When it comes to the possibility of a sweeping infrastructure package, it’s all about the money. Despite some gridlock between the White House and Congress, lawmakers are hoping for a bipartisan infrastructure package sometime this year. What that package would look like, and more importantly what the price tag would be, is still very much up for discussion.
At a recent Democratic retreat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled hope for the prospects of Republicans and Democrats coming together to embrace some sort of sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package. She said Democrats are looking for up to $2 trillion in funding for the project.
“It has to be $1 trillion. I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion,” Pelosi said.
That number is high, but lawmakers are exploring funding options, including the possibility of raising the federal gas tax, which sits at 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1993. There have been multiple reports that President Trump, behind closed doors, supports raising the federal gas tax by 25 cents, but he has yet to acknowledge those reports publicly.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also said last month that “everything is on the table” when asked about the possibility of increasing the tax. A 25 cent increase is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Since 2013, more than two dozen states have raised gas taxes in response to federal inaction on the matter.
As talk of an increase in the gas tax grows, some are pushing back. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity will begin running ads in April in 20 states, urging members of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee not to push for an increase in the tax.
Another idea floated for increasing funding is a “vehicle miles traveled” tax. With that policy, motorists would be taxed based on how far they travel rather than on the gas their cars consume. This is an appealing idea to some, as cars have become increasingly fuel-efficient, further reducing revenue from gas taxes.
Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has signaled support for a vehicle miles traveled tax, while acknowledging full implementation would be a long way off. During testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 6, Graves called the tax “the most promising long-term solution.”
“A VMT has the potential to be a true user-funded program that captures everyone and gets the Highway Trust Fund back to where it needs to be to maintain our network and improve it,” Graves told the committee. However, he also acknowledged some trepidation about the idea, including privacy concerns about the data that would be collected in order to determine a vehicle’s miles traveled.
Joseph Kane, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution, confirmed to the Washington Examiner that support for an infrastructure package is ultimately going to come down to funding.
“Funding is still the most vexing question for policymakers in Washington and throughout the country,” Kane explained. “A $1 trillion investment has been referenced in several previous proposals, and is likely to keep coming up — as a talking point if nothing else. But for Congress, the White House, and many other agencies and groups to actually act on such a proposal will take a level of coordination not seen up to this point.
“The energy and visibility are there, but there are still serious questions on where this money will come from and how it will be deployed effectively. The next few months will hopefully lead to more details on that front,” Kane added.
Despite lingering questions over funding, Democrats are determined to try to work with the president to build support for a plan. Pelosi said during the March 11 retreat that she would be personally reaching out to Trump on the matter. Having voiced her preference for a price tag between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, she said that she and the president would “talk about what the number would be.”
“Even if it isn’t 100%, there is plenty of area of common ground to move forward,” Pelosi said. “I think the president wants to do that, and I think the president needs to do that.”
Trump made rebuilding U.S. infrastructure a major pillar of his 2016 campaign, and now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has concluded, the White House is beginning to look ahead to other issues.
Manufacturing is becoming too successful for its own good. The sector is growing so fast that it cannot find enough people to fill open positions, and that shortage is threatening to hurt the nation’s economy in the coming years.
One key reason why the jobs are unfilled — 450,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from about 100,000 during the recession — is that many of them need people from STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Congress isn’t doing much to address the shortage. One thing that could fill the need, expanding high-tech immigration, is a no-go in the current climate.
“People tend to think manufacturing is blue-collar jobs, but you’re hiring rocket scientists and doctors and the like, too. That speaks to just how advanced manufacturing is now,” said Chad Moutray, economist for the National Association of Manufacturers.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is putting its strongest effort toward expanding apprenticeship programs. That’s a good thing, the industry says. The mindset that college is the only path to a good career needs to be corrected, they argue, and the industry needs those workers. However, apprenticeships won’t address the STEM jobs shortage.
Nor is Congress doing much to expand the number of workers entering these fields. The few pieces of legislation relating to STEM that have been introduced involve trying to encourage groups such as minorities or veterans to participate.
“We have not seen legislation at this time which addresses this issue,” said Andrew Powaleny, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, one of the industries that’s struggling to find workers.
Overall, manufacturing will need 4.6 million more workers over the next decade, Moutray estimated in a new report for the National Association of Manufacturers, but it will find just half of that based on current hiring trends. That will grind the manufacturing industry to a halt as companies are unable to expand due to the lack of workers, costing the broader economy $2.5 trillion over 10 years.
The study doesn’t address the wages being offered for the positions or whether higher pay would address the gap. A report last year by the group’s Manufacturing Institute argued that offering higher pay helped to attract talent but not retain it. STEM workers were often hired away by rivals.
“Manufacturing has moved up the skill ladder,” said Dan Griswold, senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. “The typical manufacturing worker has to be more educated. The manufacturing jobs that have disappeared over the last few years tend to be the lower-tech ones.” There are U.S. workers that can do these jobs, and they are being hired, but there just aren’t enough of them, he added.
Manufacturing doesn’t necessarily mean hard goods. Moutray found that the industry with the largest number of openings was pharmaceuticals, which accounted for 13% of the manufacturing jobs that were left open in the past year. The next sector most lacking workers is aerospace products and parts.
The administration has tried to address these shortages. President Trump set up a Committee on STEM Education at the National Science and Technology Council, an executive advisory agency. On the other hand, the latest White House budget proposed cutting Education Department spending by $7 billion from last year and the National Science Foundation’s budget by $1 billion.
One way that the government could ensure manufacturing finds more of the people it needs without having to spend more money, Moutray noted, would be increasing the number of visas available through the H-1B program for immigrants with specialized skills.
The visas are in extremely high demand. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced in the first week of April that it had already given away all of the 65,000 visas allotted for the year. The visas help the U.S. maintain a competitive edge over other countries, said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas.
“If you’re coming here and getting an advanced degree, I don’t want you going to back to China, I don’t want you going to Canada, I want you staying here,” Hurd said. The congressman has not introduced legislation to expand the H-1B program, nor has anyone else in Congress. Bringing in foreign workers to take good-paying jobs is a tough thing to support.
That shouldn’t be a concern, argued Griswold, pointing to research that finds that every high-skilled immigrant hired results in five to seven workers added elsewhere in the industry.
The Trump administration has fiddled with the H-1B program but not to expand it. It altered the lottery process for the visas in January to favor immigrants with the highest levels of education and discourage bachelor’s degree-level education, a change that experts worried would result in fewer visas being given out. Ultimately, the allotted 65,000 were all awarded, the same number awarded each year for decades.
Both the White House and Republican lawmakers are looking for ways to narrowly change the nation’s immigration policy to stop a massive surge in illegal immigration along the southern border.
The GOP senator leading the charge is Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Johnson told the Washington Examiner he plans to introduce legislation “shortly” after lawmakers return from a two-week recess in April that would address the way immigration officials determine who can claim asylum to remain in the United States.
He hopes the measure can be bipartisan and believes, based on comments from the Democrats on his committee, that both parties will be on board.
“I was very encouraged by a number of Democrats walking by me, on the dais, just basically saying lets get to work on this, we have to fix this,” Johnson said.
Johnson held a hearing last week to examine the latest surge of illegal immigration along the southwest border. At the hearing, Johnson displayed a chart he’s been distributing around the Capitol lately as he tries to draw attention to the ways in which illegal immigration surges are tied to the nation’s immigration policy.
So far this year, Johnson’s chart points out, 240,000 migrants have been apprehended, some at ports of entry but most at points in between along the southwest border.
Much of the increase, the chart notes, accelerated after July 2015, when a federal judge ruled that illegal immigrant parents must be released with children soon after they are apprehended.
The court ruling attracted mass family migration from Central America as adults learned bringing children to the U.S. border would prevent them from being detained or immediately sent home.
The White House is moving along a parallel track in seeking ways to make changes that would discourage mass migration. The Trump administration is planning changes that don’t require congressional approval, which, despite Sen. Johnson’s optimism, could prove to be difficult to obtain in the House where Democrats are in charge.
Trump kicked off the effort to reform the Department of Homeland Security by ousting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Her departure was soon followed by the resignation of other top DHS officials. The purge has caused bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill.
According to a senior administration official, the Homeland Security Department will be directed to employ a higher threshold for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States under the “credible fear” standard. Up to 90% of Central American migrants are allowed to remain in the United States initially after making such a claim to agents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Only 10-15% of those making such claims are ultimately determined to qualify for asylum when their cases are more thoroughly reviewed by asylum officers. More than 90% of those initially let go under the “credible fear” claim end up staying in the country illegally.
“Individuals conducting the exam are part of the problem,” the senior administration official said. “One of the biggest frustrations is that USCIS hasn’t changed its culture from the Obama years. The reflexive tendency is to believe stories even if they don’t stand up to fact.”
The Trump administration is also seeking new regulations that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold families and children for much longer than 20 days in order to provide time for a more thorough review of asylum claims.
Johnson said he is working with the Senate Judiciary Committee to craft legislation that would alter the nation’s asylum policies and the law governing how long illegal immigrant families can be detained.
“Right now, when 85% of asylum claims are denied, there is something wrong with that initial determination,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he’s not in favor of changing the current standard for granting asylum in the United States, “but change the bar for that initial determination.”
Johnson has the backing of Senate Republican leaders, who have criticized Trump for his recent purge at Homeland Security but have long agreed with him that the surge in illegal immigration along the border is rooted in bad policy and has to be fixed.
“We desperately need some immigration legislation,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week on Fox News “Special Report.” “The president’s entirely correct about the crisis at the border and the fact that our immigration laws do not allow us to deal with the crisis at the border.”
President Trump’s first two years in office saw a fourfold increase in criminal leak referrals to the Justice Department, and experts say a spike in prosecutions is poised to follow.
Few of the 120 suspected criminal leaks referred by federal agencies in 2017 resulted in charges, but experts say it often takes nine to 18 months, meaning arrests are likely imminent after referrals rocketed up from just 37 in 2016 and 18 in 2015, remaining high in 2018 with 88.
“I think the number of prosecutions will certainly increase in light of more investigations,” said Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower defense attorney whose Obama-era clients included former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and former agency senior executive Thomas Drake.
So far under Trump, only two journalistic sources have been prosecuted using the notoriously harsh Espionage Act, compared to eight over President Barack Obama’s eight years. Others were prosecuted under less strict laws under both administrations.
“It’s a good bet that we will start seeing in the near-term some prosecutions,” said attorney Barry Pollack, whose clients have included several prominent alleged leakers as well as WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who was arrested April 11 for publishing military and diplomatic secrets in 2010.
“Knowing the emphasis of the administration on this area and knowing it takes some period of time to put together these cases, we can expect to start seeing a number of them,” Pollack said.
Obama’s use of the Espionage Act to target leaks was unprecedented, with more journalistic sources prosecuted than under all prior administrations combined. The effort was made easier by digital footprints.
“In the ’90s, the government never would catch people. It was impossible. There was no paper trail,” said national security defense attorney Mark Zaid, who has handled several leak cases.
Newly widespread encrypted communication platforms can only go so far in protecting leak confidentiality, Zaid said, as authorities can circumvent secure platforms by accessing devices or forcing companies to hand over records.
Still, the government doesn’t always bring charges. FBI agents must determine who had access to information, then connect the leak to a suspect. Then prosecutors must decide if a case is worth pursuing, balancing factors such as whether prosecution will possibly expose even more secrets at trial.
“If they do something, it’s either something they are really pissed off about, or someone is taking it really personally,” Zaid said. “A lot of people who are prosecuted are low-level people and tend to be younger. … They choose their battles wisely.”
Under Trump, National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner and former FBI agent Terry Albury were charged under the Espionage Act. Faced with potential decades in prison, both pleaded guilty. Winner, who leaked about Russian attempts to hack election systems, received more than five years in prison. Albury got four years for leaking documents, including a guide to informant recruitment and rules for seizing journalist records.
Separately, former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with journalists, and Treasury Department employee Natalie Edwards was charged with leaking “suspicious activity reports” on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others.
The latest records on leak referrals were acquired by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood believes federal workers view Trump less favorably than they viewed Obama, and therefore may be more likely to leak.
“The referrals from 2017 and the resulting investigations should be ripe this year, so it’s possible that surge would bear its unhappy fruit around now, but so far we haven’t seen it happening,” he said.
Potential leak cases include the release of Trump’s calls with leaders of Mexico and Australia and a leak revealing surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, which House Republicans have requested be investigated.
One person prosecuted under Obama, former CIA employee John Kiriakou, scoffs at some anti-Trump leaks, saying they are designed to embarrass, rather than expose waste, fraud, and abuse.
“A lot of people are calling these White House people whistleblowers, and I think they are not,” said Kiriakou, who served nearly two years in prison for giving a journalist contact information for two colleagues linked to post-9/11 tactics critics call torture.
“A leaker leaks because it’s exciting or they want to feel important or they want to feel they are the center of attention. And that’s not what a whistleblower does,” Kiriakou said. “If the policy is to target leakers, I think that’s the correct policy.”
The son of late “Sopranos” actor James Gandolfini is playing a younger version of his father’s old character for an upcoming prequel film to the mobster series.
Michael Gandolfini, 19, is playing a young Tony Soprano for “The Many Saints of Newark,” which will hit theaters in 2020.
“It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini told Deadline. “I’m thrilled that I’m going to have the opportunity to work with David Chase and the incredible company of talent he has assembled for ‘The Many Saints of Newark.'”
James Gandolfini was the star of “Sopranos” during its run from 1999-2007. He died of a heart attack in Rome in 2013 at age 51.
Source: NewsMax America
Journalist and The Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald went on a Twitter rampage Thursday, excoriating fellow reporters who didn’t denounce the arrest of Julian Assange.
“If you’re a US media star who has spent 2 years claiming to be so concerned about press freedoms over Trump’s mean tweets about your friends, but don’t raise your voice in protest over this grave attack on press freedom, take a hard look in the mirror.”
He also blasted reporters who were silent after the Department of Justice announced its hacking accusation against Assange for allegedly helping Chelsea Manning break into a Department of Defense computer.
Greenwald asserted the DOJ is wrong — and it essentially was criminalizing journalism.
“The DOJ says part of what Assange did to justify his prosecution – beyond allegedly helping Manning get the documents – is he encouraged Manning to get more docs for him to publish.
“Journalists do this with sources constantly: It’s the criminalization of journalism.”
MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller, however, countered Greenwald’s argument, leading the pair to debate about whether hacking is a “journalistic technique.”
Greenwald famously reported on U.S. and British global surveillance programs based on documents provided by former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Source: NewsMax America
Tech giant Amazon worked with the police department in Hayward, California, to catch package porch thieves, Vice’s Motherboard reports.
“Operation Safe Porch,” executed in late 2018, set out to lure thieves with fake packages rigged with GPS devices. Amazon provided the police department with boxes, tape, and lithium-ion stickers for the sting.
It is unclear whether anyone was arrested, as the Hayward Police Department declined to comment for the story.
An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard: “We appreciate the effort by local law enforcement to tackle package theft in their communities, and we remain committed to assisting them in their efforts however we can.”
Amazon has worked with police departments in the past to catch porch pirates, including in December of last year when police in Jersey City teamed up with the online seller to install doorbell cameras and plant dummy boxes with GPS tracking devices at homes around the city.
Source: NewsMax America
Facing a steep uphill battle in the Senate, Herman Cain is expected to withdraw from a possible post on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, according to a new report.
ABC News reported Thursday evening Cain will make his decision known in the coming days.
Cain ran for president in 2012 and served as chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City from 1995-1996. He also worked as the chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza from 1986-1996. Democrats — and even some Republicans — have questioned Cain’s qualifications to serve on the Federal Reserve Board.
Earlier Thursday, a fourth Republican — Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. — said he would not vote for Cain. Without any votes from Democrats and independents, Cain’s nomination would fall short in the Senate.
Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., were also opposed to Cain serving in the role.
President Donald Trump has not officially nominated Cain, but he was planning to.
Source: NewsMax America
Trivago pitchman Timothy Williams was arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated, CNN reports.
Police say Williams, 52, was found passed out at the wheel of a car with his foot on the brake in moving traffic in Houston on Wednesday at around 3:15 p.m. CT.
The Houston native reportedly failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while intoxicated. He was released on bond and is set to appear in court April 17.
Williams has appeared in a number of movies and TV shows but is best known as the Trivago guy. Trivago is a German discount travel website.
Source: NewsMax America