Headlines: April 4, 2019
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The New York Times late Wednesday reported that some members of the Special Counsel team are saying the Attorney General William Barr, “failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.” According to the Times, “Some members of Mr. Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Mr. Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public.” The President predictably lashed out at the paper on Twitter on Thursday morning complaining that, “The New York Times had no legitimate sources, which would be totally illegal, concerning the Mueller Report. In fact, they probably had no sources at all! They are a Fake News paper who have already been forced to apologize for their incorrect and very bad reporting on me!”
In other news the House Ways and Means Committee has submitted a request to the IRS for Trump’s tax returns for the last 6 years. Democrat Richard Neal, who chairs the committee, is apparently using a little known piece of federal tax law to make the request. The provision dates back to the so-called Teapot Dome scandal from the Warren G. Harding administration. Progressive activists have been pressuring Mr. Neal for months to use his subpoena authority in what is sure to turn into a legal fight. The IRS has until only April 10th to provide the information. In a statement the Congressman said, “I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect. This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the administration.” Trump responded to the request for his tax returns on Wednesday at the White House saying because he was being audited he couldn’t turn over his tax returns (even though he’s not the one being asked to turn them over).
The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and approved the closing of the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” The current version of the act bars current or former spouses from legally owning firearms if they have been charged with abuse or stalking, but it did not apply that standard to romantic partners. In the face of strong opposition from the NRA, Representatives passed the updated version of the Act. Representative Jennifer Wexton explained her support of the bill on the House floor. The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.
On Thursday the House voted to approve a resolution that had already passed the Senate ending US support for the Saudi war on Yemen. The vote passed 247-175 with strong bi-partisan support, just as it did in the Senate. For the first time in history, Congress is sending a resolution to the President’s desk for a signature based on the War Powers Act. Trump is expected to veto the bill. The House had already voted on the bill in February but in the Senate version of the bill, Republicans added an amendment against the BDS Movement aimed at Israel and called it an anti-Semitism amendment. Democratic Representative Ro Khanna called the move “insulting,” saying, “Those issues should be voted on separately.”
Meanwhile the North Atlantic Treaty Organization turns 70 this week and to mark the occasion, the foreign ministers of NATO nations have gathered in Washington DC. There has been significant tension between the US and its European allies in NATO under President Trump who has sought to undermine the military cooperative that was historically aimed at fencing in Russia’s imperial ambitions. At an event marking the anniversary Mike Pence on Wednesday lashed out at NATO members Germany and Turkey.
The Trump-loving white male shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who massacred 50 people as he targeted mosques on March 15th, is facing 50 murder charges. The Australian national, whose name and face are being obscured to deny him the fame he may have sought, will appear in court this week. In a statement New Zealand police said he will also face 39 charges of attempted murder. New Zealand lawmakers are voting for a series of strict gun control measures in the wake of the massacre, seeing it as a more appropriate response than offering “thoughts and prayers.” Meanwhile neighboring Australia is considering a strict new law that would criminalize social media executives or allowing the live streaming of violent incidents like the New Zealand shooting. The Christchurch shooter wore a camera attached to his helmet so he could live-stream the bloodbath on Facebook and it took far too long for Facebook to remove the video and its many copies. In an interview on Thursday Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg said he would not delay live streams to help vet violent content, as many have called on him to do.
In related news, a new study examining Facebook’s secret algorithm for how it targets audiences for ads, has found that the social media companies appears to be relying heavily on racial and gender stereotypes – even when advertisers say they want to target a broad audience. Researchers at Northeastern University and University of Southern California paid for Facebook ads without specifying narrow demographics and studied where the company placed them. According to their published study, “we observe significant skew in delivery along gender and racial lines for “real” ads for employment and housing opportunities despite neutral targeting parameters. Our results demonstrate previously unknown mechanisms that can lead to potentially discriminatory ad delivery, even when advertisers set their targeting parameters to be highly inclusive.” Facebook has only recently been hit with a lawsuit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for violating the Fair Housing Act through its ad delivery algorithms.
Finally Trump on Thursday backtracked on yet another threat – this time the one he made about closing the US-Mexico border. Speaking to reporters at the White House the President said that he would give Mexico one year to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the US and if that did not happen in a year, he would close the border then. Trump faced stiff opposition from his own party for demanding repeatedly that the border be completely closed.