FBI uncovered Russian bribery plot before Obama administration approved controversial nuclear deal with Moscow

The Hill reports: Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

The racketeering scheme was conducted “with the consent of higher level officials” in Russia who “shared the proceeds” from the kickbacks, one agent declared in an affidavit years later.

Rather than bring immediate charges in 2010, however, the Department of Justice (DOJ) continued investigating the matter for nearly four more years, essentially leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s presidency is bad for business — his own

NBC News reports: Donald Trump’s presidency is bad for business — his own. Unless his business is getting presidential business.

Conflict of interest concerns over the mix of presidential politics and his personal businesses have followed Trump ever since he announced his candidacy after gliding down the escalator of his namesake tower. And it’s been difficult for the public to get a clear view of the extent to which the two worlds have become blended. Even the former White House ethics director, who resigned in July, noted, “There’s an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency. And appearance matters as much as reality.”

A larger picture of that reality is now emerging, thanks to data gleaned from government reports, potential business partners and, most recently, newly released financial data from the U.K. – which, unlike the U.S., mandates that most private companies must publicly release its annual financial reports.

While some of the Trump brands show signs of duress, a select few — where politics and business are most thickly stirred — are seeing their revenue soar.

Last week’s release of 2016 financial reports for Trump’s luxury golf courses in Scotland offer a rare, detailed look at the Trump operation’s financial health. The iconic Turnberry resort, which he famously visited in the middle of the Brexit referendum, saw losses that doubled to $23 million in 2016 and revenue that fell by 16 percent, according to the documents.

Losses at Trump International Golf Links, north of Aberdeen, Scotland, also increased — by 28 percent to $18.4 million, the filings showed. Revenue fell by 12 percent. [Continue reading…]

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The mystery of Wilbur Ross’ missing billions

Forbes reports: Dressed in a blue suit and red tie, Donald Trump’s 79-year-old pick for Secretary of Commerce sat before a panel of senators for nearly four hours in January, deflecting dozens of questions with relative ease. When one legislator at the confirmation hearing asked Wilbur Ross how he would ensure that his official actions did not create conflicts of interest, given his vast personal holdings, Ross left little room for criticism. “I intend to be quite scrupulous about recusal and any topic where there is the slightest scintilla of doubt,” he said.

What he left unsaid, however, was that between the November election and January inauguration, he had quietly moved a chunk of assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off of his financial disclosure report—and therefore out of the public eye. Ross revealed the existence of those assets, and the timing of the transfer, when Forbes asked why his financial disclosure form listed fewer assets than he had previously told the magazine he owned.

The hidden assets raise questions about whether the Secretary of Commerce violated federal rules and whether his family owns billions in holdings that could create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

Federal law requires incoming cabinet members to disclose assets they currently own, as well as any that produced income during the current and previous calendar years, even if they no longer own the assets. Ross says he followed all rules. But how someone could apparently hold $2 billion in assets, without producing big income that would show up on a financial disclosure report, raises more questions than answers.

Three months before the 2016 election, Ross’ assistant described his portfolio to Forbes as a mix that would theoretically throw off plenty of cash: $1.3 billion of municipal bonds, $1.3 billion worth of interests in general and limited partnerships, $550 million of equities, $225 million of art, $180 million in cash and $120 million worth of real estate.

That adds up to $3.7 billion. Last year, Forbes asked for documentation to prove the existence of those assets, received nothing in return, and ultimately estimated Ross’ fortune at a more conservative $2.9 billion for its annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, published in October. This year, the Secretary of Commerce said he would dig up a breakdown of the assets he transferred into trusts, but he never sent anything. It is unclear whether he cited accurate figures either year. [Continue reading…]

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Malta car bomb kills Panama Papers journalist

The Guardian reports: The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her home.

Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device which blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field.

A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the Politico website as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. Her blogs were a thorn in the side of both the establishment and underworld figures that hold sway in Europe’s smallest member state. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s pick for NOAA chief causes a storm

Politico reports: As a top executive at AccuWeather, Barry Myers has pushed for limits on the kinds of products that the National Weather Service offers to the public, saying they offered unfair competition to his industry.

Now, President Donald Trump’s nomination of Myers to lead the weather service’s parent agency could allow him to make those kinds of restrictions mandatory — to the benefit of his family-run forecasting company.

The AccuWeather CEO’s nomination to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is stirring criticism from people who worry he would hobble the weather service, which provoked an industry backlash more than a decade ago by making hour-by-hour forecasts, cellphone alerts and other consumer-friendly data widely available online. A bill that Myers supported 12 years ago, sponsored by then-Sen. Rick Santorum, would have prohibited the agency from competing with private providers in most circumstances.

Myers, who has served as a NOAA adviser, has more recently spoken of cooperation with the agency, including industry’s advocacy for Congress to fund its budget. But his critics expressed misgivings nonetheless.

“I fear that he’ll do irreparable harm to an agency whose primary mission is to save lives,” said Daniel Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, which strongly opposes Myers’ nomination. “There seems to be a huge conflict of interest considering his business background and belief system.” [Continue reading…]

It seems long overdue that use of the phrase “Trump administration” be abandoned. “Donald Trump’s den of thieves” would be a more accurate term for describing this plutocracy.

Trump’s choices do not raise the risk of conflicts of interest; on the contrary he displays a strong preference for individuals whose corrupt nature mirrors his own.

Corruption is the glue that holds this enterprise together.

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Self-aggrandizing Interior Secretary Zinke gives his regal trappings to his government post

The Washington Post reports: At the Interior Department’s headquarters in downtown Washington, Secretary Ryan Zinke has revived an arcane military ritual that no one can remember ever happening in the federal government.

A security staffer takes the elevator to the seventh floor, climbs the stairs to the roof and hoists a special secretarial flag whenever Zinke enters the building. When the secretary goes home for the day or travels, the flag — a blue banner emblazoned with the agency’s bison seal flanked by seven white stars representing the Interior bureaus — comes down.  

In Zinke’s absence, the ritual is repeated to raise an equally obscure flag for Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.

Responding this week to questions from The Washington Post, a spokeswoman for Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, defended the Navy flag-flying tradition as “a major sign of transparency.”

“Ryan Zinke is proud and honored to lead the Department of the Interior, and is restoring honor and tradition to the department, whether it’s flying the flag when he is in garrison or restoring traditional access to public lands,” press secretary Heather Swift said in an email.

Zinke, a Stetson-wearing former Montana congressman who has cultivated an image as a rugged outdoorsman, has come under a harsh spotlight in recent weeks for behavior criticized as extravagant for a public official. The agency’s inspector general opened an investigation after he ran up bills for travel on chartered jets and mixed business with political appearances, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Lola. It’s one of five probes underway of Cabinet secretaries’ travel.

Zinke upset some of the 70,000 employees at the agency that manages public lands by stating that 30 percent of the workers are “not loyal to the flag” in a speech to oil and gas executives. It is unclear whether the reference was literal or figurative.

Zinke rode to work on horseback on his first day in office and displays animal heads on his wood-paneled office walls. For a while, he kept a glass-case display of hunting knives but was asked to remove them because of security risks, according to people familiar with the decision.

He has commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them to give to staff and visitors, but the cost to taxpayers is unclear. Zinke’s predecessors and some other Cabinet secretaries have coins bearing agency seals, but not personalized ones.

The flag ritual is unique in President Trump’s administration. The White House does not raise the presidential flag when Trump alights at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. There is no Defense secretary’s flag atop the Pentagon. [Continue reading…]

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Background check chief has ‘never seen’ mistakes and omissions at level of Jared Kushner forms

CNN reports: The head of a government bureau responsible for clearing background checks told lawmakers Wednesday he has “never seen that level of mistakes” when asked about numerous omissions in Jared Kushner’s security clearance application.

Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, a newly created division within the Office of Personnel Management, made the comment in response to a question during a House subcommittee oversight hearing.

Democrats have called on the White House to revoke security clearances granted to Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Ivanka Trump over reports of their use of personal email accounts and Kushner’s multiple updates to his security clearance questionnaire, known as SF-86, for failing initially to include meeting with foreign officials. [Continue reading…]

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Harvey Weinstein and the Trump children show why the U.S. shouldn’t have elected prosecutors

Annalisa Merelli writes: Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr is a Democrat who has been New York County’s chief prosecutor since 2008. He is also, at the moment, a very controversial figure.

On Oct. 4, the New Yorker (paywall) revealed that Vance had ordered his prosecutors to drop an investigation into Donald Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Jr, for allegedly inflating the worth of a property in New York to prospective buyers. Just a few days later, the same magazine (paywall) revealed that he had decided not to press sexual abuse charges against Harvey Weinstein, the high-powered Hollywood producer, after listening to a police tape of Weinstein aggressively propositioning a model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Weinstein has now been accused of sexual harassment and rape by a host of women.

What links these two cases is that in both of them, Vance received hefty campaign donations from lawyers for the people involved. Donald Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, had given $25,000 to Vance’s campaign, the New Yorker reported. Vance had returned the money after Kasowitz asked him to intercede on the Trump children’s behalf—as is customary with people involved in investigations. But a few months after deciding not to prosecute them, Vance accepted another, larger donation and fundraising help from Kasowitz, worth a total of about $50,000. Similarly, a few months after Vance decided to drop the case against Weinstein, the producer’s attorney, David Boies, donated $10,000 to the prosecutor’s campaign.

In both cases, naturally, Vance denies that his office’s decision not to prosecute had anything to do with campaign donations. But even if this is true, it’s hard for him or any other US district attorney to dispel the taint of corruption in cases like these. It’s widely understood that in politics, votes cost money and money usually comes attached to requests for favors. That undermines trust in the justice system. And this is a uniquely American problem, as the US is the only country in the world that elects prosecutors by popular vote. [Continue reading…]

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Traveling in style: Trump’s White House wrestles with Cabinet costs

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration, one of the wealthiest in modern U.S. history, is facing widening criticism over travel expenditures among some of the billionaires, budget hawks and business executives who head federal agencies.

Inspectors general have opened at least five investigations into charter or military flights by Cabinet officials amounting to millions in federal spending. Their decisions to veer away from cheaper commercial flights have led to criticism from Democrats in Congress and government accountability groups about a culture of entitlement in Trump’s administration.

New examples of questioned expenditures include those of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who on Friday turned over his travel records under pressure from House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.). Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces an expanding investigation into his travel by private jet.

The drumbeat of controversy over Cabinet travel threatens to undermine a core pillar of Trump’s relationship with his base — his promise to “drain the swamp” of elite Washington, rein in waste and represent the working class. [Continue reading…]

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The swamp rises around an administration that promised to drain it

Anne Gearan writes: The image of a top government official, a Washington fat cat, blowing taxpayer money to pay for private chartered airplanes is exactly what President Trump seemed to have in mind when he promised voters he would “drain the swamp.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of expensive private jets for routine government travel lost him his job Friday when the White House announced the president had accepted his resignation after days of controversy.

But beyond the eye-roll irony of the scandal enveloping a Republican politician who promoted himself as a penny-pinching budget hawk, Price is not the only example of waste, carelessness or entitlement in an administration that pledged to speak for the little guy.

At least four other Cabinet officials have taken unusual chartered or military air trips on the public dime. There is also the matter of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 secure phone booth and the unauthorized use of private email by White House adviser Jared Kushner and others — a development that follows a campaign where Trump lambasted Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email system when serving as secretary of state. [Continue reading…]

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Trump kids’ ski vacation incurs over $300,000 in security costs

CBS News reports: The annual Aspen ski vacation taken in March by President Trump’s children, Ivanka and Eric Trump, and their families, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, left taxpayers on the hook for security costs of at least $330,000, CBS News has learned.

Records obtained by CBS News through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent $329,561 for the week-long vacation. Housing costs were $195,700 at hotels across town.

The Secret Service also spent $26,000 on rental vehicles. Equipment costs were close to $22,000 — to accompany the family on the slopes, the Secret Service had to buy lift tickets and rent skis and boots. They also rented bikes and bought other unidentified items at outfitting supplier REI and Backcountry.com. [Continue reading…]

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VA chief took in Wimbledon, river cruise on European work trip; wife’s expenses covered by taxpayers

The Washington Post reports: Nearly three days into a trip to Europe this past July, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and taken a cruise on the Thames.

The 10-day trip was not entirely a vacation. Shulkin was in Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues.

Yet he and his wife spent about half their time sightseeing, including shopping and touring historic sites, according to an itinerary obtained by The Washington Post and confirmed by a U.S. official familiar with their activities.

Shulkin’s six-person traveling party included his acting undersecretary of health and her husband, his chief of staff and another aide, the itinerary says. They were accompanied by a security detail of as many as six people.

The agency said Friday that the government paid airfare for Merle Bari, Shulkin’s wife, because she was traveling on “approved invitational orders.” The government also provided a per diem for her meals, the agency said.

While some Trump administration Cabinet members have faced scrutiny over their use of private and government jets, Shulkin traveled on a commercial flight, seated in coach on at least one leg.

The European visit, however, puts a focus on the mixing of business and leisure during these trips, which can come at great taxpayer expense. Shulkin’s immediate predecessor, Robert McDonald, took no foreign work trips, according to a former VA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Shulkin’s trip came less than two weeks after he signed a memo instructing top VA staffers to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.” [Continue reading…]

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HHS Secretary Tom Price resigns after criticism for taking charter flights at taxpayer expense

The Washington Post reports: Tom Price, President Trump’s embattled health and human services secretary, resigned Friday amid sharp criticism of his extensive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights, the White House said.

The announcement came shortly after Trump told reporters he considered Price a “fine man” but that he “didn’t like the optics” and planned to make a decision by the end of the day.

“I’m not happy, I can tell you that. I’m not happy,” Trump said as prepared to leave the White House en route to his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

In a statement, the White House said Trump would designate Don J. Wright as acting secretary. Wright currently serves as the deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. [Continue reading…]

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Trump embarrassed by his own appointees misusing taxpayers’ money

The New York Times reports: After being rebuked by President Trump for racking up at least $400,000 in travel on chartered flights, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said on Thursday that he would pay back taxpayers for his part of the bill and stop flying on private jets.

But that does not mean his job is safe.

Mr. Trump has grown incensed by Mr. Price’s liberal renting of expensive planes, which he views as undercutting his drain-the-swamp campaign message, according to several administration officials with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking. Through intermediaries and the media, Mr. Trump has let it be known that offering reimbursement as repentance was no guarantee that Mr. Price would keep his job.

On Thursday, Mr. Price tried anyway.

“I look forward to gaining, regaining the trust that the American people, some of the American people, may have lost in the activities that I took,” Mr. Price said in an appearance on “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Fox News.

Mr. Price called Mr. Trump “a remarkable leader,” and said the president had expressed displeasure to him “very clearly.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chartered a flight from Las Vegas to near his home in Montana this summer aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives, internal documents show.

The flight, along with private flights during a trip to the Virgin Islands, could propel Zinke into the growing debate over the costs of travel by Cabinet secretaries, some of whom have chosen expensive charter jets and military planes at high expense to taxpayers over the cheaper option of flying commercial.

In June, Zinke and his staffers took a four-hour flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Mont., aboard a private plane owned by the executives of a Wyoming oil-and-gas exploration firm, aviation and business records show.

The landing in Kalispell put Zinke a short drive from his home in Whitefish, Mont., where he spent the night, documents show.

The flight cost taxpayers $12,375, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman. Commercial airlines run daily flights between the two airports and charge as little as $300. [Continue reading…]

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Trump could save more than $1 billion under his new tax plan

The New York Times reports: President Trump could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion, including saving tens of millions of dollars in a single year, under his proposed tax changes, a New York Times analysis has found.

On Wednesday, the White House announced a sweeping plan to cut a variety of taxes that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. The estimate of Mr. Trump’s savings is based in part on information from his 2005 federal tax return. The analysis compares what his tax burden would be under current law with what it would be under the proposal.

Mr. Trump’s 2005 return is the most recent available publicly and was released in March by David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times reporter. The Times’s figure also relies on an estimate of Mr. Trump’s net worth, calculated by the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index to be $2.86 billion.

“I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. “In fact, very, very strongly, as you see, I think there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.”

In fact, high-income earners like Mr. Trump are likely to benefit disproportionately if the White House proposal becomes law. The estimates, calculated with the help of Robert Willens, an accounting expert, and Stephen Breitstone, a tax lawyer, provide a view into precisely how. [Continue reading…]

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Price took military jets to Europe, Asia for over $500K

Politico reports: The White House approved the use of military aircraft for multi-national trips by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Africa and Europe this spring, and to Asia in the summer, at a cost of more than $500,000 to taxpayers.

The overseas trips bring the total cost to taxpayers of Price’s travels to more than $1 million since May, according to a POLITICO review.

Price pledged on Thursday to reimburse the government for the cost of his own seat on his domestic trips using private aircraft – reportedly around $52,000 — but that would not include the cost of the military flights.

Price’s wife, Betty, accompanied him on the military flights, while other members of the secretary’s delegation flew commercially to Europe. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. denies request for Puerto Rico shipping waiver

Reuters reports: The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, saying it would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports.

The Jones Act limits shipping between coasts to U.S. flagged vessels. However, in the wake of brutal storms, the government has occasionally issued temporary waivers to allow the use of cheaper, tax free, or more readily available foreign flagged ships.

The Department of Homeland Security, which waived the act after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, did not agree an exemption would help this time.

On Monday, U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez and seven other representatives asked Elaine Duke, acting head of Homeland Security, to waive the nearly 100-year-old shipping law for a year to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria.Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, an office of Homeland Security, said in a statement that an assessment by the agency showed there was “sufficient capacity” of U.S.-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.

“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” Moore said.

The government’s rationale for a waiver after the storms hit Texas, Louisiana and Florida was to ease movement of fuel to places along the U.S. East Coast and make up for temporary outages of high capacity pipelines.

“The situation in Puerto Rico is much different,” Moore said in the statement, adding that most of the humanitarian effort would be carried out with barges, which make up a large portion of the U.S. flagged cargo fleet.

Puerto Rico has long railed against the Jones Act, saying it makes the cost of imported basic commodities, such as food, clothing and fuel, more expensive.

“Our dependence on fossil fuel imports by sea is hampering the restoration of services,” said Juan Declet-Barreto, an energy expert at the nonprofit group the Union of Concerned Scientists. The refusal to allow the waiver “is raising fears on the island that they are going to be left behind in this disaster.” [Continue reading…]

Nelson A. Denis writes: After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens.

Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.

Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer.

The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer.

Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act. Moreover, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.

This is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market. The island is the fifth-largest market in the world for American products, and there are more Walmarts and Walgreens per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere else on the planet. [Continue reading…]

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Puerto Rican golf resort that Trump promised to save (but so didn’t)

In October 2016, BuzzFeed reported: Donald Trump claimed he had a plan to save a failing Puerto Rican golf resort: He would streamline its budget and attract new members. Those promises, repeated for years, helped the club sell a raft of government-backed bonds that it had very little chance of repaying.

Trump collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from the resort, but he never did oversee the golf course’s daily operations. He didn’t attract more than a handful of new members or reduce its multi-million dollar annual losses. Its costly, self-dealing contracts remained in place. In late 2011, six months after selling the bonds, the club defaulted, leaving Puerto Rican taxpayers — already suffering through a major economic crisis — on the hook for as much as $32.7 million, according to an analysis by Securities Litigation and Consulting Group.

The Trump family distanced itself from the project’s failure, claiming that the real estate developer merely licensed his name to the property. But a review of hundreds of pages of corporate and legal filings, undertaken by BuzzFeed News, shows that Trump promised the club’s investors and the government of Puerto Rico something entirely different. [Continue reading…]

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Zinke says 30 percent of Interior ‘crew’ are not ‘loyal to the flag,’ as he promotes oil drilling and logging on public lands

The Associated Press reports: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Monday that nearly one-third of employees at his department are not loyal to him and President Donald Trump, adding that he is working to change the department’s regulatory culture to be more business friendly.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said he knew when he took over the 70,000-employee department in March that, “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag.”

In a speech to an oil industry group, Zinke compared Interior to a pirate ship that captures “a prized ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate row over” to finish the mission.

“We do have good people” at Interior, he said, “but the direction has to be clear and you’ve got to hold people accountable.”

Zinke’s comments echo complaints by some White House allies that a permanent, “deep state” in Washington has sabotaged Trump’s efforts to remake the government.

Zinke did not go that far, but he lamented a government culture that prizes analysis over action, saying: “There’s too many ways in the present process for someone who doesn’t want to get (a regulatory action) done to put it a holding pattern.”

To remedy that, Zinke said he is pursuing a major reorganization that would push much of the agency’s decision-making outside Washington and move several agencies, including the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management, to undetermined Western states.

The moves follow military strategy, Zinke said: “Push your generals where the fight is.”

While details remain largely under wraps, Zinke said he was excited.

“It’s going to be huge,” he said in a speech to the National Petroleum Council, an advisory committee that includes leaders of the oil and gas industry. “I really can’t change the culture without changing the structure.”

Besides moving employees, Zinke said he wants to speed up permits for oil drilling, logging and other energy development that now can take years. [Continue reading…]

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