No Picture

White House twists bombshell testimony about Russia contacts

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

The Trump administration wants you to believe the CIA has no evidence of collusion, but that’s not what the former director said.

Former CIA Director John Brennan is sworn-in on Capitol Hill on May 23 prior to testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Russia Investigation Task Force. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

During a House Intelligence Committee Hearing on Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan said the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia is “well founded.” He cited “information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals” as evidence.

As Daily Beast editor Justin Miller pointed out, Brennan’s testimony represents the first time a U.S. official has publicly said they have direct knowledge of communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Trey Gowdy’s effort to throw cold water on Trump-Russia collusion backfires spectacularly

Brennan didn’t come out and detail evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He explained during the hearing the evidence is classified information and not appropriate to discuss a public setting.

Nonetheless, after the hearing, the White House tried to spin Brennan’s testimony as inconsequential. The administration that has routinely decried the use of unnamed sources in media reports sent a statement “attributable to a White House spokesman” to Politico’s Edward Isaac-Dovere that said, “This morning’s hearings back up what we’ve been saying all along: that despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion.”

The hearing, however, didn’t back that up at all. By not disclosing details during Tuesday’s hearing, Brennan was just trying to protect classified information.

Brennan made clear that the communications he was referring to were concerning. He said that when when he left the CIA upon Trump’s inauguration, he “had unresolved questions in my mind about whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

“Therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well founded and needed to look into these issues,” he added. That investigation began in July 2016 — the month before Trump pushed for unusual pro-Russian changes to the Republican Party platform. A month later, campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned from the campaign amid reports Ukrainian authorities were investigating him for receiving $12.7 million in illegal payments from Ukraine’s former pro-Russia ruling party.

Brennan’s comments about the Trump’s campaign’s communications with Russian officials came in response to questions from Trump-backer Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), whose attempt to throw cold water on Trump-Russian collusion backfired spectacularly. Nonetheless, after the hearing, Gowdy was still telling reporters he doesn’t think there is anything unusual about the Trump campaign being in regular communication with a foreign adversary who was simultaneously meddling in the presidential election.

Trey Gowdy, senior GOP member of House Intel, downplayed Brennan’s testimony, telling me it’s not unusual for Russians to contact campaigns

 — @mkraju

Gowdy’s comment also overlooks the fact Trump associates denied there was contact between the Trump campaign and Russia on 20 separate occasions.

On January 16, Trump told reporters, “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” A month later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said despite Flynn’s transition-period contacts with Kislyak, he wasn’t aware of any Trump associates being in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. On February 20, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump-Russia “is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”

Last week, Reuters revealed those claims to be lies, reporting that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers “were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.”

The Trump White House’s spin about Brennan’s testimony is reminiscent of how Trump administration officials twisted the words of James Clapper following the former director of national intelligence’s appearance on Meet the Press in March. Clapper said he wasn’t aware of any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — a statement Trump and his associates used to claim that no evidence exists.

When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?

 — @realDonaldTrump

But during a Senate hearing two months later, Clapper clarified that he never meant to suggest no such evidence existed — only that he wasn’t aware of it because FBI Director James Comey didn’t brief him about the FBI’s investigation.

“So it is not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or even more important, the content of that investigation,” Clapper said during an MSNBC appearance the same week as the Senate hearing. “So I don’t know if there was collusion or not, I don’t know if there is evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context.”

James Clapper destroys Trump’s favorite talking point about the Russia investigation

The White House statement also says that the hearing with Brennan backed up that “the President never jeopardized intelligence sources or sharing.” That statement comes the day after Trump accidentally confirmed the source of classified intelligence he recklessly shared with Russian officials during a recent Oval Office meeting. During Tuesday’s hearing, Brennan said Trump’s handling of that counterterrorism information broke protocol in a number of ways.

White House twists bombshell testimony about Russia contacts was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

Infowars granted White House press credentials, promptly smears victims of Manchester bombing

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

Many of the victims were children.

CREDIT: Screenshot

On Monday, Infowars announced it has been granted press credentials that will allow Washington bureau chief Jerome Corsi — a prominent swiftboater and birther — to attend White House press briefings.

Later that same day, Infowars founder Alex Jones smeared the victims of the attack during the Ariana Grande show in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, describing them as “liberal trendies.”

“The same people — God love them — on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in,” he added.

Later during his rant, Jones characterized the victims as “a bunch of liberals who have already run up the white flag to the Islamists, and this happens so more of our liberties can be lost, and so governments in Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. can say, ‘Don’t criticize Muslims, or they’ll blow you up, because they’re the religion of peace.’”

Grande, whose first national exposure came on Nickelodeon, has many teen and pre-teen fans. As the U.K.-based Metro publication reported, “Twelve children under the age of 16 were among the 59 casualties taken to hospital after the terror attack at Manchester Arena.” One of the first confirmed fatalities was an 8-year-old girl named Saffie Rose Roussos.

Sad news. Eight year old Saffie Rose Roussos, a pupil at Tarleton Primary, was killed in the #ManchesterBombing – school paying tribute.

 — @BBCLancashire

One witness who saw the aftermath of the attack told CNN, “It was a lot of children, with blood all over them.” These are the people Jones went out of his way to smear on Tuesday night.

He’s done stuff like this before. Infowars is perhaps best known for relentlessly spreading the conspiracy theory that the 2012 school shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax. Leonard Pozner, father of one of the 20 children killed in that mass shooting, told the Daily Beast during Jones’ recent custody trial, “I wish I could be there in the courtroom to stare him down to remind him of how he’s throwing salt on a wound, and so he can remember how he handed out salt for other people to throw on mine.”

During that trial, Jones described himself as a “performance artist” instead of a journalist. But his act has real and negative consequences for people like Pozner, who described to the Daily Beast how he was threatened and harassed by Jones’ conspiracy-obsessed fans.

Jones’ promotion of baseless Sandy Hook conspiracies wasn’t enough to keep then-candidate Trump for going on his show in December 2015 and telling him, “Your reputation is amazing… I won’t let you down.”

Eight months later, Jones said he was advising Trump about “election fraud.” According to Jones, Trump took him seriously, telling him he’s “already concurred and absolutely was on the same page and was already right there with me or even ahead of me.”

America’s ‘Most Prolific Conspiracy Theorist’ Reveals He’s Now Advising Donald Trump

Indeed, in the months that followed, Trump pushed a baseless conspiracy theory that millions of illegal votes were cast during a presidential election where he received nearly three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced the official creation of a Mike Pence-headed election integrity committee including anti-immigration vote-suppression specialist Kris Kobach.

After the election, Jones played a leading role in pushing a baseless WikiLeaks-fueled conspiracy about prominent Democrats being involved in a pedophilia ring. But in a carefully worded statement he read during his broadcast two months ago, Jones apologized, saying “we regret any negative impact our commentaries may have had” on the people involved. He did so only after the owner of a business targeted by Jones as part of the so-called Pizzagate story sent him a letter asking him to retract statements he made during his broadcasts.

The Infowars article announcing the publication’s new White House credentials notes that Jones “may even attend some White House press briefings in person.”

Infowars granted White House press credentials, promptly smears victims of Manchester bombing was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The many broken promises in Trump’s budget

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

Programs supporting many of Trump’s own voters get the ax.

Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a “USA Thank You” tour event, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The White House released Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday, and appears to have forgotten some of the promises made before Trump took office.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Monday that he made the case for “reforming” Social Security and Medicare to Trump.

“The President said, no, I’m going to keep my promises,” Mulvaney said. “And I said, well, I’d still like to balance the budget. He goes, I still want you to balance the budget, just don’t do it changing these programs. And we were able to do it.”

Except they were not — as the budget in fact does propose cuts to Social Security and several other programs that would break or otherwise mangle Trump’s promises.

Trump made a lot of promises about what he will do as president. We’ve documented 663 of them.

“We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or number of people on those programs,” Mulvaney said. “We’ll measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and get back to their own lives.”

It’s a nice, if heartless, sentiment, as the reality of these cuts will feel different to people who were comforted by Trump’s promises during the campaign and may now be surprised to find how drastically their lives could change under the president’s proposed budget.

As Joe Biden’s apocryphal dad used to say, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Trump’s promises will be tested by the budget cuts he fight to enact this year. Here are the main areas where Trump would be breaking his promises, if the budget gets passed into law:

Social security

When Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he made a big promise that he would save Social Security without cuts:

Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it. People have been paying it for years. And now many of these candidates want to cut it. You save it by making the United States, by making us rich again, by taking back all of the money that’s being lost.

Instead, his budget proposes to cut an important part of Social Security: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). It, along with the similar Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, would drop by $72 billion over the next ten years. The program, funded through payroll taxes, provides benefits (averaging $773 per month) to people with disabilities younger than 65 who have worked a certain number of years, accumulating social security credits. The program is not wasteful, is not easy to access, and there is no evidence it significantly hurts labor force participation.

Mulvaney rationalized the cuts to SSDI by arguing that it is not part of Social Security.

“But people say, ‘Oh, Social Security Disability Insurance is part of Social Security,’ if you ask 999 people out of 1,000, they’ll say it’s not part of Social Security,” he said. “It’s old age retirement that they think of as Social Security.”


Trump promised to save Medicaid “without cuts.”

Instead, Trump’s budget embraces massive, “astounding” cuts to Medicaid, starting with a $610 billion reduction in the new budget proposal. The document assumes the passage of the House’s health care bill, which according to the Congressional Budget Office could kick 14 million low-income people off their coverage over the next ten years.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Monday that Trump “made it very clear that he supports what the House is doing because it’s better than the alternative” — Obamacare.

So the $839 billion in Medicaid cuts in Trumpcare, combined with the additional $610 billion cut in the budget document mean that Medicaid would be slashed by $1.4 trillion over 10 years.

The bill would begin to block-grant Medicaid, which is something that Trump did in fact promise to do on the campaign. This would also be an effective cut, as the growing costs of health care and inflation would make it hard for the grants to cover patients’ needs.

Border wall

Trump promised, over and over again, that Mexico would pay for the wall he wants to build on the southern border, and that it would cost $10 billion:

That’s why Mexico is going to pay for the wall, folks. Mexico — look, the wall, we need actually, 2,000 miles. We need 1,000. Because we have a lot of natural barriers. The wall will cost $10 billion. Expensive wall. A Trump wall. Bring it in under budget, ahead of schedule. I have to name it after myself because maybe, you know, should I name it after myself? I don’t think so. We want more than a wall. We will have a real wall, it’s going to be a great wall and it’s going to work.

He also promised to build the wall within two years.

The budget requests $1.6 billion for actual construction of the wall, which is just a downpayment of a project that would cost at least $25 billion, according to contractor estimates. Mulvaney said the request was for “actual bricks and mortar construction.”

Missing in the request is any mention of Mexico paying for the wall, or any assurances as to the speed of its construction.

Reducing the debt

Not only did Trump promise to “reduce our $18 trillion in debt,” he also famously told Bob Woodward that he could get rid of the debt “fairly quickly.” When pressed, he said, “Well, I would say over a period of eight years.”

The budget, even with its draconian cuts, does not even project itself to touch the debt over 10 years. Mulvaney himself admitted the promise was “hyperbole,” which is a generous term since there is no debt reduction projected in the budget document.

As for how he proposed to do this, one example he used during the campaign was boosting revenue through more oil and gas extraction. During a speech on energy in North Dakota, Trump said that “we’ll make so much money” from fossil fuels that “we’ll start to pay down our $19 trillion in debt.” His budget proposal projects an additional $1.8 billion in revenue by 2027 if it succeeds in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and saving $3.5 billion over 10 years if it cancels the revenue sharing program which gives a portion of royalty payments for oil extracted from their coastal waters. Even if both of these incredibly contentious proposals pass, the national debt is 19 thousand billion dollars, and the deficit is about a thousand billion dollars, making the 5.3 billion dollars saved a drop in the bucket.

Here’s where the White House got its insane growth projections

The White House has argued that with higher growth, it will be able to address budgetary concerns more easily, but with the even lower taxes Trump proposes, this becomes impossible. During the campaign, even former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly pushed back on Trump’s contention that he could both cut the debt with higher revenue from growth and cut taxes.

O’REILLY: Ok. But then you are going to have to raise taxes to get more money in to pay down that debt.

TRUMP: The problem we have is our taxes are so high that nobody can — everybody is choking.

O’REILLY: I don’t know how — even if you gin the economy up, how does that pay down $21 trillion? You have to take money from the corporations and people to do it.

TRUMP: Bill, the politicians have caused this problem. Just so you understand.

O’REILLY: I understand that.

TRUMP: They have caused this problem over the years. Listen, the politicians have caused this problem. We’re going to make our country dynamic again. Now, companies, big companies like Pfizer are leaving. They’re going to make it worse. They’re leaving. It’s called corporate inversion — many companies are leaving because the taxes are so high. We have to lower taxes not raise taxes.

O’REILLY: All right. But if you cut the taxes again the revenue to pay down the debt then leaves. Ok. But that’s for another day.

TRUMP: No. No the country will be more dynamic. It will be a dynamic. We are going to create a dynamic economy where real jobs are going to be pouring into the country and we’ll have a country that is sustainable. It will work — Bill.

O’REILLY: Still the debt is still on the books. Now, you say you’re going to be in the next —

TRUMP: You are going to slowly pay down the debt.

O’Reilly then changed the subject, so Trump never explained how. Neither does his budget.

Balancing the budget

Trump promised to do a few things when it came to balancing the budget deficit, including:

  • “I would freeze the budget, I would freeze expenditures.”
  • TRUMP: There are so many things that we can cut … and we can balance the budget very quickly. HANNITY: You think in five years? TRUMP: I think over a five-year period. And I don’t know, maybe I could even surprise you.

The budget is not frozen, nor are expenditures. The government is legally required to outlay funds for many tasks its citizens expect it to do, so promises to freeze the budget will fail unless the federal government shuts down for a long time.

Trump did promise to cut many of the agencies, and it’s true that in the budget proposal many agencies would get a cut. “We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget and we will be dynamic again,” he said in a February primary debate.

However, he also promised to balance the budget over five years — his budget projects it to be balanced in 10. And even that is unlikely. As Michael Linden, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, pointed out on Twitter, Trump’s proposed tax cut would reduce revenue by $6 trillion over 10 years, but the budget assumed revenue will grow by $2 trillion over the same period. He categorizes the assumptions needed for such optimism (that the tax cuts will offset 133 percent of their cost) with the technical economics term “crazypants.”

“What Trumponomics is and what the budget is a part of is an effort to get to sustained 3 percent growth in this economy again,” Mulvaney said. Trump on the campaign trail talked of “up to four and even five percent” growth.

This 3 percent growth assumption uses a method that the Center for American Progress’ Director of Fiscal Policy Harry Stein said on Twitter was not even internally consistent:

1. Trump’s fake growth assumptions are not even internally consistent. He double-counts fake growth benefit that should not be counted once.

 — @harrysteindc

The tax cut plan counts what Stein calls “magic growth” once, and then the budget counts it again. “ In conclusion, Trump is lying when he says his budget balances,” Stein said.


Trump told an audience in Iowa that if poverty did not recede, he would be disappointed in himself:

Prosperity will rise, poverty will recede, and wages will finally begin to grow and they will grow rapidly. If they don’t, I will be very disappointed in myself, I will tell you.

And when Sean Hannity asked Trump if he would be able to get 50 million Americans out of poverty, Trump said, “I would.” His solution was to provide incentives for them to work.

However, the White House’s proposed budget would make deep cuts —to the tune of $1.7 trillion — to anti-poverty programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), SSDI, and Medicaid. The SNAP cuts would be $193 billion over 10 years, or 29 percent of the total budget.

It is difficult to cut the poverty rate while cutting programs those in poverty depend on.


Trump promised to solve the student loan crisis on the campaign trail, telling an audience in Ohio that “we are going to work that out.”

In a Trump administration, we will work every day to make America great again for everybody including millennials. First, we will lower the cost of college and solve the student loan crisis. It’s a crisis. Very unfair. Students should not be asked to pay more on their loans than they can afford and the debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives and that’s what it is. We are going to work that out.

The budget released Tuesday would instead eliminate the subsidized student loan program, meaning students would pay interest while they are in school, making student debt loads even worse. This would save $1 billion. Saving $859 million would be the elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives student debt to those who make ten years of payments if they work in public service jobs. Over 400,000 people have planned their lives around this program and Trump’s budget would eliminate it.

If students want to help pay for college through work-study programs, the budget would also make that harder — cutting the program in half next year.

The Trump campaign also promised to “immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice.”

School choice advocates, however, will get a bit over $1 billion for their voucher and charter school programs. The offset is a $5 billion cut to programs that public school students primarily use, such as before- and after-school programs, and a college prep program for low-income students.


Trump promised “to take care of our vets like you’ve never been taken care of before.”

The White House is boosting the Department of Veterans Affairs budget by $4.3 billion. However, it does reduce (or “round down”) the expected cost-of-living adjustments for veterans by an estimated $20 million next year, and $2.7 billion over the next decade. Civil service retirees would see their adjustments eliminated entirely.

Another easily-forgotten budgetary item is the decision to zero out funding for the Limb Loss Resource Center, which helps individuals with limb loss and their families, as well as the Paralysis Resource Center, which does the same for individuals with paralysis. While the VA does offer programs and care for the veterans who experience these kinds of injuries, programs like these provide support and help applying for VA benefits.

Some HHS programs for #pwd the #TrumpBudget eliminates: Limb Loss Resource Center, Paralysis Resource Center.

 — @kfgrobbins

Veterans experience a disproportionate number of paralysis and amputee injuries. Through June 1, 2015, at least 1,645 veterans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have battle-injury major limb amputations.


He promised to get rid of Rhode Island’s cocaine problem:

One of the most beautiful places on Earth. But we’re gonna straighten it out, we’re gonna bring your jobs back and we’re gonna get rid of your cocaine problems and your other problems, we’re gonna get rid of them. They are poisoning our youth.

And get addiction assistance for people in New Hampshire:

I’m now doubling down on that promise that I made to the people of New Hampshire and can guarantee you, we will not only stop the drugs from pouring in, but we will help all of those people so seriously addicted. We’ll get them assistance. We’ll make sure that they have the top treatment and get better. We got to get them better.

And expand treatment slots:

I would dramatically expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct inpatient treatment.

And expand access to narcan:

I would dramatically expand first responders and caregivers access to narcan an antidote that really it’s an antidote that treats overdoses and saves thousands of lives and supposedly is amazing.

Instead, his budget cuts $399 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in FY 2018 (page 436). It does change the initial proposed cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy from a total elimination to a $4 million cut.

Clean water

Trump promised an Iowa audience he would ensure clean air and water for everyone:

We will also pursue an agenda of conservation protecting our beautiful natural resources for future Americans, your family, your children, and lots of other people and we’re going to ensure clean air and clean water for all of our people.

His budget, however, eliminates the $427 million federal contribution to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which cleans up the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and other polluted areas around the country. Not to mention the proposal to slash the EPA’s budget by a third.

The many broken promises in Trump’s budget was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

Trump names right-wing blogger who likened abortion to slavery to powerful appeals court

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

This is not normal.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

John Bush is a lawyer and the president of the Louisville chapter of the Federalist Society, an increasingly radicalized conservative legal group that’s played a major role in selecting Donald Trump’s nominees to the federal bench. Bush is also a blogger at a site called “Elephants in the Bluegrass,” where he’s written on subjects such as why slavery is like abortion or the virtues of shooting Obama supporters.

And, if President Trump has his way, Mr. Bush will soon add another title to his resume: judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Bush, who boasts a conventional legal resume for a federal appellate nominee, revealed in response to a standard questionnaire the Senate Judiciary Committee provides to judicial nominees that he blogs at the Elephants in the Bluegrass site under the pseudonym “G. Morris.” And as “G. Morris,” Mr. Bush has been unusually open about his political and legal views for a potential federal judge.

For one thing, Bush appeared to suggest that deadly force is the appropriate response to Democrats engaged in minor transgressions. In a blog post titled “Take That!,” Bush shares this sign:

Bush also argued in a post titled “The Legacy From Dr. King’s Dream That Liberals Ignore” that “the two greatest tragedies in our country” are “slavery and abortion.” In that post, Bush claims that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have opposed Roe v. Wade had King been alive when that case was handed down. In reality, there’s no evidence that King — who supported efforts to increase access to birth control and said in 1960 that he’s “always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation” — would have stood against reproductive rights.

Despite Bush’s efforts to appropriate Dr. King into one of Bush’s pet causes, the Trump nominee has also appeared fairly dismissive of idea that a woman or minority could reach the White House without some unfair advantage. Reflecting on the 2016 Republican National Convention, Bush wrote that “the Democrats are trying to win with the same game plan as in 2008, only substitute woman for Black.”

Similarly, after the State Department announced that it would change passport application forms to refer to an applicants’ parents in a gender-neutral way — an acknowledgement of the fact that same-sex couples exist and some of them have children — Bush was outraged.

Complaining that the new forms ask the applicant to name their “Mother or Parent 1” and “Father or Parent 2,” Bush complained that “it’s just like the government to decide it needs to decide something like which parent is number one or number two. When that happens, both parents are subservient to the nanny state — more precisely, a nanny Secretary of State.”

His unusual political views aside, Bush has also expressed some equally unconventional views about legal matters that could come before him should he be confirmed to the federal bench.

In a 2008 blog post, Bush argues that “public financing of campaigns” is “constitutionally dubious” because it forces “taxpayers to subsidize candidates’ political speech in contravention of those taxpayers’ First Amendment rights.”

This is a bad interpretation of the First Amendment.

Remember this box on your tax return?

For one thing, many public financing programs are funded voluntarily by taxpayers, who indicate on their tax return that they are willing to have some of their tax dollars spent on public financing. In these programs, there’s no concern that a taxpayer will be “forced” to subsidize political speech.

But even when a public financing program isn’t entirely funded through taxpayers’ voluntary decisions to opt in, Bush’s analysis is hard to square with one of the most firmly established principles in First Amendment law. The government is, as Bush alludes to, prohibited from forcing people to express views that they do not wish to express, but it is not permitted from speaking in its own voice. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a recent Supreme Court opinion, “when government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says.”

Without such an ability to speak in its own voice, Breyer explains, “government would not work.”

How could a city government create a successful recycling program if officials, when writing householders asking them to recycle cans and bottles, had to include in the letter a long plea from the local trash disposal enterprise demanding the contrary? How could a state government effectively develop programs designed to encourage and provide vaccinations, if officials also had to voice the perspective of those who oppose this type of immunization?”

A close corollary to this government speech doctrine is that the government can give grants to third parties, even though those parties may use that money to express a viewpoint. Suppose, for example, that the government decides to hire a private contractor to run a recycling program, rather than having public employees manage the program. Nothing in the First Amendment prohibits that contractor from using a portion of its grant to encourage people to recycle.

Bush’s rationale, in other words, wouldn’t just undermine public financing of campaigns — it would also hobble the government’s ability to perform many of its core functions. Under Bush’s view, it’s not even clear that a president or a governor could advocate for the policies that they support, since those policies may be opposed by taxpayers who pay the president or governor’s salary.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that Bush’s view of public financing and the government speech doctrine appears to be part of a broader vision of the First Amendment that bears little resemblance to existing law. Speaking at a 2009 event sponsored by the Federalist Society, for example, Bush suggested that a seminal Supreme Court decision protecting journalists from malicious libel suits (among other things) “probably wasn’t correctly decided.”

Trump, meanwhile, said that he is “going to open up our libel laws” if elected president so that he can go after reporters who write things he believes to be “horrible and false.”

In any event, Bush’s public statements and writings do not simply reveal political views that place him very far to the right. They also reveal legal opinions that are widely out of step with well-established law accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not something that presidents typically look for in judicial nominees.

(HT: Alliance for Justice)

Trump names right-wing blogger who likened abortion to slavery to powerful appeals court was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

Behold the full horror of Donald Trump’s 25 percent food stamps cut

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

Austerity’s violence, aimed at hollow stomachs.

A volunteer distributes bread at a food bank in Ohio. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File

President Donald Trump wants Congress to slash federal support for food assistance to the poorest Americans by some 25 percent over the next decade, the White House budget unveiled Tuesday shows.

Such a deep cut could be backbreaking for the more than 40 million Americans — many of them children — who qualify for the nation’s premier anti-hunger program.

But the nature of the cuts Trump proposes are, if anything, even more devastating than the topline numbers — a nearly $200 billion total reduction in federal spending to fight hunger, double the amount Republicans sought to cut last time they swung for the fences on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps) — suggest.

Trump’s budget achieves its cuts primarily through an unprecedented shifting of costs to the states. Food stamps have always been paid for solely by the federal government, with state lawmakers required to cover only one half of the program’s lean administrative costs.

Trump would end that 100–0 cost split, forcing state appropriators to come up with one dollar out of every five spent on benefits themselves. Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney has told reporters the rationale behind the change is that states need “skin in the game” in order to start reforming SNAP.

Trump’s team would argue that they’re cutting actual food assistance payments by a mere 10 percent, and asking states to come up with the other 15 percent in reduced federal support. The problem, Food Research and Action Center president James Weill said, is that states can’t do that.

“When there’s a local or national recession and state budgets get squeezed further, states will ratchet down their SNAP match,” Weill said. “They’re both ordering states to restrict eligibility and benefits in some respects, and creating a structure that will [impose budget crises and] lead the states to restrict eligibility and benefits in other respects.”

Should states indeed come up short, it’s unclear whether the feds would grudgingly pony up the difference or simply stop payments to enrollees.

“They’ve given no detail, and they probably haven’t thought it through that far,” said Weill.

Trump’s ‘welfare reform’ will destroy the program

Cost sharing, program dividing

Conservatives are generally fond of wasteful mandatory drug tests, costly administrative restrictions, and cruelly inefficient restrictions on purchases for SNAP. But Mulvaney did not specify what changes he thinks states ought to make.

The answer, according to the University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen, is that no changes are necessary.

“I don’t know how states could improve upon what’s already being done,” Gundersen said. As it stands, the program is a model of efficiency and a crucial counter-cyclical check on recessions, which expands the governments generosity automatically just when people need more of it.

“SNAP is an enormously successful program. Compared to eligible nonparticipants, SNAP participants are 20 percent less likely to be food insecure,” Gundersen said. “I’d imagine states’ actions would just make things worse.”

Until this week, Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue agreed. “As far as I’m concerned, we have no proposed changes. You don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken,” Perdue told a congressional panel last Wednesday.

But when the Trump budget dropped Tuesday, with its $191 billion cut to food stamps payments, Perdue played loyal soldier in a video message to USDA staff.

“President Trump promised he would realign government spending, attempt to eliminate duplication or redundancy, and see that all government agencies are efficiently delivering services to the taxpayers of America,” Perdue said. “And that’s exactly what we are going to do at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

The budget justification Perdue’s agency produced Tuesday offers one grim clue to how he intends to swing Trump’s giant food stamps ax. USDA’s stated goal in the document is for no more than 18.5 percent of families with children to be food insecure in 2018 — higher than the 16.6 percent mark the agency achieved in 2015, the most recent year for which data are available.

Bogus bragging on work rules

After the cost-sharing scheme, Trump’s second-biggest move to artificially constrain food assistance comes from still-vague changes to the program’s work requirements.

Mulvaney portrays the administration’s work rules as novel: “If you don’t have any dependent children, and you’re an able-bodied adult, we start to phase in that requirement,” he told reporters Monday.

But it wasn’t novel. The population of food stamps recipients Trump and Mulvaney want to single out are already required to work or volunteer their time in order to continue receiving benefits. Nearly all SNAP participants who you’d expect to work based on their age, health, and family situation already do draw a paycheck.

Those existing work requirements are designed to be flexible, however. States can suspend them, with federal permission, when economic conditions are dire enough to meet certain thresholds. When there aren’t jobs to be had, the government doesn’t have to boot people off the food aid rolls for not working.

Trump’s budget is ruthless to disabled and poor people

Mulvaney and Trump’s work rules proposal likely ends that flexibility, barring states from waiving the work rules for SNAP even when recessions bite hardest. Neither Mulvaney’s office’s documents nor the more detailed budget rationale from Perdue’s team fully explains the nature of the administration’s work rules, but both focus on the same “ABAWDs” (able-bodied adults without dependents) population subject to existing work rules.

But cutting these recipients off the SNAP lists even when there are no jobs to be had doesn’t add up to the level of savings that Trump, Perdue, and Mulvaney project. The USDA claims the new work rules will cut SNAP spending by some $75.1 billion over 10 years. Experts on SNAP have estimated that such a policy would save at most $20 to $25 billion over the same time frame.

Trump’s budget is premised on liar’s math in plenty of other places — most notably in its absurd claim that cutting rich people’s taxes by about $6 trillion will not only pay for itself but actually increase government revenue by a net $2 trillion — so it’s possible the discrepancies in the SNAP proposal have no actual explanation.

But even if they do, through some unheralded further tightening of SNAP’s work rules, Gundersen said the administration is still chasing ghosts.

“There is no evidence that SNAP reduces people’s work effort,” he said. “If these things are imposed you’re gonna have millions more Americans food insecure. And then the next time there’s a recession, we’ll see even greater problems.”

“Stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”

Trump also hopes to shave a further $2 billion off of SNAP’s total price tag by instituting a new application fee on stores. It is currently free for retailers to apply for authorization to accept food stamps. The USDA processed roughly 65,000 applications for new and re-authorizing retailers last year.

OMB projects the brand-new application fees to raise roughly a quarter-billion dollars a year in perpetuity, suggesting Trump intends to charge store owners close to $4,000 just for the privilege of seeking permission to participate in SNAP.

“That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” Gundersen said. “Especially for small grocers, imposing these costs on them, there will be a lot who say, ‘Forget it, I’m not doing this.’”

The revenues a store can generate from accepting government benefits cards are substantial enough that the new fee may not dissuade retailers en masse.

But as with any licensing fee or cost-of-entry increase, it will have some effect at the margin for retailers with more threadbare books. Some number of stores that would otherwise have begun offering services to low-income families now will not. The system which delivers food to the poorest will become artificially constrained in scope and reach as a result. Philosophically, the Trump administration is choosing to raise money off of food insecurity.

Even if the discouragement effect on expanding SNAP retailer networks is tiny, Gundersen said, stores that do pony up Trump’s new application fee will take it out on their shoppers.

“Where people do still apply, that cost will get passed on to consumers, driving up food costs,” he said. “That’s just a dumb idea.”

Behold the full horror of Donald Trump’s 25 percent food stamps cut was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

You probably won’t see the most important part of Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

The real work gets done behind closed doors.

CREDIT: AP/Diana Ofosu

President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Wednesday, closing out his tour of regions important to members of three major Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. While the summit is not expected to match the ostentation of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia or the religious symbolism of his trek to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, analysts say the meeting with the head of the Catholic Church remains a crucial one for the Trump administration.

But as preparations begin, a question remains: given the vast differences between Trump and Francis, what will they talk about?

On the policy front, the two have little in common. Francis published an entire papal encyclical defending the “very consistent scientific consensus” surrounding the issue of global climate change, but Trump has claimed it’s a hoax invented by the Chinese. Francis instructed all Catholic churches in Europe to take in Syrian refugees, but Trump is trying to ban them from entering the United States. Francis preaches a deeply progressive and poverty-focused understanding of economics, but business-mogul Trump is an ardent defender of aggressive capitalism and deregulation.

And then, of course, there’s the duo’s infamous feud over immigration: When the pontiff learned in 2016 that then-candidate Trump planned to build a border wall as president, he blasted the idea, implying the real estate mogul “is not Christian.”

“You’re looking at two men who are…completely different in ideology, philosophy, and style of governance.”

“You’re looking at two men who are…completely different in ideology, philosophy, and style of governance,” Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a Catholic theologian and professor at Manhattan College, told ThinkProgress via email.

Nonetheless, Francis and his aides have signaled the Vatican will welcome the president with open arms on Wednesday, with some Holy See officials expressing optimism about the summit. That’s not unusual for the Vatican, which traditionally strikes a conciliatory posture toward world leaders, according to Thomas Reese, a senior analyst the National Catholic Reporter.

“The Vatican has been meeting with world leaders for about 1,000 years,” Reese, who is also a Jesuit priest, said. “People they agree with, people they disagree with…the Vatican is used to this kind of thing.”

And Francis’ background as a Jesuit may make him even more likely to be gracious towards Trump, especially in public.

“One of the prime Jesuit virtues, which every Jesuit learns in the novitiate, is to give people the benefit of the doubt — presidents included,” said James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of the Catholic magazine America, who is also a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.

“The big question is, what are the two of them going to talk about when they’re alone with nobody but a translator, and what is Trump going to tweet after that meeting?”

However, most experts who spoke to ThinkProgress said the real action likely won’t occur during the scheduled photo-op. It’ll be immediately after, when the two leaders retire to Francis’ private library to sit across the table from one another for a private conversation.

“The big question is, what are the two of them going to talk about when they’re alone with nobody but a translator, and what is Trump going to tweet after that meeting?” Reese said.

Reese noted that when the pope meets a world leader, “90 percent” of the discussion is typically focused on foreign policy. There is good reason for this: the Church represents more than a billion people spread all over the world, and its bishops exert hefty influence on several national governments. What’s more, Francis has emerged as something of a power player on the global diplomatic stage, helping broker the deal that led to increased normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2015.

That leaves a lot of ground to cover for the two leaders, including a number of topics that may make Trump uncomfortable — such as climate change, immigration, and refugees. Martin said that while he doesn’t expect Francis to chide Trump, he also doesn’t expect the pontiff to stay silent on issues important to him.

“If questions like refugees and migrants arise, then expect the Pope to speak his mind,” Martin said.

“For Francis, Trump’s ‘America First’ slogan is illogical — [Francis] doesn’t believe in the usefulness of borders in the face of humanitarian crises like war, famine, and violence.”

Still, the pope has a vested interest in maintaining a close relationship with the United States, if for no other reason than to push America to make good use of its vast resources.

“For Francis, Trump’s ‘America First’ slogan is illogical — [Francis] doesn’t believe in the usefulness of borders in the face of humanitarian crises like war, famine, and violence,” Imperatori-Lee said. “So I think the pope will urge the president to use our considerable power in defense of those who need it most.”

The two leaders may also find common ground in the quest to forge peace in the Middle East. Francis convened a “prayer summit” of Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 2014, and Trump, fresh from his visit to Israel, has indicated a strong desire to strike a peace deal in the region. Moreover, both men have strongly condemned religious extremism in recent months, and the topic is likely to come up now that ISIS has claimed credit for the horrific explosion in Manchester, England on Tuesday that left at least 22 dead.

Whether or not the two leaders can actually achieve anything in these areas is a different question. But Reese noted that despite their vast differences, Francis’ powers of persuasion may be more influential with Trump than other heads of state: the president has already changed his mind on issues after speaking with world leaders, such as when he backed off a position regarding North Korea following a 10-minute conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Trump does have a thin skin, but, frankly, he’s shown himself able to totally reverse his position on some things,” Reese said. “The Vatican is looking for a partner they can work with.”

Plus, Imperatori-Lee noted that the pope may be particularly well-equipped to deal with the unpredictable U.S. president. Even if Trump exhibits more authoritarian habits, she said Francis — the first Latin American pope — “knows what dictators do and how they operate.”

You probably won’t see the most important part of Trump’s meeting with Pope Francis was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.