Zinke Has No Business: Halliburton Raises Its Ugly Head Again

 

The Washington Post is reporting that according to individuals “familiar with the matter,” the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has referred to the Justice Department allegations that Ryan Zinke, head of the Interior Department, used his position for private gain.  The referral was evidently of only one of the several probes being conducted by the IG’s office into Zinke’s affairs and how he has conducted himself in office.  The IG’s office only refers cases of this type to the Justice Department if they have determined that there is a possibility of criminal charges.

Zinke has been trying to replace the acting Inspector General at Interior with a political appointee.  In this context, the referral to the Justice Department makes perfect sense.   According to Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Western Priorities.   “If Interior’s inspector general is unable to hold Secretary Zinke accountable without political interference, it’s time for career prosecutors at the Justice Department to take over,” she said.

There are at least three probes into Zinke’s behavior.  It is unclear which of these was referred to the Justice Department.    One set of allegations involves Zinke’s involvement in a Montana land deal.  The land deal, backed by the chairman of the oil services firm Halliburton, involves the development of two parcels of land owned by Zinke and his wife.  A number of Halliburton’s operations are affected by decisions and policies made by the Department of the Interior, “…including rules on how oil and gas drilling must be conducted, and which public lands and federal waters are open to energy exploration and development.”  Zinke has no business being involved in any way with a company which is affected by Interior policies much less involved in a way that might involve personal gain.

In addition, the Inspector General’s office is looking at Zinke’s involvement in a decision by Interior not to approve a casino deal in Connecticut.  Career staffers had approved the application of Native America tribes to run a casino which would have competed with an MGM Resorts International casino.  After MGM and two Nevada Senators lobbied against the deal, Zinke refused to sign off on it.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) urged Zinke in a letter “to immediately cease any efforts to use the office of the Secretary of the Interior for personal gain and fully reimburse the public for your private use of public resources.”   In the letter, Democratic Senators asked why Zinke had invited former donors as official guests last year on a trip to California’s Channel Islands and questioned Zinke’s request that staffers look into designating his wife as a department volunteer.

Conveniently, Zinke may leave office after the midterm elections.

See Eilperin, Jiliet and Josh Dawsey  (10/30/18) “Zinke’s own agency watchdog just referred him to the Justice Department.”  The Washington Post.zinke

Drain the Swamp: Ryan Zinke

The Washington Post is reporting that according to individuals “familiar with the matter,” the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has referred to the Justice Department allegations that Ryan Zinke, head of the Interior Department, used his position for private gain.  The referral was evidently of only one of the probes being conducted by the IG’s office into Zinke’s affairs and how he has conducted himself in office.  The IG’s office only refers cases of this type to the Justice Department if they have determined that there is a possibility of criminal charges.  Zinke is looking to replace the current acting IG, who is investigating him, with a political appointee.

If this is the kind of government you want, vote Republican.

 

The International Moving Right Show: Germany, Brazil and Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter
Former President Jimmy Carter speaks during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Among other topics, Carter discussed his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.” (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Angela Merkel of Germany announced that she is going to step down as German chancellor.

Brazil has elected a right wing President, Jair Bolsonaro.  The coverage of the election on NPR’s Morning Edition, concentrated on voter frustration with violent crime and corruption.  Bolsonaro was considered too extreme by the traditional parties, having made offensive statements about women, gays, Brazilians of color and democracy itself.  Once, as a Congressman, he proposed: “Let’s go straight to the dictatorship.”  Bolsonaro spent seven terms in the Brazilian Congress.  “Elections won’t change anything in this country,” he once said.  “…it will only change the day that we break out in civil war here and do the job that the military regime didn’t do, killing 30,000.  If some innocent people die, that’s fine.”  Bolsonaro has a military background and is supported by the military.  In 1993, he delivered a speech before a Congress he was part of.  “I am in favor of a dictatorship.”  He said.  “We will never resolve serious national problems with this irresponsible democracy.”  After spending so long in Congress, Bolsonaro has almost no legislative record.  He wasn’t concerned with passing legislation or even engaging in debate about policy.  He was a one-trick pony, concentrating on a supposed Communist threat.  Some have accused him of being a left-over from the Cold War.  He supports widespread gun ownership as an answer to violent crime.  He once told an opponent that she didn’t even deserve to be raped and said that he would rather die than find out his son was gay.  NYT (10/29/18)

Bolsonaro’s election is considered momentous for the fate of the Amazon.  He has promised to champion the powerful agribusiness sector in Brazil.  And, he has promised to set aside no land for indigenous people displaced by business interests.  See Somini Sengupta, 10/17/18  (NYT)

Jimmy Carter has written a letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp asking him to step down and give over control of the oversight of the state’s election to someone else since he is running for office in the election.  Carter has also endorsed Kemp’s opponent, Stacey Abrams.  Kemp said recently that Abrams’ get out the vote campaign was a direct threat to Kemp’s election.

Good Reads:

How Saudi Arabia manages it’s image.  Bazzi, Mohamad (10/29/18) NYT.

Judicial Nominees

brett

While most of us struggle to keep up with the daily outrages of the Trump administration, Senate Republicans are confirming nominees for the federal judiciary at an assembly line pace.  And, the people they are confirming are far to the right of the conservative judicial mainstream.  They are people for whom conventional legal reasoning is irrelevant, for whom the desired political outcome overrides every consideration.  They will have an impact on our lives for years to come.

After refusing to confirm nominees during the Obama Administration, Republicans are now speeding them through the Congressional process so that they can pack the courts before the midterm elections.

Because of the past obstructionist tactics of the Republican Party there are still over 100 vacancies in the federal judiciary.  Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “departed from decades of Senate practice to expedite the hearing processes for circuit court appointees.”  Grassley put multiple nominees together in a single hearing, making it more difficult for staff to “properly vet and question any of them.” (Michaelson, 9/21/17)

And, Grassley limited the time for the questioning of nominees who are getting lifetime appointments to federal appellate courts.  These individuals will spend decades on the bench when Democratic senators were allowed only 15 minutes to question them (Michaelson, 9/21/17).   Anyone who has ever watched a Congressional hearing knows that nominees can easily filibuster for 15 minutes of questioning, easily refraining from answering any hard questions.

Grssley’s tactics have been called “unprecedented and consequential” by Kristine Lucius, from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  In the past nominees have been lumped together or “stacked” only when the minority agreed to do so.  This is being done over the objection of the minority party (Michaelson, 9/21/17).

In October of 2018, Grassley, also over the objections of Democrats, pushed ahead with hearings for judicial nominees during the Congressional recess.  That way, Democrats won’t get to question the nominees at all.  Grassley’s response to the objections of Democratic Senators was: “As a result of Democratic delay tactics, there are now 154 current and future judicial vacancies, 63 of which are classified as judicial emergencies. The judiciary simply cannot afford further obstruction from your side”  (LeBlanc, 10/15/18).

The tactic of first obstructing nominations and then rushing them is not an accident.  Republicans have been working since the Reagan administration to pack the courts with “right-leaning” judges.  They have become emboldened during the Trump administration to appoint not only “right-leaning” judges, but people who are far to the right and utilizing judicial interpretation based far beyond anything most people would recognize as conventional legal reasoning.

The court packing comes at a time when the courts have become “the last bastion of civil rights.”  The courts stood in the way of Trump’s travel ban and slowed EPA rollbacks of environmental regulations, to name just two areas.  The courts have also in the past limited executive power (Michaelson, 9/21/17).  With the appointment of Bret Kavanaugh, that may all come to an end.

The recent Republican nominees have been chosen by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation and are therefore “extreme right-wing nominees.”  One sitting circuit court judge compared abortion to slavery and another nominee called Justice Anthony Kennedy a “prostitute” (Michaelson, 9/21/17).

Leonard Leo, Trump’s adviser on the judiciary who is managing what Michaelson (9/21/17) calls “the think-tank-to-court pipeline,” said in May of 2017: “I would love to see the courts unrecognizable” (Michaelson, 9/21/17).

Leonard Leo may well get his wish.  I dread the day.

_____

LeBlanc, Paul (10/15/18) Grassley rejects Democrats plea to delay judicial hearings until after recess.  CNN.

Michaelson, Jay (09/21/17) While you weren’t looking, the Senate has been rubber-stamping Trump’s Extreme Judicial Picks.  Daily Beast.

Some Books on Politics

What’s the Matter With Kansas: How conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank

The Wrecking Crew: How conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation

Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green.

Why Trump Won: And Why He Will Win Again in 2020 by Mitchell Steven Morrison.  Author and former FBI employee.  Talks about how corruption in mainstream media outlets will help Trump win 2020.

Unbelievable by Katy Tur.

Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump win the White House by luke Harding.

Creeping Fascism: Brexit, Trump and the Rise of the Far Right by Neil Faulkner.

Proof of collusion: How Trump Betrayed America by Seth Abramson.

Fear: Trump in the white House by Bob Woodward

Imperial Life in the merald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Blind Ambition by John W. Dean

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas by jane Mayer

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the  War on Terror Turned into a war on American Ideals by Jane Meyer

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West.

The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and Wikileaks Tried to steal the 2016 Election by Malcolm nance

Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a Presient What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know by Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America by John Nichols

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

Book: An Uncivil War by Greg Sargent

 

In An Uncivil War, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent sounds an urgent alarm about the deeper roots of our democratic backsliding—and how we can begin to turn things around between now and 2020.

American democracy is facing a crisis as fraught as we’ve seen in decades. Donald Trump’s presidency has raised the specter of authoritarian rule. Extreme polarization and the scorched-earth war between the parties drags on with no end in sight. The recent Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are only the latest example of this, and of the GOP’s continued ability to steamroll the Democrats and their supporters.

At the heart of this dangerous moment is a paradox: It took a figure as uniquely menacing as Trump to rivet the nation’s attention on the fragility of our democracy. Yet the causes of our dysfunction are long-running—they predate Trump, helped facilitate his rise, and, distressingly, will outlast his presidency.

In An Uncivil War, Sargent reveals why we’ve fallen into the ditch—and how to get out of it. Drawing upon years of research and reporting, he exposes the unparalleled sophistication and ambition of GOP tactics, including computer-generated gerrymandering, underhanded voter suppression, and ever-escalating legislative hardball. We are also plagued by other brutal, seemingly intractable problems such as dismal turnout and powerful, built-in temptations to tilt the political playing field with unscrupulous partisan trickery. All of this has been accompanied by foreign-government intervention and an unprecedented level of political disinformation that threatens to undermine the very possibility of shared agreement on facts and poses profound new challenges to the media’s ability to inform the citizenry. Yet the Republican Party is only part of the problem. As Sargent provocatively reveals, Democrats share culpability for helping to accelerate this slide.

But our plight is far from hopeless, and Sargent offers a series of doable prescriptions for saving our democracy, including a shift of focus toward state legislatures, creative voter registration policies, innovative approaches to fairer districting, and a new sense of purpose. The result is a book that could not be more essential as we head toward the elections that most matter.

Harper Collins

Best Reads of the Day: Saudi Arabia, Voting Rights

Mohammed bin Salman

Messengers from Saudi Arabia contact a Saudi living in Canada

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/secret-recordings-give-insight-into-saudi-attempt-to-silence-critics/2018/10/17/fb333378-ce49-11e8-ad0a-0e01efba3cc1_story.html?utm_term=.2264ff1cf5e9

Voting Rights

Brennan Center article about the Voting Rights Act

https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/the-voting-rights-act

Another blow to the voting Rights Act

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/supreme-court-voting-rights-735696/