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Amped Status's List: Government & Politics

  • about 1 hour ago

    "President Donald Trump has now laid out exactly what he wants in the "big, beautiful wall" that he's promised to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. But his effort to build a huge barrier to those attempting to enter the U.S. illegally faces impediments of its own.

    It's still not clear how Trump will pay for the wall that, as described in contracting notices, would be 30 feet (9 meters) high and easy on the eye for those looking at it from the north. The Trump administration will also have to contend with unfavorable geography and many legal battles.

    A look at some of those obstacles:

    MONEY

    Trump promised that Mexico would pay for his wall, a demand Mexico has repeatedly rejected. Trump's first budget proposal to Congress, a preliminary draft that was light on details, asked lawmakers for a $2.6 billion down payment for the wall. An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated that a wall along the entire border would cost about $21 billion. Congressional Republicans have estimated a more moderate price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion. Trump himself has suggested a cost of about $12 billion.

    It's unclear how much money Congress will approve. Lawmakers have been balking at his plans to sharply cut other federal spending to pay for the wall and other boosts to border security, while increasing military spending. White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters this past week that the administration was still looking at how the wall would be funded, adding that it hasn't given up on Mexico footing the bill.

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    GEOGRAPHY

    Roughly half of the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border is in Texas and marked by the winding and twisting Rio Grande. A 1970 treaty with Mexico requires that anything built near that river not obstruct its flow. The same treaty applies to a stretch of border in Arizona, where the Colorado River marks the international boundary.

    Some fencing that is already in place along the frontier is built well off the river, in some places nearly a mile (about a kilometer) away from the border.

    Trump will have to navigate not only the treaty maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission but also various environmental regulations that protect some stretches of border and restrict what kind of structures can be built and where. The contracting notices of March 17 say the Trump administration wants the wall dug at least 6 feet (almost 2 meters) into the ground. Along parts of the border in California, environmentally sensitive sand dunes required that a "floating fence" was built to allow the natural movement of the sand.

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    LEGAL CHALLENGES

    Nearly all of the land along the Texas border is privately held - much of it by people whose families have been in the region for generations - and buying their land won't be easy, as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama discovered. Lawyers for both administrations fought in court with private landowners. Obama's efforts to buy privately held land in the Rio Grande Valley have carried over into Trump's term.

    The Trump administration appears to be preparing for the legal fight and included a request for more lawyers to handle such cases in its budget proposal. Spicer said this past week the administration would "take the steps necessary" to fulfill Trump's promise to secure the southern border."

  • Mar 18, 17

    "In his briefing, Mulvaney acknowledged that while the proposals in the blueprint would not increase the deficit or the debt, they would not reduce it either. In fact, Mulvaney said, the budget will not reduce the projected deficit of $488 billion for Fiscal Year 2018 (which runs from October of this year through September of 2018). After all of Trump’s bloviating about the perils of the public debt (chronically exaggerated by both parties), the new acceptance of Obama’s deficit is amusing.
    There is really no hint of the budget’s impact on debt in the actual document. There can’t be, because total numbers for neither spending nor revenues are provided. It’s like a contractor’s remodeling estimate without a bottom line.
    What of the discretionary programs themselves? The lead-off “Highlights” section features a list of programs condemned to termination. The typical excuse for the latter in the text is usually some brief blather about duplication or about lack of evidence for a program’s effectiveness. It is telling that the programs named tend to be very small, but their names will resonate politically with the haters in the president’s base. The National Endowment for the Arts. The National Endowment for the Humanities. The Legal Services Corporation. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The African Development Foundation. Black folks and pointy-headed intellectuals, cut down to size!
    An emphasis in the document and in Mulvaney’s presentation is the hit on foreign aid, in keeping with the “America First” shtick. Much larger, more politically dodgy cuts are buried in succeeding pages, such as the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant—the largest non-education grant to local governments left in the federal budget. We could also note the abolition of the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration, the Community Development Financial Institutions program, and the Essential Air Service program (for rural airports), all of which serve some of Trump’s most fervent supporters. Terminations include the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, vital to people in the Northeast, and a large 20 percent cut to the Department of Agriculture."

  • Mar 18, 17

    "U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal includes massive cuts across most of the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture face unprecedented discretionary funding cuts in excess of 25 percent, as Trump attempts to boost the military and national security."

  • Mar 17, 17

    "Malta

    The tiny EU member state with 417,000 residents spread over three islands is convenient for foreigners, with English being one of the two official languages. In 2013, during the still rough waters of the euro debt crisis, Parliament passed legislation that put Maltese citizenship up for sale at €650,000. A spouse costs another €25,000; unmarried children between 18 and 25 and dependent parents cost €50,000 each. There are no residency or investment requirements. The money goes into government funds.

    This citizenship is a product to be marketed. If it sells 100 per year at €650,000 a pop, it would generate annual revenues of €65 million – or 1.75% of total 2016 revenues (€3.7 billion). Given the limits on budget deficits under EU Treaties, everything counts."

  • Mar 17, 17

    "Trump is the real thing. His budget proposal, now made public, is perfectly expected, an increase of 10% for military spending, 7%, homeland security, 6%, veterans, and the largest cuts, -31% EPA, -29% State department and development agencies, -21% agriculture. This of course tells us little about the deformation of government allocations and still less about overall purpose. On its face, we see militarism crushing down government’s welfare functions, and this should be a clue as to what’s at stake.

    As NYT reports, “The proposal would also eliminate funding [I stress, eliminate] for nearly 20 smaller independent agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation, which finances legal aid groups.” The list (more below) is instructive. The reason is given to be, avoiding deficits while increasing the defense budget necessitates pruning the tree. The preeminence of defense requires nothing less, if the Homeland is to remain safe. "

  • Mar 17, 17

    "In a top-down, centralized hierarchy of political power (i.e. the central state), the pharmaceutical company only needs to lobby a few authorities in the central state toimpose its rentier skim/scam on the entire nation.
    Lobbying/bribing a relative handful of federal officials and elected representatives is remarkably inexpensive: a financier or corporation only needs to focus on these few key players, and smoothing the PR pathway via a highly concentrated corporate media.
    A mere $5 million spent in the right places guarantees $100 million in future profits-- profits earned not from open competition in a transparent market, but profits plundered as rentier skims: the product didn't get any better or effective when the price leaped from $3 to $600, and competition was squelched by regulatory capture and high barriers to entry.
    Now imagine if the pharmaceutical company had to lobby/bribe officials in each of America's 3,142 counties to impose its rapacious rentier skim on the populace of each county. The lobbying/bribing effort will be orders of magnitude more costly and complex, and the national corporate media is less effective at the local level, where community groups and local media have some influence."

  • Mar 17, 17

    "THE CONTINUITY OF Wall Street’s dominant role in American politics — regardless of what party sits in power or how reviled the financial industry finds itself across the country — was perhaps never more evident than when Jake Siewert, now a Goldman Sachs spokesperson, on Tuesday praised the selection of Jim Donovan, a Goldman Sachs managing director, for the No. 2 position in the Treasury Department under Steve Mnuchin, himself a former Goldman Sachs partner.

    “Jim is smart, extraordinarily versatile, and as hard-working as they come,” Siewert gushed. “He’ll be an invaluable addition to the economic team.”

    The punch line? Siewert was counselor at the Treasury Department to Timothy Geithner, as well as a White House press secretary under Bill Clinton.

    The ubiquity of Goldman Sachs veterans across numerous presidencies throughout history, both Republican and Democratic, has been well documented. But Donald Trump sold himself as something different, an economic nationalist determined to rankle Wall Street. He even ran campaign ads savaging bankers like Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein for their role in a “global power structure.”

    That populist smokescreen is long gone now."

  • Mar 17, 17

    "Meals on Wheels. Amtrak. Teacher training, after-school, and summer educational programs. The National Endowment for the Arts. The Appalachian Regional Commission. The National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

    All these initiatives and agencies—plus many more—face cuts or wholesale elimination under President Donald Trump's proposed "skinny budget," officially unveiled Thursday. Meanwhile, the blueprint calls for increases in military spending, border and immigration enforcement, and money for charter and private schools. The Washington Post has a comprehensive breakdown, with graphics, here.

    The document was variously denounced as "an all-out assault on our planet;" "dirty and dangerous;" "cruel;" and "unacceptable.""

  • Mar 17, 17

    "To pay for an increase in defense spending, a down payment on the border wall and school voucher programs, among other things, funding was cut from the discretionary budgets of other executive departments and agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the Agriculture Department took the hardest hits. The proposal also completely defunded 19 agencies.

    "

  • Mar 14, 17

    "The above highlights the most important takeaway from this whole document dump. Due to its capability to hack anyone on the planet, the CIA is in practice able to blackmail anyone they want, including our “representatives” in Congress, many of whom probably have a lot of skeletons in their closets they don’t want out. As such, these capabilities allow for the creation of an unelected intelligence complex dictatorship in the shadows. The American people will never be free until we deal with this issue once and for all."

  • Mar 14, 17

    "the deep state includes the Department of Defense, the State Department, the National Intelligence Agencies, Wall Street, the defense industry, and the energy consortium, among other major private players. They share common agendas, operate a revolving door of employees, and have a collective distaste for democracy, transparency, and regulation. The deep state is the link between military interventions and trans-pacific trade deals, between sanctions and IMF loans. All of these tools, be they arms or loans or legal structures, serve a single purpose: the overarching control of world resources by a global community of corporate elites. One can also see how these three instruments of policy and power all do tremendous damage to a particular entity, the nation-state. It is the nation-state that is considered by elites to be the sole remaining barricade between populations in nominal democracies and their unfettered exploitation by multinationals, although one might reasonably argue that the state more often abets exploitation rather than deters it.

    The Dystopia to Come

    So where is this all headed? Aside from the theatrics of the Trump presidency and its sequestration or removal. What would full-spectrum dominance look like? Probably something like a one-world market, populated by enfeebled states, ruled by a worldwide raft of interlocking investor rights agreements that allowed private capital to plunder natural resources free of state restraints, such as labor safeguards, environmental protections, reasonable tax regimes, capital controls or border tariffs. Faceless multinationals would pillage the planet, their anonymous appointees manning the joysticks of power behind the reflective glass of their cloud-draped spindles, unreachable and unelected by the armies of the destitute that prowled the wastelands below. The amalgamated forces of corporate elitism would coolly play labor arbitrage across continents, threaten and destroy defiant economies through currency flight and commodity manipulation, and continue to consume an outsized percentage of the world’s resources. This would fulfill the hegemonic dreams of former State Department Director of Policy Planning Kennan, who once argued that we must dispense with humanitarian concerns and “deal in straight power concepts,” the better to control and consume an outsized portion of the world’s resources, presumably a privilege reserved for elite whites, and a selection of mandarins from other ethnicities with special clearances.
    A criminal corporate commonwealth, supported by a fiat dollar as global reserve currency enforced by threat of war and economic collapse, will be deaf to protest from below, its weaponized satellites aimed at populations like sunlit magnifiers at a column of ants. Currency itself would be wholly digitized. This move would be sold as a positive advance as it would provide better tax accountability and therefore fund future programs of social uplift. Rather it will be employed as a means of totalitarian financial control over populations. Their wealth will be institutionalized. The concept of withdrawal will fade along with the fiction of ownership.

    Terrorism will become the chosen tool of this elite power (insofar as it isn’t already). Surgical strikes, be they military, economic, or news-driven, will “keep the rabble in line” as all societies become subservient to the portents of war, the fear of inaccessible funds, and the black smears of an amoral media. The ‘deep state’ will become an obsolete term, as the nation-state will recede in memory as a relic of a strife-ridden dark age.

    After all, the laissez faire cult of the beltway actually believes the planet would prosper sans nation-states. As another scene from Syriana reminds us, elite capital has a very different worldview from the majority of labor, who continue to believe the state has a role to play defending their interests. At one point in the film, Texas oil man Danny Dalton lectures lawyer Bennett Holiday on the true definition of corruption, “Corruption!? Corruption is government interference in market efficiencies in the form of government regulation. That’s Milton Friedman! He got a goddamn Nobel Prize!” The U.S. already practices free-market militarism, refusing to recognize borders, legal constraints, or geostrategic jurisdiction. Why not free-market finance and trade?

  • Mar 14, 17

    "The crux of her article is the point that has been driving everything I’ve been writing and saying about this topic for months: that this obsession with Russia conspiracy tales is poisoning all aspects of U.S. political discourse and weakening any chance for resisting Trump’s actual abuses and excesses. Those who wake up every day to hype the latest episode of this Russia/Trump spy drama tell themselves that they’re bravely undermining and subverting Trump, but they’re doing exactly the opposite.

    This crazed conspiracy mongering is further discrediting U.S. media outlets, making Washington seem even more distant from and irrelevant to the lives of millions of Americans, degrading discourse to the lowliest Trumpian circus level on which he thrives, and is misdirecting huge portions of opposition energy and thought into an exciting but fictitious spy novel – all of which directly redounds to Trump’s benefit. As Gessen puts it in the key sentence that ought to be pinned everywhere in neon lights:

    Russiagate is helping [Trump]—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office."

  • Mar 14, 17

    "Pence: 47%/35%
    Trump: 45%/47%
    GOP: 37%/48%
    Media: 37%/50%
    Dem Party: 36%/52%
    Hillary: 35%/55%
    Congress: 26%/52%"

  • Mar 14, 17

    "President-elect Donald Trump has spent the weeks since the election openly questioning the Central Intelligence Agency's assessments about Russian interference in the fall contest, prompting his foes to laud the apolitical and fundamentally patriotic mission of America's intelligence officers.

    But as with so many other U.S. institutions, public perceptions of the intelligence community have a whole lot to do with politics.

    While the CIA still remains relatively popular — much more so than Congress or either political party — the past two decades have shown significant fluctuation in how Republicans and Democrats view the agency, according to polling conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

    And for the first time since the survey asked about the CIA back in 2002, Democrats now have a more positive view of the nation's foreign intelligence agency than Republicans do."

  • Mar 14, 17

    "We speak with Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Cindy Cohn about thousands of documents WikiLeaks published this week, dubbed "Vault 7," that describe CIA programs to hack into both Apple and Android cellphones, smart TVs and even cars. Some of the released documents describe tools to take over entire phones, allowing the CIA to then bypass encrypted messenger programs such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp. Other documents outline a CIA and British intelligence program called "Weeping Angel," through which the spy agency can hack into a Samsung smart television and turn it into a surveillance device that records audio conversations, even when it appears to be off. Other documents outline how the CIA has used the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, as a covert base to spy on Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "It’s extremely troubling that the CIA was keeping all of this information rather than giving it to the tech companies so that they could fix these problems and make us all safer," Cohn notes."

  • Mar 14, 17

    "ProPublica’s Justin Elliott has been looking into the hundreds of officials Trump has quietly installed across the government. He describes the backgrounds of these officials in a recent piece for ProPublica: "A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed 'ethnic cleansing' in a plot to 'liquidate' the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An 'evangelist' and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.""

  • Mar 10, 17

    "Today, Tuesday 7 March 2017, WikiLeaks begins its new series of leaks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Code-named "Vault 7" by WikiLeaks, it is the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.

    The first full part of the series, "Year Zero", comprises 8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virgina. It follows an introductory disclosure last month of CIA targeting French political parties and candidates in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election.

    Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized "zero day" exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive."

  • Mar 02, 17

    "Over 375 episodes of Firing Line have been made available on YouTube by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. You can find complete episodes on Hoover’s YouTube channel here (there are probably more to come), and see their web site for an archive of full programs and transcripts available online."

  • Mar 02, 17

    "Trump and his spokespeople recently have made their opinions known on a variety of issues on which I hold strong beliefs. The three I will focus on today are: 1) Civil Asset Forfeiture. 2) Private Prisons. 3) Legalization of Recreational Marijuana. On all three of these issues, Trump has taken an authoritarian, unethical and quite unpopular position. Rather than challenge the oligarchs who’ve run this country into the ground, he’s appointed them to be his top advisors. Now he wants to make life increasingly unfree and miserable for average Americans. Not a very populist agenda."

  • Mar 02, 17

    "Private prison companies, which stand to make big gains under President Trump’s tough new immigration orders, also have contributed big sums to pro-Trump groups, including the organization that raised a record $100 million for his inauguration last month.

    GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison operators, donated $250,000 to support Trump’s inaugural festivities, Pablo Paez, the company’s vice president of corporate relations, told USA TODAY.

    That’s on top of the $225,000 that a company subsidiary donated to a super PAC that spent some $22 million to help elect the real-estate magnate. Another prison operator, CoreCivic, gave $250,000 to support Trump’s inauguration, recently filed congressional reports show."

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