Tag Archives: federal

Obama’s FEMA chief: To rebuild after hurricanes, let’s talk climate change

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief has some advice for the Trump administration after back-to-back hurricanes in the past month: You have to look at climate change science if you want smarter disaster relief.

Drawing on eight years of experience leading FEMA under President Barack Obama, Craig Fugate warned on Tuesday that flood-prone areas can’t simply “rebuild to the past” using historical data on 100-year flood risk. Instead, he said at an event at the liberal Center for American Progress, the country needs to “build to future risk.”

The situation is especially critical now that Congress will be appropriating billions in aid to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Climate change is helping make these disasters bigger and nastier, but Fugate said they are only natural hazards that “become natural disasters when we’re pricing risk too low. We’re putting vulnerable populations and your tax dollars at risk.”

Fugate refused to discuss President Donald Trump’s or FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico in his remarks or in conversations with the press on Tuesday, but his discussion of the Obama administration’s response to Superstorm Sandy in 2013 presented a stark contrast. He recounted how Obama gave him a specific charge after Sandy, saying that “we need to start talking about climate adaptation” to better cope with the new risks posed by rising global temperatures.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had the opposite response after the hurricanes, saying a discussion of “a cause and effect isn’t helping.” When Trump was asked about climate change after Harvey, he said only, “We’ve had bigger storms.”

Just 10 days before Harvey’s record rainfall in Houston, Trump reversed Obama’s 2015 executive order to hold federal infrastructure spending to higher elevation standards in floodplains. Building even a foot or two above the existing standards saves money, and potentially lives, in the long-term, Fugate said. “Putting more money in the front end, we save the taxpayer in the long run,” he said. He also criticized the federal flood insurance program for pricing risk so low that it encourages overdevelopment in vulnerable areas, shifting the losses from flooding to the federal taxpayer.

Speaking to reporters at the event, Fugate gave an example of why climate adaptation is necessary. If, after a natural disaster, you rebuild a fire station at the same elevation, to the same building codes, then you risk losing critical emergency resources when they’re needed most. But if you build it to withstand the future risk we know is coming, then the fire station stays intact to help residents through the disaster.

“In many cases we’re doing things that just don’t make sense … and you’re saying you’re building back better,” Fugate said, adding, “We have to rebuild [Puerto Rico] back for a Maria.”

Mother Jones AJ Vicens has been reporting on the ground from Puerto Rico; read his story about how FEMA supplies and assistance have been slow to reach some communities, including one just 45 minutes from the capital, San Juan.

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Obama’s FEMA chief: To rebuild after hurricanes, let’s talk climate change

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Lowering Taxes on the Middle Class Is a Loser for Democrats

Mother Jones

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Eric Levitz argues today that Democrats need to campaign on lowering middle-class taxes:

The party has plenty of internal disagreements on pocketbook issues. But there is a broad consensus on Team Blue that the tax code should be more progressive. It shouldn’t be difficult for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to unite most elected Democrats around a tax-reform blueprint.

Such a plan could combine return-free filing with a massive increase in the tax credits for earned income and child care, financed by healthy increases in the taxation of high-income individuals and multi-million-dollar estates. The party could also go more ambitious, and offer a detailed plan for overhauling the tax system with an eye toward simplicity and progressivity.

Here’s the problem with this: Middle-class Americans barely pay any federal income tax at all. Here’s the data from the Tax Policy Center for 2013:

The income quintile in the dead middle pays 2.6 percent of its income in federal income taxes. How much less do even Democrats want to make it?

If liberals really want to have an impact on the middle class, they have to focus on other taxes. For the middle quintile, the payroll tax is about four times higher than the income tax. State sales taxes are in the same ballpark. Those are the taxes that matter. As far as the federal income tax goes, if Democrats really want to lower and simplify it, they should just propose a zero percent rate up to an income of $100,000, along with an EITC that refunds money to the working poor. That would be pretty popular.

Of course, it would also mean that Democrats have decided to battle Republicans on their home field, which is probably a losing strategy. It also means they’ll have a much harder time justifying single-payer health care, free college, subsidized daycare, and all the other stuff they support. Sure, they can pay for some of this stuff by raising taxes on the rich, but that only takes you so far.

If I had to guess, I’d say Democrats are better off focusing on more and better services for the middle class, not lower income taxes. That redistributes income at least as well as progressive tax rates. Probably better.

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Lowering Taxes on the Middle Class Is a Loser for Democrats

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Brennan: CIA Was Original Source of Trump-Russia Investigation

Mother Jones

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How did the FBI’s investigation into the Trump-Russia connection get started, anyway? Former CIA director John Brennan says he was the one who got the ball rolling:

I encountered . . . intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,” Brennan said, adding that he did not see conclusive evidence of collusion but feared that Trump associates were wittingly or unwittingly being used to advance the interests of Moscow.

….Brennan testified that he was disturbed by intelligence that surfaced last year showing a pattern of contacts between Russian agents or representatives and people with links to the Trump campaign. “That raised concerns in my mind,” Brennan said….With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began in July — the first time a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe.

That’s from the Washington Post. Brennan was testifying before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the New York Times adds this disheartening tidbit:

On Aug. 4, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Mr. Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the F.S.B., not to meddle in the election. Not only would interference damage relations between the two countries, he said, it was certain to backfire.

“I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Mr. Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.”

Mr. Brennan’s warning proved futile. Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered with the election, it has become a divisive partisan issue, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to accept the conclusion. President Trump has declared that “Russia is fake news” and tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.

I don’t blame Brennan for thinking that Russian interference in the election would outrage everyone regardless of party. I suppose I might have thought the same thing. But it ain’t so anymore:

As always, click the link for the whole story.

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Brennan: CIA Was Original Source of Trump-Russia Investigation

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Europe is going all in for batteries.

Though the official release is planned for Tuesday, leaked versions of the 2018 budget proposal show dramatic funding cuts for environmental programs — even those supported by the president’s own party.

The budget, which still needs congressional approval, would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 35 percent. It also slashes funding for cleanup programs like Superfund, but adds cash for water infrastructure.

After submitting an original budget blueprint, the Trump administration faced backlash from Democrats and environmental groups about the drastic cuts. But Republicans are wary of what President Trump might propose, too.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, has said she opposes the elimination of programs like Energy Star and ARPA-E, which funds energy technology research. Both were cut in the draft budget. Republicans have also defended regional water programs that Trump proposed cutting.

Murkowski, along with five other Republican senators, urged Trump to set aside money for the Department of Energy’s research in a May 18 letter. “Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year,” they wrote.

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Europe is going all in for batteries.

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The White House Is Weighing A Plan To Weaken The Special Prosecutor’s Investigation Into Trump’s Russia Scandal

Mother Jones

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By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.

Trump has said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation “hurts our country terribly.”

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

The Justice Department is already reviewing Mueller’s background as well as any potential conflicts of interest, said department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Even if the Justice Department granted a waiver, the White House would consider using the ethics rule to create doubt about Mueller’s ability to do his job fairly, the sources said. Administration legal advisers have been asked to determine if there is a basis for this.

Under this strategy, the sources said the administration would raise the issue in press conferences and public statements.

Moreover, the White House has not ruled out the possibility of using the rule to challenge Mueller’s findings in court, should the investigation lead to prosecution.

FOCUS ON CASTING A CLOUD OVER MUELLER

But the administration is now mainly focused on placing a cloud over his reputation for independence, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University School of Law, said the Justice Department can grant a waiver if concerns about bias are minimal.

She said subjects of the investigation could later argue that its results cannot be trusted, but she believes the argument would not stand up in court.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether it is reviewing the ethics rule in order to undermine Mueller’s credibility.

Mueller’s former colleagues at WilmerHale, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, are expected to join his investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the law firm. Neither Quarles nor Zebley represented Kushner or Manafort.

Mueller will now lead the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Trump’s associates and senior Russian officials.

Unlike Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel appointed by a three-judge panel to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate holdings in the 1990s, Mueller depends on the Justice Department for funding and he reports to Rosenstein, who was appointed by Trump.

When he announced Mueller’s appointment this week, Rosenstein said Mueller will have “all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, additional reporting by Gina Chon in Washington and Jan Wolfe in New York; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)

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The White House Is Weighing A Plan To Weaken The Special Prosecutor’s Investigation Into Trump’s Russia Scandal

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Iowa Just Showed Us What Defunding Planned Parenthood Under Trumpcare Would Look Like

Mother Jones

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In a harbinger of what’s to come if the Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, Planned Parenthood has announced that it will close four health clinics in Iowa next month that serve nearly 15,000 patients.

The move is a direct result of a defunding measure signed into law by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week that will go into effect on July 1. The new law rejects federal Medicaid dollars and replaces them with a state-run family planning program that will prohibit low-income patients from using their publicly funded insurance for care at providers, like Planned Parenthood, that also offer abortions.

“What is happening in Iowa is what we could see across the country if Congress passes this dangerous law to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “This is hardest on people who already face barriers to accessing health care—especially people of color, young people, people with low to moderate incomes, and people who live in rural areas.”

The defunding measure enacted by Iowa is similar to the one attached to the Obamacare repeal bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that passed the House earlier this month and must now head to the Senate. That proposal would undo a federal statute that allows Medicaid patients to use their coverage broadly, prohibiting states from excluding abortion providers in doling out Medicaid reimbursements for nonabortion care. (The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for most abortions.) Iowa’s new law rejects federal Medicaid funding and replaces it with state money so as not to run afoul of this federal requirement.

A number of other states have attempted to exclude abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, but only Texas has ever done so successfully, doing in 2011 exactly what Iowa did last week. Texas’ state-funded program promised to maintain the same level of care for patients without Planned Parenthood, through community health clinics, federally qualified health centers, and more. In reality, there was a significant drop in care for low-income patients: A number of clinics closed. Other health centers attempted to step in, but nearly 26,000 fewer women received reproductive health care. Medicaid contraception claims declined by 35 percent, suggesting that fewer low-income women were obtaining contraceptive care. There was also an increase in childbirths among women receiving Medicaid who’d previously received contraception from Planned Parenthood clinics. The areas that saw the largest drops in women served were those where Planned Parenthood clinics had to close.

The Iowa counties that will be losing Planned Parenthood clinics are poised for a similar decline in access to care: In three out of the four counties with health centers closing—Burlington, Keokuk, and Sioux City—Planned Parenthood served at least 80 percent of the family planning patients using publicly funded insurance, according to 2015 data.

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Iowa Just Showed Us What Defunding Planned Parenthood Under Trumpcare Would Look Like

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A Public Service Announcement

Mother Jones

Do you have a friend or relative who’s having a lot more “senior moments” than they used to? Your doctor has ways to diagnose what’s really going on. She can perform neurological exams, mental status tests, mood assessments, and, in cases where the patient has unusually heavy responsibilities that make it especially important to get a firm diagnosis, brain imaging scans that distinguish between healthy neurons and diseased neurons:

In patients who are showing signs of dementia, brains scans will show a buildup of amyloid plaque that destroys the tau proteins that keep the brain’s messaging system running smoothly. The result is disintegrating microtubules and tangled nerve cells.

Don’t worry: insurance will cover the cost of these tests if you work for a large employer like the federal government. So keep an eye out for the warning signs: isolation from friends,1 irritability and unpredictable fits of temper,2 poor judgment,3 difficulty speaking plainly,4 trouble understanding visual images like maps,5 difficulty planning things,6 and memory lapses.7

1cnn.com/2017/05/12/politics/trump-comey-white-house-morale-fallout/
2redux.slate.com/cover-stories/2017/05/trumps-rage-powers-his-ruthlessness-and-his-ineptitude.html
3nytimes.com/2017/05/15/us/politics/trump-russia-classified-information-isis.html
4portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2017/04/25/18971137/the-best-parts-of-trumps-trainwreck-ap-interview
5cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/04/28/trump-electoral-maps-reuters-interview-newday.cnn
6politico.com/story/2017/05/15/donald-trump-fake-news-238379
7nbcnews.com/video/trump-forgets-to-sign-executive-order-911564355790

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A Public Service Announcement

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Why Trump’s Firing of Comey Should Be Investigated

Mother Jones

There are multiple investigations of the Trump-Russia scandal underway, including two conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees, one by a Senate judiciary subcommittee, and one (or more) by the FBI. They cover a range of issues: Vladimir Putin’s secret operation to subvert the 2016 campaign to help Donald Trump win, interactions between Trump associates and Russia, ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador (and how the White House handled that controversy, as well as Flynn’s acceptance of foreign payments from Russia and other nations and his other business dealings), and, possibly, the business- and lobbying-related actions of Paul Manafort, who managed Trump’s campaign, and other people close to Trump. Now there is a need for a new investigation that focuses on Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey.

This could well be the most serious inquiry of all because it would raise the sensitive issue of impeachment.

When Trump pink-slipped Comey on Tuesday, his Justice Department released a three-page letter with reasons why Comey should be booted. The justifications were all related to how he managed the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails at the State Department. The criticisms were familiar and old: Comey had gone too far when he first held a press conference in July to declare the investigation was over but harshly criticized Clinton and then informed Congress days before the election that his agents had revived the investigation to review a newly found cache of Clinton emails (which turned out to hold essentially no new information). Of course, Trump enthusiastically praised Comey for his October surprise, because it dealt Clinton a blow in the final days and conceivably helped Trump win. But now, suddenly, Comey’s conduct in that episode is supposedly the grounds for Trump showing Comey the door.

The initial news reports tell another story. Various insider accounts—yes, based on anonymous sources—indicate that Trump’s firing of Comey was motivated, at least in part, by Trump’s anger over the ongoing Russia investigation. Politico reports:

Trump had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

And who was the best target for his anger? Comey.

Last month, Comey appeared before the House intelligence committee, and his testimony put Trump in a bad spot. Comey noted that the FBI had no information to support Trump’s baseless charge that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump before the election. He was practically calling Trump a nut or a liar. Then Comey, in an unprecedented move, revealed that the FBI had been investigating interactions between Trump associates and Russia since last July. It was a stunning moment: the FBI chief disclosing his bureau was running an investigation that could lead to his boss, the president. All of this showed the Trump-Russia scandal was still on fire.

Naturally, Trump was enraged. He has dismissed the Russia story as fake news and a hoax. Comey said it was nothing but.

If Trump fired Comey to impede the Russia investigation, he possibly engaged in obstruction of justice. That is a crime. That is a case for impeachment. In fact, the first of the three articles of impeachment filed by the House judiciary committee against Richard Nixon in 1974 was for obstruction of justice. That article listed as one reason for impeachment: “interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees.”

Trump certainly appears to have tried to interfere with the Russia investigation by dismissing Comey.

A congressional investigation of Trump’s action is warranted. There are White House and Justice Department officials who can be questioned on this subject. They can be asked how the firing was discussed and handled by administration officials. (Congress might also want to ask Comey about the President’s claim, in his termination letter to the FBI director, that Comey had assured Trump on three occasions that he was not a target of the bureau’s investigation.) There may be documents to subpoena. (One side issue: how could Attorney General Jeff Sessions participate in this decision, as he did, if he recused himself from anything to do with the Russia investigations because he had lied about his own meetings with the Russian ambassador?)

This is not simply a personnel matter. Trump does have the right to fire Comey. But if this was done to smother an investigation, Trump may have violated the law, defending himself and not the Constitution. He knows why he did this—and presumably so do Sessions and assorted White House and Justice Department officials. Congress needs to step in and guarantee for the American public that the president has not abused his power and obstructed justice to protect himself. And there are several committees in the House and Senate that could assume this critical mission. With Trump’s firing of Comey, the Trump-Russia scandal has moved from a tale of a foreign power undermining American democracy to the story of a president possibly doing the same.

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Why Trump’s Firing of Comey Should Be Investigated

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One Chart Shows How the Trump Tax Plan Will Totally Pay For Itself

Mother Jones

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Here’s the first quick-and-dirty estimate of how much Donald Trump’s tax plan would cost. It comes from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Oh please. This is a ridiculously pessimistic estimate because CRFB doesn’t account for the economic growth this tax plan will unleash. They estimate that productivity would need to grow 3.8 percent per year to make Trump’s plan pay for itself, something they scoff at. But that’s well within reason:

I don’t see a problem with that. Do you? Yes? That’s probably because you don’t believe in the power of the white American worker. That’s why you lefties lost the election.

Perhaps you sense that I’m taking this less than seriously. Guilty as charged. But if Trump himself doesn’t take his plans seriously, why should I?1

1Also, the eagle-eyed might have noticed that although the 1-page tax plan summary we got today was very similar to Trump’s campaign document, one thing was left out: it no longer claims to be revenue neutral. Funny how that works.

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One Chart Shows How the Trump Tax Plan Will Totally Pay For Itself

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

Mother Jones

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Philip Howard attended Tuesday’s infrastructure confab with President Trump. The Guardian reports on what he told them:

Donald Trump is considering privatising America’s airports and dams as part of an infrastructure building programme that could exceed past estimates of a trillion dollars….“America can do much more than it has, and can do what other countries in Europe and Australia have done, by harnessing private capital,” Howard said. “So it could privatise a number of assets such as airports and dams, and get a lot of capital from that, as well as increase the tax base.”

Hundreds of airports around the world have been privatised or partly privatised but, Howard noted, virtually none in America….Last year the Cato Institute, a conservative thinktank, published a paper that endorsed privatising the nation’s more than 500 commercial airports, which are currently owned by state and local governments and rely on the federal government for capital improvements.

Is Trump really thinking about this? Who knows. But I’m a little mystified. The federal government can’t privatize airports that are owned by states and cities. And even if it could, states and cities would get the money. So what’s the point?

I’d say Trump had four big domestic priorities when he took office:

Repeal Obamacare.
Cut taxes for the rich.
Spend $1 trillion fixing roads and bridges.
Build a wall.

The Obamacare effort has already crashed and burned. His tax plan apparently won’t work with Obamacare in place, so now he’s delaying that to take another run at health care. He doesn’t have anywhere near enough support for his infrastructure plan, which is why he’s desperately scanning the horizon for weird ideas to fund it. And the wall hasn’t gone anywhere yet. It may yet make progress, but even Trump admits it won’t cover anything close to the whole border.

On foreign policy, he’s crashed and burned on his immigration plan; reversed himself on Russia; launched a strike on Syria with no apparent follow-up plan; still has no proposal for defeating ISIS; caved in to China on Taiwan; and has gone soft on trade.

So what has he done? He’s signed a few bills reversing some Obama executive orders, but that’s about over since the easy stuff has an early May deadline. He produced a kinda-sorta budget, which was even deader on arrival than most presidential budgets. He managed to pick a name off a list and nominate him to the Supreme Court, something he apparently considers a helluva hard day’s work. Beyond that, he’s tweeted, convened some “listening sessions,” held a couple of rallies, watched uncounted hours of TV, played lots of golf, and generally developed a reputation as the laziest president in anyone’s memory. Is there anything important I’m missing here?

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

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