Mexican FM: Lopez Obrador, Trump to Target Flow of Arms to Mexico

Mexico’s foreign minister said Saturday that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, had agreed to take swift action to stem the flow of illegal weapons from the United States into Mexico. 

Lopez Obrador told Trump on a phone call, “I want to propose to you that both our countries use technology to close the border, to freeze the traffic of arms that is killing people in Mexico,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters. 

“And Trump responded that he thought it was a good idea that this could be done using technology,” Ebrard said, adding that existing technology could be used for this objective. 

Lopez Obrador told Trump “he was very concerned” that gang members were using .50 caliber armor-piercing rifles during the breakout of violence in the northwestern city of Culiacan after 
Mexican authorities attempted to arrest Ovidio Guzman, one of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s dozen or so children. 

There was no need to change laws in the United States in order to stop the illegal flow of weapons into Mexico, Ebrard assured. 

The two leaders agreed that U.S. and Mexican officials would meet in the next few days to discuss options, and would announce actions to “freeze” illegal imports of weapons into Mexico through U.S. border crossings. 

There was no immediate comment from U.S. authorities about the discussion, which came in the wake of the bungled arrest attempt. 

Cartel gunmen surrounded about 35 police and national guardsmen Thursday in the capital of Sinaloa state and made them free Ovidio Guzman. His brief detention had set off widespread gunbattles and a jailbreak that stunned the country. 

“If the order would have been given to continue with the operation in Culiacan, we estimate that more than 200 people, mostly civilians, would have been killed,” said Ebrard, adding 
that so-called collateral damage was unacceptable to the Mexican government.

The chaos in Culiacan, a bastion of the elder Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, has turned up pressure on Lopez Obrador, who took office in December promising to pacify a country weary of 
more than a decade of gang violence. 

Bipartisan Shrug as US Budget Deficit Nears $1 Trillion

Washington is drowning in red ink again, yet the mounting fiscal problem is prompting collective yawns from the Trump Administration and Democrats alike.

It wasn’t so long ago that an announcement that the United States annual budget deficit was approaching $1 trillion — in a time of record low unemployment and steady economic growth, no less — would have set off alarm bells in the nation’s capital and sent politicians running to the television cameras to demand action to rein in federal spending. But a recent report from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic analysis that shows the deficit ballooning to a seven-year high of $984 billion in fiscal 2019 was greeted with near silence from U.S. lawmakers, the administration and other policy makers.

Instead, as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, Republicans and Democrats are promoting ambitious new spending and tax relief measures that would add many trillions of dollars to the cumulative federal debt – the sum total of past deficits — which is now approaching a staggering $23 trillion.

After forcing a $1.5 trillion tax cut through Congress in 2017 and demanding sharp increases in military spending, both of which have contributed to a 48% increase in the federal deficit since he took office, President Trump and others in his administration have floated the idea of further tax reductions heading into 2020.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump holds an executive order relieving qualified disabled veterans of federally held student loan debt at the AMVETS (American Veterans) National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Aug. 21, 2019.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates including liberal Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are pushing for additional federal spending on social programs, including a controversial “Medicare for All” proposal. A study by the Urban Institute found that the most expansive version of that program, which extends healthcare coverage to every American and eliminates virtually all out-of-pocket spending on health care, would cost an average of $3.4 trillion per year, or $34 trillion over a decade.

Warren, who is surging in the polls ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders, is also advocating expanded Social Security benefits, free college tuition, student debt relief and environmental initiatives with hefty price tags.

The current U.S. federal debt, now approaching $23 trillion  is equal to more than 100% of the estimated $21.3 trillion 2019 Gross Domestic Product. The country has not seen a debt-to-GDP ratio this high since World War II. But still, the primary policy proposals coming from voices on both sides of the political spectrum are in favor of measures that would likely exacerbate the deficit and add to the federal debt.

It’s a state of affairs that leaves Washington budget watchdogs frustrated and worried about the future.

“Certainly, interest in fiscal responsibility seems to be an all-time low,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

“It should be frustrating for everyone, because the deficit is at an all-time high…for this point in the economic cycle,” he said. “It’s really dangerous. And what we need to be doing is getting our debt under control now, understanding that it will have to expand during a recession, not making it even worse.”

That’s a message that neither the Trump administration nor the Democrats running for president appear to have acknowledged.

FILE – A worker aerates printed sheets of dollar bills at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, Nov. 15, 2017.

There are multiple reasons why demands for spending cuts and deficit reduction have been muted in recent years. For one, the seemingly constant state of crisis in Washington, made even more profound by the ongoing effort to impeach President Trump, leaves little room in the headlines for more complex issues like fiscal policy.

However, one key reason that deficit hawks’ collective voice does not command the attention in Washington that it once did is that they have been demonstrably wrong about the effects of rising federal borrowing.

For years, the twin terrors of rising interest rates and inflation were key arguments against allowing the deficit and debt to continue to mount. Expansive federal spending was supposed to goose demand and drive up prices. At the same time, lenders — in the form of the bond market — were expected to demand ever-higher interest rates from a federal government that kept driving itself further into debt.

Additionally, as the government borrowed more and at higher interest rates, the borrowing was supposed to “crowd out” more productive investment in the private sector.

But for the past decade, inflation has remained stubbornly low, even in the years immediately following the Great Recession, when the government was pouring money into the economy to increase demand.

At the same time, the federal government is still able to borrow at historically low rates, making the cost of servicing new debt much lower than budget hawks predicted it would be at this point. And the absence of any evidence that government borrowing is “crowding out” private sector investment has been sparse enough that the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has declared it to be a concern of “minimal importance.”

Additionally, while much is made of the fact that the federal debt is now higher than annual GDP, that hardly makes the U.S. an outlier among developed nations. Other advanced economies carrying comparable levels of debt include Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France. Japan’s debt load is equal to more than twice its GDP.

In fact, there is a rising consensus among economists worldwide that, especially given the low interest rate environment that is expected to persist indefinitely, high debt levels among advanced economies simply are not that big a deal. Among the loudest voices making this point has been Olivier Blanchard, the former head of the International Monetary Fund — an organization that has spent decades trying to convince developing economies to avoid high debt loads.

“The right attitude…is not to pretend that debt is catastrophic if it is not,” he wrote in a recent paper with economist Ángel Ubide. “Sooner or later, a government will test that proposition and discover that it is false. The right approach is to tailor the advice to the situation of each country.”


38 People Cited for Violations in Clinton Email Probe

The State Department has completed its internal investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private email and found violations by 38 people, some of whom may face disciplinary action.

The investigation, launched more than three years ago, determined that those 38 people were “culpable” in 91 cases of sending classified information that ended up in Clinton’s personal email, according to a letter sent to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley this week and released Friday. The 38 are current and former State Department officials but were not identified.

Although the report identified violations, it said investigators had found “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.” However, it also made clear that Clinton’s use of the private email had increased the vulnerability of classified information.

The Associated Press sent an email seeking comment to a Clinton representative.

The investigation covered 33,000 emails that Clinton turned over for review after her use of the private email account became public. The department said it found a total of 588 violations involving information then or now deemed to be classified but could not assign fault in 497 cases.

For current and former officials, culpability means the violations will be noted in their files and will be considered when they apply for or go to renew security clearances. For current officials, there could also be some kind of disciplinary action. But it was not immediately clear what that would be.

The report concluded “that the use of a private email system to conduct official business added an increased degree of risk of compromise as a private system lacks the network monitoring and intrusion detection capabilities of State Department networks.”

The department began the review in 2016 after declaring 22 emails from Clinton’s private server to be “top secret.” Clinton was then running for president against Donald Trump, and Trump made the server a major focus of his campaign.

Then-FBI Director James Comey held a news conference that year in which he criticized Clinton as “extremely careless” in her use of the private email server as secretary of state but said the FBI would not recommend charges.

The Justice Department’s inspector general said FBI specialists did not find evidence that the server had been hacked, with one forensics agent saying he felt “fairly confident that there wasn’t an intrusion.”

Grassley started investigating Clinton’s email server in 2017, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Iowa Republican has been critical of Clinton’s handling of classified information and urged administrative sanctions.

Calling Someone ‘Illegal Alien’ in NYC Can Result in a Serious Fine

New York City is an incredible collection of diversity. People from around the world come to live and work here, but that doesn’t mean that racism isn’t a problem. That’s why the NYC Commission on Human Rights backed a law that can impose a hefty fine on people who use the term “Illegal Alien” in a hateful way. Nina Vishneva has this story narrated by Anna Rice. 

Senior Boeing Pilot Reveals Flaws in 737 Max in Internal Messages

A senior pilot at Boeing said he might have unintentionally misled regulators, according to a series of internal company messages that were released Friday.

The revelation of the messages came as Boeing continues to struggle with the fallout from two fatal crashes that have grounded its 737 Max airplanes.

The transcript of the messages shows that in 2016 the 737 Max’s then-chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, told a co-worker that the aircraft’s flight system, called MCAS, was “egregious” and “running rampant” while he tested it in a flight simulator.

The MCAS system has been tied to the crashes of the 737 Max airplanes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Forkner said in one text message, “I basically lied to the regulators [unknowingly].”

FILE – An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing facilities at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., Sept. 16, 2019.

Boeing revealed messages

Boeing provided the internal messages to lawmakers, who are holding hearings this month on the 737 Max airplanes.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) called the newly released document “concerning” and demanded an explanation about why the company delayed before revealing the messages.

“I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to its safety regulator,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson wrote in a letter Friday to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

FILE – Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg speaks, April 29, 2019, during a news conference after the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Chicago.

Muilenburg, who was stripped of his chairman title by Boeing’s board last week, is scheduled to testify before Congress this month.

Forkner left Boeing last year and joined Southwest Airlines — the largest operator of the Boeing 737.

Forkner’s lawyer, David Gerger, said in a statement, “If you read the whole chat, it is obvious that there was no ‘lie.’ ” He said Forkner’s messages showed that the pilot thought the flight simulator was not working and “absolutely thought this plane was safe.”

Two fatal crashes

An Ethiopia Airlines 737 Max crashed just after takeoff in March, killing all 157 people on board. Five months earlier, the same type of plane flown by the Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 189 people.

Investigators have focused on the MCAS system in the planes, a new automated flight system that was not included in previous versions of the 737. Investigators believe a faulty sensor in the MCAS system pushed the nose of each plane down and made it impossible for the pilots to regain control.

Trump Hopes US-China Trade Deal Will Be Signed by Mid-November

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he thought a trade deal between the United States and China would be signed by the time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings take place in Chile on Nov. 16-17. 

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will provide Beijing’s perspective on the progress of the talks in a speech Saturday, according to a tweet from the editor in chief of the Global Times, a tabloid published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper.

“I think it will get signed quite easily, hopefully by the summit in Chile, where [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] and I will both be,” Trump told reporters at the White House, without providing details. 

“We’re working with China very well,” Trump also said. 

The White House has announced that China agreed to buy up to $50 billion worth of U.S. farm products annually, as part of the first phase of a trade deal, although China seems slow to follow through. 

The phase-one deal was unveiled at the White House last week during a visit by Liu as part of a bid to end a tit-for-tat trade war between Beijing and Washington that has roiled markets and hammered global growth.  

U.S. officials said a second phase of negotiations could address thornier issues such as forced technology transfer and nonfinancial services issues. 

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings Dead at 68

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from longstanding health challenges, his congressional office said. He was 68.

A sharecropper’s son, Cummings became the powerful chairman of a U.S. House committee that investigated President Donald Trump, and was a formidable orator who passionately advocated for the poor in his black-majority district, which encompasses a large portion of Baltimore as well as more well-to-do suburbs.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings led multiple investigations of the president’s governmental dealings, including probes in 2019 relating to the president’s family members serving in the White House.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks to members of the media before Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan appears before a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 18, 2019.

Trump responded by criticizing the Democrat’s district as a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” The comments came weeks after Trump drew bipartisan condemnation following his calls for Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. “right now,” and go back to their “broken and crime-infested countries.”

Cummings replied that government officials must stop making “hateful, incendiary comments” that only serve to divide and distract the nation from its real problems, including mass shootings and white supremacy.

“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Cummings said in a speech at the National Press Club.

Long career in politics

Cummings’ long career spanned decades in Maryland politics. He rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in a special election in 1996 to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.

Cummings continued his rise in Congress. In 2016, he was the senior Democrat on the House Benghazi Committee, which he said was “nothing more than a taxpayer-funded effort to bring harm to Hillary Clinton’s campaign” for president.

Cummings was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008.

Passionate orator

Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He was a firm believer in some much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS.

Cummings was born on Jan. 18, 1951. In grade school, a counselor told Cummings he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, and he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.

“I was devastated,” Cummings told The Associated Press in 1996, shortly before he won his seat in Congress. “My whole life changed. I became very determined.”

It steeled Cummings to prove that counselor wrong. He became not only a lawyer, but one of the most powerful orators in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he entered office in 1983. He rose to become House speaker pro tem, the first black delegate to hold the position. He would begin his comments slowly, developing his theme and raising the emotional heat until it became like a sermon from the pulpit.

Cummings was quick to note the differences between Congress and the Maryland General Assembly, which has long been controlled by Democrats.

“After coming from the state where, basically, you had a lot of people working together, it’s clear that the lines are drawn here,” Cummings said about a month after entering office in Washington in 1996.

Cummings chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2003 to 2004, employing a hard-charging, explore-every-option style to put the group in the national spotlight.v He cruised to big victories in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which had given Maryland its first black congressman in 1970 when Parren Mitchell was elected.

Democrats Protest $200M in Additional Border Wall Transfers

President Donald Trump has quietly transferred more than $200 million from Pentagon counterdrug efforts toward building his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, drawing protests from Democrats who say he is again abusing his powers.

The move would shift $129 million to wall construction from anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan — the source of perhaps 90 percent of the world’s heroin — along with $90 million freed up by passage of a stopgap funding bill, top Democrats said in a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

The Defense Department “was faced with a simple choice: either additional funds be used for their intended purpose, to accelerate our military’s efforts to combat heroin production in Afghanistan; or divert these funds to pay for cost increases of a border wall project that does not have the support of the American people,” the Democrats wrote.

FILE – Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, accompanied by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Jan. 16, 2018.

Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont took the lead, noting that the heroin trade is a major funding source for the Taliban and urging the Pentagon to “redouble its efforts to starve the Taliban of a vital funding source and reduce the scourge of heroin abuse in this country and abroad.”

Trump has shifted more than $6 billion from Pentagon accounts to pay for border fence construction, considerably more than lawmakers have provided through annual appropriations bills.

Wall funding has been a major source of conflict between Capitol Hill Democrats and Trump as they negotiate agency funding bills each year. For instance, Trump was forced to settle for just $1.4 billion in wall funding in talks this winter. He issued a controversial declaration of a national emergency shortly afterward that allowed him to shift almost three times as much money from military construction accounts to wall building.

A fight over the wall issue is tying up efforts to begin serious negotiations on wrapping up $1.4 trillion worth of agency appropriations by Thanksgiving.

Separately, the Senate is expected to vote Thursday to sustain Trump’s veto Tuesday of legislation to reject his emergency declaration.