The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, is upset with the way the press treats Donald Trump:

“Most politicians will drop a talking point if it gets labeled with Four Pinocchios by The Fact Checker or ‘Pants on Fire’ by PolitiFact,” Kessler wrote (5/7) “But the news media now faces the challenge of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Trump makes Four-Pinocchio statements over and over again, even though fact checkers have demonstrated them to be false. He appears to care little about the facts; his staff does not even bother to respond to fact-checking inquiries. But, astonishingly, television hosts rarely challenge Trump when he makes a claim that already has been found to be false.”

One might have thought, now that Trump is the presumptive nominee for a major party, with a real shot at becoming president, that, as Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (5/8) “he just can’t get away with being the bulls***ter-in-chief.”

But on Meet the Press (5/8), Trump again said, “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Our businesses pay more taxes than any businesses in the world. That’s why companies are leaving.” And Chuck Todd replied, “Gotcha.”

“Trump has been retailing this particular tidbit of bull***t for months, and it’s not just untrue, but obviously untrue,” Drum wrote. “Conservatives know it perfectly well, because they’re constantly talking about the high tax rates in Sweden and Germany and France and so forth, and trying to demonstrate that these high tax rates have strangled their economies. There’s really no disagreement about this.”

PolitiFact noted, “This is a version of one of Trump’s oft-repeated talking points, and it’s inaccurate.

“When we looked at this claim in the past, we compared the United States to the 33 other industrialized nations in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Data from 2014, the most recent year available, shows that the United States wasn’t the most highly taxed by the typical metrics and actually places near the bottom or around the middle of the pack.

“Trump specified this time that he was talking about business taxes, but the essential data doesn’t back him there, either.”

Trump would have been more accurate if he had been more specific, PolitFact noted. The US does have one of the highest top marginal corporate tax rates in the world. However, companies pay less in practice because they can take deductions and exclusions. When we look at the actual tax burden on US companies, it’s far from highest in the world.

In tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, the US ranks 31 out of 34, at 26%. The OECD average is 34.2%. Corporate tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, the US ranks 17 out of 32, at 2.6%. The OECD average is 2.9%. In tax revenue per capita, the US ranks 19 out of 34, at $14,204. The OECD average is $14,923.

Charles P. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (5/9), “This is going to be a real crisis for elite political journalism from now until November, perhaps the deepest crisis elite political journalism has faced since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and that one didn’t turn out well at all. The Republican Party is about to nominate an utterly truthless fellow who doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know and is prepared to lie his way past everything he doesn’t know anyway. I’m afraid that elite political journalism is so wedded to “balance” that it is in no way prepared to cope with a post-reality candidate. … ‘Fair enough’ and ‘gotcha’ are not appropriate answers to the assertion by a candidate that he plans to heal the national economy by setting up a roulette wheel and two blackjack tables in the Department of the Treasury.

“If hope is not a plan, then bluster and bombast are even less of one. Elite political journalism has a greater responsibility to the Republic than ‘balance’ or ‘objectivity.’ This is going to be a long six months.”

TRUMP BIGGEST LIAR IN POLITIFACT RANKINGS. Donald Trump has been the biggest liar by far among presidential candidates from either party. As of 5/10, of 139 Trump statements examined by PolitiFact, 76% were rated “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire.” Only 3% of Trump statements were rated true and he was the only candidate to reach double digits in Pants on Fire ratings, with 19% of his statements earning the worst rating.

In comparison, of 112 Ted Cruz statements examined by PolitiFact, 64% were rated mostly false or worse, with 7% rated Pants on Fire, and 6% were true. PolitiFact found that 32% of John Kasich statements were “mostly false” or worse while 25% were true, for all the good that did him.

Democrats have been much more truthful. Of 195 Clinton statements examined by PolitiFact, 50% were rated ‘true” or “mostly true.” Of 98 Sanders statements that were examined, 51% were rated true or mostly true. Clinton had 29% mostly false or worse, with 2% Pants on Fire, while Sanders had 30% mostly false or worse, but no Pants on Fire.

TRUMP FRAUD TRIAL DELAYED UNTIL AFTER ELECTION. It looks like Donald Trump will not have to face a trial in federal court over a lawsuit that alleges that he defrauded participants in his “Trump University” real estate program until after the presidential election. At a hearing in San Diego (5/6) US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel set the trial in first of at least three lawsuit to begin 11/28.

The lawsuits allege that “Trump University” falsely claimed that instructors were handpicked by Trump and had extensive experience in real-estate deals. Trump has acknowledged he didn’t know many of the instructors and that at least one deceived Trump’s team.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also is bringing a consumer fraud suit against Trump in Manhattan state court, in a case that also is expected to go to trial after the election.

Trump has said he is eager for the cases to go to trial, but his attorneys got the federal trial involving plaintiffs from Florida, New York and California put off until after the election. On 7/22, the day after Trump is expected to accept the Republican nomination, a hearing is scheduled in San Diego federal court in another case involving Trump University participants in the rest of the country.

AUSTIN WON’T BACK DOWN ON UBER, LYFT REGS. After the Austin, Texas, City Council voted in December to require fingerprint-based background checks of drivers for Uber and Lyft, and regulate the ride-hailing services, Uber and Lyft tried to bully the city into backing down. When the city refused to yield, Uber and Lyft got an initiative put on the ballot to reverse the city ordinance and threatened to leave town if the proposition didn’t pass.

Among the regulations Proposition 1 would have repealed were a requirement that service vehicles display a “distinctive emblem,” prohibition of loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane and limits on “surge pricing” during certain emergencies.

Uber and Lyft spent more than $9 mln on the measure while the opposition, which supported the original ordinance, raised about $130,000. But voters rejected Proposition 1, 56% to 44% (5/7). Uber and Lyft suspended their services (5/9) but a Texas-based ride-hailing app, GetMe, offered to pick up the Uber and Lyft rides under the terms of the surviving city ordinance.

Uber recently threatened to leave Houston, which requires drivers to be fingerprinted, drug-tested and undergo a physical before they can drive for hire. Lyft does not operate in Houston. Both companies have left Corpus Christi and Galveston, which passed laws early this year requiring finger-print-based background checks. They briefly pulled out of San Antonio last year over a similar law, returning only after the city made fingerprints optional.

The Texas Legislature might have the last word, as a Republican state senator said he would draft legislation to overrule the Austin action and legalize ride-hailing companies statewide.

“It has become increasingly clear that Texas’ ridesharing companies can no longer operate effectively through a patchwork of inconsistent and anti-competitive regulations,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R), whose district includes suburbs north of Austin.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush (R), son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, joined in the Austin bashing, tweeting that “Liberalism has consequences — ATX always claims to be progressive — instead it voted for the past on Prop 1. Gov’t won and the people lost.”

Schwertner’s effort might receive a cool reception in the Texas House, where regional delegations hold more sway, Nolan Hicks and Ben Wear reported in the Austin American-Statesman.

“We have to deal with what the public has been saying, and so far the public has been saying we want it a little different way than Uber and Lyft have presented it,” said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, which would probably hear any such bill. “Maybe the state Legislature says, ‘We’re going to let cities decide.’ Wouldn’t that be the most minimal thing that state government could do?”

The ride-hailing giants also turned to the Legislature in 2015, seeking relief from Houston’s new regulations. That effort backfired for the companies after the bill left Pickett’s committee with the proviso that fingerprint-based checks would be included. Ultimately, the bill stalled.

Filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, reviewed by the American-Statesman, show that Uber hired 28 lobbyists that year.

District attorneys of Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2014 alleged that Uber misrepresented its background checks, which weren’t nearly as rigorous as it claimed, despite its charging a “safe rides fee” of $1 per passenger, ostensibly to cover the cost of its program, Michael Hiltzik noted in the Los Angeles Times (5/9). (Lyft settled a similar complaint from the prosecutors by changing the language of its background-check claim and paying a penalty of $500,000.)

The district attorneys found that “in Los Angeles alone, registered sex offenders, a kidnapper, identity thieves, burglars and a convicted murderer had passed Uber’s ‘industry leading’ background check.” The absence of a fingerprint check alone dropped Uber’s standard below that of taxicab companies, which are mandated in California to run fingerprint checks on drivers. Experts say fingerprint checks are a crucial part of any driver-vetting process because they verify that the records retrieved in a background check actually belong to the driver. 

Uber settled the lawsuit in April for up to $25 mln. Earlier, the company had settled class-action complaints over the “safe rides” fee by paying $28.5 mln to 25 mln drivers. Uber gets to keep charging the $1 fee, but agreed to rename it a “booking fee.”

FRESHMAN GOP REP. ADMITS MISGIVINGS ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY. Give freshman US Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) marks for telling the truth about his opposition to Social Security:

“I think that Social Security was a bad idea. I do. I absolutely think it was a bad idea. I think that what should have happened was we should have had the government sit down with the private sector and build a system that people could take with them,” he said at a debate with two Democratic opponents (5/5).

Daily Kos Elections noted (5/9) that the question is which Democrat will emerge to take on Knight. Consumer rights lawyer Bryan Caforio has managed to bring in some (but not that much) money, though he has outraised Knight for the last two quarters. Agua Dulce Town Council member Lou Vince, meanwhile, has the endorsement of the state Democratic Party but has raised almost nothing.

Mitt Romney only carried California’s 25th District by a 50-48 margin, and Knight has proved he’s dumb enough to put this Los Angeles-area seat in play almost on his own, but it’ll still take a strong effort from Dems to dislodge him.

In Senate races, the Senate Majority PAC has been increasingly active of late. The pro-Democratic group just reserved $4.2 mln in fall TV time in New Hampshire, which is a top-tier opportunity for Democrats to gain a seat, and they’re also running ads in Nevada, the one Senate race where Republicans have a decent pickup shot of their own. SMP is on the offensive against Rep. Joe Heck, the likely GOP nominee in Nevada, with a spot that slams Heck for once calling Nevada’s mortgage crisis “a blip on the radar” on a 2008 candidate questionnaire. That’s a damaging attack in a state where the collapse of the housing market struck especially hard. Jon Ralston says the buy is for $450,000.

In Ohio, a conservative super PAC called the Fighting for Ohio Fund (whose donors include pro-wrestling mogul and twice-failed Senate candidate Linda McMahon) is reportedly spending $1.5 mln to air a new TV ad attacking Democratic ex-Gov. Ted Strickland. The spot features footage of Strickland from an editorial board interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer earlier this year in which he said, “My record is mixed and spotty, and I can be criticized for that.” The ad then goes on to hit Strickland for the “350,000 in jobs lost” while he was governor, as well as “$800 million in tax increases” he’s allegedly responsible for, before repeating that same interview clip.

Daily Kos notes that Strickland was speaking of his views on gun control, which have moved to the left, particularly as a result of pressure from his unsuccessful Democratic primary opponent, Cincinnati City Councilor P.G. Sittenfeld. “While undoubtedly Strickland wishes he could un-say those remarks, to rip them out of context like this is crap,” Daily Kos noted. “Strickland’s campaign should have already fired off a lawyer letter demanding this ad be pulled.”

In the North Carolina governor’s race, Roy Cooper isn’t messing around. Cooper, the state attorney general and Democratic nominee for governor, reserved $7 mln in TV time for the final nine weeks of his campaign against GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. Recent polls have shown a slight uptick for Cooper in the wake of the debacle over HB2, the state’s new anti-LGBT law, but the race is far from in the bag for Team Blue.

FCC APPROVES MERGER TO CREATE CABLE GIANT. The Federal Communications Commission has approved Charter Communications’ $90 bln takeover of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, Variety reported (5/6).

The merger combines the nation’s second-, third- and sixth-largest cable-TV and Internet providers, Free Press reported. After the merger closes, two Internet service providers, Charter and Comcast, will control nearly two-thirds of the nation’s high-speed Internet subscribers.

According to a statement from Chairman Tom Wheeler, conditions include bans on data caps for broadband customers and interconnection fees for online services, including video providers.

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:

“This wasteful and costly merger undermines Chairman Wheeler’s oft-stated priority of competition, competition, competition. It hands far too much control over the Internet’s future to a cable giant with the incentive and capability to gouge its customers with higher and higher prices. It gives cable monopolists like Charter and Comcast the power to throttle the nation’s burgeoning video market and stifle innovation at the edges of the network. 

“Americans want more choices for open and affordable broadband connections. High-speed Internet access is essential for anyone seeking to improve their educational opportunities, participate in politics, seek out health care, do their job or find a new one. Yet there’s nothing about this massive merger that will make meeting these vital needs any easier. Instead, it will saddle customers with higher prices as Charter attempts to pay off its $60 bln debt load, which includes the nearly $27 bln in new debt it took on just to finance this deal.

“Many working families already struggle each month to pay sky-high broadband bills. Nothing in the reported conditions will lower those prices for the people these rate hikes will hit hardest: low-income households, people of color and other underserved communities. Families will be forced to make hard choices about basic necessities, and getting online will be impossible for far too many.

“Americans now face the grim reality of a marketplace where Charter and Comcast have unprecedented control over our cable and Internet connections. Their crushing power will mean fewer choices, higher prices, no accountability and no competition. The temporary conditions attached to the merger do too little to remedy these harms.

“The best way to confront cable monopolies isn’t with inadequate and unenforceable merger conditions, but by ensuring universal and affordable access to big, open pipes, with network owners barred from discriminating against the content that flows over them. Approval of the Charter merger moves us in the opposite direction, toward an Internet and pay-TV landscape dominated by an even smaller number of cable gatekeepers. The FCC needs to stop approving mega-mergers and start getting serious about policies that protect openness, promote affordability and spur competition.”

THOUSANDS OF PHYSICIANS CALL FOR SINGLE-PAYER. Despite advances provided by the Affordable Care Act, the US healthcare system remains “uniquely wasteful” and profit-driven, leaving tens of millions without any insurance and even more underinsured. As a result, say more than 2,000 physicians, “the right to medical care remains a dream deferred.”

In an effort to finally realize that dream, medical professionals across the country have signed onto the “Physicians' Proposal for Single-Payer Health Care Reform,” calling for a publicly financed, single-payer National Health Program (NHP) that would cover all Americans for all medically necessary care.

The plan, unveiled in the American Journal of Public Health (5/5), aims to "remedy the persistent shortcomings of the current health care system," reads an accompanying editorial.

It comes as the 2016 presidential race has thrust the issue of healthcare back into the national spotlight, and while the proposal is non-partisan, it hews closely to Bernie Sanders' call for Medicare-for-All.

Drafted by a working group of 39 physicians and endorsed by more than 2,231 other physicians and 149 medical students, the proposal "would save enough on administrative overhead to provide comprehensive coverage to the uninsured and to upgrade coverage for everyone else, thus requiring no increase in total health spending," according to Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP), which is backing the effort. (Deirdre Fulton, CommonDreams.org, 5/5)

VW REVERSES COURSE ON UNION AT TENN. PLANT. Just two years ago, Volkswagen was actively supporting the United Auto Workers in its push to organize the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. But in September, the German automaker was plunged into turmoil over revelations that it had equipped almost 600,000 diesel cars sold in the US with software to cheat on tailpipe emissions tests.

Since then, a large portion of Volkswagen’s senior management has changed — and so has its approach to the union drive. Now, rather than cooperating with the UAW, Volkswagen is trying to block the union, Neal E. Boudette reported for the New York Times (4/25).

Volkswagen announced (4/25) that it would go to federal court to appeal an election where the Chattanooga plant’s 160 maintenance workers voted to accept representation by the union.

The rest of the plant’s 1,500 workers have not voted for the union, but in April the National Labor Relations Board said VW must begin bargaining with the UAW on behalf of the maintenance workers, who tend to the plant’s machinery and robots.
The company objects because it wants all of its hourly employees, including the production-line workers, to decide whether to accept the UAW, the Times reported.

“Volkswagen respects the right of all of our employees to decide the question of union representation,” the automaker said in a statement. It added that it would continue efforts “to allow everyone to vote as one group on the matter.”

The UAW accused the automaker of flouting American law.

“At a time when Volkswagen already has run afoul of the federal and state governments in the emissions-cheating scandal, we’re disappointed that the company now is choosing to thumb its nose at the federal government over US labor law,” Gary Casteel, the union’s secretary-treasurer and head of its organizing efforts in Chattanooga, said in a statement.

S.C. POLLUTERS GET HUGE BOOST FROM STATE. For the past 65 years, if someone — or some company — was illegally polluting in South Carolina, you could sue. The law was put on the books so that if South Carolina’s enforcement agencies didn’t have the time, money, or political backing to go after a polluter, the average citizen could step in. Now, with only a month left in its 2015-2016 session, the South Carolina legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that would do away with this ability, Samanta Page reported at ThinkProgress (5/6).

“No one in the public of South Carolina is calling for the repeal of their rights to protect their communities and clean water,” Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), told ThinkProgress in an email. “Instead, this is an example of the lobbyists for corporate polluters controlling politicians who will take away the rights of citizens in order to curry favor with major campaign contributors.”

Holleman understands what is at stake perhaps more than most. In early 2012, SELC filed a suit on behalf of a local water protection group, the Catawba Riverkeeper, against South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) over coal ash pollution in the Wateree River, near Columbia.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. For decades, plant operators have dumped the toxic waste — which can contain heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals — in unlined pits near waterways. That, in and of itself, is not illegal. But the pits have been tied to groundwater contamination and, in some cases, the companies have been found to dump the waste directly into the waterway, which is illegal. Coal ash is an ongoing environmental issue across much of the southeast.

By August, the parties in the SELC suit had reached an agreement: SCE&G would remove all the coal ash in its unlined pits, either recycling it or putting it in lined landfills.

In other words, the system worked. There was documented pollution. Citizens’ groups sued, and the pollution was addressed. The settlement eventually led to an across-the-board commitment from all of the utilities operating in South Carolina — even Duke Energy, which has fought coal ash clean up in neighboring North Carolina. (Two years after the settlement, a stormwater pipe would break at a coal ash storage pond along the Dan River in North Carolina, poisoning the water with 39,000 tons of waste.)

“It’s good to have citizens to concentrate resources and keep polluters in check,” Sam Perkins, riverkeeper at the Catawba Riverkeeper, told ThinkProgress. “We have seen arsenic numbers in the groundwater decreasing as result [of the SCE&G settlement].”

And there is very little downside to the process, Perkins said. “If we’re wrong and it is without merit, I think that will play out in the judicial process.”

Perkins’ group is urging South Carolinians to contact their representatives to oppose the bill, which had been languishing in committee for nearly a year before it passed the House Judiciary Committee (5/2). The state Senate has already passed the bill, which is expected to go to a House vote in the next couple weeks.

CHARTER SCHOOLS CALLED AMERICA’S NEW SUBPRIME BUBBLE. The charter-school industry — consisting of schools that are funded partly by tax dollars but run independently — may be heading toward a bubble similar to that of the subprime-mortgage crisis, according to a study published by four education researchers.

The study, “Are charter schools the new subprime loans?” warns of several factors that appear to be edging the charter industry toward a bubble premeditated by the same factors that encouraged banks to start offering risky mortgage loans, Abby Jackson reported at BusinessInsider.com (1/6).

With charters, school authorizers play the role of the banks, as they have the power to decide whether to issue a new charter school. There are a multiple types of authorizers, including state education agencies and independent charter school boards. Most authorizers are local education agencies.

“Supporters of charter schools are using their popularity in black, urban communities to push for states to remove their charter cap restrictions and to allow multiple authorizers,” one of the study’s authors, Preston C. Green III, told the *Washington Post*. “At the same time, private investors are lobbying states to change their rules to encourage charter school growth. The result is what we describe as a policy ‘bubble,’ where the combination of multiple authorizers and a lack of oversight can end up creating an abundance of poor-performing schools in particular communities.”

STATES JOIN TRANSCANADA IN SUIT OVER KXL PIPELINE. Six states have joined with TransCanada to sue the Obama administration over its rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit application, Samanta Page reported at ThinkProgress (5/11).

TransCanada filed the suit in a federal court in Houston in January, alleging that the president had overstepped his constitutionally granted powers. The right to regulate trans-border commerce is reserved for Congress, the suit says.

But the president denied the permit based on national security grounds, which is well within his rights, Center for Biological Diversity attorney Bill Snape told ThinkProgress.

“They are basically asking the court to second-guess the president on a national interest decision,” Snape said.

The states seem to be alleging that the Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline permit application because the president thought his own reputation was on the line.

“In [President Obama’s] view, overriding the States and Congress is necessary to preserve his stature on the world stage and his bargaining position in ongoing or future multinational negotiations,” wrote the attorneys general of Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas, who this week filed an amicus brief in support of a suit against the federal government by Keystone’s developer, TransCanada.

Snape says that may well have been part of the president’s intention — and that it’s well within his purview to do so. “This law allows the president to make this decision and he gets to make it based on his interpretation of national interest,” Snape said.

ANOTHER ROUGH YEAR FOR HONEYBEES. US beekeepers lost 44% of their colonies between April 2015 and April 2016, a survey by the Bee Informed Partnership found (5/10). Total losses worsened compared to last year’s survey, which reported losses of 42.1%, Katie Valentine reported at ThinkProgress (5/10).

Beekeepers say that 18.7% is about the maximum amount of bees they can lose without serious economic impacts. The loss is also a big deal for the country’s food supply: Crops like almonds, cherries, and blueberries are heavily dependent on honeybees, and the pollination services the insects provide come to $10 to $15 bln in total per year.

The survey, which gathered data from 5,700 beekeepers from 48 states, also found that summer bee losses were elevated for the second year in a row. That’s unusual: As Dennis vanEngelsdorp, co-author of the report and assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, told ThinkProgress last year, summertime should be “paradise” for bees, with plenty of blooming plants to forage from. Some losses in the winter, when temperatures drop and plants aren’t in bloom, are expected — losses in summer aren’t.

VanEngelsdorp said (5/10) that scientists think pesticides could be playing a role in these summer losses — but that’s just a theory, he added via email to ThinkProgress. Poor nutrition may also be part of the problem: In some regions, there aren’t as many flower-rich meadows as there used to be — instead, they’re being plowed to make room for crops and other development. These wildflower fields provide a good source of nutrition for bees, so without them, bees may be becoming less healthy. Researchers are still trying to determine just what is causing bees to die in the summer.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2016


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