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Bannon and Kushner agree to ‘bury the hatchet’ after White House peace talks

Trumps chief of staff Reince Priebus tells the feuding pair to end the palace intrigue after weeks of damaging infighting

White House aides Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner have met and agreed to bury the hatchet over their differences, a senior administration official said, in a bid to stop infighting that has distracted from Donald Trumps message.

Bannon, the presidents chief strategist, and Kushner, an influential adviser and Trumps son-in-law, met on Friday at the request of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus who told them that if they have any policy differences, they should air them internally, the official said.

The development at the presidents Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, came at the end of what has been a relatively smooth week for Trump.

Trump ordered airstrikes against Syrian targets that drew praise in many parts of the world and staged an error-free summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping, complete with his wife, Melania, wearing a red dress to symbolise the Chinese flag.

Priebus message to Bannon and Kushner was to stop with the palace intrigue and focus on the presidents agenda, the official told Reuters.

Both aides left having agreed that it was time to bury the hatchet and move forward, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Four former advisers to the president said Trump is accustomed to chaos in his decades-long career as a real estate developer but that even he has grown weary of the infighting.

Hes got a long fuse for that kind of thing, said one former adviser. I imagine he has gotten tired of this.

The White House dismissed persistent talk that Trump might be on the verge of a staff shakeup. The only thing we are shaking up is the way Washington operates as we push the presidents aggressive agenda forward, spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

The Trump White House has been a hotbed of palace intrigue since he took office on Jan. 20. But the drama has intensified after the failed effort to get healthcare legislation approved by the House of Representatives and the rocky rollout of an executive order attempting to temporarily ban citizens of six Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

Bannon, former chief of the conservative news organisation Breitbart News, has been at odds with Kushner and Gary Cohn, the head of the White House national economic council, an administration official and the four former advisers said.

The former Trump advisers said Kushner, husband of Trump daughter Ivanka Trump, is trying to tug the president into a more mainstream position, while Bannon is trying to keep aflame the nationalist fervor that carried Trump to his unexpected election victory in November.

Bannon is getting some of the blame for the administrations early stumbles because, one former adviser said, the president demands results.

In what was viewed as a sign of Bannons declining influence, he was removed from his seat on the national security council this week. Administration officials said this was done at the urging of national security adviser HR McMaster, with whom Bannon had clashed.

Some of the former Trump advisers said Priebus is at fault for not gaining control of the feuding and said Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, would be a candidate to replace him.

Priebus is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and bucked many in his party by putting the weight of the RNC behind Trump when it was clear he would be the partys presidential nominee. Reince is chief of staff, said a source familiar with the issue. Hes not going anywhere.

Republican strategist Charlie Black, who has known Trump for 30 years, said he did not think a shakeup was imminent and that Trumps White House reflects his traditional approach to running his business.

Hes always had a spokes-to-the-wheel management style, said Black. He wants people with differing views among the spokes.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/09/bannon-and-kushner-agree-to-bury-the-hatchet-after-white-house-peace-talks


Ivanka Trump to become White House employee instead of informal adviser

Presidents daughter decides to assume official role as unpaid government employee in attempt to mitigate ethical controversy over administration position

Following criticism from ethics experts, Ivanka Trump will become an official government employee, working as an unpaid adviser to her father in the White House, alongside her husband.

Last week the presidents daughter came under fire after announcing she would become an adviser without a specific title, but with an office in the West Wing, a government-issued phone and computer and security clearance to access classified information.

While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees, she said at the time.

Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W Bush between 2005 and 2007 and has frequently spoken out about the Trump familys various ethical controversies, told the Guardian: She has a West Wing office, she has equipment, she has a White House email address, shes going to be doing policy work. For purposes of the conflict of interest statute, I believe she is a government employee.

Now Ivanka Trump has responded to such criticism by taking on a formal role.

She said in a statement: I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.

Her lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told the New York Times, which first reported the news, that Trump had changed her mind because of her commitment to compliance with federal ethics standards and her openness to opposing points of view.

The Times quoted a spokeswoman for Donald Trump as saying: Ivankas service as an unpaid employee furthers our commitment to ethics, transparency and compliance and affords her increased opportunities to lead initiatives driving real policy benefits for the American public that would not have been available to her previously.

Painter told the Guardian on Wednesday: I think she made the right decision because her lawyers told her what Ive been saying all along … that she is a government employee.

He added: And I think she understands that and I think she told the White House, Stop screwing around and playing games and let her be an employee.

Referring to conflict of interest statutes, he said: Im glad they sorted this out, because the last thing we need is the presidents daughter committing a crime that could be a felony.

The role of billionaire investor Carl Icahn, another of Donald Trumps informal advisers, needed to be similarly formalised, Painter said.

Several attorneys and government watchdog leaders last week wrote a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn asking him to reconsider his approval of Ivanka Trump serving her father without becoming an official government employee.

Norman Eisen, who was Barack Obamas ethics counselor, was among those who signed the letter. He said that for a change in what has largely been an ethics disaster, the White House came to their senses. Lets hope it doesnt turn out to be an isolated moment of sanity.

Fred Wertheimer, president of the government watchdog group Democracy 21 and a co-writer of the letter to McGahn, said he commended Ivanka Trump for formalizing her status. Democracy 21 praises Ms Trump for her decision, which recognizes that it would have been wrong for her to function as a White House employee and not be subject to the same rules that apply to other White House employees, he said in a statement.

There is no precedent for someone whose father is president to work in the White House, although two presidents Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan had their nieces serve in the role of first lady since Jackson was a widower and Buchanan a bachelor.

Ivanka Trump has handed control over the day-to-day running of her eponymous clothing business to an executive and its assets are maintained by a trust managed by two of her husbands siblings.

As part of the trust rules, outlined in the New York Times, Trump can veto any potential business deals for her clothing company that might create a conflict with her political work meaning she will continue to know about any new deals.

Trumps marriage to her fathers senior adviser, the real estate developer Jared Kushner, poses additional potential problems, because both could benefit financially from each others businesses.

Kushner was appointed to an additional role this week at the helm of Donald Trumps White House Office of American Innovation, which is designed to overhaul the federal government with input from the private sector.

The same day it was revealed that Kushner would testify before a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in last years election. Kushners offer to appear before the Senate panel stems from his meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US whose contacts with former national security adviser Michael Flynn led to the latters resignation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/29/ivanka-trump-white-house-government-employee-ethics


As Jared Kushner ascends White House ladder, Senate Russia inquiry adds scrutiny

Trumps son-in-law will lead Office of American Innovation to privatize certain government functions, as he agrees to testify in Russia election investigation

Jared Kushner, Donald Trumps son-in-law and senior adviser, found himself back in the spotlight for better and for worse on Monday.

As the US president appointed him to a new White House role, it was revealed that Kushner would testify before a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in last years election.

With Kushner at its helm, Trumps White House Office of American Innovation is designed to overhaul the federal government with input from the private sector, it was announced on Monday. The venture, which will bring together a team of former executives to privatize certain government functions, will follow through on the presidents business-minded approach to running the country.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/27/jared-kushner-white-house-office-trump-russia


Eric Trump says he will keep father updated on business despite ‘pact’

Middle son says he is deadly serious about fathers separation from business before saying president will get updates probably quarterly

Eric Trump has said he will give his father quarterly updates on the familys businesses which the president has refused to divest from in spite of the sons promises to separate the private companies from their fathers public office.

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Donald Trumps middle son at first said the family honored kind of a steadfast pact we made not to mix business interests with public ones.

There is kind of a clear separation of church and state that we maintain, and I am deadly serious about that exercise, he said. I do not talk about the government with him, and he does not talk about the business with us.

But he went on to say that he would keep the president abreast of the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, thats about it.

He said those reports would be probably quarterly.

My father and I are very close, he added. I talk to him a lot. Were pretty inseparable.

Since their father handed day-to-day management of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr, the family has insisted they do not discuss the business with president. Ethics attorneys of both parties and the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics have called the arrangement a failure to prevent potential conflicts of interest for instance, Trump hotels selling rooms to foreign diplomats.

Eric Trumps statement alarmed ethics experts, including Lisa Gilbert, a director at the not-for-profit watchdog Public Citizen. It confirms our worst assumptions about the lack of separation between his business and current office, she said. Theres no way to reconcile quarterly updates from your son.

Gilbert said there were signs that the Trump family was already profiting from the presidency, including increased business at his golf clubs. His south Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, doubled its entrance fee to $200,000 in January, and in February the first lady, Melania Trump, filed court documents arguing that the White House was an opportunity to develop multimillion-dollar business relationships.

Its not a single thing, Gilbert said. Their businesses are doing better because there is more cachet around them.

The watchdog released a report this week analyzing the first two months of the Trump presidency. It concluded that Trump had broken several promises to isolate himself from the business, that his White House was clouded by corruption and conflicts, and that he had surrounded himself with the same major donors and Wall Street executives he claimed he would fight if elected.

A Washington DC wine bar sued Trump and his new hotel this month, alleging that his ownership provides an illegal competitive advantage. The president still holds direct ties to his businesses, DC liquor board documents show, as the sole beneficiary of a revocable trust.

The White House and Department of Homeland Security have declined to answer questions about whether taxpayer dollars have profited the Trump family, for instance through Secret Service rental payments to Trump properties.

Eric Trump and his father the president are doing what we thought they would do all along, said Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics attorney for George W Bush. This of course makes no difference for conflict of interest purposes because it is his ownership of the businesses that creates conflicts of interest, regardless of who manages them.

Painter added that Trumps remarks show that the businesses is an important concern for the president.

Gilbert compared the arrangement to other possible conflicts in the White House. Trump has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser, despite anti-nepotism laws, and the presidents daughter, Ivanka, has acquired a security clearance and an office in the White House, although she has no official role. In November, Trump denied that he had sought security clearances for his children.

We dont really have a mechanism to enforce the ethics rules, Gilbert said. Its left us without a lot of ground to stand on.

Like the president, Kushner and his wife have said they will separate themselves from their family businesses, but have only done so partially, if at all. Kushner retains parts of his billionaire familys real estate empire, White House documents show, and Ivanka Trump has so far failed to resign, as promised, from the family business, according to documents acquired by ProPublica.

Possible conflicts have already arisen for both of the presidents family confidantes: Kushners family is negotiating a $400m deal with a Chinese firm connected to Beijings leadership, and one of Ivanka Trumps brands was promoted, in violation of ethics rules, on national television by another of the presidents advisers.

In Dallas this month, Donald Jr told Republican fundraisers that he had basically zero contact with his father. His brother, similarly, told Forbes that he tries to minimize fluff calls that you might otherwise have because I understand that time is a resource.

But he also echoed an earlier boast about the family brand being the hottest it has ever been.

Were doing great in all of our assets, he said, before arguing that being the family in the White House also entailed great sacrifices for the business, especially when you limit an international business to only domestic properties, when you put hundreds of millions of dollars of cash into a campaign, when you run with very, very tight and strict rules and the things that we do every single day in terms of compliance.

I dont know, he concluded. You could look at it either way.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/24/eric-trump-business-conflicts-of-interest


Will Trump be impeached or is it just a liberal fantasy?

Only two presidents in history have been impeached, but murmurs continue to surround Trump. Heres how the process would work if it would at all

On 21 July 2007, George W Bush underwent surgery to have five polyps removed after what was described as a routine colonoscopy. The date may have been lost to history, but for the rare invocation at the time of a constitutional amendment laying out how the transfer of power to the vice-president works in cases of presidential disability.

For 125 minutes as long as it took for Bush to enter and emerge from partial anesthesia, eat breakfast and display possession of his native wit Dick Cheney held all the powers attached to the office of the presidency. (Some wags have suggested that Cheney wielded that authority, unofficially, over a much longer time span.)

Even before the FBI director announced on Monday that the bureau is investigating possible collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 presidential election, the precise rules for how the powers of the presidency might be transferred or simply rescinded in case of criminality or emergency had become the subject of newfound and intense focus in the United States.

Whispers about impeachment, the most familiar constitutional procedure for removing a president, began to circulate even before Trump had taken the oath of office. But two months into Trumps presidency, those whispers and the search for any other possible emergency exit have grown into an open conversation that has moved well beyond the realm of a Democratic party daydream. Get ready for impeachment, an influential, 13-term Democratic congresswoman tweeted after the bombshell FBI announcement.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/22/donald-trump-president-impeached-liberals-history-process


I was sent Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return. We need the rest right now | David Cay Johnston

Only the full release of his tax records can help shed light on whether Trump is a crook or compromised

Why do we need to see Donald Trumps tax returns? Thats the number one question asked by critics of the story I broke last week on DCReport.org, after the presidents 2005 tax return summary pages showed up on 13 March in the mail at my home in Rochester, New York. Its a question Im happy to answer as a longtime tax reporter, a Trump biographer and a citizen who has known Trump for almost 30 years.

We need to see years of tax returns from every major-party candidate for president and vice-president because, as Richard Nixon said during Watergate, people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Nixon, it turned out, was a crook. While he was not indicted, his tax lawyer went to prison.

Among major-party candidates and presidents since then, only Trump has refused to release any tax information. The obvious question is: what is he hiding?

Plenty.

Without his complete tax returns since the 1970s, we have no way of knowing whether he is a crook or compromised by his extensive dealings with Russian oligarchs; with authoritarian regimes in Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Turkey; or by massive loans from a bank owned by the Chinese government and the Trump Tower space rented by its largest tenant, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China.

We do know from court records that Trump was embroiled in a sales tax scandal. He was named as one of the celebrities who bought items at the Bulgari jewellery store in Manhattan without the necessary taxes being paid. Ed Koch, when he was mayor of New York, suggested those involved should have served 15 days behind bars for this. Yet then, as now, Trump was bullish in his own defence. His spokesman said Trump was never part of the scam and only made bona fide purchases.

The Form 1040 I received tells us how much Trump made and how much tax he paid but not his sources of income, the interest he has paid, the depreciated values of his real-estate assets and many other details. But from his complete returns I and others could determine his sources of income and payments to banks and consultants, and calculate the value of his real estate.

Imagine if, as president, Trump gets financially squeezed as he was in 1990, when he had a negative net worth, and in 2008, when he claimed he could not repay a $40m debt. What leverage could Bank of China, to which Trump owes many millions of dollars, bring to bear?

It is owned by a communist government in Beijing. On the other hand, what if they forgave Trump debts to seek favourable foreign policy and military objectives?

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would release his returns once the audits were complete. After assuming office he said he had no intention of ever making them public, despite mounting questions about his relationships with Russian oligarchs, involving at least one wildly lucrative deal at a time when he said the entire US real estate market was in collapse.

That same year, Trump sold a Florida estate he bought for less than $41m four years earlier to an oligarch for $95m (plus commission). Today the land sits vacant, the mansion bulldozed. According to Reuters, Russians have invested more than $100m in other Trump buildings. These are matters of public record, cited in my book The Making of Donald Trump. By his own account, Trump has had extensive dealings with Russian oligarchs over 30 years, so we should know more about their relationship.

A 2007 document Trump authorized what an active lawsuit says was a quarter-billion-dollar tax fraud that involved one of the oligarchs. The deal allowed a refinancing in which the profits vanished, for tax purposes. Trump and the defendants say it was a routine recapitalisation, and are trying to get the case dismissed in state court. How much did Trump get from it? His tax returns will tell.

These facts are more than enough to show why we need to know Trumps sources of income, who he is indebted to, who his business partners and associates are and who was paid supposed consulting fees. His tax returns would put a spotlight on this and much more.

Trump spent years in court fighting to not pay undocumented immigrants their $4 an hour pay. He refused to pay small business vendors over years too, putting many out of business. Lawsuits accuse him of swindling investors from Hawaii to Mexico to Florida. Are these the signs of an honest businessman?

Now Trump is the president, Americans need to know not only if their president is a crook but whether he is disloyal, can be leveraged by foreign interests or be bribed by them. Thats why we need to see his full tax returns.

David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter, is the author of The Making of Donald Trump. He is founder and editor of DCReport.org

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/22/donald-trumps-2005-tax-return-we-need-the-rest-right-now


Ivanka Trump’s expanded White House role raises ethical issues

With a West Wing office but no specific title and no precedent for adult children whose father is president the rules Trump is subject to are under dispute

After months of attending meetings of world leaders and visiting factories with her father, the role of first daughter Ivanka Trump is officially expanding creating new ethical issues for an administration that has been heavily criticized over its potential conflicts of interest.

She will not have a specific title, but Trump will have an office in the West Wing, a government-issued phone and computer and security clearance to access classified information, and she will advise her father.

While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees, she told Politico in a statement.

But following the ethics guidelines should not be voluntary, said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W Bush between 2005 and 2007.

Given what shes going to do, I dont think she has any choice, he said. She has a West Wing office, she has equipment, she has a White House email address, shes going to be doing policy work, said Painter.

For purposes of the conflict of interest statute, I believe she is a government employee, he added.

Ivanka Trumps lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, argues that since she will earn no salary and not be sworn in, she does not count as a government employee. There is no precedent for adult children whose father is president working in the White House, although two presidents Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan had their nieces serve in the role of first lady since Jackson was a widower and Buchanan a bachelor.

Trump has handed control over the day-to-day running of her eponymous clothing business to an executive and its assets are maintained by a trust managed by two of her husbands siblings.

As part of the trust rules, outlined in the New York Times, Trump can veto any potential business deals for her clothing company that might create a conflict with her political work.

That means, points out Painter, that Trump has to know about any new deal that might put her at risk of breaking the statute, meaning she can be held responsible.

Shes got accountability on that stuff. She cant just blame the trustee, he said.

Trumps marriage to her fathers senior adviser, the real estate developer Jared Kushner, poses additional potential problems, because both could benefit financially from each others businesses.

Painter warned that the pair should avoid official political discussions involved with trade agreements regarding textiles, real estate and even bank deregulation, since that can affect real estate.

That means if the premier of China visits the White House most of Ivanka Trumps clothing line is made in China and Hong Kong it is fine for her to attend the meeting, but she should not mention trade and if the discussion begins to focus on trade, she should excuse herself, says Painter.

The ethics expert noted approvingly that Ivanka Trump engaged Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the same legal services used by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil, to handle issues of conflict of interest. Kushner also used the DC-based lawyers to manage his potential conflicts of interest with his family business after taking the role of adviser in the Trump administration.

Its a criminal statute, so people better not mess up under it. But I think shell do the right thing, said Painter.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/21/ivanka-trump-white-house-office-administration-role-ethics


The financial benefits of the EPA data Trump doesn’t want you to know about

Making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from renewable energy to auto manufacturing

For more than 25 years, Walter Hang has helped local governments, engineers and homeowners make sense of hazardous waste. To do that, he digs into the enormous data vault maintained by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pinpoints information that is useful for his clients to assess the health and financial risks from nearby industrial properties and toxic waste sites.

Hang, who runs Toxics Targeting, now fears this trove of knowledge will become more difficult to access as the EPAs newly minted chief, Scott Pruitt, begins a broad rollback of regulations and shrinks the agencys staff. President Trump has vowed to weaken the EPA, contending that its rules for protecting public health stifle business development. The Trump administration has already eliminated or buried some information on EPA websites and moved to muzzle agency employees.

What Trump doesnt acknowledge is that EPA data isnt just an enforcement tool. The agency employs more scientists than any other government agency except Nasa. Decades of work by those scientists have generated valuable information about air and water pollution, chemical toxicity and hazardous waste cleanup. This information has enabled businesses to develop new products and services and create jobs in the process.

No one has estimated the financial benefits of making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector. But anecdotal evidence shows it plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from lending and real estate to renewable energy development and auto designs and manufacturing. For example, chemical companies use the data to come up with less toxic compounds for dyeing textiles.

Banks wont loan money to a property developer without ensuring that the land is free of contamination, which can be an expensive liability. They rely on pollution data from the EPA, says Hang, who compiles the information into reports for companies in real estate development and transaction.

We are trying to make sure we get as much data as we can, and were trying to make sure we dont have data gaps, Hang says.

Hang isnt alone in worrying about access. Several campaigns, carried out mostly by university professors and students, to download and secure EPA data have sprung up since the November election. One of the first of such efforts began not in the US but in Canada. Matt Price, a history professor at the University of Toronto, helped organize guerrilla archiving events in December. Offering free pizza and coffee, these events recruited a small army of volunteers who began downloading EPA data to secure servers.

Price says he and his colleagues sprang into action after experiencing their own war on science by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, a conservative who slashed funding for science and ended important environmental monitoring projects. Price and others stepped up to preserve Canadian environmental data during that crisis.

We probably focused immediately on the EPA because of the extremely hostile language that came out of the Trump campaign around the EPA, says Price. We have put a kind of faith in the state as the long term guarantor of the integrity of scientific data. I think that faith may be misplaced.

Many companies rely on the agencys data to build products that tackle some of the biggest health and environmental problems. They sign research and development agreements with the EPA, which provides technical assistance in return for a share of any sales a company generates as a result.

EPA had 97 such contracts active in 2015, which yielded $232,318 in royalties for the agency. The previous year, 129 contracts produced royalties of $438,786.

Aclima, a San Francisco company that develops air-quality sensors and software, is working with the EPA to improve the devices sensitivity in detecting pollution. EPA air pollution data, gathered for decades at a regional scale, serves as an important reference and quality check for the company. Aclima has partnered with Google to collect air quality data by putting its mobile sensors on the StreetView cars that Google uses to create its maps. It plans to offer the resulting data to the public later this year.

Aclima CEO Davida Herzl says the EPAs air pollution data plays a foundational role in everything the company does. Anytime we lose information that is important to public health, that is a concern, Herzl says. It would be a massive blow to the business community in ways that arent always discussed. Innovation and private sector research is happening on top of that foundation of science that EPA has been developing for over 30 years now.

Even businesses that are set to benefit from Trumps plan to loosen environmental regulations are worried about losing access to EPA data, which they need for complying with state or local laws and for their own internal accounting of efficiency and performance, says Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, a program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas distribution utilities, recently notified members to download any EPA data they need in case it is removed from the agencys website. Pam Lacey, the associations chief regulatory counsel, says gas utilities use EPA data and other online resources to track methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. The data shows distributors have cut methane emissions by 74% since 1990.

They continue to do more work and theyd like to be able to keep the data that demonstrates what theyve done and what theyre doing on an ongoing basis, Lacey says. Also, some companies have their own internal goals for sustainability, and they would want to use that official EPA data.

None of the EPA data has been restricted or eliminated yet, say the scientists involved in the data backup campaigns, but they arent taking any chances. Their concern stretches beyond protecting existing EPA data, however. Major budget cuts, if implemented, means the agency may be unable to collect new data.

EPA officials within the Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Their goal is to defund programs that gather data, says Jared Blumenfeld, former administrator of EPA Region 9 (California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii), who left the agency in May 2016. Its much, much harder in a digital age to get rid of data. Its a lot easier to not fund science so you dont have the data in the first place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/mar/15/epa-data-trump-benefits


US Federal Reserve raises interest rates to 1% in bid to hold off inflation

Fed chair says US economy in strong health as she announces third rate rise since 2008 and the first of several expected this yearJanet Yellen discusses interest rate rise live updates

The US Federal Reserve has sought to head off rising inflation with a third interest rate rise since the 2008 financial crash and the second in three months, taking the base rate from 0.75% to 1%.

The central bank set aside concerns about the impact of higher interest rates on consumer spending to confirm analyst projections that it is prepared to increase rates several times this year to keep a lid on inflation as it rises above its 2% target level.

The Feds chair, Janet Yellen, said a wide range of indicators showed the US economy was in rude health, allowing its interest rate setting committee to push rates back towards historically normal levels. Policymakers voted nine to one to raise rates.

Speaking after the decision, Yellen said she had met Donald Trumps treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, a couple of times but had only been introduced to the president himself.

I fully expect to have a strong relationship with secretary Mnuchin, she said. We had good discussions about the economy, about regulatory objectives, the work of the FSOC [Financial Stability Oversight Council] global economic developments, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. She said she had had a very brief meeting with Trump and appreciated that as well.

Earlier in the day the Department of Commerce said retail sales had inched up by 0.1% in February, and that they had been better than it had previously estimated in January.

US interest rates

The Department of Labor said consumer prices were 2.7% higher in February than a year earlier. After excluding the costs of food and energy, inflation was 2.2%. A housing market index from the National Association of Home Builders also surged to its highest level since 2005.

US stock markets moved up on the news, rising 90 points in the minutes after the decision, and US crude rose 2%. The increases were modest following Yellens signals in December that interest rates were on an upward path. Investors were also caught out by Yellens bullish comments in the wake of the announcement and by projections showing that 11 of her 17 policymaking colleagues saw borrowing costs rising another three times in 2017.

Dennis de Jong, the managing director of the currency trader UFX.com, said: Given the bloating effect Donald Trumps presidency has had on US inflation, it would have been more of a surprise had Fed Chair Janet Yellen not announced a rate hike at todays Federal Reserve meeting.

Trumps grand plans for American infrastructure spending have signalled an about-turn for US economic policy after just one rate increase in ten years, weve now seen two in the space of three months, and plenty more are expected for 2017.

This all spells bad news for US borrowers, who will likely have to foot a larger bill over the coming months. With at least three more hikes on the cards by the end of the year, todays news could hit many where it hurts the most the pocket.

US CPI

Some economists argue that weak wages and productivity growth in the US will limit the Feds rate increases to a handful before reaching a peak at around 2%.

Gus Faucher, the deputy chief economist at the stockbroker PNC, said: I think the concern, in terms of why the Fed is raising rates now, is that inflation is picking up. The unemployment rate is 4.7% and thats putting upward pressure on prices.

He told the Guardian economic forces were acting against a return to interest rate levels of 4-5% seen before the 2008 crash.

We have slower labor force growth because of the ageing of the baby boomers, [and thus] slower productivity growth in terms of output per worker, he said. That has reduced the potential for long-run growth, its reduced inflationary pressures, and I think rates in the future will be lower than they have been in the past.

US retail sales

Faucher also said further interest rate rises could dent consumer spending, which has come to rely on cheap loans.

I do think eventually that higher interest rates are going to have an impact on rates for car loans, so that may be a problem for automakers. It may be a problem for big-ticket durable items, home appliances, stuff like that. There is a ceiling on those effects, though, and Faucher doesnt think they will affect home loans.

There isnt much bleed over into mortgage rates; its mostly the short-term borrowers, he said.

Fed policymakers are known to be concerned that the tax cuts and extra government spending Trump has demanded could overheat the economy and lead to a deep recession. Should that happen, the Fed will want to have substantial interest rates in place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/15/us-federal-reserve-raises-interest-rates-to-1


Q&A: What will happen if the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates?

Janet Yellen, the Fed chair who has been criticised by Donald Trump, is set to raise rates for third time since financial crash

The US central bank is poised to raise interest rates for only the third time since the financial crash of 2008. With its headquarters just round the corner from the White House, the Federal Reserve and its chair, Janet Yellen, are in Donald Trumps sights.

On the campaign trail Trump said Yellen should be ashamed of the Feds low interest rate policy, and accused the bank of creating a false stock market. Trump has called for higher rates, but Yellen can not take a positive presidential reaction for granted.

The reaction of markets across the world is even less predictable. So what is the likely impact on the US and the global economy?

What is the Fed expected to do?

The Federal Reserve raised the base interest rate by a quarter of a percent in December last year and is expected to follow with a further rate rise on Wednesday. Some analysts expect a quarter-point rise, though most of the betting is now on a half point, pushing the base rate to a range of 1% to 1.25%.

Why will it raise rates?

The US economy has grown for the last 30 quarters and shows no sign of slackening off. Consumer spending is robust and the latest jobs numbers showed employment increasing and unemployment staying low.

Fathom Consulting, an economic forecaster, said spare capacity in the labour market was disappearing fast and it would not be long before wages started to rise rapidly. Wage rises push up demand, and that triggers higher prices.

The Fed has a remit to control inflation, but also to mintain high levels of employment. By raising rates, it will appear to do both.

How will consumers and corporate America react?

The Fed is betting businesses will shrug off the extra cost of borrowing, continue to invest in the US economy and create jobs.

Setting aside concerns about Brexit and a string of potentially destabilising elections on the continent, Fed policymakers have judged that the strength of the economy is enough to override a series of rate rises, possibly taking the base rate to almost 2% by the end of next year.

Consumers have embraced the Trump rhetoric of tax cuts and deregulation to continue spending, undeterred by the prospect of higher mortgage costs.

How will the market react?

Central banks like to signal their intentions, albeit in opaque language, to prevent investors being spooked. This rise was heavily trailed in recent weeks and has been priced in as a certainty by market participants in New York, London and Tokyo though some would be surprised by a half-point rise.

Turbulence could come from the foreign exchange markets if the dollar rises following a slump in the Turkish lira, Indonesian rupiah, Mexican peso or other developing world currency. More importantly, the bond markets could overreact.

Why do the bond markets matter?

Much of the world borrows money in dollars or seeks to lend to the US government and US corporations in dollars. A rise in interest rates would encourage an influx of funds into the US, pushing up the dollar relative to other countries. A rise in the Fed funds rate would also increase the cost of borrowing.

When the Fed first hinted in 2013 that it planned to stop pumping funds into the financial system, the prospect of higher borrowing costs for those holding dollar debts spooked the bond markets. Turkey and Russia were highlighted as countries with corporate sectors that expanded quickly based on heavy borrowing using dollar-denominated bonds. It was clear that much of Turkeys corporate sector could go bust if its interest bill jumped too far or fast.

Such was the strength of the reaction, Ben Bernanke, who at the time chaired the Federal Reserve, abandoned his plan. A similar reaction preceded a rate rise in December 2015, and while markets regained their composure, the extra costs imposed on Turkey and Russia hit their economies hard and arguably shored up the position of their authoritarian leaders.

Is a currency war possible?

Trump has already attacked China for artificially depressing its currency, even when Beijing was doing all it could to close the gap between the yen and the dollar. Now China is letting the yen fall and with interest rate rises in the US pushing up the dollar, the gap will widen, increasing the cost of US exports and reducing import prices.

Trump can only complain about the currency, but he could make good on threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods, sparking a trade war.

Is there any reason to keep rates on hold?

Annual US GDP growth since the 2008 crash has averaged 2.1%. This might seem like a healthy rate, but it is the slowest recovery from recession since the second world war. Business investment remains low and productivity in the US, as elsewhere in the developed world, is growing sluggishly. To boost borrowing and demand, the Fed needs to keep credit cheap.

But Trump plans to make up for the tightening of monetary policy by cutting taxes and running up a huge budget deficit. He also plans to take his shears to corporate and consumer regulations, unleashing a surge in economic activity.

Bloomberg said investors expect three more rises before the end of the year. Fathom Consulting said there was enough momentum in the economy for rate increases of 25 basis points seven times between now and the end of next year.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/14/us-federal-reserve-interest-rates-janet-yellen-donald-trump


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