Breaking News: Trade War with China Begins
This morning, Friday, June 15, The New York Times reports that, “The Trump administration said on Friday that it would move ahead with imposing a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of Chinese products that are imported into the United States, threatening to escalate what had primarily been a war of words between the world’s two largest economies into a full-blown trade war.” Read the details here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/us/politics/us-china-tariffs-trade.html.
- A. The Trump-Kim summit was spectacular theater. It was a huge success—on TV. The reaction of most reporters was…befuddlement. The print press was skeptical that anything concrete was accomplished. But for Trump himself, it was a triumph: on Wednesday he tweeted, “Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer – sleep well tonight!” But it was unclear how much the threat was actually reduced, or on what timetable North Korea would dismantle its weapons. It may be, of course, that confronted with existential threats from the US, Kim just decided to drop the gun and promised to disarm.
Here is how The New York Times reported the news on Wednesday: “If the talks in Singapore on Tuesday gave Mr. Trump an opportunity to play the diplomat on a grand scale, they did no less for Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, whose country has long sought such a meeting with an American president….. But amid the optics, analysts were still looking for answers to questions they had been asking since March, when Mr. Trump accepted Mr. Kim’s invitation to meet: Under what terms, and by when, is Mr. Kim going to denuclearize his country? What does he mean when he says he is committed to the ‘complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula?’
“The joint statement that Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump signed on Tuesday contained vaguely worded commitments to ‘complete denuclearization,’ ‘new’ relations between their countries and a ‘peace regime’ on the peninsula. In many ways, it was a rehash of agreements that the two nations had reached in the past but never honored.
“Only after the signing ceremony did it emerge that more commitments had apparently been made. In a post-summit news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Trump announced that the United States would end joint military exercises with its South Korean allies, which Pyongyang has long denounced as rehearsals for an invasion of the North. The news appeared to catch both the South Korean government and the United States military off guard.” Does this actually mean that the US military was not told that would be no further “war games” (as Trump erroneously called the exercises)? The Times also reports that Mike Pompeo believes that denuclearization will take time but will have made significant progress in Trump’s first term:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/world/asia/trump-kim-summit-north-korea.html.
In any case, The Times summarizes the 10 simple take-away points for the average reader in a helpful article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/world/asia/trump-kim-meeting-interpreter.html. The gist is simply that the talks did walk the world back from the brink of accidental or miscalculated nuclear disaster; Kim won major concessions; the US agreed to a “freeze for freeze,” where military exercises as well as nuclear tests are frozen—not a radial idea and one floated for years; “North Korea took no steps, even rhetorical, toward disarming. The United States also made no concrete, long-term changes; the freeze on exercises can be easily reversed. The meeting fell far short of Mr. Trump’s lofty promises of North Korean denuclearization”; and North Korea has reason to temporize, given suspicions all over the world that with Trump reneging on treaties, the US can’t really be trusted.
- The Washington Posthandily refutes the key claims Trump made in his post-summit news conference. Let us review the basic lies and misstatements, courtesy of The Post, whose analysis we summarize.
(1) Trump: “[Kim] reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula…. We signed a very, very comprehensive document.” The Post: “North Korea has a long history of making agreements and then not living up to its obligations. The document signed by Trump and Kim was not ‘very comprehensive’ but remarkably vague, leaving it open to interpretation and debate, compared to previous documents signed by North Korea.”
(2) Trump: “We will stop the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money.” The Post: “Trump apparently offered this unilateral concession to North Korea without consulting with the Pentagon or the government of South Korea. It’s unclear what the annual war games cost.”
(3) Trump: “In one case, they took billions of dollars during the Clinton regime. Took billions of dollars and nothing happened.” The Post: “Oddly referring to the Clinton ‘regime,’ Trump suggests that the United States gave North Korea billions of dollars under the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated under then-President Bill Clinton, which was an earlier attempt to scrap North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Not so.”
(4) Trump: “When you look at all of the things we got and when we got our hostages back, I did not pay $1.8 billion in cash like the hostages that came back from Iran, which was a disgraceful situation.” The Post: “President Barack Obama did not pay any money to get detainees back from North Korea or, depending on how you look at it, Iran. Trump’s reference to $1.8 billion refers to the timing of a settlement of a long-standing claim regarding undelivered aircraft made by Iran on the same day four American detainees, including The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, were released.”
(5) And, continuing a theme from the weekend’s G-7 meeting and his assault on the US-Canada trade relationship, Trump said, “We have a big trade deficit with Canada. It is a surplus. It is not a surplus. It is either 17 or it could be 100. I don’t know if you saw it. We found it. Perhaps they were trying to show the power they have. It is close to $100 billion a year loss with Canada.” The Post: “This is false. Our fact-check on this Four-Pinocchio Trump claim appeared on The Washington Post website during Trump’s news conference. The reality: The United States has a surplus, not a $100 billion trade deficit, with Canada.”
There are other examples as well, and it does appear that Trump either makes up his own facts or vaguely recalls some false reports on Fox News. For more detail on Trump’s lies at the press conference, read the whole fact-check here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/06/13/fact-checking-president-trumps-claims-about-the-north-korea-deal.
The Times’s Nicholas Kristoff, who has spent much time in North Korea, concludes, “There will be further negotiations, and these may actually freeze plutonium production and destroy missiles. But at least in the first round, Trump seems to have been snookered.”https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/opinion/trump-kim-summit-north-korea.html Jennifer Rubin, inThe Washington Post is, like Kristoff, is horrified at Trump’s cozying up to dictators who flatter him and is even more critical: “The president of the United States was fleeced, and worse, has no doubt impressed upon Kim that this country can be played for fools and strung along. Trump gave Kim newfound legitimacy and Kim’s nuclear weapons program can go on and on.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/06/12/how-trump-lost-the-summit-before-the-photographers-even-left-the-room.
However, this is not the whole story. The press did quiz Pompeo on Wednesday about the vagueness of the statements. Pompeo responded that there were agreements understood behind the words: “He said,” reported The Washington Post, “he was confident that the North Koreans ‘understand what we’re prepared to do, [the] handful of things we’re not likely to do. . . . I am equally confident they understand that there will be in-depth verification. Not all of that work appeared in the final document,’ Pompeo said. ‘But lots of other places where there were understandings reached, we couldn’t reduce them to writing.’ That work, he said, was ‘beyond what was seen in the final document that will be in the place that we will begin when we return to our conversations.’
“North Korea’s state-controlled media provided its version of events Wednesday, saying that Trump had promised to end joint military exercises with South Korea and to eventually lift sanctions. It said that he had also agreed to ‘step by step” denuclearization, rather than the rapid and irreversible process the administration said it was demanding. Pompeo said he expected the completion of the process ‘most definitely’ within the next two years.” This is the clearest statement of what was agreed to that we are likely to get: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/secretary-of-state-pompeo-calls-questions-about-gaps-in-trump-kim-statement-insulting-and-ridiculous/2018/06/13/35bcf690-6f1e-11e8-bd50-b80389a4e569_story.html.
And on Thursday, Pompeo met with Asian leaders in Beijing and Seoul. He tried to clarify the US stance, says The New York Times: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Asian powers on Thursday that President Trump was sticking to demands that North Korea surrender its nuclear weapons, as he sought to hold together a fragile consensus on maintaining tough sanctions against the North despite Mr. Trump’s declaration that it was ‘no longer a nuclear threat.’ China, however, has shown signs that it will ease sanctions, perhaps a sign of rifts to come among the interested powers. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/world/asia/mike-pompeo-north-korea-sanctions.html
The purpose of the Trump press conference (and to a lesser degree the summit itself) was clearly to attack previous US presidents’ weakness and to burnish Trump’s image before his supporters. However, most experts express the hope that for now the climate has cooled, and whatever Trump’s motives, there may be continuing progress of some kind rather than escalating tensions. And with military exercises and missile testing ended, there is certainly less chance of a serious conflict from accident or miscalculation. So it would be wrong to say that nothing was accomplished, say most experts.
- The most shocking stories this week, domestically, continue to be about the new immigration policiesof the Trump administration. The horror of families being separated and migrants seeking asylum being brutally jailed, their children quite literally ripped from their arms, is shaming anyone of good will in our country.
Last week, we reported on a statement from the UN Human Rights Office that “urged Washington to immediately halt its controversial practice of separating asylum-seeking Central American children from their parents at the southern border.” If anything, conditions have deteriorated, and heart-breaking stories continue to be reported. On Sunday, a group of lawmakers and public officials in Washington state toured federal facilities where some undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers have been housed,1500 miles from the border. Many of them, perhaps most, do not know where their children are. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) toured the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Here is The Washington Post’s Sunday report:
“Most of the women prisoners were from Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, she said, but there were also people from as far away as Eritrea. Many spoke of fleeing threats of rape, gang violence and political persecution, Jayapal said.
“The women were in three separate concrete pods when she visited, and Jayapal said she and an interpreter first asked them to respond to questions by raising their hands. She asked how many were mothers who had been forcibly separated from their children: More than half of the women raised their hands. Some said that their children had been as young as 12 months — and many no longer knew where their children were being held.
“’It was absolutely heartbreaking. And I’ve been doing immigration-rights work for almost two decades. I am not new to these stories,’ Jayapal told The Washington Post on Sunday. ‘I will tell you there was not a dry eye in the house. … Some of them heard their children screaming for them in the next room. Not a single one of them had been allowed to say goodbye or explain to them what was happening.’ [emphasis added]
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Thursday it was temporarily moving 1,600 detainees into federal prisons ‘due to the current surge in illegal border crossings and implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance policy.’ Previously, ICE has held detainees in county jails or in privately contracted facilities.
“Jayapal said detainees relayed disturbing accounts of being held at Border Patrol facilities in ‘inhumane fenced cages’ (referred to as the ’dog pound’) or in the ‘ice box,’ so nicknamed for the facilities’ cold temperatures and lack of blankets or sleeping mats. She also said many women spoke of being deprived of clean water and experiencing verbal abuse while in Border Patrol custody. [emphasis added]
“’One woman said [according to Jayapal] “I want to be with my children” and the Border Patrol agent said: “You will never see your children again. Families don’t exist here. You won’t have a family anymore.”’”
Governor Jay Inslee addressed a crowd demanding that asylum seekers receive the legal rights they are due. “’Intentional infliction of injury to children is below the standards of America,’ he said. ‘In America, the willful infliction of trauma against children is not acceptable. America is better than this. Inhumane, callous indifference and willful injury to children must stop.’”
There has already been at least one tragic fatality. The Washington Post reported on June 9 that “A Honduran father separated from his wife and child suffered a breakdown at a Texas jail and killed himself in a padded cell last month, according to Border Patrol agents and an incident report filed by sheriff’s deputies. The death of Marco Antonio Muñoz, 39, has not been publicly disclosed by the Department of Homeland Security, and it did not appear in any local news accounts. But according to a copy of a sheriff’s department report obtained by The Washington Post, Muñoz was found on the floor of his cell May 13 in a pool of blood with an item of clothing twisted around his neck.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/a-family-was-separated-at-the-border-and-this-distraught-father-took-his-own-life/2018/06/08/24e40b70-6b5d-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html
Asylum seekers who present at border crossings have a legal right to apply for asylum. However, many are being jailed anyway, and many are simply being turned back. According to The Washington Post on Wednesday, “Trump administration officials have, in recent weeks, adopted a carrot-and-stick approach to asylum applicants. They have told those who cross the border illegally and make asylum requests that they will face criminal prosecution, but that if they go through the official border crossings, their applications will be processed. Yet in several cities along the border, asylum seekers who follow those instructions are turned away and told to return later. At some crossings, applicants camp out for days.”
On Wednesday, as cases of abuse continue to be reported in the press, CNN recounted this story. “The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally. When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed.” The woman had entered illegally. But previous administrations would not have prosecuted first-time border crossers; they would be deported after a hearing. This policy has changed. https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/12/us/immigration-separated-children-southern-border/index.html
Also on Thursday, The New York Times published an investigation of appalling conditions at some facilities in Texas, where thousands of young people are being held. One former Wal-Mart warehouse, however, which holds about 1500 children, has been cleaned up after media scrutiny.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/us/family-separation-migrant-children-detention.html
On Thursday, The New York Times editorial board, in a stunning attack, says simply, “Seizing Children From Parents at the Border Is Immoral. Here’s What We Can Do About It.” Their answer, among other things like protesting: “Please be sure to register and vote. Elections are ultimately the most important tool Americans have to seek change in how their government operates — and the values it espouses.” [emphasis added] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/opinion/children-parents-asylum-immigration.html
- In a related development,JeffSessions has removed domestic abuse and gang violence as legitimate grounds for seeking asylum. The Justice Department can do this unilaterally, since the courts that hear asylum cases are not part of the judiciary but are under the Justice Department. As The Washington Post reported of the Monday announcement, “[Sessions] signaled that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law, a decision that advocates say will endanger tens of thousands of foreign nationals seeking safety in the United States. [emphasis added]
“Sessions’s ruling vacated a 2016 decision by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals that said an abused woman from El Salvador was eligible for asylum. The appeals board is typically the highest government authority on immigration law, but the attorney general has the power to assign cases to himself and set precedents. Such cases can ultimately end up with the federal appeals courts.”
To qualify for asylum under the law, claimants must establish that they have a fear of persecution “based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or ‘membership in a particular social group,’ a catchall category that has in the past included victims of domestic violence and other abuse,” according to The Post. Sessions wrote to the courts that, “’The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.’” https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/sessions-signals-that-victims-of-domestic-abuse-and-gang-violence-generally-will-not-qualify-for-asylum/2018/06/11/45e54602-6d9e-11e8-bd50-b80389a4e569_story.html
“According to the U.N. Refugee Agency,” writes Michelle Brané. director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission “more than two-thirds of women fleeing violence in Central America report that they have attempted to relocate internally but have been unsuccessful in finding safety. [emphasis added]
“In closing his argument, Sessions also makes vague and unsubstantiated assertions that asylum-seekers are not credible and are exploiting the system under false pretenses. He provides no basis for this assumption. Evidence from the region documented by the U.N. and other agencies shows the opposite to be true. These are women and children seeking protection as a last resort and availing themselves of their right to seek asylum under international and U.S. law.” Read Brané’s response to the Sessions memo in Wednesday’s The Washington Post:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/06/13/women-fleeing-domestic-violence-deserve-asylum/.
Finally, The New York Times reported Tuesday on a typical asylum case in New York, now probably lost. The details explain the impact of the new policy through one woman’s legal case. “The threats from her boyfriend came daily, fear having no respite, Blanca said. If she were to leave him, he told her from his jail cell, he would torture her, cut her into pieces and leave her to die. He was a member of the 18th Street gang in Honduras, and they did these sorts of things. She tried to resist. Then he threw her against a wall when she visited him in jail, the police nowhere to be found. When his fellow gang member later raped and impregnated her, and then another threatened to kill her, she finally fled to the United States in 2013.
“On Thursday, Blanca, 30, who now lives in the Bronx, will go before an immigration judge in New York to plead her case for asylum. On Monday, her chances of success changed instantly from challenging to nearly impossible.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/nyregion/sessions-asylum-gang-domestic-violence.html
- In otherJustice Departmentnews, the DOJ, in an almost unprecedented move, has refused to defend a law of the United States: the Affordable Care Act. As The Washington Post put it on June 7, “The Trump administration said Thursday night that it will not defend the Affordable Care Act against the latest legal challenge to its constitutionality — a dramatic break from the executive branch’s tradition of arguing to uphold existing statutes and a land mine for health insurance changes the ACA brought about.
“In a brief filed in a Texas federal court and an accompanying letter to the House and Senate leaders of both parties, the Justice Department agrees in large part with the 20 Republican-led states that brought the suit. They contend that the ACA provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance soon will no longer be constitutional and that, as a result, consumer insurance protections under the law will not be valid, either.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-wont-defend-aca-in-cases-brought-by-gop-states/2018/06/07/92f56e86-6a9c-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html
As Washington Post commentator and deputy editor Ruth Marcus points out, this will, if the suit is successful, have devastating consequences, including negating the requirement that insurance companies cover and not discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. “This is a huge deal,” Marcus writes. “First, if the administration’s position prevails, millions of Americans will lose the protections they thought they had against being denied coverage if they suffer from preexisting conditions. Second, and perhaps even scarier, the administration’s behavior sets a dangerous precedent about the obligation of this and future presidents to follow their constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws enacted by Congress.”
How did this happen? Well, the Supreme Court found that the ACA was constitutional because it was part of the government’s tax powers, as the law penalized by taxation those who did not sign up. But “[i]n last year’s tax bill,” Marcus explains, “Congress effectively repealed the individual mandate by setting the penalty for noncompliance at zero, beginning next year. Twenty states then sued, claiming that because no tax revenue is to be collected as a result of the individual mandate, the remainder of the law is unconstitutional as well.” [emphasis added]
Supporters of the GOP tax bill, including one of its architects, IL 6th district representative Peter Roskam, will have to explain if he and other proponents of the bill anticipated that, as Marcus says, “the consequence was also to eviscerate perhaps the most popular part of the health-care law, the protection for those with preexisting conditions.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-justice-department-abandons-the-aca–and-with-it-the-law/2018/06/08/599fe25a-6b60-11e8-9e38-24e693b38637_story.html
- On Thursday, theJustice Department Inspector General was sharply critical of former FBI Director James Comeyfor his handling of the Clinton email case, in his released report. This will to some degree support critics in the GOP who say the Justice Department had become politicized. However, the IG did not find that there was any attempt to help Clinton in the investigation or in its conclusion.
“Inspector general Michael Horowitz accused Comey of insubordination, saying he flouted Justice Department practices when he decided only he had the authority and credibility to make key decisions and speak for the Justice Department. Comey made a ‘serious error of judgment’ in sending a letter to Congress on Oct. 28 announcing he was reopening the investigation of Clinton’s use of the server while secretary of state, the report found, and called it ‘extraordinary that Comey assessed that it was best’ for him not to speak directly with either the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General about his decision beforehand.” So reported the Thursday Washington Post.
The paper also says, “Some senior bureau officials, the report found, exhibited a disturbing ‘willingness to take official action’ to hurt Trump’s chances to become president. Perhaps the most damaging new revelation in the report is a previously-unreported text message in which Peter Strzok, a key investigator on both the Clinton email case and the investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign, assured an FBI lawyer in August 2016 that ‘we’ll stop’ Trump from making it to the White House.
“‘Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!’ the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok. ‘No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,’ Strzok responded.”
Notably, though, the report did not accuse the FBI itself of bias in its investigation. This point, in the current political climate, may be lost. The FBI responded to the IG report, saysThe Post, by “admit[ing] to ’errors of judgment, violations of or disregard for policy, or, when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, simply not the best courses of action. They were not, in any respect, the result of bias or improper considerations.’” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-receiving-briefing-ahead-of-public-release-of-report-expected-to-criticize-fbi/2018/06/14/c08c6a5a-6fdf-11e8-bf86-a2351b5ece99_story.html
As The New York Times pointed out, “the report, by the department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, does not challenge the decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. Nor does it conclude that political bias at the F.B.I. influenced that decision, the officials said. ‘We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,’ the report said. ‘Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.’ [emphasis added]
“The result of these positions is that what might have been a vindicating report for Mr. Trump no longer fits neatly into his theories about Mr. Comey, Mrs. Clinton or the F.B.I. in general,” concludes The Times. “Nevertheless, the report gives Mr. Trump plenty of ammunition for his continued broadsides against the bureau. The newly discovered text message, in particular, bolsters his argument that people inside the F.B.I. opposed him.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/us/politics/fbi-inspector-general-comey-trump-clinton-report.html
Indeed, both sides may find in the report vindication for their views that Comey or the FBI helped or hindered their candidates. As The Hill reported just hours after the report was released, “Top Democrats say the long-awaited report released by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog on Thursday proves that the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election.” [emphasis added] The Hill quotes several congressional Democrats, including Charles Schumer and Adam Schiff.http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/392369-top-dems-ig-report-shows-comeys-actions-helped-trump-win-election. And The Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote, “Comey’s conduct violated Justice Department norms and very possibly cost Clinton the election.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/06/14/the-doj-inspector-generals-report-hillary-clinton-has-good-reason-to-complain
And also on Thursday, James Comey himself offered a response to the IG report, in a New York Times op-ed. Comey said, “First, the inspector general’s team went through the F.B.I.’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently. The report also resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs. Clinton, as we had concluded. Although that probably will not stop some from continuing to claim the opposite is true, this independent assessment will be useful to thoughtful people and an important contribution to the historical record. [emphasis added]
“Second, this report is vital in shedding light for future leaders on the nature and quality of our investigation and the decisions we made.” Comey also defends his decision to go over the head of Loretta Lynch, whom he implicitly criticizes for tainting the investigation (by her association with the Clintons): “[E]ven in hindsight I think we chose the course most consistent with institutional values. An announcement at that point by the attorney general, especially one without the transparency our traditions permitted, would have done corrosive damage to public faith in the investigation and the institutions of justice.” Read Comey’s whole op-ed, and its full explanation of his thinking, here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/opinion/comey-clinton-inspector-general.html.
- As our readers may know, this week a districtcourt in DC approved the merger of AT&T and Time Warner. Given that this takes place on the very week thatnet neutrality has ended, this will have enormous effects on consumers’ experience of the Internet, on the prices we will pay, and the variety of information to which we will be exposed.
In a sharp editorial response to the latest merger ruling, candidate for New York Attorney General Zephyr Teachout writes in The Guardian on June 13, “The AT&T merger is especially disturbing in light of the network neutrality decision, because it involves a producer of content (Time Warner) merging with the distributor of that content. It is a data/media deal (like Verizon buying AOL). With the repeal of network neutrality, AT&T can throttle the content of competitors.
“If we step back, we see these two moves are part of a larger trend: America is getting crushed by big, unresponsive, powerful corporate monopolies, the modern version of the trusts of the gilded age. This isn’t happening organically, but through mergers. We should take this setback to recommit to a new anti-monopoly movement, where we use all the laws available – at the federal and state level – to stop these modern Goliaths from crushing our democracy.”https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/13/mega-mergers-att-time-warner-crush-american-democracy
The New York Times editorial board, on Tuesday, argued that the merger itself had been opposed by the Justice Department as part of Trump’s continuing attacks on the media. “President Trump’s antagonism toward the news media — particularly CNN, one of Time Warner’s crown jewels — is one of the defining aspects of his political identity. Hours before AT&T and Time Warner announced their deal in October 2016, then-candidate Trump vowed that his administration would block it.” The editors say that this was an example of improper interference with anti-trust law: “The prospect that the administration has been using antitrust law to punish the president’s opponents while rewarding those he views as friends is alarming.” They would agree with Teachout on the implications of the loss; but they suggest that the DOJ should have regulated the merger and forced divestiture rather than undertaking a full-scale politically motivated assault.
“Tuesday’s ruling,” they conclude, “will probably unleash a new wave of deal making on Wall Street, in Hollywood and in Silicon Valley.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/opinion/att-cnn-time-warner-antitrust.html
But law professor and tech specialist Tim Wu, in an op-ed in Thursday’s Times, disagrees with even the idea of a managed merger. “[T]he [1950 Anti-Merger] law would surely have allowed the Justice Department to block the recent AT&T-Time Warner merger….. No one can deny that the new AT&T will have more economic power and also more political power than before, even as it now carries more debt ($181 billion) than many industrialized nations. The ruling, by Judge Richard J. Leon of United States District Court in Washington, implicitly encourages the rest of the industry to integrate as well, and AT&T’s comrades have taken the hint: Comcast has already announced its intent to acquire much of 20th Century Fox, while other deals are said to be imminent.” [emphasis added] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/opinion/time-warner-att-merger.html
[We note for our local readers that in 2011, IL 6th District Congressman Peter Roskam voted for a resolution condemning the FCC’s decision at that time to require net neutrality. Roskam has also taken $383,628 from ISPs (telecoms) since 1989 as of Dec. 2017. In the 16th District, Randy Hultgren received $60,550. Roskam also voted, in March, 2017, for a bill that overturned the FCC’s Obama-era rule that would have required internet providers to get customers’ permission before sharing their browsing history with other companies. Hultgren did as well. The rules also required internet providers to protect that data from hackers and inform customers of any breaches.]
- In a Tuesday issue ofMother Jonesmagazine, David Corn, their Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC, reports on a warning from the Director of National Intelligence that “Russia Poses a Threat to Midterm Elections. But Trump Doesn’t Seem to Care.” Corn says, “a top Trump appointee issued a dire assessment about Russia. Dan Coats, the former Republican senator who is now director of national intelligence, warned that Moscow is currently mounting information warfare against the United States that could influence the coming midterm elections.” Giving a speech at a security conference in Normandy, France, “Coats said that Russia has ‘pursued and will pursue even more aggressive cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances.’ He then dropped this shocker: ‘It is 2018, and we continue to see Russian targeting of American society in ways that could affect our midterm elections.’” Read Corn’s alarming report here:https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/06/the-director-of-national-intelligence-says-russia-poses-a-threat-to-midterm-elections-but-trump-doesnt-seem-to-care/#.
- We had some breaking news on Wednesday that may have serious implications for Trump and the Mueller investigation. It was announced that Trump fixerMichael Cohen will no longer have legal representation after Friday. This may be an indication he is going to flip. As ABC News broke the story, “Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant and former personal attorney, is likely to cooperate with federal investigators, as his lawyers are expected to leave the case, sources said…. Cohen, who is under federal investigation now with no legal representation, is likely to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, sources said. This development, which is believed to be imminent, will likely hit the White House, family members, staffers and counsels hard.” https://abcnews.go.com/US/trump-lawyer-michael-cohen-cooperate-attorneys-leave-case/story?id=55861988 [emphasis added]
This may turn out to be a major development in the case, and may implicate Trump in some of Cohen’s shady activities. But it is too early to tell. As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman speculates, “The connection between Cohen’s attorneys leaving and the possibility of him flipping is not that you don’t still need a lawyer if you’re cooperating (you do), but that these particular lawyers have been paid by the Trump campaign. That would mean that they’d have a conflict in representing him if in fact he is going to testify to something Trump or others involved in the Trump campaign might have done.” But the reality may be more sinister, Waldman suggests: “[W]e should consider one more possibility: that Cohen fed the story of his possible flip to the press in order to convince President Trump to pardon him.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/06/13/michael-cohen-may-be-getting-ready-to-flip-that-would-be-a-catastrophe-for-trump
- Inother legal developments that may impact Donald Trump directly, “A federal judge on Monday sharply criticized the Justice Department’s argument that President Trump’s financial interest in his company’s hotel in downtown Washington is constitutional, a fresh sign that the judge may soon rule against the president in a historic case that could head to the Supreme Court.” As reported in The New York Times, “The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, charge that Mr. Trump’s profits from the hotel violate anti-corruption clauses of the Constitution that restrict government-bestowed financial benefits, or emoluments, to presidents beyond their official salary. They say the hotel is siphoning business from local convention centers and hotels.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/11/us/politics/emoluments-lawsuit-trump-hotel.html
- Primary elections on Tuesday gave important clues to the direction of the Republican partyand its ties to Trump. The results are striking, given the party’s discomfort with its nominee two years ago. But now the message from the primaries is clear: Republicans oppose Trump at their peril. In Virginia and South Carolina Trump supported primary challengers to incumbents, who lost to candidates toeing the most extreme Trump lines. AsThe New York Times put it well on Thursday, “As Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina found out the hard way, in his surprise primary defeat, having a conservative voting record is less important than demonstrating total loyalty to Mr. Trump, who now enjoys higher approval ratings in his own party than any modern president except George W. Bush following the attacks of Sept. 11.
“And in Virginia, a far-right candidate, Corey Stewart, won the Republican Senate nomination after waging an incendiary campaign and portraying himself as a disciple of Mr. Trump. The president’s transformation of the G.O.P. — its policies, its tone, even the fate of its candidates — has never been so evident. A party that once championed free trade has now largely turned to protectionism under Mr. Trump. Sermons about inclusivity have been replaced with demagogic attacks on immigrants and black athletes. A trust-but-verify approach to foreign policy has given way to a seat-of-the-pants style in which rogue regimes like North Korea are elevated and democratic allies like Canada are belittled.” [emphasis added]
As The Times points out, some of these candidates, like Stewart in the Virginia Senate race, may be so divisive that they actually hurt the party’s statewide chances in more moderate suburban districts. As for Stewart, he “has praised white nationalists and made racially inflammatory comments about intraparty rivals. Earlier this year, he stood outside the state capitol assailing Republican legislators for being ‘flaccid,’ adding, ‘I feel sorry for their wives.’”
Stewart has hung Confederate flags at his rallies and has ties to the “Unite the Right” organizers. He is given little chance of defeating Senator Tim Kane, but there is nonetheless danger looming in other parts of the country, where Republicans may be more energized in November than the left had suspected. Read the detailed analysis of the turn of the party to the far right here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/us/politics/republicans-trump-midterms.html
As Edward-Isaac Dovere put it in Politico, “The final GOP holdouts to Donald Trump whimper into oblivion.” He continues, “The anti-Trump candidates are fleeing, and the ones who stick around are getting trampled.” Dovere quotes one prominent out-of-office Republican: “’A party can never be about one person. A party is about principles. Anyone, on either side, whose politics are based on being for or against the president is misguided. The focus needs to be on the issues — on keeping our economy booming, on reducing our huge debt, on the inequality of our education system, on cleaning our air…. Those are the principles that have spanned generations of Republican leaders, from Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan, and it’s those principles that will get us back on track.’” Who is this great patriot? Arnold Schwarzenegger. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/13/trump-republicans-sanford-resistance-644721
- Thomas Edsall, liberal columnist forThe New York Times,asks “How Much Can Democrats Count on Suburban Liberals?” in his June 14 column. The answer, according to a study from Harvard’s Ryan Enos, is “that the liberal resolve of affluent Democrats can disintegrate when racially or ethnically charged issues like neighborhood integration are at stake.” [emphasis added]
As Edsall summarizes this research, which is supported by other studies, “In affluent, largely white Massachusetts communities like Wellesley, Southborough and Dedham, Hillary Clinton crushed Donald Trump by margins ranging from 23 to 50 percentage points. These and other townships surrounding Boston epitomize the gains the Democratic Party has made nationwide in liberal, well-educated suburbs.
“Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, published a book last year, ‘The Space Between Us,’ suggesting that the ideological commitment of liberals in these and other similar communities may waver, or fail entirely, when their white homogeneity is threatened.” This study showed that in general, when faced with questions about racial integration or immigration, white suburban liberal voters are uncomfortable with diversity. The Times’s Edsall contacted Enos and other political scientists to explain and confirm his results. The answers were generally supportive of the study’s conclusions.
Edsall’s correspondence with Enos is instructive, and we quote from it here. “Enos himself was ambivalent in response to my question: ‘What does your book say about the prospects for an integrated society, particularly a residentially integrated America?’ He wrote back: ‘Like many things, it depends on whether you want to take the optimistic or pessimistic view. The optimistic view is that many, if not most, groups that are once segregated visible minorities seem to be integrated over time, almost as if there is something natural about this process.’
However, Enos continued, ‘the pessimistic view, which is a cold shot of reality, is that some groups have never residentially integrated in the U.S. and elsewhere. The most obvious example is African-Americans. We are still living with pernicious outcomes of the segregation of blacks.’” It is an open question, he says, whether Latinos can integrate. What is certain is that demagogues can easily exploit these sentiments, to the disadvantage of liberal society. Read this important column, which has implications for liberal electoral challenges, here:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/opinion/trump-racism-liberals-suburbs.html.
- But intemperate, inflammatory, or accusatory language can doom Democrats in elections and play into the hands of those demagogues. So warns Frank Bruni in an op-ed on Thursday inThe New York Times. He points out that the foul language of DeNiro and Bee plays into the hands of those who characterize liberals as holier-than-thou elitists. “I’m buoyed by… what I’ve witnessed when I’ve met with Democratic candidates in potentially red-to-blue House districts. They’re not getting bogged down in impeachment talk, which can sound to many voters like a promise of ceaseless partisan rancor and never-ending Washington paralysis. They’re not frothing at the mouth about Trump.…”
Successful Democratic primary candidates, Bruni argues, deploy “a vocabulary that’s measured, not hysterical. Enough with ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ (unless you’re directly quoting an administration official). They’re schoolyard and splenetic. Enough with Hitler, too. Has Trump shown fascistic tendencies? Yes. Is he the second coming of the Third Reich? No. Nor are the spineless Republicans who have enabled him Nazi collaborators, not on the evidence of what has and hasn’t happened so far.
“I’m not urging complacency. But when you invoke the darkest historical analogies, you lose many of the very Americans you’re trying to win over.” [emphasis added] An important point for us all to bear in mind as nerves perhaps fray over the larger outrages we are facing in our democracy.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/opinion/trump-midterms-robert-de-niro-samantha-bee.html
- Locally: According toPolitico’sIllinois Playbook report, “The Pritzker campaign wasted no time hanging President Donald Trump around Gov. Bruce Rauner’s neck on Tuesday, just hours afterthe governor made a rare positive statement about the Trump White House. He did it, of course, without saying the president’s name.
“’I am very proud of what’s been going on in the federal government, Congress, and the White House,’ Rauner said at a Downstate stop.” Politico references moderate Republican losses in the Tuesday primaries. See number 10, above. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/illinois-playbook/2018/06/13/rauners-baby-step-toward-trump-gop-superpac-invests-heavily-in-il-12-ig-takes-over-cps-abuse-cases-279929