Saturday, May 27, 2017

White House Backs Down on Keeping Ethics Waivers Secret

The White House unexpectedly backed down Friday in a confrontation with the Government’s top Ethics officer, announcing it will publicly disclose Waivers that have been quietly handed out since January to let certain former Lobbyists work in the Administration.

The Reversal came after the White House wrote last week to the Office of Government Ethics and asked its director to Suspend his request for Copies of the Waivers. Such Waivers are needed when officials want to work on Policies or other Government issues that they were Directly involved in recently as Private-Sector Lobbyists or Industry Lawyers.

The debate over the waivers, which were routinely made Public during the Obama Administration, has drawn heightened attention as the Trump Administration has hired dozens of former Lobbyists and Lawyers, and is frequently placing them into Jobs that Overlap with the Work they did for Paying Clients.

Both the Trump and Obama Administrations have had Ethics Policies that Prohibit newly Hired Government officials from handing particular matters they Worked on in the Private Sector for two years. If the new government Hires were formerly Lobbyists, they were Prohibited from working on the same issue for two years. Waivers, which are issued by each Federal Government Agency, and by the White House on a case-by-case basis, allows Political Appointees to ignore those ethics Policies if their Expertise were required to fulfill a specif need.

“The White House is going to post these waivers,” Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman said Friday evening.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., the Head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), said Friday evening that he was glad that the White House had changed its position, as it will allow his Agency, and the Public at large, to better evaluate if Trump Administration officials are complying with the Ethics rules. But he also made clear that there should not have been a need for a confrontation before these waivers were made Public. “This really is routine stuff, and I am glad we are back on track again,” said Mr. Shaub, who is in the final year of a five-year Appointment overseeing the Agency, which does not have Subpoena power.

It is impossible to know how many of these Waivers have been issued across the Federal Government, which has about 4,000 Political Appointees who would be subject to Ethics Rules issued by Trump, although many of these jobs have not yet been filled. One White House official said the Public was going to be surprised at the relatively small number of these Waivers.

But Ethics Lawyers said that what matters is that any such Waivers be made Public, so that the limits on what Topics a Federal Government Employee can or cannot take up are not Secret.

The revised stand by the White House came in a letter sent Friday to Mr. Shaub by Mick Mulvaney, the Head of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “O.M.B. shares the belief that the Executive Branch must uphold the highest ethical standards in accordance with the law,” the letter said, before adding that “contrary to your assertions, O.M.B. has never sought to impede O.G.E. nor to prevent others, including agencies, from acting as required by law,” referring to the Office of Government Ethics.

Ms. Walters said the White House, through the letter, which is also being sent to Agency Heads across the federal Government, was making clear that each Agency was authorized to answer Shaub’s question and provide copies of any Ethics waivers it might have issued.

Norman Eisen, who served as the White House ethics Adviser at the start of the Obama Administration, said this represented a clear reversal of the earlier position, which he said had clearly implied to federal Agency Heads that they should hold off from complying. Eisen and other Ethics Lawyers said they believed that the Trump Administration, even after promising to “drain the swamp”, had instead looked for ways to place former Lobbyists and Industry Lawyers into jobs from which they could help former clients get Special Favors, be it in the Energy industry or on Wall Street. “It’s a victory for checks and balances, the rule of law and the independent oversight of the Office of Government Ethics, and the news media,” Eisen said. ”With any bully, when you punch them in the nose, they back down.”

Shaub had been concerned that if the White House essentially discouraged Federal Agencies from complying with his request for these Waivers, it would have largely curtailed the effectiveness of his relatively small office. His office does not have Enforcement Powers, but instead collects data on Ethics compliance and then can ask the White House, if it finds a Violation, to intervene and order corrective action by a Federal employee or Agency.

Former senior officials with the OGE said that in the 39-year history of the Agency, which was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, they could not remember an instance in which the White House had similarly tried to Block, or even to Discourage, an effort to collect Ethics Compliance data.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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U.S. Lifts Limit on Number of Refugees Allowed In

Despite repeated efforts by President Trump to curtail Refugee Resettlements, the State Department this week quietly lifted the Department’s Restriction on the number of Refugees allowed to enter the United States. The result could be a near doubling of Refugees entering the Country, from about 830 people a week in the first three weeks of this month to well over 1,500 people per week by next month, according to Refugee Advocates. Tens of thousands of Refugees are waiting to come to the United States.

The State Department’s decision was conveyed in an email on Thursday to the Private Agencies in Countries around the World that help Refugees manage the nearly two-year Application Process needed to enter the United States.

In her email, Jennifer L. Smith, a Department Official, wrote that the Refugee Groups could begin bringing people to the United States “unconstrained by the weekly quotas that were in place.”

Although it came the same day as an Appeals Court Ruling that rejected Government efforts to Limit Travel to the United States from six predominantly Muslim Nations, the move by the State Department had nothing to do with the Court Ruling.

The Department’s Quotas on Refugee Resettlement were largely the result of Budget constraints imposed by Congress in a Temporary Spending measure passed last Fall. But when Congress passed a spending Bill this month that Funded the Government for the rest of the Fiscal year, the Law did not include any Restrictions on Refugee Admissions.

A State Department spokeswoman said the Department had Consulted the Department of Justice about its Refugee Quotas and had decided to adjust them.

President Trump has sought to lower the ceiling on the number of Refugees annually allowed in the Country to 50,000 from 110,000. Trump’s Executive Orders on Immigration, the first of which he issued on Jan. 27th, also sought to suspend all Refugee Admissions for at least four months. Federal Judges stayed those Orders, but the confusion over them has contributed to a falloff in Refugees entering the United States.

While 13,255 Refugees were admitted in August, that number plunged to just 2,070 in March. So far during the 2017 Fiscal year, 45,732 people have been admitted, just a few thousand short of Trump’s proposed Cap.

Refugee Groups now predict that entries into the United States could increase so rapidly that the total number of Refugees admitted by Sept. 30th, the end of the Fiscal year, could exceed 70,000. That is well below the 84,994 Refugees admitted in Fiscal year 2016, but not by nearly as much as many Advocates had feared.

Refugee Advocates were delighted by the State Department’s decision. “This is long overdue, but we’re very happy,” said Mark Hetfield, President and Chief Executive of HIAS, an Immigrant Aid Society. But many of the Advocates said they were worried that any reprieve would be temporary.
“The president’s proposed budget cuts for 2018 would mean we would have a much smaller program next year no matter what happens with his executive orders,” said Erol Kekic, Executive Director of the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service.

Perhaps even more worrisome, Refugee Advocates said they had seen a slowdown in Security Screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, whose Checks are required for Refugees to enter the United States. Still, even Republicans in Congress have said that few of Trump’s proposed Budget Cuts to Foreign Aid and the State Department’s Budget would be adopted into Law.

In a visit this week to Syrian Refugee Camps in Turkey, Nikki R. Haley, the United Nations Ambassador, all but urged Congress to reverse Trump’s proposed cuts in Aid to Refugees. “It’s starting the conversation,” Ms. Haley said of Trump’s proposed Budget. “It doesn’t mean that’s where it will end up. He’s going to have that conversation with Congress on where we should fall on this.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Friday, May 26, 2017

NY House Members to GOP-Aligned State Senate Dems Return to Democratic Conference

The New York State Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) is Senate Democrats that vote with the Republicans. The IDC is led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein. In 2012, Democrats won a Majority of Seats in the State Senate, but the IDC broke away from the main Democratic Conference to give Republicans Control of the Senate. Democrats also held a Majority of Senate Seats after winning a Special Election in 2016, and once again after the 2016 Election, but Republicans have remained in Charge through their alliance with rogue Democrats.

The IDC: Marisol Alcantara (Manhattan), Tony Avella (Queens), David Carlucci (Rockland), Jesse Hamilton (Brooklyn), Jeff Klein (Bronx), Jose Peralta (Queens), Diana Savino (Staten Island), David Valesky (Onondaga).

Today, 18 Democrats Representing New York State in the House of Representatives signed a letter demanding that the three clashing Factions of their Party in the State Senate reunite, so as to make Albany the seventh Solid-Blue State Capital Nationwide.

The letter noted that, with the Victory of Brian Benjamin in a Special Election in Harlem on Tuesday, Registered Democrats enjoy a One-Seat numerical advantage in the Upper Chamber of the State Legislature. But Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder, who runs on both Party lines, has caucused with the Republicans since 2012, while another eight Members belonging to the IDC have a nearly five-year-old Power-Sharing arrangement with the GOP.

“This numeric majority should mean that Democrats are in control of the State Senate. However, because of Democrats who have broken away from the Democratic conference, the Republicans are enjoying control of it,” the message laments. “This reality is devastating, especially for hard-working New Yorkers because Republicans are intent on advancing President Donald Trump’s agenda.”

The Signatories include: Joseph Crowley (Queens), Jose Serrano (Bronx), Adriano Espaillat (Upper Manhattan), Paul Tonko (Albany-area), Hakeem Jeffries (Brooklyn), Nydia Velazquez (Brooklyn), Brian Higgins (Buffalo), Eliot Engel(Bronx), Nita Lowey (Westchester), Carolyn Maloney (Manhattan), Gregory Meeks (Queens), Thomas Suozzi (Nassau), Sean Patrick Maloney (Hudson Valley), Louise Slaughter (Rochester), Jerrold Nadler (Manhattan), and Kathleen Rice (Nassau County).

The presence of Espaillat’s signature is especially significant, given that his protégé Marisol Alcantara, who assumed his former seat in Albany in January, is a member of the IDC. Meeks’ former ally, now-jailed State Senator Malcolm Smith, was also briefly a Member of the Turncoat Coterie before his arrest in 2013 led to his expulsion from the group.

“Now is the time for all Democrats to return to the Democratic conference to work collaboratively to benefit all New Yorkers, and fight unitedly against President Trump’s agenda,” the letter concludes. “We look forward to working with you in that fight.”

Felder sent a curious letter to the IDC yesterday, urging them to return to the Party fold, while making no promise to do so himself. Meng, a Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, yesterday joined Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake in urging Felder and the Rival Conferences to combine.

Jeffries, Clarke, Nadler, and Velazquez have all previously spoken critically of the IDC.

The IDC has long maintained that its pact with the Republicans allows Progressive measures, like a Fund to provide Attorneys to Immigrants fighting Deportation, and a Bill to Bar the Prosecution of Minors as Adults in most circumstances, to clear the State Senate. Mainstream Democrats have maintained those Measures have been diluted by GOP influence, and blame the IDC-GOP accord for the failure of New York Single-Payer Healthcare and of the DREAM Act, which would extend State College Tuition Assistance to Undocumented Immigrants.

The breakaway faction has more recently noted that both Felder and a number of Conservative-Leaning Democrats might not support the DREAM Act should it come to the floor, meaning even a United Blue front could not pass it.

“The IDC is proud of its record of achievements and will always work to protect New Yorkers when our federal government fails us,” said spokeswoman Candice Giove. “In order to achieve anything we must unite around policy issues, which is why we’ve asked our Democratic colleagues to pledge their support to seven progressive issues including reproductive health, single-payer health care and the DREAM Act. It’s time to call the roll to find out where Democrats stand on these issues.”

Further, two members of the mainline Democratic Conference, Bronx State Senator Ruben Diaz Jr. and Westchester State Senator George Latimer, are seeking Local office, which could leave holes in the numerical Democratic Majority for as long as their Seats remain vacant.

The biggest problem with the IDC is the complete rejection of any meaningful Voting Process improvements that will pass in the Assembly with no chance of passing in the Senate.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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States Supporting Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

Public Citizen serves as the People’s Voice in the Nation’s Capital. Since Their Founding in 1971, they have delved into an array of areas, but our work on each issue shares an overarching goal: To ensure that all Citizens are Represented in the Halls of Power, the People's House.

They have five Policy groups: Congress Watch division, The Energy Program, Global Trade Watch, the Health Research Group and Litigation Group.

Public Citizen is a Nonprofit organization that does not participate in Partisan Political activities or Endorse any Candidates for Elected Office. They accept No Government or Corporate Money, but rely solely on Foundation Grants, Publication Sales, and Assistance from their 400,000 Members and Supporters.

Eighteen States: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and more than 700 Municipalities have called for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. More than 5 million Petition Signatures have been gathered Nationwide calling for an Amendment. Americans across the Political spectrum agree that big Donors have too much Power over our Government. A National Poll found that 80% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats support Overturning Citizens United. Few other issues unite us in this way.

Late yesterday, Nevada became the 19th State to call for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United, bringing us halfway to the Number of States needed to Ratify an Amendment. A proposed Amendment becomes Part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States, 38 of 50 States.

This is an achievement that skeptics labeled impossible when the Movement for a Constitutional Amendment launched the day of the Citizens United Ruling in 2010.

Americans know that Big Money is rotting away the Foundation of our Democracy and Blocking an Economic Populist Agenda that people of all Political stripes desperately want.

It’s past time for Congress to hear the Rallying cry for a Constitutional Amendment, and to Act.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Republican Charged With Assault Wins in Montana

Republican Businessman Greg Gianforte won a special House Election in Montana, just one day after being charged with Assault for allegedly body slamming a Reporter who asked him about repealing Obamacare.

The Congressman-to-be still faces an Assault charge, he’s slated to appear in Court before June 7th and faces either a Fine of up to $500 or, in the most drastic case, up to six months in Jail.

This win was narrower than originally expected but welcome news for Republicans.

The Results:

Greg Gianforte (R) - 189,473, 50%
Rob Quist (D) - 166,483, 44%
Mark L. Wicks (L) - 21,509, 6%

Total Votes Cast = 377,465 of 700,428 Registered Voters, for a 54.22% Turnout.

Of the total Vote cast, more than 260,000 were Early Votes, almost 70%, before the assault incident. What is interesting about this vote is, Montana does not let a Voter change their Absentee or Early vote. So going to the poll and changing your vote would not count.

Another interesting issue is the News coverage. Where was the reporting on the fact that there was a Third Candidate, the Liberian Wicks, that would affect the vote.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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New GOP Bill May Revive Internet Privacy Fight

A new GOP House Bill is putting Internet Privacy back in the spotlight, just weeks after President Trump signed Legislation killing Privacy Protections passed during the Obama Administration.

The new Bill from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), comes after Republicans were left reeling from a Public backlash after pushing through Legislation to Kill Internet Privacy Protections passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year.

Blackburn was a key part of moving that Legislation, and took heat at the time for her arguments against the Rules, which would have gone into effect this year and were seen by many as essential Privacy Protections.

The FCC rules would have required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get Permission from Customers before sharing their Data with Advertisers. Republicans and the Broadband Industry opposed the Regulations, arguing that they would have subjected ISPs to Restrictions not faced by Websites such as Facebook and Google, which are responsible for the Majority of the Internet’s Data-Driven Advertisements.

When the Bill Repealing those Regulations was signed into Law, Republicans faced intense criticism from Democrats and Privacy and Consumer Advocates. And the Telecom industry went on the defensive, trying to publicly pushback against the notion that their Customers’ Data is now vulnerable to being accessed by Third Parties.

Critics at the time were skeptical of Republicans’ pledge to implement Uniform Privacy Regulations that cover both ISPs and such sites as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, which are also referred to as “Edge Services.”

The Blackburn Bill, which was introduced last week, seems to be an answer to those Critics. It would require both Edge Services and ISPs to get Users’ Permission before sharing their Sensitive Information, things like Financial Data, Browsing History, and Geolocation Information, with Advertisers. But it’s still too early to know how much traction the Bill has.

The Internet Association, a Trade Group representing Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, has already signaled its Opposition to the Bill. “This bill has the potential to upend the consumer experience online and stifle innovation,” Internet Association spokesman Noah Theran said in a statement. “Policymakers must recognize that websites and apps continue to be under strict [Federal Trade Commission] privacy enforcement and are not in an enforcement gap, unlike other stakeholders in the ecosystem.”

Blackburn shot back in her own statement Wednesday, echoing a refrain that was used by Privacy Advocates arguing against the GOP effort to Overturn the FCC rules. "I thought the Internet Association would be more supportive of protecting consumers,” Blackburn said. “I think if you ask the American people if they're OK with having less control over their online privacy so companies can sell their data -- they'd say no." Blackburn was scheduled to meet with the Group Thursday.

The Legislation has yet to garner much support with the Broadband Industry, which is often at odds with Edge Services on Policy issues. When the FCC Rules were killed, groups like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon said they should be Governed by the same set of Privacy Restrictions, and overseen by the same Agency, as Edge Providers.

Conservatives and Industry Advocates prefer to see the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in charge of Policing Internet Privacy, because it has a lighter Regulatory footprint than Agencies, like the FCC, that have Rule-Making Authority.

Blackburn’s Bill would grant that wish, and opposing it could put the Telecom Industry in an awkward position, but so far, AT&T seems to be the only ISP to back the Legislation. "We have always said consumers expect their online data to be protected by a comprehensive and uniform privacy framework that applies across the entire Internet ecosystem and includes operating systems, browsers, devices, ISPs, apps, online services, and advertising networks. We support Chairwoman Blackburn for moving the discussion in that direction and we look forward to working with her as this legislation moves forward." AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Ted Cruz Failed to Show 2012 Loans from Goldman Sachs

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz improperly accounted for Loans he received from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. during his 2012 Campaign, saying the Funds were his own Personal Contributions to his Senate Race, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) said Thursday.

The finding, released on the FEC website, marked a rare instance of Agreement among the Agency’s five Commissioners, who voted unanimously that the $1.1 million of Loans from the Banks should have been disclosed to Voters. The FEC didn’t say whether there would be a Penalty, and if so, how much.

Under Federal Election Law, Candidates can take out Loans from Commercial Banks as long as they Disclose the Source of the Funds, the Interest Rate they are Paying, and the Terms of the Loan. They can also Lend or Give their Campaigns Unlimited amounts from Personal Funds.

In his Bid for the Senate, Cruz said that he was Financing his Bid in part with Personal Funds, liquidating Assets to compete in an expensive Runoff Election against a well-funded Candidate. Cruz’s 2012 financial Disclosure showed that he hadn’t sold enough Assets to be able to Lend his Campaign as much as he had claimed. It also listed Personal Loans from Goldman Sachs, where his Wife was an Executive, and Citigroup.

The Discrepancy was originally reported in January 2016, when Cruz was running for President. Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for his Presidential Campaign, acknowledged that the Goldman Sachs Loan had been used for his Senate Campaign and said the Omission was "inadvertent."

The FEC Auditors found that Cruz made five Loans to his Campaign during 2011 and 2012 that totaled $1.4 million. Of that amount, $800,000 came from Goldman Sachs and $264,000 from Citigroup. The rest came from Cruz’s Personal Funds, the FEC said.

In his 2012 Bid, Cruz raised about $14.5 million, a little more than half the amount taken in by his Opponent in the Republican Primary, David Dewhurst, the Lieutenant Governor and favorite of the GOP Establishment. Cruz finished second to Dewhurst in a crowded Primary field, then handily Defeated him in the Runoff, taking 57% of the Vote.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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