Walter: Is Trump actually doing California a big favor?

At last count, California’s Democratic political leadership had filed four dozen lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s administration, reflecting differences on policies large and small.

For the most part, California’s legal allegations have been on target. However, Trump is on solid legal and logical ground in the latest conflict over the state’s disastrous foray into high-speed rail transportation.

Nine years ago, the Obama administration gave the state a $3.5 billion grant to finance a big share of the initial bullet train segment, more than 100 miles of track from a point north of Fresno to the outskirts of Bakersfield.

The federal money was to be matched by state funds from a $9.95 billion bond issue passed by California voters in 2008 and the San Joaquin Valley stretch was to be completed by 2017. Later, before Trump became president, the feds gave California an extension to 2022, but only tiny portions have been built.

Late last year, the state’s auditor, Elaine Howle, told the Legislature that meeting the 2022 deadline would be nearly impossible, citing the High-Speed Rail Authority’s “flawed decision making regarding the start of high-speed rail system construction in the Central Valley and its ongoing poor contract management for a wide range of high-value contracts.” Howle said the problems “have contributed to billions of dollars in cost overruns for completing the system.”

A couple of months later, Gavin Newsom succeeded bullet-train booster Jerry Brown as governor and told the Legislature in his first State of the State address, “Let’s be real. The project as currently planned would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

He said he would concentrate on finishing the San Joaquin Valley segment …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

      

IRS memo: Trump’s tax returns can be released unless he claims executive privilege

By Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey | Washington Post

WASHINGTON – A confidential Internal Revenue Service legal memo says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the rare step of asserting executive privilege, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The memo contradicts the Trump administration’s justification for denying lawmakers’ request for President Donald Trump’s tax returns, exposing fissures in the executive branch.

Trump has refused to turn over his tax returns but has not invoked executive privilege. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has instead denied the returns by arguing there is no legislative purpose for demanding them.

But, according to the IRS memo, which has not been previously reported, the disclosure of tax returns to the committee “is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs.”

The 10-page document says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason that Mnuchin has cited for witholding the information.

“[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee … to state a reason for the request,” it says. It adds that the “only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

The memo is the first sign of potential dissent within the administration over its approach to the tax returns issue. The IRS said the memo, titled “Congressional Access to Returns and Return Information,” was a draft document authored by a lawyer in the Office of Chief Counsel and did not represent the agency’s “official position.” The memo is stamped “DRAFT,” it is not signed, and it doesn’t reference Trump.

The agency says the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

      

Storms wreak havoc in Oklahoma, Missouri

By Rich McKay, Brendan O’Brien and Dan Whitcomb | Reuters

Dozens of people were rescued from rising floodwaters and felled trees that smashed homes and blocked roadways in Oklahoma, as severe storms unleashing tornadoes and heavy rain roared through the central United States on Tuesday.

Rescue crews using boats pulled at least 50 people from rising water as heavy downpours inundated roads and homes, Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Keli Cain said, although there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Only the tops of cars engulfed by water were could be seen in video footage of roadways near Oklahoma City, and some houses were entirely surrounded by floods.

“It’s real dangerous,” said Ross Reuter, a spokesman for Canadian County, where 10 people were rescued. “Motorists get out into the swift water, thinking they can get across and it ends up being deeper than they think.”

Parts of the state have received six to eight inches of rain since Monday, and some 4 million people remained under a flash flood warning or watch in the region, the National Weather Service said.

A tornado that touched down early on Tuesday near Tulsa International Airport was among more than two dozen that have ripped through the region since Monday, according to the weather service.

“We have lots of reports of damage coming in. There is a lot of tree damage. Very large trees have been uprooted that are blocking roads and that have landed on houses,” NWS meterologist Sarah Corfidi said.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency, citing flash flooding, “straight-line winds,” heavy rain and hail.

“Missouri is experiencing a very dangerous severe storm system with multiple threats that must be taken seriously,” Parson said in a written advisory. “I urge all Missourians to closely follow their local weather forecasts, take storm warnings seriously, and quickly act …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

      

Ben Carson fumbles REO, OMWI during contentious hearing

By Colby Itkowitz | Washington Post

When a freshman congresswoman asked U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson at a congressional hearing Tuesday whether he knew what the housing term “REO” was, Carson thought she was referencing the similar-sounding cookie.

“An Oreo?” the secretary asked.

No, said Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., her tone firm. She spelled it back to him, twice. Carson came up with: “real estate e-organization.”

It’s actually “real estate owned.”

The term refers to property owned by a bank or a lender after it’s been foreclosed. Porter wanted to know why there was disparity in the rate of REOs issued by the Federal Housing Administration compared to other government-owned real estate.

Hours after the hearing ended, Carson tweeted a photo of a package of Oreos next to a note thanking Porter for participating in the hearing, with the caption: “OH, REO! Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!”

Carson appeared before the House Financial Services Committee for more than three hours, fielding questions on housing policies. Several times he stumbled as Democrats, especially the women on the committee, tried to poke holes in his knowledge of the agency he runs.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, asked him if he was familiar with “OMWI.”

“With who?” Carson asked.

“OMWI,” the congresswoman repeated.

“Amway?” the secretary replied.

The acronym stands for Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. Beatty wanted to know whether HUD had such an office and whether he worked with its director.

“Of course we have an office of . . . ” Carson trailed off.

“OMWI,” the congresswoman repeated.

Except HUD doesn’t have an OMWI. Instead, it has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which performs a similar function. Either way, Carson couldn’t name the director of that office.

Then, near the end of the hearing, freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., chided Carson and the Trump administration for …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

      

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