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U.S. strikes in Afghanistan have increased on Trump’s orders, Esper says

Mark Esper

The U.S. military has stepped up operations against militants in Afghanistan on the orders of President Donald Trump following the very public collapse of peace talks with the Taliban, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Friday.

“We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the talks broke down,” Esper told reporters traveling with him back to Washington from Louisville, Ky. “The president did want us to pick up in response to the heinous attacks that the Taliban and others conducted throughout Afghanistan,” including Kabul.

The remarks constitute the Pentagon’s first public confirmation of Trump’s recent pronouncements that U.S. military operations have picked up in recent weeks.

“We did pick up the pace considerably,” Esper added.

The Trump administration last month suspended negotiations with the Taliban that were designed to wind down the 18-year-old conflict after Trump tweeted he was canceling a secretly planned visit by Taliban negotiators to the presidential retreat at Camp David in rural Maryland.

The meeting was intended to finalize an agreement under negotiation since last fall in which the U.S. would cut its troops in Afghanistan from the current official total of 14,000 to 8,600 in exchange for a Taliban pledge to enter direct peace talks with the Afghan government and renounce international terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

In a Sept. 7 tweet announcing the cancellation of the visit, Trump blamed a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul that had killed a U.S. soldier and 11 other people two days earlier.

Esper declined to provide details of the stepped-up U.S. operations but said they include both “air and ground” attacks. He also stressed that “Afghans lead these operations on the ground” with U.S. troops present in an advisory role.

Since the suspension of talks, Trump has asserted repeatedly that U.S. forces were striking the Taliban harder.

“The last four days, we’ve hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue,” Trump said during a ceremony at the Pentagon marking the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Trump repeated the claim the following week.

But the U.S. military headquarters responsible for operations in Afghanistan has not acknowledged any new instructions from Trump to launch more strikes and raids.

Esper also said the Pentagon is still considering cutting its troop levels in Afghanistan.

“My ambition would be to get the troop level down to a level by which we know we can contain and do the core mission,” he explained.

The Pentagon describes counterterrorism operations against terrorist groups al-Qaida and the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate as its core mission in the country. That’s as opposed to the broader mission of helping the Afghan government fend off the Taliban insurgency.

“If a commander feels confident that he can reduce forces, I will look at the right timing to do that, whether it’s there, whether it’s Africa, you name it, to make sure I can get down to a more manageable level,” he added.

Gen. Austin Miller, the top commander in Afghanistan, has already trimmed troop levels from the official total of 14,000 to closer to 13,000, RHCHAT reported in August.

Trump moves to suspend visas for uninsured immigrants

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Friday that will require immigrants to prove they can obtain health insurance before they are issued a visa.

The proclamation  the latest in a series of moves that would restrict immigration — says immigrants must demonstrate they will have health insurance within 30 days of entering the country or that they can afford to cover any medical expenses.

The White House touted the proclamation as “protecting health care benefits for American citizens,” arguing that uninsured immigrants create a financial burden for hospitals and doctors, forcing them to charge higher fees for Americans to cover the cost.

“People who come here shouldn’t immediately be on public assistance,” a senior administration official told RHCHAT. “We should bring people here who contribute and not drain resources.”

The move also combines two hot-button political issues — immigration and health care in the run-up to the 2020 elections. Most Democratic presidential candidates have said they support providing health care to undocumented immigrants. Trump mocked that stance on Twitter while Democrats debated in June.

“All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare,” he tweeted at the time. “How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!”

The presidential proclamation will not affect refugees, asylum seekers or people on temporary visitor visas. The measure will be effective Nov. 3.

The required insurance can be provided by an employer or be purchased individually, and it can be for catastrophic or short-term coverage. However, immigrants would not be able to obtain a visa if they use the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies when purchasing coverage. The ACA’s subsidies, paid for by the federal government, typically help shoppers save hundreds or thousands of dollars per year when buying health insurance.

Trump’s move is a “classic catch-22” for low-income immigrants, said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“They will need health insurance to be in the country legally [and] the only way they may be able to afford coverage is with ACA subsidies,” said Levitt. “But, if they buy insurance with ACA subsidies, it won’t count as insurance under the proclamation.”

Immigrants on Medicaid coverage also would not qualify under Trump’s proclamation.

The move effectively creates a health insurance mandate for immigrants, just months after Trump and congressional Republicans repealed the Affordable Care Act’s mandate, arguing that its tax penalty was “cruel” and created an unfair burden.

“The individual mandate in Obamacare — one of the worst things anybody’s ever had to live through,” Trump declared at a political rally in June, announcing his 2020 campaign.

The president’s proclamation also builds on a new rule, issued by the administration in August, that allows federal officials to deny green cards to legal immigrants who have received certain public benefits, like Medicaid, or who are deemed likely to do so in the future. That “public charge” rule would take effect Oct. 15 but has faced legal challenges.

One in seven adults in immigrant families already reported that they or their families didn’t participate in government programs last year — even before the public charge rule took effect — out of fear of risking their status.

Bernie Sanders discloses heart attack after three days

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders was hospitalized after a heart attack, his campaign announced for the first time Friday.

The 2020 Democratic hopeful’s aides revealed Wednesday that he had chest pains the previous evening and doctors had inserted two stents to address a blockage in an artery. That is a fairly common procedure, with one cardiologist calling it “mostly a nuisance” that would likely keep him hospitalized for only one or two days.

But Sanders’ staff initially revealed little information about his condition beyond the stent procedure. On Friday evening, his doctors at Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas said he was diagnosed with a heart attack after going to an outside facility and then transferred to their hospital.

“After two-and-a-half days in the hospital, I feel great, and after taking a short time off, I look forward to getting back to work,” Sanders said in the statement.

Arturo E. Marchand Jr. and Arjun Gururaj, Sanders’ physicians, said that he was stable once he arrived at Desert Springs and then immediately treated at the cardiac catheterization laboratory.

“His hospital course was uneventful with good expected progress. He was discharged with instructions to follow up with his personal physician,” they said.

Asked why the campaign did not reveal he suffered a heart attack until Friday evening, a spokesman for Sanders said “that’s the moment when the most accurate and up-to-date summary could be given by doctors.”

The health episode forced Democrats to face a reality that many had been pushing to the side: Their three leading candidates are all in advanced age. Sanders, at 78, is the oldest Democratic candidate, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 76 and 70 respectively.

Sanders’ campaign canceled several events this week after he was hospitalized. His aides said Thursday that he would participate in the Oct. 15 debate in Ohio.

His staff also initially canceled its $1.3 million ad buy in Iowa on broadcast and cable television in the wake of his heart attack. But it has since been restored and will begin airing Tuesday.

Sanders has maintained a busy campaign schedule, often making three or four public stops a day. He recently pitched during a softball game with his aides and others in Iowa, and often was seen on the trail shooting basketballs. Until now, he has avoided the same level of scrutiny as Biden when it comes to age, despite being slightly older.

In a video Sanders released on his Twitter account Friday evening, he said, “Hello, everybody. We’re in Las Vegas. I just got out of the hospital a few hours ago, and I’m feeling so much better. I just want to thank all of you for the love and warm wishes that you sent to me. See you soon on the campaign trail.” Sanders’ wife, Jane, added, “Thank you all so much. It really made a difference.”

Biden’s looming cash crunch

Joe Biden

‘Biden looks like he can’t compete with Warren, Bernie and Buttigieg. How’s he going to compete with Trump?’ said one GOP strategist.

Joe Biden’s middling $15.2 million third-quarter fundraising haul is raising fresh questions about whether the former vice president’s campaign can withstand a new onslaught of Republican ad attacks while simultaneously waging a battle for the Democratic nomination.

Biden’s campaign has long framed his candidacy around the idea that he can beat Trump in a head-to-head contest, particularly in the battleground states that were central to Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton.

But Biden’s polling numbers in the Democratic primary have declined in recent months, and his fundraising has also lagged — he collected $7 million less between July and the end of September than in the second quarter.

His latest fundraising round was more than $9 million behind his closest rival in the polls — Elizabeth Warren. His total also ran well behind Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders.

That’s a problem for a candidate who is seeking to compete in all four early states and also build out his campaign infrastructure in the 14 states that will vote on Super Tuesday.

Making matters worse, Donald Trump and Republicans have announced they’ll launch $10 million in negative TV ads — with $1 million targeted at the early nominating states alone — pushing the president’s claim that Biden and his son Hunter engaged in corruption in Ukraine.

Trump — who is facing an impeachment inquiry that centers on his asking the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son’s business dealings — and Republicans together raised an eye-popping $125 million in the third quarter .

“The reason it’s happening is because Trump sees Biden as his biggest threat,” said Patti Solis Doyle, a former Barack Obama adviser and onetime Biden chief of staff. “In some ways, it’s a good thing because it frames it as a Biden versus Trump race. However, if Biden cannot compete on the other metrics in the field, then even that [advantage] goes away for him.”

The surge in anti-Biden messaging comes at a pivotal time in the Democratic campaign, as Warren surges in the polls and makes gains across different demographic groups. Between the campaign’s need to spend to preserve its position in the primary and its need to defend against the flurry of GOP attacks, Biden will be fighting on two fronts, amid new doubts over whether Biden will have the resources necessary to do both.

And Biden must continue to demonstrate vitality to donors or he’ll face a fate similar to what Jeb Bush experienced in a crowded 2016 primary race in which the former Florida governor steadily fell behind, unable to recover from a surging Trump.

David Kochel, a chief strategist in Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign, said like Biden, Bush was an early front-runner with high name ID who raised “a boatload” the first quarter but failed to grow after big donors maxed out. He said Biden is in danger of following a similar trendline because of the nature of his fundraising base.

“The former vice president, with all the high-dollar contacts around the country — you do all the big fundraisers in the big cities. Once you do that, that’s it. If you don’t have that perpetual, low-dollar fundraising machine, you can’t compete,” Kochel said, noting the massive figures reported by Biden’s top rivals. “Biden looks like he can’t compete with Warren, Bernie and Buttigieg. How’s he going to compete with Trump?”

A Biden campaign statement Thursday on its fundraising disputed the notion that he wasn’t building momentum or that his donors had maxed out. The last week of the quarter was Biden’s best week since early May, according to the campaign, and 98 percent of its donations were $200 or less.

The Biden campaign is attempting to fend off incoming Trump ads by aggressively lobbying cable networks against airing a new Ukraine-oriented spot that it says “spreads false, definitively debunked conspiracy theories.” The campaign on Friday served Facebook with the same letter and is expected to do the same with local TV stations.

This week, it announced its own early state digital and TV ad buy — $6 million worth.

Biden himself fought back against Trump in a Nevada appearance earlier this week.

“You’re not going to destroy me,” Biden declared. “And you’re not going to destroy my family. I don’t care how much money you spend or how dirty the attacks get.”

Since the first reports that Trump asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden, the former vice president’s campaign has attempted to raise money off the scandal, crafting fundraising pitches around the latest headlines. On Friday, a new online fundraising request urged potential donors to chip in to a new “Beat Trump Rapid Response Fund.”

“Trump declared war on our campaign today with a $1,000,000 TV ad campaign in the first four primary states,” a request to donors blared, then asked for a $5 donation.

The Biden campaign says the attacks only validate its long-standing argument that Biden is the biggest threat to Trump’s reelection. And it has repeatedly pointed to Trump’s actions — including asking both Ukraine and China to investigate the former vice president — as a sign that Biden is the Democrat the president fears most as his general election opponent.

“This is happening for one reason: Donald Trump is trying to choose his opponent, and views Joe Biden as his biggest threat. Why else would he be targeting these ads in early primary states? He knows Biden has the durability to withstand them, so he’s trying to take him out early,” a Biden adviser said Friday. “And what’s undeniable is he’s going to do exactly this or worse to whoever the Democratic nominee is — and no one else has proven they can handle it and fight back like Biden has.”

The U.S. diplomat who questioned Trump’s Ukraine scheme

William Taylor

One person stands out in the flurry of impeachment-related texts cascading onto Washington this week: The guy who says what’s happening is “crazy” and that he might have to quit.

William Taylor, the veteran diplomat in charge of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is being hailed within foreign policy circles as a hero of sorts — a straight shooter who plays by the rules even in a chaotic political environment.

In texts with two other top diplomats, Taylor objected to what some suspect to be an effort by President Donald Trump to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it investigated one of his political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Whether Taylor knew those texts would one day be public is unclear, but friends and associates say that either in person or in print, he’ll tell you exactly what’s on his mind.

“He’s quiet, very smart, very measured. He’s also forthright. He says what he thinks,” said Patrick Kennedy, a former senior State Department official who’s long known Taylor.

Another former U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was more blunt: “He’s the only honorable man in this disgusting drama.”

Taylor declined to comment for this article. But after two weeks of rapid Ukraine-related revelations now fueling a House Democrat-led impeachment inquiry, the sudden appearance of his name jolted observers of the drama.

One of his texts in particular crystallized the concerns in Washington: “As I said on the phone,” Taylor texted on Sept. 9, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Throughout a lengthy career, Taylor has worked in several hot spots, including as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006-2009. He had been serving as the executive vice president of the U.S. Institute of Peace when he was asked to return to Kyiv after the ambassador there, Marie Yovanovitch, was pulled out early in May in circumstances House Democrats also are probing.

Taylor’s texts were among documents the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, handed over to lawmakers as part of a lengthy deposition Thursday. The text messages included conversations between Volker, Taylor and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

They appear to show that the diplomats were aware of Trump’s desire for Ukraine’s new government to get involved in investigations of the U.S. president’s political rivals, including events surrounding the 2016 campaign.

Separate documents since have shown that Trump specifically wanted Ukraine to look into Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. There’s no evidence that either Biden committed any wrongdoing. But Trump, and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were nonetheless agitating for another look by Ukraine.

In the texts, Volker and Sondland in particular appear to try to make it clear to the Ukrainians that a White House visit or even a phone call with Trump would be conditioned on them agreeing to an investigation, though the exact parameters are not clear.

Taylor appears wary early on. In a July 21 text, for instance, he points out to Sondland that the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenksy, “is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”

Sondland replies: “Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I am worried about the alternative.”

Zelensky, a former comedian, won the Ukrainian presidency in April. Given Ukraine’s reliance on U.S. military assistance in its war with Russia, diplomats on both sides wanted Trump and Zelensky to establish a good rapport.

A few days later, on July 25, Trump spoke to Zelensky and repeatedly pressed him to investigate the Bidens, according to a detailed call memo released by the White House. That call is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Weeks later, after reports that the Trump administration had put on hold hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine, Taylor again voiced outrage.

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” he asked in a Sept. 1 text.

Sondland’s reply? “Call me.”

A week later, Taylor expresses frustration over what appears to be the possibility that Ukraine’s president may give an interview to the press that the White House wants, but that Kyiv still might not get the military aid it is requesting.

“The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.),” he writes.

The following day, he and Sondland have a more tense exchange:

“The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario,” Taylor writes Sept. 9.

Minutes later, he adds: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

To that, Sondland replies: “I Believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” He goes on to add that they should stop the texting.

Some former U.S. diplomats expressed discomfort with the extensive use of texting as part of the policy-making process. They noted that it’s generally preferable to use State Department email or other means so that there’s a proper record kept for the future.

But others say that texting is increasingly a key tool for diplomats everywhere, including those of other countries, and that its use does not necessarily indicate ill-intent.

Andrew Weiss, a Eurasia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that Taylor was willing to voice his objections even though he knew that could put him at odds with Trump’s political appointees and other conservative backers.

He must have known that Yovanovitch, the former ambassador, had been pulled out a few months before her tenure in Kyiv was due to end after coming under sustained attack from Giuliani and elements of the conservative media who claimed she was anti-Trump.

“He was explaining that major harm was being done to U.S.-Ukraine relations,” Weiss added. “That it would redound to Russia’s benefit and that he wouldn’t be part of it.”

Taylor’s diplomatic work has included coordinating U.S. government assistance for places like Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of the former Soviet Union. He has degrees from West Point and Harvard. His Army career included tours in Vietnam and Germany.

A former State Department official said that after what happened to Yovanovitch, U.S. diplomats in Kyiv were happy to have a veteran like Taylor at the helm.

“He was a salve for those wounds,” the former official said.

Yovanovitch is due to give a deposition to Congress next week, as is Sondland. Given the revelations this week, Taylor might soon find himself beckoned to Capitol Hill, too.

PayPal withdraws from Libra, in blow to Facebook

Paypal headquarters

PayPal, the online payments company, said Friday it is withdrawing from the Libra Association, becoming the first major backer of Facebook’s planned cryptocurrency to exit the project amid escalating regulatory pressure.

PayPal said it remained supportive of “Libra’s aspirations” but will forgo further participation in the association that’s being established to manage the digital currency, which is set to launch next year.

PayPal declined to elaborate on why it was stepping away, though it likely would have incurred heightened scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators skeptical of Libra.

“Facebook has been a longstanding and valued strategic partner to PayPal, and we will continue to partner with and support Facebook in various capacities,” PayPal said.

PayPal’s withdrawal came as Libra’s backers faced a make-or-break moment to show their support for the effort, which is being spearheaded by Facebook but is set to be governed by several companies and organizations making up the Libra Association.

The currency has faced major pushback from policymakers worldwide, including President Donald Trump, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Lawmakers and regulators have questioned whether Libra poses serious risks to consumers and could be used in money laundering schemes to hide criminal activity. Facebook has pledged that Libra won’t launch until all U.S. regulatory concerns are addressed — a high hurdle that has raised questions about whether Libra can meet its 2020 rollout target.

The House Financial Services Committee has been in talks with Facebook about receiving testimony from Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, but lawmakers are also pushing to hear from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. David Marcus, who is heading up Facebook’s financial services division tied to Libra, testified before the House and Senate earlier this year.

Marcus is a former president of PayPal.

The lack of public backing from the Libra Association’s initial membership has further raised doubts about the future of the digital currency. The association’s members include Visa and Mastercard, which did not immediately respond to questions about whether they would continue to be part of the group.

“If PayPal has already indicated that they’re withdrawing [from Libra], and others are still looking at their options, it’s a clear indication that something’s amiss,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), a Financial Services Committee member who wants Zuckerberg to testify.

Libra Association backers met Thursday in Washington. One member said they discussed concerns with Libra Association staff that participants in the organization weren’t hearing about its endeavors in advance, forcing them to be reactive. Members got reassurances from association staff that they would do better, the source said.

Dante Disparte, head of policy and communications for the Libra Association, said building the new payment network “is a journey, not a destination.”

The “Libra Council” will hold its first meeting in 10 days, he said, adding that the association plans to share updates including details of 1,500 entities that have indicated “enthusiastic interest” to participate.

“This journey to build a generational payment network like the Libra project is not an easy path,” he said. “We recognize that change is hard, and that each organization that started this journey will have to make its own assessment of risks and rewards of being committed to seeing through the change that Libra promises.”

White House memo details divide-and-conquer labor strategy

President Donald Trump

A senior White House labor adviser encouraged President Donald Trump to eliminate all job protections for federal workers and a requirement that federal contractors provide paid sick leave for employees, according to an internal memo obtained by RHCHAT.

The document, written in 2017 by James Sherk, a White House domestic policy aide who was previously a research fellow at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, said the president should pursue a “non-traditional labor legislative agenda” that would sideline union leaders.

“Most rank-and-file (private sector) union members voted for the president, while their unions are run by left-wing ideologues,” Sherk wrote. “This cleavage creates an opportunity for the President to appeal to union members while making it more difficult for union executives to oppose him.”

It wasn’t clear what Sherk’s source was on voting by private sector union members. Exit polls for 2016 showed that Trump won a larger proportion of union households, public and private, than any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. But Democrat Hillary Clinton nonetheless won a majority of union households.

The 19-page document describes a detailed strategy of weakening union leaders — but selling it in a way that would not alienate members who supported Trump in 2016.

The existence of the memo was first reported by The New York Times in July, which made reference to a recommendation for male porn actors to wear condoms as a safety precaution.

“Most actors in pornography productions do not use condoms,” the recommendation says. “This exposes them to serious risk of contracting STDs, especially AIDS. This is a workplace hazard that OSHA should regulate.” The Times story also noted that the memo proposed curtailing collective bargaining rights and wages on federal projects.

The majority of the memo’s contents, including some of the most potentially significant recommendations, have not been previously reported. In a written statement, a White House spokesperson confirmed the document was used in policy deliberations but did not comment on whether the White House’s goals have changed.

“It is quite common for White House staff to suggest to agency staff potential actions that would begin a discussion around ideas to advance the President’s agenda,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement. “There is no question that President Trump’s agenda has unleashed unprecedented economic and job growth. The White House will continue to work with the Department of Labor and new Secretary Gene Scalia to advance policies that protect the American worker and grow our economy.”

Sherk declined to comment for this article.

Over the past two years, Trump’s rhetoric on unions has echoed Sherk’s recommendations. He has repeatedly bashed labor leaders as greedy opportunists; at rallies across the country and on Twitter, the president has complained about the price of union dues, criticized the leader of the AFL-CIO, and said union leaders “rip-off their membership … But the members love Trump.”

The memo suggested Trump “prominently support legislation that aims to improve private-sector union representation instead of curtailing it. These proposals would be difficult for union executives to oppose and help brand the President a supporter of union members.”

Among the union recommendations, the memo encouraged Trump to support legislation to address state “Right-to-Work” laws by giving unions the option to represent only those workers who pay collective bargaining fees. The change would “allow the president to eliminate a major union complaint without coercing workers to pay dues,” the memo says.

The memo also calls for whistleblower protections for union officers to “show the president wants workers to have better unions,” and proposes outlawing salary caps under collective bargaining agreements.

The document says the White House counsel should explore an originalist constitutional interpretation that the president may fire any federal employee without cause. “There are legal arguments that Article II executive power gives the president inherent authority to dismiss any federal employee,” the document says. “This implies civil service legislation and union contracts are unconstitutional.”

“If so the President could issue and Executive Order outlining a streamlined new process for dismissing federal employees. This would facilitate the swift removal of poor performers.”

In addition, the document suggests changing the way the government calculates prevailing wage rates for federal projects under the Davis-Bacon Act, arguing that the current method inflates costs by 10 percent and shuts out non-union construction firms. It encourages Trump to rescind an Obama-era executive order encouraging the use of project labor agreements — mini collective bargaining agreements that last the duration of a construction project — arguing that they drive up costs as much as 18 percent.

Such a proposal would likely alienate the North America’s Building Trades Unions, a group of blue-collar construction unions that struck an uneasy alliance with Trump at the start of his presidency but have become more skeptical over time.

The document proposes requiring unemployment insurance recipients to spend eight hours taking an online course for how to search for jobs, write resumes and prepare for interviews, with the express purpose of cutting public costs. It cites a study in Utah that costs decreased by 13 percent under such a program: “Half of that drop came from people leaving UI rather than participate in the training,” the document says. “They may have been people working on the black market attempting to collect UI at the same time. The other half of the decreased expenditures came from unemployed workers [finding] jobs an average of one week sooner.”

The document also proposes that the Bureau of Labor Statistics switch to “web-scraping” software developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to calculate the Consumer Price Index, the government’s measure of inflation. The change would increase sample sizes and make the measure more precise, according to the memo.

The memo also calls for Trump to issue an executive order eliminating employee unions at the Defense Department on the basis of national security. It says should consider similar orders for Veterans Affairs and parts of the Homeland Security and State departments, as well as portions of the Office of Personnel Management.

“Government unions impede the efficiency of federal operations and direct the government to put the interests of government employees first,” the memo says. “Curtailing collective bargaining in government serves the public good.”

In 2018, after memo was distributed to Labor Department staff, Trump issued three executive orders making it easier for managers to fire underperforming federal employees, limiting the amount of “official” work time in which unions could weigh grievances, and ordering the renegotiation of collective bargaining agreements. The White House said the changes would save an estimated $100 million a year, but a federal judge struck down the orders three months later.

The Trump administration has already acted on key recommendations in the memo. For example, it has changed overtime pay calculations and put forth rules making it harder for companies to be held liable for labor violations committed by franchisees and contractors.

Treasury IG probing department’s refusal to give Democrats Trump’s tax returns

Treasury Dept.

An independent watchdog at the Treasury Department is looking into how the agency handled House Democrats’ demands for President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Acting Inspector General Rich Delmar said he will investigate who was consulted on the issue and how the department came to reject Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal’s demands for the records, a decision the Massachusetts Democrat is now fighting into court.

Delmar said it’s unclear yet whether his inquiry will also consider a whistleblower’s allegations that someone tried to improperly influence the IRS’s audits of Trump.

“Chairman Neal has asked Treasury OIG to inquire into the process by which the department received, evaluated and responded to the committee’s request for federal tax information,” said Delmar. “We are undertaking that inquiry.”

The inquiry will likely take “several weeks to a couple of months but that’s a front-end guess,” he said.

“Obviously, it’s a priority.”

The development comes as Neal is suing Trump in federal court to enforce a subpoena for the records under a 1924 law allowing the heads of Congress’s tax committees to examine anyone’s private tax information. Trump has defied a decades-old tradition of presidents voluntarily releasing their returns.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has refused to turn over the filings, saying Democrats do not have a legitimate legislative reason for seeking the documents. The administration says Democrats merely want to search Trump’s records for potentially embarrassing information.

Neal, however, argues that he needs the documents to examine how thoroughly the IRS audits presidents and vice presidents, which is routine after they are elected.

A district court in Washington has scheduled a Nov. 6 hearing on a bid by Trump’s lawyers to have the case dismissed.

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neal asked Delmar for the probe earlier this week.

“I want to be assured that Treasury, including the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), is enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner and no one is endeavoring to intimidate or impede government officials and employees carrying out their duties,” Neal said in a letter to Delmar.

Neal asked Delmar to identify everyone within Treasury and the IRS, and anyone outside the agencies, who was “involved in the handling of my requests and all related decisions.”

Warren campaign fires senior staffer for ‘inappropriate behavior’

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign has fired its national organizing director, Rich McDaniel, after an investigation into allegations of what it called “inappropriate behavior.”

“Over the past two weeks, senior campaign leadership received multiple complaints regarding inappropriate behavior by Rich McDaniel,” campaign spokesperson Kristen Orthman said in a statement after an inquiry from RHCHAT Friday morning. “Over the same time period, the campaign retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation. Based on the results of the investigation, the campaign determined that his reported conduct was inconsistent with its values and that he could not be a part of the campaign moving forward.”

A person familiar with the investigation said that there were no reports of sexual assault, but could not comment further due to confidentiality. The investigation was conducted by attorney Kate Kimpel and her firm KK Advising, according to the person.

In a statement, McDaniel said, “I have separated from the campaign and am no longer serving as National Organizing Director. I have tremendous respect for my colleagues despite any disagreements we may have had and believe departing at this time is in the best interest of both parties.

“I would never intentionally engage in any behavior inconsistent with the campaign or my own values. If others feel that I have, I understand it is important to listen even when you disagree. I wish the campaign and my colleagues well.”

As part of her investigation, Kimpel conducted interviews and did so without campaign senior staff present. Kimpel is also a co-founder of Ramona Strategies, a female-owned firm that specializes in workplace safety and sexual harassment.

McDaniel was one of the first hires announced by the campaign and was paid at the level of other senior staffers. He worked as the primary states regional director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the field and political director for Sen. Doug Jones 2017 upset victory in Alabama.

Rampaging protesters bring city to standstill after anti-mask law announced

A road block is set on fire during a protest against a government ban on face masks in Hong Kong

Rioting anti-government protesters paralysed large swathes of Hong Kong with wanton destruction on Friday, hours after the city’s leader announced that a law against wearing masks would be imposed at midnight.

They vandalised and burned shops, bank outlets and metro stations, forced the closure of the city’s entire railway network and blocked roads, wearing masks in open defiance of the new law.

Police, who were expecting a backlash, were not seen at many flash points for hours as radical protesters went on the rampage.

Police began taking control later at night, firing tear gas at violent mobs on both sides of the harbour, from Wong Tai Sin, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan to Causeway Bay and Aberdeen.

Protesters set a Bank of China branch on fire in Tsuen Wan. Photo: Winson WongRioting anti-government protesters paralysed large swathes of Hong Kong with wanton destruction on Friday, hours after the city’s leader announced that a law against wearing masks would be imposed at midnight.

They vandalised and burned shops, bank outlets and metro stations, forced the closure of the city’s entire railway network and blocked roads, wearing masks in open defiance of the new law.

Police, who were expecting a backlash, were not seen at many flash points for hours as radical protesters went on the rampage.

Police began taking control later at night, firing tear gas at violent mobs on both sides of the harbour, from Wong Tai Sin, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan to Causeway Bay and Aberdeen.

Even as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the ban from government headquarters at Tamar in the afternoon, the chaos was brewing just blocks away.

Around 1,000 protesters, many of them office workers in suits and pupils in school uniform, gathered on Pedder Street in Central shortly after 4.30pm.

They were soon joined by more, and similar protests began mushrooming across the city, causing traffic chaos.

The protesters built barricades on Man Yiu Street outside the Hong Kong MTR station, stopped traffic on Connaught Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central, and burned a national flag and giant red banner celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on a bridge connecting Jardine House and Chater House.

Among the now familiar plethora of slogans, a new refrain was taken up: “No crime masking our face, no reason to enact the law.”

As night fell, the anarchy intensified and spread.

Police said an officer had opened fire with live ammunition when he was attacked by protesters in Yuen Long. Video footage posted online showed the officer, in a white T-shirt, being beaten by a mob and dropping a drawn gun as he was hit by a petrol bomb. The officer grabbed the gun back from a protester who picked it up in the chaos.

A 14-year-old boy suffered a gunshot wound in the leg just before the incident but there was no official confirmation of a link.

Rioters ramped up their sustained campaign of destruction against the city’s rail operator, having accused it of colluding with the police force to close down stations.

In Kwun Tong, Sha Tin and Sha Tin Wai MTR stations, they destroyed turnstiles, smashed advertisement billboards and daubed graffiti on the walls and ticket machines. A train was seen with its roof on fire in Sha Tin, and in Shek Mun a water hydrant was set off, flooding the station.

As the night wore on, huge fires were lit at entrances of Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsuen Wan MTR stations.

By 10.30pm, they had forced the closure of every MTR station in an unprecedented shutdown of the entire railway network.

Shops and banks with links to mainland China were also targeted by rioters. They smashed the glass facade of a Bank of China branch in Tsuen Wan and threw petrol bombs inside.

ATMs were smashed or set alight in Mong Kok and other areas.

In Central, they smashed shop windows of MX, a food chain owned by Maxim’s. Its founder’s daughter, Annie Wu, infuriated protesters last month by calling them rioters and saying they did not represent Hong Kong.

Another mob set paper and cardboard alight outside the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce offices, while other protesters broke the gates at a branch of China Travel Service in Sha Tin.

Earlier in the afternoon at Chater Garden, Central, Tim Wong Kwok-wai, a 25-year-old marketing officer, said Lam’s move would inflame passions and provoke greater unrest in the city.

“Just as Carrie Lam has held the first dialogue session with the public, she is now bringing forward the anti-mask law, shattering any trust and foundation for further talks,” he said.
Banker Joe Wu, 30, said he was more worried about what the law would lead to.

“Peaceful protesters will still come out, just not wearing masks, if masks are banned. And police are already arresting everybody else on the streets, who may be just shouting at them, so it doesn’t make much difference,” he said.

“But I am deeply concerned about the next step. What evil law will the government introduce next, after opening the floodgate of emergency powers? They can do anything.”