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Daily Archives: March 1st, 2020


Apparently the the truth is less glamorous or acceptable than a lie as we have been inundated by a daily stream of falsehoods from the administration and it’s associated allies (Congress). The lie is really about the perception of reality , much like many Television shows aka reality shows. It seems that many of us are more interested in being entertained instead of informed, ignoring the fact that Government is not an entertainment venue. Ignoring the actions of the top star in this Governmental play would open the door to the real activities behind the curtain. The neer do well Congress is busily changing laws, installing “their” judges and being backed by a miscreant Legal department (our aka The voters Justice department). This election is our opportunity to make a u turn back to reality and sanity (as it were). Looking at this week alone, there are 2 events that merit changing the the leaders in the Congress and White House. The first: The so called great trade deals which have depressed our economy, second lack of serious pro action on the Corona virus threat. Last count was about 16000 lies from the administration on everything government and non government when the truth would have sufficed ( we are adults-right?). It has become dangerous to listen to the output of this administration as fervent followers act on these lies to their detriment and to the detriment of us ALL. The true “bosses” of the nation are the voters and we owe it ourselves and our younger relatives to elect and re elect better representatives to serve. It will take a minute to correct the course of this government ship and we must all assist in turning the wheel for our own benefit.

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USA TODAY Opinion
Michael J. Stern, Opinion columnist
USA TODAY Opinion

“The Real Housewives” have nothing on the Department of Justice when it comes to drama. I don’t mean to be flippant. But if I can’t marvel at the absurdity of the nuclear meltdown that is gripping the institution to which I dedicated my professional career, I’m afraid I will cry.

I was concerned when the punchline “Donald Trump” came to be preceded by the title “president.” But my beloved DOJ was filled with career prosecutors whose dedication and integrity would keep the ship on course — even if the storm lasted four years.

I was confident that the traditions that made the Justice Department the most respected law enforcement organization in the world would surely allow it to weather any attorney general Trump could install.

But Trump has commandeered the department and sent a clear message: “Investigate me or people close to me and I will undercut years of your hard work, trash your reputation on Twitter, and create a Hobson’s choice between your integrity and your ability to earn a living. And if you pick the former, I will issue a pardon and undo all you worked for anyway.”

Unholy alliance of Trump and Barr

Since Republican senators refused to remove Trump from office, there’s nothing in his path. Trump is certainly getting no push back from Attorney General William Barr, who has revealed himself to be the second coming of Roy Cohn — Trump’s former personal attorney who was disbarred due to his sleazy legal tactics.

Barr’s first order of business was to release a misleading summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report — effectively urinating on what should have been a bonfire that burned Trump’s presidency to the ground. Then, Barr stonewalled congressional efforts to do what an honest reading of Mueller’s report should have done.

Things have only gotten worse since Trump survived his Senate impeachment trial. For a start, Barr has said he must personally approve any investigation into corruption by a presidential candidate or campaign. That’s the DOJ equivalent of a GPS warning: “Red light camera ahead.”

President Donald Trump at the White House on Jan. 29, 2020, and Attorney General William Barr at the Justice Department on Jan. 13, 2020.
President Donald Trump at the White House on Jan. 29, 2020, and Attorney General William Barr at the Justice Department on Jan. 13, 2020.

No agent or prosecutor is going to tap the attorney general on the shoulder and ask permission to investigate the man Barr lives to protect. That means Trump and his campaign can solicit assistance from foreign adversaries in this year’s presidential election, and no one will stop them.

As for existing investigations, Barr is second guessing his department’s work and even changing it to be more favorable to Trump. After Trump tweeted his dissatisfaction with DOJ’s sentencing recommendation against political ally Roger Stone, Barr ordered prosecutors to propose “far less” time in prison.

His order was such an abuse of power, all four of the Stone prosecutors withdrew from the case and 2,600 former federal officials, myself included, published a letter asking Barr to resign.

Failing institutions: Stone prison term: Will courts hold Trump accountable after Congress, Mueller fall short?

But it was mission accomplished for Trump and Barr. On Thursday, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison, substantially less than the seven to nine years requested by the Stone prosecutors.

A similar sequence occurred after Trump expressed unhappiness with the prosecution of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Prosecutors who had recommended up to six months in prison later said probation would be appropriate. And Barr has now ordered a “re-investigation” of Flynn’s case, presumably to undermine Flynn’s guilty plea.

Pardoning the swamp, not draining it

Trump does not always need Barr. When he can manipulate justice alone, he does, as he showed last week when he issued 11 pardons and commutations. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat, was immediately released from prison. Trump also pardoned one of Rudy Giuliani’s former business partners, whose family happened to donate $85,000 to a Trump Victory fund and $150,000 to the Republican National Committee.

Every person reading this should be angry that they would still be sitting in prison if they committed the same crimes as the people Trump pardoned. That’s because Trump has created a separate system of justice for his friends, political allies, and wealthy donors. Trump didn’t drain the swamp, he pardoned it.

After impeachment: Senate delivers brutal dose of reality and ensures future Trump corruption

And there are bigger threats looming. One is the prospect of demoralized agents and prosecutors who see corruption, understand the meaning of futility, and simply stop trying. An even more dangerous contaminant is the “Lock Her Up!” campaign chant that has metastasized into an unabashed effort to hunt and cage Trump’s political enemies.

Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, James Comey and Andrew McCabe have all moved from Trump’s tweet list to Barr’s hit list. Yes, Clinton and McCabe have been told they will not be prosecuted, but not for lack of trying. In fact, it has been reported that the McCabe grand jury balked at DOJ’s requested indictment.

People reading this are probably thinking “What difference does it make if the president ordered DOJ to investigate some government bureaucrats?” It makes a difference.

The independence of our Justice Department is what distinguishes us from countries in which people are not free. Countless pundits have referred to Trump as an authoritarian. It’s not hyperbole.

If Trump can harness the power of the U.S. Department of Justice to do his personal bidding, we are no longer the America we thought we were. If we cannot rely on the U.S. Department of Justice to do the right thing, we are lost.

Michael J. Stern, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, was a federal prosecutor for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelJStern1

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump has commandeered the Justice Department and pardoned the swamp

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Trump’s EPA readies rollback of industry-backed pollution rule

Elvina Nawaguna  27 mins ago 

 

Despite bipartisan objection and industry pushback, the Trump administration is expected to soon weaken rules meant to limit mercury and other toxic emissions from oil and coal-fired power plants across the nation.

The EPA has already sent the Office of Management and Budget the final rule, which would repeal the Obama administration’s justification for the so-called Mercury and Air Toxics Standard or MATS, although it’s not clear when it will be made public.

While the administration’s current efforts wouldn’t withdraw the rule, it would change its legal basis with new calculations of costs and benefits, a move lawmakers, environmentalists, former EPA advisers and some in the energy industry warn would reverse the gains of the rule and damage public health.

“Ever since being elected to the Senate, I have worked to clean up our air. The Mercury Rule … has helped keep our air, waters and streams clean – and has been good for our state and its economy,” said Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The Obama administration estimated utilities would spend around $9.6 billion a year to comply with the rule, and that it would generate between $37 billion and $90 billion in public health benefits. According to the EPA’s analysis, the rule has helped cut mercury emissions by about 86 percent since 2010.

“Efforts to roll back a rule that has successfully cut mercury and other toxins (are) unnecessary and universally opposed by the power generation sector,” Exelon Corp., one of the largest energy companies in the U.S., said in an emailed statement. “This action could lead existing coal plants to turn off pollution controls to save money, resulting in dirtier air at a time when consumers clearly want increased action to reduce pollution.”

The administration’s proposal stipulates that it’s not “appropriate and necessary” for the agency to regulate hazardous air pollutants under a particular section of the Clean Air Act, a position Alexander and  Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., warned last year could endanger public health.

“This move could lead to the undoing of the mercury rule, which is why we’re urging EPA not to go through with it,” Alexander and Carper wrote in a USA TODAY oped in November.

The EPA estimated the rule would prevent about 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and up to 540,000 missed work or sick days each year.

“The gains we have made over the past decade to protect children and families from dangerous mercury pollution should not be lost,” the lawmakers wrote.

Legislation

The two lawmakers were also among a group that included Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., that urged the EPA in a letter to keep the rules in place.

“Mercury is a deadly toxin that harms the development of fetuses and children,” the lawmakers wrote in March 2019. “It makes no sense to take any action that could lead to the weakening of mercury emission standards.”

Collins last year introduced a bill (S 181) that would direct the EPA to work with other agencies to create a national mercury monitoring program. The bill has not received a markup at the Environment and Public Works Committee led by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal producer.

 

In public comments, the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, also urged the EPA to let the rule stand, saying a rewrite would create uncertainty for the industry.

The group said companies already invested in the technology needed to implement the rule, and the costs have already been or are being recovered.

“[The] EPA accordingly should leave the underlying MATS rule in place and effective,” Edison Electric Institute said.

Exelon also filed public comments saying there is “no basis to repeal these important and long-overdue” protections.

“Exelon’s experience shows that deploying zero- and low-emissions electricity resources benefits consumers and their environment while protecting system reliability,” the company said.

The administration is moving to undo the rule at the behest of the coal industry, a troubled sector to which Trump pledged relief, but one expected to continue to decline as utilities prefer cleaner burning fuels such as natural gas, solar and wind.

Robert Murray, the CEO of bankrupt coal company Murray Energy Corp., who is also a large Trump donor, pushed for the changes to the rule early in the administration. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler was a lobbyist for Murray Energy before joining the EPA in 2018.

If the revisions to the rule are finalized, it would consider the regulations more costly than beneficial to public health. That could pave the way for legal challenges by coal companies that have blamed the rule for their financial troubles. It would also provide the administration justification to write weaker rules.

“The proposed MATS revisions aim to fix a dishonest accounting mechanism the last administration used that had the effect of justifying any regulatory action regardless of costs,” Mandy Gunasekara, former principal deputy assistant administrator at the Trump EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, told lawmakers at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing earlier this month. Gunasekara left the EPA to start an organization called Energy 45, which aims to tout the energy, environmental economic accomplishments of Trump Administration.

A number of former agency advisers have warned the administration’s effort to weaken the mercury regulations is based on faulty and outdated data.

The group of environmental economists called the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, said in December that the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis is “fatally flawed” partly because it underestimates public health benefits from controlling mercury pollution, while overestimating the role of coal by assuming about half of the country’s electricity is generated by coal.

“It has the potential to set a precedent that would undermine the basis for environmental regulations,” Mary Evans, a professor of environmental economics at Claremont McKenna College, told CQ Roll Call.

The EPA was expected to finalize the rule by the end of last year, and it’s not clear why it hasn’t yet filed it with the Federal Register. An EPA spokeswoman referred CQ Roll Call to the Office of Management and Budget, which would not comment on an ongoing regulatory process.

Add the previous reduction of Trained personnel in the CDC to this rollback and we will have the compounding  effect of the Corona Virus. MA

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