Cost of transgender medical services in military, minimal; cost of an imbecile as commander-in-chief, incalculable

The New York Times reports: The president, Ms. Sanders said, had concluded that allowing transgender people to serve openly “erodes military readiness and unit cohesion, and made the decision based on that.”

Mr. Mattis, who was on vacation, was silent on the new policy. People close to the defense secretary said he was appalled that Mr. Trump chose to unveil his decision in tweets, in part because of the message they sent to transgender active-duty service members, including those deployed overseas, that they were suddenly no longer welcome.

The policy would affect only a small portion of the approximately 1.3 million active-duty members of the military. Some 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty troops are transgender, according to a 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon, though estimates of the number of transgender service members have varied widely, and are sometimes as high as 15,000.

The study found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon. It estimated that health care costs would rise $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year, representing an infinitesimal 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in spending. Citing research into other countries that allow transgender people to serve, the study projected “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness” in the United States.

Lt. Commander Blake Dremann, a Navy supply corps officer who is transgender, said he found out his job was in danger when he turned on CNN on Wednesday morning. Commander Dremann came out as transgender to his commanders in 2015, and said they had been supportive of him.

He refused to criticize Mr. Trump — “we don’t criticize our commander in chief,” he said — but said the policy shift “is singling out a specific population in the military, who had been assured we were doing everything appropriate to continue our honorable service.”

He added: “And I will continue to do so, until the military tells me to hang up my boots.”

The announcement came amid the debate on Capitol Hill over the Obama-era practice of requiring the Pentagon to pay for medical treatment related to gender transition. Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, has proposed an amendment to the spending bill that would bar the Pentagon from spending money on transition surgery or related hormone therapy, and other Republicans have pressed for similar provisions.

Mr. Mattis had worked behind the scenes to keep such language out of legislation, quietly lobbying Republican lawmakers not to attach the prohibitions, according to congressional and defense officials. [Continue reading…]

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The military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care

Christopher Ingraham writes: On Twitter this morning, President Trump announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military, citing “medical costs” as the primary driver of the decision.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” the president wrote.

While Trump didn’t offer any numbers to support this claim, a Defense Department-commissioned study published last year by the Rand Corp. provides exhaustive estimates of transgender servicemembers’ potential medical costs.

Considering the prevalence of transgender servicemembers among the active duty military and the typical health-care costs for gender-transition-related medical treatment, the Rand study estimated that these treatments would cost the military between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.

The study didn’t include estimates of these costs for reservists, because of their “highly limited military health care eligibility.” It also didn’t include estimates for retirees or military family members, because many of those individuals may also have “limited eligibility” for care via military treatment facilities.

“The implication is that even in the most extreme scenario that we were able to identify … we expect only a 0.13-percent ($8.4 million out of $6.2 billion) increase in health care spending,” Rand’s authors concluded.

By contrast, total military spending on erectile dysfunction medicines amounts to $84 million annually, according to an analysis by the Military Times — 10 times the cost of annual transition-related medical care for active duty transgender servicemembers.

The military spends $41.6 million annually on Viagra alone, according to the Military Times analysis — roughly five times the estimated spending on transition-related medical care for transgender troops. [Continue reading…]

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We’ve been here before: Discriminating against those who volunteer to serve

Bishop Garrison writes: On the anniversary of the day President Harry Truman desegregated the military, President Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, that the United States military would no longer welcome or support the service of transgender American citizens. As a nation, we have been here before. For generations, the military marginalized minorities, forcing them to serve separately or even in secret, before it finally got it right. And even in those tumultuous times, they still served and did so with honor and dignity. My family’s history and its service in the military is a testament to this. We have watched, over three generations, as the military stamped out discrimination and internalized this lesson: Your race, class, gender or sexual orientation has nothing to do with your fitness to serve.

During my first deployment in Iraq, I was stationed at Al Asad airbase in Anbar Province in Iraq. Part of my unit’s mission was to maintain security along one of the main supply routes so that convoys, which mostly traveled under the cover of darkness at night, could safely operate. We worked well with local police and sheikhs, and for many months things remained generally quiet. Then we began finding bombs on the side of the road. We didn’t have a name for them then, but later the technical term of Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, would emerge, and our time in the desert would never be same. After my first tour, almost a full year in the Iraqi desert, my father wanted to discuss what my time was like there.

My dad, Bishop Sr., or “Big Bishop,” was a gregarious, funny, and charming man. He was drafted into the Army to fight in Vietnam in the late 1960s, and was forced to leave early from, what was then, South Carolina State College. For his service in Vietnam, he received a Bronze Star as a young Specialist with the First Calvary Division. Given his abilities and performance, he was asked to remain in the Army and become an officer. My father respectfully declined. At that time, the Army was a very different place, and the U.S. was only a few years removed from the signing of the Civil Rights Act. He also wanted to get home to his family and marry his high school sweetheart, my mother, whom he’d left behind to go to Vietnam. He eventually would go on to serve as a veteran employment specialist with the state of South Carolina for the next 32 years, helping veterans transition to civilian jobs as they exited military service.

After I returned from Iraq, and was alone with my father, we began sharing stories we’d never told any of our family members about our military experiences. We discussed our fears, our concerns, and the issues we had to deal with as young men deployed to combat zones. There was one thing we both had learned during our time at war: Nothing was more important than the ability to trust the person fighting next to you. Given what was going on in the U.S. in the 1960s, my father told me it was hard for an enlisted black man from the Deep South to trust that the white men serving next to him had his best interests at heart, and that they would have his back. Our country was just beginning to recognize people of color as full-fledged citizens at the same time my father fought to protect its interests and the interests of its allies. As time progressed, he matured and his beliefs evolved thanks to his experience fighting and training with those same men he first met with suspicion. He learned they were no different from him. They all feared not making it home. They each had parents, wives, and high school sweethearts waiting for them. If you could zero your rifle, or drive a jeep, or work on a towable Howitzer fire team, or man the door gun on a Huey, no one had the time or the interest to worry about the rest. That focus and dedication led him to making lifelong friends, who still occasionally send me their condolences on his passing in 2012. Those same experiences taught him that at the end of the day, it was character and shared values that drives us as soldiers and Americans. [Continue reading…]

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Defeated anti-Muslim amendment a sign of Trump’s normalizing of Islamophobia

Faiza Patel, Margot Adams and Emily Hockett write: Recently, the House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that targeted the Islamic faith. Sponsored by Arizona Republican Trent Franks, the amendment instructed Defense Secretary James Mattis to conduct a strategic assessment of the use of “violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification.” The Defense Department would have been required to identify “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts, or schools of thought” used by various extremist groups, and provide recommendations for identifying “key thought leaders or proponents” of these doctrines. The amendment failed in the face of strenuous opposition by every House Democrat as well as 27 Republicans and numerous advocacy organizations.

It is, of course, sensible for the government to study the motivations of terrorist groups that seek to harm us. Indeed, the U.S. government has been studying the belief systems of terrorists for years. The Franks amendment is fundamentally flawed, however, in that it assumes that “unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine” is the motive, to the exclusion of all others. It’s not unique in this regard. Government officials from both parties have long sought to frame political violence in the Muslim world as primarily one of religious “extremism” or “radicalization,” to avoid a broader evaluation of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. support for autocratic, and often brutally suppressive, regimes in the region as sources of instability and anti-American sentiment.

Coming on the heels of President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw, which described terrorism carried out in the name of Islam and the refugee crisis as an assault on “Western values,” and combined with the overall anti-Muslim tenor of the current administration, the Franks amendment simply continues the narrative of counterterrorism as a civilizational struggle—a narrative that Franks himself has long embraced—laying the blame for the violence of a relative few at the doorstep of a faith practiced by almost two billion people around the world. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (a former Marine infantryman), speaking against the Franks amendment on the House floor, said, “By singling out a faith tradition…we are sending a dangerous message and signal that America is at war with Islam.” [Continue reading…]

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Palestine envoy to UN: Al-Aqsa crisis at tipping point

Al Jazeera reports: The Palestinian envoy to the UN has told the Security Council that al-Aqsa Mosque compound crisis in East Jerusalem is at a tipping point, urging the council members to help protect Palestinians and their holy sites from Israel’s “reckless and destructive agenda”.

Riyad Mansour warned in his speech to the Council on Tuesday that “the stoking of a religious conflict is rapidly unfolding as Israel persists its illegal actions in occupied East Jerusalem”.

He accused Israel of “aggressive behaviour and provocative violation” of the historic status quo at the Muslim-administered al-Aqsa Mosque compound, referring to a brief closure of the holy site after a deadly shooting there that was followed by installation of CCTV cameras and metal detectors.

“We are clearly at the tipping point,” he said. “We must therefore again warn against the dangers of such provocations and incitement, and fuelling of yet another cycle of violence which will surely have far-reaching consequences.” [Continue reading…]

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Poles fought the nationalist government with mass protests — and won

Anne Applebaum writes: If an illiberal government — democratically elected, but determined to change the rules — tries to do something unconstitutional, what can the public do? What can the political opposition do? This is a dilemma we now know from several countries — Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and possibly soon Greece. The prospects are pretty gloomy, as I’ve argued before, for those who want to stay within the bounds of the law.

One partial answer is peaceful street demonstrations, though that is a frustrating path. Most people don’t have time to stand in a crowd every day or every evening; the chants and speeches can be repetitive; and, more to the point, the government has no obligation to listen. The effort can seem pointless, and it often is — unless it can move the hearts and minds of the leaders of the ruling party. In Poland, over the past week, that’s exactly what just happened. [Continue reading…]

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How Jared Kushner helped the Russians get inside access to the Trump campaign

Ryan Lizza writes: If you read Jared Kushner’s statement to congressional committees looking for evidence of a crime, there isn’t much there. But if you read it from the perspective of the Russians trying to gain a toehold—or more—inside the Trump campaign, you realize how easy he made it for them. As the evidence mounted last year that the Russian government launched an unprecedented hacking and influence campaign to affect the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor, the Trump team, including Kushner, became increasingly more solicitous to high-level Russians offering information and requesting meetings.

Kushner’s first meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, seems relatively innocuous. According to Kushner’s account, they met in April, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel, in Washington, D.C., during a reception before a speech that Trump delivered on foreign policy. Dimitri Simes, the publisher of The National Interest and the organizer of the event, introduced Kushner to Kislyak and three other ambassadors. To Kushner, the introduction was forgettable. Without specifying which ones, he noted that some of the ambassadors invited him to lunch but that he “never took them up on any of these invitations.”

For Kislyak, it was clearly an important moment. The Russian Ambassador represents a country whose intelligence services had hacked their way into the Democratic National Committee’s networks ten months earlier and hacked the e-mail account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, the previous month. At Trump’s speech, Kislyak was honored with an invitation to the reception and a front-row seat. Trump’s speech itself extended an olive branch to Vladimir Putin, calling for “improved relations with Russia” and an effort to “make a deal that’s great” for “America, but also good for Russia.”

By May, Russia’s General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate—the G.R.U.—“had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC,” according to the U.S. intelligence community’s unclassified report on Russian meddling. In June, the Russian government adopted “a clear preference” for Trump, according to the report. “Beginning in June, Putin’s public comments about the U.S. presidential race avoided directly praising President-elect Trump, probably because Kremlin officials thought that any praise from Putin personally would backfire in the United States. Nonetheless, Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine.”

That same month, Russian associates of the Trump family reached out to offer the Trump campaign some direct assistance. On June 3rd, Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist and former tabloid journalist, e-mailed Donald Trump, Jr., offering “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” and noted that the offer was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” A meeting was set for June 9th, and Trump’s oldest child forwarded the full e-mail exchange to Kushner and Paul Manafort, who at the time was the campaign chairman. The subject line was “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

Yesterday, Kushner insisted, “I did not read or recall this e-mail exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers.” Whether or not that’s true, he attended the meeting. According to Kushner’s account of the meeting, it was uneventful. He got there late, some Russians he never heard of were discussing adoption policy, and he quickly messaged his assistant to call him so he had an excuse to bail. Longtime intelligence officials have a more jaundiced view. Michael Hayden, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, told me that he was convinced the meeting was a classic “soft approach” by Russian intelligence. He cited a recent Washington Post article, by Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, that argued that the meeting “is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like,” and that it may have been the “green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election.”

Hayden told me, “My god, this is just such traditional tradecraft.” He said that he has talked to people in the intelligence community about Mowatt-Larssen’s theory and that “every case officer I’ve pushed on this” agreed with it. “This is how they do it.” [Continue reading…]

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The standoff between Trump and Sessions escalates

The Washington Post reports: The public standoff between the White House and the nation’s senior law enforcement official took another strange turn Tuesday as President Trump escalated his verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was urged by fellow conservatives to stand his ground.

Trump was asked at a Rose Garden news conference if he would fire the attorney general, who angered the president by recusing himself from the criminal probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“We’ll see what happens,’’ said Trump — a potentially ominous choice of phrase, considering the president used the same expression when talking to FBI Director James B. Comey before he was fired. [Continue reading…]

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Trump finds reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan: To plunder natural resources

The New York Times reports: President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.

Mr. Trump has discussed the country’s mineral deposits with President Ashraf Ghani, who promoted mining as an economic opportunity in one of their first conversations. Mr. Trump, who is deeply skeptical about sending more American troops to Afghanistan, has suggested that this could be one justification for the United States to stay engaged in the country.

To explore the possibilities, the White House is considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials. Last week, as the White House fell into an increasingly fractious debate over Afghanistan policy, three of Mr. Trump’s senior aides met with a chemical executive, Michael N. Silver, to discuss the potential for extracting rare-earth minerals. Mr. Silver’s firm, American Elements, specializes in these minerals, which are used in a range of high-tech products.

Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who is informally advising Mr. Trump on Afghanistan, is also looking into ways to exploit the country’s minerals, according to a person who has briefed him. Mr. Feinberg owns a large military contracting firm, DynCorp International, which could play a role in guarding mines — a major concern, given that some of Afghanistan’s richest deposits are in areas controlled by the Taliban. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea promises nuclear strike on U.S. if regime is threatened

CNN reports: North Korea threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Tuesday.

The threat was in response to comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said. “The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

KCNA reported that a spokesman from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, “The DPRK legally stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the DPRK is threatened, it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: North Korea will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year, U.S. officials have concluded in a confidential assessment that dramatically shrinks the timeline for when Pyongyang could strike North American cities with atomic weapons.

The new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which shaves a full two years off the consensus forecast for North Korea’s ICBM program, was prompted by recent missile tests showing surprising technical advances by the country’s weapons scientists, at a pace beyond which many analysts believed was possible for the isolated communist regime.

The U.S. projection closely mirrors revised predictions by South Korean intelligence officials, who also have watched with growing alarm as North Korea has appeared to master key technologies needed to loft a warhead toward targets thousands of miles away.

The finding further increases the pressure on U.S. and Asian leaders to halt North Korea’s progress before it can threaten the world with nuclear-tipped missiles. President Trump, during his visit to Poland earlier this month, vowed to confront Pyongyang “very strongly” to stop its missile advances. [Continue reading…]

Newsweek reports: While North Korea’s leadership celebrates its successful testing of a missile that it claims can strike the United States with a nuclear warhead, its citizens are facing the prospect of its worst drought in 16 years, which could lead to even greater food shortages in the isolated country.

A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released last week said that rainfall between the critical period of April to June was lower than for the same period in 2001, when cereal production reached an unprecedented low.

“More rains are urgently needed to avoid significant decreases in the main 2017 cereal production season,” the report said. “Should drought conditions persist, the food security situation is likely to further deteriorate.”

North Korea has long been criticized for spending a large proportion of its budget on developing weapons while failing to provide adequate food for its people. Between 2004 and 2014, it spent nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product on the military, by far the highest percentage relative to GDP of any country in the world. Meanwhile, two in five North Koreans are undernourished with more than two-thirds relying on food aid, according to the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s unsurprising endorsement of illegal solicitation

Fred Wertheimer writes: It’s not surprising that President Donald Trump believes that “most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent” – his reference, of course, is to the infamous June 9 meeting organized by Donald Trump Jr. to obtain incriminating information on Hillary Clinton offered, as he knew, by the Russian government.

President Trump and his supporters keep trying to spin the line that there was nothing illegal about what Trump Jr. did.

That’s plain wrong.

Setting aside the question of criminal intent, the public record shows that Trump Jr. knowingly solicited “something of value” for the Trump campaign from a foreign source. Doing so was a violation on the federal ban on soliciting foreign support for a campaign. The fact that this was a foreign government, hostile to US democratic institutions, is not relevant to this legal analysis, though it is relevant to what we think of his actions as an ethical matter. Whether Trump Jr. actually received valuable information is irrelevant to the “solicitation” violation that occurred. In other words, the solicitation of a contribution, i.e. something of value to the campaign, from a foreign national is itself illegal, whether a contribution is or is not actually received in response to the solicitation.

According to an AP article a folder of information reportedly was given to Trump Jr. by the Russian government lawyer at the meeting. A participant in the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, said that the attorney brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats. Akhmetshin recalled the attorney saying “This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” according to the AP.

This was just one account of the meeting and we do not know what was in the folder or what happened to the documents.

Whether that information in the folder was something “of value” to the campaign is a question that requires investigation. If it was and it was taken, then Trump Jr. and the campaign committed a second violation of not only soliciting but also receiving a contribution from a foreign national.

President Trump’s claim that “most politicians” would do what his son did means that the President thinks that most politicians would engage in illegal conduct by soliciting opposition research of value to the campaign from a foreign source, including a foreign adversary that has no respect for free and open elections.

The President’s position is not surprising, however, since his campaign knowingly and repeatedly violated the same statutory solicitation prohibition during the 2016 presidential election — by soliciting illegal campaign contributions multiple times from multiple foreign sources. [Continue reading…]

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Human Rights Watch: Saudi terrorism is killing people in Yemen

Al Jazeera reports: The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has questioned Saudi Arabia’s accusation of Qatar funding terrorism while the Kingdom itself continues to carry out “terrorism that is killing people in Yemen”.

The conflict in Yemen has escalated dramatically since March 2015, when the Saudi-led forces launched a military operation against the rebels.

Since the conflict began, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions have been driven from their homes.

“We don’t talk about government terrorism such as the Saudi-led coalition that is killing people in Yemen,” HRW’s Kenneth Roth said at the Freedom of Expression, Facing up to the Threat conference in Qatar’s capital Doha on Monday.

“I am not aware of Qatar financing terrorist groups, but I am aware of the long-term Saudi promotion of an extreme version of Islam that is often adopted by terrorist groups.”

Yemen is also facing a health crisis, with the charity Oxfam reporting 360,000 suspected cases of cholera in the three months since the outbreak started in April. [Continue reading…]

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Prospect of Trump tariff casts shadow over U.S. solar industry

Reuters reports: U.S. solar companies are snapping up cheap imported solar panels ahead of a trade decision by the Trump administration that could drive up costs and cloud the fortunes of one of the economy’s brightest stars.

Domestic consumers and businesses have been embracing solar energy at a furious pace – thanks to a big assist from China. Low-cost photovoltaic cells and panels made in China and other Asian countries have helped drive down costs by around 70% since 2010, enabling more Americans to go solar.

Installations in the United States last year hit a record. Jobs are mushrooming too. The domestic industry now employs more than 260,000 people, according to The Solar Foundation, most of them construction workers hammering panels on rooftops and erecting utility-scale solar plants in the nation’s blistering deserts.

But signs of a chill are already visible as the industry waits to see how President Donald Trump responds to a recent trade complaint lodged by a Georgia manufacturer named Suniva. The company has asked the administration effectively to double the price of imported solar panels so that U.S. factories can compete. About 95% of cells and panels sold in the U.S. last year were made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to SPV Market Research.

Trump has wide latitude to levy tariffs to protect domestic firms. His actions could determine whether sun-powered electricity can compete with fossil fuels to light the nation’s homes and businesses.

The White House would not comment on the solar trade case. But the administration has vowed to protect steelmakers and other U.S. manufacturers by penalizing “unfair” imports.

That has the solar industry bracing for the worst. Panic buying has sent spot prices for solar panels up as much as 20 percent in recent weeks as installers rush to lock up supplies ahead of potential tariffs.

Skittish U.S. energy customers are putting some solar projects on hold. Manufacturers are eyeing other markets to develop. And some investors are running for cover. Funding for large U.S. solar deals fell to $1.4 billion in the second quarter, down from $3.2 billion in the first quarter and $1.7 billion a year earlier, primarily due to concerns about the trade case, according to research firm Mercom Capital Group. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.

That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.

But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.

Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.

Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)

Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.

“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” Jeffrey Ostermayer of the Edison Electric Institute, the most prominent utility lobbying group, said in a statement.

The same group of investor-owned utilities is now poised to sway solar policy at the federal level. Brian McCormack, a former top executive at the Edison institute, is Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff. The Energy Department did not make Mr. McCormack available for an interview.

In April, Mr. Perry ordered an examination of how renewable energy may be hurting conventional sources like coal, oil and natural gas, a study that environmentalists worry could upend federal policies that have fostered the rapid spread of solar and wind power.

Charged with spearheading the study, due this summer, is Mr. McCormack.

“There’s no doubt these utilities are out to kill rooftop solar, and they’re succeeding,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group. “They’re now driving the agenda.” [Continue reading…]

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Alex Jones and other conservatives call for civil war against liberals

Newsweek reports: Would you go to war against your fellow Americans to show your support for President Donald Trump? For the last several months, that’s exactly what broadcaster Alex Jones—a favorite of the president—has been calling for.

In his radio show, on YouTube and on his Infowars website, Jones—who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like and who has pushed the notion that Sandy Hook was faked—has been announcing that the United States is on the verge of a bloody second civil war. Like the radio DJs in Rwanda, Jones has been egging on his conservative listeners and viewers—an estimated 2.7 million people monthly—to kill more liberal fellow citizens over their political differences.

Jones is hardly alone in promoting this scary, emerging narrative on the right. The theme gained momentum after the shooting at the congressional baseball game last month. The day before the attack, on June 13, right wing broadcaster Michael Savage, host of syndicated show The Savage Nation, warned that “there’s going to be a civil war” because of “what this left-wing is becoming in this country.” After the baseball field shooting the next day, he said that he “know[s] what’s coming, and it’s going to get worse.” Savage also said of the shooting that “this blood is on [Democrats’] hands.”

After the shooting, Newt Gingrich opined on Fox that “we are in a clear-cut cultural civil war.” Former GOP speechwriter Pat Buchanan wrote that the appointment of a special prosecutor and political street clashes presage a “deep state media coup” and that the nation is “approaching something of a civil war,” and it’s time for Trump to “burn down the Bastille.”

But few commentators can match the relentless hysteria and reach of Jones. His recent YouTube video titles telegraph the tone: “Get Ready For CIVIL WAR!” and “First Shots Fired in Second US Civil War! What Will You Do?” and “Will Trump Stop Democrats’ Plan for Violent Civil War?”

Jones’s followers have already turned broadcaster words into violent action. Last year, Edgar Maddison Welch drove from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to fire on a pizza restaurant Jones had been saying was a front for Democratic pedophiles and Satanists. Court records indicate he had been talking to his friends about Jones’s theories before he went on his mission. In 2014, a right-wing couple, self-described Infowars fans Jerad and Amanda Miller from Indiana, killed two police officers after posting screeds on Infowars. Jones later theorized that the shooting was a false flag intended to discredit the right. [Continue reading…]

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How White House threats condition Mueller’s reality

Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes write: What does the world look like today if you’re Robert Mueller?

You’ve got a huge, sprawling, immeasurably complicated job, and the President of the United States has just put you on notice of what you already have long suspected: You may not have much time.

A pair of stories published Thursday night by the New York Times and Washington Post announced that the White House is looking to “undercut” Mueller’s investigation and is “scouring” for information on potential conflicts of interest on the part of Mueller’s team. The stories describe a systematic effort to comb through the backgrounds of Mueller and his office in the hope of finding material damaging enough to merit firing Mueller, requesting the recusal of members of his team, or at the very least discrediting the independent investigation in the eyes of the public.

The White House is also examining the possible scope of the president’s pardon power and pushing the argument that the special counsel investigation should be sharply limited to exclude Trump’s finances. The attacks on Mueller and his office have been going on for a while now, but this new wave of hostility from the White House appears to have been instigated by concerns that Mueller’s probe will widen to include Trump’s business transactions—or that it already has. [Continue reading…]

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A veteran ICE agent, disillusioned with the Trump era, speaks out

Jonathan Blitzer writes: In March, two months after President Trump took office, I received a text message from a veteran agent at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I had been trying to find field agents willing to describe what life was like at the agency in the Trump era. This agent agreed to talk. Over the past four months, we have texted often and spoken on the phone several times. Some of our discussions have been about the specifics of new federal policies aimed at dramatically increasing the number of deportations. At other times, we’ve talked more broadly about how the culture at ice has shifted. In April, the agent texted me a screen shot of a page from the minutes of a recent meeting, during which a superior had said that it was “the most exciting time to be part of ice” in the agency’s history. The photo was sent without commentary—the agent just wanted someone on the outside to see it.

The agent, who has worked in federal immigration enforcement since the Clinton Administration, has been unsettled by the new order at ice. During the campaign, many rank-and-file agents publicly cheered Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants, and, since Inauguration Day, the Administration has explicitly encouraged them to pursue the undocumented as aggressively as possible. “We’re going to get sued,” the agent told me at one point. “You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.” At first, the agent spoke to me on the condition that I not publish anything about our conversations. But that has changed. Increasingly angry about the direction in which ICE is moving, the agent agreed last week to let me publish some of the details of our talks, as long as I didn’t include identifying information.

“We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order—that’s out the window,” the agent told me the other day. “I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.” [Continue reading…]

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We can oppose U.S. intervention, while telling the truth about Assad’s chemical attacks

Stephen Shalom writes: In late June, Seymour Hersh published an article in Die Welt claiming that the Assad government did not attack the town of Khan Sheikhoun with sarin on April 4. His argument aligns with a popular left narrative about American imperialism falsifying or exaggerating events in Syria to justify intervention and regime change.

For example, many commentators — Jonathan Cook, Uri Avnery, among others — have wondered why Bashar al-Assad would use chemical weapons when he was already winning the war. The attack seemed not only unnecessary but also likely to spark a harsh international response.

Soon after the Khan Sheikhoun bombing, the White House responded to these concerns. The short version appeared in a document released on April 11:

The Syrian regime maintains the capability and intent to use chemical weapons against the opposition to prevent the loss of territory deemed critical to its survival. We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure.

That same day, a senior administration official offered a longer version at a background press briefing, noting the Assad regime’s troop shortages and the danger opposition forces posed to an important airbase in Hama.

Especially given its source, this explanation demands more scrutiny, but the commentators who question Assad’s motives never address it. In fact, none even acknowledge its existence.

Indeed, as Anne Barnard reported, the sarin attack fits into Assad’s broader strategy. She writes that, since at least 2012, the Syrian government “has adopted a policy of seeking total victory by making life as miserable as possible for anyone living in areas outside its control.” These attacks are designed to let the opposition know that it remains at the regime’s mercy, that neither international law nor the international community cannot protect it, and that surrender is the only option.

Again, there may be good reasons to doubt Barnard’s analysis or her sources, but those who find it inexplicable that Assad would use chemical weapons have never responded to her argument. [Continue reading…]

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