Trump White House Pins Blame for Syrian Attack on Obama Administration

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday the suspected chemical attack in Syria “cannot be ignored by the civilized world” and blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for not standing up to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“These heinous actions by the Bashar al Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” Spicer told reporters. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line,’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

The Syrian government is suspected of carrying out the attack in a rebel-held area of the country. At least 58 people were killed in what would be one of the deadliest attacks of the six-year Syrian civil war, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Obama warned Assad that there would be consequences for using chemical weapons against his own people in 2013. But he ultimately decided not to act, in part, out of concerns that toppling Assad could lead to the rise of an even more radical group.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” Spicer said. He did not, however, lay out a course of action.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the strongest proponents of arming the Syrian rebels, said President Donald Trump’s administration will be just as complicit as Obama if the U.S. does not act.

“I want to hear him say we’re going to arm the Free Syrian Army, we’re going to dedicate ourselves to the removal of Bashar Assad,” McCain said in an interview on CNN.

“We will not sit by and watch chemical weapons being used to slaughter innocent women and children,” he added.

WHOOPS!

It’s hard to be the leader of the free world whilst golfing constantly.

Trump Pulls Back Obama-Era Protections For Women Workers

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With little notice, President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that advocates say rolls back hard-fought victories for women in the workplace.

Tuesday’s “Equal Pay Day” — which highlights the wage disparity between men and women — is the perfect time to draw more attention to the president’s action, activists say.

On March 27, Trump revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order then-President Barack Obama put in place to ensure that companies with federal contracts comply with 14 labor and civil rights laws. The Fair Pay order was put in place after a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation showed that companies with rampant violations were being awarded millions in federal contracts.

In an attempt to keep the worst violators from receiving taxpayer dollars, the Fair Pay order included two rules that impacted women workers: paycheck transparency and a ban on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination claims.

Noreen Farrell, director of the anti-sex discrimination law firm Equal Rights Advocates, said Trump went “on the attack against workers and taxpayers.”

“We have an executive order that essentially forces women to pay to keep companies in business that discrimination against them, with their own tax dollars,” said Farrell. “It’s an outrage.”

Out of the 50 worst wage theft violators that GAO examined between 2005-2009, 60 percent had been awarded federal contracts after being penalized by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Similar violation rates were tracked through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Labor Relations Board.

But the research did not reveal much about sexual harassment or sexual assault claims. That’s because forced arbitration clauses — also sometimes called “cover-up clauses” by critics — are commonly used to keep sex discrimination claims out of the courts and off the public record.

“Arbitrations are private proceedings with secret filings and private attorneys, and they often help hide sexual harassment claims,” said Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality at the National Women’s Law Center. “It can silence victims. They may feel afraid of coming forward because they might think they are the only one, or fear retaliation.”

Mandatory arbitration clauses are increasingly used in employment contracts, said Raghu, who added that banning the process was an important step forward for victims of workplace harassment or assault.

Many learned about forced arbitration clauses for the first time just last year through the Fox News sexual harassment case. Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson dodged her own contract’s arbitration clause by directly suing former CEO Roger Ailes rather than the company. Ailes’ lawyers accused Carlson of breaching her contract, and pressed for the private arbitration to try to keep the story out of courts and the public record.

A new lawsuit filed Monday by Fox News commentator Julie Roginsky joined a growing list of accusations against Ailes, and claims Roginsky faced retaliation “because of plaintiff’s refusal to malign Gretchen Carlson and join ‘Team Roger’ when Carlson sued Ailes,” NPR reported.

By overturning the Fair Pay order, Trump made it possible for businesses with federal contracts to continue forcing sexual harassment cases like Carlson’s into secret proceedings — where the public, and other employees, may never find out about rampant sex discrimination claims at a company.

After the Fox News sexual harassment problem came to light, Carlson testified before Congress about forced arbitration — and Senators Richard Blumenthal, Dick Durbin and Al Franken wrote to major arbitration companies to ask for information on the amount of secret arbitration proceedings involving sexual harassment and discrimination.

RELATED: Why women wore white to Trump’s speech

“If Ms. Carlson had followed Mr. Ailes’s reading of her contract, her colleagues might never have learned that she was fighting back,” read the August 2016 letter. “They might never have followed her example; Roger Ailes might never have been exposed; and Fox News might never have been forced to change its behavior. Decades of alleged abuse — harassment that should disgust and astound any reasonable person — could have been allowed to continue.”

Blumenthal told NBC News that Trump’s overturning the Fair Pay order sends women’s rights in the workplace back “to a time best left to ‘Mad Men.'”

“These coverup clauses render people voiceless — forcing them to suffer in silence, suppressing justice, and allowing others to fall victim in the future,” said Blumenthal. “At a time when the fight for equal pay continues, Trump also moved to eliminate paycheck transparency and leave workers to negotiate in the dark.”

The other result of Trump’s executive order on federal contractors was lifting a mandate on paycheck transparency, or requiring employers to detail earnings, pay scales, salaries, and other details. The Fair Pay order Trump overturned was one of the few ways to ensure companies were paying women workers equally to their male colleagues.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s 2016 analysis of federal labor statistics, the median wage for U.S. women is about 16.8 percent less than the median for men — with women making about 83 cents to a man’s dollar. According to economist Elise Gould, that’s a gap that only increases as women become more educated and climb the corporate ladder.

“At the bottom, there’s just so far down women’s wages can go. They are protected by some degree by the minimum wage,” said Gould. “But as you move up, women are not occupying places at the top the way men are. The wage gap at the top is much larger.”

Wal-Mart is one example of how the wage gap works like an inverted pyramid. According to statistical data provided in Farrell’s class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart, women in lower-paying hourly jobs at the company made $1,100 less per year than men in the same jobs. But women with salaried positions were paid $14,500 less per year than their male coworkers.

The Fair Pay order made employers submit salary details to the government that would show massive wage gaps like Wal-Mart’s. It also made employers show overtime and deductions on paychecks so workers could make sure they were being paid exactly as they were supposed to.

The original class action case against Wal-Mart was dismissed by the Supreme Court. But Farrell told NBC News that Dukes v. Wal-Mart was a victory in its own right.

“The very public nature of that case prompted many changes by Wal-Mart including its pay and equity policies,” said Farrell of the law firm Equal Rights Advocates.

“No one, including workers at Wal-Mart, would have understood the issues in that case had there been forced arbitration clauses,” Farrell added, “Which would have kept all of those claims in secret.”

For the majority of workers, especially at low-wages, there isn’t an option to work around an arbitration clause the way that Carlson did with Fox News and Ailes.

“Unless you’re suing a deep-pocketed CEO, suing an individual for sexual harassment is not going to be the same as putting the employer on the hook for liability,” said Farrell. “You usually don’t get the same damages or results.”

SORRY FOLKS THIS IS REAL NEWS – Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government

We have obtained a list of more than 400 Trump administration hires, including dozens of lobbyists and some from far-right media.

A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An “evangelist” and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.

While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.

Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

While some names have previously dribbled out in the press, we are publishing a list of more than 400 hires, providing the most complete accounting so far of who Trump has brought into the federal government.

The White House said in January that around 520 staffers were being hired for the beachhead teams.

The list we obtained includes obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” Trump pledged to drain.

The list is striking for how many former lobbyists it contains: We found at least 36, spanning industries from health insurance and pharmaceuticals to construction, energy and finance. Many of them lobbied in the same areas that are regulated by the agencies they have now joined.

That figure is almost certainly an undercount since we only included those who formally registered as lobbyists, a process increasingly avoided by many in Washington. During the campaign, Trump said he would have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration. But they have nonetheless ended up in senior roles, aided by Trump’s weakening of Obama-era ethics rules that modestly limited lobbyists’ role in government.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

There are many former congressional staffers, several top officials from the George W. Bush administration, and even a handful of holdovers from the Obama administration. The list also includes at least eight staffers drawn from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that forged close ties to the new administration during the transition.

Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.

“If the public and Senate is in the dark about a team created without a Senate confirmation process, no one will be permitted to shed light on who is hopelessly conflicted or who is obviously unqualified — and who is both,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs. The Trump administration’s model is based on plans developed but never used by the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

“The beachhead teams involve people with considerable authority over the federal government,” said Max Stier, the CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that advises presidential candidates on smooth transitions. “We need clarity about what they’re doing and what their role is going to be.”

The Obama administration also hired temporary staffers after the inauguration. But Trump has brought in many more, Stier said.

The new list of names was provided to us by the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human resources agency. We received additional names from other federal agencies in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. At least a few people on the list have changed agencies or left the administration, including, for example, the young Department of Housing and Urban Development staffer who was fired after his anti-Trump writings during the campaign came to light.

Here is a run-down of some of the Trump hires.

The Breitbart wing

Curtis Ellis was a columnist for WorldNetDaily, a website best known for its enthusiastic embrace of the false notion that President Obama was born outside the United States. A column headlined the “The Radical Left’s Ethnic Cleansing of America” won Ellis an admiring interview with Steve Bannon, now Trump’s top aide. He is a longtime critic of trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Ellis was hired Jan. 20 as a special assistant to the secretary at the Labor Department. Asked about his role in a brief phone interview Tuesday, he said: “Nothing I can tell you.”

Jon Perdue, a self-described guerrilla warfare expert and fellow at a little-known security think tank, wrote a book called “The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism.” He is also a onetime contributor to Breitbart.

Trump’s Beachhead Team Appointments

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Perdue was featured on CNBC’s reality series “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor” for his invention, the Packbow, which Perdue came up with while studying “collapsed societies, and what people who lived in those societies came up with to either defend themselves or to survive.” It’s a bow and arrow that doubles as a compass, tent pole, walking stick, spearfishing rig, and water purification tablet receptacle.

Perdue was hired as a special assistant at the Treasury Department. The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Jaggers ran the Trump campaign in Maryland and Virginia, where he made headlines for endorsing the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was “very, very sick and they’re covering it up.” As he put it last August: “The woman who seeks to be the first female president of the United States wears a wool coat at every single thing. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? It’s a big deal, folks.”

Jaggers was hired Jan. 20 as senior adviser at the General Services Administration, which oversees tens of billions of dollars of government procurement every year. But records show he left the job on March 3. He declined to comment.

Swamp denizens, including health care lobbyists hired by HHS Secretary Tom Price

Alexandra Campau, hired at the department of Health and Human Services, was formerly a lobbyist in Washington for the law firm Cozen O’Connor. According to disclosure records, her firm’s clients included a licensee of insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Fresenius Medical Care, a German company that specializes in medical supplies for renal dialysis.

Timothy Clark, a senior adviser to HHS Secretary Tom Price, ran his own political consulting firm in California. His past clients included PhRMA, the powerful trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry.

Keagan Lenihan, also a senior adviser to Price, was a director of government relations at McKesson Specialty Health, a firm that supports independent health providers. Disclosure records show Lenihan directly lobbied HHS. For Lenihan, the new post represents a return trip through the revolving door between government and the private sector, and a reunion with an old boss. Before registering as a lobbyist, she was a senior legislative assistant for Price, when the now-HHS secretary was in Congress.

Asked about the three HHS staffers, an agency spokeswoman said: “We are not confirming or commenting on personnel at this time.”

Justin Mikolay, hired at the Department of Defense, was previously a registered lobbyist for Palantir. His title at the tech firm was “evangelist.” Mikolay lobbied for the “procurement/deployment of the Palantir Government software platform” throughout intelligence and defense agencies, according to disclosure records.

Mikolay was a speechwriter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta between 2011 and 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile. Mikolay also previously served as a speechwriter for current Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He declined to comment.

Chad Wolf, a Bush-era Transportation Security Administration official turned lobbyist, is currently serving as an adviser to the TSA at the Department of Homeland Security. His clients have included defense and homeland security contractors.

Reached Tuesday, Wolf declined to comment. George Rogers, CEO of Wolf’s lobbying firm, Wexler Walker, told ProPublica that Wolf is currently on unpaid leave.

As we’ve previously reported, lobbyists for the construction industry trade association and financial services firm TransAmerica are on the team at the Department of Labor.

Trump campaign vets — including very young ones

The list also includes what appear to be dozens of former Trump campaign staffers, including several who graduated from college last year. One, Danny Tiso at the Department of Labor, graduated from high school in 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. He worked for the Trump campaign in New Hampshire.

Seth Harris, who was on the first Obama-Biden transition team and later became a top Labor Department official, said it’s not uncommon to bring in campaign staff to agencies — “as long as there are senior political people to direct the junior people.”

“This is how you incorporate the people who are your strongest supporters into the government,” he said. “There are plenty of junior jobs in the government that these people can do — public-affairs jobs, special assistant jobs.”

Reporting was contributed by Robert Faturechi, Jesse Eisinger, Alison Gregor, Jessica Huseman, Lauren Kirchner, Alec MacGillis, Clifford Michel, T. Christian Miller, Charles Ornstein, Andrew Revkin, Marcelo Rochabrun, Lisa Song and Annie Waldman.