Trump ‘considers’ Putin request to hand over McFaul for interrogation

July 20, 2018

As U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned at their July 16 press conference in Helsinki, Finland, Russia has offered to cooperate in the questioning of 12 of its citizens who have been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the run-up to the 2016 election.

In turn, Putin has requested that the United States turn over former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, as well as several other Americans, for questioning by its Federal Security Service (FSB) over what McFaul has said are “trumped up” charges.

According to White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that request from Putin is currently “under consideration” by the Trump administration—and the president will provide his answer after he meets with his team.

The Trump administration’s ambiguity over whether the former U.S. ambassador would be made available for questioning by the Russians has the U.S. diplomatic community up in arms and has left the seasoned diplomat in question “flabbergasted” over Trump’s seeming unwillingness to defend him against Putin, Mediaite reported on July 18.

Speaking to top MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow on her show on July 18, Mediaite reports that McFaul explained that Putin had been trying to get at him for years. “Vladimir Putin has been after me for a long time, even when I was ambassador, harassing me in ways no other U.S. Ambassador there has ever experienced,” he said to Maddow. “He’s done some outrageous things around the world but even to our diplomats and even to me personally.”

Then, referring to the fact Trump seemed willing to turn a U.S.citizen and diplomat over to Russia for questioning, he added: “What I was totally flabbergasted by was [that] the White House would not defend me. I’m an American citizen. I worked for the government for five years. It would have been so easy to bat it back.” 

Indeed, showing his diplomatic chops, McFaul said that he hoped the White House would come around to the correct answer—a resounding “no”—soon.

In further discussion with Maddow, McFaul made it clear that exposing him to the Russians would be an “outrageous act.”

“You just have to push back on crazy stuff like that. It’s in not just the interests of people like me …; it’s in the American national interests. You can’t in any way dignify such an outrageous claim of tit for tat, moral equivalency, which for some reason our president continues to do when it comes to Vladimir Putin.”

Research contact: @Mediaite

Trump nominates pesticide pro to be USDA’s chief scientist

July 19, 2018

On July 16, President Donald Trump nominated a former Dow Chemical executive who had worked in the company’s pesticide division to be the next chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This would represent the POTUS’s third major hire of a Dow alumnus for his administration.

In recent history, Dow has been at odds with environmentalists and the USDA, not only over its pesticides, but over its genetically modified seeds.

Trump drafted Scott Hutchins for a position that has remained open since Sam Clovis’s’ nomination failed to clear the Senate, largely due to his lack of scientific background, Mother Jones reported this week.

Hutchins earned a doctoral degree in entomology—the study of insects and their relationship to humans, the environment and other organisms—from Iowa State University in 1987; so he has some knowledge of science. Since then, in addition to working in Dow’s pesticide division, Hutchins has served as global director for the company’s entire “crop protection” services division—which manufactures and markets pesticides, herbicides, and fungus killers.

In his role as chief scientist—formally known as undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics—Hutchins would set the agenda for the USDA’s $2.9 billion research budget.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded Trump’s selection of Hutchins this week, saying, “I am very excited …. [Dr. Hutchins’] extensive background in research and commitment to sound science and data make him exceptionally qualified for this post, and I am eager to have Dr. Hutchins join the team.”

The nomination still must be confirmed by the Senate.

Research contact: press@oc.usda.gov

Paul Ryan: “No question that Russia interfered”

July 18, 2018

Despite his continued assertions that there is “no evidence of collusion with Russia” and his support of California Representative Devin Nunes’ “undercover investigation” of the Russia probe, House Speaker Paul Ryan has issued a statement slamming President Donald Trump’s refusal to admit that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election, Vox reports.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” Ryan said. “That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community, but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”

Ryan’s comments came in response to the press conference that marked the end of a two-hour private meeting in Helsinki, Finland, between President Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

At that meeting with the media, President Trump flatly answered a question from the Associated Press on the Kremlin’s role in the 2016 presidential election, “I have asked President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The POTUS noted that U.S. intelligence leaders—including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats—“came to me … and said they think it’s Russia.”

While he said he had “great confidence” in U.S. intelligence, President Trump implied that he trusted Putin more. “…I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Ryan’s rebuke to those comments came as a surprise. Throughout a week that included an ornery meeting with NATO and an interview with The Sun that criticized Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, the House Speaker had repeatedly said that the president should not be bashed while he was overseas.

But it seems Trump’s shocking performance in Helsinki was beyond the pale—even for Ryan, Vox reported.

Research contact: karoun.demirjian@washpost.com

Before meeting with Putin, Trump clarifies, ‘Who’s your daddy?’

July 17, 2018

Who’s the best deal-maker and negotiator, bar none? During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump liked to say it was him, but, according to a July 16 report by Vox, the POTUS “gave away the game” even before his two-hour summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin began.

About four hours before the meeting in Helsinki, Finland, yesterday was set to start, President Trump took to Twitter, saying, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!—referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Trump campaign collusion during the 2016 election.

His point was obvious: America is to blame for its antagonistic relationship with the Kremlin, not Russia.  And 40 minutes before the meeting, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov responded to Trump’s tweet with two words: “We agree.”

That’s stunning, said Vox. Noting, “Trump and Russia are now—very publicly—on the same page about why they believe ties between the two countries are so poor. That could serve as a huge propaganda win for Russia, which has spent decades bashing the US for Moscow’s economic and political problems.”

Research contact: alex.ward@vox.com

‘Dark money’ funds TV ads to defeat Dems

July 16, 2018

So-called “dark money” has funded nearly 44% of TV spots about Congressional candidates during the first six months of this year, according to an analysis of Kantar Media data by USA Today, released on July 13. And more than half of those ads (25%) have not been positive.

In all, nearly 386,000 television spots focused on House and Senate races aired between January 1 and July 8, ranging from ads by candidates to those funded by outside groups. That total surpasses the 355,464 broadcast TV spots that ran at the same point in the last midterm elections for Congress in 2014 and underscores the battle raging for control of Congress.

Leading the way, the news outlet said, were organizations “affiliated with” billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, whose conservative donor network “plows hundreds of millions of dollars into politics” during each election cycle.

Indeed, two groups tied to Koch—Americans for Prosperity and Concerned Veterans for America—accounted for more than 25% of the advertising from groups that don’t disclose their donors. Both broadcast negative ads against five Democratic senators from red and purple states who are up for reelection—among them, Senators Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Not only that, but they are only just kicking off their efforts, both to oust candidates who do not support their political agenda—and to advocate for those who are prepared to hold the conservative line.

Americans for Prosperity has announced that it will spend at least $1 million on paid advertising and voter outreach to advance the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who is President Donald Trump’s pick for the seat on the Supreme Court being vacated by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy..

The other groups in the top five are One Nation, an issue advocacy group linked to Senate GOP leadership; Vote Vets Action Fund, a Democratic group that aims to elect veterans to office; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Democrats need to flip 23 seats in order to regain the House majority. But the party has a tougher challenge in the Senate. They’re largely playing defense and protecting ten seats in states Trump won, despite Republicans’ slim 51-49 seat majority

Research contact: fschoute@usatoday.com

64% of Americans support Roe v. Wade

July 13, 2018

As the U.S. Senate prepares to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the public is strongly opposed to any attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide. Currently, 64% of Americans believe the decision should stand, while 28% would like to see it overturned, based on findings of a poll released by Gallup on July 12.

The poll was conducted July 2-8, just before President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Many Democratic senators quickly voiced their opposition to the conservative 53-year-old judge—whom, they say is pro-life and against indicting a sitting president. While nominees to the high court often do not openly share their personal views on issues, their past public statements are scrutinized.

Partisans’ opinions are sharply polarized, with 81% of Democrats, 70% of Independents and 41% of Republicans saying they do not want Roe v. Wade overturned. In contrast, 51% of Republicans, 22% of Independents and 13% of Democrats want it reversed.

While Democrats’ opinions have been consistent over time, Republicans’ views have been less so. For example, a majority of Republicans—albeit a slim majority, at 52%—said in 2006 that the case should not be overturned.

However, one Republican is holding firm, according to a report by CNN. Vice President Mike Pence  told the news outlet on July that he still wants to see the judgment overturned—but wouldn’t say whether Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would be the guy to make it happen.

When asked in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash about wanting to outlaw abortion, Pence responded, “Well, I do.

“But,” he continued, “I haven’t been nominated to the Supreme Court.”

Pence denied that either he or President Donald Trump had asked Kavanaugh about his views on abortion. “What the American people ought to know is, as the president said today, this is not an issue that he discussed with Judge Kavanaugh, I didn’t discuss it with him either.”

Research contact: datainquiry@gallup.com

Trump leaves ‘special relationship’ with NATO allies in doubt

July 12, 2018

Leading up to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels this week (July 1-12), U.S. President Donald has left America’s “special relationship” with its European allies in doubt.

In June, the POTUS wrote harsh letters to the leaders of several NATO allies—among them, Belgium, Canada, Germany, and Norway— taking them to task for spending too little on their own defense and warning that the United States is losing patience with what he said was their failure to meet security obligations shared by the alliance, Axios reported.

“Trump still seems to think that NATO is like a club that you owe dues to, or some sort of protection racket where the U.S. is doing all the work protecting all these deadbeat Europeans while they’re sitting around on vacation, and now he is suggesting there are consequences,” Derek Chollet, a former U.S. Defense Department official who is the EVP for Security and Defense Policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States told The New York Times.

Europeans have been watching Donald Trump begin to implement his rhetoric on trade in ways that are very combative,” he said, “and they’re starting to contemplate whether he would do this regarding security issues, as well.”

According to poll findings by Pew Research Center, the American public does not necessarily agree with its president. About six-in-ten Americans (62%) had a favorable opinion of NATO in a 2017 Pew Research survey of the United States. and 11 other member countries.

Across all 12 NATO member countries included in the 2017 survey, a median of 61% approved of the alliance, including a majority of respondents in every country except Spain, Greece and Turkey. In the Netherlands and Poland, roughly eight-in-ten (79%) said they have a positive view of NATO.

According to Axios, European Council President Donald Tusk directly addressed President Trump on the eve of Wednesday’s NATO summit, warning the United States to “appreciate your allies; after all you don’t have that many.”

Dear Mr. President: Please remember about this tomorrow, when we meet at the NATO summit, but above all, when you meet President Putin in Helsinki,” Tusk said. “ It is always worth knowing: who is your strategic friend? And who is your strategic problem?”

Senior European officials told Axios’ National Political Reporter Jonathan Swan that they’re worried Trump will spend the NATO summit beating up on European allies for not spending enough on defense. In his remarks, Tusk acknowledged that Europe should spend more, but emphasized that “genuine solidarity” is most important.

Research contact: info@pewresearch.org

Oh, you beautiful doll: Brooklyn company raises over $600K for a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure

July 11, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the Supreme Court justice perhaps best-known for her strong voice in favor of gender equality and her dissenting opinion in Bush v. Gore—always has been a woman of action. Now, a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign, started by the Brooklyn-based creative house FCTRY and asking for $1 pledges since April, has raised an amazing $613,655 from 15,652 backers to produce a lifelike action figure of the plucky, intellectual jurist. When the fundraising window ended on July 10, the campaign had exceeded its original funding goal of $15,000 by over 4 000%, MIC reported.

The action figure’s prototype was sculpted by Mike Leavitt, a Seattle-based master caricaturist who portrayed the diminutive, soft-spoken member of the court with her characteristic, piercing gaze. The six-inch replica comes wearing her “righteous robe”, carrying a teeny-tiny gavel, pointing a finger, and wearing pulled-back hair and wire-rim glasses. The dolls will be available for shipping in September.

One dollar from the sales of each $20 action figure will be donated by FCTRY to She’s the first, an organization that fights gender inequality through education. STF provides scholarships to support girls who will be the first in their families to graduate from high school, and strains students everywhere to be global citizens.

On its Kickstarter page, FCTRY said it selected RBG as the subject of its newest campaign because she’s a “tremendously positive and inspirational character to so many different kinds of people.”

But she is not the only action figure available to support a good cause. RBG is just the latest offering from FCTRY, which also sells replicas of former President Barack Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and, yes, President Donald Trump. (The POTUS already is sold out. Sorry.)

“Knowing that some of these figures will surely wind up in the hands of young girls and boys who may, quite possibly, grow up entirely free of all of the antiquated stereotypes that RBG has spent her life dismantling is both gratifying and humbling,” FCTRY’s Kickstarter says.

Followers already are asking for more versions of the figure. In fact, one woman who already had order 3 RBGs and 2 Obamas pleaded in an email to the Kickstarter site, “And yes …[Rachel] MADDOW! My 89-year-old mom would be over the moon.” Another said, “MADD … Wait for it …DOW!”

Finally, liberals, take heart. For $100, you can have a full dream team of RBG, Warren, Hillary, Obama, and Bernie shipped straight to you, with proceeds going to several good causes.

Research contact: @fctry

World Health Assembly is aghast when USA objects to ‘mother’s milk’ resolution

July 10, 2018

Most of us think of “mother’s milk” as unsullied and irreproachable. Not so, the Trump administration. A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this May 21-26 in Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly. However, the U.S. delegation instead chose to embrace the interests of infant formula manufacturers—upending the deliberations, according to a July 8 report by The New York Times.

Based on decades of research, the proposed resolution stated that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

American officials turned the tables on the other delegates by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt, the Times reported: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to conversations the Times had with officials from Uruguay, Mexico, and the United States.

We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the Policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

During the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution to the W.H.O., several negotiators said. Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organization, providing $845 million, or roughly 15 percent of its budget, last year.

The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.

Research contact: @Euromonitor

For the first time, USA takes in fewer refugees than other nations

July 9, 2018

The number of refugees resettled in the United States decreased more than in any other country in 2017, according to a Pew Research Center analysis released on July 5 of new data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This represents the first time in over 30 years—since the adoption in August 1980 of the U.S. Refugee Actthat America has taken in fewer refugees than the rest of the world.

Historically, Pew noted, the United States has led the world in refugee resettlement. In fact, since 1980, the U.S. has taken in 3 million of the more than 4 million refugees resettled worldwide.

However, in 2017, the U.S. resettled 33,000 refugees—the country’s lowest total since the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and a steep drop from 2016, when it resettled about 97,000. Non-U.S. countries resettled more than twice as many refugees as the U.S. in 2017—69,000—even though refugee resettlement in these nations was down from 92,000 in 2016.

Previously, the closest the rest of the world had come to surpassing the U.S. on this measure was 2003, when the U.S. resettled about 28,000 refugees and the rest of the world resettled about 27,000.

Despite a sharp single-year decline in refugee resettlement, the U.S. still resettled more refugees (33,000) than any other one country. Following the U.S. were Canada (27,000), Australia (15,000) and the United Kingdom (6,000). Sweden, Germany, Norway and France each resettled about 3,000 refugees. Per capita, Canada led the world by resettling 725 refugees per one million residents, followed by Australia (618) and Norway (528). The U.S. resettled 102 refugees per one million U.S. residents.

Overall, the world resettled 103,000 refugees in 2017, down from 189,000 in 2016. The broad-based decline included decreases in other leading countries in refugee resettlement, such as Canada and Australia, although the drops in these countries were more modest than those in the U.S.

Refugee resettlement involves a different group of migrants than those seeking asylum by entering Europe via the Mediterranean, coming to Canada via the United States, and crossing into the U.S. at its southern border. Asylum seekers migrate and cross a border without having received prior legal permission to enter their destination country, and then apply for asylum. Resettled refugees, by contrast, don’t enter their destination country until they have legal permission to do so, because they apply for refugee status while in another country. The refugee approval process can take several months or years, while destination countries complete security checks on prospective refugees.

The decline in refugee resettlement comes as the global refugee population increased by 2.75 million, and reached a record 19.9 million in 2017, according to UNHCR. This exceeds the high in 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What’s more, U.S. refugee resettlement is on pace to remain at historically low levels in 2018. The Trump administration lowered the refugee ceiling for fiscal 2018 to 45,000 refugees, according to a report by NPR– the lowest cap since the Refugee Act was adopted by passed, according to U.S. State Department data. The number of Muslim refugees admitted to the nation has dropped more than other religious groups, Pew said.

Research contact: info@pewresearch.org