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What’s the Deal With Rex Tillerson?

Mother Jones

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I’m not quite sure how to phrase this, but, um, what’s the deal with Rex Tillerson?

The guy was CEO of ExxonMobil. Out of the blue, Donald Trump decides to make him Secretary of State, a job about as unexpected as if someone made me head of NASA. He gets confirmed, and since then he’s….

What? He refuses to talk to the press. He’s barely hired anyone. He seems happy to go along with plans to decimate the department. He doesn’t appear to have any particular ideology or goals. In fact, it’s not really clear what he even does all day.

So what’s the deal with Rex Tillerson?

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What’s the Deal With Rex Tillerson?

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The White House Just Responded to a Report Claiming Trump Divulged Classified Info to the Russians

Mother Jones

Early Monday evening, national security adviser H.R. McMaster dismissed an explosive Washington Post report alleging that President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak at a White House meeting on May 10.

“I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” McMaster said.

“There’s nothing the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people,” he added. “The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not discuss any military operations that were not already publicly known.”

The general said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also in the room, and that Tillerson confirms the incident unfolded the same way.

The Post story did not ever say that “intelligence sources or methods” were discussed, but that Trump revealed tightly held secret information that was provided by a US partner, and that the revelation would likely allow Russian intelligence agents to determine intelligence sources and methods independently.

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The White House Just Responded to a Report Claiming Trump Divulged Classified Info to the Russians

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After Threats, Time For Talks With North Korea?

Mother Jones

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VP Mike Pence is on the Korean Peninsula today:

David Frum would like to see more than just a few staged visuals::

I was vaguely planning to write a post reminding everyone that we still have only two options regarding North Korea, but the New York Times reminds me that we have three:

a military strike that could ignite a full-blown war;
pressure on China to impose tougher sanctions to persuade the North to change course, an approach that failed for his predecessors;
or a deal that could require significant concessions, with no guarantee that North Korea would fulfill its promises.

I’d forgotten all about the diplomatic option, what with Rex Tillerson insisting that the era of “strategic patience” was over and Pence warning North Korea not to test US “resolve.” But I suppose it might actually be the most likely one. A military strike designed to take out North Korea’s bomb/missile-making capacity would require a lot more than a few dozen cruise missiles. It would probably take weeks and would indeed touch off a real, live hot war that I doubt Trump has any stomach for.1 The China option is currently underway, and I suspect it has a better chance of success than in the past, simply because China is a little more fed up with Kim Jong-un than in the past. But it’s still unlikely to work.

And that leaves diplomacy. This also has close to a zero chance of working, but it might have a decent chance of providing Trump with something he can claim is the greatest treaty ever signed. Maybe that will be enough for him.

1I hope not, anyway.

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After Threats, Time For Talks With North Korea?

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This White House Statement Has Language That Is Nearly Identical to an Exxon Press Release

Mother Jones

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Hours after President Donald Trump was scheduled to have lunch with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday, the White House issued an unusual press release. Trump congratulated Exxon Mobil—the company Tillerson formerly led—on its announcement that it would be spending $20 billion on expanded investments in 11 Gulf Coast projects. The oil and gas giant claims the move will create 45,000 jobs.

As if the close ties between the White House and Exxon weren’t clear enough, one part of the White House statement contains language that is nearly identical to language in Exxon’s press release.

Here are excerpts from the two releases, with the identical wording bolded. First, the White House document, which was emailed to reporters at 3:43 p.m.:

Exxon Mobil is strategically investing in new refining and chemical-manufacturing projects in the United States Gulf Coast region to expand its manufacturing and export capacity. The company’s Growing the Gulf program consists of 11 major chemical, refining, lubricant and liquefied natural gas projects at proposed new and existing facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Investments began in 2013 and are expected to continue through at least 2022.

Exxon Mobil’s projects, once completed and operating at mature levels, are expected to have far-reaching and long-lasting benefits. Projects planned or under way are expected to create more than 35,000 construction jobs and more than 12,000 full-time jobs. These are full-time manufacturing jobs that are mostly high-skilled and high-paying, and have annual salaries ranging from $75,000 to $125,000. These jobs will have a multiplier effect, creating many more jobs in the community that service these new investments.

And this is from the Exxon release, which was posted on the company’s website at 3:10 p.m.:

ExxonMobil is strategically investing in new refining and chemical-manufacturing projects in the U.S. Gulf Coast region to expand its manufacturing and export capacity. The company’s Growing the Gulf expansion program, consists of 11 major chemical, refining, lubricant and liquefied natural gas projects at proposed new and existing facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Investments began in 2013 and are expected to continue through at least 2022.

Woods said that ExxonMobil’s Gulf expansion projects are expected to provide long-term economic benefits to the region, noting the creation of direct employment opportunities and the multiplier effects of the company’s investments.

“Importantly, Growing the Gulf also creates jobs and lasting economic benefits for the communities where they’re located,” Woods said. “All told, we expect these 11 projects to create over 45,000 jobs. Many of these are high-skilled, high-paying jobs averaging about $100,000 a year. And these jobs will have a multiplier effect, creating many more jobs in the communities that service these new investments.

The White House statement also highlights effusive praise for Trump from Darren Woods, who is Tillerson’s successor as Exxon CEO. “Investments of this scale require a pro-growth approach and a stable regulatory environment and we appreciate the President’s commitment to both,” said Woods in a speech in Houston Monday, according to the White House document. “The energy industry has proven it can operate safely and responsibly. Private sector investment is enhanced by this Administration’s support for smart regulations that support growth while protecting the environment.”

Exxon has a lot to be pleased with so far in Trump’s term. In addition to seeing Tillerson become the nation’s top diplomat, the company scored an important victory when Trump signed a bill overturning an Obama-era rule requiring it to disclose payments to foreign governments. And last week, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a rule that would require oil and gas companies to report their methane emissions.

Trump is framing Exxon’s announcement as a win for jobs:

I’ve contacted the White House and Exxon Mobil to ask if Tillerson was involved in this announcement and will update if they respond.

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This White House Statement Has Language That Is Nearly Identical to an Exxon Press Release

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Trump’s CIA Pick is Oblivious to a Major National Security Threat

Mother Jones

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What does the CIA director have to do with climate change? A lot more than Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s pick for the agency’s top job, seems to appreciate.

During his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing Thursday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) examined the sitting Kansas congressman’s views on climate science. Quoting CIA Director John Brennan, who had a 25-year career at the agency, Harris noted that he cited climate change as one of the “deeper causes of rising instability.”

“Do you have any reason to doubt the assessment of these CIA analysts?” Harris asked.

“I haven’t had a chance to read those materials with respect to climate change,” Pompeo answered. “I do know the agency’s role there. Its role is to collect foreign intelligence, to understand threats to the world. That would certainly include threats from poor governance, regional instability, threats from all sources and to deliver that information to policymakers. To the extent that changes in climatic activity are part of that foreign intelligence collection task, we will deliver that information to you all and to the president.”

Harris pressed Pompeo on his past comments in which he questioned the scientific consensus on climate change.

He replied that most of his commentary “has been directed to ensuring that the policies that America puts in place actually achieve the objective of ensuring we don’t have catastrophic harm that result from a changing climate.” He then added that he didn’t see any reason why climate change should be his concern at the CIA.

“Frankly, as the director of CIA, I would prefer today not to get into the details of the climate debate and science,” he said. “My role is going to be so different and unique from that. It is going to be to work alongside warriors keeping Americans safe. And so, I stand by the things that I’ve said previously with respect to that issue.”

Since the George W. Bush administration, officials in intelligence and at the Pentagon have warned that climate change poses a real security threat. The Department of Defense has described climate change as a “threat multiplier” that exacerbates disease, hunger, and terrorism. The State Department under John Kerry readily acknowledged that “climate change is a threat to the security of the United States” and countries around the globe.

Pompeo promised Harris he’d take a closer look at NASA’s climate research but couldn’t comment on Thursday. “I haven’t spent enough time to look at NASA’s findings in particular. I can’t give you any judgment on that today,” he said.

But Pompeo has vowed to take a closer look at the science for at least five years. Asked by CSPAN in 2013 whether he believed global warming was a problem, Pompeo, who was then serving his second term in Congress, was equivocal, repeating the debunked claims that there’s a pause in global warming and that the climate is cooling:

“I think the science needs to continue to develop. I’m happy to continue to look at it. There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”

At another hearing on Wednesday, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, former CEO of Exxon Mobil Rex Tillerson, admitted, “I don’t see climate change as an imminent national security threat, but perhaps others do.” Tillerson, like Pompeo, might want to check in with the department he could soon lead.

For Harris’ part, the freshman senator is not sold on the next CIA director unless he is “willing to accept the overwhelming weight of evidence when presented, even if it turns out to be politically inconvenient or require you to change a previously held position.” Pompeo pledged he would look again at the facts, just as he’s been promising for years.

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Trump’s CIA Pick is Oblivious to a Major National Security Threat

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California’s drought causes a lot more pain than brown lawns and empty swimming pools.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a report Tuesday morning that adds up the many ways in which the incoming Trump administration could enrich the world’s largest oil company.

The report comes a day before Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s former CEO, starts his nomination hearing to be President-elect Trump’s secretary of state.

In that role, Tillerson could do a lot for his former employer. The oil giant has massive holdings in foreign oil reserves and remains one of the biggest investors in the Canadian tar sands, with rights worth around $277 billion at current prices.

As it happens, the State Department is responsible for approving the fossil fuel infrastructure that could bring Canadian tar sands oil to the U.Smarket. Remember the Keystone XL pipeline? It could come back from the dead and get approved by Tillerson.

Tillerson could also undo sanctions on Russia that have blocked Exxon’s projects there, including a deal with Rosneft, the Russian state oil company, worth roughly $500 billion.

And then there are the Trump administration’s domestic plans to lift every restriction on extracting oil from public lands and offshore. The CAP report also figures that Trump’s Department of Justice is unlikely to investigate Exxon’s effort to mislead the public about climate change. Tally all the benefits and you get nearly $1 trillion.

So who was the biggest winner of the November election? According to the CAP report, ExxonMobil.

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California’s drought causes a lot more pain than brown lawns and empty swimming pools.

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Trump might bring a Kennedy into his administration. Too bad it’s the nutty one.

Senate confirmation hearings began on Wednesday for Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Tillerson was pressed on the issue of climate change by several senators, including Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who asked Tillerson if he believes that human activity is the cause.

“The increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is having an effect,” Tillerson said, demonstrating that he at least knows more about the issue than our future president. But, Tillerson added, “Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.” This is false.

Tillerson had less to say about allegations that Exxon, his employer for 40 years, knew about the effect of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere back in the ’70s and failed to disclose the risks to the public or shareholders. When asked about it by Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, Tillerson punted and said he didn’t work there anymore: “You’ll have to ask them.”

The nominee did acknowledge that it’s important for the U.S. to stay involved in international climate negotiations and “maintain its seat at the table in the conversation.” As for what he would do at that table, he’s not saying. If he wanted to do anything constructive, first he’d have to convince his boss.

You can read more about the hearing here.

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Trump might bring a Kennedy into his administration. Too bad it’s the nutty one.

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Trump hates wind turbines even more than he hates women he deems unattractive.

No, it isn’t ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, named to serve as ambassador to China, is in favor of wind energy and policies that promote it. Like, really in favor.

“Our leadership in green energy not only makes us a leader in renewables but also powers job growth,” the Republican said in his 2016 Condition of the State address in Iowa. “Every wind turbine you see while driving across our state means income for farmers, revenue for local governments, and jobs for Iowa families.” As governor of the No. 2 wind state, he’s also in favor of federal incentives for wind energy like the production tax credit.

Branstad may experience some whiplash as he represents an administration that is particularly antagonistic to wind energy to a country that has invested billions of dollars in wind and solar.

On climate change, Branstad is not a denier but he buys into his party’s reasoning for not acting. “We need to recognize this climate change issue is a global issue,” he said in 2011. That’s the excuse many Republicans use to argue that the U.S. shouldn’t clean up its act until developing economies like China and India do.

But if he doesn’t know it already, Branstad will soon learn that China is doing plenty to fight climate change right now.

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Trump hates wind turbines even more than he hates women he deems unattractive.

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GOP Gov. Pat McCrory just signed a bill that limits his successor’s powers.

In his final press conference of 2016, President Obama — in his usual, staid tones — fielded question after question about Russia’s alleged election interference.

But Obama also reminded us that at the heart of Russia’s economic interests and relative power is its backward status as a petrostate.

“They are a smaller country; they are a weaker country; their economy doesn’t produce anything that anyone wants to buy except oil and gas and arms,” he said. “They don’t innovate. But, they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values.”

The Washington Post calls Trump’s relationship with Russia “the most obscure and disturbing aspect of his coming presidency.” Trump’s choice of Exxon’s Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State only underlines this: At Exxon, Tillerson had deals worth billions of dollars with Russia, some of which can only move forward if the U.S. lifts sanctions on the country.

These deals are only worth billions, though, if fossil fuels maintain their value. The idea that there is a “carbon bubble,” and fossil fuel companies are dangerously overvalued, is a threatening proposition to a petrostate. And, most likely, a Trump administration.

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GOP Gov. Pat McCrory just signed a bill that limits his successor’s powers.

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Here Is Rex Tillerson’s Awesome Record at ExxonMobil

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Was Rex Tillerson a good CEO at Exxon? Over at Bloomberg, Vincent Piazza says Tillerson has two big claims to fame:

Number one, it’s the relationship with Russia and the expanding relationship there as well. But also the recent acquisition of XTO back in 2010. That was a major bet on natural gas that did not pan out—a $35 billion bet on natural gas that seemed to turn the other way on them.

So…a lousy acquisition and, um, Russia. The Wall Street Journal goes into more detail on that:

“I have a very close relationship with Mr. Putin,” Mr. Tillerson told students at the University of Texas, his alma mater, in February….He was successful, in part because he negotiated with Mr. Putin, who became Russian prime minister in 1999 and has run the country, either as president or prime minister, ever since. Mr. Tillerson’s ties helped him catapult past other executives to lead the company in 2006.

….At a June 2012 meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Tillerson said Exxon’s Arctic deal enhanced U.S.-Russian ties. “I agree, as you point out, that nothing strengthens relationships between countries better than business enterprise,” a Kremlin transcript quoted him as saying. The next year, Mr. Putin awarded him Russia’s Order of Friendship for his work.

Well, OK then. He’s chummy with Vladimir Putin and he blew $35 billion on a bad acquisition. But at least he’s a great businessman, right? Here is ExxonMobil’s performance over the past decade:

But at least they paid dividends regularly! Sounds like Secretary of State material to me.

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Here Is Rex Tillerson’s Awesome Record at ExxonMobil

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