Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

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 moves to weaken black lung protections

President Donald Trump is considering weakening a regulation intended to protect the health of one of the demographics he has often claimed to care most about — America’s coal miners.

A notice labeled “Regulatory Reform of Existing Standards and Regulations; Retrospective Study of Respirable Coal Mine Dust Rule” was published on Thursday by the White House for the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The stated purpose of the reevaluation would be to determine how a 2014 rule passed under President Barack Obama regulating coal miners’ exposure to coal dust “could be improved or made more effective or less burdensome.”

When the rule was first implemented, it utilized new technologies and increased sampling in mines so that workers would have real-time information about dust levels. This would in turn allow both the miners and operators to minimize the chances that workers would be overexposed to coal dust, which has caused an epidemic of black lung disease among coal miners.

In spite of a 1969 law that increased coal mine safety requirements, more than 76,000 coal miners throughout America died of black lung disease between 1968 and 2014. Many of those deaths occurred among coal miners whose entire mining careers took place after the 1969 law had taken effect.

In response to the announcement that the coal dust rule would be reevaluated, the National Mining Association released a statement saying, “While we’ve not had any discussions with the agency regarding the retrospective study, we think it might shed valuable information on operation of the rule since its promulgation and ways it might be improved to provide further protection for miners while eliminating unnecessary implementation requirements for operators.”

Meanwhile a spokesman for mining company Murray Energy — whose owner, Bob Murray, was a major Trump backer in the 2016 election — released a statement saying that it is “pleased that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is reexamining the Obama administration’s Respirable Dust Rule, which fails to protect coal miners in any way.”

Although coal mining has been on the decline in Appalachia over the past few years, that isn’t as a result of Trump’s policies. Part of that is something Trump can’t control. And part of it is something Trump doesn’t want to control. The chief struggle facing coal miners is that natural gas, solar and wind power can outcompete coal due to their low cost and abundance. Making matters worse for coal miners themselves, the coal mining jobs are often the best-paying ones in their area, and job retraining programs have a spotty track record of actually helping individuals who use them.

This latest policy undermines Trump’s longstanding claim to be an ally of coal miners, which he bragged about when he pulled out of the Paris climate accord. “I happen to love the coal miners,” Trump proclaimed at the time.

Trump may have let his true feelings about coal miners be known during a Playboy interview in 1990, however.

“The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” Trump told Playboy. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.'”

[Salon]

Saudi Arabia, UAE Pledge $100 Million to Ivanka Trump’s Ethically Questionable Fund

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $100 million to the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund, an initiative proposed by first daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump. The fund, which was first announced in April, has already raised serious legal and ethical questions about how a White House adviser can both shape foreign policy and actively solicit donations from foreign countries for the fund.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the initiative would provide technical assistance and investments for projects that support the economic empowerment of women around the globe. Ivanka Trump does not control the money, though she first pitched the idea to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and has discussed the idea with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Sunday, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim praised “Ivanka’s leadership” in spearheading the fund, and called it “a stunning achievement.”

President Donald Trump was extremely critical of Saudi Arabia’s contributions to the Clinton Foundation while campaigning against Hillary Clinton, going so far as to call for Clinton to return all the money given to the foundation, both in speeches on the campaign trail and during the October presidential debate.

“You talk about women and women’s rights. These are people that push gays off business — off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly, and yet you take their money,” Trump said during the debate. “So I’d like to ask you right now. Why don’t you give back the money that you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly? Why don’t you give back the money. I think it would be a great gesture.”

The Clinton Foundation has received between $10 million and $25 million from Saudi Arabia. A foundation spokesperson said during the campaign that the foundation did not accept any donations from Saudi Arabia while Clinton was Secretary of State. Trump also accused the foundation of “pay-to-play” schemes during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

He has not, however, spoken about the legal and ethical concerns associated with Ivanka Trump’s World Bank initiative. Since Ivanka works as a senior adviser in the White House, it’s possible that she could be involved with foreign policy decisions relating to the countries that have donated to the fund. It’s not illegal or unprecedented for presidents or their families to engage in philanthropy while in the White House, but such efforts are required to go through a lengthy approval process to ensure that there is no sort of special access or influence given in exchange for donations.

“The approval process is elaborate, because of the many risks, including illegal quid pro quos when the private partners contribute large sums of money. Then there is the risk of giving those partners special access and influence, which is wrong and in some cases illegal,” Norm Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama told ThinkProgress via email when the World Bank first announced the fund in April.

During her visit to Saudi Arabia, Ivanka Trump also met with Saudi women, including business leaders and government officials, to discuss “women’s economic empowerment.” Trump is in the country as part of her father’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an extremely oppressive society for women, who are not allowed to drive, and must obtain permission from a male “guardian” in order to travel or marry.

In the meeting, Trump called Saudi Arabia’s progress on women’s rights “encouraging.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s meeting was met with some criticism from Saudi Arabian activists. “If Ivanka is interested in women empowerment and human rights, she should see activists, and not just officials,” Aziza al-Yousef, a 58-year-old activist who has campaigned to end the country’s guardianship rules, said.

[Think Progress]

Trump Administration Proposes Massive Cuts to Drug Czar Office

The Trump administration is looking to slash the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) budget by nearly 95 percent, according to a memo obtained by CBS News.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has proposed major ONDCP budget cuts for fiscal year 2018 that would cut 33 employees, nearly half the office staff, along with intelligence, research and budget functions at the agency, as well as the Model State Drug Laws and Drug Court grant programs.

The cuts were outlined in OMB’s “passback” document, a part of the budget process where the Office instructs federal agencies to draw up preliminary budgets that are subject to Congressional approval. It was uploaded to MAX Collect, the OMB’s budget database.

The document also zeroes out funding to a number of grant programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and the Drug-free Communities Support Program. These grants are “duplicative of other efforts across the Federal government and supplant State and local responsibilities,” the memo states.

HIDTA serves as a catalyst for coordination among federal state and local enforcement entities, and funds task forces in 49 states across the country. It is considered a vital tool used by law enforcement agencies to go after very high profile drug dealers and conduct in-depth interagency investigations.

The drug free communities support program is the nation’s largest drug prevention program and funds 5,000 local anti-drug community coalitions across the country. This program has also enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order last month to create a presidential commission to tackle the national opioid commissions, chaired by New Jersey Governor Christ Christie. The Order stated that the ONDCP would be providing support for the Commission.

“I have been encouraged by the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid epidemic, and the President’s personal engagement on the issue, both during the campaign and since he was sworn into office,” the ONDCP’s Acting Director, Richard Baum, wrote in an office-wide email.

“However, since OMB’s proposed cuts are also at odds with the fact that the President has tasked us with supporting his Commission on Combatting drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.”

“These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking, and if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to ONDCP’s mission and core activities,” Baum wrote.

The staff was notified of the cuts Friday after Baum and top aides were notified of the draconian cuts last Thursday. According to a source familiar with the discussions, Baum has been in close contact with Jared Kushner, who heads up the White House Office of American Innovation.

Baum had hoped to convince the Office of American Innovation that the ONDCP is an essential tool in combatting the opioid epidemic. The discussions did not go as planned.

“The budget process is a complex one with many moving parts,” The White House said in a statement to CBS. “It would be premature for us to comment – or anyone to report – on any aspect of this ever-changing, internal discussion before the publication of the document. The President and his cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of tax payers’ hard-earned dollars.”

(h/t CBS News)

Trump Has Done Complete 180 on Fed Chair Yellen

President Trump’s interview with The Wall Street Journal played out along a week-long spectrum of policy shifts that prompted an unprecedented use of the word “whiplash” in the Washington pundit class.

Sandwiched between salacious stories about White House palace intrigue (Steve Bannon in or out?), increasing risks of military conflict with North Korea and the use of a really big bomb in Afghanistan, were notable economic and financial policy pronouncements.

These included his support for renewing the U.S. Export-Import Bank, recognition that China is not currently guilty of “currency manipulation” and expressing new-found nuance about the double-edged benefits of U.S. dollar strength. All represent important and welcome steps along the presidential learning curve.

But the economic revelation with the most far-reaching impact was the president’s apparent willingness to consider re-appointing Janet Yellen to a second term as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

During the campaign, Trump had accused her of being overtly political, having artificially created a bubble to support the Obama agenda, having undermined retirees’ savings and bluntly stated that he “would most likely replace her.” So when he told the Journal that he liked her and rejected the assertion that her chairmanship was “toast,” one could argue that this was a huge surprise.

In fact, Trump’s potential support for Yellen could easily have been foreseen. Of all the alternative potential Fed chair candidates currently being promoted by the president’s party, none would provide the president with the experience and the steady hand that Yellen’s reappointment would present. Still, neither experience nor stability have been highly prized by President Trump.

What is important are her previous statements, intellectual leanings and actual actions taken at the helm of the central bank that make it abundantly clear that a second Yellen Fed would be more cautious about aggressively hiking rates that could risk Trump’s own economic growth agenda than would any GOP-favored conservative candidate to take her place.

The fact is, for all the focus on foreign and social policy issues, Trump, like others before him, may find his political fortunes could turn on whether he can maintain and even accelerate the economic expansion he inherited from his predecessor.

He will also quickly learn that political success is often linked to figuring out how to give the people what they want while also figuring out how to pay for it. Or, if you can’t pay for it, how to borrow, preferably, on the best terms possible. That is one of the few areas where the president’s previous experience and skill set should serve him well.

In spite of Republican assertions that they would be the party to rein in the debt, the most likely outcome of budget negotiations and tax reform is either continued stalemate and paralysis or spending money on things people want and not entirely paying for them. The GOP may squeal, but borrowing and spending is in Trump’s blood.

Even Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, formerly of the House Freedom Caucus, called the president’s promises to cut the federal debt “hyperbole” and argued that he was not concerned about the budget deficit impact of either infrastructure spending or tax reform, two of the largest and costliest government reform initiatives currently contemplated by the administration.

One of the many new complexities Trump is grappling with is the fact that the portion of the Fed’s mandate for price stability and its independence to pursue that mandate often conflict with fiscal efforts to stimulate growth and spend to achieve political goals. Monetary policy can be used as a dampener on broad fiscal expansion efforts precisely by design.

In fact, efforts to strip some independence from the Fed stem not from a political desire to force the Fed to loosen its potential policy constraints on potentially expensive government spending but from ideological conservative opponents of the Fed’s failing to more aggressively use monetary policy to constrain overheated economic growth, not from doing so too often.

Republican critics of Janet Yellen’s leadership argue that she has not already taken the punch bowl away, not that she has done so too quickly. President Trump is quickly learning that his stated affection for “the low interest rate policy” is not necessarily in line with the views of many conservative candidates jockeying for position to succeed Yellen.

Of all the rumored names in the running to become Trump’s Fed nominee, all are more hawkish on monetary policy than the current chair. Among the names circulating is that of John Taylor, whose eponymous Taylor Rule many conservatives would like to see enacted into law, potentially resulting in steeper and faster rate hikes than even the most hawkish of other candidates have proposed.

Perhaps to gain favor with the president’s less hawkish leanings, potential candidates are said to be circling within the Washington and New York power bubbles, now arguing that they would not actually be as hawkish as their previous rhetoric might suggest.

Janet Yellen’s tenure at the Fed has been one of the most difficult in modern Fed history. Yellen inherited from her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, monetary policy that had migrated into highly unorthodox territory, as a means of stabilizing and growing an economy decimated by the housing crisis and the great recession.

Yellen’s task was to plot and execute an exit from unorthodox monetary policy, while balancing the need to restore fragile economic confidence, reduce unemployment, maintain acceptable inflation and grapple with global financial stability risks that could have undermined the U.S. recovery.

By any measure, Chair Yellen’s measured tapering and return to more conventional monetary policy has been a triumph of prudence and balance. Perhaps it is her steady hand and experience that have begun to enamor her to Donald Trump. Perhaps it is a surprising personal chemistry that was sparked in their two reported face-to-face meetings, maybe the result of their common New York outer-borough roots.

Or, perhaps it is simply that President Trump is focused on the one thing he knows well: money and the cost of debt. Under Yellen, the Fed is projecting two more hikes in 2017 and three more next year, with perhaps as many as four the year thereafter.

Even a monetary policy neophyte like our president is quickly becoming aware that any conservative alternative to Yellen will likely promote a less cautious, steeper and more rapid hawkish monetary policy agenda that could endanger his economic growth story and raise the costs of his potential spending plans.

Seen through that prism, President Trump’s potential support for reappointing Janet Yellen was not surprising at all.

(h/t The Hill)

Trump: NATO Is ‘No Longer Obsolete’

President Trump on Wednesday said that NATO is “no longer obsolete” — a big change after Trump repeatedly called the alliance obsolete on the campaign trail.

At a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump said that he will continue to work closely with NATO allies, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism.

“The secretary-general and I had a productive discussion on what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism,” Trump said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change and now they do fight terrorism.”

“I said it was obsolete,” he continued. “It is not longer obsolete.”

During the 2016 campaign and after his election, Trump frequently criticized NATO as “obsolete” and knocked allies for not paying their “fair share.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, Trump reiterated his call that NATO allies “meet their financial obligations and pay what they owe.”

He said he discussed with Stoltenberg his desire that allies fulfill their responsibility to spent 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

Trump will travel to Brussels to attend a NATO summit on May 25.

(h/t The Hill)

Media

In Major Reversal, Trump Says China ‘Not Currency Manipulators’

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he no longer believes China manipulates its currency, a complete shift from the position he repeatedly took during his 2016 campaign.

“They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump told the the Wall Street Journal during an Oval Office interview.

The reason he changed his mind, the president said, was because China has stopped manipulating its currency in recent months and the accusations could jeopardize U.S. negotiations with China to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Trump’s flip flop comes just days after the president hosted his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago in southern Florida.

Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would instruct his Treasury Secretary to label China “a currency manipulator.” And as recently as 10 days ago, he told the Financial Times that China was the “world champion” of currency manipulators.

The official label would need to be included in a semiannual Treasury report expected this month.

(h/t NBC News)

Trump’s Budget Director Convinced Him to Cut Key Program Because ‘He Didn’t Know’ What It Did

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget contained a lot of cuts to key programs that help Trump’s own voters, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission that has been responsible for helping slash high poverty rates in rural America.

In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said that he was able to convince Trump to slash the Appalachian Regional Commission and similar programs in his proposed budget because he had no idea what the program did.

“My guess is he probably didn’t know what the Appalachian Regional Commission did,” Mulvaney said of Trump. “I was able to convince him, ‘Mr. President, this is not an efficient use of the taxpayer dollars. This is not the best way to help the people in West Virginia.’ He goes, ‘Okay, that’s great. Is there a way to get those folks the money in a more efficient way?’ And the answer is yes. And that’s what’s we’re going focus on doing.”

Harwood then asked Mulvaney if Trump was aware that his budget cuts might hurt his own voters — and Mulvaney responded that the best way to help all voters was to spur higher economic growth.

“I think what the president will tell you is, ‘The best thing I can do for those folks, whether or not they voted for me, is to figure out a way to get 3.5 percent economic growth,’” he said.

Elsewhere in the interview, Mulvaney said he’s working on getting Trump on board with making some changes to Social Security, including the disability benefits program, which he said has “become effectively a long-term unemployment, permanent unemployment program.”

(h/t Raw Story)

Trump Saves Carrier Jobs at Expense of Taxpayers

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump visited a factory in Indiana on Thursday to kick off a “thank you tour” for his election win and celebrate persuading air conditioner maker Carrier Corp to preserve around 1,000 jobs in the state rather than move them to Mexico.

The Republican businessman toured the plant in Indianapolis and shook hands with workers on an assembly line. He was due to make remarks there later in the day.

In an early victory for Trump before he takes office on Jan. 20, Carrier said this week it agreed to keep more than 1,000 jobs at the plant and at its headquarters, while still planning to move more than 1,000 other U.S. jobs to Mexico.

Trump made keeping jobs in the United States one of the main issues of his election campaign and frequently pilloried Carrier for planning to ship jobs overseas as he appealed to blue-collar workers in the Midwest.

Though the company is still outsourcing Indiana jobs to Mexico, the deal marks a quick win for Trump, who has spent most of his time since the Nov. 8 election in New York building his team ahead of the handover of power from President Barack Obama.

Carrier confirmed that Indiana agreed to give the company $7 million in tax incentives. A source briefed on the matter said the tax incentives are over 10 years and the company has agreed to invest $16 million in the state, which is run by Governor Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president-elect.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters the Carrier deal is proof that “this administration is going to make good on our promises to keep jobs here in America.”

But Carrier, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N),

still plans to move 600 jobs from the plant to Mexico, the Wall Street Journal said. Reuters reported earlier this week Carrier also still intends to close a factory in Huntington, Indiana, that employs 700 people making controls for heating, cooling and refrigeration and move the jobs to Mexico by 2018.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic primary to Clinton, said the Carrier deal is incomplete and leaves the incoming Trump administration open to threats from companies.

“Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives,” Sanders wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece on Thursday.

He noted that Trump had originally said he would save 2,100 jobs that Carrier planned to move to Mexico.

“Let’s be clear: It is not good enough to save some of these jobs,” Sanders said.

Despite Trump’s deal, employers elsewhere in Indiana are laying off five times that many workers because of foreign competition.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim said on Thursday that if Trump succeeds as U.S. president, it would benefit major trading partner Mexico because of increased employment and U.S. economic growth.

(h/t Reuters)

Reality

Trump will be called a hero from his supports for saving 1,100 jobs, while completely ignoring that the salaries will be paid for almost entirely by the taxpayers of Indiana.

Instead of taxing Carrier to prevent jobs from leaving, as Trump promised during the campaign, instead he is doing the exact opposite by giving them millions of dollars in tax cuts at the state level, while the company’s top five executives are still making more than $50 million dollars a year each.

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