Originally Published: 6/30/2018
Trump and the EU: Much has been written about the similarities between Britain's June 2016 vote to leave the European Union (Brexit) (TWW, Brexit and Globalization, 6/25/16; Brexit and Immigration, 7/2/16) and the U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump. If you remember, during the campaign Trump called himself “Mr. Brexit” and predicted that, when he won, “there’s going to be a lot of Brexit happening.” Even slogans were similar: “Make America Great Again” for Trump, “Take Back Control” in the UK. (Independent) But the thing that points out the connection between Trump and Brexit is his relationship with the “Bad Boys of Brexit.”
Bad Boys of Brexit: Nigel Farage is “a British politician, broadcaster, and political analyst,” a former conservative who is referred to as a “prominent Eurosceptic in the UK,” and a founding member of the UK Independent Party. He was the “key figurehead” for Brexit. (Wikipedia) He’s also an ally of Donald Trump. He’s also great friends with Arron Banks, “a wealthy British businessman” who became the largest political donor in British history by pouring millions into Brexit.” Shortly after the Brexit victory, Banks “sat down at the palatial residence of the Russian ambassador to London,” Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.” He was bolstering his standing with Yakovenko by “his deepening ties to Donald Trump.” Apparently Yakovenko was impressed and offered Banks several lucrative investment opportunities in Russian-owned gold or diamond mines. (NY Times) Another Brexit supporter, Steve Bannon, had just become the Trump campaign’s chief executive and was also becoming buddies with Banks. Less than a week after Banks meeting with Yakovenko, Banks and Farage met privately with Trump in Jackson, Mississippi. The efforts of Banks and Farage cultivated Trump’s ties to Russian officials. (Washington Post)
The Coalition: The Russia/Brexit/Trump coalition is now moving on - to the EU. “As President Trump heads to Europe next month for the NATO summit and then an historic meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his personal attacks on the European Union and other pillars of the Western order are overshadowing his own administration’s attempts to reassure allies that the United States still believes in the transatlantic project it has led since the 1940s.” (Washington Post) Does it? Does the U.S. care to ally itself with Europe or is it more interested in an alliance with Russia? If interested in its centuries-old alliance with Europe, why is our president undermining that alliance? He even offered French President Emmanuel Macron a lucrative trade deal if France would leave the European Union. (Washington Post) Does a new alliance with Russia rather than Europe explain Trump’s policies? I find these interesting things to consider as we watch what happens in the future. During an interview this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Trump is trying to “reset” the liberal world order, not dismantle it. (Wall Street Journal) And Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell called Trump’s approach “strategic renovation.” (State Department) What happens if Trump’s approach is successful? Maybe more importantly, what happens if it fails?
Trump Properties: ProPublica found $16.1 million in political and taxpayer spending at Trump properties since he announced his candidacy for president in 2015. Most of it came from political entities, such as the Trump campaign, but “government agencies chipped in, too.” Some money also came into Trump Organization-managed and branded hotels, golf courses, and restaurants from his campaign.
Democracy: According to a new poll commissioned by the George W. Bush Institute, the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center, and Freedom House, half of us believe we’re in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country.” 55% see democracy as “weak” and 68% believe it is “getting weaker.” 80% say they are either very or somewhat concerned about the condition of democracy here. (Washington Post)
Warrantless Surveillance: According to NSA documents obtained by The Intercept, it considers AT&T to be “one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s ‘extreme willingness to help.’” The NSA values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that transits the nation,” but also because “it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers.” The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, “commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.” There are hundreds of AT&T-owned properties scattered across the U.S. The Intercept identified 8 that serve a specific function, “processing AT&T customers’ data and also carrying large quantities of data from other internet providers. They are known as ‘backbone’ and ‘peering’ facilities.” This is an exceptionally eye-opening piece on how the NSA spies on U.S. citizens and how AT&T is helping them do it.
EU: The migration issue has been striking Europe, too. It “is threatening to topple German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.” Italy’s new government “unveiled a sweeping set of anti-immigration proposals that would result in quicker deportations.” Discussions at the latest EU meeting “heated up” over migration “even though the overall number of newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers has dropped dramatically compared with recent years.” (Washington Post)
Iran: A “senior State Department official” announced that the U.S., by November 4th, will impose sanctions on any country that imports Iranian oil. “The policy shook financial markets that had become accustomed to waivers for American sanctions that in years past had been granted to companies in countries like India and China as long as they showed steady reductions in their imports of Iranian oil.” Waivers will no longer be issued. (NY Times)
North Korea: The latest intelligence assessment reported that North Korea has increased its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons at secret sites in recent months, contrary to Trump’s claims that it was no longer a nuclear threat. (NBC) Will Trump try to spin this or just ignore it? Maybe he’ll call his own intelligence community liars.
Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed reelection in last week’s so-called election “sending tremors that will be felt not just in Turkey but in Western and regional capitals - if it holds up.” Turkey is still in NATO but has been “drawing closer” to Putin, “buying an advanced Russian missile defense system and planning a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Turkey.” (NY Times)
Arizona: Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona is gathering signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that will gradually increase the amount of energy coming from renewable sources to 50% by 2030. There’s some group out there that apparently is quite opposed to the initiative and has instituted a campaign to keep people from signing the petition. I have received several robo-calls from a group calling itself “Arizona concerned citizens” who have a “public safety announcement” for me. The voice tells me not to sign petitions because they are being circulated by convicted felons and I could be in danger. Sounds like some of the tactics the Koch Brothers’ groups are using against public transit initiatives. (TWW, Public Transit, 6/23/18)
California: The California Consumer Privacy Act has passed the legislature. The Act restricts the data-harvesting practices of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Uber, “a move that soon could spur other states and Congress to take aim at the tech industry.” The rules will go into effect in 2020 and apply only to residents in California. “That leaves time for corporate critics such as AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, and Google to resume lobbying aggressively to revise it over the next year.” (Washington Post)
Kentucky: Its requirement that Medicaid recipients work was blocked by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg. He said that the Trump administration acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner when it allowed Kentucky to become the first state in the nation to require low-income people work in order to qualify for Medicaid. (Washington Post) This will be appealed.
National Debt: According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the unprecedented debt created by the Republican tax cuts heightens the risk of another financial crisis. “The amount of debt that is projected under the extended baseline would reduce national savings and income in the long term; increase the government’s interest costs, putting more pressure on the rest of the budget; limit lawmakers’ ability to respond to unforeseen events; and increase the likelihood of a fiscal crisis. (In that event, investors would become unwilling to finance the government’s borrowing unless they were compensated with very high interest rates.)”
More Tax Cuts: Trump is calling for another round of tax cuts. He wants the corporate tax rate to be reduced from 21% to 20%. But, as we all know, large corporations never pay this much. Walgreens’ rate (see below) is down to 7.6%. Many very large corporations pay no taxes whatsoever. And some, like Exxon, not only pay nothing, they get money back. But still they want more. (Washington Post)
Farm Bill: The Senate passed a $428 billion farm bill, “setting up a bitter fight against the House over food stamps, farm subsidies, and conservation funding.” (Washington Post) If you remember, the House passed its version last week, imposing new strict work requirements on people seeking food stamps. (TWW, Food Stamps, 6/23/18)
Justice Kennedy: Justice Anthony Kennedy, the crucial swing vote on the Supreme Court, announced that he’ll be retiring, effective July 31st. (Roll Call) So why did Kennedy resign? Well, he’s 81. But the truly interesting thing is that his son, Justin Kennedy, the former global head of Deutsche Bank’s real estate capital markets division, was one of Trump’s close business associates. “During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank become Mr. Trump’s most important lender, dispensing well over $1 billion in loans to him for the renovation and construction of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago at a time other mainstream banks were wary of doing business with him because of his troubled business history.” (NY Times) So, was there some coercion here? The Washington Post published a list of names they believe is on Trump’s short list, but I believe it’s clear that Chief Justice John Roberts will become the new swing vote - swinging less than Kennedy did. Corporate America will finally get the court they’ve wanted for over 50 years. You think things have been bad for workers during the last 20 years? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Climate change will be accelerated, as will poverty. You are watching the final takeover of the country by the billionaire class. The cover of the New York Daily News summed it all up nicely. (Huffpost)
Future Supreme Court: This may be a good time to point out that there is a way to rein in renegade Supreme Court justices. Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that the justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” Indeed, there is 1 case, and only 1, where a justice was impeached. Samuel Chase, appointed by George Washington in 1796, was impeached for allowing his political views to interfere with his decision. However, he was not forced out and served until his death in 1811. (U.S. Senate) In 1969 Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas resigned under threat of impeachment. (Wikipedia) So, egregious behavior can be grounds for impeachment, but we’d have to have a House of Representatives willing to act.
Pregnancy Centers: The Supreme Court blocked California’s law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to supply women with information about abortion. They said the law violates the First Amendment. The vote was 5 to 4. (NY Times)
Travel Ban: The Supremes upheld Trump’s travel ban. (TWW, Travel Ban, 1/20/18) They said he has the authority to ban anyone if he thinks it’s necessary to protect the country. The vote was 5 to 4. (Washington Post)
Gerrymandering: The Supreme Court dealt another setback to Democrats when they threw out a lower court’s decision that Republicans in North Carolina drew congressional district boundaries based on racial demographics. (TWW, North Carolina, 1/20/18) Just like with Wisconsin and Maryland (TWW, Gerrymandering, 6/23/18), the justices sent the case back to the lower court “to reconsider whether the plaintiffs . . . have the necessary legal standing to sue.” (Reuters) Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion and stated that the “good faith” of a “state legislature must be presumed,” even when there are very serious allegations of racial gerrymandering. [Emphasis added.] Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote: “The facts of Perez are unusual and unlikely to repeat in the future, but Alito’s presumption of white racial innocence could have a significant impact on future cases. . . Lawmakers now enjoy an exceedingly strong presumption of racial innocence when they draw legislative maps. It’s a great day for white nationalism.” The court also upheld “a batch of Republican-drawn legislative districts in Texas.” The vote was 5 to 4. (Reuters)
Labor Unions: The Supremes “overturned a decades-old precedent” that allowed public unions to collect fees from non-union workers to help pay for collective bargaining. (Roll Call) This decision overturns a former Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977). The vote was 5 to 4.
Antitrust Law: The Supremes sided with American Express against 11 states “that the company’s policy of forbidding merchants from encouraging customers to use rival credit cards with lower fees does not violate federal antitrust law.” Even though American Express is stifling competition through “so-called anti-steering provisions in its contracts with merchants,” the Supremes think this is okie, dokie. The vote was 5 to 4. (Reuters)
Primary Elections: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joseph Crowley in New York “in a major Democratic House upset.” Crowley had been seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House. Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old newcomer, was an organizer for Bernie Sander’s campaign. Crowley “drastically outspent” his opponent. (NY Times) McClatchy says the next generation of Dems is pushing the party leaders aside. Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president “embraced by Sen. Bernie Sanders,” defeated Rushern Baker for the Democratic governor’s race in Maryland, a major victory for the progressive wing. (Washington Post) And Trump’s pull was evident as candidates he supported beat out candidates he spurned. (McClatchy) The NY Times posted all the election results.
Immigration: The Trump administration decided to revert to the hated “catch and release” policy where most immigrant families detained after crossing the border illegally would be quickly released if they promised to return for a court hearing. The commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would stop handing over migrants for prosecution. (NY Times) Then U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego issued a nationwide temporary injunction stopping Trump from separating children from their parents at the border “and ordered that all families already separated be reunited within 30 days.” Children under 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days and he ordered that all children be allowed to talk to their parents within 10 days. (NY Times) But the Justice Department came up with a new policy. It says that it’s now going to detain migrant families together rather than release them “during the pendency” of immigration proceedings. This could last months so it’s not clear if they’ll be held more than the 20 days or what they’ll do about Sabraw’s order. (Washington Post) I’m guessing they’ll move ahead with court proceedings to get rid of the 20-day limit. (TWW, Retreat, 6/23/18) You’ll notice this decision came after the resignation of Kennedy from the Supreme Court. With all the rightwing court appointments Trump has made and, now, having a solid rightwing Supreme Court, he probably figures he can get rid of the Flores agreement.
Immigration Overhaul: The House, once again, rejected any overhaul of Immigration. (NY Times)
Ryan Zinke: The Interior Secretary, who has been under fire for his elitist spending (TWW, Ryan Zinke, 3/17/18), established a “foundation” he and his wife head up which is playing a key role in a real estate deal backed by Halliburton chair David Lesar. A group funded by Lesar “is planning a large commercial development on a former industrial site near the center of the Zinkes’ hometown of Whitefish.” (Politico) More cronyism?
Scott Pruitt: On top of all the other extravagant spending by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator (TWW, Scott Pruitt, 6/16/18), Pruitt spent $2,749.62 on “tactical pants” and “tactical polos.” The pants were $1,599.68 for 8 pairs. That’s $199.96 per pair. However, you can get the same pants online at Galls for $39.99, right now on sale for $32. (Guardian) And remember his aide, Millan Hupp, who testified to a congressional committee that she had tried to obtain a used mattress from Trump Tower for him? (TWW, Scott Pruitt, 6/9/18) Apparently Pruitt tried to get even with her by smearing her name to conservative groups and assuring them that she couldn’t be trusted and she should not be hired at their institutions. (Daily Beast)
Medicare: Congress and Trump are revamping Medicare to provide extra benefits to people with multiple chronic illnesses. The new law would tackle social factors and may include things like social services, home improvements like wheelchair ramps, transportation to doctor’s offices, and home delivery of hot meals.” The NY Times refers to this as a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation. The changes are also supported by insurance companies that run Medicare Advantage plans. (See Facts About Medicare Cuts) Apparently there’s no way in the legislation for Medicare to provide these services. It’s geared only to the private insurance companies. Another cog in the wheel of the train moving to privatize Medicare.
Nestlé: The U.S. Forest Service has seen fit to give Nestlé a 3-year permit to continue drawing millions of gallons of water from the San Bernardino National Forest. (TWW, California, 9/24/16) The Strawberry Creek watershed is already rated as “impaired.” (NPR) Whatever happened to the California revolt? (TWW, Bottled Water, 4/25/15) Don’t ever, ever buy Arrowhead water.
Climate Change Lawsuit: U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California dismissed climate change lawsuits against 5 oil companies by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, “saying the complaints required foreign and domestic policy decisions that were outside the purview of courts.” San Francisco and Oakland had sued Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP Pic, “seeking an abatement fund to help the cities address flooding they say is a result of climate change.” Alsup acknowledged that the dangers raised by the plaintiffs are “real and worldwide” and that “both parties accepted the science behind global warming.” But, Alsup said, “the problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a District Judge or jury in a public nuisance case.” (Reuters) PLEASE NOTE that Alsup said that both parties - which includes the 5 oil companies - accept the science behind global warming.
Walgreens: It’s joining many other corporations and using its windfall from the Republican tax cuts to buy back $10 billion of stocks (Walgreens) and raise dividends by 10%. (Walgreens) It also reported that its effective tax rate is now down to 7.6% from the previous (obviously onerous) 12.4%. Sales were up 14% to $34.3 billion. (Wall Street Journal)
Harley-Davidson: It said it would move production of motorcycles shipped to Europe to international facilities because the EU’s tariffs (TWW, Tariffs, 6/23/18) would cost the company $90 million to $100 million a year.” Reuters calls this the unintended consequence of Trump’s imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminum. (TWW, Tariffs, 6/2/18) But Harley announced moving production to other countries weeks ago. (TWW, Stock Buybacks, 5/26/18) So I expect that they’re using this as their excuse for the move. Trump, who once praised Harley, is now threatening it with “severe taxes and predicted a public revolt.” He accused them of intentionally misleading Americans. “The intensity of these attacks, which he typically reserves for political opponents, came in a series of Twitter posts.” (Washington Post)
Mid-Continent Nail: America’s largest nail manufacturer laid off 60 workers at a factory in Missouri “that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.” The lay-offs are being called “the first casualties” of Trump’s trade war. The whole company could be out of business by Labor Day. (Washington Post)