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Archive for March 27th, 2019

I think it’s starting to dawn on Republican Senators that President Trump is batshit crazy

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Alexander Bolton reports in The Hill:

Republican lawmakers were caught completely off guard by President Trump’s renewed push to repeal and replace ObamaCare and privately complain it’s a dumb political strategy heading into the 2020 election.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose panel has jurisdiction over health care, said he received no heads-up from Trump or the White House that the president would call Tuesday for the GOP to become “the party of health care.”

“I don’t think there was any heads-up on anything that he was going to say,” said Grassley, who added that he didn’t even know Trump was meeting with the GOP conference on Tuesday until Monday night.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of another key panel that handles health care, said he didn’t know about Trump’s new health care push until the president tweeted about it at 11:58 a.m. Tuesday, shortly before he walked into a Republican conference lunch to announce it in person.

If Trump had told GOP senators of his plans, they say they would have sought to convince him not to throw their party back into a war over health care — the issue Democrats believe was instrumental to their takeover of the House in last year’s midterms.

A safe 2018 Senate map that had Republican incumbents defending just a handful of seats and Democrats trying to protect senators in deep-red states helped the GOP overcome the blue wave in the House. Republicans actually gained two seats in the Senate.

But the 2020 map is seen as more challenging, and many in the GOP can’t understand why Trump would plunge them into a fight over health care just as he was surfing a wave of good news brought by the end of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“It doesn’t seem to make sense politically,” said one Republican senator, who questioned why Trump would give Democrats a new avenue of attack.

Another Republican senator said, . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article, the bit that justifies my use of “batshit crazy” terminology:

The lawmaker said Trump is “throwing down a challenge in advance of the elections which makes it even more difficult,” describing the current politic environment as “toxic” for passing ambitious legislation.

“If you look at past history, we don’t really know how to do it,” the senator added, referring to broad health care legislation.

McCarthy urged Trump in a phone call to drop his administration’s effort to have the law struck down in the courts, arguing the strategy makes little sense after Democrats won control of the House in November after campaigning on health care, according to reports Wednesday by Axios and The Washington Post.

Trump, nevertheless, doubled down on his position Wednesday. He defended the Justice Department’s argument for striking down the law he called a “disaster,” arguing that it had sent premiums soaring and has turned out to be “far too expensive for the people, not only for the country.”

“If the Supreme Court rules that ObamaCare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than ObamaCare,” the president promised at the White House on Wednesday.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2019 at 4:52 pm

“Happy to Do It”: Emails Show Current FAA Chief Coordinated With Ex-Lobbyist Colleagues on Policy

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This certainly seems like a corruption of good governmental policies. Derek Kravitz and Jack Gillum report in ProPublica:

More than two years ago, the man who is now acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Dan Elwell, got a work email from one of his former lobbyist colleagues. She wanted an update on the airline industry’s push to roll back rules on mishandled baggage and extra fees, among other Obama-era regulations.

“We are anxious to know when we’ll have a yes or no,” wrote Sharon Pinkerton, the top lobbyist for Airlines for America, in a Feb. 3, 2017, email.

Elwell, a former airline lobbyist himself who had worked with Pinkerton at Airlines for America, wrote back 31 minutes later. He said had he “checked with” the Department of Transportation’s top lawyer. “We’ll keep an eye on them.”

Elwell was working at the time on a secretive deregulation task force. Weeks after the emails, the industry got a yes and the regulations were nullified.

A month later, Elwell initiated another exchange. He emailed JetBlue executives, asking them for help with “an airport privatization issue.” He later asked if the airline had “any luck finding a JetBlue exec we can throw to the lions, er, I mean, introduce to a nice reporter to say nice things about airport privatization?” JetBlue, the airline lobbyist and the FAA then coordinated on talking points for a story about privatizing management of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Political appointees typically aren’t allowed to participate in issues that involve their former employer or clients they have worked for, as part of President Donald Trump’s ethics rules. But the rules did not apply to Elwell during his first few months at the FAA when he worked on the deregulatory team.

He had been classified as a kind of government consultant — a “special-government employee” — who isn’t bound by the ethics rules.

In a statement, the FAA said that Elwell “has no reportable conflicts of interest” and, as a special-government employee, “he was subjected to and complied with the same, stringent requirements and was engaged in no activities that posed a conflict of interest.” (Read the agency’s full statement.)

Airlines for America said in a statement: “As the voice of the U.S. airline industry, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t interact with certain regulatory and legislative agencies that work regularly with the carriers we represent. It is our responsibility to educate and communicate with organizations that work to make this the safest aviation system in the world.”

Elwell’s designation as a special-government employee also allowed him to continue his private consulting business even as he worked for the government. It’s unclear if Elwell did that. Virginia state records show his business was still incorporated through April of last year, but his financial disclosures don’t list any private income while he was in government.

What is clear is that Elwell continued strategizing with his former lobbyist colleagues even after he was no longer a special-government employee and rose up to the top ranks of the agency.

Elwell was named the FAA’s deputy administrator in June 2017. A month later, Pinkerton emailed Elwell, asking him to “weigh in on directly” on compliance issues contained in the FAA’s five-year funding bill.

Elwell wrote back that he would be “Happy to do it,” and he asked a subordinate to help “set it up.” . . .

Continue reading.

At the link, you can read reproductions of the actual letters.

The US government is failing, badly.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2019 at 1:37 pm

A destructive Administration: Interior Nominee Intervened to Block Report on Endangered Species

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Eric Lipton reports in the NY Times:

After years of effort, scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service had a moment of celebration as they wrapped up a comprehensive analysis of the threat that three widely used pesticides present to hundreds of endangered species, like the kit fox and the seaside sparrow.

“Woohoo!” Patrice Ashfield, then a branch chief at Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters, wrote to her colleagues in August 2017.

Their analysis found that two of the pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos, were so toxic that they “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals.

But just before the team planned to make its findings public in November 2017, something unexpected happened: Top political appointees of the Interior Department, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, blocked the release and set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides.

Leading that intervention was David Bernhardt, then the deputy secretary of the interior and a former lobbyist and oil-industry lawyer. In October 2017, he abruptly summoned staff members to the first of a rapid series of meetings in which the Fish and Wildlife Service was directed to take the new approach, one that pesticide makers and users had lobbied intensively to promote.

Mr. Bernhardt is now President Trump’s nominee to become interior secretary. The Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing on his confirmation Thursday.

This sequence of events is detailed in more than 84,000 pages of Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency documents obtained via Freedom of Information requests by The New York Times and, separately, by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that sued the federal government to force it to complete the pesticide studies.

The documents provide a case study of how the Trump administration has been using its power to second-guess or push aside conclusions reached by career professionals, particularly in the area of public health and the environment.

The decision to block the release of the report represented a victory for the pesticide industry, which has industry allies and former executives sprinkled through the administration. Among those with the most at stake were Dow AgroSciences, a manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, which is used on dozens of fruits and vegetables, and FMC Corporation, a manufacturer of malathion, which is used against mosquitoes as well as chewing and sucking insects that attack a range of crops including tomatoes, strawberries and walnuts.

Dow, which was recently renamed Corteva, donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inauguration committee. E.P.A. and Interior Department records show that top pesticide industry executives had regular access to senior agency officials, pressing them to reconsider the way the federal government evaluates the threat pesticides cause to endangered species.

A Dow spokesman said the shift in policy was unrelated to the $1 million contribution. The new approach will result in “a better understanding of where and how pesticides are being used,” said Gregg M. Schmidt, a Corteva spokesman.

Spokesmen for FMC and Adama — the other primary makers of the pesticides being studied — as well as their lawyers and CropLife America, the trade group that represents them, declined to comment.

Asked if Mr. Bernhardt’s intervention was appropriate or motivated by a desire to serve the industry’s interests, an Interior Department spokeswoman said his actions had been “governed solely by legitimate concerns regarding the legal sufficiency and policy.”

Before he joined the Trump administration, Mr. Bernhardt worked as a lawyer and lobbyist representing clients including the oil and gas industry. He was frequently paid to challenge endangered species-related matters, including one involving a tiny silvery blue fish called the delta smelt whose protection by the federal government has resulted in limits on water use by California farmers.

Agency records suggest Mr. Bernhardt, after having had only limited involvement in the issue, had nine meetings or calls on his schedule with Fish and Wildlife staff in October and November 2017, and helped write the letter saying the Interior Department was no longer prepared to release the draft. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the article:

Aaron Hobbs, a onetime lobbyist for CropLife, the leading pesticide industry trade association, who now works for an affiliate of the industry-funded group, reached out to Mr. Jorjani and invited him to an April 2017 meeting with industry officials to discuss the endangered species effort — shortly after sending the letter asking the agency to kill the Fish and Wildlife Service’s work. He followed up again in Julyin an attempt to set up another meeting.

Top officials from the E.P.A. and Interior and Agriculture Departments began a series of meetings in June 2017, often involving representatives from the White House.

Among the other participants in these meetings, the records show, was Rebeckah Adcock, who until April 2017 had been a director of government affairs and registered lobbyist for CropLife and who now works as a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department.

Ms. Adcock joined the discussions even though the ethics agreementshe signed said she would not participate “personally and substantially in any particular matter” involving CropLife for one year. An Agriculture Department spokesman said this did not violate that ban because she had not specifically lobbied on endangered species matters for CropLife.

Even as these meetings were taking place, staff members inside the Fish and Wildlife Service were wrapping up the enormous task of assessing the threat presented by these pesticides, email records show.

The team had concluded that chlorpyrifos put 1,399 species — a mixture of animals and plants — in jeopardy, while malathion put 1,284 of them in jeopardy and diazinon, a third pesticide that was evaluated, placed 175 species in jeopardy. There are 1,663 species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States, meaning that two of the pesticides may be putting most of them in jeopardy. (This information, agency officials said, was accidentally released in a Freedom of Information response obtained by The Times. They intended to keep this tally a secret, because the assessment was not final.)

The agency staff was not recommending that the pesticides be banned. Instead, they were proposing changes in how the pesticides could be used, including possible restrictions on their use in areas where endangered species are found, or at certain times of year, the documents say.

Lawyers who work for the interior secretary’s office wanted a very different approach. They advocated abandoning the presumption that use of a pesticide by a farmer or a golf course might directly cause the death of or harm to an endangered species, officials said.

Their argument was that because farmers, for example, do not manufacture the pesticide, their use of it means that any harm caused is an indirect effect, as defined under federal law. There is a much higher standard of proof needed to demonstrate that an indirect effect has harmed an endangered species. The law requires that this harm be shown to be “reasonably certain to occur.” The revised approach is almost certainly going to result in fewer plants and animals being judged to be in jeopardy of extinction as a result of continued pesticide use.

The shift in approach goes far beyond a single Fish and Wildlife Service analysis. In early 2018, Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Zinke and Mr. Ross agreed to work toward a new framework for all endangered species evaluations, a move that CropLife called “a positive step towards solving this important and complex issue.”

Documents show that the administration does not now expect to make public any draft results of the revised assessment until April 2020, two and a half years later than had been planned.

The Trump administration is highly destructive.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2019 at 7:51 am

Keyhole brush with Cavendish CK-6 and the ATT S1

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Some how the Keyhole brush seems to go with the Cavendish illustration, which I somehow see as vaguely Sherlock Holmesian, despite the obvious beard. (Using a bearded guy as an illustration for a shaving soap seems also a bit odd.) And the brush did a great job, helped considerably by the high quality of the soap. I noticed this morning that one effect of the CK-6 formulation is that when I rinse following a pass, my skin is extremely slick.

Three passes with Above the Tie’s excellent S1 slant, here on a UFO handle, and after a good rinse and dry, a generous splash of Cavendish aftershave, which has a pleasant and long-lasting fragrance. And my skin feels wondrously soft. Thanks, CK-6.

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2019 at 7:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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