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414 posts
  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
First lady Melania Trump visits the Upbring New Hope Children Center in McAllen, Texas.
First lady Melania Trump visits the Upbring New Hope Children Center in McAllen, Texas. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

First Lady Melania Trump paid a visit to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday to make an “unannounced” visit to the migrant children detained at Upbring New Hope Children’s Center.

In a short speech, the first lady thanked staff for their “compassion and ... kindness.”

Her obvious damage control efforts came as the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Border Patrol no longer will follow the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of bringing federal criminal charges against all migrant parents caught illegally crossing the border with their children. If true, this would be a major departure from Wednesday’s executive order, which decreed that instead of forcibly separating migrant children from their parents, kids instead would be detained alongside them.

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  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
EPA chief Scott Pruitt
EPA chief Scott Pruitt (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

If it wasn’t so serious, this stuff would be laughable.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is up to his neck in ethics investigations and has been criticized even by some Republicans (though they don’t seem too upset) over his, shall we say, profligate ways.

Now the Intercept reports, based on records released under the Freedom of Information Act, that Pruitt has spent more than $4.6 million in federal tax dollars on his own security — including more than $2,700 on “tactical pants” and “tactical polos.”

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  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
Packages travel on a conveyor belt for sorting at the main post office in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 14, 2017.
Packages travel on a conveyor belt for sorting at the main post office in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 14, 2017. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Attention, online shoppers: The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday letting states force online retailers to collect sales taxes will not raise your tax bill. It will merely make it considerably harder for you to avoid paying it.

Overturning two previous decisions, a divided court in South Dakota vs. Wayfair, et al. held that South Dakota could require online retailers to collect sales taxes from South Dakota shoppers even if the retailers had no offices or employees there. This “physical presence” requirement established by those prior rulings amounted to “a judicially created tax shelter” for companies that sold online, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s majority.

That’s not a great analogy, actually — it wasn’t a tax shelter for online retailers because they weren’t the ones who owed taxes. A retailer’s role is simply to collect the taxes owed by their customers.

  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
Advocates for legalization celebrated National Marijuana Day in this 2016 file photo. Lawmakers voted this week to legalize marijuana.
Advocates for legalization celebrated National Marijuana Day in this 2016 file photo. Lawmakers voted this week to legalize marijuana. (AFP/Getty Images)

Canada will soon become the first industrialized nation in the world to legalize marijuana. The Canadian Senate gave final approval to a legalization bill this week, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delayed the effective date until Oct. 17 to give the provinces more time to prepare.

This is a watershed moment in the effort to end the unpopular and unjust war on marijuana. The U.S., which may finally be inching toward ending its own failed effort at prohibition, should be watching carefully to see what our neighbor to the north does and doesn’t do well.

For example, what’s the right age to allow people to buy and use marijuana?

  • Trump
  • Opinion
Protesters demonstrate June 18 at the Federal Building in Los Angeles against separating immigrant families.
Protesters demonstrate June 18 at the Federal Building in Los Angeles against separating immigrant families. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

President Trump was right to end his inhumane policy of separating children from parents charged with the misdemeanor crime of crossing the border without permission, but his executive order seems to contain the seeds for an even broader attempt to detain whole families as they go through deportation hearings.

Part of the order reads:

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  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) reads a list of consumer and advocacy groups that came to Sacramento to support his net neutrality bill.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) reads a list of consumer and advocacy groups that came to Sacramento to support his net neutrality bill. (Katy Murphy/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

It’s hard to find a more powerful lobbying group in Sacramento than the telecom companies, and on Wednesday they flexed their muscles again.

The Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance quickly carved several giant loopholes in a Senate-passed net neutrality bill, allowing broadband internet service providers to (among other things) charge websites and services fees to reach the ISPs’ customers, exempt their own content from the data caps applied to rival services, and throttle entire classes of applications in the name of network management.

The amended measure (SB 822 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco) still offers broad protections for net neutrality, barring ISPs from blocking, slowing or prioritizing for a fee any lawful data on their networks. It also includes a general rule against ISPs unreasonably interfering with the ability of consumers to use the websites and services they prefer, or the ability of sites and services to reach their customers.

President Trumps sits in the White House with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence.
President Trumps sits in the White House with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

The nation should be thankful that President Trump finally came to his senses and ended the inhumane and traumatizing practice of separating children from their immigrant parents who illegally enter the United States.

Facing an extraordinary backlash not just from Democrats but from Republicans, every living former first lady (including his own wife), United Nations human rights officials, Willie Nelson, Pope Francis and many, many others who reacted in dismay to photos and videos of crying children corralled in metal cages, Trump probably had little choice.

But his solution — detaining entire families together while the adults face, in most cases, misdemeanor charges of illegal entry — raises enormously troubling problems of its own. Innocent children do not belong in jails or detention centers, as a 20-year-old federal consent decree acknowledges.

  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, right, in a cabinet meeting early in the administration.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, right, in a cabinet meeting early in the administration. (Pool)

If there’s a small silver lining to be found in the cloud that descended over Washington with the Trump inauguration, it might be that placing billionaires and unprincipled people in positions of power has exposed weaknesses in federal ethics rules.

Politico reported Tuesday on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s role in a proposed development project funded by the chairman of Halliburton in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana. 

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  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta talks to reporters during a briefing at the White House on June 12, 2017.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta talks to reporters during a briefing at the White House on June 12, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post)

The Trump administration on Tuesday released the details of its latest effort to cut some Americans’ insurance premiums — and undermine Obamacare in the process. The surprise is that, unlike every other initiative from this crew, it may well help some people obtain real coverage at a lower price. What’s not surprising is that the move will make the state Obamacare exchanges  more expensive and less stable than they are today.

The final rule released by the Labor Department would open up association health plans — the sorts of coverage offered by local chambers of commerce, trade groups, professional associations and the like — to more employers and self-employed individuals. The idea is to give a wider range of small businesses’ employees and sole proprietors an alternative to the state Obamacare exchanges and local insurance markets.

Because these plans would be governed by the same federal laws that regulate the benefits large employers offer their workers (such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), they would have many of the same protections that Obamacare extended to the non-group market. Most significantly, the plans could not deny coverage or charge higher premiums based on preexisting conditions.

  • Trump
  • Opinion
Pangas getting in Orange County by, police believe, people sneaking into the country shows why a border wall is a waste of money.
Pangas getting in Orange County by, police believe, people sneaking into the country shows why a border wall is a waste of money. (Laguna Beach Police Department)

There’s a certain irony to this: While President Trump was commenting yet again about walling off the border with Mexico, authorities were discovering pangas — small Mexican fishing boats — beached in Orange County by, police believe, migrants evading border controls.

So build a wall and people will just find a way around it. Or over it. Or under it.