U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today March 13, 2017

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


1. Republicans brace for CBO report on ObamaCare replacement proposal
Aides to President Trump on Sunday questioned the credibility of the Congressional Budget Office as Republicans braced for the nonpartisan agency to issue a report concluding that the House Republican plan to replace ObamaCare will leave fewer Americans with health insurance. The CBO is expected to issue its estimate of the cost and other implications of the proposed legislation as soon as Monday, but White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said the CBO should focus on health care affordability rather than the number of insured. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday that he fully expects the CBO analysis to say the ranks of the uninsured would grow under the proposal, which would eliminate the requirement to buy insurance. His statement contradicted Trump’s promise to replace ObamaCare with a plan offering “insurance for everybody.”

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

2. National Weather Service warns of powerful Northeast snowstorm
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for northern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and New York starting Monday evening, as a powerful late-winter nor’easter approached, threatening to dump up to 18 inches of snow in some areas, with parts of Massachusetts possibly getting up to two feet of snow on Tuesday. Much of the rest of the Northeast is under a blizzard watch. AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said anyone in the affected areas without a good reason to go out should “prepare for the worst” and stay at home. “It’s going to be a ferocious storm from New Jersey on up to New England,” Kines said.

Source: NJ.com, The Boston Globe

3. McCain calls for Trump to produce wiretapping evidence
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday called on President Trump to produce evidence to support his claim that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower bugged, or take back the accusation. “I think the president has one of two choices: Either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve, because, if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here, to say the least,” McCain said. The heads of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), sent the Justice Department a letter last week giving the Trump administration until Monday to turn over any evidence it has to support Trump’s explosive claim that Obama had Trump’s New York City headquarters wiretapped during the presidential campaign.

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

4. Biden urges tech innovators to help beat cancer
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday called on technology innovators to work on ending cancer. “Your generation could be the first generation on Earth that goes through life with a completely different understanding of cancer as preventable … instead of a death sentence,” Biden told a crowd of 1,000. Biden, whose son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer two years ago, led the Obama administration’s Moonshot Cancer initiative, and said that the effort had contributed to advances but faced numerous obstacles to speeding up cancer research. “You’re the future,” he told the crowd. “We need your help.”

Source: USA Today

5. Bharara reportedly declined courtesy call from Trump
President Trump tried to call U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of New York two days before firing him to “thank him for his service,” but Bharara declined to take the call because he didn’t have his superiors’ approval, a U.S. law enforcement official said Sunday. Bharara was one of 46 prosecutors who were Obama administration holdovers that the Justice Department asked to resign to make way for Trump administration appointees, a routine process. Bharara’s inclusion on the list was a surprise, because Trump had asked him in November to stay on. Last week three watchdog groups asked Bharara to move to prevent the Trump Organization from business with foreign governments that could benefit Trump.

Source: Reuters

6. GOP congressman sparks controversy with praise for far-right Dutch politician
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) faced a backlash Sunday after retweeting a message endorsing Geert Wilders, a far-right candidate for Dutch prime minister, saying that Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Wilders wants to end Muslim immigration, and critics said King’s statement amounted to an endorsement of white nationalism. King last July angered critics by saying that white Christians have contributed more to Western civilization than any other “subgroup.” Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean called King “a total ignoramus and no one takes him seriously.”

Source: USA Today, The New York Times

7. Death toll rises in Ethiopia garbage landslide
The death toll from a garbage landslide in Ethiopia rose to at least 48 people on Sunday, and authorities said they feared more fatalities. A resident of the area said there were about 150 people there when the landslide occurred on Saturday, and dozens of people remained missing Sunday as rescuers continue to search the scene on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the East African nation’s capital. Hundreds of people scavenge the landfill to make a living, and several makeshift homes were buried in the landslide. One belonged to the family of Tebeju Asres. “My mother and three of my sisters were there when the landslide happened,” he said. “Now I don’t know the fate of all of them.”

Source: BBC News, The Associated Press

8. Oil prices fall to lowest level in three months
Oil prices fell by roughly one percent early Monday, hitting their lowest level in three months as U.S. drillers added oil rigs for the eighth straight week. The news of the additional rigs came after crude inventories jumped by 8.2 million barrels last week in the U.S., the world’s biggest oil consumer. The swelling inventories have dragged down prices, offsetting the effect of production cuts agreed to by OPEC and other major oil producers aiming to ease a global glut.

Source: Reuters

9. Bus crashes into pedestrian parade in Haiti, killing 38
A bus plowed into a crowd of people, mostly musicians, celebrating the festive Rara season in the Haitian city of Gonaives on Sunday, killing 38 people. The bus, carrying passengers from Cap-Haitien on the Caribbean nation’s northern coast to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, reportedly struck two people outside Gonaives, killing one instantly, and kept going. It then encountered a Rara band marching slowly down the highway, and plowed through it, then drove through two more bands. The driver fled on foot.

Source: CNN

10. Villanova takes overall No. 1 seed in men’s NCAA basketball tournament
The defending national champion Villanova Wildcats took the No. 1 overall seed in the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, as the brackets were unveiled on Sunday. The other three No. 1 seeds were Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. Villanova, taking the top spot for the third time in school history, will play Thursday in Buffalo against the winner of the Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans game. If Villanova breezes through the early rounds it could face an Elite Eight matchup against East Region No. 2 seed Duke, which won the ACC tournament with four victories over strong teams in four days. The Final Four will be held April 1 and 3 in Phoenix.

Source: ESPN

U.S. Politics

US Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox News When Trump Fired Him


President Donald Trump’s decision to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara happened as Bharara’s office was reportedly probing Fox News over its alleged failure to inform shareholders about repeated settlements for allegations of sexual harassment and assault by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and other executives against female employees. Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.

Fox News Faced Numerous Sexual Assault And Harassment Allegations

Ailes Left Fox News Amid Flurry Of Sexual Harassment Allegations. In early July, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued the network’s CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. Carlson’s attorney told The Washington Post that 25 women had “come forward with what they describe as similar harassment claims against Ailes that stretch across five decades back to his days in the 1960s as a young television producer.” 21st Century Fox tasked a law firm with conducting a review of Ailes’ conduct and “the initial findings were damaging enough that the Murdochs decided they had to escort Ailes out,” according to CNN’s Brian Stelter. New York national affairs editor Gabriel Sherman reported that sources briefed on the investigation said former Fox News host Megyn Kelly told investigators that Ailes had also sexually harassed her. [The Washington Post, 7/22/16; CNN, The Lead with Jake Tapper, 7/21/16; New York, 7/19/16]

Fox’s Culture Of Sexual Harassment Extends Beyond Ailes. The New York Times reported on July 23 that Fox News may have “a broader problem in the workplace,” that extends beyond Ailes after at least “a dozen women” told the Times that “they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors.” [The New York Times, 7/23/16]

Fox Recently Settled With Former Contributor Over Sexual Assault Allegation That Resulted In Executive’s Firing. The New York Times recently reported that Fox settled with former network contributor Tamara Holder in February for more than $2.5 million after the said she was sexually assaulted by an executive at the company’s headquarters two years ago. The Times reported that Fox “investigated her claims, and the executive, Francisco Cortés, the vice president for Fox News Latino, was terminated, according to two people familiar with the matter.” [The New York Times, 3/8/17]

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox Over Sexual Harassment Settlements

CNNMoney: “Fox News Under Federal Investigation Over Ailes Settlement Payments.” CNN senior media reporter Dylan Byers reported on February 15 that the Justice Department had for months been investigating Fox News over failing to inform shareholders about settlements with employees who had pressed charges against Ailes for sexual harassment:

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Fox News failed to inform shareholders about settlements made with employees who charged former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes with sexual harassment, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNNMoney.


On Wednesday afternoon, a Fox News spokesperson acknowledged that Fox News had been in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office but did not specify if the network was the subject of the investigation.

“Neither FOX News nor 21CF has received a subpoena, but we have been in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office for months — we have and will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with any interested authorities,” the spokesperson said.

On Wednesday night, however, a source with knowledge of the matter confirmed that Fox News was the subject of the investigation. The settlements in question date back several years, the source said. [CNNMoney, 2/15/17]

ABC News: Preet Bharara’s “Office Is Conducting A Criminal Investigation Into Fox News.” ABC News reported that Preet Bharara’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which includes much of New York City where 21st Century Fox is headquartered, was “conducting a criminal investigation into Fox News.” From the February 15 article:

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into Fox News, an attorney involved and other sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Judd Burstein, an attorney representing former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros, said during a hearing today that one of his clients received a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the use of corporate resources in connection with sexual harassment allegations against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox.

Burstein said the subpoena didn’t involve Tantaros but a different client, whom he did not name.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment.

Fox News responded, saying in a statement, “Neither Fox News nor 21st Century Fox has received a subpoena, but we have been in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for months — we have and will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with interested authorities.” [ABC News, 2/15/17]

The Hollywood Reporter: Former Fox Host Andrea Tantaros’ Attorney Suggested Fox Settled Multiple Harassment Lawsuits Without Reporting Them In SEC Filings. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a lawyer representing former Outnumbered host Andrea Tantaros, one of the Fox employees suing over sexual harassment, said he received a subpoena from federal investigators requesting testimony from another Fox client, which he said meant Fox had settled multiple lawsuits without reporting them in its SEC filings. From the February 15 article:

On Wednesday, during a hearing regarding former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros’ lawsuit against network executives before New York Supreme Court Judge David Benjamin Cohen, an attorney for Tantaros said he’d been served with a subpoena by federal prosecutors investigating sexual harassment allegations directed at Ailes. Tantaros, who once served as a co-host of the afternoon show The Five, alleges in her lawsuit that Fox News “operated like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult.”

Tantaros’ attorney Judd Burstein said he received the subpoena from federal investigators at the Department of Justice’s New York Southern District, which is run by Preet Bharara, who with much fanfare was asked by President Donald Trump to stay on as a U.S. Attorney after aggressively prosecuting top government officials in New York as well as Wall Street veterans for insider trading.

The subpoena, he said, arrived two days ago. It apparently requests testimony from his client before a grand jury. (Burstein didn’t identify the client. Burstein previously represented Ailes’ former right-hand man, Brian Lewis, who, before coming to a settlement of his own, raised the specter of explosive revelations.)

“Once I saw that it was the securities prosecutors I understood immediately what was going on here, which is that what Fox has done is enter into agreement, after agreement, after agreement, with victims of sexual harassment, not reported them in any of their SEC filings,” Burstein said.

Burstein appears to believe that the issue is related to the way Fox has been structuring settlements and keeping recipients as employees to avoid reporting obligations under securities law.

An attorney for Fox News, Andrew J. Levander, told the judge that his client hasn’t received a subpoena and characterized Burstein’s impromptu comments in open court as “beyond the pale.” A later statement from a Fox News spokesperson (see below) acknowledged, however, that the company has been “in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office for months.”


The company’s spokesperson has released the following statement: “The court granted Fox News’ motion to send Andrea Tantaros’ case to arbitration, where it always belonged, and rejected her counsel Judd Burstein’s histrionics. Apparently one of Mr. Burstein’s other clients has received a subpoena. Neither Fox News nor 21CF has received a subpoena, but we have been in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office for months — we have and will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with any interested authorities.” [The Hollywood Reporter, 2/15/17]

Bharara Was Fired By Trump After Being Asked To Stay On

Bharara Agreed To Remain As U.S. Attorney After Meeting Trump In November. As The Washington Times reported, Bharara met with President Donald Trump in late November and “confirmed he accepted Mr. Trump’s offer to stay on the job.” Then Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom Trump had nominated to serve as his attorney general, also asked Bharara to stay in the job. From the November 30 article:

Mr. Bharara, who was appointed by President Obama, confirmed that he accepted Mr. Trump’s offer to stay on the job after a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

“The president-elect asked — presumably because he’s a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that our office has done over the past seven years — asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I’d be prepared to stay on as the United States attorney to do the work we have done, independently, without fear or favor for the last seven years,” he told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower.


He said that he has already spoken to Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom Mr. Trump nominated for attorney general, about continuing to serve as U.S. attorney.

“He also asked that I stay on, and so I expect that I will be continuing to work at the southern district,” Mr. Bharara said. [The Washington Times, 11/30/16]

Attorney General Sessions Then Asked All Obama-Era U.S. Attorneys, Including Bharara, To Resign. On March 10, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked all 46 U.S. attorneys remaining from the Obama administration to resign. [Los Angeles Times, 3/10/17]

Bharara Was Fired After Refusing To Resign. The Associated Press reported that after refusing to resign at the request of Sessions, Bharara was instead fired from his position as a U.S. attorney. [The Associated Press, 3/11/17; Twitter, 3/11/17]

NY Times: A “Pending Investigation” Of Bharara’s Appears To Focus On How Fox News Structured Settlements Of Claims Brought By Network Employees.” The New York Times reported on March 10 that it was “unclear what effect [Bharara’s] departure might have” on his office’s ongoing investigations g, including a “pending investigation [that] appears to focus on how Fox News structured settlements of claims brought by network employees.” [The New York Times, 3/10/17]

Trump May Replace Bharara With Former Ailes Lawyer Who Helped Him With Harassment Damage Control

Bloomberg: New York Lawyers Speculate Marc Mukasey Will Be Nominated To Replace Bharara. Bloomberg reported on March 11 that “speculation is already building for who will be nominated by Trump as a permanent replacement” for Bharara and that “Many suggest it will be Marc Mukasey, a lawyer at Greenberg Traurig LLP with close ties to former New York Mayor and sometime Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani.” [Bloomberg, 3/11/17]

New York’s Gabriel Sherman: Mukasey Was Part Of Ailes’ Legal Team. New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, who has written extensively about Ailes and Fox News, reported on March 11 that Mukasey previously worked as part of Ailes’ legal team and had labeled Sherman as a “virus” for his work in uncovering sexual harassment and assault allegations at Fox:

Twitter, 3/11/17, 3/11/17; The Hollywood Reporter, 8/30/16]

Mukasey Reportedly Met With Ailes To Advise Him On Handling Harassment Allegations. Sherman reported that a few hours after his July 9 article revealing that six more women beyond Gretchen Carlson had accused Ailes of harassment, “Ailes held an emergency meeting with longtime friend Rudy Giuliani and lawyer Marc Mukasey at his home in Garrison, New York.” Vanity Fair quoted Mukasey as saying that he and Giuliani “provided personal, private legal counsel to Roger, whom we’ve known for years,” and detailed how Mukasey and Giuliani went to Fox’s headquarters to assist Ailes. [New York, 9/2/16; Vanity Fair, November 2016]

This item has been updated for clarity.

U.S. Politics

Rep. Steve King openly peddles white nationalism: ‘Demographics are our destiny.’ (Corrected)

DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 24:  U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA) speaks to guests  at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. The summit is hosting a group of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates to discuss core conservative principles ahead of the January 2016 Iowa Caucuses.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) | attribution: Getty Images


Conservative Republicanism and white nationalism are now functionally the same movement.


That’s Iowa Rep. Steve King, the prime architect of the party’s newly aggressive anti-immigrant stance, a position he obtained by scuttling post-2012 party efforts at reworking and moderating the party’s past immigration stances. He’s voicing these thoughts in support for Dutch white nationalist stain Geert Wilders.

And yes, this is the new Republican “normal.”


By Hunter

U.S. Politics

Opinion: Florida Supreme Court Rules “Open Carry” is Not Protected By 2nd Amendment

Opinion: Florida Supreme Court Rules “Open Carry” is Not Protected By 2nd Amendment

Stock photo


In Florida last week while the nation was mesmerized  by the non-stop news that America’s government has been infiltrated by Ruskie operatives with a veritable cadre of Russian spies firmly ensconced in the White House, the state’s Supreme Court upheld as constitutional a Florida law that prohibited “open carry of firearms in public.” A practice that has been banned since the nation’s founding and just recently imposed by NRA-indebted Republicans to enrich the gun industry.

The Florida High Court’s Justices ruled that the Second Amendment does not protect that ridiculous “open carry” practice and it was another setback for the NRA’s attempts to force the nation’s courts to abolish any and all firearm restrictions as unconstitutional. The Florida High Court concluded, like many other state and federal courts around the nation, that the Second Amendment cannot be read to prohibit states from regulating the various ways guns are kept and used.

The Court heard the challenge to the Florida statute after a man was arrested and charged with “openly carrying” a handgun while strolling alongside a U.S. Highway. The ruling began by acknowledging that “virtually any adult who has no physical impairment or felony record can carry a gun in public in Florida;” it just has to be concealed. It was too much of a restriction for the Florida gun fanatic who had to show off his “manhood” in public and cried foul. He argued that specifically; the Second Amendment protected his right to openly carry firearms and that the Florida law was an unconstitutional violation of his 2nd Amendment rights.

The man claimed that according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in “D.C. v. Heller” and “McDonald v. Chicago” created an “individual’s right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense.” The frightened gun enthusiast said if an individual has a constitutional right to keep a handgun at home for protection, it is just obvious it also granted him the constitutional right to walk around in public with his gun in plain view for all to see.

The Florida High Court used the exact same analysis deployed by virtually every Federal Circuit Court in considering the NRA’s 2nd Amendment challenges to a state’s firearm rules. The Court asked:

Whether the law ‘burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment based on a historical understanding of [its] scope,’ or whether it falls into a ‘historically unprotected … category of prohibitions.’”

The court found that the law did not fall into a historically unprotected category, and instead implicated the “central component” of the Second Amendment—“the right to self-defense.”

The Court’s majority quoted an influential law review article and noted what historians, not NRA historical revisionists, have known for a couple of centuries:

“[T]he notion of a strong tradition of a right to carry outside of the home rests on a set of historical myths and a highly selective reading of the evidence. The only persuasive evidence for a strong tradition of permissive open carry is limited to the slave South.”

In a recent 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, the Court noted that firearm restrictions that fall outside historical protections for the right to bear arms are presumptively constitutional. However, since the concept of “open carry has no firm tradition in our legal history, there is more than enough justification for the constitutionality of open carry bans.”

Last week’s ruling may not have been a giant win for gun safety advocates, but it was a major defeat for gun fanatics simply because they seem to never lose; at least not any losses the media is willing to report. The Florida Supreme Court decision was handed down barely a few weeks after a 4th Circuit decision ruled that the Second Amendment does not protect assault weapons, and within a year of the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling that there is no constitutional right to concealed carry; something that “has been widely banned” since the nation’s founding.

As noted by Marc Joseph Stern at Slate, “because the Supreme Court clearly has little appetite to expand Heller and McDonald, these decisions will probably stand as the last word on the subject.”

Gun safety advocates can possibly take a measure of solace knowing that no matter how remote the chance to achieve much in the way of “legislative victories” in the NRA-controlled Congress, these few court rulings are highly unlikely to be overturned by the Supreme Court; unless Trump disbands the High Court and replaces it with the governing board of the NRA. It is something that is not remotely implausible.



U.S. Politics

Ryan: ‘Can’t answer’ how many will lose health coverage under GOP plan


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the number of people who will lose insurance under the GOP’s proposed healthcare plan will depend on the choices of individuals.

“I can’t answer that question,” Ryan told CBS News’s “Face the Nation,”when asked how many people will lose healthcare coverage. “It’s up to people.”

“Here’s the premise of your question: Are you going to stop mandating people buy health insurance? People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country.”

The GOP last week unveiled two measures to repeal and replace ObamaCare. While the new plan would get rid of some components of ObamaCare, it would keep other parts in place.

Ryan has been on a full-court media blitz to make the public sales pitch since the House GOP legislation was unveiled.

The GOP proposal would create a tax credit system to incentivize individuals to purchase health insurance. It would dismantle ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion program, while eliminating the individual mandate that required people to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. Instead, should the new plan pass in its current iteration, insurance providers could charge a 30 percent penalty for gaps in coverage.

Democrats have panned the GOP’s plan, and conservative critics, such as the influential advocacy groups FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, have taken to calling it “RyanCare.” And Breitbart News, which frequently had Ryan in its crosshairs over the years, called it “Speaker Ryan’s ObamaCare 2.0.”

But Ryan promoted the plan Sunday, echoing on “Face the Nation” the GOP’s stance that there will be “a smooth transition” during the repeal and replace process.

“… The point we’re trying to make here is there will be a smooth transition, a stable transition so that people who are covered today don’t have the rug pulled out from under them,” he said.


U.S. Politics

Robert Reich: Trump has officially waged war on America’s truth-tellers

Robert Reich: Trump has officially waged war on America's truth-tellers

(Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

President Donald Trump and his White House don’t argue on the merits. They attack the credibility of the institutions that come up with facts and arguments they don’t like.

They even do it preemptively. Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer warned that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office couldn’t be trusted to come up with accurate numbers about the costs and coverage of the Republican’s replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

“If you’re looking at the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place,” he said.

So what’s the right place? The Oval Office?

Bear in mind the director of the CBO is a Republican economist and former George W. Bush administration official who was chosen for his position by the Republican Congress in 2015.

No matter. The White House is worried about what the CBO will say about Trumpcare, so it throws the CBO under the bus before the bus arrives.

Trump couldn’t care less about the long-term consequences, but the rest of us should. For more than four decades, the U.S. budget process has depended on the CBO’s analyses and forecasts. The office has gained a reputation for honesty and reliability under both Republican and Democratic appointees. Now, it’s tainted.

This has been Trump’s MO since he first met a fact he didn’t like.

When candidate Trump didn’t like the positive employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the economy improving under the Obama administration, what did he do? He called the official unemployment rate “such a phony number,” “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics” and “the biggest joke there is.”

It’s possible to take issue with the ways the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment, but why undermine public trust in the Bureau itself?

Of course, when February’s job numbers turned out rosy, Trump’s White House embraced the monthly employment report. But the damage has been done. The BLS looks political.

Spicer tries to wrap Trump’s institutional attacks in populist mumbo-jumbo: “I think [Trump] addressed that in his inaugural speech when he talked about shifting power outside of Washington D.C. back to the American people because for too long it’s been about stats . . . and it’s been about, what number are we looking at as opposed to what face are we looking at?”

Rubbish. The only way we can understand the true dimensions of the problems real people face is with data about these problems, from sources the public trusts. But if the credibility of those sources is repeatedly called into question by the president of the United States, there’s no shared truth.

When Trump disagreed with judicial findings about his original travel ban, he didn’t offer any reasons or analyses. Instead, he called the judge who issued the stay a “so-called judge” and attacked the appellate judges who upheld it as “so political” they weren’t “able to read a statement and do what’s right.”

When he blamed the intelligence agencies for the downfall of his first national security adviser, he didn’t spell out why. He just attacked them, issuing disparaging tweets with “intelligence” in quotation marks.

When he dislikes press reports, Trump doesn’t try to correct them. He assails the press as “the enemy of the American people,” “dishonest,” purveyors of “fake news” and “the opposition party,” and questions their motives (they “have their own agenda, and it’s not your agenda, and it’s not the country’s agenda“).

When polls show that he has a low approval rating, he doesn’t say he expects the rating to improve. He attacks the entire polling industry, asserting “any negative polls are fake news.”

When scientists come up with conclusion he disagrees with, he doesn’t offer other credible sources of scientific data. He attacks science.

Trump thinks climate change is a hoax. His new head of the Environmental Protection Agency asserted last week that climate change isn’t caused by human activity.

What does the Trump administration do to prove the point? Nothing. Instead, it tells EPA staffers to remove pages from the EPA’s website concerning climate change, threatens to review all the agency’s data and publications, and cuts the budgets of all scientific research in government.

Trump’s big lies are bad enough because they subvert the truth and sow confusion. But Trump’s attacks on the institutions we rely on as sources of the truth are even more dangerous, because they make it harder for the public to believe anything.

In a democracy, the truth is a common good. Trump is actively destroying the truth-telling institutions our democracy depends on.


Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.
U.S. Politics

Trump’s Plan To Gut HUD Threatens America’s Poor

Trump’s Plan To Gut HUD Threatens America’s Poor

Ben Carson listens to a question from a reporter during a campaign stop in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 23, 2016 |  REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus/File Photo


Rosemary Holmes has lived in Newark’s Terrell Holmes for the better part of six decades. She, like many others in the building, has raised children in its courtyards and hallways, and forged a tight-knit community of friends and neighbors. At the age of 68, she has been forced to band with other tenants to fight local efforts to shutter the facility. Now, as the Trump administration weighs plans to gut the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she has a new battle on her hands.

“Any time they move a person to someplace they don’t want to live, it’s imprisonment,” she told AlterNet over the phone. “I am a human being, and I deserve to live where I want to live. Us, the ones who really want to be here, we are going to be uprooted because of the sabotage of HUD and the Housing Authority.”

Horsley is one of countless public housing residents across the country directly impacted by news that the Trump administration is mulling whether to slash HUD’s budget by at least $6 billion, or 14 percent, in the 2018 fiscal year. The proposed cuts were revealed Wednesday by Washington Postreporter Jose A. DelReal, who cited “preliminary budget documents” that he had obtained. If implemented, the reductions will hit a federal agency that is already unable to meet the level of human need, thanks to systematic defunding over the course of decades.

Douglas Rice, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., think tank, reports that the proposed cuts would, in fact, amount to $7.7 billion dollars, or a 16 percent reduction, in 2018. He arrives at this number by evaluating expected funding levels for 2017, writing: “it’s reasonable to presume that the final budget will be close to the average of the bills the House Appropriations Committee and the full Senate approved last summer.” By contrast, DelReal wrote his story based on 2016 funding levels.

Either way, the cuts are poised to be dramatic. Rice told the Washington Post that 20,000 renters will lose their assistance for every 1 percent slash to the budget of HUD. “The reality is that we’ve been living under these austere budget caps, and budgets like HUD’s have already been pretty much cut to the bone,” Rice said, pointing to the sequestration cuts of 2011. “And when you try to cut below that, you really end up with harmful impacts.”

The proposed cuts would go deep. “Budgets for public housing authorities—city and state agencies that provide subsidized housing and vouchers to local residents—would be among the hardest hit,” writes DelReal. “Under the preliminary budget, those operational funds would be reduced by $600 million, or 13 percent. Funds for big-ticket repairs at public housing facilities would be cut by an additional $1.3 billion, about 32 percent.”

Public housing in the United States already faces a backlog of $26 billion in repairs, according to a 2010 report commissioned by HUD.

The Community Development Block Grant Program, which was budgeted to receive $3 billion this fiscal year, would be entirely slashed if the proposed changes were implemented. While the budget document reportedly suggests that funds for the program “could come from outside the HUD budget as part of a separate White House bill,” it is not immediately clear where exactly such dollars would come from and whether they would be guaranteed. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which helps fund local affordable housing, would also be eliminated.

The gutting of HUD would take money directly out of the hands of renters in need. The Post story notes, “Under the proposal, direct rental assistance payments—including Section 8 Housing and housing vouchers for homeless veterans—would be cut by at least $300 million, to $19.3 billion. Additionally, housing for the elderly—known as the Section 202 program—would be cut by $42 million, nearly 10 percent. Section 811 housing for people with disabilities would be cut by $29 million, nearly 20 percent. Money available for Native American housing block grants would fall by $150 million, more than 20 percent.”

According to Rice’s analysis of the Post report, if the cuts go through, “Housing Choice Vouchers that some 200,000 low-income households currently use to pay their rent would be eliminated in 2018.” He explained, “Reducing the availability of this crucial support would increase and prolong homelessness for vulnerable people with disabilities, families with children and others.”

“It should be very clear to our movements, to our communities, and to the entire country that [the] Trump administration is intent on further destabilizing and dismantling programs that our communities rely on to survive,” Malcolm Torrejón Chu, communications organizer with the Right to the City Alliance and organizer for the National Homes for All Campaign, told AlterNet. “These threatened cuts to housing are threatened cuts to our community survival. And we have no illusions that the current HUD programming is enough.”

The proposed reductions are in line with Trump’s recent claim that he will pay for a $54 billion increase to the war budget in large part by cutting domestic programs.

But long before Trump made this assertion, HUD Secretary Ben Carson—who has no prior experience in housing policy—has been open about his desire to dismantle key public housing initiatives. In 2014, he opposed an agreement between the city of Dubuque and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the city’s housing policies that discriminate against black residents, suggesting it was proof America was “becoming communist.” In 2015, he vocalized his opposition to a HUD fair housing rule that is aimed, in part, at reducing segregation, calling it a “failed socialist experiment.”

Following the Post report, Carson reportedly sent a letter seeking to reassure staff on Thursday, stating: “Please understand that budget negotiations currently underway are very similar to those that have occurred in previous years. This budget process is a lengthy, back-and-forth process that will continue. It’s unfortunate that preliminary numbers were published, but please take some comfort in knowing that starting numbers are rarely final numbers.”

Yet the fact that such drastic cuts were proposed at all has alarmed those whose housing—and lives—are on the line. Rhonda, who lives in Terrell Homes and did not want her last name to be used, said the immediate impacts of such cuts, if they go through, would be straightforward. “They need to keep public housing, because without public housing, people will be homeless,” she said. “The numbers of homeless people in America will be going up. People will have to choose between housing and food.”

‘They want us out’

Michael Higgins, Jr., an organizer with the Brooklyn-based Families United for Racial and Economic Justice, told AlterNetthat news of proposed cuts to HUD didn’t come as a surprise. “There’s been steady cuts in every administration going back to Reagan,” he said. “Because there have been consistent cuts, and because public housing is in such bad shape, there are a decreasing number of options for people in public housing.”

According to a Congressional Budget Office report released in September 2015, federal housing assistance is already falling far short. “Currently, only about one-quarter of the eligible low-income population receives housing assistance through federal spending programs,” the office stated.

Long before the Trump administration’s proposed slash to the HUD budget, Terrell Homes residents were fighting a years-long battle against efforts to shutter their facility. “Since December 2013, there have been attempts to shut it down,” Drew Curtis, the director of community development and environmental justice for the Ironbound Community Corporation, told AlterNet. “Tenants fought back and stopped the initial demolition, but last summer they started trying again to shut down Terrell Homes.”

Curtis said that one of his first thoughts when he found out about the proposed HUD cuts was, “There is going to be even more ammunition for the local housing authority to shut this down. Tenants will need to stay diligent and keep putting on political pressure. The biggest cuts proposed were public housing operating funds and Community Development Block Grants, which often go into housing repairs. This would dramatically affect them.”

Horsley said she is exhausted after fighting a years-long battle to stay in her home. “The whole thing is, they want us out,” she said. “They cannot verbalize and come out and say they don’t want the poor blacks, the poor Hispanics, because we no longer fit the new normal.”

Terrell residents are not alone. In a statement released Thursday, the New York City-based CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities said, “The announced proposed cutting of $6 billion to HUD and $150 million funding for NYCHA and Section 8 vouchers is cutting the vein that keeps working-people from being able to keep this City running.”

“While these proposed cuts happen, New York taxpayers have spent $24 million to protect Trump’s private properties from Election Day to inauguration. It is estimated that $127,000 to upward of $308,000 will be spent each day to protect the Trump family at their NYC residence,” the statement continues. “We refuse to let our public dollars be spent to protect the rich’s war machine and unjustly kill millions of innocent Muslim lives around the world. We refuse to let our public dollars police and criminalize black and Latinx communities that fuel the deportation machine.”

Higgins underscored that, “In New York, there was already an extreme crunch of public housing. Over the years, HUD has moved more into a Section 8 voucher scheme, instead of rent being directly paid by the government. When you see Section 8 being taken, it means certain people will be out of their homes.”

Organizers say that it will be important to meet any proposed cuts with a continuation of the robust resistance that has already seen millions take to the streets, mobilize and defend their communities against Trump administration policies.

According to Torrejón Chu, “We are clear that the Trump administration is an administration that is interested in privatization and corporate profits and not people’s actual needs. We need to continue to show and expose that the administration does not represent our communities or the people.”

“We see this as a moment to not just resist cuts, but to put forward a vision of a totally different world,” he continued. “We think it’s important that our communities develop and strengthen our vision of an alternative world where we have control over land, resources and housing. A world where housing, land and community aren’t commodities. This moment is calling for us to have a vision.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.