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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

How USDA is failing farmers

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Helena Bottemiller Evich reports in Politico:

ROCK PORT, Missouri — Rick Oswald is standing on the doorstep of the white farmhouse he grew up in, but almost nothing is as it should be.

To his right, four steel grain bins, usually shiny and straight, lie mangled and ripped open, spilling now-rotting corn into piles like sand dunes. The once manicured lawn has been overtaken by waist-tall cattails, their seeds carried in by flood waters that consumed this house, this farm and everything around it last spring.

“This house is 80 years old,” Oswald says, stepping inside the darkened living room, which now smells faintly of mold. “Never had water in it.”

American farmers are reeling after extreme rains followed by a “bomb cyclone”— an explosive storm that brought high winds and severe blizzard conditions — ravaged the heartland, turning once productive fields into lakes, killing livestock and destroying grain stores. The barrage of wet weather across the country this spring left a record-shattering 20 million acres unable to be planted — an area nearly the size of South Carolina. Other weather-related disasters, from fires in the West to hurricanes in the Southeast, have converged to make the past year one of the worst for agriculture in decades.

But the Agriculture Department is doing little to help farmers adapt to what experts predict is the new norm: increasingly extreme weather across much of the U.S. The department, which has a hand in just about every aspect of the industry, from doling out loans to subsidizing crop insurance, spends just 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget helping farmers adapt to climate change, whether it’s identifying the unique risks each region faces or helping producers rethink their practices so they’re better able to withstand extreme rain and periods of drought.

Even these limited efforts, however, have been severely hampered by the Trump administration’s hostility to even discussing climate change, according to interviews with dozens of current and former officials, farmers and scientists.

Top officials rarely, if ever, address the issue directly. That message translates into a conspiracy of silence at lower levels of the department, and a lingering fear among many who work on climate-related issues that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they say the wrong thing. When new tools to help farmers adapt to climate change are created, they typically are not promoted and usually do not appear on the USDA’s main resource pages for farmers or social-media postings for the public.

The department’s primary vehicle for helping farmers adapt to climate change — a network of regional climate “hubs” launched during the Obama Administration — has continued to operate with extremely limited staff and no dedicated resources, while keeping a very low-profile to avoid sparking the ire of top USDA officials or the White House.

“I don’t know if its paranoia, but they’re being more watchful of what we’re doing at the local level,” one current hub employee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid possible retaliation. “It’s very interesting that we were able to survive.”

The result is parallel universes of information. On the climate hubs’ under-the-radar Twitter account, farmers, ranchers and the public receive frank reports about monsoon rain storms becoming more intense across the Southwest, fire seasons getting longer across the West and how rising temperatures are already affecting pollinators.

“With #climatechange, wet is wetter, hot is hotter, dry is drier… and what do we do about all that?” reads one hubs account tweet from last April, quoting a New Jersey farmer talking about how to adapt to climate change.

The climate hubs’ account has only 3,200 followers. There are about 2 million farmers and ranchers in the country. By contrast, the official USDA Twitter account, with nearly 640,000 followers, completely avoids the topic. That account hasn’t used the word “climate” since December 2017.

Nearly every farmer and rancher POLITICO interviewed for this story — dozens in hard-hit states including Nebraska, Ohio and California – said they had not heard of the climate hubs. Of the few producers who had heard of them, most were not aware of the many adaptation tools and resources that have been developed to help with decision-making.

Though Oswald has been unusually vocal about climate change negatively affecting farmers, he, too, hasn’t heard much from the climate hubs, nor does he ever hear USDA officials broach the subject. Asked if his local USDA office ever talks about climate change adaptation, Oswald laughed.

“No.”

The logic for such silence makes little sense to farmers like Oswald: Most believe that the climate is changing, though only a small share believe it’s primarily driven by human activities. But the department doesn’t have to dive into the debate about what’s causing climate change to help farmers prepare and adapt.

“I’m standing right here in the middle of climate change right now,” Oswald said.

***

The Agriculture Department is not one of those government agencies that believes it does best by doing least.

Founded in 1862, at Abraham Lincoln’s request, the department would grow to play a central role in the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt, embracing a more activist approach to respond to crises like the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Today, its mission is even more expansive. The department doles out billions of dollars in farm subsidies, underwrites insurance on millions of acres of crops, researches and helps control diseases that threaten plants and animals and buys up massive quantities of food when farmers produce too much — a surplus that supplies food banks and schools nationwide.

But when it comes to climate change, there has been a curious silence hanging over the department, even as its own economists have warned that warming temperatures will make helping the agriculture sector more expensive in the future. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some interesting charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2019 at 5:58 pm

A Guide to Impeachment by the NY Times

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The NY Times offers this concise guide (at the end of this article):

  • What Impeachment Is: Impeachment is charging a holder of public office with misconduct. Here are answers to seven key questions about the process.
  • What the Accusation Is: President Trump is accused of breaking the law by pressuring the president of Ukraine to look into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election. A second person, this one with “firsthand knowledge” of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, came forward and is now protected as a whistle-blower.
  • What Was Said: The White House released a reconstructed transcript of Mr. Trump’s call to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
  • A Visual Timeline: Here are the key figures and dates as Mr. Trump and his allies pressured Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
  • Why Now: A whistle-blower complaint filed in August said that White House officials believed they had witnessed Mr. Trump abuse his power for political gain. Here are 8 takeaways from the complaint.
  • How Trump Responds: The president said the impeachment battle would be “a positive” for his re-election campaign. Mr. Trump has repeatedly referred to the whistle-blower as “crooked” and condemned the news media reporting on the complaint. At the beginning of October, Mr. Trump publicly called on China to examine Mr. Biden as well.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 2:28 am

I keep returning to this image

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 4:36 pm

Text messages show Boeing employees knew in 2016 of problems that turned deadly on the 737 Max

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Michael Laris reports a clear case of corporate nonfeasance in the Washington Post:

Text messages between Boeing employees in 2016 indicate that the company was aware of major problems with an automated feature on the 737 Max jet that made the aircraft difficult to control, the messages show.

Safety investigators say the system, known as MCAS, had repeatedly pushed the noses of planes down in Indonesia and Ethi­o­pia, contributing to crashes that killed 346 people in the past year.

One text message with a misspelling said the feature was engaging “itself like craxy.” Another termed the problem “egregious.”

Another indicated that the Boeing employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration. “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” read one message.

“It wasnt a lie, no one told us that was the case,” came the response.

Boeing did not turn the messages over to the FAA until Thursday, federal officials said Friday.

The FAA said in a statement that it “finds the substance of the document concerning. The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery.”

Long before the Max disasters, Boeing had a history of failing to fix safety problems

FAA administrator Steve Dickson said in a letter to Boeing Friday: “I expect your explanation immediately.”

Boeing said in a statement that it had provided Congress a document “containing statements by a former Boeing employee.” The company said it “will continue to cooperate” with an investigation by the House Transportation Committee and “we will continue to follow the direction of the FAA and other global regulators, as we work to safely return the 737 MAX to service.”

The existence of the text messages was first reported by Reuters. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 11:56 am

“Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President”

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Admiral former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, writes a column with the above title in the NY Times today:

Last week I attended two memorable events that reminded me why we care so very much about this nation and also why our future may be in peril.

The first was a change of command ceremony for a storied Army unit in which one general officer passed authority to another. The second event was an annual gala for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) Society that recognizes past and present members of the intelligence and Special Operations community for their heroism and sacrifice to the nation. What struck me was the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events — and the words and deeds emanating from the White House.

On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment.

They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders. They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families. They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades. They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for — including, if necessary, their lives.

Having served with both officers for the past 20 years, I know that they personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military with genuineness of their humility, their uncompromising integrity, their willingness to sacrifice all for a worthy cause, and the pride they had in their soldiers.

Later that week, at the O.S.S. Society dinner, there were films and testimonials to the valor of the men and women who had fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. We also celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, recognizing those brave Americans and allies who sacrificed so much to fight Nazism and fascism. We were reminded that the Greatest Generation went to war because it believed that we were the good guys — that wherever there was oppression, tyranny or despotism, America would be there. We would be there because freedom mattered. We would be there because the world needed us and if not us, then who?

Also that evening we recognized the incredible sacrifice of a new generation of Americans: an Army Special Forces warrant officer who had been wounded three times, the most recent injury costing him his left leg above the knee. He was still in uniform and still serving. There was an intelligence officer, who embodied the remarkable traits of those men and women who had served in the O.S.S. And a retired Marine general, whose 40 years of service demonstrated all that was honorable about the Corps and public service.

But the most poignant recognition that evening was for a young female sailor who had been killed in Syria serving alongside our allies in the fight against ISIS. Her husband, a former Army Green Beret, accepted the award on her behalf. Like so many that came before her, she had answered the nation’s call and willingly put her life in harm’s way.

For everyone who ever served in uniform, or in the intelligence community, for those diplomats who voice the nation’s principles, for the first responders, for the tellers of truth and the millions of American citizens who were raised believing in American values — you would have seen your reflection in the faces of those we honored last week.

But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events, there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines. The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.

These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, “I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!”

Those words echoed with me throughout the week. It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great. We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, . . .

Continue reading.

And along those same lines, the Washington Post in this morning’s Daily 202 column quotes some others from the military:

Mattis and McRaven are the latest in a string of retired four-star military officers to speak out against Trump in just the past week:

“There is blood on Trump’s hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies,” retired four-star Marine general John Allen said Sunday. The former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS under Barack Obama told CNN that the unfolding crisis in Syria was “completely foreseeable” after Trump “greenlighted it.” The White House denies that Trump did so. “This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats,” said Allen, who opposed Trump during the 2016 campaign. “I said there would be blood but could not have imagined this outcome.”

Trump’s decision to withdraw “could not come at a worse time,” said Joseph Votel, a retired four-star Army general who headed Central Command’s military operations in Syria until last spring. “The decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us,” Votel wrote in a piece for the Atlantic last week with Elizabeth Dent, who worked on anti-ISIS efforts at the State Department from 2014 to 2019. “It didn’t have to be this way. The U.S. worked endlessly to placate our Turkish allies … Yet Ankara repeatedly reneged on its agreements with the U.S.”

Votel recalled first meeting Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi on the ground in May 2016: “From the start, it was obvious he was not only an impressive and thoughtful man, but a fighter who was clearly thinking about the strategic aspects of the campaign against ISIS and aware of the challenges of fighting a formidable enemy. He could see the long-term perils from the civil war, but recognized that the most immediate threat to his people was ISIS. After a fitful start in Syria, I concluded that we had finally found the right partner who could help us defeat ISIS without getting drawn into the murkier conflict against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”

— Trump populated his inner circle with generals when he took office. He said they looked the part and came “out of central casting.” They’re all gone now: Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, Mattis. Others who were never onboard with Trump have drawn the president’s ire. Last November, Trump lashed out at McRaven when “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked about his comment that Trump referring to the free press as “the enemy of the people” is the greatest threat to democracy. Rather than respond to the substance of this critique, Trump called McRaven a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer.” Then he said the four-star admiral should have caught bin Laden earlier.

— Mattis closed his speech with a serious tone as he praised America’s “Kurdish allies” and quoted Abraham Lincoln about the danger of “corrosion from within.” The 69-year-old lamented the “national paralysis” that has “supplanted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt.”

“We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise and we have brushed aside the possibility that the person with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right,” he said. “We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies.”

— Mattis hinted at Trump’s testy relationship with the brass during the comedy portion of his routine in New York. “I think the only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn’t think is overrated is Colonel Sanders,” Mattis said, an allusion to the president’s fondness for Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food.

It’s worth noting that Trump used his speech at the Al Smith dinner in 2016 to rip into Hillary Clinton. At the time, many in the room expressed surprise that he wasn’t very good natured about the ribbing. Notably, Mattis referred to the president as “Donald Trump” in his speech and didn’t use the honorific “President Trump” that he usually does.

There’s much more in the column.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 9:32 am

The Republican political operatives who call the shots at Facebook

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It’s becoming clear now why Facebook refuses to remove false and deceptive political posts. From Popular Information:

In recent months, Facebook has repeatedly taken actions that benefit Republicans and the right-wing. For example:

  • Facebook altered the language of its advertising policy to allow political candidates to lie in Facebook ads. The decision benefits Trump, who is spending millions on ads featuring claims that have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers.
  • Facebook recruited the Daily Caller, a far-right site founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, to become an official fact-checker for Facebook. The decision was made even though the Daily Caller has a history of inaccurate reporting targeting Democrats. No liberal publication was added to Facebook’s fact-checking program.
  • Facebook hired former Republican Senator Jon Kyl to produce a report on whether Facebook is biased against conservatives. Facebook did not make any effort to study whether the platform had any bias against liberals.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg invited right-wing pundits to his home to discuss “partnerships” and “free speech.” Invitees included Tucker Carlson, who recently said that immigrants were making America “dirtier,” and Brent Bozell, who said President Obama looked like a “skinny ghetto crackhead.” Zuckerberg does not appear to have met with any liberal pundits.

Why is this happening? Popular Information spoke with three former Facebook employees to find out. All of them pointed to the leadership in Facebook’s powerful DC office.

“Everyone in power is a Republican,” one former Facebook employee based in the DC office told Popular Information. The person requested anonymity because they are still employed in the tech industry.

Indeed, the three top leaders of Facebook’s DC office all have extensive backgrounds in Republican politics: Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan; Vice President for U.S. Public Policy Kevin Martin; and Public Policy Director for Global Elections Katie Harbath.

“Decisions are made to benefit Republicans because they are paranoid about their reputation among conservative Republicans, particularly Trump,” the former Facebook employee said.  The other former Facebook employees did not agree to be quoted.

Facebook declined to respond to a detailed set of questions about the operation of Facebook’s DC office. “We’re not going to have a comment to share,” a Facebook spokesman told Popular Information.

The man behind Kavanaugh

The most powerful man in Facebook’s DC office is Joel Kaplan, who is in charge of the company’s public policy globally. Kaplan, who was hired by Facebook in 2011, was deputy White House chief of staff during the George W. Bush administration.

Kaplan landed in the spotlight after serious allegations of sexual harassment emerged against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In a show of support, Kaplan sat behind Kavanaugh during the Senate hearing about the allegations, angering many Facebook employees.

“Our leadership team recognizes that they’ve made mistakes handling the events of the last week and we’re grateful for all the feedback from our employees,” Facebook said in response to the controversy, seemingly acknowledging it was a mistake for Kaplan to attend the hearing. But after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, Kaplan threw him a party.

Today, Kaplan serves as an advocate for right-wing sites on Facebook. “Any time there was an issue with Breitbart or Daily Caller, Joel made the decision, and he always acted to protect them,” the former Facebook employee told Popular Information.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Kaplan “pushed to partner with right-wing news site The Daily Caller’s fact-checking division” after conservatives complained that other fact-checkers, like the Associated Press, had a liberal bias. Kaplan overruled other executives in the DC office who noted that the Daily Caller frequently published misinformation. Kaplan also pushed to maintain Breitbart’s “whitelist” status on Facebook, which allowed the publication to evade Facebook’s rules on hate speech.

A GOP delegate and also Facebook’s Director for Global Elections 

Katie Harbath, who is in charge of Facebook’s election policy, broke the news to the Biden campaign that it would allow the Trump campaign ad to run an ad featuring a claim that had been debunked by Facebook’s own fact-checkers. “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Harbath wrote in a letter.

Harbath was defending Facebook’s policy to allow politicians to lie in ads, which was first reported in Popular Information. The decision benefits the Trump campaign, which is spending millions on Facebook ads that include obvious falsehoods.

She is also a longtime Republican political operative. Before joining Facebook in 2011, Harbath was the chief digital strategist for the Republican National Committee. She was also the digital director for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Her work in Republican politics dates back until at least 2003.

Harbath didn’t give up her involvement in Republican Party politics after joining Facebook. In 2014, she was an official delegate to the Virginia Republican Convention, where she supported the nomination of her former boss, Ed Gillespie, for Senate. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s disturbing, to say the least. It certainly is revealing with respect to Mark Zuckerberg’s political outlook and loyalities.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2019 at 10:33 am

Nancy Pelosi stands up to Donald Trump — something those in the White House cannot do

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Finally Trump is facing some decent and principled pushback. From the photo above, you can see President Trump looking dazed and confused. He doesn’t understand just how bad his Syria decision was, and because he has difficulty in assimilating information that conflicts with his biases, he is floundering — and he quite clearly doesn’t like that feeling, so naturally (being Trump) he blames others. He simply cannot process the idea that he might have been wrong.

Lawrence O’Donnell has an excellent comment on the meeting and photo and their significance:

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2019 at 10:26 am

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