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Friday, June 30, 2017

 
Friday Night Soother: Pudu

by digby




Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has an adorable new addition. A male Southern Pudu was born on May 31 to mother, Posie, and father, Little Mac.

This is the first fawn for Little Mac, and he is proving to be an excellent father, doting on the yet un-named male fawn. Keepers often find him grooming his new son or sleeping next to him. Posie is also an excellent mother and shares a birthday with the little one.

Pudu, the smallest species of deer, are around 15 inches tall when full grown. Jacksonville Zoo’s new fawn weighed less than two pounds when born and stood less than eight inches tall.



The two species of Pudus are: Northern Pudu (Pudu mephistophiles) from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, and the Southern Pudu (Pudu puda) from southern Chile and southwestern Argentina.

Adult Pudus range in size from 32 to 44 centimeters (13 to 17 in) tall, and up to 85 centimeters (33 in) long.

As of 2009, the Southern Pudu is classified as “Near Threatened”, while the Northern Pudu is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.

Southern Pudu fawns are born with spots, which form strips that will develop into a solid reddish-brown fur as they grow older.

The Pudus at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (JZG) are currently housed in the Wild Florida loop, next to the Manatee Critical Care Center. Keepers report they are naturally shy creatures, with the fawn usually hiding in the exhibit shrubbery.


Via Zooborns

 
Oh good. The maniac is plotting a trade war. A big one.


by digby




It sounds like he's deciding to go for it.

With the political world distracted by President Trump's media wars, one of the most consequential and contentious internal debates of his presidency unfolded during a tense meeting Monday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, administration sources tell Axios.

The outcome, with a potentially profound effect on U.S. economic and foreign policy, will be decided in coming days. 

With more than 20 top officials present, including Trump and Vice President Pence, the president and a small band of America First advisers made it clear they're hell-bent on imposing tariffs — potentially in the 20% range — on steel, and likely other imports. 

The penalties could eventually extend to other imports. Among those that may be considered: aluminum, semiconductors, paper, and appliances like washing machines.

One official estimated the sentiment in the room as 22 against and 3 in favor — but since one of the three is named Donald Trump, it was case closed.

No decision has been made, but the President is leaning towards imposing tariffs, despite opposition from nearly all his Cabinet.

In a plan pushed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and backed by chief strategist Steve Bannon (not present at the meeting), trade policy director Peter Navarro and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the United States would impose tariffs on China and other big exporters of steel. Neither Mike Pence nor Jared Kushner weighed in either way.

Everyone else in the room, more than 75% of those present, were adamantly opposed, arguing it was bad economics and bad global politics. At one point, Trump was told his almost entire cabinet thought this was a bad idea. But everyone left the room believing the country is headed toward a major trade confrontation.

The reason, we're told: Trump's base — which drives more and more decisions, as his popularity sinks — likes the idea, and will love the fight.

The problem, according to top officials who argued strenuously that the move is ill-advised: The trade war wouldn't just affect China. The collateral damage would include a slew of allies, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Watch for: Trump was warned — and White House officials anticipate — that an affected industry like automakers is likely to seek a court injunction within hours of any tariffs on steel.
The good news is that trade wars never lead to real wars.

Oh wait ...

.
 
Nothing to see here

by digby



I suspect that many in the government don't want to know whether this has happened because it would shake the faith of the American people in the electoral system. Unfortunately, that ship sailed a while ago. This, via TPM, is making things worse:

Pressure to examine voting machines used in the 2016 election grows daily as evidence builds that Russian hacking attacks were broader and deeper than previously known. And the Department of Homeland Security has a simple response:

No.

DHS officials from former secretary Jeh Johnson to acting Director of Cyber Division Samuel Liles may be adamant that machines were not affected, but the agency has not in fact opened up a single voting machine since November to check.

Asked about the decision, a DHS official told TPM: “In a September 2016 Intelligence Assessment, DHS and our partners determined that there was no indication that adversaries were planning cyber activity that would change the outcome of the coming US election.”

According to the most recent reports, 39 states were targeted by Russian hackers, and DHS has cited–without providing details–domestic attacks in its own reports as well.

“Although we continue to judge all newly available information, DHS has not fundamentally altered our prior assessments,” the department told TPM.

Computer scientists have been critical of that decision. “They have performed computer forensics on no election equipment whatsoever,” said J. Alex Halderman, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about the vulnerability of election systems. “That would be one of the most direct ways of establishing in the equipment whether it’s been penetrated by attackers. We have not taken every step we could.”

Voting machines, especially the electronic machines still used in several states, are so insecure that an attack on them is likely to be successful, according to a report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice out Thursday morning. David Dill, a voting systems expert and professor of computer science at Stanford University quoted in the report, said hackers can easily breach election systems regardless of whether they’re able to coordinate widely enough to alter a general election result.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t try to hack voting machines and I don’t know what would stop them,” Dill told TPM. “Any statement that says ‘We haven’t see evidence of X’ also means ‘We haven’t lifted a finger to investigate.’”

DHS told TPM Wednesday afternoon it was confident in “multiple checks and redundancies in US election infrastructure” and referred to the testimony of Liles and Jeannette Manfra, DHS undersecretary for cybersecurity, who said US electoral systems were fortified by “diversity of systems, non-Internet connected voting machines, pre-election testing, and processes for media, campaign, and election officials to check, audit, and validate results.”

The new Brennan Center report, however, details the dangers of voting machines that aren’t properly secured, particularly the effect on public confidence of a very public successful hack, whether or not it managed to swing an election. “In the current hyper-partisan environment,” the authors noted, “evidence of this kind of hack could lead to accusations by each side that the other is rigging the election.”


.


 
The war on the press now includes charges of blackmail

by digby




Honestly, this is just getting ridiculous:

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski accused the White House of trying to manipulate them with a National Enquirer story, writing in the Washington Post that a White House staffer claimed the tabloid would print a negative story about them unless they “begged the president” to stop it — something a fellow Morning Joe host described as “blackmail.”

Scarborough and Brzezinski’s op-ed was a response to President Trump’s tweets that called Brzezinski “low I.Q. Mika” and said that her face was “bleeding” after plastic surgery.

When the White House called, “We ignored their desperate pleas,” they wrote. (The story they’re referring to appears to be a report about the relationship between the co-hosts, who are now engaged.)

The allegation also came up when Scarborough and Brzezinski, who had planned to take a break for the Fourth of July weekend, returned to their show to condemn the president’s attack. Trump was watching, as his tweets later showed:



So apparently the White House is blackmailing members of the press now with threats to have their henchmen in the tabloid press go after them. I'm no lawyer but that sounds like it might be criminal.

There's more:

On Friday, MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough made the explosive claim that three of President Donald Trump’s most senior White House aides “warned” the couple that the tabloid The National Enquirer would publish dirt on them unless they “begged” the president to intervene.

The Morning Joe co-hosts declined to name the multiple White House officials involved in this bizarre, ongoing feud. But one of those “top White House staff members” was senior advisor and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, two White House officials confirmed to The Daily Beast.

The White House says it was just a friendly conversation not a threat. And we don't know if that was who Scarborough and Brzezinski were talking about in their op-ed.

But one thing is sure. Trump is not doing the job of president. He's a celebrity managing his personal PR. He doesn't seem to know that this is not the job of president.

Maybe in the end this will finally show us that our system being so dependent on the abilities of one person running a powerful branch of government isn't a good idea. There's a reason no other country in the world has adopted it. It's just not that great. We've been lucky to have had mostly reasonably sane, if not entirely competent, presidents. I don't know if we've ever had one who was both mentally unstable and intellectually limited like this one. He is clearly unfit. And the dynamic that put him in the office, a party that is ideologically extreme and incompetent, was probably a necessary precursor. So we have a perfect storm.

It's not working. And I don't know if it can be fixed.

.
 
Trump has a lot more business in the former Soviet union than we knew

by digby




I wrote about a couple of Russia stories that dropped yesterday for Salon:

Well, Thursday was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? We got to spend the day wallowing in presidential misogyny, a treat we haven’t been able to savor since we heard Donald Trump brag about getting away with random crotch grabbing because he is such a “star.” No one can be surprised. We knew he was a snake before we let him in.

As much as the president’s grotesque tweets served as a grim reminder of his true character, Trump did manage to do the one thing he has been dying to do for weeks: move the press off the Russia story. Sadly for him, it only lasted a few hours before yet another late-breaking Russia scoop hit. The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris published a story that links former national security adviser Michael Flynn to a longtime right-wing operative named Peter W. Smith, who told Harris he had engaged with Russian hackers to obtain the so-called “missing emails” from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Smith also claimed he was in touch with Michael Flynn and possibly his son, both of whom he knew through some earlier business dealings.

Harris also reports that “investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.” That would be quite a coincidence if there were two different operations described exactly that way. As they say, stay tuned. There’s no way of knowing if this man was just blowing smoke about Flynn or whether it represents the first evidence that there was some collusion between the campaign and Russia, in this case through an outside intermediary steeped in right-wing opposition research for decades.

Smith died in May, but his history suggests it’s at least plausible that what he told Harris is true. Murray Waas wrote in Salon way back in 1998 about Smith’s role as the instigator of “Troopergate,” which led to the Paula Jones lawsuit against Bill Clinton (with which Kellyanne Conway’s husband George was intimately involved) and the rest was history. Smith is exactly the kind of man who would have involved himself in a nefarious scheme like this.

That story will undoubtedly be picked over quite a bit in the coming days. Unfortunately, another big Russia story, arguably even more significant, landed yesterday and few people seem to have noticed. Kevin G. Hall and Ben Weider of the McClatchy Washington bureau reported that Trump’s business dealings in countries of the former Soviet empire were much more substantial than he’s let on and his ties to bankers, oligarchs and politicians in the area are much more consequential. They write:
McClatchy’s investigation reveals how Trump sought a foothold not just in Russia but across the former Soviet empire. Not known before, the Trump Organization in 2012 negotiated with then-Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov for an obelisk-shaped tower to be built near the presidential palace, designed by architect John Fotiadis, who also did the Batumi project and lists offices in New York and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Trump Diamond lost out to a rival project in Astana for the tallest building in Central Asia, the 75-story Abu Dhabi Plaza.
That’s the tip of the iceberg. The Trump Organization was involved in dozens of deals throughout the region with money traced back to Russian sources, in some cases including the big oil company Rosneft. Once again, Trump’s close relationship with Bayrock CEO Felix Sater, a known mob associate with ties to the CIA, the FBI and the Russian government, was implicated along with another controversial company called the Silk Road Group. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, who has strong personal and business ties to Ukraine, was also involved with many of these negotiations. (Cohen was recently served with a subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee.)

What’s most interesting about all of these deals is their recent vintage. Indeed, the big tower project in Georgia mentioned in the McClatchy report wasn’t canceled until Jan. 6, 2017, two weeks before Trump took office. Trump said it was solely for business concerns (since he believes that it’s impossible for a president to have conflicts of interest) but the company he was involved with, Silk Road, said it was because of the massive publicity that was sure to follow, which hardly seems like convincing.

More likely the project was ditched because of the company’s relationship with Russia and Iran, two countries under U.S. sanctions. That would have been a bit of a problem for a sitting U.S. president, even one who believes that nothing is illegal if the president does it.

McClatchy reports that “none of this is revealed in Trump’s financial disclosure statements. And since he hasn’t released his tax returns, these sorts of relationships are not apparent.” We don’t know how many more situations like this exist that are still quietly percolating with Trump’s full knowledge while the country is kept in the dark.

There is a reason why Trump has been so desperate to end the Russia probe, and Occam’s razor says this is probably the reason. A G-Man with an unlimited mandate looking into all his dicey business dealings undoubtedly has him waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, the president has prevailed against all advice and will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G-20 meeting. Trump’s political advisers tried to impress on him just how bad it will look to be glad-handing with Vlad, while his policy advisers are surely petrified that he will make a major error. Trump’s vaunted negotiating skills have turned out to be hype, and nobody know if he’s going to give away the store.
According to the Guardian, Trump has tasked his staff to come up with some “deliverables” for his pal Putin, with no plans to ask for anything in return. One thing we know he won’t be doing is broaching the subject of cyber attacks. According to this report by CNN, his team cannot get him to devote any time or attention to the problem:
“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.
He is simply not interested. But then, in Trump’s worldview, if the Russians helped him get elected why would he do anything to stop them from doing it again? What he does want is to stop the investigation from delving too deeply into his relationships and business dealings in the region. It turns out there are a lot more of them then he’s admitted up until now.

.

 
Not the sharpest tools in the shed

by digby

Fox News viewers are red. People who watch other news sources are yellow:


That's right. The vast majority of people who watch Fox believe that it's that Democrats fault that legislation isn't getting passed in the congress --- which has a GOP majority.

.

.


 

The chancellor's speech

by Tom Sullivan

If Donald J. Trump were smarter, emotionally balanced, and more in control, one might think he was using his newest tweet about women and blood yesterday to divert attention from his legal troubles. Not likely. National Rifle Association CEO Wayne Lapierre, on the other hand, knows just what he is doing, not that he is playing with a full deck himself.

On June 12, the NRA unleashed one of the most insane propaganda messages to date in this beleaguered republic. But after a tweet from Jeff Sharlet drew attention to it Wednesday, it exploded on social media. We are not going to link it here, but Think Progress summarizes:

In the one-minute spot, conservative media personality and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch says progressives “bully and terrorize the law abiding,” adding that “the only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight the violence of lies with the clenched first of truth.”
Loesch did not have to say what that fist should be clenched around or that Real Americans need to take up 2nd Amendment solutions. That was implied. The language echoes Lapierre's rhetoric before the National Rifle Association’s Leadership Forum in April:
“It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites, and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats,” he said.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship responded directly to the bald-faced Othering in the script of the NRA propaganda piece:

They use their media to assassinate real news,” “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler,” “They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”

“And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance.”
Shot a little tighter, the video might come from a remake of V for Vendetta with Dana Loesch playing the High Chancellor.

Moyers and Winship continue:
Well, we all know who “they” are, don’t we? This is the vitriol that has been spewed like garbage since the days of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blasted from lynch mobs and demagogues and fascistic factions of political parties that turn racial and religious minorities into grotesque caricatures, the better to demean and diminish and dominate.

It is the nature of such malevolent human beings to hate those whom they have injured, and the NRA has enabled more injury to more marginalized and vulnerable people than can be imagined. Note how the words “guns” or “firearms” are never mentioned once in the ad and yet we know that the NRA is death on steroids. And behind it are the arms merchants — the gun makers and gun sellers — who profit from selling automatic rifles to deranged people who shoot down politicians playing intramural baseball, or slaughter children in their classrooms in schools named Sandy Hook, or who massacre black folks at Bible study in a Charleston church, or murderously infiltrate a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The two conclude, "To be choked with hate is a terrible fate, and it is worst for those on whom it is visited."

Thus we head not into Guy Fawkes Day, but America's Fourth of July. And with its fireworks, a little jumpier thanks not to ISIS terrorists but those of the NRA's creation.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

 
An uplifting story of basic human decency

by digby



It's so easy right now to lose faith in humanity. But there are people all over the place who make small gestures of decency and generosity.

From CBS:

When Andy Mitchell spotted a young man in a fast food uniform walking along the side of a road on a 95-degree summer day in Rockwall, Texas, he felt compelled to pull over.

He rolled down his window and offered the man, a 20-year-old named Justin Korva, a ride -- not knowing how much that small gesture would impact the man's life.

While driving the Korva to work at Taco Casa, Mitchell discovered the young man normally walked 3 miles to work and home again every day. Korva said he was determined to save up money and someday, he hoped, he would be able to afford a car.

After dropping off Korva, Mitchell posted about the man's determination on Facebook.

"To all the people that say they want to work but can't find a job or don't have a vehicle all I can say is you don't want it bad enough," Mitchell wrote.

Hundreds of people in the community saw his post, including Samee Dowlatshahi, owner of Samee's Pizza Getti Italian Bistro and Lounge in Rockwell.

Dowlatshahi offered to put a donation box inside his pizza joint to aid Korva in his quest to buy a car.

In less than 48 hours, with some help from Mitchell, they'd raised more than $5,500.

That's when Danny Rawls, general sales manager at Toyota of Rockwall and a friend of Dowlatshahi, heard Korva's inspiring story.

"I presented it to my general manager and said, 'Hey, let's help the kid. It seems like a great story,'" Rawls told CBS News.

His boss agreed, and the pair reduced the price on a 2004 Toyota Camry that was available.

"I sent [Dowlatshahi] a private message and said, 'Give me a call. I have a nice car that would work for the kid,'" Rawls explained.

Not only did they have enough money to buy the car, they had enough left over to pay for his insurance for a year, plus two years' worth of oil changes and a $500 gas card.

Last Friday, they drove the white 2004 Camry to Taco Casa and asked Korva to come outside.

"Justin, you can't imagine all the people who wanted to help you," Mitchell said, as several people filmed the exchange on their cellphones in the restaurant parking lot. "So, instead of walking to work, buddy, you're driving this car from now on."

Korva looked at Mitchell in disbelief, "Are you serious?"

"It's your car! This is your car," Mitchell said.

Korva gave each man a hug, wiping tears from his eyes as he walked toward the car.

"We just want you to know, seriously, this community, nothing we love better than to have someone who works hard," Dowlatshahi said. "We take a lot of pride in that. It's so hot out here, I can't believe you walk even one mile in this heat."

Later that day, Rawls helped Korva complete the paperwork on the car and put the title in his name.

"Surreal" is the only word Rawls could use to describe the moment he watched Korva walk away with the keys.

"He's a very humble young man and accepted it with stride," Rawls said. "There couldn't have been more of a deserving individual, for sure."

It was a nice thing to do.

.
 
All hands on deck for this one

by digby



It's hard for me to see how this is constitutional but this is Trump's America so I'm going to guess that looking at information on every voter in America is probably fine. If they use this information for political purposes, which of course they will because it's the only reason to do this, is just a first step.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued the following statement today in response to news that Kris Kobach, vice-chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, issued letters to Secretaries of State seeking disclosure of identifying information on voters across the country:

“We fully condemn actions taken today by the President’s Election Integrity Commission seeking disclosure of data and personal information on virtually every voter across the country.  This meritless inquisition opens the door for a misguided and ill-advised Commission to take steps to target and harass voters and could lead to purging of the voter rolls. We urge Secretaries of State who received a letter from Kris Kobach to reject this request and discourage state and local officials from participating in this Commission’s dangerous activities.  Today’s action underscores the fact that the Election Integrity Commission is operating in a reckless manner and its activities threaten to have a chilling effect on minority voters.

We encourage the public to contact 866-OUR-VOTE to report complaints or any suspicious activity regarding the activities of the Election Integrity Commission.  We know that voting discrimination and voter suppression are the real threats to American democracy and we will resist the Commission’s attempt to divert federal resources and attention away from these problems.”

Meanwhile, if a foreign government wants to play in our elections be their guest. This is their priority.

The only way they'd ever crack down on cyber-interference would be if Mexico did it.

.
 
A little boy scolds Rex Tillerson


by digby



You can't make this stuff up:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s frustrations with the White House have been building for months. Last Friday, they exploded.

The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment.


Tillerson also complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano’s office to “have any role in staffing” and “expressed frustration that anybody would know better” than he about who should work in his department — particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires, according to a senior White House aide familiar with the conversation.

Ok, he got frustrated. And not without reason.

But check this out:

The episode stunned other White House officials gathered in chief of staff Reince Priebus’ office, leaving them silent as Tillerson raised his voice. In the room with Tillerson and DeStefano were Priebus, top Trump aide Jared Kushner and Margaret Peterlin, the secretary of state’s chief of staff.

The encounter, described by four people familiar with what happened, was so explosive that Kushner approached Peterlin afterward and told her that Tillerson’s outburst was completely unprofessional, according to two of the people familiar with the exchange, and told her that they needed to work out a solution.
Imagine that. Little Jared saying that the Secretary of State acted unprofessionally.

IN THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE!


I guess he should have tweeted an insult about DeStefano's looks. That's how professionals behave dontcha know.

.
 
The point of Gilead is to break us

by digby



This quote by Michelle Goldberg about Trump's misogyny just nails it:

I’m not sure that even well-intentioned men understand how relentlessly degrading this presidency is for many women. Having a man who does not recognize the humanity of more than half the population in a position of such power is a daily insult; it never really goes away. Perhaps this is why many women found the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale so resonant, even though Trump, the former owner of a casino strip club, is the last person one can imagine instituting a Calvinist theocracy. Gilead’s fictional dystopia captures our constant incredulous horror at finding ourselves ruled by thuggish, unaccountable woman-haters who appear to revel in their own impunity.

It is a daily reminder that for many, many people the fact that women are clearly, demonstrably unequal in this world in both institutional, professional ways as well as our place in society. We're shown examples of it dozens of times a day and told by everyone, even each other, to stifle it, put it away, it isn't important, we're too sensitive etc, etc.

The rock of "civilized behavior" that usually sits atop this world's essential, fundamental misogyny has been turned over by this obnoxious piece of gelatinous offal and we have to look at it over and over and over again as if it's designed to make us stop objecting and accept it as the normal course of things.

That's what we learn from The Handmaid's Tale: the point of their relentless oppression is to break us. It doesn't have to be a full blown dystopian theocracy. All it takes is the the normalization of rank misogyny by our leaders and a million small humiliating acts of degradation every day by people we're supposed to trust.

.


 
Ryan Shrugged

by digby




Via Daily Kos, this is downright surprising:
Tucker Carlson sounded like a Progressive Democrat in the manner that he grilled Paul Ryan on Trumpcare. The Speaker made a facial expression at the end that should concern every Trump voter.

Paul Ryan likely did not expect the reception he got from Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He seemed a bit taken aback with the grilling in this excerpted video.

"Let's get the tax policy so as I understand it," said Tucker Carlson. "And I'm just reading this. So I may have it wrong. But there's an investment tax in here, the net investment income tax. And as far as I know, it only kicks in on couples making over a quarter million dollars a year. So it's a tax on wealthy investors, and you're eliminating it."

"Yes," Paul Ryan responded. "A 3.8 percent tax. yes."

"So I guess my question is looking at the last election was the message of that election really we need to help investors?" Carlson asked. "I mean the Dow is over 20,000. Are they really the group that needs the help?"

"This was a tax on capital income which is bad for economic growth," Paul Ryan said. "It's basically a capital gains tax increase effectively to finance Obamacare. We're undoing Obamacare. So we're not going to keep Obamacare taxes in place. So all of these taxes, the trillion dollar tax cut that this bill represents, that is part of that trillion dollar tax increase that was in Obamacare, to finance Obamacare. We're repealing, we promised we would repeal the Obamacare taxes. This is one of the Obamacare taxes. So we're keeping our promise. And, by the way, it's bad tax policy because it's bad for economic growth. And we're also repealing the Obamacare spending. So we're getting rid of its taxing, and we're getting rid of spending. And this is us keeping our word. You may want to keep that 3.8 percent tax. We're not going to keep it because it was part of Obamacare."

Paul Ryan shrugs with disregard when challenged about rich getting all the spoils



"Well but lots of things are part of Obamacare," Carlson said. "You just said a minute ago you're not doing anything about because you can't under reconciliation. But you just said they look to meet every promise in this first round. I guess it's a macro question. ... But also I mean you have the overview here is that the all the wealth basically in the last years is stuck to the top end. That's one of the reasons we've had all this political turmoil as you know. And so kind of a hard sell to say yeah we're going to repeal Obamacare, but we're going to send more money to people who've already gotten the richest over the last ten years I mean that's what this does no? I'm not leftist. It's just that's true."

And Ryan just shrugged.
 
The master negotiator myth

by digby





I wrote about Donald Trump's allegedly legendary salesmanship for Salon this morning:


Last year on the campaign trail, Donald Trump made a lot of promises, almost always adding that he planned to fulfill them “quickly.” He would say, “We will defeat ISIS and we will do it very, very quickly,” or “We’re disrespected right now all over the world. But that will change very, very quickly.” (He was right about that one. It changed very quickly, but not for the better.)

Just before the election in November he said this:
I will ask Congress to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace and it will be such an honor for me, for you and for everybody in this country, because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it and we will do it very, very quickly.
No one understood why Trump would need to convene a special session of Congress but it sounded very forceful and “strong” (another word he uses constantly). He got so grandiose in his promises to act quickly that at one point he pledged to get nearly his entire agenda done on the very first day.

What his followers truly loved about him, of course, was that he was saying out loud all the politically incorrect things they felt inhibited from saying in polite company, for fear of someone thinking they aren’t nice people. His candidacy, especially the rallies, provided one gigantic safe space for people to cheer for things that liberals hate. But when you asked people why they thought he would make a good president, it was always because he was a successful businessman who knew how to get things done.

Trump’s entire pitch was based on his supposedly legendary ability to negotiate. He flogged “The Art of the Deal” like it was the Bible, signing it on rope lines for his adoring fans and constantly calling it the bestselling business book of all time. This was the myth underlying his reality TV “Apprentice” persona, which was inspired by the book.

Trump was supposed to be a master negotiator who would singlehandedly cut new global trade deals to favor U.S. businesses and leave the rest of the world happily promising to pay more and get less. He would stare down world leaders and they would respect him for his manly strength and determination. He would bring Democrats and Republicans together in a room and bang their heads together until they came to an agreement. He was that good.

Do I even need to say it? None of that has worked out. The Republicans can’t seem to get any legislation to Trump’s desk, and he has proven to be counterproductive whenever he gets involved. Not only hasn’t he lived up to the hype, he’s actually much worse at negotiating than any president in modern memory.

Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin, reporting for the New York Times, examined why Trump can’t seem to make any deals as president, and found that much of it is because of his terrible relationships with many Republican officials. Issuing crude threats against Republican senators who come out against him, as a Trump-allied Super PAC did this week when Sen. Dean Heller announced he wouldn’t vote for the Senate health care bill, has been called “beyond stupid” by none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself.

But the larger problem for Trump is that he simply lacks the knowledge one needs to be able to negotiate successfully. Thrush and Martin note:
A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.

Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal’s tax implications, the staff member added.
It is widely understood, including by its Republican authors, that the bill was a massive tax cut disguised as health care legislation. That the president didn’t know that means he clearly hadn’t read the bill in any depth nor had he read the news media reports about it.

Washington isn’t the real estate and brand licensing world that Trump is used to. It’s clear that he’s in way over his head. But it’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of evidence that he was never very good at making deals.

Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal,” came forward during the campaign to confess that most of what he’d written in that book, which is the basis for the Trump myth, is just that — a myth. Trump inherited a lot of money from his father, who had political juice in New York and co-signed Trump’s deals for years. He struggled for years, through bankruptcy and failed entrepreneurial ventures, managing to survive by finding new and novel ways to fund his lifestyle (some of which are being investigated by the FBI and the special prosecutor right now). The “Trump brand” was slapped on any cheap consumer product he could persuade to take it.

Trump’s particular problem in politics is that he has an extremely short attention span, which means that the learning curve for the presidency, which is steep for anyone, may just be too much for him to master. Schwartz told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that this problem has left Trump with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance,” explaining, “that’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source — information comes in easily digestible sound bites.”

It’s impossible, Schwartz said, “to keep [Trump] focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then … if he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time.” Schwartz described Trump as not a dealmaker at all but merely a self-promoter who craves “money, praise, and celebrity” and never gets enough of it. These are not unusual traits among leaders, but they are not sufficient or even necessary for the job he has now.

Trump seems to have thought being president was a performance, like the fantasy role he played on “The Apprentice.” There’s a lot more to it than just holding photo-ops sitting behind a desk announcing something that you haven’t read and don’t really understand. So far he hasn’t shown any evidence whatever that he’s up to the task.
.

 
QOTD: A Republican

by digby




... one who hasn't completely drunk the Trumpade:




Reacting to this:



I'm watching Trump defenders on TV saying that the president is a "fighter" and it's what everyone voted for.

They are right. This is what his people voted for. At some point we have to accept that this juvenile misogyny is part of the reason they voted for him. They like it.

Update: Not all Republicans



.
 

Bad faith is policy

by Tom Sullivan

From health care to voting rights to economics, the narrative coming from conservatism's thought leaders as well as its political ones is professionally disingenuous. But in the faux politeness of the Beltway, rarely does the press call it out as such.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo this week observes how Republican goals rarely conform to their stated ones. Regarding health care, Marshall notes, the press fundamentally (or perhaps deliberately) misreads the intent of the Republican legislation. An exchange between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash illustrates his point. Why can't the parties get together on this? Bash asks. Marshall responds:

When you try three times to ‘repeal and replace’ and each time you come up with something that takes away coverage from almost everyone who got it under Obamacare, that’s not an accident or a goof. That is what you’re trying to do. ‘Repeal and replace’ was a slogan that made up for simple ‘repeal’ not being acceptable to a lot of people. But in reality, it’s still repeal. Claw back the taxes, claw back the coverage.

Pretending that both parties just have very different approaches to solving a commonly agreed upon problem is really just a lie. It’s not true. One side is looking for ways to increase the number of people who have real health insurance and thus reasonable access to health care and the other is trying to get the government out of the health care provision business with the inevitable result that the opposite will be the case.
Insisting that the split between the parties on health care policy demonstrates a lack of bipartisanship misses the point.
If you had an old building and one group wanted to refurbish and preserve it and the other wanted to tear it down, it wouldn’t surprise you that the two groups couldn’t work together on a solution. It’s an either/or. You’re trying to do two fundamentally opposite things, diametrically opposed. There’s no basis for cooperation or compromise because the fundamental goal is different. This entire health care debate has essentially been the same. Only the coverage has rarely captured that. That’s a big failure. It also explains why people get confused and even fed up.
Or as Paul Waldman writes of the Republican effort, "[T]his is the party that wants to dismantle government, not figure out how to make it work better."

The sham politics of bad faith is now policy. Arguments from Republican leaders for any number of policies follow the same pattern. What I wrote here two years ago bears repeating:
My wife calls this having "a Republican argument." That is to say, a disingenuous one. It's where your opponent abandons rules of evidence and logic and instead argues by assertion or by exaggerated fear of what "might be" happening undetected.

It is to argue, for example, that eliminating public assistance to the rich through tax cuts, credits, and direct incentives (that fund their fifth home, new yacht, or airplane upgrade) will kill their incentive to work hard and "create jobs." But public assistance to the poor — you know, for food — eliminates their incentive to work.

It is to argue after every mass shooting that we need no new gun laws criminals will simply ignore; we just need to enforce laws already on the books. Except when it comes to voting restrictions, we need new laws on top of those they complain the state is already not enforcing.

It is people arguing that we need to restore public confidence in the election system after they've spent decades trying to undermine it to build public support for restoring Jim Crow.
Lacking evidence of widespread fraud in elections, conservative groups have begun assembling databases of election irregularities to support their case for photo ID laws. The Heritage Foundation has one. But a review reveals that of the 500 cases collected dating back over two decades, only seven involve voter impersonation that might be caught by requiring photo IDs. One of those seven was a voter impersonating another registrant to prove it could be done. Another of the seven involved election judges falsifying the ledger. IDs would not have stopped crooked election judges.

The point of assembling such databases is always the same: to promote the idea the problem is widespread and to build public support for a solution to a virtually nonexistent problem. In the name of "election integrity," Republican legislatures have erected barriers to voting that "with surgical precision" fall hardest on groups least likely to vote for Republicans. As Marshall says, "that’s not an accident or a goof. That is what you’re trying to do."

Tort reform is another Republican enthusiasm that pops up from time to time. Like now. Invariably, the sales pitch is that capping medical malpractice awards will "discourage frivolous lawsuits and reduce the cost of health care." Currently, research shows medical liability makes up 2 to 2.5 percent of health costs. It was under 2 percent in 2005 when President Bush floated the idea of getting hospitals to switch to all-electronic records in a speech at the Cleveland Clinic. It might reduce health care costs by as much as 20 percent as well as save lives. But the effort to save lives and taxpayers money might cost millions. Bush's colleagues preferred then, as they do now, to focus on the 2 percent solution.

Privatization transfers publicly owned assets to private investors. We the People incur the capital costs; investors reap the profits only available by taking ownership from us. Public-private partnerships promise to save the public tax money up front for new capital projects, but only by charging people in near perpetuity for using the roads/bridges/etc. The promise is always that these schemes will reduce taxpayers' costs (lower taxes are always implied) but forever seem to cost us more out of pocket.

It is almost as if saving us money, strengthening our democracy, and making us healthier are not the real goals.

The health care bill now on hold in the Senate looks to turn Medicaid into block grants and capping its growth. Speaker Paul Ryan, as we know, has been dreaming about "sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate" since he was in college and "drinking out of a keg." Making Americans healthier doesn't really seem to be the driver here any more than saving taxpayers money or boosting election integrity.

If block grants and privatization are such terrific, fiscally conservative ideas, why not auction off a few of our nearly 900 overseas military bases, convert the Pentagon into time shares and condos, and send the defense budget back to the states while capping its growth?


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

 
Headline o' the Day

by digby

Apparently their lies weren't quite effective enough:








That makes it political suicide to vote for that monstrosity. And there are other polls that are almost as bad. None show more than 35 percent support. And they're all heading downward:
There’s little public confidence in Trump or congressional Republicans on the issue, however, which threatens any effort to build support among the undecided. Forty-three percent of Americans, the poll shows, trust congressional Democrats most to protect them and their families' interest in the health care debate. Only 19 percent trust Trump most, and 10 percent trust congressional Republicans. 
It’s not just the public, media polls that could push Republicans away from uniting around a bill. The American Medical Association, which opposes the measure, this week released surveys conducted in a number of states that are home to fence-sitting senators — Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia — that showed little support for the bill and its provisions. 
To hammer home the point, the AMA hired two separate polling firms to conduct the surveys, Public Opinion Strategies and Voter/Consumer Research, that work for Republican campaigns. (Public Opinion Strategies conducted four of the five surveys — excepting West Virginia, where it lists Sen. Shelley Moore Capito as a client.)
If they could give up their permanent tax cut white whale, they could simply leave Medicaid alone, shore up the exchanges and say "we repealed it and we replaced it and now it's called Trumpcare!" Hooray!

But they can't. Their donors demand the tax cuts and the wingnuts will never go for anything that doesn't stick it hard to the poor. That's where we are. They'll all go down with the ship if that'swhat it takes.

.


 
The new villain

by digby




Don't try this at home. They'll get very mad:

It was a strange sight, even for the “sport” of professional wrestling.

A wrestler holding a microphone faced an Appalachian crowd before a match and began unleashing a torrent of insults, the nature of which seemed out of place at a pro wrestling tournament.

“I understand now why you all identify with country music. It’s slow and it’s simple and it’s boring, just like each and every one of you.”

As the crowd grew increasing hostile, the wrestler’s remarks became more politically tinged.

“You know what, I think Bernie Sanders would make a great secretary of state.”

“I want to exchange your bullets for bullet points. Bullet points of knowledge.”

He even called Donald Trump a “con man.” The crowd exploded in jeers. “Shut up,” someone yelled.

Strange, indeed. But then, the muscular man’s shirt read, “Not My President.”

Meet the wrestler who goes by the name “Progressive Liberal” Dan Richards, the most hated character in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain Wrestling (AMW) program, a small professional wrestling circuit.

 
Hey Alexa, yo' mama

by digby




He really is obsessed:

The president also references The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, in his tweet.

On Tuesday, the publication put out a story saying a fake issue of Time magazine with Trump on the cover was hanging in some of the president's golf clubs.

"[T]he cover on display at Trump's clubs, observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes," the Post wrote.

A spokeswoman for Time later confirmed with the Post that the cover wasn't real.

 President Donald Trump delivers remarks in the Diplomatic Room following a shooting that injured a member of Congress and law enforcement officers at the White House June 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump targets Amazon over tax claims
1 Hour Ago | 01:59
Aside from attacking the Washington-based publication directly, Trump harshly criticized Amazon during his campaign, saying the e-commerce giant operated a monopoly with an unfair tax shelter that's somehow propped up by Bezos' ownership of the Post.

During one campaign rally in February 2016, Trump told the crowd: "If I become president, oh [does Amazon] have problems. They're going to have such problems." He added that Bezos only bought the Post to have "political influence."

Trump is now calling out Amazon for avoiding so-called internet taxes, what was once a much larger and controversial issue for the e-retailer.

A representative from Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, as pressure built in individual state houses, Congress and courts to allow states to require retailers to collect the tax on out-of-state sales and pass it on to state governments, Amazon has accelerated changes in its tax policy.

Starting April 1 this year, Amazon began collecting sales tax nationwide, calming much of the prior controversy. So it remains unclear what Trump was referencing when he accused Amazon on Wednesday morning of not paying "internet taxes."

In general, online retailers fall under two different tax systems today — retailers located out of state pay no sales tax, while those with some type of link to the state must pay it. Amazon having distribution centers in certain states, but not others, had put the company in a tricky spot.

"This is a personal thing. ... He's going after Jeff," Gene Munster, co-founder and managing partner of Loup Ventures, told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "It's all about personal vendetta against The Washington Post."


He really is a whiny little boy isn't he? Any mature adult would ignore this story and just let it die. Instead, he's drawn attention to it simply because he's so petulant and vindictive that it's impossible for him to control himself.

I think at this point we may be looking at one of those regimes in which the King is simply a figurehead playing games of his own while other people run the government. And the problem is that this Mad King has chosen a group of misfits almost as nuts as he is to do it.


.
 
A thousand Pinocchios

by digby







This is obviously an official talking point. Cornyn did it yesterday:



This is, of course, ignoring the fact that the CBO estimates that if Trumpcare goes through it will be closer to 50 million uninsured.

This is the fatuous nonsense they're peddling:


The bill recently introduced in the Senate would get rid of the individual mandate, which in 2015 alone caused 6.5 million Americans to pay $3 billion in penalties to the IRS because they did not want or could not afford a government-dictated health plan. It would directly repeal some of ObamaCare’s most costly regulations while giving states flexibility to waive others if they develop innovative ways to provide coverage and bring down costs.

The Senate’s plan also would repeal hundreds of billions of dollars in onerous taxes. It would put Medicaid on a sustainable spending path and give states a real chance to reform the program to make it work for the people who rely on it.

The Trump administration, recognizing the need for urgent action, began offering Americans relief from ObamaCare starting in February. The Department of Health and Human Services has reviewed thousands of pages of ObamaCare rules and taken more than a dozen distinct actions, with additional positive steps in the works.

But administrative action is constrained by the failed law Americans all live under. If Congress acts this summer, the Trump administration will have significantly expanded ability to offer relief, and the country will have taken a huge step toward truly patient-centered health care.

Again, neglecting to mention that under their plan people like me are going to get hammered financially (The Kaiser calculator says my premiums will rise over 100% if this takes effect)and Medicaid patients are going to be dying or costing the emergency rooms billions in uncompensated care.

But they are all despicable monstrous liars. And that's all they've got to keep their mystifyingly loyal cultists on board.

.


 
Ratfucking for dummies

by digby



Regarding Trump's obsessive CNN horseshit I can't help but be reminded of this scene from All The President's Men, from Goldman's first draft of the screenplay:

WOODWARD and BERNSTEIN walking in the rain. It's pouring as they leave FBI Headquarters and they are in anguish.

BERNSTEIN
(after a while)
Woodward?

WOODWARD
Hmm?

BERNSTEIN
What was the mistake? Do you think
it's been rigged, all along the way,
leading us on so they could slip it
to us when it mattered? They couldn't
have set us up better; after all
these months our credibility's gone,
you know what that means?

WOODWARD
(nods)
Only everything...

They are soaked, Nearby is a garbage can, they grab papers, hold them over their heads, start to walk. Now--

CAMERA MOVES UP HIGHER TO REVEAL

The papers they grabbed were the Post front page. (This
happened.) And as they walked, the Haldeman story was on their heads. HOLD on the reporters walking miserably through the rain. Now--

CUT TO:

THE POST.

A tremendous pall has settled on the city room. People walk by, glancing at WOODWARD and BERNSTEIN, who sit almost immobilized at their desks, wet, whipped; no energy left.

CUT TO:

BRADLEE'S OFFICE. SIMONS sits across from BRADLEE as ROSENFELD
enters quietly with a bundle of teletype paper.

SIMONS
(indicating the papers)
More denunciations?

ROSENFELD
(nods)
One Senator just gave a speech
slurring us 57 times in 20 minutes.

BRADLEE has started typing something brief. When ROSENFELD's done, so is he. He hands it to SIMONS.

SIMONS
What's this?

BRADLEE
My non-denial denial.

ROSENFELD
We're not printing a retraction?

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP--BRADLEE. He is thoughtful for a while. Then, spinning around, staring out towards the newsroom:

BRADLEE
Fuck it, let's stand by the boys.

And he stands, spins out of the room as we

CUT TO:

THE FLOWER POT ON WOODWARD'S TERRACE.

The rain has stopped. The apartment is dark. It's late at
night. Inside, the phone RINGS and

CUT TO:

WOODWARD'S APARTMENT in the dark as he manages to knock the phone off its cradle.

WOODWARD
Hello?

BERNSTEIN'S VOICE (O.S.)
What'd you find?

WOODWARD
Jesus Christ, what time is it?

BERNSTEIN
You overslept?

WOODWARD
Goddamnit!--

He fumbles for the lamp, as it falls with a CRASH--

CUT TO:

WOODWARD--MOVING. Hair wild, clothes half-buttoned, he runs through the dark Washington streets as we

CUT TO:

TWO WELL-DRESSED MEN in the shadows across the street, going in the same direction and

CUT TO:

WOODWARD spotting them, picking up the pace and

CUT TO:

THE TWO MEN moving faster too and now

CUT TO:

A BUNCH OF CABS. WOODWARD jumps into the first and as it roars off

CUT TO:

THE TWO MEN getting into a cab also, roaring off in the same direction and

CUT TO:

WOODWARD'S CAB taking a corner fast and as it goes on, HOLD until the second cab takes the same corner, faster, and now

CUT TO:

WOODWARD jumping out of his cab, fumbling into his pockets for change as we

CUT TO:

THE TWO MEN getting out of their cab, paying, and as their cab drives off

CUT TO:

WOODWARD diving back into his cab and in a moment it is roaring again through the night and we

CUT TO:

THE TWO WELL-DRESSED MEN standing on the sidewalk, watching as WOODWARD disappears into the night and then suddenly,

ZOOM TO:

DEEP THROAT IN CLOSE UP AND MAD.

DEEP THROAT
--you were doing so well and then
you got stupid, you went too fast--
Christ, what a royal screw up--

PULL BACK TO REVEAL

DEEP THROAT and WOODWARD in the underground garage.

WOODWARD
--I know, I know, the pressure's off
the White House and it's all back on
the Post--

DEEP THROAT
--you've done worse than let Haldeman
slip away, you've got people feeling
sorry for him--I didn't think that
was possible. A conspiracy like this--
the rope has to tighten slowly around
everyone's neck. You build from the
outer edges and you go step by step.
If you shoot too high and miss, then
everybody feels more secure. You've
put the investigation back months.

WOODWARD
We know that--and if we were wrong,
we're resigning--were we wrong?

DEEP THROAT
You'll have to find that out, won't
you?--

.
 
Trump tweets while the world burns

by digby



I wrote about our president's obsession for Salon this morning:

There hasn’t been much going on this week. Well, other than the fate of more than 20 million people and one-sixth of the United States economy. And there are a few bothersome little events possibly happening over in the Middle East. But other than that this week has been dull, dull, dull. At least our fearless leader, Donald Trump, must think so since he’s been working night and day to fix the major global crisis of a story that briefly appeared on CNN’s website and was then retracted. Thank God the president of the United States is on it. If we all stick together through this challenging and critical time, we may just get through it.

OK, I’m being sarcastic. This has been a tumultuous and busy week in Washington, but it wasn’t fake news that had the majority of the country on pins and needles. It was the prospect of millions of people losing health care and services, with many individuals desperately in need of and possibly unable to survive without them. As it turns out, they were given a brief reprieve when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was unable to muster 50 votes to ram the bill through the Senate. Now all eyes will turn to the individual home states where freaked-out constituents will be stalking these Republican officials. There will be parades and town halls and barbecues across the nation and these GOP politicians will get an earful.

One might have thought the president would be deeply involved with the Senate vote, since he’s allegedly the greatest negotiator the world has ever known. There have been reports of some phone calls to recalcitrant senators and a few offhand comments endorsing the bill, but Trump simply has not been a factor in the debate.


After McConnell announced he was delaying the vote until after the July 4 break, Trump had all the Republican senators at the White House for a photo op and brief meeting in which he made it clear he didn’t really give a damn about the health care bill one way or the other. He said, “This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like. And that’s OK, and I understand that very well.”

He has said from the beginning that he thought it would be better politically to just sabotage Obamacare and blame the Democrats, so this isn’t a surprise. Still, since Senate leadership continues to work to get the thing passed, it’s not exactly confidence building. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, summed up the situation as a problem related to Trump’s lack of political experience and the fact that he has yet to learn how to work with Congress. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., put things a little bit more bluntly on MSNBC on Tuesday, saying, “If you count on the president to have your back, you need to watch it.” The Washington Post reported that most senators consider the White House operation to be a paper tiger and simply don’t take the president seriously.

Trump wasn’t just uninterested or too busy with important matters to offer the negotiation his full attention. On Monday night the White House put out a statement saying that it had intelligence that the Syrian government was preparing to launch another gas attack. Journalists following this up with the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command found that no officials at any of those agencies knew anything about this. That suggests either that the White House was making things up or there was a total lack of communication among the various responsible parties. According to The Daily Beast, the president himself was completely out of the loop:



According to a knowledgeable senior administration official, [Secretary of State] Tillerson warned his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov: the U.S. sees that Russia and Syria may be prepping for another chemical weapons attack; and that there will be consequences if Assad follows through with it. All this occurred this week as President Donald Trump displayed what two White House officials characterized as relative indifference and passivity towards the subject, instead opting to focus his public and private energies towards fuming at his domestic enemies in the Democratic Party and the “fake news.”

“The president cares more about CNN and the Russia story than [Syria] at the moment,” one official observed. . . .

White House officials speaking to The Daily Beast painted a picture of a president who, for the time being, is far more obsessed by negative press attention and media feuds at home than any coming atrocities abroad.

The official was in The Daily Beast account was referring to the story about three journalists who resigned from CNN after the network retracted a story about Trump crony Anthony Scaramucci’s being under investigation for his ties to Russia. Judging by Trump’s hysterical tweeting on the subject, he can think of nothing else. He evidently believes this somehow proves the Russia story is fake news.

According to The Daily Beast, presidential advisers Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner were consulted before the White House made the Syria announcement, which means they are acting in a presidential capacity on a major foreign policy issue while Trump tracks his bad press. Considering what other countries think about our president that might almost seem reassuring.

A Pew Research Center survey released this week shows that President Trump and his policies are overwhelmingly unpopular around the world. Pew polled people in 37 different countries on six continents, and on average only 22 percent of those surveyed said theyhave confidence that he will do the right thing in international affairs. (Trump got higher marks than former President Barack Obama in just two countries, Russia and Israel.)



America’s allies in Europe and North America are particularly repelled by him, which is deeply disturbing. And they don’t just disapprove of his policies, such as the supposed border wall or his travel ban or his withdrawal from the Paris accords. They disapprove of his personal character even more stridently. Most people around the world describe him as arrogant, intolerant and dangerous. Many do see him as “strong,” but they are probably assuming that his arrogant, intolerant, dangerous rhetoric signifies strength and confidence, when it is actually just the bleating of a deeply insecure and shallow man.

It appears the planet is about to find out whether the world’s only superpower can continue to function with a president who can do nothing but watch TV and battle with the news media over his coverage. Considering Donald Trump’s monumental limitations, of course, that might turn out to be a blessing.
 

Work the eye

by Tom Sullivan


Anthony Cordero at Muay Thai Championship Boxing Match. Photo by David Maiolo via Creative Commons.

There is safety in numbers, Republicans found yesterday. The Congressional Budget Office assessment late Monday that the GOP Senate's "Better" Obamacare replacement plan would take coverage from 22 million Americans allowed Republican lawmakers skittish about the bill's unpopularity to excuse themselves from voting for it. Now it wasn't only Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Dean Heller (Nevada). More of their colleagues joined them, bringing the "no" count to nine. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell beat a strategic retreat, announcing he would delay any vote until after the July 4th recess.

Despite having run on repealing Obamacare, the New York Times reports President Trump appeared neither to care one way or another nor to understand what is actually in the bill:

Until Tuesday’s meeting at the White House, Mr. Trump had spoken with only a few members of the Senate, according to an administration official. The pace was nothing like the dozens of calls he made to help pass the House’s health bill, aides said.

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.

Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal’s tax implications, the staff member added.
"Obamacare is a total disaster. It's melting down as we speak," Trump again told Republican leaders gathered at the White House. Nevertheless, he continued, "This will be great if we get it done. And if we don't get it done, it's just going to be something that we're not going to like. And that's okay, and I understand that very well."

With that kind of enthusiasm, Trump-the-Closer won't even win the set of steak knives for his well-done meat.

But Mitch McConnell is a closer and he'll be back after the recess. More time “could be good and it could be bad,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) told reporters. Slate's Jim Newell paints the outlines of a post-recess agreement:

Take the concerns of two moderate holdouts. Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia released a joint statement after the vote was delayed demanding changes. “The Senate draft before us includes some promising changes to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market,” Portman’s statement read, “but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic.” Moore had similar concerns, arguing that the bill “as drafted” does “not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers."

If only there was some massive pool of money out there that could alleviate some of their fears. Indeed, there is! The CBO found that the bill would save the government $321 billion—or $188 billion more than budget rules require it to save. One might read Portman and Capito’s statements as asking that all of that money be used to soften the long-term Medicaid cuts and significantly increase the funds available to combat the opioid crisis.

The conservative holdouts, meanwhile, could be granted more of the market reforms they want—like, say, state waivers for the Affordable Care Act’s community rating rules, which bar insurers from charging sicker people more. “We can rewrite our bill to bring down the price working families pay for health insurance—while still protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions,” Sen. Mike Lee said in a statement. In other words: Deregulate, and allow those with pre-existing conditions to take their rightful place in high-risk pools.
There is still plenty of spreading-around money McConnell can and will deploy, and more room in which to wiggle.

The Denver Post reports:
Organizers at numerous “Resistance” groups, chastened by their premature celebrations after the House’s repeal push seemed to stall, said that they’d use the recess to ramp up public pressure on Republicans. CREDO Action, which had organized 45,000 phone calls to Senate offices, planned to increase that number when senators went home. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn and Daily Action were organizing their own phone banks, while Indivisible groups were organizing visits – and perhaps sit-ins – at local offices.

All of that would supplement under-the-radar but attention-grabbing TV ad campaigns from AARP, Protect Our Care and other progressive and industry groups. The goal, said activists, is to educate voters and break through to local media, which had not often put the development of the Senate bill on front pages or newscasts.
The Obamacare repeal has been cut over the eye. Don't let your guard down. Keep punching and work the eye.