The Morning Jolt


What Is Trump Doing to Prepare for the North Korean Meeting?

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Wondering about the preparations for that easily-forgotten summit with Kim Jong-un; the gritty details on how Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service negotiate package-delivery rates; and a fascinating proposal to reduce police misconduct.

Hey, Remember that Announced North Korean Summit?

Hey, remember that summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, announced to the world back on March 8?

“North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” declared South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, at the White House after a meeting with President Trump. “President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

It’s nearly a month later, and nothing’s been set yet. Not the date, not the location, not the participants beyond the two leaders. Since the announcement, President Trump has changed his secretary of State, national security adviser, and CIA director. He still hasn’t nominated anyone to be U.S. ambassador to South Korea. This is, arguably, the most high-stakes presidential meeting with a foreign leader since the end of the Cold War, and it’s not clear that this has been more than a passing thought on the president’s mind since the announcement.

One wonders if the rest of the region is getting worried, or starting to have doubts that the summit will occur at all. Yesterday, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, told reporters, “Historical experience tells us that at the moment of easing of the situation on the peninsula and as first light dawns on peace and dialogue, frequently all manner of disruptive factors emerge. So we call on all sides to maintain focus, eliminate interference, and firmly follow the correct path of dialogue and negotiation.”

President Ronald Reagan and his White House made extensive preparations for their first meeting with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The summit was announced in the summer of 1985 and didn’t begin until November 19. Reagan had wanted a summit with the Soviets since the beginning of his presidency, but as he put it so memorably, “they kept dying on me.” (Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982, Yuri Andropov died in 1984, Konstantin Chernenko died in 1985.) Reagan read through dozens of policy papers, met with slews of experts on Russia policy and history, former Soviet diplomats and KGB officials who had defected, former presidents Nixon and Ford, and former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Reagan watched Gorbachev’s speeches, and did a complete dress rehearsal with Soviet Affairs expert Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Is there anything remotely like this going on in the current administration?

To the extent the president is thinking about the Koreas at all, he seems to be winging it with protectionist saber-rattling. As Fred Kaplan notes, on Thursday in Ohio, Trump referred to a recently reached trade deal with South Korea, saying, “I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea. You know why? Because it’s a very strong card. And I want to make sure everyone is treated fairly.” Why would the United States threaten to make implementation of a trade deal with South Korea dependent upon a nuclear deal with North Korea?

Meanwhile, North Korea has launched its own “charm offensive” on the South Koreans. God knows if it will work, but Kim Jong-un and his wife are doing photo ops attending K-Pop concerts. They’re doing everything possible to maximize their leverage heading into this summit (presuming the summit happens). What is our side doing?

Earlier this morning, Robert Kelly, associate professor at Pusan National University, told CNBC that the lack of preparation on the part of the White House, coupled with North Korea’s supreme preparation, are such a predictable formula for disaster that the summit ought to be called off.

Trump “doesn’t know a great deal about Korea — we know that he doesn’t read very much, he watches a lot of television, and his national security staff is sort of in chaos right now,” Kelly said.  “The North Koreans have been working on this stuff for a long time, so they’re going to come in there and know every single detail and they’re going to be ready to negotiate down deep into the weeds.”

(Yes, Robert Kelly is that professor in South Korea. It’s okay. We’re all watching the door behind him.)

Could we get a few North Korean experts booked on Fox & Friends?

Can we get Mike Pompeo confirmed as secretary of State as quickly as possible? (Recently 93 conservative leaders signed a petition supporting his confirmation.) His confirmation hearing is reportedly scheduled for April 12; right now, nothing is set on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee schedule.

The Gritty, Easily Overlooked Details on the Trump War against Amazon

I’m starting to think that the markets overreact to any change in Washington.

President Donald Trump’s threats to raise postal rates on the tech giant Amazon — which many consider his proxy war against the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post — cost the company over $35 billion in stock value on Monday, suggesting Trump’s war with the media has the potential to hit media companies in their pocket books.

The company’s stock dropped 75.35 points — or 6.21 percent — as part of a larger sell-off on Wall Street after Trump accused Amazon of exploiting the U.S. Postal Service.

Is Amazon a significantly different company than it was a week ago? Does it have any fewer products, fewer trucks and warehouses, employees? Less web traffic or fewer customers?

The only thing that really changed is coverage of the president’s rage against the company, which allegedly raises the possibility of higher postal rates.

Package-delivery rates are set by the U.S. Postal Service in negotiation with Amazon, the service’s biggest customer. Despite the president’s claims, the postal service does not lose money on every package delivery for Amazon. The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act made it illegal for the postal service to charge a price for package delivery that is lower than the cost of making the delivery. All changes to delivery prices have to be approved by the federal Postal Regulatory Commission, which has five members; no more than three members can be of the same party. The commission currently has four members; three are Republicans. All members of the PRC must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

If Trump wanted to raise rates for Amazon, he could contact the PRC’s current members and articulately effectively persuade, with evidence, figures, and reason, that they undercharged the service’s biggest customer to the detriment of the American taxpayer. (Stop laughing.) Tweeting things like “only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon!” probably isn’t going to change their minds.

Presuming none of the current members feel they were fools to approve the current rates, Trump could find an anti-Amazon Democrat and get him confirmed by the Senate. Then, on October 14, the term of Republican member Tony Hammond expires. Trump could then find an anti-Amazon Republican and get him confirmed; that would give him two votes to raise rates on Amazon.

They could attempt to persuade one of the other current members. If they can’t, the next vacancy is Commissioner Nancy Langley, a Democrat, currently the only Democrat, the following month. But commissioners can continue to serve for a year after their term expires if no replacement is ready.

In other words, if the Senate goes along with Trump’s anti-Amazon agenda, he could put in three commissioners who would approve higher rates for Amazon by the end of the year. But that’s a pretty big “if,” and without that cooperation, the quartet that approved the current rates is in place until autumn 2019.

In the meantime, Amazon is also developing its own delivery methods. And at some point, if the U.S. Postal Service wants to make Amazon deliveries more expensive, UPS and/or FedEx might step in and make a competitive bid.

If Vanity Fair’s sources are right, Trump is eager to use the levers of government to mess with Amazon any way he can.

Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I [f-word] with him?”

According to sources, Trump wants the Post Office to increase Amazon’s shipping costs. When Trump previously discussed the idea inside the White Hose, Gary Cohn had explained that Amazon is a benefit to the Postal Service, which has seen mail volume plummet in the age of e-mail. “Trump doesn’t have Gary Cohn breathing down his neck saying you can’t do the Post Office [stuff],” a Republican close to the White House said. “He really wants the Post Office deal renegotiated. He thinks Amazon’s getting a huge [f-word-ing] deal on shipping.”

Advisers are also encouraging Trump to cancel Amazon’s pending multi-billion contract with the Pentagon to provide cloud computing services, sources say. Another line of attack would be to encourage attorneys general in red states to open investigations into Amazon’s business practices. Sources say Trump is open to the ideas. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the end of 2018, how likely is it that the U.S. Senate will want to approve postal commissioners who agree with policies that amount to a Trump vendetta against Jeff Bezos?

ADDENDA: This is a fascinating idea that could work as long as it included sufficient safeguards:

Like police, doctors have a difficult and stressful job that sometimes involves making life-or-death decisions under conditions of uncertainty. But unlike police, doctors don’t expect the rest of us to pay for their mistakes. Instead, doctors carry professional liability insurance, which pays to defend them against malpractice claims and protects them from financial ruin by paying out damage awards to successful plaintiffs. Insurance companies are exceptionally good at identifying risk. Think about car insurance. The more accidents or speeding tickets a driver has had, the higher their premiums will be. The same is true for teenagers, who tend to get in more wrecks than adults and therefore represent a greater risk to the insurance company.

The question is, would merely filing a complaint cause a police officer to have to pay a higher rate for liability insurance? Because a significant number of individuals who get arrested — or even who gets a traffic ticket! — might want to stick it to the cop in any way possible. And would there be any consequence for filing a baseless complaint?


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