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Archive for July 11th, 2017

Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

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Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times, report:

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

And the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided the titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.

When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.

Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: “As previous administrations have recognized, it’s good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books.”

With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.

“Competition will be fierce,” the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. “In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates.”

Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.

“You may say this is an agency’s job, but the agencies are totally overloaded,” Luxton said.


On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter “L” across the agency’s sign-in sheet.

Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.

But Peterson had an in with the new administration.

Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.

The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.

Neither side would reveal what was discussed. “I’m not sure that’s reporting information I have to give you,” Peterson said.

But lobbying records offered clues.

Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.

For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.

Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.

Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron’s nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.

The organization says on its website that its goals include reducing “the regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by addressing invasive species.” One way to do that is to use pesticides. The nonprofit’s mission includes creating “business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species.”

Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron’s organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its “generous sponsors.”

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was “getting biocontrol agents to market faster,” according to meeting minutes.

Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: “Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers’ access to innovation.”

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron’s relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.


Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump’s deregulation teams have done either. . .

Continue reading.

The US is moving rapidly to having the kind of secret government seen in authoritarian dictatorships.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 11:43 am

Explicit evidence of Trump campaign’s overt collusion with the Russian government now revealed

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I expect that we’ll shortly see a series of provocative if not deranged tweets from President Trump as he attempts to distract attention from the latest (and clearest) evidence yet of how his campaign colluded with Russia. This is treason.

Jo Becker, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.

Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.

But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald Trump Jr. was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.

The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.

After being told that The Times was about to publish the content of the emails, instead of responding to a request for comment, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out images of them himself on Tuesday. . .

Continue reading.

The story contains Donald Trump Jr.’s release of the emails regarding the meeting. And there’s a lot more. Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 8:53 am

Rooney Finest, RazoRock Vi’Zeppino, and the iKon 101 (with new blade)

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Zi’Peppino has for me a fine fragrance, and there’s nothing wrong with the lather, which the Rooney Finest created with ease. I put a new blade in the 101 after a less than stellar shave, and it’s back now to stellar again: smooth and easy shaving with no nicks and a BBS result. A good splash of Vi’ Zeppino aftershave brings the entire satisfying albeit brief ritual to a pleasant conclusion.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 8:42 am

Posted in Shaving

When Bannon and Kushner asked two businessmen who do contract work for the military how to proceed in Afghanistan, guess what they said?

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They said to turn it over to private military contractors (and to pay those contractors handsomely). Big surprise, eh? (Do you get the idea that Bannon and Kushner are way out of their depth?) Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt, and Michael Gordon report in the NY Times:

President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations.

“The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

Last month, Mr. Trump gave the Pentagon authority to send more American troops to Afghanistan — a number believed to be about 4,000 — as a stopgap measure to stabilize the security situation there. But as the administration grapples with a longer-term strategy, Mr. Trump’s aides have expressed concern that he will be locked into policies that failed under the past two presidents.

Mr. Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met with the president on Afghanistan, according to an official, while Mr. Prince briefed several White House officials, including General McMaster, said a second person.

Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers. While he was at Blackwater, the company became involved in one of the most notorious episodes of the Iraq war, when its employees opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 civilians.

After selling his stake in Blackwater in 2010, Mr. Prince mustered an army-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates. He has cultivated close ties to the Trump administration; his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

If Mr. Trump opted to use more contractors and fewer troops, it could also enrich DynCorp, which has already been paid $2.5 billion by the State Department for its work in the country, mainly training the Afghan police force. Mr. Feinberg controls DynCorp through Cerberus Capital Management, a firm he co-founded in 1992.

Mr. McFate, who used to work for DynCorp in Africa, said it could train and equip the Afghan Army, a costly, sometimes dangerous mission now handled by the American military. “The appeal to that,” he said, “is you limit your boots on the ground and you limit your casualties.” Some officials noted that under the government’s conflict-of-interest rules, DynCorp would not get a master contract to run operations in Afghanistan. . .

Continue reading.

It’s become clear that no one in the Trump administration has the vaguest clue as to what constitutes a conflict of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2017 at 6:47 am

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