Rick Perry Fails to Explain Supply and Demand

Energy Secretary Rick Perry attempted to offer up an economics lesson while touring a coal plant in West Virginia on Thursday. He somehow managed to only confuse people.

“Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand,” Perry said at the Longview Power Plant. “You put the supply out there and demand will follow.”

The former governor of Texas was responding to a question about the current popularity of shale gas, but he seemed to reference a 19th century economic theory to explain the boom.

According to Say’s law of markets, introduced in 1803 by the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, production is the source of demand.

Only this economic rule has mostly been discarded by modern economists who argue that supplying a product does not necessarily create demand for it.

According to Perry’s law of markets, there will always be a demand for coal as long as the industry produces it.

This is obviously incorrect. A day could and likely will come when there is zero demand for coal and therefore coal will go unsold and there will be huge storage facilities filled with unused fossil fuels.

Perry’s economics lesson at the West Virginia coal plant this week will only go down as the second biggest flub in his political career. In 2011, during a debate between Republican presidential candidates, Perry said that he would cut three agencies from the federal government — except he could not remember one of the agencies

“And I will tell you, it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone — Commerce, Education, and, the, uh, what’s the third one there? Let’s see . . .” Perry said at the time.

The third agency Perry was looking for was the Department of Energy — the agency he now runs.

[Salon]

Media

 

The White House’s Science Division Is Now Completely Empty

Despite the veritable purge of scientists and science communication that has characterized the Trump administration, the White House still has an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Unfortunately, its science division is now completely lacking any staff whatsoever.

As reported by CBS News, the three remaining employees, all of which were holdovers from the Obama administration, have left. One staffer, the assistant director for biomedical and forensic sciences, tweeted, “Science division out. Mic drop” as she left.

Over the last couple of years, there were up to 100 employees working at the OSTP, which saw a high level of investment from the former President. It is unclear when or even if the roles will be filled again, and by whom.

First established in 1976 by Congress, it is designed to provide the President and others with “advice on the scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations, the environment, and the technological recovery and use of resources, among other topics.”

Many governmental scientific agencies have been threatened with massive and historic funding cuts; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being effectively stripped of its scientific advisory board; that is why federal scientists have been bullied to not to speak out about their research. Entire departments that focus on science and technology are being shut down.

As of June, around 85 percent of all scientific posts in the federal government, including an official scientific advisor to the President, were left unfilled. Perhaps uniquely, this percentage has now increased, what with the recent dismissals at the EPA and the new removals at the OSTP.

[IFLScience]

Rex Tillerson is Intentionally Leaving the State Dept.’s Anti-Semitism Monitoring Office Unstaffed

The U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism will be unstaffed as of July 1.

A source familiar with the office’s workings told JTA that its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date.

The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers.

The State Department told JTA in a statement that it remained committed to combating anti-Semitism – and cited as evidence the tools, including the department’s annual reports on human rights and religious freedom, that existed before Congress mandated the creation of the envoy office in 2004.

“We want to ensure the Department is addressing anti-Semitism in the most effective and efficient method possible and will continue to endeavor to do so,” the statement said.

“The Department of State condemns attacks on Jewish communities and individuals. We consistently urge governments around the world to address and condemn anti-Semitism and work with vulnerable Jewish communities to assess and provide appropriate levels of security.

“The Department, our Embassies, and our Consulates support extensive bilateral, multilateral, and civil society outreach to Jewish communities,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the State Department continues to devote resources towards programs combating anti-Semitism online and off, as well as building NGO coalitions in Europe. We also closely monitor global anti-Semitism and report on it in our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Report, which document global anti-Semitism in 199 countries.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress in testimony earlier this month that he believed special envoys were counterproductive because they provided an excuse to the rest of the department to ignore the specific issue addressed by the envoy.

Congressional lawmakers from both parties have pressed the Trump administration, in letters and proposed bills, to name an envoy and to enhance the office’s status. They have noted that unlike other envoys, whose positions were created by Trump’s predecessors, the office of the envoy on anti-Semitism is a statute and requires filling.

“As the author of the amendment that created the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I remain hopeful that these critical positions will be filled,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who authorized the 2004 law, said in a statement to JTA.

Jewish groups have lobbied President Donald Trump to name an envoy, saying that despite Tillerson’s testimony, the position has been key to encouraging diplomats and officials throughout the department to focus on anti-Semitism. Hannah Rosenthal, a special envoy on anti-Semitism in the Obama administration, instituted department-wide training on identifying anti-Semitism.

“The idea of having a dedicated envoy who can travel around the world to raise awareness on this issue is critical,” the Anti-Defamation League CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, told JTA in an interview.

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t value for all ambassadors and every embassy in addressing issues of anti-Semitism and bigotry in countries they operate,” he said. “But if the administration is truly committed” to combating anti-Semitism, “maintaining the special envoy for anti-Semitism seems like a no-brainer.”

The ADL, coincidentally, launched an online petition Thursday to the White House to fill the position.

Officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has enjoyed a good relationship with the Trump administration, said that if the unstaffing was coming ahead of a reorganization of the office, that was understandable. But positions remain unfilled in all of the major federal departments and agencies since Trump took office.

“However, we are almost in July and there is still no one of proper rank at the State Department whom the Wiesenthal Center and others can work with to re-activate US leadership in the struggle against anti-Semitism at a time when global anti-Semitism is rising,” said an email from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the center, and Mark Weitzman, its director of government affairs.

Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government and international affairs, said the position was essential.

“It’s not as though the need for a special envoy has diminished,” he told JTA in an interview. “If anything it has increased.”

[Jewish Telegraph Agency]

Trump Appointee Is Still a Saudi Government Lobbyist

One of President Donald Trump’s newest appointees is a registered agent of Saudi Arabia earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on the kingdom’s behalf, according to U.S. Department of Justice records reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

Since January, the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry has paid longtime Republican lobbyist Richard Hohlt about $430,000 in exchange for “advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.”

Trump’s decision to appoint a registered foreign agent to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships clashes with the president’s vow to clean up Washington and limit the influence of special interests.

Trump singled out lobbyists for foreign governments for special criticism, saying they shouldn’t be permitted to contribute to political campaigns. Hohlt is himself a Trump donor, though his contributions came before he registered to represent Saudi Arabia.

“I will issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a FOREIGN GOVERNMENT! #DrainTheSwamp,” Trump tweeted in October.

Key Advisory Body

The commission is essentially a part-time advisory body responsible for making final recommendations to the president of candidates for the prestigious White House fellowships, which President Lyndon B. Johnson created in 1964.

The candidates are usually accomplished professionals with sterling resumes. Fellows are typically given jobs in the White House and federal agencies. Past White House fellows include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.

Hohlt said he is one of 19 commissioners who met over a weekend this month to interview the fellowship candidates — the commission’s only formal duty annually.

Hohlt stresses he has never lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has aggressively courted Trump since he became president in January.

“That is not my role,” Hohlt said.

What role, then, does he play?

According to Hohlt’s disclosures with the Department of Justice, he registered to lobby for Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry in October and “provides them with advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.” He disclosed no direct contact with government officials on the Saudis’ behalf as of April 30, the date covered by the latest Department of Justice report.

Hohlt said he was largely brought in to offer advice on overarching strategy and how the legislative process works.

He did directly contact some congressional offices in late May and June regarding an arms sale, he said, and those contacts will be disclosed in his next disclosure report, as required.

Hohlt added that he’s working for the Saudis without a formal contract. If the Saudis asked him to lobby for something the Trump administration opposed, “I’d say I’m not going to work on it,” Hohlt said.

For example, he said, the administration was in favor of the arms deal.

[NBC News, Center for Public Integrity]

Trump Defends His Cabinet of Billionaires: ‘I Just Don’t Want a Poor Person’ Running the Economy

Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to appoint cabinet members with significant personal wealth, arguing he doesn’t “want a poor person” in charge of the economy.

Trump was speaking about Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs banker the president appointed as his chief economic advisor—despite promising to “drain the swamp” during his presidency.

“I love all people,” Trump said during a campaign-style rally in Cedar Rapids, IA. “Rich or poor. But in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?”

Trump has received significant criticism for his appointment of Cohn, as well as Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Although he ran on a populist platform, Trump’s cabinet has a combined net worth of $6 billion.

[Raw Story]

President Trump chooses inexperienced woman who planned his son Eric’s wedding to run N.Y. federal housing programs

She’s arranged tournaments at Trump golf courses, served as the liaison to the Trump family during his presidential campaign, and even arranged Eric Trump’s wedding.

Now President Trump has appointed longtime loyalist Lynne Patton — who has zero housing experience and claims a law degree the school says she never earned — to run the office that oversees federal housing programs in New York.

Patton was appointed Wednesday to head up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey, where she’ll oversee distribution of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Patton’s tight relationship with the Trump clan dates back to 2009, when she began serving as the family’s “event planner.”

“Responsible for organizing, executing and assisting with upscale events and celebrity golf tournaments,” her LinkedIn profile says. “Handle celebrity talent acquisition for various marketing projects, philanthropic events and golf tournaments.”

From 2011 through January, she also helped run the Eric Trump Foundation, a charity that’s now under investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

She also claims on her LinkedIn page to have obtained a juris doctorate degree in 2000 from Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut. Next to the J.D. notation is written (N/A) without explanation.

On Thursday school registrar Jim Benson said Patton attended for two semesters but did not graduate.

She also listed Yale University but HUD officials couldn’t explain why that was there. Patton, who begins her Region II job July 5, did not return calls seeking comment.

As head of the biggest HUD regional office in the U.S., Patton will oversee distribution of billions in cash to public housing authorities — including NYCHA — as well as tens of thousands of rental vouchers and block grants that fund housing inspections and senior citizen programs.

Patton is one of the handful of African Americans within Trump’s inner circle and a passionate Trump promoter. Last year she made a video entitled “I’m proof Donald Trump isn’t a bigot.”

Trump first placed her as a White House liaison at HUD in February. While there, she’s fired off multiple flamethrowing tweets for him and his family.

When comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted a photo May 30 holding a phony bloody Trump head, Patton tweeted, “To date I’ve always had a mutual respect for opinions on the other side of the aisle but tonight @kathygriffin can go f–k herself.”

On June 9, she retweeted a cartoon about leaks depicting Trump taking a wrench to a leaky pipe upon which ex-FBI Director James Comey’s head was affixed. She wrote “Just when you think you’ve fixed them all, another one pops up.”

Last month she defended HUD Secretary Ben Carson after he said poverty was a state of mind, and cheered Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s statement that Team Trump is “no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs but by the number of people we help get off those programs.”

Patton has also had to defend her role as former vice president at Eric Trump’s foundation. Forbes last week reported the charity steered money to the Trump empire by holding events at Trump golf courses while she was there. She said nothing untoward happened at the charity.

Eric Trump left the charity Dec. 31; Patton left in January.

Last month she paid a surprise visit to NYCHA but never actually entered a NYCHA apartment.

During the May 5 visit, she asked to see a community center that had fallen into disrepair at the McKinley Houses in the Bronx. NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye said the agency staff who escorted Patton said she was “less interested in the actual infrastructure and more interested in an old clipping of the community center that was all glass and steel and now is struggling.”

“I think the reaction was surprise, maybe a little bit horrified,” Olatoye said.

Nearly 70% of NYCHA’s operational budget and 100% of its capital repair budget comes from HUD. The authority’s aging buildings need an estimated $17 billion in upgrades.

The Region II director’s position had been vacant since Jan. 20.

[New York Daily News]

Trump has made the Department of Health and Human Services a center of false science on contraception

Contraception policy may not be the biggest target of the anti-science right wing — climate change and evolution probably rank higher — but it’s the field in which scientific disinformation has the most immediate consequences for public health.

So it’s especially disturbing that President Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have stocked the corridors of health policy with purveyors of conclusively debunked claptrap about contraception, abortion, pregnancy and women’s reproductive health generally.

That’s the conclusion of a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine identifying four Trump appointees as carriers of the disinformation virus. What makes them especially dangerous, says the author, bioethicist R. Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin law school, is that the “alternative facts” they’re purveying could influence an entire generation’s attitude toward contraception, for the worse.

Among their themes is that condoms don’t protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases and that abortions and contraceptives cause breast cancer, miscarriages and infertility. None of these assertions is true.

“The move toward misinformation at the level of sex education is dangerous,” Charo told me, “because you form instincts about what is safe very early in life.”

These appointments are all of a piece with Trump’s habit of staffing federal agencies with people actively in opposition to those agencies’ goals and statutory responsibilities — climate change deniers at the Environmental Protection Agency, corporate executives at the Department of Labor, and so on.

They’re also consonant with policies from the White House and Price’s office aimed at narrowing access to contraceptives by reducing government assistance to obtain them.

As Charo observes, the rate of unintended pregnancies has come down sharply, especially since the advent of the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that health plans make birth control available without co-pays or deductibles.

Price has defended reducing government assistance for contraception on the ground that “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford it on her own, but that’s plainly untrue; some long-lasting contraceptives such as Nexplanon or IUDs, can cost hundreds of dollars, a discouraging obstacle for many low-income patients.

Let’s take a look at the four horsewomen of disinformation on Charo’s list. What characterizes their approach to human reproduction, she says, is “rejection of the scientific method as the standard for generating and evaluating evidence.”

(We’ve asked both Charmaine Yoest, now the assistant secretary for public affairs at Health and Human Services, and the department for comment but have received no reply.)

Charmaine Yoest

Charmaine Yoest is now the assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS. Yoest is the former head of Americans United for Life, a prominent anti-abortion group. She and the organization promoted the claim that abortion increases a woman’s chance of breast cancer, a claim that was conclusively debunked by medical authorities years ago. The National Cancer Institute (a government body), declared in 2003 that thorough scientific studies “consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.”

The same goes for the claim by Yoest’s group that abortion increases the risk of “serious mental health problems.” This notion is the basis for state laws requiring counseling before a patient is allowed to undergo an abortion. A study by UC San Francisco published last year found that the “greater risk” of “adverse psychological outcomes is faced by women denied an abortion. These findings do not support policies that restrict women’s access to abortion on the basis that abortion harms women’s mental health,” the study concluded.

Yoest was an architect of the strategy that led Texas to enact an anti-abortion law so extreme that it was slapped down by the Supreme Court last year on a 5-3 vote. The law placed heavy restrictions on abortion clinics, ostensibly to protect women’s health, that effectively shut many down. In his majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer essentially called that a subterfuge: “There was no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure,” he wrote.

Teresa Manning

Teresa Manning was appointed as HHS’ deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. Manning is a former lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee and a legislative analyst for the Family Research Council. During a 2003 NPR interview, she said: “Of course, contraception doesn’t work. … Its efficacy is very low.” In fact, as Charo observes, hormonal methods are 91% effective, and IUDs are 99% effective.

In 2001, then as Teresa Wagner, Manning was quoted in a Family Research Council news release attacking prescriptions for the morning-after pill, which she characterized as an abortion method. She said doctors prescribing the pill were “accepting — and, in effect, — promoting promiscuity — the cause of the STD explosion, as well as the well known social problems of out of wedlock pregnancy and illegitimacy. We expect more from our doctors than collaboration with abortion advocates!”

Valerie Huber

Valerie Huber was appointed earlier this month as chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health at HHS. Huber is an abstinence advocate and the president of Ascend, a Washington group that advocates for abstinence-only sex education.

The problem there is that birth control experts have consistently found that abstinence education is ineffective at preventing teen pregnancies. In fact, just the opposite — a 2011 study at the University of Georgia reported that the “data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy … may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.”

Huber’s approach is moralistic. “As public health experts and policymakers, we must normalize sexual delay more than we normalize teen sex, even with contraception,” she told PBS last year. But studies consistently show that what reduces teen pregnancies is increased use of contraceptives.

Katy Talento

Katy Talento was named to Trump’s Domestic Policy Council. Talento has been the author of frequent anti-birth control screeds, including several that appeared on the Federalist, a right-wing website. Among them was an article whose headline called birth control “the mother of all medical malpractice,” and another asserting that women who took chemical forms of birth control risked “breaking your uterus for good,” ruining it “for baby-hosting altogether.”

Talento’s basis for this claim was what she called a “ground-breaking 2012 study” ostensibly showing that women who used birth control pills for several years had higher rates of infertility and miscarriage than those who did not. But as Jon Cohen of Science Magazine showed earlier this year, the study reported nothing of the kind — as its lead author confirmed. In fact, the researchers cited a study indicating that long-term use of the pill — five years — actually increased a woman’s subsequent fertility.

The lead author, Robert Casper, a Toronto fertility doctor, told Cohen that while his study found that using the pill sometimes led to thinner uterus linings, that wasn’t associated with more infertility or miscarriages — his study group was small and predisposed to fertility problems, he explained.

“The benefits of the birth control pill in preventing unwanted pregnancy or in treating painful menstrual periods far outweighs the rare possible case of thin endometrium,” Cohen wrote. “There is no evidence that the birth control pill is ‘seriously risky’ in terms of future reproductive health.”

As Charo observes, the “alternative science” underlying these appointees’ approach has infected public discussions of birth control and the courts. “Legislatures and even the Supreme court have tolerated individuals making up their own definitions for abortifacient [that is, abortion-producing] and pregnancy,” she writes, and then using them to justify refusing to fill prescriptions or offer insurance coverage for contraceptives.”

That was glaringly true in the Supreme Court’s egregious 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed owners of private companies to refuse to cover contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act. The Hobby Lobby plaintiffs specifically objected to four birth control methods — including IUDs and the morning-after pill because they produced abortions, which the plaintiffs found objectionable supposedly on religious grounds. But neither medical authorities nor the federal government classified those methods as abortifacients; the plaintiffs’ definition was accepted as gospel by Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion, which became the basis for allowing businesses to exclude all birth control methods from their health plans.

With adherents of similar viewpoints now ensconced in positions of responsibility in the Trump administration, their approach threatens to spread throughout government policy. But it’s no more based on legitimate science than it ever was.

[The Los Angeles Times]

Trump OMB Nominee Uncovered as Anti-Muslim

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday raised alarms about Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Ahead of a Senate Budget Committee hearing on his nomination, the ACLU pointed to Vought’s inflammatory comments about Muslims in a 2016 religious post.

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned,” Vought wrote.

Manar Waheed, ACLU legislative and advocacy counsel, said Vought’s nomination to the position was “disturbing” in its implications for religious freedom.

“It is vitally important that Americans have confidence that their public servants will serve our entire nation in good faith,” he said.

“We will watch Vought closely and press to ensure that those helping decide how public money is spent and the government is managed understand the vital importance of nondiscrimination,” he added.

OMB pushed back on the ACLU’s characterization of Vought’s comments, saying they were merely an internal theological discussion at his alma mater, which is a Christian school

“Russ Vought is here to serve the President and to help Mick Mulvaney advance this Administration’s priorities. If he is to be confirmed by the Senate, there is no doubt that he would afford all people with dignity and respect,” said OMB spokesman John Czwartacki.

[The Hill]

A Top Mar-A-Lago Employee Is Quietly Doing Government Work For Trump’s Foreign Trip

A top Mar-a-Lago employee is also working for the government to help prepare for President Trump’s visit to Taormina, Italy, for the G-7 Summit — an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between the president’s business empire and the White House.

Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at Trump’s “Winter White House,” is working with the president’s advance and logistics team, while Trump’s exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone, two sources familiar with Rinkus’s trip told BuzzFeed News.

An administration source confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that Rinkus was officially listed as an advance associate for the Taormina leg of the trip and had government-issued blackberry and email.

She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife’s access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company, BuzzFeed News previously detailed.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization returned multiple requests for comment. They also did not answer a list of questions regarding Heather Rinkus’s role, including who is paying for her government work — taxpayers or Mar-a-Lago — or if Rinkus had resigned from Mar-a-Lago. (Asked about Heather Rinkus, a Mar-a-Lago employee, who answered the main phone line at the club, said Rinkus was traveling abroad for two to three weeks and would be back afterward.)

Heather Rinkus, who has no prior government experience, also did not respond to requests for comment on her role by phone or through her White House or personal email accounts.

Her dual role is the latest example of how closely intertwined the president’s inner circle is between his business and government, despite Trump’s claims of a firewall.

It also raises questions of whether other Trump Organization employees are quietly employed by the White House, as the administration struggles to staff up amid a chaotic few weeks. Trump, who likes to be surrounded by aides who are loyal to him, has already brought in senior adviser Hope Hicks, his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, and his social media director Dan Scavino from the Trump Organization.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to inquiries about how much overlap in terms of employees exists between the two.

Heather Rinkus’s new role also provides more evidence of the family’s closeness to the administration, as her husband tries to use that access for personal gain.

Ari Rinkus, who is still on probation for pleading guilty to wire fraud as part of a Ponzi scheme, has told a foreign company, Securablinds, he can use Heather’s access to the president to secure government and Trump Organization contracts, BuzzFeed News previously reported.

Gavin Richardson, the CEO of UK-based Securablinds, contacted BuzzFeed News after reading the story and said Rinkus presented himself to the company’s executives as “well-connected with the Trump family,” claiming he could get a contract for the company to put its blinds in Trump Tower.

“He told us he discussed it with Eric Trump,” he said, referring to one of Trump’s sons.

Richardson said they were unaware of Rinkus’s criminal history because he went by “Ari Rink.” “I feel like we’re the victims really… He came across as credible because he talked about the Trump Organization.”

Rinkus told the Securablinds executives, Richardson said, that Heather Rinkus worked for the Trump Organization and that he had “passed (Securablinds’ information) on to different individuals in the Trump Organization” through her.

“Someone who has access to the Trump family would have been quite effective to us,” Richardson said, adding he terminated his involvement with Rinkus after reading BuzzFeed News’ story about his background.

Ari Rinkus pleaded guilty in 2006 to conducting a criminal enterprise — specifically, the “illegal possession and resale of stolen motor vehicles,” in Michigan, and in 2011, he again pleaded guilty in federal court to felony wire fraud for a Ponzi scheme. He was released from prison in 2014. He did not respond to requests for comment for this story either.

Heather Rinkus started working for Mar-a-Lago in 2015. She had previously worked for the Amway Hotel Corporation, which is owned by the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, as a front desk supervisor and later as a nanny.

[Buzzfeed]

Betsy DeVos Would Not Agree to Bar Discrimination by Private Schools That Get Federal Money

President Trump’s budget proposal includes deep cuts to education but funds a new push for school choice.

When pressed by representatives at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the budget, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declined to say if, when or how the federal government would step in to make sure that private schools receiving public dollars would not discriminate against students.

She repeatedly said that decisions would be left to school districts and parents.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) stressed that Milwaukee’s school voucher program has resulted in years of failure. When he pressed DeVos on whether the federal government would hold recipients of public money accountable, DeVos punted.

“Wisconsin and all of the states in the country are putting their ESSA plans together,” said DeVos, referring to the Every Student Succeeds Act, a school accountability law. “They are going to decide what kind of flexibility … they’re allowed.”

“Will you have accountability standards?” Pocan asked.

“There are accountability standards,” DeVos said. “That is part of the ESSA legislation.”

That’s not true. ESSA’s regulations state that the law’s accountability rules do not apply to private schools.

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos about a Christian school in Indiana that gets state dollars through a voucher program but explicitly states that gay students may be denied admission.  “If Indiana applies for funding, will you stand up and say that this school is open to all students?” Clark asked.

DeVos said states make the rules.

“That’s a no,” Clark said. Then she asked what if a school doesn’t accept black students.

“Our [civil rights] and Title IX protections are broadly protective, but when our parents make choices,” DeVos started.

“This isn’t about parents making choices,” Clark interrupted. “This is about the use of federal dollars.”

After a few more rounds like this, DeVos said that her “bottom line” is that “we believe that parents are best equipped to make decisions for their schooling.”

Clark said she was shocked by this response.

DeVos’ staff later came to her defense, saying that the line of questioning in the hearing concerned a “theoretical voucher program” and indicated a “misunderstanding” about the federal government’s role in education.

“When States design programs, and when schools implement them, it is incumbent on them to adhere to Federal law,” DeVos’ press secretary Liz Hill said in an email. “The Department of Education can and will intervene when Federal law is broken.”

[Los Angeles Times]

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