Law Professor: Trump Must Relinquish Lease on DC Hotel

Donald Trump must give up his 60-year lease on the Trump Hotel near the White House in D.C., says a law professor who studied the terms of the lease.  The building is owned by the federal government and was known as the Old Post Office Building; it was home to federal agencies, such as the Nation Endowment for the Humanities. After it was closed, Trump leased it and turned it into a luxury hotel.

 

The lease specifically says that no federal official may benefit from the proceeds generated by the building.

 

NPR reports:

 

“After Donald Trump is sworn in as president on Jan. 20, he will follow a time-honored tradition and make his way from the U.S. Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Along the way, just a few blocks before he reaches the White House, he’ll pass the Trump International Hotel. The 263-room luxury hotel is becoming the focus of a debate over conflict of interest between Trump and his business dealings.
“Trump doesn’t actually own the landmark building, which was once the headquarters of the U.S. Post Office. In 2013, he signed a 60-year lease for the building with the General Services Administration, which helps manage and support federal agencies. The Trump Organization spent upwards of $200 million on renovations and reopened it as a hotel about a month before the Nov. 8 presidential election.
“But there’s a hitch, according to Steven Schooner, a government procurement expert who is also a law professor at the George Washington University School of Law. Schooner has studied the 100-plus-page contract and says there’s a clause that clearly states elected officials should have no role in the lease.
“The contract between GSA and the Trump Organization specifically says that no elected official of the United States government shall be party to, share in, or benefit from the contract,” he says, citing clause 37.19 of the contract.
“That clause reads:
“No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”
“Schooner says the GSA should terminate the lease before Trump becomes president.
“Many potential conflicts
“There are a host of reasons to cancel the deal besides the specific language in the contract, according to Schooner. He says foreign diplomats or special-interest groups could book rooms at the Trump International as a way to curry favor with Trump.
“Once Trump becomes president, he will effectively be both the tenant and the landlord of the building. The administrator of the GSA, an independent body, is also a political appointee.
“So the Trump transition team would be naming the person responsible for the agency that’s managing Trump’s lease. Obviously that’s a problem,” he says.
“The Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.”

 

Will Congress overlook this legal and ethical breach? Will anyone enforce the law?

 

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Quick Takes: A Timetable for Ending Medicare

* A little over a week ago, the man that Donald Trump will nominate to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services – Rep. Tom Price – outlined a timetable for getting rid of Medicare as we know it.

The head of the House Budget Committee said Thursday that lawmakers are eying an overhaul of Medicare next year.

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said he expects lawmakers to push forward with an overhaul “within the first six to eight months” of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

He said it would be tackled through the budget tactic in the Senate called “reconciliation,” which allows major spending-related bills to pass the upper chamber without a veto.

* I agree with Josh Marshall. Although repeal of Obamacare is a huge concern, it is troubling that more attention isn’t being paid to this important issue that could roll back the progress we have depended on for half a century.

Most DC journalists don’t actually understand what’s being proposed. You think it’s hard getting good insurance when you’re 30 or 50? Try getting good private insurance when you’re 70 or 80…

The upshot of the Ryan plan is significantly increasing the cost of what society pays for the medical care of seniors and then making seniors pay dramatically more out of pocket. All with none of the bedrock gaurantees Medicare provides.

* Speaking of Paul Ryan, today he listed his top 4 priorities for the next Congress.

1. Reduce regulations
2. Repeal Obamacare
3. Tax cuts
4. Border security

Notice what’s not on the list? Infrastructure.

* Immediately after the election, Clinton supporters were asked to put aside their concerns for the good of the country and unite in giving the new administration a chance. It might be nice if our newly elected leader would step up to the plate and reach out to those who voted for the other candidate. Instead, he is planning a “thank you” tour for his supporters.

President-elect Donald Trump will begin a “Thank You Tour” on Thursday in Cincinnati, replicating the arena events that powered his surprise campaign, three of his transition officials said…

His post-election tour may take him to “swing states we flipped over,” George Gigicos, Trump’s director of advance, told reporters on Nov. 17.

* I recently entertained the possibility that this election marked the beginning of an electoral map realignment. David Jarman has a bit of a different take on the same idea. He starts with data from a pre-election poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.

White voters who still live in the community in which they were raised are supporting Trump over Clinton by 26 percentage points (57% vs. 31%, respectively). Trump also has an advantage over Clinton among white voters who live within a 2-hour drive from their hometown (50% vs. 41%, respectively). However, among white voters who live farther away from their hometown, Clinton leads Trump (46% vs. 40%, respectively).

Then he points to “a map of which states have above-average rates of mobility (in blue) and below-average rates (in red).”

* Given that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country – with a whopping 46 percent whose household income is below $16,395 still uninsured – this could be the beginnings of a major disaster.

Make that two U.S. states with homegrown Zika. Texas health officials have recorded what is likely the first case of local transmission in Brownsville, a southern Texas city on the Mexican border…

No other local cases have been recorded in the area, but Texas officials aren’t floored by this development as towns across the border have reported local cases of Zika, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito — the bloodsucker that carries the virus — is all over the area. “We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas,” said John Hellerstedt, the state health commissioner, in a statement.

* Finally, there are times when I think that perhaps Molly Ivins saw what was coming.

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Reform Democrats: Stop Calling Trump Names When You Really Support His Policies

It’s one thing to disavow President-elect Donald Trump. It’s another to rally against his policies, which we assume will be what his nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has endorsed in the past. It’s too easy to call Trump a racist, bigot, xenophobe and a white supremacist as evidence of one’s dissent.

The real question is, to what extent will Democrats who promote charter schools but disagree with Trump in other ways force limitations on school choice?

“We congratulate her [Betsy DeVos] on being nominated for Secretary of Education, and we look forward to working with her,” said Louisiana State Superintendent John White after the news broke of DeVos’ nomination. White offered boilerplate language for Democrats in education reform.

Playing the politics of niceness has never been so convenient for the Dems of education reform. DeVos’s belief in limited state oversight, for-profit charter management and vouchers didn’t give Democrat proponents of charter schools any pause in the past. And for many it doesn’t now.

As the chief architect of education reform in Michigan, DeVos should take blame for doing no favors to struggling public schools in Detroit and the rest of the state. Michigan is a prime example of what not to do in education reform. Her failing creation of a wide-open market is a case study in why there should be limits on school choice.

However, the inability of reform-leaning Democrats to renounce DeVos and her policies in the past reveals a complicity in her nomination. Authentic Democratic notions of accountability simply don’t jibe with Republican ideals of choice. You also don’t have to be cozy with your opponents to accomplish your policy goals. But for the reward of charter schools, certain Democrats have abandoned their party’s principles and muzzled their opposition to Republican policies in education and beyond.

Related: Black kids lose when Democratic ed reformers act like Republicans

Young people don’t live wholly in schools; they live in communities. If Democrat reformers want children to live in nurturing communities and not just charter schools, they must move beyond myopic quid pro quo politics. Democrats can no longer afford to wittingly miss the forest for the charter school trees.

I look forward to Democrats divorcing themselves from a relationship of convenience with Republicans, who have elevated what a school choice proponent really looks like in DeVos. Real dissent from Democrats should equate to aggressively limiting DeVos’s policies, which have included restricting state oversight, promoting for-profit charter management organizations and encouraging vouchers for private schools including those that are faith-based.

Philosophically, Democrats shouldn’t believe in this kind of school choice.

Democrats have historically opposed vouchers. There will be some hand-wringing from Democrat reformers around the merits of for-profit charter schools and how to hold all charters accountable, but this will probably be more performance art than anything else.

Democratic leaders’ acceptance of DeVos funding across the country proves all of the aforementioned issues to be minor. The rallying call for school choice created a kind of education party, which Democratic reformers are loyal to and in which DeVos has found refuge.

The courting of noted Democratic reformers Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz for the Education Secretary position was a political middle finger to Democrats. It highlighted how distant reformers and the rest of the Democratic Party are from each other.

The tolerance that Dems have extended to the unwaveringly Republican DeVos isn’t offered to labor unions or proponents of neighborhood schools. Don’t expect DeVos to compromise for Democrats. DeVos doesn’t have to be loyal to the reform party. The roots of choice movement come from a Republican tree.

If Democrats really want to take back the White House, they have to question whether charter schools fit too neatly in a Republican agenda for them to help Democrats politically. There’s a great deal of romanticism around doing “what’s best for the kids” to work across the aisle.

For Democrats, that “bipartisanship” contributed to a political deaf-and-dumbness throughout political systems that produced other policies that Democrats should have strongly resisted. While charter advocates could easily be heard in statehouses demanding charter school expansion throughout the Obama era, their silence on the rest of the Republican agenda was a compromise that clearly favored Republicans’ long-range plans.

All one has to do is look in my home state of Louisiana as an example.

It’s not a coincidence that Republican/conservative policies ruled the deep red state of Louisiana during the same period that charters and vouchers expanded from New Orleans to the rest of the state. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal toed the GOP line and Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

In 2007, Jindal eliminated revenue by repealing the “Stelly Tax” plan and cutting taxes for the wealthiest Louisiana residents. As discretionary items in the budget, higher education and health care absorbed shortfalls. Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicare put thousands of children at risk.

And for all the applause for education reform as it pertains to charters or test scores in New Orleans, you also have the city of Baton Rouge, where schools haven’t shown comparable growth and in some cases have worsened students’ learning opportunities. And Jindal expanded a flailing voucher program that charter advocates should strongly denounce.

Yet Democrats who consider themselves reformers stood silent on these issues; hey, “charter schools are working,” they say.

Related: How can education reform the minds of Trump voters?

With the nomination of DeVos to be U.S. Secretary of Education, I don’t expect that practice of endorsement through silence to end. The reason why charter schools have expanded in some states comes from a quid pro quo calculus of being silent on other issues.

Will Democrats fight voucher policies, which have been shown to be largely ineffective, and harmful in some cases, to an extent that makes the Secretary uncomfortable? Will they push for the kind of accountability that would put a moratorium on the loose and deleterious system of charters in DeVos’s home state of Michigan?

A Republican mega-donor, DeVos is a metaphor for the many conservative donors that have essentially given hush money to Democrats. It’s a great deal for people like DeVos who get a lot more than charter schools – the nomination is chief among the spoils.

Calling Trump names won’t bring educational justice or improve school quality. Democrats must file dissent in the form of policies that are consistent with their values.

Democratic reformers have to form alliances with other Democratic groups – even the ones they may not agree with. But Democrats have to stop acting like Trump’s election is the worst thing for America when they’ve already co-signed his policies and his nominee for secretary of education.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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How the Washington Post and New York Times Got Played by Bannon

Just a few days before the election, I wrote about how Steve Bannon weaponizes a story. It was based on this expose from Joshua Green from back in October 2015. What I found interesting about that piece was that, while most of the reporting on Bannon focused on his leadership of Breibart News, Green delved pretty deeply into the more shadow operation he ran at the Government Accountability Institute (GAI).

Bannon and his employees were pretty open on how they went about weaponizing a story. Writers like GAI president Peter Schweitzer would pen books/stories about a politician they wanted to savage (i.e., Clinton Cash) and pitch it to major newspapers as “fact-based research” (regardless of their long history of errors). This worked because, as Bannon said, “The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs.” They even bragged about the result.

The reason GAI does this is because it’s the secret to how conservatives can hack the mainstream media. [Wynton] Hall has distilled this, too, into a slogan: “Anchor left, pivot right.” It means that “weaponizing” a story onto the front page of the New York Times (“the Left”) is infinitely more valuable than publishing it on Breitbart.com.

Aaron Ruper brings us up to date following the election and Trump’s announcement about the role that Bannon will play in his administration.

In the wake of President-elect Donald Trump appointing white nationalist Steve Bannon as his “chief strategist and senior counselor” earlier this month, both the Washington Post and New York Times penned editorials denouncing him…

But last year, both the Post and Times partnered with Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute (GAI) to disseminate opposition research on Hillary Clinton published in Clinton Cash, a book by Breitbart contributor Peter Schweitzer.

Ruper cites this story from Dylan Byers published in April 2015:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed.

“Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” will debut on May 5. But the Times, the Post and Fox have already made arrangements with author Peter Schweizer to pursue some of the material included in his book, which seeks to draw connections between Clinton Foundation donations and speaking fees and Hillary Clinton’s actions as secretary of state.

It is interesting to note that when the editorial boards of both the Washington Post and the New York Times published statements condemning the appointment of Bannon to serve in the White House, neither of them mentioned his involvement with the Government Accountability Institute (although they both referred to his work at Breitbart) or their own arangement with Schweitzer – who worked for Bannon at the time it was negotiated.

It might be tempting to assume that this was all a matter of the right hand (editorial board) not knowing what the left hand (news department) was doing. But as Ruper points out, at the New York Times, their public editor responded to the flood of criticism she received in reference to the arrangement with Schweitzer.

What this boils down to is that Bannon – via the GAI – identified a weakness in “the modern economics of the newsroom” and used it to exploit major publications into reporting on a story the way he wanted it told. It worked. And now those same publications are denouncing him without mentioning that they got played.

For the record, the Washington Monthly operates on a completely different business model. Based on charitable contributions, this publication is able to do independent reporting, as demonstrated by the articles in our latest edition on how the next president can lower drug prices with the stroke of a pen by Alicia Mundy, how police chief Chris Magnus embraced Black Lives Matter, all but eliminated fatal shootings by police, and cut the homicide rate in half, by Steve Early and how Republicans can save their party from Trumpism by taking on monopolists, by Phillip Longman.

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At Hampshire College, Flag Controversy Sparks National Debate

Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, has a long activist streak. Founded in 1970, it was one of the first schools to divest its endowment from apartheid South Africa. Next year, Hampshire plans to go 100 percent solar. Right now, though, a controversy surrounding its U.S. flag has thrust the small liberal arts school into a national debate about nationalism, free speech, and civil dialogue.

The morning after Election Day, some students at Hampshire College who were upset by Donald Trump’s election and anxious about his campaign rhetoric and policies demanded the college take down the U.S. flag flying at the center of campus.

“A group of students were saying [the flag] is a symbol of racist rhetoric and we’d like the flag down,” Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash said.

Lash said he told students the college would consider taking the flag down.

During a campus demonstration, however, students lowered the flag themselves and administrators decided to leave the flag where the students had placed it — about six feet above the ground.

“We thought, ‘Okay, we’ll fly [the flag] at half-mast and recognize feelings on both sides.’ And that didn’t work at all,” Lash said.

The compromise seemed to please no one.

In the middle of the night, early on Veteran’s Day, someone removed and burned the flag. Lash said the College would not fly the U.S. or any flag while he initiated a series of discussions with students, hoping to refocus the discussion on “racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic acts.”

But instead of tamping down the problem, Lash set off a national firestorm.

On Sunday, hundreds of veterans held a loud but peaceful protest on Hampshire College’s campus. Protesters waved flags and charged the college with coddling its students. They also called on Lash to put the flag back up.

“We learned at a very early age that freedom is not free,” Brian Willette, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Western Massachusetts, told the crowd. “Perhaps that’s a lesson they don’t know on this hill. But it’s a lesson that we know here.”

Willette served one tour in Afghanistan before he was injured by an IED. He says following Trump’s election he expected some radical students might burn flags.

“For a college student to burn a flag, since when is that new?” Willette said. “But it’s quite outrageous for a college president to take this action.”

Students on campus are not unified on the issue. Many students declined to comment because they said they’re afraid of being targeted online. Some students said they appreciate the debate, but think the flag should go back up at the center of campus.

Jenny, an 18-year-old Mexican American student who did not want to give her last name to prevent harassment, said the U.S. flag now symbolizes a government that doesn’t want people like her living in the country.

“Seeing that flag — it’s like a threat to our existence. It’s a threat to us,” she said. “Taking it down is just to make this a safer space for not just me, but all the people of color who feel threatened by the government right now.”

Hampshire College president Jonathan Lash is under pressure for his decision to remove the flag flying at the center of campus. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

Lash said he worries that the rhetoric on both sides of the issue has become too extreme for civil dialogue, and he admits his decision to remove the flag could add to claims that colleges coddle students.

“I do understand that it fits into a narrative that people have about what campuses are like. And I have to be open to what the veterans are saying and recognize it as real. And recognize what the students are saying and recognize it as real,” Lash said. “That’s not coddling. That’s listening.”

Hampshire College is planning a series of listening sessions this semester before deciding whether to raise the flag in January, just before President-elect Trump’s inauguration.

On Tuesday morning, Trump took to social media, tweeting that “nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

A 1989 Supreme Court decision said burning the flag is constitutionally protected free speech under the First Amendment.

[Cross-posted at On Campus: the WGBH News Higher Education Blog]

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Vulnerable Dems Can and Will Oppose Tom Price for HHS

It’s true that Barack Obama won Indiana in 2008, but he lost it in 2012 and Clinton took a shellacking there this year. Even Evan Bayh couldn’t carry the Hoosier State which seems to have come down with a case of Trump Fever. It’s unlikely that Joe Donnelly would be serving in the Senate if he had not had the good fortune to run in 2012 against Richard “God Loves Rape Babies” Mourdock, and Donnelly is definitely one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2018. There have already been a series of articles written about Donnelly (as well as other red state Democrats like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Claire McCaskill) that argue he will feel compelled to cooperate with President Trump. However, when it comes to confirming Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health & Human Services, Donnelly is in the “Hell No” caucus.

Today, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly announced that he will vote against Congressman Tom Price, a leader in pushing for Medicare privatization, who has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Price, the current House Budget Committee Chairman, was an architect of the Republican budget that would end the Medicare guarantee to seniors and transform it into a voucher program. In addition he has helped lead discussions on overhauling and privatizing Medicare and has said it is a top priority.

Donnelly said, “Tom Price has led the charge to privatize Medicare, and for this reason, I cannot support his nomination. I am ready to work with anyone who wants to improve access to quality health care for Hoosier families and seniors, but the nomination of Tom Price would put us on a direct path to end Medicare as we know it, which would raise health care costs and break a fundamental promise to seniors. I have fought to protect Medicare, and I will continue to oppose efforts to privatize Medicare or turn it into a voucher program.”

Last week Donnelly reiterated his commitment to Medicare and his opposition to privatizing Medicare, saying in part in a video message, “Let me say unequivocally to you now: I have fought to protect Medicare for this generation and for future generations. I have opposed efforts to privatize Medicare in the past, and I will oppose any effort to privatize Medicare or turn it into a voucher program in the future. If my colleagues have pragmatic ideas that strengthen Medicare, reduce the costs of care, crack down on waste, fraud and abuse, count me in, but if they want to phase out Medicare, or privatize the system, count me out.”

So, there’s a line in the sand from a Rust Belt Democrat.

Tom Price is a nut, and his birther-curious stance appears to be more than an act.

Sat next to Trump’s HHS pick Tom Price on a flight a few years ago. Seemed decent enough til he said he wasn’t sure of Obama’s citizenship.

— jelani cobb (@jelani9) November 29, 2016

You have to wonder about a public official who feels compelled to raise the issue of the president’s citizenship with an African-American stranger he’s sharing a row of seats with on an airplane. If that man is a writer for New Yorker and a professor at Columbia University, all the more so.

Sarah Kliff has a good Vox explainer on the Obamacare replacement bill that Tom Price offered in the House, as well as the other plans that are getting bandied about. I think it’s safe to say that the Republicans are gearing up to do some deeply unpopular things with our health care system. This will be true for governors who want Medicaid money, insurers who want a system that is profitable and attractive to their customers, the elderly who want their Medicare guaranteed, veterans who live the veteran’s hospital system, people in their 50’s and 60’s who want affordable insurance policies, folks who have preexisting conditions and want protection from loss of coverage, and millions of people who won’t be able to afford the stingy subsidies on offer and will now lose their access to health care.

Sen. Donnelly is smart to oppose all of this, and to oppose it by going on the record early as opposing the man who will implement it all.

This isn’t the kind of obstruction and opposition that Rust Belt voters will punish.

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Yong Zhao: “It Must Be the Chopsticks”! East Asian Nations Top TIMSS Scores Again

Yong Zhao, born and educated in China, is one of our  most perceptive scholars of schools and society. He holds a professorship at the University of Kansas.

In this article, he reports the results of the latest international test, TIMSS. Once again, the East Asian nations topped the charts. Aside from 8th grade math, which are up, U.S. scores are unchanged.

TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) beat PISA by two weeks. It just released its 2015 results. Within hours of the release, Google News has already collected over 10,000 news stories reacting to the results from around the world, some sad, some happy, some envious, and some confused. The biggest news is, however, nothing new: Children in East Asian countries best at maths. They were the best 20 years ago when TIMSS was first introduced in 1995. They were the best in all subsequent cycles.

Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Japan are the top performers. In 4th grade, the lowest East Asian country is 23 points above the next best country, Northern Ireland for 4th grade, the same gap as was in 2011, and in 8th grade, a whopping 48 points lead ahead of the next best country, Russia, a 17 point increase from 31 in 2011.

Yong Zhao analyzes the reasons for their high scores.

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