Those of you read this blog regularly know that I have always suspected that the Trump Russia connection has more to do with his nefarious business dealings than with a direct quid pro quo or blackmail. (It may have to do with that too of course.) But Trump's global networks of dirty financial dealings should have disqualified him from office once he refused to disclose the scope of his company's businesses, release his tax returns or divest himself and his family. It's an outrage that this is hanging over the administration's head and the Republicans are covering for him.
A U.S. Senate investigation into Russia's meddling during the U.S. election should include a thorough review of any financial ties between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates, Democratic senator Ron Wyden said Wednesday.
In a formal written request made to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden said financial relationships between Trump, a real estate developer with properties around the world, and Russia are deserving of scrutiny because of resistance by Trump and some in his orbit have not been forthcoming about their finances.
"Efforts to understand these relationships and to separate fact from speculation have been hampered by the opacity of the finances of President Trump and his associates," Wyden, who also sits on the intelligence panel, wrote to Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner.
The letter, though devoid of new details, is the latest piece of evidence suggesting Trump's business dealings are attracting expanded interest from investigators amid a raft of new reports scrutinizing potential financial entanglements between the president and Russia.
Trump has declined to release his tax returns, bucking decades of precedent for presidents and presidential candidates.
The letter followed new disclosures in recent weeks of previously unknown meetings and financial arrangements between Trump's associates and wealthy Russians, and came as Democrats attempt to focus public attention on questions about Trump's connections to Russia.
On Monday, the state development bank Vnesheconombank disclosed that its executives had met Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, in December. And last week Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, admitted he had done business work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska...
A Reuters investigation published earlier this month found that dozens of members of the Russian elite have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
Bill Moyers features a truly chilling story of ICE ignoring the courts to hold an asylum seeker from Singapore. It's just nuts.
This is the press release from his lawyers:
On March 27, 2017, Officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Chicago Field Office informed Grossman Law, LLC that Amos Yee will remain in detention despite the Honorable Immigration Judge's asylum grant on March 24, 2017. Yee has been detained since December 17, 2016.
When ICE officers first detained Yee, they stated he would be released on parole and that ICE had no interest in keeping Yee detained for the pendency of his proceedings. Then, after release of the new Administration's Executive Orders, ICE informed Grossman Law that they would not release Yee. Subsequently, after Yee's merits hearing, ICE moved him to another detention facility without informing counsel about the transfer. Now, ICE officers are basing the decision to keep Yee detained on a potential, but not yet filed, appeal by the Department of Homeland Security.
Grossman Law has learned from the Assistant Field Office Director for ICE's Chicago Field Office that "...detained aliens who are granted relief remain in custody during the pendency of an ICE appeal, except in extraordinary circumstances." Additionally, Amos Yee informed us via telephone that other individuals he has met at the Dodge County facility, remain in detention despite a grant of asylum. The decision to deny Yee his freedom is not limited just to him, but to many others.
ICE's decision to continue to detain individuals granted asylum, especially when there are no security concerns, brings up serious questions about this country's compliance with basic principles of international law regarding the treatment of asylees. There is no provision under the Immigration and Nationality Act, or under any Presidential Executive Order, that justifies the continued detention of an individual who has been granted asylum and is deemed to be a refugee. The supposed pendency of the Department's appeal is immaterial; Yee should have been released immediately after he was granted asylum.
As the American Immigration Lawyers Association notes:
"America's immigration detention practices undermine the fundamental principles of due process and fairness, and require immediate systemic reform. Annually, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unnecessarily detains more than 400,000 people, including asylum seekers and other extremely vulnerable immigrants. Many detainees are held for prolonged periods despite the fact that they have strong ties to the United States and pose no threat to public safety.
Detention is extremely expensive, costing American taxpayers $2 billion per year. Proven alternatives to detention, by contrast, cost between 17 cents and $17 per day. Detention should be a last resort, used only when other means of supervision are not feasible, and only after a truly individualized assessment of someone's public safety and flight risk."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Tuesday that leakers in the intelligence community are guilty of treason.
"I don't understand why there isn't a great outrage over the leaking of information out of the highest levels of US intelligence," Huckabee, whose daughter is an aide to President Donald Trump, told radio host Laura Ingraham.
Huckabee continued, "This is of grave concern, because if people who are supposed to be guarding our secrets are letting them go -- Laura, I hate to use this word, but I don't know what else to use -- is that not treason? Is that not treason, when you work against your own government?"
Yeah, he thinks he's cute with this silly accusation. They all do. But I'm going to guess that the vast majority of the American people (even if the Republicans among them won't admit it) understand that the leaking about possible collusion between Russia and the president of the United States isn't the real problem here.
A common criticism against gender quotas is that they are anathema to meritocratic principles. This research on Sweden shows that the opposite can be true: Quotas actually increased the competence of politicians by leading to the displacement of mediocre men whether as candidates or leaders. The results may also be relevant for judging gender quotas in business.
Lol. Mediocre men are displaced. No wonder there's such resistance to them.
I have written many times that Barack Obama’s most serious misjudgment was when he came into office and declared that he would bring people together and strike a “grand bargain” with all the warring political constituencies. It failed in grand fashion and the fact is that members of both parties were relieved. The idea of trying to do a huge bipartisan agreement in this era of sharp polarization was a major misreading of the political Zeitgeist. So naturally Donald Trump thinks it’s a good idea to try a grand bargain of his own. On Monday Axios reported that the Trump administration plans to negotiate tax reform and infrastructure concurrently.
Obama at least had some reason to believe he had a mandate. He won a majority of the popular vote with unprecedented turnout. The country was in the grip of a major crisis, something that often brings both parties to the table. He thought it might be a transformative political moment and was determined to see if he could take advantage of it. But his grand bargain was a nonstarter from the get-go, even with his own party. It consisted of deficit reduction and “entitlement reform,” which included cuts to Medicare and Social Security, in exchange for as much as $1 trillion in unspecified new revenue (including a carbon tax). And the biggest part of the package: health care reform.
Despite being rebuffed by Republicans over and over again, Obama kept at it all throughout his first term. Even when the GOP leadership signed on, knowing that it was a rare moment when Democrats would offer to take responsibility for cutting the already ragged safety net, Republicans couldn’t get their people in line. The grand bargain plan never went far enough for us to find out whether Obama could have gotten enough Democrats on board, but it’s hard to imagine they would have been any more enthusiastic.
There’s a reason it didn’t work. Asking members of the two main parties to sacrifice their most important priorities in order to get the other side to deal doesn’t really feel like much of a bargain. To Republicans, signing on to a large tax hike is akin to asking them to walk the plank. The GOP has been organized around lowering taxes for decades, and such a deal would have sparked tremendous outcry from the grassroots Tea Party types to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform — not to mention all of corporate America. As much as Republicans would have loved to make big cuts in Medicare and Social Security, Obamacare was never going to be worth it to them as a fair exchange. On the Democratic side, cutting those safety net programs in order to get health care would have been like asking the party’s true believers to make Sophie’s choice.
These are issues that go to the heart of each party’s philosophy, and as long as they have the power to hold on to them, they will. The hard work that went into the Affordable Care Act showed the only way a party can enact a major policy in these polarized times: sheer partisan will. Bipartisanship just doesn’t exist.
So what are we to make of Donald Trump nattering on about his next big legislative push being a package deal of massive tax cuts and infrastructure projects? Axios reported that Trump is unhappy with the House Freedom Caucus and thinks he can get Democrats to help him pass legislation and seal his legacy. It is true that early on some Democrats and others such as Sen. Bernie Sanders indicated a willingness to work with Trump on infrastructure. But if Trump thinks the plan he’s proposing will fly with them now, he’s got another thing coming. Here’s how Sanders characterized it:
Trump’s plan to repair our infrastructure is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires. Trump would allow corporations that have stashed their profits overseas to pay just a fraction of what the companies owe in federal taxes. And then he would allow the companies to “invest” in infrastructure projects in exchange for even more tax breaks.
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman simply called it “a giant ripoff,” which is exactly what we should expect from Donald Trump. That’s his specialty, as thousands of plaintiffs, hedge funds and investment bankers can attest.
We know, moreover, that Republicans are not going to go along with big increases in government spending. Any plan they would even be willing to contemplate would have to be a corporate boondoggle of epic proportions, and Democrats are not going to sign on to that. Indeed, there’s almost no chance they would sign on to any Trump initiative because Democrats learned the lessons of 2009 to 2010 the hard way; they lost their majority. They are now gearing up for a 2018 midterm election that brings out the base of their party in large numbers in the hopes of taking back at least one house of Congress. Making deals with Donald Trump for corporate ripoffs isn’t going to get that done.
Perhaps Trump and his brain trust, who obviously learned nothing from the Obama years, think that they can get the majority of Republicans (if not the Freedom Caucus) to go along with some deficit spending if they promise big tax cuts in return. The problem for Trump on tax cuts is that there will be no Democratic defections for sure and the infighting that’s likely to break out among Republicans on that one will make deliberations on the health care bill look like those for a post-office naming bill by comparison.
This analysis by Shawn Tully at Fortune spelled out all the ways in all the Republican business constituencies will be at one another’s throats. As he said, “For every winner there’s a perceived loser.” There’s a reason the last big tax reform package they passed was under Ronald Reagan in 1986. I’m guessing that before long we’ll be hearing Trump say, “Nobody knew tax reform was so complicated.”
Obama could claim a mandate when he came into office and proposed his grand bargain. Trump, on the other hand, won the election only through a fluke of the Electoral College’s functioning, is mired in a major scandal and is presiding over a congressional majority run by a bumbling leadership that is being held hostage by a gang of fanatics. Trump has already proved that his vaunted negotiating skills are better suited for licensing deals concerning ugly ties and cheap perfume than for running the most powerful nation on Earth. The likelihood that he can enact a grand bargain is roughly the same as the chance he can stop lying. That would be zero.
The action moves to the states. The first good news was this — California introduces (again) single-payer health insurance, this time in a climate that increases its chance of passing. Read more about that here.
Now more good news from Maryland — the nation's first state-wide fracking ban in a state with proven reserves has cleared the last hurdle. With support from the GOP governor (you read that right), it will become law.
Fracking will be forbidden anywhere in Maryland, because, well, people don't want it.
Needless to say, like the singe-payer news from California, this has national implications. Here's Mike Tidwell and Denise Robbins of Chesapeake Climate Action Network with the announcement (my emphasis below):
Maryland Fracking Ban To Become Law, With Nationwide Implications
Senate passes bill with GOP governor support, following six years of grassroots resistance across the state of Maryland
ANNAPOLIS – With game-changing support from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland state Senate Monday night gave final approval to a bill to forever ban the practice of fracking in Maryland. This move culminates years of protests against fracking for gas from landowners, health leaders, and environmentalists. It also sets a nationally significant precedent as other states grapple with the dangerous drilling method.
Maryland will now become the first state in America with proven gas reserves to ban fracking by legislative action. New York has banned the drilling process via executive order. Vermont has a statutory ban but the state has no frackable gas reserves at present.
The Maryland ban is sending political waves across the East Coast and the nation. From Virginia (where leaders have imposed or proposed local bans at the county and municipal level) to the state of Florida (which is looking to follow Maryland’s statewide ban), the “keep-it-in-the-ground” movement is gaining new bipartisan steam even as President Donald Trump recklessly works to approve disastrous pipelines like Keystone XL.
“Let the news go forth to Congress and the White House: fracking can never been done safely,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The Republican governor closest to DC – Larry Hogan of Maryland – has joined scientists and health leaders in agreeing that fracking must be banned. This is a win for Marylanders and for citizens nationwide as we move away from violent fossil fuels and toward sustainable wind and solar power.”
With Senate passage late Monday night, the Maryland bill will now be sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk in the next few days for signing.
The push to ban fracking in Maryland began six years ago as gas companies swarmed into western Maryland to tap the Marcellus Shale basin. This is the same pool of gas that has been widely fracked in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with negative consequences. But then-Governor Martin O’Malley (D) imposed a temporary moratorium before any drilling occurred. Over the years, the movement for a permanent ban came to include farmers, doctors, students, faith leaders, environmental groups, and others – constituting the largest statewide grassroots movement ever seen in Maryland on an energy issue. Former member of the House of Delegates Heather Mizeur was a leading figure in sparking the statewide ban effort. With time, multiple counties and cities in the state banned fracking locally and public polling consistently showed growing support for a statewide ban. Finally, earlier this month, with overwhelming support among Democratic lawmakers, even the previously pro-fracking Republican governor saw the wisdom of a ban.
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has been honored to play a leading role in this campaign along with our friends in the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition, including Food and Water Watch, Citizen Shale, Engage Mountain Maryland, the Sierra Club, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.
The Maryland fracking ban bill also could not have succeeded without the extraordinary leadership of Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery County) and David Fraser-Hildago (D-Montgomery County) in the Maryland House of Delegates. The same must be said of Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) in the Maryland Senate. But Senator Zirkin, more than any other legislator, fought tirelessly for the fracking ban and refused to compromise on the road to this historic victory.
It took six long, hard years to make this happen, but in the end, it succeeded. The fracking ban pushes the right button at the right time. With sufficient effort, states can indeed defy the money that buys all governments and enact what people want.
The states can defy the nation
Now that the national, federal government is seen as the enemy, states can defy the nation without a single guilty backward glance. If single-payer health insurance passes in California, the pressure on other large states — and regions of states — will be immense.
Imagine, for example, a New England single-payer plan that encompasses not just Vermont, which was too small to make single-payer work properly, but Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Imagine a single-payer plan for the Pacific Northwest — Oregon and Washington (and perhaps, since they desperately need it, Idaho). It's easy to imagine regional plans sprouting like flowers from the rich dark dung of the national Trumpcare, Ryancare defeat.
Just as marijuana legalization has now reached critical mass in the states — Beauregard Sessions and Mike Pence will start a new civil war if they go all draconian in opposing it — single-payer will approach critical mass if the California legislature passes it.
So too with fracking. It's undeniably hated by people who have to endure it. Hatred of fracking in New York upstate counties is part of why Zephyr Teachout did so well in her bid for the New York state governorship.
Now hatred of fracking has cleared the last hurdle in Maryland, and the nation's first state-wide ban that bites into industry revenue will become law. A few more victories like this and we may have methane — the falsely sold "bridge fuel"* — in our rear-view mirror as well.
* About "bridge fuel," as I wrote here: "If it's a 'bridge fuel,' will investors be told that the methane
facilities they're investing in will be torn down in ten years to make
way for the fuel that methane is a bridge fuel to? If so, why not just invest in that? Or is the "bridge fuel" talk just talk?"
Answer: In the pitch to investors, of course it's just talk. Like all infrastructure investors, they're being sold a 30-year amortization and cash flow plan.
Unquestioned assumptions abound in political debate, but the relative advantage of more choice is one that is both ubiquitous and rarely challenged. More is better. End of discussion. At The Week, Damon Linker looks at how Paul Ryan's trying to sell health care reform on choice doomed it. Ryan's American Health Care Act (AHCA) treats patients as consumers looking for the best bargain:
It's hardly surprising that Ryan took this approach. The right is obsessed with the cost of health care, both for individuals and in the aggregate, and it believes that spending can be most effectively contained by increasing options and competition. That makes choice a means to the end of cost savings. Then there's the fact that the right also makes a fetish of choice for its own sake. It's simply better, apparently, for individuals (acting as consumers) to have more insurance policies, doctors, and hospitals to choose from.
It is also more tedious. Quite frankly, I hate shopping. I don't mind going out and buying when I already know what I want, but I hate shopping. Loathe it. When on rare occasions the mood strikes, I go out and buy what I need for the next year so I won't have to shop again for months. The Paul Ryans of the world insist I spend the rest of my life doing what I hate simply because it fits the ideology of their economic cult.
Linker points to a 2011 post by Bloomberg View economist Noah Smith who found the toll constant transaction costs take in a culture where they are everywhere. If private everything is better, Japan must be a libertarian paradise, Smith mused:
For example, there are relatively few free city parks. Many green spaces are private and gated off (admission is usually around $5). On the streets, there are very few trashcans; people respond to this in the way libertarians would want, by exercising personal responsibility and carrying their trash home with them in little baggies. There are also very few public benches. In cafes, each customer must order something promptly or be kicked out; outside your house or office, there is basically nowhere to sit down that will not cost you a little bit of money. Public buildings generally have no drinking fountains; you must buy or bring your own water. Free wireless? Good luck finding that!
Does all this private property make me feel free? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite - the lack of a "commons" makes me feel constrained. It forces me to expend a constant stream of mental effort, calculating whether it's worth it to spend $4 to sit and rest for 10 minutes, whether it's worth $2 to get a drink.
Linker extends that experience into the realm of medical care:
As options proliferate, individuals face the need to choose among a growing list of high-stakes possibilities. Should I opt for catastrophic coverage that costs less but allows me to see a doctor only if I'm in a severe car accident or suffer a heart attack? Should I purchase something more expensive that will enable me to make an appointment if I'm merely running a fever, worried about the occasional tightness in my chest, or concerned about the mysterious lump in my neck? Or should I take on the enormous medical and financial risk of foregoing coverage altogether?
If I opt for little or no coverage, I'm gambling that I'll be lucky. If I win that bet, the choice will be retrospectively vindicated. But if I'm unlucky, the choice will seem horribly foolish, contributing either to much worse medical outcomes, much worse financial consequences, or both. If, on the other hand, I opt to pay for maximal coverage and I get sick, I'll feel wise. But if I stay healthy, I'll likely end up feeling like a sucker who's wasted enormous resources just to ease my mind.
Sometimes I don't need or want more choice. Yes, I can have a coffee maker that is also a timer, an alarm clock, satellite radio, and that starts and warms up my car on cold mornings. But all I really wanted was a cup of coffee.
It is also hard to escape the feeling that the fetishizing of choice comes from people who fancy themselves more savvy than their neighbors. “I’m, like, a really smart person” types. Your basic social Darwinists who imagine themselves at the top of the social order and who would like to structure it so they stay there. Imagine how a confusing array of choices might make it easier for them to fleece their neighbors, especially when the neighbor's child is in distress or the, uh, "consumer" faces a medical emergency. If Americans wanted to shop for "best buys" in medical care, they'd already be selling it through big box stores.
Which is why a single-payer health care system makes more sense, Linker writes, "everyone pays in, and everyone is eligible for benefits. Choice has nothing to do with it." A medicare for all system that leaves no American behind. But who would propose a system like that?
Kevin Drum is right. The important polling data is in regards to Trump's popularity among the poor benighted souls who voted for him. And it's incredibly high, slightly higher than St. Ronald Reagan's at this point in his presidency. Or as Kevin says: "Unless things change, the Republican base remains not just out of reach, but positively thrilled with President Trump."
This poll was taken before the healthcare debacle, but the numbers won't change that much.
For years the national political organizations of both Democratic and Republican state attorneys general observed an agreement not to target the other party's incumbent office-holders in elections.
That hands-off stance ended this month when Republican AGs voted to abandon the agreement and spend money to help unseat Democrats in other states, according to the Republican Attorneys General Association. The decision has not been previously reported.
The move comes as Democratic attorneys general in states across the country have assumed lead roles in opposing some of Republican President Donald Trump's policies. State AGs in Washington and Hawaii successfully sued to block Trump's executive orders restricting travel from some Muslim-majority countries, and California's attorney general has pledged to defend the state's environmental standards.
Republican attorneys general who supported the change reasoned that AGs should join other national political campaigns which target incumbents, two sources familiar with the closed door process said. Additionally, a desire by some to roll back same-sex marriage and the potential for increased corporate contributions played a role in the decision, said the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
The so-called 'incumbency rule' observed by the state attorneys' party fundraising arms reflected a rare bit of bipartisanship in the polarized environment of U.S. politics, aimed at promoting cooperation across state lines on issues of common interest, such as consumer protection.
Yeah, why even pretend? Their agreement was downright quaint in this environment.
Also, there's just too much fundraising potential at stake for these Republicans not to exploit it. There's lots of Koch money to be had.
Donald Trump is making a big legal move that may shape his presidency over the next four years. In New York Supreme Court, his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz looks to throw up a roadblock to a defamation lawsuit filed by Summer Zervos, who appeared on season five of The Apprentice.
Zervos, represented by Gloria Allred, claims that Trump tarnished her reputationby denying acts boasted to Access Hollywood's Billy Bush about grabbing women's genitals. The Apprentice alum accuses Trump of kissing her twice in 2007 and attacking her in a hotel room. In response to this, Trump put out a statement that he "never met [Ms. Zervos] at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately," along with tweets how his accuser "made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED."
Now, Trump is looking to bifurcate the litigation so that "the threshold issue of whether the United States Constitution bars this Court from adjudicating this action against President Trump during his Presidency" can be briefed and resolved first.
Kasowitz writes that Trump intends to file a motion to dismiss arguing that the Supremacy Clause immunizes the President from being sued in state court while in office. The attorney adds the "crucial threshold issue was raised, but not decided, by the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones."
That refers to a lawsuit that Paula Jones filed against Bill Clinton in 1994, while he was serving his first term in the White House. Jones alleged that Clinton sexually harassed her while serving as Governor of Arkansas. Clinton's attorneys argued that in all but the most exceptional cases, any litigation against the president should be deferred until he left office.
"Indeed, if the Framers of the Constitution had thought it necessary to protect the President from the burdens of private litigation, we think it far more likely that they would have adopted a categorical rule than a rule that required the President to litigate the question whether a specific case belonged in the 'exceptional case' subcategory," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens at the time. "In all events, the question whether a specific case should receive exceptional treatment is more appropriately the subject of the exercise of judicial discretion than an interpretation of the Constitution."
But Trump's lawyer seizes on another aspect of the decision.
Stevens also wrote that "immunity questions should be decided at the earliest possible stage of the litigation" in recognition of the "singular importance of the President's duties."
"Moreover, as in Clinton v. Jones, the public interest mandates that the immunity issue be resolved before proceeding further," writes Kasowitz. "The 'singular importance of the President’s duties' warrants a stay where civil actions, such as this one, 'frequently could distract a President from his public duties, to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation that the President was designed to serve.' Requiring President Trump to litigate the merits on a motion to dismiss the complaint, in addition to moving to dismiss on grounds of Presidential immunity, would negate the very interests that that immunity is designed to protect."
According to Trump's court papers, Zervos' lawyer initially agreed to a 30-day extension, but wouldn't agree to a more expansive time table without an agreement to accept service of Zervos' subpoena. Without a deal, a judge is now being asked to intervene in a constitutional showdown.
What this article doesn't mention is that Trump's choice to head the civil right's division of the Justice department, George Conway, husband of Kellyanne, is one of the lawyers who helped prepare the Paula Jones case --- which led to the impeachment of President Clinton. This is almost exactly the same circumstance --- exactly. You literally couldn't find a more similar case.
Trump seems to think that just as they've decided a president can't be corrupt they will also decide a president can't be sued. But thanks to Kellyanne's husband and the rest of "the elves" this is a question that went all the way up to the supreme court and was decided against the president.
For a few days last week the scuttlebutt held that President Donald Trump’s most trusted adviser might be on the outs with the boss because he decided to take the family skiing in Aspen, Colorado, just as the White House entered its first big legislative fight, which of course it ignominiously lost. I’m speaking of Jared Kushner, the boyish 36-year-old husband of favorite offspring Ivanka and, by all accounts, the man who is the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.
The pictures of Jared and Ivanka posing for Instagrams like a bunch of Kardashians hawking designer ski gear while the embattled president called up wavering Republican congressmen and prattled on about “his damn election” didn’t exactly show a serious, hardworking image to the nation. And we know how Trump feels about that, right?
You hear that Trump didn't hoodwink voters (they knew what they were getting!) and then find clips like this. Just breathtaking hypocrisy. pic.twitter.com/LDnb3Xr7oF
So it’s not surprising that Trump was quick to forgive his favorite daughter and son-in-law for their little getaway. Not only did he forgive Jared; yesterday he put him in charge of a bold new initiative to run the country like a business with what the Washington Post described as a “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives.” If the first couple of months of the Trump administration are any indication of what that might look like, we’re in for a bumpy ride. As Salon’s Simon Maloy observed:
Innovation! What a concept. And who better to head up a team of business innovators and power brokers than Jared Kushner, a child of privilege who inherited his father’s real estate business and fell ass backward into a position of authority? Kushner will take the lessons he learned from being born rich and marrying the right person and use them to disrupt the American government.
And this tired old GOP mantra about running government like a business is like saying that you should build boats like you wash dishes. They are completely different tasks. And Kushner is a particularly poor choice, even if you buy the argument. As Maloy pointed out, Kushner is a lot like his father-in-law in that he inherited his father’s New Jersey real estate business and, well, that’s about it.
Actually, after Chris Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for corruption (it’s a long story), Jared took the reins of the business and jumped into Manhattan real estate where he is known for one very big deal. Unfortunately, also like his father-in-law, it turns out Kushner is not very good at what he does. Kushner sold his stake in that project to his family recently, ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest. It was actually a smart business decision because the building’s finances are in big trouble at the moment. The Kushners may receive a bailout from a powerful Chinese insurance company. So it’s a good thing that we’ve decided that Republicans enriching their immediate family while in office isn’t corruption — or that might look bad.
Kushner’s new job is just an addition to his already bulging portfolio. Recall that a while back he was given the special task of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One might assume he’s even less qualified for that job than he is for heading up a “SWAT team” of business leaders, but apparently being an observant Jew is all that’s required. It’s surprising that nobody ever thought of that before.
On Monday we found out from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that “throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up.” That’s correct: This 36-year-old with no experience in government or foreign affairs served as the new president’s primary contact with foreign governments. Apparently, no one who knew what he (or she) was doing was available.
This important task seems to have landed young Kushner into a spot of trouble, however. We also learned on Monday that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign, has asked to speak to Kushner about his meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador. Apparently there was more than one, including a meeting previously unacknowledged by the Trump administration with a Russian banker named Sergey N. Gorkov, head of the state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank, which just happens to be one of the Russian banks facing U.S. sanctions. (Gorkov is reportedly close to Vladimir Putin and graduated from what was formerly the KGB academy.)
At the time of those meetings, Kushner had not sold his interest in the Manhattan building to his family and The New York Times reported that the committee wants to know whether Kushner spoke to Gorkov about potentially helping him with his financial problems. According to Reuters, Kushner met with representatives of the bank earlier in 2016 as well, which raises still more questions. Whatever the substance of the conversations, the whole thing carries the stench of a conflict of interest.
That Kushner wouldn’t understand this and would hold such meetings after numerous news reports and government acknowledgments about Russian intervention in the election campaign shows such astonishingly poor judgment that it makes one shudder to think what he may have said and done in his role in the transition and now in the administration.
I cannot help but be reminded of a comment from a State Department employee:
They think Jared can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.
The United States is not a developing country. It is supposedly the world’s only superpower. Can’t we do better than this?
Devastating wildfires ripped across the grasslands in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma earlier this month, and ranchers were among those hardest hit. Some families lost 80 percent of their livestock herds, along with hundreds of miles of fences and land. Seven people have died, several trying to save their cattle.
Many of these ranchers voted for Donald Trump, and some say they wish the president was paying more attention to them in their time of need.
Garth Gardiner runs Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kansas with his brothers and their families. He says the day the fire started, his brother was out working on their ranch. By the time the fires burned out, he had lost 500 cows — a third of his herd.
Here, Gardiner makes an emotional appeal for help to the White House, and the president he helped elect.
He's busy marketing his "brand" with endless photo ops and tweeting and monitoring his PR on cable news networks. That's what he does. And every week-end he needs to fly at taxpayer expense to his Florida resort or go to his Virginia golf club to get in 36 holes or so and secretly meet with his rich cronies. That's also what he does.
Helping out disaster victims isn't really in the job description of a billionaire who promised to run the country like a business. Where's the profit in that?
Donald Trump promised that repealing Obamacare was the first on his agenda as president (turns out it was banning Muslims). Team Trump expected to use the "savings" from the repeal to justify a tax cut as big, fat, and juicy as Trump doesn't like his steaks. Stocks have taken a tumble as investors realized they might get their tax cuts cooked to perfection either.
Jim Newell at Slate explains how this was supposed to go:
The AHCA was supposed to lower the budget baseline to give leaders about $1 trillion to work with in the tax reform package. This would have gone a long way toward making tax reform revenue-neutral—i.e., not a long-run deficit increaser—which would be a requirement in order to pass the bill with a 51-vote majority under reconciliation if the changes are to be permanent. If the tax reform package isn’t revenue-neutral, its cuts will expire after 10 years like the Bush tax cuts did. Balancing rate cuts with a simplification of the code is what would define it as “reform, and not just an enormous temporary tax cut.
That $1 trillion evaporated when the AHCA went down in flames on Friday. Now what? Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) spoke to that on Sunday. From The Hill (emphasis mine):
"Does it have to be what they would say revenue-neutral, or do you have to have an offset, like with the border-adjustment tax — I think those are going to be the two questions," Meadows said during an interview on ABC's "This Week."
"I think there's been a lot of flexibility in terms of some of my contacts and conservatives in terms of not making it totally offset."
"When we start to grow the economy at 4, 4.1 percent, it actually not only increases wages but it puts more money in Americans pockets each and every day," he said.
"And so tax reform and lowering taxes will create and generate more income, and so we're looking at those, where the fine balance is. But does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no."
You saw it coming, didn't you? I haven't yet heard a Republican in Congress utter the phrase "tax cuts pay for themselves," but that's just a matter of time. The National Review is already there. There will be "dynamic scoring" and other sleight-of-hand deployed to sell as sound economics tax cuts that are actually conservative dogma.
The root of the problem is that in order to understand how taxes will affect the economy, we have to understand how the economy itself works. In a number of important ways, we don’t. Paul Romer, the incoming chief economist of the World Bank, made waves last week (at least on Twitter) with a new paper arguing that the field of macroeconomics has suffered through “more than three decades of intellectual regress.” At the Tax Policy Center event on Friday, former Fed economist Louise Sheiner ticked off a list of big questions that economists can’t answer: “We don’t understand why productivity has slowed so much. We don’t understand why labor force participation has fallen by so much. We don’t understand why companies aren’t investing now with such low interest rates.” With so many unanswered questions, Sheiner said, there is no way we can accurately estimate the impact of specific tax policies.
What the Trump administration underestimates, as it did with tackling health care, are the number of obstacles to getting through a tax package. Newell again:
When Republicans talk about simplifying the corporate tax code, they talk about weeding out corporate “loopholes” while lowering marginal rates. The effective tax rate that corporations pay is far lower than the top statutory rate that Republicans so often complain is too high. But if you weed out “loopholes” in any way that would result in a large corporation ending up having to pay more in taxes, they will lobby against that with every fiber of their being until the bill is dead, forever.
As Mark Mazur, director of the Tax Policy Center, told me cheekily, what the public may see as a corporate loophole is what each relevant corporation sees as a “well-deserved tax incentive.” If a corporation is paying an effective tax rate of 10 percent now, they’re going to lobby hard against any bill “that makes it 11.”
Entitlements. In the Republican universe, they only benefit poor people, low caste Irresponsibles. The president could find himself up against opponents with much more fight in them in the next round. He will need more golf to get through the tax fight.
Republican leaders say they will table health care talks following the defeat of the House GOP to replace Obamacare. As House Speaker Paul Ryan put it, "Obamacare is the law of the land."
But some conservatives say that President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation can’t last much longer, regardless of whether Congress finds a legislative compromise.
"It is in a death spiral," conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said March 26 on Meet the Press. "The New York Times yesterday pointed out that — the president of Aetna — that you will lose coverage in many places in America for everyone, and that to me is a death spiral for those people."
The idea that Obamacare is in a "death spiral" — a specific term used in the health insurance industry — is a claim that we’ve heard before. Experts say Hewitt is incorrect.
We reached out to Hewitt through his radio program but did not hear back.
Still no ‘death spiral’
"Death spiral" is a health industry term built around three components:
Healthy people leaving the system;
Specifically, a death spiral occurs when shrinking enrollment leads to a deteriorating risk pool (or when healthy people leave the plan due to the cost). That leads to higher premiums for the people remaining in the insurance pools, which causes enrollment to shrink even further, continuing the cycle until the entire system fails.
The latest government figures show enrollment in the Affordable Care Act is slightly down from last year. Through Jan. 31, 2017, some 12.2 million people were signed up for coverage through a federal or state marketplace, which is a decrease of 500,000, or 4 percent, from the same point last year.
Experts noted that marketplace sign-ups were running in line with their 2016 pace as of the middle of January, which experts said might suggest the decline in sign-ups was somehow related to the Trump administration, not an impending death spiral.
For example, the Trump administration decided to at least partially halt marketing and outreach encouraging people to sign up for health coverage.
But experts say the enrollment decline isn’t an indication the health care law is in a death spiral. There is no direct connection, they said, showing that the declining enrollment is causing premiums to increase.
Why not? Because federal government subsidies in the form of tax credits are largely shielding customers from feeling the premium increase.
As we have reported, premiums are increasing. But that isn’t affecting the cost for most consumers, due to built-in subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The subsidies cap premium prices at a certain percentage of income for anyone below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2016 that would be $47,520 for a single person).
Among the people who have signed up so far for 2017, 81 percent will receive a subsidy.
Data also shows no uptick in healthy people leaving the health insurance market.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports the share of people signing up for health care in the low-risk demographic — ages 18-34 — remains about the same in 2017 as it was in 2016, at 26 percent of enrollees.
"There is no data to indicate a drop in the number of younger enrolled, although the announced policy not to enforce the IRS penalty, if not reversed, could result in a decline over time," said John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.
Hewitt referred to a New York Times article that quotes the president of Aetna saying that in many places people will lose health care insurance.
We couldn’t find that article, but a simple remark on how premiums are rising and insurers are leaving the marketplace is not enough evidence to meet the actuarial definition of a death spiral.
CBO, independent analysis: No death spiral
Others have also concluded that the Affordable Care Act is not in a death spiral. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as part of its recent analysis of the GOP legislation, described the Affordable Care Act as stable.
Matthew Fiedler, a fellow with the Center for Health Policy at the Brookings Institution, similarly concluded in a recent analysis that the Affordable Care Act is not in a death spiral.
Fiedler found that marketplace premium increases had little if any impact on health insurance sign-ups and that the impact on the individual market risk pool will more than likely be minor, despite the small decline in enrollment numbers.
"It therefore remains likely that insurers’ individual market business will return to a roughly break-even or slightly profitable position in 2017, absent other policy changes," Fiedler wrote.
Hewitt said Obamacare is "in a death spiral."
That’s a specific phrase that describes a process where health people leaving the insurance market causes insurance premiums to rise to the point that more healthy people leave the market. At some point, the system becomes unsustainable.
Experts say there is no evidence that cycle has started with Obamacare, because federal subsidies are keeping people from feeling the brunt of premium increases. The CBO and other independent analyses have found the health care system to be stable.
I found this piece by Jeremy Adam Smith at Salon about why Trump's overwhelming dishonesty doesn't seem to bother his supporters to be quite interesting.
How does he get away with it?
Journalists and researchers have suggested many answers, from hyper-biased, segmented media to simple ignorance on the part of GOP voters. But there is another explanation that no one seems to have entertained.
It is that Trump is telling “blue” lies — a psychologist’s term for falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group.
Children start to tell selfish lies at about age three, as they discover adults cannot read their minds: I didn’t steal that toy, Daddy said I could, He hit me first. At around age seven, they begin to tell white lies motivated by feelings of empathy and compassion: That’s a good drawing, I love socks for Christmas, You’re funny.
Blue lies are a different category altogether, simultaneously selfish and beneficial to others — but only to those who belong to your group. As University of Toronto psychologist Kang Lee explained, blue lies fall in between generous white lies and selfish “black” ones. “You can tell a blue lie against another group,” he said, which makes it simultaneously selfless and self-serving. “For example, you can lie about your team’s cheating in a game, which is antisocial, but helps your team.”
In a 2008 study of seven, nine and 11-year-old children — the first of its kind — Lee and colleagues found that children become more likely to endorse and tell blue lies as they grow older. For example, given an opportunity to lie to an interviewer about rule-breaking in the selection process of a school chess team, many were quite willing to do so, older kids more than younger ones. The children telling this lie didn’t stand to selfishly benefit; they were doing it on behalf of their school. This line of research finds that black lies drive people apart, white lies draw them together, and blue lies pull some people together while driving others away.
Around the world, children grow up hearing stories of heroes who engage in deception and violence on behalf of their in-groups. In “Star Wars,” for example, Princess Leia lies about the location of the “secret rebel base.” In the Harry Potter novels (spoiler alert!), the entire life of double-agent Severus Snape is a lie, albeit a “blue” one, in the service of something bigger than himself.
That explains why most Americans seem to accept that our intelligence agencies lie in the interests of national security, and we laud our spies as heroes. From this perspective, blue lies are weapons in intergroup conflict. As Swedish philosopher Sissela Bok once said, “Deceit and violence — these are the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings.” Lying and bloodshed are often framed as crimes when committed inside a group — but as virtues in a state of war.
This research — and those stories — highlight a difficult truth about our species: We are intensely social creatures, but we’re prone to divide ourselves into competitive groups, largely for the purpose of allocating resources. People can be prosocial — compassionate, empathic, generous, honest — in their groups, and aggressively antisocial toward out-groups. When we divide people into groups, we open the door to competition, dehumanization, violence — and socially sanctioned deceit.
“People condone lying against enemy nations, and since many people now see those on the other side of American politics as enemies, they may feel that lies, when they recognize them, are appropriate means of warfare,” said George Edwards, a Texas A&M political scientist and one of the country’s leading scholars of the presidency.
If we see Trump’s lies not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might see him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.
Research by Alexander George Theodoridis, Arlie Hochschild, Katherine J. Cramer, Maurice Schweitzer and others have found that this kind of lying seems to thrive in an atmosphere of anger, resentment and hyper-polarization. Party identification is so strong that criticism of the party feels like a threat to the self, which triggers a host of defensive psychological mechanisms.
For millions and millions of Americans, climate change is a hoax, Hillary Clinton ran a sex ring out of a pizza parlor, and immigrants cause crime. Whether they truly believe those falsehoods or not is debatable — and possibly irrelevant. The research to date suggests that they see those lies as useful weapons in a tribal us-against-them competition that pits the “real America” against those who would destroy it.
It’s in blue lies that the best and worst in humanity can come together. They reveal our loyalty, our ability to cooperate, our capacity to care about the people around us and to trust them. At the same time, blue lies display our predisposition to hate and dehumanize outsiders, and our tendency to delude ourselves.
This is where we usually come to the part where liberals are supposed to reach out to Trump voters and tell them how much they feel their pain. But that won't work either. That doesn't mean, however, that the answer doesn't come from trying to seek out people's better angels:
This hints at the solution, which starts with the idea that we must appeal to the best in each other. While that may sound awfully idealistic, the applications of that insight are very concrete. In a new paper in the journal Advances in Political Psychology, D.J. Flynn and Brendan Nyhan, both of Dartmouth College, along with Jason Reifler, summarize everything science knows about “false and unsupported beliefs about politics.”
They recommend a cluster of prosaic techniques, such as presenting information as imagery or graphics, instead of text. The best combination appears to be graphics with stories. But this runs up against another scientific insight, one that will be frustrating to those who would oppose Trump’s lies: Who tells the story matters. Study after study shows that people are much more likely to be convinced of a fact when it “originates from ideologically sympathetic sources,” as the paper says — and it helps a lot if those sources look and sound like them.
In short, it is white conservatives who must call out Trump’s lies, if they are to be stopped.
So what do the rest of us do until some white conservatives from the heartland take it upon themselves to tell the truth to their brethren. (Some are, by the way. Like this guy.In fact, there are more of them than I've seen in years right now.)
What can the rest of us do in the meantime? We must make accuracy a goal, even when the facts don’t fit our emotional reality. We start by verifying information, seeking out different and competing sources, cultivating a diverse social network, sharing information with integrity — and admitting when we fail. That’s easy. But the most important and difficult thing we can do right now, suggests this line of research, is to put some critical distance between us and our groups — and so lessen the pressure to go along with the herd.
Donald Trump lies, yes, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us, his supporters included, need to follow his example.
I think this is vital. There's a lot of herding right now, on all sides of the political spectrum. I think the most important thing we can do is true to be a clear-headed as we can and not get sucked into the vortex of lies and spin and obfuscation that exists everywhere in our culture. It's very, very difficult. But if you inform yourself and maintain a healthy skepticism and rely to some extent on your instincts, I think you can keep your head most of the time.
It has been something of a mystery, the whereabouts of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes on the day before his announcement that he saw information suggesting that communications of then-President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers may have been swept up in surveillance of other foreign nationals.
One source told CNN that Nunes, a California Republican, was seen on the White House grounds the day before his announcement. In a phone interview, Nunes confirmed to CNN that he was on the White House grounds that day -- but he said he was not in the White House itself. (Other buildings, including the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, are on the same grounds.)
No one in the White House was aware that he was there, Nunes said.
The California Republican said he was there for additional meetings "to confirm what I already knew" but said he wouldn't comment further so as to not "compromise sources and methods." He went to the building because he needed a secure area to view the information, he told CNN.
Nunes also pushed back strongly against an account in The Daily Beast that suggested efforts of subterfuge in his path to his sources that day.
"I was in a cab with staff and we dropped them off before I went to my meeting," he said. "Anything other than that is just false."
Nunes also told CNN he had been working on nailing down the surveillance information before Trump's unsubstantiated claim earlier this month that he was wiretapped by President Barack Obama.
Look, it's been pretty obvious that he got this information from the White House since Trump himself telegraphed over a week ago that "something" was coming:
Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that despite all the denials from every institution and person in a position to know, “You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
In early December I wrote a piece recounting all of President Barack Obama’s attempts to woo Republicans and wondered whether members of the Tea Party — represented by the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus — would save Obamacare by once again refusing to go along with the GOP’s leadership. And by gosh, they went and did it again. By all accounts, the Freedom Caucus wouldn’t accept Paul Ryan’s draconian “replacement” for Obamacare because its members didn’t merely wish to return to the time before the Affordable Care Act was enacted; they wanted to take the health care system back to the time of Dickensian England.
Mainstream conservatives, on the other hand, were willing to deny millions of people health care but figured that their seats might be in jeopardy if they went as far as the Freedom Caucus demanded. This bill died the way that everything dies in the Republican Congress — at the hands of fanatics who will not take yes for an answer.
The best meme circulating on Twitter during the negotiations was this one:
Speaker Paul Ryan deserves the lion’s share of the blame for this debacle. He’s the allegedly serious wonk who was supposed to be able to whip up a quick replacement in a matter of days that House Republicans could get through on reconciliation in the Senate with 50 votes, Trump would sign it and victory would be at hand in no time. That didn’t work out. Ryan’s alleged grasp of policy was always a Beltway delusion, largely based on his love of “Atlas Shrugged” and those blue, blue eyes. The health care bill he slapped together was a monstrosity that failed on every level, from cost savings to coverage, and it pleased absolutely no one. The train wreck of a negotiation process shows that Ryan is just as bad at political leadership as he is at policy.
Indeed, without any real expectation of their bills actually being enacted, the legislative process mutated into a platform for point-scoring, attention-getting, and brand-building. At its most benign, this dynamic manifested itself in performative filibusters and symbolic votes that had no meaningful effect beyond raising a senator’s profile or appeasing the cable news-watching constituents back home.
That certainly explains why GOP voters were so ready to cast their ballots for Donald Trump as president. He is obviously the leader the party was waiting for.
I mentioned the other day that when Obama ran on “fixing Washington” and “bringing people together,” the Republicans came up with a clever plan to obstruct him at every turn and then crow that he failed to fulfill his promise. It worked pretty well. Obama spent his entire first term trying to reach out to Republicans to no avail, but even today it’s an article of faith on the right that Obama was “divisive.”
After the “repeal and replace” debacle, we can see there is a corollary with Trump. He didn’t promise to bring people together but rather ran on a simple platform of “winning.” He was supposed to be the guy who could just walk into any room and hammer out a deal so fast it would make our heads spin. He claimed he had a method of defeating ISIS “quickly and effectively and having total victory.” He would build that wall and make Mexico pay for it. He would immediately tear up all the existing trade deals and negotiate new ones on America’s terms. In fact, he was going to win so much in every way that we’d get sick of all the winning and beg him to stop.
And against all odds through an anachronistic constitutional fluke, Trump won the Electoral College vote despite coming up millions of votes short in the popular count — the real measure of his popularity. It was a win that wasn’t really a win, and he clearly knows it. As president, Trump has suffered one defeat after another. From the disaster of his travel ban to the fiasco of the health care strategy and the Michael Flynn debacle (as well as the ongoing Russia scandal), his new administration is a catastrophic fail so far. The question now is when his voters are going to realize that Trump is not the winner he said he was.
Many people knew this before he was elected, including some Republicans:
Regular reminder that Donald Trump’s core competency is not dealmaking with powerful counter-parties. It is duping gullible victims.
After the House leadership pulled the halth care bill from being voted on Friday, this quote from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” made the rounds on social media:
You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press and you can throw in a little hyperbole, But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.
But that book wasn’t written by Trump. It was written by his ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz. Trump’s real belief is that when you don’t deliver the goods, let them sue and get them agree to take pennies on the dollar. When you fail, always blame someone else.
And Trump actually loses a lot in life. He goes bankrupt and is sued and exposed as a fake and fraud with alarming frequency. He constantly lives on the edge of self-destruction, and when he is caught, he dances away by blaming others. Indeed, except for having been born wealthy, Trump isn’t a winner at all. He’s a survivor, which is not what he’s been selling. And he might survive as president.
The question is whether the country will survive as well. It’s already obvious we won’t be winning.
Russian police in riot gear arrested a leading opposition leader and hundreds of protestors on Sunday in Moscow, as the biggest protests Russia has seen in years bloomed in cities across the country.
Hours after this crackdown on what appeared to be largely peaceful gatherings, the Trump administration did not issue any statements about the arrests.
Alexei Navalny, one of Russia’s most prominent critics of President Vladimir Putin, organized the gatherings to raise pressure on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. In March, Navalny accused Medvedev of accepting bribes that he used to purchase mansions and yachts.