By Jonathan Chait   You’re going to have to pay me… One Billion Dollars! … Sorry, One Hundred Billion Dollars! Photo: Warner Bros; Getty Images Earlier this week, President Trump raised eyebrows when he told reporters of a phone call he had held with North Korea, in which he warned the dangerous rogue state it must de-nuclearize. (His administration later admitted quietly Trump had actually spoken with South Korea, not North Korea.) This week, Trump ventured another strange foreign policy pronouncement. He had asked China to produce a plan to reduce its trade deficit by One Billion Dollars. He even capitalized it to underscore the significance of the towering sum he proposed to extract: This demand was incredibly puzzling to trade economists, and regular economists, and anybody who had ever read a couple paragraphs in a random business story. China runs a trade surplus of $375 billion with the United States. Trump was demanding a reduction of 0.3 percent, or less than a single day’s worth of imports. The Wall Street Journal’s Lingling Wei reports that the demand was actually supposed to be $100 billion. It is not clear how the Trump administration arrived at this figure, but it is a round number, which Trump is known to prefer, and is also the sum Dr. Evil demanded from the United Nations after also mistakenly opening the negotiation by demanding too little: This is not the kind of deft maneuvering Americans expected when they elected a famed negotiator to the presidency to make the Best Deals. Alas, The Art of the Deal does not include any chapters about starting off a negotiation by making a ludicrously tiny ask because you don’t understand anything about the scale of the numbers involved. Donald J. Trump‏Verified account @realDonaldTrump China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a One Billion Dollar reduction in their massive Trade Deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon! 7:10 AM - 7 Mar 2018

  While Trump cracked a few jokes during his speech at the Gridiron Club on Saturday night, he turned serious when he mentioned North Korea and said he was in direct contact with the regime. (Win McNamee/Getty Images) BY Jessica Chia NEW YORK DAILY NEWS   A White House official had to clear the air on Monday after President Trump confused North and South Korea in an astounding blunder that left foreign policy experts scratching their heads. While Trump cracked a few jokes during his speech at the Gridiron Club on Saturday night, he turned serious when he mentioned North Korea and said, “It was headed for disaster and now we’re talking. And they, by the way, called up a couple of days ago and said, ‘We would like to talk.’” “And I said, ‘So would we, but you have to denuke,’” according to Trump. A U.S. official said earlier this year that the president had never spoken to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un directly, despite trading barbs on the international stage. But an official on the National Security Council told Yonhap News Agency that Trump was referring to a March 1 phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae In — not the North’s dictator Kim Jong Un. But an official on the National Security Council told Yonhap News Agency that Trump was referring to a March 1 phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae In — not the North’s dictator Kim Jong Un. (Reuters/Getty) “President Trump did not have a call with the North Koreans,” the official said. Moon briefed Trump on recent developments during the call and the two leaders agreed “any dialogue with North Korea must be conducted with the explicit and unwavering goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” the official told Yonhap News. Paid Content by MM6 MAISON MARGIELA   On Tuesday, Moon sent a South Korean envoy to the North’s capital in the first meeting with Kim since his rise to power after his dictator father’s death in 2011. North Korea’s state media said Kim expressed his desire to “write a new history of national reunification” during a dinner Monday night that Seoul said lasted about four hours. This picture taken on March 5, 2018 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) shaking hands with South Korean chief delegator Chung Eui-yong (C). (STR/AFP/Getty Images) Given the robust history of bloodshed, threats and animosity on the Korean Peninsula, there is considerable skepticism over whether the Koreas’ apparent warming relations will lead to lasting peace. North Korea, some believe, is trying to use improved ties with the South to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions and pressure, and to provide domestic propaganda fodder for Kim Jong Un. But each new development also raises the possibility that the rivals can use the momentum from the good feelings created during North Korea’s participation in the South’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month to ease a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and restart talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

Trump misspelled Baldwin’s name twice in the unhinged rant. By Lee Moran   President Donald Trump took a break from dealing with the turmoil in his administration to lash out once again at actor Alec Baldwin in an early-morning Twitter rant. Earlier this week, Baldwin told The Hollywood Reporter that portraying Trump on “Saturday Night Live” had become “like agony.”  “Anybody over this guy,” said Baldwin. “It doesn’t matter. We have to get rid of him.” Baldwin’s comments apparently struck a nerve for Trump, whose administration is reeling from a string of setbacks this week, including the departure of one of his closest confidants, Hope Hicks. He’s also been criticized for appearing to cave to the NRA just a day after he promised to tackle gun control. The president responded to Baldwin’s comments with a rambling error-strewn post, in which he twice misspelled the actor’s name, as well as the word “dying.”  Trump also urged “SNL” to bring back Darrell Hammond, who portrayed the then-reality star on the show until 2016. The tweet remained live for around 10 minutes before it was deleted. Trump quickly replaced it with this correctly spelled post: Criticizing Baldwin has become something of a habit for Trump. He repeatedly tore into Baldwin over his “SNL” portrayal during the 2016 election campaign and has been taking regular shots at the actor ever since.   Source: HuffPost

Reuters Staff   WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day after announcing steep tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that “trade wars are good, and easy to win”. Trump said on Thursday that the United States would apply duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum to protect U.S. producers, although White House officials later said some details still needed to be ironed out. “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump’s tweet read. “Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!”   Fears of an escalating trade war triggered selloffs on Wall Street and in Asia and Europe, hitting the share prices of steelmakers and manufacturers supplying U.S. markets particularly hard. Trump believes the tariffs will safeguard American jobs, but many economists say the impact of price increases for users of steel and aluminum, such as the auto and oil industries, will destroy more jobs than curbs on imports create. Australia’s trade minister said the measures risked triggering retaliation from other economies and could cost jobs, on Friday, while China predicted harm to trade if other countries followed the example of the United States. In Brussels, the European Commission called the step a blatant intervention that amounted to protectionism. However, while promising to act “firmly”, it made no mention of retaliation but instead spoke of counter-measures that conformed to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. Brussels will join other countries in challenging the measures at the WTO and says it will also look into safeguard measures.

By S.V. Date   Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s failure to get a top-level security clearance raises questions about how he can do his job. WASHINGTON ― The presidential son-in-law charged with crafting a Middle East peace plan now cannot even legally read U.S. intelligence reports about the region. Last week chief of staff John Kelly’s directed top-level security clearances to be canceled for those unable to pass a necessary FBI background check, and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is among those affected. The White House did not respond to HuffPost queries about how Kushner would be able to continue in his task without the “top secret, sensitive compartmented information” clearance he had been given on an interim basis at the start of Trump’s presidency 13 months ago. “Mr. Kushner has done more than what is expected of him in this process,” a Kushner spokesperson said in a statement. “Those involved in the process again have confirmed that there are dozens of people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed, that it is not uncommon for these clearance reviews to take this long in a new administration, and that the current backlogs are now being addressed. No concerns were raised about Mr. Kushner’s application. As General Kelly himself said, the new clearance policy will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.” Others familiar with security clearances and secret materials, though, said the downgrade dramatically hurts Kushner’s ability to do his assigned job. “This is not a role one could do effectively without access to top secret information,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and a spokesman for the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. Bradley Moss, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in security clearance applications, said negotiating a peace agreement requires knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. And that requires having access to information coming from agents as well as from listening posts and spy satellites ― so-called signals intelligence. “That type of work requires access to intelligence about the players involved, any side discussions they’re having ― that’s where signals intelligence comes into play ― and the situation on the ground,” he said. “I don’t see how you do the equivalent work of a Secretary of State with only a ‘secret’ clearance.” While the “TS/SCI” interim clearance is the highest available, “secret” is only a step above the lowest. “A lot of the relevant information that would inform the US negotiating position — not just with the Israelis and Palestinians, but other international actors — is very sensitive,” said Colin Kahl, once the national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden. “And every other member of the US interagency working with Kushner would also have to worry about divulging classified information. It’s not tenable.” On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to answer questions about why Kushner’s security clearance had run into problems. “I’ve been very clear that we don’t discuss security clearances,” she said. “That’s not changing today. It didn’t change yesterday. It’s not going to change tomorrow. Probably not going to change next week.” That assertion, however, is not true. White House officials discussed the security clearance of former staff secretary Rob Porter in great detail after news accounts revealed his clearance had been held up because his two ex-wives told the FBI he’d physically abused them. It was in the swirl of that scandal that reports emerged that dozens of White House staff members ― include Kushner ― were still working with interim clearances because of problems with their background investigations. Kushner’s reportedly was held up because of questions concerning his finances and the interest foreign investors have shown in his family’s business, potentially as a way to influence him toward their own ends. His decision years ago to purchase an expensive office tower in Midtown Manhattan put the family firm deeply in debt. While these issues were known even during the campaign, Trump nevertheless replicated the small, closely held family business he had run for decades when he moved into the Oval Office. Both his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and Kushner were brought into the White House as top aides. Early in Trump’s administration, Kushner’s portfolio appeared to include just about everything his father-in-law said he wanted to accomplish, from an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, to solving the opioid epidemic, to negotiating trade deals, to improving the Veterans Affairs system. Kushner was even put in charge of an “Office of American Innovation,” which was seemingly tasked with solving all problems in both the public and private sectors. A year later, Kushner’s public profile, at least, has diminished. He was a key figure in pushing White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon out last summer, but Kelly’s simultaneous arrival brought a new power structure to the West Wing. Everyone from that point forward reported to Kelly, including Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Previously, a number of staff members had effectively reported to no one but the president, bypassing the erstwhile chief of staff, Reince Priebus. At a brief joint news conference with the Australian prime minister on Friday, President Trump praised Kushner’s work but said the decision on his security clearance would be Kelly’s alone. “So that’ll be up to General Kelly. General Kelly respects Jared a lot and General Kelly will make that call. I won’t make that call,” Trump said.   Source: HuffPost

The story dropped the same day we learned Jared Kushner had lost his top-secret security clearance. By Nick Visser   Jared Kushner’s complicated financial holdings, business debt and political inexperience have prompted foreign officials in several countries to discuss ways they can manipulate the president’s son-in-law and close adviser, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The report capped a complicated day for Kushner. Politico reported on Tuesday that he had his top-secret security clearance downgraded after months of working with an interim clearance due to ongoing issues with his FBI background check. And Axios said that deputy communications director and Kushner point man Josh Raffel will leave the White House after handling many news crises over the past year. Officials from at least four countries ― China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates ― have discussed ways to influence Kushner, although it’s unclear if they acted on such plans, The Washington Post wrote, citing current and former officials familiar with the intelligence reports. Some of these sources said that administration officials were worried Kushner was “naive and being tricked” during his dealings with foreigners, and that people occasionally asked to meet with him in lieu of more experienced staff. Trump’s second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, was initially “surprised” by some of Kushner’s foreign contacts and “wanted an explanation,” a source told the Post. A spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer called the news account “second-hand hearsay” in a statement to the Post. “We will not respond substantively to unnamed sources peddling second-hand hearsay with rank speculation that continue to leak inaccurate information,” spokesman Peter Mirijanian said.  Until last Friday, Kushner had been working in the White House with an interim security clearance that afforded him access to top-secret documents, including the president’s daily intelligence briefing. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said earlier this month that he would overhaul the interim clearance situation after critics noted that former staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned over allegations that he had abused two of his ex-wives, had also been working for months with a temporary clearance.  Kushner reportedly resisted efforts to give up his top-secret access and said he felt personally targeted by Kelly.  But nonetheless he was officially downgraded from the SCI (sensitive compartmented information) level to the Secret level on Friday, according to Politico, and no longer receives the president’s intelligence briefing. It’s expected that his large portfolio of duties, many of which revolve around complicated foreign affairs issues, will also be reduced. “It really undermines his ability to do the work he’s supposed to be doing and makes him into more of a figurehead,” Brad Moss, a national security lawyer, told HuffPost earlier on Tuesday.

by Adam Edelman and Hallie Jackson First Lady Melania Trump is seen at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital on Feb. 5, 2018.John Sommers II / Reuters   WASHINGTON — First lady Melania Trump has cut ties with a top aide whose firm was reportedly paid millions of dollars by President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, a spokeswoman for the first lady’s office said Tuesday. The first lady has “severed the gratuitous services contract” with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, confirmed to NBC News. "We thank her for her hard work and wish her all the best," Grisham said in a statement. Wolkoff’s termination comes two weeks after news emerged that the president’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning company that was reportedly founded by her. The 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) — which organized Trump's inauguration last year and was led by Tom Barrack, a close friend of the president and a financial backer of the campaign — paid a company called WIS Media Partners $25.8 million for "event production services," tax returns released earlier this month showed.  Stephanie Winston Wolkoff Presley Ann / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images   The New York Times reported at the time that WIS Media Partners was founded in December 2016 — one month before the inauguration — by Wolkoff, a former fashion executive and event planner who'd previously been best known for planning the annual Met Gala. Melania Trump later hired Wolkoff as a senior adviser. At the time, a spokesperson for Melania Trump told NBC News that Trump "had no involvement with the PIC, and had no knowledge of how funds were spent." The first lady's office added then that Wolkoff is a special government employee for the office and is unpaid. The Times also reported that Wolkoff was personally paid $1.62 million of the $25.8 million.   Another $25 million of the overall inaugural spending went to Hargrove Inc. for "event production services," the tax filings showed, meaning that roughly half of the inaugural committee's record $107 million raised went to just two vendors. The group also donated about $5 million to charitable organizations.

By Brett Samuels         The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spent $31,000 late last year on a new dining room set for Secretary ’s office, The New York Times reported Tuesday. The purchase included a custom hardwood table, chairs and a hutch. Officials bought the furniture a short time after a HUD staff member filed a complaint that Carson’s wife, Candy, pushed to redecorate the department’s offices. Helen Foster, who filed the whistleblower complaint, claimed she was replaced in her role because she refused to fund a redecoration of Carson’s office. She alleged in the complaint that she was told to “find money” for the redecoration, despite it exceeding budgetary limits. A HUD spokesman told the Times that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased” but does not intend to return it. “In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told the newspaper. HUD officials reportedly did not request congressional approval for the purchase. The Times noted that federal law requires approval from lawmakers “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if it exceeds $5,000. Meanwhile, HUD's inspector general is reviewing the involvement of Carson’s family at the agency after some officials expressed concerns. The officials reportedly expressed concerns that Ben Carson Jr., who is a local businessman, was inviting potential business associates to a HUD event, which “gave the appearance that the secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain."   Source: The Hill

By Graham Lanktree   President Donald Trump is pushing for the pilot of his private jet, Captain John Dunkin, to head the Federal Aviation Administration and its budget of more than $16 billion, according to a report. “He’s on the list because he's the president’s pilot, but if he gets the job it won't be because he's the president's pilot,” a senior administration official told Axios Sunday. Dunkin, they noted, has sat for an interview and is qualified for the job. Some industry insiders suggest Dunkin is unqualified to head America's civil aviation regulator.  During the 2016 election campaign Dunkin flew Trump’s Boeing 757 to events across the country and coordinated the candidate’s travel schedule. He has worked as Trump’s pilot since 1989 when Trump started his own airline that then folded in 1992.   Donald Trump touches down in his private jet at Aberdeen Airport, in Scotland May 26, 2010. David Moir/Reuters   Trump has frequently talked up Dunkin’s expertise. During a meeting with top airline executives at the White House in February 2017 Trump said “my pilot, he's a smart guy, and he knows what's going on.” The president criticised the FAA’s efforts to modernize its aging air traffic control system. “I have a pilot who's a real expert,” Trump said, without naming Dunkin. “He said, ‘Sir, the equipment they're putting on is just the wrong stuff.’ If we're going to modernize our system we should be using the right equipment.” “It’s a system that’s totally out of whack. It’s way over budget. It’s way behind schedule. And when it’s complete, it’s not going to be a good system,” Trump said. “I think it maybe would be good to have a pilot—like a really good pilot that knows what’s going on. ... I would think you need a very sophisticated person in that job,” he said taking aim at then FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta. Huerta’s term as administrator ended in January. Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell, who is filling in after Huerta’s departure, is also a candidate to take on the job full-time. Elwell is a former pilot and has served in various roles at the FAA for years. He also worked as an executive representing the airline industry’s trade association from 2013-2015. Republican Rep. Sam Graves, who sits on the aviation subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is also reportedly a candidate. The Trump administration’s latest budget blueprint continues to push for America’s air-traffic control system to be taken out of the FAA and turned into a non-profit corporation. Airlines have been pushing for privatization in the belief that it will will speed the modernization of the FAA’s technology from ground-based radar to a NextGen satellite-based tracking system. Trump believes Dunkin is the one to oversee that. “John Dunkin isn’t just a pilot,” another Trump administration source told Axios. “He’s managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from start-up under FAA regulations,” they said, pointing out Dunkin “oversaw the Trump presidential campaign’s air fleet, which included managing all aviation transportation for travel to 203 cities in 43 states over the course of 21 months.”   Source: Newsweek

“I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” By Marina Fang WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Monday suggested that he would have personally fought off the school shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School even while not armed, despite the fact that he previously deferred military service due to bone spurs in his foot. “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too,” he said during a White House event with the nation’s governors. Trump was referring to criticism against law enforcement officials, including an armed guard at the school who failed to swiftly respond to the gun massacre in Parkland, Florida, earlier this month. When later asked to clarify Trump’s comments, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that he didn’t actually mean that he would “run in” to the school.  “I think he was just stating that as a leader, he would have stepped in and hopefully been able to help,” she said. Trump has previously expressed disgust for seeing blood, saying that “it’s just not my thing.” “I’m not good for medical. In other words, if you cut your finger and there’s blood pouring out, I’m gone,” he told radio host Howard Stern in 2008. In the same interview, he went on to describe a charity event at his Mar-a-Lago resort, during which he looked away when a man fell off the stage and started bleeding. “He was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him … he’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible,” Trump said. “You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed color. Became very red.” Last week, Trump proposed that one of the solutions to the nation’s epidemic of school shootings should involve arming teachers, and that teachers who receive training to carry a weapon at school should receive a pay bonus. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” the president said Friday while addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference. Earlier Monday, Florida attorney general and Trump ally Pam Bondi (R), similarly claimed that she would have gone after the shooter without a weapon. “If I was there, and I didn’t have a firearm, I would have gone into that scene. That’s what you do,” she said on “Fox & Friends.”

Echo Voices is now on mobile

Download our app to stay online every where you go

Download Echo Voices on App Store Download Echo Voices on Google Play