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Monday, December 09, 2019

Republican Senators Attack U.S. Military's Successful Inclusion Programs

A new report released by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) criticizes military efforts to increase diversity, even though the U.S. military itself, along with experts and military leaders, say increased diversity improves military effectiveness.

Rubio and Roy provided early access to the report, titled "Woke Warfighters," to Fox News, which has publicly campaigned against anti-LGBTQ equality for years.

"We need to spend more time thinking about how to counter Chinese aircraft carriers and less time thinking about pronouns," Rubio wrote in the report. Roy wrote, "[President Joe] Biden's woke Pentagon is using taxpayer dollars to promote blatant anti-American ideology."

The report features photos of Black and transgender military leaders and members and claims that programs aimed at diversity have become so much of a priority in the armed forces that they are undermining fighting capability.

The Army has put emphasis on diversity in the military since before Joe Biden became president. In 2020, while Trump was in office, the Army launched "Project Inclusion," an initiative designed to increase diversity and equity across the branch.

In a document accompanying the program's announcement, the Army stated that it was important because "The strength of the Army comes from its diversity. Developing and maintaining qualified and demographically diverse leadership is critical for mission effectiveness and is essential to national security."

The Biden administration has committed to increased diversity across the military. The National Security Strategy released by the White House in October stated, "We will strengthen the effectiveness of the force by promoting diversity and inclusion." Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has overseen initiatives designed to address extremism within military ranks.

In March 2021, Biden removed restrictions on transgender military service that had been put in place by former President Donald Trump.

Dartmouth College professor Jason Lyall has studied the effects of diversity on military effectiveness and preparedness. He said in an analysis published by the Washington Post in July 2020, "My research shows that inclusive armies fight harder, suffer lower rates of desertion and defection, and exhibit more creative problem-solving on complex battlefields than armies drawn from marginalized or repressed groups."

Lyall wrote: "Victory on the battlefield over the past 200 years has usually gone to the most inclusive armies, not the largest or best-equipped ones. Inclusion, in other words, is good for military effectiveness."

In May, a group of former Defense Department leaders released a letter in support of increased diversity and inclusion in the armed forces. Among those who signed the letter were Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel, who served as secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama, and Mark Esper, who served in the same position under Trump.

"Diversity is a strength of the U.S. military, and our experience as senior defense leaders tells us that capable and diverse teams are more effective in today's complex environment," the authors said.

Active members of the armed forces have also spoken out in favor of increased diversity.

Col. Andrew Deaton, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, wrote in a column for the nonprofit Association of the United States Army, "When leaders are able to leverage the holistic diversity of their soldiers, the unit and mission benefit."

Gen. Mark Milley, current chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a 2021 speech at an ROTC ceremony at Howard University: "Opportunity in our military must be reflective of the diverse talent in order for us to remain strong."

Rear Adm. Keith Davids of the Naval Special Warfare Command was quoted last month on the Navy's official website as saying, "Diversity is a force multiplier and makes us a stronger and more capable fighting force."

Voters have rejected attacks on diversity from Republican officials and candidates. Gubernatorial candidates such as Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, who made anti-LGBTQ positions a key part of their campaigns, were overwhelmingly defeated. Anti-LGBTQ Senate candidates such as Mehmet Oz and Blake Masters also lost their races.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

House Republican Fabricates 'Suspicious Activity' Banking Claim Against Bidens

Rep. James Comer (R-KY) has repeatedly insisted that "suspicious activity" claims filed against Hunter Biden and other members of President Joe Biden's family are rare and indicate possible illegal behavior. But the Treasury Department says it expects millions of such claims to be filed in the next year.

Suspicious activity reports, known as SARs, are filed by financial institutions with the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and can be used as the basis for investigations into possible illegal activity, but they are not an indication of guilt or innocence.

SARs can be initiated when bank accounts are involved in any activity out of the ordinary course of business. This includes unusually large or complex deposits that could indicate the account holder is attempting to store funds for an illegal purpose.

Comer's allegations come as the incoming House Republican majority said it will initiate multiple investigations of Biden ahead of the 2024 election.

Comer is currently the highest-ranking minority party member of the House Oversight Committee and is likely to become chair of the committee when Congress reconvenes in 2023. He recently won reelection to represent Kentucky's 1st Congressional District.

House Republicans on Thursday held a press conference announcing their intention to target the Biden family with investigations after the GOP secured a small majority in the midterm election, including allegations that Hunter Biden used his father's position to enrich himself. Many of these accusations have centered on conspiracy theories that a laptop owned by Hunter Biden contains emails connecting the Biden family to corrupt business deals.

"According to media reports, the Biden family accumulated over 150 SARs," Comer said during the event. It is a data point he has frequently referenced to paint the Bidens in a negative light.

During an interview in October on the conservative One America News Network, Comer claimed, "I came from a banking background, and I can tell you, nobody ever gets a suspicious activity report."

Appearing on Newsmax in July, Comer said: "I don't think the American people who don't have banking background understand how few suspicious activity reports are ever filed. The fact that they have had over 150 is mind-boggling. That's got to be a Guinness record."

And in April, Comer told Fox News, "I was the director of the eighth-largest Kentucky-domiciled bank for about a decade, and we mighta had 12 SARs filed among all the banks in our holding company a year."

But the Treasury Department says millions of SARS are filed each year, undercutting Comer's claims of their rarity. A report the department submitted to Congress said that in 2021, 2.8 million reports were filed, and 3.5 million reports are expected in 2022. The department also anticipates over 3.6 million reports for the 2023 fiscal year. According to the Bank Policy Institute, only about 4% of SARS lead to a follow-up by law enforcement, and "a tiny subset" of those investigations result in arrests or convictions.

In Comer's district alone, over 62,000 reports were filed between 2014 and 2022, averaging one filing for every 12 people in the district.

On Oct. 19, the Washington Post fact-checked Comer's claim that the SARs reports indicated that Hunter Biden had "committed serious crimes." The paper awarded Comer "three Pinocchios" for what it calls "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions."

"Even if as many as 150 SARs were filed concerning Hunter Biden's business dealings — a number that remains unconfirmed — that does not mean that he committed 'serious crimes' or that banks were 'pretty confident' that a serious crime was committed," the Post concluded. "Instead, these reports are merely tips that something may be suspicious — raw intelligence that still needs to be vetted, confirmed and possibly investigated."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

GOP Dark Money Outfit Used Russian Stock Video For Anti-Biden Ads

A political ad that ran on television on October 28 during a World Series game broadcast and criticized President Joe Biden for aiding Ukraine used stock footage from Russian sources, a review has found. The ad is funded by Citizens for Sanity, a dark money conservative tax-exempt nonprofit group that has supported Republican candidates during the 2022 election cycle.

Politicoreported that Citizens for Sanity began running a six-figure advertising campaign attacking Democrats, starting in August.

The ad that ran during the World Series game shows footage of a Black man in the aisle of a grocery store with text that reads "GROCERIES UP 13%." The video clip is available for purchase on the stock photo and video site iStock.

The creator of the footage is listed on iStock as Elena Perova. The same photographer, who also appears to go by the name Elena Shishkina, has images and video clips for sale on another stock photo site, Dreamstime. The account lists her location as Permskiy Kray in the Russian Federation. Many of the same images can be found on both sites.

The narrator of the ad says: "Now, Biden says that his fight in Ukraine could lead to nuclear Armageddon — World War III." The quote is taken out of context: It is from an October 6 speech Biden gave at a Democratic Party fundraiser in which he warned that Vladimir Putin's threatened use of nuclear weapons is a cause for global concern.

According to a White House transcript of his remarks, Biden said: "We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We've got a guy I know fairly well; his name is Vladimir Putin. I spent a fair amount of time with him. He is not joking when he talks about the potential use of tactical and nuclear weapons, or biological or chemical weapons, because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming."

Citizens for Sanity has run other ads, including a series in which it condemned transgender youth and accused "Biden and his radical allies" of "destroying girls' sports" by advocating for transgender equality, part of a campaign nationwide by conservatives and Republicans against transgender rights with an eye to motivating conservative voters.

It has also been criticized for advertisements that accuse Democrats of supporting criminals. In another ad that aired during the World Series, Democrats are accused of "hurting our children" by supporting "illegal immigration" that is "threatening your family."

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch described the advertising as "deliberately dishonest," noting that it associates a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant with Democratic policies, even though it occurred when former President Donald Trump was in office in 2020.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, columnist Michael Hitzik described the ads that Citizens for Sanity ran earlier, during the baseball playoffs, as "unbelievably racist."

Citizens for Sanity has its roots in the Trump administration, and specifically with officials in that administration who were deeply involved in anti-immigrant policy.

Three of the group's board members — Gene Hamilton, John Zadrozny and Ian Prior — served in the Trump administration. All three men work with the America First Legal Foundation, a group formed by former senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller. Among other efforts, the group has brought multiple lawsuits against the Biden administration aimed at preventing changes to Trump's anti-immigrant policies and stopping federal aid to Black farmers.

In addition to his role as the architect of many of the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies, Miller has long-standing ties to white nationalists. In one set of emails that was released in 2019, Miller argued in favor of limiting nonwhite immigration to the U.S.

Hamilton worked in the Department of Justice and authored a memo that ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy put in place by President Barack Obama to delay action against undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The Biden administration has taken steps to reinstate the policy.

Zadrozny worked at the State Department and U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services during the Trump administration and had previously worked for the anti-immigrant group FAIR. FAIR has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

Prior also worked in the Trump Department of Justice; since Trump's presidency ended, he has been involved in conservative activism. Prior was a member of a conservative political action committee called Fight for Schools, which attacked school board members in Virginia for promoting racial inclusion.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Billion-Dollar Electric Vehicle Plant Slated For Ohio Thanks To Biden Bill

Car manufacturer Honda and electronics conglomerate LG announced plans to build a $4.4 billion facility for electric vehicle battery production in Ohio on August 29. The announcement comes two weeks after the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains incentives for consumers to buy electric vehicles with American-made components such as batteries, was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Aug. 15.

The two multinational companies expect the facility's construction to begin in 2023, with the plant ready to commence production by 2025. It is the first investment announced by Honda toward producing their own batteries since the company said it would go all-electric by 2040.

Honda’s CEO Toshihiro Mibe noted in the company's statement that “Honda is committed to the local procurement of EV batteries which is a critical component of EVs. This initiative in the U.S. with LGES [LG Energy Solution Ltd.], the leading global battery manufacturer, will be part of such a Honda approach.”

The production of a majority of electric vehicle batteries currently in use occurs in China, but Biden has enacted multiple policies to encourage shifting production to the United States and create jobs for American workers. In a March 29 statement, the White House said its efforts “to build a clean energy economy are driving companies to make more in America rebuild our supply chains here at home, and ultimately bring down costs for the American people.”

The Inflation Reduction Act passed Congress with only Democratic votes in the face of uniform Republican opposition in the House and Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris advanced the law with a tiebreaking vote in the Senate, and it was later signed by President Joe Biden.

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act's $369 billion in funding focused on clean energy and reducing climate change, there is a subsidy for car buyers of $7,500 on electric vehicles. The law requires that qualifying vehicles are largely assembled in the U.S. with components made in America, and phasing out previous credits that didn't require U.S.-based production. Provisions for incentives were also included for companies like Honda so they can continue to compete in the U.S. market, and other carmakers such as Tesla, GM, and Ford have cars on the market that will already qualify for new credits.

Additionally, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Biden signed into law in November 2021, has $3.1 billion in subsidies for companies who choose to build electric vehicle-related facilities domestically.

Multiple companies have announced plans to build production facilities in the U.S. since both laws passed and other policies championed by President Biden went into effect, planning billions in investments and thousands of new jobs in multiple states around the country.

GM announced in January that it would be investing $7 billion in Michigan across 4 facilities focused on electric vehicles and battery production. Biden released a statement praising the decision.

In May, Stellantis and Samsung SDI announced that together they would spend $2.5 billion to build a battery production plant in Kokomo, Indiana. The companies stated the facility is projected to create 1,400 new jobs in the area. That same month, Hyundai said that they would be building a $6.5 billion EV factory outside of Savannah, Georgia, which they project would create 8,100 jobs for the state.

In July, Panasonic said they will build a $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto, Kansas after forging a partnership with Tesla to supply batteries for that company’s line of cars.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Consumer Outlook Improves Sharply As Gas Prices Fall And Job Numbers Rise

A survey of consumers released on Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that expectations of inflation in the next few years has declined for the second month in a row.

The Survey of Consumer Expectations is conducted with a panel of 1,300 household heads every month to gauge how families expect inflation and prices for goods like housing, education, food, and gas to change.

The July 2022 survey found that consumers expect inflation of 6.2 percent over the next year, down from 6.8 percent in the June survey. The results also show that expectations for what it terms "three-year-ahead inflation" have also fallen, from 3.6 percent to 3.2 percent between June and July. The survey found that consumer expectations of price increases for gas and food had fallen "sharply."

In a statement issued with the results, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said the estimate of inflation increases had declined across income groups but were "largest among respondents with annual household incomes under $50k and respondents with no more than a high school education."

The improvements in consumer outlook come along with other positive indicators about the overall health of the U.S. economy.

On August 5, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hiring in July was far better than expected. The economy added 528,000 jobs, more than doubling the Dow Jones estimate of 258,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent in a return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.

Unemployment hit a high of 14.7 percent in May 2020 under former President Donald Trump, and when Joe Biden took office in January 2021 the rate was at 6.4 percent.

Gas prices have declined every day for at least 50 consecutive days from the record nationwide average high of $5.02 per gallon in June. As of Monday, according to AAA, the national average was $4.05 per gallon. In many states in the South, prices had fallen below $4.00; in Texas, for example, the average is $3.55 per gallon.

In an interview with CNN, Tom Kloza, an analyst with the Oil Price Information Service, attributed the price drop both to drivers' failure to buy gas at higher prices and to President Biden's decision to release a million barrels of emergency oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

In his March 31 speech announcing administration measures to counter high gas prices, Biden noted, "This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply until production ramps up later this year. And it is by far the largest release from our national reserve in our history."

Concerns about inflation have contributed to lower approval ratings for Biden, and voters have frequently cited concerns about the economy as their top issue.

Biden has repeatedly described fighting inflation as his "top domestic priority" and has criticized Republican proposals that would raise taxes on the middle class while starving programs like Social Security and Medicare of funds.

The Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that would raise tax rates for large corporations and enhance the IRS' ability to pursue wealthy individuals for tax evasion, passed the Senate on August 7. According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if it is enacted, the legislation will help to reduce the deficit and support "the Federal Reserve's efforts to bring down inflation."

Biden has said he will sign the legislation after its expected passage on August 12 in the House of Representatives.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Biden White House Quietly Reunites Migrant Families Torn Apart By Trump

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that 400 migrant families who were separated under the administration of former President Donald Trump have been reunited.

The administration has estimated that over 1,000 families remain separated out of the 5,000 families that were broken apart by former President Donald Trump's so-called "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

The department's Family Reunification Task Force, which President Joe Biden created by executive order in February 2021, is working to reverse the Trump administration's harmful policy that separated parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border. As a result of the policy, many migrant families have been separated for years with little to no contact.

"Our Task Force now has reunited 400 families separated by the last administration's cruel policies. We will continue this important work, together with nonprofit organizations and our foreign partners," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

Michelle Brané, executive director of the task force, told NBC News that parents will be able to come to the United States on paid travel and will be allowed to work in the country legally for three years as part of the process.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the pro-immigration American Immigration Council, sounded a positive note on the development.

"With little fanfare and an enormous amount of tireless on-the-ground work in multiple countries, advocates and the Biden admin's Family Reunification Task Force are helping to reunite families separated under Trump," Reichlin-Melnick wrote. "But even with all of that, many families remain separate."

The task force has said it will partner with non-governmental organizations and the private sector to provide support services to the families. The task force also said services like health care, legal services, and career help would be offered to those who have been affected.

Immigration advocates have continued to call for the Biden administration and other elected leaders to work to reunite more families as soon as possible. On Monday, a coalition of over 450 faith leaders and organizations signed a letter to Congress calling for more to be done to support families dealing with the fallout of the Trump policy.

The Trump administration's immigration policy mandated the separation of migrant families from their children. When it was implemented in 2018, advocacy groups like Refugee International described it as "fundamentally cruel." International allies including the United Nations, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as faith leaders including Pope Francis, have all condemned the Trump-era policy.

The policy was devised by senior Trump administration advisor Stephen Miller as part of a ruthless effort to limit immigration to the United States. Miller has a long history of advocating for policy goals affiliated with the white supremacist movement, including attacks on immigration. Miller is a descendant of Jewish refugess.

The U.S. Department of Justice rescinded Trump's border policy in the first week of Biden's administration.

During the final debate of the 2020 presidential election, Biden condemned Trump's family separation policy as "criminal."

At the same debate, Trump claimed the separated families were "so well taken care of."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Takes Action To Increase Renewable Energy Production

President Joe Biden announced on Monday that he is authorizing initiatives under the Defense Production Act to increase the domestic manufacture of clean energy technologies, especially of components used for solar panel construction.

"While President Biden continues pushing Congress to pass clean energy investments and tax cuts, he is taking bold action to rapidly build on this progress and create a bridge to this American-made clean energy future,” the White House said in a statement.

The Defense Production Act was passed by Congress in 1950 and can be invoked by the president to order private businesses to prioritize the production of materials that have been deemed necessary for the national defense.

The White House statement said:

Specifically, the President is authorizing the Department of Energy to use the DPA to rapidly expand American manufacturing of five critical clean energy technologies:

Solar panel parts like photovoltaic modules and module components;

Building insulation;

Heat pumps, which heat and cool buildings super efficiently;

Equipment for making and using clean electricity-generated fuels, including electrolyzers, fuel cells, and related platinum group metals; andCritical power grid infrastructure like transformers.

Also on Monday, Reuters reported that Biden will declare 24-month exemptions from tariffs on solar panels imported to the U.S. from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The Commerce Department had halted the importation of panels from those countries, which comprise more than half the panel supply in the United States, as it investigates whether the products brought in from those countries are evading tariffs on goods imported from China.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group of over 1,000 companies and organizations advocating for the increased use of solar power, praised Biden's actions.

"Today's actions protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry and foster a robust solar manufacturing base here at home," Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and CEO of the group, said in a statement on Monday.

Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act three times before, to increase the availability of baby formula, to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, and to manufacture firehoses to combat wildfires. By comparison, former President Donald Trump was criticized for delaying the use of the act to boost production of medical equipment needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The executive actions come after the Biden administration in May launched an initiative to connect more sources of clean energy to the national power grid. The Department of Energy said the Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange, or i2X, will bring together "grid operators, utilities, state and tribal governments, clean energy developers, energy justice organizations, and other stakeholders to connect more clean energy to America’s power grid."

The exchange is financed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Biden signed into law on Nov. 15, 2021.

A Stanford University study published in December 2021 found that electricity blackouts such as the one that hit Texas in 2020, which killed over 200 people and caused $24 billion in damage, could be prevented with more widespread usage of clean energy. The study showed that shifting to renewable energy would decrease energy demand by 57 percent and household energy costs by 63 percewnt.

The Biden administration has promoted the use of clean energy in multiple ways. In February, the administration set revenue records with the auction of offshore wind lease rights in the region known as the New York Bight. In May, the Department of Interior announced that wind lease rights off the coast of California would be auctioned for the first time.

In his first State of the Union speech, in May, Biden called for clean energy tax credits that would spur clean energy production and lower the price of electric vehicles.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Environmentalists Praise Biden For Reversing Trump's 'Handout To Polluters'

Environmental groups praised the Biden administration's announcement on Tuesday that it had finalized a federal rule that will restore key portions of the National Environmental Policy Act that were removed by the Trump administration.

NEPA will once again require that the climate impact of major construction projects be considered and that communities affected by those projects have input before federal agencies approve them.

A White House statement quoted the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Brenda Mallory, who said: "Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time. Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby."

"We are encouraged to see the Biden administration take action to restore this bedrock environmental protection," Leslie Fields, the Sierra Club's national director of policy, advocacy, and legal, said in a statement. "NEPA plays a critical role in keeping our communities and our environment healthy and safe, and Donald Trump's attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly nothing more than a handout to corporate polluters."

Earthjustice also praised the Biden administration, noting in a statement, "The Biden administration is taking key steps to reverse the damage of the Trump administration and restore essential environmental protections under NEPA."

The Natural Resources Defense Council notes:

NEPA has empowered citizens and demanded government accountability for more than 40 years. In many cases, NEPA gives citizens their only opportunity to voice concerns about a project's impact on their community. When the government undertakes a major project such as constructing a dam, highway, or power plant, it must ensure that the project's impacts -- environmental and otherwise -- are considered and disclosed to the public.
[...]
Thanks to this law, hundreds of millions of Americans have participated in important federal decisions. We are able to know the risk a government project or practice could pose to our community or health because of NEPA -- and we are guaranteed a voice.

The website Protect NEPA provides examples of the successful application of NEPA protections: For instance, during the planning of a project to widen Route 93 in Montana, NEPA allowed for the involvement of citizen groups and the government of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in the design process. They were able to force the Montana Department of Transportation to conduct environmental reviews of the project's potential impacts, leading to a final design that addressed concerns about wetlands in the area as well as about the safety of the roads for the tribal communities nearby.

The act has been championed by activists advocating on behalf of Black and Latino communities that have historically been disproportionately affected by the effects of pollutants.

"Without NEPA's critical protections for clean air and water, communities, particularly Black and brown communities, will be increasingly vulnerable to serious health complications from pollution and more susceptible to illnesses," the Rev. Ezra Tillman of First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan, wrote in a November 2020 opinion column.

Trump publicly announced his intention to gut NEPA at a White House event in January 2020: "We will not stop until our nation's gleaming new infrastructure has made America the envy of the world again. It used to be the envy of the world, and now we're like a third-world country. It's really sad."

The announcement followed secret meetings in 2017, Trump's first year in office, between officials he had appointed at the Department of the Interior and state, county, and local government officials on the best way to weaken environmental rules in order to speed the process of approval for such projects as the construction of mines, pipelines, and highways.

Throughout his presidency, Trump frequently promised that he would get an infrastructure bill through Congress and enacted, but it never happened.

Meanwhile, belying Trump's claims that environmental rules were an obstacle to infrastructure development, Congress under Joe Biden passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which Biden signed into law in November. Simultaneously, Biden has advocated for a return to policies focused on reducing climate emissions, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and using the Environmental Protection Agency to take action focused on reducing pollution in minority communities.

On signing the infrastructure bill, Biden said, "Finally, infrastructure week," a jab at Trump, who had often promised one but never delivered.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Orders Only US-Made Steel For Infrastructure Projects


The Biden administration announced on Monday that construction projects funded under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be required to use American-made steel and iron.

A memo issued by Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda D. Young "for heads of executive departments and agencies" says that "none of the funds made available for a Federal financial assistance program for infrastructure, including each deficient program, may be obligated for a project unless all of the iron, steel, manufactured products, and construction materials used in the project are produced in the United States. ... This means all manufacturing processes, from the initial melting stage through the application of coatings, occurred in the United States."

The infrastructure bill was signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15, 2021, after passing in Congress with all Democrats voting in favor of it and a majority of Republicans opposing its passage.

The American Iron and Steel Institute, an association of North American steel producers, has estimated that five million metric tons of steel will be needed for every $100 billion of direct infrastructure spending in the legislation. Based on the $550 billion allocated in the final bill, that amounts to an estimated 27.5 million metric tons of steel that would need to be manufactured in the United States.

"Passing this bill today provides a tremendous boost to our industry," Kevin Dempsey, president and CEO of the institute, said in a statement.

Infrastructure construction projects include bridge repairs across the country, as well as road construction and repair and the installation of broadband infrastructure.

Biden's direction to use steel produced in the United States could have a positive environmental impact.

Multiple studies, including one backed by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation and ClimateWorks Foundation and another from the Climate Leadership Council, have determined that the production of steel in America is more carbon efficient than in other countries.

Both studies found that carbon output from China's production of steel notably exceeded that of American production.

American steel production companies Nucor and U.S. Steel recently announced initiatives they said were aimed at achieved "net zero carbon" goals.

In that same vein, the Biden administration has previously announced its intention to work with the European Union toward policies that limit the use of "dirty steel" from China.

"American-made steel and aluminum is produced with far fewer emissions than dirtier alternatives made in the PRC and elsewhere. To date, American steel companies and workers have received no benefit for their low-carbon production. Low-carbon steel across all production types —and the workers who make it—will be incentivized and rewarded going forward," the administration announced in an October 2021 statement. It also highlighted the value of "green steel production," which it said would ensure "a competitive U.S. steel industry for decades to come."

The United Steelworkers, the union that represents 1.2 million active and retired workers in multiple industries, praised the original passage of the infrastructure bill in November 2021, noting, "Robust investment, coupled with strong domestic procurement provisions, will help American workers, including hundreds of thousands of USW members, not only by making their communities safer but by promoting widespread job growth and economic opportunity.

"Our members stand ready to produce the essential building blocks of a modern infrastructure, as we begin making long-overdue upgrades to the nation's roads, bridges, broadband, public transit, ports, power grids, and more."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Stomps DeSantis Bid To Cut Off Care For Migrant Children

On Wednesday, the Biden administration formally told Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, that his administration's attempts to shut down federally funded shelters that are offering support to unaccompanied migrant children would not work.

The shelters, contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, assist undocumented children seeking asylum before they are reunited with a sponsor, usually a relative.

Mark Greenberg, general counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter on Tuesday to Ryan Newman, DeSantis' general counsel. Greenberg wrote that, despite DeSantis' rhetoric and his actions against shelters and other organizations providing care, "Florida cannot take action against federal contractors for activities that are expressly authorized by federal law."

Greenberg said federal contractors "are exempt from any enforcement activity, including injunctive actions, civil administrative penalties, or criminal prosecution or penalties" related to their assistance for children, and he noted that DeSantis' counsel previously conceded the U.S. Constitution limits the ability of Florida to act against them.

Greenberg also noted a Jan. 26 letter from Newman in which the Florida counsel conceded that the Constitution limits Florida's ability "to prohibit through enforcement action activities of federal officers or agents, including federal contractors," which he said means the state can't punish the shelters beyond withholding their state licenses, which aren't required for federal funding, rendering the action essentially meaningless.

But while DeSantis' threats don't have teeth, he can use them to stir up his GOP base. As governor, DeSantis, now considered a likely presidential candidate in 2024, has routinely echoed former President Donald Trump's harsh rhetoric against immigrants and has targeted shelters helping migrants, even those operated by religious organizations.

And DeSantis frequentlyappears on conservative outlets, like Fox News, to tout his aggressive anti-immigration stances. Such appearances in the past have played a vital role in promoting conservative politicians seeking the Republican nomination for president. Trump's campaign to secure the nomination in 2016 was greatly assisted by appearing on Fox to tout the idea of a border wall, for example. DeSantis also likes to holdpress conferences to promote his anti-immigration policies.

DeSantis' attacks on migrant care centers began in September 2021, when he directed the Florida Department of Children and Families to determine if the state should continue providing licenses to them.

One shelter, the Dream Center in Sarasota, Florida, in November had to relocate nearly 60 children in their care after the state failed to renew its license to house them. According to the center, half of the children affected were under 13.

Same Sipes, CEO of Lutheran Services who operates the center, told a local TV station at the time, "It's very sad and these 50+ children were traumatized again because they had to move in a hurry because we couldn’t get clarity about our license status."

That same month, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics called on DeSantis to rescind the order, arguing that it harms the wellbeing of children.

In December, DeSantis ordered that regulators stop renewing or issuing licenses to centers that have been taking care of unaccompanied minors.

Arguing in favor of his stance in a February news conference, DeSantis alleged that the process used by the Biden administration "smuggles in illegal immigrants from many different countries with no vetting, no transparency, and no consideration for child and public safety."

This claim was rated "mostly false" by PolitiFact, who noted that the Customs and Border Protection agency does gather biometric information from immigrant children, along with fingerprints and birth certificates, which are used to uncover possible criminal histories.

Faith leaders have also spoken out against DeSantis' policy, including the Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski.

In an op-ed published on Tuesday written by Rev. Jose Rodriguez and a coalition of Latino community leaders, DeSantis was asked to keep the centers open.

"We have a duty of care to protect children. The child at the border misses and yearns for their mother and father, cries, hurts, is afraid, and needs rescue and protection in the same way that the children that came here from Cuba in the 1960s," the letter read.

The reference was to a Cold War program called Operation Peter Pan that involved the airlift of 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba's communist regime to Florida, where they were cared for by charitable organizations.

The Florida government has still scheduled a public hearing on Thursday to consider DeSantis' rule.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

CPAC Features Former Leader Of Anti-Muslim Hate Group

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Conservative activist Scott Presler, who has a background as an organizer for an anti-Muslim hate group, is set to speak at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

"Hey, mom & dad. Your baby boy was invited to speak at @CPAC," Presler tweeted on Feb. 14.

Many of the CPAC panels are slated to discuss the topic of "voter fraud," the code language du jour used by the right to promote voter suppression. Presler has been touting his activism on the issue of "election integrity reform."

Presler also spoke at CPAC in 2020.

From 2017 to 2018, Presler worked as a lead organizer for Act for America, which the Associated Press described as a "hate group."

Act for America is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the largest anti-Muslim group in America." The Anti-Defamation League describes Act for America similarly and notes that the group "stokes irrational fear of Muslims via a number of false claims" and "propagates the hateful conspiracy theory that Muslims are infiltrating US institutions in order to impose Sharia law."

Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of Act for America, has previously claimed that a Muslim "cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America."

During his time with Act for America, Presler was deeply involved in organizing the group's anti-Muslim "March Against Sharia" events, serving as the national coordinator for them.

NPR reported in June 2017 that the marches were "attracting many far-right sympathizers, including several who decorate their posts with Confederate flags."

White supremacist Billy Roper discussed the rallies on his podcast, saying, "We want to send a message to Muslims that they are not welcome in our communities." He also said, "We want to send a message to Muslims that they're not welcome in our nation and, of course, endgame, on our planet."

At the same time he made those comments, emails between Presler and Roper regarding the protests showed Presler writing, "You are approved and ready to go."

Presler was also involved in the "Stop the Steal" protest at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. In a Twitter post about the event, Presler described the pro-Trump assembly as a "civil rights protest." Many of the people who attacked the Capitol were a part of the protest.

Other scheduled CPAC speakers, most notably Donald Trump, have spoken favorably of the January 6 insurrection and promote extremist conspiracy theories.

Since leaving Act for America, Presler has worked for the Republican Party of Virginia and independently to promote Donald Trump.

In January 2019, Presler was temporarily suspended from Twitter after writing "Black lives murdered by criminal illegal aliens don't matter."

In March of 2020, as part of a campaign that sought to downplay fears of COVID-19, Presler posted video from outside a hospital in Virginia, noting, "I didn't see a lot of cars, a lot of people, or hardly any activity." At the time, some conservatives were claiming that images of "empty" hospitals purportedly proved that the virus was a hoax.

Over 7,300 people in Virginia have died from COVID-19.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Texas Republican Urges Election Audit — In Counties Biden Won

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Texas state Rep. Steve Toth (R) on Monday announced that he had filed legislation calling for a "forensic audit" of the state's 2020 election results.

Former President Donald Trump won Texas in 2020 by nearly six percentage points despite ultimately losing the national electoral college and popular vote to President Joe Biden.

Toth's bill, the "Texas Voter Confidence Act," would not audit all of the 11 million-plus votes that were cast in the state. Instead, the legislation calls for an audit in "every precinct in each county with a population of 415,000 or more."

This would disproportionately target counties that voted for Biden.

According to a list of Texas counties by population, only three that voted for Trump — Collin, Denton, and Montgomery — would be audited under the bill if it became law. The remaining 10 counties voted for Biden, including Texas' two most populous counties, Harris County (where Houston is located) and Dallas County.

"We need a forensic audit to uncover all the voter fraud," Toth said in a statement accompanying his announcement.

He added, "Texans want to know more about the claims of voter fraud and deserve to have confidence in their elections."

Toth did not offer any proof to back his claims of widespread fraud. However, he echoed other Republicans in Texas, including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz, who have made baseless accusations of voter fraud in the 2020 election, allegations that have no basis in reality.

Toth's bill may be on hold for the time being. Currently, the Texas Legislature is unable to form a quorum, and thus cannot consider legislation, after Democratic lawmakers left the state in protest of a GOP proposal empowering several voter suppression efforts.

The audit request follows a similar controversial "audit" of the 2020 vote in Arizona, undertaken by conservative activists. That process has been criticizedfor using unscientific protocols, promoting conspiracy theories, and allegedly damaging state-owned election equipment.

Republicans across the country have also considered replicating that process, including in places Trump won.

Utah state Rep. Steve Christiansen, for instance, visited the Arizona "audit" earlier in June, telling the Daily Beasthe wanted to hold the same sort of process in his home state, where Trump won by more than 20 percentage points.

In North Carolina, Republican members of the state legislature are also pushing for an audit. Trump won the state by 1.3 points in 2020.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Fox News Host Calls Out Trump's Election Lies: 'Nobody Cares About 2020'

Fox News host Brian Kilmeade is concerned that former President Donald Trump's fixation on false election conspiracy theories will make it difficult for Republicans to win elections in 2022.

On his talk radio show "The Brian Kilmeade Show," which is nationally syndicated by Fox News Radio, he said that, in a recent conversation with some of Trump's friends, he discussed a recent Trump rally speech: "After the Arizona rally they called him up and said that's the worst speech you ever gave."

"Nobody cares about your topics," Kilmeade continued, referring to Trump. "Right now nobody cares about 2020. Nobody."

Trump had falsely claimed to rallygoers in Arizona in January that in the so-called "audit" of that state's election results, 57,000 "highly suspicious" ballots were "flagged" for further investigation.

Throughout his presidency, Kilmeade frequently welcomed Trump on-air as a co-host for the morning program "Fox & Friends," and Trump was known to use the show as a source of inspiration for presidential policy.

But on Monday, Kilmeade's comments weren't so supportive.

"They did a recount in Arizona, and the recount showed no difference, almost, and he came out and said it showed that they won Arizona. That's an outright lie, and please stop wasting our time with that because he's capable of doing so much more," he said.

In fact, the scandal-ridden, and Republican-led, "audit" found an additional 360 votes for President Joe Biden in Maricopa County rather than finding more votes for Trump. (Arizona's official election results showed President Joe Biden defeating Trump by over 10,000 votes.)

Republicans at multiple levels have embraced Trump's election conspiracy theories and related rhetoric, and multiple GOP candidates currently running for office have continued to promote the false claim that Trump won the election. Candidates for gubernatorial, House, and Senate races are denying that Biden won, despite the certification of his win by Congress, his inauguration, and innumerable audits and court cases across the country.

Echoing the pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Biden's certification, the Republican National Committee on Friday issued a censure of Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger that described the Capitol attack as "legitimate political discourse."

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Records Trump Tried To Hide Reveal Call To Jim Jordan Before Capitol Attack

Records that former President Donald Trump attempted to hide from public scrutiny have now revealed that he spoke on the phone with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Jan. 6, 2021.

The phone call between Trump and Jordan occurred hours before Trump joined other Republicans in an attempt to deny certifying President Joe Biden's election win. The call also occurred before the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a pro-Trump mob attempting to prevent Biden from officially winning the race.

CNN reported on Friday that Congress's Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack received Trump's phone records that documented the call.

The Jan 6. committee requested that Trump's records stored at the National Archives be turned over as part of the investigation into the attack. In December, Trump had asked the Supreme Court to block the release of his records, claiming that their disclosure was a violation of executive privilege.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against Trump later in the month. Noting that President Joe Biden had decided against invoking executive privilege with regard to Trump's records, Judge Patricia A. Millett noted in the decision, "Former President Trump has provided no basis for this court to override President Biden’s judgment."

Jordan has been evasive on whether he spoke to Trump or not on Jan. 6. After telling a Fox News interviewer in July that he had spoken to Trump, Jordan later told another reporter he wasn't sure he had done so, then told another reporter he couldn't remember if he had spoken to Trump.

During a House hearing in October, Jordan would still not confirm the exact time of his Trump call. Since then, Jordan has refused a request to be interviewed by the Jan. 6 committee.

A spokesperson for the committee said Jordan's admission that he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6 made him a "material witness."

After his phone call with Trump, Jordan made a speech on the floor of the House arguing against congressional certification of the election results. In his speech, Jordan invoked debunked conspiracies about the integrity of the election, echoing other comments he had been making at the time.

The false arguments offered by Jordan, Trump, and many other Republicans were later echoed by the mob that attacked the Capitol. Several called for hanging then-Vice President Mike Pence, who had refused to entertain Trump's demand that he not certify the election.

More than 768 people have been charged with federal crimes in connection to the Capitol attack.

Ultimately, 147 Republican members of Congress voted against certification, which would have invalidated the votes of millions of voters including the more than 81 million in the majority who voted for Biden.

The effort was unsuccessful, and Biden's election win was certified.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

White House Kills Mining Leases For Firm Linked To Ivanka And Kushner

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced this week that it is canceling two leases for copper mining in the Minnesota wilderness that President Donald Trump authorized during his presidency.

Twin Metals Minnesota, a subsidiary of Antofagasta plc, a multinational mining conglomerate, was slated to mine for copper in the Boundary Waters region. The area — which spans over 1.1 million acres from Minnesota to Ontario, Canada — has "pristine" water quality and is home to more than 50 animal species and more than 200 bird species.

Environmental activists had warned that the Twin Metals mining operation could put the Boundary Waters' status as a haven for natural life in jeopardy, with runoff flooding the area with contaminants.

"After a careful legal review, we found the leases were improperly renewed in violation of applicable statutes and regulations, and we are taking action to cancel them," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.

In October, the Biden administration announced it would consider withdrawing the Boundary Waters from consideration for any mining leases for the next 20 years — the maximum amount of time under the Secretary of the Interior's authority.

In the final months of President Barack Obama's administration, the department declined to renew Twin Metals' leases to mine in the Boundary Waters region. Former President Donald Trump reinstated the company's leases. In 2018, Trump's Department of Agriculture canceled a study assessing the environmental impact of mining operations in the area.

After Trump took office, Antofagasta plc heavily increased its lobbying in Washington, spending upwards of $900,000 to advocate for the leases to be reopened, the New York Timesreported.

Around the same time, Andrónico Luksic, whose family controls Antofagasta, entered into a private financial arrangement with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

In December 2016, Luksic purchased a $5.5 million home in the high-end neighborhood of Kalorama in Washington, D.C. One month later, when Trump took office, Ivanka Trump and Kushner rented and moved into Luksic's house.

Richard W. Painter, who served as ethics chief under former President George W. Bush, told Newsweek magazine in 2019 the arrangement gave the appearance that Luksic was "trying to influence" the administration on its mining decision by aligning himself with Trump's daughter and son-in-law.

Throughout Trump's presidency, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner each facednumerousaccusations of self-dealing and corruption.

Antofagasta has previously faced allegations of being involved in corrupt actions like bribery as well as concerns that the company's mining operations have caused damage to culturally significant heritage sites.

The Biden administration's reversal of the decision by the Trump team was hailed by Save The Boundary Waters, an activist group opposing the project on environmental grounds.

"It is heartening to have an administration making decisions with integrity," Becky Rom, the group's national campaign chair, said in a statement. "Twin Metals leases should never have been reinstated in the first place, and this announcement should stop the Twin Metals mine threat."

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who represents the Boundary Waters region in Congress, praised the Department of the Interior's decision.

"The Biden administration's cancellation of two Twin Metals leases that threatened this watershed is a rejection of the deeply flawed and politically motivated process under the Trump administration and a victory for sound science and protecting a precious and irreplaceable natural resource," McCollum said in a statement.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden White House Ramps Up Delivery Of Free COVID Tests And KN-95 Masks

The Biden administration is taking several steps to address the latest wave of COVID-19, including the creation of a response team designed to head off possible future variants of the coronavirus.

Experts say the month of February will likely be "tough" in terms of omicron, though there are signs that the wave may be peaking as reported infections and hospitalizations slow. Health officials are simultaneously concerned about future variants developing and groups like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control continue to monitor the ever-changing situation.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, meanwhile, has made moves to address the crisis, recently launching the Pandemic Innovation Task Force, which is focused on developing treatments, vaccines, testing, and other tools to respond to variants that may appear within six months to two years.

Eric Lander, who serves as President Joe Biden's science adviser, leads the group along with Dawn O'Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services. Bloomberg reported that the task force builds on the $65.3 billion, 10-year pandemic preparedness plan released by the White House in September to coordinate efforts across the government in the event of future outbreaks.

That plan is a reversal from former President Donald Trump, whose team, upon taking over, discarded the pandemic preparedness plan left in place by President Barack Obama's team and left the Office of Science and Technology Policy director seat vacant for two years.

The Biden administration on Tuesday also launched an official website to offer COVID-19 tests to every American household, a day ahead of the scheduled launch.

The site, COVIDtests.gov — which allows each household to order 4 free at home COVID-19 test kits, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service — immediately attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and was the most visited federal government page. According to the official federal government analytics site, it received over 47 million visits in its first 48 hours of operation.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration also announced that it would make 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free. The masks are being sourced from the Strategic National Stockpile and will be sent to local pharmacies and community health centers for anyone to pick up.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Jan. 14 to reflect the fact that N95 caliber masks, in comparison to cloth masks, "offer the highest level of protection" against COVID-19 infection.

Biden has publicly voiced support for masks since the height of the pandemic in 2020 and has continued to publicly mask himself while promoting vaccination efforts.

Republished with permission from American Independent

New York Fed Survey Finds Broad Optimism About Jobs And Income Under Biden

A survey released on Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that American households say they expect increased personal earnings and better employment prospects in President Joe Biden's second year in office.

The Survey of Consumer Expectations is a monthly survey of approximately 1,300 households giving their views on earnings growth, job prospects, inflation, and credit.

In the December 2021 survey, respondents said they expected their earnings growth for the year ahead to be 3.0 percent, which was an increase of 0.2 percent over the previous month's survey. The New York Fed said that the most optimistic expectations came from respondents "with an annual household income below $50,000."

People responding to the survey also expressed the view that unemployment will continue to decrease. Only 35.2 percent said they believe unemployment will be higher in a year, and even that was a 0.9-point drop from the November survey.

The number of respondents who said they perceived the possibility of losing their job in the next 12 months was also down 1.3 percent to 11.6 percent.

The national unemployment rate is currently 3.9 percent, down from the 6.3 percent that Biden inherited from former President Donald Trump in January 2021.

The survey also showed optimism about consumer costs in the coming year, in spite of Republican efforts to attack the Biden administration over the issue of inflation.

Respondents said that while they expected inflation to remain steady, they expect prices for gas and food to fall in the coming year.

In December, Biden said he believed supply chain problems have contributed to increased costs and expressed optimism for lowered prices in the near future.

"We are making progress on pandemic-related challenges to our supply chain which make it more expensive to get goods on shelves, and I expect more progress on that in the weeks ahead," Biden said in a December 10 statement.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.