Julia Harte

Writings & wanderings.

Border wall business: The non-profits, startups and PACs seizing on Trump’s dream wall

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July 3, 2019, Reuters

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President Donald Trump’s signature campaign vow to erect a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico has been mired in cross-border bickering and opposition from Democratic lawmakers with power over the government’s purse strings.

But amid the political stalemate, a wave of only-in-America entrepreneurs, fundraisers and profiteers have taken the issue into their own hands.

Tapping into Trump’s outrage over immigrants pouring into the United States, several dozen citizens have created non-profit and for-profit organizations, started GoFundMe pages, and launched political action committees to raise money to fund the wall or support like-minded candidates. In all, more than $25 million has poured in, the vast majority to a venture led by an Air Force veteran who has become the most public face of the fundraising mission.

Who’s paying the bill? Americans such as Arlene Mackay, 80, a Montana cattle rancher who gave $1,000 in January to what she thought was a multi-million dollar fundraiser, dubbed We Build the Wall, to construct a border wall. In fact, her money went to a different venture with a similar name: Build the Wall.

“I thought I might be buying a piece of the wall – like an inch,” said Mackay, when informed her donation had not reached its intended target. The money, she said, could have gone instead to buy half a cow. “I’m just going to say I better be very cautious from now on.”

In all, Reuters found, more than 330,000 Americans have dipped into their wallets to bankroll emerging border wall campaigns. With their investments have come big promises, but few concrete results. The most noticeable impact so far: A half-mile of new bollard-style fencing in eastern New Mexico, built by the largest border wall fundraiser.

Even that project has been beset by regulatory concerns. Meanwhile, wall-themed novelty toy sellers and failed political action committees have left behind some disappointed customers and donors.

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Written by juliaharte

July 3, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Foreign government leases at Trump World Tower stir more emoluments concerns

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May 3, 2019, Reuters

Trump World Tower is pictured in Manhattan, New YorkThe U.S. State Department allowed seven foreign governments to rent luxury condominiums in New York’s Trump World Tower in 2017 without approval from Congress, according to documents and people familiar with the leases, in what some experts say could be a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The Manhattan building, part of the real estate empire of Donald Trump, had housed diplomats and foreign officials before the property developer became president. But now that he is in the White House, such transactions must be approved by federal lawmakers, some legal experts say. The emoluments clause bans U.S. officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments without congressional consent.

The rental transactions, dating from the early months of Trump’s presidency and first disclosed by Reuters, could add to mounting scrutiny of his business dealings with foreign governments, which are now the subject of multiple lawsuits.

Congressional staffers confirmed to Reuters that the Trump World Tower lease requests were never submitted to Congress. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said his committee has been “stonewalled” in its efforts to obtain detailed information about foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses.

“This new information raises serious questions about the President and his businesses’ potential receipt of payments from foreign governments,” Cummings said in a statement to Reuters. “The American public deserves full transparency.”

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Written by juliaharte

May 3, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Left in the Dust: The dismantling of a U.S. workplace safety rule, and the political battle behind it

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January 22, 2019, Reuters

vgb110NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – When Wardell Davis landed work with a Norfolk, Virginia, shipbuilding contractor in the fall of 2007, he felt lucky.

Then 24 years old, with no high school diploma, Davis had for years bounced between part-time jobs.

Unable to work, he lives on disability payments, and has brought suit against abrasives manufacturers and safety equipment providers he alleges failed to protect him. They deny responsibility for his failing health.

“If I ever would have thought that this would have happened to me, I would’ve never ever worked there,” he told Reuters, his words punctuated by coughs. “Ever.”

Davis was one of an estimated 11,500 shipyard and construction workers who U.S. regulators say are exposed each year to beryllium: a toxic, carcinogenic element laced through the coal waste often used in abrasive blasting grits. These workers lie at the heart of a little-known regulatory drama unfolding behind the Trump administration’s push to relax safety rules it deems burdensome to U.S. businesses.

he contractor, he says, promised better pay for grueling labor: blasting the hulls of U.S. Navy ships with coarsely ground coal particles to remove rust and paint. He recalls the fog of dust created as workers fired the crushed coal – a residue from coal-fired power plants – against the ship bottoms from high-powered hoses, moving through the tented blasting area in respirators and protective suits.

A year later, Davis found a better job with a plumbing and heating company. He became a father, but still found time to hit the YMCA most days for a swim, a lifelong passion. Then, in 2011, he began struggling to hold his breath under water; soon, he couldn’t hold it at all. He was dogged by a persistent cough, sweats and nausea.

In 2014, doctors at Norfolk’s Sentara Hospital found a “black foreign material” in his lungs. Davis successfully filed a disability claim for “pneumoconiosis/silicosis and/or interstitial fibrotic disease caused by exposure to abrasive blasting dust.” Four years and three biopsies later, Davis survives on a single lung.

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Written by juliaharte

January 22, 2019 at 10:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Turkish hydroelectric dam will leave hundreds homeless

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October 9, 2018, Reuters

IMG_2593HASANKEYF, Turkey – Hundreds of people displaced by a huge dam in southeast Turkey fear they could go homeless because resettlement laws prevent them from moving into a new government-built town above the rising Tigris River waters.

The Ilisu dam, which Turkey planned to fill this year, will generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity but has been criticized for water shortages it will create downstream in Iraq and for the tens of thousands of people it will displace in Turkey.

For hundreds of residents of the 12,000-year-old town of Hasankeyf and its neighboring village of Kesmekopru, both of which will be submerged, housing laws may also block them from finding new homes on the nearby mountainside.

Those regulations bar unmarried adults and people with addresses registered elsewhere from claiming home ownership in the new site, residents and town officials told Reuters.

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Written by juliaharte

October 9, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Republican lawmakers in tight races now embrace gun control measures

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March 7, 2018, Reuters

download (8)A majority of Republican lawmakers in the tightest congressional races are changing their message on guns, expressing new support for restrictions after last month’s high school shooting in Florida, according to a Reuters review of the candidates’ public statements.

Eleven Republican incumbents face elections in 2018 widely seen as toss-ups or leaning against the current office holder. So far, six of them have publicly embraced new gun control measures in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Reuters found. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2I8qevA)

In advocating for some restrictions, they are breaking ranks with a party that has often balked at taking significant steps that could restrict Americans’ constitutional right to own guns and has typically limited its responses to mass shootings to expressions of sympathy.

However limited the shift, it shows that lawmakers who will depend on the votes of moderates and independents to win tough swing-district races are deviating from decades of party orthodoxy on gun ownership.

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Written by juliaharte

March 7, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump administration reduces support for prisoner halfway houses

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October 13, 2017, Reuters

The DOJ logo is pictured on a wall after a news conference in New YorkThe administration of President Donald Trump has been quietly cutting support for halfway houses for federal prisoners, severing contracts with as many as 16 facilities in recent months, prompting concern that some inmates are being forced to stay behind bars longer than necessary.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Justin Long confirmed the cuts in response to an email inquiry from Reuters, and said they only affect areas with small populations or underutilized centers.

“The Bureau remains firmly committed to these practices, but has had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment,” Long said.

Halfway houses have been a part of the justice system since the 1960s, with thousands of people moving through them each year. For-profit prison companies such as Geo Group Inc have moved into the halfway house market, though many houses are run directly by government agencies or non-profit organizations.

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Written by juliaharte

October 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Health and safety rules targeted as Trump begins to slash red tape

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October 1, 2017, Reuters

rsz_2017-09-29t200156z_704044538_rc115a9154f0_rtrmadp_3_usa-trump_1When disaster hits the chemical plants in Port Arthur, Texas, triggering fires like those that flared in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Hilton Kelley is the man fielding panicked calls from neighbors unsure whether they should evacuate their homes.

Kelley, 57, is a well-respected figure in his community but is not a government or plant safety official. For 18 years, he has led a non-profit group based in Port Arthur that advises residents on air safety and dispatches a crew in emergencies, helping people to safety in more than 30 major fires or explosions.

More than 1,500 accidents at chemical plants have been reported in the United States since 2007, and amendments to the Clean Air Act issued in the last days of former President Barack Obama’s administration would have forced plants handling risky chemicals to coordinate emergency plans with local responders.

Kelley says those changes would have made his job easier by, for example, obliging plant owners to tell first responders what chemicals were on site. That would help them decide what equipment and training would be needed to help people.

President Donald Trump’s administration suspended the regulations, placing them in a two-year review. Trade associations argued the new rules were inconsistent with Trump’s pledges to cut regulations and with his executive order issued in January requiring federal agencies to offset each new regulation with two deregulatory actions.

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Written by juliaharte

October 1, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized