Headlines: December 11, 2018
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President Donald Trump has decided that the US military would build his border wall with Mexico if Democratic Party Representatives refused to authorize its funding. He tweeted early on Tuesday morning, “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall. They know how important it is!” The deadline to vote on a government spending bill is December 21st. On Monday leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Republicans still control the House, the Senate, and the White House, and they have the power to keep government open.” She added, “Our country cannot afford a #TrumpShutdown, especially at this time of economic uncertainty. This holiday season, @realDonaldTrump knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House & Senate, and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement.” Trump is scheduled to meet with Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday.
The Trump administration will introduce a proposal on Tuesday to weaken protections in the federal Clean Water Act that are designed to preserve streams and wetlands from runoff and pesticides. According to the New York Times Trump will spin his plan as, “ending a federal land grab that impinged on the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their property as they see fit.” The current rules prevent farmers and agribusinesses from using pesticides and plowing too close to streams or wetlands. After the government presents the proposal there will be a 60-day comment period before the formal revision of the rules next year. Environmental organizations are incensed about the roll-back. Blan Holman of the Southern Environmental Law Center told the Times, “For wetlands, this is an absolute disaster, compared to the Obama plan.”
The FBI on Monday launched a probe into how thousands of fake comments against Net Neutrality were filed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year. The FBI has apparently subpoenaed an organization that urged its members to file comments with the FCC, reported the Wall Street Journal. The Attorneys General of Washington DC and New York have also filed subpoenas for a number of organizations involved. A year ago, ahead of the FCC decision on net neutrality, the agency cited comments made in favor of ending the rule but many of those comments were found to be filed under people’s names without their permission. It is considered a felony to falsify information when submitting comments to a federal agency on rule making. Several Democratic Party leaders had urged the government to investigate, and the Government Accountability Office had been reviewing the issue for almost a year.
Meanwhile Monday was the deadline by which the House could have gathered enough signatures to trigger the Congressional Review Act (CRA) and overturn the FCC’s net neutrality decision. However, with the impasse between Congress and the White House over a spending bill, there are a few more weeks for the House to take action on the CRA. Supporters are attempting to gather at least 218 House votes to make it happen – there are currently only 178 supporters of the bill. The Senate already passed its version of the bill this past May.
Time Magazine has announced its Person of the Year, and it’s not a person at all, but a group of people and one organization. The media publication has awarded its coveted distinction to “The Guardians,” by which it refers to those who guard the truth and have paid a price for it. They include slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Capital Gazette which was the target of the worst mass shooting against a media outlet in US history, veteran journalist Maria Ressa who has been targeted by the Philippines government, and two Burmese journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo that work for Reuters and have been imprisoned by the Myanmar government. Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal explained the magazine’s choice: “It has long been the first move in the authoritarian playbook: controlling the flow of information and debate that is freedom’s lifeblood. And in 2018, the playbook worked. Today, democracy around the world faces its biggest crisis in decades, its foundations undermined by invective from on high and toxins from below, by new technologies that power ancient impulses, by a poisonous cocktail of strongmen and weakening institutions.” President Trump last month assumed he would be Time’s Person of the Year, saying to a reporter, “I can’t imagine anybody else other than Trump, can you imagine anybody else other than Trump?”
US Corporations are feeling the sting of Trump’s trade war on China – in real dollars. New data shows that companies paid $6.2 billion in tariffs this past October – the highest such figure in history. That’s twice the figure at the same time last year, and nearly $2 billion more than September of this year. While companies have increased imports, the tariff costs are disproportionately higher. According to Business Insider, “US companies paid $7.4 billion more in tariffs as a result of Trump’s trade war since the first tariffs went into place in May, and the amount is steadily increasing.” Despite the fact that the cost of the trade war is being carried primarily by US companies, Trump triumphantly tweeted last week, “We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN.”
The Trump White House is reportedly scrambling to fill the position of Chief of Staff, which Gen. John Kelly is being pushed out of. After Nick Ayers, Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff turned down the job, the Trump White House has been in disarray. According to the Washington Post, which concluded that there was no Plan B, “In any White House, the chief of staff is arguably the most punishing position. But in this White House — a den of disorder ruled by an impulsive president — it has proved to be an especially thankless job. The two people to hold the job were left with their reputations diminished after failing to constrain the president, who often prefers to function as his own chief of staff.” Angered, Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position. Why wouldn’t someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington.”
Delegates at the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland were treated to an awkward display on Monday by the Trump Administration. US delegates held a side event promoting coal and other fossil fuels at the very international conference tackling how to end the use of fossil fuels. Wells Griffith, Trump’s top adviser on energy and climate was in the middle of lauding coal when he was literally laughed at by members of the audience. That laughter turned into chants as a coordinated group of protesters took over the event chanting “Keep It in the Ground,” as they unfurled their banners and then pointedly marched out of the room leaving it more than half-empty. Here in the US, more than a thousand young activists lined the halls of Congress calling on representatives to adopt a bill dubbed the “Green New Deal.” One hundred and forty three of them were arrested.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron has given in to one more demand from the Yellow Vest protesters. A week after repealing a planned fuel tax hike that was met with public outrage, Macron has now announced tax cuts and an increase to the minimum wage. He did so, realizing that protesters would not back down and continued to bring the country to a standstill week after week. In a televised address Macron made a remarkable ‘mea culpa.’ French President Emmanuel Macron tells the French people, “Without a doubt we have not known for the last year and a half, how to respond sufficiently rapidly or strongly. I am partly responsible for this. I may have given you the impression that I didn’t care, that I had other priorities.” The French have a long tradition of exercising their democratic rights and treating their public servants as public servants rather than rulers.
And finally, in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a serious test of her rule, caught between the demands of the European Union and her own Parliament over the Brexit deal. A parliamentary vote on a deal that she negotiated was expected to fail so she postponed the vote, scrambling to meet with EU leaders. But Europe has said it will not negotiate any more and that it will only provide clarifications to the negotiated deal.