You are browsing the archive for 2018 July 22.

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FBI Special Agent Turned GOP Congressman ‘Frankly Sickened’ by Helsinki Meeting: Trump ‘Was Manipulated by Vladimir Putin’

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Elizabeth Preza, AlterNet

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is a former FBI supervisory special agent in California.


Republican congressman and former FBI agent Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) on Sunday warned Donald Trump “was manipulated by Vladimir Putin,” telling NPR’s Michael Martin he was “frankly sickened by the exchange.”

Speaking on All Things Considered, Fitzpatrick—who sits on the House committee on Foreign Affairs and the House committee on Homeland Security—explained that during his time as an FBI special agent, he worked on counterintelligence and collected Russian propaganda reports, according to NPR.

Fitzpatrick called the Russian president “a master manipulator.” He also said it’s clear the White House is lacking in urgency when it comes to addressing the Russia threat.

“It needs to be accepted as fact by everybody in our government because we need to respond to that reality and it's a significant threat,” Fitzpatrick said. “We cannot let that happen again.”

Fitzpatrick’s declaration came two days after Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) said Trump “actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign.”

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Source: ALTERNET

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Conservative Warns Trump is an 'Existential Threat' to the US — And Calls on Republicans to Denounce ‘Putin’s Caddy’

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Elizabeth Preza, AlterNet

“Last week reminded us that there is nothing normal about Donald Trump or the existential threat he represents.”


In an article for the Guardian on Sunday, conservative Charlie Sykes slammed Donald Trump for his performance Monday at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin—and warned the president poses a unique danger to the United States.

Referencing Trump’s declaration—alongside Putin—that he holds both the United States and Russia accountable for attacks on the United States, the annexation of Crimea and the crisis in Syria, Sykes noted no other president would have been able to make such an outrageous claim.

“It is impossible to imagine Reagan or, frankly, any other US president, giving that answer, and it is easy to imagine the outrage among conservatives if Barack Obama had uttered those words,” Sykes wrote. “This was not an errant tweet, or one of Trump’s random insults, outrages or assaults on the truth. Trump’s behavior risked undermining the global world order, alienating our friends and emboldening our enemies.”=

Sykes explained that Trump supporters point to “to tax cuts, rollbacks in regulation and Trump’s appointments of conservative judges” when forced to defend his actions.

“But last week reminded us how many of their values they have been willing to surrender,” Sykes wrote. “Moral relativism and its cousin, moral equivalency, are not bugs of the Trump presidency; they are central to its diplomatic philosophy. Unfortunately, polls suggest that many conservatives are OK with that, despite the betrayal of what were once deeply held beliefs.”

Sykes said the press conference with Putin “ought to have been a clarifying moment,” explaining “Trump was supposed to be the Man on the White Horse who promised that he alone could solve all of our problems.”

“Instead, he looked like Putin’s caddy,” Sykes added.

The conservative writer explained that “many conservatives have confused the swagger of the schoolyard bully with actual strength.” But, what they got from the Putin summit was a deferential Trump.

“We saw how Trump behaves when he’s confronted by an even bigger bully,” Sykes wrote. “He groveled, and then hedged, then tried to walk it all back with the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Trump's Department of Energy Neuters Nuclear Oversight Safety Board

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Rebecca Moss, Pro Publica

Under a new order from the Energy Department, a nuclear safety board will have to fight for information about and access to nuclear laboratories.


This article was produced in partnership with The Santa Fe New Mexican, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

The Trump administration has quietly taken steps that may inhibit independent oversight of its most high-risk nuclear facilities, including some buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy document shows.

An order published on the department’s website in mid-May outlines new limits on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — including preventing the board from accessing sensitive information, imposing additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandating that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board.

The board has, by statute, operated independently and has been provided largely unfettered access to the nation’s nuclear weapons complexes in order to assess accidents or safety concerns that could pose a grave risk to workers and the public. The main exception has been access to the nuclear weapons themselves.

For many years, the board asked the Department of Energy to provide annual reviews of how well facilities handled nuclear materials vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction — and required federal officials to brief the board on the findings. It also has urged the energy secretary not to restart certain nuclear operations at various sites until work could be done safely.

At Los Alamos, the board has conducted ongoing reviews of the plutonium facility, holding hearings in Santa Fe and in recent years identifying imminent and “major deficiencies” in the building that could put the public at risk in the event of an earthquake. The lab sits on an active and complex geological fault system capable of causing a high magnitude quake.

The Energy Department’s order is the latest effort to limit transparency and weaken the board’s ability to conduct oversight, experts and critics say. And it represents another step by the Trump administration to stall or halt the work done by advisory boards and committees across the federal government, including a scientific advisory board at the Environmental …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Exactly How Deep Are the Ties Between Russia And Trump's Republican Party?

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Sher Watts Spooner, Daily Kos

Top GOP officials know Russia used them to influence the 2016 election. They just don’t care.


Recent events have driven home the point that Russian influence in American Republican politics is more prevalent than previously thought.

The examples are numerous—and very serious:

  • Donald Trump’s rejection of the conclusion of U.S. intelligence services about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of that interference (and no, the “would/wouldn’t” attempt at a take-back doesn’t cut it).
  • The arrest of Russian agent Maria Butina, who is facing multiple charges and is being held without bail. The details of story and the reports of her offering sex to infiltrate groups like the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party read like a bad spy novel.
  • Threats of Russian prosecution against—or “interrogation” of—11 U.S. citizens. They include longtime Kremlin critic and financier Bill Browder, who was born in the U.S. but is now a British citizen and whose Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in Russian custody; Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, who, of course, had diplomatic immunity; and Kyle Parker, a congressional staffer who wrote most of the Magnitsky Act imposing sanctions on Russia, which has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years. Trump officials pointedly failed to deny that they might cooperate in such prosecution, saying only that it was “discussed” by the two leaders when they met in Helsinki. They have since backed down.
  • The report that Russians were asked for and sent stolen documents about the Democratic opponent of a sitting Republican U.S. congressman during the 2016 election. Some reports identify that congressman as California’s Dana Rohrabacher, who met with Butina in Russia in 2015 and is sometimes described as “Putin’s favorite congressman.”

Condemnation by media, Democrats, and many Republicans has been swift and severe. Trump has made it crystal clear that he has no problem sucking up to Putin, described as his KGBFF by comedian Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night show on ABC. But exactly how deep are the claws of the Russian …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Here's Why Americans Hate Big Government — Even When They Benefit From It

July 22, 2018 in Blogs

By Paul Rosenberg, Salon

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains “The Government-Citizen Disconnect” and why it's undermining our democracy.


For 40 years, Republicans have attacked Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty as a disastrous failure. Suddenly, last month, President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors stood decades of history on its head, much as Trump himself did when he claimed, “Hillary Clinton started birtherism, and I ended it!” The War on Poverty was a tremendous success, Trump’s CEA said in a new report. Poverty is no longer problem. But dependency on government is: The remaining problem is “the decline of self-sufficiency”!

“Between 1961 and 2016, consumption-based poverty fell from 30 percent to 3 percent, amounting to a 90 percent decline,” the report claimed. “Based on historical standards of material wellbeing and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success.”  

But the so-called “consumption-based poverty” rate is absurd on its face, as seen in a chart accompanying that text, showing less poverty during the Great Recession than during the dot-com boom a decade earlier — a rare period of tight labor markets and rising wages, even for low-wage workers.

In short, as is often the case in Trumplandia, the narrative had nothing to do with reality. But the narrative is a powerful one, echoing Mitt Romney’s scorn for the 47 percent of Americans he labeled as “takers.”

Fortunately, a new book by Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler seems custom-made for blowing this report to bits, as well as illuminating a complex history at odds with many common myths. “The Government-Citizen Disconnect” explains that government social spending has grown substantially over the years — more so in red states than blue — even as wages have largely stagnated ever since the 1970s. Never before have so many Americans gotten so much from their government in so many different ways, or appreciated it so little.

Examining 21 federal programs — Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP, the home mortgage interest deduction, etc. — Mettler finds that 96 percent of adults have received benefits from at least one of these policies, and that the average person …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Overcharged in the Emergency Room

July 22, 2018 in Economics

By David A. Hyman, Charles Silver

David A. Hyman and Charles Silver

When 8-month-old Jeong-whan Park fell off a bed and bumped his
head, his parents took him to the emergency department at
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. It took doctors little
time to determine Jeong-whan was fine, and they discharged him 3
hours later. Two years later, Jeong-whan’s parents got a bill in
the mail for $18,836 — of which $15,666 was for something
called “trauma activation.”

If your air conditioning went out in the middle of a heat wave
— a life-threatening situation for many elderly people
— the technician doesn’t demand $15,666 just to show up. They
will probably charge a standard fee for a service call, but the fee
is both transparent and reasonable. The same applies to plumbers,
electricians, and every other trade we know of — no matter
how dire the emergency to which they are summoned.

HVAC techs, plumbers, and electricians don’t charge outrageous
service fees because they can’t. They operate in markets where they
face competition to please consumers who are spending their own
money. If they charged $15,666 just to come to your house, they
would be out of business before the next heat wave hit. Hospitals
operate in markets where government blocks competition, which would
otherwise result in lower prices. Government also encourages
open-ended insurance, which allows hospitals to price-gouge because
most patients are too heavily insured even to notice, much less
punish the price-gougers.

The combination makes it possible for hospitals to hit patients
with huge trauma activation fees, no matter how inconsequential
their injuries. For example, St. Mary’s Medical Center charged a
woman $13,626.35 for an hour’s worth of treatment for her burned
fingers, of which $12,500 was the trauma activation fee. Another
hospital billed a bicyclist with road rash $12,500. A third
hospital charged $33,000 to treat superficial cuts.

If we want to make it
harder for the U.S. health care system to gouge patients, we should
focus on eliminating provider monopolies and increasing
competition.

But, the prize for the most outrageous trauma activation fee
probably goes to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Florida. Eric
Leonhard was wheeled into the ED at Lawnwood with a broken pelvis
— and wheeled out again in less than an hour because they
didn’t have the right specialist to treat him. But that didn’t keep
Lawnwood from billing him for $32,767, which comes to about $800
per minute.

There is nothing inherently wrong with charging a standard fee
to ED patients on top of whatever services they consume. Operating
a trauma center is expensive, and hospitals must cover their costs.
A trauma activation fee is like a “cover charge” …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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More Regulation of D.C. School Vouchers Won't Help Students. It Will Just Give Families Fewer Choices for Their Kids

July 22, 2018 in Economics

By Corey A. DeAngelis

Corey A. DeAngelis

The most recent federal evaluation of the Washington,
D.C., school voucher program found that it led to a 10-point
reduction in math test scores and a statistically insignificant
change in reading test scores after two years. Because of this
evidence, some people are now calling for more standardized testing
regulations
of the private schools that low-income families
want their kids to attend.

This is a very bad idea.

The program already requires that participating students
take the D.C. Public Schools assessment in grades 3 through 8. More
stringent test score regulations would increase the schools’
costs of participation — meaning new rules and expenses
associated with complying with them — and therefore
discourage them from accepting vouchers, reducing the number of private school options
available to families
. Limiting the number of options
guarantees that many children from low-income families would end in
up schools that were not their top choices.

Families choose schools for their children based on several
important factors, including culture, individual attention, and, of
course, safety. Research tells us that parents —
unsurprisingly — often value these things more than
standardized test scores. Perhaps that is why the same federal evaluation of the D.C. program found
that 74 percent of voucher parents reported that their child’s school was “very
safe,”
while only about 55 percent of those not offered a
voucher reported their child was at a “very safe”
school.

Restricting the abilities of families to choose safer schools
because of math test scores could force disadvantaged children to
attend schools that their families perceive as being more
dangerous. Though an unintended consequence, that would be a huge
mistake.

But the lackluster math test score result brings up the
question: Why don’t families care all that much about
standardized exams?

It may just be that test scores aren’t as important as the
experts wish them to be. A recent review of the school choice evidence
released by the American Enterprise Institute found that test
scores are weak predictors of long-term outcomes such as high
school graduation and college enrollment. In fact, the authors of
the previous peer-reviewed evaluation of the D.C. program found
no “conclusive evidence that the [voucher
program] affected student achievement
,” but, “the
program significantly improved students’ chances of
graduating from high school” by 21 percentage points.

Similarly, I have identified 11 studies of private schools indicating divergences
between test scores and more important long-term outcomes such as
tolerance of others, adult criminal activity, and happiness. Maybe
families are on to something that the experts have been missing all
along.

It isn’t …read more

Source: OP-EDS