Who Wins and Loses in Trump’s Proposed Budget


A Superfund cleanup site in Montana. Federal funding for such cleanups of hazardous wastes would be reduced by about a third. Credit James Snook/Associated Press

President Trump released a partial outline of his 2018 budget on Thursday, proposing billions of dollars in spending cuts to most government agencies to pay for large increases in military and homeland security spending, resulting in a 1.2 percent cut in discretionary spending over all. (Source: New York Times)

The tough choices he promised would eliminate longstanding staples of American life.

Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities. Federal support for long-distance Amtrak train service would be eliminated. Washington would get out of the business of helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes.

While he may not care about East Coast elites upset about ending financing for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, some of the agencies and programs that would be “zeroed out” are institutions in parts of the country that Mr. Trump won last November.

Among the agencies to be cut off, for instance, would be the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state agency founded in 1965 to promote economic development and infrastructure in some of the poorest parts of the United States.

Mr. Trump and his aides argue that many of these programs have long since passed their usefulness or would be better off run and paid for at the state or local level. While he talked about the ravaged inner cities in his Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump would eliminate $3 billion in funding for the Community Development Block Grant program that helps provide affordable housing. The president argued in his budget that “the program is not well targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.”

Instead of spreading the cost of affordable housing across all of the United States Trump passes the buck to state and local levels, making areas needing affordable housing the most raise taxes and fees to provide affordable housing.

Nice going Mr. Trump. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. You’re certainly making America Great Again. For the wealthy.

Discretionary spending, in billions

Agency 2017 baseline 2018 proposal Change . Pct change
Environmental Protection Agency $8.2 $5.7 $2.6 –31%
State and other development programs 38.0 27.1 –10.9 –29%
Agriculture 22.6 17.9 –4.7 –21%
Labor 12.2 9.6 –2.5 –21%
Justice 20.3 16.2 –4.0 –20%
Health and Human Services 77.7 65.1 –12.6 –16%
Commerce 9.2 7.8 –1.5 –16%
Education 68.2 59.0 –9.2 –14%
Transportation 18.6 16.2 –2.4 –13%
Housing and Urban Development 36.0 31.7 –4.3 –12%
Interior 13.2 11.6 –1.5 –12%
Energy 29.7 28.0 –1.7 –6%
Treasury 11.7 11.2 –0.5 –4%
NASA 19.2 19.1 –0.2 –1%
Veterans Affairs 74.5 78.9 +4.4 +6%
Homeland Security 41.3 44.1 +2.8 +7%
Defense 521.7 574.0 +52.3 +10%
Note: Totals are shown for fiscal years, which begin in October. They reflect base budget levels for each department, which do not include supplemental money for disaster relief, emergencies or additional war spending. They do include offsetting receipts and proposed changes in mandatory programs (CHIMPS) that are used to offset discretionary spending.

The proposal would also eliminate funding for nearly 20 smaller independent agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation, which finances legal aid groups.

The blueprint does not include tax proposals or other revenue ideas, and outlines only proposals for discretionary spending, which is money appropriated annually by Congress. Discretionary spending makes up less than one-third of all federal spending. It does not include interest payments on the federal debt or so-called mandatory spending on large programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Read the more detailed and complete article on the New York Times.

Blue-Footed Booby Bird Mating Dance – video

Blue-footed boobies on the Galápagos archipelago in Ecuador. The color of their feet is an important factor in mating. Credit The Asahi Shimbun Premium, via Getty Images

It’s dating time on the Galápagos for the blue-footed booby. Everywhere, dozens of times a day, the large, handsome seabirds are making their highly ritualized courtship display — one reason the boobies are among the most celebrated and beloved residents of this archipelago.

While many boobies change partners from season to season, there are great benefits of long-term fidelity, researchers have found. Comparing the breeding success of pairs that had been together for years with that of similarly mature boobies that had recently repartnered, scientists determined that the established pairs reared 35 percent more offspring to fledglinghood compared with the new mates.

And in new findings that will be published soon — and are enough to turn this working mother’s feet cerulean — scientists have discovered that the key to a successful long-term booby partnership is the equitable sharing of nest duties year after year.

Biparental care is the rule among boobies, but longtime mates have perfected the art of symmetry and turn-taking. They spend the same time brooding and feeding the young, and expend the same physical effort as seen in measures of blood cells and body mass.

Such egalitarian couples, said Dr. Sánchez Macouzet, “have reached the sweet spot of cooperation, compatibility and a willingness to avoid the exploitation of your partner.”

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

 

 

 

Oroville, Calif., dam tip of the iceberg of failing dams in US

 Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Darker the dot the older the dam. Darkest are 150 years old. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

After two weeks that saw evacuations near Oroville, Calif., and flooding in Elko County, Nev., America’s dams are showing their age.

Nearly 2,000 state-regulated high-hazard dams in the United States were listed as being in need of repair in 2015, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. A dam is considered “high hazard” based on the potential for the loss of life as a result of failure.

By 2020, 70 percent of the dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“It’s not like an expiration date for your milk, but the components that make up that dam do have a lifespan.” said Mark Ogden, a project manager with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 21 Mile Dam near Montello, Nev., broke and caused flooding to the Union Pacific railroad line near Lucin and flooded the town of Montello, Nev. The floods forced delays or rerouting for more than a dozen freight and passenger trains on a main rail line that runs through the area, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin E. Jacobs.(Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News via AP)/The Deseret News via AP) NYTCREDIT: Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News, via Associated Press

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 21 Mile Dam near Montello, Nev., broke and caused flooding to the Union Pacific railroad line near Lucin and flooded the town of Montello, Nev. The floods forced delays or rerouting for more than a dozen freight and passenger trains on a main rail line that runs through the area, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin E. Jacobs.(Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News via AP)/The Deseret News via AP) NYTCREDIT: Stuart Johnson/The Deseret News, via Associated Press

Line points to Twentyone Mile Dam

Source: Nevada Division of Water Resources

Darkest color equals highest Hazard Potential of Dams. Source: Nevada Division of Water Resources

Two weeks ago, heavy rains caused the Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada to burst, resulting in flooding, damaged property and closed roads throughout the region.

The earthen dam, built in the early 1900s and less than 50 feet tall, is one of more than 60,000 “low hazard” dams, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Typically, failure of a low hazard dam would cause property damage, but it would most likely not kill anyone.

In 2016, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated that it would cost $60 billion to rehabilitate all the dams that needed to be brought up to safe condition, with nearly $20 billion of that sum going toward repair of dams with a high potential for hazard.

In 2015, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, introduced the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act, an amendment to the National Dam Safety Program Act, to provide grant assistance to rehabilitate publicly owned dams that fail to meet minimum safety standards.

The bill is still pending, but it would not apply to a majority of the dams in the United States because more than half of them are privately owned. Oroville Dam is owned by the State of California, but the Twentyone Mile Dam is owned by Winecup Gamble Ranch, a cattle operation in northeastern Nevada.

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

Ukraine, Russia and Trump Associates

 President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times


President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

At a time when Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny — with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress — some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.

 

Donald Trump’s Connections in Ukraine

 

Andrii V. Artemenko

Ukrainian politician with a peace plan for Ukraine and a file alleging that its president is corrupt.

Felix H. Sater

Russian-American businessman with longstanding ties to the Trump Organization.

Michael D. Cohen

Trump’s personal attorney, under scrutiny from F.B.I. over links with Russia.

Paul Manafort

Former Trump campaign manager with pro-Russian political ties in Ukraine now under investigation by the F.B.I.

The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

“A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?”

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Sater said they had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the proposal, and have no experience in foreign policy. Mr. Cohen is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in an F.B.I. counterintelligence examination of links with Russia, according to law enforcement officials; he has denied any illicit connections.

The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.

Before entering politics, Mr. Artemenko had business ventures in the Middle East and real estate deals in the Miami area, and had worked as an agent representing top Ukrainian athletes. Some colleagues in Parliament describe him as corrupt, untrustworthy or simply insignificant, but he appears to have amassed considerable wealth.

He has fashioned himself in the image of Mr. Trump, presenting himself as Ukraine’s answer to a rising class of nationalist leaders in the West. He even traveled to Cleveland last summer for the Republican National Convention, seizing on the chance to meet with members of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“It’s time for new leaders, new approaches to the governance of the country, new principles and new negotiators in international politics,” he wrote on Facebook on Jan. 27. “Our time has come!”

Read more of this article in the New York Times.

Trump to tighten grip on Intelligence agencies following ‘leaks’.

 Stephen A. Feinberg, right, a founder of Cerberus Capital Management, at the Capitol in December 2008. He is said to be in talks for a White House role examining the country’s intelligence agencies. Credit Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times


Stephen A. Feinberg, right, a founder of Cerberus Capital Management, at the Capitol in December 2008. He is said to be in talks for a White House role examining the country’s intelligence agencies. Credit Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.

The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump blamed leaks from the intelligence community for the departure of Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, whose resignation he requested.

There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. He is a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.

Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

On an array of issues — including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy — much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy.

The last time an outsider with no intelligence experience took the job was in the early days of the Reagan administration, when Max Hugel, a businessman who had worked on Mr. Reagan’s campaign, was named to run the spy service. His tenure at the C.I.A. was marked by turmoil and questions about the politicization of the agency. He was forced to resign after six months, amid accusations about his past business dealings. (He later won a libel case against the two brothers who made the accusations.)

Even the prospect that Mr. Feinberg may lead a review for the White House has raised concerns in the intelligence community.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Trump has appointed Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, to run the C.I.A., and former Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, to be the director of national intelligence (he is still awaiting confirmation). Both were the preferred choices of the Republican congressional leadership and Vice President Mike Pence and had no close or longstanding ties to Mr. Trump. In fact, they each endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for president during the 2016 Republican primaries.

Mr. Coats is especially angry at what he sees as a move by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner to sideline him before he is even confirmed, according to current and former officials. He believes the review would impinge on a central part of his role as the director of national intelligence and fears that if Mr. Feinberg were working at the White House, he could quickly become a dominant voice on intelligence matters.

Read more at the New York Times and The Guardian.

Trump campaign’s frequent talks with Russian intelligence

 President Trump spoke with Vladimir V. Putin on Jan. 28. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, right, resigned Monday. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters


President Trump spoke with Vladimir V. Putin on Jan. 28. His national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, right, resigned Monday. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the D.N.C., according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.

A report from American intelligence agencies that was made public in January concluded that the Russian government had intervened in the election in part to help Mr. Trump, but did not address whether any members of the Trump campaign had participated in the effort.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. In those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

But the cases are part of American intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ routine electronic surveillance of the communications of foreign officials.

The F.B.I. declined to comment. The White House also declined to comment Tuesday night, but earlier in the day, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, stood by Mr. Trump’s previous comments that nobody from his campaign had contact with Russian officials before the election.

No pre-election contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials, says Sean Spicer

Two days after the election in November, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said “there were contacts” during the campaign between Russian officials and Mr. Trump’s team.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Mr. Ryabkov told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The Trump transition team denied Mr. Ryabkov’s statement. “This is not accurate,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said at the time.

The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.

The only Trump associate named in the New York Times report as having participated in the contacts was Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign manager for several months last summer. He had previously worked as an adviser to the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Moscow, and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs.

Manafort has repeatedly denied any contacts with Russian officials. He told the New York Times on Tuesday: “I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”

“It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,’” he added.

Read more about the Trump team/Russia connections on the New York Times and on The Guardian newspapers.

 

No Tax Cut for Rich – A Trump Tale

trumpbusinessamerica

Donald Trump and Treasury nominee Steven T. Mnuchin vowed there would be no tax cut for the rich. Yeah. Right.

The president has raised expectations among his working-class supporters that “the rich will pay their fair share,” and that “special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers” will be eliminated. Mr. Mnuchin, soon to be one of the administration’s top economic policy officials, promised “a big tax cut for the middle class.”

Yet analyses of the president’s and the House Republicans’ plans consistently conclude that the wealthy will receive the largest tax cuts by far.

Start with the House blueprint, which at the moment is the closest thing to a working draft that exists. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, found “high-income taxpayers would receive the biggest cuts, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income.”

How big? “Three-quarters of the tax cuts would benefit the top 1 percent of taxpayers,” if the plan were put into effect this year, it said. The highest-income households — the top 0.1 percent — would get “an average tax cut of about $1.3 million, 16.9 percent of after-tax income.”

Those in the middle fifth of incomes would get a tax cut of almost $260, or 0.5 percent, while the poorest would get about $50.

That split would worsen down the road, the Tax Policy Center says: “In 2025 the top 1 percent of households would receive nearly 100 percent of the total tax reduction.”

Those wary of any potential liberal bias could turn to the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation. Its analysis found a smaller gap between the wealthy and everyone else, but a gap nonetheless. The foundation concluded that four out of five taxpayers would see only a 0.2 to 0.5 percent cut in after-tax income, while those in the top 1 percent of the income scale would save at least 10 times as much, or 5.3 percent. That’s nearly $40,000 extra for those at the top, compared to $67 for those smack dab in the middle of the income scale.

Read the complete article in the New York Times.