Headlines: August 23, 2019
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China has announced a new round of tariffs on $75 billion worth of American goods in direct retaliation to President Donald Trump’s trade war. The tariffs, ranging from 5-10% are set to begin on September 1st. China also announced that it would resume tariffs on American auto manufacturers with 5% on car parts and a whopping 25% on cars. China warned last week that it would retaliate after Trump imposed a 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports to the US. Hours after China’s announcement, Trump began tweeting in anger, issuing orders to US corporations to find alternatives to China. He wrote, “We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far…better off without them….Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.” Meanwhile a coalition of auto manufacturers released a statement warning of dire consequences to the US economy from the trade war. “When these tariffs were initially imposed by China in 2017, American exports of finished vehicles dropped by 50 percent. We can’t let that happen to American workers again,” said the coalition’s spokesperson. And market indicators plummeted Friday morning in response to China’s announcement with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling nearly 500 points.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell spoke on Friday at an annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Mississippi, during which he explained in vague terms that the Fed “will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” of the US economy. He also suggested that there was no rule book to set policy to protect the economy against trade wars such as the one Trump is waging. In what amounted to a veiled criticism of the President, Powell said, “The global growth outlook has been deteriorating since the middle of last year. Trade policy uncertainty seems to be playing a role in the global slowdown and in weak manufacturing and capital spending in the United States.” Ahead of Powell’s speech Trump – who has publicly insulted the Fed chair repeatedly on Twitter – exploded in anger once more, writing, “As usual, the Fed did NOTHING! It is incredible that they can ‘speak’ without knowing or asking what I am doing, which will be announced shortly. We have a very strong dollar and a very weak Fed. I will work ‘brilliantly’ with both, and the U.S. will do great…My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?”
The Washington Post published an in-depth report about how White House staff members are worried about Trump’s confused and contradictory response to a slowing economy. Trump has apparently, “told aides that he thinks he can convince Americans that the economy is vibrant and unrattled through a public messaging campaign.” But, “Few aides have a firm sense of what steps he would seriously consider, in part because he keeps changing his mind.”
David Koch, one of the two billionaire Koch brothers who left an indelible mark on politics, has died. The 79-year old, together with his brother Charles funded a vast network of ultra conservative, pro-business, efforts and helped the rise of the Tea Party movement which in turn pushed the Republican Party to the far right. According to some estimates the Koch brothers spent at least $100 million on far right political movements since the 1970s.
California is suing the Trump administration once more – this time over the newly announced rule to overturn the Flores Settlement protecting immigrant children, and allow the government to indefinitely detain whole families. Last week the state announced a suit against the new “public charge” rule barring legal residency for those immigrants who partake in government assistance programs. In other immigration-related news reports emerged that the Justice Department, in its emailed briefings to staff that include links to news articles, sent out a link to Vdare, an online group that has been designated as a hate group. Vdare routinely engages in racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and the specific link that the DOJ sent out to employees of its Executive Office for Immigration Review pointed to a post that names immigration judges using anti-Semitic language. Hundreds of immigration judges are direct employees of the DOJ so they received the racist post about them from their employer.
Days after news emerged that Trump was backing off from addressing the gun violence epidemic with background checks, the White House has announced that it instead intends to study the link between mental illness and violent behavior. A part of the project involves establishing a separate agency within the Health and Human Services Department called Health Advanced Research Projects Agency or HARPA. The project is modeled on DARPA, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. A lead adviser on the proposal explained that it would study the “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.” Only about a quarter of mass shooters are estimated to have a history of mental illness. The White House appears uninterested in tackling access to guns and white supremacist beliefs.
The nation’s largest Latino journalists’ organization has decided to refuse sponsorship for its annual conference from Fox News. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists announced that it would be returning the sponsorship money saying in a statement, “To accept financial support from an entity that perpetuates the spread of disinformation to the public about the Hispanic and Latino community risks the integrity and credibility of NAHJ’s 35 year mission.” And, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has announced her plan to join Fox News as a contributor. Many on Twitter derided her job transition saying she had been a Fox News contributor all along, even in her White House job. Meanwhile her predecessor Sean Spicer has joined the reality TV show Dancing With the Stars as a competitor where he may earn 6 figures.
The Democratic National Committee this week voted down a proposal to have a specifically climate-change focused debate of Presidential candidates. The DNC resolutions committee voted down the proposal 17 to 8 despite strong pressure from the youth-led grassroots group Sunrise Movement. Meanwhile fires raged in Alaska this week and mark an on-going climate-related change with this past July being the hottest on record in the state. The McKinley Fire, which is the largest of 8 fires that are burning, has threatened more than 1,000 structures. In Northern California, hundreds of acres in Redding are burning, requiring the evacuation of 4,000 people.
Fires are also plaguing the Amazon rain forest in Brazil as President Jair Bolsonaro brushes aside growing global outrage. There are currently thousands of fires in the Amazon, considered the worst such disaster in almost ten years. According to the BBC, “Forest fires are common in the Amazon during the dry season, which runs from July to October. They can be caused by naturally occurring events, such as by lightning strikes, but also by farmers and loggers clearing land for crops or grazing.” Under Bolsonaro, logging activities have spiked sharply. But Brazil is now facing economic threats from Europe over the Amazon fires. French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he opposes a trade deal with the South American trading block Mercosur that includes Brazil. Macron said his opposition was over Bolsonaro’s failure on “commitments on the climate.” Other European nations like Ireland and Finland are also pledging opposition and the Amazon fires are to be the focus of a special emergency session at this weekend’s G-7 meeting in France.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday instructed his government to ready a “symmetric response” to a US missile test, adding to worries of a new arms race between the US and Russia. The Trump administration ended its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. According to the Washington Post, “The U.S. military tested a Tomahawk cruise missile on Aug. 18, launching it from San Nicolas Island off the California coast. Flying more than 310 miles, it would have violated the INF treaty if it were still in force.”