By Lee Fang
If the billionaire Koch brothers turn to the White House for favors, they will see many familiar faces.
Newly disclosed ethics forms reveal that a significant number of senior Trump staffers were previously employed by the sprawling network of hard-right and libertarian advocacy groups financed and controlled by Charles and David Koch, the conservative duo hyper-focused on entrenching Republican power, eliminating taxes and slashing environmental and labor regulations.
Some of the relationships were well-known. Marc Short, for instance, now Trump's chief liaison to Congress, previously led Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the dark money nonprofit used by the Koch brothers and their donor cohort to dispense money to allied groups. Freedom Partners, which maintains an affiliate Super PAC, was at the center of the Kochs' $750 million election effort during the campaign last year.
But the ethics forms, made available to the public on Friday evening, reveal a number of previously undisclosed financial ties between the Koch network and Trump's inner circle of political aides.
America Has a Koch Problem https://t.co/ochBtJRg5V #kochbrothers @foe_us @SierraClub @greenpeaceusa @350 @billmckibben @ClimateReality— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485364846.0
Donald McGahn, Trump's campaign attorney turned White House counsel, provided legal services to a range of outside Koch groups working to influence the election. McGahn, through the law firm Jones Day, advised Freedom Partners, as well as i360, the Koch's big data firm set up to identify and target voters and Americans for Prosperity, the election advocacy and grassroots lobbying organization run by the Koch brothers. Ann Donaldson, McGahn's chief of staff, came to the White House from McGahn's law firm. Her financial disclosure shows that she also provided legal services to Freedom Partners and i360.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's former campaign manager turned close White House advisor, consulted over the last year for Americans for Prosperity's national foundation, as well as for the Michigan and Ohio chapters of the group. Conway served as a board member for the Independent Women's Forum, a Koch-backed group whose goal is "increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty."
The fact that Trump's political team worked for the Koch network during the campaign adds a new wrinkle to the relationship between the president and the most well-known pair of Republican billionaires.
The Koch network has long pioneered a strategy of backing GOP campaigns by using seemingly independent nonprofits and outside election groups. Election law prohibits organizations that raise and spend unlimited funds, such as the Freedom Partners' Super PAC and Americans for Prosperity, from directly coordinating with candidates.
But those rules are rarely enforced. Moreover, campaigns and Super PACs have danced around the coordination prohibition by employing individuals who split their time between candidates and outside groups, making them a crucial conduit for potential coordination.
Despite the common myth that the Koch network, in the words of Politico, "sat out" the presidential campaign, Koch groups were active in battleground states that proved critical to Trump's victory. Americans for Prosperity employed 650 staff members during the campaign, with many stationed in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Missouri. The field staff, using the new data tools from i360, focused on making sure Republican voters made it to the polls.
In the aforementioned states, Americans for Prosperity also aired negative ads attacking Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of the campaign, linking her to Democratic candidates and problems allegedly caused by the Affordable Care Act. The ads, which blanketed swing state television stations, held Clinton responsible for healthcare with "higher cost, lost coverage, lost doctors."
The election effort swept the GOP to a level of national power not seen since the 1920s. And the Koch network has been quick to seize upon unified Republican control of Washington to quickly score a range of policy and political victories.
Freedom Partners Vice President Andy Koenig told the Los Angeles Times after the election that his group hoped Trump would "walk in with an eraser" and wipe out as many Obama reforms as possible. The group formulated a "Roadmap to Repeal," a memo calling for the administration to prioritize revoking the Paris climate change treaty, repealing clean water rules and eliminating limits on pollution from coal-fire power plants.
In recent weeks, Trump and congressional leaders have used a little-known procedure called the Congressional Review Act to swiftly roll back the very regulations identified by the Koch memo. And they have been aided by a team that came to the White House policy staff directly from the Koch network.
Koenig, the former Freedom Partners vice president, is now working in the White House as a policy assistant. Koenig's financial disclosure shows that he made $320,000 at the group before moving through the revolving door.
In addition, Andrew Bremberg, now the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Bethany Scully, an official working in Trump's Office of Legislative Affairs, both worked for Freedom Partners. Bremberg's disclosure shows that he consulted for the group through a consulting firm he owns called Right Policy LLC.
The Trump policy team includes Brian Blase, a special assistant to the president working on healthcare issues, who came to the White House from the Mercatus Center, the Koch network think tank at George Mason University.
A number of Vice President Mike Pence's staff also came directly from Koch organizations. Andeliz Castillo, named earlier this year as a Pence senior aide, came from the Libre Initiative, the Latino outreach arm of the Koch network. Stephen Ford, Pence's director of speechwriting, previously worked as a speechwriter for Koch's Freedom Parters.
To be sure, there is not perfect harmony between the Koch brothers and Trump. The Koch network harshly criticized the American Health Care Act, attacking it for not doing enough to repeal Obamacare. And the groups have lobbied against the so-called border adjustment tax, a proposal favored by some in the Trump White House.
But if the latest member-wide email from Americans for Prosperity is any indication, the Koch brothers have much to celebrate with Trump in the White House.
The email, titled, "Thank you, President Trump," hails the president for issuing an executive order to repeal of Obama's "Clean Power Plan," the biggest pillar in the previous administration's climate change strategy. The message goes on to boast that Americans for Prosperity is providing the lobbying muscle, along with paid advertisements and mobilizing calls to Congress, to help confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Intercept.
In 2010, world leaders agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's biodiversity over the next decade. By 2020, none of them had been met. Now, the question is whether the world can do any better once new targets are set during the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China later this year.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Andrew Rosenberg
The first 24 hours of the administration of President Joe Biden were filled not only with ceremony, but also with real action. Executive orders and other directives were quickly signed. More actions have followed. All consequential. Many provide a basis for not just undoing actions of the previous administration, but also making real advances in public policy to protect public health, safety, and the environment.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.
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