Tackling the evolving political headlines

The Means Report

No matter what day it is, the headlines are always changing. What is going on in our nation and our world from a political point of view? Lot of controversy; lot of issues to tackle today for sure. From the North Korea summit to the immigration issues we’ve been witnessing at our southern border with Mexico. Our decision to bail out of the U.N. Human Rights Council: what does that mean going forward not only for the United States and its relationship with the U.N., but for human rights worldwide? And so of course we have our political expert on hand to help us sort through all of this and understand it. He is the director of intelligence and security studies at Augusta University, Dr. Craig Albert.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, thank you first of all for being on the news lately to help us each night, and now in a longer format for coming back to the Means Report.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me. You know I love being here.

Brad Means: Well, we love having you, too, and you make complicated matters easy to understand, like immigration. So my question is, when we look at the separation of children from their families at the border, that was the big controversy; we had the crying children, their parents being hauled off, why can’t those families be kept together? I know they are now. Why couldn’t they be kept together through the whole process, and what happened when they tried to cross during the Obama years?

Dr. Craig Albert: Good question. So it was actually a law that children that came in illegally with parents could not be detained with them if their parents were charged criminally, so it was actually against the United States law to detain children under criminal offenses with their parents. Now the difference between President Obama, yes, that was the law under President Obama, the difference between President Obama and President Trump is that President Trump chose to include anybody who came over illegally as a criminal, whereas President Obama only selected certain crimes that were associated with coming over. So if you came over in the narcotics trade, if you were caught with drugs, you were a criminal, and you were separated from your children if they were with you. If you were suspected of being involved in sex trafficking or human trafficking of any type, President Obama did the exact same thing and would separate them. So that’s actually the law of the land, but what we need to understand is that the president enforces the law. What that means is that the president can choose not to enforce the law. That’s all at each different president’s perspective, what they want to do, and so President Trump made the decision to include all immigrants under this law crossing illegally, whether they were asylum seekers, refugees, or just illegal immigrants crossing in, as criminals, and therefore by law, by him choosing to enforce that, they had to be separated from their children. Otherwise their children would be detained in security facility detention centers.

Brad Means: Do the people in Mexico know this, and know the risks they are taking if they say, “Okay, time to go; kids, you’re coming with us.”

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think they would know of Trump’s zero tolerance policy that everybody that came in. The idea had been that if you came seeking political asylum status that you would be allowed in, and that process is handled differently than somebody, let’s say, that’s just caught swimming across the Rio Grande river. Two separate processes: one’s for refugees or asylum seekers; one is for criminal trespassing, pretty much. And you come in there, go to a different type of detention facility. When you come in for asylum seeking, you come in saying, “I’m seeking political asylum “because I’m being tortured in my country,” “because of the gang violence,” “I’m seeking your help, America.” And so you come in and report right to the border patrol. You’re not caught; you go right to them to, you know, different ports of entries and say, “I request asylum.” And so nobody thinks that you’re crossing in illegally; you’re asking for political asylum. Trump said, no, if you cross that border illegally without filing the paperwork first on the other side of the border to give you rights to come in, which is technically the legal definition of proper or legal immigration status, or how you ought to seek political asylum. They didn’t understand the difference between that was gonna be applied the same way, just as anybody, a drug trafficker crossing illegally, which does happen quite a lot. And so President Trump said, nope, if you cross, that’s how I’m enforcing it. Everybody’s a criminal.

Brad Means: All right, so he was taking this hard-line stance on immigration as he promised in his campaign; all of a sudden he signs an executive order this past week saying, all right, we’ll keep the families together. They’ll go through this process together. Did he cave?

Dr. Craig Albert: He didn’t cave. The executive order, if you read it very carefully, says that the president and the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense has the right or the privilege of choosing whether or not to keep these families together, so at any time, for any family, for any reason, they can still separate them. And right now the president, under congressional statute, is still limited to keeping families detained together for 20 days. That is the law of the land. So the president says that Congress needs to act on that, because after 20 days, you’re gonna see the exact same thing, children being pulled away from their parents if their parents are still held in the detention centers.

Brad Means: So he goes to Minnesota this past week and has an enormous rally, as Trump is able to do, President Trump, and you walk away with the perception that he is beloved. Is that what those rallies are all about, to let you go to bed that night thinking, “Wait a minute; I must be wrong “with my interpretation of immigration, “’cause everyone loves him in that huge stadium.”

Dr. Craig Albert: Those are campaign rallies, so even the first couple of weeks after that he became president, he was running those type of campaign rallies. Those are completely different types of rallies that are not focused on the presidency; they’re run, paid for, by the reelection campaign for President Donald Trump for 2020. So those are meant to stir up the crowd. They’re meant to get everybody enthused and behind him. His base comes out to that. Those are all the people that love Trump, and that is just meant to keep some momentum going, running into 2020. ‘Cause I know the viewers might not wanna hear this, but the presidential election cycle starts immediate, the day after midterms, which is just in a couple of months. So everything that we are just getting over from the 2016 presidential elections is about to kick off again.

Brad Means: Let’s talk about the North Korea summit. Do you think it was a success, not a success? Somewhere in between?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it was a complete success if you understand what President Trump and what Chairman Kim wanted to do. They wanted to create the mechanism for political communication between the two countries. All they wanted to do was meet one another and establish some baseline for how future negotiations would occur, to establish some type of, some type of policy, some type of communication technique, for Trump and Kim to communicate with each other if anything happened, if anything that could cause a war or some kind of conflict to escalate or spiral into a kinetic war, boots-on-the-ground type of action. The sole purpose was for each of them to get to know each other for a few hours to build what we call single-layer trust between one another. And that was Trump’s biggest point of this, was can I trust Kim, and that’s when he said very famously within the first minute I’ll walk out if I don’t trust him. That’s his idea, and most people thought that that’s the way it was going to occur, that he would walk in, not trust Kim, and he would walk out and that would be the end of it. But both sides said they were very pleased with how it happened, the initial negotiation was really about how were we going to start negotiating. They did set four lines out, four small steps of policy, including the idea of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. But that’s as far as they went, so some analysts say it was a failure because they didn’t define a timeline for this, how they were gonna denuclearize; that wasn’t the purpose of this summit. The purpose was to establish a baseline: the first meeting of how everything would go, and what goals to focus upon moving forward.

Brad Means: Well, when we do look at moving forward, are we talking about months or years or decades before the ultimate goal of peace between the two countries is realized?

Dr. Craig Albert: It all depends on Chairman Kim. Will he allow us to come in and look at his nuclear facility? Is he just doing this to get some type of concessions from the United States, from the world? Is he just stalling while he’s building something else, while he’s building up his forces? It’s hard to tell. At best, we are still talking about years. It’s going to take years to dismantle the nuclear capability he already has. Never mind if he has some type of biological or chemical weapons that we’re unaware of, or that he’s not reporting to us. So that’s going to take additional timeline. We’re talking at least a decade, if everything goes perfectly.

Brad Means: Do you think we’ll ever turn on the news at night, the national news, and hear an anchorperson say, “The president did a really good job today.” Immigration, the North Korea summit, the president did a good job today. Will we ever hear that?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s remarkable in my opinion, and this is just my opinion, but the media, the national mainstream media, does tend to seem to only wanna report on criticisms of President Donald Trump. I think most of that is based on how he handles himself. He is so non-establishment. He’s very obviously direct and politically incorrect on purpose, and for most mainstream media, that’s just something they’re not used to. And so they take this as, plus, let’s be honest, it’s not as if mainstream media is just against Trump; Trump poses himself very clearly as against mainstream media. So they do have this rhetorical war going on against one another. So every time Trump blames them for something, or saying they’re fake news, I mean, you have to understand that they’re probably going to attack back or try to report on something critical to see how Trump responds, and to frame him in a way that says you’re not a part of the establishment as politics as usual. And the media is usually been a part as politics as usual, especially under President Obama where they had a very nice establishment between the Obama White House and the media in general.

Brad Means: Is there somebody behind the scenes at the networks or at the cable outlets saying, “As you begin your coverage today, team, “make sure that it has an anti-Trump slant.” How does this happen night after night? I’m not just necessarily saying that the media dumps on President Trump, I’m sure they did it before with President Obama, both parties, for as far back as media goes. But how does that happen? Is there someone saying, “You will cover things this way”?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s, you got me on that one.

Brad Means: I know how editorial meetings work in the morning. But here at Channel 6 we’re cut loose; off we go into the community to do our thing. That turns into a six o’clock newscast. But it’s just so prevalent, especially on the cable outlets, the slant one way or the other, and I just wondered if you had any sense from where that was coming from.

Dr. Craig Albert: I think the news directors and the producers overall, for both of the major networks, I’d say CNN and Fox News, do have particular issues they wanna report on, and then you have to incorporate as well the multi-million dollar salary journalists, reporters, and anchors there, they’re pretty hands-off. So with NBC, for Megyn Kelly, for instance, she has free rein for whatever she wants to do, and so how she wants to present a story, I mean, obviously it’s gonna go through the proper editorial reviews that NBC has, but she makes $22 million a year with NBC News, and that’s gonna allow her some discretion; that’s part of her contract. And the same is gonna be of Sean Hannity, for instance, at Fox. They have wide discretion. The lower down the totem pole you get for fame or, I don’t know the proper word–

Brad Means: Sure, fame, notoriety, your ability to make those decisions is limited. You’re right, and I think you hit the nail on the head, because here at the local level, people ask me about this, you know, why don’t you all lean one way or the other? Craig, if I started dumping on local leaders night after night, I’d be reined in pretty quickly. Those bigger network stars aren’t reined in.

Dr. Craig Albert: And this is something that I think President Trump is losing a lot of potential electoral support, because he should say national news is fake news, but I depend on the local news. Because that’s where grassroots organization forms. That’s where community organizers can come out and really build momentum for President Donald Trump leading up to the next presidential election.

Brad Means: Well, and just to put a bow on the media-Trump conversation, doesn’t this all play into the president’s hand anyway, because the more distrust that he and his base have with the media, the better his reelection chances?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think so, I think that it’s remarkable that the political left, the Democratic machine still doesn’t understand that the more they attack President Trump personally, the more his supporters are gonna come out and vote. The more the mainstream news view him as critical, that feeds into exactly what he wants, because he tweets about it, he has this direct, what we call in political science, going public, which means the president goes above you and just directly communicates with the population. He has millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. He can, and, the citizens feel as though he’s communicating directly to each and every one of them. So when he says, you know, “Oh, this is fake news,” somebody in downtown Augusta or Waynesboro or somewhere is like, “Yeah, he’s talkin’ to me. “I agree with him.” So he’s gaining their support and their trust. And if he can make it appear that he is one of them, that he relates to them, that’s just gonna make it all the more likely that they continue to support him and go to the polls in high number and vote for him. So if I were a Democrat, I’m not saying I’m not, but if I were a Democrat that had, I was in charge of their campaigns, for instance, I would say, “Stop “demonizing President Trump “and start attacking his policies “through political discourse, and leave the rhetoric. “Don’t play his game, because he’s the master at this game.”

Brad Means: Mm-hmm, yep, I agree. I agree, great point. No matter which party you root for. When we come back, we’re going to continue our talk with political scientist Dr. Craig Albert from Augusta University, tackling the headlines of the day, making us all understand them a little more easily. In a moment.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. Dr. Craig Albert, the director of intelligence and security studies at Augusta University is with us today, thank goodness, because there’s been a lot to talk about. Moving on to the trade wars that could be beginning. These tariffs that we’re levying against China and other nations, and they are firing back at us with high fees on our goods and services. Why are we doing this? Is it a, it feels like it’s a short-term thing, till one side gets sick of it and we go back to the table and we’re friends again. China just seems like somebody you wouldn’t wanna mess with when it comes to most anything. They’re huge.

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s particularly the reason why President Trump is going after China. If the intel community says that China is our next biggest threat, when you come to power projection capabilities, so to break that down, they are the next challenger to us. They have the most likelihood of being able to threaten us if we ever went into a great power war. So we haven’t had a great power war since World War II. China is at a position where in the next 20 to 30 years, they could legitimately challenge us. How are they getting the power capabilities to getting in a position where they can challenge us? It’s through cyber espionage. They are stealing so much of our data, not just government data, but business data, patent data, design data, for everything. President Trump is savvier than most individuals give him credit for. He’s not putting tariffs on China just because of the fact that they have a $300 billion surplus over us. So when you trade, we trade with every nation, state in the world. You try to have a balance, or if you’re really self-interested as a country, you wanna have this surplus with another country, ’cause that helps your economy out more than having a deficit. We’re in the hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit. So he wants to balance that, because he thinks that’s going to benefit the American economy, and more importantly, the individual consumer, but more importantly beyond that is a grand strategy of how do we make sure China is not threatening us or they’re never put in a position. So one way to combat or punish them for all the cyber espionage that they’re doing is to engage in a trade scrimmage. Let’s be careful here: a trade scrimmage. If we break into a trade war, all bets are off, and that’s a completely different understanding. The American economy will get hurt; the American consumer will get hurt. Maybe not at first, but in the long run you’re gonna see that you’re spending several hundred dollars extra a year. That’s probably what we’re gonna see immediately, is that we’ll probably spend, the average person, 80 bucks more a year for things that were made in China. But if it continues, and they’re threatening to put exact same amount on us, we could be putting $400 billion of tariffs on each other, which means prices for, let’s say, iPhones that are made in China and shipped back over here, we’re gonna have to pay a tariff on that. Who’s gonna eat that cost, Apple or the consumer? The consumer’s gonna eat it.

Brad Means: Well, so my question is, is the hope, and I hate to oversimplify it, but it’s really the purpose of you being here today is to try to oversimplify. Is the hope here that one day China says, “You know what? “We’re gonna stop stealing so much “of your stuff in cyberspace. “These tariffs: enough’s enough. “We’ll stop stealing so much stuff from y’all. “Let’s just go back to normal.”

Dr. Craig Albert: So it’s President Trump as usual, with everything he does, and this is his business model, which he’s bringing into the presidency, he is taking, as we saw with immigration, as we see with anything, the most hard-line position he can think of. He writes about this in all of his books that he’s published. This is how he runs his television shows. He takes the hard-line position. So therefore when you’re forced to compromise, no matter how you compromise, you’re compromising more than what you wanted to to bring him from his hard-line position. So what his ultimate goal is is to benefit the American economy somehow by making that trade deficit at least better, if not altogether wow, stopping them from a little bit of cyber espionage. Now we’re not ever going to stop a country fully from cyber espionage, cyber offense is much easier than cyber defense, and vulnerabilities are found in the internet each day, and so it’s much easier to attack, much easier to steal, than it is to defend against all of that. What President Trump is saying is you’re gonna be punished if you keep doing this at the level, frequency, and intensity that you’re doing it. And tariffs is one of those ways. Let’s be clear, ’cause everybody says, a lot of analysts on the news are saying that China would win this trade war. That’s not true. If they really went to an all-out trade war, they own a large plurality of American bonds. That means our bond market would crash. And who does that affect negatively in the end? The owner of those bonds, which is China. So if they really go on full-out trade war with us, they’re damaging themselves more than they’re damaging us. We would win by default because they own more of our bonds than we do of theirs.

Brad Means: The midterm elections that you mentioned earlier are still playing out. But what feel do you have for them right now, as far as them being a referendum on President Trump? Are things, more things going his way? More elections his way than not?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think I calculated it; I’m about 63% accurate with my predictions with you in the past couple of years–

Brad Means: That’s right, we love your predictions.

Dr. Craig Albert: Let’s see. I would say that nobody knows for sure, because the population is in this weird spot where so many people like President Trump, they like his directness, they like his policy, they like his hard-line stances, but so many of the population, some of them at the same time, don’t like how he handles himself. Don’t like his character. Don’t like the presumption of corruption that surrounds the Trump family, whether it’s accurate or not, they’re uncomfortable with this. So it depends on who wins that message. Do the Democrats win that message or do the Republicans win that message? Which message do you, do you feel better off today than you were two years ago? Do you think America is more secure today than two years ago? Is our economy better today than two years ago? The one thing I would say is, the Democrats are predicting a blue wave, that they’re gonna kinda sweep and win back the houses of Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate. I think that’s highly unlikely. They might gain a few seats in the house. 10 or 12, maybe. They might win two or three seats in the Senate and therefore take control of the Senate. I think the best prediction I can make is that the Democrats might win the Senate, but I do not think they will control full congress.

Brad Means: I wanna get into this more in depth on a future show, but are more Democrats or Republicans, or can you tell, coming out of your classrooms at Augusta University? What kind of kids are coming out of there?

Dr. Craig Albert: You all should come to the class and film it sometime and talk to the students, but when I teach, I try as best I can to stay politically objective. And when a student, whether they’re clearly liberal Democrat or clearly conservative Republican, or down the middle, I try to challenge them on whatever their view is. ‘Cause I’m trying to create, and I think this is the liberal arts model that Augusta University has, is that we’re trying to create productive students that have creative, critical, and analytical capabilities. So it doesn’t matter what your position is coming into the class, it’s do you have evidence for that? Can you change your mind based on fact, based on evidence, based on argumentation in the classroom? And when you leave, can you explain why you changed your mind or why you stayed steadfast? And that’s what most students are. Some classrooms, students don’t like telling you their political persuasion, because it’s a big perception that if you disagree with the professor’s political viewpoint that you might be hurt in your grades, which is totally unethical, and professors are just not allowed to do that, but students sometimes feel that that happens. So the way I do that to ease them and to make them feel a little bit safer, is to say, hey, I don’t care what your political objectives are, what your ideology, I really don’t, as long as you have evidence for it, and you’re open to change if another student presents evidence that just clearly diminishes your understanding of it, your evidence of it, can you change that and feel comfortable changing then? Because I already say, I always tell them, education or being smart isn’t being smart up front and sticking to your guns. It’s being able to think creatively and critically, and admitting when you’re wrong and changing your opinion based on that. When somebody disproves you, you have just been brought closer to the journey for the search of truth.

Brad Means: Great point.

Dr. Craig Albert: So there’s no sense in holding on.

Brad Means: Well, thank you for that. Thank you for fostering that kind of environment for our children. We appreciate you, and thanks for your time today, as always.

Dr. Craig Albert: Always a pleasure; thank you.

Brad Means: It flew by again. And we will have Dr. Craig Albert back soon, I assure you. We value his expertise.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.