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Leading Global Warming Deniers Just Told Us What They Want Trump to Do

Mother Jones

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What does a climate change denier wish for when everything seems possible? With Congress and the White House in agreement on the unimportance of science, there’s no need to settle for rolling back President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda one regulation at a time. It’s time to get the Environmental Protection Agency out of climate change altogether.

To get a sense of what the wish list looks like, the annual conference of the Heartland Institute would be a good place to start. The right-wing think tank that has received funding from ExxonMobil and Koch groups—and is best known for pushing out misinformation on climate change—has sponsored this annual gathering for the last 12 years. This year the theme was “Resetting Climate Policy,” reflecting the triumphant and hopeful mood of the conference now that they control the agenda.

The usual ideas floated at the conference have ranged from abolishing the EPA to touting the universal benefits of fossil fuels, but this year one idea in particular dominated the discussions: Climate deniers think they have a chance to reverse the EPA’s endangerment finding that formally says greenhouse gasses poses a threat to Americans and their health. That 2009 determination, prompted by a Supreme Court decision in 2007, is the basis for the EPA’s regulatory work on climate change.

“We’ve been at this for 33 years. We have a lot of people in our network,” Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast tells Mother Jones, “and many of these people are now in this new administration.” Transition staff and new appointees in the Trump administration “occasionally ask us for advice and names of people,” he added.

Rescinding the endangerment finding is the “number one” priority Bast sees for Trump’s EPA. “I think it’s almost a sure thing they are going to revisit it,” Bast says. “Whether they are going to succeed is maybe a 90 percent certainty.”

Bast overstated the strength of his case. The problem with rescinding the endangerment finding is that the EPA would somehow have to make a convincing case that holds up in court that climate change isn’t a threat to humanity. In other words, it would be incumbent upon the EPA to disprove climate change is real.

During, his confirmation hearings, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt acknowledged that the endangerment finding was the “law of the land” and there is “nothing that I know that will cause a review at this point.” But he has recently suggested he may attempt to change course. He went on CNBC and claimed “we don’t know” that the science is settled, and insisted “we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

Cato Institute’s Director for the Center for the Study of Science, Patrick Michaels, who gave an address to the meeting, agreed that the administration should make reversing the endangerment finding its priority. At one point in his presentation, Michaels asked if David Schnare—who previously spent years suing the EPA until he became a transition appointee at the agency—was in the audience. “David’s big on this,” Michaels said. Schnare was not there, but he helped to emphasize Bast’s point: Trump’s appointees are familiar, friendly faces.

In his keynote address, House Science Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) expressed his gratitude to Heartland for its “help and support.” Asked if he will be holding a hearing on the endangerment finding, Smith answered, “Probably….It hasn’t been set yet. We can add that to our list.” Smith, who has already held a “Making EPA Great Again” hearing, will plans a hearing for next week questioning the scientific method of climate studies.

For anyone who acknowledges climate change is a reality and a threat, Smith’s final words about President Trump to the roughly 200 attendees who were gathered might be considered ominous: “You won’t be disappointed with the direction he’s going.”

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Leading Global Warming Deniers Just Told Us What They Want Trump to Do

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911 Is Practically Useless for Millions of People. Here’s Why.

Mother Jones

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When Julian Singleton called 911 about two years ago, it didn’t go well. It was the middle of the night and his 83-year-old wife, Bernice, had fallen and lay unconscious on the kitchen floor. The retired graphics art instructor wanted to call 911, but because Julian has been deaf his entire life, he knew that he first had to call a video relay service. Once connected, he would sign with an interpreter and the interpreter would then speak to the emergency call center in Maricopa County, Arizona. The responses then would be signed back to Singleton in a laborious process that could rob his wife of crucial minutes of care.

But Singleton still went through it. He had no other options. Once connected with 911, he remembers the operator peppering him with questions. “My wife is laying here on the floor,” he tells Mother Jones through an interpreter. “I can’t be answering these questions…So I gave up and hung up. I picked up my wife and took her to the hospital myself.”

Singleton is one of about 1 million people over the age of five who are functionally deaf. There are also 37.5 million adults who have some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health, and in the first nationally representative study, Johns Hopkins University estimates that 1 in 5 Americans who are at least 12 years old suffer from hearing loss so severe it could make communication difficult.

Those who cannot easily communicate over the phone—and this includes some people with autism, speech disabilities, cerebral palsy, and other conditions—face sometimes life-threatening barriers when trying to call emergency services at 911. The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act guaranteed direct and equal access to emergency services, and a year later the Department of Justice established rules requiring call centers to be accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing. But this all occurred before cellphones became widely used and relies on an outdated technology known as TTY, or text telephone, in which two people who each have a keyboard communicate through phone lines.

“The old US Department of Justice regulations say all 911 centers must be accessible to use by TTY and voice-over,” Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, explains through an interpreter. “But the problem is, not many of us use TTYs anymore.”

That’s why disability rights lawyers have joined with deaf advocates in New York and Arizona—where Singleton is a plaintiff—to sue localities charging that emergency services are out of compliance with the ADA by not providing equal access to 911. In Arizona, two other residents and the National Association of the Deaf, a group that advocates on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing, are suing the state, some cities, local governments, and government agencies. In New York, New York City is being sued as well as emergency service agencies in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. Both lawsuits are calling on the courts to require call centers to adopt text-to-911 technologies. In a statement to Mother Jones, the National Association for the Deaf says it has “determined that litigation is necessary to effectuate a nationwide solution.”

Stout explains the failure to update the regulations from the early 1990s have left the deaf and those who cannot communicate easily over the phone dependent on others to access emergency care. He knows from personal experience. When Stout thought he was having a heart attack in 2011, he says he’s lucky he wasn’t alone. His colleagues in the office were around to drive him to the hospital.

Even though deaf people can reach emergency services through relay services, the many steps required in the process makes equal access impossible. “The average time is anywhere from three to eight minutes before we’re connected to the 911 center,” Richard Ray, an expert on the issue who works on improving accessibility and ADA compliance for the city of Los Angeles, explains through an interpreter. “Each second counts in those emergency situations.” This wait time is far from “functionally equivalent” to that of a hearing person as required by the ADA, Ray notes. The national standard established by the National Emergency Number Association requires 90 percent of 911 calls to be picked up within 10 seconds.

This isn’t a new problem, but disability advocates argue there is a simple solution: 911 call centers should be able to transmit and receive texts. “Texting to 911 should have been set up yesterday,” Ray explains. “We’re not in a situation where we can wait any longer.” Additionally, texting would provide another option for everyone to reach emergency services when calling might be unsafe, like during an ongoing break in.

One problem with adopting text-to-911 technology is structural. According to Kevin Murray, CEO of Mission Critical Partners, a public safety consulting company, and the former chair of the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies, every new technology requires a workaround because the infrastructure at emergency call centers was developed in the 1970s and 1980s. While text-to911 can be added, it’s a complicated process. “Imagine you buy the latest 3-D TVs and LED TVs and you bought your home automation systems and you purchased all these advanced technologies,” Murray says, “but then you hooked them up to a pair of outside analogue antennas.” He notes that this is comparable to what is happening with 911 today because “there are no broadband connections that really tie these systems together.”

Call centers are regulated and funded differently depending on the state and jurisdiction, which means access to 911 depends a lot on where one lives. In some states, text-to-911 is available everywhere, but in other states it doesn’t exist at all or access can vary from county to county. Out of the nearly 6,000 call centers nationwide, fewer than 1,000 accept text messages. To ensure universal access, the federal government would have to start enforcing the ADA. Murray says the industry is out of compliance with the law and the current state of access is “an embarrassment to the industry and to the US as a whole.”

Some call centers are using workarounds to integrate text-to-911 into the outdated infrastructure, but there’s also another option: Next Generation 911, a new system that allows people to communicate with 911 digitally. Eventually the technology will allow people to send images to or even video-call emergency services. Some places, such as Vermont, have upgraded already, and public safety leaders are pushing for Next Generation 911 to be available throughout the country by 2020, but Murray says there’s no federal commitment or funding to implement the service and meet that deadline. Even without it, the jurisdictions that have adopted Next Gen have call centers that are funded locally.

Back in 2010, the Department of Justice announced plans to propose new rules to make emergency services accessible with modern technology and accepted comments on the matter for about six months. Disability advocates are hopeful the new administration will continue to move forward with the process and update the rules later this year, as previously scheduled by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice under the Obama administration. The division declined a request for comment from Mother Jones about next steps.

Real change may be forced by the courts. Both of the lawsuits seeking equal access to 911 are in their early stages, but Vargas, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Arizona, doesn’t believe arguments against the lawsuit will hold up. The judge has denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in which they argued call centers already provide adequate access and follow federal guidelines. “If I were a 911 provider that was not providing text-to-911 access, I would be calling a meeting tomorrow to make it happen because this is not a negotiable issue,” she says. “You cannot choose not to provide 911 access to people because of disability. It’s simply the most profound kind of discrimination.”

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911 Is Practically Useless for Millions of People. Here’s Why.

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Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group

Mother Jones

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When a Chinese American businesswoman who sells access to powerful people recently purchased a $15.8 million penthouse in a building owned by President Donald Trump, the deal raised a key question. Was this a straightforward real estate transaction, or was this an effort to win favor with the new administration? The woman, Angela Chen, refused to discuss the purchase with the media. The White House and the Trump Organization would not comment on it. Further investigation by Mother Jones has unearthed a new element to the story: Chen has ties to important members of the Chinese ruling elite and to an organization considered a front group for Chinese military intelligence.

Chen, who also goes by the names Xiao Yan Chen and Chen Yu, purchased the four-bedroom condo in the Trump Park Avenue building in New York City on February 21. As Mother Jones first reported, Chen runs a business consulting firm, Global Alliance Associates, which specializes in linking US businesses seeking deals in China with the country’s top power brokers. “As counselors in consummating the right relationships—quite simply—we provide access,” Chen’s firm boasts on its website. But Chen has another job: She chairs the US arm of a nonprofit called the China Arts Foundation, which was founded in 2006 and has links with Chinese elites and the country’s military intelligence service.

The China Arts Foundation was created by Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of Deng Xiaoping, the iconic revolutionary figure and Chinese leader. Deng Rong is what’s known in China as a princeling—a term used for the sons and daughters of former high-ranking officials or officers in the Chinese Communist Party who now hold significant sway in business and political circles. Since 1990, Deng has also served as a vice president of the China Association for International Friendly Contacts, which is an affiliate of the intelligence and foreign propaganda division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China experts say CAIFC exists to cultivate relationships with former leaders and retired military officials and diplomats of various countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, in order to influence foreign defense policies toward China and the Far East.

To sum up: An influence-peddler who works with a princeling tied to Chinese military intelligence placed $15.8 million in the pockets of the president of the United States.

Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that focuses on national security policy with respect to Asia, says CAIFC’s leadership consists largely of retired (and some current) Chinese military and government officials. Stokes, who has written about Chinese political warfare, says CAIFC has become “an important channel of access to Chinese Communist Party princelings.” He adds that “by influencing perceptions” of China (especially in connection to controversial issues, such as China’s stance toward Taiwan), CAIFC hopes to “influence policies of foreign governments, particularly related to defense and national security.”

The China Arts Foundation bills itself as a promoter of cultural exchanges between the United States and China, often involving classical music. The group has a branch in New York, which is run by Angela Chen, and another in Hong Kong. Various members of China’s elite serve on the group’s board, including Wang Boming, one of the founders of China’s stock market; Hong Kong orchestra conductor Long Yu; and Marjorie Yang, a political power broker and textile magnate who’s nicknamed the “cotton princess.” (Yang is reportedly bankrolling the campaign of John Tsang, a candidate for chief executive of Hong Kong, the city’s highest office.) Li Zhaoxing, a former foreign minister, and Guo Shuqing, the chairman of China’s banking regulation commission, were named as board members in a promotional video posted on the website of the foundation’s American branch.

On Tuesday, after Mother Jones made inquiries, the website for the China Arts Foundation International went offline. (You can view an archived version of the site here.)

Angela Chen’s role with the China Arts Foundation has brought her into contact with prominent American and Chinese figures. In 2014, the foundation hosted its Chinese New Year gala at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant on behalf of Deng Rong, and the guests included billionaire Chinese real estate developer Zhang Xin, philanthropist and banker Steven Rockefeller, and Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire investor and CEO of the Blackstone Group. The Chinese consul general in New York, Zhang Qiyue, and former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman attended a 2015 benefit dinner hosted by the foundation.

The promotional video indicates that there has been a working relationship between the China Arts Foundation and CAIFC. In it, Chen’s group takes credit for sponsoring numerous international summits, including a meeting of international business leaders and think tank experts called the Sanya Forum, which was organized by CAIFC. Several China experts tell Mother Jones that CAIFC engages in legitimate cultural exchange activities but that it has long been seen as part of the Chinese military intelligence apparatus. In a 2002 article published in the China Quarterly, a peer-reviewed British academic journal, George Washington University professor and China scholar David Shambaugh characterized CAIFC as an offshoot of the intelligence bureau of the People’s Liberation Army. He noted that CAIFC’s offices are located in a Beijing compound used by military units.

In 2012, the Republican National Committee considered a resolution expressing concern about a cultural exchange program organized by CAIFC because of the group’s ties to Chinese military intelligence. The resolution, which was not adopted, was fueled by a report from a congressional committee that studies US-China relations. The report labeled CAIFC “a front organization for the International Liaison Department of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Political Department.”

CAIFC has also prompted concerns at the US State Department. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, an aide to Bill Clinton sought the State Department’s approval for the former president to make a November 2012 speaking appearance co-sponsored by CAIFC and the China Arts Foundation, according to government emails released through the Freedom of Information Act. An official at the State Department noted that CAIFC’s leadership included current and former Chinese government officials and wrote to Clinton’s aide, “I don’t believe we’ve approved Chinese gov’t entities in the past and so we will need to further consider this one.” In the end, Clinton’s aide told the State Department that the former president was backing out of the appearance.

In 2015, a high-ranking CAIFC official was detained as part of an anti-graft campaign by the Chinese army. A South China Morning Post story on the arrest described him as “the chief of a Chinese military intelligence agency.” The paper noted that the official “was in charge of overseas espionage and is better known to the West as the vice-chairman of the government-backed China Association for International Friendly Contact, which used to be the Department of Enemy Work.”

Chen’s purchase of the penthouse unit from Trump was the first deal consummated by Trump’s company since he became president. Prior to taking office, Trump claimed he would remove himself from the daily operations of his business empire, but he remains the owner of the limited liability company that sold Chen the unit. How the deal went down remains a mystery. Chen apparently paid cash, and the apartment she purchased, unlike other penthouse units in the Trump Park Avenue building, was not publicly listed for sale. Chen currently lives in an apartment on a lower floor of the building and uses the unit as a mailing address for the China Arts Foundation and her consulting company. Before moving to Washington, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building. (They are currently trying to sell their apartment.)

Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who, along with Trump’s two adult sons, was handed the task of running Trump’s business empire while he is in the Oval Office, signed the sale documents with Chen. He did not respond to a request for comment. Chen also did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the apartment deal or her relationship with Deng Rong and CAIFC. CAIFC did not respond to an email seeking comment.

When Trump became president, the Trump Organization enlisted an ethics adviser, attorney Bobby Burchfield, to vet potential business deals involving Trump. Burchfield declined to comment about the Chen transaction or explain the vetting process for her purchase of the Trump Park Avenue penthouse.

Norm Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s lead ethics lawyer, says the links between Chen, the foundation, CAIFC, and the Chinese government and military raise “a series of very profound and troubling questions.” He notes that there is no transparency regarding the vetting of business deals benefiting Trump. Without such a process, he points out, there are well-founded questions about the true source of the funds used to buy the $15.8 million condo. “When, as here, the public interest is implicated, we’re left at a loss,” Eisen says. “You shouldn’t be asking these questions about a president.”

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Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group

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The EPA Used to Tweet About the Environment. Now It Just Tweets About Scott Pruitt

Mother Jones

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One of the first actions the Trump administration took when it entered office was to crack down on the Environmental Protection Agency, starting with its social media feeds and website.

The agency’s work on climate and energy policy has slowed to a crawl, but it has been replaced with a different focus: The promotion of the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. With one exception, all of the EPA’s tweets and Facebook posts since Pruitt’s confirmation have been about his various appearances or sharing quotes from the EPA chief or President Donald Trump. The only time EPA tweeted about an environmental issue, it was to promote Trump’s executive order attempting to roll back a Clean Water Act rule. (On Monday, outside of the three-week period we used for this analysis, the EPA finally tweeted about a local grant.)

This is unusual. During the Obama administration, the EPA Twitter account certainly publicized and promoted Administrator Gina McCarthy, but it was a far smaller portion of its work. Here’s a comparison of Tweets over a three-week period:

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Social media was then used as a tool for educating the public about public health problems and environmental initiatives, but under Pruitt, public education work is at a standstill.

“We tried to provide regular updates on the wide range of actions we were taking to protect people’s health and the environment all across the country,” Liz Purchia, a communications official for Obama’s EPA, said in an email. “People want to know that they are being heard; and social media is an essential tool for doing that. Right now what we’re seeing is a bunch of posts being thrown at us by Trump’s EPA without any effort to engage with the American people. All you have to do is take a look at EPA’s social media channels since Trump’s team took over and you can visually see the stark shift in control.”

Trump’s team froze all social media accounts and public communications when the new administration took office. The agency is posting updates again now that Pruitt is in charge, but its work on clean air, science, and climate change is far from the focus. The flurry of Twitter activity welcoming Pruitt after he was sworn in has since slowed mostly to promoting his speaking engagements. On Monday, which was out of the range for this comparison, the EPA had one additional tweet about policy, but kept up its Pruitt-focused ratio with one quote and retweet from Pruitt.

Under McCarthy, the EPA feeds were mostly run by career officials in coordination with the administrator’s political staff. The EPA then took a different tack. Over a similar time period when Gina McCarthy took over as administrator in 2013, the main house account tweeted 16 times about McCarthy herself and retweeted her nine times—most of which were during a public Q&A she conducted on Twitter. The overwhelming number of tweets was about the agency’s work. Here is a sampling:

All this suggests Pruitt and Trump’s team are carefully monitoring the public-facing side of the agency. An EPA career staffer, who requested anonymity, told Mother Jones that edits to the website must be approved first, and the website is “more tightly controlled” than it was before January.

There are a handful of exceptions: Regional offices in particular, where the Trump administration has not yet installed political appointees, are occasionally promoting local grants and cleanup projects.

Of course, the EPA is far more than its social media feeds. Its 15,000 employees are in charge of distributing grants, conducting scientific research, and enforcing the law. But social media is also a rough approximation of the priorities the agency wants to share with the public. The change of EPA’s emphasis on social media has also been more pronounced than that in other branches of the federal government, even ones focused on similar work. The Interior Department, for instance, is still sharing images of the nation’s national parks, and NOAA is still tweeting climate stats. The EPA hasn’t mentioned climate change once since Trump became president.

Some of the EPA’s followers on Facebook and Twitter have noticed the abrupt shift:


The EPA Used to Tweet About the Environment. Now It Just Tweets About Scott Pruitt

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If Barack Obama Calls You Asking for Money, Don’t Do It

Mother Jones

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President Barack Obama did not record a robocall raising money off the new White House travel ban—no matter what you may have read on the internet.

The report that Obama was asking Democrats for money to fight President Donald Trump caught fire on the right-wing internet over the weekend, inflamed by celebrity Trump supporters such as the actor Scott Baio. The pro-administration subreddit “The_Donald” has even put up a post asking users to report such calls to the Federal Trade Commission. Many of those stories cited a Friday tweet by former North Carolina congressional candidate Thomas Mills, who reported that he had received a call not long after the new Trump order had gone into effect. (Mills, who is a Democrat, confirmed to Mother Jones that he had received a robocall.)

But according to the former president’s office, if you got a robocall with Obama’s voice on it, it wasn’t from him.

“These pre-recorded calls were not authorized by President Barack Obama, have no connection to the former President, and have been reported to appropriate law enforcement authorities,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor for and report any misleading or fraudulent uses of the President’s image.”

If you get a robocall from President Obama, record it and send it to tmurphy@motherjones.com.

Update: Thanks to reader Greg Flynn, we have audio of one of these calls purporting to be on behalf of President Obama. (If you follow the prompts, you’ll be asked to donate in increments of $100 or $200.) Here it is:

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If Barack Obama Calls You Asking for Money, Don’t Do It

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