Trump to announce Afghanistan plan Monday in TV address - Axios
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Trump to announce Afghanistan plan Monday in TV address

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Trump will address the nation on his Afghanistan war strategy tomorrow at 9 p.m. from Fort Myer in Arlington, VA. It's one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, and it comes after Trump met with his national security team on Friday at Camp David .

  • Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Sunday, per Reuters: "I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a pre-set position."
  • The stakes: Should Trump order a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, advisers believe he'd all but ensure the Taliban completes its takeover of the country. Al-Qaeda and ISIS would be allowed to flourish, and you'd have a terrorist launching pad similar to, or potentially worse than, before 9/11.

Trump's decision hasn't leaked; but I can illuminate some of the private conversations leading up to it, from senior administration sources and former officials close to the Pentagon:

Trump's top national security advisers all agree the only way they'll win their missions in Afghanistan is to modestly increase troop levels, keep training the Afghan military, and keep a strong CIA and special forces presence to run aggressive counter-terrorism operations.

Two missions:

  1. "Operation Resolute Support": While the Trump administration is explicitly repudiating both the idea and the phrase "nation building," ORS is a train, advise and assist mission to help the Afghan army fight the Taliban, an official tells me. It's meant to help keep the government from collapsing while reversing Taliban gains.
  2. Counter-terrorism mission — primarily to eradicate Al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and other terrorist groups from Afghanistan.

Inside Mattis' thinking: The Defense Secretary has been using this line in meetings: "Mr. President, we haven't fought a 16-year war so much as we have fought a one-year war, 16 times."

  • What Mattis means by that: Trump has already given Mattis the authority to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, but the Defense Secretary has refused to exercise that authority, believing that doing so without an agreed-upon strategy would be continuing the failures of previous administrations. Trump officials condemn the Obama administration for falling into a habit of asking each winter "what do we need to do this year to prevent total collapse?"

Trump's team presented him with other scenarios — which everyone on the team agreed would lead to disaster. They included a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan (a continuation of what Obama was doing), and counter-terrorism-only options.

  • What Steve Bannon wanted: Mattis and co. never took the idea seriously, but Bannon and Blackwater founder Erik Prince had been pushing for Trump to gradually withdraw the U.S. military from Afghanistan and replace it with private paramilitary forces to hunt terrorists.
  • I'm told the Bannon strategy has never been part of the NSC paperwork, though the former chief strategist circumvented the official process and took his arguments directly to the president.

Trump's instincts: The president has been blunt, telling his team that while he thinks the war in Afghanistan has been a disaster, and the U.S. is losing, he thinks total withdrawal would be bad.

  • Trump saw what happened when Obama withdrew from Iraq and believes that doing so precipitously in Afghanistan would allow the Taliban to take over, and Al-Qaeda would be resurgent. You'd have bad guys in Afghanistan in league with bad guys in Pakistan who want to overthrow the country.
  • Trump has told his advisers he's been shown the maps of Afghanistan, with the red on the map signifying the Taliban's presence in the country. He says that advisers show him the map in 2014 and there's a little bit of red. Look at the 2017 map and half the country's red, therefore "we're losing."
  • The generals' response to Trump: You're right. But we're losing because the strategy has been terrible. We can turn this around.

Bottom line: Trump has been reluctantly open to the generals' opinion and I'm told he doesn't want to be the president who loses the country to the terrorists.


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China fines social media services over banned content

Vincent Yu / AP

China's Cyberspace Administration said it has fined to the highest degree three social media services—Baidu's Tieba, Weibo, and Tencent's WeChat—for failing to censor banned content, according to CNBC. On Tuesday, it also appeared that Facebook-owned chat app WhatsApp was blocked, though some users report service has resumed.

Bigger picture: Chinese authorities said in January that they were planning to "clean up" online activities by March 2018. In June, a new cybersecurity law went into effect, though it's been criticized for not being clear enough as to how it will be implemented. China has also cracked down on VPNs (software that keeps online activity private and secure), forcing Apple to remove a number of them from its App Store in China, as well as certain cryptocurrency activities.

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DOJ to file charges in college basketball corruption scandal

A Duke-North Carolina game at Madison Square Garden in March. Photo: Julie Jacobson / AP

The Justice Department will announce charges of fraud and corruption this afternoon against ten people in connection with a wide-ranging bribery scheme at some top college basketball programs, per the WSJ.

What's expected: The charges will be filed against coaches, managers, financial advisors, and some representatives of a major sportswear company. The investigation uncovered evidence that coaches from some schools had received kickbacks to steer their players toward receiving services from outside groups.

The coaches charged, according to NBC News' Tom Winter:

  • Tony Bland, USC, associate head coach
  • Lamont Evans, Oklahoma State, assistant coach
  • Chuck Person, Auburn, associate head coach
  • Emanuel Richardson, Arizona, assistant coach
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What North Korea has labeled a declaration of war

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

On Monday, North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said President Trump had declared war on North Korea when he tweeted they wouldn't "be around much longer" if Ho echoed "thoughts of Little Rocket Man."

Isaac Stone Fish, senior fellow at the Asia Society, laid out other instances North Korea interpreted as declaration of war:

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The history of singing the national anthem before NFL games

Michael Perez / AP

Football season is now at the center of a heated political debate over whether or not players should be allowed to sit or kneel during the national anthem. Some agree with President Trump and find the move offensive, claiming it is disrespectful to those who serve in the U.S. military; others argue that the protest is a form of patriotism, and the U.S. guarantees the right of players to protest however they choose.

Why it matters: While patriotism should not be conflated only with the military, the history of playing the national anthem before sports games does have strong ties with honoring the armed forces.

Here's a timeline of how the national anthem became a sports tradition in the first place:

  • 1814: Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, while watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
  • 1889: Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy called for the song to be played whenever the American flag was raised.
  • 1916: President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order declaring the "Star Spangled Banner" the American national anthem.
  • 1918: The song was played spontaneously during the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the World Series between the Cubs and Red Sox, while the country had been in World War I for a year and half. After this, the song was often played on holidays or special occasions in many baseball parks.
  • 1931: Congress passed an act officially confirming the "Star Spangled Banner" as the national anthem, and President Hebert Hoover signed it into law.
  • 1941-42: Playing the national anthem before the start of regular season baseball games became the standard. And with the U.S. in World War II now, the National Football League also included the playing of the anthem before games.
  • 1945: NFL commissioner Elmer Layden said, "The playing of the national anthem should be as much a part of every game as the kickoff. We must not drop it simply because the war is over. We should never forget what it stands for."
  • 2009: NFL players began standing on the field for the national anthem before the start of primetime games. Before this, players would stay in their locker rooms except during the Super Bowl and after 9/11.
  • 2015: Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake released a report revealing that the Department of Defense had spent $6.8 million of between 2012 and 2015 on what the senators called "paid patriotism" events before professional sports games, including American flag displays, honoring of military members, reenlistment ceremonies, etc. The DoD justified the money paid to 50 professional sports teams by calling it part of their recruiting strategy. However, many teams had these ceremonies without compensation from the military, and there was nothing found in the contracts that mandated that players stand during the anthem.
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The states spending the most out-of-pocket on health care

Data: JPMorgan Chase Institute; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Colorado's full of healthy hikers and mountain bikers, right? Well, it also has some of the highest out-of-pocket health care spending in the country. That's according to a report being released today by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, a new initiative that's using banking data to study spending trends and the financial pressures in people's lives.

Report details: The report looks at health care spending trends in 23 states where Chase has retail branches, and it found a lot of variation, even after controlling for age and income differences:

  • Highest average out-of-pocket spending: Colorado ($916), Utah ($906)
  • Lowest average: California ($596), Michigan ($601)
  • Highest average spending compared to income: Oklahoma (1.7%), Louisiana (1.7%)
  • Lowest average: New Jersey (1%), New York (1%)

Why it's happening: The report says it's likely due to differences in health care prices, insurance coverage, and how much people are using medical care — but demographics didn't matter.

Go deeper: Check out the report here, and more data visuals here.

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Equifax CEO retires after security breach

Equifax headquarters in Atlanta, Photo: Mike Stewart / AP

Equifax chairman and CEO Richard Smith retired today after his company suffered a major security breach earlier this month that exposed personal financial information for approximately 143 million Americans.

The details: The information accessed in the three-month-long hack included customers' names, birth dates, addresses, social security numbers, and driver's license numbers. Close to 209,000 consumers' credit card information was accessed. Smith's exit follows two others. Equifax's chief information officer and chief security officer stepped down earlier this month.

From the company's statement: "The cybersecurity incident has affected millions of consumers, and I have been completely dedicated to making this right. At this critical juncture, I believe it is in the best interests of the company to have new leadership to move the company forward," Smith said

What's next: President of Equifax's Asia-Pacific division, Paulino do Rego Barros, Jr., will serve as interim CEO. Board member Mark Feidler has been appointed non-executive chairman.

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Merkel's drift left allowed the far-right to grow

Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday. Photo: Michael Kappeler / dpa via AP

Angela Merkel's leftward drift over her years in office, especially on issues like the European Union and migration, has made her more palatable to left-leaning voters, but it has created an opportunity for the far-right to proliferate, per the NYT.

Why it matters: Last weekend's election saw a strong showing for Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right populist party, that attracted voters from Merkel's right-leaning base and mobilized those who usually didn't vote via non-traditional campaigning. It illustrates how the far-right can continue to prosper across Europe even without the flashpoint issues, like last year's migration crisis, at the forefront of the news cycle.

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The rebirth of Quirky

Quirky once was one of the tech world's most-watched startups, raising around $200 million to build a platform whereby inventors could submit ideas that Quirky might then manufacture and distribute via major retail channels. Even more exciting was that other users who contributed valuable feedback could receive royalties. More than 150 products came to market.

But then, two years ago, the whole thing went bust, filing for bankruptcy and selling off its Wink home automation hub product to Flextronics for $15 million. Company founder and CEO Ben Kaufman moved on to an e-commerce role with Buzzfeed.

Today, Quirky is back.

Something new, something old, something borrowed: The new Quirky is still an innovation platform focused on consumer products in the electronics, toys and home goods verticals. And the fractional royalties system remains in place. But the company no longer plans to manufacture "winning" inventions, instead employing a licensing model through which it will partner with companies like HSN, Vanderbilt Home, Atomi, Shopify and Viatek. This is a bit similar to the pivot Quirky attempted before its bankruptcy filing, but by that point it was too little too late.

While in limbo: Quirky's website received over 50,000 invention submissions during its reorganization, including around 3,000 per month over the past year, according to new company president Gina Waldhorn. "You'd have thought most of the traffic would disappear since we weren't picking new products, but the community just wouldn't quit," she says. Waldhorn adds that while Quirky is originally relaunching today, it has quietly helped launch 12 products in 2017 — including relaunches of some previously-successful ones — has another 10 offerings in production and over 40 in development.

Answering critics: Quirky's terms of service since the reorg gave the company all IP rights to a submitted product, in perpetuity, no matter if Quirky actually picked it for development. The company says it is introducing new terms that give Quirky exclusive IP rights for 12 months, but that they then revert back to the inventor if the product is not picked.

Reputational damage: Waldhorn acknowledges that while the bankruptcy hurt Quirky within the company's home market of New York -- where it received the most media coverage — most of its users didn't care. "There was an opportunity to represent open innovation for inventors, but no one else came around to do it."

Financing: The original iteration of Quirky raised around $200 million from investors like General Electric, Kleiner Perkins and Andreessen Horowitz. But its current owners, who purchased the company's non-Wink assets out of bankruptcy, have no plans to raise outside capital. But they have been investing in restaffing, including a development team based on Poland.

Well wishes: Quirky founder Ben Kaufman tells Axios that he "hopes it works out" for the new team. "I'd glad to see someone try, but it'll be hard."

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Trump bullish on tax reform at dinner with conservative leaders

Trump speaks at a dinner with conservative grassroots leaders in the Blue Room of the White House. Photo: Shealah Craighead / White House

President Trump was in an unapologetic mood last night, dining on beef Wellington with conservative grassroots leaders in the Blue Room, joined by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House aides Marc Short, Kellyanne Conway and Nick Ayers.

A source in the room told all-terrain Jonathan Swan: "He was very juiced up about tax cuts... very bullish on passing tax reform, and he was specifically calling it a tax cut."

  • Trump — who was still equivocating on the Republican tax plan as recently as yesterday morning — told the group it's going to be "great, we're going to do tax cuts for everyone," said the source, paraphrasing the president. Trump said he's going to lower the corporate tax rate, "and that he wanted it to be lower but it's going to be great ... There were a lot of 'greats' in there."
  • Trump wasn't worried about NFL blowback, and gushed over Alejandro Villanueva — the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and Afghanistan veteran — who stood alone with his hand over his heart while the rest of his team stayed in the locker room. (His gear was the NFL's best seller yesterday.)
  • Who's who — The White House released this list of attendees: Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America; Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity; Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the The Federalist Society; Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition; Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List; Ed Feulner, founder and acting president of the Heritage Foundation; Tim Goeglein of Focus on the Family; and Bob McEwen, former congressman and executive director of the Council for National Policy.
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Bannon’s last-minute, anti-establishment plea to Alabama voters

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon speaks at a rally for U.S. Senate hopeful Roy Moore. Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

Steve Bannon went — as Steve Bannon might say — "buck wild" inside a barn in Fairhope, Alabama, last night. He was there to rally support for Roy Moore, who faces incumbent Republican Senator Luther Strange in today's special election. Trump was in Alabama last week hosting a rally for Strange (the same rally at which he began his tirade against the NFL), but that didn't change Bannon's mind on which candidate to support.

The recently departed White House chief strategist was unshaved, unkempt, dressed in a green military jacket and came out onto stage to "Street Fighting Man," by the Rolling Stones. He name-dropped Plutarch and Shakespeare, and described today's Republican Senate primary run-off in Alabama in typically hyperbolic terms.

  • "Tomorrow's going to decide who has sovereignty in the United States of America," said Bannon, who was stumping for the anti-establishment candidate Roy Moore, who leads incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, the favored candidate of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump, by eight or so points in the polls.
  • Things only escalated from there. "Mitch McConnell and this permanent political class is the most corrupt and incompetent group of individuals in this country," Bannon shouted. "They think you're a pack of morons. They think you're nothing but rubes. They have no interest at all in what you have to say, what you have to think or what you want to do."
  • Amazing to think that a little over a month ago, Bannon was working in a White House that was trying to pass health care in cooperation with Republican leadership.