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Green / Sustainability

U-Haul, C&S Wholesale Grocers aim to offset wood consumption

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
U-Haul and C&S Wholesale Grocers have committed financial support for the Conservation Fund's Success Pond program to protect -More

Solar paint turns surfaces into energy harvesters

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia have developed solar paint containing a moisture-absorbin -More

EPA proposes 2-year pause of federal methane rule

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed a two-year stay on an Obama-era methane pollution rule as it reviews  -More

Advertising's big hitters unite on Common Ground

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
Wieden+Kennedy, Havas, Publicis Groupe, Dentsu, IPG, WPP and Omnicom have teamed on a Common Ground alliance to create a cam -More

Three action steps to evolve as CSR, sustainability leaders

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
Corporate social responsibility and sustainability leaders should take three steps toward ensuring their companies are true c -More

Proterra ramps up delivery of electric buses

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
Electric bus upstart Proterra plans to increase production at two US plants, thanks in part to a new, $55 million funding rou -More

EIA: Wind, solar generated more than 10% of US electricity in March

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
The US sourced more than 10% of its total electricity needs from wind and solar for the first time in March, according to the -More

How setbacks can turn into inspiration

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
Storytelling is for anyone who's overcome setbacks, as translating lessons learned into universal messages can inspire others -More

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.

Sustainability | SmartBrief - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:02pm
Horace Mann, educational reformer and politician

The Intercept Discloses Top-Secret NSA Document on Russia Hacking Aimed at US Voting System

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 4:46pm

On Monday, the Intercept published a classified internal NSA document noting that Russian military intelligence mounted an operation to hack at least one US voting software supplier—which provided software related to voter registration files—in the months prior to last year's presidential contest. It has previously been reported that Russia attempted to hack into voter registration systems, but this NSA document provides details of how one such operation occurred.

According to the Intercept:

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the US election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA's understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying "raw" intelligence on which the analysis is based. A US intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.

Go read the whole thing.

Trump's Tweets Threaten His Travel Ban's Chances in Court

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 2:01pm

President Donald Trump began the week with a barrage of early-morning tweets blasting the courts for blocking his travel ban executive order. But in doing so, he may have just made it more likely that the courts will keep blocking the ban.

People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017

The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017

The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017

In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017  

These tweets followed upon several from over the weekend about the ban and the terrorist attack in London, including this one from Saturday evening:

We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2017

In January, Trump signed an executive order banning nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, as well as halting the refugee resettlement program for 120 days (and indefinitely for Syrian refugees). When the courts blocked it, rather than appeal to the Supreme Court, Trump signed a modified version of the order. The new ban repealed the old one, reduced the number of banned countries from seven to six, and added exceptions and waivers. Still, federal courts in Maryland and Hawaii blocked it, and now the Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to have this second version of the ban reinstated.

The biggest question in the litigation over the ban is whether the courts should focus solely on the text of the order or also consider Trump's comments from the campaign trail, and even during his presidency, to determine whether the order uses national security as a pretext for banning Muslims from the country. The president's lawyers argue that the courts should focus on the text of the order and defer to the president's authority over national security. Trump's tweets Monday morning and over the weekend make it harder for the courts to justify doing that.

The travel ban is supposed to be a temporary remedy until the government can review its vetting procedures. But Trump's tweets make it appear that the ban itself is his goal. Trump repeatedly and defiantly uses the word "ban" when his administration has instead sought to call it a pause. 

The tweets "undermine the government's best argument—that courts ought not look beyond the four corners of the Executive Order itself," Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security and constitutional law at the University of Texas School of Law, says via email. "Whether or not then-Candidate Trump's statements should matter (a point on which reasonable folks will likely continue to disagree), the more President Trump says while the litigation is ongoing tending to suggest that the Order is pretextual, the harder it is to convince even sympathetic judges and justices that only the text of the Order matters." And once the courts start looking at the president's statements, it's not hard to find ones that raise questions about anti-Muslim motivations.

Even the president's allies acknowledge his tweets are a problem. George Conway, the husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, responded to Trump on Twitter by pointing out that the work of the Office of the Solicitor General—which is defending the travel ban in court—just got harder.

These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won't help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad.

— George Conway (@gtconway3d) June 5, 2017

Conway, who recently withdrew his name from consideration for a post at the Justice Department, then followed up to clarify his position.

2) ... and of course, my wonderful wife. Which is why I said what I said this morning. Every sensible lawyer in WHCO and every political ...

— George Conway (@gtconway3d) June 5, 2017

3) ... appointee at DOJ wd agree with me (as some have already told me). The pt cannot be stressed enough that tweets on legal matters ...

— George Conway (@gtconway3d) June 5, 2017

4) ... seriously undermine Admin agenda and POTUS--and those who support him, as I do, need to reinforce that pt and not be shy about it.

— George Conway (@gtconway3d) June 5, 2017

Trump may soon see his tweets used against him in court. Omar Jadwat, the ACLU attorney who argued the case before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, told the Washington Post this morning that the ACLU's legal team is considering adding Trump's tweets to its arguments before the Supreme Court. "The tweets really undermine the factual narrative that the president's lawyers have been trying to put forth, which is that regardless of what the president has actually said in the past, the second ban is kosher if you look at it entirely on its own terms," Jadwat told the Post.

Republican Congressman on Suspected Islamic Radicals: "Kill Them All"

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 11:21am

In response to the London terror attack, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) had an extreme proposal: kill anyone suspected of being an Islamic radical.

On his campaign Faceboook page, Higgins, a former police officer, posted this message:

The free world…all of Christendom…is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identity them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.

The post went up early on Sunday morning. On Saturday evening, suspected terrorists killed seven people during an attack on London Bridge. ISIS has claimed credit for these murders.

With his declaration that Christendom is "at war with Islamic horror," Higgins was embracing a theme of the far right: the fight against extremist jihadists is part of a fundamental clash between Christian society and Islam. And in this Facebook post, he was calling for killing not just terrorists found guilty of heinous actions, but anyone suspected of such an act. He did not explain how the United States could determine how to identify radicalized Islamists in order to deny them entry to the United States. It was unclear whether his proposal to deny any assistance to any nation that harbors "these heathen animals" would apply to England, France, Indonesia, Spain, and other nations where jihadist cells have committed horrific acts of violence.

Higgins office refused to allow a Mother Jones reporter to speak to a spokesman for the congressman. But in an email, his spokesman confirmed the Facebook post was authentic.

In late January, Higgins delivered a fiery floor speech attacking Democrats and the "liberal media" for opposing President Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban. He declared that "radical Islamic horror has gripped the world and…unbelievably…been allowed into our own nation with wanton disregard."

Shortly before running for Congress, Higgins resigned from his post as the public information officer of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office, where he had earned a reputation as the "Cajun John Wayne" for his tough-talking CrimeStopper videos. Higgins abruptly quit after his boss, the sheriff, ordered him to tone down his unprofessional comments. "I repeatedly told him to stop saying things like, 'You have no brain cells,' or making comments that were totally disrespectful and demeaning," the sheriff said.

"I don't do well reined in," Higgins noted at the time. "Although I love and respect my sheriff, I must resign."

Update: Higgins' campaign spokesman, Chris Comeaux, told Mother Jones in an email: "Rep. Higgins is referring to terrorists. He's advocating for hunting down and killing all of the terrorists. This is an idea all of America & Britain should be united behind."

How Trump and His Allies Have Run With Russian Propaganda

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 6:30am

The concept is straight from the Soviet playbook: Plant false information and use it to influence the attitudes of another country’s people and government. This “active measures” technique from the Cold War era appears to have been resurrected with alarming success by the Kremlin in its attack on the 2016 presidential election—and has been echoed in tactics used by President Donald Trump and his associates, according to Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“Part of the reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander in chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents,” Watts, a former FBI agent, recently testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Key to this equation have been RT and Sputnik international, two Russian state-sponsored news outlets. Both reach only relatively small audiences in the US (RT is estimated to reach about 8 million people via cable television), but their impact has been magnified greatly online, with their stories reposted on what Watts calls “gray” conspiracy sites like Breitbart News and InfoWars. Twitter bots and other social media accounts further amplify the stories. And in several cases, Trump or his associates have directly cited phony Russian propaganda in a speech or interview. Here are some examples:

A false report of a terrorist attack at a NATO base in Turkey: Last July, RT and Sputnik each reported on a fire at the Incirlik base, framing it as potential sabotage. Pro-Russian and pro-Trump Twitter accounts spread and magnified the false reports, but mainstream news organizations didn’t pick up the report because it wasn’t true, as Watts explained in a piece for the Daily Beast. Yet, in mid August, Paul Manafort—Trump’s campaign chairman at the time—escalated the story to a terrorist attack, complaining on CNN that US media outlets were not adequately covering it. Politifact debunked Manafort’s claims, noting that Turkish authorities had reported small, peaceful demonstrations outside the base, but no actual assault on the base.

The case of the phony Benghazi email: On October 10, Wikileaks released a batch of emails hacked from campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account. About 5 pm ET that day, Sputnik News published a story about leaked Clinton campaign emails with the headline “Hillary confidante: Benghazi was ‘preventable’; State Department negligent.” Roughly an hour later, Trump told supporters at a rally in Pennsylvania that Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal had called the Benghazi attack “almost certainly preventable.” “This just came out a little while ago,” Trump said. Those words weren’t actually Blumenthal’s and Sputnik later deleted the story – but by then the headline had spread far and wide.

False claims of pervasive voter fraud: RT has been attempting to delegitimize the American electoral process since 2012 by calling the U.S. voting system fraudulent, according to the declassified version of the report the Director of National Intelligence released this past January. In his Senate testimony, Watts called this the “number one theme" pushed by Russian outlets. In October 2016, a Kremlin-controlled think tank circulated a strategy document that said Russia should end its pro-Trump propaganda “and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency,” according to a Reuters investigation

That same month, Trump pushed hard on the theme that the election was rigged; on Oct. 17 Trump tweeted “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.” The sources his campaign pointed to were all debunked by Politifact, which noted that Trump had also tweeted in 2012 about dead voters delivering Obama’s win.

The Swedish attack that wasn’t: Trump’s strategy of running with false information didn’t stop when he won the election – and hasn’t been limited to Russian-owned media properties: He’s also used Fox News reports in a similar way. In February, Trump appeared to imply at a Florida rally that a terrorist attack had occurred the previous night in Sweden. Sweden itself had no idea what he meant and the Swedish Embassy reached out to ask for clarification. Twitter users, including many Swedes, ridiculed Trump’s statement, with references ranging from IKEA to the Swedish Chef character from the “Muppets.” Trump later said that he was referring to a Fox News story on violence allegedly perpetrated by refugees. That report, which aired the night before Trump’s rally, did not mention a specific terror-related attack; it focused on reports that rape and gun violence had increased since Sweden began taking in a record number of refugees in 2015.

Wiretapping claims pushed by a Fox News personality: In March, even though Trump's claim about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower had been directly debunked by top US intelligence officials, the president seized on a baseless claim by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano that British spies had wiretapped Trump at former President Obama’s request. Fox News later disavowed Napolitano’s statement. Trump continued to repeat his conviction that he’d been wiretapped, even though American and British intelligence officials insist there is no basis for the claims.

The murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich: Trump allies recently pushed another story that started as a conspiracy theory online and was fueled by Russian news outlets. Fox’s Sean Hannity aired several segments focusing on the unsubstantiated claim that Rich was behind the Clinton campaign email leaks and then murdered for his actions, even though police have said he was likely killed in a robbery attempt. When the claims were thoroughly debunked, Fox retracted the story from its website – but not before it had been spread by Trump ally and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Even after Fox pulled the story, Gingrich told the Washington Post, “I think it is worth looking at.”

In his Senate testimony, Watts noted that Trump is vulnerable to further manipulation by the Russians: He warned that Russian-linked Twitter accounts are actively trying to engage the president by sending him conspiracy theories. “Until we get a firm basis on fact and fiction in our own country, get some agreement about the facts,” Watts said, “we’re going to have a big problem.”

Imagine Being Pulled Off Death Row and Then Being Put Back on It

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Mon, 06/05/2017 - 6:00am

In 1994, Marcus Robinson, who is black, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the 1991 killing of Erik Tornblom, a white teenager, in Cumberland County, North Carolina. He spent nearly 20 years on death row, but in 2012 his sentence was changed to life without a chance of parole. He was one of four death row inmates whose sentences were commuted by a judge who found that racial discrimination had played a role in their trials.

The reason their cases were reviewed at all was because of a 2009 North Carolina law known as the Racial Justice Act, which allowed judges to reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole when defendants were able to prove racial bias in their charge, jury selection, or sentence.

"The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state's harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals," former Gov. Bev Perdue said when she signed the bill into law, "the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice."

At 21, Robinson was the youngest person sentenced to death in North Carolina. When he was three, he was hospitalized with severe seizures after being physically abused by his father and was diagnosed with permanent brain dysfunction. However, those weren't the only troubling aspects of his case.

Racial discrimination in jury selection has been prohibited since it was banned by the Supreme Court in its 1986 Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky, but Robinson's trial was infected with it. The prosecutor in the case, John Dickson, disproportionately refused eligible black potential jurors. For example, he struck one black potential juror because the man had been once charged with public drunkenness. However, he accepted two "nonblack" people with DWI convictions. Of the eligible members of the pool, he struck half the black people and only 14 percent of the nonblack members. In the end, Robinson was tried by a 12-person jury that included only three people of color—one Native American individual and two black people.

Racial discrimination in jury selection was not uncommon in the North Carolina criminal justice system. A comprehensive Michigan State University study looked at more than 7,400 potential jurors in 173 cases from 1990 to 2010. Researchers found that statewide prosecutors struck 52.6 percent of eligible potential black jurors and only 25.7 percent of all other potential jurors. This bias was reflected on death row. Of the 147 people on North Carolina's death row, 35 inmates were sentenced by all-white juries; 38 by juries with just one black member.

Under the Racial Justice Act, death row inmates had one year from when the bill became law to file a motion. Nearly all the state's 145 death row inmates filed claims, but only Robison and three others—Quintel Augustine, Tilmon Golphin, and Christina Walters—obtained hearings. In 2012, Robinson's was the first. At the Superior Court of Cumberland County, Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that race had played a significant role in the trial and Robinson was resentenced to life without parole. North Carolina appealed the decision to the state's Supreme Court.

An immediate outcry followed the decision. The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys issued a statement saying, "Capital cases reflect the most brutal and heinous offenders in our society. Whether the death penalty is an appropriate sentence for murderers should be addressed by our lawmakers in the General Assembly, not masked as claims (of) racism in our courts."  

The ruling attracted lots of publicity from across the country and North Carolina lawmakers were outraged. "There are definitely signs in the legislative record that there were some [lawmakers] that really wanted to see executions move forward," Cassandra Stubbs, the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project who also represents Robinson, says. Legislative staffers circulated talking points for lawmakers with arguments that the RJA turns "district attorneys into racists and convicted murderers into victims," describing the law as "an end-run around the death penalty and an indefinite moratorium on capital punishment."

The day Judge Weeks resentenced Robinson, the Senate president pro tempore for the state Legislature, Phillip Berger, expressed concern that Robinson could be eligible for parole. He suggested Robinson—who had just turned 18 when he committed the crime and would not have been considered a juvenile—would be ineligible for life in prison without a chance of parole, citing a US Supreme Court ruling that prohibited juveniles from receiving life sentences without parole. "We cannot allow cold-blooded killers to be released into our community, and I expect the state to appeal this decision," he said. "Regardless of the outcome, we continue to believe the Racial Justice Act is an ill-conceived law that has very little to do with race and absolutely nothing to do with justice."

The state Legislature took on the challenge and voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act in 2013. This made it impossible for those on death row to even attempt to have their sentences reviewed for racial bias, but it left the fates of the four who had been moved to life imprisonment unclear. "The state's district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement at the time.

Even though the law was still in effect when the four inmates' sentences were reduced, they weren't safe from death row just yet. Robinson's sentenced had been legally reduced, but the legal battle was just beginning.

In 2015, after nearly two years from the initial hearing, the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered the Superior Court to reconsider the reduced sentences for Robinson, Augustine, Golphin, and Walters, saying the judge failed to give the state enough time to prepare for the "complex" proceedings.

This past January, Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour ruled that because the RJA had been repealed, the four defendants could no longer use the law to reduce their sentences. "North Carolina vowed to undertake an unprecedented look at the role of racial bias in capital sentencing," says Stubbs. But now, "the state Legislature explicitly turned from its commitment and repealed the law."

Robinson is back on death row at Central Prison in the state's capital of Raleigh. In the petition to the state Supreme Court, Robinson's lawyers point out that the Double Jeopardy Clause—the law that prevents someone from being tried twice for the same crime—bars North Carolina from trying to reimpose the death penalty because the 2012 RJA hearing acquitted him of capital punishment.

"He's never been resentenced to death," Stubbs says. "They have no basis to hold him on death row."

Democrats Are Setting Their Sights on "Putin's Favorite Congressman"

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Sat, 06/03/2017 - 6:00am

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) won his first election to the House of Representatives in 1988 with 64 percent of the vote. He's been reelected 13 times since then. And even though he walloped his most recent challenger by nearly 17 percentage points, some Democrats now think that this could be the final term for the Southern California conservative Politico has dubbed "Putin's favorite congressman."

Protesters, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, assemble outside Rohrabacher's office every Tuesday at 1 p.m. "He has been our congressman for a long time," laments Diana Carey, vice chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County. "But because the district was predominantly Republican, my view is he's been on cruise control." Thanks to changing demographics in Orange County and newly fired-up liberal voters, Carey doesn't think Rohrabacher's seat is safe anymore. 

Recently, Rohrabacher has been swept up in the scandal over the possible collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia. Like Trump, Rohrabacher, who claims to once have lost a drunken arm-wrestling match with Vladimir Putin in the 1990s, believes the Russian government is being unfairly demonized. (During the 1980s, Rohrabacher was a staunch anti-communist who hung out with the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan.) He has shrugged off allegations of Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential election by pointing out that the United States is guilty of similar actions. In May, the New York Times reported that in 2012 the FBI warned Rohrabacher that Russian spies were trying to recruit him. Two days earlier, the Washington Post reported on a recording from June 2016 in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." (McCarthy assured Rohrabacher the remarks were meant as a joke.)

In a 2016 conversation with Republican House members, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." Washington Post

But of all the issues where Rohrabacher and Trump align, Russia may be the least pressing concern for the constituents who are rallying against him. So far, Rohrabacher has voted in line with Trump's positions more than 93 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, including voting in favor of the GOP health care bill that would effectively end Obamacare. Rohrabacher pushed hard for the bill, warning his GOP colleagues that letting Trump's first major legislative effort die would stunt the president's momentum. "If this goes down," he said in March, "we're going to be neutering our President Trump. You don't cut the balls off your bull and expect that's he's going to go out and get the job done." Health care is a hot-button issue in the 48th District, Carey says. "I've had conversations with people who are absolutely beside themselves, scared that they're going to lose coverage."

While Rohrabacher won his last race in a near-landslide, his district went for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. She won by a slim margin, but it was enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to flag the district as a top target to flip in 2018. If the Democrats hope to best Rohrabacher in the midterms, they have a lot of work to do, says Justin Wallin, an Orange County-based pollster who runs an opinion research firm. "I don't think Dana has carved out a position as a fire-breathing supporter for any political personality except for Ronald Reagan," says Wallin, referring to Rohrabacher's early days working in the Reagan White House. "He tends to align quite naturally with that district in his perspectives, his persona, and his political views. His district views him as being independent, and when Dana takes a position on something that seems to be outside the mainstream, that can actually buttress his favorable regard."

Two Democrats have announced bids to run against Rohrabacher. One is first-time candidate Harley Rouda, a businessman and attorney who gave $9,200 to Republican congressional candidates and nothing to Democrats between 1993 and 2007. The other is Boyd Roberts, a Laguna Beach real estate broker who has vowed to work to impeach Trump and who finished last among five candidates running for a school board seat in Hemet, California, in 2012. Both are attacking Rohrabacher over his sympathetic stance toward Russia. "The district will vote [Rohrabacher] out because i think there is something with the Russia thing. I think I can raise money off it," Roberts told the Los Angeles Times. In an online ad, Rouda calls Rohrabacher "one of the most entrenched members of Washington's establishment" and vows to get "tough on Russia" if he is elected.

"They're both kind of waving the flag of the Russia thing, and I just don't think that's gonna get them over the line," says Wallin. Carey declined to comment on either candidate, though she says a third challenger will be announcing a bid this summer. Meanwhile, the DCCC hasn't thrown its backing behind anyone yet. "Barring something dramatic happening, I'd say he is far more safe than a number of other districts in the area," says Wallin.

Yet Carey thinks that so long as the Democrats continue organizing with the same intensity they've shown so far, they can turn the district blue. "We have a lot of folks who said they never paid attention before, a lot of no-party-preference people who are really concerned about democracy," she says. When asked whether people in the district continue to be engaged, she responds, "So far I think the energy is staying. I tell people, 'This is not a sprint, it's a marathon.' But I think as long as Trump keeps tweeting, we'll keep having interest!"

In 3 Months, 3 Immigrants Have Died at a Private Detention Center in California

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 6:32pm

A Honduran immigrant held at a troubled detention center in California's high desert died Wednesday night while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Vincente Caceres-Maradiaga, 46, was receiving treatment for multiple medical conditions while waiting for an immigration court to decide whether to deport him, according an ICE statement. He collapsed as he was playing soccer at the detention facility and died while en route to a local hospital.

Caceres-Maradiaga's death is the latest in a string of fatalities among detainees held at the Adelanto Detention Facility, which is operated by the GEO Group, the country's largest private prison company. Three people held at the facility have died in the last three months, including Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, a 32-year-old Nicaraguan found hanging in his cell on March 22, and Sergio Alonso Lopez, a Mexican man who died of internal bleeding on April 13 after spending more than two months in custody.

Since it opened in 2011, Adelanto has faced accusations of insufficient medical care and poor conditions. In July 2015, 29 members of Congress sent a letter to ICE and federal inspectors requesting an investigation into health and safety concerns at the facility. They cited the 2012 death of Fernando Dominguez at the facility, saying it was the result of "egregious errors" by the center's medical staff, who did not give him proper medical examinations or allow him to receive timely off-site treatment. In November 2015, 400 detainees began a hunger strike, demanding better medical and dental care along with other reforms.

Yet last year, the city of Adelanto, acting as a middleman between ICE and GEO, made a deal to extend the company's contract until 2021. The federal government guarantees GEO that a minimum of 975 immigrants will be held at the facility and pays $111 per detainee per day, according to California state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who has fought to curtail private immigration detention. After that point, ICE only has to pay $50 per detainee per day—an incentive to fill more beds.

Of California's four privately run immigration detention centers, three use local governments as intermediaries between ICE and private prison companies. On Tuesday, the California senate voted 26-13 to ban such contracts, supporting a bill that could potentially close Adelanto when its contract runs out in 2021. The Dignity Not Detention Act, authored by Lara, would prevent local governments from signing or extending contracts with private prison companies to detain immigrants starting in 2019. The bill would also require all in-state facilities that hold ICE detainees, including both private detention centers and public jails, to meet national standards for detention conditions—empowering state prosecutors to hold detention center operators accountable for poor conditions inside their facilities.

An identical bill passed last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. "I have been troubled by recent reports detailing unsatisfactory conditions and limited access to counsel in private immigration detention facilities," Brown wrote in his veto message last September. But he deferred to the Department of Homeland Security, which was then reviewing its use of for-profit immigration detention. In that review, the Homeland Security Advisory Council rejected the ongoing use of private prison companies to detain immigrants, citing the "inferiority of the private prison model." Yet since President Donald Trump took office, the federal government has moved to expand private immigration detention, signing a $110 million deal with GEO in April to build the first new immigration detention center under Trump.

Nine people have died in ICE custody in fiscal year 2017, which began October 1. Meanwhile, private prison stocks have nearly doubled in value since Election Day.

Donald Trump's White House Counsel Has One Main Job—And He's Failing At It

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 6:00am

Donald McGahn, like all White House counsels who have served before him, has a broad portfolio but one fundamental charge: to keep his boss, the president of the United States, out of trouble. To say McGahn hasn't fared well in this department is an understatement. President Donald Trump and his administration have been besieged by scandal from the outset. And lawyers who worked in past administrations, Democratic and Republican, have questioned whether McGahn has the judgment or the clout with his client to do the job.

Four months in, despite having yet to confront a crisis not of its own making, the Trump administration faces a growing list of controversies, legal and otherwise. The FBI is reportedly investigating retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, who for 22 days served as Trump's national security adviser, for his lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests and for his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office. There are two congressional probes examining Flynn's actions and two more looking at whether anyone connected with the Trump campaign interacted with Vladimir Putin's regime when it was interfering with the 2016 presidential race. And the Justice Department recently appointed a special counsel to oversee the FBI's probe into Moscow's meddling and the Trump-Russia connections. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a close adviser; former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; and Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, face FBI or congressional scrutiny.

All presidents, Democratic and Republican, experience their share of scandals. But the pace and magnitude of the controversies engulfing the Trump White House are on a different level and pace. (Recall that Richard Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre—when he fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate—didn't happen until nearly five years into his presidency.) And each leak and drip of new information raises more questions about McGahn, the man whose job is to steer Trump clear of potential land mines before they explode into breaking-news bombshells.

An election lawyer who served five contentious years on the Federal Election Commission, McGahn first met Trump in late 2014 and was one of the mogul's first hires when he launched his presidential run. He endeared himself to Trump by fending off an effort to remove Trump from the New Hampshire primary ballot and coordinated the campaign's well-timed release of a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, a move that helped to attract ambivalent evangelical and conservative voters.

Shortly after winning the presidency, Trump rewarded McGahn's loyalty by picking him to be White House counsel.

About six weeks later, on January 4, according to the New York Times, McGahn spoke with Michael Flynn, the retired general whom Trump had selected as his national security adviser a week before he hired McGahn, about a sensitive matter. In August 2016, Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, had signed a $600,000 contract to lobby on behalf of Turkish interests; Flynn's client was a Dutch company run by a Turkish businessman who is an ally of Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the time, however, Flynn did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists and advocates working for foreign governments to disclose their work.

Now, with Trump's inauguration almost two weeks away, Flynn reportedly told McGahn that he was under federal investigation for failing to disclose his lobbying on behalf of foreign interests.

What McGahn did with this information is unclear—but it's nonetheless revealing to former White House lawyers that Flynn went on to receive a top White House post, arguably the most sensitive job in the White House. (McGahn, through a White House spokesperson, declined to comment for this story.) Alums of the counsel's office in previous White Houses say it was unimaginable to hire a national security adviser who faced legal questions regarding foreign lobbying, let alone one who was under federal investigation. "In the White House counsel's office I was working in, the idea that somebody was under investigation was a big red flag and it would be doubtful that we would go forward with that person," says Bill Marshall, a former deputy counsel in the Clinton White House. "That's not even saying it strong enough."

Flynn remained on the job and, during the transition, reportedly told the outgoing Obama administration that it should delay a joint American-Kurdish military strike on an ISIS facility in the Syrian city of Raqqa—a move that conformed with the desires of the Turkish government.

In a short ceremony at the White House on January 22, Flynn was sworn in as national security adviser and McGahn as chief counsel. Four days later, Sally Yates, the acting US attorney general, and a senior official in the Justice Department's national-security division met with McGahn at the White House. Yates informed McGahn of a troubling development: the US had credible information to suggest that Flynn had not told the truth when he denied that he had discussed sanctions during conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Yates added that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI.

Flynn had lied. What's more, his mention of sanctions was potentially illegal under an obscure law known as the Logan Act. (Since the law's creation in 1799, not one person has been convicted under the Logan Act.) Yates warned McGahn that the discrepancy between Flynn's public statements and what he said to the Russian ambassador left him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

"If Sally Yates had come to me with that information, I would've run down the hall like my hair was on fire," Rob Weiner, another former counsel in the Clinton White House, told me. Because the messenger in this case was a holdover from the Obama administration, Weiner added, the Trump White House "might not have had a lot of trust in Yates at that point. Even so, that should've been something to cause alarm bells to go off." Jack Goldsmith, a former senior Justice Department lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, echoed Weiner's observation. Writing at the website Lawfare, Goldsmith weighed in: "Especially coming against the background of knowing (and apparently doing nothing) about Flynn's failure to report his foreign agent work, the information Yates conveyed should have set off loud alarm bells."

Flynn, with two federal investigations hanging over his head, remained on the job for another 18 days. He joined Trump in the Oval Office for calls with foreign dignitaries, including the leaders of Australia and Russia. He presumably sat in on daily intelligence briefings and had unfettered access to classified information. It was only after the Washington Post on February 13 reported on Yates' warning to McGahn about Flynn's susceptibility to blackmail that Trump fired Flynn.

The question looming over the entire debacle was this: How had Flynn been allowed to stay on the job? At the media briefing on the day after Flynn's dismissal, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, addressed McGahn's role in the Flynn controversy. McGahn had conducted his own review after meeting with Yates, Spicer explained, and "determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue."

It was a mystifying answer, especially given the facts that later emerged: Flynn was allegedly the target of active investigations. "It is very hard to understand how McGahn could have reached these conclusions," wrote Goldsmith, the former Bush administration lawyer. McGahn, Goldsmith noted, could not know all the details of the investigations targeting Flynn. (Indeed, Yates later testified that McGahn appeared to have not known that the FBI had interviewed Flynn about his calls with the Russian ambassador.) "Just as important, the final word on the legality of Flynn's actions was not McGahn's to make," Goldsmith went on. "That call in the first instance lies with the FBI and especially the attorney general."

The steady stream of revelations about the Trump White House and its various legal dramas has only cast a harsher light on McGahn and the counsel's office. After the Post reported that White House officials had pressured the director of national intelligence and the National Security Agency chief to downplay the FBI's Russia investigation, Goldsmith tweeted, "Asking again: Is WH Counsel 1) incompetent or 2) ineffective because client's crazy and he lacks access/influence?"

Lawyers who have represented Democrats and Republicans agree that Trump is about as difficult a client as they can imagine. "One gets the sense that Mr. Trump has people talking to him, but he doesn't either take their advice, ask for their advice, or follow their advice," says Karen Hult, a Virginia Tech political-science professor who has studied the White House counsel's office. C. Boyden Gray, the White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush, said few, if any, presidents have had more financial and ethical entanglements than Trump. "I didn't have anywhere near the complexities that Don McGahn had," he told me earlier this year. Bob Bauer, a former counsel in the Obama White House, recently questioned whether any lawyer could rein in Trump: "Is the White House counsel up to the job of representing this president? We may find out nobody is." There is some indication that Trump does trust McGahn. When Trump wanted to release statements of support for Flynn and Kushner after the naming of a special counsel to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation, it was reportedly McGahn who convinced Trump not to do so.

But part of the job, former lawyers in the counsel's office say, is giving the president unwelcome advice and insisting that advice be followed. "It's always very hard to say no to the president and not do what the president of the United States wants," says Bill Marshall, the former Clinton White House lawyer. "But the long-term interests of the president of the United States can often be not doing something he might want to do, and if you do, it can come back and hit you from a direction that you never anticipated."

How Trump's War on Free Speech Threatens the Republic

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 6:00am

On May 17, while delivering a graduation speech to cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, a scandal-plagued President Donald Trump took the opportunity to complain, yet again, about the news media. No leader in history, he said, has been treated as unfairly as he has been. Shortly thereafter, when the graduates presented Trump with a ceremonial sword, a live mic picked up Homeland Security chief John F. Kelly telling the president, "Use that on the press, sir!"

Kelly was presumably joking, but the press isn't laughing. Presidents have complained bitterly about reporters since George Washington ("infamous scribblers"), but Trump has gone after the media with a venom unmatched by any modern president—including Richard Nixon. At campaign rallies, Trump herded reporters into pens, where they served as rhetorical cannon fodder, and things only got worse after the election. Prior to November 8, the media were "scum" and "disgusting." Afterward, they became the "enemy of the American people." (Even Nixon never went that far, noted reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. Nixon did refer to the press as "the enemy," but only in private and without "the American people" part—an important distinction for students of authoritarianism.) 

On April 29, the same day as this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner (which Trump boycotted), the president held a rally in Pennsylvania to commemorate his first 100 days. He spent his first 10 minutes or so attacking the media: CNN and MSNBC were "fake news." The "totally failing New York Times" was getting "smaller and smaller," now operating out of "a very ugly office building in a very crummy location." Trump went on: "If the media's job is to be honest and tell the truth, then I think we would all agree the media deserves a very, very big, fat failing grade. [Cheers.] Very dishonest people!"

Trump's animosity toward the press isn't limited to rhetoric. His administration has excluded from press briefings reporters who wrote critical stories, and it famously barred American media from his Oval Office meeting with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador to the United States while inviting in Russia's state-controlled news service.

Before firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump reportedly urged Comey to jail journalists who published classified information. As a litigious businessman, the president has expressed his desire to "open up" libel laws. In April, White House chief of staff Reince Preibus acknowledged that the administration had indeed examined its options on that front.

This behavior seems to be having a ripple effect: On May 9, a journalist was arrested in West Virginia for repeatedly asking a question that Tom Price, Trump's health secretary, refused to answer. Nine days later, a veteran reporter was manhandled and roughly escorted out of a federal building after he tried (politely) to question an FCC commissioner. Montana Republican Greg Gianforte won a seat in the House of Representatives last week, one day after he was charged with assaulting a reporter who had pressed Gianforte for his take on the House health care bill. And over the long weekend, although it could be a coincidence, someone fired a gun of some sort at the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader, a paper singled out days earlier by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who likened journalists to "cicadas" who "don't actually seem to care about Kentucky."

Where is all of this headed? It's hard to know for sure, but as a lawyer (and former newspaper reporter) who has spent years defending press freedoms in America, I can say with some confidence that the First Amendment will soon be tested in ways we haven't seen before. Let's look at three key areas that First Amendment watchdogs are monitoring with trepidation.


Abusive Subpoenas

The First Amendment offers limited protections when a prosecutor or a civil litigant subpoenas a journalist in the hope of obtaining confidential notes and sources. In the 1972 case of Branzburg v. Hayes, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not shield reporters from the obligation of complying with a grand jury subpoena. But the decision left room for the protection of journalists who refuse to burn a source in other contexts—in civil cases, for instance, or in criminal cases that don't involve a grand jury. Some lower courts have ruled that the First Amendment indeed provides such protections.

The Constitution, of course, is merely a baseline for civil liberties. Recognizing the gap left by the Branzburg ruling, a majority of the states have enacted shield laws that give journalists protections that Branzburg held were not granted by the Constitution. Yet Congress, despite repeated efforts, has refused to pass such a law. This gives litigants in federal court, including prosecutors, significant leverage to force journalists into compliance. (In 2005, Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her secret source to a federal grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. The source, Miller eventually admitted, was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.)

Trump will almost certainly take advantage of his leverage. He and his innermost circle have already demonstrated that they either fail to understand or fail to respect (or both) America's long-standing tradition of restraint when it comes to a free press. During the campaign, Trump tweeted that Americans who burn the flag—a free-speech act explicitly protected by the Supreme Court—should be locked up or stripped of citizenship "perhaps." In December, after the New York Times published a portion of Trump's tax returns, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski declared that executive editor Dean Baquet "should be in jail."

Trump took over the reins from an executive branch that was arguably harder on the press than any administration in recent history. President Barack Obama oversaw more prosecutions of leakers under the vaguely worded Espionage Act of 1917 than all other presidents combined, and he was more aggressive than most in wrenching confidential information from journalists.

Over the course of two months in 2012, Obama's Justice Department secretly subpoenaed and seized phone records from more than 100 Associated Press reporters, potentially in violation of the department's own policies. Thanks to the rampant overclassification of government documents, Obama's pursuit of whistleblowers meant that even relatively mundane disclosures could have serious, even criminal, consequences for the leaker. Under Obama, McClatchy noted in 2013, "leaks to media are equated with espionage."

One can only assume Trump will up the ante. His administration's calls to find and prosecute leakers grow more strident by the day. He and his surrogates in Congress have repeatedly tried to divert public discussion away from White House-Russia connections and in the direction of the leaks that brought those connections to light. It stands to reason that Trump's Justice Department will try to obtain the sources, notes, and communication records of journalists on the receiving end of the leaks.

This could already be happening without our knowledge, and that would be a dangerous thing. Under current guidelines, the Justice Department is generally barred from deploying secret subpoenas for journalists' records—subpoenas whose existence is not revealed to those whose records are sought. But there are exceptions: The attorney general or another "senior official" may approve no-notice subpoenas when alerting the subject would "pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation." 

The guidelines are not legally binding, in any case, so there may be little to prevent Jeff Sessions' Justice Department from ignoring them or scrapping them entirely. Team Trump has already jettisoned the policies of its predecessors in other departments, and it's pretty clear how Trump feels about the press. 

The use of secret subpoenas against journalists is deeply problematic in a democracy. Their targets lack the knowledge to consult with a lawyer or to contest the subpoena in court. The public, also in the dark, is unable to pressure government officials to prevent them from subjecting reporters to what could be abusive fishing expeditions.

As president, Trump sets the tone for executives, lawmakers, and prosecutors at all levels. We have already seen a "Trump effect" in the abusive treatment of a reporter in the halls of the Federal Communications Commission, the arrest of the reporter in West Virginia, and the attack by Congressman-elect Gianforte.

We are also seeing the Trump effect in state legislatures, where the president's rants may have contributed to a spate of legislative proposals deeply hostile to free speech, including bills that would essentially authorize police brutality or "unintentional" civilian violence against protesters and make some forms of lawful protest a felony. A leader who normalizes the use of overly broad or abusive subpoenas against journalists could cause damage all across the land.

Espionage Laws

A second area of concern is the Espionage Act of 1917, a law that has been used for nearly a century to prosecute leakers of classified information—from Daniel Ellsburg and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. The government hasn't ever tried to use it to prosecute the journalists or media organizations that publish the offending leaks—possibly because it was seen as a bad move in a nation that enshrines press protections in its founding document. But free-speech advocates have long been wary of the possibility.

The successful prosecution of a journalist under the Espionage Act seems unlikely—a long string of Supreme Court decisions supports the notion that reporters and news outlets are immune from civil or criminal liability when they publish information of legitimate public interest that was obtained unlawfully by an outside source. "A stranger's illegal conduct," the court's majority opined in the 2001 Bartnicki v. Vopper case, "does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield about a matter of public concern." But like any appellate decision, the Bartnicki ruling is based on a specific set of facts. So there are no guarantees here.

Litigious Billionaires

Very, very rich people with grievances against the press are as old as the press itself. But the number of megawealthy Americans has exploded in recent years, as has the number of small, nonprofit, or independent media outlets—many of which lack ready access to legal counsel. In short, billionaires who wish to exact vengeance for unflattering coverage enjoy a target-rich environment.

Trump did not create this environment. But from his presidential bully pulpit, he has pushed a narrative that can only fuel the fire. The Trumpian worldview holds that the media deserves to be put in its place; the press is venal, dishonest, and "fake" most of the time. It should be more subject to legal liability so that, in his words, "we can sue them and win lots of money."

Win or lose, a billionaire with an ax to grind and a fleet of expensive lawyers can cause enormous damage to a media outlet, particularly one with limited means (which, these days, is most media outlets). Some lawsuits by deep-pocketed plaintiffs, like the one filed against Mother Jones by Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot (a case I helped defend), are ultimately dismissed by the courts. Others, such as Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media—funded by Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump adviser Peter Thiel—succeed and put the media outlet out of business. Another recent suit, filed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson against a Wall Street Journal reporter, ultimately settled.

Regardless of the outcome of such cases, the message to the media is clear: Don't offend people who have vast resources. Even a frivolous lawsuit can stifle free speech by hitting publishers where it hurts (the wallet) and subjecting them to legal harassment. This is especially so in the 22 states that lack anti-SLAPP statutes—laws that facilitate the rapid dismissal of libel claims without merit.

The VanderSloot lawsuit is instructive. Although a court in Idaho ultimately threw out all the billionaire's claims against Mother Jones, the process took almost two years. During that time, VanderSloot and Mother Jones engaged in a grueling regimen of coast-to-coast depositions and extensive and costly discovery and legal motions. Along the way, VanderSloot sued a former small-town newspaper reporter and subjected him to 10 hours of depositions, which resulted in the reporter breaking down in tears while VanderSloot, who had flown to Portland for the occasion, looked on. VanderSloot also deposed the journalist's ex-boyfriend and threatened to sue him until he agreed to recant statements he had made online.

Victory did not come cheap for Mother Jones: The final tab was about $2.5 million, only part of which was covered by insurance. And because Idaho lacks an anti-SLAPP statute, none of the magazine's legal costs could be recovered from VanderSloot.

Despite his threats, Trump has not brought any libel lawsuits as president—but his wife has. First lady Melania Trump sued the Daily Mail in February over a story she said portrayed her falsely "as a prostitute." The Daily Mail retracted the offending article with a statement explaining (a) that the paper did not "intend to state or suggest that Mrs. Trump ever worked as an 'escort' or in the sex business," (b) that the article "stated that there was no support for the allegations," and (c) that "the point of the article was that these allegations could impact the U.S. presidential election even if they are untrue."

So which billionaire will be next to sue, and who will the target be? The question looms over America's media organizations like a dark cloud. That is an unacceptable situation in a nation whose Constitution guarantees "robust, uninhibited and wide-open" discussion of public issues, as Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in the landmark First Amendment case New York Times v. Sullivan.

Trump has yet to act on his most outrageous rhetorical attacks on the media and free speech, but it's likely only a matter of time. When he does act, it will be important to remember that constitutional protections are quite broad, and that there's only so much any White House can do to the press without the backing of Congress or the courts. Such cooperation is hardly out of the question, though. Stranger things have already happened in this strangest of political times.

The author's views do not necessarily reflect those of the First Amendment Coalition's board of directors.

Some Actual Good News After Trump's Paris Agreement Fiasco

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 7:23pm

Just hours after President Donald Trump announced that he intends to withdraw the United States from Paris Climate Agreement, three state governors announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, a union that will work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even as national leadership on climate change falters.

For now, the alliance includes California, New York and Washington State. The governors of those states, Jerry Brown, Andrew Cuomo, and Jay Inslee, respectively, released a statement on Thursday describing how the new alliance will build state-level partnerships to continue aggressive American action on climate change and uphold the goals and standards of the Paris Agreement.

"The president has already said climate change is a hoax, which is the exact opposite of virtually all scientific and worldwide opinion," said Governor Brown in the statement. "I don't believe fighting reality is a good strategy—not for America, not for anybody. If the president is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor, then California and other states will step up."

Governor Cuomo echoed that sentiment. Trump's "reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement has devastating repercussions not only for the United States, but for our planet," he said. "This administration is abdicating its leadership and taking a backseat to other countries in the global fight against climate change."

California, New York, and Washington combined are home nearly 70 million people, about 20 percent of the US population. And their governments have already begun to take action. For example, the California State Senate passed legislation on Wednesday that mandates California to develop 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2045.

So far, no other states have signed on to the alliance, though 61 American mayors also pledged on Thursday that their cities will uphold the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Trump Is Waiving His Own Ethics Rules to Allow Lobbyists to Make Policy

Environment & Health | Mother Jones - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 6:26pm

It seems clear now why the Trump administration fought so hard to avoid making public the details of the waivers it granted to White House staffers who might otherwise have been in violation of the president's self-imposed ethics rules. They show that President Donald Trump, who made "drain the swamp" a campaign battle cry, has enlisted numerous swamp-dwellers—former lobbyists, consultants, corporate executives—to staff key positions in his White House and has granted them broad exemptions to work on issues directly related to their former jobs and clients.

After repeatedly slamming DC lobbyists during the campaign, Trump used one of his first executive orders to lay out ethics rules for his new administration. The January 28 order barred Trump officials from working on issues related to their former employers for at least two years, and these rules applied not only to lobbyists, but to anyone who worked for a business or organization potentially affected by federal policy decisions. The prohibitions were not absolute: Waivers would be available in certain cases.

The Trump administration initially balked when the Office of Government Ethics demanded the White House hand over the waivers it had granted. But after a standoff the administration relented late Wednesday and released about 14 waivers covering White House staffers. They make clear that Trump's ethics rules are remarkably flexible and that his top staffers don't need to worry too much about staying on the right side of them. On paper, Trump's rules are similar to those imposed by President Barack Obama, but it appears that Trump is far more willing to hand out exemptions. At this point in the Obama administration, just three White House staffers had been granted ethics waivers. So far, Trump has granted 14, including several that apply to multiple people.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and adviser Kellyanne Conway were both granted waivers to deal with issues involving their previous employers. In the case of Priebus, this narrowly applies to the Republican National Committee. But Conway is now free to work on issues involving her ex-clients from her previous life as an operative and pollster—clients that included political campaigns, nonprofit activist groups, and corporations.

Conway's relationships with these clients were murky to begin with; she was never required to disclose who she worked for. We do know that she repped virulently anti-immigration and anti-Muslim groups. The names of some of her corporate clients also have trickled out, including Major League Baseball, Hasbro, American Express, and Boeing. The waiver may have been granted to help smooth the way for Conway after evidence emerged that she continued to operate own her polling and consulting company even after she'd gone to work in the White House—a possible violation of conflict-of-interest laws that drew the attention of congressional Democrats who have begun probing her relationship with the company.

Conway's waiver was not retroactive, but there is another that specifically allows White House employees to communicate freely with former employers and coworkers at media organizations—and applies back to January 20. Trump's executive order didn't simply prohibit any of his hires from working on matters relating to a former employer—it specifically covered "any meeting or communication relating to the performance of one's official duties." This means at least two of Trump's top aides, former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon and his assistant Julia Hahn, would be prohibited from chatting with their former colleagues at Breitbart about anything work-related—a rule that Bannon appears not to have followed. While not named, it seems likely that protecting the Breitbart alums from ethics complaints was the aim.

Another takeaway from Trump's waivers is that they appear to be far less restrictive than Obama administration waivers. Many Obama waivers (there were only 10 total granted to White House employees during his administration) were very narrowly tailored. For example, James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, was granted a waiver to allow him to introduce Bill Clinton at an event for the Atlantic Council, even though Jones had previously worked for the group. John Brennan, at the time one of Obama's deputy national security advisers, had previously worked for The Analysis Company, and he was granted a waiver to use the company's data while investigating the so-called "Underwear Bomber" incident. Brennan was not cleared to talk to any of the company's employees, however.

Trump's waivers, on the other hand, are broad.

For instance, Trump granted a waiver to Michael Catanzaro, who is the president's most senior energy policy aide, allowing him to work freely on "broad policy matters and particular matters of general applicability relating to the Clean Power Plan, the WOTUS [Waters of the United States] rule, and methane regulations." Catanzaro worked as a registered lobbyist for several oil and gas companies as recently as January, which made the waiver necessary. On his most recent lobbying disclosure form—filed on behalf of one of his clients, natural gas company Noble Energy—Catanzaro wrote that he was working on "EPA and BLM's proposed and final regulations covering methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas facilities." Nearly identical language appears in his most recent lobbying disclosure on behalf of another natural gas company, Encana. In other words, Catanzaro is now making policy on the very issues he was paid by corporations to lobby on. There are no restrictions in Catanzaro's waiver relating to his previous clients.

Another lobbyist turned Trump aide is Shahira Knight, who was previously employed as vice president of public policy for mutual fund giant Fidelity and now serves as Trump's special assistant for tax and retirement policy. Her waiver grants her permission to work on "matters of general applicability relating to tax, retirement and financial services issues." Fidelity's most recent lobbying report—filed while Knight ran its lobbying shop—lists the main issue areas targeted by the company's lobbyists: finance, retirement, banking, and taxes.

While the Obama administration reluctantly granted waivers for narrow sets of circumstances, the Trump waivers appear to be written to carefully exempt the previous lobbying work done by White House aides.

And this is just the beginning. The administration released only the waivers granted to White House employees—the release does not include waivers granted to administration officials who work for federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Treasury Department. The White House will turn those waivers over to the Office of Government Ethics on Thursday, but it's not clear when they will be made public.

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