Joseph Kennedy III Delivers Rebuttal to SOTU Address

The Story:

This year, the gentleman delivering the Democratic Party’s rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union address bore (for most Americans) an unfamiliar face, but a very familiar surname: Joseph Kennedy III.

The Family Tree:

This Joseph Kennedy is the son of Joseph Kennedy II and Sheila Kennedy, nee Rauch. He is thus the grandson of the late Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General of the United States from 1961 to 1964.

The leadership of the Democratic Party has received a good deal of criticism of late from those who believe it needs fresh faces. The old crowd, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (70 years old) and Senator Chuck Schumer (67) needs to make room for new blood. This generation’s Joseph Kennedy is only 37.

The Thing to Know: 

In his speech, Kennedy said that under Trump there is “a nagging sinking feeling that this [state of the Union] is not right, this is not who we are.”

Why the US Treasury Secretary Might Want to Talk the Dollar Down

Steven Mnuchin: Taxes will go up for the rich (full interview)

The Story: 

On Wednesday, January 24, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities.” The remark helped create the fact — last Wednesday saw the dollar drop to its lowest value in three years as against other currencies.


Did Mnuchin want his words to have that effect? He might have. A government that wants to assist its export industries can often do so by devaluing its currency, relative to the currencies of the countries where the goods exported will be sold. Of course, a policy of deliberately weakening one’s own currency in the international markets also generates push-back from the nations receiving those now cheaper imports.

The Thing to Know:

By Friday Mnuchin was clearly combatting the implications of Wednesday’s statement, as if the U.S. had just taken itself to the precipice of a disastrous currency race-to-the-bottom with trading partners, and had decided to draw back.

The Rest of the Pacific Basin Doesn’t Need the US

The Story:

As the Davos conference got underway Tuesday January 23, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced that the 11 nations still in the Trans-Pacific Partnership will likely sign a revised agreement in early March. The subtext is: they don’t need U.S. permission in order to trade freely and profitably with one another.


Exactly one year before  (January 23, 2017), the new President signed a Presidential memorandum withdrawing the United States from the TPP. During the campaign he criticized the agreement as a “disaster” and the consequence of “a leadership class that worships globalism over Americanism.”

More recently, though, the President has suggested that the United States might re-join TPP.

The Thing to Know:

Trade is not zero sum. It does not require that somebody win by virtue of someone else’s loss. Trade can well benefit all parties. Thus, freeing trade by multilateral agreements can serve all the parties to the deal, harming only those who exclude themselves.

Annual Davos Gathering of World’s Rich and Mighty

The Story: 

Every year in late January, the World Economic Forum hosts a forum in Davos, Switzerland that brings together top business and political leaders from around the world. This year’s theme is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”


Davos has excited its share of resentment as a symbol of globalization and elitism. Steve Bannon once said, “The working men and women in the world … are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the ‘party of Davos.'”

If all proceeds as planned, U.S. President Donald Trump will speak at Davos today, Thursday. This is the first time a POTUS has attended the event since 2000.

The Thing to Know:

Some consider Trump’s trip to Davos a sign of a shift in White House policy. Following upon the recent departure of above quoted Steve Bannon as a key aide it displays the rise of more globalist advisers such as Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner.

Pennsylvania Legislature Gets a Deadline on Redistricting

How gerrymandering got its name

The Story:

On Monday, January 22, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania threw out the map of that state’s congressional districts, holding that it was an illegal gerrymander. The Court gave the legislature until February 9 to create a new map.

Some History:

The word “gerrymander” comes from a salamander-shaped district created by Elbridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts in the early 19th century, to favor the Jeffersonians over the Federalists. In the two centuries since, the partisan motivations for specific maps have always been political issues, although in some periods such matters have boiled over and in others they have merely simmered.

A Republican controlled legislature created the current controversial district map in 2011.

The Thing to Know:

The state Supreme Court said that it will draw its own map if the legislature cannot do so by the deadline. If will employ the evidence entered during a trial last month in order to draw lines it will deem fair.

The Death of Tom Petty and the Opioid Epidemic

The Story:

Musician Tom Petty, the front man of “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” from 1976 to 1987, died on October 2, 2017. In January 2018, autopsy results revealed the cause: an accidental overdose of prescription pain medication.

The Hope:

On January 20, Petty’s family put out a statement on the autopsy results, expressing the hope that this news may “spark a further discussion of the opioid crisis,” which would be a “healthy and necessary discussion.” The family also thanked Petty’s fans for their “love and support over the last months.”

Three months before Petty’s death the National Academy of Science had published a 400 page report, saying that opioids were killing 91 people every day.

The Thing to Know: 

Opioids have a sedating effect on the part of the brain that controls breathing, creating a risk of respiratory failure and thus of death among users, both those who (in Petty’s situation) take them to mitigate pain and those who take them recreationally.



President Trump Impatient with NAFTA Negotiations

Vice President Pence Swears in US Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft

The Story:

In an interview with Reuters, President Trump said Wednesday, January 17, that he may pull The United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement altogether, because that will get the best trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

The Background:


The presidents of all three nations signed NAFTA on December 17, 1992, during the transition between the Presidencies of George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton then pressed for Congressional approval of the deal, which he obtained. It has been in force, and the three countries have been for the most part a single trade zone, since January 1, 1994.

There has always been opposition, and (like the support) the opposition cuts across party lines.

The Thing to Know:

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in ongoing negotiations is dispute resolution procedures: what exactly can any of the three parties do when it comes to believe that another party is dumping unfairly cheap below-market goods across the border?



Zoning and Housing: A Radical Proposal

The Story:

A legislator in California has proposed a radical bill regarding housing in the vicinity of public transit, a bill that could have a deep impact on the way Californians, and Americans in general, think about zoning.

The Bill:

In the face of a severe shortage of affordable housing in many of the state’s major cities, Sen. Scott Wiener (San Francisco) is sponsoring SB-827, which would free housing construction within a half mile of a train station or within a quarter mile of a bus route from many of the local regulations and zoning ordinances that currently restrict permissible residences.

The Thing to Know: 

Advocates say the bill would increase access not only to housing but to jobs. (People without automobiles cannot commute unless they can live near transit.) But opponents say the bill is a power grab at the state level that would destroy the ability of localities to make their own land use decisions.

Macron Cautions About “One-Way” Trade from China

The Story: 

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, said recently that though Europe should work with China on trade issues, it must also work to ensure that Chinese trade is not “one way.”


In September 2013 the People’s Republic of China unveiled what has become known as its “Belt and Road Initiative” or as the “new Silk Road.” The word “belt” is meant to refer to land-bound projects such as railways, special economic zones, and oil and gas exploration in the regions between China and Europe. The word “road” in this context has a maritime significance, referring for example to Chinese support of modernization of the Gwadar Port in Pakistan.

The Thing to Know:

Macron was expressing, in diplomatic language, an anxiety felt by many in Europe that the Belt and Road Initiative is more about the extension of China’s power throughout the Eurasian landmass than about the mutual prosperity of participants in the prospective broadened trade.

New Movie Recalls “Pentagon Papers” Controversy

Meryl Streep Weighs In On Harvey Weinstein's Sexual Harassment Allegations | Morning Joe | MSNBC

The Story:

On January 12, 2018, a new movie (The Post) starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks goes into wide release: It tells of the decision of the Washington Post’s owner and editor to publish excerpts of the “Pentagon Papers,” leaked documents about the Vietnam War.


Critical responses to the movie often draw parallels between the Nixon administration of its story and the Trump administration of today. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says 2018, like 1971, features “a craven paranoid President” who loathes an “aggressive free press.”

David Ehrlich of IndieWire writes that The Post “captures the ecstasy of trying to break the chain and bend things toward justice.”

The Thing to Know:

The man responsible for leaking the Vietnam era documents to the press, Daniel Ellsberg, has in recent years expressed support for Wikileaks, Snowden, and Manning. The issue of whether and how workings of government will become transparent to the people governed remains much with us.