Monday News: Corporatocracy


MANY OF DONALD TRUMP'S APPOINTMENTS ARE RECENT LOBBYISTS: President Donald Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck. The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica. In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE WEARS BOMBER JACKET ON SABRE-RATTLING VISIT TO DMZ: In a trip full of Cold War symbolism, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the tense zone dividing North and South Korea and warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over." Pence made an unannounced visit to the Demilitarized Zone Monday at the start of his 10-day trip to Asia in a U.S. show of force that allowed the vice president to gaze at North Korean soldiers from afar and stare directly across a border marked by razor wire. As the brown bomber jacket-clad vice president was briefed near the military demarcation line, two North Korean soldiers watched from a short distance away, one taking multiple photographs of the American visitor.

OUSTED SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT FACING MULTIPLE CORRUPTION CHARGES: South Korean prosecutors on Monday indicted ex-President Park Geun-hye on bribery, extortion, abuse of power and other high-profile corruption charges that could potentially send her to jail for life. Prosecutors charged Park with conspiring with Choi and a presidential adviser to pressure 18 business groups to donate a total of 77.4 billion won ($68 million) for the launch of two non-profit foundations controlled by Choi. Park and Choi were also charged with taking bribes from two of the business groups, Samsung and Lotte, and colluding with other top officials to blacklist artists critical of Park's government to deny them state support. Park also faces charges that she passed on dozens of documents with sensitive information to Choi via one of her presidential aides. According to prosecutors, Park and Choi allegedly took about 30 billion won ($26 million) in bribes from Samsung in return for a government support for a smooth company leadership transition.

NC AG JOSH STEIN WORKS TO HALT DUKE ENERGY'S RATE INCREASES FOR COAL ASH CLEANUP: Although a formal “yes or no” decision is probably months away, Duke Energy’s plan to ding customers for a significant chunk of its coal ash cleanup costs already has attracted skeptics — including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. Stein’s office intervened last month in Duke Energy’s petition to the state Utilities Commission that lays the groundwork for a proposed rate increase to help cover the Charlotte-based company’s multibillion-dollar tab for phasing out its North Carolina coal ash basins by January 2030. Estimates of Duke’s total bill for closing out 31 remaining storage ponds in 14 locations statewide over the next 12 years hover in the $4.5 billion range.

NC PROSECUTORS WHO HIRED EACH OTHER'S WIVES FACING RICO LAWSUIT: On Feb. 21, Debra Halbrook filed a lawsuit in which she alleges that she was fired for reporting to the State Bureau of Investigation that the district attorneys in Person, Caswell and Rockingham counties — Wallace Bradsher and Craig Blitzer — were scheming to place each other’s wives on their payrolls to collect more than $100,000 combined in annual and unearned salaries. Halbrook’s report also launched an SBI investigation. The crux of Halbrook’s lawsuit focuses on the ramifications of coming forward to the SBI and reporting the alleged scheme. However, Halbrook is suing each person named in their individual capacities under the state’s RICO act, stating that she was an injured victim who lost wages because of a criminal scheme.