CDC head resigns after report she traded tobacco stocks

CDC head resigns after report she traded tobacco stocks

By Karen DeWitt   

WASHINGTON – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned today, one day after Politico reported that she had traded tobacco stocks while heading the agency.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a statement saying: “This morning Secretary Azar accepted Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

It continues, “Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director. Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”

President Trump’s speech had soaring rhetoric, dubious facts

President Trump’s State of the Union speech had soaring rhetoric — and many dubious facts and figures, according to The Washington Post.

On jobs, Trump inflates the number created under his presidency by counting Election Day, rather than when he took the oath of office. 1.8 million jobs have been created since January 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics– the slowest gain in jobs since 2010.

Trump takes credit for rising wages, something that began to happen before his presidency. Wages have been on an upward trend since 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Wage growth slowed during the first year of Trump’s presidency.

Trump once again touted a record-low unemployment rate among African Americans in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, crediting his administration’s policies for the improvement.

The unemployment rate among African Americans has been steadily declining since March 2010—from  16.8 percent to 9 points when he was sworn in as president. It has decreased one point during his tenure—continuing a downward trend.

Trump’s speech gets least positive reaction in at least 20 years

Almost half of Americans who watched President Trump’s first State of the Union address Tuesday night — 48 percent  — say they had a “very positive” impression of the speech, down from 57 percent of speech-watchers after his first address to match Barack Obama’s rating after his first State of the Union address, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

It’s the lowest net positive rating for a State of the Union address since at least 1998, when CNN first asked the question. There is no equivalent poll for addresses before 1998.

This survey reflects the views of only those who watched the speech and agreed to be contacted after its conclusion, not of all Americans.

Democrats didn’t stand or applaud Trump’s State of the Union

Democrats took their “resistance” to President Trump to new lengths, with many refusing to even applaud or stand during his State of the Union address to acknowledge economic gains or an honoring of veterans, according to Fox News.

This included during Trump’s reference to record-low African-American unemployment and a promise to fix the country’s crippled infrastructure.

Donald Trump Jr. told Fox News’ Sean Hannity after the speech, saying it looked like Democrats wanted to stand but felt obligated to oppose his father.

GOP lawmakers say Trump would make mistake in firing Rosenstein

Republicans say President Trump would be making a big mistake in firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to The Hill.

The Justice Department’s No. 2 official has been in the president’s crosshairs since appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the agency’s Russia investigation.

He’s the only official who could fire Mueller, given Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from Russia-related matters.

Some Republicans are now worried that a soon-to-be-released memo from GOP staff on the House Intelligence Committee could hand Trump more ammunition to fire Rosenstein — a move they fear would boomerang on the White House and Republicans running for reelection in the House and Senate.

The unmentioned issue

The most remarkable thing about President Trump’s first State of the Union address may be that the most perilous challenge he faces went unmentioned.

Trump’s future is more likely to be shaped by the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election than his legislative agenda, according to USA Today.

But as Trump was leaving the House chamber after the address, he was heard reassuring GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina that he was “100 percent” behind the release of the Nunes memo.

The off-hand remark provided yet more assurance, if any were needed, that the news spotlight would swing back to the Russia probe and related matters soon enough.

At issue is whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia’s illegal efforts to boost his candidacy, and whether Trump as president tried to obstruct the investigation into what had happened. Mueller is now negotiating with Trump’s lawyers for the ground rules to question Trump.

Lunar trifecta: Super Blue Blood Moon

People from across the country were gazing up into the sky early this morning to get a glimpse of the rare Super Blue Blood Moon, according to Fox News.

Not since Andrew Johnson was president, the second dome on the U.S. Capitol was completed and Jesse James completed his first robbery have the skies experienced such an event.

For those who aren’t early birds, NASA has a live stream of the total lunar eclipse that occurs with a blue moon, known as a Super Blue Blood Moon, for people to see the spectacle unfold.

Lobbying’s top 50 pour $540M into influence campaigns

The top 50 lobbying spenders in Washington, hailing almost exclusively from corporate America, spent more than $540 million on influence campaigns last year, according to The Hill.

That total represents almost a quarter of the $3.34 billion that was spent overall on lobbying and a modest increase over the amount the top 50 organizations spent in 2016.

Groups representing big business — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable — finished in the top three for 2017, while large tech companies continued to climb in the rankings, according to figures provided to The Hill by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Trump health chief faces an early test on enforcing ObamaCare

President Trump’s new health secretary, Alex Azar, is facing an early test of his willingness to enforce the Affordable Care Act, according to The Hill.

The governor of Idaho moved last week to allow insurers in the state to sell plans that do not meet several ObamaCare requirements, including ones that deal with pre-existing conditions.

Democrats and other observers call that a clear violation of federal law. They say the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has an obligation to step in and stop the plans from being sold.

But such a move from the Trump administration would be politically tricky, as it would mean overruling a Republican governor to enforce ObamaCare’s rules.

Iran slams Trump for ‘ignorance’ in State of the Union comments

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif slammed President Trump’s maiden State of the Union, calling his remarks on Iran “ignorant,”  reports The Hill.

Zarif said in a tweet, “Trump again confirms his ignorance of Iran & region. Everyone knows where he stands; and it’s certainly not with Iranians.”

Zarif’s comments came after the president referred to Iran and North Korea as “rogue regimes” during his address on Capitol Hill.

Trump took a direct swipe at Tehran’s government in the address, saying the U.S. “stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.”

Protests against Iran’s government engulfed various cities in the country last month and earlier this month.

North Korean escapee lauded at the State of the Union

Twelve years after he escaped from North Korea on a pair of wooden crutches, double amputee Ji Seong-ho stood in the Capitol chamber and waved those same crutches, to rapturous applause, after President Trump lauded him during his State of the Union and condemned North Korea, according to an article in The Washington Post.

Regardless of their political stripes or differences on how to deal with Kim Jong Un’s regime, those gathered for Trump’s address could all agree: Ji is a hero.

As a teenager he was hit by a train after trying to steal a few pieces of coal so he could barter it for food. He survived but had to have his left arm and his left leg amputated — without anesthesia — as a result.

A decade later, he managed to escape into China , into Laos, then Thailand. From there, he was sent to South Korea — and was fitted with a prosthetic arm and leg, but he kept the crutches to remind him how far he’d come.

Trump praises Albuquerque police office in State of the Union address as embodying ‘the goodness of our nation’

President Trump spoke of the administration’s ongoing efforts to curb the growing opioid epidemic in his State of the Union address– including declaring it a public health emergenc– and praised an Albuquerque police officer for adopting the baby of an addicted pregnant woman as an example of “the goodness of our nation.”

Officer Ryan Holets says he simply did the right thing when he came across a pregnant woman about to shoot up heroin behind a convenience store. Instead of taking her to jail, he and his wife adopted her baby and named her Hope.

Holets was one of 15 special guests invited by first lady Melania Trump to attend the address. He sat to her left in his dress blues along with his wife, who held 3-month-old Hope, swaddled in a pink blanket.

The entire chamber stood gave the young family a standing ovation.

Trump’s SOTU claims immigrants cause crime, but records show they don’t

Immigration is a major political issue for President Trump who said several times during his State of the Union address that the U.S. must limit legal immigration for the sake of national security, but national crime data does not back up that claim, according to USA Today.

Trump said, “Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many American lives,”.

More than 13 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born, but only 5.6 percent of inmates held in federal, state and local prisons are foreign-born, according to a report released this month by the Department of Justice.

Those numbers are backed by several studies, including a report from the libertarian Cato Institute that found the incarceration rate for native-born Americans is 1.53% compared to 0.85 percent for undocumented immigrants and 0.47% for legal immigrants.

Digital currency helps human traffickers avoid detection

Lawmakers are discussing ways to crack down on human traffickers who are using new financial tools, such as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, to avoid detection, according to The Hill.

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard from witnesses on the increasing use of cryptocurrencies and encrypted communications, including smart phones, that make it harder for authorities to catch traffickers.

GOP Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, said, “The lifeblood of human trafficking is the ability to transfer money… the use of prepaid cards and cryptocurrency create an unforeseen challenge for financial regulators.”

Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas, the subcommittee’s top Democrat, said, “People have the ability with cryptocurrency of transferring [money] without the trail we are customarily looking for, so we have to change our strategy.”

Human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion per year, according to the International Labor Organization, with commercial sexual exploitation accounting for $99 billion of that total.

Melania Trump-independent first lady

Melania Trump, in a break with longstanding tradition, opted to ride with the guests she invited to share her first lady’s box during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

The motorcade ride, from the White House south lawn to the Capitol building, is just a few minutes long, but for a first couple who has not been publicly seen together since New Year’s Eve, the separate cars were another in a string of isolated movements from a very independent first lady, according to CNN.

Melania Trump, dressed in a cream pantsuit by French design house Christian Dior, and a white silk blouse from Italian label Dolce & Gabbana, also opted to skip rlier this month when the president went to the Davos, Switzerland, economic summit.

The Trumps returned to the White House in the same vehicle, according to Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director.

Black lawmakers protest

President Trump continually claims credit for lower unemployment among African Americans and did so again at  the State of the Union where Congressional Black Caucus members sat stony-faced and unmoved, dressed in West African kente cloth to protest Trump after reports he called some African nations “shithole countries.”

The Black Caucus later tweeted: “The black unemployment rate fell from 16.5% to 7.8% from January 2011 –January 2017. Now it’s 6.8%. Thank President Obama – not @realDonaldTrump. #ThanksObama #AYearofTrump.

Unemployment among African Americans has decreased one point during Trump’s tenure—continuing a downward trend begun in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

GOP senator opposes release of House GOP intel memo

GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said today that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee should not release a memo alleging abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department if it contains classified information.

Kennedy said on CNN’s “New Day”:  “We can’t let the politics of the moment cloud our judgment. If there’s classified information in that memo, it shouldn’t be released. If they release it anyway, to be fair, the Democrats ought to be allowed to release their memo.”

Kennedy’s comments come two days after the committee voted along party lines to release a GOP-authored memo accusing the FBI and Justice Department of misusing their authority to obtain a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The Justice Department has warned that releasing the memo would be “extraordinarily reckless” without first consulting the intelligence community.

President Trump has three days left to review the document to determine whether he wants to block its release.

GOP lawmakers in West Virginia to plot 2018 agenda

House and Senate Republicans will travel to West Virginia today to hammer out the nitty-gritty details of the 2018 agenda President Trump laid out in his State of the Union address, The Hill reports.

Lawmakers will board a train for White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where they will spend the next three days debating key pillars of the president’s speech: Trump’s call for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, investments in workforce development and job training and how to better sell the GOP tax overhaul to voters.

Immigration surely will be discussed at the historic Greenbrier resort this week, but a retreat agenda obtained by The Hill does not include a single mention of the word “immigration.”

Trump during his speech addressed in detail the hot-button issue, which bitterly divides the GOP.

NYPD planning to have body camera on every officer by year’s end

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the New York Police Department plan to have every police officer and detective wearing a body camera by the end of the year.

De Blasio says the move will result in the city being “fairer, faster and grow trust between police and communities,” the New York Daily News reported.

Police Commissioner James O’Neill says the city is upping its pace to equip officers with the body cameras after receiving “viable feedback” from precincts that are already using the devices, adding: “We are on track to have all precinct, transit and housing commands citywide up and running with body cameras by the end of this year.”

More than 17,100 officers by the end of the year will be outfitted with the devices.

Senators ask Tillerson to fight Russian interference in Mexico election

A bipartisan pair of senators is calling for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to combat Russian election meddling in Mexico amid reports the Kremlin his become involved in Latin American elections, according to The Hill.

GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey in a letter ask Tillerson to address the issue when he visits Mexico next week, saying Russia has used “sophisticated technology” to meddle in the country’s presidential election in July.

White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster last month warned of early signs that Russia was meddling in Mexico’s election.

North Korea to show off long-range missiles before Winter Olympics

North Korea is planning to show off dozens of long-range missiles at a February 8 parade, the day before the Winter Olympics is set to begin in South Korea, two diplomatic sources of North Korea’s intentions told CNN today.

The display of “hundreds” of missiles and rockets would be an attempt “to scare the hell out of the Americans,” one of the sources said.

The parade is expected to include dozens of intercontinental-range Hwasong-15 missiles, which the North Koreans test-fired for the first time in late November, the sources said.

The news comes after President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union speech, during which he criticized the Kim Jong Un regime’s human rights abuses and “reckless pursuit” of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that could threaten the U.S.

Federal Reserve expected to leave rates unchanged

The Federal Reserve will release a monetary policy statement at 2 p.m. Eastern today.

The Fed may take note of improved economic conditions, but it is expected to wait until March before raising rates again, according to The New York Times.

As deficit soars toward $1 trillion, Congress shrugs

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is urging Congress to lift the debt ceiling as lawmakers embark on a spending spree, according to The New York Times.

Annual deficits are creeping up to $1 trillion and the national debt has topped $20 trillion.  The Treasury announced earlier this week that the U.S. will need to borrow $441 billion in privately held debt this quarter, the largest since 2010 when the economy was emerging from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Mnuchin’s request to raise the debt ceiling stems from the simple fact that federal expenditures are outpacing revenues.  He restates his position that if the economy can sustain a 3% growth rate, the much- lauded tax cut bill will pay for itself.

In contrast, Macroeconomic Advisers, an economic forecasting firm, expects growth the first three months of this year to fall to 2.3%.

Dow soars 250 points as stocks rebound from 2-day sell-off

U.S. stocks opened sharply higher today, rebounding from a strong two-day sell-off as corporate earnings keep beating expectations, according to CNBC.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 250 points, with shares of Boeing contributing more than half of those gains. The aerospace giant’s stock popped 6.6 percent and reached an all-time high.

The jump was fueled not only by sell-offs and high earnings, but market expectations that the Federal Reserve rate hike later today will be just 5.2 percent. More optimism comes from Moody’s Analytics report that private companies added 234,000 jobs in January, more than economists predicted – and a preview to the U.S. government’s monthly jobs report, which is scheduled for release Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Wall Street also liked President Trump’s overall theme of s “a safe, strong and proud America,” CNBC reports.

Drug distributors shipped 20M pain pills to a West Virginia town of 3,000

Drug distributors poured 20.8 million pain pills into a West Virginia town of 3,000 people over a 10-year period, according to information released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as part of a congressional probe into the opioid crisis.

Out-of-state companies shipped the painkillers to two pharmacies four blocks apart in Williamson, W.Va., from 2006 to 2016. West Virginia leads the nation in the drug overdose death rate, at 52 deaths per 100,000 people.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating the role of drug distributors in the opioid epidemic.

Panel GOP Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon and ranking Democratic member Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, said in a statement, “These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia.”

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