Lazy Saturday Reads: Trumpcare’s Ignominious Defeat and Spy News

Good Afternoon!!

Last night, for the first time since November 8, 2016, I went to bed happy. Thanks in large part to the millions of Americans who marched in the streets, went to town halls or their representatives’ offices to defend Obamacare, the attempt by tRump and Ryan to destroy the health care system has been thwarted–at least for the time being.

Trump is being roasted in the media. Here are a few stories to check out, links only because there are so many:

The Washington Post: ‘The closer’? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed — to make a deal on health care.

Politico: Trump gets tamed by Washington (click on this one if only to view the absolute worst photo of tRump’s hair so far).

Politico Magazine: Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle. Eighteen days that shook the Republican Party—and humbled a president.

The Atlantic: The Republicans Fold on Health Care. The House abandoned its legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, handing President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan a major defeat.

The New York Times: How the Health Care Vote Fell Apart, Step by Step.

Jonathan Chait: Why Obamacare Defeated Trumpcare.

I want to highlight one aspect of the tRump strategy. He let Steve Bannon talk to the Freedom Caucus, and it did not go well.

Mike Allen at Axios: 

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.

  • Bannon’s point was: This is the Republican platform. You’re the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.
  • One of the members replied: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”\\ [….]It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the Day 64 defeat. President Trump, who made repeal-and-replace a central theme of his campaign, and House Republicans, who made it the central theme of every campaign since 2010, lost in a publicly humiliating way despite controlling every branch of government and enjoying margins in the House rarely seen in the past century.

More on Bannon’s role at The Daily Beast: Bannon Tells Trump: ‘Keep a Shit List’ of Republicans Who Opposed You. (This one was published before the bill was pulled.)

According to multiple Trump administration officials speaking to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, the president is angry that his first big legislative push is crumbling before his eyes—and his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon is advising him to take names and keep a hit list of Republicans who worked for Trumpcare’s defeat.

“[Bannon] has told the president to keep a shit list on this,” one official told The Daily Beast. “He wants a running tally of [the Republicans] who want to sink this…Not sure if I’d call it an ‘enemies list,’ per se, but I wouldn’t want to be on it.”

One aide described it as a proposed “hit list” for Republicans not sufficiently loyal. Courses of action stemming from any related tally is yet to be determined, but the idea and message is that “we’ll remember you.”

Two senior Trump administration officials with direct knowledge of the process told The Daily Beast that Bannon and Trump have taken a “you’re either with us or against us” approach at this point, and that Bannon wants the tally of “against” versus “with us” mounted in his so-called West Wing “war room.”

“Burn the boats,” Bannon (in his typical, pugnacious style) advised Trump, according to one official involved. Burning one’s boats is a reference to when military commanders in hostile territories order his or her troops to destroy their own ships, so that they have to win or die trying.

Now let’s get to the really interesting stuff–the spy news.

Is Mike Flynn already talking to the FBI? I would be if I were in his shoes, and he has been awfully quiet since he belatedly registered as a foreign agent for his work in support of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And yesterday we learned that Flynn proposed kidnapping Erdogan’s sworn enemy Fethullah Gulen, a former Turkish cleric whom Turkey has been trying to get extradited from the U.S.

The Washington Post: Pentagon weighs response to Flynn working on behalf of Turkish interests without U.S. permission.

President Trump’s ousted national security adviser did not seek permission from the U.S. government to work as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests, U.S. defense officials said, raising the possibility that the Pentagon could dock the retirement pay of Michael T. Flynn.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the Defense Department is reviewing the issue. It arose after Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered retroactively this month with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for work that his company, Flynn Intel Group, carried out on behalf of Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based company. It is owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is not a part of the Turkish government, but has links to it.

The Inovo assignment centered on researching Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric whom Ankara blames for fomenting a coup attempt last summer and wants extradited from the United States, where he has lived in exile for years. That led Flynn’s company to conclude that the work “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey,” according to a letter sent by Flynn’s attorney, Robert K. Kelner, to the Justice Department, along with the filing.

Flynn Intel Group received a total of $530,000 in three payments between September and November from Inovo BV before discontinuing the arrangement after Trump was elected president, according to Flynn’s filings. It is unclear from the paperwork how much Flynn personally profited from the deal, but he is the majority owner and chief executive officer of the firm. Kelner, reached by phone Wednesday night, declined to comment on the deal.

Flynn is in deep trouble, and now that tRump has thrown him under the bus in The National Enquirer, Flynn has plenty of motivation to start telling what he knows about the tRump campaign’s coordination with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton.

In addition, we learned yesterday that the three other tRump guys who are under investigation, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page, have offered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

Next, we have the very strange behavior of Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the Intel Committe, who appears to be working as a double agent for tRump. Nunes has given three bizarre press conferences about supposed secret information he got access to that may or may not show that members of the tRump transition team were caught up in surveillance of foreign actors. It’s obvious that Nunes is way over his head and doesn’t really understand whatever it is he saw. So far he hasn’t shared anything with the members of his committee. But where did he get this mysterious information? He isn’t saying, but here’s some background from Tim Mak at The Daily Beast: Devin Nunes Vanished the Night Before He Made Trump Surveillance Claims.

Rep. Devin Nunes was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts.

By the next morning, Nunes hastily announced a press conference. His own aides, up to the most senior level, did not know what their boss planned to say next. Nunes’ choice to keep senior staff out of the loop was highly unusual.

The Republican chairman had a bombshell to drop.

“The intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday morning.

Nunes reviewed “dozens of reports” produced by the U.S. intelligence community that showed this, he added….

Where Nunes went and who his source was for this information—which he said was still incomplete—is now a mystery with serious repercussions for the independence of his investigation into Russian interference with U.S. elections.

“This information was legally brought to me by sources who thought that we should know it,” Nunes added.

Suspicions have been raised that Nunes may have gotten his information from the White House, and so far he has refused to deny it. So who could have been incidentally picked up on wiretaps? Yesterday, Dakinikat posted some links that suggest that person could have been Mike Pence. I’m reposting them here.

DailyKos, 3/22/17: Manafort made Pence the VP, they talked regularly during the transition.

The Daily Beast: 11/30/16: Paul Manafort Is Back and Advising Donald Trump on Cabinet Picks.

Finally, Bill Palmer pull the conspiracy theory together: Mike Pence appears to be the “Donald Trump transition team” member caught on wiretap.

This week House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes got his hands on some kind of classified intelligence through unofficial channels, and it spooked him to the point that he broke every protocol – and may have broken his career in the process. Nunes insists someone on the Donald Trump transition team was legally picked up on a wiretap that was targeted at someone else. And it appears the person incidentally surveilled was Vice President Mike Pence.

Based on Nunes’ description, someone on the Trump transition team was picked up while speaking on the phone with someone who was the subject of a FISA warrant. Widespread media reports have long pegged four people in the Trump campaign’s orbit as being under FBI investigation: Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort. These are the four who could realistically have been the subject of a judge-issued FISA surveillance warrant.

Of the four men, the only one who is known to have had phone conversations with anyone on the Trump transition team during the transition was Manafort. And the one person Manafort kept calling? Mike Pence (source: Daily Kos. The two have long been aligned; Manafort went to great lengths to ensure Pence was Trump’s running mate. So it appears that Devin Nunes learned this week that Pence had been caught saying something disconcerting on Manafort’s wiretap. And that may explain why Nunes did what he did from there.

More at the link.

And we can’t forget James Comey’s surprise appearance at the White House yesterday. Will more shoes drop over the weekend? I sure hope so!

What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: All Hell Is Breaking Loose!

Good Morning!!

Following politics these days is a full-time job. Yesterday I went out for a few hours and, as often happens, all hell had broken loose by the time I got back to my computer.

  1. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia held two press conferences to claim that Trump transition members–and maybe Trump himself–were incidentally picked up by surveillance in Trump Tower. Then, instead of sharing this information with members of his committee, he went running to the White House to brief Trump. What Nunes said didn’t make a lot of sense, so here’s an explanatory piece at Lawfare.
  2. The Supreme Court reversed a decision by Trump’s SCOTUS pick Neil Gorsuch shortly after Gorsuch defended the decision during his confirmation hearing.
  3. The Associated Press breaks the news that Paul Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to ‘greatly benefit the Putin Government…'”
  4. AP also reported that Michael Flynn never signed the ethics pledge required for people working in the White House. Has anyone signed it?
  5. There was a horrible attack in London–JJ covered it well yesterday.

When I got home, Devin Nunes was all over the TV, soon followed by a press conference by Adam Schiff, the Democratic ranking member of Nunes committee.

Democrat Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, held a hastily-planned press conference to respond to committee chairman Devin Nunes‘ decision to give President Donald Trump updates on the Russia investigation and wiretapping without showing the evidence to Schiff. He said that Nunes’ actions mean that there is reason to create an independent commission to investigate Russia’s involvement.

Schiff, who is also from California, said that Nunes’ actions created “enormous doubt” that Congress can handle an independent investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He said he will ask House Speaker Paul Ryan about creating an independent commission….

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. (right), holds a press conference with ranking committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., about their investigation of Russian influence on the American presidential election.

Schiff also said that he hopes these press conferences weren’t part of a “broader campaign” by the White House to distract attention away from FBI Director James CButomey‘s testimony that there is no evidence that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the campaign. Comey also confirmed that the FBI is running an investigation into possible ties between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.

Schiff also told Chuck Todd yesterday that there is now more than circumstantial evidence of collusion between the Trump gang and Russia. But that’s all yesterday’s news.

The AP has a new exclusive out about Manafort: U.S. Probes Banking of Ex-Trump Campaign Chief.

U.S. Treasury Department agents have recently obtained information about offshore financial transactions involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as part of a federal anti-corruption probe into his work in Eastern Europe, The Associated Press has learned.

Information about Manafort’s transactions was turned over earlier this year to U.S. agents working in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network by investigators in Cyprus at the U.S. agency’s request, a person familiar with the case said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss a criminal investigation.

The Cyprus attorney general, one of the country’s top law enforcement officers, was made aware of the American request….

Manafort, who was Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman from March until August last year, has been a leading focus of the U.S. government’s investigation into whether Trump associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. This week, the AP revealed his secret work for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago.

Rick Gates

The Washington Post has a story on Manafort’s business partner, who is still a very important member of the Trump administration: Manafort is gone, but his business associate remains a key part of Trump’s operation.

…even as Trump officials downplay Manafort’s role, his ­decade-long business associate Rick Gates remains entrenched in the president’s operation. Gates is one of four people leading a Trump-blessed group that defends the president’s agenda. As recently as last week, he was at the White House to meet with officials as part of that work.

Through Manafort, Gates is tied to many of the same business titans from Ukraine and Russia, including Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with strong ties to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Manafort had a multimillion-dollar contract with Deripaska between at least 2005 and 2009 that was aimed at helping the political interests of Putin.

Manafort has acknowledged the contract with Deripaska but denied that it, or any other of their dealings, had anything to do with the Russian government. In a brief interview, Gates described his work as being focused on “supporting the private equity fund started by the firm and democracy building and party building in Ukraine.”

Gates also acknowledged a role in at least two recent, controversial deals involving separate Putin-connected oligarchs, including one other with Deripaska. Both led to lawsuits in which Gates was listed as a partner to Manafort, though Gates said he holds no equity interest in the firm.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov

Then there this story from Haaretz: The Russian Crime Organization That Operated in Trump Tower.

The FBI did wiretap Trump Tower, but its target was not the future president of the United States and the operation was over well before Donald Trump even declared his candidacy. Instead, the bureau was listening in on a Russian crime organization that worked out of offices on the building’s 63rd floor, just three stories below Trump’s penthouse. As reported by ABC News on Tuesday, the FBI had the building under surveillance, including electronic monitoring, from 2011 to 2013. The investigation led to the indictment of Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who is wanted by Interpol and on the lam in Russia, and 33 individuals suspected of working for him.

“He is a major player,” Mike Gaeta, who ran the FBI’s Eurasian organized crime unit in New York and led the 2013 FBI investigation, told ABC News about Tokhtakhounov, who holds both Russian and Israeli citizenship.

“He is prominent. He has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries.

Again, read more details at the link.

Another prominent Russian was assassinated on a street in Ukraine. The Independent: Former Russian MP shot dead in Kiev, Ukraine.

Denis Voronenkov was killed around noon and his bodyguard was injured in the attack, Kiev police chief Andriy Kryschenko said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the killing was an act of Russian “state terrorism.”

The Kremlin called allegations Moscow was behind the murder “absurd.”

Denis Voronenkov shot dead on Kiev street.

Mr Voronenkov, 45, a former member of the communist faction in the lower house of Russian parliament, had moved to Ukraine last autumn and had been granted Ukrainian citizenship.

The former MP had criticised Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea and had been due to testify against ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, a firm ally of President Vladimir Putin.

His bodyguard reportedly returned fire and wounded the attacker, who is being treated in hospital.

Another former MP and Kremlin critic living in Kiev said Mr Voronenkov was killed while heading to meet with him.

Mr Voronenkov was “an investigator who was deadly dangerous for the [Russian] security agencies,” Mr Ponomaryov wrote on Facebook, according to a translation from The Moscow Times.

They’re dropping like flies. I’d say Paul Manafort’s should be watching his back.

Then there’s the lawyer who was thrown out of his window in Moscow. It’s a complicated story that Michael Weiss explains at The Daily Beast: Russian Lawyer Thrown From Window Was a Witness for the U.S. Government. I won’t try to excerpt it; it’s not long though.

Nikolai Gorokhov

This morning, Rep. Elijah Cummings called for an investigation of Rep. Devin Nunes. The Hill reports:

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Thursday called for an investigation into House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who bypassed the panel to brief President Trump on information related to U.S. surveillance of his transition team.

During an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called the Intelligence panel a “very special committee.”

“They are privileged to information that most members of Congress may never see and so you expect them to be extremely confidential,” he added.

“What he did was basically to go to the president, who’s being investigated, by the FBI and others and by the intelligence committee, to give them information.”

Late last night, CNN broke this story: US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians.

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

This is out of control. What more wild news will today bring? And I haven’t even mentioned the GOP “health care” bill which is in deep trouble.

What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

As usual these days, I don’t know where to begin. We are living through something so strange and unprecedented that I just find myself shaking my head at each new revelation. Once again, I’m going to illustrate this post with baby animal pics, just because.

One crazy-making thing for me is the fact that the Senate is currently grilling a candidate for the Supreme Court who has been nominated by a man who may have committed treason. Neil Gorsuch should not be approved until the investigation of Trump’s involvement with Russia’s interference in the election is complete. I’m actually having difficulty watching the Gorsuch hearing. The word I think of when I look at and listen to him is “oily.” I hope some of you are following the questioning and can share your impressions.

I did watch the entire “Comey hearing” yesterday, and I’m still processing the latest revelations. I expect the press will be on this now and news outlets will compete to give us new information on a daily basis. We may have to function during political chaos for months and years to come. I can only hope the Republicans begin to develop spines as the 2018 election gets closer.

While the House Intelligence Committee testimony by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers was still going on, White House spokesman Sean Spicer bizarrely continued to defend Trump’s accusation that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He also claimed that Michael Flynn was only “volunteer” for the Trump campaign and that Paul Manafort had only a “limited role.”

Vanity Fair on the press briefing yesterday:

During the campaign, Flynn was a top adviser and, at one point, was vetted to become Trump’s running mate. He later accepted a job as national security adviser, one of the most important roles in the West Wing, before resigning 24 days into the new administration, after it was revealed that he had not been entirely forthcoming about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign,” Spicer said on Monday, brushing off concerns that Flynn had been a high-level Trump campaign adviser with any degree of influence while maintaining ties to Russia.

On Manafort, CNN reports:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer incorrectly diminished the role of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, remarks made at the same time as a House Intelligence Committee hearing investigated whether campaign aides colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential race.Spicer, pressed on a number of Trump associates’ connections to Russian operatives, claimed Manafort played a “limited role (in the campaign) for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016 to lead the delegate operation on the floor of the Republican National Committee in Cleveland.

Manafort was promoted in May to campaign chairman and chief strategist. And when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June, Manafort — who butted heads with Lewandowski — was widely seen as the campaign’s top official.

Manafort is largely credited with securing Trump the Republican nomination, through a mix of deep ties in the Republican establishment and tireless organizing to win the Republican delegate fight which almost derailed Trump one year ago.

I wonder why the White House is so desperate to disown Manafort, who is a close friend of Trump buddy Roger Stone and has lived in Trump Tower since for more than a decade? The Washington Post may have provided a partial answer this morning: New documents show Trump aide laundered payments from party with Moscow ties, lawmaker alleges.

A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.

The new documents, if legitimate, stem from business ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s backing while he was in power. He has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protesters in 2014, and is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges.

The latest documents were released just hours after the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI Director James B. Comey about possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The hearing that also touched on Manafort’s work for Yanukovych’s party in Ukraine.

Comey declined to say whether the FBI is coordinating with Ukraine on an investigation of the alleged payments to Manafort.

More details at the link.

Another Russia fan who is still in the Trump administration is good old Rex Tillerson. Have you hear about the recent changes to his travel schedule? This seems odd after what we heard at the Intel Committee hearing yesterday.

NBC News: Rex Tillerson to Skip Key NATO Summit, Plans to Travel to Russia.

America’s smaller European allies have expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s mixed signals on whether he would protect them against Russia.

The uncertainty threatened to deepen late Monday when U.S. officials said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to skip what would have been his first official meeting with NATO in April.

However, Tillerson will travel later in the month to a series of unspecified meetings in Russia, a State Department spokesman confirmed to NBC News.

Whoa! Skipping the NATO meeting and heading to Moscow? I’m speechless.

Here’s an interesting opinion piece by Walter Shapiro at Roll Call: James Comey and the Art of the Shiv.

Before Comey returned to his offstage role, he dropped enough bombshells to solidify his reputation as the most significant FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. Joined by his crusty sidekick, Adm. Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, Comey gave an artful lesson in how to stick a shiv into a sitting president without ever raising his voice or making a specific accusation.

Early in the hearing, Comey shredded Trump’s cockamamie Twitter claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped him before the election. As Comey solemnly stated, “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”

Comey had arrived at the hearing with his own smoking gun that he brandished at the beginning of his opening statement — official confirmation that the FBI is investigating “any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”

Comey’s offensive against the White House even extended to refuting a presidential tweet about the ongoing hearing. Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes asked Comey to respond to a Trump tweet claiming, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process.” Comey dismissed Trump’s fanciful version of the truth by saying, “It wasn’t certainly our intention to say that today.”

Shapiro thinks Comey’s “role in upending” Hillary Clinton gives him credibility against Trump. I’m not so sure. Still, the piece is worth a read.

This morning Trump went to Capitol Hill in person and tried to convince hostile House Republicans to vote for his disastrous health care bill. If this is how he negotiates deals, it’s surprised he didn’t have more than 6 bankruptcies.

The Washington Post: Trump to GOP critics of health care bill: ‘I’m gonna come after you.’

Assuring Republicans they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” said the president, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured, and that conservative hold-outs would continue pressing for a tougher bill.

“I’m still a ‘no,’” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”

House Republicans made some changes to the bill yesterday, but according to Ezra Klein: The new Republican health care bill doesn’t fix the old bill’s problems.

There are three problems you could have imagined the manager’s amendment to the American Health Care Act trying to fix:

  1. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the AHCA will lead 24 million more Americans to go uninsured, push millions more into the kind of super-high-deductible care Republicans criticized in the Affordable Care Act, and all that will happen while the richest Americans get hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Voters — including the downscale rural whites who propelled Donald Trump into the presidency — aren’t going to like any of that.
  2. Virtually every health policy analyst from every side of the aisle thinks the AHCA is poorly constructed and will lead to consequences even its drafters didn’t intend. Avik Roy argues there are huge implicit tax increases for the poor who get jobs that lift them out of Medicaid’s ranks. Bob Laszewski thinks the plan will drive healthy people out of the insurance markets, creating even worse premium increases than we’re seeing under Obamacare. Implementing this bill, as drafted, would be a disaster.
  3. As written, the AHCA is unlikely to pass the House, and so GOP leadership needs to give House conservatives more reasons to vote for the bill, even if those reasons leave the legislation less likely to succeed in the Senate. For this bill to fail in the House would embarrass Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump.

Of the three problems in the AHCA, the third is by far the least serious — but it’s the only one the manager’s amendment even attempts to solve. These aren’t changes that address the core problems the GOP health care bill will create for voters, insurers, or states; instead, it’s legislation that tries to solve some of the problems the bill creates for conservative legislators. It might yet fall short on even that count.

This is a trap for Republicans. Both the process and the substance of the American Health Care Act have revealed a political party that has lost sight of the fact that the true test of legislation isn’t whether it passes, but whether it works.

One more from Mother Jones on the Trump kleptocracy:

The Trump Organization Says It’s Vetting Deals for Conflicts—But Refuses to Say How.

The week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, as questions swirled about the ethics ramifications of his refusal to divest from his business holdings, the Trump Organization announced that it had created a system for vetting new deals that could benefit the president. The company said it had tapped George Sorial, a Trump Organization executive, to be chief compliance counsel and Bobby Burchfield, a Washington-based corporate lawyer, to serve as an outside ethics adviser who would scrutinize new Trump company transactions for potential conflicts of interest. Trump’s private lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had pledged in early January that Trump would “build in protections” to assure Americans that his actions as president “are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests.” But two months into Trump’s presidency, there are serious questions about the rigor and transparency of the Trump Organization’s vetting process.

The first deal completed after Trump’s swearing-in suggested the vetting procedures are weak. This transaction, as Mother Jones reported, was the sale of a $15.8 million condo to a Chinese American businesswoman who peddles access to Chinese elites and who has ties to a front group established by China’s military intelligence apparatus. Angela Chen’s connections to Chinese officials and military intelligence evidently weren’t a cause for concern to the Trump Organization. The condo sale went through on February 21, with Chen apparently paying the $15.8 million in cash—roughly $2 million more than a unit one floor below. (Chen had lived in the same Trump-owned Park Avenue building in a smaller apartment for years. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building before their move to Washington.) Contacted by Mother Jones earlier this month, Burchfield, the Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser, declined to comment on the sale or how it was vetted.

Robert Weissman, president of the good-government group Public Citizen, says the Chen deal raises questions about whether any real vetting happened. “Here, where we actually need extreme vetting, it appears to be absent,” he says. “It’s absolutely unclear if Burchfield or anybody else is doing anything pursuant to what they alleged they would do. And if they are, we don’t know what it is. But we should not presume it’s happening.”

On Thursday, Burchfield, a veteran corporate litigator who specializes in political law and largely represents Republican clients, declined to comment regarding the vetting process for new Trump deals. He would not talk about any transactions approved or denied since he began advising the Trump Organization. At Trump’s January 11 press conference, Dillon promised that the outside ethics adviser would provide “written approval” of any new deal, ostensibly explaining why a transaction does not pose a conflict for the president. Burchfield has not publicly disclosed details about the written approval process.

Read more details at Mother Jones.

What stories are you following today?


Extremely Lazy Saturday Reads: International Incidents Galore

Good Afternoon!!

Once again, I’ve hit an mental and emotion wall after another depressing, exhausting week of tRump assaults on poor and elderly people, on science and the arts, and on our closest international allies.

Yesterday tRump managed to make an abject fool of himself in public by calling Fox News conspiracy theorist Andrew Napolitano a “very talented legal mind,” in trying to shift the blame for his shameful claim that former President Barack Obama “tapped my wires” in Trump Tower during the transition period.

Napolitano had been quoted by Sean Spicer on Wednesday as claiming that British intelligence had helped Obama wiretap Trump Tower. Napolitano is also a 9/11 truther who has appeared on Alex Jones’ radio show, but tRump thinks he’s brilliant.

The attack on British intelligence was the first international incident of the day. The second was when tRump refused to shake hands with Angela Merkel. tRump also publicly chastised Merkel and other European leaders during their press conference for not spending enough on their own defense.

All of this helped to demonstrate that Angela Merkel is the new leader of the free world and the U.S. “president” is a clear and present danger to America and the rest of the world.

How this brilliant woman could stand to be in the same room, much less try to communicate with this ignorant, repulsive misogynist, I’ll never understand, but she managed to remain dignified while the President of the United State {shudder} humiliated us before the world.

Shortly after the press conference ended, Fox News’ Shep Smith stated on air that “the network does not have any evidence that President Donald Trump was ever placed under surveillance, despite the his repeated insistence that former President Barack Obama’s intelligence agencies wiretapped his phones,” according to Politico.

BTW, Ivanka was seated next to Merkel in the Oval Office meeting!

Last night Chris Matthew said it reminded him of something the Saudi royal family would do–including family members in high level meetings. Not bad, Chris!

tRump has gone all in for the disastrous GOP health care bill, which looks to be on it’s last legs–especially after Speaker Paul Ryan made his most revealing remarks yet about his personal motivations in writing and pushing Trump/Ryancare.

Slate: Paul Ryan: I’ve Been Dreaming About Kicking Poors Off Medicaid Since I Was a Drunk Frat Boy.

At the National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit on Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan had an interesting exchange with National Review editor Rich Lowry about the AHCA’s changes to Medicaid:

Lowry: You have been very clear for years—and we’ve seen compelling PowerPoint presentations—about how the entitlements and entitlements growing out of control is driving the country into a ditch on the debt. And we have a president of the United States who basically seems pledged not to touch entitlements. Where does that leave us?

Ryan: So, the health care entitlements are the big, big, big drivers of our debt. There are three. Obamacare, Medicaid, and Medicare. Two out of three are going through Congress right now. So, Medicaid—sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since you and I were drinking out of a keg.

Lowry: I was thinking about something else, he was thinking about reforming Medicaid.

Ryan: I was, I was! I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. We are on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.

As I wrote the other day, Ryan is either a blithering idiot or a terrible politician. Apparently no one ever explained to him that you’re supposed to at least pretend to be at least a tiny bit compassionate, not blurt out heartless statements that clearly demonstrate your pure enjoyment in causing the poor, elderly, and disabled to sicken and die.

Do you suppose tRump even knows what this bill will do to his own biggest supporters? I doubt it. Ezra Klein thinks he may not be aware.

“I want everyone to know I’m 100 percent behind [the American Health Care Act],” President Trump said today. “The press has not been speaking properly about how great this is going to be. I watch, I say, ‘That’s not the bill we’re passing.’

But does Trump really know what’s in the bill he’s passing, or trying to pass?

With the help of Vox’s Jacob Gardenswartz, I collected and read absolutely everything Donald Trump has said publicly about the AHCA. The transcripts cover speeches, rallies, meetings with congressional leaders, interviews with friendly news outlets, and, of course, tweets.

I learned a few things from the exercise. First, Trump has a very limited set of talking points on health care, and he repeats the same words and sentences constantly — his comfort zone on both the issue and the legislation is very narrow.

Second, Trump seems confused about what the GOP bill does. It is possible, of course, that he knows more than he is saying, and has decided to simply say things that aren’t true. But it’s also possible he’s being spun by more ideologically motivated advisers (that’s certainly the narrative pro-Trump outlets like Breitbart are pushing).

Third, Trump has bought into a caricature of Obamacare’s condition that heavily informs his thinking on both the politics and the policy of the AHCA. This could prove more consequential than people realize.

The AHCA does literally none of the things Trump says it does.

On March 8, Trump laid out his case for the American Health Care Act. Here’s what he said:

It follows the guidelines I laid out in my congressional address: a plan that will lower costs, expand choices, increase competition, and ensure health care access for all Americans. This will be a plan where you can choose your doctor. This will be a plan where you can choose your plan.

These talking points are familiar enough that it’s easy to let them fade into the background. But it’s worth taking them seriously. This is Trump’s case for the bill he’s backing. Does he know that literally every single one of these points is wrong?

I’m sure tRump would never bother to read the bill, and there’s a good chance Paul Ryan has sold him a bill of goods, but I also doubt that tRump cares that his policies will literally kill people. The only thing he cares about his his own personal gratification.

Here’s a new horror from the tRump crowd via The Washington Post: Trump administration rolls back protections for people in default on student loans.

Days after a report on federal student loans revealed a double-digit rise in defaults, President Trump’s administration revoked federal guidance Thursday that barred student debt collectors from charging high fees on past-due loans.

The Education Department is ordering guarantee agencies that collect on defaulted debt to disregard a memo former President Barack Obama’s administration issued on the old bank-based federal lending program, known as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. That memo forbid the agencies from charging fees for up to 16 percent of the principal and accrued interest owed on the loans, if the borrower entered the government’s loan rehabilitation program within 60 days of default….

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration walks back the department’s previous stance on the grounds that there should have been public input on the issue.

“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth” in the previous memo “without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” the letter said.

The action does not affect any borrowers whose loans are held by the Education Department, according to the department. It could, however, impact nearly 7 million people with $162 billion in FFEL loans held by guarantee agencies.

Who cares if millions of people go bankrupt because of this tRump decision? Not tRump and his billionaire buddies.

Fortunately, many Americans do care about other people. The Washington Post: Meals on Wheels sees donation surge after Trump proposes funding cuts.

Senior citizens in one suburb could see Meals on Wheels deliveries cut in half if President Trump’s budget cuts become reality, a spokeswoman for the network told CNN, as it anticipated “deep cuts” to a nonprofit that serves 2.4 million Americans.

Donations surged to 50 times their daily rate Thursday, the spokeswoman said, after the White House proposed eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program.

While the block grants fund only a small portion of Meals on Wheels’ operations nationwide, spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette told CNN that some of the group’s 5,000 local branches rely on the money to bring food to people.

A Meals on Wheels branch outside Detroit, she said, would lose one-third of its budget without the grants. The branch in San Jose, Calif., would lose $100,000.

And the organization has speculated that Trump’s vague budget outline could also slash the Older Americans Act, which it says funds more than one-third of its operations across the United States.

A North Korean soldier had more access to Rex Tillerson than the U.S. media.

Another big story yesterday was the announcement by tRump’s secretary of state that he might (not completely clear) be considering the possibility of first strike on North Korea. Since SOS Rex Tillerson is basically refusing to answer questions from the media, we can’t be sure; but what he said sounded scary. The LA Times:

“Certainly we do not want things to get to a military conflict,” Tillerson told reporters in Seoul. But he added that “if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that will be met with an appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that

There’s nothing new about the idea that the U.S. would defend South Korea against an attack from the North. But Tillerson seemed to be raising the possibility of a preemptive strike. If that was his meaning, the threat was premature, because the U.S. has other ways to deter North Korea. But the ambiguity of his words was itself a problem. Its vagueness recalled former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s warning earlier this year that he was putting Iran “on notice.”

Tillerson finally agreed to an interview with the Independent Journal Review, a right wing website. Business Insider provides a summary.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his first sit-down interview since assuming his role as the nation’s top diplomat, addressed a number of pressing issues regarding the US’ role in the global order, the Korean peninsula, the precarious situation with North Korea, the US-China alliance, and his relationship with the press.

Tillerson said the US’ main objective with regard to the east is a denuclearized Korean peninsula.
He also believes that based on recent actions taken by North Korea, the nation is “an imminent threat” that China needs to work with the US to combat.

The secretary of state articulated a the need for a “higher level of dialogue” between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Tillerson said that his relationship with the press would be “trip dependent” and that he is not a “big media press access person.”

Regarding the revelation that he allegedly used an email alias to communicate with Exxon officials about the risks of climate change, Tillerson said he could not comment on it and that questions should be directed at Exxon Mobil.

That’s all I have for you today. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great weekend.


Thursday Reads: Muslim Ban 2.0, Trump-Ryan Don’tCare, and a Federal Budget from Hell

Good Afternoon!!

Donald tRump’s campaign against American values is heating up. With his latest Muslim ban, he seeks to destroy the separation of church and state that was enshrined in the Constitution. With Trumpcare, he hopes to kill or sicken millions of poor and elderly people by taking away their health insurance. With his new budget, he hopes to kill off any of the poor and elderly who survive his “health care” plan.

The Muslim ban was supposed to go into effect late last night,

but two federal judges (so far) have stopped it in its tracks. The New York Times:

A federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order Wednesday evening blocking President Trump’s ban on travel from parts of the Muslim world, dealing a stinging blow to the White House and signaling that Mr. Trump will have to account in court for his heated rhetoric about Islam.

A second federal judge in Maryland ruled against Mr. Trump overnight, with a separate order forbidding the core provision of the travel ban from going into effect.

The rulings were a second major setback for Mr. Trump in his pursuit of a policy that he has trumpeted as critical for national security. His first attempt to sharply limit travel from a handful of predominantly Muslim countries ended in a courtroom fiasco last month, when a federal court in Seattle halted it.

Mr. Trump issued a new and narrower travel ban, affecting six countries, on March 6, trying to satisfy the courts by removing some of the most contentious elements of the original version.

But in a pointed decision that repeatedly invoked Mr. Trump’s public comments, Judge Derrick K. Watson, of Federal District Court in Honolulu, wrote that a “reasonable, objective observer” would view even the new order as “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.”

In Maryland, Judge Theodore D. Chuang echoed that conclusion hours later, ruling in a case brought by nonprofit groups that work with refugees and immigrants, that the likely purpose of the executive order was “the effectuation of the proposed Muslim ban” that Mr. Trump pledged to enact as a presidential candidate.

Trump threw a tantrum about the decision in Hawaii last night during his “campaign rally” in Nashville in which he publicly state that the new ban is a “watered down version” of the old one and that he’d like to have the original ban back. That’s not going to help his lawyers defend it in court. Neither did Stephen Miller’s comments.

Huffington Post: Thank Stephen Miller’s Big Mouth For Trump Travel Ban’s Latest Court Woes.

Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to the president, was one of Trump’s most vocal mouthpieces following the fraught rollout of the administration’s first travel ban that sparked massive protests at airports around the country. Shortly after federal judges struck down that order, Miller appeared on television to stump a watered-down version, assuring Fox News it would include only “minor technical differences.”

The ruling notes:

On February 21, Senior Advisor to the President, Stephen Miller, told Fox News that the new travel ban would have the same effect as the old one. He said: “Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court and those will be addressed. But in terms of protecting the country, those basic policies are still going to be in effect.”

Those “plainly worded statements,” it seems, helped lead U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson to issue a temporary restraining order against the ban on Wednesday. There is nothing “’secret’ about the executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the executive order,” Watson’s ruling reads.

The judge also cited Rudy Giuliani’s comments about how Trump asked him to find a legal way to do a Muslim ban.

On Paul Ryan’s wet dream “health care” plan,

tRump may be beginning to have doubts as he gradually learns from media sources what it actually involves. Heaven forbid he actually try to read the monstrosity himself. He’s much too busy worrying that Obama “wiretapped” his phone calls and is now encouraging federal employees to undercut tRump and his cronies. Since we already know what’s in the Ryancare or Trumpcare/Ryancare, here are a couple of not-so-serious articles about the GOP’s latest clusterf**k.

T.A. Frank at The Atlantic: Inside the Trump-Ryan Murder-Suicide Pact.

When the Congressional Budget Office released the numbers on Trumpcare—or Ryancare, or whatever you want to call the two-headed boar unveiled by Paul Ryan as a replacement to Obamacare—showing that more than 20 million Americans would join the ranks of the uninsured in a few years, what came to mind was Buck Turgidson making the case for a nuclear first strike in Dr. Strangelove. “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed,” he promises. “But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops.” Yes, some of the people losing their coverage would be dropping it by choice, freed up by the end of individual mandates. But many others would be pushed out by a massive increase in premiums. It takes a zealot like Ryan to be “encouraged” by that kind of analysis.

This has been an amazingly speedy descent into Republican self-sabotage. Ryan’s bill is almost universally disliked. Liberals and Democrats hate it for hurting lower-income Americans. Conservatives and Republicans hate it for either hurting lower-income Americans or for not hurting them enough. (Ohio governor John Kasich condemns the bill for reducing Medicaid coverage for the poor, while small-government Republicans like Rand Paulcall it “Obamacare Lite.”) Americans who currently subsidize Obamacare would be re-united with their money, while Americans who depend on the subsidies would be out of luck. The Ryan bill seems to promise a replay of hits from the George W. Bush years, when Republicans who preferred zero spending on the poor clashed with Republicans who preferred medium spending on the poor, but found common ground through their shared interest in big spending on the rich.

Much of this was to be expected, because Ryan is Ryan, and the G.O.P. is the G.O.P. What was up for grabs was the stance of Donald Trump. Was he going to insist on doing more to protect the little guy? Or was he going to throw his lot in with Ryan? We now see that, despite some concerns from his friends in the media, he chose the latter. (Or perhaps he chose it after Ryan incorporated some of Trump’s requests to protect the little guy—in which case Trump didn’t get very far.) Trump has been lobbying aggressively to get Ryan’s bill passed, inviting skeptics to meetings at the White House, promising rallies, and generally spending a lot of scarce political capital.

If the bill passes, many of Trump’s voters will get hurt, leaving Trump damaged. If it fails, the White House will have suffered a big defeat, leaving Trump damaged and his agenda weakened. It’s not a favorable set of choices. If nothing else, though, it will be the first big test of Trumpism. Its contradictions could be hidden during a campaign season. Now, they are coming into sharp relief.

 Read the rest at the link.

And from The Onion: Mitch McConnell Sees Infinite Healthcare Plans After Dropping Acid To Inspire Ideas For Obamacare Replacement.

WASHINGTON—Seeking to open his mind to new possibilities for overhauling the U.S. healthcare system, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly witnessed an infinite number of replacement plans Wednesday after dropping acid to inspire ideas for an Obamacare alternative.

Shortly after the 75-year-old Republican senator ingested two 100-microgram tabs of LSD in his Congressional office, sources said countless substitutes for the Affordable Care Act began to explode before his eyes in luminescent, hyper-vivid colors and patterns.

“Oh my God—I can see the CHIP provisions spreading out in every direction forever and ever and ever,” said a reeling McConnell, gazing wide-eyed as infinite, interlocking fractal combinations of health savings plans, employer-provided coverage, and government subsidies enveloped him in an accelerating stream, eventually passing over him with such velocity that they appeared to be an entire galaxy of stars swirling around him. “Now I can see…I can see the outpatient hospital visits covered for every child in the country! No, every child who’s ever been born, and will ever be born! Even the ones who haven’t yet been conceived!”

“The scope of coverage is so beautiful,” added the senator quietly. “Whoa.”

According to sources, McConnell’s hallucinations came on slowly, first appearing as a geodesic block grant spiraling gently in the center of the senator’s desk before morphing into a gigantic, prismatic spiderweb of plans whose out-of-pocket prescription expenses expanded and contracted with McConnell’s every breath.

And now for the federal budget from Hell.

tRump wants to spend more than a trillion dollars of taxpayer money on his godforsaken border wall and pay for it by cutting funding for science, the arts and of course the social safety net. As you read the next headline, keep in mind that we also pay for millions for tRump to travel to Florida to play golf and schmooze with Russian mobsters and spies and to keep Melania happy in Trump Tower in NYC.

Occupy Democrats: Trump Just Announced Plan To End ‘Meals On Wheels’ For Seniors.

One popular program facing elimination is “Meals On Wheels,” which uses federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to mobilize volunteers, businesses and donors to provide nutrition to thousands of senior citizens on a daily basis. It supports over 5,000 community-based organizations across America, reaching people in both urban and rural areas.

The money for Meals On Wheels is part of the Older American Act, first passed in 1965 as part of LBJ’s Great Society, and endorsed by every president until Trump. The total cost, which includes other programs, is about $2 billion a year, which is less than the government hands out in fossil fuel subsidies every year.

Meals On Wheels alone costs about $3 million a year, which is the cost of just one trip to Trump’s “winter White House.”

The Washington Post: Trump federal budget 2018: Massive cuts to the arts, science and the poor.

Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

The cuts could represent the widest swath of reductions in federal programs since the drawdown after World War II, probably leading to a sizable cutback in the federal non-military workforce, something White House officials said was one of their goals.

“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters.

You can read the entire mess at Vox if you want to: Read President Trump’s proposed federal budget. I think I’ll just stick with The Onion.

So . . . what else is happening? Post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a tremendous Thursday.


Tuesday Reads: Blizzard Watch, Trumpcare and Trump’s Empty Government

Times Square on Tuesday morning. Credit Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

Good Morning!!

I’m still skeptical about this snowstorm. First we were supposed to get 2 feet of snow here in Greater Boston. Then we heard 12-18 inches. Now they are saying 8-12 and snow turning to rain after 5PM. I’d be interested to know what folks further south are getting. High winds are still expected. Here’s the latest from CNN:

Northeast snowstorm puts 18 million under blizzard warning.

A Nor’easter is dumping snow and pushing winds up the US East Coast — a monster storm that has placed about 18 million people under a blizzard warning.

More than 7,800 US flights Monday through Wednesday were canceled and thousands of schools have closed. Winter storm warnings and watches have been hoisted over a region stretching from Ohio and West Virginia into Maine.

Local and state authorities warned residents to be prepared and to avoid unnecessary travel as winds in some coastal areas could hit 50 mph to 60 mph, reducing visibility to zero.

A blizzard warning — cautioning that high winds will combine with snow for poor visibility — was in effect Tuesday morning for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, upstate New York and the six New England states.

Weather models Tuesday morning showed that the heaviest snow, perhaps more than 2 feet, could hit northeastern Pennsylvania, New York’s Hudson Valley and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire.

I guess the heaviest snow is going to be further west than originally predicted. I hope that doesn’t mean you, Pat J.

Yesterday’s CBO report was devastating for the GOP’s proposed Trumpcare plan.

The Atlantic: The CBO Deals Paul Ryan’s Health-Care Plan a Major Blow.

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday projected that the House leadership’s American Health Care Act would result in 24 million Americans losing their health insurance while raising premiums for those covered on the individual market. Their bill would lower federal deficits by $337 billion over 10 years, largely as a result of cuts to Medicaid that would reduce its enrollment by 14 million, according to the estimate. Average premiums would rise by as much as 20 percent in 2018 and 2019 before falling in later years….

Of particular concern for GOP backers of the American Health Care Act is the CBO’s projection for its immediate impact. If enacted soon, an estimated 14 million people would drop their insurance next year because the proposal repeals the tax penalties associated with the individual mandate, the CBO forecasts. If people are not required to buy insurance, in other words, many will stop doing so. Millions more would join the ranks of the uninsured after 2020, when the bill would roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Conservatives have called for repealing the expansion sooner, which would likely result in more people dropping coverage in the first years after enactment.

Of course that would not be good for Republicans running for reelection in 2018.

Politico: White House analysis of Obamacare repeal sees even deeper insurance losses than CBO.

A White House analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare shows even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

The preliminary analysis from the Office of Management and Budget forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimates. The White House has made efforts to discredit the forecasts from the nonpartisan CBO.

White House officials late Monday night disputed that the document is an analysis of the bill’s coverage effects. Instead, they say it was an attempt by the OMB to predict what CBO’s scorekeepers would conclude about the GOP repeal plan.

LOL! I wonder who leaked that to Politico?

Granny starver Paul Ryan says he finds the CBO report encouraging because it accomplishes his goals–killing off older and poorer people and further enriching the already rich whom he considers deserving. This man is no Catholic. He should be excommunicated. Fox News reports:

Paul Ryan: Paul Ryan: CBO report on ObamaCare repeal ‘exceeded my expectations.’

Ryan told host Bret Baier that the CBO’s prediction that 14 million more Americans would be uninsured in 2018 was due to the bill’s overturning of ObamaCare’s individual mandate.

“Of course they’re going to say if we stop forcing people to buy something they don’t want to buy they’re not going to buy it,” Ryan said. “That’s why you have these uninsured numbers, which we all expected.”

According to Ryan, the key numbers in the analysis would come once the bill’s reforms took effect in 2020.

“It will lower premiums 10 percent. It stabilizes the market. It’s a $1.2 trillion spending cut, and $883 billion tax cut and $337 billion in deficit reduction,” Ryan said. “So, this compared to the status quo is far better.”

In response to a question from a Twitter user, Ryan said that ObamaCare’s repeal and replacement was a prerequisite for the House to take up tax reform, another key part of President Trump’s agenda.

Ryan is still the ultimate Ayn Rand fan. The fact that he says this stuff out loud shows what a terrible political strategist he is. Wisconsin needs to dump him next year.

And why will premiums go down? Margaret Singer Katz explains at The New York Times’ The Upshot: No Magic in How G.O.P. Plan Lowers Premiums: It Pushes Out Older People.

There are a lot of unpleasant numbers for Republicans in the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of their health care bill. But congressional leadership found one to cheer: The report says that the bill will eventually cut the average insurance premiums for people who buy their own insurance by 10 percent.

House Speaker Paul Ryan pressed that point in a series of appearances Monday night, suggesting that the budget office had found that the House bill would increase choice and competition and lead to lower prices. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, issued a statement saying, “The Congressional Budget Office agrees that the American Health Care Act will ultimately lower premiums and increase access to care.”

But the way the bill achieves those lower average premiums has little to do with increased choice and competition. It depends, rather, on penalizing older patients and rewarding younger ones. According to the C.B.O. report, the bill would make health insurance so unaffordable for many older Americans that they would simply leave the market and join the ranks of the uninsured.

The remaining pool of people would be comparatively younger and healthier and, thus, less expensive to cover. Other changes would help make health insurance skimpier — cheaper, but with deductibles that are higher than those criticized by Republicans under Obamacare.

Read the details at the NYT.

An issue that has been troubling me a lot lately (in addition to the Russia investigation) is that tRump apparently has no desire to fill the hundreds of federal government jobs that remain vacant.

The New York Times: Trump Lets Key Offices Gather Dust Amid ‘Slowest Transition in Decades.’

At the State Department, the normally pulsating hub of executive offices is hushed and virtually empty. At the Pentagon, military missions in some of the world’s most troubled places are being run by a defense secretary who has none of his top team in place. And at departments like Treasury, Commerce and Health and Human Services, many senior posts remain vacant even as the agencies have been handed enormous tasks like remaking the nation’s health insurance system.

From the moment he was sworn in, President Trump faced a personnel crisis, starting virtually from scratch in lining up senior leaders for his administration. Seven weeks into the job, he is still hobbled by the slow start, months behind where experts in both parties, even some inside his administration, say he should be.

The lag has left critical power centers in his government devoid of leadership as he struggles to advance policy priorities on issues like health care, taxes, trade and environmental regulation. Many federal agencies and offices are in states of suspended animation, their career civil servants answering to temporary bosses whose influence and staying power are unclear, and who are sometimes awaiting policy direction from appointees whose arrival may be weeks or months away.

“There’s no question this is the slowest transition in decades,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official who served under presidents of both parties and has been involved in transitions since 1988. “It is a very, very big mistake. The world continues — it doesn’t respect transitions.”

Mr. Trump has insisted that the barren ranks of his government are not a shortcoming but the vanguard of a plan to cut the size of the federal bureaucracy. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” Mr. Trump told Fox News last month. “I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.”

Here’s some further analysis at Vox: President Trump is running an empty government. He thinks refusing to hire people streamlines the government. But it’s backfiring.

There are many reasons for the personnel crisis. Trump didn’t use the weeks-long transition to make second- and third-tier personnel picks. He has personally vetoed high-level picks at the Treasury and State Department who criticized him — even mildly — during the campaign. His West Wing staff lack experience in Washington and don’t know or seem to care much about how individual departments work.

Trump himself, meanwhile, simply thinks having fewer people working is better. “A lot of those jobs I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump said on Fox News last month. “I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.” Trump thinks the best route to the conservative ideal of small government is to practice what you preach — literally make the government much smaller by refusing to fill many posts.

The problem is that it makes government far less effective, even in areas like trade that are supposed to be a top priority for the administration. To take one example, a high-level summit in Chile this week will feature trade ministers from around the globe. But because the Trump administration hasn’t confirmed a trade official, the US will be represented by American’s ambassador to Chile, Carol Perez, a career diplomat who lacks the power and the technical knowledge of the other attendees, according to the Times.

Doug Irwin, an economics professor at Dartmouth College who specializes in the history of trade, said Perez may have a hard time keeping up with the hugely complicated and technical talks. Without large amounts of prior experience, he said, someone like Perez may not be able to “figure out what’s feasible and what’s not feasible.”

“It’s too complicated,” he said.

That captures one of the key issues with Trump’s refusal to fill high-level positions. There’s a difference between campaign rhetoric about trimming back the federal government and simply disregarding the management needs of mammoth government agencies that help run the most powerful country in the world and handle its relationships with other global powers. Trump appears to be heading down the latter path. And it’s going to make it harder for him to pursue his own goals.

Read more at the link.

Of course we all remember that Steve Bannon’s plan is for “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” Will it work? Stephen Collinson at CNN writes: Trump’s plan to dismember governmentHis first budget — expected to be unveiled later this week — will mark Trump’s most significant attempt yet to remold national life and the relationship between federal and state power.

It would codify an assault on regulatory regimes over the environment, business and education bequeathed by former President Barack Obama, and attempt to halt decades of steadily growing government reach.

Trump’s first budget will make more of a statement than most debut spending blueprints by other new presidents. The White House has made clear it intends to use the document to usher in the radical political changes that powered Trump’s upstart, anti-establishment campaign last year.

It comes on the heels of other big changes such as the abrupt dismissal of 46 US attorneys last week and the effort to dismantle Obama’s signature health care law.

Read the rest at the link.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following–and how’s your weather?


Lazy Saturday Reads: No Bad News Allowed

Reading can be fun

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, J.J. said to me in a comment:

“Your post yesterday was good. I shared it with my family. It just made it so difficult for me to do anything else the rest of the last 24 hours but lie down and stare at the ceiling.”

Boy do I know that feeling. Believe me, writing about what’s happening is mind-numbing too. I just can’t do it today, so this is going to be T#@%p-free post. Of course we can talk about *it* in the comments, but I don’t want to do that to myself or anyone else today. So here are some stories I found that aren’t as horrifying as what’s going on in our daily reality.

The Christian Science Monitor: Buried treasure: huge statue of Egyptian king unearthed in Cairo neighborhood.

A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists has discovered a towering 26-foot statue in a Cairo slum, a presumed depiction of Pharaoh Ramses II, Reuters reports on Thursday.

The colossus found submerged in mud in where the ancient city of Heliopolis once stood is “one of the most important discoveries ever,” according to the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

The massive quartzite figure is “most probably Ramses II,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told Reuters on Thursday at the site of the statue’s unveiling, adding that the identity would have to be later confirmed once more of the statue is uncovered.

“On the discovered portions there is no inscription found that would make it possible to determine which king it is,” Mr. Anani explained in a Facebook post on Thursday. “But its discovery in front of the gate of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II suggests that it is likely him.

In addition to the larger-than-life statue researchers also found a life-sized limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson.

More background and links to explore at the CSM.

Injured Florida panther

The Atlantic: Can Humans Coexist With Big Cats?

On a clear evening this past June, in rural Collier County, Florida, an endangered panther crossed a street and was hit by a man driving home. The driver, making out a tawny, crumpled form, called a hotline. The job of retrieving the animal fell to Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Lotz called me to see if I wanted to come.

I had flown into Fort Lauderdale at the beginning of the week, renting a car and heading west across the state through what remains of primordial wetlands. Tall metal fences flanked the road, like a dull, gray hermetic seal meant to keep human traffic in and wildlife out. The fences are just one of many measures to protect fewer than 180 Florida panthers alive today, all of them in the state’s southern tip.

A population this size will birth between 60 and 110 kittens each year. But recently, adult panthers have been dying in droves: most after being hit by a car on unfenced roads, occasionally after being mauled by another panther in a territorial skirmish. In 2013, 20 of the endangered cats were killed; then 33 the next year; then 43 in 2015 and 2016….

The story that drew me down to Florida is a classic Anthropocene motif. Thanks to people, a charismatic species starts vanishing from its range, lingering only in certain areas before fading there, too. Extinction looms, until conservationists make a concerted effort to save it. And then—well, it’s not clear what happens next.

The first humans to reach North America found a continent crawling with terrifying big cats: an American cheetah, an American lion (bigger than those in Africa today), and the saber-toothed tiger. But at the end of the Pleistocene, around 12,000 years ago, they all vanished along with the bulk of New World megafauna. Nobody knows why, exactly. Maybe it was climate change, or maybe the direct and indirect consequences of hunting.

It turned out the panther was injured, but still alive. Read all about it at the link.

Interested in the sociology of strange religious practices? Check this one out from December 2016:

Father Amorth

Vanity Fair: The Devil and Father Amorth: Witnessing “the Vatican Exorcist” at Work.

Sunday morning, May 1 of this year, was Father Amorth’s 91st birthday, but he had no plans to celebrate. He awoke just after dawn, said his usual morning prayers and one to Joseph of Cupertino, a 17th-century saint, and another to the late Father Candido Amantini, his mentor. Clutching a walking aid, he shuffled from his cell-like room to the dining room on the third floor of the Paulist Fathers residence, south of Rome’s historic center.

After his usual breakfast of caffè latte and biscotti, Father Amorth returned to his room, which had a tall window, a hospital bed, two chairs, and a wooden desk cluttered with pictures of the Virgin Mary and Padre Pio, a priest-mystic who experienced stigmata—bleeding wounds, corresponding to those inflicted on Jesus Christ on the Cross. For the next six hours, Father Amorth reviewed the mail requesting his services from around the world. Each letter contained tragic questions and appeals from people who knew Amorth only by name and reputation. He answered the letters, writing with a fountain pen, licking the envelopes and stamps himself. At two P.M., he knelt again to pray, then arose with difficulty, took up his walking aid, and made his way to an elevator, which took him to the first floor, where the small room dedicated to his work was located. The hallway was empty and dark. Whispering voices and footsteps could be heard, as from a tomb.

His old adversary was waiting.

At exactly three P.M. he began to conduct the ritual of exorcism. The possessed woman, Rosa, was in her late 30s, tall and slender, with raven-black hair. She was as dark and attractive as an Italian movie star—Sophia Loren or Silvana Mangano, with a quiet demeanor. She had a college degree but couldn’t work because of the fits and behavioral changes that came over her, most severely on the Christian holidays, such as Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Pentecost. This was her ninth exorcism with Father Amorth. As with traditional psychiatry, the patient is usually not “cured” after the first session. Father Amorth had been exorcising one man for 16 years.

Imagine spending your entire life believing in stuff like this? It does say that:

Father Amorth insisted that anyone who came to him first seek the help of traditional medicine and psychiatry. “Out of a hundred people who seek my help,” he explained, “one or two at the most may be possessed.”

The article is actually quite fascinating, because it discusses the pathology of people who experience the bizarre symptoms of “possession.”

What about the possibility of life on other planets?

An artists’s concept of what a deployed solar sail space probe may look like. One capturing the power inferred by mysterious fast radio bursts would be on the scale of several planets.

The Washington Post: Harvard theorists: How sailing aliens could have caused fast radio bursts.

In 2007, a West Virginia University astrophysicist named Duncan Lorimer detected a brief yet intense signal while combing through archival data from the Parkes Observatory telescope in Australia. The signal was quick. The spurt of radio activity, originating from a source other than our galaxy, lasted fewer than 5 milliseconds. And it was furious. To generate such a burst would require 500 million times the power of our solar system’s sun. The unknown source of the signal prompted intense speculation.

One proposal, to be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, may be the wildest yet: Sailing aliens.

“An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking,” said Avi Loeb, a theorist and author of the paper at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement on Thursday.

A decade ago, Lorimer and his mentor, Matthew Bailes, described the phenomenon as a fast radio burst, or FRB. “Duncan Lorimer and I were just completely gobsmacked,” said Bailes, a professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, to The Washington Post. “The day we discovered the first FRB we couldn’t sleep.” Astrophysicists have detected only 25 other FRBs since Bailes and four other astronomers published their groundbreaking report in 2007, he said.

But the origin of FRBs remained an open question. The problem proved to be at once formidable, resilient and brain twisting. Some scientists proposed that FRBs were the fault of massive neutron stars, suns that had collapsed into dense cores. Perhaps there existed stellar flares capable of spitting out a radio wave that traveled across half of the known universe. Or maybe vanishing black holes spewed the FRBs our way.

“I am not exaggerating when I say there are more models for what FRBs could be than there are FRBs,” Cornell University astronomer Shami Chatterjee told The Washington Post in January.

A juvenile sea otter who recently found a new home with the Aubudon Aquarium in New Orleans plays with her favorite toy, a red ball. Inside Edition

Here’s a cute baby animal story.

San Luis Obispo.com: Abandoned Monterey sea otter finds a new home (and a new friend) in New Orleans.

The Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans has welcomed its newest resident: a rescued juvenile sea otter from Monterey.

The Audubon Nature Institute said in a statement that the 18-month-old female sea otter arrived at the aquarium Wednesday. She joins Clara, an 8-year-old sea otter, in the aquarium’s 25,000-gallon sea otter habitat.

The juvenile otter was found as an abandoned day-old pup in September 2015 by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. After several unsuccessful attempts of releasing her back into the ocean, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials determined she wouldn’t survive on her own.

The otter traveled for nearly a day just to find her new home, and she brought along her favorite toy – a red ball – to play with during the journey, according to a video from Inside Edition.

The aquarium is conducting an online poll to name the otter, which can be found on its website. The winning name will be announced March 16 on Audubon’s Facebook page and website.

A story about some scientists attempting to recreate the Ice Age. What could go wrong?

One more from The Atlantic: Welcome to Pleistocene Park.

We were driving through a remote forest in Eastern Siberia, just north of the Arctic Circle, when it happened. The summer thaw was in full swing. The undergrowth glowed green, and the air hung heavy with mosquitoes. We had just splashed through a series of deep ponds when, without a word of warning, Nikita veered off the trail and into the trees, ramming us into the trunk of a young 20-foot larch. The wheels spun for a moment, and then surged us forward. A dry crack rang out from under the fender as the larch snapped cleanly at its base and toppled over, falling in the quiet, dignified way that trees do.I had never seen Nikita happier. Even seated behind the wheel, he loomed tall and broad-shouldered, his brown hair cut short like a soldier’s. He fixed his large ice-blue eyes on the fallen tree and grinned. I remember thinking that in another age, Nikita might have led a hunter-gatherer band in some wildland of the far north. He squeezed the accelerator, slamming us into another larch, until it too snapped and toppled over, felled by our elephantine force. We rampaged 20 yards with this same violent rhythm—churning wheels, cracking timber, silent fall—before stopping to survey the flattened strip of larches in our wake.

“In general, I like trees,” Nikita said. “But here, they are against our theory.”

Behind us, through the fresh gap in the forest, our destination shone in the July sun. Beyond the broken trunks and a few dark tree-lined hills stood Pleistocene Park, a 50-square-mile nature reserve of grassy plains roamed by bison, musk oxen, wild horses, and maybe, in the not-too-distant future, lab-grown woolly mammoths. Though its name winks at Jurassic Park, Nikita, the reserve’s director, was keen to explain that it is not a tourist attraction, or even a species-resurrection project. It is, instead, a radical geoengineering scheme.

“It will be cute to have mammoths running around here,” he told me. “But I’m not doing this for them, or for any other animals. I’m not one of these crazy scientists that just wants to make the world green. I am trying to solve the larger problem of climate change. I’m doing this for humans. I’ve got three daughters. I’m doing it for them.”

Pleistocene Park is named for the geological epoch that ended only 12,000 years ago, having begun 2.6 million years earlier. Though colloquially known as the Ice Age, the Pleistocene could easily be called the Grass Age. Even during its deepest chills, when thick, blue-veined glaciers were bearing down on the Mediterranean, huge swaths of the planet were coated in grasslands. In Beringia, the Arctic belt that stretches across Siberia, all of Alaska, and much of Canada’s Yukon, these vast plains of green and gold gave rise to a new biome, a cold-weather version of the African savanna called the Mammoth Steppe. But when the Ice Age ended, many of the grasslands vanished under mysterious circumstances, along with most of the giant species with whom we once shared this Earth.

Nikita is trying to resurface Beringia with grasslands. He wants to summon the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem, complete with its extinct creatures, back from the underworld of geological layers. The park was founded in 1996, and already it has broken out of its original fences, eating its way into the surrounding tundra scrublands and small forests. If Nikita has his way, Pleistocene Park will spread across Arctic Siberia and into North America, helping to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost. Were that frozen underground layer to warm too quickly, it would release some of the world’s most dangerous climate-change accelerants into the atmosphere, visiting catastrophe on human beings and millions of other species.

Real baby mammoths? Yikes! I hope this doesn’t turn out like Jurassic Park. Click on the link for lots more interesting reading.

Have a great weekend everyone. I’ve decided to turn off the TV and read a book.