The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Vanity Fair: "... Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times chief book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has been, by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down.... Kakutani said that she could neither confirm nor comment. But sources familiar with her decision, which comes a year after the Times restructured its books coverage, told me that last year’s election had triggered a desire to branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America." -- CW 

... Washington Post: "... investigators believe they have discovered the 'smoking gun' that would support a decades-old theory that [Amelia] Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were captured by the Japanese: a newly unearthed photograph from the National Archives that purportedly shows Earhart and Noonan — and their plane — on an atoll in the Marshall Islands.... Gary Tarpinian,  executive producer of the History documentary, told the Today show that they believe the Koshu, the Japanese merchant ship in the photo, took Earhart to Saipan, where she died in Japanese custody." -- CW 

Summer Beach Reading. James Hohmann of the Washington Post suggests Al Franken's Giant of the Senate. Hohmann's column hits some of the highlights. CW: Let us be thankful that Donald Trump is incapable of learning the lessons Franken learned from his team. If Trump were half as bright as Franken, he would be a succesful president & very effective dictator.

Politico: "MSNBC has parted ways with anchor Greta Van Susteren after just six months on air, as her show failed to live up to the network's ratings expectations. An MSNBC executive said the decision to remove the former Fox News host was purely for business reasons, based on ratings." -- CW 

Click on the picture to see larger image.... Low Society News. AP: "... Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were among the guests as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin’s) married a Scottish actress. Mnuchin exchanged vows Saturday night with Louise Linton at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. Mrs. Trump wore a pink blush dress" CW: which, if you follow Reality Chex, you will know was enhanced by some really costly baubles that remind the bride of Grace Kelly or happy times or something.

New Yorker: "In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers announced that they have pushed back the date of the earliest human remains to three hundred thousand years ago. And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco." -- CW ...

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

Contact the Constant Weader

Click on this link to e-mail the Constant Weader.

Constant Comments

Anyone with a cheap computer can become a columnist or a pundit. -- Dennis Ryerson, Editor, Indianapolis Star

About Me: I have a cheap computer.
-- Constant Weader

Follow CONSTANTWEADER on Twitter... for breaking news. I update several times a day & tweet only the big deals.

Monday
May082017

The Commentariat -- May 9, 2017

Afternoon Update:

** Mr. Super-Integrity Lies Under Oath to Congress. Devlin Barrett of the Washington Post: "FBI Director James B. Comey overstated key findings involving the Hillary Clinton email investigation during testimony to Congress last week, according to people close to the inquiry. In defending the probe, Comey offered seemingly new details to underscore the seriousness of the situation FBI agents faced last fall when they discovered thousands of Clinton aide Huma Abedin's emails on the computer of her husband, Anthony Weiner. 'Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information,; Comey said, adding later, 'His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the secretary of state.' At another point in the testimony, Comey said Abedin 'forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.' Neither of those statements is accurate, said people close to the investigation. The inquiry found that Abedin did occasionally forward emails to her husband for printing, but it was a far smaller number than Comey described, and it wasn't a 'regular practice,' these people said. Justice Department and FBI officials are considering whether and how to clarify the misstatements, said people familiar with the matter. The issue of the misstatements was first reported by ProPublica." CW: You might think Comey has a thing about undermining powerful women. ...

... ** Paul Waldman: "... you'd think that [Comey] would have his facts straight on this matter, given that his grossly irresponsible decision put Donald Trump in the White House and will forever define Comey's legacy as a public servant.... In his desperation to justify a decision he made out of cowardice [-- fear of Republican criticism --] Comey now hypes what the FBI supposedly found in Huma Abedin's emails, when what they actually found was basically nothing.... In case there was any doubt before, everyone ... knows ... he's acutely vulnerable to political pressure, as long as the pressure threatens that very image he has tried to create. Will they be able to use that vulnerability against him? I'm sure they're going to try." -- CW

** Julian Borger of the Guardian: "Not long ago the idea that the US national security adviser had been compromised by the Russians would have been the stuff of airport thrillers and TV mini-series. The Trump White House has made it the new normal.... Faced with incontrovertible evidence of a shocking lapse in the White House, almost all the Republican questions on Monday were about leaks and immigration. For that to change, Flynn or another close aide would have to point the finger of blame for collusion at Trump himself. Such a turning point did not arrive on Monday, but nor did it seem unthinkable.... Only stark evidence of deliberate conspiracy with Moscow to skew the election is likely to do any lasting damage. Unless and until that moment arrives, the Republican party is determined to look the other way." -- CW ...

... Michael Shear of the New York Times runs down the various White House obfuscations about why Trump waited 18 days to fire Flynn, & only after the WashPo reported that Flynn had lied to pence. CW: I love the one about how Constitutional scholar Trumpity-Doo-Dah was concerned about Flynn's "right to due process." Obviously, Trump has no understanding of the meaning of "due process." Moreover, if a president wants more information before terminating someone who serves "at his pleasure," he can informally or formally suspend him/her from regular duties, with pay, especially if those duties included a level of security clearance the employee had not passed. Meanwhile, you cover the asses of other officials whom the employee has compromised, like, you know, the VPOTUS.

Norman Eisen & Noah Bookbinder in a Washington Post op-ed: "Coming on top of months of revelations of China-related conflicts involving President Trump and his relatives, reports that Jared Kushner's family used his position to solicit Chinese investors were a tipping point. The president's son-in-law and daughter Ivanka Trump should now broadly recuse themselves from working on China-related issues.... Kushner and his wife have in the past said they will comply with all ethics rules. If so, as a starting point, Kushner must immediately take steps to ensure that businesses with which he is or has been associated refrain from using his position to promote investments. In fact, no Trump or Kushner companies should utilize the EB-5 program; the possibility for the appearance of improper influence, and perhaps worse, is too great." -- CW

Greg Sargent: "In a new memo to fellow Democrats, two senior Democratic strategists [James Carville & David Brock] are arguing that the party must highlight the fact that the GOP health bill would not only leave many millions of people stranded without coverage -- but, crucially, it would do this while delivering an enormous tax cut to the rich. The measure should allow Democrats to unmask Trump's alleged economic populism as a total scam, and to show that in reality, Trump is furthering a conventionally plutocratic GOP agenda." -- CW

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post: "South Koreans have elected a new president who is wary of the United States and wants to foster warmer ties with North Korea, opening a new and potentially difficult chapter in relations with Washington. Moon Jae-in, the candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, claimed victory Tuesday night after securing an unassailable lead. With 65 percent of the votes counted, Moon had 39.6 percent." CW: Given our current "leadership," who wouldn't be "wary of the United States"?

*****

Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: "When did the White House know -- and exactly who knew -- about conversations that Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, had with the Russian ambassador? That was the focus on Monday at a Senate hearing where Sally Q. Yates, the former acting attorney general, testified about Russia's interference in the presidential election. James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, also testified, giving senators a chance to go well beyond the Flynn affair and ask about leaks of classified information to the news media; the F.B.I.'s investigation into the Russian interference and possible collusion by Trump associates; and -- this being a hearing in the Republican-controlled Congress -- Hillary Clinton's emails." Rosenberg lists six "takeaways." "Perhaps the biggest takeaway on Monday was that a lot of people had serious concerns about Mr. Flynn serving as national security adviser. But none of them was named Donald J. Trump. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who briefly led the Trump transition team, did not think that Mr. Flynn was qualified to be the national security adviser. President Barack Obama, who fired Mr. Flynn as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, warned Mr. Trump against hiring the retired three-star general when the two met in the Oval Office after the election. And, days after the inauguration, Ms. Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, warned the White House that Mr. Flynn was vulnerable to foreign blackmail because he had misled his bosses about conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador — and that Russian operatives would know about it." -- CW ...

... Matt Apuzzo & Emmarie Huetteman of the New York Times are liveblogging the Yates-Clapper Senate hearing. "Ms. Yates said that in the first days of the Trump administration, she told the White House counsel that Mr. Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail.... Ms. Yates's account could put pressure on the White House to more fully explain its response. The president ultimately fired Mr. Flynn, but not because of Ms. Yates's warnings. Mr. Trump acted two weeks later, only after The Washington Post found out about those warnings." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Charles Pierce: "It is not often that you see one woman demolish a state's entire delegation to the United States Senate, but Sally Yates did the Republic a great service on Monday afternoon by demonstrating that Texas has sent to Washington a remarkable pair of deuces. First, she slapped John Cornyn silly as regards her refusal to enforce the president*'s original travel ban, the issue over which she'd been fired. He pronounced himself disappointed, and she handed him his head.... That was merely the appetizer. Yates, in her calm and judicious way, proceeded to make the entrée Tailgunner Ted Cruz, who started out in his customary cloud of oily arrogance and ended up being sautéed by the nice lady with the backbone of steel." Thanks to James S. for the lead. CW: Again, I hate Pierce's calling an ethnic Latino "oily." It's one of the various bigoted things Pierce routinely writes. ...

Yates Whups Cornyn:

Yates Whups Cruz:

... Conservocolumnist Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post: "The mystery as to why Flynn remained in place for 18 days remains. Did McGahn tell Trump about his meetings with Yates? Did [White House Counsel Donald] McGahn ever review the underlying intelligence? Who made the decision that keeping Flynn on the job until four days after The Post broke the story that Flynn had lied to [mike] Pence? Why did they not believe his ongoing presence in the administration was a problem -- or set Pence straight that he was telling untrue things to the American people because Flynn had lied to Pence?" -- CW ...

... Alex Shephard of the New Republic: "From Yates's testimony, it's become clear that she forcefully warned the White House that Flynn might be compromised by the Russians two weeks before Flynn resigned -- and that the White House did not seem to recognize the seriousness of this allegation. Republicans on the committee, however, have wanted to talk about anything except the relationship between Flynn and Russia.... The Republicans are covering for Donald Trump by playing up tangential stories that obfuscate the issue at hand: that Donald Trump's national security advisor was compromised by the Russian government." -- CW ...

... Matt Shuham of TPM: "On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer blamed the Obama administration for not doing more to express their concerns about ... Michael Flynn, eliciting bewildered responses from journalists and others on social media....

New presidents often blame predecessors for various things. Trump may be first to blame his national security adviser on his predecessor. -- Peter Baker May 8, 2017

Twilight Zone stuff from Sean: Obama fired Flynn but it's his fault that Trump hired him -- Glenn Thrush May 8, 2017

You don't get to spend 8 years painting Obama as a lying, terrorist-sympathizing criminal and then say you relied on him vetting your NSA. -- Jesse Berne May 8, 2017

Obama FIRED Flynn. Obama WARNED Trump about Flynn on 11/10/16#SallyYates WARNED Trump about Flynn. Now Trump & Spicer blame Obama.... -- Cornelia May 8, 2017

... Adam Raymond of New York: "The White House has yet to explain how Obama is to blame for Trump's hiring of Flynn. Or how Obama is to blame for Trump waiting three weeks to fire Flynn after learning that he was lying about his contacts with Russia. Or how Obama is to blame for Trump calling Flynn a 'wonderful man' who was 'treated very, very unfairly by the media,' even after he was fired." -- CW ...

... Kristen Welker, et al., of NBC News: "Former President Obama warned ... Donald Trump against hiring Mike Flynn as his national security adviser, three former Obama administration officials tell NBC News.... Obama's warning pre-dated the concerns inside the government about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, one of the officials said. Obama passed along a general caution that he believed Flynn was not suitable for such a high level post, the official added." CW: So naturally Flynn was one of Trump's first hires. And yet another case of Trumpity Dumpity saying, "Whaah, whaaah, whaah, I'll be president when you're not so I'll do whatever I want. Screw you, Has-been." Get ready for another Trump command to find out who the leakers are. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... CW Oops! Trump is way ahead of me, but in regard to Yates' testimony. Rebecca Savransky of the Hill: "President Trump on Monday called former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to answer questions about how classified information was leaked to newspapers. 'Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Council,' the president tweeted Monday." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Brad Reed of the Raw Story: "... legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that Trump's behavior crosses the line of what we consider to be normal behavior for a politician in the United States.... 'The idea of the President of the United States essentially threatening a witness, he's basically accusing her of leaking, we have never had that before.... The idea that the president -- the guy who's in charge of the Justice Department -- is threatening a witness is really kind of disturbing.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Sarah Burris of the Raw Story: "... Donald Trump was up early tweeting Monday, defending ... former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. CNN's David Gregory was shocked Trump took to Twitter to defend Flynn and blame former President Barack Obama for giving Flynn security clearance.... Former CIA agent Phil Mudd ... hammered Trump on his lack of basic knowledge on the role of the president and the White House. '... The president is a little confused this morning.... The White House doesn't give security clearances. Individual agencies give security clearance.... President Obama doesn't have any responsibility for the security clearance. As you're suggesting, the issue here is whether the [Trump] White House had an ethics process for an incoming official....'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ken Dilanian & Courtney Kube of NBC News: "The Defense Intelligence Agency didn't know former director Mike Flynn had been paid nearly $34,000 by a Russian state media outlet when it renewed his security clearance in April 2016, two U.S. officials told NBC News. Flynn had disclosed the December 2015 trip to Moscow to the DIA, but he never told them he was paid by RT, the official said. The Defense Department inspector general is now investigating whether Flynn broke the rules. The U.S. Constitution forbids retired generals from accepting foreign payments without permission.... When he became national security adviser, Flynn was required to obtain a new White House security clearance under the auspices of the CIA.... That clearance was never granted before he was pushed out of the job, one official with knowledge of the matter said. The Obama administration fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in April 2014. Like all former directors, he retained a top-level clearance so the current director could consult him about classified programs." -- CW ...

... MEANWHILE, things are not going well between Trump & Flynn's replacement. Eli Lake of Bloomberg: "White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with [H.R.] McMaster in front of his staff. On policy, the faction of the White House loyal to senior strategist Steve Bannon is convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. Meanwhile the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is blocking McMaster on a key appointment.... Trump was livid, according to three White House officials, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president's threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share. This was not an isolated incident." CW: In other words, McMaster is trying to rein in the Crazy, and the Crazy doesn't like it.

"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States
"Whaling Voyage by One Ishmael"
"Bloody Battle in Affghanistan"
-- Ishmael, Moby Dick, 1851

... here's an ignorant boob thinking that he could be successful where Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and the ancient Persian and Mughal empires failed. I guess they were all losers, especially compared to the Great Trumpy. -- Akhilleus, May 8, 2017

... Missy Ryan & Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post: "President Trump's most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban. The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said." -- CW ...

... The Decider? Nope. Fred Kaplan of Slate: "On Jan. 28, President Trump ordered Secretary of Defense James Mattis to devise a plan, within 30 days, on how to defeat ISIS. Mattis turned in his report on Feb. 27, and, according to senior officials, it is still sitting in the White House. In the 70 days since it landed on his desk, Trump has not responded to it, modified it, or approved it as policy. In other words, despite Trump's claim during the election campaign that he had a plan for beating ISIS, and his later claim that he would ask the generals if they had a better idea and act on it quickly if they did, the administration has no plan -- no overarching strategy -- for defeating the fighters and propagandists of the Islamic State." -- CW

Trump Walks Back Whack-a-Black. Yamiche Alcindor & Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "When President Trump signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill on Friday, he zeroed in on a tiny sliver of it, suggesting that he might disregard $20 million in funding for loan subsidies and other aid to historically black universities. Two nights later, after a storm of criticism, the White House walked back the threat in a statement that declared the president's 'unwavering support' for such schools.... Mr. Trump's suggestion that he might disregard the aid provision was made in a signing statement, an official document laying out his interpretation of the new statutes created by a bill. In it, he suggested that directing government spending to universities associated with a particular race was an unconstitutional infringement of people's due process rights. That language invoked the view, held by some conservatives, that affirmative action-style programs amount to discrimination against whites." -- CW

Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post: "President Trump's administration says his tax cut will pay for itself. In a survey the [University of Chicago's Booth School of Business] published last week on Trump's tax plans, only two out of the 37 economists that responded said that the cuts would stimulate the economy enough to cancel out the effect on total tax revenue.Those two economists now both say they made a mistake, and that they misunderstood the question." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... David Kay Johnston in the Guardian: "Let's connect the dots between Donald Trump's 'tax plan', his invitation to the murderous leader in Manila and saying he would be 'honored' to meet with the dictator of North Korea. And let's throw in his claim that Trumpcare will be better than Obamacare and that his skeletal tax plan would make him pay more.... Each points to a fundamental truth about Trump: Trump doesn't know anything." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Eric Lipton & Jesse Drucker of the New York Times: "It was the first major piece of legislation that President Trump signed into law, and buried on Page 734 was one sentence that brought a potential benefit to the president's extended family: renewal of a program offering permanent residence in the United States to affluent foreigners investing money in real estate projects here. Just hours after the appropriations measure was signed on Friday, the company run until January by ... Jared Kushner, was urging wealthy Chinese in Beijing to consider investing $500,000 each in a pair of Jersey City luxury apartment towers the family-owned Kushner Companies plans to build." ...

     ... CW: I love the way reporters call these out-and-out instances of self-dealing as "creating an impression of" or "appearing to" or "present potential" conflicts of interest. Nope, they just plain conflicts of interest, & for little Jared & the lovely Ivanka, they're violations of federal law. Not that Jeff Sessions will be prosecuting anyone. ...

... Kushner Goons Rough up Female WashPo Reporter, Force Her to Delete Recordings. Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate: "It's not clear whether or not Jared Kushner's connection to his sister-in-law's China presentation is illegal -- and with Trump apologists running the Justice Department and Congress, not clear who would investigate it anyway if it were -- but it's definitely sleazy in the layperson's sense and made even more so by a Washington Post reporter's statement that goons working for the Kushners' Chinese partners physically manhandled her and forced her to delete material from her phone at an event in Beijing." -- CW

Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: Both Donald Jr. & Eric Trump have confirmed that the Trump Organization relied hugely on an influx of Russian cash. CW: Eric now denies he said any such thing. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

John Ivison of the (Canadian) National Post: "White House staff called the Prime Minister's Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade ... Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources. The unconventional diplomatic manoeuvre -- approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss -- proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal. But the incident highlights the difficulties faced by governments all over the world when it comes to dealing with a president as volatile as Trump." Via Elliot Hannon of Slate. -- CW

No Girls Allowed, Ctd. Robert Pear of the New York Times: Mitch McConnell's "decision to create a 13-man working group on health care, including staunch conservatives and ardent foes of the Affordable Care Act -- but no women -- has been widely seen on Capitol Hill as a move to placate the right as Congress decides the fate of President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement. But Mr. McConnell, with only two votes to spare, could find that the Senate's more moderate voices will not be as easily assuaged as the House's when a repeal bill finally reaches a vote.... Mr. McConnell's decision to include himself and his top three lieutenants -- but not Ms. Collins, Ms. Murkowski or more junior women Republicans like Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia -- speaks volumes about his direction and has raised eyebrows. Beyond neglecting Republican women, Senate Republican leaders overlooked Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black member of their conference. Before his congressional career, Mr. Scott sold insurance and was owned one of the most successful Allstate insurance branches in South Carolina." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Last week, after a nearly all-male group of Republicans celebrated the passage of a House bill that would, they boast, enable men to stop having to pay for women's health care, and as a completely male Senate Republican working group gets to work on the upper chamber's bill, a Republican aide told CNN that gender is a nonissue: 'We have no interest in playing the games of identity politics, that's not what this is about; it's about getting a job done.' Just a bunch of gender-neutral human beings making gender-neutral decisions about public policy!... Conservatives have made all kinds of practical arguments for the Republican health-care bill. They have made a smattering of moral arguments, too, such as the principle that people with more expensive medical needs have failed to make healthy choices and deserve financial punishment for their failings. What is telling about the gender debate is that it lacks even the pretext of personal responsibility. There is no case to be made that women ought to pay more for insurance because they chose to be female." -- CW ...

     ... CW: Is the "family values" party unaware that in every instance (save the supernatural [& imaginary] virgin birth), a male person created the necessity for a female person to require costly prenatal care? The idea of charging women more for health insurance is part of the larger GOP philosophy: women should be punished for having sexual relations, and men should bear no responsibility for heterosexual activities. ...

... Brian Beutler: "Top Republicans fanned out on the Sunday morning news shows, and rank-and-file Republicans returned to their districts, to mislead as many people as possible about what would happen if the AHCA became law.... These are the four lies they've decided are the most central to their sales pitch. We're Not Kicking Millions Off Of Medicaid. We're Not Screwing Over Sick People. We Didn't End-Run the CBO At All! Health Insurance Doesn't Save Lives Anyhow." -- CW ...

... Brian Beutler: "Bald-faced Republican Trumpcare lies are even worse than they seem. As if to prove the point of this article about the main lies Republican congressmen are telling about the American Health Care Act, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise throws a new one into contention for most brazen. 'Under #AHCA, nobody can be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.... -- ... Scalise, [in a tweet].... The whole statement is deceptive, but the truly mendacious part is actually the unhighlighted claim that 'nobody can be charged more than anybody else' under the Republican plan. That is the complete inverse of the truth -- not tendentious spin with a kernel of truth to it, but a piss-down-your-back, tell-you-it's-raining lie." -- CW ...

Lauren Gambino & Adam Gabbatt of the Guardian: "As House Republicans return to their districts after approving a controversial plan to dramatically reshape the nation's healthcare system, activists on the left are mobilizing at town halls in an effort to save the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law that extended coverage to millions of Americans." CW: I don't think all those attendees are "activists on the left." I think many are people of various political stripes who are afraid of being priced out of the health insurance market. Which they will be. Again. ...

... Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "An Iowa congressman walked out of a television interview on Monday, declining to explain why his staff is prescreening constituents who plan to attend his town hall meetings this week. A few hours later, Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) showed up at his town hall meeting where most of the prescreened audience screamed at him." CW: Love the way Blum complains the reporter "ambushed" him with substantive questions (or what Blum calls "an agenda") when Blum was expecting a puff piece.

Intent Matters. Anne Marimow & Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "President Trump's political statements trailed him on Monday in court, where ­judges seemed skeptical his revised travel ban was based on national security concerns rather than his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Thirteen judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit were considering the case, and, during an extraordinary two-hour hearing, judge after judge asked acting solicitor general Jeffrey B. Wall about statements during the campaign and afterward in which Trump talked about a Muslim ban.... To restore the administration's policy in full, the Justice Department would have to win in Richmond and in its appeal of the Hawaii ruling, which is scheduled for argument on May 15 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The losing party in either case is likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.... Many of the judges on Monday suggested they could not ignore the president's previous statements." -- CW ...

... Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress: Jeff Sessions' DOJ cites discredited segregationist Supreme Court 1971 Palmer v. Thomason decision in support of Trump's Muslim ban. "As a federal judge acknowledged in 1989, 'the Supreme Court has never expressly overturned Palmer, but it has all but done so.'" CW: Well, what would you expect from Sessions & Co.? JeffBo would never "discredit" a 46-year-old, 5-4 racist decision. This is a guy who likely thinks Plessey v. Ferguson should not have been overturned.

Sunday
May072017

The Commentariat -- May 8, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Matt Apuzzo & Emmarie Huetteman of the New York Times are liveblogging the Yates-Clapper Senate hearing. "Ms. Yates said that in the first days of the Trump administration, she told the White House counsel that Mr. Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail.... Ms. Yates's account could put pressure on the White House to more fully explain its response. The president ultimately fired Mr. Flynn, but not because of Ms. Yates's warnings. Mr. Trump acted two weeks later, only after The Washington Post found out about those warnings." -- CW

Kristen Welker, et al., of NBC News: "Former President Obama warned ... Donald Trump against hiring Mike Flynn as his national security adviser, three former Obama administration officials tell NBC News.... Obama's warning pre-dated the concerns inside the government about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, one of the officials said. Obama passed along a general caution that he believed Flynn was not suitable for such a high level post, the official added." CW: So naturally Flynn was one of Trump's first hires. And yet another case of Trumpity Dumpity saying, "Whaah, whaaah, whaah, I'll be president when you're not so I'll do whatever I want. Screw you, Has-been." Get ready for another Trump command to find out who the leakers are. ...

     ... CW Oops! Trump is way ahead of me, but in regard to Yates' testimony. Rebecca Savransky of the Hill: "President Trump on Monday called former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to answer questions about how classified information was leaked to newspapers. 'Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Council,' the president tweeted Monday." ...

     ... Brad Reed of the Raw Story: "... legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that Trump's behavior crosses the line of what we consider to be normal behavior for a politician in the United States.... 'The idea of the President of the United States essentially threatening a witness, he's basically accusing her of leaking, we have never had that before.... The idea that the president -- the guy who's in charge of the Justice Department -- is threatening a witness is really kind of disturbing.'" -- CW ...

     ... Sarah Burris of the Raw Story: "... Donald Trump was up early tweeting Monday, defending ... former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. CNN's David Gregory was shocked Trump took to Twitter to defend Flynn and blame former President Barack Obama for giving Flynn security clearance.... Former CIA agent Phil Mudd ... hammered Trump on his lack of basic knowledge on the role of the president and the White House. '... The president is a little confused this morning.... The White House doesn't give security clearances. Individual agencies give security clearance.... President Obama doesn't doesn't have any responsibility for the security clearance. As you're suggesting, the issue here is whether the [Trump] White House had an ethics process for an incoming official....'" -- CW

Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post: "President Trump's administration says his tax cut will pay for itself. In a survey the [University of Chicago's Booth School of Business] published last week on Trump's tax plans, only two out of the 37 economists that responded said that the cuts would stimulate the economy enough to cancel out the effect on total tax revenue. Those two economists now both say they made a mistake, and that they misunderstood the question." -- CW ...

... David Kay Johnston in the Guardian: "Let's connect the dots between Donald Trump's 'tax plan', his invitation to the murderous leader in Manila and saying he would be 'honored' to meet with the dictator of North Korea. And let's throw in his claim that Trumpcare will be better than Obamacare and that his skeletal tax plan would make him pay more.... Each points to a fundamental truth about Trump: Trump doesn't know anything." -- CW 

Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: Both Donald Jr. & Eric Trump have confirmed that the Trump Organization relied hugely on an influx of Russian cash. CW: Eric now denies he said any such thing.

*****

Angelique Chrisafis of the Guardian: "The pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidency in a decisive victory over the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, and vowed to unite a divided and fractured France. Macron, 39, a former economy minister who ran as a 'neither left nor right' independent promising to shake up the French political system, took 65.1% to Le Pen's 34.9%, according to initial projections from early counts.... Despite the wide margin of the final result, Le Pen;s score nonetheless marked a historic high for the French far right.... Turnout was the lowest in more than 40 years. Almost one-third of voters chose neither Macron nor Le Pen, with 12 million abstaining and 4.2 million spoiling ballot papers." --safari ...

... James McAuley of the Washington Post: "In a once-unimaginable scenario, Emmanuel Macron — at 39, the boy wonder of an aging political establishment — won the French presidency Sunday with a tidal wave of popular support. He will soon be France’s youngest head of state since ­Napoleon Bonaparte as well as its first modern president who does not belong to either of the center-left or center-right parties that have run this country for 60 years.... Macron, who has never held elected office, has now been elected to one of the most powerful executive positions in the Western world and will be the leader of Europe’s second-largest economy. He did it, analysts say, through a combination of luck and a campaign message attuned to a new political moment." -- CW ...

... Tom Boggioni of RawStory: "A specialist in cybersecurity told the Wall Street Journal that digital fingerprints left behind by a hacker on emails and documents belonging to new French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party show ties to the Kremlin. According to Selahaddin Karatas, CEO of the San Francisco-based cybersecurity company SAASPASS, a deep look into caches of hacked records shows evidence that an employee who once worked with Russian internet firm Evrika was involved.... The security experts said it was unusual for someone with that level of skill to digital fingerprints behind." --safari

...Putting Lipstick on a Pig. Nicolas Vinocur of Politico: "French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Sunday that her National Front party would undergo a 'profound transformation' anda top aide said its name would change after a decisive defeat in the presidential election.... National Front Vice President Florian Philippot said the party’s name was bound to change as part of the transformation — a possibility that was under discussion during the campaign but never acted upon..... Le Pen vowed to overhaul her party as part of a strategy to win as many seats as possible in next month’s parliamentary election." --safari ...

... Louis Nelson of Politico: "Emmanuel Macron’s victory over the weekend in France’s presidential election was a win not just for him but for 'France, the EU, & the world,' former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter Sunday evening. His win, she wrote, was also a 'defeat to those interfering w/democracy. (But the media says I can't talk about that).' Speaking at an event last week in Manhattan, Clinton offered her most expansive comments to date on her surprise loss to ... Donald Trump in last November’s election. She told the audience that 'I take absolute personal responsibility' but also said that 'I was on the way to winning' until Russian cyberattacks dragged down her campaign and the FBI reinserted its investigation of her email practices as secretary of state into the campaign with just days to go before Election Day.” -- CW ...

... Tim Wyatt of the Guardian: "A Brexit campaign group poured scorn on France and Emmanuel Macron after the centrist newcomer comfortably defeated his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential election runoff. The Twitter account of Leave.EU, the pro-Brexit pressure group set up by Nigel Farage for last year’s referendum, tweeted that the French people had once again 'rolled over' just as they had done in 1940 – except this time they saved Germany “the bullets and the fuel”." --safari ...

... Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian dives deep into the nexus between Trump's billionaire right-wing backers (Robert Mercer), the Brexit campaign (Nigel Farage), and the omnipotent future of Big Data versus Democracy. A really interesting long read. --safari ...

... Andy Borowitz: "In bars and cafés across France, voters breathed a sigh of relief in the knowledge that arrogantly comparing themselves to the U.S. population, a longtime favorite pastime of the French people, would remain viable for the foreseeable future." CW: This is supposed to be satire, but it's probably true. And I agree with the "arrogant" French. The French have Macron; we chose a nasty, crazy guy.


The Fake Russia Connection. Tom Boggioni
of RawStory: "President Donald Trump was ... on Sunday, once again attacking the 'fake media' but this time for not looking at connections between the Democratic National Committee and the Russians. While the focus is once again back on the Trump transition team — including FBI investigations of former Trump advisors Carter Page and Michael Flynn’s connections to the Russians — Trump seemed to infer that the DNC was working in concert with Russian agents during the 2016 campaign. On Twitter, Trump wrote: 'When will the Fake Media ask about the Dems dealings with Russia & why the DNC wouldn’t allow the FBI to check their server or investigate?'" --safari ...

... The Russia Connection, Ctd. David Barrett & Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post: "On Monday, [former acting AG Sally] Yates is to testify before a Senate subcommittee about her discussions with the White House, testimony that was delayed for more than a month after a previously scheduled appearance before a House committee was canceled amid a legal dispute over whether she would even be allowed to discuss the subject.... Yates’s testimony Monday is expected to contradict public statements made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who described the Yates-[Donald] McGahn meeting as less of a warning and more of a 'heads up’ about an issue involving [Michael] Flynn." -- CW ...

... Jonathan Swan of Axios: "On the eve of Sally Yates' testimony before the Senate on her warnings about Mike Flynn, the President wants any of his staff who've been feeding negative lines about Flynn to the media to stop immediately. White House officials have been eager to throw the former national security advisor under the bus, but a source familiar with the President's thinking says he still thinks highly of Flynn and has never authorized any of his staff to undermine the general. Trump still defends his former national security advisor and wasn't happy to see an Axios story Sunday afternoon saying administration officials have been attacking Flynn to reporters." CW: Whatever Flynn has on Trump, Trump is trying to keep Flynn from blabbing.  

The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. How Conveeenient! Michael Kranish of the Washington Post: "A much-criticized visa program that allows foreigners to win fast-track immigration in return for investing $500,000 in U.S. properties was extended in a bill signed by President Trump just one day before a sister of senior White House adviser Jared Kushner pitched the program to Chinese investors. Trump, who advocates for restrictive immigration policies, extended the EB-5 investor program without long-promised changes as part of a massive federal spending bill. The program has offered wealthy foreigners a way around complicated U.S. immigration rules, allowing them to live in the United States and seek permanent residency in return for substantial investments." Emphasis added. -- CW ...

... Keith Bradsher, et al., of the New York Times: "Kushner Companies’ China roadshow, promoting $500,000 investments in New Jersey real estate as the path to a residency card in the United States, moved to Shanghai on Sunday after a similar pitch on Saturday in Beijing. Security was tighter in Shanghai than it had been in Beijing, where reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post briefly attended the event before being kicked out. At the event in Beijing, Mr. Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, cited her [Jared Kushner's] brother’s service to the company, which he led as chief executive until January.... Government ethics filings show that he and Ivanka Trump, his wife and the president’s daughter, continue to benefit from their stake in Kushner Companies’ real estate business and other investments.... Kushner Companies’ marketing push comes as Mr. Kushner is emerging as a crucial voice on China relations, brokering meetings between his father-in-law and top Chinese government officials." -- CW ...

... Emily Rauhala & William Wan of the Washington Post (May 6) on the Beijing pitch: "Watchdogs and ethics experts on Saturday criticized the Beijing event as an attempt to cash in on Kushner’s newfound proximity to power.... Bloomberg News reported in March 2016 that the program has been used to the benefit both the Trump and Kushner family businesses. Before joining the White House, as chief executive of his family’s real estate company, Jared Kushner raised $50 million from Chinese EB-5 applicants for a Trump-branded apartment building in Jersey City.... The [EB-5] program was launched with the goal of securing investment and creating jobs. But instead, in recent years, many real estate developers have used the program as a source of cheap financing by using foreign investors, especially from China, for flashy projects in Manhattan and other city centers.... A Government Accountability Office report in 2015 found the EB-5 program carried a high risk of fraud, was rife with counterfeit documentation and had 'no reliable method to verify the source of the funds of petitioners.'” -- CW 

Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research. A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. 'The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,' said the spokesman, J. P. Freire." Emphasis added. -- CW 

Cyra Master of the Hill: "A Sunday '60 Minutes' report detailed the story of Roberto Beristain, an immigrant deported to Mexico after being in the U.S. for nearly 20 years. Family and friends of the Granger, Ind., business owner spoke with the CBS News program, expressing frustration that someone with no criminal record was separated from his wife and children, who are all citizens." Includes video of the "60 Minutes" segment.

Jennifer Haberkorn et al., of Politico: "The Trump administration ratcheted up the pressure on Senate Republicans on Sunday to solve the policy problems in the House of Representatives' bill repealing Obamacare, urging the upper chamber to improve the bill even while defending its most controversial elements.... 'The bill that passed out of the House is most likely not going to be the bill that is put in front of the president,' Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, said Sunday." --safari...

 

The fact of the matter is that Medicaid spending under the proposal and under the budget goes up every single year.... We have got 20 million folks out there across this land who have told the federal government, ‘Phooey, nonsense. I’m not going to participate in your program because it doesn’t do what I need done.’ So, they are paying a penalty. — HHS Secretary Tom Price, on CNN’s “State of the Nation,” May 7

Medicaid spending ... actually declines in raw dollars after the switch in funding is implemented.... People who live in non-expansion states or overseas are not writing off the law; in fact, the number of people paying a penalty actually declined by nearly 20 percent from 2014 to 2015 [to about 6.5 million], indicating greater acceptance of Obamacare. -- Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post ...

... Enter the Twilight Zone. Taylor Gee of Politico: "House Speaker Paul Ryan declared on Sunday the Republican House health care bill was not only good policy but also good politics, fulfilling the long-standing GOP campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.... Asked whether he is worried the bill could hurt Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections, Ryan said, 'I would argue that we would spell disaster for ourselves, politically, if that's your question, if we go back on our word.' 'This is us keeping our word,' he added. 'But most importantly, it's us trying to fix a real problem that real people are experiencing in this country.'" --safari...

... Zach Ford of ThinkProgress: "Days after the House passed a newly-amended American Health Care Act, its biggest proponents took to the Sunday morning political shows to defend it  —  by blatantly lying about what the bill does." --safari ...

... Paul Krugman: "... there ever been anything like Trumpcare, the health legislation Republicans rammed through the House last week? It’s a miserably designed law, full of unintended consequences. It’s a moral disaster, snatching health care from tens of millions mainly to give the very wealthy a near-trillion-dollar tax cut. What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort.... This is an act of deliberate betrayal: Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.... This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come." -- CW 

... Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post: "Former president Barack Obama on Sunday night called on members of Congress show 'political courage' and defend the work his administration did to extend health care coverage to 20 millions Americans. The former president was speaking in Boston after receiving the Profile in Courage Award, presented on the 100th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s birth, and his remarks marked a rare foray into the day-to-day political scrum. In the course of a 45-minute speech, his second since he left office, Obama praised the courage of single mothers who sacrifice for their children and soldiers who put their lives on the line for strangers." -- CW ...

... President Obama's full speech is here.

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Having filled a Supreme Court vacancy, President Trump is turning his attention to the more than 120 openings on the lower federal courts. On Monday, he will announce a slate of 10 nominees to those courts, a senior White House official said, the first in what could be near monthly waves of nominations." CW: I'm not well, so you all will have to read the story for me; I'm afraid it would make me sicker.

Annals of "Journalism," Ha Ha Ha. Hadas Gold of Politico: "Washington Post columnist George Will has joined MSNBC as a contributor. Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, was most recently a contributor at Fox News, though he became a free agent in January when Fox declined to renew his contract. Before joining Fox in 2013, he spent three decades as a contributor with ABC." CW: Apparently MSNBC suits were distraught that the New York Times had its very own climate-science denier & MSNBC didn't. So they fixed that.

Beyond the Beltway

Proud to Be a Bigot, Afraid to Take the Heat. Fred Barbash & Samantha Schmidt of the Washington Post: "Texas Gov. Greg Abbott [R] made an unannounced appearance on Facebook live Sunday evening to sign a tough bill banning 'sanctuary cities' in the state, thereby avoiding demonstrations opponents planned for later in the week when they thought he was going to put his signature on the legislation. While Abbott’s spokesman said he was just trying to reach a wide audience, critics called Abbott 'cowardly' for springing the signing without notice." -- CW 

Saturday
May062017

The Commentariat -- May 6, 2017

CW: Many thanks to Akhilleus for filling in as Commentator-in-Chief yesterday. Since it's Saturday when I try to slack off anyway, and since I'm still on the road & haven't time to do a real Reality Chek, I'll compensate by sharing a marvelous, uplifting, improbable story I heard on NPR yesterday afternoon:

... A print editor of the story, by Matt Largey, is here. ...

... CW: It occurs to me that Congress's plan to award itself with ObamaCare while leaving everybody else to die in the streets at the whim of their state legislatures may violate the 27th Amendment. Thanks to Akhilleus for again highlighting this cynical, hypocritical, self-dealing amendment to CHACA.

** The Russia Connection, Ctd., Thickheaded Edition. Greg Miller & Adam Entous of the Washington Post: "Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was warned by senior members of President Trump's transition team about the risks of his contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks before the December call that led to Flynn's forced resignation, current and former U.S. officials said. Flynn was told during a late November meeting that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's conversations were almost certainly being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said, a caution that came a month before Flynn was recorded discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, suggesting that the Trump administration would reevaluate the issue." ...

     ... CW: Read on. It is difficult to choose among the possibilities. Is Flynn mostly stupid? Did he think he wasn't being recorded because he could hear funny little clicks during his conversation? Can his refusal to consider the implication be attributed mostly to hubris? Did he just figure he was invincible? Did he speak with Kislyak because Trump told him to & now he's falling on his sword?

Aurelien Breeden, et al., of the New York Times: "On the eve of the most consequential French presidential election in decades, the staff of the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron said late Friday that the campaign had been targeted by a 'massive and coordinated' hacking operation, one with the potential to destabilize the nation’s democracy before voters go to the polls on Sunday." -- CW ...

... Mark Scott of the New York Times: "After months of trying to move the political needle in favor of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, American far-right activists on Saturday threw their weight behind a hacking attack against her rival, Emmanuel Macron, hoping to cast doubt on an election that is pivotal to France and the wider world. The efforts were the culmination of a monthslong campaign against Mr. Macron after his candidacy began to gain steam earlier this year, with digital activists in the United States and elsewhere regularly sharing tactics, tips and tricks across the English- and French-speaking parts of the internet." CW: Friends of Donald's?

Optics, Shmoptics. Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: "The White House has fired its chief usher, Angella Reid, the first woman and second African American to hold the position. When the White House residence staff arrived at work Friday morning, they were told that Reid was no longer employed, according to someone with knowledge of the dismissal.... The job is one that typically involves a long tenure -- there have been just nine since the beginning of the 20th century. The White House declined to provide any specifics for the reasons behind Reid's departure." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

    ... Akhilleus. Hmmmm...according to the article, the Chief Usher handles "... everything from the large staff of butlers, maids, chefs, florists and electricians to fiscal, administrative and personal duties. The chief usher also works closely with the first family, including providing guidance on the furnishings, art and decor." So no reason was given. Don't worry. No reason is needed. We know the reason. I mean, was she sneaking out with pieces of silverware? Breaking the china? Peeing in the punch? No? And suggesting that she might be an Obama Spy is just too stupid. We know the reason.

Gaby Del Valle of the Daily Beast: "An atheist group is suing President Donald Trump over his religious liberty executive order, which loosens restrictions on political activity by religious groups.The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit Thursday in federal court against Trump and the Internal Revenue Service, claiming the order is unconstitutional because it makes government favor religion over nonreligion. Although the executive order applies to all nonprofits, FFRO believes it will be selectively enforced so as to only benefit churches and religious organizations....' President Trump's EO creates the appearance of government endorsement of churches and religious organizations and a preference for these religious organizations above similarly situated nonreligious organizations,' the suit reads. Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims secular nonprofits will still be prohibited from endorsing candidates or otherwise participating in the upcoming 2018 elections if they want to keep their tax-exempt status. Those groups are classified as 501(c)(3)." -- Akhilleus (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Besty Klein of CNN: "An official State Department Twitter account retweeted a tweet promoting Ivanka Trump's new book, 'Women Who Work,' raising ethics questions. It has since been deleted. 'Thank you to my beautiful sisters for the support of my #WomenWhoWorkBook!' Ivanka Trump wrote in the initial tweet from her personal account, alongside photos of Tiffany and Lara Trump posing with the book.... It was retweeted by the @GenderAtState account, which is run by the Office of Global Women's Issues, a policy office within the State Department focused on women's rights and empowerment through foreign policy.... The retweet comes less than two weeks after the State Department removed a blog post that touted President Donald Trump's personally owned private Florida club, Mar-a-Lago." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Akhilleus: First Daughter and Special Secret Agent Something, Something for President* Daddy, or whatever the fuck she's called, has gotten some excellent reviews for her latest bit of advice to the lowly hordes. The Times called it 'witlessly derivative'. How's that for a blurb? Another reviewer compared the reading of this thing to 'eating scented cotton balls'. Can't wait for her next book. Maybe they can paint ads for it on the sides of that aircraft carrier, if they can find it.

Friday
May052017

The Commentariat -- May 5, 2017

CW: I'm on the road again, & will be all day today & part (or all) of tomorrow. Please fill in where you can, as will I.

Afternoon Update:

Optics, Shmoptics. Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: "The White House has fired its chief usher, Angella Reid, the first woman and second African American to hold the position. When the White House residence staff arrived at work Friday morning, they were told that Reid was no longer employed, according to someone with knowledge of the dismissal.... The job is one that typically involves a long tenure -- there have been just nine since the beginning of the 20th century. The White House declined to provide any specifics for the reasons behind Reid's departure." ...

     ... Akhilleus. Hmmmm...according to the article, the Chief Usher handles "... everything from the large staff of butlers, maids, chefs, florists and electricians to fiscal, administrative and personal duties. The chief usher also works closely with the first family, including providing guidance on the furnishings, art and decor." So no reason was given. Don't worry. No reason is needed. We know the reason. I mean, was she sneaking out with pieces of silverware? Breaking the china? Peeing in the punch? No? And suggesting that she might be an Obama Spy is just too stupid. We know the reason.

Gaby Del Valle of the Daily Beast: "An atheist group is suing President Donald Trump over his religious liberty executive order, which loosens restrictions on political activity by religious groups. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit Thursday in federal court against Trump and the Internal Revenue Service, claiming the order is unconstitutional because it makes government favor religion over nonreligion. Although the executive order applies to all nonprofits, FFRO believes it will be selectively enforced so as to only benefit churches and religious organizations....' President Trump's EO creates the appearance of government endorsement of churches and religious organizations and a preference for these religious organizations above similarly situated nonreligious organizations,' the suit reads. Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims secular nonprofits will still be prohibited from endorsing candidates or otherwise participating in the upcoming 2018 elections if they want to keep their tax-exempt status. Those groups are classified as 501(c)(3)." -- Akhilleus

The Most Unethical Administration Ever, Ctd. Besty Klein of CNN: "An official State Department Twitter account retweeted a tweet promoting Ivanka Trump's new book, 'Women Who Work,' raising ethics questions. It has since been deleted. 'Thank you to my beautiful sisters for the support of my #WomenWhoWorkBook!' Ivanka Trump wrote in the initial tweet from her personal account, alongside photos of Tiffany and Lara Trump posing with the book.... It was retweeted by the @GenderAtState account, which is run by the Office of Global Women's Issues, a policy office within the State Department focused on women's rights and empowerment through foreign policy.... The retweet comes less than two weeks after the State Department removed a blog post that touted President Donald Trump's personally owned private Florida club, Mar-a-Lago." ...

      ... Akhilleus: First Daughter and Special Secret Agent Something, Something for President* Daddy, or whatever the fuck she's called, has gotten some excellent reviews for her latest bit of advice to the lowly hordes. The Times called it 'witlessly derivative'. How's that for a blurb? Another reviewer compared the reading of this thing to 'eating scented cotton balls'. Can't wait for her next book. Maybe they can paint ads for it on the sides of that aircraft carrier, if they can find it.

*****

"Day of Shame":

Ed O'Keefe, et al., of the Washington Post: "House Republicans on Thursday narrowly passed a controversial bill to overhaul the nation's health-care system, claiming a major victory even as the measure faces an uncertain fate in the closely divided U.S. Senate. Under intense pressure to show they can govern and to make good on their promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Republicans pushed through the bill after adopting a last-minute change that earned it just enough votes to pass." -- CW ...

... Shane Goldmacher of Politico: "Donald Trump upended his schedule to make sure he was still in Washington to savor his biggest legislative win yet as president, watching from the White House dining room as all the cable networks carried Thursday's health care vote live.... 'How am I doing? Am I doing OK? I'm president. Hey, I'm president,' Trump said in a Rose Garden victory lap that was unusually elaborate for a bill still so far from becoming law. 'Can you believe it?'" -- CW ...

... Paul Waldman: "I can't remember a time when a president held a Rose Garden celebration after a bill passed one house and was dead on arrival, at least in its current form, in the other. But I guess when you're so super-pumped about the prospect of taking coverage away from tens of millions of people, you just gotta party." -- CW ...

... Partying Like It was 2008. Charles Pierce: "They had a party in Washington on Thursday to celebrate the fact 24 million people would be made free by losing the healthcare that has made their lives easier since 2009. This was a thing to celebrate.... They had a party in Washington to celebrate the fact that taking healthcare from poor people was enough to give the top two percent of Americans a trillion-dollar tax cut. This was a thing to celebrate.... This was a bill constructed to be as cruel as possible to as many people as possible for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans and to give a 'win' to an incompetent and vulgar talking yam...." Pierce provides quite a number of other reasons the GOP had to celebrate. -- CW ...

... Margaret Hartmann of New York: "The issue of where Trump really stands on health care appeared to be resolved on Thursday when he gathered House Republicans to celebrate the passage of a bill that will cost 24 million Americans their coverage by 2026, or maybe even more. But it wasn't settled at all. Hours later, during his delayed meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday night, President Trump declared that Australian has better a health-care system than the United States. 'It's a very good bill right now. The premiums are going to come down, very substantially. The deductibles are going to come down. It's going to be fantastic health care. Right now Obamacare is failing. We have a failing health care,' Trump said. 'I shouldn't say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia, because you have better health care than we do.'... Australia has a government-funded universal-health-care system...." ...

     ... CW: It's notable that everything Trump said about the bill that just passed the House (1) is a lie, and (2) is a lie he's told almost word-for-word innumerable times before. Trump doesn't have "talking points," the way message-oriented pols do. He has lying points, or if ones wants to be more generous & assume Trump is genuinely ignorant & unteachable, know-nothing points. ...

... To be fair to Trump, he is scarcely the only GOP ignoramus. Mark Hensch of the Hill: "Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) ... a top ally of President Trump ... says that he is unfamiliar with how House Republicans' bill for repealing and replacing ObamaCare would affect New York. 'No,' he told The Buffalo News Thursday when asked if he was aware of the bill's cut to a health program serving 635,000 New Yorkers. 'Explain that to me.' The News said that the House bill would cost New York $3 billion in federal funds it receives annually for the state's Essential Health Plan." CW: I suppose Collins distinguishes himself from Trump in that he admits he knows nothing about the bill he backed. ...

... Matthew Haag of the New York Times: "When it became clear on Thursday that Democrats in the United States House of Representatives could not defeat a bill to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, they turned to a time-honored American tradition: taunting the other side. 'Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye,' dozens of Democrats sang in unison as the health care bill crossed the 216 votes needed to pass." -- CW ...

... Not Funny. Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe ripped House Republicans on Friday for celebrating the chamber's passage of Obamacare repeal. 'They have put people's lives in jeopardy,' McAuliffe told CNN in a phone interview Friday morning. 'People will die if this becomes law of the land.'" -- CW ...

Day of shame in Congress. Protections for pre-existing conditions, mental health, maternity care, addiction services -- all gone. -- Joe Biden May 4, 2017, in a tweet

Joe Ain't Kidding. Nicole Chavez of CNN: Insurance companies are now free to reinstitute the enormous list of pre-existing conditions which they either will not cover or will charge much higher fees for, including things like pregnancy. "Millions of Americans are uncertain about their future as a new health care bill heads to the Senate. The American Health Care Act would shake things up. It could open the door for insurers to charge sick people and pregnant women much higher premiums. Under Obamacare, all insurers are required to charge everyone the same premium, despite their medical history. This new version of the bill would weaken protections for those with pre-existing conditions."

     ...Akhilleus: Ah yes ... the family values party. Just like organized crime is a big supporter of law and order.

... Susan Ferrechio of the Washington Examiner: "Senate Republicans said Thursday they won't vote on the House-passed bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, but will write their own legislation instead. A Senate proposal is now being developed by a 12-member working group. It will attempt to incorporate elements of the House bill, senators said, but will not take up the House bill as a starting point and change it through the amendment process." ...

     ... CW: Despite all the rosy predictions that the Senate will produce a less horrible bill, I'm not counting on it. After all, whatever they do, even if (or especially because) it has a provision requiring infanticide in Democratic-leaning districts, Trump will sign it. (Okay, I might be wrong. If the final bill should do anything to negatively impact Trump's financial position, he'll trash it.)

... Reed Abelson & Katie Thomas of the New York Times: "Hospitals, doctors, health insurers and some consumer groups, with few exceptions, are speaking with one voice and urging significant changes to the Republican health care legislation that passed the House on Thursday. The bill's impact is wide-ranging, potentially affecting not only the millions who could lose coverage through deep cuts in Medicaid or no longer be able to afford to buy coverage in the state marketplaces. With states allowed to seek waivers from providing certain benefits, employers big and small could scale back what they pay for each year or reimpose lifetime limits on coverage. In particular, small businesses, some of which were strongly opposed to the Affordable Care Act, could be free to drop coverage with no penalty." -- CW ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post compares point-by-point Trump's healthcare promises to the bill he promoted. "But based on the comments he made at the unusual Rose Garden ceremony to celebrate the passage of the House bill, it's still not clear that he admits that what was passed diverges from what he promised." -- CW ...

Party Like You've Just Murdered Millions! Tom Sullivan of Hullabaloo: "The ACHA is [Trump's] first grader's finger painting for mom to fix to the refrigerator door with an alphabet magnet. The president himself has no idea how healthcare works, as he proved again in remarks yesterday to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. It didn't much matter what is in the bill. It didn't much matter that Republicans were celebrating one stage of the process to be tackled next by the Senate. The celebration was the win."

And celebrate they did: ...

     ... Reporter Alexandra Jaffe from the White House yesterday: "Cases upon cases of beer just rolled into the Capitol on a cart covered in a sheet. Spotted Bud Light peeking out from the sheet."

     ...Akhilleus: Seriously? It's one thing to hold a back-slapping press conference. That's bad enough. But getting bombed to celebrate the fact that you've just condemned millions to a life of hardship and, for some, early death? Have these people no shame? (Rhetorical question.)

American Healthcare? It's the Greatest! If You're in Congress, That Is. Jenn Budd of Crooks and Liars: "Plans exclusively offered to Congress and their staff are tiered as bronze, silver, gold and platinum. In order to get employer contribution benefits, they must purchase at least a gold tier plan of which there are 57 choices. Gold plans pay on average 80% of medical costs. Their plan mandates employer contributions. That means [Paul] Ryan and his gang have 72-75% of their premiums paid by their employer-YOU! If Ryan's healthcare plan is $1,500 a month for him and his family, we pay $1,080 - $1,125 for his healthcare. Ryan only pays $375-$420 per month for some of the best healthcare insurance in the world.... They claim government healthcare is not good for Americans. Healthcare should be privatized for more options they say. But when it comes to their healthcare, they love government healthcare." ...

     ... Akhilleus: In other words, Ryan, et al, have mandated -- by law -- that their employer (the American taxpayers) cover around three quarters of their insurance bill. How nice for them. Meanwhile, the rest of us can fend for ourselves, because the type of healthcare they are planning for the rest of us is entirely unacceptable for their delicate constitutions. Does this sound vaguely criminal to you?

... Matthew Yglesias of Vox: "Having run a campaign during which he promised to cover everyone, protect Medicaid from cuts, and replace Affordable Care Act plans with 'terrific' coverage, Donald Trump is now behind a bill that cuts Medicaid, covers fewer people, and allows states to replace ACA plans with stingier coverage. Having promised repeatedly to protect patients with preexisting health conditions from insurance market price discrimination, Paul Ryan is pushing a plan that removes existing protections and replaces them with hand-wavy and inadequately funded high-risk pools. Having leveraged public discontent with high deductibles and rising premiums, Republicans are pushing a bill that will leave most patients with higher out-of-pocket costs for equivalent plans and bring back skimpy plans with even higher deductibles. That's all happening because the GOP is committed to rolling back the taxes that pay for the Affordable Care Act, delivering a financial windfall to high-income families even though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin swore at his confirmation hearings that the Trump administration would not pursue tax cuts for the rich." -- CW ...

... Paige Cunningham of the Washington Post: "In passing their health-care bill, House Republicans have also taken a first step toward dramatically slashing federal funds for Planned Parenthood clinics. The women's health provider stands to lose about 30 percent of its funding under a provision in the GOP health-care bill to block it from getting Medicaid reimbursements for one year unless its hundreds of clinics stop offering abortions." -- CW


Ed Kilgore
: "... at a ceremony timed to coincide with the National Day of Prayer, President Trump finally signed a 'religious liberty' order. But compared to the draft that was out there earlier, it is a bit of a nothing-burger, legally if not politically. It features a vague (and thus not very effective) exhortation to the federal government to promote and defend religious liberty, and language directing agencies to come up with ways to protect people and organizations with religious objections to the Obamacare contraception-coverage mandate (a task already more or less completed by Obama administration concessions and several federal court decisions, including the Supreme Court's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling). The most prominent element of the order, though..., is ... repeal of the Johnson Amendment, the 1954 law sponsored by LBJ that keeps tax-exempt nonprofit groups -- including religious organizations -- from endorsing candidates for office. Since it's a statute, Trump cannot repeal the Johnson Amendment without Congress. But in the new order, he instructs the IRS to stop enforcing it. That sounds significant until you understand only one church has ever, ever, lost tax-exempt status via enforcement of this law. The IRS has clearly given these groups a wide berth.... The issue that so often riles up conservative Christians and causes them to hunger and thirst for the right to discriminate -- same-sex marriage -- is nowhere mentioned in the order." -- CW

Evan Osnos of the New Yorker on political "Hubris Syndrome.": two prominent doctors, one a former British foreign secretary, "proposed the creation of a psychiatric disorder for leaders who exhibited, among other qualities, 'impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.'" -- CW

The New Republican Party. Now With Even MORE Perfidy! John Amato of Crooks and Liars: "There are some politicians that hopefully will burn in hell when they are done with life. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is one of them. The man had Benghazi tattooed on his forehead and the IRS on his butt for almost four years and now instead of getting serious on real investigations into Russia's interference, Michael Flynn and Trump's many conflicts of interest, he's targeting President Obama's pension.

     ... Akhilleus: I guess Chaffetz has found that new thing he said he was looking for.

** One Way Republicans, the NRA & Assorted Second-Amendment Freaks Promote Terrorism in the U.S. Derek Hawkins of the Washington Post: "In the most recent issue of Rumiyah, its glossy multilingual propaganda magazine, the Islamic State encouraged recruits in the United States to take advantage of laws that allow people to buy firearms without having to present identification or submit to background checks. Recruits should seek out gun shows and online sales in particular, said the write-up in the magazine, which was released Thursday." -- CW

News Lede

Bloomberg: "U.S. payroll gains rebounded in April by more than forecast and the jobless rate unexpectedly fell to 4.4 percent, signaling that the labor market remains healthy and should support continued increases in consumer spending. The 211,000 increase followed a 79,000 advance in March that was lower than previously estimated, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 190,000 gain. While the unemployment rate is now the lowest since May 2007, wages were a soft spot in the report, climbing 2.5 percent from a year earlier." -- CW