Originally Published: 5/19/2018
ZTE: If you remember, in April the Commerce Department banned U.S. companies from selling components to ZTE Corp., a Chinese telecom equipment maker, for 7 years, “for violating the terms of a sanctions violation case.” (TWW, ZTE, 4/21/18) Last year the U.S. fined ZTE $1.19 billion as part of a settlement agreement for ZTE’s illegally shipping telecom gear to Iran and North Korea. The ban imposed last month was due to ZTE’s breaking the terms of that settlement. (Rolling Stone) The banning led to ZTE’s plan to cease major operating activities. (Ode Magazine) While I’ve heard many people throwing around numbers of how many Chinese jobs would be lost, I could find no reports that I deemed to be reliable. Nevertheless, this week Trump tweeted that he was working with President Xi of China “to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done.”
Commerce Law: The Commerce Department acted in compliance with U.S. law. After all of Trump’s talk about cracking down on China, why would he undermine U.S. law in order to help it? Well, as it turns out, after Trump officials visited Beijing last month the Chinese government made a list of economic and trade demands they wanted from us. According to Josh Rogin, writing at the Washington Post, who got a copy of the document, bullet point 5 is entitled “Appropriately handling the ZTE case to secure global supply chain.” So Trump’s tweet was a step toward giving the Chinese what they want. But, as Rogin pointed out, there are lots of problems with ZTE other than just violating sanctions. Congress critters from both parties were so concerned about Trump’s tweet and his plans (Roll Call) that the House Appropriations Committee unanimously accepted an amendment to an appropriations bill “that reinforces sanctions” against ZTE. “This amendment would prevent the Commerce Department from renegotiation of the sanctions it just enacted last month on ZTE.” (The Hill) Still I find it confusing as to why Trump would back down from his key campaign promises to (1) stand up to China’s unfair trade practices and economic aggression and (2) create U.S. jobs. Maybe it has something to do with Trump’s Indonesia project - known as MNC’s Lido City. “A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal with Indonesia’s MNC Land to build a theme park outside Jakarta as part of the ambitious project.” The project includes Trump-branded hotels, residences, and a golf course. (Jakarta Post) Chinese companies - with approval from the Chinese government - will be putting up $500 million - “half of the development’s projected budget.” This commitment will now enable to project to go forward. In fact, China may be contributing the entire $1 billion. (Slate) Whatever China’s contribution, it won’t be going to the Trump organization directly. However, by allowing the project to go forward, he will definitely benefit.
Ties to China: The Jakarta Post piece includes, almost as an afterthought, a summary of Trump’s ties to China. The first appears right around the time Trump was sworn in as president. “In early 2017, Beijing approved almost 40 trademark applications Trump had long sought to protect his business interests in the country.” (TWW, Trademark, 6/17/17, 3/11/17) And don’t forget Ivanka’s trademarks. (TWW, Ivanka, 4/22/17) “McClatchy has previously reported the involvement of Chinese SOEs in another Trump project in Dubai.” And “Trump Tower houses the American headquarters of China’s ICBC Bank.” (Business Insider)
House Investigation: Everyone has heard the major finding: that they found no collusion between Trump and Russia. However, many media outlets are neglecting some important facts - nicely laid out by CNN. (1) This finding is only the finding of the Republicans on the committee. Democrats will be releasing their own report. (2) The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation is still going on. (3) The Intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia meddled in the election to help Trump. (4) The House report attempts to say that Russia wanted to sow chaos rather than help Trump and hurt Clinton. CNN refers to this as “a distinction without a difference.” (5) Mueller’s investigation is still going on.
Financial Disclosure: Trump filed his financial disclosure. He listed the more than $100,000 he paid to Michael Cohen as reimbursement to a third party. (TWW, Stormy Daniels, 5/5/18) The disclosure didn’t specify the purpose of the payment. (NY Times)
Paul Manafort: U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort for money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent was “squarely” within the authority granted him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Politico)
Jared and Qatar: Remember the loan that Jared Kushner and his father, Charles, sought from Qatar which was rejected? And remember the implications that Saudi Arabia’s and United Arab Emirates’ blockade of Qatar was possibly payback? (TWW, Jared and Qatar, 3/10/18) Well, it looks like Qatar is going to give in and give the Kushner company the loan. (NY Times)
Crossfire Hurricane: 100 days before the 2016 election, the FBI began investigating Russian interference. The investigation was code named Crossfire Hurricane. The NY Times has the scoop.
Summer Zervos: She is a former The Apprentice contestant who’s suing Trump for defamation. She has accused him of “groping and forcibly kissing her” and then he denied her accusations, calling her a liar. The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division denied Trump’s request to stay the proceedings. (Washington Post)
Gina Haspel: She secured the votes she needed to become CIA director. 5 Democratic senators gave her the win: Mark Warner (VA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Bill Nelson (FL), Joe Donnelly (IN), and Joe Manchin (WV). (Think Progress) The Senate did confirm her. (Washington Post)
Robert Wilkie: Trump has nominated him to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Wilkie is currently the acting secretary. “Wilkie is the son of an Army artillery commander who was wounded in combat. He served as an intelligence officer in the Navy before joining the Air Force Reserve and has worked as a senior leader at the Pentagon under former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Donald H. Rumsfeld.” (Washington Post)
Israel: We officially opened our embassy in Jerusalem on Monday. (Reuters) In Gaza Palestinians gathered to protest its opening and Israeli troops killed 60 Palestinians and wounded thousands in “the worst day of carnage there since Israel invaded Gaza in 2014.” (NY Times) Why didn't we do this before? Why has no other country done this? Because the whole world used it as leverage for pushing Israel into peace negotiations with the Palestinians. By doing this Trump has slammed the door on the peace process. For more info, read The Nation. Remember Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, is in charge of policy for the Middle East. And the Christian right, who has for decades pushed for Armageddon to bring Jesus back, is Trump’s staunch base.
North Korea: Trump’s planned summit with Kim Jung-un is in doubt after Pyongyang threatened to withdraw if Trump insists on “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” (NY Times) Shortly thereafter National Security Advisor John Bolton came out and proposed the “Libya Model,” something that Kim said he worried about. In both Libya and Iraq the U.S. made deals - and then reneged on the deal and bombed and invaded the countries. (Washington Post)
Turkey: It expelled the Israeli ambassador due to outrage over the Gaza killings. (Washington Post)
California: San Francisco is considering banning plastic straws. (San Francisco Chronicle) Good for them. The UK has already done it. (TWW, UK, 5/12/18) They’re as bad - or worse - than plastic bags. (TWW, What You Can Do, 9/9/17; Plastic Straws, 7/1/17)
New York: An analysis by The Intercept revealed that “despite being only a small fraction of the [New York City police] force, many police killings are carried out by on-duty officers who are not wearing uniforms.” Plainclothes police have been involved in nearly a third of all fatal shooting incidents since 2000.
Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a bill that would have authorized adults to carry firearms without a permit or training. (AP) However, she signed a bill that allows adoption agencies to discriminate. They will be able to deny placing children in certain homes if it “would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” (NY Times)
Virginia: Remember the special election last December where the Democratic candidate, Shelly Simonds, won by 1 point but the board of elections called it a draw (TWW, Virginia, 12/23/17) and drew names from a bowl and declared the Republican David Yancey the winner? (TWW, Virginia, 1/6/18) Well, now we know that about 2 dozen voters - “enough to swing the outcome of that race” - cast ballots in the wrong district “because of errors by local elections officials.” According to an investigation by the Washington Post, “the misassigned voters lived in a predominantly African American precinct that heavily favored Democrats in the fall, raising the possibility that they would have delivered the district to Simonds had they voted in the proper race.” Such a result “would have upended the balance of power in the House of Delegates, splitting the chamber down the middle - 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Yancey’s victory allowed the GOP to maintain control by a 51-to-49 margin, even after Democrats picked up 15 seats in a blue wave widely seen as a rebuke to President Trump.”
Washington: The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a tax on large employers that will aid the city’s homeless residents - but not before slashing the proposal nearly in half because Amazon complained. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. (Seattle Times)
Farm Bill: The House failed to pass the farm bill in a major embarrassment to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservatives demanding commitments on immigration. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with conservative lawmakers up to the last minute. But their gamble failed. The vote was 198 to 213. (Roll Call) Dems opposed the bill because it imposed stricter work requirements in order to receive food stamps. (Politico)
Counterterrorism: No one has been tracking how much we’ve spent on counterterrorism since 9/11 - until now. A bipartisan group of national security and budget experts convened by the Stimson Center estimated in a new report that the cumulative tally is at least $2.8 trillion, and that the annual spending rate - while less than it used to be - still amounts to about 15% of the nation’s discretionary budget. And, of course, this is just an estimate. Many believe it’s too low. There’s still no one assigned to producing an official account so the amount has to be gleaned from public documents which don’t include classified spending or some military intelligence and domestic security spending.
Another Shooting: Another school shooting. 10 were killed by a student firing his father’s guns at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas near Houston. Another 10 were injured (Washington Post) This is the second school shooting in the U.S. this week. It’s the 10th school shooting since the shooting in Parkland, Florida. (TWW, Parkland Shooting, 2/24/18) And it’s the 16th school shooting this year. And it’s only May. (Washington Post) Later that day there was another school shooting in Georgia where 1 person was killed and another injured. (Washington Post) More people have been killed at schools this year than have been killed while serving in the military. (Washington Post) Listen to Cheryl Wheeler’s song, If It Were Up To Me. (You Tube)
Gag Rule: The Trump administration is going to revive the Reagan-era “Gag Rule.” The rule bans federally funded family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood, from discussing abortion with women or sharing space with abortion providers. Reagan’s Gag Rule never went into effect; it was rescinded by President Bill Clinton, who replaced it with a rule “that required ‘nondirective’ counseling to include a range of options for women.” Under Trump’s new rule clinics won’t even be able to refer patients to places that perform abortions. (Guardian) This is a top priority for social conservatives.
Net Neutrality: The Senate voted this week to keep Net Neutrality rules using the Congressional Review Act. The vote was 52 to 47 with 3 Republicans voting with Dems: John Kennedy (LA), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME). However, it’s unlikely to get through the House. (Reuters)
Sports Betting: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states “are free to legalize sports betting, a ruling that is sure to set off a scramble among the states to find a way into a billion-dollar business.” (Washington Post)
Immigration Courts: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is “taking cases from the Board of Immigration Appeals - the Justice Department agency that serves as a quasi-appellate body for immigration court cases - and referring them to himself to issue a decision instead.” So he’s giving himself the ability to review and rewrite cases “that could set precedents” for immigration cases in the future. (Vox)
Romaine Lettuce: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have both claimed that the danger has passed. (TWW, Romaine Lettuce, 4/21/18) It’s safe to eat romaine lettuce again. (NY Times)
Drug Prices: Trump is promising lower prescription drug prices. He’s giving up on his popular campaign promises to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prices and to allow Americans to import lower-cost prescriptions from abroad. He’s decided to go the standard Republican way - promote competition. He wants to “give private entities more tools to negotiate better deals on behalf of consumers, insurers, and employers.” And he suggested that the government could require drugmakers to disclose prices “in their ubiquitous television advertising.” (NY Times) Andrew Siddons, writing at Roll Call, noted that, although Trump’s rhetoric “was fairly tough on the pharmaceutical industry, this issue was one area where Trump was borrowing a page from the Big Pharma playbook.”
Health Policy: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rescinded a no-bid $4.2 million grant to “a policy center at Duke University headed by former FDA commissioner and current paid board member for Johnson & Johnson Mark McClellan.” Sure sounds fishy, doesn’t it? I guess a lot of people thought so. They’re putting the grant out to bid now. (Washington Post)
Toxic Chemicals: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry had completed a report it was about to publish that assessed certain toxic chemicals that have contaminated water supplies “near military bases, chemical plants, and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia. The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than [Environmental Protection Agency] has previously called safe.” One White House official warned that these findings would cause a “public relations nightmare,” so EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt blocked the report’s publication. It’s been held up for 3 months now, with no release date in site. (Politico)
Carbon Monitoring: Trump has shut down NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, “which was responsible for compiling data from separate satellite and aircraft measurements of CO2 and methane emission across the Earth. The program allowed scientists to have a picture of the flow of carbon all over the Earth.” Trump has been zeroing in on NASA’s earth science programs for budget cuts. (Tech Times)
CFC-11: Chlorofluorocarbon and other similar gases, collectively known as CFC-11, are industrial gases that used to be used as a refrigerant and in insulating foams. They were determined to be depleting the ozone layer back in the 1980s. The U.S. and other countries signed the Montreal Protocol which abandoned the use of CFC-11 and led to an increase in the stratospheric ozone. But, they’re back, “potentially slowing progress in restoring the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer.” They believe the culprit is likely a “new, unreported production of the gas, probably in East Asia.” (NY Times)
Unusual Heat: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that April 2018 was the 400th consecutive month of global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
Pay Gap: A new study on the massive U.S. pay gap has been released. Rewarding Or Hoarding? was published this week and includes data on almost 14 million workers at 225 U.S. companies with total annual revenues of $6.3 trillion. Just the summary is sobering. The average CEO-to-worker pay ratio has now reached 339 to 1, with the highest gap approaching 5,000 to 1. In 188 of the 225 companies a single CEO’s pay could be used to pay more than 100 workers. The average worker at 219 of the companies would need to work at least 45 years to earn what their CEO makes in 1 year. Some of the most extreme disparities are in industries that are considered consumer discretionary, such as fast food and retail.
Auto Lending: Republicans are using the Congressional Review Act to roll back a 5-year-old rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that addresses car loan discrimination. The Senate voted to eliminate the measure which is “meant to stop car dealers from charging more for car loans based on race.” The vote was along party lines except Joe Manchin (D, WV) voted with Republicans. (Vox)
Post Office: According to the Washington Post, Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate it charges Amazon and other firms to ship packages. Brennan has frequently explained that shipping with large firms is bound by contracts that must be reviewed by a regulatory commission. She can’t just willy-nilly raise rates on certain companies. If you remember, he issued an Executive Order demanding an evaluation of the Postal Services finances after accusing Amazon of not paying its fair share in postage. (TWW, Post Office, 4/14/18) Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos who also owns the Washington Post, which Trump sees as a political enemy.
Google: About 3 months ago Google released the fact that it had a contract with the Pentagon “to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people.” Since that announcement about a dozen Google employees have resigned in protest, citing ethical concerns. (Gizmodo)