Amid the analysis of Trump’s speech to Congress, the controversy over Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his alleged Russian contacts, the impending roll out of a new travel ban, and the GOP vs. Democrats and GOP vs. GOP battles over Obamacare, at least Congress is back in session and not facing manufactured rage at town halls that seem to elicit a smirk on the face of Chuck Todd whose face seems to be frozen in perpetual smirk mode. As a result, the Senate confirmed Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of Interior and are moving forward on Ben Carson at HUD as I write this. However, the following are some under-the-radar stories that may have gone unreported here or elsewhere:
US Oil Exports Exceed Expectations
According to the Financial Times, US oil exports have exceeded expectations and now stand at 1.2 million barrels a day. The ban on exports was lifted in 2015 after 40 years. This is important because countries that traditionally imported oil from OPEC, which slightly cut production back in November, started looking elsewhere for oil. Compared with other grades of crude, US oil became a bargain. With a slight rebound in the price of crude on the world market, US drillers increased production. Further, a decrease in lease prices for oil supertankers also makes it cheaper to export US oil.
There’s a New Sheriff at the FCC
Ajit Pai is the new Chairman of the FCC having been in that role about a month now and he is starting out with a vengeance drawing the ire of liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill. In his sites is a 2015 decision by the FCC to treat broadband more like a public utility. This is known in the communications industry as net neutrality, an Orwellian name for government control of broadband. Pai’s objective is to roll back previous rules and go light on any investigations started under those rules in the meantime. Considering that the Internet and such is an American success story largely without the heavy hand of the federal government (unless you are Al Gore), Pai seems to get it: namely, why screw with something that works. But then, if you are a “progressive,” progress is regulation.
UN Confusion Over the US and Climate Change
The UN, apparently in the same mindset of John Kerry that climate change presents the greatest international threat ever, is fretting over Donald Trump. They have “complained” that they have lacked any “clear signal” whether the United States will abide by the Paris Climate Change Accords. The point person for this is Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change who recently visited the US. She requested a sit-down with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson- something that did not happen. It seems Tillerson was working on more pressing issues like North Korea, China, Russia, the Ukraine, NATO, the Middle East.. Still, Espinosa spun the story better than Kellyanne Conway and said that since Trump has not outright rejected the Paris Accords (yet), as he promised in the campaign, there is hope the US will remain within the framework. Again, it could just be there are more important things on the table.
Alex Jones- Unofficial Trump Adviser?
Alex Jones, the quintessential 9/11 truther, granted an interview to Germany’s Der Speigel. Unsure of whether this is the truth or self-puffery, Jones alleges that he has spoken to Trump several times since the election and describes the interaction as, “We are two saints of the same zeitgeist.” One supposes Jones polished off that German word because he was talking to a German publication in an effort to gain some German cred. Oddly, the other day at work, one of my co-workers, a regular adherent of Jones’ Infowars, was aghast because he had learned that Ruth Bader Ginsberg was “dead at the age of 80.” Her “death” was her absence at Trump’s speech before Congress. This writer guesses Alito and Thomas were also dead since they too were absent.
The Obama’s Get a Book Deal
This is yuuuuge… as in $60 million yuuuuge. The Obama’s have signed a book deal with Penguin Random House estimated at that price after a fierce bidding war with HarperCollins publishing. The previous record was held by George W. Bush who got $15 million for his memoirs. It was not disclosed whether the $60 million was evenly split between Michelle and Barack, but one would think not. Paying $30 million to Michelle to write about how great Barack was and her White House gardening and obesity campaigns seems like a stretch.
There is no word why HarperCollins was rejected, but some are suggesting that since Bill O’Reilly, who was critical of the Obama presidency, publishes through them, the Obamas may have chosen its competitor for spite. Of course, this would not explain why Simon & Schuster, owned by CBS, or MacMillan were also rejected. If ever there was a need for Alex Jones to investigate this burning question, it is now!
Oops! Not Enough Money
Donald Trump is proud of his big beautiful wall on the southern border with Mexico. This is the same wall that he insists that Mexico will pay for although how they will pay for it is never explained. Regardless, in a bid to get the thing started, he directed the DHS to use existing funds. They managed to scrounge a measly $20 million which, if previous estimates are correct, may get slightly more than a mile of the wall built before the money runs out.
Thus, the Donald will have to go to Congress for additional funds and that appropriations battle ought to be a hoot to watch. Among the talk of a $1 trillion infrastructure investment, increased military spending, repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and other big ticket (read: big money) items on his agenda, it is hard to see this wall rising along the Rio Grande anytime soon.