Trump orders Postal Service review after blasting Amazon deal

After accusing Amazon for months of not paying its fair share of postage, President Trump has ordered a review of the US Postal Service’s finances via an executive order issued late Thursday night. The order calls for a task force to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS. The order does not mention Amazon by name, but it seems clear that Trump is trying to back his claim that the USPS is losing “many billions of dollars a year” due to the financial arrangement with its biggest shipper of packages, or about $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.

Trump may very well be correct regarding the numbers, although his rage seems misplaced. Experts, and even Trump’s own advisers, have said that the enormous volume of packages shipped by Amazon have helped keep the Postal Service afloat. Rather, the long, slow decline in junk and first-class mail are the reasons for the USPS’s mounting financial losses. Trump’s executive order acknowledges this.

“A number of factors, including the steep decline in First-Class Mail volume, coupled with legal mandates that compel the USPS to incur substantial and inflexible costs, have resulted in a structural deficit,” the president says in the order. “The U.S.P.S. is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It’s unclear how quickly the task force will begin its review, but it has 120 days to respond to the president with a summary of its findings and recommendations. Trump created a similar commission last year to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election — a claim thoroughly debunked by election experts from both parties. The commission was dissolved in January.

Trump often screams “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter after The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishes incriminating stories about Trump or his administration. Last week Trump calledThe Post “Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’” a claim he’s fond of repeating. And during his presidential campaign, Trump saidthat Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem” and “is getting away with murder, tax-wise.” It all makes you wonder what Trump’s real angle is.

[The Verge]

 

Trump’s push to redo $1.3T spending bill he signed sparks GOP revolt

A regretful President Donald Trump wants to roll back spending in a massive omnibus bill he signed into law, but Republicans who helped craft the legislation are in open revolt.

“My attitude is, your word is your bond,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said, in his first public comments on the Trump plan.

Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is among more than a half-dozen appropriators who have voiced skepticism about the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel billions in spending. Nearly all said they feared that it could erode the GOP’s bargaining power in future budget talks. Their objections represented another low point in an often-tense relationship between the cost-cutting White House and GOP members of Congress who write spending bills.

The skeptics included the newly appointed Senate Appropriations chief, Richard Shelby, who met with Trump on Wednesday.

“We need to look at what we agreed on with the other side and keep our word, keep our agreements,” the Alabama Republican told POLITICO just before his one-on-one with Trump.

He added that the Senate has had little appetite for the idea in the past: “Rescissions has never been a big thing over here.”

The White House is seeking to essentially take a scalpel to last month’s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, scratching out any funding that Trump doesn’t personally back.

Budget experts have said a rescissions package of that scale would likely be unprecedented: One party’s leaders in Congress and the White House have never before unilaterally agreed to unravel a spending deal that has already been sealed.

“I think the whole rescission effort is unrealistic and dangerous,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime appropriator, told reporters. “It’s hard enough to make a bargain around here. But you can’t break your word when you do. … You’d never have another deal ever.”

Multiple lawmakers, including Cole, said they don’t believe House GOP leaders are taking the idea seriously — despite Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s own involvement in the budget scheme. They think it’s really being pushed by Trump’s belt-tightening budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Most are doubtful that the cutbacks could even land a floor vote.

“It seems like this is just an exercise in appeasing the president and the Republican ‘no’ votes on the omnibus,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told reporters.

“We could have made the original budget framework smaller. I would have been fine with that,” Dent said. But he cautioned that going back on the agreement now, months later, would have a “chilling effect” on future deals.

Republicans, particularly in the House, have little desire to revisit the unpopular spending deal, H.R. 1625 (115), in an increasingly dire midterm campaign cycle. The package included huge boosts to domestic funding, which GOP leaders worked hard to sell to their own members in the name of securing more Pentagon funding.

Ultimately, 90 House Republicans backed the spending bill, in part because they were promised cover by the White House.

But Trump’s 180-degree reversal on that deal left the Republican lawmakers who backed the omnibus feeling spurned. Trump further infuriated members of his own party after he threatened to veto the bill and accused GOP leaders of choosing to “waste money” in the bill.

Those same Republican leaders have sharply disputed Trump’s claim that there was no close scrutiny of spending. “When you put together a $1.3 trillion bill, you look into all these accounts,” Frelinghuysen said in defense of the bill.

“You don’t throw your friends under the bus who did exactly what you wanted them to do,” Cole said, calling it a “hare-brained scheme.”

Just one appropriator out of nine polled by POLITICO this week expressed interest in a rescissions package.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who oversees Agriculture spending, said he was “absolutely” open to the idea.

“We’re all just getting back, we gotta sit around the table and talk about it, but I don’t dismiss the idea at all,” said Aderholt, who is in a tight race to take over as House Appropriations chairman next year.

No lawmaker has seen any details out of the White House or GOP leadership about which programs would be cut. The Trump administration would have until mid-June to submit its request, after which it would be up to the House Appropriations Committee to turn the package into legislative language.

That work would need to be done at the same time the Appropriations panels are knee-deep in drafting bills for fiscal 2019, which begins Sept. 30.

And with an already abbreviated House calendar this year, lawmakers say there’s hardly time or interest to jump back into the previous fiscal year.

“We’ll see how that comes together. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to happen, but we’ll see if it does,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have accused the GOP of “buyer’s remorse” after the most recent spending deal. And Democrats are already cautioning that Republican efforts to walk back this year’s spending deal would be seen as an attempt to void the entire two-year budget agreement.

Without that agreement, which also delivered huge increases in defense spending, the Pentagon’s budget would actually shrink next year.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said he won’t decide whether to support a rescissions package until he sees the details. But he added that Congress’ spending panels tend to take the blame for the nation’s mounting debt — even though nondefense discretionary spending accounts for just 15 cents out of every dollar spent by the government.

“At Appropriations, we’re the most visible and easy target,” he said.

[Politico]

Trump asked CIA official why drone strike didn’t also kill target’s family

President Trump reportedly asked an official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) why they didn’t kill a terrorist target’s family during a drone strike.

The Washington Post reported Thursday after watching a recorded video of a Syrian drone strike where officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”

The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties.

Trump called for the CIA to start arming its drone in Syria and reportedly asked for it to be started in days.

[The Hill]

Reality

All four Geneva Conventions from 1949 contain “Common Article 3,” which applies to “armed conflict not of an international character.” What does that mean? The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 2006 case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, ruled that “armed conflict not of an international character” means a war that is not fought against a sovereign state. (A sovereign state simply means a country with a recognized government.) Since groups like ISIS are not considered sovereign states, that means that Common Article 3 applies to the current war on terrorism.

According to Common Article 3, people who are taking no active part in the hostilities “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely… To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever … violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.”

Experts said this language would make Trump’s approach a violation of the Geneva Conventions, assuming that the family members were not taking part in terrorist activities.

Trump Insists U.S. Has Trade Deficit With Canada After Tapes Leak of Him Admitting It Doesn’t

President Donald Trump is now apparently doubling down on false comments that he admitted saying to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

After The Washington Post obtained audio of Trump telling Republican donors about a meeting with Trudeau in which he asserted that we have a trade deficit with Canada, a claim that the president admitted he had “no idea” was right or wrong at the time, the president tweeted this statement:

“We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive),” Trump wrote. “P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!”

As many have pointed out, Trump’s own government acknowledges that U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada — of $12.5 billion:

To recap: The president had, by his own admission, “absolutely no idea” whether the U.S. had a trade deficit with Canada; he and Trudeau had to send people out of the room to find out the facts, they came back and said that, as Trudeau claimed, there was no trade deficit; then, Trump tweeted that there actually is a trade deficit with Canada, despite there being audio evidence of him admitting the opposite; his conclusion that there is a trade deficit is because “almost all countries” have one, “and that’s how I know!”

[Mediaite]

Reality

Trump’s own administration says we have a trade surplus with Canada..

 

NRA says Trump opposes gun control after ‘great’ meeting

Donald Trump accepting the NRA endorsement.

US President Donald Trump Thursday met with the powerful National Rifle Association, which later said he opposed gun control — despite Trump’s remarks to the contrary a day earlier at the White House.

Trump tweeted Thursday night he had a “great” meeting with the NRA, one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington, as the debate on gun control rages on in the wake of the Florida school shooting, which killed 17 two weeks ago.

“Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!”, Trump tweeted of the unannounced meeting, without offering further details.

NRA Executive Director Chris Cox, meanwhile, echoed Trump’s sentiments, and added Vice President Mike Pence was also present.

“We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control,” he wrote on his official Twitter account.

At a meeting with lawmakers from both parties just the day before, Trump — known for inconsistency — offered suggestions on gun control that were surprisingly tough for a Republican.

He called out his own party for being “petrified” of the NRA and voiced support for expanded background checks, more secure schools, curbs on the ability of the mentally ill to buy firearms and raising to 21 the age for buying certain guns.

[Yahoo]

Trump’s Plan to Solve the Opioid Crisis Might Involve Executing Drug Dealers

While signing a bill that aims to combat the opioid crisis last month, President Trump hinted that he’d come up with the solution to the complex problem, but couldn’t talk about it.

“There is an answer. I think I actually know the answer, but I’m not sure the country is ready for it yet,” Trump said. “Does anybody know what I mean? I think so.”

No one knew what he meant. “Yeah, I wondered about that,” said Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who was at the signing. “I didn’t follow up and ask.”

Many dismissed the comment as more of Trump’s regular, incoherent ramblings. However, now it seems the president may actually have a secret plan to fight the opioid epidemic, beyond hiring a 24-year-old ingenue as his deputy drug czar and an ad campaign that was supposed to launch during the Super Bowl but didn’t come together in time. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports that he’s been telling friends for months that drug dealers should face the death penalty, citing policies in Singapore and the Philippines.

“He says that a lot,” said a source. “He says, ‘When I ask the prime minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem [the prime minister replies,] ‘No. Death penalty’.”

Trump is reportedly convinced that the key to ending America’s drug problems is making dealers fear for their lives and kids fear that even trying drugs will kill them — but he’s also acknowledged that the U.S. probably won’t pass a law mandating that all drug dealers be executed.

Kellyanne Conway, who is leading the administration’s anti-drug efforts, told Swan that Trump’s plan is more nuanced. “The president makes a distinction between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend,” she said.

In lieu of mass executions, the White House may push to toughen drug-sentencing laws. Per Axios:

Trump may back legislation requiring a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for traffickers who deal as little as two grams of fentanyl. Currently, you have to deal forty grams to trigger the mandatory five-year sentence. (The DEA estimates that as little as two milligrams is enough to kill people.)

Singapore has some of the strictest drug laws in the world. Police can perform random drug tests and those who test positive can face years-long sentences. Those caught with more than a few grams of certain drugs are presumed to be trafficking, and in higher quantities offenders are sentenced to death. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte instituted a brutal crackdown on both drug dealers and drug users in 2016. While the government claims that fewer than 4,000 suspects have been killed, Human Rights Watch puts the number at more than 12,000.

Trump has made it clear that unlike his predecessor, he has a cosy relationship with Duterte. He invited him to visit the White House, ignored questions about human-rights abuses during their first meeting in the Philippines, and congratulated him for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” during a phone call. It was assumed that this was all part of Trump’s general admiration for authoritarian leaders, but perhaps he’s been taking more specific policy inspiration.

[New York Magazine]

Reality

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” The general principles the United States Supreme Court relied on to decide whether or not a particular punishment was cruel and unusual were determined by Justice William Brennan.[4] In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), Justice Brennan wrote, “There are, then, four principles by which we may determine whether a particular punishment is ‘cruel and unusual’.”

  • The “essential predicate” is “that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity,” especially torture.
  • “A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion.” (Furman v. Georgia temporarily suspended capital punishment for this reason.)
  • “A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society.”
  • “A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary.”

And he added: “The function of these principles, after all, is simply to provide means by which a court can determine whether a challenged punishment comports with human dignity. They are, therefore, interrelated, and, in most cases, it will be their convergence that will justify the conclusion that a punishment is “cruel and unusual.” The test, then, will ordinarily be a cumulative one: if a punishment is unusually severe, if there is a strong probability that it is inflicted arbitrarily, if it is substantially rejected by contemporary society, and if there is no reason to believe that it serves any penal purpose more effectively than some less severe punishment, then the continued infliction of that punishment violates the command of the Clause that the State may not inflict inhuman and uncivilized punishments upon those convicted of crimes.”

Continuing, he wrote that he expected that no state would pass a law obviously violating any one of these principles, so court decisions regarding the Eighth Amendment would involve a “cumulative” analysis of the implication of each of the four principles. In this way the United States Supreme Court “set the standard that a punishment would be cruel and unusual [,if] it was too severe for the crime, [if] it was arbitrary, if it offended society’s sense of justice, or if it was not more effective than a less severe penalty.”

‘I just don’t know what that means’: Trump gets completely lost during meeting on school shootings

President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to get completely lost during a discussion on preventing school shootings being held at the White House.

During the talk, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill talked about active measures that schools can take during shootings that can go into effect automatically without the police even being on the scene.

“We also have countermeasures that can be employed by the sheriff’s department within seconds to contain the attacker and in a sense turn the attack on them,” Hill said. “That is a critical piece.”

A confused Trump asked him to explain the concept of countermeasures.

“I just don’t know what that means,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know what that means.”

Hill proceeded to give him an example to illustrate it.

“If you are in a hallway, with an active shooter in a hall, and he’s going around looking for targets, you got the doors locked, and somebody is monitoring and, for example, they have smoke canisters that can come in and blind to shooter, which distracts them,” he said. “That gives time and, you know, that critical time when he is allowed looking for targets.”

Trump still didn’t seem to understand the concept, however.

“In the meantime, he’s shooting everybody, though,” the president said.

“Well, in this particular school, they’re locked down,” Hill patiently explained.

[RawStory]

Media

Trump insists on arming teachers despite lack of evidence it would stop shootings

In the past 24 hours, Donald Trump has thrice backed a plan to arm teachers in US schools despite the lack of evidence showing this would end school shootings.

Facing opposition from the country’s largest teachers’ unions, school security guards and military veterans, the president continued to endorse the plan in White House meetings and on Twitter.

“I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump said Thursday morning in a meeting about school safety at the White House.

In the Thursday meeting, the president suggested offering bonuses to teachers who are trained to carry concealed weapons.

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said at a Wednesday night listening session with loved ones of people killed in mass shootings.

There are few examples available of armed citizens stopping mass shootings and it is difficult to track, in part because it is difficult to know what a gunman was planning before they were stopped.

A 2014 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of US active shooter incidents in the US between 2000 and 2013 said of the 160 total incidents examined, 21 were stopped by citizens, workers or off-duty police officers. Of the 21 people, six were armed.

An active shooter incident is defined as a shooting that occurs in a confined, populated area and in which law enforcement or citizens could affect the outcome based on their response. Shootings related to gang violence, accidents and suicides were not included in the tally.

The majority of the 160 incidents, 56.3%, were ended by the shooter before police arrived. Either the shooter committed suicide, stopped shooting or fled the scene. “The FBI recognizes that seeking to avoid these tragedies is clearly the best result,” the study concluded.

Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers was immediately opposed by the nation’s largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – as well as the teachers’ union in Florida’s Broward County, where last week’s shooting took place.

Individual teachers criticized Trump’s suggestion on social media under the #ArmMeWith campaign. There, teachers asked that the money that would be needed to fulfill Trump’s plan instead be used to improve schools resources such as mental health services and basic classroom supplies.

A former assistant principal who stopped a shooting at a high school in Mississippi while armed told the New York Times the experience left him with nightmares and acute stress for six months afterward.

“It doesn’t matter what a pistolero you are, or think you are,” Joel Myrick said. “You don’t need to be in school in charge of protecting children.”

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), the nation’s largest school policing group, also said it opposed arming teachers. They noted law enforcement officers responding to an incident may mistake armed personnel not in uniform as the assailant. They also emphasized how law enforcement officers receive ongoing practice in high-stress and difficult shooting environments.

At the Wednesday listening session, Trump also described a situation where there would simply be more armed people on campus – not just teachers.

“They may be Marines that left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force,” Trump said. “And they’re very adept at doing that. You’d have a lot of them, and they’d be spread evenly throughout the school.”

Veterans disputed this claim on Twitter.

Jay Kirell, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, said it was “extremely difficult” to shoot under stress. “Cops & soldiers literally get paid to do this & most of them can’t shoot accurately under stress,” Kirell tweeted.

Daniel Riley, an infantryman in the Marines who attended Columbine high school, guessed how many Marines would have been needed to prevent students being killed at his alma mater during the 1999 attack.

“Using my knowledge of both, my guess on what it would take to prevent kids from being killed on 4/20/99: at least 20 Armed Marines (And it’s still a maybe),” Riley said. “And that’s somehow ‘common sense’?”

Trump’s proposal ignores the efficacy of gun laws in other countries where there are far fewer incidents of gun violence.

[The Guardian]

Donald Trump Argues He Never Said ‘Give Teachers Guns’ Before Pushing To Give Some Teachers Guns

President Donald Trump elaborated on his proposal to arm 20 percent of teaching staff at schools in a series of tweets Thursday.

Trump first made the proposal during a listening session with students and parents affected by mass shootings, including some from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed last week.

Trump denied he ever suggested giving teachers guns, before arguing “only the best” teachers ― like ones with military experience ― should be given guns.

Since Trump first mentioned the idea Wednesday, some teachers have taken to Twitter to push back, arguing they don’t want the responsibility of keeping a gun in their classrooms. But Trump continued to push the idea Thursday morning.

Trump argued a “sicko shooter” wouldn’t try to stage an attack on a school known for having armed teachers.

Trump again said he’d push for improvements to the federal background check system. Earlier this week, the White House signaled support for the Fix NICS Act, a bill that seeks to address flaws in the national criminal background check database. The bill has the support of both gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association, but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.

[Huffington Post]

 

 

 

Donald Trump’s DACA Tweet Gets it All Wrong

Donald Trump seemed to spend most of his day on Saturday glued to Twitter, and following a morning of tweets musing about the “unfairness” of abuse accusations to the men accused and playing up his own victimhood, the president went on the offensive attacking both Democrats and facts, all in one Tweet (the new 240 character limit goes a long way).

There are multiple problems with this, beginning with the fact that DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that offers legal status to undocumented immigrants who arrived to the US as children—did not exist until 2012.

Some quick background that Trump did not seem to have access to before he tweeted: since the early 2000s, several variations of a bill known as the DREAM Act, which was designed to offer temporary legal status to individuals who were children when they arrived in the United States, were introduced in Congress. It wasn’t until September 2007, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, but notably not the White House, that the bill seemed to have any real shot. It passed the House and won a majority of votes in the Senate but was blocked by a Republican filibuster. In 2010, when the Democrats did control all three branches, the bill was supported by a majority of both houses and President Barack Obama, but, again, blocked by a Republican filibuster. Notably, while some Republicans crossed party lines to support that version of the bill, the current top three House Republicans did not support it, and the current GOP Senate leadership cadre, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted against killing the filibuster that Democrats needed to beat to make the bill a law.

The DACA program itself was created in 2012 when Obama issued an executive order to enforce the provisions of what had been proposed in the legislation.

[Mother Jones]

Reality

So many things wrong:

  1. The White House, the Senate and the House are not the three branches of government.
  2. Obama wasn’t president in 2008.
  3. Republicans blocked DACA legislation in 2010.
  4. DACA executive order didn’t exist until 2012.
  5. It was Trump who unilaterally broke the program.
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