Time – “The Brief”

Tom Perez addresses the audience at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting in Atlanta, Feb. 25, 2017.

Christopher Aluka Berry—Reuters

TIME – The Brief

Perez Elected DNC Chair

Democrats have a new national party chairman and it’s Tom Perez, who was labor secretary under President Barack Obama. Perez won over Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman, in the second round of voting by Democratic National Committee members

President Donald Trump walks from Marine One to the White House Feb. 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.

FBI Talked to the White House About Its Russia Probe

FBI officials may have violated multiple existing rules governing contacts with White House officials when they spoke earlier this month with Trump’s top aide about their ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, former officials say

The late Muhammad Ali, with Muhammad Ali Jr., then 2 1/2 years old, at Miami Beach, April 15, 1975. The boxing legend's son was detained and questioned by immigration officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after returning to the U.S. from a trip to Jamaica.

Muhammad Ali’s Son Detained at Airport

Muhammad Ali’s son, who bears the boxing great’s name, was detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport and questioned about his ancestry and religion in what amounted to profiling, a family friend said

The White Helmets, a documentary streaming on Netflix, has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. Khaled Kateeb, its cinematographer, has been barred from entering the U.S.

Syrian Cinematographer Barred From U.S. for Oscars

U.S. immigration authorities are barring entry to a 21-year-old Syrian cinematographer who worked on a harrowing film about his nation’s civil war, “The White Helmets,” that has been nominated for an Academy Award

What America Has To Say About Donald Trump’s Ethics

President-elect Donald Trump smiles during a December rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo | Andrew Harnik)

President-elect Donald Trump smiles during a December rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo | Andrew Harnik)

THE NATIONAL MEMO

WASHINGTON — As lawmakers seek to force Donald Trump to release his income tax returns, a majority of Americans indicated they believed the president has done something illegal or unethical.

In a McClatchy-Marist survey asking about potential conflicts of interest between Trump’s business holdings and his duties as president, just 41 percent said he had done nothing wrong, while 53 percent said Trump has done something illegal or unethical.

Trump broke with decades of precedent and refused to release his income tax returns while running for president. He has continued to say he will make them public once tax audits are done.

Trump’s popularity ‘sinking like a rock’

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.) has tried to get the House Ways and Means Committee to request the returns and then decide whether to release them publicly under a 1924 law enacted in response to the Teapot Dome scandal.

The returns would show whether Trump had any financial ties to Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies said intervened in the presidential election to help him get elected.

The committee’s Republican majority has rejected Pascrell’s request. Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said he did not want Congress to “rummage around in the tax returns of the president.”

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month said 53 percent of U.S. voters wanted Trump to release his returns while 30 percent said he didn’t have to.

Trump turned over control of his businesses to his sons though kept ownership of them. The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., said that the arrangement “does not comport with the tradition of our presidents over the past 40 years.”

At Rep. Leonard Lance’s combative town hall meeting in Branchburg on Wednesday, constituents pressed him on Trump’s refusal to release his returns.

While Lance said Trump “should turn over his tax returns to the public,” he said Pascrell’s efforts went “too far.”

“I don’t like overreach from Congress,” he said to resounding boos. “I don’t think the Ways and Means Commitee should be investigating the returns of a private indvidual.”

The questioner, Jim Girvan, a Branchburg retiree, shot back: “He’s the president.”

The survey of 1,073 adults was conducted Feb. 15-19 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Perez fires back at Trump: I’ll be your worst nightmare

Perez fires back at Trump: I'll be your worst nightmare

© Getty Images

THE HILL

Tom Perez fired back at President Trump on Saturday after the president offered the newly elected Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman a mock-congratulatory tweet.

“Call me Tom. And don’t get too happy,” tweeted Perez, the former Labor secretary during the Obama administration.

Perez added that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), his primary rival for the DNC position that he appointed his deputy, would join other Democrats in being Trump’s “worst nightmare.”

The response came after Trump tweeted that he “could not be happier” for Perez – or the Republican Party – following the former Labor secretary’s election to lead the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party also knocked Perez in a statement referring to him as “a D.C. insider.”

“By selecting a D.C. insider, Democrats only create deeper divisions within their own party by pushing a far left agenda that rejects a majority of their base outside Washington,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.

“The DNC would be well-served to learn from two straight election cycle losses, encourage leaders in their party to listen to what the voters want and to get to work with Republicans to fix the mess they created.”

DNC members elected Perez on a second ballot during voting on Saturday in Atlanta. He won 235 votes, passing the 218 majority needed to win. Ellison took 200 votes on both ballots.

BROOKE SEIPEL

10 things you need to know today:February 25, 2017

Alex Wong/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump bashes press and appeals to patriotism at CPAC
President Trump opened his speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a tirade against the media, which he labels the “enemy of the American people.” He suggested banning anonymous sources, noting a nine-source story by The Washington Post that accurately detailed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s discussions with a Russian ambassador. Returning to campaign themes, Trump promised he’ll repeal and replace ObamaCare while rounding up “the gang members, the drug dealers, and the criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out of our country.” He closed with a rallying cry of “America First,” dismissing globalism with a reminder that there is “no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag.”

Source: The Guardian, C-SPAN

2. White House slams ‘indefensible’ reports on FBI-Russia investigation interference
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday denied reports that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus pressured the FBI to publicly refute news reports that were critical of the White House. “What you guys have done is indefensible and inaccurate,” Spicer told the media. On Thursday, CNN and The Associated Press reported Priebus asked the bureau to dispute stories about President Trump’s campaign aides’ alleged contact with senior Russian intelligence officials during the election, and that the FBI apparently denied Priebus’ request. The White House claims that while Priebus did ask the FBI to debunk the reports, it was the FBI that first approached the White House with concerns about the reports’ veracity; officials claim the FBI declined to weigh in publicly, but “gave Priebus the go-ahead to discredit the story.” The FBI has still not commented publicly.

Source: The Washington Examiner, The Associated Press

3. White House blocks The New York Times, Politico, CNN from press gaggle
The White House blocked several major news organizations from attending an informal, off-camera briefing Friday in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s office. CNN, The New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, and much of the foreign press were not allowed in the room, although conservative outlets including Breitbart, The Washington Times, and One America News Network were allowed to attend. Networks such as NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox were also included. Reporters from The Associated Press and Time boycotted the press gaggle in protest of their colleagues’ exclusion.

Source: CNN, BuzzFeed

4. Democrats set to choose new DNC chair
The 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will meet in Atlanta on Saturday to choose a new DNC chair, an important step of self-definition for a party seeking new direction after its unexpected loss of the White House in November. Seven candidates are in contention for the position, but the two favorites are Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who is backed by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has the support of Former Vice President Joe Biden as well as other high-ranking officials from the erstwhile Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign. The previous DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned in 2016 after leaked emails suggested she inappropriately favored Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic primaries. Donna Brazile stepped in as an interim chair in July.

Source: The Hill, Reuters

5. Iraq launches first airstrike against ISIS in Syria
The Iraqi air force on Friday carried out its first airstrike against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed. “We are determined to chase terrorism that tries to kill our sons and citizens wherever it is found, so we gave orders to the air force command to strike Islamic State positions in [the towns of] Hosaiba and Albu Kamal inside Syrian territory as they were responsible for recent bombings in Baghdad,” Abadi said in a statement. The Joint Operations Command said the strikes “destroyed Islamic State headquarters in Albu Kamal.” The strike, reportedly carried out in “complete coordination” with the Syrian government, follows several ISIS-claimed car bombings in Iraq and comes amid Iraqi troops’ final push into western Mosul, the terrorist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

6. Trump signs executive order creating regulatory reform task forces
On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order placing “regulatory reform” task forces within federal agencies to help identify “costly and unnecessary regulations.” The watchdog groups will have 90 days to examine existing regulations and identify which ones “can be repealed or modified,” The Hill reported. Trump signed the order shortly after reiterating his pledge to nix “75 percent of the repetitive, horrible regulations that hurt companies [and] hurt jobs” during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. At a meeting with business executives last month, Trump suggested he might cut even more than 75 percent of existing regulations. Trump has already signed an executive order that aims to slash two existing regulations for every new regulation introduced.

Source: CNBC, The Hill

7. ‘CloudBleed’ leak compromises passwords for services including Uber, FitBit, and OKCupid
A security breech dubbed “CloudBleed” because of its link to cybersecurity company Cloudflare compromised some 3,400 websites, including popular services like Uber, FitBit, and OKCupid. News of the bug broke Thursday and Friday after it was discovered by a Google researcher named Tavis Ormandy, and users are encouraged to change their passwords on affected sites even though the problem has now been fixed. Ormandy’s report indicated he was able to find “private messages from major dating sites, full messages from a well-known chat service, online password manager data, frames from adult video sites, hotel bookings,” though Cloudflare says it has “not discovered any evidence of malicious exploits of the bug or other reports of its existence.”

Source: Forbes, CNET

8. Muhammad Ali Jr. detained by immigration agents at airport
Muhammad Ali Jr., the son of legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali, was detained by immigration agents on Feb. 7 at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, his family reported Friday. Ali Jr. was traveling with his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, on his way home from speaking at a Black History Month event in Jamaica. The family’s lawyer, Chris Mancini, said both were pulled aside by immigration officials asking questions like, “Where did you get your name from?” and “Are you Muslim?” Ali Jr. was held and questioned for two hours. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the situation, which the Ali family believes is tied to President Trump’s now-suspended immigration executive order.

Source: USA Today, TMZ Sports

A DANGEROUSLY ISOLATED PRESIDENT

In the first week of the Trump Presidency, influence has run through a very select group of advisers—maybe as many as half a dozen, maybe as few as two.

In the first week of the Trump Presidency, influence has run through a very select group of advisers—maybe as many as half a dozen, maybe as few as two | PHOTOGRAPH BY CHERISS MAY / NURPHOTO / GETTY

THE NEW YORKER

The Presidential order that Donald Trump signed on Friday barring all refugees and citizens from seven Muslim countries from travel to the United States was reviewed by virtually no one. The State Department did not help craft it, nor the Defense Department, nor Justice. Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, “saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized,” CNN reported. Early Saturday morning, there were reports that two Iraqi refugees had been detained upon their arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport. When a lawyer for the men asked an official to whom he needed to speak to fix the situation, the official said, “Ask Mr. Trump.” This sounded like a sign of straight goonery and incipient authoritarianism; maybe it was. But it also may have been the only reasonable answer. Few people understood what was going on.

The order claims to protect Americans from “foreign terrorist entry,” but that was no reason for it. A wealth of data shows that immigrants from those countries have not been responsible for fatal terrorist attacks in the United States. At first, the acting spokesperson of the Department of Homeland Security said that the order would not apply to permanent residents of the United States. This seemed to be a sensible assumption; as fevered as the talk over immigration has been on the right, few have threatened a mass revocation of the rights of green-card holders. But a senior White House official later said that green-card holders would have to undergo screenings. Morally outrageous scenes followed. Homeland Security officials said that at least a hundred people had been prevented from entering the country, and many more had been stopped from boarding planes to the U.S. Those detained at Dulles International Airport, before federal judges issued stays of the order, included an Iranian couple in their eighties, both with green cards. One was legally blind, and the other had recently had a stroke; their granddaughter said that officials at the airport “weren’t treating them very well.” At O’Hare, a couple with an eighteen-month-old was reportedly detained, after a trip abroad to introduce the baby to relatives.

On Saturday, the President announced three more executive actions, one of which changed the composition of his National Security Council. Trump reserved one seat on the Council for his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the right-wing Web site Breitbart News, who has no experience in foreign relations. Trump also limited the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence, with a memo that said they will only attend meetings when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” The erasure of the line between national security and Bannon’s politics, which have included an embrace of white nationalism, was deeply troubling. But the exclusion of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence was more surprising. The President can pick anyone he wants for those positions. Trump has nominated the former Indiana senator Dan Coats to be the director of National Intelligence; the term of the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, will expire this year. The President seems to be deliberately tightening the circle around him.

In the first week of the Trump Presidency, influence has run through a very select group of advisers—maybe as many as half a dozen, maybe as few as two. The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Bannon have consolidated their influence. Kushner, who has spent his brief career running his father’s real-estate empire, reportedly has been told to lead negotiations with Mexico. Kushner was also involved in a discussion with British officials, and denounced the United Kingdom’s support of a United Nations resolution opposing Israeli settlements. According to the Washington Post, some former campaign aides “have been alarmed by Kushner’s efforts to elbow aside anyone he perceives as a possible threat to his role as Trump’s chief consigliere.” But Bannon’s portfolio may be even broader. His hand was apparent in the President’s dark Inauguration speech, in his economic nationalism, and in his early, aggressive stances against Mexico and refugees.

The President’s isolation runs deeper than that. As the confusion around the immigration ban made clear, the vast government he oversees has little input on his actions. In an interview this week, Trump said that he reads the Times, the New York Post, and the Washington Post each day, but he seems to scan them as an actor does, for reviews of his own performance. His campaign made clear that he was not interested in the findings of scientists, social scientists, or the American government. Trump’s transition has alienated him from the American public. Gallup found on Friday that fifty per cent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s performance, the highest disapproval rating on record for any American President this early in his term.

In normal times, an Administration this isolated and divorced from public opinion would seem to be fatally weak. The argument made by the President’s first week is that these conditions, combined with the general assent of a Republican-controlled Congress, might in fact create the opposite situation, freeing him to do whatever he wants.

At times this past week, the theatre of the Administration has seemed to be as large as the Oval Office; at others, it has seemed smaller still, about the size of the President’s own head. “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on . . . I will send in the Feds!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday evening. In fact, a large team from the Department of Justice had recently been in Chicago, where it delivered an indictment of the excesses of the Chicago Police Department, connecting them to the collapse of trust between residents and officers, which in turn enabled a rise in crime.

But that report hadn’t prompted the President’s tweet. What had? It turned out that Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show had just aired a segment on crime in Chicago. The President had seen something that moved him on a news program, and then he had reacted. The tweet was one of the least significant Presidential gestures of the past week. But it served as prelude for some of the darker ones. At times, the only figure in the room may be Trump himself, with the blue glow of his television screen.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells

CPAC attendees seen waving Russian flags

THE HILL

People attending the Conservative Political Action Conference could be seen waving small Russian flags emblazoned with the word “Trump” during President Trump’s speech.

It appeared to be a prank. CPAC workers quickly began to collect the flags after they were being waved.

Snapchat’s Peter Hamby captured some of the action in a tweet:

Trump’s ties to Russia have dominated the news during his nascent presidency.

The intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential election to help Trump, and Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign has blamed Moscow for her loss.

Just last week, Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned after leaks about his own discussions with Russian officials.

ALI BRELAND AND TAYLOR LORENZ

10 things you need to know today: February 24, 2017

Alex Wong/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Bannon tells CPAC attendees Trump will keep his promises
White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon on Thursday made his first public appearance since taking the post, taking the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss their collaboration in President Trump’s West Wing. Bannon urged conservatives to unite behind Trump as he fights to keep his promises and push for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” “We want you to have our back,” he said. Bannon also backed up Trump’s attacks on the media as the “opposition party,” saying clashes between the “corporatist, globalist media” and the administration would only get worse. Trump is scheduled to address CPAC on Friday.

Source: The Washington Post, The Hill

2. Malaysia says banned VX nerve agent killed Kim Jong Nam
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed using VX nerve agent, Malaysian police said Friday. VX was listed as a banned chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005, but North Korea is not a party to those agreements. South Korea has blamed North Korea for the murder of Kim Jong Nam, who had been critical of hereditary rule in his home country. Pyongyang has angrily denied any involvement, but experts say the use of VX supports the theory that a state was behind the killing, because it takes a sophisticated weapons lab to make VX. Malaysian police have arrested three people in connection with the murder, including one North Korean, and are searching for seven other North Koreans in connection with the case.

Source: The New York Times, Reuters

3. Trump says U.S. nuclear arsenal must be ‘top of the pack’
President Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that he wants to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure that it is “at the top of the pack.” “A dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” Trump said. Currently, Russia has 7,300 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 6,970, according to the anti-nuclear Ploughshares Fund. The new strategic arms limitation treaty, known as New START, requires both countries to hold their strategic nuclear arsenals at equal levels for 10 years, as of Feb. 5, 2018.

Source: Reuters

4. Mexican leaders confront Tillerson over Trump policies
Mexican leaders on Thursday expressed their government’s objections about Trump administration policies, such as the proposed border wall and increased deportations of undocumented immigrants, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said the policies could be “hurtful to Mexicans,” and that more talks were needed to “overcome the negative feelings that are prevailing now.” Tillerson downplayed the tensions, saying that “two sovereign countries from time to time will have differences.” Kelly sought to ease tensions by vowing that there would be “no mass deportations.”

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

5. Treasury secretary says to expect ‘very significant’ tax reform by August
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he hoped Congress would pass “very significant” tax reform by August. In his first TV interview since assuming the post, Mnuchin told CNBC that tax cuts and deregulation would increase economic growth by three percent by the end of 2018. President Trump has promised to unveil his tax plan by early March. “We are committed to pass tax reform, it will be very significant,” Mnuchin said. “It’s going to be focused on middle income tax cuts, simplification and making the business tax competitive with the rest of the world.”

Source: CNBC, BBC News

6. FBI refused Priebus’ request to refute Russia reports
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to refute recent news reports that said Donald Trump’s advisers were in constant contact with known Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, several White House officials told CNN and The Associated Press on Thursday. Priebus reportedly made the request after the FBI told the White House it believed a New York Times report last week on the alleged contacts, discovered in intercepts by U.S. agencies, was inaccurate, although the FBI rejected the request and had not stated any position on the matter publicly as of Thursday. Democrats accused the White House of violating rules against trying to interfere in an FBI investigation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the White House “didn’t try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth.”

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

7. Former House Speaker Boehner says GOP will fix, not replace, ObamaCare
Former House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he believed that Republicans would not be able to completely repeal and replace ObamaCare, saying that is “not what’s going to happen.” Boehner, who retired in 2015 under pressure from hardline conservatives, said Republicans were more likely to fix problems with the existing law, the Affordable Care Act. “They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it,” he said at an Orlando health care conference. Angry constituents have been peppering Republican lawmakers at town hall meetings in their home districts, saying they feared the GOP would take away their current coverage without an adequate replacement.

Source: Politico

8. Trump meets with manufacturing CEOs on increasing U.S. jobs
President Donald Trump met with 24 CEOs from the country’s largest manufacturing companies on Thursday to discuss cutting taxes and regulations, and how to encourage companies to increasing jobs in the U.S. instead of moving them abroad. “Everything’s going to be based on bringing our jobs back, the good jobs, the real jobs,” Trump said during the White House meeting. “I’m delivering on everything that we’ve said.” Trump spoke favorably about a GOP plan to propose an export-boosting border adjustment tax. He said it would boost U.S. jobs, although large retailers such as Walmart and Target oppose it. “All the CEOs are very encouraged by the pro-business policies of President Trump,” Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris said after the meeting.

Source: The Washington Times, Los Angeles Times

9. India leader expresses shock over possible Kansas hate crime
India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said Friday that she was “shocked” by the fatal shooting of an Indian immigrant engineer by a man who, according to a witness, said, “Get out of my country,” before opening fire. The victim, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was having a weekly drink with a friend, Alok Madasani, who was injured in the attack. Another bar regular was injured when he tried to intervene. Adam Purinton, 51, was charged Thursday with one count of premeditated first degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first degree murder. The killing led news reports in India, where critics said the crime suggested President Trump’s “America First” policies were fueling intolerance. Federal authorities are investigating the killing as a possible hate crime.

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

10. Beyoncé drops out of Coachella, citing advice from doctors
Beyoncé will forgo her planned performance at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, event organizers announced Thursday. The pop star, who announced last month she is expecting twins with husband Jay Z, cited doctors’ advice to “keep a less rigorous schedule in coming months” as the basis for the decision. In lieu of leading the Coachella 2017 lineup, Beyoncé will headline the 2018 festival. Her replacement for this year has yet to be announced. Beyoncé has not revealed her due date, but as she was already showing at her performance at the Grammys on Feb. 12, many predicted she might drop out of Coachella. She was slated to headline on both April 15 and April 22 of the two-weekend-long affair in Indio, California.

Source: Coachella, Pitchfork

TrumpBeat: Is Trump Already Messing With Government Data?

TrumpBeat

FiveThirtyEight

Welcome to TrumpBeat, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly feature looking at how developments in Washington affect people in the real world. Want to get TrumpBeat in your inbox each week? Sign up for our newsletter. Comments, criticism or suggestions for future columns?

When then-President Barack Obama promised, in his 2010 State of the Union address, to “double our exports over the next five years,” experts were skeptical — and with good reason. Obama didn’t even come close to achieving that goal. Even today, two years after Obama’s five-year deadline expired, exports are up only about 30 percent since early 2010.

So mark that down as a failure for Obama. But at least we know he failed — the data is right there on the Census Bureau’s website. There is reason to doubt whether the Trump administration will be equally transparent.

The Wall Street Journal this week reported that the White House was considering changing the way the government calculates the trade deficit. Specifically, the proposed change would affect how the government accounts for “re-exports” — products that are imported into the U.S. and then sold to customers overseas. Right now, re-exports are a wash for the trade deficit because they count on both sides of the equation (as both imports and exports). The Trump administration, according to the Journal, is weighing whether to count them as imports but not as exports, which would make the overall trade deficit look larger.

From an economic perspective, the change makes no sense — it’s the equivalent of Starbucks accounting for the cost of buying coffee but not the revenue from selling it. But politically, it could serve Trump’s purposes by making the deficit (and therefore U.S. trade policy) look worse than it really is. That could make it easier for Trump to push through protectionist trade policies.

It isn’t clear whether any of this will ever happen; the first month of Trump’s administration has been full of rumored policy moves that haven’t materialized. But the mere idea points to a larger concern about President Trump’s commitment to reliable data. During the presidential campaign, Trump famously questioned the validity of the unemployment rate (“one of the biggest hoaxes in politics”) and other government statistics, and in the weeks before he took office, many experts fretted about the possibility that Trump could seek to erode or manipulate government data.

Now we’re seeing the first hints that could be happening. Last week, the Journal reported in a separate story that some in the White House were trying to fit economic forecasts to the administration’s tax and spending plans, rather than the other way around. Trump’s newly confirmed budget director, Mick Mulvaney, once voted to eliminate funding for the American Community Survey, the Census Bureau’s premier source of annual data. And scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have complained about efforts — now on hold — to remove data on climate change from the agency’s website.

It’s much too soon to declare that Trump will undermine government data. But it’s not too soon to start paying attention. After all, that data is often the only way to know whether Trump — or any president — is keeping his promises.

Here are some of the major policy developments from the past week:

Immigration: This is going to cost a lot

Two new memorandums from the Department of Homeland Security this week made clear that Trump intends to follow through on campaign promises to ramp up deportation of undocumented immigrants. They also made clear that he’s going to need a lot of money if he wants to turn those intentions into reality.

The policies call for some very expensive changes, even without taking into account the multibillion-dollar wall he’s proposed along the southern border. Among the most costly are the hiring of 15,000 enforcement and border patrol agents (never mind that hiring freeze) and a move to keep immigrants locked up while they await deportation. The current budget for 2017 requests $3.83 billion for 21,070 Customs and Border Patrol employees, meaning adding another 5,000 agents, as Trump requested, would likely run upwards of $900 million. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requested $3.1 billion for removal and enforcement, before the proposed increase of 10,000 agents and additional removals. That doesn’t even include the cost of building additional housing for CBP agents, who are often assigned to remote areas, or purchasing equipment.

Meanwhile, detaining more immigrants for longer periods of time could easily tally up to billions of dollars a year. The Department of Homeland Security requested $1.75 billion to fill about 31,000 beds. Trump’s call to both expand who can be deported and to keep deportees locked up while they wait could easily quadruple or triple that number. Trump can take some initial steps by moving around some funds, but achieving his larger goals will take action from Congress — and a lot of taxpayer dollars.

Health care: The closer its demise, the more popular Obamacare gets

The Affordable Care Act is the most popular it’s been since 2010, according to a new poll out Friday. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking opinions of the ACA since it passed, found that 48 percent of people had a favorable view of the health care law this month, up from 43 percent in December. That shift is largely due to a change of view among political independents – just 18 percent of people identifying as Republicans had a favorable view of the law, the same as in December. Among independents, however, favorability rose from 42 to 50 percent. There was a slight increase among Democrats as well, though most of them already supported for the law.

Other polls have come to the same conclusion in recent weeks. On Thursday, the Pew Research Center released a survey showing majority approval for the law for the first time since it passed. A Fox News poll found that 50 percent of survey respondents felt favorably towards the law, up from 41 percent the last time they polled in 2015. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released last week, 45 percent of people thought the law was “a good idea,” the highest percentage since that poll began asking that question in April 2009 (and 4 percentage points more than people who thought the law was a “bad idea”).

A January poll from NPR/Ipsos might help explain what’s going on. The poll showed about an even split on support for the law, but among those who wanted it repealed, most wanted it replaced with something else. The “replace” part of “repeal and replace,” however, has proved thornier than some Republicans expected.

Meanwhile, there’s one subject with resounding, bipartisan support: Medicaid. In the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, the majority of respondents from all parties felt that the expanded insurance program for the poor should stay in place (in states that expanded Medicaid coverage, as allowed under the ACA), no matter what comes of the law overall.

The environment: The cost of regulation

Scott Pruitt was sworn in as EPA administrator on Feb. 17, bringing the era of speculating about what he might do in the role to a close. Now we get to watch what he does do. One of the first things on Pruitt’s agenda: doubling down on the idea that previous administrations have unnecessarily pitted environmental protection against job creation. In his introductory speech to agency employees on Tuesday, Pruitt positioned himself as the person who will set the EPA on a new course. “We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and we can be pro-environment,” he said.

This is an interesting claim because the groups opposing Pruitt and his agenda basically agree: They, too, think the apparent conflict between environmental regulation and jobs is a false dichotomy. But whereas Pruitt argues that regulations have killed jobs, his opponents disagree. Or, at the very least, they don’t think the rules have been bad for the economy as a whole.

Take this 2015 report by the the Office of Management and Budget, which looked at the economic impacts of new EPA rules between 2004 and 2014. The agency implemented 32 major rules during that period, including the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, one of the many EPA provisions that Pruitt fought as Oklahoma attorney general. The estimated costs of those rules ranged from $38 billion to $45 billion, in 2010 dollars. The estimated benefits to the national economy: $160 billion to $788 billion.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also has something to say about this. Looking at data on mass layoff events — incidents in which at least 50 unemployment claims are filed against a company in the span of five weeks — only a tiny portion are attributed by employers to government regulations. In 2010 and 2011, employers categorized 0.2 percent of layoff events this way. In 2012, it was 0.3 percent. This covers all layoffs — environmental rules, specifically, are presumably responsible for an even smaller share of job cuts.

But the economic impact of a regulation is not a simple thing to calculate. We are, after all, talking about impacts that affect the nation (and regions of it) in complex, and often indirect, ways. A butterfly flaps its wings in Washington and some jobs are lost in Peoria while others are gained in Seattle. And the jobs gained are not necessarily accessible to the people who lost out. There’s evidence from academic research that, while environmental regulation benefits the economy overall, people in specific sectors and locations really do suffer. Ultimately what’s at issue is less about whether environmental regulation is good for the nation and more about whether it’s good for, say, Oklahoma.

 

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Google is suing Uber for allegedly stealing a key self-driving car technology

uber-being-sued

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Google just filed a lawsuit against Uber that will have huge implications for the future of self-driving car technology.

Google has been working on self-driving cars since 2009, and for a long time the company practically had the field to itself. But in the past couple of years, the market has gotten a lot more crowded.

One of the newcomers was Otto, founded by Google veterans in January 2016 to create technology for self-driving trucks. By August, the company had developed its own self-driving technology and had sold itself to Uber, expected to be one of Google’s major self-driving car competitors, for an eye-popping $680 million.

If Otto had developed self-driving technology from scratch in less than a year, that would have been a remarkable technological feat. But in a new lawsuit, Google’s self-driving car division, recently renamed Waymo, charges that the Otto team directly copied technical details of Waymo’s technology, likely violating Waymo’s intellectual property rights in the process.

The stakes are couldn’t be higher for Uber. Last summer, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick admitted that self-driving technology was an existential threat to the company. “We’ve got to do some catch-up,” he said.

At the same time, Uber’s industry-leading ride-hailing network is likely to make it one of the most formidable threats to Waymo ambitions in the self-driving car market. So it was almost inevitable that these two technology giants would eventually face off against each other in the marketplace. Now Waymo has an opportunity to hobble its would-be competitor in the courts before either company even reaches the market.

Waymo says a former employee stole the designs for a key technology

In a Thursday post on the company blog, Waymo describes how it discovered that Otto may have stolen Waymo’s technology. “One of our suppliers specializing in lidar components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s lidar circuit board ,“ Waymo writes. The plans bore striking similarities to Waymo’s own design.

Waymo says it then conducted a forensic analysis of former employees’ hard drives and discovered that one of Otto’s co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, had downloaded 9.7 gigabytes of confidential Waymo data to an external hard drive before he left the company. Included with this data were the design files for Waymo’s proprietary lidar system.

Lidar is a powerful sensor that has emerged as a key component in self-driving car technology. It uses a sequence of laser pulses to build a 3D, 360-degree map of the environment around a vehicle. Lidar technology is commercially available, but Waymo says it has developed its own advanced version that is less expensive and better suited to self-driving applications than off-the-shelf technology.

For example, Waymo says that though commercially available lidar systems use separate lenses for sending out laser signals and receiving a return signal, it figured out how to use the same lens for both. Not only does that reduce the number of components in Waymo’s lidar, it also greatly simplifies manufacturing because it eliminates the need for each pair of lenses to be painstakingly aligned.

Waymo charges that Otto not only copied Waymo’s lidar technology for its own self-driving truck technology but also passed along the design to Uber’s year-old effort to build self-driving cars, an effort Waymo characterized in its lawsuit as floundering. Indeed, Waymo says that Levandowski met with Uber executives on January 14, 2016, two weeks before he resigned from Waymo and before he officially launched Otto.

California is unusual for its refusal to enforce noncompete laws, and as I wrote earlier this month, this quirk of California law may explain Silicon Valley’s unusual entrepreneurial culture. This means that if Otto’s co-founders had contented themselves with using the information they carried in their heads — re-implementing key Waymo technologies from scratch using knowledge they developed while at Waymo — they likely would have been on safe legal ground.

But the law is less forgiving when an employee takes detailed technical plans to precisely replicate a former employee’s technology. Waymo is suing Uber for violating trade secret laws, and those laws are absolutely enforceable in California.

On top of that, Waymo has patented several key aspects of its lidar design, and it charges Uber with infringing those patents.

I’ve emailed Uber for comment and will update if I get a response.