Some Republicans Start Citing Climate Change as Driving Their Policies

WASHINGTON — When John Barrasso, a Republican from oil and uranium-rich Wyoming who has spent years blocking climate change legislation, introduced a bill this year to promote nuclear energy, he added a twist: a desire to tackle global warming.

Mr. Barrasso’s remarks — “If we are serious about climate change, we must be serious about expanding our use of nuclear energy” — were hardly a clarion call to action. Still they were highly unusual for the lawmaker who, despite decades of support for nuclear power and other policies that would reduce planet-warming emissions, has until recently avoided talking about them in the context of climate change.

“Denying the basic existence of climate change is no longer a credible position,” said Whit Ayers, a Republican political consultant, pointing out the growing climate concern among millennials as well as centrist voters — two groups the G.O.P. will need in the future.

In recent weeks Senator John Cornyn of Texas — an oil state where climate denial runs deep — said he is helping write legislation to reduce emissions through “energy innovation.” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said he wants to create a “Manhattan Project” for clean energy funding. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is exploring bipartisan plans to curb emissions from her position as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. And Representative Matthew Gaetz of Florida, who once called to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, introduced legislation to tackle climate change by encouraging nuclear energy and hydropower, as well as “carbon capture” technology, which aims to pull planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

There are subtler signs of this G.O.P. shift as well. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis this year, Republican leaders tapped Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana as the panel’s ranking member. Though he hails from a region dependent on oil and gas, Mr. Graves has struck a bipartisan tone and made a point of noting the deleterious effect sea level rise will have on his state’s economy.

But Republicans also are walking a tightrope. In the Trump administration, G.O.P. orthodoxy has shifted strongly toward denying or dismissing the threat of climate change. Veering away from it could cause a lawmaker to lose campaign contributions and key political support.

Read the complete article in the New York Times here.

We Built an ‘Unbelievable’ Facial Recognition Machine For Cheap

Our facial recognition system detected Dr. Richard Madonna walking through Bryant Park. Damon Winter/The New York Times

Most people pass through some type of public space in their daily routine — sidewalks, roads, train stations. Thousands walk through Bryant Park every day. But we generally think that a detailed log of our location, and a list of the people we’re with, is private. Facial recognition, applied to the web of cameras that already exists in most cities, is a threat to that privacy.

To demonstrate how easy it is to track people without their knowledge, we collected public images of people who worked near Bryant Park (available on their employers’ websites, for the most part) and ran one day of footage through Amazon’s commercial facial recognition service. Our system detected 2,750 faces from a nine-hour period (not necessarily unique people, since a person could be captured in multiple frames). It returned several possible identifications, including one frame matched to a head shot of Richard Madonna, a professor at the SUNY College of Optometry, with an 89 percent similarity score. The total cost: about $60.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh my god, that is unbelievable,’” Dr. Madonna said, after we reached him and explained the experiment. “I was shocked at how readily it seems that it picked me up, because, really — it’s the side of my head.”

In our exercise, we built a database using only photos from public websites, and we obtained Dr. Madonna’s consent before publishing this story. We’ve deleted the images and data that we collected and are no longer monitoring the Bryant Park cameras.

Over decades, businesses and individuals have installed millions of cameras like the ones we used, inadvertently setting up the infrastructure for mass surveillance. In the past, a human would have to watch the video feed to identify people, making it impossible to comprehensively record everyone’s movements. But the accuracy and speed of modern facial recognition technology means that building a dragnet surveillance system is now feasible.

The law has not caught up. In the United States, the use of facial recognition is almost wholly unregulated.

“The technology has advanced faster than even I thought that it would,” said Jennifer Lynch, surveillance litigation director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She said that because of how quickly the technology has advanced, she would now support a wholesale ban on government use of facial recognition.

New York City is nowhere near China, where the government has installed approximately one surveillance camera for every seven citizens. But according to the A.C.L.U., police here have access to more than 9,000 camera feeds in Lower Manhattan alone.

Details are sparse, but there is evidence that those capabilities are formidable. The Police Department claims its Domain Awareness System, developed jointly with Microsoft (which also offers facial recognition software), “utilizes the largest network of cameras, license plate readers, and radiological sensors in the world.”

It’s unclear whether the Domain Awareness System currently uses facial recognition, though the Police Department experimented with it in 2012, according to Clare Garvie, an associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School. The police have been reluctant to divulge details, and the center has sued the department for more information.

Amazon is one of several companies that sell facial recognition services to the public. The company has highlighted positive applications of the service we used, Rekognition, such as its ability to help find lost children. It insists that it requires customers comply with the law and respect others’ rights, but has been criticized for pushing its technology to law enforcement agencies.

Rekognition is already actively used by the sheriff’s office in Washington County, Ore., including to investigate minor crimes like shoplifting. The Orlando, Fla., Police Department is also using the technology in a pilot program.

Amazon notes that its service makes predictions, not decisions, and that the confidence level the service provides should be incorporated in a human review process. The company recommends using a threshold of at least 99 percent for applications of its facial recognition service that involve identification or public safety, though critics of the technology say that the scoring is opaque and that the company has no way of enforcing that threshold. None of the matches we obtained from the Bryant Park footage, correct or incorrect, met the threshold.

Read the complete article on the New York Times here.

What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell

LawFare has a very interesting article on the Russian investigation and Donald Trump. Here is a very brief portion of the article written by Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books. The rest you may read at LawFare’s site here.

Shortly before the holidays, I received a call from New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt asking me to meet with him about some reporting he had done. Schmidt did not describe the subject until we met up, when he went over with me a portion of the congressional interview of former FBI General Counsel James Baker, who was then my Brookings colleague and remains my Lawfare colleague. When he shared what Baker had said, and when I thought about it over the next few days in conjunction with some other documents and statements, a question gelled in my mind. Observers of the Russia investigation have generally understood Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s work as focusing on at least two separate tracks: collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, on the one hand, and potential obstruction of justice by the president, on the other. But what if the obstruction was the collusion—or at least a part of it?

Late last year, I wrote a memo for Schmidt outlining how I read all of this material, a memo from which this post is adapted.

Today, the New York Times is reporting that in the days following the firing of James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation of President Trump. It wasn’t simply the obstruction investigation that many of us have assumed. It was also a counterintelligence investigation predicated on the notion that the president’s own actions might constitute a national security threat:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

The following is an adaption of the memo I sent Schmidt. I have updated it in important respects in light of the reporting in the Times’s actual story. The analysis remains, however, tentative; I want to be careful not to overread the threads of evidence I am pulling together here.

The analysis that follows is lengthy and takes a number of twists and turns before laying out what I think is the significance of the whole thing. Here’s the bottom line: I believe that between today’s New York Times story and some other earlier material I have been sifting through and thinking about, we might be in a position to revisit the relationship between the “collusion” and obstruction components of the Mueller investigation. Specifically, I now believe they are far more integrated with one another than I previously understood.

Read the complete article on LawFare.

José Andrés Fed Puerto Rico

The chef José Andrés walking through water to deliver dinner to a 91-year-old veteran in Loíza, P.R., whose house was cut off from the street because an electric pump wasn’t working. Credit Eric Rojas for The New York Times

José Andrés was walking along a dark street in a stained T-shirt and a ball cap, trying to decompress after another day of feeding an island that has been largely without electricity since Hurricane Maria hit a month ago.

He’d gone barely half a block before two women ran over to snag a selfie. A man shouted out his name from a bar running on a generator and offered to buy him a rum sour.

The reaction is more subdued in rural mountain communities like Naguabo, where Mr. Andrés and his crew have been delivering supplies so cooks at a small Pentecostal church can make 5,000 servings of arroz con pollo and carne guisada every day. There, people touch his sleeve and whisper, “Gracias.” They surround him and pray.

“He’s much more than a hero,” said Jesus R. Rivera, who was inside a cigar store watching Mr. Andrés pick out one of his daily smokes. “The situation is that still some people don’t even have food. He is all that is keeping them from starving.”

Since he hit the ground five days after the hurricane devastated this island of 3.4 million on Sept. 20, he has built a network of kitchens, supply chains and delivery services that as of Monday had served more than 2.2 million warm meals and sandwiches. No other single agency — not the Red Cross, the Salvation Army nor any government entity — has fed more people freshly cooked food since the hurricane, or done it in such a nurturing way.

Nothing prepared Mr. Andrés for what he faced in Puerto Rico. After taking one of the first commercial flights to the island after the storm, he realized that things were worse than anyone knew.

He found his friend Jose Enrique, the chef who has been leading Puerto Rico’s farm-to-table resurgence. Mr. Enrique had no electricity to run his Restaurant Jose Enrique, in the Santurce district of San Juan. Rain poured through the roof. But he had food in the freezer. Other chefs did, too. Someone had a generator.

Mr. Andrés didn’t realize that his was the biggest hot-food game on the island until a week or so after they started. Someone from the Salvation Army pulled up and asked for 120 meals.

“In my life I never expected the Salvation Army to be asking me for food,” he said. “If one of the biggest NGOs comes to us for food, who is actually going to be feeding Puerto Rico? We are. We are it.”

Mr. Andrés, who often rolls right over regulations and ignores the word “no,” clashed more than once with FEMA and other large organizations that have a more-seasoned and methodical approach. In meetings and telephone calls, FEMA officials reminded him that he and his people lacked the experience needed to organize a mass emergency feeding operation, he said.

Mr. Andrés flew home to Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “This has been like my little Vietnam, but now I need to go back to normal life,” he said.

He never intended to stay as long as he did, he said. Or to feed an island.

“At the end, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t try to do what I thought was right,” he said. “We need to think less sometimes and dream less and just make it happen.”

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

New study reveals most stocks aren’t good investments.

Most stocks aren’t good investments is the conclusion from a study of stock market returns by Hendrik Bessembinder, a finance professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Exxon is among the top wealth-creating companies that have been publicly trading — under the name of a predecessor, Standard Oil of New Jersey — since the inception of Professor Bessembinder’s tally in July 1926. Others include General Electric, IBM, Altria, Coca-Cola, DuPont, PepsiCo and Schlumberger.

He relied on a database developed at the University of Chicago, known as CRSP, for the Center for Research in Security Prices, that contains virtually all publicly traded stocks in the United States. The Center for Research uses rigorous and logical criteria to determine when stocks enter and depart its listings, with some results that may seem surprising at first glance.

General Motors, for example, ranks eighth. It was publicly traded in 1926, but the list says it ceased to exist in June 2009. A company called General Motors exists today, of course, but as Chloe Fu, senior support and relationship manager at the Center for Research in Security Prices, explained it, G.M.’s bailout and bankruptcy led the center to declare the old company terminated, with a new G.M. coming to life in June 2009. Consequently, the new G.M. returns aren’t included in the total for G.M. on the list.

The list is a fascinating ranking of big winners in the stock market. But for a variety of technical reasons, it isn’t a straightforward table of the greatest wealth generators in market history. For example, the long-term gains generated by Exxon Mobil and its predecessors are understated because of the database’s limited duration and strict criteria.

Exxon Mobil’s wealth in the list doesn’t include Mobil’s, which Professor Bessembinder’s listing says, ceased to exist in November 1999, when it merged with Exxon. And going back further, both Exxon and Mobil were among the descendants of the Standard Oil trust, established by John D. Rockefeller and his partners in the 19th century. The total wealth generated by the cluster of companies derived at least partially from the trust — which also include Amoco and Chevron — doesn’t appear in a single notation, because of the list’s logic.

Other apparent oddities are explained by Professor Bessembinder’s application of the center’s criteria. There are two companies on the list called AT&T, for example, neither capturing the total net wealth generated by an investment in the old American Telephone and Telegraph Company at its 19th century inception.

To start with, the “old” AT&T, a.k.a. “Ma Bell,” is ranked 17th. It is said to have gone out of existence in November 2005. Another AT&T appears in the 33rd spot. That company came to life in March 1984 as Southwestern Bell, spun off from the old AT&T as a result of an antitrust suit. A descendant of Southwestern Bell bought the AT&T name in 2005 and operates under it today.

Other AT&T cousins are on the list: Verizon, as well as Comcast, which resulted from a merger between AT&T Broadband and an older company also known as Comcast.

Read the complete article on the New York Times.

Access to the prez while you wait

how to influence trump

Flier by Delcan & Company. Photo illustration by Sam Kaplan for The New York Times. Prop stylist: Gozde Eker. Lewandowski: Al Drago/Getty Images.

There are about 10,000 registered lobbyists in Washington — roughly 20 for every member of Congress — and thousands more unregistered ones: consultants and ‘‘strategic advisers’’ who are paid to help shape government policy but do not disclose their clients. By whatever name, they are the people companies and countries hire to help roll back regulations, unstick bids, tweak legislation or get meetings. Lobbying is at once Washington’s most maligned, enduring and essential industry. Underpaid young politicos and retiring lawmakers depend on Beltway lobby shops — known as ‘‘K Street’’ after the city boulevard that once housed many of them — for the high-six-figure salaries that will loft them into Washington’s petite aristocracy. Congress needs K Street, too: After decades of cutting its own staff and research arms, much of Capitol Hill’s institutional memory and policy expertise now resides in the lobbying industry. But the private sector needs lobbyists the most. The modern federal government is so sprawling and complex that it practically demands a specialized class of middlemen and -women.

Over the decades, lobbying has evolved from a niche trade of fixers and gatekeepers to a sleek, vertically integrated, $3-billion-a-year industry. A good lobbyist doesn’t go into a meeting asking for legislation; she or he already has the bill drafted, a coalition of businesses and trade groups poised to support it, a policy brief to hand out to reporters and to the officials positioned at dozens of decision points throughout the bureaucracy and relationships with advertising and polling firms to manage the public rollout. Everyone has a lobbyist — or three, or 50 — and the lobbyists know everyone. K Street is majestic and immovable, veined through Washington like fat through a prime steak.

Like virtually every other candidate for president, Trump campaigned against this thicket of money and influence, positioning himself as an outsider who would ‘‘drain the swamp.’’ This pledge would soon prove more rhetorical than real, but it contained a grain of truth. Trump arrived in Washington with a relatively short baggage train of Beltway relationships and obligations. He didn’t read policy briefs; he barely had policies. His inner circle was a hodgepodge of Breitbart alumni, nominally Democratic financiers, Trump Organization employees on loan, the odd reality-show star and Republicans who would have been unemployable in almost any other administration. The smart money in Washington — K Street and K Street’s clients, the big corporations and trade associations — didn’t quite know what to expect. But mostly, they didn’t know whom to call.

‘‘Many companies want to understand: What are the president’s priorities?’’ Corey Lewandowski told me in February, a few weeks after the inauguration. ‘‘But there are so few people in Washington who have a relationship or an understanding of him.’’ Lewandowski, the president’s former campaign manager, was happy to tell you that he was one of the few exceptions.

Lewandowski’s journey from obscure New Hampshire political operative to celebrity power broker was emblematic of how Trump’s election scrambled Washington’s hierarchies. Much like Stryk, Lewandowski had spent years in the lower ranks of conservative politics and lobbying. Being hired as Trump’s campaign manager moved Lewandowski into the political big time, and being fired, midway through the race, did little to dislodge him. There were speaking gigs, a stint as a reliably pro-Trump pundit on CNN. At one point last year, Lewandowski even tried selling a book, tentatively titled ‘‘Let Trump Be Trump’’; Stryk, introduced to Lewandowski by a mutual friend, helped him shop the proposal. ‘‘Corey had a brand,’’ Stryk told me, and that brand was valuable. HarperCollins offered Lewandowski $1.2 million, an astounding figure for a campaign manager — though the deal evaporated when Lewandowski refused to show HarperCollins a copy of his nondisclosure agreement with Trump.

Through it all, Lewandowski remained close to Trump and spoke to him often. But after the election, the White House job Lewandowski hoped for never quite materialized. Now Lewandowski, too, was on K Street. He had joined up with another former Trump aide, Barry Bennett, to start a lobbying firm called Avenue Strategies.

Unlike other people on K Street, Lewandowski did not pretend to be an expert on the legislative calendar or the fine points of the Administrative Procedure Act. He was an expert on Trump. ‘‘There are just so few people in Washington who know the president,’’ Lewandowski told me in February. ‘‘It’s a comparative advantage.’’ He was not shy about playing up their friendship. He sometimes tweeted from the White House grounds. When journalists or other visitors came to his office, on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House, he would point out his window to where, he claimed, he could see the president’s bedroom.

His mind-meld with Trump was what made him valuable to clients, Lewandowski explained to me. ‘‘I think what I bring is a level of understanding of the president’s thought process,’’ he said, ‘‘only because I had the privilege of being next to him for so long.’’ He was doing as many as nine or 10 meetings a day: Chief executives, prominent Republicans, even other lobbying firms wanted his advice. He offered it freely, Lewandowski told me. He wanted to be helpful. ‘‘You know what a guy said to me the other day?’’ he said. ‘‘ ‘You’ve got a hot hand. Just remember, that hand’s not going to be hot forever.’ ’’

One good source of business was the president’s habit of calling chief executives to the White House for televised meetings. In January, when the chief executive of Whirlpool was summoned by Trump to discuss how to revive American jobs, the company asked Avenue Strategies to advise it. As one lobbyist who shared clients with Lewandowski put it to me, companies like Whirlpool needed to know the lay of the land inside the White House: How much sway did Wilbur Ross have? Was Steve Bannon for real? And what should the company do if Trump started dumping on it on Twitter?

Everyone had seen what happened to Lockheed Martin. Lockheed, the federal government’s single biggest contractor, is a powerful presence inside the Beltway. But through the winter, Trump had lashed out at the company over cost overruns on the F-35 fighter jet. The company’s shares dropped each time, taking Lockheed’s value down by billions of dollars. These were the kinds of problems that Lewandowski believed others on K Street couldn’t help with. ‘‘If you’re a corporate C.E.O. and the president has tweeted at you and your stock has dropped 4 percent, you say: ‘Why am I paying all these guys so much money?’ ’’ Lewandowski said. The old model of Washington influence wouldn’t work on Trump, he believed. ‘‘They don’t know him, and they don’t know any of his guys, and they don’t understand how he thinks.’’ Eventually Lockheed, too, turned to Avenue.

Over the course of a few conversations with the company’s Washington office, Bennett told me, they advised Lockheed on how Marillyn Hewson, its president and chief executive, should approach conversations: ‘‘Short, direct, honest answers,’’ as Bennett recounted it for me later. ‘‘Feel free to educate the president. In the end, it’s going to be transactional.’’ The next time Hewson met with Trump, a week before the inauguration, she came bearing gifts: a potential F-35 price cut and a promise to add jobs at a Texas plant.

The Twitter attacks ceased. By the end of February, Trump was praising Lockheed. ‘‘They’ve just announced eighteen hundred new jobs,’’ Trump told reporters after a meeting with Hewson and other manufacturing executives. ‘‘I have to say this, Marillyn, you’ve gotten a lot of credit because what you did was the right thing.’’

Lewandowski’s help did not come cheap. A typical boutique lobbying firm might charge $10,000 to $15,000 a month. A big lobbying or law firm, with teams of para­legals or assistants and high overhead, might charge twice that, with a three-month retainer. Avenue sometimes asked for as much as $50,000 a month — a top-shelf price on K Street — and Lewandowski on occasion tried to go higher. But there were plenty of takers: By midwinter, Avenue had ‘‘more than a dozen, less than 50’’ clients, Lewandowski told me at the time.

The demand was so great that would-be Trump-whisperers were popping up in Washington like toadstools after a rainstorm. The former Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich, a ‘‘senior adviser’’ to the lobbying practice at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, was hawking a book titled ‘‘Understanding Trump.’’ Established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find: Jim Murphy, Trump’s former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends and hangers-on had made their way into Washington’s influence business.

Read the complete article on The New York Times.

Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney General Jeff Sessions

President Trump with Attorney General Jeff Sessions at an event on Capitol Hill last month. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Few Republicans were quicker to embrace President Trump’s campaign last year than Jeff Sessions, and his reward was one of the most prestigious jobs in America. But more than four months into his presidency, Mr. Trump has grown sour on Mr. Sessions, now his attorney general, blaming him for various troubles that have plagued the White House.

The discontent was on display on Monday in a series of stark early-morning postings on Twitter in which the president faulted his own Justice Department for its defense of his travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Sessions’s department of devising a “politically correct” version of the ban — as if the president had nothing to do with it.

In private, the president’s exasperation has been even sharper. He has intermittently fumed for months over Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal conversations. In Mr. Trump’s view, they said, it was that recusal that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel who took over the investigation.

Behind-the-scenes frustration would not be unprecedented in the Oval Office. Other presidents have become estranged from the Justice Department over time, notably President Bill Clinton, who bristled at Attorney General Janet Reno’s decisions to authorize investigations into him and his administration, among other things. But Mr. Trump’s tweets on Monday made his feelings evident for all to see and raised questions about how he is managing his own administration.

Read the complete article on The New York Times news site.

 

Updated Trumpcare Bill Will See 41 Million Americans Be Health Care Losers

Sick people would probably have to pay more under the health bill passed by the House, the Congressional Budget Office reports. Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

The Senate now has a clearer sense of the 41 million Americans who would lose under the health bill the House sent them by Donald Trump and the Republicans. It also got a startlingly direct message from government analysts about how destabilizing one of the House ideas could be.

The Congressional Budget Office published its assessment of the House health bill on Wednesday, and warned that a last-minute amendment made to win conservative votes would result in deeply dysfunctional markets for about a sixth of the population. In those places, insurance would fail to cover important medical services, and people with pre-existing illnesses could be shut out of coverage, the budget office said.

It found that about half the country would face thinner coverage for people who buy their own insurance, as it would be unlikely to include mental health and addiction treatment services, maternity care or rehabilitation services. Medical deductibles would also increase.

As in the original version of the bill, winners would include people who are young, healthy and earn higher incomes. They would be better off, assuming they didn’t develop serious health problems. The bill makes big cuts to taxes on payroll and investment income for those earning more than $200,000, and provides more subsidies to buy insurance for people earning between about $50,000 and $150,000. On average, premiums for health plans people buy for themselves would decline over the 10-year period, as coverage becomes less generous.

The report was sharply critical of the idea that sicker patients could be protected in a system that allowed insurers to charge them higher premiums. In the minority of states it predicted would pursue broad waivers of Obamacare’s insurance regulations, the office said that sick customers would face far higher prices and many would be priced out of the market altogether.

The bill would save the federal government $119 billion in a decade.

The largest savings would come from cutting Medicaid and reducing tax credits for middle-income insurance buyers.

Projected cumulative change in deficit, in billions

Because Republicans are using a special legislative process to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, the bill had to comply with special rules. They include saving the federal budget at least $2 billion over 10 years.

An initial version of the bill would have saved the federal government $337 billion over a decade, and a subsequent version would have saved half that amount. House Republicans pulled an earlier bill from the floor because they did not have enough votes to pass it.

In the final bill, however, lawmakers added more spending in various areas to get enough votes to pass, including $8 billion over five years to help cover insurance costs for people with pre-existing conditions.

One of the bill’s most expensive items is a provision that would eliminate about $600 billion in taxes imposed under the Affordable Care Act, including taxes on investment income, prescription drugs and indoor tanning.

23 million more Americans will be uninsured in 10 years.

The budget office projected that in 2018, the number of uninsured would increase to 41 million and would continue to grow. In 10 years, it would become closer to what it was before the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health law, took effect.

Number of uninsured

People with Medicaid coverage would take the largest loss. In a decade, 14 million fewer people would be enrolled in the program.

The C.B.O. estimates that the increase in the number of uninsured would be disproportionately larger among older people with low incomes.

Cost of insurance could rise more than nine-fold for some older people with low incomes.

The House bill included last-minute amendments that let states seek changes to certain insurance regulations.

The C.B.O. estimates that premiums could go down about 10 to 30 percent for people in states that make moderate changes to these regulations. This is largely achieved by offering skimpier plans and pricing out the old and sick from the insurance market.

Senate leaders, aware of the criticism already leveled at the House bill, say they are writing their own bill. This analysis is likely to offer guidance in where they will and won’t want to go.

Read the complete articles in the New York Times here and here.

White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll

Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, in his office on Monday. The White House has challenged Mr. Shaub’s authority to demand information on former lobbyists now working for the government. Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies.

The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.

Mr. Shaub returned a scalding, 10-page response to the White House late Monday, unlike just about any correspondence in the history of the office, created after the Nixon Watergate scandal.

Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.

Mr. Shaub, who is in the final year of a five-year term after being appointed by President Barack Obama, said he had no intention of backing down. “It is an extraordinary thing,” he said of the White House request. “I have never seen anything like it.”

Marilyn L. Glynn, who served as general counsel and acting director of the agency during the George W. Bush administration, also called the move by the Trump White House “unprecedented and extremely troubling.”

“It challenges the very authority of the director of the agency and his ability to carry out the functions of the office,” she said.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the Office of Management and Budget rejected the criticism and instead blamed Mr. Shaub, saying his call for the information, issued in late April, was motivated by politics. The office said it remained committed to upholding ethical standards in the federal government.

“This request, in both its expansive scope and breathless timetable, demanded that we seek further legal guidance,” the statement said. “The very fact that this internal discussion was leaked implies that the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics.”

Ethics watchdogs, as well as Democrats in Congress, have expressed concern at the number of former lobbyists taking high-ranking political jobs in the Trump administration. In many cases, they appear to be working on the exact topics they had previously handled on behalf of private-sector clients — including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks — as recently as January.

Read the complete article on The New York Times web site.

Fact Check: Trump Is Contradictory on Comey and Misleading on Russia


At a news conference on Thursday, President Trump exaggerated the scale of his proposed tax cut and made a dubious comparison between Israel’s West Bank barrier and his proposed border wall. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump defended his conduct related to the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia and made several misleading claims on Thursday afternoon.

In a joint news conference with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Mr. Trump denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials, explained why he had fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director and trumpeted his legislative agenda. Here’s an assessment.

Mr. Trump contradicted Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and his own earlier statement on firing Mr. Comey.

Explaining the ousting of Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump again pointed to Mr. Rosenstein’s “very, very strong recommendation,” adding that he believed it had resulted from Mr. Comey’s “poor, poor performance” in a congressional hearing this month.

But just hours earlier on Thursday, Mr. Rosenstein told the full Senate that Mr. Trump had made his decision before Mr. Rosenstein wrote the memo. Mr. Trump himself claimed full responsibility a week earlier.

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News on May 11. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

He misleadingly claimed that ‘everybody, even my enemies, has said there is no collusion.’

Mr. Trump may have been referring to testimony from James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, but if so, he is distorting Mr. Clapper’s words.

In a March interview on NBC, Mr. Clapper said that, “to my knowledge,” there is no evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and stood by it in a congressional hearing on May 8. A few days later, he explained on MSNBC that “it’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, or even more importantly, the content of that investigation” because he always deferred to the F.B.I. on such matters.

He exaggerated his proposed tax cut as ‘the biggest tax cut in the history of our nation.’

The tax plan the Trump administration released on April 26 consisted of a single page with bullet points. More details may emerge, but for now, the publicly available proposal would not amount to the biggest tax cut ever by most measures.

Mr. Trump’s plan would reduce the highest marginal rate for individuals to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. This change pales in comparison to other rate reductions: 33 percentage points under President Calvin Coolidge, 22 points under President Ronald Reagan, 21 points under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and 15 points under President Warren G. Harding.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

Trump admits ‘this Russia thing’ part of reasoning for firing James Comey

Donald Trump has said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided James Comey’s fate – contradicting the White House rationale that he fired the FBI director for mishandling the Clinton email investigation.

Comey had been leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was dismissed by the president. Defending that decision in an interview on NBC News on Thursday, Trump said: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Trump also said there were three occasions on which Comey assured him he was not under investigation. The president said he called the director of the FBI to ask for an update on a possible criminal investigation into his ties with Russia.

In the NBC interview Trump also flatly contradicted his own vice-president and spokesman by saying he decided to fire James Comey before receiving a recommendation from the deputy attorney general.

Trump recalled three conversations with Comey about the FBI investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. First, he said, there was a dinner which was also about Comey’s future, raising the prospect that Trump could threaten his job.

“He wanted to stay on at the FBI,” Trump said, “and I said I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens … But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’’’

Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Department of Justice, told MSNBC: “It’s completely inappropriate for [Trump] to ask that question … It would also be a violation of DoJ rules for James Comey to answer it.”

Asked at Thursday’s White House press briefing if it was inappropriate for Trump to have asked Comey if he was under investigation, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “No, I don’t believe it is.”

She added: “I don’t see it as a conflict of interest and neither do many of the legal scholars who’ve been commenting on it over the last hour.” Sanders did not identify which “legal scholars” that she was referring to.

When the president fired Comey on Tuesday, the White House released a memo from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that criticised Comey for mishandling last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Press secretary Sean Spicer claimed it was this memo that prompted Trump to remove Comey, a position backed by vice-president Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence said in an interview with CNN that Trump had “made a decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey.”

But in the NBC interview, Trump said of Comey: “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

He explained: “I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”

The revelation came amid a flurry of reports suggesting that Trump had grown increasingly irate with Comey in recent weeks because of his high profile, his failure to stop leaks, his pursuit of the Russia investigation and his lack of support for the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama.

In the end, he fired Comey late on Tuesday afternoon, a move that seemed to take many White House staff by surprise. The official reason given was the FBI director’s mishandling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails.

The acting head of the FBI, meanwhile, said on Thursday that Comey enjoyed broad support among its staff – directly contradicting the White House assertion that he had lost the confidence of the FBI rank and file.

Read the complete article on the above story in The Guardian web site.

Read this The Guardian article for background on “What do we know about alleged links between Trump and Russia?

Read this New York Times articleFor Trump Supporters, the Real Outrage Is the Left’s Uproar Over Comey.

In Trump’s Firing of James Comey, Echoes of Watergate

In dramatically casting aside James B. Comey, President Trump fired the man who may have helped make him president — and the man who potentially most threatened the future of his presidency.

Not since Watergate has a president dismissed the person leading an investigation bearing on him, and Mr. Trump’s decision late Tuesday afternoon drew instant comparisons to the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the so-called third-rate burglary that would eventually bring Nixon down.

In his letter firing Mr. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Mr. Trump made a point of noting that Mr. Comey had three times told the president that he was not under investigation, Mr. Trump’s way of pre-emptively denying that his action was self-interested. But in fact, he had plenty at stake, given that Mr. Comey had said publicly that the bureau was investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and whether any associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign were coordinating with Moscow.

The move exposed Mr. Trump to the suspicion that he has something to hide and could strain his relations with fellow Republicans who may be wary of defending him when they do not have all the facts. Many Republicans issued cautious statements on Tuesday, but a few expressed misgivings about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and called for a special congressional investigation or independent commission to take over from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees now looking into the Russia episode.

The appointment of a successor to Mr. Comey could touch off a furious fight since anyone Mr. Trump would choose would automatically come under suspicion. A confirmation fight could easily distract Mr. Trump’s White House at a time when it wants the Senate to focus on passing legislation to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

John D. Podesta, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recommended the dismissal. “The attorney general who said he recused himself on all the Russia matters recommended the firing of the F.B.I. director in charge of investigating the Russia matters,” he said.

While Mr. Trump said he acted at the urging of Mr. Sessions, he had left little doubt about his personal feelings toward Mr. Comey or the Russia investigation in recent days. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.


Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor for the Watergate case, speaking to the news media outside the United States District Court in Washington in October 1973, the month President Richard M. Nixon ordered him fired. Credit Associated Press

The Watergate comparison was unavoidable. When Mr. Cox, the special prosecutor, subpoenaed Nixon for copies of White House tapes, the president ordered that he be fired. Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused and resigned instead. The third-ranking Justice Department official, Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, complied with Mr. Nixon’s order and fired Mr. Cox.

Read the complete article on The New York Times web site.

U.S. student loan forgiveness program could be rescinded

Hillsdale College in Michigan. The federal Education Department has raised the possibility that students’ acceptance into a loan forgiveness program could be rescinded. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times

More than 550,000 people have signed up for a U.S. federal program that promises to repay their remaining student loans after they work 10 years in a public service job.

But now, some of those workers are left to wonder if the government will hold up its end of the bargain — or leave them stuck with thousands of dollars in debt that they thought would be eliminated.

In a legal filing submitted last week, the Education Department suggested that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the agency said.

The filing adds to questions and concerns about the program just as the first potential beneficiaries reach the end of their 10-year commitment — and the clocks start ticking on the remainder of their debts.

Four borrowers and the American Bar Association have filed a suit in United States District Court in Washington against the department.

The plaintiffs held jobs that they initially were told qualified them for debt forgiveness, only to later have that decision reversed — with no evident way to appeal, they say. The suit seeks to have their eligibility for the forgiveness program restored.

“It’s been really perplexing,” said Jamie Rudert, one of the plaintiffs. “I’ve never gotten a straight answer or an explanation from FedLoan about what happened, and the Department of Education isn’t willing to provide any information.”

The forgiveness program offers major benefits for borrowers, advocates say, to the point of persuading some people to take public service jobs instead of more lucrative work in the private sector. The program generally covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit organization, a diverse group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007 in a sweeping, bipartisan bill.

But some of those approved borrowers might get bad news because it is unclear whether the certifications are valid.

Mr. Rudert submitted the certification form in 2012 and received a letter from FedLoan affirming that his work as a lawyer at Vietnam Veterans of America, a nonprofit aid group, qualified him for the forgiveness program. But in 2016, after submitting his latest annual recertification note to FedLoan, he got a denial note.

The decision was retroactive, he was told. None of his previous work for the group would be considered valid for the loan forgiveness program.

What changed? Mr. Rudert said he did not know. After filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he received a reply from FedLoan saying that his application “had initially been approved in error.” He has not been told what the error was, and has not found any way to appeal the decision.

Mr. Rudert and the American Bar Association filed their suit in December, alleging that the Education Department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in making its decisions about which employers qualified.

Last week, the department filed a reply that said that FedLoan’s responses to borrowers’ certification forms cannot be trusted.

A FedLoan approval letter “does not reflect a final agency action on the borrower’s qualifications” for the forgiveness program, the department wrote.

The idea that approvals can be reversed at any time, with no explanation, is chilling for borrowers. Mr. Rudert, who graduated from law school owing nearly $135,000 on student loans, said he would have picked a different employer if he had known that his work at Vietnam Veterans of America would not qualify.

A FedLoan spokesman would not comment on the case, referring questions to the Department of Education. A department spokesman also declined to comment on the suit or on any of the issues it raised, including whether any mechanism exists for borrowers to challenge a denial.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

‘Turkish Trump,’ a Hotel Plan and a Tangle of Foreign Ties

Mukemmel Sarimsakci, a real estate executive who goes by Mike, or “Turkish Trump.” Credit Jake Dean

Before taking office, Donald J. Trump pledged that his business empire would forgo new deals abroad while he was president. But as the Trump Organization unveils a new brand of hotels, that promise is not preventing the company from bringing foreign deals home.

The company, now largely run by Mr. Trump’s eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., has been pursuing a downtown Dallas hotel project with a real estate firm that has deep Turkish roots. The hotel, if built, would fall under the Trump Organization’s Scion chain, a more affordable alternative to its five-star luxury line.

An examination by The New York Times of records including corporation registrations, private emails and archived websites found that Alterra Worldwide, the real estate firm that would own the hotel and be partners with the Trumps, has business ties in Russia, Kazakhstan and at least two dozen other countries. Ordinarily, such international experience would be a selling point for the firm, but it is a complicating factor when dealing with Mr. Trump’s company, where concerns already have been raised internally about some of Alterra’s foreign connections.

Alterra’s president, Mukemmel Sarimsakci, is a familiar face in Dallas, where he has recruited foreign investment to other developments that earned praise from city officials. Mr. Sarimsakci — who goes by Mike, or, alternatively, the “Turkish Trump” — is also listed on an expert consultant website charging $465 an hour for advice on doing business in such countries as Iran, Mexico and Nigeria. And he has counseled the governments of Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Sudan and Georgia, among others, on renewable energy, he acknowledged to The Times.

In January, then President-elect Trump and his lawyers announced his ethics plan, which included putting his business in a trust managed by his two eldest sons and an executive, while also appointing an outside ethics adviser and a chief compliance counsel to review potential deals.

In drafting his presidential ethics policy, Mr. Trump gave extra consideration to international dealings, given the emoluments clause of the Constitution banning federal employees from accepting gifts from foreign leaders or governments. He pledged that profits made from foreign governments at existing Trump hotels would be donated to the United States Treasury.

Projects in the United States, even those funded with foreign money, arguably pose less of a reputational and ethical threat to the company and the president because they would be subject to local laws and regulations. Even so, once foreign money is involved, it can be difficult to trace its origins.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

Who Wins and Loses in Trump’s Proposed Budget


A Superfund cleanup site in Montana. Federal funding for such cleanups of hazardous wastes would be reduced by about a third. Credit James Snook/Associated Press

President Trump released a partial outline of his 2018 budget on Thursday, proposing billions of dollars in spending cuts to most government agencies to pay for large increases in military and homeland security spending, resulting in a 1.2 percent cut in discretionary spending over all. (Source: New York Times)

The tough choices he promised would eliminate longstanding staples of American life.

Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities. Federal support for long-distance Amtrak train service would be eliminated. Washington would get out of the business of helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes.

While he may not care about East Coast elites upset about ending financing for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, some of the agencies and programs that would be “zeroed out” are institutions in parts of the country that Mr. Trump won last November.

Among the agencies to be cut off, for instance, would be the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state agency founded in 1965 to promote economic development and infrastructure in some of the poorest parts of the United States.

Mr. Trump and his aides argue that many of these programs have long since passed their usefulness or would be better off run and paid for at the state or local level. While he talked about the ravaged inner cities in his Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump would eliminate $3 billion in funding for the Community Development Block Grant program that helps provide affordable housing. The president argued in his budget that “the program is not well targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”

Instead of spreading the cost of affordable housing across all of the United States Trump passes the buck to state and local levels, making areas needing affordable housing the most raise taxes and fees to provide affordable housing.

Nice going Mr. Trump. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. You’re certainly making America Great Again. For the wealthy.

Discretionary spending, in billions

Agency 2017 baseline 2018 proposal Change . Pct change
Environmental Protection Agency $8.2 $5.7 $2.6 –31%
State and other development programs 38.0 27.1 –10.9 –29%
Agriculture 22.6 17.9 –4.7 –21%
Labor 12.2 9.6 –2.5 –21%
Justice 20.3 16.2 –4.0 –20%
Health and Human Services 77.7 65.1 –12.6 –16%
Commerce 9.2 7.8 –1.5 –16%
Education 68.2 59.0 –9.2 –14%
Transportation 18.6 16.2 –2.4 –13%
Housing and Urban Development 36.0 31.7 –4.3 –12%
Interior 13.2 11.6 –1.5 –12%
Energy 29.7 28.0 –1.7 –6%
Treasury 11.7 11.2 –0.5 –4%
NASA 19.2 19.1 –0.2 –1%
Veterans Affairs 74.5 78.9 +4.4 +6%
Homeland Security 41.3 44.1 +2.8 +7%
Defense 521.7 574.0 +52.3 +10%
Note: Totals are shown for fiscal years, which begin in October. They reflect base budget levels for each department, which do not include supplemental money for disaster relief, emergencies or additional war spending. They do include offsetting receipts and proposed changes in mandatory programs (CHIMPS) that are used to offset discretionary spending.

The proposal would also eliminate funding for nearly 20 smaller independent agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation, which finances legal aid groups.

The blueprint does not include tax proposals or other revenue ideas, and outlines only proposals for discretionary spending, which is money appropriated annually by Congress. Discretionary spending makes up less than one-third of all federal spending. It does not include interest payments on the federal debt or so-called mandatory spending on large programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Read the more detailed and complete article on the New York Times.

Blue-Footed Booby Bird Mating Dance – video

Blue-footed boobies on the Galápagos archipelago in Ecuador. The color of their feet is an important factor in mating. Credit The Asahi Shimbun Premium, via Getty Images

It’s dating time on the Galápagos for the blue-footed booby. Everywhere, dozens of times a day, the large, handsome seabirds are making their highly ritualized courtship display — one reason the boobies are among the most celebrated and beloved residents of this archipelago.

While many boobies change partners from season to season, there are great benefits of long-term fidelity, researchers have found. Comparing the breeding success of pairs that had been together for years with that of similarly mature boobies that had recently repartnered, scientists determined that the established pairs reared 35 percent more offspring to fledglinghood compared with the new mates.

And in new findings that will be published soon — and are enough to turn this working mother’s feet cerulean — scientists have discovered that the key to a successful long-term booby partnership is the equitable sharing of nest duties year after year.

Biparental care is the rule among boobies, but longtime mates have perfected the art of symmetry and turn-taking. They spend the same time brooding and feeding the young, and expend the same physical effort as seen in measures of blood cells and body mass.

Such egalitarian couples, said Dr. Sánchez Macouzet, “have reached the sweet spot of cooperation, compatibility and a willingness to avoid the exploitation of your partner.”

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

Oroville, Calif., dam tip of the iceberg of failing dams in US

 Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Darker the dot the older the dam. Darkest are 150 years old. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

After two weeks that saw evacuations near Oroville, Calif., and flooding in Elko County, Nev., America’s dams are showing their age.

Nearly 2,000 state-regulated high-hazard dams in the United States were listed as being in need of repair in 2015, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. A dam is considered “high hazard” based on the potential for the loss of life as a result of failure.

By 2020, 70 percent of the dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“It’s not like an expiration date for your milk, but the components that make up that dam do have a lifespan.” said Mark Ogden, a project manager with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 21 Mile Dam near Montello, Nev., broke and caused flooding to the Union Pacific railroad line near Lucin and flooded the town of Montello, Nev. The floods forced delays or rerouting for more than a dozen freight and passenger trains on a main rail line that runs through the area, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin E. Jacobs.(Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News via AP)/The Deseret News via AP) NYTCREDIT: Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News, via Associated Press

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 21 Mile Dam near Montello, Nev., broke and caused flooding to the Union Pacific railroad line near Lucin and flooded the town of Montello, Nev. The floods forced delays or rerouting for more than a dozen freight and passenger trains on a main rail line that runs through the area, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin E. Jacobs.(Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News via AP)/The Deseret News via AP) NYTCREDIT: Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News, via Associated Press

Line points to Twentyone Mile Dam

Source: Nevada Division of Water Resources

Darkest color equals highest Hazard Potential of Dams. Source: Nevada Division of Water Resources

Two weeks ago, heavy rains caused the Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada to burst, resulting in flooding, damaged property and closed roads throughout the region.

The earthen dam, built in the early 1900s and less than 50 feet tall, is one of more than 60,000 “low hazard” dams, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Typically, failure of a low hazard dam would cause property damage, but it would most likely not kill anyone.

In 2016, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated that it would cost $60 billion to rehabilitate all the dams that needed to be brought up to safe condition, with nearly $20 billion of that sum going toward repair of dams with a high potential for hazard.

In 2015, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, introduced the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act, an amendment to the National Dam Safety Program Act, to provide grant assistance to rehabilitate publicly owned dams that fail to meet minimum safety standards.

The bill is still pending, but it would not apply to a majority of the dams in the United States because more than half of them are privately owned. Oroville Dam is owned by the State of California, but the Twentyone Mile Dam is owned by Winecup Gamble Ranch, a cattle operation in northeastern Nevada.

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

Ukraine, Russia and Trump Associates

 President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times


President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

At a time when Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny — with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress — some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.

 

Donald Trump’s Connections in Ukraine

 

Andrii V. Artemenko

Ukrainian politician with a peace plan for Ukraine and a file alleging that its president is corrupt.

Felix H. Sater

Russian-American businessman with longstanding ties to the Trump Organization.

Michael D. Cohen

Trump’s personal attorney, under scrutiny from F.B.I. over links with Russia.

Paul Manafort

Former Trump campaign manager with pro-Russian political ties in Ukraine now under investigation by the F.B.I.

The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

“A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?”

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Sater said they had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the proposal, and have no experience in foreign policy. Mr. Cohen is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in an F.B.I. counterintelligence examination of links with Russia, according to law enforcement officials; he has denied any illicit connections.

The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.

Before entering politics, Mr. Artemenko had business ventures in the Middle East and real estate deals in the Miami area, and had worked as an agent representing top Ukrainian athletes. Some colleagues in Parliament describe him as corrupt, untrustworthy or simply insignificant, but he appears to have amassed considerable wealth.

He has fashioned himself in the image of Mr. Trump, presenting himself as Ukraine’s answer to a rising class of nationalist leaders in the West. He even traveled to Cleveland last summer for the Republican National Convention, seizing on the chance to meet with members of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“It’s time for new leaders, new approaches to the governance of the country, new principles and new negotiators in international politics,” he wrote on Facebook on Jan. 27. “Our time has come!”

Read more of this article in the New York Times.

Trump to tighten grip on Intelligence agencies following ‘leaks’.

 Stephen A. Feinberg, right, a founder of Cerberus Capital Management, at the Capitol in December 2008. He is said to be in talks for a White House role examining the country’s intelligence agencies. Credit Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times


Stephen A. Feinberg, right, a founder of Cerberus Capital Management, at the Capitol in December 2008. He is said to be in talks for a White House role examining the country’s intelligence agencies. Credit Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.

The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump blamed leaks from the intelligence community for the departure of Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, whose resignation he requested.

There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. He is a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.

Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

On an array of issues — including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy — much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy.

The last time an outsider with no intelligence experience took the job was in the early days of the Reagan administration, when Max Hugel, a businessman who had worked on Mr. Reagan’s campaign, was named to run the spy service. His tenure at the C.I.A. was marked by turmoil and questions about the politicization of the agency. He was forced to resign after six months, amid accusations about his past business dealings. (He later won a libel case against the two brothers who made the accusations.)

Even the prospect that Mr. Feinberg may lead a review for the White House has raised concerns in the intelligence community.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Trump has appointed Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, to run the C.I.A., and former Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, to be the director of national intelligence (he is still awaiting confirmation). Both were the preferred choices of the Republican congressional leadership and Vice President Mike Pence and had no close or longstanding ties to Mr. Trump. In fact, they each endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for president during the 2016 Republican primaries.

Mr. Coats is especially angry at what he sees as a move by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner to sideline him before he is even confirmed, according to current and former officials. He believes the review would impinge on a central part of his role as the director of national intelligence and fears that if Mr. Feinberg were working at the White House, he could quickly become a dominant voice on intelligence matters.

Read more at the New York Times and The Guardian.

Trump campaign’s frequent talks with Russian intelligence

 President Trump spoke with Vladimir V. Putin on Jan. 28. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, right, resigned Monday. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters


President Trump spoke with Vladimir V. Putin on Jan. 28. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, right, resigned Monday. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the D.N.C., according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.

A report from American intelligence agencies that was made public in January concluded that the Russian government had intervened in the election in part to help Mr. Trump, but did not address whether any members of the Trump campaign had participated in the effort.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. In those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

But the cases are part of American intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ routine electronic surveillance of the communications of foreign officials.

The F.B.I. declined to comment. The White House also declined to comment Tuesday night, but earlier in the day, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, stood by Mr. Trump’s previous comments that nobody from his campaign had contact with Russian officials before the election.

No pre-election contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials, says Sean Spicer

Two days after the election in November, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said “there were contacts” during the campaign between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s team.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Mr. Ryabkov told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The Trump transition team denied Mr. Ryabkov’s statement. “This is not accurate,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said at the time.

The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.

The only Trump associate named in the New York Times report as having participated in the contacts was Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign manager for several months last summer. He had previously worked as an adviser to the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Moscow, and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs.

Manafort has repeatedly denied any contacts with Russian officials. He told the New York Times on Tuesday: “I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”

“It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,’” he added.

Read more about the Trump team/Russia connections on the New York Times and on The Guardian newspapers.