November 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


EPA watchdog slams agency head as his chief of staff refuses to comply with investigations (REBECCA BEITSCH - 11/06/19, The Hill)

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) independent watchdog criticized agency head Andrew Wheeler for his resistance to addressing his chief of staff's refusal to cooperate with investigations.

A letter released Wednesday from EPA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) outlines multiple instances in which Ryan Jackson, Wheeler's chief of staff, refused to turn over documents or answer questions as the watchdog investigated how EPA officials obtained advance copies of outside testimony designated for lawmakers.

"The particularly serious or flagrant problem I am reporting concerns two instances of refusal to fully cooperate and provide information to the [inspector general], one during an audit and one during an administrative investigation. They center on a single employee -- Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson," wrote acting Inspector General Charles Sheehan in an Oct. 29 letter that was released Wednesday. 
The "Seven Day Letter," a term used to describe the process used to notify Congress of serious roadblocks to investigations, outlines both the ways Jackson tried to sideline investigators, as well as Sheehan's repeated attempts to discuss the matter with Wheeler.

"Mr. Jackson's cooperation has been patiently sought multiple times over protracted periods by OIG auditors and investigators. Auditors asked of him merely a brief email reply. Investigators requested to interview him. Both matters, after Mr. Jackson's repeated delays and refusals, were elevated, in writing, to you and/or other senior agency leaders in a final hope for cooperation," Sheehan writes.

These IGs seem to serve a different function than the Trumpbots were promised, exposing corruption instead of covering it up.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Green jobs now employ 10x more people than fossil fuel: The green market is growing exponentially. But will the U.S. seize the economic opportunity? (MOLLY HANSON, 06 November, 2019, Big Think)

According to a pair of economic researchers in the United Kingdom, the United States green economy now employs 10 times more people than the fossil fuel industry.

And that isn't to say that the fossil fuel industry hasn't been growing. In fact, from 2015 to 2016, the fossil fuels industry, which includes coal, oil, and natural gas, employed approximately 900,000 people in the U.S. according to government figures. But the two British researchers -- they are based at University College London -- found that over the same period this was eclipse

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Suburban revolt boosts Democrats on Election Day in the age of Trump: Analysis (RICK KLEIN and KENDALL KARSON, Nov 6, 2019, ABC News)

On Tuesday, Democratic statewide and local candidates from Virginia through Kentucky, Iowa and Pennsylvania saw their vote margins boosted by suburban voters -- and women in particular -- overcoming the allure of Trumpism in a range of races.

The results cost Republicans full control of the state government in Richmond for the first time in a quarter century. They also left the GOP governor of Kentucky trailing a Democrat by some 5,000 votes -- in a state Trump carried by 30 points in 2016.

The results serve as a counterweight to the unquestioned popularity of Trump inside a large swatch of his Republican base. It raises questions about Trump's reelection, as well as the more immediate politics of impeachment, as Republicans confront a changed electoral landscape.

"The Trump presidency has generated a much deeper level of hostility that has been very helpful to Democratic candidates," Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, told ABC News. "There are demographic changes in the suburbs ... there's more racial and ethnic and age diversity in the suburbs, they're not as Republican as they used to be."

"The results on Tuesday might well be seen as a warning sign for Republicans thinking about suburban voters and 2020 around the country," he added.

High Opioid-Use Counties Voted Trump in 2016 (Elizabeth Hlavinka, June 22, 2018, Med Page)

Counties with the highest rates of chronic prescription opioid use were far more likely to back Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, a new study of Medicare claims data found.

Trump took 59.96% of the vote in the 693 counties with opioid prescription rates significantly higher than the national average among counties, compared with 38.67% of the vote in the 638 counties with rates significantly lower than the mean, reported James Goodwin, MD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch Sealy Center on Aging, and colleagues in JAMA Network Open. [...]

Monnat, who was not involved in the current study, reported shortly after the 2016 election that Trump also over-performed in counties with the highest rates of drug-, alcohol- and suicide-related mortality, all of which are tied together by pessimism, frustration and despair, she said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Stone Trial Opens With Information Indicating Donald Trump May Have Lied to Robert Mueller (DAN FRIEDMAN & DAVID CORN, 11/06/19, MoJo)

"The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad," lead prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky said in his opening statement on Wednesday. "The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump."

One of the key points Mueller investigated was whether the Trump campaign had interacted with WikiLeaks or Russian intermediaries in 2016 when Moscow was using WikiLeaks for its operation to subvert the US presidential campaign (which was mounted in part to help Trump win). Trump refused to be questioned in person by Mueller and his investigators. Instead, he agreed to answer written questions on a limited number of subjects. Several of the queries Mueller submitted to Trump focused on whether he was ever told Stone had been in touch with WikiLeaks and whether he or anyone associated with his campaign had spoken to Stone about WikiLeaks. In his written response, Trump replied, "I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with any of the entities named in the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails." He also noted, "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign." And Trump, who has boasted of possessing a prodigious memory, claimed to have "no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016" and Election Day. The impression Trump provided: as far as he knew, he and his campaign had had nothing to do with Stone and WikiLeaks.

Mueller's report characterized Trump's responses as "inadequate." Zelinsky's opening statement suggests Stone's trial could show Trump's statements were false. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Palestinian elections are looking likely, and may be spectacularly bad for Abbas (Avi Issacharoff , 11/06/19, Times of Israel)

Hamas had originally demanded that both elections be held on the same day but it later relented, agreeing to Fatah's suggestion that the presidential elections be set for three months after the parliamentary one, providing that an actual date be set.

Hamas, it seems, is willing to take quite a few risks and make more than a few concessions to make sure elections take place.

Hamas's relatively conciliatory position on the elections has taken Fatah and Abbas by surprise. According to Palestinian sources, the plan to promote elections came from Abbas's office but was designed to embarrass Hamas.

Abbas and his advisers believed that once he issued a call for parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Hamas would refuse, thus allowing Abbas to state that elections will be held only in the West Bank -- where Fatah believes it has an actual chance of winning.

After Haniyeh's announced that he welcomed the initiative, Fatah upped the stakes and Abbas demanded that the parliamentary elections be based on party slates and not geographical representation.

Hamas again surprised Fatah and agreed, for one main reason: The Islamic terrorist group believes that it can win in the West Bank, potentially by a landslide, given the dwindling support Fatah has among Palestinians there.

W's greatest mistake in the Middle East was not embracing the democrats.

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The More We Learn, the Worse Things Look for Trump: Republicans insisted that the full account would vindicate the president, but that's not how it's worked out. (David A. Graham, 11/05/19, The Atlantic)

[T]he transcripts show Republican members using their time in depositions erratically, trying to throw up various process-related roadblocks and working the refs. Representative Scott Perry asked Yovanovitch about the intelligence practice of "unmasking" and whether her staff was involved, puzzling the ambassador. In one peculiar exchange, Mark Meadows asked Yovanovitch where her nickname, Masha--a common Russian nickname for Maria--comes from.

Finally, the release of the testimony vindicates the Democratic claim that witnesses ought to be heard in private to avoid coordinating testimony. (This was, in point of fact, Intelligence Committee Republicans' claim, under former Chairman Trey Gowdy, before it was Democrats'.) Sondland told investigators he'd conferred with Energy Secretary Rick Perry to "refresh [his] memory," yet Sondland submitted his addendum, including the explosive quid pro quo claim, only after other witnesses contradicted his claims.

The Trumposphere often operates on an esoteric argument that if only all the facts were revealed, the totality of the evidence would clearly show that the president was innocent and that his detractors are the guilty ones. A version of this faith animated the Republican demand for full transcripts. Now that the transcripts are being released and aren't yielding exoneration, it should--but won't--prompt a reevaluation of this esotericism.

Instead, GOP leaders have simply swapped out their talking points.

"I don't know that you need all the transcripts," Representative Jim Jordan said Monday. "Like I've said, the facts have always been there, the facts have been clear from the get-go."

The problem for Trump is that Jordan is probably right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Brazil's Massive Tax Code May Face Moment of Reckoning (Simone Iglesias and Murilo Fagundes,  November 5, 2019, Bloomberg)

At 7.5 tons, it's heavier than an African elephant.

At more than 7 feet, it's taller than LeBron James.

At 41,266 pages, it's about 85 times longer than the collected stories of Franz Kafka.

Vinicios Leoncio spent more than 1 million reais ($250,100) to assemble a volume of Brazil's tax code to demonstrate the absurdities of the system. For fun, he perches on top of his creation. "It's an attempt to make the stupidity of the Brazilian tax legislation visible," says the tax lawyer.

Fresh off its success in winning congressional support for a landmark pension overhaul, the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro has set its sights on revamping the tax code, a goal that has eluded prior governments. The lower house and the Senate have put forward their own plans. Vice President Hamilton Mourao promised on Oct. 23 that a new system will be in place by the middle of next year.

The stakes are high. Brazil's tax burden is close to 33% of gross domestic product, almost 10 points higher than the Latin American average. A sweeping simplification could boost GDP by 10% over 15 years, according to an analysis by the Center for Fiscal Citizenship, a São Paulo-based think tank.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump betrayed America. Soon the public will hear from patriots who defended it.: 
The Ukraine call was one piece of a larger operation to redirect US foreign policy to benefit Trump's personal interests, not the national interest. (Adam Schiff, 11/05/19, USA Today)

The interviews we have conducted have been thorough, professional and fair, with over one hundred members from both parties eligible to attend -- including nearly 50 Republicans -- and equal time allotted for questioning to both Democratic and Republican members of Congress and staff. In line with best investigative practices first passed in Congress by the Republicans who now decry them, we have held these interviews in private to ensure that witnesses are not able to tailor their testimony to align with others at the expense of the truth.

Over the past several weeks, dedicated, nonpartisan public servants have come forward to share what they know about the president's misconduct based on what they witnessed over the course of months, describing and corroborating key details and events regarding U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. Nearly all have testified despite efforts by the White House to prevent them from telling their story. These career civil servants, diplomats and veterans of our armed services are American patriots and shining examples of what it means to defend and protect our Constitution.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Democrats won across the Philadelphia region as Republicans are fading even on friendly turf (Michaelle Bond and Vinny Vella, November 6, 2019, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Democrats won political control of the once-legendary GOP stronghold of Delaware County, part of what appeared late Tuesday to be a Republican wipeout across the Philadelphia region and in other elections around the country.

It was the first time since at least the Civil War that Democrats won control of the Delaware County Council. They not only won a majority, but also swept Republicans off the governing body entirely. Democrats won a majority on the Chester County Board of Commissioners for the first time in history, in the only suburban Philadelphia county where Republicans still outnumber Democrats. In Bucks County, Democrats were on track to capture the Board of Commissioners for the first time since 1983.