‘their aim was to sow chaos’
On the climate crisis
In response to criticism that the administration’s efforts to help Puerto Rico – in what’s essentially a full-blown “humanitarian disaster” on an island still mostly without power or potable water – has been lackluster and unfocused, President Trump has “intensified his personal involvement,” vowing to visit the island next week and ramp up spending to help rebuild its devastated (and outdated, even before the storm) electrical grid. As Vox reports, it’s difficult to gauge the extent of the damage, because communications on the island are still mostly down, but “photos show whole communities with roofs torn off, second floors of houses ripped apart, water flooding the streets, and people resorting to waiting in long lines for clean water and fuel.” And as The New York Times reports, “In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico” – meaning most of the agriculture that takes place on the island has been decimated.
RECOMMENDED: That same Vox article mentioned above, which contains a list of relief-and-recovery organizations you can donate to.
North Korea – the world’s most dangerous game of chicken
Following Trump’s speech to the UN last week and threats made on Twitter, North Korean state media “released propaganda videos showing U.S. planes and an aircraft carrier under attack” on Sunday – just a day after a massive anti-US rally attended by tens of thousands of North Koreans was held in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square.
On Monday, North Korea again raised the stakes: its foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, “accused US President Donald Trump of declaring war on his country” via Twitter, and claimed the right to “shoot down the United States strategic bombers at any time even when they are not yet inside the aerospace border of our country.” That very specific threat is likely in reference to the Saturday flight of US bombers over “waters east of North Korea” – which is, as the Pentagon claims, “the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that US fighters or bomber aircraft have ever flown this century.” Also in response to that flight, North Korea began “bolstering its defenses by moving aircraft to its east coast and taking other measures” according to one South Korean official.
At The Atlantic, Uri Friedman asserts that despite the verbal tit-for-tat, both the US and North Korea “have been taking actions that tell a different story than the apocalyptic rhetoric does.”
On Tuesday, Trump softened his rhetoric in an apparent attempt to ease tensions, thanking China “for helping rein in North Korea and [claiming] that international pressure on the nuclear-armed outlaw nation is beginning to work.” As The Washington Post reports, “just before Trump spoke…the Treasury Department announced new sanctions on eight North Korean banks, 26 people in China and three other countries” that the White House claims are linked to North Korea. These sanctions come in addition to sanctions announced last week.
At The American Conservative, Charles V. Peña wonders, “is it time for Japan to go nuclear?”
This week in Russia, elections, and social media
The Associated Press reports that the Department of Homeland Security has informed 21 states – including some key political battlegrounds, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin” – that they were “targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia.” Despite the widespread nature of the attack, “only Illinois reported that hackers had succeeded in breaching its voter systems.” On Tuesday, the DHS told Wisconsin it was not, in fact, targeted during the election, as it previously reported – bringing the number of targeted states down to 20.
Speaking of Wisconsin: a study conducted by a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist “concluded 16,800 to 23,250 voters” in Dane and Milwaukee counties – traditionally Democratic strongholds – didn’t vote due to the state’s stringent voter ID requirements. And: Gill v. Whitford, potential landmark case on gerrymandering that’s set to go to the Supreme Court next week, also centers around voter policy and legislation in Wisconsin.
The IRS “is now sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller about” Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and former national security advisor Michael Flynn. The IRS’s Criminal Investigation division had initially resisted Mueller’s requests due to questions over the scope of Mueller’s investigation, but “the two camps reached an agreement following consultation with officials at the Treasury Department,” according to CNN.
The focus of some of these investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has in the past few weeks been on the role of social media, and in particular, Facebook. As The Washington Post’s Daily 202 newsletter (which you can sign up for here) reports, “Russian operatives used thousands of targeted Facebook ads during the 2016 election to exploit U.S. racial and religious divisions, highlighting the sophistication of Moscow’s influence campaign.” Ads supporting progressive or social justice groups like Black Lives Matter were sent to conservative users, with the goal of “heighten[ing] tensions between groups already wary of one another.” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) summed it up succinctly: “Their aim was to sow chaos.” And as NPR reports, it still is: there were examples of Russians operatives trolling “the ongoing national debate over free speech and protest in the National Football League” to “jam a crowbar into existing American political divisions and wrench them further apart.”
On Wednesday, as Donald Trump was attacking Facebook (on Twitter, ironically) as “anti-Trump,” news was breaking that executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google were asked to testify before both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in their efforts to how Russia used social media “to sow discord and influence our election.” The Senate’s hearing is set for Nov. 1st; the House hearing does not yet have a date. And by the way, that attack by Donald Trump? It was answered personally by Mark Zuckerberg – on Facebook.
Related (but only tangentially): according to emails obtained by Buzzfeed News, just days before Steve Bannon took over Donald Trump’s campaign, he “plotted to plant a mole inside Facebook.”
Despite revisions to the bill meant to win her over, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her opposition to Lindsey Graham’s and Bill Cassidy’s healthcare proposal on Monday, effectively killing the bill. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) said last week they’d vote no. In an official statement announcing her intention, Collins wrote that “sweeping reforms to our health care system and to Medicaid can’t be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target” – a reference to the speed with which changes were being made.
That same day, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a partial analysis – partial because it did not have the time to complete a full one – concluding that, while the new bill, if made law, would reduce the budget deficit by “at least $133 billion,” it would also leave millions of people without coverage. The exact number is hard to pin down, according to the analysis, because it depends “on how states implemented the legislation.”
On Tuesday, Senate leadership canceled a vote scheduled for Wednesday, acknowledging that “we don’t have the votes” (from Bill Cassidy, co-sponsor of the bill), but insisting they would return to the bill after tackling tax reform. In the meantime, the beginnings of a bipartisan healthcare plan, shelved during this Graham-Cassidy saga, is being revived, championed by Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington state and is actually, as of Thursday, “on the verge” of being finalized, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
At the Daily Beast, Gideon Resnick and Sam Stein inventory the Trump administration’s “months-long effort to unwind Obamacare.”
At the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson argues that “the Affordable Care Act is a failed political product,” and admitting it is the first step to a serious, bipartisan discussion about a solution.
Tax plan revealed
On Wednesday President Trump unveiled his very-much Republican tax reform proposal at a rally in Indiana, asserting that it was “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to establish a tax code that’s “pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-family, and yes…pro-American.” Despite such populist rhetoric, what’s actually in the plan would seem to benefit corporations and the very rich, while potentially shifting some of the burdens associated with a healthy, functioning society to the middle and lower classes: the proposal calls for slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, and for lowering the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. In addition, the plan would collapse the seven tax brackets into just three, and create “a new, 25 percent rate for so-called pass-through businesses” – like hedge fund firms – “that are currently taxed at the individual rate.”
You can view the full plan here (it’s only nine pages long).
On the heels of a POLITICO exclusive reporting that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior advisor, used a private email account for official White House business, The New York Times reported that “at least six of President Trump’s closest advisors occasionally used private email addresses to discuss White House matters.” Those named were Stephen Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and current head of Breitbart News, Reince Preibus, the former chief of staff, Gary Cohn, the administration’s top economic advisor, Stephen Miller, and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.
On Monday, the Trump administration released yet another travel ban, causing the Supreme Court to abruptly cancel an Oct. 10th hearing on a previous version. The newest version is, as NBC News reports, basically the same as previous ones, with a few tweaks made to address old criticisms: five of the original six banned countries are still on the list – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – but Sudan is off. North Korea – which hardly ever sends folks to the US – is now on the list, as are people associated with the burgeoning dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Chad, too, an African country partnering with the US to address terrorism in that region, is on the list.
Former Alabama state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore sent a clear message to establishment conservatives in Washington on Tuesday when he won a special runoff election against Alabama’s appointed US Senator Luther Strange by 10 points. Moore, a Trump-like figure whose “virulent anti-gay, right-wing views” – among many other controversial or downright backwards beliefs – made him unpalatable to mainstream Republicans, will face Democrat Doug Jones, a former US attorney, in a December election.
Violent crime rose in the US for the second straight year, the first time since 2006 such an increase took place. Last year, incidences of violent crimes rose 4.1 percent, while in 2015, they increased 3.9 percent. These numbers, driven primarily by big cities, represent the largest spikes in violent crime since the early 1990s. But don’t forget: these are increases over historical lows, meaning violent crime is still much lower than it was in every previous decade.
The Trump administration is planning to “allow no more than 45,000 refugees into the United States next year,” which would be the fewest refugees resettled in the country in more than a decade. The Obama administration had previously proposed upping the number from the approximately 85,000 refugees resettled in 2016 to 110,000 this year.
On Wednesday, just hours after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit, “rockets were fired at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport from an unknown location,” according to CNN. On Thursday the Taliban took responsibility for the attack, claiming that Mattis had been the target.
header image: "puerto rico national guard," the national guard / flickr