DC Report

Biden-Buttigieg put the brakes on 'bomb trains'

President Joe Biden, known as "Amtrak Joe" for his train trips to Washington, D.C., from Delaware as a senator, could reverse the Team Trump approval of "bomb trains" carrying carrying liquefied natural gas.

The Trump rule financially benefits an energy company tied to a hedge fund that loaned millions to the Trump Organization and the Kushner Companies. New York prosecutors are examining those financial ties to Trump.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during his confirmation hearing that he planned to take a "hard look" at the rule.

Liquefied natural gas is even more volatile than Bakken crude oil carried on trains like the one that derailed and caught fire on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Most of the victims had to be identified with DNA samples and dental records. The bodies of five of the people were never recovered.

In April 2019, Trump called for federal rules to be rewritten so trains could carry liquefied natural gas. Drue Pearce, the political appointee who was the deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, helped shepherd the regulation through the agency.

The Biden administration asked a federal judge in February to put lawsuits challenging the rule on hold to give Biden regulators time to review Trump's rules that affect climate disruption. Biden issued an executive order the day after he was sworn in to review rules that may worsen greenhouse gas emissions.

Earthjustice, one of the environmental organizations involved in the lawsuits, said the rule could bring LNG railroad cars through virtually all major U.S. cities and that a disaster could destroy an entire city.

Vapor clouds from liquified natural gas that ignite can burn as hot as 2,426 degrees. Liquefied natural gas is odorless because ethyl mercaptan, the foul-smelling compound added to natural gas for residential use freezes above the boiling point for liquefied natural gas.

On Oct. 20, 1944, liquefied natural gas leaked from a storage tank at East Ohio Gas Co. in Cleveland and got into the sewer lines, causing explosions over a square mile. The explosions and fires spread through 20 blocks, killing 130 people and destroying 79 homes and two factories in a neighborhood of Slovenian immigrants.

The Trump regulation financially benefits New Fortress Energy, a publicly traded company founded by billionaire Wes Edens. Fortress Investment Group, a New York City hedge fund co-founded by Edens, was part of a deal to loan the Trump organization $130 million to help build the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago in 2005.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has subpoenaed documents from Fortress about the deal.

Trump couldn't pay the loan which ultimately grew to about $150 million, according to documents filed in the New York Supreme Court by New York Attorney General Letitia James. She is investigating possible fraud by the Trump Organization.

James said that Fortress forgave more than $100 million of the loan, money that may have been taxable.

Fortress also loaned $57 million in October 2017 to a Jersey City, N.J., real estate project owned by Kushner Companies. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, transferred his stake in the project to a family trust.

SoftBank Group, a Japanese firm, bought Fortress Investment Group in 2017.

Corporate CEOs don't earn the millions they're paid

A new study shows that the top five executives of major corporations pocketed 15 to 19 cents of every dollar their companies gained from two recent tax cuts. The paper, by Eric Ohrn at Grinnell College, should be a really big deal.

The basic point is CEOs and other top executives rip off their companies. The officers are not worth the $20 million or more that many of them pocket each year.

Again, this is not a moral judgment about their value to society. It is a simple dollars-and-cents calculation about how much money they produce for shareholders. The piece suggests that it is nothing close to what they pocket.

This is a big deal because it is yet another piece of evidence that executives are able to pocket money that they did nothing to earn.

It is no more desirable to pay a CEO $20 million if someone just as effective can be hired for $2 million than to pay an extra $18 million for rent.

In the case of these tax cuts, company profits increased because of a change in government policy, not because their management had developed new products, increased market share or reduced production costs. Some of them presumably paid for lobbyists to push for the tax breaks, so their contribution to higher profits may not have been exactly nothing.

There is much other work along similar lines. An analysis of the pay of oil company CEOs found that they got large increases in compensation when oil prices rose. Since the CEOs were not responsible for the rise in world oil prices, this meant they were getting compensated for factors that had little to do with their work. A more recent study found the same result.

Another study found that CEO pay soared in the 1990s because it seemed that corporate boards did not understand the value of the options they were issuing.

A few years ago, Jessica Schieder and I wrote a paper showing that the loss of the tax deduction for CEO pay in the health insurance industry, which was part of the Affordable Care Act, had no impact on CEO pay.

The loss of this deduction effectively raised the cost of CEO pay to firms by more than 50%. If CEO pay were closely related to the value they added to the company's bottom line, we should have unambiguously expected to see some decline in CEO pay in the industry relative to other sectors. In a wide variety of specifications, we found no negative effect. Bebchuk and Fried's book, Pay Without Performance, presents a wide range of evidence on this issue.

Ripping Off Companies

As can be easily shown the bulk of the upward redistribution from the 1970s was not due to a shift from wages to profits, it was due to an upward redistribution among wage earners. Instead of money going to ordinary workers, it was going to those at the top end of the wage distribution, such as doctors and dentists, STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] workers, and especially to Wall Street trader types and top corporate management. If we want to reverse this upward redistribution then we have to take back the money from those who got it.

If top management actually earned their pay in the sense of increasing profits for the companies they led, then there would be at least some sort of trade-off. Reducing their pay would mean a corresponding loss in profit for these companies. It still might be desirable to see top executives pocket less money, but shareholders would be unhappy in this story since they will have fewer profits.

But if CEOs and other top management are not increasing profits in a way that is commensurate with their pay, their excess pay is a direct drain on the companies that employ them.

Money Thrown in Garbage

From the standpoint of the shareholders, it is no more desirable to pay a CEO $20 million if someone just as effective can be hired for $2 million than to pay an extra $18 million for rent, utilities or any other input. It is money thrown in the garbage.

As I have argued in the past, the excess pay for CEOs is not just an issue because of a relatively small number of very highly paid top executives. It matters because of its impact on pay structures throughout the economy. When the CEO gets paid more, it means more money for those next to the CEO in the corporate hierarchy and even the third-tier corporate executives. That leaves less money for everyone else.

The Ohrn study found that 15% to 19% of the benefits of the tax breaks he examined went to the top five executives. If half this amount went to the next 20 or 30 people in the corporate hierarchy, it would imply that between 22% and 37% of the money gained from a tax break went to 25 of the highest paid people in the corporate hierarchy.

If the CEO is getting $20 million, then the rest of the top five executives are likely making close to $10 million; the next echelon making $1 to $2 million.

If we envision pay structures comparable to what we had in the 1960s and 1970s, CEOs would be getting $2 to $3 million. The next four executives likely would earn $1 to $2 million. The third tier would be paid in the high six figures. With the pay structures from the corporate sector carrying over to other sectors, such as government, universities and non-profits, we would be looking at a very different economy.

Arranging Their Own Pay

If CEOs really don't earn their pay, the obvious question is how do they get away with it? The answer is they largely control the boards of directors that determine their pay.

Top management typically plays a large role in getting people appointed to the board. Once there, the best way to remain on the board is to avoid pissing off your colleagues. More than 99% of the directors nominated for re-election by the board win their elections.

Being a corporate director is great work if you can get it.

As Steven Clifford documents in his book, the CEO Pay Machine, which is largely based on his experience at several corporate boards, being a director can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year for 200 to 400 hours of work. Directors typically want to keep their jobs, and the best way to do this is by avoiding asking pesky questions like, "Can we get a CEO who is just as good for half the money?"

While many people seem to recognize that CEOs rip off their companies, they fail to see the obvious implication that shareholders have a direct interest in lowering CEO pay.

For example, a common complaint about share buybacks is that they allow top management to manipulate stock prices to increase the value of their options. (Editor's note: Before 1982, buybacks were illegal, deemed a form of manipulation.)

If this is true, then shareholders should want buybacks to be more tightly restricted, since they are allowing top management to steal from the company. If shareholders actually wanted CEOs to get more money from their options, they would simply give them more options, not allow them to manipulate share prices. Yet, somehow buybacks in their current form are still seen as serving shareholders.

Shareholders Losing Out

As a practical matter, it is easy to show that the last two decades have not been a period of especially high returns for shareholders. This is in spite of the large cut in corporate taxes under the Trump administration.

There seems to be confusion on this point because there has been a large run-up in stock prices over this period. Much of this story is that shareholders are increasingly getting their returns in the form of higher share prices rather than dividends.

Before 1980, dividends were typically 3% to 4% of the share price, providing close to half of the return to shareholders. In recent years, dividend yields have dropped to not much over 1%, with the rest of the return coming from a rise in share prices. If we only look at the share price, the story looks very good for shareholders, but if we look at the total return, the opposite is the case.

If CEOs really are ripping off the companies they lead, then shareholders should be allies in the effort to contain CEO pay. This would mean that giving shareholders more ability to control corporate boards would result in lower CEO pay.

As with much past work, Ohrn's study found that better corporate governance reduced the portion of the tax breaks the CEO and other top executives were able to pocket.

Reform Proposal

There are many ways to increase the ability of shareholders to contain CEO pay, but my favorite is to build on the "Say on Pay," provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. This provision required companies to submit their CEO compensation package to an up or down vote of the shareholders every three years. The vote is nonbinding, but it allows for direct input from shareholders. As it is, most pay packages are approved with less than 3% being voted down.

I would take the Say on Pay provision a step further by imposing a serious penalty on corporate boards when a pay package gets voted down. My penalty would be that they lose their own pay if the shareholders vote down the CEO pay package.

While a small share of pay packages get voted down, my guess is that if just one or two corporate boards lost their pay through this route, it would radically transform the way boards view CEO pay. They suddenly would take very seriously the question of whether they could get away with paying their CEO less money.

I also like this approach because it is no more socialistic than the current system of corporate governance. It would be hard to make an argument that giving shareholders more control over CEO pay is a step toward communism.

The basic point here is a simple one: The rules of corporate governance are unavoidably set by the government. There is no single way to structure these rules. As we have now structured them, they make it easy for CEOs to rip off their companies. We can make rules that make it harder for CEOs to take advantage of their employers and easier for shareholders to contain pay.

Progressives should strongly favor mechanisms that contain CEO pay because of the impact that high CEO pay has on wage inequality more generally. And, shareholders should be allies in this effort. There is no reason for us to feel sorry for shareholders, who are the richest people in the country. They can help us contain CEO pay and we should welcome their assistance.

There's a sad truth behind some terrific new income statistics

We have stunningly good news today: Wages in 2020 grew at by far the fastest rate in the last 45 years.

The bad news: It's a statistical anomaly caused by Donald Trump's lethal mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. The scourge wiped out almost eight million jobs held by lower-paid workers and only two million better-paying jobs.

The worse news: Two Republican senators who publicly profess their Christian faith to win over voters want to oppress millions of people trapped in poverty. With straight faces, they call their plan the Higher Wages for American Workers Act.

The good news starts out this way—in 2020, average wages grew a stunningly robust 7.2% over the previous year.

More than 80% of the 9.6 million jobs that disappeared in the pandemic paid in the bottom quarter of wages. Wipe out those jobs and the statistics on wages show an increase.

That's by far the greatest one-year growth in wages in the past 45 years. In fact, it's 80% more than the fastest previous year's wage growth, analysis of Census data shows.

Typical Pay

The better measurement, however, is the median wage. It indicates what the typical worker makes. The median marks the halfway point in wages with half of workers making more, half less. The median wage grew 6.9%, a new report by the Economic Policy Institute shows.

EPI is a nonprofit research organization that advocates for poorly paid workers and regularly issues The State of Working America report with lots of interactive graphics. I've checked its work and always find it rock solid.

The obvious question is how could wages skyrocket during a pandemic that created the worst joblessness since the Great Depression? How could wages rise at all since by the end of May more than 42 million Americans, a quarter of those with any paid labor, had filed for jobless benefits?

Just beneath the surface, we find a compelling and distorting fact: More than 80% of the 9.6 million jobs that disappeared in the pandemic paid in the bottom quarter of wages. Wipe out those jobs and the statistics on wages show an increase. What's surprising is that the increase is only about 7%.

America's low-paid jobs are disproportionately held by women, especially those with children and little education, and by minorities. In real terms, these groups have been losing ground for years even as the economy keeps growing.

But by killing their jobs, at least until the pandemic is over and recovery is complete, the data in wages paid were distorted by the fact that most of those who are out of work were in the bottom half of the pay ladder.

Forgotten Americans Forgotten

What was it that Trump promised The Forgotten Men and Women? Oh yes, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer." Well, he forgot about them and in addition to a real jobless rate of about 10% plus more than a half-million Americans needlessly dead. Had Trump followed sound public health advice, as we saw South Korea do, the coronavirus butcher's bill would be only about 10,000 dead Americans.

So how to alleviate the misery of America's working poor?

Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) say they are coming to the rescue. In a display of chutzpah and cluelessness that is extraordinary even for rich white men in high government positions, they call their bill the Higher Wages for American Workers Act.

Their bill's provisions are at odds with their professed devotion to a religion that imposes as a core duty alleviating the suffering of the poor. Cotton is a Methodist. Romney belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Cotton and Romney say the Biden administration plan for a $15 minimum wage in 2025 is way too much money. They propose a minimum wage of $10 an hour in 2025.

How much higher would real wages rise under the Cotton-Romney plan?

$12 A Week

Given the expected rate of inflation, that $10 an hour in 2025 would mean about 30-cents more in real pay than the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. That's $12 a week more for a full-time week. The current minimum wage has been in place since 2009 under legislation signed by President George W. Bush. Inflation since 2009 has shaved roughly a buck off each hour's minimum wage.

Measured back to President George W. Bush, the Cotton-Romney plan leaves workers worse off in 2025 than in 2009.

Now watch the news and see if the record rise in median and average wages is reported. Where it is, pay close attention—especially in reports by Fox News and its like—whether they say the increase is a statistical anomaly or proclaim a miracle wrought by Trump.

Having read this at least you won't be fooled.

The 1.5 million child slaves behind your chocolate bar

Next time you take a bite of a chocolate bar, consider the small hands that farmed the cocoa beans.

Industrial food heavyweights like Nestlé USA, Hershey and MARS Inc., rely on cocoa grown in Côte D'Ivoire, the Ivory Coast, to make their confections. And the West African nation relies on enslaved child laborers to farm its cocoa crops, a well-known fact in the candy world that keeps the cocoa at favorably low prices for the big companies.

A class-action civil suit brought against the big chocolate companies sheds stark light on the entire candy bar industry. It outlines the relationships between the candy makers and the cocoa farms in West Africa, which provide 70% of the world's cocoa supply. Half is grown in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Most American chocolate is made from Ivory Coast cocoa beans.

In cocoa-growing regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast more than 43% of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 living in agricultural households are engaged in hazardous work.

The plaintiffs are eight former enslaved children who, the court papers charge, were trafficked from their home country Mali, and sold to cocoa farms in the neighboring West African country.

"This lawsuit against the cocoa and chocolate industry is about much more than the eight Malian citizens who were trafficked and exploited as child slaves to harvest cocoa," says Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, founder of Cacao for Change and Cartoons for Change. Both organizations in Strasbourg, France, seek to raise awareness of child labor in both the cocoa and coffee trades.

Low Price Business Model

"The business model of the chocolate industry is cruel, exploitative, and illegal because it exploits between 2.2 and 3 million children worldwide, besides exploiting millions of farmers and farmworkers, all to buy cocoa for less than one-third of the real price," Morales-de la Cruz said.

He noted that a number of chocolate companies run their revenues through Switzerland to avoid taxes in countries, like the United States, where they earn their profits selling chocolate confections. "With their Swissploitation business model the cartel of cocoa companies 'saves' more than $20 billion per year buying cheap cocoa," he said.

This is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor as declared by the United Nation's International Labor Organization. The time is ripe to press for an end to profiting off exploitive and forced child labor.

Make no mistake, chocolate is big business. The global chocolate market is a $136 billion business. It's expected to grow to $182 billion by 2025.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbia just days ago, selecting the U.S. legal system for several reasons. In 2000, Congress and President Bill Clinton enacted a landmark law against human trafficking known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA. It has been reauthorized five times, most recently in 2019 with Congress earmarking $250 million toward the effort. That law gives us extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Our Government Knows

Since the 1990s, the U.S. State Department and the Department of Labor have recognized the existence of child slavery in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast. In 2004, State estimated there were at least 15,000 child laborers working on cocoa, coffee and cotton farms there. As the photo above shows these children wield machetes to do their dangerous harvesting.

A study conducted by Tulane University in 2015 found that the number of children engaged in the 'Worst Forms of Child Labor' on cocoa plantations grew substantially between 2009 and 2014.

In October 2020, a new report by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, which was funded by Labor, was released showing child labor had increased again in the cocoa production sector since the Tulane study.

In the 2018 to 2019 harvest season, the prevalence of children involved in hazardous child labor in the cocoa sector in the Ivory Coast and Ghana rose to almost 1.5 million children. That's also 1,000 times the official U.S. estimate in 2004. The Ivory Coast has fewer than 26 million people.

Hazardous Work

The study also found that in cocoa-growing regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast more than 43% of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 living in agricultural households are engaged in hazardous work – not just child labor, but hazardous child labor.

Comparing a 10-year span concluding with the 2018-2019 harvest season, the NORC report found a 14% increase in child labor and a 62% increase in production over the same period.

"There is a large group of extremely poor, vulnerable boys in Mali and Burkina Faso who are on the verge of starving and will do about anything for the promise of a paying job," said Terry Collingsworth, who was arrested by the Ivory Coast police as he interviewed enslaved boys at a cocoa plantation. Collingsworth is executive director of International Rights Advocates.

Mali and Burkina Faso both border the Ivory Coast. Cacao refers to the beans harvested to make chocolate. Cocoa refers to the product after the beans are roasted.

Sweet Talk

So, what's the U.S. government doing besides bankrolling studies?

In 2001, the House passed a bill that would require U.S. importers and manufacturers to certify and label their products "slave-free." Have you seen those startling words on your recent candy wrappers? No? That's because of what's known as the Cocoa Cartel, the defendants in the lawsuit, rallied against it.

Instead, they were able to get themselves a sweet deal, the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary private inspection and enforcement system that all but guaranteed the continuance of enslaved child labor.

In fact, as part of the initial Harkin-Engel Protocol, the candy companies gave themselves an arbitrary deadline till 2005 to end their reliance on child labor for cocoa harvesting. That deadline got extended again and again.

Now the industry has a goal to stop profiting from enslaved child labor by 2025, though an industry spokesperson admitted in 2018 that the industry would fail to meet that deadline.

As the class-action suit alleges, the defendants' "voluntary initiative is a sham, and they are getting away with and profiting from an international human rights crime while claiming they are making progress."

Given the fact that enslaved children are still picking the beans, it's fair to call it the Cocoa Cartel strategy "see no enslaved children." Clearly, this willful blindless strategy worked.

The U.S. government has several agencies monitoring human trafficking, in addition to the State Department and Department of Labor, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

A Loophole Hurts Kids

There are several federal laws going back to the Tariff Act of 1930 designed to reduce the profit motive for labor trafficking by barring the import of goods made with trafficked labor.

But these laws had a loophole. All importers had to do was show that domestic production could not meet demand and the use of enslaved children was irrelevant. Since the United States is not a cocoa bean country, that was as easy as breaking off a piece of a KitKat bar.

That loophole was supposedly closed in 2015, although almost no one noticed. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 was intended to close a loophole in an earlier law that made it possible for goods produced using forced labor to still enter the United States.

The new law enhanced the Customs and Border Patrol's ability to block such products altogether.

Clearly, the chocolate titans found a workaround. The lawsuit brought on behalf of the enslaved children asserts that the "defendants have engaged in various deceptive practices to avoid taking responsibility for their long-term profiting from various forms of child slavery."

After the Tulane report came out, the defendants "renewed their false assurances to consumers and regulators that they would initiate programs to reduce child labor in their supply chains," according to the suit. As the NORC study showed, child labor increased.

The suit states, "Defendants control production and could, if they wanted to, stop profiting from child labor. Instead, they chose to delay taking action by creating ineffective programs that provide public relations cover for their obviously failed efforts."

Helping 1 in 1,000

One such example is Nestlé's remediation assistance for some 15,000 children. By remediation, they mean handing out school kits, birth certificates, tutoring and other provisions – not assistance ending their enslaved labor conditions.

Other chocolate heavyweights named as defendants are Cargill Inc., Barry Callebaut USA LLC, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, Olam Americas Inc. and Mondelēz International Inc. (Nestle's American candy division has been sold to the Ferraro Group.) In addition, the suit lists 10 unidentified 'Corporate Does' as defendants.

These candy companies have higher profits because using child laborers keeps the cost of cocoa down. If the farms paid adult workers using proper protective equipment to maintain the crops and harvest the beans, prices would rise. Chocolate makers would see profits fall unless they could raise their prices. Upping consumer prices, whether by subtly shrinking candy bars or slapping on a higher price, runs the risk that people will eat fewer chocolate treats, causing sales volume to fall, lowering the profit margins of the Cocoa Cartel companies.

Dangerous Jobs for Kids

We've already noted that the work done by children on cocoa plantations is classified as hazardous and the "worst forms of child labor," according to the Tulane and NORC studies.

So, what are these enslaved children doing exactly? Children who work on cocoa plantations burn and clear fields, fell trees to expand cocoa plantations, spray hazardous pesticides without any personal protection, wield machetes to break cocoa pods and transport heavy loads of cocoa pods and water.

Add to that claims of negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress and physical abuse. Enslaved child laborers are not usually paid. They are forced to work long hours. That's true even when sick. The lawsuit says they are underfed and locked in their housing at night to prevent them from running away.

Industry Standard

Though the defendants, the Hershey's, MARS' and Nestlés, do not own cocoa farms – a fact they like to hide behind – they maintain and protect a steady supply of cocoa by forming exclusive buyer-seller relationships with Ivorian farms, according to the lawsuit. This is similar to the practice with chicken farms in the United States where companies like Perdue and Tyson Foods require chicken ranchers to rear the birds in cages of specific sizes, to feed them exact amounts of food bought from the big meat companies or at their direction and many more details that effectively make the farmers not independent businesspeople, but 21st century American serfs.

The Cocoa Cartel manages its relationships with the cocoa farms through memorandums of understanding and written and oral agreements and contracts, according to the suit. These companies dictate the terms by which such farms produce and supply cocoa to them, including "specifying labor conditions under which the beans are produced."

The candy companies control so much of the world chocolate business that they can easily wield economic leverage over the West African farmers, effectively controlling the production of Ivorian cocoa while insisting they have not seen any enslaved children.

Willful Blindness

To cultivate and keep their exclusive relationships with the farms, candy makers offer both financial assistance and technical farming assistance designed to support cocoa agriculture. Financial assistance includes advanced payment for cocoa and spending money for the farmers' personal use, according to the lawsuit. Tech support includes equipment and training in various growing techniquesnand even appropriate labor practices. Just what do these conglomerates consider appropriate?

The defendants or agents working for them visit the cocoa plantations regularly throughout the year and therefore must see firsthand the enslaved children working the crops. They know the deal. Instead of using their position to effect change for the sake of the enslaved children, they choose profit via willful blindness and zero accountability.

"The chocolate industry owned by multibillionaires and large corporations exploits millions of children and women, paying them less than the price of a candy bar," Morales-de la Cruz says. "They also deceive consumers claiming that they are fair and ethical.

"This has to stop!"

Meanwhile, Nestlé USA Inc. and Cargill Inc., which is also named in the class-action suit, are facing a consolidated legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court with an anonymous defendant for their responsibility in the human rights violations in the cocoa industry. A third defendant, Archer Daniels Midland, reportedly was dropped from the suit after settling with the plaintiffs.

The court heard oral arguments in January in that consolidated case, Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe 1 and Cargill, Inc. v. Doe 1.

That case goes back to an initial filing in 2005. It was dismissed in 2010 by Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He held that "corporations could not be sued under the current understanding of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS)." In 2013, that decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The candy companies filed petitions for review by the Supreme Court after being denied an en banc hearing, a review by a panel of judges or all the judges of a court.

Corporate Accountability

At the heart of that lawsuit is whether domestic corporations can be held accountable and liable for aiding and abetting human rights crimes committed abroad. The case could redefine the limits of corporate liability under the ATS, according to the blog Just Security.

The Trump administration tried to intervene in the case. Strangely, the acting solicitor general filed briefs on an issue none of the parties raised: whether aiding and abetting liability claims are ever permissible under the Alien Tort Statute.

"Child labor is unacceptable and goes against everything we stand for. Nestlé has explicit policies against it and is unwavering in our dedication to ending it. We remain committed to combatting child labor within the cocoa supply chain and addressing its root causes as part of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and through collaborative efforts," a Nestlé spokesperson said. "This lawsuit does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry. Child labor is a complex, global problem. Tackling this issue is a shared responsibility. All stakeholders – including governments, NGOs, the communities and the broader cocoa industry – need to continue to address its root causes to have an impact."

Some candy companies have made public efforts to at least make seem like they are trying to make changes – putting band-aids on a cancerous practice. MARS launched an endeavor in 2018 to "reshape the cocoa industry," noting the child labor and forced labor practices of the cocoa farms, for example. That effort is backed by what the company says is $1 billion.

Since the cocoa industry's use of child labor has been on the world's radar for years, it clearly will require a large-scale public reckoning and massive revenue loss to see any real change.

We would love to tell you much more about this story from the perspective of the candy companies and the federal agencies that are supposed to seize as contraband imported products made with child labor and slave labor. The problem? Calls to Hershey's, MARS and the Customs Border Patrol were not returned. Only Nestlé responded, as noted above.

Baby bust: Why the coronavirus pandemic is making many Americans rethink having kids

When lockdowns rippled across the country last March, many experts speculated that couples cohabitating together would be more apt to have sex and therefore procreate. There is precedent for this speculation: a month-long blackout in Zanzibar in 2008 — in which many were forced to stay home more frequently, just as one might during a pandemic — caused a mini-baby boom nine months later.

Yet predictions of a pandemic baby boom did not take into account how the loss of jobs, income, childcare services — and an overburdened healthcare system fighting a highly contagious coronavirus — would take a massive mental and emotional toll on women and families across the country. Monthly birth data shows that being confined to one house with your significant other doesn't make for primed conditions to bring another human being into this world, even if popular Etsy baby-wear emblazoned with "Mommy and daddy didn't practice social distancing" suggests otherwise.

According to a Bloomberg analysis, births decreased by 19 percent in California between December 2019 and December 2020. Data from Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, and Ohio show large declines in birth rates since the pandemic started compared to the previous year's data, too. A survey conducted by Modern Fertility, a company that sells fertility tests directly to consumers, found that 30 percent of nearly 4,000 people surveyed stated they changed their fertility plans due to COVID-19. One in four of those respondents said they've become unsure about having children at all; the most commonly cited reason was uncertainty about the world. Notably, a similar number of respondents stated that COVID-19 accelerated their timelines for having children.

Indeed, this tumultuous moment has caused many to rethink having kids.

Sarah Logan, editor of The Bunny Hub, told Salon via email that she and her husband decided not to have another baby right now because of the pandemic.

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

Nearly a year later, they are still on pause.

"With both of us working from home while there are two little rugrats running circles around us all day long, it's a miracle we manage to get anything done," Miller said. "We know we're not getting any younger, but unfortunately our biological clocks don't always align perfectly with our plans in life; if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that no good comes of forcing something that doesn't feel right. So, our plan is to sit tight and see how things unravel."

But deciding not to have children during the pandemic is a choice that not everyone has the privilege to make. For some who were pregnant and seeking abortions just as the pandemic hit, lockdown limited their access to providers and clinics as a handful of states made it it nearly impossible to terminate pregnancies. For people who were planning on undergoing fertility procedures like in vitro fertilization, the pandemic completely threw a wrench in those plans too — as, at the beginning of the pandemic, many of these appointments were put on hold, delayed, or deemed "non-essential" or "elective" procedures.

Sarah Urbanski had originally planned to utilize a known donor's sperm who lived abroad. The known donor would also be the same donor for her partner's pregnancy later on. But the couple quickly realized that once the pandemic hit, due to travel restrictions, that they were going to have to change plans.

"We pivoted to egg retrievals to allow ourselves to push our timeline out with our known donor hoping that travel restrictions might lessen," Urbanski said, adding that they're now doing reciprocal IVF which is when one partner supplies the eggs to be used for IVF, while the other partner carries the pregnancy. "We're trying to see it as a wonderful option for us, but no part in our fertility journey has gone according to what we originally had planned."

Urbanski said they will be working with an anonymous donor from a cryobank now, but it's been tough to rework their original plan in the middle of the pandemic.

"Any given day there's definitely some highs and lows and you know there's nothing really easy about that, and we're not in a vacuum," Urbanski said. "We have folks who are becoming pregnant and announcing that, and we're so happy for people in our chosen family and community. But it's definitely tough when we're coming around — you know, a year and a half, two years that we've been talking about this — and we still feel like we're at the starting line of our journey."

This bizarre conspiracy theory is why QAnon believers are predicting Trump’s return on March 4th

On CNN Wednesday, "QAnon Anonymous" podcast host Julian Feeld explained the strange new conspiracy theory that Trump will be re-inaugurated on March 4th as the "19th president" of the "restored" United States — and how it ties into long-standing "sovereign citizen" beliefs that the United States has been an illegitimate government for over a century.

"Can you explain the convoluted conspiracy theory that has begun to take hold that involved March 4th?" asked anchor Alisyn Camerota. "What are they expecting to happen on March 4th?"

"The March 4th theory actually comes from sovereign citizen beliefs," said Feeld. "Now in the past, we haven't seen such a huge overlap, but in this case, QAnon — certain QAnon followers have borrowed whole cloth from a belief that the last legitimate president was the 18th president, so this goes back to 1871, and this is the belief that Trump will be actually inaugurated as our 19th president."

"Now, of course, this is illogical since he was the 45th, but what they believe is that there is — there has been no country known as the United States ever since it was unstuck from the gold standard and they don't believe that any amendment past the 16th Amendment is valid," said Feeld. "They essentially believe that Ulysses S. Grant was the last American — valid American president. They believe — I mean, I think there's different beliefs, obviously, of what will happen on that day, but I think many are expecting a ceremony, and that ceremony may be accompanied in their mind by what QAnon believers called 'The Storm.' That would be, you know, as described a little earlier on the segment, the rounding up and often military tribunals, you know, for leading Democrats, but also some celebrities they believe falsely to be part of this pedophile cabal."

"So essentially people are still in this belief that Trump will come back and will become the president again. Obviously, falsely," he added.

Watch below:


Julian Feeld explains new QAnon/sovereign citizen conspiracy theory www.youtube.com




QAnon and evangelicals: Republicans baptized in crazy

Donald Trump is out, but parts of the Republican Party warmly embrace his dark legacy of white supremacy, the crazy QAnon conspiracy and civil war wrapped in faux Christianity.

Like Trump, these fake Christians reject turning the other cheek in favor of threatening or promoting violence.

The problem here isn't partisan politics, but public mental health. DCReport has covered extensively the mental-health debacle thanks to Dr. Bandy X. Lee, Harper West and other experts on how delusions spread like viruses, with Trump being a carrier.

The evidence of craziness seems to be found entirely in the Republican Party. We looked for, but have yet to discover any Democratic Party leaders pushing baseless conspiracy theories or urging civil war.

Readers who have found such material, please send links via our DCReport Tipline.

Here are some of the ways that Republican leaders reveal their affinity for the anti-democratic nature of Trumpism and QAnon, its attendant conspiracy theory:

  • In California, the Sacramento County Republican Party elected to its Central Committee a Proud Boys member who has advocated violence.

"Illegal immigrants should have their heads smashed into the concrete," a 2018 post by an antifascist group quotes Perrine as saying.

Perrine didn't deny this call to violence, he only insisted that he's not a racist.

He told the newspaper, "They can call me a Nazi all they want, and I know I have plenty of friends of all races that don't always agree with me, but they still love me.

"The Proud Boys that I affiliate with are all working men, all married men, they all have good jobs, they all believe in God."

Only after The Bee reported this did some Republicans in the California capital come to their senses and demand Perrine's ouster.

  • Oregon's Republican Party this month aligned itself with conspiracy theories as well as denouncing all 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the murderous attack on our Capitol.
  • Texas' GOP uses a QAnon conspiracy phrase—We Are The Storm—in its new logo.

The slogan comes from a poem, not crazies, according to the Texas party chairman, Alan West. He is the former congressman from Florida and retired military officer known for making bizarre statements. In 2011, he wrote, "When I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool."

Arizona GOP for Trump, Still

Texas GOP Twitter Page

  • Arizona's GOP retweeted messages in December asking if people were ready to die for Trump and his baseless claim that he really won in 2020. The original Stop The Steal tweet was deleted, but the party's official Twitter account still refers to a person who says he's ready to die for Trump. It states: "He is. Are you?"
  • You might think that the party leadership in the Grand Canyon state, long a bright red jurisdiction, would examine its position after Democrats won both U.S. Senate seats and Joe Biden beat Trump in Arizona.

While the GOP added registered voters in 2020, it lost in ballots cast. Instead of reassessing, however, Arizona's Republican leaders decided to enforce Trumpian purity. On Jan. 23 the Arizona GOP censured three leading Republicans for not embracing Trumpian madness: Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain. The widow of Sen. John McCain said she considers the censure a badge of honor.

Party leaders also re-elected the erratic and autocratic Kelli Ward as the Arizona GOP leader. She said her party suffers from "people who have been namby-pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them."

The party retweeted a menacing message. It is one of many from a Republican who holds himself out as a Christian despite tweets that are aggressively contrary to New Testament teachings about love, doing good to others and turning the other cheek:

"The Arizona Republican Party is still Trump country in all districts. Weak self-righteous sanctimonious Rs are on notice."

"Satan-Worshipping Pedophiles"

Arizona state Sen. David Farnsworth acknowledged last fall to the Arizona Mirror, a news website, that he believes the QAnon conspiracy theory but with a twist.

He said some Republicans have joined the top Democrats who, he imagines, run a global Satan worshipping cabal of pedophiles Trump is singlehandedly trying to bring down. Farnsworth told audiences that Arizona's Department of Child Safety is covering up, or complicit, in child sex trafficking.

Meanwhile, the FBI says QAnon is a domestic terror threat.

Other delusional beliefs so deeply and broadly infect the Arizona GOP that its leaders blame antifascists for joining in when our national Capitol was violently invaded by a murderous mob of Trumpers on Jan. 6.

  • Mentioned earlier, the Oregon Republican Party went further. It adopted a resolution asserting, "The violence at the Capitol was a 'false flag' operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans; this provided the sham motivation to impeach President Trump in order to advance the Democratic goal of seizing total power."

That's as crazy as QAnon.

Antifascist Nonsense

The FBI calls that nonsense, but you don't need law enforcement to know that the idea is ridiculous.

Saying Trumpers and Antifa jointly attacked our Capitol is like saying Trump is in league with Bernie Sanders. Believing, as the Oregon GOP leadership does, that the insurgents were lefties posing as Trumpers moves the party well into the realm of delusion.

  • In Hawaii, the official Republican Twitter account claims war is being waged against its members' values. And its relentless attacks on news organizations that check facts and correct mistakes include many fabrications.

Witness this Inauguration Day tweet: "Will you be joining PBS in calling for internment and re-education camps also?"

Nothing in the news clips it tweeted came close to substantiating the tweet, nor did the full PBS report.

There is a glimmer of hope that reality plays a role in the Hawaii GOP. On Sunday, Jan. 24, the state party's communications vice-chair, Edwin Boyette, resigned after sane Republicans complained about his tweets supporting QAnon.

Building a Theocracy

It's not just Trump purity that many GOP influencers are pushing. There is also their brand of Christianity, which promotes racial animosity, hatred of Democrats, intolerance and would subvert our Constitution to create a theocracy.

Consider Jenna Ellis, one of Trump's television lawyers who was paid at least $173,900 by his campaign. Ellis has met with GOP leaders in several states making fact-free claims that Trump won in November.

Ellis has a long and well-documented history of just making self-aggrandizing claims. She has a checkered career and her accomplishments are negligible, but Trump got one look at her on television and was enchanted.

Some principled Republicans see no future in a party swaddled in craziness. On Monday Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a conservative with a level head, announced that he won't seek a third term in 2022 because of what he called partisan gridlock.

While it's true that compromise is rare on Capitol Hill, intransigence traces back to anti-taxer Grover Norquist declaring, "Bipartisanship is just another name for date rape" and Trump repeatedly retweeting QAnon-supporting craziness.

Like Flake, a Libertarian whose family founded Arizona, Portman would face a primary challenge from the crazy wing of the GOP if he seeks third term.

Republicans have a friend in the company that counts their votes

After initially focusing on the surprisingly lopsided results of the senatorial election in Kentucky, DCReport broadened our scope to look at the electronic vote-counting software and electronic voting systems that we rely on to tally our votes. This prompted us to raise questions about Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), America's largest voting machine company. What we found was a revolving door between government officials and ES&S.

Voting results in three states that saw surprising majorities by vulnerable incumbent Republican senators—Maine, North Carolina and South Carolina—were almost all tabulated on ES&S machines.

Trump and his inept legal team barely have mentioned ES&S, focusing almost exclusively on Dominion Voting Systems.

Team Trump has been so vigorous in going after Dominion that it prompted us to look into how ES&S operates. What we have found so far is far from comforting.

Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell and Fox hosts have been making such bold and naked claims against the ES&S competitors, without any substance or evidence, that Fox News, NewsMax and OAN have all been threatened with litigation unless they fully retract their claims and correct a number of egregious factual errors.

Team Trump has been so vigorous in going after Dominion that it prompted us to look into how ES&S operates. What we have found so far is far from comforting.

  • Owned by a private equity firm, ES&S has been elusive about identifying the people in its ownership.
  • A number of ES&S executives and lobbyists have ties to top GOP election officials and politicians.
  • The ES&S executive in charge of the security previously worked in the Trump administration as a government executive at Health and Human Services before leaving under a cloud.
  • Forty of the 50 states use ES&S to cast and count some of their votes.
  • Of the 25 states Trump won, all but 3 either partially or fully relied on ES&S machines. The states where Trump won that didn't use ES&S machines were Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alaska.
[caption id="attachment_21864" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Counties that used ES&S equipment in the 2020 elections. (Verified Voting)[/caption]

Concerns about the reliability of vote-counting software are not new, dating back to the 1980s. Having the ability to audit votes, and making sure ballots are counted properly, has long been a major concern of computer scientists, politicians and election officials.

In December 2019, Democratic lawmakers sought answers from those top three voting machine vendors which "facilitate voting for over 90% of all eligible voters in the United States."

Three separate letters were sent to the private equity firms who reportedly own or control each of these vendors, with very limited information available in the public domain about their operations and financial performance.

Elections at Risk

In the second letter, addressed directly to the McCarthy Group, the private equity firm that owns ES&S, lawmakers wrote, "Voting machines are reportedly falling apart across the country, as vendors neglect to innovate and improve important voting systems, putting our elections at avoidable and increased risk."

In requesting details about the ownership of ES&S, the lawmakers specifically noted, "We are particularly concerned that secretive and 'trouble-plagued companies,' owned by private equity firms and responsible for manufacturing and maintaining voting machines and other election administration equipment, 'have long skimped on security in favor of convenience,' leaving voting systems across the country 'prone to security problems'."

DCReport placed numerous calls and emails to ES&S at its headquarters on John Galt Boulevard in Omaha. Only once was the phone answered. Someone who would not put us through said, "They are not going to be able to talk to you." DCReport was directed to ES&S's website. We submitted the form repeatedly but got no reply.

Understanding the Software

Our democracy now relies on private companies, which build proprietary electronic systems, to reliably count our votes. It seems reasonable, if not crucial, to understand who is behind these companies as a standard to ensure election integrity. Without such knowledge we run the risk that zealots, investors with financial stakes in who wins elections or those susceptible to bribery have an incentive to use subtle software programming techniques to deliberately miscount votes to guarantee an outcome. In close elections, software code that invalidates or miscounts a mere sliver of ballots can change the outcome.

One of our concerns is ES&S providing junkets and gratuities to election officials, as uncovered in June 2018 by McClatchy newspapers. For at least 11 years, the voting equipment and software company curried favor with election officials by paying for trips to Las Vegas, tickets to shows and gifts.

"As many as a dozen election officials" attended a meeting in Las Vegas, with a number of them accepting airfare, lodging and meals, McClatchy reported. A company spokeswoman told McClatchy the junkets were "immensely valuable in providing customer feedback. One of our key results is customer satisfaction, and this is how we achieve that."

Marci Andino, the current executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission, received more than $19,000 worth of flights, hotels and meals from ES&S since 2009, according to South Carolina Ethics Commission disclosure forms.

Andino's influence extends beyond the Palmetto State. She is also a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's Standards Board and has testified on election issues. She is a former president of the National Association of State Election Directors. To have an election official tied to a voting company creates concerns about conflicts.

Executives with Political Ties

DCReport also looked into the careers of some key ES&S executives. What we found is concerning.

Kathy Rogers, ES&S's senior vice president for government affairs, landed at ES&S after controversy over her work as a Georgia state elections official. She opposed legislation trying to ensure vote counts could be verified.

In 2019, The New Yorker wrote about her actions in "How Voting-Machine Lobbyists Undermine the Democratic Process."

"In 2006, a bill requiring a verifiable paper record of each ballot, introduced in the Georgia legislature at the urging of election-integrity advocates, failed after the state's elections director, Kathy Rogers, opposed it," the magazine reported.

Georgia used ES&S machines in 2018 but now relies on Dominion equipment.

Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race is noteworthy because it was overseen by Brian Kemp, who was then in charge of Georgia elections as secretary of state. That year, Kemp also ran for governor while overseeing his own election, a conflict of interest he disregarded.

Kemp won a narrow victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams, but only after his office blocked 53,000 voter registration applications using a strict name-matching protocol comparing state records to voter registration forms.

Kemp's Conflicts

Registrations were tossed if, for example, a person used a first name, middle initial and last name, on one form, but then used all three names in full on another. This invalidated a huge number of voter registration applications.

After Kemp won, a federal judge declared Georgia had to implement a completely new voting system in time for the 2020 elections, replacing what the judge called "unsecure, unreliable and grossly outdated technology." Kemp tried to keep using the ES&S equipment for future elections, prompting Peach State Democrats to assert cronyism in the Kemp administration.

In January 2019, the Georgia Democratic Party challenged the integrity of voting machines that did not create an auditable paper trial, a policy he pursued through the creation of the Secure, Accessible & Fair Election or SAFE Commission.

The Democrats demanded a delay on recommendations for a new voting system "following the discovery that a leading vendor under consideration, whose machines are currently being investigated in a lawsuit due to errors in the 2018 election, has deep connections to Brian Kemp's office." That vendor was ES&S. The deep ties were due to Kemp having hired a longtime associate who was a registered lobbyist for ES&S.

As Politico characterized it at the time: "Georgia likely to plow ahead with buying insecure voting machines." It also reported, "Critics argued that the bill appeared to be written with one vendor in mind: the voting technology giant Election Systems & Software, whose former top lobbyist, is now Kemp's deputy chief of staff."

How many other states are conducting elections on grossly outdated or otherwise unreliable ES&S technology in 2018 and in 2020? This is an issue we are still investigating.

In Georgia, it was Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who succeeded Kemp as the elections overseer, who announced Dominion Voting Systems as the new elections vendor.

A Clean Election

The most recent Georgia election seems to be the first election in recent Georgian history not marred by voting-machine controversy other than Trump's nakedly false claims of vote stealing and corruption aimed at Republican Raffensperger.

The 2020 voting took place on a new system with an auditable paper ballot system. Three recounts, including an audit requiring "roughly 5 million votes in that contest to be recounted by hand" and as Secretary of State Raffensperger stated, showed results as close as imaginable.

"We have now counted legally cast ballots three times, and the results remain unchanged," Raffensperger said. Furthermore, a judge declared Trump's legal team produced "precious little proof" in their pleadings.

ES&S's revolving door policy means its lobbyists are taking top government official positions as well as government political appointees are becoming ES&S executives.

One of these is Chris Wlaschin, who left the Trump administration in March 2018. He was the chief information security official in the Health & Human Services Department. A few weeks later he landed at ES&S as "its new vice president of systems security responsible for the company's security efforts."

HHS to ES&S

Wlaschin abruptly left the Trump administration after HHS Secretary Alex Azar received a letter from a lawyer representing two HHS executives. The letter asserted that Wlaschin improperly had removed the pair and cited an eye-popping false claim Wlaschin used to justify disciplinary action.

"Mr. Wlaschin has stated that my clients were removed from their positions in order to protect an ongoing OIG investigation," wrote lawyer I. Charles McCullough, a former inspector general for the National Security Community.

"You can, therefore, imagine the shock and surprise of my clients when they were both recently advised, unequivocally and categorically, by senior investigators from the HHS OIG, that neither of them are currently or were at any time in the past under investigation" by the inspector general's office, McCullough wrote.

The letter was dated March 12, 2018. Wlaschin's resume says he joined ES&S the next month.

The integrity of voting systems, and especially the ability to audit vote counts, has been the subject of public debate for more than four decades. But most of the recent attention has been focused on one company, Dominion Voting Systems, most recently because of frivolous lawsuits filed by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell and others. But is that simply a distraction.

We think the issue of who counts our votes, how they are counted, and what ties the companies selling these systems have to politicians deserves more attention. Politicians who must win elections, in order to wield power, must not be able to exert influence on the companies we rely on to tally our votes. We need serious scrutiny over our elections so we can be assured that they represent the will of the people, not of the politicians themselves, and the companies they hire to process our ballots.

There's a secret message buried in Trump's pardons everyone seems to have missed

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The 24 pardons that Donald Trump granted last week drew a lot of attention, but no one seemed to notice the message Trump sent by not issuing pardons. Trump's choices made it clear that he is a white-collar crime boss.

Trump pardoned four mercenaries who murdered Iraqi civilians, but not Jeremy Ridgeway the soldier-for-hire who plead guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others, and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Trump pardoned Roger Stone, his dirty trickster confidant; General Michael Flynn his national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort, but not Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state's evidence and confessed to his crimes.

He also pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, and longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted coconspirator "Individual 1," identified in federal court as Trump.

A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders.

The pardons of the mercenaries, who worked for Trump ally Erik Prince who supplies hired armies, of campaign aides Stone and Manafort, of Flynn and of Blagojevich carried a clear message. You can bet that lawyers for others considering ratting out Trump or who are already working with authorities to rein in the Trump crime family got the message.

The message: the boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement. Give Trump's many attacks on the FBI and other law enforcement, this should surprise no one, especially journalists -- and yet it eluded them.

Missing The Story

How is it that none of our major news organizations figured this out? Hint: they rely too much on the official version of events, official announcements and access instead of thinking and exercising reportorial authority, afraid they will be seen as tendentious. If Trump declared that the Sun rises in the West many news organizations would flee from reporting that was false, crazy, or nonsense, and some would focus on how the Sun only appears to rise, never mind that it appears to rise in the East.

The pardons issued so far and more that are no doubt coming in the next three weeks, raise grave questions about the future of our democracy that have received less comment than outrage over the brazen abuse of the pardon power, especially as part of a scheme to obstruct justice.

Think about what will happen the next time someone as lawless as Trump becomes president. Imagine a president with much more skill, smarts, and vigor than Trump, and one with better lawyers. A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders so long as they were committed in federal jurisdictions so no state-level charges could be brought. The presidential pardon, remember, applies only to federal crimes.

Trump behaved last week exactly as any crime boss would act if he could exercise the powers of the American presidency: show mercy to criminals, especially criminals who have aided your crimes or whose supporters may be useful to you in the future but do nothing for those who did the right thing once they were caught and helped bring others to justice.

Trump Helps Cocaine Trafficker Buddy

This is exactly what Trump, as a private citizen, did in a series of extraordinary favors for a major international cocaine and marijuana trafficker with whom he had extensive and close business ties.

In that case, Trump sought mercy three-time felon Joseph Weichselbaum. The trafficker personally managed and piloted Trump's helicopter in the 1980s, supplied Trump with a fleet of helicopters to ferry high rollers to Atlantic City, and rented a luxury Manhattan apartment from Trump under an unusual lease that obscured how much rent was actually paid.

In a 1986 letter to the sentencing judge, Trump called Weichselbaum "a credit to the community." Trump wrote that Weichselbaum should serve no prison time for a long-running scheme in which the mules – people who drove cars and vans loaded with drugs from Miami to Cincinnati – got 20 years.

Read carefully, Trump's letter was really directed not at the judge, but at Weichselbaum.

Trump's clear message to his buddy: don't rat me out and I'll take care of you.

Trump took excellent care of his cocaine trafficker buddy. Weichselbaum spent just 18 months in a Manhattan prison, paid only a token sum on his $30,000 federal fine because he said he was broke and yet he moved into a $2.4 million double apartment at Trump Tower upon his release. Weichselbaum said the Trump Organization also gave him a new job -- as Trump's helicopter consultant.

Now is the time to demand that Congress act to protect us from a future lawless president so he or she cannot use the pardon power balm to criminal pals and an ax to eviscerate our liberties and our control of our government.

There's a secret message buried in Trump's pardons everyone seems to have missed

Corporations take a back seat as Joe Biden readies government takeover

Among the many challenges Joe Biden's administration will have to confront after Donald Trump ends his temper tantrum is deciding what posture to take toward big business.

There will be a battle for the soul of the new president as corporate Democrats vie with progressives to influence policy in areas such as regulation and antitrust.

Initial signs are encouraging.

The Biden transition just released a list of some 500 individuals who will be staffing the Agency Review Teams charged with preparing the way for a transfer of power in all parts of the executive branch.

Most of the people are from academia, state government, law firms, non-profits, unions, think tanks and foundations.

Surveying the list of affiliations, I found only about 20 for large corporations. Most of the people are from academia, state government, law firms, non-profits, unions, think tanks and foundations.

It is likely some of the law firms are there to represent specific corporate interests, but the numerous representatives from progressive public interest, environmental and labor groups should serve as an effective counterweight.

Unions in Labor Department

In the Labor Department list there are no law firms or corporations; in their place are representatives from five different unions along with people from the National Employment Law Project and other progressive groups.

What is particularly significant is the near absence of people affiliated with Wall Street banks.

The Defense Department list has someone from JPMorgan Chase; Homeland Security has a representative from Capital One; and the International Development group includes someone from U.S. Bank. There is no one from Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Wells Fargo or Morgan Stanley.

The Treasury Department group is led by someone from Keybank, which is based in Cleveland and ranks about 29th among U.S. banks. Fortunately, the Treasury group also includes representatives from places such as the Center for American Progress, the American Economic Liberties Project and the AFL-CIO.

Environmentalists at EPA

Other balancing acts include the list for the Environmental Protection Agency, which includes a representative from Dell Technologies but also from Earthjustice (the lead person) and The Sierra Club.

Some of the corporations show up in surprising places. Walt Disney is represented on the Intelligence Community list. The cosmetics firm Estee Lauder has someone on the State Department list. Someone from Airbnb is in the National Security Council group.

Tech Companies at OMB

Looking at current corporate villains, the one that stands out is Amazon.com. It shows up on two lists—the one for the State Department and the one for the Office of Management and Budget.

Lyft and Airbnb are also on the OMB list, along with some academics, a consultant, state officials and someone from Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe-based non-profit that produces immersive art experiences.

Given that OMB oversees regulatory policy, the absence of public interest, union and environmental people raises a concern. Otherwise, it appears that the Biden team is limiting corporate influence in the emerging administration.

Let's hope it stays that way.

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