Some Of Trump’s New Election Investigators Don’t Seem To Have Much Election Experience

Sometimes I think that I’m on the set of a “Dukes of Hazard” episode — BAC

Posted on HuffPost

“I’m just a very small old country boy from Arkansas in this bigger commission with Vice President Pence, and I’m just going to do the best I can, to be honest.”

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President Donald Trump quietly announced Wednesday evening he intended to appoint three more people to a commission to investigate voter fraud, but two of the people he wants to appoint don’t seem to have any expertise in voting issues or elections.

The three officials named were Luis Borunda, the deputy secretary of state of Maryland; David Dunn, a former Arkansas Democratic state lawmaker; and Mark Rhodes, a county clerk in West Virginia.

Dunn, who served in the Arkansas legislature from 2005 to 2011 and now runs a government relations firm, said he was eating dinner with his children when the White House sent out a press release announcing the president intended to appoint him to the commission. Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin (R), an old friend of Dunn’s from the legislature, recommended him to the commission, Dunn said. He said he also spoke with Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and the commission’s vice chair, just once about his interest in the role, but didn’t expect much to come of it until he saw the White House’s press release.

The commission, which will be led by Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence, is charged with examining election systems to study the issues that undermine and affect confidence in them.

In a Thursday interview, Dunn sounded openly stunned he was chosen for the role and admitted he did not have any expertise in elections or voting issues.

“I don’t know why this has fallen on my shoulders,” he told HuffPost, adding that he was concerned about voters’ access to the polls, particularly in rural areas of the state. “I’m just a very small old country boy from Arkansas in this bigger commission with Vice President Pence, and I’m just going to do the best I can, to be honest.”

I don’t know why this has fallen on my shoulders.”David Dunn, former Arkansas state representative.

Critics are closely watching the probe and say it is an unnecessary effort to try to justify Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election. Several studies and investigations have shown voter fraud is not a widespread problem. Many have been particularly alarmed by Trump’s decision to tap Kobach to lead the commission, since Kobach has pushed some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country in his state and has a history of exaggerating voter fraud. Kobach is now also running for governor of Kansas.

Dunn said he didn’t believe millions voted illegally in 2016, and he said Kobach told him he wasn’t looking for people who would just go along with what the commission wanted. Dunn also said he didn’t think the commission would look into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, even though two of its members told The Boston Globe they thought the hacking should be part of the committee’s inquiry.

Borunda, the Maryland deputy secretary of state, didn’t return a request for comment. An online biography detailing his portfolio doesn’t make any mention of work on voting or elections. He formed a Hispanic commission to support the campaign of Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) in 2003 and has served on the Maryland Economic Development Commission and the Baltimore Board of Education. His biography notes he’s responsible for handling the operations of the secretary of state’s office.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, called Borunda’s appointment “bizarre” because elections in Maryland are administered by the state Board of Elections, not the secretary of state’s office. Bevan-Dangel noted Borunda’s LinkedIn page lists an expertise in “non-profit, start up organization, visionary, branding & graphic design,” but not voting.

“Maryland is a great state to draw on expertise from. We have a state board that has really been paving the way working with other states ensuring that voter rolls are up to date and developing ways for interstate cooperation,” she said. “There was an incredible opportunity to tap into that expertise and instead we’ve tapped into someone, I’m not sure what expertise he can bring to the table.”

Kobach’s office did not return a request for comment on the appointments.

Of the three new people Trump intends to appoint, the only one with deep election experience is Mark Rhodes, the county clerk in Wood County, West Virginia. Rhodes said he spoke with Kobach after West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) recommended him for the position a month ago. While he found out he had passed a background check for the position, he wasn’t formally notified of Trump’s intention to nominate him until he saw the White House’s press release.

As someone with experience administering elections, Rhodes said, he could offer the commission an on-the-ground perspective. He oversees elections for 56,000 registered voters in a county with a population of 82,000 people, and said his office went through death certificates and obituaries every day to make sure its voter rolls were accurate and up to date.

Rhodes, who won a 2014 election by just five votes, said he had seen no evidence of voter fraud in his county, but was open to the commission investigating it. He dismissed the concern the commission was intent on finding evidence of voter fraud.

“It’s not gonna hurt. If the commission would improve the voters’ or the people’s security, that their vote is counted and counted correctly, then it’s gonna help,” he said. “I have a preconceived notion that there is no election fraud, and that’s here in Wood County, West Virginia.”

The other Democratic members of the commission are Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. The Republicans are Kobach, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Christy McCormick, a commissioner on the Election Assistance Commission, is also serving.

This article has been updated with comment from Bevan-Dangel.

Posted in Trump, Voter Fraud | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Trump Wants to Charge Retailers to Accept SNAP Benefits (Food Stamps)

When is the GOP’s cruel assault on the most vulnerable going to end?

From Modern Farmer

You’ve probably heard about the White House’s proposed overhaul of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, formerly known as food stamps—the program would see deep cuts if President Donald Trump’s budget goes forward. But you may not be familiar with another proposal that could also affect the 43 million Americans who rely on SNAP, as well as the grocers who accept these benefits from their customers.

Trump wants to charge grocery stores and other retailers a fee for accepting SNAP benefits to the tune of more than $2 billion over 10 years, with businesses from corner stores to Walmart bearing the cost. Currently, retailers don’t pay a fee to get authorized to accept SNAP benefits, but they are required to register with the Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for overseeing the program.

As outlined in the White House’s Major Savings and Reforms—which makes up the budget plan and also A New Foundation for American Greatness—the fees would be on a sliding scale, and would be charged when a retailer first signs up to participate and again when they renew their application every five years. Small businesses, like convenience stores, would pay somewhere in the range of $250 while large supermarket chains would have to shell out as much as $20,000. It’s unclear what type of fee farmers markets and CSAs—many of which now accept SNAP benefits–would be responsible for under the proposal.

According to The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is responsible for producing the president’s budget plan, the current system “fails to recognize the Federal costs of application processing and oversight of retailers, and the significant portion of a retailer’s revenue that SNAP can represent.”

 Also:  Check out what Food & Wine has to say:  http://www.foodandwine.com/news/trump-charges-stores-for-accepting-food-stamps
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EPA completes purge of scientists from its scientific advisory board

Posted On Daily Kos

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02:  Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt answers reporters' questions during a briefing at the White House June 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt faced a barrage of questions related to President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Keep your demon science away from my agency.

Scott Pruitt had already moved to replace much of the scientific review boards at the EPA with industry lobbyists. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

And with that minor test run over, Pruitt has moved on to a wholesale purge of scientists from his supposedly scientific agency.

The Environmental Protection Agency has given notice to dozens of scientists that they will not be renewed in their roles in advising the agency, continuing a scientific shake-up that has already triggered resignations and charges from some researchers that the administration is politicizing the agency.

With climate change data hidden or destroyed, Pruitt directly working to raise funds for Republicans, and actions that go beyond accepting climate change to denying basic science, it’s no doubt inconvenient to have people around who know what the hell they’re doing. So that is being remedied. Pronto. And just in case any of those scientists were thinking about saying something Pruitt wouldn’t like, he made sure that wouldn’t happen—at least not on EPA grounds.

None of the subcommittees will have a chair or vice chair, and all committee meetings scheduled for late summer and fall have been cancelled.

Pruitt’s actions completely wipes out the existing Board of Scientific Counselors. It means the whole board can now be reappointed, filled with industry lobbyists and science deniers, and the EPA can then go forward on the basis that “its scientific advisers” tell it that carbon dioxide is good for plants, only God can change the climate, and Donald Trump is nature’s bestie.

President Trump has directed Mr. Pruitt to radically remake the E.P.A., pushing for deep cuts in its budget — including a 40 percent reduction for its main scientific branch — and instructing him to roll back major Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection.

No clean water. No clean air. Certainly no scientists.

It seems pretty clear that neither Trump nor Pruitt understand what “protection” means. They certainly don’t understand “environmental.”

Posted in Air Pollution, climate change, Environment, EPA, science, Trump | Leave a comment

New polling numbers are out for ‘Trumpcare’, and they’re a disaster for Republicans  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks on Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, during the signing ceremony for the 21st Century Cures Act. From left are, McConnell, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., and Max Schill, 7, who suffers from Noonan Syndrome.  (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Which is exactly why they’re trying to ram a Senate bill through without letting the public know what’s in it.

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Send a letter to Republican senators and stop Mitch McConnell from forcing Trumpcare!

As Republicans continue to barrel towards repealing the nation’s healthcare reform efforts regardless of the suffering it will cause, their efforts continue to get even more wildly unpopular among voters.

As the GOP-led Senate prepares to take up the measure, only 35 percent of voters surveyed approve of the bill passed by the House last month. Nearly half of voters, 49 percent, disapprove of the bill. The other 16 percent don’t know or don’t have an opinion, the poll shows.POLITICO/Morning Consult polling indicates the bill has become less popular since the House advanced it in early May. Immediately after the bill passed, slightly more voters approved of the bill, 38 percent. Opposition to the bill was lower, too, immediately after the House passed it: 44 percent.

Which is the one and only reason Senate Republicans are keeping their version of the bill a closely-held secret until the last possible moment: They know the public is going to hate it. It’s going to look very much like the House bill, it’s going to uninsure millions of American citizens for no other reason than to pass the House-style tax cuts, people are going to die as a direct result and nearly everybody in America knows all of that.

Many in the Republican base are still fine with it, because they would agree to saw off their own legs and glue live chickens to the stumps if they thought Barack Obama would be against them doing that, but anyone with a preexisting condition, anyone who has health insurance now that didn’t have it before, anyone on Medicaid who couldn’t get it before and anyone who has a basic sense of decency isn’t a fan. And Republican disapproval, too, is rapidly rising:

Among Republican voters, 30 percent disapprove of the GOP health care bill. That is up from 15 percent of Republicans disapproving in early May.

That’s a trend that Republicans can’t afford to see continue, hence both the secrecy and the speed. There won’t be hearings because the Republican leadership simply can’t afford to have their own base continue to hear about this thing—and given that only a third of all American voters like it, total, that shows you just how despised it is among voters who aren’t a part of their base.

[I]ndependent voters disapprove of the bill by a 2-to-1 margin: 26 percent approve, versus 53 percent who disapprove.

That’s abysmal. You could get higher approval ratings by promising to give everyone in America free herpes.

[F]ew voters are cheering for the legislation’s passage. Only 27 percent think it will make the U.S. health care system better, compared to 41 percent who think it will make the system worse. Just 17 percent think it will decrease costs for them and their families, while 46 percent think costs will increase.

Voters are making a dramatic statement here: All but a handful detest this “reform” effort and oppose Republicans following through on it. And nearly everyone is clear on the effects, saying this bill will hurt both the overall U.S. healthcare system and them, personally.

The bad news is that the Republican lawmakers installed by those voters simply do not seem to care. At all. Rather than listening to voters warning them about how disastrous the bill will be they’ve decided to hunker down and simply not tell anyone what will be in it from now on, rushing to pass a final version within days of public release so that the public won’t have a chance to either review it or complain.

Why? What’s in this for Republican lawmakers? It’s going to cost them votes even among their own base, it’s going to open them up to endless future campaign commercials each featuring individual Americans from their own states and districts who lost insurance, or care, or even loved ones due to the Republican effort, and in return they get—what?

What’s being promised to them that outweighs all that?

Posted in AHCA, American Health Care Act, Health Care, Medicaid, mental health, Planned Parenthood, trumpcare | 1 Comment

Jared Kushner solves government’s technology problems by reading his book report

Posted on Daily Kos

My report is on Moby Dick. Moby Dick was a whale and he was mean, so my dad went to fight him. I stopped reading after a while but I think he had superpowers or something.

Among the now uncountably large list of government functions Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is now in charge of, for some reason: our government’s “technology.” Something about it, anyway. It’s unclear. The job seems to entail throwing a lot of buzzwords at the wall and seeing what sticks.

But Jared’s first real foray into the world of being an administration-approved public speaker did not go well, so we suspect the White House won’t be doing that again.

Kushner is not a very impressive speaker. He’s reciting his speech like a sixth grader, not like a White House aide who actually knows what he’s talking about.But put that aside. It’s the content that’s appalling. Kushner burbles about heading up the Office of American Innovation, which has “empowered interagency teams” that are “analyzing and auditing current infrastructure.” They have discovered that the government operates 6,100 data centers, the “vast majority” of which can be migrated to the cloud.

That sounds like quite the audit! Of course, I was able to come up with the same information in about five minutes by hopping over to the GAO website:

Whichever Team Trump hangers-on wrote Jared’s speech are evidently from the same team that writes Donald Trump’s speeches, and have similar faith in their charge when it comes to understanding or retaining information. As is now commonplace with Trump himself, Jared here isn’t describing a new government initiative—he’s describing an old government initiative, but giving himself and his own team credit for it. If Jared and his team at any point did more research on the matter than simply sitting around a table googling federal websites, it isn’t evident in their efforts.

Well, at least Jared is now free to more fully focus on his other administration efforts, like bringing peace to the Middle East and solving the nation’s opioid epidemic. Surely at least one of these intractable problems can be brought to heel with the equivalent of a high school book report.

NB.  This is a pretty good synopsis of Jared’s presentation.

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This is what kleptocracy looks like

1600x-1

Trump, Arif and Sater, at right, Trump Soho launch party, 2007 Photographer: Mark Von Holden/WireImage

 Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is looking at “suspicious financial activity” involving “Russian operatives.” Bloomberg’s Timothy L. O’Brien reports that the other shoe to drop may involve “a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.” O’Brien writes that “one of Bayrock’s principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the US government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass.” Lots of other shady details at the link.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-06-21/trump-russia-and-those-shadowy-sater-deals-at-bayrock

Posted in Ethics, Russian connection, Trump | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Exclusive: White House Task Force Echoes Pharma Proposals

KAISER HEALTH FOUNDATION

 June 16, 2017

President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump repeatedly talks tough about reining in the pharmaceutical industry, but his administration’s efforts to lower drug prices are shrouded in secrecy.

Senior administrative officials met Friday to discuss an executive order on the cost of pharmaceuticals, a roundtable informed by Trump’s “Drug Pricing and Innovation Working Group.” Kaiser Health News examined documents that shed light on the workings of this working group.

The documents reveal behind-the-scenes discussions influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. Joe Grogan, associate director of health programs for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has led the group. Until March, Grogan served as a lobbyist for Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company that priced its hepatitis C drugs at $1,000 per pill.

To solve the crisis of high drug prices, the group discussed strengthening the monopoly rights of pharmaceuticals overseas, ending discounts for low-income hospitals and accelerating drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration. The White House declined to comment on the working group.

The group initially met May 4 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and has since met every two weeks.  In addition to OMB, the working group includes officials from the White House National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council, Health and Human Services, the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Justice.

According to the documents — the latest of which is dated June 1— the working group focused on the following “principles” and “talking points”:

  1. Extending the patent life of drugs in foreign markets to “provide for protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.” This will ensure “that American consumers do not unfairly subsidize research and development for people throughout the globe.”

Extending monopoly protections for drugs overseas has been one of the pharmaceutical industry’s top priorities since the Trans-Pacific Partnership was defeated last year.

That policy would push up global drug prices, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

  1. Promoting competition in the U.S. drug market — both by “modernizing our regulatory and reimbursement systems” and limiting “barrier to entry, including the cost of research and development,” according to the documents.

The working group also discussed two broad policy ideas that have been championed by the pharmaceutical industry, according to sources familiar with the process:

  1. Value-based pricing, when pharmaceutical companies keep the list prices of drugs unchanged but offer rebates if patients don’t improve. It’s unclear who would audit the effectiveness of the drugs, what criteria they would use to evaluate them and who would receive the rebates. Grogan invited Robert Shapiro — an adviser for Gilead and former secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton — to brief the working group on value-based pricing on May 18. Shapiro is the chairman and co-founder of Sonecon LLC, a Washington, D.C., firm that consulted with Gilead, Amgen and PhRMA, according to his curriculum vitae.
  1. Grogan and Shapiro also discussed issuing 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds to drug manufacturers to pay for expensive, hepatitis C drugs like Sovaldi and Harvoni under Medicare and Medicaid, to avoid rationing drugs to the sickest patients. The 2015 Senate investigation, for example, found that though Medicaid spent more than $1 billion on Sovaldi, just 2.4 percent of Medicaid patients with hepatitis C were treated.

After the working group’s first meeting on May 4, Grogan distributed detailed policy recommendations on expediting generic drug approvals, creating a new tax credit “of up to 50 percent” for investments in generic drug manufacturing, distribution and research and development. The documents also propose scaling back the 340B program, which requires drug manufacturers to provide some medicines at a discount to hospitals that treat low-income patients.

Most of these policies would not ease patient costs, and at least one would increase prices, say experts who reviewed the documents at the request of Kaiser Health News.

“This six-page document contains the kind of solutions to the cost-of-drugs problem that you would get if you gathered together all the executives of pharma and asked them ‘What sort of token gestures can we do?’ ” said Vinay Prasad, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Sciences University who studies the costs of cancer drugs.

The pharma-friendly recommendations appear to clash with earlier press reports indicating that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney was considering requiring drugmakers to pay rebates to Medicare patients, a measure the pharmaceutical lobby fiercely opposes.

Brand-name drug prices — which account for 72 percent of drug spending — go untouched in the handouts, said Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale economics professor and former attorney with the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

“The changes to generic markets to promote competition look helpful, but there need to be some more ideas to create more competition for branded drugs or consumers aren’t really going to notice this,” Scott Morton said.

Some of the text in the document is cribbed directly from policy papers published by the pharmaceutical industry’s powerful lobby — Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA).

Under the subtitle, “Encourage Use of 21st Century Tools for Drug Evaluation, Review and Approval,” one handout proposes the FDA use less rigorous clinical trial standards to speed drug approvals.

The handout cites a PhRMA paper from March 2016 that includes an identical subtitle, “Encourage Use of 21st Century Tools for Drug Evaluation, Review and Approval,” and recommends the FDA implement less rigorous clinical trial standards.

These recommendations would not lower drug prices, experts say.

Such measures “would be like a firefighter spraying gasoline on your burning garage,” Prasad said.

Another section — which recommends giving the FDA more discretion to evaluate generic copies of complex drugs — closely resembles a National Law Review article written by two lobbyists in the pharmaceutical division of Foley & Lardner, whose clients include generic drugmakers.

The handouts further recommend allowing drugmakers to supply data and off-label information to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers during the clinical trial period, before they secure FDA approval.

That’s a “terrible idea,” said Jerry Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “That’s why we have the whole approval process, to determine what’s actually true,” he said.

KHN’s coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Posted in AHCA, FDA, Health Care, Trump | Tagged , , | Leave a comment