that in 2014 she filed a formal complaint with the Navy when her department head sexually harassed her multiple times. She said he was removed from his post. She called sexual misconduct a “routine experience” for women in the military.

Goldstein said that she deployed with Crenshaw once to the Middle East. Her harassment case took place after that, she said, and Crenshaw “had no direct knowledge of any of what took place.”

In a first-person account on the website Jezebel this week, Goldstein said she felt betrayed that Wilkie “was implying that a fellow Navy veteran was a liar” when he called the D.C. incident an “unsubstantiated claim.”

“He used coded language, but the words still stung,” she wrote. “The Secretary of the second largest federal agency knew how his words would resonate. He was implying that a fellow Navy veteran was a liar.”

Wilkie and Takano have had a tense relationship. Takano has accused Wilkie of trying to privatize the VA system. Wilkie has not cooperated with many committee requests for information, and has several times refused to appear at committee hearings.

Late last year the leaders sparred over a bill to stop the high rate of veteran suicides, with Wilkie pressuring Takano to allow outside groups to provide mental health services at taxpayer expense.

Wilkie’s handling of the Goldstein case has rankled advocates for female veterans who say they are fighting routine harassment, both in the military and at VA medical centers. About 10 percent of the veteran population are women and 16 percent of the active-duty military.

“If true, the actions Secretary Wilkie is alleged to have been taken in response to complaints by a VA patient are unprecedented and chilling,” said Kayla Williams, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former director of VA’s center for women veterans.

Williams, a former Army sergeant, said Wilkie’s actions trigger “deeply unpleasant memories of attitudes expressed by military men about women while I was serving. I’m truly shaken about what seems to be a shockingly political response to a patient complaint.”

Wilkie, going back to his Senate confirmation hearing, has said VA needs to improve services for women, the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population. At an appearance at the National Press Club this week, he touted the agency’s success under his watch at drawing a record number of women to use the VA health system. He acknowledged that harassment is still a problem for women in some agency facilities.

Hutton, the Wilkie spokesman, said Friday that Missal should let agency and committee officials know if his investigation into the incident at the D.C. medical center found any wrongdoing, “so the department can take action to protect and safeguard our patients.”

Missal said this week that the Goldstein case is closed. After a case is closed, it is common practice not to release a confidential internal report of investigation, not even through a public records request — or to a Cabinet member.

 

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