Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and a key campaign surrogate, confessed to the New York Times (7/9) he met one year ago with a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties who said she had compromising information about Hillary Clinton. Don Jr. admitted to the 6/9/16 meeting after multiple administration sources confirmed to the Times that the meeting took place between the Russian lawyer, Don Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is now a senior White House adviser.

Don Jr. said he cut short the meeting when it became clear that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not seem to have information interesting enough to take up more of the senior campaign aides’ time.

“Whatever comes to light about the substance of the meeting itself, the fact that it took place at all contradicts a year of denials and obfuscations from Trump’s orbit that all served to make clear that no Trump associate, much less his campaign manager, his son, and his son-in-law, had been in contact with Russian entities,” noted Ryan Koronowski, research director at (7/10). On at least 20 occasions, Team Trump denied any connections to Russia.

During an interview on Good Morning America (7/10), White House adviser Kellyanne Conway had no answers for why Trump administration officials — including herself — repeatedly lied about their campaign’s communications with Russians, Aaron Rupar noted at ThinkProgress (7/10).

Conway’s interview came the morning after Donald Jr. admitted to meeting with the Kremlin-connected lawyer. The Times reported that “accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.”

Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos began by playing Conway a clip of a December 2016 interview in which she flatly denied that Trump campaign officials met with Russians during the campaign, saying that claims to the contrary are “not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous and it does undermine our democracy.”

Stephanopoulos then asked her, “who misled you, and why did Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort allow those public denials to stand for so many months?”

Conway had no answers. Instead, she repeatedly tried to pivot the conversation to the fact that Trump officials have since amended their security clearance application forms “to reflect other meetings, including this one.”

With regard to the 6/9/16 meeting in particular, Stephanopoulos pressed Conway about how seeking a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian national in hopes of receiving damaging information about Clinton “isn’t at minimum an attempt to collusion.”

Conway responded by criticizing Hillary Clinton. She eventually conceded that “people involved the meeting” would be the ones to ask about why the public misstatements weren’t corrected earlier, and again noted that the security clearance applications have been corrected.

“But Kellyanne, that’s besides the point,” Stephanopoulos replied. Trump Jr. “was seeking the information, he was seeking damaging information, that’s why he had the meeting — how is that appropriate?”

Conway’s fallback position was that Trump Jr. may have met with the Russian lawyer expected to receive damaging information about Clinton, but “the point is she didn’t have it.”

TRUMP FOLLOWS FOX NEWS IN FAULTY ATTACK AGAINST JAMES COMEY. President Trump tried to deflect from the debilitating Russian influence scandal that has been casting a shadow over his still-young administration by lashing out at former FBI director James Comey for allegedly leaking classified information.

Trump tweeted at 5:40 a.m. (7/10), “James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!”

Eight minutes earlier, Fox & Friends had tweeted, “Report accuses material James Comey leaked to a friend contained top secret information”

“Four of the memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ level, according to officials directly familiar with the matter,” Fox News’ Jillian Mele reported.

The Fox & Friends report apparently was based on an anonymously sourced story in The Hill which reported that several of the memos that Comey wrote after meetings with Trump were deemed classified documents when they were provided to Congress in June.

According to The Hill’s account, however, it’s unclear whether the classified information in the memos was classified at the time the memos were written. As Politico reported (7/10), some of Comey’s memos were classified retroactively.

Contacted by Fox News, Daniel Richman, Comey’s friend who has admitted to helping the fired FBI director leak news of his meeting with Trump, said the accusation was “a non-story.”

“No memos were given to the press, and no memos were classified at the time I received them,” Richman told Fox News, saying that he had never given the actual memos to any journalist but rather that he had provided information about “the substance” of one document.

“That was not classified at the time, and remains unclassified,” he was quoted as saying. (Matthew Sheffield, Salon.)

TRUMP CONTINUES TO SET A RECORD PACE FOR LYING. Donald Trump continues to show a record of mendacity unparalleled in modern politics. As of July 11, PolitiFact had examined 422 statements by Trump since 2011 and found that in less than 5% of them he told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Rated “mostly false” were 21%, entirely false, 32% and “Pants on Fire” lies, 16%. That indicates, at best, a reckless disregard for the truth.

In comparison, PolitiFact has checked 597 statements by former President Barack Obama and found 21% true, 27% mostly true, 27% half true, 12% mostly false, 12% false and 2% Pants on Fire.

PolitiFact checked 294 statements by Hillary Clinton and found 24% true, 26% mostly true, 23% half true, 14% mostly false, 10% false and 2% Pants on Fire.

Of 113 statements by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), it found 12% true, 38% mostly true, 21% half true, 17% mostly false, 12% false and no Pants on Fire lies.

Of 76 statements by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), it found 13% were true, 20% mostly true, 25% half true, 28% mostly false, 9% false and 5% Pants on Fire.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who Trump taunted as “Lyin’ Ted” in the Republican primary in 2016, had a slightly better record of veracity than Trump, as PolitiFact checked 119 statements and found 6% true, 16% mostly true, 13% half true, 30% mostly false, 28% false and 7% Pants on Fire.

TRUMP’S LIKELY EPA PICK ISN’T CONSERVATIVE ENOUGH FOR CLIMATE DENIERS. The No. 2 spot at the Environmental Protection Agency is still open because it’s hard to find people who are conservative enough to satisfy the most extreme climate deniers.

Axios recently reported that the “last man standing” for the job is lawyer Jeff Holmstead, a former top EPA official under President George W. Bush, now working at the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where he’s part of a case against Obama-era climate regulations and represents utilities, refineries, coal, oil and gas companies. But a source in the conservative environmental movement told Axios that Holmstead’s nomination could provoke open opposition from conservative groups. During the Bush administration, he pursued regulatory reforms some in conservative circles thought weren’t big enough and since leaving he’s worked on issues that run counter to certain issues important to right-leaning advocacy groups on climate change and ethanol.

Rebecca Leber noted at MotherJones.com (7/5) that Holmstead was at the EPA from 2001 to 2005, as assistant administrator for air and radiation, he was part of Bush’s proposal to create a cap-and-trade system for mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, an approach that was thrown out in court for being far too lenient. At Bracewell, Holmstead he argued in a 2011 debate, “It is pretty hard to say that [mercury from coal plants] is a significant public health issue,” adding he didn’t “believe that there are thousands of people who are dying because of exposure” to small particulate matter—meaning air pollution. 

More recently, in 2017, Holmstead testified in favor of House Science Chair Lamar Smith’s bills that would restrict how the EPA uses science to support its policies. For example, the euphemistically labeled “HONEST” bill Holmstead supports would forbid the EPA from using studies that draw on confidential health data and medical records.

“Yet these conservative bona fides are still not enough for some far-right climate change deniers, especially since they’ve gotten comfortable calling the shots in Trump’s EPA,” Leber wrote.

The Daily Caller wrote a critical story in June claiming that an unnamed “conservative movement source” said some on the right were “trying to work behind the scenes to block him.” And at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Koch- and oil-funded libertarian think tank, Myron Ebell, who was the climate denier in charge of Trump’s EPA transition, emailed Leber to say that his group has “taken no public position on Jeff Holmstead, but I can tell you that we have supported other candidates.”

One reason is because they are counting on the EPA to rescind its 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to human health, and Holmstead doesn’t appear to be interested in revisiting it. The endangerment finding, compelled by the Supreme Court in a landmark climate change case in 2007, is the scientific underpinning for the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulation. Those on the extreme side of science denial have made clear that their top priority is for the Trump administration to undo the finding, because it would automatically cripple the EPA’s justification for doing any climate change work.

G19 OUTMANEUVERS CLIMATE ROGUE TRUMP. With the US absent from climate discussions at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, because Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords, the remaining 19 wealthiest nations in the world were able to craft a much stronger statement on climate change and addressing it than the US would normally allow, Juan Cole noted at JuanCole.com (7/9). US governments are typically deeply beholden to Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Coal, he noted.

“The danger was that Saudi Arabia in particular might balk, but the kingdom seems to be more afraid of [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and her allies than it is of Trump. Besides, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has already admitted that oil is over with, and he is looking for a soft landing for the Saudi economy by turning oil wealth into investment wealth before the black gold comes to be recognized as worthless (it already is worthless, but most people just don’t realize it yet).”

The G20 communique said,

“We recognise the opportunities for innovation, sustainable growth, competitiveness, and job creation of increased investment into sustainable energy sources and clean energy technologies and infrastructure. We remain collectively committed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through, among others, increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies and energy efficiency, and work towards low greenhouse-gas emission energy systems. In facilitating well-balanced and economically viable long- term strategies in order to transform and enhance our economies and energy systems consistent with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, G20 members will collaborate closely.

After noting the withdrawal of the US, it added,

“The Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report ‘Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth’.”

Cole added, “Americans who put Trump in the White House sent America’s strategic strength and diplomatic soft power swirling down the toilet. The renewed Franco-German partnership at the heart of Europe, on the other hand, is now in the cockpit of the world on big issues.”

REPUBLICANS IN SEVERAL STATES REDUCE MINIMUM WAGE. While congressional Republicans try to repeal Obamacare and gut Medicaid, their legislative counterparts in several states have been working to decrease the minimum wage that businesses can pay to their workers.

In Missouri, Republicans just passed a law overturning a local measure passed by the city of St. Louis that had raised the minimum wage to $10 per hour in May.

The new law will prohibit counties and cities within Missouri from creating their own minimum wage laws. It will also roll back the St. Louis minimum hourly wage to the statewide floor of $7.70 in August.

Gov. Eric Greitens (R) refused to sign the bill, even though he spoke out in favor of it. But he let it become law without his signature.

Greitens raised procedural objections to the bill. He faulted the GOP-controlled Senate for utilizing a procedural loophole to block a Democratic filibuster of the measure, which had prevented it from being voted on until the final day of the chamber’s legislative session.

Iowa Republicans in March rolled back mandatory pay increases passed by local jurisdictions. Terry Branstad, Iowa’s Republican governor, was decidedly more gung-ho in his response to the idea. He held a formal signing ceremony for the bill and spoke on its behalf, citing his desire for a single wage across the state.

In February, Branstad said he did favor “a modest increase” in wages, however. But he left the governor’s office in May to become Donald Trump’s ambassador to China.

Advocates of lowering the minimum wage have also had success using lawsuits. In October, Kentucky’s Supreme Court overturned a 2014 Louisville ordinance that would have raised the city’s minimum wage to $9 an hour. In a 6-1 ruling, the court ruled that the local law violated the state constitution.

Republicans in Maine also changed local minimum wage laws — but this time with some Democratic help. While GOP efforts in other states have been opposed by low-wage workers, Maine bartenders and restaurant employees campaigned to reverse a November referendum that raised server salaries from $3.75 an hour to $12 by 2020, saying it would cause customers to tip less and reduce their take-home income. The measure passed Maine’s House of Representatives 110 to 37 and cleared its Senate 23 to 12. Once it goes into effect in January, the minimum wage for tipped workers will return to the previous state minimum of $3.75 per hour.

During his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump appeared to support raising the minimum wage requirement to $10 an hour. Since he assumed office, however, Trump has made no movement toward promoting the idea.

According to a poll released in June by the University of Maryland, 74% of respondents favored increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. Even 58% of self-identified Republicans supported the higher wage.

CORPORATE MEDIA CELEBRATE JOB LOSS. There has probably never been a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that produced as much glee in the media as the late June report showing that Seattle’s minimum wage increase may have led to a net loss in wages for low wage workers, Dean Baker wrote in his “Beat the Press” blog at (7/1). According to the analysis, there was a reduction in average hours worked among those in the low wage labor market that more than offset the gain in wages. The result was a net loss in wages for exactly the group of people the law was intended to benefit.

This finding was quickly picked up in every major news outlet, Baker noted. While some, notably the New York Times, reported the finding with appropriate cautions, others were nearly gleeful at the idea that workers in Seattle were losing their jobs. Most of the reporting ignored the fact that the same week a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, produced an analysis using a very similar methodology that found no statistically significant impact on employment.

There are important differences in the studies, Baker said. The Berkeley study follows much prior research and only looks at the restaurant industry, a major employer of low-wage workers. The University of Washington NBER paper looked at all workers getting paid less than $19 an hour. It also had two additional quarters of data. However, the Washington study also excluded the roughly 40% of the workforce that worked at multi-site employers (think Starbucks and McDonald’s).

In other words, it it not obvious that the Washington study is the “better” analysis, Baker said. “The Berkeley team has produced much of the cutting edge research on the minimum wage over the last 15 years,” he wrote. “I doubt that many of the reporters touting the Washington study would be able to explain why it is a better analysis of the impact of Seattle’s minimum wage hikes.”

TRUMPCARE WILL SAVE SOCIAL SECURITY $3B BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE IT KILLS. The bad news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis of Republican bills to replace the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is they would cause 14 mln people to become uninsured in 2018 if the House health plan became law. CBO projects the number of uninsured to rise to 24 mln in 2026.

A study of the change in Massachusetts mortality rates after the state enacted health reforms similar to the Affordable Care Act in 2006 found that for every 830 adults gaining insurance coverage there was one fewer death per year. Using that figure, Ian Milhiser of ThinkProgress noted that 16,867 Americans could be sentenced to die by TrumpCare in 2018. By 2026, if the CBO’s estimate is correct, that number could rise to 28,916 deaths in that year alone.

The good news is, if all those people die, the CBO estimates the Social Security trust fund will save $3 bln from 2017-2026.

“Not that this will spare Social Security from Paul Ryan’s zeal to destroy everything good that government has ever done. But it’s something,” Joan McCarter noted at (3/14).

HOBBY LOBBY’S STOLEN ART MAY HAVE FINANCED MIDEAST TERRORISM. Hobby Lobby may have put more than a million dollars in the pockets of terrorists as it engaged in an effort to smuggle Iraqi artifacts disguised as tile samples into the United States. The US government has seized thousands of clay bullae, cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals that were falsely labeled and shipped to the company through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, according to a civil complaint and settlement agreement in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, whose owners are building a Museum of the Bible on the National Mall that is set to open this fall, bought more than 5,500 artifacts that originated in Iraq for $1.6 mln in December 2010 from an unidentified dealer in an acquisition prosecutors said was “fraught with red flags,” the Washington Post reported (7/5). According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby got conflicting information about where the artifacts had been stored and never met or communicated with the dealer selling them. When it came time to pay, the company wired money to seven separate bank accounts.

“American collectors and importers must ensure compliance with laws and regulations that require truthful declarations to US Customs and Border Protection, so that Customs officers are able to scrutinize cultural property crossing our borders and prevent the inappropriate entry of such property,” acting US Attorney Bridget M. Rohde said in a statement.

Hobby Lobby, whose owners are evangelical Christians and agreed to pay a $3 mln fine for illegally importing the artifacts, said it began collecting a “variety of Bibles and other artifacts” several years ago with the goal of preserving them for future generations. In a statement (7/5), the company said it “did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process” and relied on dealers who did not understand how to properly ship the items.

But Mike Lofgren, a former career congressional staff member who served on the House and Senate budget committees, whose latest book is *The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government*, noted at (7/7): “Ever since the disgraceful looting of Baghdad’s Iraq Museum in 2003 under Donald Rumsfeld’s nose (‘stuff happens,’ he shrugged), stolen antiquities have financed an orgy of regional violence: first, by Baathist insurgents, then by al Qaeda in Iraq, and finally and most horrifically, by ISIS, which may be profiting up to $200 mln per year from looted artifacts. By dealing in thousands of such artifacts through shady Israeli and Emirati intermediaries, the Greens for more than a decade put money into the pockets of terrorists.

“Given that the Christian Right, of which the Greens are prominent members, routinely seeks to strong-arm our politicians by claiming with great wailing and gnashing of teeth that Christians are under unrelenting persecution in America, and in view of the fact that the GOP seeks to pass a bill permitting churches to endorse political candidates while maintaining their 501(c)3 nonprofit status, should the rest of us be content with seeing Hobby Lobby (and not the individuals involved) get off the hook with a derisory fine under an obscure importation law?

“Given the possibility that their decade-long trafficking in illicit Iraqi artifacts may have contributed to the ability of terrorists to finance their activities, shouldn’t we consider whether the Greens should be investigated under statutes prohibiting material aid to terrorism? After all, US citizens have been prosecuted for donating to charitable organizations ostensibly delivering humanitarian relief in Palestine and Somalia, a more ambiguous circumstance than dealing in antiquities looted from a war zone. And that also raises the question of whether Hobby Lobby became a front for an ongoing conspiracy to traffic in illicit goods. If so, it could be subject to forfeiture under federal RICO laws. Or, at the very least, shouldn’t those of us who are put off by the antics of monstrous hypocrites like the Greens be publicly calling for such an investigation?”

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2017


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