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Andrew Puzder Withdraws as Labor Secretary Nominee

Mother Jones

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On Wednesday, millionaire fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination to become President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor. Puzder’s confirmation hearing, delayed weeks due to his failure to submit required financial and ethics paperwork, was set for Thursday.

With his nomination facing stiff opposition from labor groups, Puzder had been bleeding support in recent days. On Wednesday, Mother Jones published details of some of the 39 labor violation claims that have been brought against his company, CKE, which owns both Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Also on Wednesday, Politico obtained and published video of a 1990 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, in which Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, wore a disguise and claimed he abused her. (Winfrey handed over the tape at the request of senators.)

Earlier in the day, National Review tried to get ahead of the nomination’s impending collapse by opposing it on immigration grounds. But as MoJo‘s Kevin Drum noted, it was probably just to change the narrative.

Well, it turns out he’s soft on immigration: he supports comprehensive immigration reform rather than walls and high-profile raids. Can’t have that. And just by coincidence, NR’s opposition comes shortly after we learned that Puzder “employed an undocumented housekeeper for several years and failed to pay related taxes.” I don’t think NR actually cares about that, though. They only care that it gives Democrats a hook to fire up the opposition. Why give them a victory that will just make them even smugger than usual? Might as well pull the plug now and pretend that it was all because conservatives have such high moral standards.

This is a developing story and we’ll update as more information becomes available.

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Andrew Puzder Withdraws as Labor Secretary Nominee

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The “alt” government agencies on Twitter are telling you everything President Trump won’t.

On Thursday, TransCanada, the corporation behind the infamous project, resubmitted an application to the State Department for permission to build the pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

Just two days earlier, President Donald Trump had signed a presidential memorandum formally inviting the company to give the pipeline another go. Apparently, TransCanada got right down to work.

“This privately funded infrastructure project will help meet America’s growing energy needs,” said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, “as well as create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs.” A 2013 State Department report found the pipeline would create 28,000 jobs, but just 35 would be permanent.

Barack Obama rejected the pipeline plan in 2015, after indigenous groups and environmentalists fought it for nearly a decade. Now that a new application has been submitted, the project needs to be OK’d by both the State Department and Trump to proceed. Nebraska also needs to review and approve the project, which it’s expected to do.

Last June, TransCanada took advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal Trump disdains — to file a $15 billion claim against the U.S. government for rejecting its Keystone proposal. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

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The “alt” government agencies on Twitter are telling you everything President Trump won’t.

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Your Day-One Guide to President Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump takes office today as the most conflicted and ethically problematic president in the nation’s history. He refuses to divest from his global business holdings. His company continues to make foreign deals even after he promised to halt them. He owes hundreds of millions of dollars to domestic and overseas banks and other financial institutions. And Trump has yet to release his tax returns, making it impossible to know the full extent of his business dealings, liabilities, and other potential conflicts in the US and around the world.

On the first day of Trump’s presidency, here is a guide to the conflicts and ethical questions that will dog him from the moment he steps foot in the White House.

Trump’s Other Home on Pennsylvania Avenue

There was a joke during the presidential campaign: Win or lose, Trump would still have a presence on DC’s iconic Pennsylvania Avenue. The Trump International Hotel opened last year in the historic Old Post Office Building four blocks from the White House, charging $850 a night for a room and $26 for a hamburger. Trump’s unexpected victory, however, presented a new problem for the incoming president: He will violate the Trump International’s lease the moment he takes office.

Trump’s lease with the General Services Administration—the landlord of the federal government—bans any elected official, including the president, from having a financial stake or gaining a financial benefit from the property. Congressional Democrats argue that Trump, under the terms of the lease, must legally divest himself from the 263-room hotel before taking office. If he chooses not to divest, Democrats say the GSA should evict Trump.

The conflicts here are many. Trump’s administration will oversee the GSA and handpick its leader, and the agency will in turn be tasked with negotiating with Trump Organization officials over rent, lease terms, and so on. GSA officials have hedged their comments about the fate of the hotel. The agency said in a statement in December that it “plans to coordinate with the president-elect’s team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building.” Trump’s transition team stayed mum about the lease controversy while Trump himself has refused to cut ties with the hotel. The Trump International, meanwhile, has courted foreign dignitaries, raising questions about whether the new administration was pushing foreign governments to patronize the hotel. This week, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer gave a shout-out to the hotel: “It’s a stunning hotel. I encourage you to go there if you haven’t been by.”

The Foreign Connection

The Emoluments Clause was an obscure provision of the US Constitution—until Trump arrived on the scene. The clause prohibits any government official from receiving money, gifts, and anything else of value from a foreign government. In the view of many constitutional experts, Trump stands in violation of the Emoluments Clause from the first day of his presidency. “Applied to Mr. Trump’s diverse dealings, the text and purpose of the Emoluments Clause speak as one: this cannot be allowed,” wrote Norm Eisen, a former chief ethics lawyer under President Obama, and Richard Painter, a former chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.

A foreign state-owned bank rents space in a Trump-owned building. Trump has loans via a partnership with the Bank of China. Foreign diplomats and governments are paying to stay at the Trump International Hotel in DC, which is largely owned by Trump and run by his company. And then there are the many Trump-owned and -branded hotels across the globe—deals that in some cases involve partnerships with questionable characters. (A project in Azerbaijan with the son of the country’s transportation minister is one glaring example.) All of these sources of money—and many more—run afoul of the Emoluments Clause, according to Eisen and Painter.

Trump has responded to questions about his conflicts with flat denials. “The law is totally on my side,” he said in late November, “meaning the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Ethics experts say this isn’t true. In an analysis for the Brookings Institution, Eisen and Painter studied legal and historical precedent and came to the conclusion that evidence “compellingly” supports “the longstanding and near-unanimous consensus among lawyers and legal scholars that the Emoluments Clause applies in full to the President.”

At a press conference earlier this month, Trump said he was turning control of his company over to his sons and declared that the Trump Organization would pursue no new international business during his presidency. He also said the company would terminate many foreign projects (like the Azerbaijani project, which has long been dormant anyway) that the Trump Organization had in development. But, just this week, one of his Scottish golf courses announced plans to expand and Trump projects in Indonesia appear to be moving forward. While Trump bragged at the press conference about turning down a deal with Dubai-based property development company DAMAC, he did not address the fact that he has an ongoing licensing deal with company worth between $2 million and $10 million a year.

It’s Not What You Own—It’s What You Owe

Trump, as Mother Jones has reported, will enter the White House as the most indebted president in history. And the new president’s debtors, which include foreign financial institutions, raise a whole slew of questions.

According to Trump’s financial disclosure forms, his largest single lender is Deutsche Bank, which he owes $364 million. The German bank and US law enforcement officials have sparred in recent years, with the bank agreeing to pay a $7.2 billion fine for its role in the 2008 mortgage crisis. The Justice Department has an ongoing investigation into the bank for allegedly helping to funnel money out of Russia.

The fact that Trump will enter office with his biggest lender under investigation by his administration is one of the most obvious conflicts his debts pose. But there are other ethical issues: What happens if one of his lenders wants to renegotiate the loan’s terms? How can the public be sure that the bank isn’t using its leverage to curry favor or that Trump isn’t using his position to seek special treatment? Although Trump has said he is separating himself from the daily operations of his company, he has personally guaranteed a number of his loans. Will Trump recuse himself if a decision directly involving one of his lenders lands on his desk?

Trust Isn’t Blind

During his press conference earlier this month, Trump laid out his plan to insulate himself from conflicts of interest: He would place all of his assets in a trust controlled by his sons, who would not discuss any of the Trump Organization’s business dealings with him. An “independent ethics adviser” would vet any new Trump Organization deals. And Trump would donate any hotel profits derived from foreign governments to the US Treasury.

Ethics experts were aghast. They had been nearly unanimous in their advice that Trump place his assets in a blind trust run by an independent trustee who oversees the assets and can sell off those that pose a conflict. Trump’s plan was so far outside the boundaries of what past presidents and cabinet members typically do that the usually press-shy director of the Office of Government Ethics publicly blasted the proposal. Trump’s transition team did not even consult with the OGE, according to Walter Shaub, the office’s director. “We would have told them that this arrangement fails to meet the statutory requirements,” he said.

For Trump, however, the issue appears to be settled—even if that means entering the White House as the most conflict-ridden President in US history.

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Your Day-One Guide to President Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

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Sprint Update: 5,000 New Jobs, But They Still Don’t Know What They’re For

Mother Jones

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Last April, Sprint announced that it planned to hire 5,000 workers to deliver cell phones to customers at their homes. A few days ago it announced it would be hiring 5,000 new workers for…something. I surmised that these were actually the same 5,000 workers, and Sprint wasn’t doing anything new. But apparently I was wrong. Max Ehrenfreund reports:

Representatives of Sprint have said the company will create positions for about 5,000 more people in the United States, counting both new employees and workers at Sprint’s contractors.

….Spokesman David Tovar said that the new positions would be in addition to Sprint’s previously announced plans to expand its presence on the street with 2,500 new stores and a fleet of vehicles for delivering phones. However, he added, the company has not yet determined exactly what the new workers will do or how many of them will work for Sprint as opposed to contractors.

Well…OK. But this is damn peculiar. We’re going to hire 5,000 new people, but we don’t really know what they’re going to do. What kind of company does something like that? It’s nuts. But they do know that a bunch of them will work for contractors. How do they know that? It’s all very mysterious. But I guess Masayoshi Son wanted to suck up to Donald Trump, so he sent down word to hire 5,000 people and find something for them to do. Welcome to free enterprise, Trump style.

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Sprint Update: 5,000 New Jobs, But They Still Don’t Know What They’re For

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How to Dress Well—Without Ever Buying a Single Piece of Clothing

Mother Jones

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Last year, a friend of mine hosted a clothing swap. There were about 10 women and just a few rules: Bring clothes you want to get rid of. Take the items from your friends’ closets that you like, and the rest goes to the local thrift shop. The setup was an easy way to recycle the ridiculous number of garments in our millennial closets—we ditched items we hadn’t worn in months or even years and came away with some fresh, if worn-in, items, like the pair of American Apparel high-waisted cutoff jean shorts I left wearing.

I’m not as wardrobe-obsessed as the average American, who bought 64 articles of clothing and spent more than $1,100 on clothes and shoes in 2013. The average woman had just nine outfits in 1930. Today, her drawers are so stuffed she can wear a different getup every day of the month. Women only use about 20 percent of their wardrobes and typically wear an item just seven times before pushing it to the back of the closet. After that comes the landfill: Each of us discards about 80 pounds of textiles every year.

Fast-fashion stores like H&M and Forever 21 have made it easy to buy and dump outfits at record speed. In fact, between the time I wrote this story and when it hit the newsstands, the industry took women through upward of 10 new trends. This endless march of cheap off-the-shoulder blouses and oversize T-shirt dresses can also be bad for workers, as manufacturers have cut costs by outsourcing production to sweatshops abroad. Ninety-seven percent of our clothes are made abroad, sometimes in exploitative or even deadly conditions, points out Elizabeth L. Cline in her book, Overdressed. “If we’re going to shop in this way that’s so obsessed with novelty,” she says, “how can we do that in a way that’s not so destructive?”

So my friends and I were clearly on to something. And as it turns out, so is a small but growing corner of the fashion world. The best-known example may be Rent the Runway, a New York-based subscription company that lets you choose clothes you like online and ships them to your house. When you’re over an outfit, you mail it back, and it’s shipped out to the next person who’s had her eye on it.

Since it was founded in 2009, Rent the Runway—which started as a service just for formal wear but has since expanded to include office and casual outfits—has raised $126 million from venture capitalists. It recently moved into a 160,000-square-foot warehouse and now has more than 6 million members. It’s no surprise that a handful of competing companies have cropped up. Le Tote, an online shop that offers a similar clothing rental service, recently raised $27.5 million. An app called Curtsy lets you rent from your neighbor or classmate. These new clothiers are “asking customers to put their closets into the cloud,” says Jennifer Hyman, ceo and co-founder of Rent the Runway.

The so-called “Netflix for clothing” model clearly cuts down on waste—instead of 20 women buying identical shift dresses from Zara, they can all share one. And when Rent the Runway retires an outfit from rotation, the company sells it or donates it to charity instead of throwing it out.

But there are downsides, too: Fashion subscription services require repeated cleaning and shipping. Many companies dry-clean items between wearers; no one wants a shirt with the lingering smell of someone else’s BO or cigarettes. That process typically involves chemical solvents like perchloroethylene, which can leach into groundwater and has been linked to neurological problems, acute loss of coordination, and liver tumors in mice. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies this chemical solvent as a “likely” carcinogen. Rent the Runway claims its dry cleaning facility is the largest in the country, and that instead of perchloroethylene it uses a nonhazardous alternative. Brett Northart, the co-founder of Le Tote, told me that his company employs a cleaning technique somewhere between dry cleaning and laundry to reduce the volume of chemicals used, though he declined to divulge details.

The jury is still out on whether online shopping creates more carbon emissions than brick-and-mortar retailers, and fashion subscription services require double the shipping, since customers send their boxes back when they’re done. There’s also packaging to consider: When you buy a shirt online, more than half the carbon footprint is from the cardboard, tissue paper, or plastic used to ship it.

Rent the Runway sends its clothes in a reusable garment bag, which it says saves an estimated 287 tons of shipping waste each year. But the bigger win of the clothes-sharing model, says Cline, is how it changes the way we think about our closets. “It’s hard to imagine us getting back to a place where people only buy things they plan to wear for the rest of their lives,” she told me. But if we can kick the habit of wearing an outfit once and then tossing it, that’s major progress. “People are starting to use rental sites as a substitute for buying new, and that’s really huge.”

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How to Dress Well—Without Ever Buying a Single Piece of Clothing

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