Trump and his aides reportedly had different responses to a surprise meeting with Emmanuel Macron

The Group of Seven Summit in Biarritz, France, hasn’t officially started yet, but French President Emmanuel Macron got the ball rolling when he “ambushed” President Trump on Saturday.

Macron reportedly surprised Trump at his hotel, and the two had lunch, where they reportedly discussed several crises around the world, including Libya, Iran, and Russia, as well as climate change and trade policy — Trump had earlier repeated threats to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. in retaliation for France’s digital services tax.

Trump seemed pleased with the meeting, though. In brief remarks, he said that he and Macron “actually have a lot in common” and “have been friends a long time.” He added that “everybody’s getting along” and that he expects to “accomplish a lot this weekend.”

His administration, on the other hand, doesn’t have such a rosy outlook. A senior administration official told Politico that by trying to bring issues such as climate change and gender equality to the forefront of the meetings that are meant to focus on global economics, security, and trade, Macron and France are “trying to fracture the G-7.”

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It looks like the summit might be as difficult as predicted.

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Trump and his aides had different responses to his surprise meeting with Emmanuel Macron

The Group of Seven Summit in Biarritz, France, hasn’t officially started yet, but French President Emmanuel Macron got the ball rolling when he “ambushed” President Trump on Saturday.

Macron reportedly surprised Trump at his hotel, and the two had lunch, where they reportedly discussed several crises around the world, including Libya, Iran, and Russia, as well as climate change and trade policy — Trump had earlier repeated threats to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. in retaliation for France’s digital services tax.

Trump seemed pleased with the meeting, though. In brief remarks, he said that he and Macron “actually have a lot in common” and “have been friends a long time.” He added that “everybody’s getting along” and that he expects to “accomplish a lot this weekend.”

His administration, on the other hand, doesn’t have such a rosy outlook. A senior administration told Politico that by trying to bring issues such as climate change and gender equality to the forefront of the meetings that are meant to focus on global economics, security, and trade, Macron and France are “trying to fracture the G-7.”

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It looks like the summit might be as difficult as predicted.

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Pence’s advisers reportedly blame Nikki Haley for rumors that she could replace him on Trump’s 2020 ticket

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley dismissed rumors that she was being considered as a replacement for Vice President Mike Pence on President Trump’s 2020 ticket, calling Pence a “dear friend” who has her “complete support.” It’s reportedly true that Pence and Haley are friends — multiple sources told Politico that the two have long had a “warm” relationship — but the rumored rivalry between their two camps is real, Politico reports.

The recent divisions between the two prominent Republicans, both of whom are being touted as potential future GOP presidential candidates, were seemingly fueled in part by rumors that Haley would be a possible replacement, only to be exacerbated by the fact that she took so long to address them. Some of Pence’s top aides reportedly think that Haley or an ally were actually behind a June Wall Street Journal Op-Ed urging Trump to make the change.

The White House brushed off those suggestions publicly, and Pence has received support from the administration and Trump himself, who apparently privately told Pence that he was irritated by the article.

While it’s unlikely there’s any weight behind the vice presidential rumors, Pence’s team is still convinced that Haley is already laying the groundwork for a future presidential bid, in which the vice president could become a direct competitor. Perhaps a showdown awaits. Read more at Politico.

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Trump has reportedly patched things up with Denmark’s prime minister

Sometimes you just need to talk things out. Especially when it comes to Greenland.

President Trump on Friday evening said that he had a “great conversation” with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, whom he described as a “wonderful woman” before leaving the White House to head to the Group of Seven summit in France.

“We have a great relationship with Denmark, and we agreed to speak later,” Trump said. “But she was very nice. She put a call in, and I appreciated it very much.”

Trump’s laudatory remarks come after he scrapped plans on Monday to visit Denmark in September because Frederiksen nixed the idea that Denmark would sell Greenland to the United States, a deal in which Trump has expressed interest. Trump called Frederiksen’s response “nasty” — which seems to be one of his favorite words. Trump he would not have reacted so strongly if she declined politely, but it appears he was rankled by the fact that Frederiksen said the idea that Greenland is for sale is “absurd.”

It looks like they’ve patched things up for now, although it was unclear if Trump will reconsider visiting Denmark this fall. Either way, it doesn’t appear the Trump administration is backing down from its interest in Greenland, as The Associated Press reports that there are plans to open a U.S. consulate in Nuuk, the island’s capital, Nuuk.

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North Korea is still reportedly launching missile tests

North Korea reportedly fired two more suspected short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday, the country’s seventh weapons launch in a month, following what had been a 17-month hiatus on testing.

North Korea has expressed anger at joint U.S.-South Korea military training exercises, describing them as a “rehearsal for war.” The earlier weapons tests were considered retaliation for the training exercises, but the launches were expected to stop following the conclusion of the drills, which occurred earlier this week.

South Korea said the tests cause “grave concern,” while Japan said they were a clear violation of United Nations resolutions. The missiles did not land in Japanese territorial waters and did not cause any damage, Japanese officials said. Meanwhile, President Trump took a more relaxed approach, keeping in line with his past reactions to North Korea’s tests. He said on Friday evening that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been “pretty straight me” and that “we never restricted short-range missiles.”

The Associated Press reports that many analysts consider the tests to be an attempt by North Korea to apply more pressure on the United States ahead of a possible resuscitation of denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

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Trump says he was just joking when he called himself the ‘chosen one’

President Trump wants everyone to lighten up.

Trump’s claim while looking at the sky that he was the “chosen one” when it comes to taking on China in the trade realm elicited groans on Wednesday. But the president insists the comment was just sarcasm. Before departing for the Group of Seven summit in France late on Friday, a reporter asked Trump about the remark, to which he scoffed in response.

“Let me tell you, you know exactly what I meant,” Trump said, steadfastly maintaining that he was joking. “We were all smiling,” he added before dismissing the question as fake news.

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Trump may very well have been messing around, but the president did not appear to be smiling, as he claimed on Friday. Besides, as the old saying goes, there is a grain of truth in every joke.

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10 things you need to know today: August 24, 2019

1.

President Trump announced Friday that current tariffs on China would be increased after China announced retaliatory tariffs earlier in the day. Tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods currently taxed at 10 percent would jump to 15 percent starting Sept. 1, and tariffs on a separate $250 billion would upped from 25 percent to 30 percent on Oct. 1, Trump tweeted. China’s $75 billion in tariffs announced earlier Friday prompted Trump to tweet that “we don’t need China,” and then he went on to question “who is our bigger enemy” between Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell or China’s President Xi Jinping. The attacks sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling down 623 points for the day, marking it and the other two major indexes’ fourth straight weeks of declines.
[President Trump, The Washington Post]

2.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced plans on Friday to send armed forces to fight fires in the Amazon, reversing course after days of dismissing concern about the ecological disaster. “Whatever is within our power we will do,” Bolsonaro told reporters. “The problem is resources.” He added that the government will take a “zero tolerance” approach to environmental crimes. This comes after Bolsonaro, who has made pledges to ease restrictions on protected areas and under whom deforestation has increased sharply across the country, said the fires were the result of warmer weather and criticized international concern as “sensationalist.” However, Bolsonaro changed his stance as European leaders threatened a trade agreement, protesters took to the streets outside Brazilian embassies, and calls for a boycott of Brazilian products gained momentum.
[The New York Times, CNN]

3.

The Justice Department said on Friday that a psychologist at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan had approved millionaire financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s removal from suicide before he killed himself in his cell at the detention center in August. Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell in July which prompted the initial suicide watch measures, but after being evaluated by a doctoral-level psychologist, it was determined those measures were no longer necessary. No reason was given for Epstein’s removal, but Reuters reports that suicide watch is typically imposed as a short-term restriction. Attorney General William Barr has said there were “serious irregularities” at the MCC, which falls under his authority. He has reassigned the facility’s warden and placed two guards who were responsible for watching Epstein on leave.
[NPR, Reuters]

4.

Another round of pro-democracy, anti-government protests began in Hong Kong on Saturday, marking the 12th straight weekend of demonstrations. Saturday’s rallies turned hectic, as demonstrators clashed with police and threw two petrol bombs in Telford Plaza, a mixed-use complex in Kowloon Bay. Police reportedly fired tear gas after protesters threw projectiles at them. As the marches continue, protesters have blocked roads. In related news, officials in the city of Shenzhen said said on Saturday that Simon Cheng, a Chinese national working at Britain’s Hong Kong consulate, has been released from detention in mainland China where he’s been held since Aug. 8 and has returned to Hong Kong. The authorities’ statement said Cheng confessed to his “illegal acts,” but gave no further details.
[South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera]

5.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has completed three weeks of cancer treatment, the Supreme Court announced on Friday. After a tumor was discovered on Ginsburg’s pancreas in July, Ginsburg underwent a radiation therapy course at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body,” the court said. “No further treatment is needed at this time.” Ginsburg was previously treated for lung cancer last year, as well as for pancreatic cancer in 2009 and colon cancer in 1999. She maintained an active schedule during her treatment.
[The Washington Post, NPR]

6.

Billionaire conservative activist and philanthropist David Koch has died at 79. The death of Koch was confirmed on Friday by his brother, Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch. “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother David,” Charles Koch said. “Anyone who worked with David surely experienced his giant personality and passion for life.” Along with his brother, Koch had been an extraordinarily influential conservative political donor for decades, with the Koch brothers’ network having spent more than $1 billion in recent elections. He also donated more than $1 billion to charity and served as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for vice president in 1980. Koch retired as vice president of Koch Industries in 2018 due to his declining health.
[NBC News, The Wall Street Journal]

7.

Michael Drejka, a white man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed black man, in Clearwater, Florida, last year following a dispute over a handicapped parking space was found guilty of manslaughter. Drejka, who has a concealed weapons license, told police that he fired at McGlockton, after being pushed to the ground, arguing self-defense under Florida’s “stand your ground law.” But prosecutors argued Drejka initiated the confrontation when he confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Brittany Jacobs, for waiting in handicapped space while McGlockton was inside a convenience store. They also argued that McGlockton was retreating when Drejka fired his weapon. McGlockton’s mother, Monica Robinson, said the decision made her “hopeful” that the “culture of racism” is changing in Florida. Drejka’s defense suggested there may be “some appeal issues” that would be addressed later.
[NBC News, Fox News]

8.

North Korea fired two more suspected short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday, the country’s seventh weapons launch in a month, following what had been a 17-month hiatus on testing. North Korea has expressed anger at joint U.S.-South Korea military training exercises, describing them as a “rehearsal for war.” The earlier weapons tests were considered retaliation for the training exercises, but the launches were expected to stop following the conclusion of the drills, which occurred earlier this week. South Korea said the tests cause “grave concern,” while Japan said they were a clear violation of United Nations resolutions. The missiles did not land in Japanese territorial waters. President Trump said on Friday evening that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been “prettys straight me” and that “we never restricted short-range missiles.”
[The Associated Press, BBC]

9.

Major Star Wars news broke at Disney’s D23 Expo on Friday, with Ewan McGregor appearing on stage alongside Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy to confirm he will reprise his role as jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi in a long-rumored television series set to appear on the studio’s new streaming service, Disney+. Production is set to begin next. McGregor portrayed a younger version of the character in George Lucas’ three prequel films in the early 2000s. The first trailer for Disney’s first live action series set in the Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian, also dropped on Friday. Pedro Paschal will play the titular character, a bounty hunter.
[CNN, The Verge]

10.

The Little League World Series is set to conclude this weekend in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, as the four regional finalists go head-to-head on Saturday to compete for a spot in Sunday’s championship game. The favorite in the international field is Chofu City, Japan, who have outscored their opponents 32-2 in three games so far; Chofu City will play Willemstad, Curaçao. In the U.S. championship game on the other side of the bracket, River Ridge, Louisiana, will go up against Wailuku, Hawaii, in a rematch of their first game in the tournament eight days ago, when Wailuku won 5-2. Little League World Series teams consist mainly of boys between 10 and 12, although 12-year-old Minnesota pitcher Maddy Freking became the first girl in the tournament this year since Mo’ne Davis in 2014. ABC will air Japan vs. Curaçao at 12:30 p.m. ET and Hawaii vs. Louisiana at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
[Bleacher Report , CBS Sports]

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A psychologist evaluated Jeffrey Epstein and reportedly determined he should be taken off suicide watch

In a three page letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd to the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department acknowledged on Friday that a psychologist at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan had approved millionaire financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s removal from suicide before he killed himself in his cell at the detention center in August.

Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell in July, though it’s unclear if that was why Epstein was put on suicide watch in the first place, as Boyd’s letter did not give a precise reason for the decision. Regardless, after being evaluated by a doctoral-level psychologist, it was determined those measures were no longer necessary. No reason was given for Epstein’s removal, either, but Reuters reports that suicide watch is typically imposed as a short-term restriction. An inmate can only be removed, however, after a face-to-face meeting with a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychologist.

Attorney General William Barr has said there were “serious irregularities” at the MCC, which falls under his authority. He reassigned the facility’s warden and placed two guards who were responsible for watching Epstein on leave.

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After initially dismissing concerns, Brazil’s Bolsonaro will send armed forces to fight Amazon fires

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced plans on Friday to send armed forces to fight forest fires in the Amazon, reversing course after days of dismissing concern about the ecological disaster.

“Whatever is within our power we will do,” Bolsonaro told reporters. “The problem is resources.” He added that the government will take a “zero tolerance” approach to environmental crimes. Researchers and environmental groups said the Amazon fires were started by humans.

This comes after Bolsonaro, who has made pledges to ease restrictions on protected areas and under whom deforestation has increased sharply across the country, said the fires were the result of warmer weather and criticized international concern as “sensationalist.” But environmental groups blame Bolsonaro’s policies, which have reportedly “emboldened” farmers and ranchers to clear land by setting fire to it.

However, Bolsonaro changed his stance as European leaders threatened a trade agreement, protesters took to the streets outside Brazilian embassies, and calls for a boycott of Brazilian products gained momentum. The New York Times notes that any punitive measures could “severely damage” Brazil’s economy, which is already in trouble.

CNN reports that the Group of Seven leaders, who are convening in France on Saturday, are in accordance that stopping the fires is a priority. France’s President Emmanuel Macron called it an “international crisis,” and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said international action is necessary to protect the world’s rainforests and that “we will use G-7 to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature and tackling climate change together.” President Trump, whose past praise of and cordial relationship with the right-wing Bolsonaro has drawn criticism, offered U.S. assistance.

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How Ready or Not escaped The Hunt’s fate

You may have heard that a satirical movie about wealthy elites hunting commoners for sport — in which their game is derailed by a blond avenging angel, who hunts them instead — was canceled. On the basis of a single trailer — and the phrase “nothing better than going out to the manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables” — Fox News condemned it, Trump tweeted about it, and the movie was withdrawn.

Yet while The Hunt was canceled because it too explicitly adhered to red-blue political divides — pitting billionaire liberal elites straight out of a Josh Hawley fever dream against a cadre of Real Regular Americans — it’s interesting to note that Ready or Not, another riff on “The Most Dangerous Game” in which the aristocratic hunters eventually become the prey, premiered without incident this week. Ready or Not lacks on-the-nose political reference points. Grace (played to the gory hilt by Samara Weaving) marries into the Le Domas family — who subsequently hunt her — but the Le Domas family resembles the Obama-voting family of Get Out as much as they do the miscreants on Succession (while all we learn about Grace is that she grew up in foster homes). The family estate where the movie takes place could be anywhere; it was filmed, as it happens, in Ontario.

I haven’t seen The Hunt — other than a few test screenings, no one has — but the satire was apparently meant to be explicit and even-handed: “Our ambition was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally,” director Craig Zobel said; “It’s up to the viewers to decide what their takeaway will be.” I hope we get to see it eventually, but it’s easy to see how they got themselves into trouble: It’s hard to satirize stereotypes of “Red” and “Blue” states without bringing those stereotypes to life, or accepting the underlying fallacy that there are precisely two kinds of Americans, incompatible and mutually exclusive. The country is more complicated than red-state coal miners and blue-state college professors, after all: if the average “red” voter is from the bible belt, he’s as likely as not to be in an upper-income tax bracket; if the average “blue” voter is urban, she might be a nurse, changing bedpans. I suspect that The Hunt‘s fate might show what trying to please and offend everyone equally gets you: there’s nothing in the middle of the road, as Jim Hightower once put it, but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

With the exception of a somewhat disappointing ending — which I’ll get to in a minute, spoiler warning — Ready or Not is actually a very pointed and effective satire, political because it isn’t “political.” The Le Domas family doesn’t particularly want to murder and ritually sacrifice Grace. They like her, and at first, they mostly do their eccentric best to welcome her into the clan. But because their intergenerational wealth supposedly stems from a century-old deal struck with the devil, there is a family tradition that each new member of the family must play a randomly-selected game on the night of the wedding. Most of the time it’s something innocuous, and the family spends a quiet evening bonding over cribbage or monopoly; about once a generation, the card they draw is “hide and seek,” at which point the family uses antique weaponry to hunt down and ritually sacrifice the victim.

When Grace draws the “Hide and Seek” card, the most dangerous game begins. And from that point on, Ready or Not is an effective horror-thriller, tastefully gory, fast-moving, and with a good sense of humor. At one point, Grace catches sight of herself in the mirror — with tennis shoes, a ripped and filthy wedding dress, and a rifle and bandolier of ammunition — and after a beat to allow a Tarantino-primed audience to be impressed with how bad-ass she looks, she spits out an appalled expletive. It’s a hilariously anticlimactic moment: she looks awful and feels worse.

In the trailer for The Hunt, we hear the protagonist — an apparently military-trained Mississippian bad-ass — declare, with righteous fury, that “Of all the people you kidnapped, of all the people you killed, you picked the wrong gang.” It sets a tone for that movie; “elites” hunting “regular Americans” and deplorables Making America Great Again by killing the elites seem equally hateful and self-assured. There’s no equivalent to this line in Ready or Not. Instead, as Grace’s desperation escalates over the movie’s brisk runtime — and you can, without complication, emphatically root for her to survive her wedding night — the movie never quite becomes vengeance: the last thing she wants to do is kill anyone.

For their part, Grace’s would-be murderers have neither zest nor aptitude for the job. From the reluctant brother-in-law googling crossbow instructional videos — while sitting on the toilet — to the variety of guns that misfire, don’t go off, or hit the wrong person, part of the point of this movie is that no one really wants to commit murder, or is good at it. It’s unpleasant, and hard work. Most of the movie’s considerable body count is accumulated awkwardly, even haphazardly. The servants die first, two shot by accident and two mangled in machinery as Grace struggles to escape; the servants die first because the family doesn’t really want to kill her, and send their hirelings to do it instead. And though she does eventually smash several of her in-laws to death, her primal struggle to survive leaves her traumatized, shocked, and hysterically desperate. She lives — not a spoiler, because you knew she would — but as a near-catatonic mess, shivering and broken.

Killing is not fun, this movie insists, over and over again. It’s actually pretty gross and unpleasant.

What makes this movie an effective satire, then, is all the convoluted explanations that the Le Domas family goes through to justify what they’re doing (in what turns out to be a very talky action movie). They have to kill her, they insist — they don’t want to, but it must be done — which means they aren’t really, themselves, bad people. It’s tradition! It’s family! She’s an outsider, ultimately, and if they have to sacrifice her for the good of their own, well, of course that’s what they have to do. In other words, in contrast to the ideological caricatures that apparently populate The Hunt — lusting for each other’s blood in a demographically predetermined grudge match — Ready or Not is filled with the weak-willed and selfish. They’re nice people, generally. They don’t kill because of their beliefs or ideology or even an inclination to violence. But if they take part in the occasional, unpleasant liquidation of an outsider, they do so because it’s part of the rules, part of their club. This game what people like them do — including, in one of the movie’s more interesting choices, the servants — as part of a system that desensitizes otherwise “nice” people to violence. It’s a rite of passage, and what better rite of passage for a lifetime of wealth and privilege than occasionally liquidating a commoner?

What could have made this movie an almost perfect satire is the path not taken at the very end. According to the rules — and to the folk wisdom of the wealthy class, it being implied that there are many families like this one — if Grace survives until dawn, the family’s devilish benefactor will exercise the “eradication clause,” and kill the entire family. That this threat hangs over the heads of everyone born into the family, and into this contract, incentivizes them to follow the rules and play the game. They have no choice, if it’s true. But since none of the family have ever seen their satanic benefactor — the deal having been struck long before any of them were alive — they bicker over whether it’s even real, whether this tradition is actually based in anything (and which rules can be changed and altered and updated). Until the end, the tradition is nothing but a story that the family brings to life, as a mark of what makes the rich “different” than normal people. And so, at the end of the movie — when the curtains are thrown back, revealing the sunrise that Grace has survived to see — there’s a moment, a beat, in which the family waits for its destruction … and it doesn’t come.

“I knew it was bullshit!” someone yells.

This would have been an amazing place to end the film. It would have done more than just undercut the ludicrous premise, bringing a preposterous film down to earth in a wonderfully ironic way. Such an ending would imply that the ludicrous caricatures we imagine into existence to justify our preposterous wars with each other are, actually, just the pretexts we want and need to justify violence. In other words, it would skewer movies like The Hunt, and the ideological fantasies that divide the country into red and blue caricatures. If The Hunt seems to take a side — endorsing, by all indications, the worldview of its “deplorable” protagonists — Ready or Not nearly ends by suggesting that the stories we might tell ourselves to normalize violence are nonsense.

Instead, as it turns out, the deal is real, as is Satan, and after a suitably sadistic delay, the family’s benefactor exercises the eradication clause, leaving a blood-spattered Grace abruptly alone in a burning house. I confess I was a little disappointed; it would have been satisfying to see the family receive their moral comeuppance, to realize that the true Satanic horror had always been in their ability to go along with atrocity and to justify it by a clannish and false division between insiders and outsiders. Alas. I suppose that would have deprived audiences of the pleasure of seeing them all die, which would have broken a different contract, the rules of the genre. And I can’t deny that it’s a pleasure to see all of it burn.

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