Homeland Security Senior Adviser Was Right-Wing Radio Host Who Promoted Birtherism

A Department of Homeland Security senior adviser to the White House was formerly a conservative radio host who “promoted conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama’s birthplace, lamented the “Zimbabwe-fication of America,” and mocked the LGBT community,” according to a report by CNN’s KFILE.

Frank Wuco joined the White House in January after spending several years as a radio host in Florida, and his hardline views on Islam have been previously reported – as well as a jihadist character named Fuad Wasul he would often dress up as for videos warning of Islamic extremism.

CNN’s KFILE combed through dozens of hours of Wuco’s radio show, and found a trove of controversial comments from the man who now leads a team working to enforce President Donald Trump’s executive orders, including his controversial travel ban:

On the radio, Wuco said Obama knew nothing of the “black American experience,” defended the initial speculation in the media that Muslim extremists were responsible for the mass killing in Norway, and said that gay people had hijacked the word “gay” from happy people.

Wuco, a former naval intelligence officer, also happens to have something in common with Trump: he touted the birther conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, even referring to the former president’s birth certificate as “a questionable document.”

Acting DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton defended Wuco in a statement to CNN, saying “Mr. Wuco works every day to keep the American people safe by helping to implement the President’s security-focused agenda, including raising the global bar for vetting and screening of potential terrorists.

“Years-old comments cherry picked from thousands of hours on the air have no bearing on his ability to perform his job for the American people,” Houlton said.

[Mediaite]

Trump judge nominee, 36, who has never tried a case, wins approval of Senate panel

Brett J. Talley, President Trump’s nominee to be a federal judge in Alabama, has never tried a case, was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Assn.’s judicial rating committee, has practiced law for only three years and, as a blogger last year, displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and pledging support for the National Rifle Assn.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, approved him for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Talley, 36, is part of what Trump has called the “untold story” of his success in filling the courts with young conservatives.

“The judge story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it,” Trump said last month, standing alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the White House Rose Garden. “But when you think of it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge — but 40 years out.”

Civil rights groups and liberal advocates see the matter differently. They denounced Thursday’s vote, calling it “laughable” that none of the committee Republicans objected to confirming a lawyer with as little experience as Talley to preside over federal trials.

“He’s practiced law for less than three years and never argued a motion, let alone brought a case. This is the least amount of experience I’ve seen in a judicial nominee,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

The group was one of several on the left that urged the Judiciary Committee to reject Talley because of his lack of qualifications and because of doubts over whether he had the “temperament and ability to approach cases with the fairness and open-mindedness necessary to serve as a federal judge.”

Some conservatives discount the ABA’s rating. “The ABA is a liberal interest group. They have a long history of giving lower ratings to Republican nominees,” said Carrie Severino, counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, which supports Trump’s nominees. She said past liberal nominees have been rated as qualified even if they had little or no courtroom experience.

Talley does have some other qualifications, some traditional, others less so. He grew up in Alabama and earned degrees from the University of Alabama and Harvard Law School. He clerked for two federal judges and worked as a speech writer on the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. And, like many people who eventually became federal judges, he became the protege of someone who became a senator.

In Talley’s case, the mentor was Republican Sen. Luther Strange, the former Alabama state attorney general who was appointed to the Senate in January to replace Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become U.S. attorney general. Talley worked for Strange as a deputy.

Typically, senators play the lead role in recommending nominees for the federal district judgeships in their state. Talley also had something of an inside track. This year, when Sessions moved to the attorney general’s post, Talley took a job in the Justice Department’s office that selects judicial nominees.

Trump and McConnell have succeeded in pushing judicial nominees through the Senate because the Republicans have voted in lockstep since taking control of the chamber in 2014.

When Trump took office in January, there were more than 100 vacant seats on the federal courts, thanks to an unprecedented slowdown engineered by McConnell during the final two years of President Obama’s term. The Senate under GOP control approved only 22 judges in that two-year period, the lowest total since 1951-52 in the last year of President Truman’s term. By contrast, the Senate under Democratic control approved 68 judges in the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

The best known vacancy was on the Supreme Court. After Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, McConnell refused to permit a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee. Trump filled the seat earlier this year with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

The Alliance for Justice, which tracks judicial nominees, said Trump’s team is off to a fast start, particularly when compared with Obama’s first year. By November 2009, Obama had made 27 judicial nominations, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Trump has nominated 59 people to the federal courts, including Justice Gorsuch. That’s also a contrast with Trump’s pace in filling executive branch jobs, where he has lagged far behind the pace of previous administrations.

Liberal advocates are dismayed that Republicans have voted in unison on Trump’s judges.

“So far, no one from his party has been willing to stand up against him on the agenda of packing the courts,” said Marge Baker, vice president of People for the American Way.

Last month, when the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on several other nominations, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Talley about his fervent advocacy of gun rights. In a blog post titled a “Call to Arms,” he wrote that “the President and his democratic allies in Congress are about to launch the greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime,” referring to Obama’s proposal for background checks and limits on rapid-fire weapons following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“The object of that war is to make guns illegal, in all forms,” Talley wrote. The NRA “stands for all of us now, and I pray that in the coming battle for our rights, they will be victorious,” he added.

A month later, he reprinted a “thoughtful response” from a reader who wrote: “We will have to resort to arms when our other rights — of speech, press, assembly, representative government — fail to yield the desired results.” To that, he wrote: “I agree completely with this.”

When pressed, he told the senators he was “trying to generate discussion. I wanted people to be able to use my blog to discuss issues, to come together and find common ground.”

In a follow-up written question, Feinstein asked him how many times he had appeared in a federal district court.

“To my recollection, during my time as Alabama’s deputy solicitor general, I participated as part of the legal team in one hearing in federal district court in the Middle District of Alabama,” he replied.

On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee approved White House lawyer Greg Katsas on a 11-9 vote to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and then approved Talley on another 11-9 vote. The nominations now move to the Senate floor, where a similar party-line result is expected.

[Los Angeles Times]

Leaks Show Wilbur Ross Hid Ties to Putin Cronies

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings — much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process — are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers — and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”

Overall, the document leak provides a rare insight into the workings of the global offshore financial world, which is used by many of the world’s most powerful companies and government officials to legally avoid paying taxes and to conduct business away from public scrutiny. More than 120 politicians and royal rulers around the world are identified in the leak as having ties to offshore finance.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the documents also contain references to offshore interests held by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is no evidence of illegality in their dealings.

Ross’ widespread financial interests

In Ross’s case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest.

That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

“The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you’d have to have more information than what is listed on that form.”

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesperson, issued a statement saying that he recuses himself as secretary from any matters regarding transoceanic shipping, and said he works closely with ethics officials in the department “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

The statement said Ross “has been generally supportive of the Administration’s sanctions of Russian” business entities. But the statement did not address the question of whether he informed Congress or the Commerce Department that he was retaining an interest in companies that have close Russian ties.

In his submission letter to the government, Ross pledged to cut ties with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests.

Ross’s apparent ethical probity won praise, even before he signed the divestment agreement, from both sides of the political aisle.

‘Our Committee Was Misled’

The documents seen by NBC News, however, along with a careful examination of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, tell a different story than the one Ross told at his confirmation. Ross divested most of his holdings, but did not reveal to the government the full details of the holdings he kept.

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

“You look at all of these names,” Clark said, referring to the financial entities, “and they actually look like a code. And what we actually have to do is find — in a sense — a code that decrypts what these names mean and what these companies actually do.”

She said the way the companies were listed was deliberately vague. “I would say this gives the appearance of transparency,” she said, referring to Ross’s disclosure documents. “It’s sort of fake transparency in a sense.”

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for executive branch oversight, approved Ross’s arrangement, and it was left almost entirely unchallenged by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

And a cursory look at Navigator’s annual reports reveal an apparent conflict of interest. Navigator’s second-largest client is SIBUR, the Russian petrochemical giant. According to Navigator’s 2017 SEC filing, SIBUR was listed among its top five clients, based on total revenue for the previous two years. In 2016, Navigator’s annual reports show SIBUR brought in $23.2 million in revenue and another $28.7 million the following year.

The business relationship has been so profitable that in January, around the time Ross was being vetted for his Cabinet position, Navigator held a naming ceremony for two state-of-the-art tankers on long-term leases to SIBUR.

The Kremlin’s inner circle

One of the owners of SIBUR is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. He has been barred from entering the U.S. since 2014 because authorities consider him a Specially Designated National, or SDN, who is considered by Treasury to be a member “of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”

The Treasury Department statement said that Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” and that Putin had investments with a company previously owned by Timchenko, as well as access to the company’s funds.

Daniel Fried, who was the State Department sanctions coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the connection to Timchenko’s interests should have raised alarm bells.

“I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” Fried said. “I just don’t get it.”

Another major SIBUR shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, who, like Timchenko, has close ties to the Kremlin. One of his companies, Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, was placed on the Treasury’s sanctions list in 2014.

Included in the Appleby documents are details of an internal discussion that resulted in the law firm dropping Mikhelson as a client in 2014, over concerns regarding his financial affiliations.

“I would say to anybody who asked,” said Fried, “treat SDNs as radioactive. Stay away from them.”

A third shareholder of SIBUR – and deputy chairman of the board – is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova. After the wedding, Shamalov’s meteoric rise to wealth led him to own as much as 21.3 percent of SIBUR’s stock until April, when he sold off around 17 percent for a reported $2 billion.

“It’s a new generation which is currently being prepared and groomed… to inherit whatever power and wealth Putin’s team has accumulated over the past years,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister in Putin’s government who is now working with the opposition.

Milov also said companies like SIBUR are often the way sanctioned Kremlin insiders have to keep doing business despite restrictions.

The Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko, Mikhelson, or Shamalov. It said he was not on the board of Navigator in March 2011 when the ships in question were acquired, or the following February when the charter agreement with Sibur was signed. It said Sibur was not under U.S. sanctions now or in 2012. The statement said Ross was on the board of Navigator from March 30, 2012 to 2014, and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator’s shares.

But as The Guardian reported Sunday, other public documents suggest a different story. A Navigator news release on March 2, 2012, said that Ross was already on the board at that point, and Sibur’s annual report for 2012 said the deal with Navigator was signed in March. In addition, Ross’ company issued a news release on Aug. 10, 2012, saying that the company had agreed to acquire a majority stake in Navigator.

Fried said he has no doubt of the connections between SIBUR and the Kremlin.

“If any senior official of the U.S. government, much less a Cabinet secretary … had any business dealings with sanctioned individuals, direct or indirect,” he said, “I would be appalled.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said there needs to a close examination of whether Ross’ testimony to the Senate violated perjury laws. Painter also said Ross must recuse himself from all Russia-related matters because of the SIBUR connection.

“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”

[NBC News]

‘I’m The Only One That Matters,’ Trump Says Of State Dept. Job Vacancies

President Trump says: “I’m the only one that matters” in setting U.S. foreign policy, thus downplaying the importance of high-level jobs such as the assistant secretary of state, which is currently vacant.

“Let me tell you, the one that matters is me,” Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox News on Thursday night. “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be. You’ve seen that, you’ve seen it strongly.”

The president was responding to a question from Fox’s Laura Ingraham, who asked him, “Are you worried that the State Department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through?”

Ingraham added, “other State Departments, including Reagan’s, at times, undermined his agenda. And there is a concern that the State Department currently is undermining your agenda.”

Trump said, “So, we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson. I tell my people, ‘Where you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with their thinking process.”

Trump also briefly blamed Democrats for obstructing his nominees in the Republican-controlled Senate. He then said, “We don’t need all of the people. You know, it’s called cost-saving.”

The president’s remarks on his diplomatic corps came as he prepares to leave Washington for a five-nation trip to Asia, including stops in South Korea and China.

In August, concerns were raised that key East Asia jobs had been left empty as tensions rose between the U.S. and North Korea. Trump has not nominated an ambassador to South Korea.

For months, Trump’s administration has been criticized over budget cuts to the State Department and its pace of nominations for high-profile ambassadorships in Asia and the Middle East.

As NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported in September, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “has raised a lot of eyebrows, maintaining a hiring freeze long after it was lifted for the rest of the federal government. Secretary Tillerson has also hired outside consulting groups.”

For Trump, the approach extends beyond the State Department. His recent remarks echo what he said in October, when he told Forbes, “I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be — because you don’t need them.”

The president went on to complain about the “massive” size of some federal agencies.

As of last month, the Trump administration had installed roughly a quarter of the personnel needed to fill some 600 appointed positions that require Senate confirmation, as NPR’s Tamara Keith has reported.

[NPR]

Media

Perry links fossil fuel development to preventing sexual assault

Energy Secretary Rick Perry suggested Thursday that expanding the use of fossil fuels could help prevent sexual assault.

Speaking during an energy policy discussion about energy policy with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd and Axios CEO and founder Jim VandeHei, Perry discussed his recent trip to Africa. He said a young girl told him that energy is important to her because she often reads by the light of a fire with toxic fumes.

“But also from the standpoint of sexual assault,” Perry said. “When the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will on those types of acts.”

Perry said that using fossil fuel to push power into remote villages in Africa is necessary and will have a “positive role” in peoples’ lives.

President Trump has called for expanding domestic production of fossil fuels for export.

The Department of Energy says Perry’s statement was meant to highlight the way electricity will improve the lives of people in Africa.

“The secretary was making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are people in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity,” Shaylyn Hynes, an agency spokeswoman said.

In Africa for an energy conference last week, “one person told him about how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and security in remote areas,” Hynes said. “Another leader told him about how women in their country have to go to the store every day for a new carton of milk because they don’t have a working refrigerator. Those powerful stories stuck with him and that is what he was sharing with the crowd in Washington today.”

[The Hill]

Scott Pruitt Declares War on Air Pollution Science

The Trump administration’s environmental denialism runs much deeper than global warming. That became clear just one month into the presidency, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where panelist Steve Milloy—formerly a paid flack for the tobacco and fossil fuel industries and member of the president’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—argued that the mainstream science on the health risks of air pollution was wrong. Contra the Centers for Disease Controlthe World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and most publishing epidemiologists, Milloy insisted that excessive particulate matter is not linked to premature death—and that scientists who advise the EPA made up evidence to support the Obama administration’s regulatory priorities. “These people validate and rubber-stamp the EPA’s conclusion that air pollution kills people,” he said. His co-panelists nodded in agreement.

Milloy called for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to overhaul the agency’s scientific advisory boards, the bodies that ensure public health regulations are based on sound, peer-reviewed science. Milloy said scientists who receive EPA grants are biased toward regulation, and thus Pruitt should ban them from serving on the boards. He and his co-panelists also argued for more representation from polluting industries, which clearly do have a bias against regulation.

Milloy and others on the anti-environmental fringe are getting their wish. On Tuesday, Pruitt announced massive changes to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council, both of which advise EPA on the science behind proposed regulations. Pruitt announced that EPA will no longer appoint scientists who have received grants from the agency to these boards. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the agency,” he said. Pruitt is also expected to replace every single member whose term is expiring instead of renewing some for a second term, as is common practice. Terry Yosie, former director of the Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told me, “It’s fair to say that this has never happened to this sweeping degree before of existing board members whose terms are expiring this year.”

These changes have been expected for several weeks, but it’s all the more concerning when we look at who these new advisors are. A list of expected appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, obtained by the Post, E&E News, and The New Republic, shows that Pruitt is expected to appoint multiple people who have downplayed the impact of air pollution on public health. These deniers will have the influence to contort EPA science, leading to the weakening or even repeal of clean-air regulations that protected Americans for decades.

Of the 17 new members expected to be appointed to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), three hail from large fossil-fuel companies: Southern Company, Phillips 66, and Total. Three are from red-state governments; one is from a chemical industry trade association; the rest are from various universities and consulting groups. Five of the 17 hold views on air pollution that are outside of the scientific mainstream. Of the three new members expected to be appointed to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council (CASAC), one is an air pollution skeptic.

Most toxicologists and epidemiologists accept that air pollution can harm humans, and that excessive air pollution can lead to death in vulnerable populations (like children and the elderly). That’s why the government regulates it—principally under the Clean Air Act, a widely popular law passed in 1963 and amended multiple times with unanimous or overwhelming support in the Senate. Through that law, we have various regulations on specific air pollutants, including National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone.

Several expected SAB appointees will likely argue that these regulations should be weakened. Michael Honeycutt, the director of toxicology at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), has been aggressively seeking a spot on one of the scientific advisory boards since last year. He is “one of the top ozone science doubters in the state,” according to a 2016 profile in the Houston Press:

Honeycutt is the guy who has been leading the charge against making any changes to air quality standards in Texas. He and a bunch of TCEQ scientists have followed in the footsteps of Republicans in Texas and across the country in vowing to oppose EPA air quality changes until the end of time, more or less. He’s stated in the past he’s against any measures to reduce air pollution mainly because he feels they would be too expensive. Aside from that, Honeycutt reasons that ozone levels aren’t an issue at all because  “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors” so they’re rarely exposed to significant layers of ozone.

The EPA considers ozone a harmful air pollutant. “Reducing ozone pollution makes breathing easier,” the agency’s website reads. “Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma.” Honeycutt, who’s been trying to undercut the scientific basis for smog regulations since 2010, argues that people aren’t outside long enough for high levels of ozone exposure to make a difference.

Robert Phalen, who directs the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California Irvine, is not an obvious ideologue like Honeycutt, but his research findings would support a deregulatory agenda for air pollution. “The relative risks associated with modern [particulate matter] are very small and confounded by many factors,” he wrote in a 2004 study. “Neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of [particulate matter] that might be causing the health-effect associations.” Phalen has argued that the air is currently too clean, because children’s lungs need to breathe irritants in order to learn how to fight them. “Modern air,” he said in 2012, “is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Anne Smith, an analyst at NERA Economic Consulting, has argued against President Barack Obama’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan. Specifically, she took issue with how his administration classified the health risks of particulate matter. She contends that one can’t know for certain whether a death during, for instance, a smog event was directly caused by air pollution. Mainstream scientists acknowledge as much, but say the strong statistical correlation between death rates and pollution rates are enough to prove the risks. Smith disagrees.

The rest of the expected nominees are similarly skeptical. The University of North Carolina’s Richard Smith is the author of a recent peer-reviewed study that found “No association of acute deaths with levels of PM2.5 or ozone.” Stanley Young, a listed expert at the climate-denying Heartland Institute, has written that there is “empirical evidence and a logical case that air pollution is (most likely) not causally related to acute deaths.” And Tony Cox—the one expected to be appointed to the clean air board—has long argued that the public health benefits of reducing ozone pollution are “unwarranted and exaggerated.”

Unlike with climate change, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is driven by humans, some peer-reviewed studies cast doubt on air pollution’s health impacts. But other peer-reviewed studies say air pollution’s health risks are even greater than we currently assume. And the majority of scientists agree that air pollution poses a threat to public health, and can trigger death in vulnerable populations. The disproportionate number of doubters on Pruitt’s science advisory team doesn’t reflect that robust debate happening within the scientific community. Instead, it drastically tips the scales in favor of Pruitt’s deregulatory policy agenda. Or as Milloy, the EPA transition team member and CPAC panelist put it on Tuesday afternoon, “More winning!”

[New Republic]

Trump drug czar nominee accused of hindering opioid crackdown

US President Donald Trump’s nominee for drug czar is accused of helping relax enforcement on pharmaceutical firms blamed for fuelling the opioid crisis.

Pennsylvania congressman Tom Marino pushed a bill that reportedly stripped a government agency of the ability to freeze suspicious painkiller shipments.

His co-sponsor on the act was Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Both their states have been ravaged by opioids.

Experts estimate the drugs could kill 500,000 Americans in the next decade.

Deadly addiction to opioids – a class of drug covering everything from legal painkillers to heroin – has been described as America’s biggest public health crisis since the spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.

President Trump was pressed on Monday about the allegations surrounding his drug czar nominee that were detailed in an expose by the Washington Post and CBS News’ 60 Minutes programme.

During a press conference at the White House, Mr Trump told reporters he took the journalistic investigation “very seriously”.

“We’re gonna be looking into Tom [Marino],” he told reporters from the Rose Garden.

“He’s a great guy. I did see the report. We’re gonna look into the report.”

Mr Trump also said he would formally declare a national opioid emergency next week, as he pledged to do more than two months ago.

Mr Marino and Ms Blackburn, both Republicans, helped force out an official at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who was taking on the drug firms, report the Post and 60 Minutes.

According to the investigation, they also introduced and lobbied for an “industry-friendly” bill called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.

A DEA whistleblower said the legislation made it harder for the agency to prevent distributors from shipping pills to rogue pharmacies and corrupt doctors around the US.

The so-called suspension orders – which the DEA slaps on suspicious shipments – have not been issued for at least two years, according to the report.

[BBC News]

Trump Interior Secretary Defends Confederate Statues

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says that the Trump Administration will not remove Confederate monuments from federal lands out of consideration for the feelings of “native Indians.”

“Where do you start and where do you stop?” Zinke asked a Breitbart reporter in an interview published Sunday. “It’s a slippery slope. If you’re a native Indian, I can tell you, you’re not very happy about the history of General Sherman or perhaps President Grant.”

This is a mildly innovative take on the “where do you draw the line?” argument that various members of the Trump administration — and countless conservative commentators — have been rehearsing, ad nauseam, since a bunch of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville successfully revived the defense of Confederate monuments as a national political issue. But Zinke’s iteration of the question isn’t any harder to answer than its predecessors.

It simply isn’t very difficult to find a limiting principle that would allow one to take down statues of Confederate generals, while preserving most other monuments to key figures in American history. Here are two:

1) Is the individual in question historically noteworthy primarily for their service to an evil cause? In other words, was their contribution to said cause their principal legacy?

2) Was the monument in question erected with the explicit intention of celebrating that evil cause?

William Sherman was a racist who participated in what we would now call ethnic cleansing operations against Native American tribes. But this is not what he is primarily remembered for, nor is it his principal contribution to our nation’s history. Rather, Sherman is best known for helping to preserve the union — and thus, end American slavery — by bringing total war to the American South. That Ulysses S. Grant is not primarily remembered for his (terrible) treatment of the Plains Indians would seem to go without saying.

By contrast, Robert E. Lee’s principal historical legacy was taking up arms against the United States in defense of the Southern elite’s right to enslave — which is to say, rape, beat, breed, and kill — human beings with dark skin, at will.

To see the absurdity of Zinke’s rhetorical question, imagine a German official saying that it would be misguided to take down a statue of Adolf Hitler, because then the Chinese might start complaining about statues to Kaiser Wilhelm, who instructed German troops to “mercilessly” put down the Boxer Rebellion.

Now, this is not to say that one shouldn’t judge historical figures by their treatment of Native Americans. But the fact that Grant and Sherman made other significant contributions to our history means that when American communities memorialize them with statues, they do not, typically, do so as a means of celebrating the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

And here lies the most important distinction between statues of Confederate generals and those of Union ones: The latter were not typically built during the Jim Crow era, to celebrate the restoration of White Supremacy after the end of Reconstruction; the former, typically were.

In his Breitbart interview, Zinke said, “When you try to erase history, what happens is you also erase how it happened and why it happened and the ability to learn from it.”

But when Zinke suggests there is no distinction between monuments to Union and Confederate generals, he erases how the latter were erected — and why.

[New York Magazine]

Trump suggests NHL owner could help him with NAFTA negotiations

President Trump suggested on Tuesday that Ron Burkle, a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team, could help his administration renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

Trump during a White House visit by the Stanley Cup championship team praised Burkle’s negotiating abilities, and suggested that the billionaire investor could play a role in NAFTA discussions.

“Ron, how about negotiating some of our horrible trade deals that they’ve made?” Trump asked. “Here’s what I want, I want to get him. Oh, I would love to have Ron Burkle.

“And it’s great to have you Ron. But I really mean that, if you want to get involved in negotiating NAFTA, I like it. Because we’re renegotiating NAFTA, Ron.”

“Of course, he may not like that, because maybe he’s on the other side,” Trump added. “You’re not on the other side of NAFTA, Ron, are you?”

Burkle could be heard responding: “I am not.”

Trump has railed against international trade deals, like NAFTA, as “unfair” to the U.S. and has vowed to renegotiate them.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to visit Washington on Wednesday — a trip that will overlap with the fourth round of NAFTA negotiations.

Trump has signaled more recently that he’s leaning toward scrapping the trade deal altogether, telling Forbes in an interview published Tuesday that “NAFTA will have to be terminated if we’re going to make it good.”

[The Hill]

 

Trump EPA Pick Defends His Extreme Views as ‘Sound Science’

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the federal office for chemical safety, defended his record against fierce attacks from Democrats, who accused him of downplaying the risks of potentially toxic chemicals.

“I have been objective in my work and applied sound science to come to my conclusions,” said Dourson, a toxicologist who is Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Dourson to commit to recusing himself from EPA decisions involving chemicals that industry players had paid for him to review, pointing out that his proposed standards for safe exposure were often much weaker than the EPA’s.

Dourson refused to state whether he would recuse himself, saying only that he would rely on EPA’s ethics officials to determine if such actions was necessary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Dourson hasn’t been directly paid by chemical companies within the past year, making it unlikely that he would have to recuse himself because of ethics laws, The New York Times reported.

In his opening remarks, Dourson promised to protect the American public, “including its most vulnerable.” He added that his research and consulting company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, received only one-third of its funding from private industry, with the remainder coming from government sponsors.

But Dourson’s testimony did little to assuage Democrats. When Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked Dourson if he would weaken the EPA’s existing standards for 1,4-Dioxane — a solvent that the agency has classified as a likely carcinogen — Dourson said he would “bring new science and thinking into the agency.”

Markey lashed out, saying that Dourson’s proposed standard for 1,4-Dioxane was 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s. “You’re not just an outlier on the science — you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” Markey said.

Throughout the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, repeatedly quoted praise for Dourson from toxicology professionals who described him as “highly qualified” and “a leader in the field of risk assessment.”

Democrats do not have the votes to block Dourson’s nomination, but if he passes out of committee — which didn’t vote on his nomination Wednesday — they could threaten to prolong the nominating process by using a Senate procedure that requires 30 hours of debate for each nominee.

[NBC News]

Reality

Dourson has written books and often engages in “faith based science” which cherry-picks actual scientific evidence to fit into a Biblical narrative.

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