Originally Published: 10/6/2018
U.S. Image: A new survey published by the Pew Research Center has found that the U.S. image has slipped considerably throughout the world. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President XI Jinping generate more confidence in their ability to lead than does the U.S. president Donald Trump. And 2 of our greatest allies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, scored much higher in the world than Trump. However, the world still appears to have confidence in the United States despite who’s in charge. 63% said the world is better off with us as the leading power. Support for the U.S. was strongest in Japan, Sweden, and Australia and least favorable in Russia, Tunisia, Argentina, and Italy. (Talk Media News)
How Trump Got Rich: Trump has long sold himself as a self-made billionaire, repeatedly saying, “I built what I built myself.” But in reviewing 100,000 pages of records, the NY Times investigation found that Trump’s finances were deeply intertwined with, and dependent on, his father’s wealth. His father’s housing empire started paying him during childhood - the equivalent of $200,000 a year in today’s money when he was 3. He was a millionaire by age 8. In all, Trump received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire. Trump often said that his father lent him only $1 million. He received at least $60.7 million in loans, many of which were never repaid. What’s more, a large portion of that money came to him through the use of dubious tax schemes in the 1990s, including outright fraud. Fred Trump grossly undervalued properties that he passed onto his children, dodging hundreds of millions in gift taxes. The Trumps created a company that inflated the value of equipment purchased for their housing units and passed the difference onto the Trump children. One tax expert said that might have constituted criminal tax fraud. The statute of limitations has passed for potential criminal charges, but the Trump family could face civil fines. (NY Times) The NY Times also published “11 Takeaways” from its report. It’s a nice summary. As a result of this report, the New York Tax Department is reviewing the allegations and “is vigorously pursuing all appropriate avenues of investigation.” (Washington Post) Lest you question, as has Trump, the validity of this report, remember this. This is the New York Times. They used words like “fraud,” “con,” and “scam.” You know this was scrutinized with a microscope. Every lawyer, CPA, tax agent, etc. that the Times could get their hands on has gone over it or they would never have used words like these. They protect themselves and must be very sure of every word before they’ll publish. So, believe it.
Andrew Saul: This is Trump’s nominee to head up the Social Security Administration. He was formerly vice chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). (FCW) The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing this week on his confirmation. Like other Trump nominees, he has no background in the field for which he’s been chosen. He did, however, serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a right-wing think tank. Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, wrote a scathing piece against him.
China: It withdrew from the annual security meeting planned for mid-October with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, “saying a senior Chinese military officer would not be available to meet him.” The NY Times claimed that this is the latest sign “of bad blood between China and the United States, and capped a week of tit-for-tat actions by both nations as they settled into a newly chilly relationship.” This was evident when the USS Decatur got too close to an archipelago off the coast of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam claimed by China. A Chinese destroyer “came within yards” of the Decatur, “compelling it to switch direction in what American officials called an ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ clash.” (Washington Post)
Iran: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is terminating the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran. The impetus for this was the decision of the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) to order the Trump administration “to lift some sanctions on Iran.” (Washington Post The ICC ordered the U.S. “to remove any restrictions on the export of humanitarian goods and services to Iran, granting Tehran a diplomatic victory after it challenged new U.S. sanctions in July.” Unfortunately, the ICC has no power to enforce its decision. (Washington Post) If you remember, a few weeks ago National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened the ICC with sanctions and called it an “illegitimate court.” (TWW, Afghanistan, 9/15/18) So now we know that Bolton’s disdain for the ICC permeates the administration.
California: Trump is going to sue California to try to block its net neutrality law. (TWW, California, 9/1/18) California’s law went into effect last Sunday and just hours later the Justice Department announced its lawsuit. (Washington Post) But also last Sunday Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill into law requiring California’s publicly held corporations to have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019. It applies to all companies “whose principal executive offices” are in California. (NY Times)
Louisiana: Senator John Kennedy (R, LA) let loose on Fox News. When discussing the Kavanaugh debacle he said, referring to Democrats: “I don’t think their mother [sic] breast-fed them.” (Washington Post) Yeah. I’m not kidding.
Farm Bill: The 2014 farm bill expired last Sunday and a new one still hasn’t been passed. Dozens of programs have ended and others are in jeopardy “until 4 key lawmakers either produce a replacement bill or seek some form of extension of the now defunct law.” They haven’t been able to reconcile the proposed House and Senate bills. (TWW, Farm Bill, 9/15/18; Farm Bill, 6/30/18) They’re hoping to have something later this month. (Roll Call)
Brett Kavanaugh: The FBI’s so-called investigation was performed this week. It was completed on Wednesday and sent to the Senate in the middle of the night. The Senate began reviewing it on Thursday and scheduled the voting to begin on Friday. (NY Times) The investigation was “highly curtailed” by the White House. Neither Kavanaugh nor Ford were allowed to be interviewed and they were not to look into Kavanaugh’s drinking in high school and college nor were they to explore whether he lied to Congress. (Washington Post) The Washington Post published a list of people who were not interviewed. Republicans claim the report found “no hint of misconduct” while Democrats called it incomplete. (Washington Post) Only 1 copy of the report was put out. It was made available to senators “under restricted conditions.” Each party took turns viewing it in 1-hour increments. (The Hill) I assume the report won’t be released to the public. The report on Clarence Thomas was never released. Also, I assume they’ll be ignoring the letter signed by 2,400+ law professors urging the Senate not to confirm him, saying he does not have the judicial temperament (NY Times) and even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said he shouldn’t be confirmed. (Washington Post) While Kavanaugh complained about the “millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” Roll Call disclosed that the Judicial Crisis Network, “the leading conservative nonprofit that is running advertisements in support of Kavanaugh’s confirmation,” has spend about $12 million - even more than the $10 million it spent to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed. Roll Call also pointed out that Jon Kyl, who has been appointed to replace Senator John McCain, was paid by the Judicial Crisis Network as a lobbyist. Now he’ll be voting. You need to watch John Oliver’s take on this. I know it’s long but he brings out many points I’ve heard no one else mention. It’s brilliant. (YouTube) Yesterday the Senate voted to 51 to 49 for cloture (to end debate) and move his nomination forward. The vote was mostly along party lines with 2 defectors: Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) voted against cloture and Joe Manchin (D, WV) voted for it. About 2 hours before the vote the Judiciary Committee’s Republicans released an executive summary of the FBI report which ended with: “The Supplemental Background Investigation confirms what the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded after its investigation: there is no corroboration of the allegations made by Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford or Ms. [Deborah] Ramirez.” Of course, they didn’t interview any of the people who said they had corroborating evidence - but let’s not nitpick. (Roll Call) The final vote will be later today and it looks like they have the votes to confirm him. (NY Times)
New Term: The Supremes began their new term on Monday. The first oral argument concerned an endangered frog. (Guardian)
California Beaches: The Supremes declined to hear an appeal brought by billionaire Vinod Khosla “that threatened the public’s right to access beaches across California.” Khosla had purchased property in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, in 2008 and cut off entry to a public beach that ran through his land. The California Coastal Act requires private property owners to allow the public access through their land if there is no other open route. Khosla repeatedly lost in state courts. I guess he’ll have to comply with the law now. (Guardian)
Violence Against Women: In the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings nobody has noticed that the Violence Against Women Act is on the verge of expiring. It was enacted in 1994 and was set to expire on September 30th but an extension to December 7th was included in one of the Continuing Resolutions. (Chicago Tribune) Now, I have to ask. Why is it temporary and has to be renewed? Why isn’t it permanent? Might be a good question for your senators. Nevertheless, it is still in effect and victim support groups are complaining that the Senate Judiciary Committee violated its rules. By releasing investigative material regarding Julie Swetnick the committee violated the rape shield rules. (Roll Call) Will anything come of it? Not hardly.
Migrant Children: Hundreds of migrant children were “roused in the middle of the night” in recent weeks, loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks, and sent to a “barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert” in the West Texas town of Tornillo. Until now these children were in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping 2 or 3 to a room. They have been going to school and seeing the legal representatives assigned to them. No more. They are now housed 20 to a tent, “separated by gender,” and lined up in bunks. There is no school - they are given workbooks and there is no obligation to complete the work. “Access to legal services is limited.” They have portables toilets. The Tent City was opened in June for 30 days with a capacity of 400. It has expanded to be able to house 3,800 and is expected to remain open to the end of the year. (NY Times) And a new report by the Washington Post found that at least 860 migrant children were held in Boarder Patrol holding cells longer than 72 hours - the maximum length of time mandated by the courts. One child was held for 12 days and another for 25 days.
Deportations: U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plans to terminate the legal status of about 300,000 immigrants “who fled violence and disaster in Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.” (TWW, Justifying Deportation, 9/1/18; Hondurans, 5/5/18; Deportations, 1/13/18, 11/11/17) Chen found “substantial evidence” that the administration lacked “any explanation or justification” to end the temporary protected status designations for immigrants from those countries. He also noted that there were “serious questions as to whether a discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” in Trump’s decision. (Washington Post)
NAFTA: Jared Trump and Trump’s top negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, reached an agreement with Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement. So, what’s in the agreement? Well, they changed the name. It will now be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Canada will open its dairy market to U.S. farmers. But we gave up - yes, gave up - our demands to eliminate the dispute settlement system (TWW, Investor-State Disputes, 5/7/16). There isn’t even any revamping of the system. (NY Times) There are also clauses regarding automobiles. Starting in 2020, in order to qualify for zero tariffs, “a car or truck must have 75% of its components manufactured in Canada, Mexico, or the U.S. Currently its at 62.5%. Starting in 2020 30% of the labor must be done by workers earning at least $16 an hour. By 2023 that must be up to 40%. Steel tariffs will stay in place and Trump will stop threatening more auto tariffs. (Washington Post) The big winners are the oil and gas companies. “The oil business convinced the White House to keep a number of features of the old NAFTA deal in the new agreement, including provisions that help protect U.S. oil companies’ investments abroad and allowed for tax-free transport of raw and refined products across borders.” (Washington Post) You’ll notice that this stayed the same. The only major change in this agreement is the name.
Opioid Legislation: Congress passed legislation to ease the opioid epidemic. It’s been sent to Trump for signature and it’s expected to be signed. It’s a very rare bipartisan effort. “The bill . . . creates, expands, and reauthorizes programs and policies across almost every federal agency, aiming to address different aspects of the opioid epidemic, including prevention, treatment, and recovery.” (Washington Post)
Mountain Valley Pipeline: A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled all construction temporarily halted when it vacated a “key permit” for the project. The pipeline is planned to run more than 300 miles through West Virginia and into Virginia, threatening around 1,000 waterways in Virginia alone. (Think Progress)
Repealing Regulations: Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist who is now the acting administration of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has completed his proposal to weaken regulations regarding mercury emitted from coal-burning power plants. The proposal doesn’t eliminate regulations entirely, “but it is designed to put in place the legal justification for the Trump administration to weaken it and several other pollution rules, while setting the stage for a possible full repeal of the rule.” (NY Times)
Amazon: The Intercept investigated the behemoth, which just got a tremendous tax cut, but pays its workers so little that almost 1 in 3 of its workers in Arizona relied on food stamps in order to feed their families. Significant numbers of Amazon workers in other states did as well. So, after Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) picked up the story and demanded that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos fairly compensate his workers, Amazon announced that all U.S. employees will be paid a minimum wage of $15 an hour. (NY Times)
Unemployment: U.S. job growth slowed slightly in September but still the unemployment rate fell to “a near 49-year low of 3.7%.” (Reuters)
Tesla: Elon Musk reached a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which was suing him. (TWW, Tesla, 9/29/18) He will step down as board chair for 3 years and will pay a $20 million fine. He will remain as CEO. (NY Times)