The Trump officials caught splurging on luxury travel - Axios
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The Trump officials caught splurging on luxury travel

From left: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, EPA Administration Scott Pruitt, HHS Secretary Tom Price, VA Secretary David Shulkin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Photos: AP

Tom Price's pricey private flights unleashed a number of stories about other Trump administration officials flying charter, military or private on taxpayers' dime.
Get smart: Don't expect the uproar over these Trump officials' travels to dissipate quickly. As Axios' Sam Baker and Jonathan Swan note: Democrats smell blood. And Republicans will have a hard time ignoring the millions spent on luxury travel.

Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary

  • The flights: $500,000 in military flights to Africa, Asia and Europe (which were approved by the White House) and more than $400,000 in charter flights.
  • Total cost: His travel has exceeded $1 million, Politico reports, when accounting for both his overseas trips and the more than two dozen domestic trips he's taken on private planes since May.
  • Price's "reimbursement": Price said Thursday that he will reimburse the government for the cost of his own seat on his domestic trips via private jet, reportedly around $52,000, but that would not include the cost of the military flights.
  • Where things stand: Price resigned on Friday.

Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator

  • The flights: A June 7 military flight to Ohio then New York ($36,068); a July 27 charter flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Guymon, Oklahoma ($14,434); an August 4 charter flight from Denver, Colorado, to Durango, ColoradoA ($5,719); an August 9 flight on the North Dakota governor's plane ($2,144).
  • Total cost: Pruitt took "non-commercial" flights costing taxpayers more than $58,000, according to CBS News.
  • The EPA's defense: "When the administrator travels, he takes commercial flights," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Washington Post Wednesday, adding that the one charter flight and three government flights were due to particular circumstances.
  • Where things stand: Last month, the EPA's inspector general announced it was launching a preliminary probe into Pruitt's travels to Oklahoma.

Steve Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary

  • The flights: Mnuchin requested a government jet earlier this year for his honeymoon, according to ABC News. He and his wife also used a government jet when traveling to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky, which coincided with the eclipse.
  • Total cost: An Air Force spokesman told ABC News that a government jet typically costs roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.
  • Mnuchin's defense: Mnuchin told Politico's Ben White that the honeymoon story was "misreported" and the use of such a plane would only be for "national security" purposes. He also denied that his Kentucky trip had anything to do with watching the eclipse.
  • Where things stand: Mnuchin later withdrew the plane request for his honeymoon. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department's Inspector General is reviewing his Kentucky trip.

Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior

  • The flights: Zinke and his aides have reportedly taken several flights on private or military aircraft, including a $12,000 charter flight — which belongs to Nielson & Associates, a Wyoming-based oil-and-gas exploration firm — from Las Vegas to his hometown in Montana, and private flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands, per the Washington Post.
  • Total cost: Unclear, as the total number of charter or military flights is unknown.
  • The Interior's defense: Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said those trips were booked only after officials failed to find commercial flights that would accommodate Zinke's schedule. She added that they all were "pre-cleared by career officials in the ethics office," per Politico.
  • Zinke's defense: "All this travel was done only after it was determined by multiple career officials at the department that no commercial options existed to meet the promulgated scheduled," Zinke said. "The flights were only booked after extensive due diligence by the career professionals in the department's general law and ethics division."
  • Where things stand: The Interior Department said in a statement to the Huffington Post Friday that Zinke's travel "was completely compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations."

David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

  • The flights/luxury purchases: Although Shulkin flew commercial to Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans' health issues in July, he did use government funds to fly his wife out, stating that she was traveling on "approved invitational orders," per the Washington Post. The government also provided a stipend for her meals. They also attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey, and took a cruise on the Thames.
  • The VA's defense: All of Shulkin's activities on the trip, including Wimbledon visit, "were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel," VA press secretary Curt Cashour said in a statement.
  • Where things stand: In response to questions from The Post, the VA announced Friday that they'll start posting details of the Shulkin's travel online, and disclose any use of government or private aircraft. This information was never previously public.
Featured

"Feminism" is Merriam-Websters' Word of the Year

Words printed in a dictionary. Photo: Peter Morgan / AP

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism, according to the 189-year old dictionary company (now "provider of language information"), which calls it "a top lookup throughout the year." The popular lookups and context:

  • "Feminism spiked following news coverage of the Women's March on Washington, DC in January (and other related marches held around the country and internationally), and follow-up discussions regarding whether the march was feminist, and what kind of feminism was represented by organizers and attendees."
  • "The word spiked again when Kellyanne Conway said during an interview that she didn't consider herself a feminist. In this case, the definition of feminism was itself the subject of the news story — an invitation for many people to look up the word."
  • "Interest in the dictionary definition of feminism was also driven by entertainment this year: we saw increased lookups after the release of both Hulu's series The Handmaid's Tale and the film Wonder Woman."
  • "More recently, lookups of feminism have been increasing in conjunction with the many accounts of sexual assault and harassment."
  • "Today's definitions of feminism read: "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" and "organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests."
Featured

Trump: my female accusers are telling "fabricated stories"

President Trump tweeted this morning that the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him are a Democratic ploy to smear him in conjunction with the Russia investigation:

Go deeper: Trump has grown "increasingly angry" about the reports against him.

Facts Matter Featured

Congress under pressure to reauthorize surveillance law

The headquarters of the National Security Agency. Photo: Patrick Semansky / AP

Congress is under the gun to reauthorize a major surveillance law in a debate that has been overshadowed by other major policy fights, like net neutrality and the investigation into online Russian election meddling.

Why it matters: The law — known as Section 702 — expires at the end of the year. Intelligence agencies say it would be ultimately catastrophic if it isn't reauthorized. Privacy-minded lawmakers and advocates, however, say that if it is reauthorized without reforms it will perpetuate a sprawling surveillance system that ensnares Americans' information without a warrant.

What the law does

The law is used by the intelligence community to justify the warrantless surveillance of the electronic communications of foreign nationals located abroad.

The debate

Those agencies have pushed aggressively to renew the law without any reforms. But privacy advocates inside and outside of government say that the programs under the law pick up communications belonging to Americans, too.

They've also raised concerns about the way information obtained without a warrant under the law can be used by the FBI in criminal – rather than national security – cases.

What's next?

  • There are several bills in Congress that would keep programs under the law going. Some would make significant changes to surveillance authorized by the law, while others have been met with an apoplectic reaction from privacy advocates and their supporters in tech who say these bills could make things worse.
  • One of those measures could be attached to a must-pass spending bill or move on its own. Lawmakers could also pass a short-term extension to the law and kick the can down the road.
  • Intelligence officials think, however, that they can continue surveillance under the law for some time even if the law doesn't get reauthorized by the end of the year.
Featured

How NAFTA transformed Mexico's food economy

An unidentified man stands at a beverage deposit with cases of Coke bottles in Chilpancingo, Mexico. Photo: Alejandrino Gonzalez / AP

A New York Times report posits that NAFTA quickly transformed Mexico’s diet and food economy by offering easy access to high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and spurring foreign investment in convenience stores. Diabetes is now the most rampant cause of death for Mexicans, and the country’s obesity rate soared to 20.3% in 2016 from 7% in 1980.

The counterargument: Mexico’s deputy chief negotiator for NAFTA told the NYT that the trade deal simply cheapened access to high-caloric American foods that were already available. And he argued that NAFTA made Mexico more economically stable, allowing its citizens to live longer, which caused an increase in the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease. A stat to back that up: Mexico’s child malnutrition rate dropped to 1.6% in 2012 from 6.2% in 1988.

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Exclusive: Digital vet Jim Roberts joins Cheddar as EIC

Cheddar

Jim Roberts, former Mashable executive editor and veteran New York Times and Reuters digital editor, is joining streaming TV startup Cheddar as editor-in-chief to lead Cheddar's newsroom and editorial coverage. The company is also launching "Cheddar Scoops," an exclusive-news reporting unit. Business Insider's Alex Heath is the first Cheddar Scoops hire.
Why it matters: Cheddar continues to expand amid a tumultuous landscape for VC-backed digital media. These hires are part of a push to strengthen the company's editorial product to keep up with its aggressive business deals.
  • The company hopes to add five to 10 people to the Cheddar Scoops team next year, many of whom will be experts in hot topic areas within business, deals, tech and media — Cheddar's specialties. Cryptocurrency, for example, is a "no brainer," says Cheddar Chief Content Officer Peter Gorenstein.
  • Roberts and Heath will begin December 19 and 18, respectively, and will be the first of several newsroom hires that will work to expand Cheddar's original reporting footprint. "We will use all of the weapons of distribution to get our scoops out there," says Roberts. "That means breaking things on our air, and pushing scoops out on social media."
Sound smart: Roughly a year old, Cheddar now has 100 employees — 46 of which work in content. But most of that editorial staff works on creating the product, not breaking its own news. Now, Cheddar is investing in original reporting, which it hopes will distinguish itself from other over-the-top livestreamers, like The Young Turks and Barstool Sports.

Prior to his role at Cheddar, Roberts was executive editor at Mashable, and has also held high ranking positions at The New York Times and Reuters. He sees his new role at Cheddar as a chance to be disruptive. "We know how difficult it is to make a news and information business work," Roberts tells Axios. "The ones taking chances and trying different things are the ones making an impact right now."

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Moore, Bannon go after establishment, media, accusers on election eve

Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

Roy Moore told Alabama voters "if you don't believe in my character, don't vote for me" in an election eve rally that featured Steve Bannon, and in which the participants repeatedly challenged the credibility and motives of the women who have accused Moore of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teens.

Why it matters: Moore emerged Monday night after hardly appearing publicly in recent weeks with a group of anti-establishment surrogates and a closing argument — the woman accusing me are lying, the media is conspiring against me and I'll represent your voice and Trump's agenda in the "swamp" of Washington.

  • Both Moore and Bannon took swipes at the "establishment," including Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior senator who has publicly opposed Moore. Bannon even indirectly mocked Ivanka Trump — alluding to her quote that "there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children" — while heaping praise upon her father.
  • Bannon said the GOP establishment was only using Trump to get a corporate tax cut, and would quickly abandon him afterward. He told voters that the message they should take from recent events is that if you try to challenge the status quo like Trump and Moore, "they're going to try and destroy you and your family."
  • Moore was introduced by his wife, who portrayed her husband as the victim of a coordinated character assassination attempt by the media and said, "our sails are torn, but our anchor holds."
  • Moore criticized his opponent Doug Jones for supporting "transgender rights," gay marriage and legal abortion.

Controversial moments:

  • Seeking to discount claims of prejudice, Moore's wife Kayla said "one of our attorneys is a Jew," along with some friends.
  • As Jonathan Allen of NBC News points out, Bannon mocked MSNBC's Joe Scarborough for not getting into as prestigious a college as he did — but Scarborough went to the University of Alabama.
  • In an apparent reference to the allegations of child sexual abuse against him, Moore said his wife "has closer contacts to kids than I do."
  • A man who served with Moore in Vietnam spoke, testifying to Moore's character. He mentioned a time another officer led them to a "private club" that turned out to be a brothel, in which some of the prostitutes were "very young," and Moore immediately said they should leave.
Featured

Weighing the benefits and risks of birth control pills

A birth control pill dispenser. Photo: Mike Derer / AP

A recent Danish study linked hormonal birth control to an increased risk of breast cancer, but the same contraceptives have also been shown to protect against certain less common cancers, such as endometrial and ovarian, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The study published last week raised alarm with its conclusion that users of hormonal birth control see about a 20% increased risk of developing breast cancer. But "it’s really problematic to look at one outcome in isolation. Hormonal contraception has a complex matrix of benefits and risks, and you need to look at the overall pattern," JoAnn E. Manson, a professor of women’s health at Harvard Medical School, told the Times.

The results: A British study that followed 46,000 women from 1968 to 2012 found birth control pill users had increased risks of breast and cervical cancers, but the overall cancer rates among users and non-users was equalized by the fact that users were less likely to develop other cancers.

“There is good data to show that five or more years of oral contraceptive use substantially reduces ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer risk, and may reduce colorectal cancer. And the protection persists for 10 or 20 years after cessation" of use, David J. Hunter, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford told the Times.

Featured

Macron lures climate scientists to France for Trump's term with millions in grants

Under a program called 'Make Our Planet Great Again', France has offered 18 climate scientists — 13 of them U.S. based — millions of euros in grants to work in France for the rest of President Trump's term, according to the Guardian.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced the contest right after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord, and more than 5,000 people pursued the grants.

Why it matters: The program, with the branding driving home the point, makes clear that France views the U.S. under Trump as hostile ground for climate science.

Featured

Report: Trump furious Haley said his accusers "should be heard"

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump was "infuriated" by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's remark Sunday that the women accusing him of sexual assault and harassment "should be heard," the AP reports.

Per the report, Trump has "grown increasingly angry in recent days that the accusations against him have resurfaced, telling associates that the charges are false and drawing parallels to the accusations facing Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore." White House advisers were "stunned" by Haley's statement, made on CBS' "Face the Nation," according to the AP.

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House tax bill adds $1 trillion to deficit over 10 years, official analysis finds

The U.S. Capitol dome reflected in water. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

An analysis released Monday by the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation projects that the House tax bill would generate enough growth to produce $428 billion in revenue over ten years, per WSJ. That's less than one-third of the $1.4 trillion in tax revenue that would be lost over that time due to the cuts.

  • The bottom line: Estimates find that the bill would come nowhere near paying for itself, despite claims to the contrary from GOP leadership and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
  • What's next: The House and Senate are reconciling their two versions of the bill.