Kushner earns praise for support of criminal justice reform
By JILL COLVIN
Wednesday, December 19
WASHINGTON (AP) — It was the first time many liberal advocates had set foot inside President Donald Trump’s White House.
And they came at the invitation of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner — a top White House adviser whom many liberal and good-government groups have criticized, questioning his lack of experience in government, potential conflicts of interest and cozy relationship with foreign leaders, including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
But in White House conference rooms and lobbying trips to Capitol Hill, Kushner worked with advocates, legislators and others on both sides of the aisle to try to craft a deal to make the nation’s criminal justice system fairer. Now Kushner, the likely subject of new investigations when Democrats take control of the House next year, is getting credit for helping to spearhead what could be the first major bipartisan legislative success of the Trump era: a first-in-a-generation criminal justice overhaul that passed the Senate Tuesday and is expected to pass the House later this week.
“I don’t think this would have happened without him,” said Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender, adding that the bill would have “a profound effect on thousands of families who have been suffering as a result of this broken system.”
Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, who attended multiple meetings at the White House and lobbied with Kushner on the Hill, said that while the center’s policies are generally “very oppositional” to the Trump agenda, criminal justice offered a rare opportunity for cooperation. Kushner “understands why this is a very important issue and the effect that it could have,” she said.
For Kushner, the criminal justice issue has long been deeply personal.
Kushner was in his early 20s and a law and business school student in the mid-2000s when his father was sentenced to federal prison on charges of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.
“When you’re on the other side of the system, you feel so helpless,” Kushner told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I felt like, I was on this side of the system, so how can I try to do whatever I can do to try to be helpful to the people who are going through it” and deserve a second chance.
While the issue was never part of Trump’s campaign message, within months of his father-in-law taking office, Kushner was spotted in the hallways of Congress, coming and going from meetings on the subject. He worked with groups including the ACLU, Brennan Center, and the conservative Koch brothers’ network, along with Republican governors, law enforcement groups, former Obama special adviser Van Jones and reality star Kim Kardashian West. Trump supports the measure.
Even before the bill comes up for a vote, though, some of the unlikely allies who successfully worked with Kushner on criminal justice are skeptical the working relationships built in recent months will translate into further bipartisan successes. The Trump administration enters a new era in January, when Democrats take control of the House.
Democrats have made clear that they intend to use their subpoena power to investigate the administration, including Kushner, who is expected to face an onslaught of inquiries digging into everything from his businesses, to his security clearance, to his relationship with the man accused of ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Revamping criminal justice, they say, was a unique and rare area of consensus.
“The fact of the matter is that many of the policies of the Trump administration are squarely at odds with ACLU principles. And it’s lovely to have a rapport on an issue you can agree with,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It might be much harder to find common ground on any other issue.”
Kushner declined to comment on the record about the expected inquiries, and what the new reality might mean for his father-in-law and the White House.
He also faced opposition from within the administration, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was deeply opposed to the sentencing changes that helped to bring Senate Democrats on board. Even on Tuesday, critics of the bill, including Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, were making a final push to amend the legislation, which gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts, in a way that would likely kill its prospects.
But Romero, whose ACLU has filed 107 lawsuits against the Trump administration so far, most challenging its immigration policies, said that Kushner’s role in working with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was “critical to getting us to this point.”
He praised Kushner’s “tenacity” and “doggedness,” pointing to repeated phone calls and weekend text messages to trade ideas and status reports, even after an initial summer meeting at the White House when Romero told Kushner a previous version of the bill was “anemic.”
“Though we have many areas of disagreement with the White House, it was refreshing to find one area where we could work together,” Romero said, adding that, Kushner’s personal commitment to the issue “allowed us to break through.”
Holly Harris, a conservative strategist and executive director of the Justice Action Network, credited Kushner’s efforts to put Republican governors supportive of the legislation in front of the president to share their experiences about how similar efforts in their states had helped reduce crime.
“Their voices were critical in showing another side of reform to the president,” she said of Trump.
“He never quit. He never slowed down. He kept moving things,” added Grover Norquist, an advocate for lower taxes, who also worked with Kushner.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj
Trump administration moves to ban bump stocks
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Tuesday, December 18
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration Tuesday banned bump stocks, the firearm attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns and were used during the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The regulation gives gun owners until late March to turn in or destroy the devices. After that, it will be illegal to possess them under the same federal laws that prohibit machine guns.
Bump stocks became a focal point of the gun control debate after they were used in October 2017 when a man opened fire from his Las Vegas hotel suite into a crowd at a country music concert, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more.
The regulation was signed Tuesday by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. It will take effect 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen Friday.
Bump stock owners will be required to either destroy them or surrender them to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a senior Justice Department official said. It is impossible to know just how many bump stocks Americans own because the devices aren’t traceable, but ATF has estimated that between 280,000 and about 520,000 have been sold since 2010.
Investigators expect most owners will comply with the new rule and ATF will take action against those who don’t, the official said. But there’s no surefire way to know whether owners are complying. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump was “once again fulfilling a promise he made to the American people.” Trump had promised the ban in March, saying the devices “turn legal weapons into illegal machines.”
Shortly afterward, the Justice Department started the process of amending firearms regulations to define bump stocks as machine guns. ATF received about 186,000 comments on the proposal.
The amended regulations reverse a 2010 ATF decision that found bump stocks did not amount to machine guns and could not be regulated unless Congress changed existing firearms law or passed a new one. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, some members of Congress sought to ban bump stocks, but no legislation was passed. At least 10 states have sought their own restrictions.
The amended rule was met almost immediately with resistance from gun rights advocates, including Gun Owners of America, which said it would file a lawsuit against the Justice Department and ATF to protect gun owners from “unconstitutional regulations.”
“These regulations implicate Second Amendment rights, and courts should be highly suspect when an agency changes its ‘interpretation’ of a statute in order to impair the exercise of enumerated constitutional rights,” the organization’s executive director, Erich Pratt, said.
The Justice Department official said the government will fight any legal challenge that may be brought
The National Rifle Association called on the Justice Department to provide amnesty for gun owners who already have bump stocks.
“We are disappointed that this final rule fails to address the thousands of law-abiding Americans who relied on prior ATF determinations when lawfully acquiring these devices,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.
Police said the gunman in the Las Vegas massacre, Stephen Paddock, fired for more than 10 minutes using multiple weapons outfitted with target scopes and bump stocks. Paddock fatally shot himself after the shooting. There were 23 assault-style weapons, including 14 fitted with rapid-fire “bump stock” devices, strewn about his 32nd-floor hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel.
The largest manufacturer of bump stocks, Slide Fire Solutions, announced in April that it would stop taking orders and shut down its website. The remaining stock of the devices is now being sold by another company, RW Arms, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Associated Press writer Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.
Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 .
Unhinged GDP Growth Could Actually Destroy the Economy, Economists Find
December 5 2018
For decades, scientists have warned of the pending crisis for the planet and humanity in the event of runaway climate change. But a new paper from prominent economists frames the situation in language that people might actually understand: Not addressing climate change, they conclude, will lead inevitably to “worldwide economic collapse.”
Researchers also have a warning for renewable energy evangelists and techno-optimists, concluding that it is a fantasy to believe that the economy can grow at a torrid pace — as measured by GDP — while simultaneously reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas.
That’s because the “P” in GDP — production — necessarily requires energy inputs, which means more burning of fossil fuels unless and until the shift is fully made toward clean energy. That’s not a case for despair, though: By allocating less than half of what world governments spend annually on fossil fuel subsidies to mitigation efforts, we can prevent the above dystopia and improve millions of lives in the process — especially compared to what’s coming our way if we don’t.
As COP24 gets underway in Poland, the Institute for New Economic Thinking has released two working papers from prominent economists backing up the increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists. In “Economic Growth and Carbon Emissions,” Enno Schröeder and Servaas Storm find empirical evidence that economies can’t continue to grow their GDPs exponentially and bring down carbon emissions in line with the targets set in the Paris Agreement. In moving toward the latter, though, world governments can “improve overall welfare by redistributing income (and growth) between countries and income groups,” the authors told me via email.
In order to grapple with the harsh reality of economic growth and climate change, Schröeder and Storm argue, governments need new ways of measuring welfare and well-being that don’t rely on GDP growth. (Bhutan, for instance, measures “Gross National Happiness,” but there are other options as well.)
Looking at data from the International Energy Association and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development between 1971 and 2015, they dismantle a popular notion that carbon emissions can be “decoupled” from economic growth. Traditionally the two have moved together; greater wealth leads to greater energy use and fossil fuel consumption, and economic downturns reduce both. Yet studies in the last few years — including by the World Resources Institute — have appeared to indicate that a number of countries, mostly in the Global North, managed to grow their GDP while simultaneously limiting emissions. Hailing similar results, former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in a 2017 Science piece that “this ‘decoupling’ of energy sector emissions and economic growth should put to rest the argument that combating climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living.”
While Schröeder and Storm find the decoupling story to be the case for territorially bounded production emissions — those generated within a country’s borders — including consumption-based emissions paints a very different picture. “Even if we find evidence suggesting a decoupling of production-based CO2 emissions and growth, consumption-based CO2 emissions are monotonically increasing with per capita GDP,” they write. “Faster growth will either mean emission targets will not be met (at all), or alternatively will require even faster technological progress and structural change,” the authors elaborated by email.
“In the global climate talks, people avoid talking about the issue how much global economic growth is possible or consistent with these 1.5 degrees emission pathways. It is the hot potato no one dares to touch,” they added.
In a similar vein, Gregor Semieniuk, Lance Taylor, and Armon Rezai wrote “The Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change and the Economy,” using a macroeconomic model to argue that while theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios largely assume steady economic growth, they undercount potential emissions by ignoring the historic relationship between higher GDP and increased energy usage, which — in a fossil fuel-based energy system — means more greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere. “If world output goes up to 3 percent per capita, energy use would go up by 3 percent per capita, and they didn’t get a hold of that,” Taylor said of the IPCC modeling.
Still, authors of both papers were clear that stymying GDP growth would not entail reducing quality of life. “This does not mean an across-the-board reduction in standards of living,” Schröeder and Storm added. While GDP growth has traditionally been seen as a proxy by economists for economic prosperity, the papers each point out that it’s a poor metric, calling out the “rather loose link between GDP and welfare or standards of living.”
“The big investments in mitigation have the potential to create new, meaningful and decently paid jobs, reducing unemployment and underemployment,” they said in their email. “There are many opportunities for increasing standards of living if only one cares to look beyond GDP.”
Such a scale of mitigation — in line with the Paris Agreement — is entirely possible, if politically treacherous. “It is still possible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees (or 2 degrees),” Storm and Schröeder told me. “There is still time to act (12 years or a bit longer); engineers and earth systems scientists tell us that technical solutions exist, people are creative and can make progress under stress. As Will Steffen put it” — referencing an interview the scientist gave to The Intercept — “a wartime-like effort could work.”
Taylor and company assert that spending 6 percent of global GDP on mitigation — the equivalent of around $2.24 trillion each year on mitigation efforts — could limit emissions to just the level already baked in, around 1.3 degrees. As they point out, in “absolute terms, these outlays are large but comparable to other forms of spending.” Referencing a 2017 study from the International Monetary Fund, for instance, direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuel producers already amount to $5.3 trillion per year. Mind, the IMF calculations cast a wide net in terms of what they consider a subsidy, including the unpaid social cost of carbon and local health impacts. Such spending is also roughly comparable with what world governments spend on the military ($1.74 trillion), itself — in the case of the U.S. — a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
That spending, they write, will be “large but lying within the range of macroeconomically feasible reallocations,” in line with the fact that there is “no geophysical reason we can’t limit the global temperature to 1.5-degree,” per the co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group 3, Jim Skea. Taylor says the results of his team’s research are “guardedly optimistic,” cautioning that “there are possibilities, but the window is closing.”
As the the IPCC report and National Climate Assessment have made uncomfortably obvious in recent weeks, doing nothing could be leagues more disastrous, with financial losses potentially doubling those caused by the Great Recession by 2100. Taylor and his colleagues map out what they call a “causal loop” that includes the historical tie (“positive feedback”) between rising greenhouse gas emissions and rising economic productivity, as well as a looming negative feedback whereby those rising emissions trigger a global depression if allowed to continue unchecked. “Net emissions go up for nearly a century and then trail off in the wake of an output collapse,” researchers find. Taylor noted the risk that a crescendo of climate impacts threatens a “real destruction of physical capital. … Suppose you get a Category 5 hurricane going up the Houston ship channel. That will hit output directly.”
“Complications notwithstanding,” he and his co-authors conclude, “unless this loop is severed, it will inevitably lead to worldwide economic collapse.”
The narrative put forth in these two papers stakes out a kind of middle ground between the doomsday accounts that crop up around new climate reports and the techno-optimism common among some climate advocates — that the renewable energy revolution is already upon us, or at least waiting to be unleashed by a few clever market tweaks. “In the end,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Der Spiegel, “capitalism is a wonderful thing. It really does drive people to do what’s in their own interest. And that is often good with regard to climate change.”
Schröeder and Storm — along with advocates of the Green New Deal, which is being backed by a growing number of politicians and civil society groups in the U.S. — warn against both. “[O]ptimism can lead to self-deception: we make plans and show good intentions, but in actual fact do not (yet) act. But then clearly one can be pessimist as well, when looking at the limited achievements in decarbonization in the past, at the still low level of penetration of renewable energy in the global energy mix and at the lack of political support and political will to decisively act,” they write, referencing the dangers of falling into what economist Albert Hirschman called the “‘futility trope’ — the idea that policy will not work, because it is too late or the problem is too big.”
The stakes are indeed dire, and barring an enormous, economy-wide course correction, the decades ahead could be every bit as miserable as the most doomsday scenarios suggest — and that the latest IPCC report and National Climate Assessment spell out in painfully clear detail. But the corrective that the Green New Deal and related efforts asserts is that that fate is hardly inevitable — and eminently avoidable. It won’t be easy, but it’ll certainly be easier in the long run than failing to act at the scale of the problem.