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?


Wednesday Hump Day Cartoons: Nasty Scheme 

 

So, things are happening.

Westminster attack: woman killed and others left with ‘catastrophic’ injuries in ‘terrorist incident’ – live | Politics | The Guardian

U.K. Parliament Attacker Is Shot; Panic on Westminster Bridge – The New York Times

Then there is this…

Key witness in Preet Bharara’s Russian crime probe was just thrown from fourth floor of building – Palmer Report

Former Trump Campaign Head Manafort Was Paid Millions By A Putin Ally, AP Says : The Two-Way : NPR

 

Now for the cartoons.

 

 

Trump Rabbit Hole: 03/22/2017 Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis - Trump Rabbit Hole

SECURITY BLANKETS: 03/22/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - SECURITY BLANKETS

Confirmation Hearing: 03/21/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - Confirmation Hearing

TWITTER-RANG: 03/20/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - TWITTER-RANG

ST PAT’S DAY: 03/17/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - ST PAT'S DAY

BUDGET CUTS: 03/16/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - BUDGET CUTS

tRUMPCARE – CBO REPORT: 03/14/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - tRUMPCARE -  CBO REPORT

03/22/2017 Cartoon by Nick Anderson

Cartoon by Nick Anderson -

03/21/2017 Cartoon by Nick Anderson

Cartoon by Nick Anderson -

03/10/2017 Cartoon by David Horsey

Cartoon by David Horsey -

03/09/2017 Cartoon by David Horsey

Cartoon by David Horsey -

03/21/2017 Cartoon by David Horsey

Cartoon by David Horsey -

This is an open thread.


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?


Sunday Reads: The Duck Walk is Over, Long Live the “Curmudgeonly Columnist”


I have to admit, last night when I saw a few post up on social media with images of Chuck Barry… I thought perhaps it was an anniversary of his death. (Yeah, I thought he was already dead. Isn’t that terrible?) After losing so many icons last year, this one true man who brought on the sound we all know as rock and roll, passed away yesterday at the age of 90.

Chuck Berry, wild man of rock who helped define its rebellious spirit, dies at 90 – The Washington Post

Chuck Berry, the perpetual wild man of rock music who helped define its rebellious spirit in the 1950s and was the sly poet laureate of songs about girls, cars, school and even the “any old way you choose it” vitality of the music itself, died March 18 at at his home in St. Charles County, Mo. He was 90.

St. Charles County police announced the death in a Facebook post on its Website, saying officers responded to a medical emergency at Mr. Berry’s home and administered lifesaving techniques but could not revive him. No further information was available.

“While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together,” reads Mr. Berry’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

A seminal figure in early rock music, he was all the rarer still for writing, singing and playing his own music. His songs and the boisterous performance standards he set directly influenced the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and later Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.

Mr. Berry so embodied the American rock tradition that his recording of “Johnny B. Goode” was included on a disc launched into space on the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1977.

Chuck Berry, Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer, Dies at 90 – The New York Times

Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. He was 90.

This LA Times goes back to a review from a set Chuck Berry did when he was 75 years old…

How Chuck Berry managed to look and sound so good even in his later years – LA Times

Berry, on the other hand, was so full of vitality you wanted to X-ray that old Gibson guitar of his to find the flask he must have filled at the fountain of youth.

The spirit, spontaneity and energy rock’s first poet put into his hourlong set was all the more remarkable in light of decades of half-hearted performances in which he typically battled rather than meshed with unrehearsed musicians hired for him in each town.

[…]

“It must still be fun, because I don’t have to hit a lick anymore,” Berry acknowledged during an interview Thursday in his dressing room at “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” before a joint appearance that night with Richard. The implication was that fans will cheer this first-round Rock and Roll Hall of Famer no matter what he does, or doesn’t do, on stage at this point in his career.

“What keeps me going is the fact that I appreciate that response,” Berry added. “Plus I’m still learning, and that’s a big part of my life–to learn. These guitar strokes I’m learning, still learning–yes, it’s fun. Anybody would understand it’s fun.”

A look at some tributes to Berry:

The Music Community Mourns ‘Rock’s Greatest’ Chuck Berry

The news sadly broke on Saturday night that Chuck Berry — who, let’s be real, invented the idea of rock and roll — died at the age of 90 in St. Charles County, Missouri. His death is an undeniable loss to the music community as a whole, and musicians (of all genres) are letting their grief be known by posting remembrances and tributes all over social media. Crank up the “Johnny B Goode” out of respect and read all of them below.

Go to the link to read them.

The Rolling Stones Pay Tribute To Chuck Berry With Touching Notes On Social Media | The Huffington Post

Following news of Chuck Berry’s death on Saturday, plenty of fellow musicians shared touching tributes to the rock ‘n’ roll legend on social media. Among them being The Rolling Stones, who considered Berry a huge influence on their own music.

“The Rolling Stones are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Chuck Berry,” the band wrote in a statement on Facebook. “He was a true pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll and a massive influence on us. Chuck was not only a brilliant guitarist, singer and performer, but most importantly, he was a master craftsman as a songwriter. His songs will live forever.”

Key dates in the life of rock visionary Chuck Berry | Tampa Bay Times

I wanted to share more articles with you about Chuck Berry, but so many websites are becoming paid subscription only. It is becoming difficult to find items to post on these threads. I’d like to be able to send you to links that you will actually be able to open up and read.

In fact, just a few links on the political front:

White House Admits Trump ‘Insurance For Everybody’ Guarantee Isn’t Going To Happen | The Huffington Post

Tom Cotton: ‘Able-bodied’ Poor People Shouldn’t Qualify For ‘Welfare’ Like Medicaid | Crooks and Liars

Mulvaney: ‘The only way to get truly universal care is to throw people in jail if they don’t have it’ | TheHill

Prosecutor will not charge prison guards who ‘boiled inmate to death’ | theGrio

‘This isn’t freedom’: Chris Wallace grills Paul Ryan for plan to crush seniors with health care costs

 

We lost another icon, this one was a newspaper man…

Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88 – The New York Times

Jimmy Breslin, the New York City newspaper columnist and best-selling author who leveled the powerful and elevated the powerless for more than 50 years with brick-hard words and a jagged-glass wit, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 88, and until very recently, was still pushing somebody’s buttons with two-finger jabs at his keyboard.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a prominent Democratic politician in Manhattan. Mr. Breslin had been recovering from pneumonia.

With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated column from 1963 that sent legions of journalists to find their “gravedigger”:

“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”

Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:

“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”

And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

Poetic and profane, softhearted and unforgiving, Mr. Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference; letters from outraged readers gladdened his heart. He often went after his own, from Irish-Americans with “shopping-center faces” who had forgotten their hardscrabble roots to the Roman Catholic Church, whose sex scandals prompted him to write an angry book called “The Church That Forgot Christ,” published in 2004. It ends with a cheeky vow to start a new church that would demand more low-income housing and better posture.

Jimmy Breslin — the cigar-chomping, hard-nosed newspaperman who won the Pulitzer Prize for his Daily News’ columns championing ordinary New Yorkers — died Sunday morning. He was 88.

Not Released (NR)

The cause of death was complications from pneumonia, his personal physician said.

“Jimmy Breslin was a furious, funny, outrageous and caring voice of the people who made newspaper writing into literature,” Daily News Editor-in-Chief Arthur Browne said.

Breslin’s colleagues mourned the loss of a street-smart truth teller who scoured the streets of New York, pen and paper in hand, looking for stories no one else could capture.

Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith once described Breslin’s writing style as being “like an Irish wind that has blown through Queens and Harlem and Mutchie’s bar. It is a pound of Hemingway and a pound of Joyce and 240 pounds of Breslin.”

Breslin was part of the wave of practitioners of what came to be known as New Journalism: a group of gifted writers that included Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion and others who reported on the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s in newspaper and magazine journalism that read like good fiction.

“I never thought about how to do a column,” Breslin told Marc Weingarten, author of “The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight,” a 2006 book about the New Journalism revolution. “It just came naturally, I guess. It had a point of view and it had to spring right out of the news.”

There is, Breslin added, “an immediacy that makes the column fresh. Like you were covering the eighth race at Belmont. But no one was doing it when I started. That’s why everyone thought it was new.”

Jimmy Breslin, legendary New York City columnist, dies at 88 – LA Times Photo Gallery

For an “unlettered bum,” as Mr. Breslin called himself, he left an estimable legacy of published work, including 16 books, seven of them novels, plus two anthologies of his columns.

What set him apart as a writer was the inimitable style of his journalism across the last great decades of ink-on-paper news, in the 1960s for the old New York Herald Tribune and later for the Daily News and the city pages of Long Island-based Newsday, where his final regular column appeared in 2004.

In that pre-Web era, before desk-bound bloggers saturated the opinion market, Mr. Breslin was a familiar archetype — the quintessential sidewalk-pounding, big-city columnist, loved and loathed all over town, a champion of the put-upon and a thorn to the mighty and the swell.

He and other marquee metropolitan columnists back then, notably Mike Royko, Mr. Breslin’s counterpart in Chicago, were household names in their cities, their faces splashed in ads on the sides of buses and newspaper delivery trucks.

“Built like a Tammany ward heeler of a century ago, all belly and lopsided grin,” as People magazine put it in 1982, Mr. Breslin was a hyperliterate everyman, a barstool bard full of bluster and mirth. He covered nearly every big crisis, outrage and scandal afflicting New York in his newspaper years, from the 1964 Harlem race riot to the tragedy of 9/11, his columns at turns poignant, biting, comical and brash.

On November 26, 1963, The New York Herald Tribune published “It’s an Honor,” one of the most memorable newspaper columns of all time.

Jimmy Breslin tells the story of President John Kennedy’s funeral from the perspective of Clifton Pollard, a gravedigger at Arlington National Cemetery.

This is how Breslin’s story begins:

Please go to those various links and read the stories.

Sorry about the lateness of this post…this is an open thread.


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?


Thursday Reads: “Deconstruction of the Administrative State” — President Bannon

Good Morning!!

The tRump administration plans for the US government are beginning to take shape. The plan is to hollow it out from the inside. The only question is whether tRump plans to make the U.S. a wholly owned subsidiary of the Russian kleptocracy or whether he wants to make himself a dictator in the mode of Vladimir Putin.

From the cover story of Time this week: Inside Donald Trump’s War Against the State, by Massimo Calabresi.

At 6:35 a.m. on March 4, President Donald Trump launched an attack against the government of the United States. Deploying his favorite weapon, Twitter, he wrote, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” In fewer than 140 characters, he accused a former President of an impeachable offense, suggested that Justice Department agents might have engaged in a felony and gestured at the possibility that federal judges enabled a political outrage.

He wasn’t finished. Over the next half hour–as Trump’s staff, left behind in Washington, began waking up and unlocking their phones to discover what the boss was up to down at Mar-a-Lago–the President added two more tweets suggesting that Obama and federal investigators had broken the law and should be prosecuted. He capped his indictment with a fourth blurt, comparing the allegation with the worst political crisis of his 70-year lifetime. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Trump was right that the government now faces a test of historic dimensions. The FBI is probing a plot by Russia to subvert the core exercise of American democracy in the 2016 presidential election. Revelations of contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials have forced the resignation of the President’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and the recusal of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. This probe, which may or may not have involved court-approved surveillance, has unleashed an orgy of political exploitation, resulting in a crisis of confidence in the government’s ability to play by the rules.

But no matter what he tweets from his Palm Beach Xanadu, Trump is more author than victim of this crisis. Neither he nor his White House staff provided any evidence for his extraordinary accusations against what some of them call a “deep state.” Obama denied Trump’s assertions, and was soon joined by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and, via intermediaries, FBI Director James Comey. Trump is rallying his political base against the federal agencies he oversees, thus partnering his presidency with a radical fringe. Win or lose, the standoff he has engineered will diminish the credibility of the government.

Go read the whole thing for more on President Bannon’s quest to destroy the federal government.

Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

ProPublica has been investigating how the process of hollowing out is happening: Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government.

A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An “evangelist” and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.

While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.

Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

While some names have previously dribbled out in the press, we are publishing a list of more than 400 hires, providing the most complete accounting so far of who Trump has brought into the federal government.

The White House said in January that around 520 staffers were being hired for the beachhead teams.

Read much more at the link.

The next three links may provide some clues to whether or not tRump is trying to increase Russian influence in our government.

Think Progress: Trump leaves key cybersecurity jobs vacant across the government.

The Trump administration is leaving many top technology jobs across government vacant, raising concerns about the security and maintenance of federal computer systems in the wake of an election where hacks dominated the headlines. The White House’s own cybersecurity practices are another source of concern, say experts.

Of the nine agency-level Chief Information Officer (or CIO) roles that are politically appointed, only one is currently filled — and that top tech slot is occupied by a holdover from the Obama administration.

The Federal CIO and Federal Chief Information Security Officer (or CISO) jobs are also vacant, as is the White House CISO gig.

“These are critical roles in terms of shepherding any sort of policy towards cyber and technology across the government,” said Paul Innella, the President of cybersecurity consulting firm TDI.

Leaving the jobs unfilled “doesn’t send a good message” about the new administration’s commitment to keeping its systems safe, according to Innella.

Former director of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden in an op ed at The New York times: How Trump Undermines Intelligence Gathering.

The relationship between a new president and the intelligence agencies that serve him can be difficult in the best of times. But it’s hard to imagine a more turbulent transition than the current one, which has been marred by assertions that the administration has tried to both politicize and marginalize intelligence gathering.

No White House likes it when intelligence agencies — such as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency — deliver bad news, or when that information undercuts the executive’s preferred policies or political positions. But I can’t remember another White House so quick to dismiss those agencies’ judgments or so willing to discredit them as dishonest or incompetent.

We’ve seen presidential tweets with “intelligence” in accusatory quotation marks, a kind of dog whistle that equates intelligence assessments with news reporting that the president condemns as “fake.” In addition to lumping the intelligence agencies in with the “dishonest” mainstream media, the president has compared his espionage services to Russians, Nazis and WikiLeaks.

Last weekend, Mr. Trump accused President Barack Obama of ordering phones at Trump Tower tapped during the 2016 campaign, a claim so outrageous that James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, denied it a day later. (So did the F.B.I. director, James Comey, according to this paper.) And last month, Mr. Trump blamed the intelligence community, along with the press, for the downfall of his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, saying on Twitter that “information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes and @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (N.S.A. and F.B.I.?).”

I want to highlight these two paragraphs (emphasis added):

As the former director of both the N.S.A. and the C.I.A., I know that leaks are a real problem that can endanger national security. But why would the administration reflexively and punitively blame its own services for leaks, since we do not yet know who is responsible for them?

The president has asserted that the leaking will stop “because now we have our people in,” a choice of words that creates more than a little shudder in the ranks of intelligence professionals, who prefer to work in the background for presidents, Democratic or Republican.

Max Boot at Foreign Policy: WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks!” And he had good reason to display affection to this website run by accused rapist Julian Assange. By releasing reams of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, WikiLeaks helped tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

As president, Trump hasn’t come out and said anything laudatory about WikiLeaks following its massive disclosure of CIA secrets on Tuesday — a treasure trove that some experts already believe may be more damaging than Edward Snowden’s revelations. But Trump hasn’t condemned WikiLeaks. The recent entries on his Twitter feed — a pure reflection of his unbridled id — contain vicious attacks on, among other things, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the New York Times, and Barack Obama but not a word about WikiLeaks. Did the president not notice that the intelligence community he commands has just suffered a devastating breach of security? Or did he simply not feel compelled to comment?

Actually there is a third, even more discomfiting, possibility: Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing.

More reads, links only:

CNBC: EPA chief Scott Pruitt says carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming.

Business Insider: ‘There are no sacred cows’: Breitbart’s honeymoon with establishment wing of Trump White House may be over.

Mother Jones: A Running List of People Who Hate Trumpcare..

Buzzfeed: Republican Chairman Says Sean Spicer Should Stay “In His Lane” On Health Care Bill.

Thanks to NW Luna for this link from The Smoking Gun: Roger Stone’s Russian Hacking “Hero.”

Buzzfeed News: Nigel Farage Just Visited The Ecuadorian Embassy In London.

T.A. Frank at Vanity Fair: The Terrifying Truth Behind the Trump-Russia Mess. (Caveat: I don’t usually agree with Frank and I have a lot of problems with this piece.)

Also from Vanity Fair: Is Louise Mensch Really the Root of this Trump Fiasco?

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great Thursday!