DC Deciphered is starting to feel like a broken record on this, but once again, we’ve had a week of news dominated by the Russia story. Though this week definitely stood out from the pack, as we finally saw concrete, indisputable evidence that at least one member of the Trump family – along with advisers at the top level of the Trump campaign – knew at least year ago that Russia was working to help get Trump elected and that they eagerly accepted that help. So the attention on Russia was certainly well placed this week.
A secondary story – though one of more immediate urgency – was the Senate health care bill, which was unveiled in version 2.0 Thursday morning. The Senate made a few small tweaks to the original bill in order to try to bring some more Senators on board, along with one large change – adding the Cruz amendment – in order to bring on a group of reluctant conservatives. Now they plan to rush the bill to a vote next week. With those two huge stories going, there wasn’t much room for other news. But there was other news this week. So what else happened that you might have missed?
1. Trump’s FCC – led by Chairman Ajit Pai – plans to overturn Obama’s net neutrality rules. DC Deciphered has covered this topic in several previous posts, including in one of the blog’s earliest entries, before Trump even took office.
Pai formally proposed his plan back in May, and right now the FCC is in the midst of the formal comment period that is required before any rule change can take place. This past Wednesday, a group of major tech companies – including Google, Facebook and Amazon – held a protest against the FCC’s plan to reverse this rule. The comment period ends July 17. Until then, any member of the public (including you!) can go to the FCC website to give their opinion on the plan. (The official name of the new rule is the “Restoring Internet Freedom Act.” Of course).
2. While it was nice to see tech companies mobilize on Wednesday, there’s been some disappointment from many opponents of Pai’s plan that companies like Facebook, etc have mostly been quiet in this fight. The tech industry was much more vocal the first time net neutrality was up for discussion – i.e. when the rule was being passed – forcefully pushing in its favor. So why are they so quiet now that it’s being overturned? A new revelation from Axios might give us a clue:
Republican House leadership told Facebook, Google and Amazon that overly aggressive net neutrality activism could make it harder to work together on other policy issues the firms care about, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.
Axios points out that while these tech companies support net neutrality, many of them are large companies that can survive with or without net neutrality. On the other hand, there are other issues where they need the support of Congress to get their priorities passed. So bottom line, it’s not worth incurring the wrath of Republicans on this issue when there are other issues they care about more.
3. And a new poll shows overwhelming support for the concept of net neutrality among Republicans generally and among Trump voters specifically – as long as you didn’t call it “net neutrality.” For example, the question “People should be able to access any websites they want on the internet, without any blocking, slowing down, or throttling by their internet service provider,” received a “yes” from 90% of Republicans and 88% of Trump voters. Other questions along those lines received nearly as high levels of support.
But even when you simply ask whether respondent favor or oppose “net neutrality”, a slight majority of Republicans overall support net neutrality, as do a plurality of Trump voters. So you have to wonder whose interests Republicans are serving with the push to overturn these regulations.
4. Trump’s travel ban is back in the news! Late last night a judge in Hawaii loosened the restrictions on the family members that may enter the country from the six countries that are part of Trump’s ban. As a refresher, a couple weeks ago, the Supreme Court placed a partial stay on the nationwide injunction which had been blocking Trump’s ban from being implemented. The Court said that the ban could go into effect, but only for people who don’t have a “bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.”
The Trump administration then put out their guidelines for who would be exempted from the ban under that standard. They did not exempt grandparents or grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or cousins, though they did oddly exempt in-laws. (Their list also did not originally include fiance/e, but the Trump administration quickly corrected that).
These guidelines were challenged by Hawaii along with 15 other states. Last night, Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii said that:
The Government’s definition represents the antithesis of common sense. Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents.
He also said that aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins can’t be banned.
Judge Watson, by the way, is the judge who placed the original restraining order on the travel ban back in March, which eventually led to an appeal in the 9th circuit and then (along with the 4th circuit appeal) to the Supreme Court.
5. Back in the 5/12 What Did I Miss, DC Deciphered told you about Sinclair Broadcasting, which is a conservative broadcasting company and the country’s largest owner of local tv stations. At the time, it was reported that they had just made a deal to buy Tribune media, so they were soon to own many more tv stations. This was disconcerting news for progressives, because Sinclair inserts their own conservative newscasts onto its tv stations distributing their content to many unsuspecting viewers. With this Tribune deal, Sinclair stations will be in somewhere around 70% of local markets around the country.
Anyway, now it’s being reported that Boris Epshteyn, one of the most aggressive Trump campaign spinmeisters (to put it kindly) will appear on Sinclair stations nine times a week. He’s already been appearing on their stations three times a week, but apparently that’s not quite enough Boris for Sinclair. So now their local audiences will be treated to his Trump world view multiple times a day.
Epshteyn’s segments are “must runs” so all the Sinclair stations across the country will air them along with their other “must run” segments like conservative commentary from Mark Hyman and the “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments.
6. The NY Times reports that Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner have gone to two “businessmen” for alternative proposals to the Pentagon’s Afghanistan plan. One of the businessmen is Erik Prince, who founded the private military contracting firm Blackwater, which became notorious for troubling incidents during the Iraq War.* So notorious in fact that it no longer goes by the name Blackwater and is now known as Academi (after a brief pitstop at the name Xe Services). Prince has since sold his stake in the company, but is still involved in recruiting “armies for hire.”
The other businessman is Stephen Feinberg, who owns his own military contracting company, DynCorp International. Can you guess what their recommendations were? If you guessed that it involves relying on a whole bunch of private contractors, you win a prize!
7. And this is of course completely unrelated to the preceding story, or to any specific presidential administration, but . . . political scientist Julia Azari makes a pretty good argument that political amateurs are a threat to democracy. I like where she’s going with this, but hope that she’ll round it out some more at some point in the future:
Democracy is hard. It’s not as simple as picking an election date and site and counting up the votes. It also requires thinking about how different perspectives and stakeholders will be integrated into a system, what to do with the losers of a particular process, and how to balance individual freedom with community concerns. The practice of democracy requires dealing with the reality that disagreement is bound to crop up anytime you get more than one human being in a discussion.
8. And this poll got a fair amount of attention on social media this week, but I wanted to put it here for anyone who missed it, because I think it’s part of an extremely disturbing anti-intellectual trend on the right overlapping with with a smearing of colleges as “indoctrination” factories for liberalism. 58% of Republicans say colleges have a negative effect on the country, versus 36% who say they have a positive effect.
What’s especially scary about this is how quickly this trend has caught on in recent years. Just 2 years ago, 54% of Republicans said colleges had a positive effect.
P.S. Check out the numbers they gave the media . . .
9. The Hill reports that the Trump administration is making plans to keep a campaign promise to fill Guantanamo Bay prison – which Obama had tried to close down – with “bad dudes.” This led to a very funny headline mishap:
10. And finally, here’s a cute and inspiring story about how a Seattle high school student scored an interview with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The student, Teddy Fischer, noticed a photo in the Washington Post that accidentally showed Mattis’ phone number on a slip of paper (the photo was later removed).
So he texted Mattis, stating who he was, that he was from Mattis’s home state, Washington, and that he was writing an article on US foreign policy. (Fischer wasn’t — at the time.)
Fischer saved the number in his phone as “Jim M.” A week later, while in his journalism class, Fischer looked down at his phone to see “Jim M’ calling.
Mattis agreed to an interview with Fischer. And though Fischer expected the interview to last only a few minutes, Mattis ended up speaking to him by phone for 45 minutes.
Near the end of the interview, Fischer asked Mattis why he called him back, out of all the people who want to talk to him.
“You left a message there and I was going through listening to the messages and deleting them,” Mattis said. “But you’re from Washington state. I grew up in Washington state on the other side of the mountains there on the Columbia River. I just thought I’d give you a call.”
*Erik Prince is also known for being the brother of Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy Devos.