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'That's What Dictators Sound Like': Democratic Lawmaker Warns that Trump's Tweets Seem Like They Come from 'Moscow'

June 13, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Even Wolf Blitzer seemed shocked by the president's most recent Twitter tirade.


Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) said Wednesday that President Donald Trump's most recent broadside against the American press makes him sound more like a dictator than a democratically elected leader.

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted: “So funny to watch the Fake News, especially NBC and CNN. They are fighting hard to downplay the deal with North Korea. 500 days ago they would have 'begged' for this deal-looked like war would break out. Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!”

Asked about these comments in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Swalwell said, “Well, that could have been issued from Pyongyang. That could have been issued from Moscow. That could have been issued from Ankara, Turkey. That's what dictators sound like.”

Swalwell noted that he has written legislation that would protect journalists from violence precisely because of Trump's persistent attacks on the press.

“Journalists are being assaulted, and we see escalating rhetoric and violence against journalists correlated with the president's words,” he said. “And that's deeply troubling.”

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Source: ALTERNET

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This Republican Congressman Just Approvingly Retweeted a British Neo-Nazi

June 13, 2018 in Blogs

By Hunter, Daily Kos

The representative also keeps a symbol of white nationalism prominently featured on his desk.


Whenever you see a headline reporting that a House Republican proudly retweeted a European neo-Nazi, the odds are nine in ten it will be Iowa Rep. Steve King. This time, King urgently retweeted the anti-immigrant panic of British neo-Nazi Mark Collett, adding his own two cents: “Europe is waking up…Will America…in time?”

To repeat, Mark Collett is a notorious British neo-Nazi. Not just a racist or a white supremacist, but an actual Hitler-praising Nazi admirer. And why exactly Collett is cropping up in Steve King's Twitter feed is, at this point, barely a mystery. King has a long, long history of racist statements and of endorsing the talking points of white nationalists, and he is not shy about publicizing their opinions and their efforts. The day before his retweet of the neo-Nazi he alarmingly linked to a far-right website complaining that the organizers of a Swedish soccer tournament were not serving pork, bleating “Sweden has capitulated to halal :-( In a tweet before that one, he admiringly directed his constituents to the ravings of infamous Dutch white nationalist Geert Wilders—one penned by the ultra-radical extremist Robert Spencer, no less.

“Free Tommy Robinson!”, King demanded in that tweet, referring to yet another British extremist currently serving prison time for violating a British court order. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has been arrested repeatedly for violence and, just to cap things off, pleaded guilty in 2012 to illegally entering the United States by using somebody else's passport. Why did he have to sneak into the US illegally? He had been barred from the US because of drug charges.

That's right. Steve King interrupted his tirades against criminal “illegal immigrants” to demand that a criminal illegal immigrant who entered our country with fake paperwork and had a bevy of prior convictions be released from a British prison—and then he blasted his fellow Republicans for ignoring the “Rule of Law” in offering “amnesty” to immigrants in the very next tweet. The man's as dumb as a post; two posts side-by side could probably best him …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Old Trump Tweet Shows Exactly Why Trump's Dealmaking with North Korea Is So Inept

June 13, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

There's always a tweet.


If you plan on becoming president, be careful what you tweet. Someday, your old posts may be dredged up to make you look ridiculous.

That ship has already sailed for President Donald Trump, whose critics can often find old tweets of his that contradict or undermine his current positions. As the president celebrates his unimpressive and potentially counterproductive summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a particularly ironic Trump tweet from 2013 has emerged:

This short tweet actually nicely encapsulates a major problem in Trump's negotiations with Kim.

Since Trump first announced the summit with North Korea, the decision appeared to be a desperate gamble. Trump spread word of the meeting long before it was clear what was going on, and his announcement seemed to blindside much of the federal government he's supposed to run.

As the civil lawsuits against him proceed, special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation grinds on, and the 2018 midterms get closer, Trump was not-so-subtlely searching for an accomplishment he could claim that would prove the doubters wrong. With these dynamics clearly in play, it sent a message to North Korea that Trump needed a deal, putting him at a notable disadvantage.

And since the summit, Trump has been quick to disregard his 2013 advice, confirming his desperation for a win as he declares victory on North Korea. He said falsely in a tweet Wednesday: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

It is patently untrue that there isn't a threat from North Korea any longer, and the negotiations with Kim have failed to produce any meaningful concessions from the dictatorial regime. The best case one can make in favor of the summit is that it is the start of a process that could lead to real progress and benefits for all involved — but for that to be the case, the United States would have to …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Fox News' Shep Smith Is Completely Incredulous About Trump's Negotiations with North Korea

June 13, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“Why would he say today, 'The North Korea threat is over'?” Smith asked.


As we learn more about President Donald Trump's negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Fox News' Shep Smith is still having a hard time understanding the American strategy for managing the rogue nation.

For example, Trump boasted on Wednesday that “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” bewildering the host.

“Why would he say today 'the North Korean threat is over'? Saying something like that, it's kind of a… it just makes you wonder about everything,” Smith said.

Gordon Chang, a foreign policy expert who sat down with Smith Wednesday afternoon, agreed.

“North Korea on Monday had enough fissile material for somewhere between, let's say, 20 to 60 warheads,” Chang said. “They still have it today. They still have the same number of ICBMs.”

Smith also noted that Trump adopted North Korean and Chinese rhetoric when talking about American military exercises with South Korea. 

“He called them 'war games,' which the North Koreans have been doing for the better part of 30 years!” Smith said.

“And he also called the 'war games' were provocative. That's North Korean and Chinese talking points. They're not provocative! They're defensive,” Change said.

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Source: ALTERNET

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Sessions 'Hate, Hate, Hates' Jared Kushner's Growing Political Alliance With CNN's Van Jones: Report

June 13, 2018 in Blogs

By Chris Sosa, AlterNet

The president's son-in-law is executing a comeback.


In a Vanity Fair feature about the quiet resurgence of President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner in the administration, a surprising segment focuses on the relationship he's cultivated with Van Jones.

Jones is a criminal justice reform advocate and prominent CNN host.

Vanity Fair reports:

“The Kushner-Jones alliance has infuriated some Republican members of the administration, especially Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 'He hate, hate, hates it,' a person close to Sessions said.”

Jones has offered qualified praise for Kushner.

“Jared and I have 99 problems but prison ain’t one,” he said. “I’ve found him to be effective, straightforward, and dogged.”

Kushner is reportedly pushing for a drastic increase in Trump pardons, some that, according to an unnamed source, “even Obama wouldn't do.”

“[H]e’s exuding confidence now that his security clearance has been restored and he’s all but vanquished his foe [chief of staff John Kelly],” Vanity Fair explains.

Kushner is reportedly done being a “punch line,” even if that means manipulating the president into uncharted political territory.

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Source: ALTERNET

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AT&T Ruling Tells Government: It's Not 1948 Anymore

June 13, 2018 in Economics

By Walter Olson

Walter Olson

Judge to federal government: The entertainment business has
moved on from the Truman era, and so has antitrust law.

In 1948 the US Supreme Court ordered Hollywood studios to sell their movie
theaters, following the then-popular idea that the government
should police marketplace competition by restraining businesses’
vertical integration — or as we might put it these days, by
ordering content kept separate from distribution.

The surprise in 2018 is not so much that US District Judge
Richard Leon
rejected
the government’s challenge to the $85 billion
AT&T-Time Warner merger. That much was expected by most
antitrust watchers. The shock came from the stinging way he
rejected the government’s evidence — using language such as
“gossamer thin” and “poppycock.”

[pullquote[The entertainment business has moved on from the Truman
era, and so has antitrust law.[/pullquote]

That surprise wasn’t an unpleasant one for many. Media and
telecom stocks rose on Wall Street, with the decision
widely seen as green lighting further hookups of cable and wireless
distributors with content providers, such asa potential Comcast deal for 21st Century
Fox.

While “horizontal” challenges to mergers between competitors who
sell to the same group of customers are alive and well, the
government hadn’t gone all the way to a court decision in a
vertical merger case in 40 years (and it lost then, too). It’s been more than 30 years since the government
successfully opposed a vertical merger, though it’s sometimes
negotiated to attach strings in order to proceed.

Until recently, media companies could do well at either the
content end — like Time Warner, with its properties such as
CNN, Turner and HBO — or at the distribution end, like
AT&T with its vast consumer base including cell phone and
satellite users. You could be good at making shows even if you
weren’t good at getting to know individual customers and their
data.

Now, amid rapid technological change, the advantage has shifted
to companies that can do both, commissioning original programming
while also knowing a lot in real time about who is watching and
how, making informed predictions about what they might want to
watch tomorrow or next year. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, for example
— with Facebook, Google and others coming up fast — can
do both. Enterprises of this sort, the judge wrote, “have driven much of the recent
innovation in the video programming and distribution industry.”

The government’s own merger guidelines describe vertical mergers as “not invariably
innocuous,” a backhanded phrasing that points to the uphill legal
burden of showing that the case …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Afghan Ceasefire an Opportunity to Improve U.S.–Pakistan Relations

June 13, 2018 in Economics

By Sahar Khan

Sahar Khan

On June 7, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban from
June 12 to 20, which the U.S. said it would honor. The Taliban followed suit,
announcing a 3-day ceasefire coinciding with the Afghan
government’s.

Why it matters: The ceasefire’s outcome will
almost certainly impact the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace
process: As the Taliban’s first ceasefire since the Afghanistan War’s
inception in 2001, it indicates a strategic shift for how the group
might engage in talks with the Afghan government. But the ceasefire
also presents an opportunity for the U.S. and Pakistan to improve
their bilateral relationship, which has hit a nadir.

Since 2001, U.S. administrations have repeatedly asked Pakistan
to use its leverage against the Taliban to get them to the
negotiating table, even as its influence over the Taliban has waned
over the past decade. This time around, Pakistan, along with UNSC members, helped persuade the Taliban to reciprocate
Ghani’s temporary truce. That’s a positive sign for Pakistan, which
has always sought a prominent role in U.S.-Afghan
peace talks.

While the Trump administration refuses to hold direct
negotiations with the Taliban, U.S. officials are still asking
Pakistan to facilitate Afghan-Taliban peace talks, as part
of the administration’s support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned
peace process. Pakistan may not be the most reliable partner for
U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, but it is a key regional player.

The bottom line: If the U.S. hopes to end its
war in Afghanistan with a lasting political settlement, it needs to
improve its relationship with Pakistan — and hold direct
talks with the Taliban, which is part of Afghanistan’s political
fabric.

Sahar Khan is a
visiting research fellow in the Cato Institute’s Defense and
Foreign Policy Department. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A New Framework for Assessing the Risks from U.S. Arms Sales

June 13, 2018 in Economics

By A. Trevor Thrall, Caroline Dorminey

A. Trevor Thrall and Caroline Dorminey

In the past two years, Congress has tried (and failed) twice to halt American arms
sales to Saudi Arabia in response to that country’s
intervention in Yemen’s civil war. This level of concern is
historically unusual. Arms sales rarely spur much debate in
Washington, where they are viewed as a critical tool of American
foreign policy. The traditional refrain holds that arms sales
promise leverage over recipient countries, help the United States
support allies and manage regional balances of power, and generate
economic benefits to boot. With some exceptions, few have challenged the wisdom of
American arms sales practices.

In a recent study for the Cato Institute, however, we argue
that the government’s approach to arms sales is misguided.
The United States accepts as given the potential benefits of
selling weapons while underestimating or simply ignoring the
potential risks. The result has been too many arms sales to too
many countries where the risks are likely to outweigh the benefits.
Between 2002 and 2016, America delivered $197 billion worth of major
conventional weapons, equipment, and training through its Foreign
Military Sales program to 167 states worldwide. It is difficult to
imagine what sort of process would rate so many of the
world’s roughly 200 countries as safe bets to receive
American weapons. Indeed, using a “risk index” we
created to assess U.S. arms sales, we found that in this time
period, the average dollar value of U.S. arms sales per nation to
the riskiest states was higher than to the least risky states. Even
more disturbing was our finding that 32 of the 167 recipients had
risk index scores higherthan the average score of the 16
nations currently banned from purchasing American weapons.

For the United States to make more responsible use of arms
sales, the approval process needs to change. And though our initial
study focused on arms sales, the logic is the same for arms
transfers (where the United States provides weapons to states or
groups at no cost). There are often compelling reasons to consider
providing weapons even (and sometimes especially) to risky clients,
but the United States should account more carefully for both the
benefits and the costs. The easiest place to start is cases of
sales and transfers to nations engaged in conflict, fragile states,
or states with poor human rights records, as well as in cases that
do not directly enhance American national security. In these cases,
the approval process should be more transparent, the bar for
approval should be higher, and the government should do more to
monitor weapons …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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If Anyone Gets the Nobel, It’s Moon and Kim

June 13, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Donald Trump, Nobel laureate? It is a jarring vision, but one
that inched a little closer to reality after the seemingly amiable
meeting between the U.S. president and North Korean dictator Kim
Jong Un on Tuesday morning in Singapore. South Korean President
Moon Jae-in had already proposed Trump for the prize following the
Panmunjom talks between North and South Korea that preceded the
summit.

Some of Trump’s fans gave him credit for achieving peace
in our time even before the summit, chanting “Nobel, Nobel,
Nobel” at a rally in late April. But the truth is that if
there is a trip to Norway in the offing, Moon himself will be a far
more deserving winner than Trump, even if his modesty — or
cunning — means giving Trump the credit. And much as we might
dislike it, Kim probably belongs on the stage too.

Talk of the peace prize is obviously premature. Trump’s
meeting with Kim had great visuals, but there was no real deal
struck and certainly no pledge of denuclearization from the North.
And this isn’t the first summit to cause hopes to soar for
inter-Korean reconciliation.

The blusterer-in-chief
might blunder into a good deal with North Korea. But that won’t
happen without the actions of several worthier
candidates.

Still, definitive pessimism is overdone. In important ways, Kim
appears different from his father and grandfather — more
interested in economic development, more comfortable on the
international stage, and perhaps even serious about a deal, though
one that won’t come cheap.

But let’s optimistically assume that the deal does make
substantial progress — if not toward the “full and
speedy denuclearization” the Trump administration insists
upon, then at least toward a formal peace on the peninsula and a
serious thaw in relations between North and South.

Denuclearization is desirable but not essential for American
security, because a nuclear North Korea could be deterred. Thus,
understandings short of full nuclear disarmament still could leave
the peninsula more stable. A freeze on missile and nuclear
development, especially if backed by inspections, could promote
peninsular and regional peace and stability. Conventional forces
and deployments also could be adjusted to make war less likely.
Regular communication could be established. Any of these would
represent significant progress in a region where hostilities have
flared for decades.

If so, should Trump be standing on the stage in Oslo?

The theory is that by trading insult for insult and threatening
to blow up Northeast Asia, the president frightened North Korea
into coming to the table. That might seem plausible, but Kim seems
like a man confident in his power, not scared. North Koreans I
spoke with last year seemed …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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America's Entitlement Crisis Just Keeps Growing

June 13, 2018 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

One problem with living in times as interesting as these is that
important news often gets lost amid the swirl of rapidly changing
events. If you blinked last week, you may have missed the latest
report from the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare
systems. But for the sake of our children and grandchildren, not to
mention the country’s economic future, America’s
looming entitlements crisis is worth paying attention to.

Start with Social Security. This year, the system’s
trustees pegged its official “insolvency” date at 2034,
the same as in last year’s report. Unfortunately for those
under age 51, of course, we are now a year closer to that date than
we were a year ago. And unless something changes dramatically
between now and then, current law will require benefits to be
slashed by 21 percent at that point.

But focusing on that top-line number badly understates Social
Security’s real problems. Since 2009, Social Security has
taken in less in taxes than it pays out in benefits. It has been
using “attributed” interest to maintain a positive
balance. But this year, benefits exceeded both taxes and interest,
meaning that Social Security had to dip into the principal of the
Social Security Trust Fund for the first time.

A new government report
suggests that Social Security and Medicare are in even worse shape
than you thought.

Of course, all of this is merely a bookkeeping fiction. The
Social Security Trust Fund is not — and never has been
— an asset that can be used to pay benefits. Instead, it is
an accounting measure of how much money Social Security can draw
from general revenues. Since the government doesn’t have any
extra cash socked away — you may have noticed that we are
running a $21 trillion debt — any Social Security shortfall
only adds to the growing tide of red ink.

Overall, the trustees report that Social Security’s total
unfunded liabilities now exceed $37 trillion, on a
discounted-present-value basis over the infinite horizon.

And that’s the good news. Medicare is in even
worse shape. This year’s trustees’ report estimates
that the health-care program for seniors will hit technical
insolvency by 2026, three years sooner than last year’s
estimate. The program’s worsening financial condition is
traced to “higher-than-anticipated spending in 2017,
legislation that increases hospital spending,” and higher
payments to private Medicare Advantage plans. Congress also
repealed the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an
Obamacare provision that would have limited provider
reimbursements.

Again, as with Social Security, focus on technical insolvency
understates Medicare’s negative impact on the federal budget
because of its reliance on Trust Fund accounting. In actuality,
Medicare has been running …read more

Source: OP-EDS