Tuesday Reads: Too Much News!
Posted: April 4, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics
As usual, PIP Insurance Attorney is spinning after surveying the latest news reports. Where to begin?
One of the right wing’s favorite targets, Susan Rice is back in the headlines as the Trump gang continues to try to distract from the overwhelming evidence that they coordinated with Russia to get control of the U.S. government.
Secretary of everything Jared Kushner made a surprise visit to Iraq even though the supposed Secretary of State has not yet been there.
Carter Page was involved with a Russian spy in 2013. The spy thought Page was an “idiot.”
Betsy DeVos’s brother Eric Prince tried to set up backchannel communications between Trump and Putin.
Trump sold off our privacy rights and rolled back protections for women in the workplace.
Trump’s “extreme vetting” is getting so out of control that U.S. overseas tourist traffic is going to be reduced to a trickle.
Trump’s approval rating in one poll is now 34%. His transition was a disaster thanks to his own decisions to ignore the work of his transition team.
Matt Taibbi is *very concerned* about “Putin derangement syndrome” and the “tone” of the coverage of Trump-Russia connections.
The new GOP health care proposal is even worse than the last one.
Jeff Sessions ordered a review of Obama’s police reform efforts, but some local police departments are resisting, e.g., Baltimore, Chicago.
Trump will meet with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago this week and it’s likely to be a total disaster. Oh, by the way, Jared Kushner is in charge of this one too.
You can peruse those links and check them out if you haven’t read them already. I’m sure I’ve missed something important. Here are the stories that really stand out for me.
I think the Susan Rice story is really dangerous and could actually distract from the Russia investigation because of the right wing’s previous attacks on her, so here are some antidotes.
Think Progress: The totally phony Susan Rice story, explained.
Conservatives are seizing on a report that former national security advisor Susan Rice requested the identity of anonymous people named in intelligence reports, claiming that it provides evidence for President Trump’s false claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped.
Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported Monday that Rice requested the “unmasking” of third parties whose information is collected during targeted surveillance of other individuals. Conservative media jumped on the claim and reported that it corroborates Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee’s allegation that information about Trump’s transition team had been “incidentally collected” during U.S. government surveillance of foreign officials.
But the reports, which originated from the far-right, fringe corners of the internet, do not reveal any illegal activity or violation of privacy laws, a first time DUI is almost always a misdemeanor, but there are situations where a felony conviction is pursued. They also provide no support for President Trump’s still entirely-unsubstantiated claim that the Obama administration’s surveillance targeted Trump officials….
The unmasking of unidentified Americans in intelligence reports is within the scope of the job of a national security advisor like Rice. According to Kate Martin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Rice’s actions are likely legal and probably do not even raise privacy concerns if the individuals were part of the Trump transition team. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news website housed at the Center for American Progress).
When an American’s identity in a classified intelligence report is unmasked, only those who have a security clearance and the authority to view the classified information may see the unmasked report, Martin said. The information may not be shared with individual members of Congress, let alone outside the government.
Read much more at the link. This story is completely bogus.
One more from Michelle Goldberg at Slate: Appropriate Surveillance. I hope Susan Rice was keeping tabs on Trump’s Russia ties.
…even if Lake’s reporting, which relies on two anonymous sources, is completely correct, Rice did nothing wrong. There is no “unmasking” scandal. The whole thing is bullshit, a reality TV storyline jointly spun by Republicans and the right-wing media. It’s a clever bit of misdirection and mystification meant to do two things. First, it’s supposed to validate the president’s March 4 tweet claiming that Obama put a “tapp” on his phone during the presidential campaign, though it does no such thing. Second, the “unmasking” drama is meant to make it seem as if the real scandal lies in the investigation into the Trump team’s foreign contacts—which Trump would have us believe was politically motivated—and not the contacts themselves….
In fact, it would have been a dereliction of duty for the Obama administration, which was still in charge of the country’s national security, to ignore suspicious contacts by members of the Trump transition team. After all, at the time, the FBI investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian attempts to subvert the election had already begun. We also now know that Michael Flynn, who would soon assume Rice’s job, was a paid foreign agent of Turkey. According to ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, Flynn met with representatives of the Turkish government to discuss kidnapping Fethullah Gülen, a government critic who lives in Pennsylvania, and sending him back to Turkey outside of normal extradition channels. (Flynn denies that this happened.) Trump himself has alleged financial ties with Russian mobsters. At the time of the alleged unmasking, all these men were still private citizens. If they were talking to targets of American surveillance, the people in charge of our national security had an obligation to understand why.
Read the rest at Slate.
While few journalists were paying attention, Trump trashed protections for women workers. NBC News reports:
With little notice, President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that advocates say rolls back hard-fought victories for women in the workplace….
On March 27, Trump revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order then-President Barack Obama put in place to ensure that companies with federal contracts comply with 14 labor and civil rights laws. The Fair Pay order was put in place after a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation showed that companies with rampant violations were being awarded millions in federal contracts.
In an attempt to keep the worst violators from receiving taxpayer dollars, the Fair Pay order included two rules that impacted women workers: paycheck transparency and a ban on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination claims.
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Noreen Farrell, director of the anti-sex discrimination law firm Equal Rights Advocates, said Trump went “on the attack against workers and taxpayers.”
“We have an executive order that essentially forces women to pay to keep companies in business that discrimination against them, with their own tax dollars,” said Farrell. “It’s an outrage.”
Daniel Drezner at the Washington Post: The looming strategic disaster at Mar-a-Lago this week.
…after reading about the preparations for Trump’s scheduled summit with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago later this week, I have to write about this. I blame man-in-charge-of-Mexico-and-Canada-and-the-Middle-East-and-China-and-government-reform-and-criminal-justice-reform Jared Kushner.
Three stories dropped over the weekend about Kushner’s role in planning this summit. The Financial Times’ Edward Luce was first:
Though he has almost no China background, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, is leading the US preparation for next week’s meeting. His counterpart is Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador in Washington. That, alone, gives China an edge. Mr Cui is a professional diplomat who knows America well — he did his postgraduate studies in the US capital and worked as an interpreter at the UN.
Mr Kushner’s chief qualification is that he is married to the president’s daughter. Mr Cui has just one job — US-China relations. Among other things, Mr Kushner is the White House point person for Middle East peace, criminal justice reform and US business innovation.
China seems to have grasped that the best way to influence Mr Trump is via his family. Chinese diplomats have gone out of their way to court Mr Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who were their guests of honour at the Chinese new year celebration in February. China has also looked favourably on Mr Trump’s business.
The New York Times’ Mark Landler offers up some additional details that help to explain why China is working through Kushner rather than, say, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:
Mr. Kushner’s central role reflects not only the peculiar nature of this first meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi, but also of the broader relationship between the United States and China in the early days of the Trump administration. It is at once highly personal and bluntly transactional — a strategy that carries significant risks, experts said, given the economic and security issues that already divide the countries.
While Chinese officials have found Mr. Trump a bewildering figure with a penchant for inflammatory statements, they have come to at least one clear judgment: In Mr. Trump’s Washington, his son-in-law is the man to know.
China’s courtship of Mr. Kushner, which has coincided with the marginalization of the State Department in the Trump administration, reflects a Chinese comfort with dynastic links. Mr. Xi is himself a “princeling”: His father was Xi Zhongxun, a major figure in the Communist revolution who was later purged by Mao Zedong.
It’s so great that the American political system resembles China’s political system enough for the Trump administration for have its very own princeling.
Please go read the whole thing.
Finally, here’s a bit of a great piece about Kusher by Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox:
As the full freight of Kushner’s tab has come into view, observers have noted that, at best, he is overloaded, and at worse, headed under water. The trip to Iraq, on top of his new White House office and previous foreign-policy roles, only highlighted the meta administration he is running within the administration. To some, it is an ill-fated move that sets him up for certain failure. One pro-Israel operative told Politico that while “there were high hopes” that Kushner could be an effective force in the Middle East, there is now “deep concern that Jared is not the person we thought he was—that this guy who is supposed to be good at everything is totally out of his depth.” ….
Kushner seems to be treating his role in the West Wing less as a traditional senior adviser, or even as a mini-president, and more as a C.E.O. of the United States. He meets with one world leader; he stops by Capitol Hill; he starts a commission on opioids and invites former drug addicts to share their moving stories with the group; he calls up another world leader. He seemingly has his hand in everything, but those hands rarely get dirty.
Part of this, at least, is that Trump seems to want him involved in all these various aspects. According to the person familiar with Kushner and the campaign, he is a good manager, but he is an even more loyal Trump employee. “Even if he had a lot of other things going on, he did what he told him to do.”
Another part, though, is pure business strategy. As one person familiar with this strategy told me, the more balls you have in the air, the more you are able to spread your risk far and wide. “People can’t keep score as well. There are too many games going on,” the person said. “He can’t be judged on one building, like he was in real estate with 666 Fifth Avenue,” a building he bought at the helm of his family’s company for a then-record price and has recently sought buyers to help pay off looming debt. “He’s not going to be judged like he was in the media world for one paper, The Observer,” which he bought around the same time. The paper announced in November that it would stop printing and move to online only. With so many responsibilities on his plate in the White House, the person said, no one can judge him on any one thing.
That is a strategy that works for venture capitalists and C.E.O.s, especially those not entirely confident in their abilities to carry one thing over the line. Ten ideas may fail, but people only remember the one success.
“You know what the greatest deal he’s made so far has been? Ever?” the person asked me. “Marrying Ivanka Trump.
This is scary, folks. Please go read the whole thing.
So . . . what stories are you following today?