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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

@DavidCayJ

How Chinese Spies Penetrated Trump’s White House

Communist Chinese government operatives got into the Trump White House and also sat at a confidential Republican election strategy meeting, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Some of the conduct the Journal described could form the basis for federal felony indictments.

Fronts for the People's Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party donated at least $450,000 to Trump's 2017 inaugural committee and his campaign, money the newspaper said was crucial to obtaining direct access to Trump and GOP strategy meetings. A furtive organization was created in California to boost Trump's chances of getting a second term.

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Trump Lags In Polls, But Don’t Count Him Out Yet

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Five years ago, I watched in mounting panic as Donald Trump and Melania rode down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his run for the White House. I immediately dropped everything I was working on because, knowing Trump well, I feared what was about to unfold and it would not be good.

This was far from the first time Trump had crowed about why he should be president. He had been saying this since at least 1987. It was part of his delusional belief that he is smarter than everyone else.

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How Trump Officials Eviscerated America's Fair Housing Laws

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

As Donald Trump calls for suppression of Black Lives Matter protests against police abuse, new data reveal another form of Trumpian suppression of minorities. His administration is failing to enforce laws against racial discrimination in lending.

Detailed analysis of mortgage loan applications that were approved or denied found pervasive redlining in 61 metro areas.

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The Military Oath That Could Preserve Our Democracy

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Now that Donald Trump dispatched the American military to stop a peaceful protest against police killings of black men and declared he will do the same nationwide, a little-known fact about our military looms large.

Trump expects the American military, regular troops as well as National Guard and Reserve units, to do whatever he commands. Using the racist language of some 1960s southern police chiefs, Trump tweeted that this will include turning "vicious dogs" on protesters and "when the looting starts the shooting starts."

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Don’t Let Trump Divert You With Twitter Rampage

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

In his latest bids to override our Constitution, would-be dictator Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday attacking First Amendment rights on social media. Then he called for state violence against people suspected of committing property crimes.

In doing so, Trump diverted news coverage from the significant news of the day — his incompetent handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his encouragement of violence against people of color and Muslims.

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In This Pandemic, The Rich Are Making Out Like Bandits

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Tens of millions of Americans are cashless, many desperate to feed their children. Meanwhile the richest Americans merrily float on a rapidly rising tide of money thanks mainly to Trump & Co.

My analysis of Federal Reserve data shows a record flow of greenbacks let the corporate rich pour trillions of dollars into their accounts as they fired tens of millions.

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Like A Dictator, Trump Keeps Chopping Away At Democracy

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Step by ominous step, Donald Trump is eliminating or blocking every Constitutional check and balance on his administration to evade accountability for corruption.

The only path still open to save America from becoming an autocracy is the ballot box in November. Even there Trump is working to rig the election with help from his secretary of State and various elected Republican leaders.

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Barr Openly Promotes Trump’s Dictatorial Ambitions

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

In a major step toward establishing a Trump dictatorship, the Justice Department moved Thursday to drop the criminal case against confessed felon Michael Flynn, the retired Army general and secret foreign agent who was Trump's first national security adviser.

Instead of seeking equal justice under law, an extraordinary court filing demonstrated that Trump has one standard of justice for his enemies and an entirely different one for his allies. The court action shows how fully Trump has turned our Justice Department into his personal protection agency.

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Why GOP Officeholders Should Dump Trump Now

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Now is the moment for elected Republicans held hostage by Donald Trump to break free. The political gun he has held to their heads, threatening to end their careers unless they cravenly bowed down, is out of bullets.

Trump's own polls show that Joe Biden will trounce him. Behind closed doors in his classic privileged-boy style Trump shouted at his own campaign staff as if it's their fault.

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Trump Is Finally Number One — In Number Of Newly Unemployed Americans

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Here's an awful truth our government will tell you but not for some weeks to come: as of today more than 20 percent of American workers are unemployed.

That means more than 32 million Americans in the labor force are without work, the vast majority because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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This Chart Tells All About Trump’s Pandemic Depression

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The jobs market carnage is shown in sharp focus in the graphic below from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington.

In just four weeks we have seen at least 22 million jobs disappear. That's a huge number, the equivalent of the combined workforces of Georgia, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania. A Federal Reserve study suggests we will reach a 32 percent unemployment, far worse than in the depths of the 1930s Great Depression, when the rate was just shy of 25 percent.

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How Federalist Society ‘Conservatives’ Encourage Trump’s Dictatorial Delusions

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

A pair of Donald Trump tweets Monday show beyond all doubt that he has no idea what's in our Constitution and fashions himself a Sun King on the make, a wannabe dictator.

Trump asserted wrongly last July that thanks to our Constitution "I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president."

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Pandemic Is Slowing Carbon Emissions — And That’s A Good Thing

Awful and lethal as coronavirus is, the pandemic is producing some good news about the other big threat – climate disruption.

Sheltering at home means a sharp drop in the burning of fossil fuels, the primary source of CO 2 which drives global warming and climate disruption.

Reducing pollutants in the air may save lives, based on research into the 1918 flu pandemic in which one-third of humans were infected and an estimated 50 million died.

During that pandemic, cities that relied heavily on coal, primarily to generate electricity, experienced significantly higher mortality rates than demographically similar cities with less polluted air.

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Trump’s Racist Immigration Policy May Leave Food To ‘Rot In The Fields’

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Early signs show that the systems that get fresh fruit and vegetables to American homes is strained and may experience major failures. The Trump administration is only making matters worse, allowing his racism against Mexicans to inflict damage on American farms that depend on legal labor from south of the border.

In Florida, winter crops are rotting in the fields because the prime products like blemish-free squash, spinach and lettuce—sold to restaurants—lack buyers, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. It offers members extensive advice on how to stay in business during the pandemic. 

U.S. farmers depend on more than  200,000 Mexicans who get visas each year to pick apples, pears and other crops. 

“Nearly all of our fruits and vegetables are not automated and you need a strong labor force to handpick those crops,” John Walt Boatright of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation told the Palm Beach Post.  “We are hearing a lot of concerns from the blueberry industry and other labor-intensive crops, and working to find a solution.”

U.S. farmers depend on more than  200,000 Mexicans who get visas each year to pick apples, pears and other crops. 

Yet Mother Jones magazine reports that the American consulate in Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city, and other consulates have closed. That means most Mexican farmworkers have no way to get annual work visas. Unless the visas are issued much of this year’s American fruit and vegetable crops will not be harvested, barring some other unexpected development.

Internet Meme

Each year as president, Donald Trump has gotten such visas for Mar-a-Lago while assiduously avoiding the many qualified workers in Palm Beach County, many of whom are African American. Federal law allows such visas for chambermaids, cooks and waitstaff only when no Americans are available.

Truckers Affected

So far the trucking networks that move perishable foods from farm to supermarket have not been affected, though some truckers say that they are finding it more difficult to buy food on the road. Most big rig trucks come with small built-in refrigerators or space where a portable one can be placed, electricity obtained through a cigarette-lighter type plug.

Representative Austin Scott (R-GA) says that delays in issuing visas to farm laborers are a serious threat to vegetable and fruit growers who, unlike grain farmers, don’t have federal crop insurance. “If delays continue” in issuing visas to Mexican farmworkers “we’re going to see crops rotting in the field,” Scott said.

The number of these Mexican farm labor visas has grown more than six-fold since 2000, a revealing indicator of how much America depends on Mexican labor to supply fresh fruits and vegetables in grocery stores. 

Not Issuing Visas

Of course, Trump is hostile to all Mexicans and his administration has shown no signs it wants to resume the issuance of visas for Mexican farm laborers who take most of their money home with them. Trump thinks like a 16th Century mercantilist, believing any dollar that leaves us makes America worse off. It’s discredited and downright crazy economic thinking that hurts America more than Mexico, not that Trump understands this.

A lack of imported farm labor means not just the loss of those foodstuffs, but of income for farmers and those in the related packing, processing and shopping businesses, worsening the cascade of economic damage.

Labor intensive crops such as strawberries and crops that require placing beehives for pollination will be most affected by a shortage of labor.

Tree fruits require intensive labor not just to harvest, but also to cut away diseased limbs and plant replacement trees. Not minding the trees each year means reduced production in future years.

Other Countries Affected

This shortage of farm labor isn’t limited to America in this global pandemic. 

In Britain, the National Farmers Union says that without government intervention, “Growers who rely on seasonal workers to pick, pack and grade our fruit and vegetables are extremely concerned about their ability to recruit workers this year.”

The British government is working on a “Pick for Britain” campaign to get thousands of unemployed to work the fields, British newspapers report.

A similar approach is taking place in France. That government urged those who have been laid off to join “France’s great agricultural army” so unpicked crops don’t rot.

In Germany, a government spokesman said “Seasonal and harvest workers will no longer be allowed to enter Germany.” The ban includes workers from other European Union countries. 

So far, Trumpian policy is more Germanic than Francophile or British. Trump’s de facto policy: Crops be dammed, just keep Mexicans out.

Real Unemployment Data Is Surely Worse Than Latest Report

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

The 3.5 percent unemployment rate before the coronavirus-fueled pandemic erupted may reach 20 percent by the scourge’s end.

Follow these facts:

Unemployment is much worse than even the record number of initial claims filed last week suggests. We know this because initial claims for jobless benefits in one state were wildly out of proportion to that state’s share of national jobs.

Almost 3.3 million initial claims for unemployment benefits were made last week. That’s 4½ times the previous highs of just under 700,000 seen in 1982 and 2009.

Pennsylvania reported 378,900 of those claims. That’s 12 percent of the nationwide total even though the Keystone State has less than 4 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Many people could not get through to state offices to file claims either in person, by telephone or online.

Projecting the number of Pennsylvania claims to America as a whole implies that more than 13 million people lost their jobs last week. That is a figure almost certainly too high, just as the 3.2 million claims reported filed is almost certainly too low.

Many people could not get through to state offices to file claims either in person, by telephone or online.

In many states, tight restrictions block many people from receiving unemployment benefits. The $2.2 trillion relief bill is intended to address this by making freelancers, gig workers and others not usually eligible for benefits to be able to file claims and collect money.

Pennsylvania residents were on notice that they might be laid off since March 14, the day when Gov. Tom Wolf issued the first in a series of orders limiting public activities to slow the spread of the virus. That means many people had thought in advance about how to file claims.

What the Pennsylvania claims numbers tell us for sure is that when we get the current week’s unemployment claim numbers next Thursday, April 2, they will continue to show that millions of people lost their jobs.

At DCReport we predict 1 in 5 Americans will have lost employment as this catastrophe plays out. Before the pandemic, the rate was 3.5 percent.

The 20 percent unemployment prediction is based on reports by a host of sources. The prediction should stand unless Donald Trump and governors like those in Florida and Mississippi reopen business because they choose making money over saving lives.

Grifting The Pandemic: Another Big Tax Cut For The Rich

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Using the coronavirus as his excuse Donald Trump is working to give the highest-paid American workers a valuable tax break, while tossing crumbs to the rest.

On the night Congress was told that between 70 million and 150 million of the 330 million of us are likely to become infected Trump’s mind turned to tax cuts.

Testimony by Dr. Brian Monahan, the official Congressional and Supreme Court physician, implies coronavirus will kill a huge number of people.

We can expect 3.4 million deaths in the next year and perhaps as many as 8 million.

If only 0.7 pecent of those infected die, it will mean the end for almost half a million Americans, assuming that only 70 million become infected. If 150 million get the disease and the death rate is the 3.4 pecent estimated by the World Health Organization director-general, then more than five million Americans will succumb.

To put that in perspective, about 2.9 million Americans die annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means at best we can expect 3.4 million deaths in the next year and perhaps as many as 8 million.

Trump’s tax cut proposal came just days after his ridiculous assertions that when America had only 15 confirmed coronavirus cases the number would quickly fall. With warmer weather the pathogen would lose its deadly power. he said.

Instead, in his Wednesday night address about the “foreign virus” COVID-19, Trump talked about tax cuts, commerce and a loophole-rich European travel ban. That ban exempts the two European countries where he has properties.

The Tax Cut Solution

While Trump gave no details, we can anticipate what Trump will propose and what Congressional Republicans will demand because of a previous payroll tax cut, which I analyzed extensively at the time.

A suspension of the Social Security wage tax and the Medicare tax is planned, Trump aides speaking on background told White House.

Crumbs for the Working Poor

Here’s my analysis, based on the most detailed wage data for 2018 from an annual federal report on every penny of wages earned by American workers:

  • A full-time worker making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would save $93 a month.
  • A worker paid $55,000 a year would save $350 a month. Only one in four workers earn that much or more.
  • Workers at the threshold of the top 5 percent, those paid $137,200, would each save more than $850 a month.
  • Most of the top 5 percent are two-income couples. That means many affluent households will save at least $1,700 a month. That’s more than the pay of a full-time minimum wage worker, who grosses just $1,220 a month.

Why ‘At Least’ Matters

The phrase “at least” in the previous paragraph is important because of a major difference in which wages are levied by the twin payroll taxes for pensions and medical care for the old and disabled plus widows and orphans.

The Social Security tax rate is 6.2 percent of wages. But it applies only to the first $137,200 of wages.

The  1.45 percent Medicare tax applies to all wages. In 2018 there were 8.5 million workers who made more than $140,000. The top 211 workers averaged $95.7 million that year.

If the Medicare tax is suspended, the top 5 percent of workers will save close to $3 billion a month. Those 211 workers at the very top will each save $115,700 per month.

What Happened Last Time

We’ve seen this game played before.

Barack Obama took office in 2009 as jobs were dying at the rate of 750,000 a month. The Democrats who controlled Congress approved Obama’s Making Work Pay Credit. It was limited to the bottom 97 percent of workers. It also applied to the disabled and retirees even if they had no wages.

Later research showed the tax credit was a smart move because people promptly spent it, helping increase the demand side of the economy which had collapsed in the Great Recession. Increasing demand stoked economic recovery.

But in 2011, when Republicans took control of Congress, they demanded that all workers benefit. They also cut the disabled and retired from the tax credit.

The switch from Obama’s Making Work Pay tax break to the Republican payroll tax reduction effectively raised taxes on 51 million households by an average of $134 each, the Tax Policy Center estimated at the time.

Highly Paid Workers Benefitted Most

At the same time, couples in well-paid jobs who had been denied Obama’s Making Work Pay tax credit saved more than $8,000 over two years.

So, watch closely for the contours of the Trump payroll tax cut so you know just how heavily it tilts to favor the best-off Americans. Keep in mind that cutting payroll taxes won’t do anything for those who lose their jobs because of the coronavirus.

Then ask yourself whether saving the most highly paid American workers nearly $3 billion a month is fair, needed or smart.

Even Republicans Mock Trump’s Absurd Legal Arguments

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

A Supreme Court filing lays bare the deep chasm between prominent Republicans who believe in rule of law and wannabe president for life Donald Trump who says he enjoys absolute immunity from any investigation.

Trump audaciously claims any crimes he may have committed before assuming office cannot even be investigated, not even if he committed murder. In effect, he is trying to extend the protections of bankruptcy law with which he is so familiar. No statute, court decision or our Constitution supports this claim of being above the law.

The Republicans who signed the brief are all former officials. Current Republican officeholders all cower before Trump or keep their mouths shut in public, profile in cowardice all.

In a friend of the court brief filed Monday the prominent Republicans argue Trump cannot block the Manhattan district attorney's garden variety criminal tax fraud investigation. They note the issue is a subpoena for business records held by Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA. The firm says it will comply, but Trump's lawsuit blocked that.

Trump is a man without principles or scruples, and the Republicans are warning the court not to enable Trump or any future president who lacks respect for the rule of law.

Trump, the Republican brief states:

"Asks this Court to depart radically" from the principle that no one is above the law "by holding that criminal investigations may not touch the president's affairs in any way, even when those investigations require nothing at all from the president.

"This extraordinary assertion is not based on any specific claim of privilege, but rather on a sweeping claim of absolute immunity. There is no principled reason to depart from the Court's historical approach and create such a far-reaching, per se rule shielding all of the president's unofficial affairs from criminal investigation."

There, in a nutshell, is the issue: "principled reason." Trump is a man without principles or scruples and the Republicans are warning the court not to enable Trump or any future president who lacks respect for the rule of law.

'Absolute Immunity' Debunked

The Republicans warn:

"Trump's assertions of absolute immunity from process while in office—and more generally, his arguments against accountability in any forum—could impose lasting damage on our constitutional system of checks and balances as well as on the rule of law."

Significantly, the grand jury investigation focuses on whether Trump cheated on his New York State taxes and falsified business records before he took office. No court has ever held that a president enjoys any immunities or privileges for conduct before his election.

The grand jury no doubt already has Trump's state income tax returns dating to 2011 and federal tax return information that the IRS routinely shares with the state, all of which are available to it under New York State tax law.

Uncovering Tax Fraud

The real issue is grand jury access to the business records and drafts of the tax returns before they were filed. They would be crucial in establishing whether Trump engaged in criminal tax fraud. His involvement is a virtual certainty given evidence already in the record of the Trump family's massive gift, estate and income tax frauds detailed by The New York Times in 2018.

Trump has a well-documented record of lying in filings with governments to escape paying money he owed. Witness his farcical efforts to hide records from the New York City auditor general in an attempt to evade almost $3 million a year in rent for the Grand Hyatt hotel when he ran it. That story is detailed in my 2016 Trump biography.

The Republicans cite an 1807 ruling by Chief Justice John Marshall compelling President Thomas Jefferson to comply with a subpoena in the Aaron Burr treason case. Jefferson did, establishing that no sitting president is immune from subpoenas for records.

Reagan Invoked

The Republicans also cite Ronald Reagan, a smart move given GOP reverence for that former president.

The "genius of our constitutional system is its recognition that no one branch of government alone could be relied on to preserve our freedoms" and that "the great safeguard of our liberty is the totality of the constitutional system" that ensures that no branch of government gets "the upper hand," Reagan said in 1987.

The 37 Republicans on the court brief include, former Senator David Durenberger of Minnesota, 19 former members of Congress and others who served in senior executive branch positions as far back as the Nixon era. John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel ,and Charles Fried, Reagan's solicitor general, participated.

Also signing the brief: Trump antagonist George Conway, aka Mr. Kellyanne Conway, husband of a White house adviser.

The brief points out that the Manhattan grand jury is investigating conduct before Trump took office. No court has held that any president enjoys privileges or immunities before his election and enjoys only extremely limited protections during the period between the vote and taking the oath of office.

Making Criminal Law Like Bankruptcy Law

Trump's hands-off stance would effectively expand the core principle of bankruptcy law to criminal law so far as a president is involved.

Federal bankruptcy allows individuals and businesses to wipe out debts they cannot repay and start afresh. A Trump casino company wiped away its debts six times, four of them when Trump was in charge.

Now Trump claims that as president he can wipe out any debt to society for past criminal conduct. Actually, Trump's claim goes far beyond that. Trump says that he cannot even be investigated.

Federal Judge Denny Chin said two months ago he was skeptical of Trump's claim. He asked about Trump's campaign statement he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue under the immunity claims made by Trump lawyer George Consovoy.

"Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?… That is your position?"

"That is correct," attorney Consovoy replied.

Days later a federal appeals court held that was incorrect. Trump then appealed to the Supreme Court, two of whose members he appointed.

Supremacy Clause Abuse

The Republicans also challenge Trump's claims that any sitting president is immune from state criminal proceedings under our Constitution's supremacy clause. The brief says the clause "is concerned with the supremacy of federal law, not the supremacy of federal officials.

"A subpoena for documents that concern the president's personal affairs—rather than his official conduct—cannot possibly implicate the Supremacy Clause, because it does not impede federal law or the operations of the federal government in any way.

"Occupying high office does not shield an individual from ordinary legal obligations; and that no person, regardless of rank or station, can wholly exempt himself and his affairs from the legal process."

In an almost mocking tone, the Republicans note that in the Trump criminal case "the subpoena was not even issued to the president, and it requires him to do literally nothing.

"Moreover, the subpoena seeks documents unrelated to and remote from the president's official duties. Nothing in Article II bars a state from seeking such documents in the course of a legitimate criminal investigation, from a party who is not even the president."

Enter the Prince of Wales

To show how absurd Trump's claim is, the Republicans cite Jeremy Bentham, the 18th and 19th century British economist and legal reformer:

"Were the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord High Chancellor, to be passing by . . . while a chimney-sweeper and a barrow-woman were in dispute about a halfpennyworth of apples," could they later refuse to testify about what they had seen?

"No, most certainly," Bentham answered.

Wrongly, Trump conflates the Office of the President with his person, the brief says. Without directly quoting Louis XIV, they attack the French Sun King's reputed claim of "l'état, c'est moi"—"I am the state."

A President Isn't a King

Our Supreme Court has consistently rejected claims of kingly exemption from the law.

Note the civil lawsuit that Paula Jones brought against President Bill Clinton in 1994, saying he hurt her career because she declined to have sex with him.

"The mere holding of high office cannot excuse an individual" from duties under the law, the Supreme Court ruled.

The Supreme Court also distinguished between the president and the person holding that title. "Immunities for acts clearly within official capacity are grounded in the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it."

The high court will hear oral argument on March 31 and is expected to rule in June. The Supreme Court case filings are available here.