Cesspool of Vengeance

Staff & Wire Reports

Llewellyn King: The President Sinks Into the Cesspool of Vengeance

By Llewellyn King


Just when you think President Trump couldn’t sink any lower, he astounds. He’s bewildering in his ability to sink and then sink further — and all the while to claim success, rectitude and leadership.

This week’s plumbing of the sewers of conduct came in two Trump specials.

First, there was the unbecoming amount of presidential time spent on denigrating Omarosa Manigault-Newman. He knew her well — knew her propensity for infighting, exaggerating and lying — when he hired her on at the White House. The question is, what was a talk-show contestant of no particular ability doing in the White House to begin with?

Whether the president fired her, or his chief of staff did, doesn’t matter. Clearly, there was merit in getting her out of there. That’s now more than clear, when we learn that she was taping conversations in the Situation Room, the sacred heart of the White House.

After a firing, there’s a kind of protocol: You don’t litigate the issue ex post facto, especially in public. You let it rest; those who have been fired anywhere are usually aggrieved and angry.

The executive who did the deed doesn’t then sink into verbal mud wrestling with the dismissed person. One doesn’t do that. But Donald Trump does do that — with relish.

More egregious was his yanking the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan. This is vicious, petty, vengeful and strikes at the very basis of civil respect in America.

Security clearances are, at the least, a kind of badge, a medal, a recognition that you have served the country at the highest level of trust.

I’ve known four secretaries of defense and energy, three CIA directors and 12 national laboratory heads. I’ve seen how those now carrying the burden of office have consulted with those who had carried it.

Those who have security clearance, even if they aren’t called upon to use their knowledge often, are a kind of national reserve of expertise in sensitive matters, ready when needed. Others may need security clearance in defense contracting jobs when they leave their government service.

We don’t have civil honors as in Britain. Those with security clearances carry a little honor, a little recognition — and a lot of pride.

While Trump was bearing his teeth against the defenseless, like a hyaena afraid of losing its prey, big stuff at home and abroad was what one would’ve thought might have been of commanding interest to the president, including:

—A red tide was damaging the ocean life of Florida while hurting its tourism.

—California was burning up with the worst fires in history.

—The mayhem was continuing in Yemen.

—Turkey, a NATO member, was being driven into the arms of Russia, while its failing currency was roiling world markets.

—Russia was believed to be preparing to knock out the U.S. electric grid; and it was legitimizing its grasp on Crimea.

—China was seizing the South China Sea.

Against these, and other domestic and world crises, Trump was lost to bile and spite.

A friend, a lifetime Republican (small government, fiscal restraint, free trade, strong defense) suggested in conversation this week that the Trump legacy would cost us a generation of lost opportunity in the world. He said it would take that long to get back to old alliances and to the position of respect we have enjoyed in the world.

I disagreed. I think it could take 100 years, perhaps. The rub is one never returns to the status quo ante after upheaval. The earth moves, so to speak.

Consider two historical events with 100-year legacies. The first is the Congress of Vienna, which mapped a peace in Europe that lasted nearly a century. The second is the ill-conceived Treaty of Versailles, the peace document signed at the end of World War I. It led to World War II; and, to this day, it’s at the root of much of the trouble in the Middle East.

Tweeting isn’t communicating, settling scores isn’t governing, handing the world over to Russia and China isn’t what we expect of any president, even a petty one awash in bile.


Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is llewellynking1@gmail.com. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

One of Our Last Links to the Wild World Is in Danger

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the world’s last intact ecosystems, but dangerous oil exploration could soon spoil it.

By Dan Ritzman |August 14, 2018

I can still remember the first time I saw tracks left behind by seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It was the mid-1990s and I had been guiding a group of people on a float trip across the coastal plain of the refuge towards the Arctic Ocean. After seven days of traveling through the wildest country I’d ever seen, I was out on a late evening walk and I saw what were clearly tire tracks crossing the tundra.

I couldn’t believe it. We were hundreds of miles from the nearest road or motorized vehicle, but there they were.

For those who’ve never been to the Arctic Refuge, it can be hard to imagine a place so far removed from the busy streets and office buildings most of us encounter every day.

One of the world’s last intact ecosystems, the Arctic Refuge is home to some of the most abundant and diverse wildlife anywhere in the world, including more than 200 wildlife species. Its coastal plain is where the porcupine caribou herd travel to birth their young and is the most important denning site for polar bears in the United States.

The 19 million acre refuge is one of the few places in the United States that has never seen the impact of Western society. There are no roads, buildings, or permanent structures of any kind there. For decades, this special place has been protected from industrial activity.

And yet, to this day, tracks left from seismic exploration that took place in the 1980s are still visible. Seeing this damage was jarring, to say the least — and it could soon get much worse.

After Congressional Republicans passed legislation opening up the refuge for oil and gas drilling last year, the Trump administration has rushed to sell off the coastal plain to the industry on an accelerated schedule.

The good news is that this push has been met with near-universal resistance. Hundreds of people turned out to protest the Department of the Interior’s hearings on the plan, and hundreds of thousands more submitted public comments opposing drilling.

This spring, a group of some of the world’s most significant investors urged oil and gas companies and major banks not to initiate any oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge. And legislation has already been introduced in Congress to walk back this dangerous plan.

Actual oil development in the Arctic Refuge could be years away, if it happens at all. But in the meantime, the administration is already getting ready to approve a permit for destructive seismic exploration, which could start as soon as December of this year.

Allowing this seismic testing to go forward would do severe and permanent damage to this sensitive wilderness before a single drill rig has ever been permitted.

Not only would it leave lasting scars on this treasured landscape, seismic activity would also threaten critical habitat for polar bears. The extensive noise, vibration, and disturbance could cause mother bears to flee their dens, leaving cubs to starve to death and this already threatened population to decline even further.

The Arctic Refuge is one of our last links to the unspoiled natural world and a source of hope for future generations — even for those who may never set foot there. I’ve been lucky to spend time in this one-of-a-kind place, and it’s given me a first-hand understanding of all that’s at stake in this dangerous push to open it up to the fossil fuel industry.

Time is running out to protect the Arctic. We must all speak out to ensure that this administration’s greed and recklessness don’t leave permanent scars in America’s refuge.

Dan Ritzman directs the Sierra Club’s Lands Water Wildlife Campaign. He’s been leading rafting trips through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for 25 years. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Toys R Us May Be Gone, But Its Workers’ Fight Continues

The toy store’s former employees are fighting for a fair severance — and shaming the private equity firms who made out like bandits.

By Negin Owliaei |August 15, 2018

It was once the biggest toy company in the world. But Toys ‘R’ Us turned off the lights in its remaining stores for the last time this summer, becoming the most recent casualty of Wall Street greed.

As Toys ‘R’ Us first began its descent into bankruptcy and liquidation, it was seen as another point on the “retail apocalypse” continuum, with many in the media blaming e-commerce and changing shopping habits for store bankruptcies around the country. But the narrative is shifting to place the blame on the private equity firms that purchased the company with a leveraged buyout in 2005, only to saddle it with billions of dollars in debt.

That shift is due in no small part to the biggest victims of the buyout — the more than 30,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees now out of a job. Those workers are fighting hard for a fair severance — and consequences for the Wall Street firms that turned a profit while leaving them in financial insecurity.

The private equity companies KKR and Bain Capital and real estate firm Vornado were able to squeeze $470 million in fees out of the debt-ridden toy store after acquiring it in 2005. Top execs even won approval to hand out millions in bonuses last year while in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, arguing to the court that the chain “rewards team members at all levels of the company.”

Tell that to the workers, many of whom spent decades at the toy store, who received far less. Store employees were shocked to learn they wouldn’t receive severance upon losing their jobs, and the hefty exec bonuses were salt in the wound. In the weeks preceding the chain’s closing, employees mobilized to demand fair severance pay and decry the corporate greed that left them unemployed.

Tens of thousands of people signed petitions calling on Toys ‘R’ Us owners to pay workers out of the sizable private equity profits. Workers gathered in Bain Capital’s New York City lobby, creating a mock graveyard to mourn the toy store “killed by Wall Street greed.” They protested at the private equity firms that owned the company, outside the home of former CEO David Brandon, and within their local stores.

The store’s former employees are also doing their best to deal a blow where it would hurt most — the profits of the private equity firms that took Toys ‘R’ Us down. Workers and labor advocates have been encouraging public pension boards across the country to divest their funds from private equity firms that played a role in the toy store’s demise.

The California pension board heard from Nadia Romo, a store manager in Ventura who worked at the company alongside her fiance and step-son. The combined loss of income meant the family had to try to downsize their home in order to cover her newborn daughter’s medical insurance. She’d heard similar stories from Toys ‘R’ Us workers around the country facing everything from cancer to miscarriages, all while dealing with the loss of their jobs.

“KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado never put their hearts into a 70-year old company to grow with a great good investments in return,” Romo said. “They just took advantage of investors like you and took advantage of hard workers like us.”

Romo was joined by other Toys ‘R’ Us employees, including Sandra Lopez, a manager who worked her way up from a part-time position over the course of 22 years. Lopez told the board that she’d missed countless family events while working at the store as a single mother. “Our work in retail has value for the families we help at the stores, and our families at home. We can’t let Wall Street and we can’t let Bain and KKR take it all away,” Lopez said.

“Please, I’m asking you to do your homework and make sure you’re not investing in companies that are all about corporate greed instead of workers’ needs.”

Negin Owliaei is a researcher with the Institute for Policy Studies and a co-editor of Inequality.org, where this piece originally appeared. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Profiting Off Poison

A court found that Monsanto knew its signature Roundup chemical could cause cancer, but sold it anyway.

By Jill Richardson |August 15, 2018

The first thing I heard about glyphosate — the active ingredient in the popular weed killer Roundup — was that it was non-toxic. Whatever you wanted to say about other pesticides, many of which are poisonous to humans, glyphosate was safe.

It’s not controversial to claim that some pesticides are toxic to humans. After all, they were created to kill plants, insects, and other living things. Some pesticides are so reliably toxic that people have used them to commit suicide. Others may cause cancer or other diseases if you’re exposed to them over time.

But glyphosate? There was nothing to say against it. It did its job, killing any plant it came into contact with, and then it broke down into harmless byproducts quickly. That was it.

A new court ruling calls this understanding of glyphosate’s “safety” into question.

Allegations that glyphosate caused cancer started years ago. When I first heard them, I was skeptical. After all, this was the flagship herbicide sold by Monsanto. It wasn’t just used by farmers but by homeowners and gardeners. You could buy it at Home Depot.

Of course all of the tree huggers wanted to take down glyphosate. It would be a powerful proof that they were right, pesticides are all toxic, and their opponents were wrong.

I didn’t blindly jump onto that bandwagon. This was something that could be examined cautiously, I hoped, with science.

When I heard about the recent court decision, I approached it with hesitance. I didn’t want to believe a story that may not be true.

But I also knew that California had listed glyphosate as a chemical “known to the State of California to cause cancer” a little over a year ago. There must be credible evidence that it does.

Germany is talking about banning glyphosate in the near future, and the European Union may consider doing so down the road.

The court found that glyphosate contributed substantially to the plaintiff’s cancer and awarded him $289 million in damages. It also found that glyphosate’s manufacturer, Monsanto, acted with “malice” by failing to warn consumers about the product’s risks.

Put another way, Monsanto knew that glyphosate was not safe. The company profited from the product’s sales while covering up its toxicity.

For me, this changes everything. It doesn’t take an in-depth understanding of the science to understand a cover up. If the company that made the product found out it wasn’t safe — if they believed their own evidence — and then chose to hide it, that’s something to worry about.

That’s like tobacco companies hiding their knowledge that cigarettes cause cancer for decades while millions of Americans continued to smoke — and die.

The glyphosate case illustrates larger issues. Our regulation of chemicals still isn’t where it needs to be.

Many chemicals on the market simply haven’t been evaluated for safety. Surely many of them are safe — but what about the ones that aren’t?

An Obama-era bill would have started requiring more chemicals to be tested and proven safe… and the Trump administration partially rolled that requirement back.

Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute offers a useful approach by highlighting six classes of chemicals most likely to cause harm. By focusing testing and enforcement on the chemicals with the highest risk, we could aim to strike the right balance between keeping ourselves safe and allowing useful chemicals onto the market.

We should no longer put a company’s right to make profits from selling chemicals above the public’s right to safety.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s written extensively about food and the environment. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

The United States of Monopoly Rule

Five banks control half of all U.S. financial assets, and six conglomerates control 90 percent of our media.

By Jim Hightower |August 13, 2018

Monopolies aren’t merely un-American — they’re virulently anti-American. They suppress our fundamental values of fairness and opportunity for all.

Our people have instinctively rebelled at monopoly avarice — from the Boston Tea Party to the populist movement, labor unions, trust busters, muckrakers, the New Deal, and even Ralph Nader.

Yet, in just the last couple of decades, corporate elites and their public officials have enshrined monopoly power as a legitimate form of business in our land, aggressively protected by lawmakers, regulators, and judges.

For example, after our grassroots economy was crushed in 2007 by the greed of too-big-to-fail Wall Street banksters, officials bailed out the villainous banks at taxpayer expense — and deliberately made them bigger, more powerful, and more dangerous than ever. Today, just five banks control nearly half of all financial assets in the United States.

You’d think such a massive power grab by bank monopolists would produce an equally massive, 24/7 barrage of coverage by the nation’s media outlets, which purport to be defenders of democracy. But while an occasional story pops out about monopoly abuse, there’s no comprehensive coverage to rally a public rebellion against what’s become the “United States of Monopoly Rule.”

Why? Look at who owns America’s mass media.

Three decades ago, 50 large media conglomerates controlled 90 percent of the media. This year, after a frenzy of mergers among of those giants, just 6 mega-media monopolists control 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read. It’s not in their interest to inform the public about the threat that monopolies pose to our democracy, so they won’t.

As the great journalist A.J. Liebling warned nearly 40 years ago, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” To help battle the monopolists, check out the Center for Media and Democracy at www.prwatch.org/cmd.


Staff & Wire Reports