Thursday, May 18, 2017

Devin Nunes is still reviewing intelligence on Russia after recusing himself

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Rep. Devin Nunes of California is reportedly continuing to review intelligence on Russia, despite having recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee's investigation.
According to sources on the committee cited in a CNN reportpublished Thursday, Nunes was reported to have taken a trip to the CIA this week to review the intelligence.
"He recused himself, so he can set those limits," said Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, after being asked if he was concerned about Nunes' actions.
"I don't talk about intelligence," Nunes said on Thursday, after being asked why he was still involving himself in the inquiry, according to CNN.
As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes still has duties that require him to review classified intelligence, a senior House Republican aide said to CNN.
Critics said Nunes, who was a member of President Donald Trump's transition team, complicated the investigation into the alleged ties between Russia and Trump insiders after making an unexpected trip to the White House in March. 

Nunes was scorned by Republicans and Democrats after bypassing his own committee and briefing the Trump administration on classified details that Trump later said "somewhat vindicated" his unproven claims that the Obama administration wiretapped his campaign.
"I have not seen anything like it and it's very disturbing," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona in a March interview on NBC
Nunes stoked further criticism after canceling an open intelligence committee hearing with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. 
In April, Nunes recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Whistleblowers, Moral Injury, and Endless War

Was Chelsea Manning Motivated By Moral Injury?

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By Peter Van Buren

“My guilt will never go away,” former Marine Matthew Hoh explained to me. “There is a significant portion of me that doesn't believe it should be allowed to go away, that this pain is fair.”
If America accepts the idea of fighting endless wars, it will have to accept something else as well: that the costs of war are similarly endless. I’m thinking about the trillions of dollars, the million or more “enemy” dead (a striking percentage of them civilians), the tens of thousands of American combat casualties, those 20 veteran suicides each day, and the diminished lives of those who survive all of that. There’s that pain, carried by an unknown number of women and men, that won’t disappear, ever, and that goes by the label “moral injury.”

The Lasting Pain of War
When I started Hooper’s War, a novel about the end of World War II in the Pacific, I had in mind just that pain. I was thinking -- couldn’t stop thinking, in fact -- about what really happens to people in war, combatants and civilians alike. The need to tell that story grew in large part out of my own experiences in Iraq, where I spent a year embedded with a combat unit as a U.S. State Department employee, and where I witnessed, among so many other horrors, two soldier suicides.
The new book began one day when Facebook retrieved photos of Iraqi children I had posted years ago, with a cheery “See Your Memories” caption on them. Oh yes, I remembered. Then, on the news, I began seeing places in Iraq familiar to me, but this time being overrun by Islamic State militants or later being re-retaken with the help of another generation of young Americans. And I kept running into people who’d been involved in my war and were all too ready to share too many drinks and tell me too much about what I was already up all too many nights thinking about.
As these experiences morphed first into nightmares and then into the basis for research, I found myself speaking with more veterans of more wars who continued to suffer in ways they had a hard time describing, but which they wrestled with everyday. I realized that I understood them, even as they seemed to be trying to put their feelings into words for the first time. Many of them described how they had entered the battle zones convinced that "we're the good guys," and then had to live with the depth of guilt and shame that followed when that sense didn’t survive the test of events.
Sometimes they were remarkably articulate, sometimes anything but. It seemed not to matter which war we were talking about -- or whether I was reading a handwritten diary from the Korean War, an oral history of the Pacific War, or an old bestseller about a conflict ironically labeled "the Good War." The story always seemed to be the same: decisions made in seconds that lasted lifetimes, including the uncomfortable balancing of morality and expediency in situations in which a soldier might believe horrific acts like torture could save lives or had to accept civilian casualties in pursuit of military objectives. In war, you were always living in a world in which no action seemed ideal and yet avoiding acting was often inconceivable.
PTSD and Moral Injury
Matthew Hoh, that former Marine, now a veterans advocate, introduced me to the phrase “moral injury,” though the term is usually attributed to clinical psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. He coined it in 1991 while working for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
We are, of course, beings with a complex sense of right and wrong, which can be messed with in disastrous ways. There are boundaries inside us that can’t be crossed without a great price being paid. Though the term moral injury is fairly new, especially outside military circles, the idea is as old as war. When people sent into conflict find their sense of right and wrong tested, when they violate deeply held convictions by doing something (such as killing a civilian in error) or failing to do something (such as not reporting a war crime), they suffer an injury to their core being.
Examples of this phenomenon are relatively commonplace in popular culture. Think of scenes from Tim O’Brien’s iconic Vietnam War book, The Things They CarriedWilliam Manchester’s World War II odyssey, Goodbye Darkness, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, or films like William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives and Oliver Stone's Platoon.
You can find similar examples as far back as the Iliad and as recently as late last night. Lisa Ling, for instance, was a former Air Force technical sergeant who worked in America’s armed drone program before turning whistleblower.  She was perhaps typical when she told the makers of the documentary film National Bird that, in helping carry out drone strikes which killed people across the globe by remote control, “I lost part of my humanity.”
Once upon a time, society expressed skepticism or worse toward such formulations, calling those who emerged visibly suffering from the acts of war “cowards” or dismissing them as fakes and frauds. Yet today post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a widely acknowledged condition that can be identified by MRI tests.
PTSD and moral injury often occur together.  “I think having both PTSD and moral injury are the normal things for us,” Ling says of those in the drone program. Moral injury, however, takes place at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, and so is, in a sense, all in someone's head. When experiencing moral injury, a person wields guilt and/or shame as a self-inflicted penalty for a choice made. PTSD is more physical, more fear-based, and often a more direct response to an event or events witnessed in war.
Think of it this way: PTSD is more likely to result from seeing something terrible, moral injury from doing something terrible.
Civilians, Too
Moral injury doesn’t just affect soldiers, but civilians, too. Noncombatants are not just victims or targets, but often complex participants in war. This reality led me, as my book developed, to interview now-elderly Japanese who had experienced World War II as children. They described the horrific choices they faced, even at a young age. In a wartime landscape of hunger, survival often depended on small, grim acts that would never be forgotten.
Sometimes, I sensed in talking to them, as in interviewing former soldiers, that the psychic injuries of wartime don’t end until the sufferers do. Moral injury turns out to be a debt that often can never be repaid.

 Those survivors of the end of the war in Japan who got the food necessary to live had to pay a price for knowing what happened to those who didn’t. In a landscape ravaged by war, just because something wasn’t your fault doesn’t mean it won’t be your responsibility. An act as simple as which of her children a mother offered a disappearing supply of water to first could mean the difference between life and death. And though, in truth, it might have been impossible in such circumstances and at such an age to know that you were responsible for the death of your sister or brother, 70 years later you might still be thinking about it with an almost unbearable sense of guilt.
And here’s a small footnote: Did you know that it’s possible to sit quietly on a Tokyo park bench in 2017, perfectly aware of whose distant relatives and countrymen dropped the bombs that took away the water that forced that mother to make that decision, and still shamefully continue taking notes, saying nothing as you witness someone else’s breakdown?
The Trip Back
What help can there be for something so human?
There are, of course, the bad answers, all too often including opioids and alcohol. But sufferers soon learn that such substances just send the pain off to ambush you at another moment, and yet, as many told me, you may still look forward to the morning’s first throat-burning shot of something strong. Drinking and drugs have a way, however temporarily, of wiping out hours of pain that may stretch all the way back to the 1940s. You drink in the dark places, even after you understand that in the darkness you can see too much.
Tragically, suicide is never far from moral injury. The soul isn't that big a place.
One former soldier told me he’s never forgiven his neighbor for talking him out of going into the garage with his rifle. Another said the question wasn't why he might commit suicide, but why he hadn't. Someone I met knows vets who have a “designated driver,” a keeper not of the car keys but of their guns during emotional rough patches.
The Department of Veterans Affairs counts a stunning average of 20 veteran suicides a day in America. About 65% of those are individuals 50 years old or older with little or no exposure to the country’s twenty-first-century conflicts. No one tracks the suicide rate for civilians who survive war, but it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t high as well. The cause of all those self-inflicted deaths can’t, of course, be traced to any one thing, but the pain that grows out of moral injury is patient. 
For such sufferers, however, progress is being made, even if the trip back is as complex as the individual. The Department of Veterans Affairs now acknowledges moral injury and its effects, and in 2014 Syracuse University created the Moral Injury Project to bring together vets, doctors, and chaplains to work on how to deal with it. In the meantime, psychologists are developing diagnostic assessment tools for what some call “soul repair.”
One effective path back seems to be through helping patients sort out just what happened to them and, when it comes to remembered transgressions, what part of those may be their own responsibility (though not necessarily their own fault). What doesn't work, according to Matthew Hoh, is trying to convince veterans who view themselves as damaged that, in the present American manner, they are really heroes.
Others suffering moral injury may try to deal with it by seeking forgiveness.
Lisa Ling, for example, traveled to Afghanistan, with a desire to truly grasp her role in a drone program that regularly killed its victims from thousands of miles away. To her surprise, during an encounter with the relatives of some civilian victims of such drone strikes, they forgave her. “I didn’t ask for forgiveness,” Ling told me, referring to what she had done in the drone program, “because what I did was unforgivable.”
Killing by remote control requires many hands. Ling worked on databases and IT networking. Analysts studied the information in those databases to recommend humans to target. Sensor operators manipulated lasers to pinpoint where a drone pilot would eventually slam his missile home for the kill.
“Like all of us,” she added, “I spent time on the mission floor, or at briefings where I saw and heard devastating things, or blatant lies, but to actually connect my individual work to single events wasn’t possible due to the diffusion of responsibility. For sensor operators, it is more like stepping on ants. For analysts, they get to know people over time. As watchers and listeners they describe an intimacy that comes with predictably knowing their family patterns. Kissing the kids, taking children to school, and then seeing these same people die.”
Moral Injury and Whistleblowers
Another way back is for the sufferer to try to rebalance the internal scales a little by making amends of some sort. In the case of moral injury, this can often mean drawing a line between who one was then and who one might be now. Think of it as an attempt to re-inscribe those internal borders that were transgressed so long ago.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, the connections between moral injury and whistleblowing, like those between moral injury and suicide, appear to run deep.
For example, Iraq War whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s decision to leak video of civilian deaths caused by members of the U.S. military may have been her version of amends, driven by guilt over silently witnessing war crimes. Among the acts she saw, for instance, was a raid on a printing facility that had been billed as an al-Qaeda location but wasn’t. The U.S. military had, in fact, been tricked into shutting down the work of political opponents of Iraq’s then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Until Manning finally tells her story, this remains speculative, but I was at the same forward operating base in Iraq as she was and know what happened and how it affected me, as well as the others around us.
Whistleblowers (and I was one of them) talk of conscience, of a realization that we were part of something that was wrong. Jonathan Shay suggests that the failure of moral agency does not have to rest with the individual alone. It can involve witnessing a betrayal of “what’s right” by a person in legitimate authority.
That part of moral injury could help explain one of the most significant whistleblowers of our time. In talking about his reasons for blowing the whistle, Edward Snowden invoked questions of right and wrong when it came to the actions of senior American government officials. It would be a worthy question to put to Snowden: How much guilt and shame -- the hallmarks of moral injury -- do you retain from having been part of the surveillance state, and how much was your whistleblowing driven by trying to rid yourself of it?
After all, for those suffering from moral injury, the goal is always the same: to somehow reclaim the good parts of oneself and to accept -- but not be eternally defined by -- what one did or didn’t do.
I know, because for me, this is so much more than fiction.
My War at Home
"You mean that Vietnam helicopter thing?" A well-meaning family doctor asked me this when I got back from Iraq in 2010, referring to the way some vets react to the sound of a helicopter, sending them “back to the jungle.” No, no, far more than that, I responded, and told him a little about my sorry role in administering reconstruction projects in Iraq and how it left me more interested in vodka than my family. That was my own personal taste of moral injury, of a deeply felt failure to accomplish any of the good I'd hoped to do, let down by senior leaders I once believed in. It’s why I tell the story in Hooper’s War in reverse order, opening with a broken Nate Hooper in his late eighties finally finding a form of redemption for the events of a few weeks at war when he was 18. By moving toward an innocent boy as far away in rural Ohio as one can be from war, I felt I was working through my own experience of the damage war causes deep inside the self.
In tallying the costs of war, what’s the price of a quick death versus a slow one? A soldier who leaves his brains on the wall in the den two decades after his war ended or one whose body remains untouched but who left his mind 10,000 miles away?
The price of endless war is beyond calculation. As our wars continue to morph and roll on, the costs -- financial, emotional, and in blood -- only pile up as the men and women who have been welcomed home as if it were all over continue to be torn apart.  The nasty conclusion on the scales of moral injury: that our endless conflicts may indeed have left our society, one that just can’t stop itself from making war, among the casualties.

The deputy attorney general just threw more cold water on the White House's explanation for Comey's firing

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By Natasha Bertrand

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told senators in a closed-door briefing Thursday that he knew FBI Director James Comey would be fired before he wrote a memo outlining his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, a top Democratic senator said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told reporters gathered outside the briefing room that Rosenstein had "acknowledged that he learned Comey would be removed prior to him writing his memo," despite the White House initially insisting that Trump fired Comey on Rosenstein's recommendation.
Trump fired Comey on May 9.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters that he did not think Rosenstein was pressured to write the memo, but he said Rosenstein told the senators that he knew the day before Comey was fired that Trump intended to dismiss him.
That conflicts with White House press secretary Sean Spicer's explanation in the immediate aftermath of Comey's firing that it "was all" Rosenstein's idea.
"This was a DOJ decision," Spicer told reporters on May 9, referring to the Department of Justice. White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the next day that the letters Trump received on Tuesday outlining "the basic atrocities" Comey committed "in circumventing the chain of command of the Department of Justice" persuaded him to fire the director.
On May 10, Vice President Mike Pence also said Trump had based his decision on Rosenstein's recommendation.
That explanation quickly unraveled, however, as reports surfaced that Trump decided he would fire Comey nearly a week before Rosenstein wrote the memo.
In an interview with NBC's Lester Holt on May 11, Trump said he was going to fire Comey "regardless" of the recommendations of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He called Comey "a showboat" and "a grandstander" and said he fired the director because the FBI was in "turmoil." (Acting Director Andrew McCabe denied that the bureau had lost faith in Comey.)
During a press conference that day, however, Trump appeared to fall back on the White House's talking point that he had fired Comey at Rosenstein's recommendation.
Rosenstein reportedly threatened to resign — after two weeks on the job — because he was made to be the administration's scapegoat. The Justice Department denied that Rosenstein had made the threat, but the White House ultimately shifted the responsibility off Rosenstein.
"After watching Director Comey's testimony last Wednesday, the president was strongly inclined to remove him," the White House said on May 11 as part of what it said was a timeline of the president's decision-making process.
Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Justice Department who has been critical of Trump, tweeted on Thursday that Rosenstein's admission was "terrible" because it showed that he "completely compromised DOJ's independence & his integrity."
"A real blow to the department," Miller said, before questioning whether Rosenstein knew when he agreed to write the memo that Trump had asked Comey to end the investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. (Comey reportedly wrote a memo about the incident, which he shared with top FBI officials.)
Susan Hennessey, a former lawyer for the National Security Agency, agreed that Rosenstein's admission was terrible but said it was "a good sign he acknowledged it directly in congressional testimony and did not decline to answer or otherwise obfuscate."

Massachusetts Let Spectra Energy Secretly Edit its Pollution Permit in Atlantic Bridge Gas Project

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By Itai Vardi

Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project. 
According to emails obtained by DeSmog through an open records request, this privilege of reviewing and editing the draft approval was granted exclusively to Spectra and not to the general public.   

Editing Compressor Project’s Draft Pollution Permit 

As part of the project, a planned expansion of Spectra’s Algonquin pipeline through the northeast U.S., the company intends to build a new gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Late last year, Spectra was purchased by Canadian energy giant, Enbridge. 
Since the compressor station will emit various pollutants, it requires environmental permits from state authorities. Spectra submitted an air quality application to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in October 2015. 
Emails show that within a few months, state officials had already drafted a preliminary permit, or “Plan Approval,” of the application.
Then, in February 2016, the DEP’s Permitting Chief for the Southeast Region, Thomas Cushing, sent the draft for editing to David Cotter of Trinity Consultants, Spectra’s air pollution contractor in the project. Cushing wrote, “David, [A]s discussed, I attached a rough draft of the Algonquin approval for your review and comment.”
At that point, the draft was already written on the DEP’s official letterhead and addressed to Spectra’s Houston headquarters.   
Cotter returned the draft to Cushing in early April 2016, after revising it in numerous places using Microsoft Word’s track changes tool. In his edits, Cotter changed text, deleted several words and data, and inserted comments. 
Thank you for offering us the opportunity to provide comment on the preliminary draft of the Weymouth permit,” Cotter wrote to DEP’s Cushing. “Based on your responses to our recommended edits and changes the next version of the draft permit will be forwarded to Spectra for review. We look forward to working with you as we move forward to the final permit.”
Cushing wrote back to Cotter, saying: “I took a quick read and can accept most changes, but some I can’t. Can I call Friday and discuss?”

Early Draft “will not be provided to the public” 

In late April Cotter provided an update to Kate Brown, Spectra’s consulting scientist in the project, saying that Cushing will send soon the draft for Spectra’s review and comment. “Note that this is a client review copy and will not be provided to the public,” Cotter assured Brown. 

On June 17, 2016, DEP’s Cushing finally sent the draft approval to Brown and Ralph Child, an attorney for Mintz Levin, a firm providing legal and permitting services to Spectra in the project. “Please provide comment as appropriate,” Cushing wrote. “Feel free to call me to discuss.” 
Brown sent Spectra’s edits on the document back to Cushing in December, writing: “Hi Tom, [A]ttached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, incorporating language as discussed in our meeting last week.” As Cotter had done previously, Brown changed and deleted text, and inserted comments.
Cushing allowed Spectra one more round of edits in January this year. Spectra’s Brown wrote to him on January 13: “Hi Tom – Attached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, including all Algonquin comments on the plan approval, to date, and incorporating the additional information you requested when we last spoke on 12/29/16.” 
Cushing also asked Spectra to resubmit a modified application for the permit.  

What the Public Didn’t See in the Draft Permit

On March 30 this year, the DEP published on its website the draft Plan Approval, addressed to Spectra’s corporate vice president of field operation. Due to the contentious nature of the project, the DEP allowed for a month-long public comment period on the draft before deciding on a final permit. 
Comparing Cushing’s original draft approval document to the Spectra-revised and final one reveals the DEP had accepted many of the company’s edits. For example, Spectra increased the threshold for what will be considered a leak from a pipe seal, from Cushing’s original 2,000 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to 10,000 ppmv. 
Spectra also removed from the original draft a requirement for the station’s initial compliance testing for sulfur dioxide (SO2), and PM10, which refers to small particulate matter. Both were edited out of the draft approval published online.

Following the publication of the draft approval, the DEP received many public comments in opposition to the draft permit. These include a letter by 13 Massachusetts lawmakers who cite various health and safety hazards to the many residents living close to the station, as well as the project’s contradiction to the state’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Spectra Asks for Exemptions from Emission Standards

Spectra apparently also benefitted from the constant phone communication with Cushing, the state official. Emails show that Cushing originally planned to include the station’s separator vessel and condensate storage tanks as individual emission units subject to the state’s pollution standards. 
But following Spectra’s request to include these as fugitive emissions exempt from individual emission standards, Cushing seems to have changed his mind. 
Tom was fine with us wanting to include the tanks as fugitives and asked that we send him an email containing a description on how the tanks operate along with our reasoning on why they should be included as fugitives so that he could review,” Cotter reported to Spectra in April 2016.  
These revelations come shortly after Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton promised to assess Spectra’s pending state permits on their merits and “not in any predetermined way.” 
Yet DeSmog recently revealed the cozy relationship the company’s lobbyists in the state had forged in the past two years with its top environmental decision makers, particularly Beaton and his undersecretary, Ned Bartlett. Another of Spectra’s lobbyists, ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of law firm Mintz Levin, has connections to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.  
DeSmog reached out to but did not receive responses from Spectra Energy, Massachusetts DEP, and Thomas Cushing.


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REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS are pushing legislation that would bring sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration enforcement apparatus, adding thousands of new deportation officers and, among other things, equipping each of them with body armor and an assault rifle.
The little noticed bills, marked up in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, would bring additional legal force to the Trump administration’s hardline immigration agenda, which has already seen the pool of individuals prioritized for deportation broadened to include virtually all the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), two of the bills pertain to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), laying out new powers and responsibilities for both agencies, while a third, introduced by Goodlatte and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), takes aim at a wide range of issues in immigration enforcement.
That third bill, the “Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act,” which appeared in a tweeted photo of White House strategist Steve Bannon’s policy agenda, would see immigration violations traditionally treated as civil infractions transformed into criminal violations, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Speaking before judiciary committee members Thursday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), said the provision would “turn millions of Americans into criminals overnight.” Nadler added that the legislation was “straight out of the Donald Trump mass deportation playbook.”

Brad Schneider (D-IL) noted that under the language of the proposed law recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the Obama-era program currently shielding hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the U.S. as undocumented children from deportation — could be stripped of their protections because they are in the country while knowingly in violation of the law.
“This draconian bill is absolutely wrong,” Schneider said. “DACA recipients are not criminals.”
In addition to radically altering the nature of charges used against undocumented immigrants, and calling for an expansion of federal immigrant detention facilities, the 184-page Davis-Oliver act would codify the Trump administration’s controversial threats to cut Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security grants to state and local law enforcement agencies that do not comply with federal immigration enforcement initiatives. Under the law, states would also be required to provide DHS a wide range of details on all immigrants who are apprehended and “believed to be inadmissible or deportable,” including that individual’s name, address, photo, and license plate number, as well as other identifying information.
The bill echoes Trump’s call to increase ICE’s ranks with the addition of 10,000 new agents, as well as 2,500 new detention officers and 60 new full-time ICE prosecutors. Deportation officers on the ground would inherit new arrest powers under the proposed legislation, including the power to arrest immigrants accused of criminal or civil offenses without a warrant, even if the agency determines those individuals are not “likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained.” Under the bill, those deportation officers would be heavily armed, with each officer issued “high-quality body armor” and “at a minimum, standard-issue handguns, M–4 (or equivalent) rifles, and Tasers.”
To insure state and local authorities are falling in line with federal immigration enforcement objectives, Goodlatte’s ICE authorization bill has called for an “ICE Advisory Council” — a panel that would include members appointed by himself, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ICE’s prosecutors’ union, ICE’s union (which endorsed Trump), and the president himself.
With deep ties to a range of far-right policy organizations, GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee have long been known for their hawkish views on immigration — it was Goodlate’s aides who secretly worked alongside the Trump White House in crafting the executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim majority nations. During Thursday’s mark up, the Republicans defended the proposed legislation on law order and grounds, making the case that all laws surrounding immigration should be equally and aggressively enforced.
Addressing the Davis-Oliver bill in particular, Goodlatte said the legislation, named after a pair of law enforcement officers killed by an undocumented immigrant, “decisively delivers the immigration enforcement tools that ICE, its officers, and all of us need in order to show the obstructionists, the criminal aliens, and all those who benefit from a culture of lawlessness that breaking our immigration laws will no longer be tolerated.”
Immigration advocates and legal experts argue the Republican lawmakers’ “enforcement only” approach reflects a lack of interest in solving complex policy issues and, in doing so, threatens to tear families apart while further ballooning the historic backlog in the nation’s immigration courts.
“These bills constitute an unprecedented ramp up in enforcement,” Greg Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The Intercept. “Instead of recognizing that there needs to be a solution that improves the immigration system, these bills fall into line with President Trump’s mass deportation agenda that’s just going to hurt the country and isn’t going to do anything to improve public safety.”
Debate on the proposed bills is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

$110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch

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WASHINGTON — On the afternoon of May 1, President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, welcomed a high-level delegation of Saudis to a gilded reception room next door to the White House and delivered a brisk pep talk: “Let’s get this done today.”
Mr. Kushner was referring to a $100 billion-plus arms deal that the administration hoped to seal with Saudi Arabia in time to announce it during Mr. Trump’s visit to the kingdom this weekend. The two sides discussed a shopping list that included planes, ships and precision-guided bombs. Then an American official raised the idea of the Saudis’ buying a sophisticated radar system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.
Sensing that the cost might be a problem, several administration officials said, Mr. Kushner picked up the phone and called Marillyn A. Hewson — the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, which makes the radar system — and asked her whether she could cut the price. As his guests watched slack-jawed, Ms. Hewson told him she would look into it, officials said.
Mr. Kushner’s personal intervention in the arms sale is further evidence of the Trump White House’s readiness to dispense with custom in favor of informal, hands-on deal making. It also offers a window into how the administration hopes to change America’s position in the Middle East, emphasizing hard power and haggling over traditional diplomacy.
The Trump administration is expected to frame the deal, worth about $110 billion over 10 years, as a symbol of America’s renewed commitment to security in the Persian Gulf. But former officials pointed out that President Barack Obama, whose arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaled $115 billion, had already approved several of the weapons in the package.
“Both sides have an incentive to herald this as a new era in Gulf cooperation,” said Derek H. Chollet, who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under Mr. Obama. “I see this as largely continuity.”
What has changed, Mr. Chollet said, is that the House of Saud is now dealing directly with a member of the Trump family. “It’s quite normal for them to sit down with the son-in-law of a president and do a deal,” he said. “It’s more normal for them than any previous administration.”
The White House and Lockheed declined to comment on the call between Mr. Kushner and Ms. Hewson, or on the broader arms sale.
While Mr. Kushner’s middle-of-the-meeting call to a military contractor was unorthodox, current and former officials said, it did not appear to raise legal issues. Lockheed is the sole manufacturer of the antimissile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad. Instead, the episode was reminiscent of Lockheed’s decision in February to cut the price of F-35 fighter jets it was selling to the Pentagon after Mr. Trump complained to Ms. Hewson that the planes were too expensive.
Mr. Kushner, White House officials said, began building ties to members of the Saudi royal family during the transition. He was at the table when his father-in-law hosted the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at a lunch in the State Dining Room in March. And he offered a strategic overview of the Saudi-American relationship at the meeting this month, according to an agenda obtained by The New York Times.
But officials emphasized that Mr. Kushner’s work on the deal was part of a governmentwide effort that includes the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council.
They also said the arms sale would be only one element of Mr. Trump’s busy two-day stop in Saudi Arabia, which will also include a meeting with King Salman at the royal court, a conference with Persian Gulf allies, a broader summit meeting with the leaders of Muslim countries, and a visit to a new center dedicated to combating terrorism and extremism.
The showcase event will be a speech in which the officials said Mr. Trump would seek to unify the Muslim world against the scourge of extremism. Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior policy adviser, is writing the speech, which officials said would serve as an answer to the landmark address to the Islamic world that Mr. Obama gave in Cairo in 2009.
White House officials have consulted Mr. Obama’s speech and predicted a starkly different tone from Mr. Trump. His goal, they said, will be to unify America’s allies around a common set of objectives, including a harder line against Iran and a pledge to share the security burden in the region. The speech will not include any apology for America’s role.
After a strained relationship with Mr. Obama, Saudi officials have expressed delight at Mr. Trump’s tough rhetoric on Iran. This White House is viewed as more sympathetic to the military campaign that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are carrying out against the Houthis, Iranian-backed rebels who are waging an insurgency in neighboring Yemen.
The Obama administration put a hold on precision-guided munitions it had agreed to sell the Saudis out of fear that they would be used to bomb civilians in Yemen. The Trump administration has freed up those weapons, which are part of the $110 billion package.
The package also includes “maritime assets,” meaning ships, so the Saudis can assume more of the burden of policing the Persian Gulf and Red Sea against Iranian aggression. It does not include high-end items like the advanced F-35 fighter, whose sale to Saudi Arabia would alarm Israel.
Mr. Trump is not expected to raise human rights concerns with the Saudis, in keeping with his approach to strongmen in Turkey, Egypt, China and the Philippines. The president, his aides said, does not believe the United States gets results by lecturing other countries.
Given that, and the big-ticket arms sale, most analysts and former officials predicted that Mr. Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia would be a success. It could end up being the highlight of his nine-day, four-country tour, particularly since he will be going later to a NATO summit meeting in Brussels, where the other attendees will watch for evidence that he still wants to mothball the alliance.
Even in Israel, where Mr. Trump is likely to be welcomed with open arms, tensions have surfaced over his sharing classified Israeli intelligence during a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, and a smaller flap over the political status of the Western Wall.
Still, the Saudi visit is not without risk. Mr. Obama made Riyadh, the Saudi capital, his first stop in the Middle East in June 2009, hoping to enlist the Saudis in a new Israeli-Palestinian peace effort. King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah, rebuffed the young president.
For now, the White House is not abandoning the Iran nuclear agreement, which is reviled in Saudi Arabia. Though experts say the Saudis understand the administration’s reluctance to act precipitously, some critics worry that it will make Mr. Trump more eager to accommodate the Saudis in other areas, like their campaign in Yemen.
“We’d been saying for two years that this is not a conflict you’re going to win militarily,” said Jeffrey Prescott, a senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and Gulf nations on Mr. Obama’s National Security Council. “We had been trying to use the leverage we had to get the Saudis and Emiratis to the table to negotiate.”
“One of the things to look at,” Mr. Prescott added, “is whether we’re getting into someone else’s conflict.”

By Delaying Chemical Safety Rule, Pruitt Endangers First Responders and Refinery Towns

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By Daniel Ross

At 8:48 a.m. on the morning of February 18, 2015, an explosion at the ExxonMobil Torrance refinery in Southern California ripped through the facility with such ferocity, the resulting shockwaves registered on the Richter scale. Dust was scattered over the densely populated neighborhood up to a mile away from the blast. Four workers suffered minor injuries. A hulking 40-ton chunk of debris from the refinery's Electrostatic Precipitator narrowly avoided hitting a tank containing tens of thousands of pounds of highly toxic modified hydrofluoric acid.
The damning findings of a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) review of the accident were made public earlier this month. Among some of the problems identified in the report: the refinery repeatedly violated ExxonMobil's corporate safety standards leading up to the incident, while multiple gaps existed in the refinery's safety systems.
"It was only sheer luck that the hydrofluoric acid tank wasn't hit," said Dr. Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. If it had been hit, the collision could have released a toxic ground-hugging cloud with the potential to kill for nine miles and cause serious and irreversible injuries for up to 16 miles under worst-case scenario projections, she added.
"This is yet another symptom of how in our country we always put profit ahead of safety," Hayati said.
Just before Obama exited office, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place a new federal rule setting tougher safety procedures at facilities covered by the EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP). The rule is designed to prevent accidents like the 2015 Torrance refinery explosion from happening again, and to better protect first-responders and the communities perched in the shadow of facilities that store and use potentially dangerous chemicals.
According to EPA data, over 1,500 accidents were reported by RMP facilities between 2004 and 2013, causing more than $2 billion in property damages.
The new rule was supposed to come into effect in March. But after a petition opposing the rule was filed by a coalition of trade associations, the EPA initially stayed its implementation for three months. Then, after various states and companies in the refining, oil and gas, chemical and manufacturing sector filed further petitions, the EPA proposed to extend the stay an additional 20 months -- until February 19, 2019 -- in order to win time to consider these various petitions, and to possibly "revise" the RMP amendments.
Fearing that the EPA under Scott Pruitt will take the side of industry and further delay, weaken or even try to abrogate the new rule entirely, a coalition of community groups, scientists and environmental organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit last month.
"We don't expect Pruitt to defend [the rule]," said Gordon Sommers, associate attorney with Earthjustice, who filed the motion on behalf of the coalition. In a letter to the EPA last year when still Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt asked the agency to withdraw the rule, citing national security concerns.
"We know where he stands and we know that his arguments are the same arguments that the big industries are making," said Sommers. "We know his priority is not protecting these communities."

Targeting Marginalized "Fenceline Communities"
The new rule -- the first significant updates to the RMP in some 20 years -- impacts roughly 12,500 facilities, including oil refineries, large chemical manufacturers, pulp and paper mills, and even wastewater treatment plants and food packing plants. And it addresses plant safety in a number of critical areas, such as emergency response, accident prevention and information disclosure.
After an accident occurs, for example, facilities are required to conduct more thorough investigations to better understand what caused them. In some cases, an independent third party must be brought in to conduct its own audit. Facilities must be more transparent about certain information critical for first responders and local residents, such as what chemicals are stored on site. And as is pointed out in the amendment, "one of the factors that can contribute to the severity of chemical accidents is a lack of effective coordination between a facility and local emergency responders." As such, facilities are required to better coordinate with first responders and local emergency planning committees.
In an email to Truthout, an EPA spokesperson wrote that the proposal to further delay the effective date of the amendments will allow the agency time to consider other issues that may benefit from additional public input, and ensure that "all provisions in the RMP Amendments are in accordance with the explicit mandate granted to EPA by Congress."
But environmental groups consider the new rule, which was finalized after more than three years of negotiations, watered down as it is. And they argue that any delay or further weakening of the rule will unfairly impact fenceline communities around the nation's chemical plants and refineries -- communities that are disproportionately Black, Brown and poor.  
"We are really setting ourselves up for what we're calling in our communities the potential for environmental genocide," said Michele Roberts, national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance. "If we really want to make American great 'again,' then why not honor our commitment to letting everyone live in a healthy and thriving community and environment."
Schools in the Shadows of Refineries

At 6:33 p.m. on the evening of August 12, 2012, flammable gas seeping from a ruptured pipe at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, caught alight, triggering a huge blast that sent 18 employees running for cover, and another fleeing to a fire engine, just in time to avoid a fireball that engulfed the truck. The surrounding community was placed on a level 3 alert -- the most serious of community warning alerts. And in the weeks that followed, some 15,000 people from the surrounding communities sought medical treatment for health problems like chest pains, shortness of breath, sore throats and headaches.
The subsequent CSB investigation found all sorts of systemic failures at the refinery, including with its emergency response system the day of the incident. The CSB also found broader industry deficiencies relating to comprehensive inspection, effective facility upgrades and minimum safety requirements.
But the Richmond incident is just one example of the sorts of accidents that happen routinely at chemical facilities every year. According to EPA data, the more than 1,500 reported accidents reported by RMP facilities between 2004-2013 caused nearly 60 deaths. Some 17,000 people were injured or needed medical treatment, with almost 500,000 people needing to be evacuated or kept indoors. The research institute Swiss Re found recently that the US has three to four times the accident rate of the European refinery industry, where regulations are more stringent.
A 2014 Center for Effective Government report also found that at least one third of America's schoolchildren attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a high-risk RMP chemical facility. Half of those students (over 10.3 million schoolchildren) are in schools located in more than one chemical vulnerability zone. Indeed, a number of metro areas -- including Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Memphis, Tennessee and Wilmington, Delaware -- contain many schools in multiple vulnerability zones, according to the same report.
Houston, the beating heart of the nation's petrochemical industry, is another densely populated area where many schools sit in the shadow of multiple RMP facilities. An eight-part Houston Chronicle investigation started last year reveals how hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals stored at facilities across greater Houston go largely unmonitored at all levels of government. According to Stephanie Thomas, who lives in the outskirts of Houston, and is a member of the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, residents living at the fenceline of RMP facilities in her area are largely unaware of the sorts of chemicals being stored on their doorstep.
"I have been feeling much more concerned about something happening because there's just not enough communication about what's going on," said Thomas, a geologist who previously worked in oil and gas exploration for companies like Chevron. "This is really serious stuff that we're dealing with in Houston."
Only, those who oppose the rule argue that it's in the nation's security interests to allow companies to keep secret portions of their chemical inventory. Truthout reached out to the American Chemistry Council (ACC) -- one of the groups that filed a petition against the new rule. Though the organization declined an interview, it forwarded a transcript of comments made by an ACC spokesperson at a Washington hearing on the new rule last month.
In the statement provided, the spokesperson said the new information requirements could leave chemical facilities and communities vulnerable to those with "ill intent," and that the new rule lacked requirements that would actually improve safety. Proponents of the rule have mischaracterized a fatal 2013 explosion of ammonium nitrate at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, the spokesperson also argued.
That accident caught then president Obama's attention, and spearheaded the push for RMP reform. But because the accident was found to have been started deliberately, and because ammonium nitrate isn't one of the substances regulated under the RMP, the ACC spokesperson argued that the rule "does virtually nothing to prevent a similar West, Texas event from happening in the future."
Others see it differently.
What Does Safety Look Like for Fenceline Communities?
That chemicals like ammonium nitrate don't fall under the auspices of the RMP is "just another example of how weak the regulations are," said Neil Carman, Clean Air program director with the Sierra Club and a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigator.
He described as "pure bunk" the claim that "national security interests" trump the need for chemical plants to be more transparent about what chemicals they're using and storing. This justification has been widely promulgated since the 9/11 terror attacks.
"The problem's not with terrorists," Carman said. "The problem is, you've got hundreds of thousands of people living on the fenceline of chemical plants in Texas alone."
A 2008 report found that upwards of 80 million Americans live within range of a worst-case toxic gas release from at least one of the 101 most hazardous chemical facilities nationwide.
The new rule came together only after more than three years of deliberations, multiple public comment periods, as well as input and analysis from a variety of stakeholders, including industry groups. It gives teeth to what's referred to as the Bhopal provisions -- the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act that established the RMP.
In 1984, an accident at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released at least 30 tons of highly toxic gas into the surrounding neighborhood, mostly shanty towns. The accident affected an estimated 600,000 people in that night alone and killed an estimated 15,000 over the years. The sheer magnitude of the disaster shocked US lawmakers into tightening safety standards at chemical plants on home soils. In 1990, the Bhopal amendment sought, among other things, to obligate plants to switch to safer processes if necessary to prevent catastrophic releases of their own from occurring. But when the EPA moved to enact this clause in the wake of 9/11, the George W. Bush administration quashed the proposals.
And now, all these years later, the "very least" that can be done to ensure the safety of fenceline communities -- particularly those in urban neighborhoods, where emergency escape routes can be limited -- is to implement the "modest amendments" outlined in the new rule, said Charise Johnson, research associate at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"Putting the stay on the RMP amendment is really just putting local communities and first responders at risk," she said. "I think this is a pretty blatant example of environmental injustice, and we need to keep amplifying these community voices."