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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 8/12/2017

North Korea:  A U.S. intelligence report claimed that North Korea “has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.” (Washington Post) The UN Security Council adopted a resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea “over its repeated defiance of a ban on testing missiles and nuclear bombs.” (NY Times) But Trump couldn’t just quietly take the win. He decided to ratchet it up and make matters worse. He said: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” (NY Times) You notice that he said there would be repercussions if North Korea “threatens” us. Not if they do something. Just threaten. It wasn’t lost on China, probably the best ally we have against North Korea. It’s blaming Washington for the crisis “for its consistently hostile attitude toward North Korea, which in China’s view has only encouraged the regime to invest in and accelerate its nuclear weapons program.” Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said: “China is disappointed. China has just made a compromise, but the U.S. president is messing things up.” (Washington Post) China pledged to stay neutral if North Korea attacks the U.S., “but it would defend its Asian neighbor if the U.S. strikes first.” (Fox) Trump wouldn’t stop, though. On Thursday he retorted that “maybe [his statement] wasn’t tough enough.” (NY Times) And on Friday he tweeted that our military is “locked and loaded.” (Roll Call) Stephen Colbert has the skinny. (You Tube) But things didn’t stop there. Xi Jinping, China’s president, had a phone call with Trump and said: “At present, the relevant parties must maintain restraint and avoid words and deeds that would exacerbate the tension on the Korean peninsula.” Despite Trump’s attempt to look like a strong guy, “there was no change in U.S. deployments in the region or a change in the alert status of U.S. forces. And it was reported on Friday that the Trump administration had reopened a channel of communication between U.S. and North Korean diplomats at the UN.” (Guardian) I know Trump’s bombastic statements this week have scared the crap out of many people but I don’t think there’s any cause for worry. The whole world knows he’s crazy and I’m sure people here in the U.S. are working behind the scenes to hamper his ability to do anything militarily. 

 

Russian Investigation:  FBI agents raided the home of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, on July 26th “using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials.” This was the day after he met with staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Washington Post) Obviously investigators weren’t convinced that Manafort was really cooperating.

 

Expelling U.S. Diplomats:  Remember Russia expelled 755 U.S. diplomats? (TWW, Russia, 8/5/17) Well, Trump praised Putin for doing this: “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll and as far as I’m concerned I’ve very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.” (U.S. News & World Report)

 

Profiting From the Presidency:  The Trump organization had projected that its new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. would lose $2.1 million during the first 4 months of 2017 “as it established a new hotel and convention business in the nation’s capital.” However, it turned a $1.97 million profit and it is “charging more for its rooms than most or all of the city’s other hotels.” This $4.1 million “swing in projected losses to profitability” is a 192% improvement over what the Trump family planned to make. “Driving the profits are the extraordinary prices guests have been willing to pay for rooms, including members of Trump’s Cabinet who have stayed or lived there, as well as big spending on food and beverages in the meeting areas, bar, and restaurant - spots frequented by members of Trump’s inner circle and other Republican leaders.” Since Trump took office, the hotel as emerged “as a Republican Party power center and popular destination for conservative, foreign, and Christian groups holding meetings in Washington.” (Washington Post)

 

Latin America:  Lee Fang at The Intercept investigated the Libertarian think tank Atlas Network, which spent decades shaping ideological and political infrastructure throughout Latin America. Now the work is starting to pay off. Atlas played a pivotal role in the movement that took down Dilma Rousseff’s presidency in Brazil, supported the new conservative government in Argentina, and is deeply immersed in the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

 

Israel:  It’s going to “revoke the media credentials of Al Jazeera TV journalists, close its Jerusalem bureau, and pull the Qatar-based station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.” (Reuters)

 

Venezuela:  North Korea isn’t the only country in Trump’s crosshairs. He also threatening to take “military action” against Venezuela. (McClatchy)

 

Wisconsin:  According to the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Foxconn deal (TWW, Wisconsin, 7/29/17) won’t break even from its $3 billion investment for 25 years. (Washington Post)

 

Civil Rights Cases:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ civil rights department has been “churning through civil rights complaints.” They’ve closed more than 1,500 complaints of discrimination at the nation’s schools, “including dismissing more than 900 outright,” in just the 2 months since the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, took steps she said “were aimed at reducing a massive backlog.” In June Jackson told investigators to “narrow their focus to the merits of a particular claim, rather than probing systemic issues.” (Politico)

 

Business Writes U.S. Policy:  Trump, “lacking trust in the speed, skill, or loyalty of the government workers he inherited, is shifting the task of writing U.S. policy to a network of advisory groups stacked with business executives that operates outside of pubic view.” McClatchy noted that, while Trump voters may celebrate this move, it may be breaking the law. “In a growing number of cases, the administration has been accused of violating a federal requirement that these advisory groups - working on everything from jobs training to environmental policy - open their meetings, release their documents, and announce their members’ names.” 3 lawsuits have been filed.

 

Voting:  In a case regarding voter purging in Ohio, the Justice Department (DOJ) reversed its position submitted by the Obama administration. The Trump DOJ filed a new amicus brief “arguing that the purges of voters are legal under federal law. This brief, unlike the prior one, was not signed by career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division.” (Washington Post)

 

Transgender Troops:  5 active duty service members have sued Trump “over his intentions to ban transgender personnel from serving in the military.” (TWW, Transgender, 7/29/17) They claim that his directive violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Constitution. (Washington Post)

 

Universal Healthcare:  The World Health Organization (WHO) defines universal healthcare as “a system where everyone has access to quality health services and is protected against financial risk incurred while accessing care.” So what kind of systems do we find in the 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries? Well, 32 have universal coverage that resembles the WHO criteria. The Guardian provided a snapshot of the countries’ systems. For example, Germany, “the world’s first national health insurance system,” has evolved from its inception and today covers everyone, with workers contributing about 15% of their monthly salary for the coverage, half paid by employers. In the UK, however, there is the National Health Services (NHS), which is truly what people refer to as “socialized” medicine. This means the hospitals are owned by the system and doctors, nurses, etc. are employees of the system. It’s similar to our VA medical services. France has “a state-run equivalent of the UK’s NHS system, where the majority of patients must pay the doctor or practitioner upfront. The state then reimburses them in part or in full.” Workers make “compulsory payments into state funds used to reimburse them,” but many people buy insurance to cover the balance. There are various other schemes, but the key is the outcome. Look at the graph. The U.S. has the lowest rate of life expectancy, “despite health funding increasing at a much faster pace.” As you can see, there are many forms of universal healthcare and the U.S. could easily implement a scheme that would cover everyone, provide better care, and have better outcomes.

 

FDA Reviews:  Congress passed a bill to fund reviews by the Food and Drug Administration by setting fees from drug and medical device companies. The legislation will raise about $9 billion. Trump is expected to sign it. (Bloomberg)

 

Roundup:  Documents from Monsanto have been released and they raise “serious concerns about company efforts to influence media reports and scientific research related to risks posed by its popular weedkiller, Roundup.” (EcoWatch)

 

Fossil Fuels:  We know that fossil fuels are expensive. We also know that much of their costs are hidden. A study just published in the journal World Development quantified the amount of subsidies directed toward fossil fuels globally. The report found there were $4.9 trillion in subsidies in 2013, rising to $5.3 trillion by 2015. This isn’t easy, folks. If you want to get into the weeds, the Guardian has a good piece on the findings. But here’s the upshot: “The authors organized results by geographical region and found that the top 3 subsidizers of fossil fuels are China, USA, and Russia, respectively. The European Union is a bit less than half of the entire U.S. subsidy.”

 

Coal Mining:  The Obama administration had temporarily banned new coal leases on public lands. Now Trump’s Interior Department is “drawing up plans to reduce wilderness and historic areas by encouraging more coal mining on public lands. “It is part of an aggressive push to both invigorate the struggling American coal industry and more broadly exploit commercial opportunities.” (NY Times)

 

Climate Change:  A climate report compiled by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, “concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.” The report “directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.” The report, which was completed this year and “is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment,” is currently awaiting approval from Trump before being released. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the report. One of the scientists who worked on the report spoke to the NY Times “on the condition of anonymity” and turned over a copy of the draft. He said that the scientists are concerned that Trump will suppress it. Do you think suppressing the report will change anything? According to a new report from the Yale Program on Climate Communication, nationwide 69% of Americans want carbon emissions from coal power plants restricted, regardless of what Trump and some congress critters want. The support, however, varies by congressional district. Check out the map. And while most people think that climate change will harm Americans, most don’t think it will happen to them. (NY Times)

 

It’s the Words:  The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been told to avoid using the term “climate change” and instead must say “weather extremes.” (Guardian)

 

Waging War:  Trump’s threats against North Korea are already having an effect on the world stock markets. $1 trillion was lost as of Friday, “as investors again took cover in the yen, the Swiss franc, gold, and government bonds.” (Reuters)

 

Regulations:  According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, penalties collected from financial institutions for violations has declined sharply in just the first 200 days of the Trump administration. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since he’s filled his executive offices with former bankers, particularly from Goldman Sachs, and signed an executive order to roll back financial regulations. (TWW, Dodd-Frank, 2/4/17) The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC), and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA) have levied, in total, $489 million in fines against banks so far in 2017. That’s a two-thirds decline from the first 6 months of 2016, when penalties total $1.4 billion. That’s a nice benefit for Wall Street.

 

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