Tag Archives: Donald Trump

‘People Are Dying’ But Trump Gives Himself Perfect ’10’ for Puerto Rico Response

“The lasting image of this administration may well be Puerto Ricans having to drink contaminated water from polluted streamswhile waiting for timely, appropriate federal aid.”

Written by Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-19-2017.

Image via Twitter.

Despite an estimated one million people still living without drinking water, 80 percent of the island wihout electricity, and fresh reports that people are “dying” on the island, President Donald Trump stirred outrage on Thursday by giving himself a perfect “ten” on his response to the crisis in Puerto Rico.

“The people in Puerto Rico are dying,” said National Nurses United (NNU) vice president Cathy Kennedy, who returned Wednesday from a two-week relief trip with the union’s Registered Nurses Response Network (RNRN). “Nurses have been going out into communities, where all they ask for is water and food. And when you have to make a decision of who’s going to get the food today or the water — we shouldn’t have to do that. The United States is the richest country in the world; Puerto Rico is part of the United States.”

Yet Trump told a different story about the recovery in the Oval Office on Thursday, speaking to reporters as Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello looked on.

“I would give myself a ten,” he said. “We have provided so much, so fast.”

“Trump’s callous, self-appointed grade reflects everything that is wrong with the alleged relief effort in Puerto Rico,” Bonnie Castillo, director of National Nurses United’s Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), told Common Dreams via email.

The nurses who returned from the relief trip, she continued, “are horrified by the massive damage, dislocation, and trauma they have witnessed. It includes one million people living in darkness, many of them in homes with roofs blown off, soaked furniture, dangerous black mold growing everywhere, lengthy waits for food and water from FEMA that often never comes, a decimated transportation system, and hazardous materials abundant.”

About one million Puerto Ricans were still without drinking water as of Thursday. According to status.pr, a website that is maintained by Puerto Rican officials with daily updates on the recovery, 80 percent of the island was still without electricity as Trump was speaking. More than half of the island’s cell phone towers are still not working and more than 4,000 people are still living in shelters.

FEMA has distributed about 23 million liters of water throughout the island—accounting for only about nine percent of Puerto Rico’s drinking water needs. Forced to drink from rivers, many on the island are being exposed to harmful bacteria and toxic chemicals.

The president put Rossello on the spot after grading himself, asking, “Did we do a great job?” The governor declined to give him a rating. He carefully thanked the administration for sending relief, while emphasizing that the island needs the same efforts that were afforded to Texas after Hurricane Harvey. “We need equal treatment, we need all the resources we can get.”

According to Castillo, “the lasting image of this administration may well be Puerto Ricans having to drink contaminated water from polluted streams, putting their health in serious danger, while waiting for timely, appropriate federal aid to millions of U.S. citizens.”

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Trump’s Mine-Safety Nominee Ran Coal Firm Cited for Illegal Employment Practices

Records show the coal mining company formerly run by David Zatezalo retaliated against a foreman who complained of harassment and unsafe conditions.

Written by  Robert Faturechi and published 10-17-2017 in Pro-Publica.

Fox in the Coal Mine: President Trump nominated David Zatezalo, the former chairman of Rhino Resources, to be an assistant secretary of Labor in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Zatezalo’s company was issued two “pattern of violations” letters from MSHA over safety issues at their mines in 2010 and 2011. Photo credit: OSMRE. Published by WhoWhatWhy.org

The coal mining company run by President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s top mining regulator has already come under criticism for weaknesses in its safety record. It turns out the company was also found by the government to have illegally retaliated against a foreman who complained about sexual and ethnic harassment from supervisors, unsafe conditions and drug use at one of its mines.

The little-noticed case involved a foreman at a mine operated by Rhino Energy WV. At the time, the president of the mine’s parent company, Rhino Resource Partners, was David Zatezalo, who is now Trump’s nominee to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination Wednesday.

In the West Virginia case, Michael Jagodzinski, a foreman at the mine located near the town of Bolt, complained in 2011 that he was the target of ethnic and gay slurs. The company illegally retaliated against him, falsely accusing him of sexual harassment, and then fired him, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found. As a result, Rhino Energy WV entered into a five-year consent decree last year, agreeing to pay $62,500 to Jagodzinski and implement reforms, including a policy against harassment and training for all managers and employees on prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation. The company also agreed to report how it handles any internal complaints of discrimination to federal regulators, and post notices about the settlement at all mine sites.

Zatezalo retired from Rhino in 2014. If confirmed to his new post, he would run an agency that is part of the Labor Department. It conducts regular inspections, trains the industry on best practices and levies penalties against mining companies for violations.

Democratic senators have questioned Zatezalo’s record in the industry, citing safety issues at mines he oversaw in West Virginia and Kentucky. One of his mines received two consecutive “pattern of violations” citations from the mining safety agency — a rare sanction used for repeat offenders.

Based on those citations, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who often throws his support behind the mining industry’s priorities, announced he would oppose Zatezalo’s confirmation, saying he is “not convinced” the former coal executive “is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

Zatezalo did not respond to a request for an interview about the harassment case. A spokeswoman for the mine safety administration declined to comment about the allegations.

The problems at the Bolt mine were brought to the attention of federal authorities by Jagodzinski. The EEOC ultimately found that the company engaged in “unlawful employment practices” starting in May 2011.

According to the government’s complaint, Jagodzinski faced a hostile work environment based on his Polish ancestry, including a barrage of insults and false allegations of workplace violations. The company allegedly allowed graffiti on the walls of the mine Jagodzinski supervised, with messages such as “Jag the fag.” Both supervisors and rank-and-file mine employees referred to Jagodzinski using that slur and “stupid Polack,” the EEOC said.

“Supervisory personnel failed to take action to stop the harassment or prevent it from recurring,” the government’s complaint reads. “Instead, supervisors participated in the harassment.”

A poster hung in the workplace likening Jagodzinski to a caveman, with the message: “JAG IS A FAG.” At one point, according to federal authorities, another employee took Jagodzinski’s phone and used it to take a photo of his own testicles.

“The harassment was open and obvious to supervisory personnel,” federal authorities found, “and supervisory personnel participated in the harassment.”

In a sworn deposition, Jagodzinski said managers used drugs on the job. In one case, he said managers tipped off the mine’s employees about an imminent drug test.

Jagodzinski said in an interview with ProPublica that the harassment started because he was trying to enforce workplace safety rules. “I was against them breaking rules and doing drugs and stealing,” Jagodzinski said. “Oxy, nerve pills, synthetic weed, smoking underground, snorting pills underground. This place was the absolute worst place I’d worked in my entire life.”

In a sworn deposition, a company executive said Zatezalo approved the termination, but denied that the company harassed Jagodzinski or fired him as retaliation. The company, he said, had strict policies against drug use.

“These people work in a confined space, underground in a confined space where large equipment moves. Any impairment to judgment is a very, very high risk, so we tolerate — we tolerated zero,” the executive said.

Court filings show Zatezalo was also scheduled to be deposed, but it appears the company agreed to settle with the government before he was interviewed under oath.

The consent decree followed other documented problems at Rhino, which at the end of 2011 operated 11 mines in four states, with a total of more than 1,000 workers. One mine, also near Bolt, was hit in 2010 with a “pattern of violations” letter from the mining agency, a sanction that according to the agency’s website is “reserved for mines that pose the greatest risk to the health and safety of miners, particularly those with chronic violation records.”

A few months later, rock from a wall in the same mine pinned and killed a miner. The mine was given a second “pattern of violations” letter, with the safety agency finding that the company had not maintained the safety improvements it made after the first letter.

In another instance, government regulators accused the company of alerting miners underground of an imminent agency inspection, which would have allowed workers to clean up any potential violations.

A review of regulatory filings by The Charleston Gazette-Mail found that during his career Zatezalo was listed as director of mining operations or as mine general manager during accidents that resulted in three mining deaths. He was a top officer at the time of a fourth death.

During a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, Zatezalo acknowledged that at times his local managers were “not doing what they should have been doing” and that in those cases, he replaced them. He said that if he was confirmed he wouldn’t weaken mine regulation.

“Inspections in the mines in the United States are a necessity,” he said.

Zatezalo began his mining career as a union laborer, before rising in the ranks to hold top positions at American Electric Power Coal and Rhino. He also helped lead coal advocacy associations in Ohio and Kentucky.

Zatezalo was not widely known nationally before he was nominated. In an interview with his hometown newspaper in Wheeling, West Virginia, Zatezalo said that industry contacts had urged him to come out of retirement and put his name in the running for the post. Among his backers, he said, were Robert Murray, the influential chairman of mining giant Murray Energy.

“There aren’t a lot of people in the industry I don’t know, and people said, ‘You’d be great for that position. I’m going to call Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and tell him he needs to support you for this,’” Zatezalo recalled.

Zatezalo later clarified and said he was not sure if Murray had lobbied on his behalf.

Jagodzinski, the mine foreman at the center of the government’s discrimination suit, said he has been stigmatized after being falsely fired for sexual harassment, and has had difficulty finding steady employment since.

“They ruined me, dude. I’ve lost everything,” he said in an interview. “And now I see Zatezalo’s going to run MSHA. I cannot believe it.”

This article is republished under a Creative Commons Share A-like License.

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Trump Revives Notorious GOP Dog Whistle in Call for ‘Welfare Reform’

Like Reagan before him, Trump is deploying the infamous “welfare queen” myth to justify shredding the safety net

Written by Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-16-2017.

President Trump. Image via youtube.

Rehashing a notorious Republican Party trope that accuses some Americans of cheating safety net programs, President Donald Trump on Monday saidhis administration is looking “very, very strongly” at “welfare reform.”

“People are taking advantage of the system and then other people aren’t receiving what they really need to live and we think it is very unfair to them,” Trump said during a meeting with cabinet officials. “Some people are really taking advantage of our system from that standpoint.”

Watch:

The welfare system was last “reformed” during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, and the results were devastating.

According to research by sociologists Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, extreme poverty more than doubled in the two decades following the passage in 1996 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which imposed draconian work requirements on welfare recipients and converted federal welfare funds into block grants.

Now, Trump appears to be preparing to shred what is left of the social safety net. And as Clio Chang of Splinter News points out, Trump is deploying the same rhetorical formula as his welfare-slashing predecessors.

“It’s not difficult to decode what Trump’s saying,” Chang notes. “It’s the same tired line that politicians from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton have been using for decades: that some (read: mainly black) people are unfairly receiving welfare benefits and siphoning resources away from good, hard-working (read: mainly white) people. Reagan infamously spread the ‘welfare queen’ myth in the 1970s, a dog whistle that asserted black, single mothers were bilking the government’s welfare system.”

While Trump didn’t propose any specific changes to the welfare system on Monday, previous reports—along with his administration’s previous actions—have indicated that crucial safety net programs are squarely in the president’s crosshairs.

In one of his first speeches as president, Trump asserted that the American welfare system is “out of control,” and that people on welfare need to get “back to work”—despite the fact that most welfare recipients already have jobs.

And as Politico reported earlier this month, Trump is “mulling an executive order that would instruct federal agencies to review low-income assistance programs [as] part of a coming effort to make sweeping changes to the country’s welfare system.”

Trump’s Republican allies in the Senate, meanwhile, are gearing up to vote on a budget that would make room for $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and over $5 trillion in non-defense spending cuts—including $470 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade.

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Under the Trump administration, US airstrikes are killing more civilians

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Smoke from an airstrike rises in the background as a man flees during fighting between Iraqi special forces and IS militants in Mosul, Iraq, on May 17, 2017. AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

Steven Feldstein, Boise State University

When President Donald Trump took office in January, it was unclear whether the bombast from his campaign would translate into an aggressive new strategy against terrorism. At campaign rallies he pledged to “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State. He openly mused about killing the families of terrorists, a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits violence against noncombatants.

Ten months into his presidency, a clearer picture is emerging. The data indicate several alarming trends.

According to research from the nonprofit monitoring group Airwars, the first seven months of the Trump administration have already resulted in more civilian deaths than under the entirety of the Obama administration. Airwars reports that under Obama’s leadership, the fight against IS led to approximately 2,300 to 3,400 civilian deaths. Through the first seven months of the Trump administration, they estimate that coalition air strikes have killed between 2,800 and 4,500 civilians.

Researchers also point to another stunning trend – the “frequent killing of entire families in likely coalition airstrikes.” In May, for example, such actions led to the deaths of at least 57 women and 52 children in Iraq and Syria.

The vast increase in civilian deaths is not limited to the anti-IS campaign. In Afghanistan, the U.N. reports a 67 percent increase in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.

The key question is: Why? Are these increases due to a change in leadership?

Delegating war to the military

Experts offer several explanations.

One holds that Trump’s “total authorization” for the military to run wars in Afghanistan and against IS has loosened Obama-era restrictions and increased military commanders’ risk tolerance. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations notes: “Those closer to the fight are more likely to call in lethal force and are less likely to follow a value-based approach.”

In other words, an intense focus on destroying IS elements may be overriding the competing priority of protecting civilians. Because Trump has scaled back civilian oversight and delegated authority to colonels rather than one-star generals, the likely result is higher casualties.

Urban battlefield?

A second explanation points to the changing nature of the counter-IS campaign. The Pentagon contends that the rise in casualties is “attributable to the change in location” of battlefield operations towards more densely populated urban environments like Mosul and Raqqa.

This is a partial truth. While urban warfare has increased, Trump’s team has substantially escalated air strikes and bombings. According to CENTCOM data, the military has already used 20 percent more missiles and bombs in combined air operations in 2017 than in all of 2016. One notable airstrike in March, for example, killed 105 Iraqi civilians when U.S. forces dropped a 500-pound bomb in order to take out two snipers in Mosul. In fact, a Human Rights Watch analysis of bomb craters in West Mosul estimates that U.S. coalition forces are routinely using larger and less precise bombs – weighing between 500 and 1,000 pounds – than in prior operations. Finally, the urban battlefield explanation also does not account for increased civilian deaths in Afghanistan from airstrikes, where the environment has remained static for several years.

Pressure from the president

A third explanation of higher civilian casualties is that aggressive rhetoric from the president is inadvertently pressuring the military to take more risks and to deprioritize protecting civilians.

As former Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski observes: “If your leaders are emphasizing the high value of Raqqa and Mosul, while saying less about the strategic and moral risks of hurting civilians, it’s going to affect your judgment.” Words matter, especially coming from the commander-in-chief. In the face of such aggressive rhetoric, it should not come as a surprise that military officers feel encouraged – if not indirectly pressured – to take greater risks.

Unfortunately, the increased trend of civilian casualties is unlikely to diminish. In fact, signs abound that the White House is developing a new set of policies and procedures that will authorize more sweeping discretion to the military. In September, The New York Times reported that White House officials were proposing two major rules changes. First, they would expand the scope of “kill missions” and allow for the targeting of lower-level terrorists in addition to high value targets. Second – and more notably – they would suspend high-level vetting of potential drone attacks and raids.

These changes represent a sharp about-face. The Obama administration carefully crafted a deliberate set of rules guiding the use of force. In 2013, Obama released the Presidential Policy Guidance for Approving Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets (PPG), which created specific rules for determining when the use of force against terrorists was legally justified.

Then, in 2016, Obama issued an executive order on civilian harm that established heightened standards to minimize civilian casualties from military actions, and required the public release of information pertaining to strikes against terrorist targets.

While the latest actions from the Trump administration stop short of reversing Obama-era restraints, they are unsettling steps in the opposite direction. For example, it appears for now that the White House will preserve the “near certainty” standard, which requires commanders to have near certainty that a potential strike will not impact civilians. But this could change over time.

One senior official quoted in The New York Times article bluntly asserts that the latest changes are intended to make much of the “bureaucracy” created by the Obama administration rules “disappear.” As the White House dissolves the existing bureaucracy and relinquishes civilian oversight, Trump is embarking on a slippery slope that will potentially lead to major diminutions of civilian protection.

The current battle to take the Syrian city of Raqqa is emblematic of the stakes at hand. The U.S. is leading a punishing air war to soften IS defenses. In August, U.S. forces dropped 5,775 bombs and missiles onto the city. For context, this represented 10 times more munitions than the U.S. used for the whole of Afghanistan in the same month and year. The resulting civilian toll has been gruesome. At least 433 civilians likely died in Raqqa due to the August bombings, more than double the previous month’s total. Since the assault on Raqqa commenced on June 6, more than 1,000 civilians have been reported killed.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein cautions that the intense bombardment has left civilians caught between IS’s monstrosities and the fierce battle to defeat it. Zeid insists that “civilians must not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid military victories.”

The ConversationTrump would be wise to heed this warning. Even as U.S. forces continue to turn the tide on IS, the trail of destruction left in the campaign’s wake is unsettling. The specter of massive civilian casualties will remain a rallying point for new terrorist organizations long after anti-IS operations conclude.

Steven Feldstein, Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs & Associate Professor, School of Public Service, Boise State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Urging Diplomacy, China Warns Trump’s North Korea Threats Could ‘Backfire Bigly’

The Chinese Foreign Ministry demands an end to Trump’s threats and name-calling

Written by Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-12-2017.

President Trump waiting to address the United Nations last month, where he threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” after Kim Jong-un’s regime conducted several missile tests. (Photo: United Nations/Flickr/cc)

Borrowing a word that subjected President Donald Trump to ridicule during the 2016 campaign, an editorial in the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily warned that Trump’s threats of war with North Korea could “backfire bigly,” and quoted high-level Beijing officials who urged the U.S. to engage in dialogue with Kim Jong-un’s regime.

“Trump has repeatedly made clear his distaste for dialogue with and preference for military action against the DPRK,” wrote Curtis Stone. “But war on the Korean Peninsula would be catastrophic, and dialogue remains the best option.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said the two parties should return to negotiations it held from 2003 to 2009 at the direction of the United Nations Security Council, resulting in a suspension of North Korea’s use of its plutonium-producing reactor.

“We hope that various parties can strictly observe and implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions, refrain from provoking each other and aggravating the contradiction, [and] exercise restraint and caution to ease the tension,” Hua Chunying said this week.

The editorial was released on the heels of Trump’s decision to send two strategic bombers over the Korea peninsula on Tuesday, and his latest tweets in which he said talks with North Korea have made “fools of U.S. negotiators” and “only one thing will work” to deter the isolated country from further nuclear proliferation and testing.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho responded to the military flyover with a statement about Trump’s speech at the U.N. last month, in which he threatened to “totally destroy” the country of 25 million people.

“By his bellicose and insane statement in the U.N. arena, Trump―it can be said―lit the wick of the war against us. We need to settle the final score, only with a hail of fire, not words.”

China stressed that both sides need to acknowledge the other party’s viewpoint, rather than sowing discord by engaging in name-calling and threats.

“Only by addressing the legitimate security concern of various parties in a balanced manner can we truly open the door to peacefully resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. To this end, various parties need to show more sincerity, sit down at the negotiating table, enhance mutual trust through dialogue, and seek a viable way out for peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through negotiation.”

In the U.S., Trump’s escalating and threatening rhetoric has caused anxiety among many. A poll released Wednesday by the Associated Press found that 65 percent of Americans think Trump’s rhetoric has made the situation worse, and 45 percent say he’s made it “much worse.” Only eight percent of respondents approved of his handling of tensions with North Korea.

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Citing Dictatorial Tendencies, Critics Slam Trump for ‘Madcap Threat’ Aimed at NBC

While the president can’t take away the network’s ability to operate, former FCC commissioner calls ongoing attempts to intimidate journalists “chilling”

Written by Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-11-2017.

After an Oval Office meeting with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, President Trump attacked NBC for its reporting on his comments about increasing the nation’s nuclear arsenal. (Photo: @RT_America/Twitter)

Free speech advocates and journalists spoke out against President Donald Trump’s latest attack on the news media on Wednesday after he suggested a “challenge” of NBC’s license.

Michael Copps, the former FCC commissioner who now serves as special advisor to the grassroots organization Common Cause, noted that while Trump isn’t legally able to carry out his threats, his attempts to intimidate the press are deeply disconcerting: Continue reading

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Bolstering Case for Impeachment, Study Concludes Trump ‘Likely Obstructed Justice’

A detailed analysis finds “substantial” evidence to support claims that Trump attempted to undermine an ongoing investigation by firing former FBI director James Comey

Written by 

Image via CNN Twitter

In a new study aimed at collecting and analyzing all of the relevant facts surrounding President Donald Trump’s legally questionable conduct in office—particularly his firing of former FBI director James Comey—three lawyers conclude it is “likely” that Trump has obstructed justice, and that whether he is held accountable for his actions “will have significant consequences for the functioning of our democracy.”

“We do not yet know all the relevant facts, and any final determination must await further investigation, including by Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” concludes the Brookings Institute report—authored by Norm Eisen and Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) and Barry Berke of the law firm Kramer Levin.

Nonetheless, the lawyers argue that the facts currently in the public record amount to “substantial evidence that President Trump attempted to obstruct the investigations into Michael Flynn and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election through various actions, including the termination of James Comey.”

“Demanding the loyalty of an individual involved in an investigation, requesting that individual’s help to end the investigation, and then ultimately firing that person to accomplish that goal are the types of acts that have frequently resulted in obstruction convictions,” the analysis notes, citing the impeachment proceedings against former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, as well as Judges Samuel Kent and Harry Claiborne.

In all of these cases, the lawyers observe, “Congress has…considered obstruction, conspiracy, and conviction of a federal crime to be valid reasons to remove a duly elected president from office.”

The study goes on to highlight several pieces of evidence that could form a cumulative case that Trump obstructed an ongoing investigation, including:

  • Trump’s “fabrication” of his initial reason for firing Comey (which was that Comey poorly handled the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server);
  • Trump’s role in crafting his son Donald Trump Jr.’s “inaccurate statements about the purpose of his meeting with a Russian lawyer” during the 2016 presidential campaign;
  • Trump’s threat to Comey that he “better hope there are no ‘tapes'” of their conversations; and
  • Trump’s repeated denunciations of the investigation into his conduct, which he has called a “fake” scandal drummed up by Democrats angry that they lost the election.

While the authors conclude by noting that the “appropriateness of impeaching the president on the grounds discussed” is “ultimately a matter of congressional discretion,” the relevant precedents, as well as the large body of evidence, indicate that Congress would have sufficient justification if it chose to do so.

As recent polling data demonstrates, such a move would likely be applauded by a large portion of the American public.

According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey in August, 40 percent of Americans believe Trump should be impeached—up 10 percentage points over a period of six months.

Most Americans also side with Eisen, Bookbinder, and Berke on the matter of obstruction of justice. A recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 49 percent of Americans believe Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.

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Sessions Issues Blatant ‘License to Discriminate’ With ‘Religious Freedom’ Memo

The new DOJ policy directive “will enable systemic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families,” rights groups said

Written by for CommonDreams. Published 10-6-2017.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions intensified the Trump administration’s “all-out assault on LGBTQ people” Friday by issuing a “religious freedom” directive to federal agencies that rights groups said would “categorize LGBTQ Americans as second-class citizens who are not equal under the law.”

Outlined in a 25-page memo (pdf), the directive lays out the White House’s “muscular view of religious freedom” first expressed in an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in May. The memo details 20 “principles of religious liberty” to which all federal agencies will be expected to adhere.

“Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others,” the Associated Press noted. “The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.”

In crafting the policy guidance, the Department of Justice (DOJ) consulted extensively with “religious and political groups with a history of opposing protections for LGBT people,” but not “specifically” with any LGBTQ rights organizations, Buzzfeed reported on Friday.

Unsurprisingly, the DOJ’s directive was met with effusive praise by right-wing lawmakers and religious organizations, and fierce condemnation by civil rights groups that argue the Sessions memo constitutes little more than a “license to discriminate” against the LGBTQ community.

Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organization, said in a statement on Friday that the Sessions directive is a “blatant attempt to further Donald Trump’s cynical and hateful agenda.”

Justice Department policy as outlined in the new memo “will enable systemic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families,” Griffin concluded. “Donald Trump and [Vice President] Mike Pence have proven they will stop at nothing to target the LGBTQ community and drag our nation backwards. We will fight them every step of the way.”

HRC argued in its press release that the Sessions directive would allow:

  • Federal contractors to deny services to LGBTQ people.
  • “Agencies receiving federal funding, and even their individual staff members, [to] refuse to provide services to LGBTQ children in crisis, or to place adoptive or foster children with a same-sex couple or transgender couple simply because of who they are.”
  • “A Social Security Administration employee [to] refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse.”

The new DOJ memo comes amid a flurry of policy moves by the Trump administration this week that will disproportionately affect women and the LGBTQ community, including a rollback of the federal birth control mandate and a reversal of government policy that protected transgender workers from discrimination.

In a statement on Friday, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, argued that the Sessions directive is “yet another mean-spirited attack against the LGBTQ community, people of color, and other minorities.

“Federal agencies, government contractors, and grant recipients should not be permitted to discriminate simply by citing a religious belief for doing so,” Gupta concluded. “We urge the federal courts to reject the radical efforts by this administration to justify discrimination on the basis of religion. We are strengthened as a nation when we work to protect and balance the rights and dignity of all.”

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Here’s All You Need to Know About Trump’s Decision to Decertify the Iran Nuke Deal

Photo: YouTube

“If one seeks war, Trump’s decision makes sense.”

Written by 

In what critics are slamming as a decision to embrace “war over peace,” President Donald Trump is reportedly gearing up to officially “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal next week on the grounds that it is “not in the national interest of the United States.”

Many in recent days have predicted that Trump would ultimately opt to decertify the deal he so often railed against on the campaign trail. While some within his administration have urged Trump to uphold U.S. commitment to the nuclear accord, the right-wing hawks calling for tougher sanctions and outlining potential “military options” appear to have won out.

“The move would mark the first step in a process that could eventually result in the resumption of U.S. sanctions against Iran, which would blow up a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities,” the Washington Post noted.

In a Twitter thread on Thursday, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, explained why Trump’s move to undermine the nuclear deal is so dangerous—and why his justifications for doing so are blatantly false.

 

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World Animal Day Takes ‘Dark’ Turn as Interior Dept Denies Protections for 25 Species

While Trump administration declines to list several species, GOP-led House committee advances legislation to “cripple” Endangered Species Act

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-4-2017

The Pacific walrus is one of 25 species the Department of the Interior denied to list as endangered on Wednesday. (Photo: Joel Garlich Miller/U.S. FWS/Pixnio)

As Republicans in the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation that would “cripple” the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Wednesday—which happened to be World Animal Day—the Trump administration’s Interior Department denied petitions to protect 25 species.

The department’s agency charged with evaluating such petitions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), released a report (pdf) detailing why it denied each request, asserting that FWS staff had conducted “a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information.” Continue reading

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