In depleting the government news, which helps avoid scrutiny and also promotes personal rule, we have two stories - "Under Trump, an Already Depleted I.R.S. Could Face Deep Cuts," and "Attorney general seeks resignations of 46 US attorneys." The second is actually pretty normal, except that it's not usually done until replacement attorneys have been at least nominated. That hasn't happened. Sessions's portfolio has been less unfilled than the rest of the administration, but it's still not exactly off to a gallop. Still, I think this is mostly to make sure nobody opposing his crackdown on minorities is in the offices.
In bipartisan horrors, we have "America's spooks want Congress to extend massive spying powers but still won't answer Congress's basic questions." That's the domestic spying capabilities that keep being renewed regardless of who is in charge. It's expected they'll be renewed again.
We also have an article on Sebastian Gorka, the "terrorism guru" of the Trump administration who - as has been documented in previous news posts - has ties to neofascist groups in Hungary. "The Curious Case of Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s New Terrorism Guru."
"The super-secret division in charge of the Russia investigation" is an attempt to figure out what the FBI is doing regarding Russian interference in the US election. The answer: yes, they're doing things. It's not fast.
A couple of environmental stories: "EPA Head Scott Pruitt Says CO2 Isn't A Primary Contributor To Global Warming. He's Wrong" and "Mass. is enforcing its environmental rules less" - the former is Scott Pruitt doing what the GOP and he in particular do: override science in favour of predetermined policy goals. The second is a story from Massachusetts, wherein they're less able to enforce their own laws due to Federal budgetary actions.
Remember those refugees fleeing the US and seeking asylum in Canada? It hasn't gone away. Two stories, one from the Americans, one from the Canadians. "Since Trump, Quiet Upstate Road Becomes a Busy Exit From U.S." and "'I want to die,' 2-year-old refugee said during hours-long walk to Manitoba from U.S."
"Vandals target Seattle synagogue with anti-Semitic graffiti" - specifically holocaust denial graffiti. Ugly ugly ugly.
In health, a plethora of nasties: "Expect the CBO to estimate large coverage losses from the GOP health care plan" - the estimate being made here says 'at least 15 million.' Also, see "House GOP health bill would cut women's services," and "GOP congressman says we need to repeal Obamacare so men don’t have to pay for prenatal care" - women are, of course, going to get the short end of the neofascist stick, as always. And in a separate bill, "House Republicans would let employers demand workers’ genetic test results." It's like something out of Gattaca.
----- 1 -----
Under Trump, an Already Depleted I.R.S. Could Face Deep Cuts
By ALAN RAPPEPORT | The New York Times | MARCH 2, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump has a rocky history with the Internal Revenue Service, which he has complained audits him with unfair ferocity. Now he wants to significantly cut the tax agency’s funding at a time when it has already been bleeding staff and struggling to keep up with a flood of returns ahead of Tax Day.
The plans, revealed this week in documents associated with the White House budget outline, put Mr. Trump at odds with his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who has argued that the I.R.S. needs more money and a larger staff.
Another round of cuts, tax experts say, could put one of the few federal departments that pay for themselves on life support.
“This is an agency that has had every last drop squeezed out of it,” said Dennis J. Ventry Jr., a member of the I.R.S. advisory council and a law professor at the University of California, Davis. “I don’t know how it’s going to sustain itself.”
Continue reading the main story
The White House budget office has proposed a 14.1 percent cut to the I.R.S. for the fiscal year that begins in October, reducing the agency’s budget to $9.65 billion; six years ago, it stood at $12.1 billion ($13.6 billion when adjusted for inflation).
If approved, the cuts would happen when the number of audits is down and customer service complaints are up as a result of the drop in funding.
----- 2 -----
America's spooks want Congress to extend massive spying powers but still won't answer Congress's basic questions
Cory Doctorow | Boing Boing | 10 March 2017
Two of the NSA's mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden are Prism (which give the NSA "bulk data" access to the servers of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others) and Upstream (through which the NSA taps the internet's fiber optic backbones). Both are possible because of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires this year.
The NSA have come back to Congress for reauthorization of 702, with the support of both the outgoing Obama administration and the Trump administration. Members of the House and Senate committees that oversee 702 have renewed their longstanding requests for the most basic facts about these programs, such as number of Americans that the NSA is spying on through these programs.
The Obama administration stonewalled on this, and it looks like the Trump administration will as well. It also looks like the Republican Congress will reauthorize this black-box mass spying on Americans, just as the Democratic Congress did before them.
----- 3 -----
The Curious Case of Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s New Terrorism Guru
By Colin Kahl | Foreign Policy
March 3, 2017
[This is the guy with ties to fascist groups in Hungary]
There has been a lot written lately about Sebastian Gorka. The former national security editor at Breitbart is currently deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and a member of Stephen Bannon’s internal White House “think tank,” the Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG). If you’re not intimately familiar with Gorka’s foreign-policy chops, that’s not unusual – prior to taking his current position, Gorka, who holds a doctorate in political science from Corvinus University in Hungary, was an obscure figure, working on the fringes of the counterterrorism community.
Now he is everywhere, appearing regularly on TV to defend Trump’s ban on travelers and refugees from Muslim-majority countries and elaborate on the president’s murky foreign policy. He is particularly fond of criticizing the Obama administration for not being manly enough to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” In a March 1 tweet, aping Trump’s penchant for odd capitalization, Gorka wrote: “After 8 years of obfuscation and disastrous Counterterrorism policies those 3 words [radical Islamic terrorism] are key to victory against Global Jihadism.” In a similar vein, he told Sean Hannity at CPAC on February 22 that “the only way you can win any war … is when you are allowed to talk truthfully about who the enemy is.” But, not to worry, Gorka has assured us, “the alpha males are back” and a “new sheriff is in town, his name is Donald J. Trump.”
When I was a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, I didn’t have a lot of time for media appearances or keeping up with my Twitter feed (we had a lot of meetings). That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Gorka.
In his myriad media appearances, Gorka has a clear shtick. In interview after interview, the good doctor reflexively calls any implied criticism of Trump’s policies “fallacious,” “fake news,” “absurd,” “churlish,” and “asinine” (this BBC interview is an instant classic). In defending Trump’s foreign-policy agenda, Gorka loves to rail against “unnamed sources” who couldn’t possibly know what really happens inside White House national security meetings because they aren’t in the room, like he is. Asked on the PBS NewsHour, for example, about reports questioning the value of the intelligence gleaned from the recent Yemen raid that resulted in the death of a U.S. Navy SEAL, Gorka dismissed them as “wholly fallacious,” and “I can tell you because I’m inside the building when those decisions are being taken.” (Here is another example, in the context of allegations of improper contacts between the Trump administration and Russian officials.)
----- 4 -----
Mass. is enforcing its environmental rules less
By David Abel | The Boston Globe Staff | March 09, 2017
Over the past decade, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s enforcement of air and water quality rules has fallen off sharply, as the agency’s workforce shrunk by nearly a third, according to a Globe review of state records.
Enforcement actions for serious violations have dropped by more than half, statistics show, as inspections also declined. Fines collected from violators plummeted during the same period by nearly 75 percent.
“We’ve been working very, very hard to keep a healthy level of inspections,” Martin Suuberg, the agency’s commissioner, said in a telephone interview. “But our numbers reflect that we’ve lost people.”
Reduced oversight at the DEP — historically one of the nation’s best funded and most progressive environmental agencies — comes as the Trump administration is considering major cuts to the federal EPA budget while transferring some responsibilities to the states. Governor Charlie Baker introduced legislation Wednesday to give the state oversight of pollution in Massachusetts’ waterways, now a federal responsibility.
----- 5 -----
The super-secret division in charge of the Russia investigation
By Scott Glover, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz, CNN
Updated 11:30 AM ET, Fri March 10, 2017
Washington (CNN)Somewhere in the halls of the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington, a closely held number of FBI agents face the daunting task of determining how the Russian government sought to manipulate the US presidential election.
It's a case that's been the subject of endless speculation in Washington and beyond.
But to those tasked with getting to the bottom of the allegations and innuendo, it's just another "standard counterintelligence investigation," as one highly placed US official put it. Add to that the freshly assigned task of determining how a huge cache of what appear to be authentic CIA documents ended up on the WikiLeaks website.
Welcome to the super-secret world of the Counterintelligence Division, home to the spy catchers of the FBI.
It's a shadowy world that's closed off even to those typically in the know in bureau headquarters, a silo of secrecy in which agents are valued as much for their ability to keep quiet as they are for their investigative skills.
"They keep that (stuff) locked down tight," one veteran FBI agent said.
One source familiar with the Russia investigation resorted to a mathematical equation to divulge -- sort of -- the number of agents assigned to the matter.
It's five to 10 fewer than were assigned to the Hillary Clinton email investigation, said the source, who is not authorized to speak publicly and did so on the condition of anonymity. There were about two dozen dedicated to that case, so that makes 15 to 20 on the Russia investigation.
The resources assigned to the Clinton investigation were in response to agents having to sort through a vast amount of electronic data in a finite period of time before the then-looming presidential election, the source said. With the Russia probe, there is no such time pressure and efforts are more focused on interviews with human sources.
The smaller number of agents assigned to the case should not be interpreted as a lack of interest, the source said. Developments in the case are sent up the chain to the highest levels on a regular basis.
----- 6 -----
Expect the CBO to estimate large coverage losses from the GOP health care plan
Loren Adler and Matthew Fiedler Thursday, March 9, 2017
The Brookings Institute
On Wednesday a pair of House Committees began considering Republicans’ Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal legislation, the first formal step toward consideration of that legislation by the full House of Representatives. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates of the effects of this legislation are not yet available, and it appears they will not be available until after both committees have voted on the bill.
In anticipation of the official CBO estimates, this blog post draws upon prior CBO estimates and analysis to assess how CBO will likely expect this legislation to impact insurance coverage. The table below illustrates the CBO’s likely estimates for this legislation.
There is significant uncertainty about exactly how CBO will model these provisions and how it will expect the various provisions to interact with one another. Nonetheless, we conclude that CBO’s analysis will likely estimate that at least 15 million people will lose coverage under the American Health Care Act (AHCA) by the end of the ten-year scoring window. Estimates could be higher, but it’s is unlikely they will be significantly lower.
----- 7 -----
EPA Head Scott Pruitt Says CO2 Isn't A Primary Contributor To Global Warming. He's Wrong.
Alex Knapp | Forbes
Mar 9, 2017
In an appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box on Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt said that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a "primary contributor" to global warming, in part because he says that "measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do."
Here's why he's wrong.
The molecular structure of carbon dioxide makes it good at trapping heat.
We're taught in grade school that the Earth's atmosphere acts as a "blanket" trapping heat from the Sun. But this is somewhat misleading. The key factor in being able to trap heat is the ability to absorb photons in the infrared spectrum, which are the frequencies that human-tolerable temperatures are transmitted. Here's the thing, though - our atmosphere is over 90% nitrogen and oxygen. Neither of those two gasses is capable of absorbing or transmitting infrared photons.
----- 8 -----
House GOP health bill would cut women's services
Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press
Updated 10:26 am, Friday, March 10, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — Women seeking abortions and some basic health services, including prenatal care, contraception and cancer screenings, would face restrictions and struggle to pay for some of that medical care under the House Republicans' proposed bill.
The legislation, which would replace much of former President Barack Obama's health law, was approved by two House committees on Thursday. Republicans are hoping to move quickly to pass it, despite unified opposition from Democrats, criticism from some conservatives who don't think it goes far enough and several health groups who fear millions of Americans would lose coverage and benefits.
The bill would prohibit for a year any funding to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women's health services, restrict abortion access in covered plans on the health exchange and scale back Medicaid services used by many low-income women, among other changes.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said the legislation is a "slap in the face" to women. She said it would shift more decisions to insurance companies.
----- 9 -----
GOP congressman says we need to repeal Obamacare so men don’t have to pay for prenatal care
It used to be legal for women to be charged more for the same health insurance as men. Obamacare changed that.
10 March 2017
[I don't like this as a source, but I did see the congressman say this on video myself, so I'm going with it]
At a hearing markup on Wednesday, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) suggested that one reason Republicans object to Obamacare is that men have to pay for plans that cover maternity services, such as prenatal care.
The heated exchange happened during a lengthy markup session for the GOP’s Obamacare replacement bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Shimkus was responding to a question from Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA), who asked a different colleague which mandates in Obamacare he took issue with.
“What mandate in the Obamacare bill does he take issue with?” Doyle asked. “Certainly not with pre-existing conditions, or caps on benefits or letting your child stay on the policy until 26, so I’m curious what is it we’re mandating?”
“What about men having to purchase prenatal care?” Shimkus butted in. “Is that not correct? And should they?”
----- 10 -----
Since Trump, Quiet Upstate Road Becomes a Busy Exit From U.S.
Residents of Champlain, N.Y., watch as migrants, both adults and children, use a country road to reach Canada, where they can seek asylum.
By RICK ROJAS | The New York Times | MARCH 7, 2017
CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. — Roxham Road is a quiet country road jutting off another quiet country road, where a couple of horses munch on soggy hay and a ditch running along the muddy pavement flows with melted snow. It cuts through a thicket of dormant trees, passing a half-dozen trailer homes and after almost a mile runs into a line of boulders and a rusted railing with a sign: Road Closed.
Chris Crowningshiele has been driving a cab, on and off, for 30 years in this rural corner of upstate New York known as the North Country. He lives south of here in Plattsburgh, and his fares usually come from ferrying students from a state university there or picking shoppers up at a Walmart in his gray minivan. But in recent weeks, riders have been asking him — two, three, sometimes as many as seven times a day — to bring them to the end of Roxham Road.
He is carrying them on the last leg of their journey out of the United States. Just on the other side of that sign is Canada. Border officials and aid workers there say there has been a surge in people illegally crossing from the United States in the months since President Trump was elected, many of them natives of Muslim countries making bids for asylum. Roxham Road, just a brief detour from a major border crossing on Interstate 87, has become one of the busier illegal points of entry.
----- 11 -----
'I want to die,' 2-year-old refugee said during hours-long walk to Manitoba from U.S.
Increasing number of refugees making their way to Manitoba via Minneapolis, immigration lawyer says
By Bryce Hoye, Aidan Geary, CBC News Posted: Feb 08, 2017
A two-year-old member of a large group of refugees who walked into Manitoba from Minnesota on Saturday told his mom he wanted to die instead of finish the walk, a refugee from the group says.
Abdoul-Aziz Abdi Hoche, 21, was part of the group that made the two-hour journey on foot along a frozen river from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., as temperatures dropped below –20C.
The walk through the snow was difficult for everybody, Hoche said, but it was especially hard for a toddler making the trip with his mother.
"He say he cannot protect in the snow," Hoche said Wednesday. "He say, 'Mom, I want to die, you can go in the Canada. I want to die in the snow, you can go, mom, in the Canada.'"
Hoche, along with the boy and his mother, were among 22 people who crossed from the United States into Canada near Emerson, Man., over the weekend, seeking asylum.
----- 12 -----
House Republicans would let employers demand workers’ genetic test results
By Sharon Begley
March 10, 2017
[Bill text: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1313/text ]
A little-noticed bill moving through Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information.
Giving employers such power is now prohibited by legislation including the 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law known as GINA. The new bill gets around that landmark law by stating explicitly that GINA and other protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a “workplace wellness” program.
The bill, HR 1313, was approved by a House committee on Wednesday, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed. It has been overshadowed by the debate over the House GOP proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but the genetic testing bill is expected to be folded into a second ACA-related measure containing a grab-bag of provisions that do not affect federal spending, as the main bill does.
“What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws,” said Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a civil rights group. In particular, privacy and other protections for genetic and health information in GINA and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act “would be pretty much eviscerated,” she said.
----- 13 -----
Attorney general seeks resignations of 46 US attorneys
It is customary for the country's 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions once a new president is in office, but the departures are not automatic. "I think it's very unprofessional," said one U.S. attorney, of the request issued March 10.
Originally published March 10, 2017
By ERIC TUCKER and SADIE GURMAN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking the resignations of 46 United States attorneys who were appointed during prior presidential administrations, the Justice Department said Friday.
Many of the federal prosecutors who were nominated by former President Barack Obama have already left their positions, but the nearly four dozen who stayed on in the first weeks of the Trump administration have been asked to leave “in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.
“Until the new U.S. attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our U.S. attorney’s offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting and deterring the most violent offenders,” she said in a statement.
By Friday evening, U.S. attorneys around the country — including New Jersey, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Montana — had publicly announced their resignations.
The action was similar to one taken in 1993 by then-Attorney General Janet Reno, who soon after taking office sought the resignations of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President George H.W. Bush. At the time, Sessions was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.
Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney for North Dakota in the Obama administration, recalled that President Barack Obama permitted Bush appointees to remain on until their successors had been appointed and confirmed.
Montana’s U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said he received a phone call from Boente telling him “the president has directed this.”
“I think it’s very unprofessional and I’m very disappointed,” he said. “What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are U.S. attorneys need to be gone?”
----- 14 -----
Vandals target Seattle synagogue with anti-Semitic graffiti
By Evan Bush | The Seattle Times
Originally published March 10, 2017
A synagogue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood was vandalized overnight Thursday with anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying graffiti, said Rabbi Daniel Weiner of the Temple De Hirsch Sinai.
A Seattle police officer discovered the spray-painted message Friday morning on the old sanctuary’s facade.
“It says, ‘The Holocaust is fake history,’ ” Weiner said. The “s” characters in the graffiti are dollar signs, Weiner said.
“It really is a toxic mix of Holocaust denial, the stereotypical charge that Jews are obsessed with money, and the notion coming from the (President Trump) administration that all facts are fungible … fake facts, fake history,” Weiner said.
----- 15 -----
Jobs report no longer phony, Trump says, now that it’s his
By JILL COLVIN and CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
The Associated Press
Originally published March 10, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is embracing government numbers he once maligned as “phony” as he tries to take credit for the latest U.S. jobs report.
The new administration on Friday promoted Labor Department statistics that show U.S. employers added 235,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate dipped to 4.7 percent from 4.8 percent.
“Great news for American workers: economy added 235,000 new jobs, unemployment rate drops to 4.7% in first report for @POTUS Trump,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. “Not a bad way to start day 50 of this administration,” he later said.
What a difference from last year’s presidential campaign, when Trump repeatedly assailed the report’s legitimacy.
Back then, candidate Trump denounced “phony unemployment numbers” he claimed had been invented to make the Democrats look good.
Asked about the apparent disconnect, Spicer offered a smile and a quip: “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.'”