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

The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

Guardian: A statement by the Academy of Motion Pictures said "that PwC – formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that has been used by the Academy to handle the voting process for 83 years – had taken full responsibility for 'breaches of established protocols' that led to the error.... On Monday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that ... Brian Cullinan, one of two accountants whose job it was to hand out the winners’ envelopes..., had tweeted a behind-the-scenes photo of [best female actor winner Emma] Stone holding her statuette. The tweet, sent moments before the best picture announcement, raised the question of whether the accountant was distracted, handing Beatty the duplicate envelope." -- CW ...

... Actually, No, It Was Donald Trump's Fault. The Hill: "President Trump is calling Sunday’s Oscar ceremony 'sad,' saying the awards show was 'focused so hard on politics' it led to the epic mix-up over the best picture winner. 'I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,' Trump said Monday in an interview with Breitbart News." CW: Because everything is about Drumpf. 

Los Angeles Times: "In one of the most surprising upsets and shocking moments in Oscar history, the poetic coming-of-age drama 'Moonlight' took home the top prize for best picture at the 89th Academy Awards, beating out the heavily favored 'La La Land,' which was actually announced as the winner. The win for 'Moonlight' came in a chaotic and confused moment that played out live in front of an audience of millions, as presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway initially presented the evening’s final award to 'La La Land,' only to have one of the film’s producers announce that 'Moonlight' had, in fact, won." -- CW 

Here's the LA Times' "live coverage" page.

CW: It would have been way better for the world if the Electoral College had admitted, as a body, that "There's been a mistake." Unfortunately, actors & film producers have more integrity than electors.

The New York Times embeds the February 23 late-nite's show responses to the latest political news.

Washington Post: "A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky planets, scientists say. The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth.... The newly discovered solar system resembles a scaled-down version of our own. The star at its center, an ultra-cool dwarf called TRAPPIST-1, is less than a tenth the size of our sun and about a quarter as warm. Its planets circle tightly around it; the closest takes just a day and a half to complete an orbit and the most distant takes about 20 days.... TRAPPIST-1 is so cool that all seven of the bodies are bathed in just the right amount of warmth to hold liquid water. And three of them receive the same amount of heat as Venus, Earth and Mars, putting them in 'the habitable zone,' that Goldilocks region where it's thought life can thrive." -- CW 

Here's a Houzz feature on Frederick Douglass's D.C. home. Since it's not far from Donald Trump's new (temporary) digs and is every bit as fancy, the Trumpster might want to pay a visit to someone who's done such "an amazing job" that he's "getting recognized more and more." SCROTUS may be surprised to discover that Mr. Douglass is not at home. Too bad, because if Mr. Douglass weren't dead, he could have showed Donaldo his portrait, which for some time was owned by W.E.B. Du Bois (or DeBois or whatever).

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

Rosie O'Donnell's new Twitter profile pic. Thanks to Unwashed for the link. -- CW 

CNN: "The book publisher Penguin is printing more copies of George Orwell's dystopian classic '1984' in response to a sudden surge of demand. On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning the book was #1 on Amazon's computer-generated list of best-selling books. The list reflects hourly book sales. The 68-year-old novel appeared on the list on Monday, hovered around the #6 spot for much of the day, rose to #2 by Tuesday afternoon and then hit #1." -- CW 

The Netherlands Welcomes Trump, in his own words. Thanks to Haley S. for the link:

... CW: We're the laughingstock of the world. But, like us, others have to laugh so they don't cry or scream or hunker down in a suvivalist's crouch.

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Friday
Mar102017

The Commentariat -- March 10, 2017

 

Despite what you hear in the press, healthcare is coming along great. We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture! -- Donald Trump, tweet, Thursday afternoon, inadvertently acknowledging he is totally clueless about CAHCA (and of course doesn't care) ...

... President Caca Gets Behind CAHCA. Maggie Haberman & Robert Pear of the New York Times: "President Trump, after a halting start, is now marshaling the full power of his office to win over holdout conservatives and waffling senators to support the House Republicans’ replacement for the Affordable Care Act.... His pitch: He is fully behind the bill to scotch President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, but he is open to negotiations on the details.... On Thursday, two key House committees approved the legislation, which would undo the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a more modest system of tax credits and a rollback of Mr. Obama’s Medicaid expansion. Party-line votes by the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees sent the measure to the House Budget Committee for consideration next week before a final House vote that Speaker Paul D. Ryan plans for later this month." -- CW ...

... "Trump's Obamacare Moves Cause Chaos in Congress." Rachel Bade & Burgess Everett of Politico: "... Donald Trump's early efforts to court conservatives opposed to the GOP's Obamacare replacement is backfiring in Congress — emboldening the far right to demand changes that could repel centrists critical to its passage. While the president has given a full-throated endorsement of the bill, he's also suggested he's open to 'negotiations.' The mixed signals have allowed hard-line conservatives and leadership to hear what they want to hear. Each side is taking Trump's words and arguing he's in their corner." -- CW ...

... Jeremy Diamond of CNN: "The White House is privately lining up behind conservative calls to roll back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion sooner than the health care reform bill currently calls for, two senior administration officials and a senior House conservative aide told CNN on Thursday.... Ending the Medicaid expansion sooner could complicate prospects for the bill in the Senate. And it would likely infuriate Republican governors in states that accepted federal funds for the expansion, who face the prospect of many people losing coverage they gained under Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan's office declined to comment." ...

     ... CW: No point in being outraged at the SCROTUS. He has no fucking idea what any of this is about. ...

... AND Paul Ryan Is, Like, "Screw You, SCROTUS." Russell Berman of the Atlantic: "Conservative lawmakers and advocates left separate meetings with Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol and Trump at the White House believing the administration was open to changes and negotiation. About an hour before [Paul] Ryan [gave a nationally-televised PowerPoint presentation on CAHCA], the Republican Study Committee — the large bloc of conservatives in the House — endorsed two significant amendments that would freeze enrollment in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and institute work requirements for the program. Members of the smaller but more confrontational House Freedom Caucus want to axe the proposal’s refundable tax credits, which they call a new entitlement program. Ryan, however, made clear that these ideas wouldn’t fly. Asked by a reporter whether his argument meant that the bill would have to pass without significant changes, he replied: 'Correct.'” -- CW ...

... Paul Krugman: "... the bill unveiled this week is worse than even the cynics expected; its awfulness is almost surreal.... Affluent young people might end up saving some money as a result of these changes. But the effect on those who are older and less affluent would be devastating. AARP has done the math: a 55-year-old making $25,000 a year would end up paying $3,600 a year more for coverage; that rises to $8,400 for a 64-year-old making $15,000 a year.... Given the sick joke of a health plan, you might ask what happened to all those proclamations that Obamacare was a terrible, no good system that Republicans would immediately replace with something far better — not to mention Donald Trump’s promises of 'insurance for everybody' and 'great health care.' But the answer, of course, is that they were all lying, all along — and they still are. On this, at least, Republican unity remains impressively intact." -- CW ...

... Nate Cohn of the New York Times: "The people who stand to lose the most in tax credits under the House Republican health plan tended to support Donald J. Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, according to a new Upshot analysis. Over all, voters who would be eligible for a tax credit that would be at least $1,000 smaller than the subsidy they’re eligible for under Obamacare supported Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton by a seven-point margin. The voters hit the hardest — eligible for at least $5,000 less in tax credits under the Republican plan — supported Mr. Trump by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent." CW: As I wrote yesterday. ...

     ... Greg Sargent: Cohn's "analysis reflects only part of the way Trump voters could be impacted by the GOP plan. It does not estimate its direct impact on those benefiting from the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. But there is reason to believe a lot of them, too, would be adversely impacted.... Trump did not only promise to restore that old economic order, via renegotiated trade deals and infrastructure spending (there is no assurance that under Trump either of these will actually do that, by the way). He also telegraphed that he envisions a robust government role in protecting the old, poor and sick and that this would guide the GOP replacement for Obamacare. This combination was arguably a driver of Trumpism’s appeal. But if he fails to carry out the former promise, even as he is now reneging on the latter one, the outcome for many Trump supporters could be doubly cruel." -- CW ...

... Brian Beutler: "Republicans are deploying their false depiction of the Obamacare debate and law as a benchmark for defending their supposedly superior process. If they succeed, they will have perpetrated one of the greatest swindles in the history of legislative politics." -- CW ...

... Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post: "House Republicans confirmed Wednesday that their health care bill would remove a requirement to offer substance abuse and mental health coverage that’s currently used by at least 1.3 million Americans. Currently, substance abuse and mental health services are among the “essential benefits” states are required to provide under Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, a program that provides health care coverage to those who can’t afford it.... President Trump has made combating the nation’s drug-overdose problem a focal point of his campaign and his presidency." CW: Yeah, but as with everything else, he was just kidding. ...

... "Meet the Conservative Movement's Great Wonk." Ian Millhiser of Think Progress: Paul Ryan just admitted he has no idea how health insurance works." CW: Colbert makes exactly the same point. And Colbert's audience gets it, too. You don't have to be a great policy wonk to understand, in general, how insurance operates. But you do have to be smarter than Paul Ryan, who is all upset that under ObamaCare (as in all health insurance programs), healthy people are paying for sick people's health care.

... That's okay. This GOP Congressman doesn't understand insurance, either. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) thinks it's so unfaaaair that men have to pay for prenatal care:

... AND Then There's This Doctor-Congressman. Kristine Phillips of the Washington Post: "Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) ... [is ] a first-term congressman who spent three decades as a physician — and is now part of a group of Republican doctors who have a major role in replacing Obamacare....  'Just like Jesus said, "The poor will always be with us,’” Marshall said in response to a question about Medicaid, which expanded under Obamacare to more than 30 states. 'There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.' He added that 'morally, spiritually, socially,' the poor, including the homeless, 'just don’t want health care.'” ...  

     ... CW: Gotta give Doc Marshall credit for coming up with a new interpretation of the Gospels: "And Jesus sayeth, "The poor will always be lazy, irresponsible bums." Also, too, don't ask your doctor about his political beliefs. There's a good chance he's (especially if your doctor is a "he") just as big a jerk as Doc Marshall, representative of the people who aren't as good & pure & righteous as he is.

Oliver Laughland of the Guardian: "The state of Washington will become the second jurisdiction to challenge Donald Trump’s revised travel ban as the backlash against the president’s new order intensifies around the US.... On Thursday, the Washington attorney general, Bob Ferguson, said he would ask a federal judge to extend the current restraining order issued against the first ban, arguing that the 'core provisions' of Trump’s new ban remained 'illegal and unconstitutional'.... Several other Democratic states have requested to join the lawsuit.” -- CW 

Nolan McCaskill & Eli Stokols of Politico: "... Donald Trump’s plan for a border wall is showing more cracks. Trump is claiming that the ambitious — and hugely controversial — construction plan is 'way, way, way ahead of schedule,' but in reality, there is growing evidence that Trump's central campaign pledge is in political peril." -- CW ...

... "Uh, No." Madeline Conway of Politico: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday threw cold water on ... Donald Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for his proposed border wall. 'Uh, no,' McConnell said flatly, asked whether he thinks Mexico will foot the bill in an interview with Politico Playbook’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer." -- CW 

I’m very pleased to announce the great company ExxonMobil is going to be investing $20 billion in the Gulf Coast and the Gulf Coast region.… This was something that was done to a large extent because of our policies and the policies of this new administration having to do with regulators and so many other things. — President Trump, video message on Facebook, March 6

Trump’s bravado on these jobs announcements is becoming a bad joke. He claims credit when little or no credit is due to his policies. Moreover, he is counting these jobs as jobs in the bank, when corporate plans frequently change according to market or economic forces. -- Michelle Lee of the Washington Post ...

... Patricia Laya of Bloomberg: "U.S. employers added jobs at an above-average pace for a second month on outsized gains in construction and manufacturing, showing the labor market continued its steady growth in the new year. The 235,000 increase in jobs followed a 238,000 rise in January that was more than previously estimated, the best back-to-back rise since July, a Labor Department report showed Friday in Washington. The unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent, and wages grew 2.8 percent from February 2016." CW: Even tho this likely has zip to do with Trump, it does give him room to brag.

Pamela Brown & Joseph Pagliery of CNN: "Federal investigators and computer scientists continue to examine whether there was a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, sources close to the investigation tell CNN. Questions about the possible connection were widely dismissed four months ago. But the FBI's investigation remains open, the sources said, and is in the hands of the FBI's counterintelligence team -- the same one looking into Russia's suspected interference in the 2016 election. One U.S. official said investigators find the server relationship 'odd' and are not ignoring it. But the official said there is still more work for the FBI to do. Investigators have not yet determined whether a connection would be significant." -- CW ...

... Michael Shear & Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times: "President Trump’s weekend Twitter message asserting that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones forced the White House into ever more verbal contortions on Thursday as aides struggled to defend the president’s charge. In the latest iteration, the Justice Department declined to comment on whether Mr. Trump is — or is not — the subject of an investigation. 'No comment,' a department official said.... Thursday’s verbal gymnastics actually started on Wednesday when Sean Spicer ... insisted to reporters that the president is not the target of a counterintelligence investigation involving contacts with Russia. He said, flatly, that 'there is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice.' That prompted Thursday’s comments from a Justice Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. The official said that Mr. Spicer had not relied on any information from the department in denying the existence of an investigation targeting the president. Which led a few hours later to an about-face by Mr. Spicer....” Read on. The real Spicer is as comical as Melissa McCarthy's Spicer. -- CW ...

... How will we get to see Trump's tax returns? Alan Rappeport of the New York Times counts the ways. Least likely: an IRS leak. ...

... Michael Flynn, Secret Agent; Donald Trump, Know-Nothing Prez. Amber Jamieson of the Guardian: "Donald Trump was unaware his former national security adviser Michael Flynn was working as a 'foreign agent' when he gave him the job, according to his press secretary. 'I don’t believe that was known,' said Sean Spicer, when asked by reporters at his regular press briefing on Thursday.... On Wednesday, it was revealed that from September to November last year, while he was working as a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, Flynn was lobbying for a firm linked to the Turkish government, earning $530,000. He and his company Flynn Intel Group Inc filed retroactive documents with the Department of Justice two days ago to register as a foreign agent. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, US citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign governments or political entities must disclose their work to the justice department. Willfully failing to register is a felony, though the justice department rarely files criminal charges in such cases. As part of Flynn’s lobbying for Inovo, a Dutch firm linked to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Flynn penned an op-ed calling for a 'radical' cleric (whom the Turkish government wants to extradite) to be booted out of the US." CW: Read on. Spicer ... comical. ...

     ... Eric Levitz of New York: "Flynn collected payments from that company [with ties to Erdogan], even as he received classified intelligence briefings during the campaign’s final stages — when Trump was savaging Hillary Clinton for supposedly selling influence to foreign governments. All this was all reported, in major news outlets, the week that Flynn’s appointment was announced.... On Thursday, the White House said that President Trump was 'not aware' that Flynn had worked to advance the interests of the Turkish government at the time he hired him. Which is to say: The Trump administration’s official line is that it appointed Flynn to one of the most powerful positions in the American government without bothering to Google him. President Trump believes in extreme vetting." Emphasis added. -- CW ...

... Jeet Heer of the New Republic: AND "the notoriously xenophobic [Nigel] Farage has developed a sudden interest in Ecuadorian culture." Or else he's serving as a go-between for buddy DiJit & Julian Assange. ...

... Aaron Rupar of Think Progress: "Roger Stone, a longtime confidant and adviser of Donald Trump, exchanged direct messages on Twitter with Guccifer 2.0 before the presidential election, according to a report published Wednesday by The Smoking Gun. In a joint statement released in October, U.S. intelligence community officials said they had concluded that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for hackers directed by the Russian government. Emails Guccifer 2.0 hacked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were later shared with and published by Wikileaks, with the DNC emails hitting the internet just before the Democratic National Convention in July and Podesta’s emails trickling out in installments beginning in October." ...  

     ... CW: The Smoking Gun story is another reminder of how many lowlifes Trump has befriended over the years. Trump's Russia connections, IMO, are more of the same. It isn't so much that he wants to help Putin & his oligarchy as it is that Trump is most comfortable dealing with sleazy operators like himself. ...

... CW BTW: If you didn't catch Jeanne's comment near the end of yesterday's thread about the presidunce*, you may want to go back & read it. It may comport (or contort!) with your own impressions, but you could scarcely say it better.

Ian Crouch of the New Yorker: And the Trumpster doesn't like candid photos of himself. CW: Of course he doesn't. He's an ugly, superstitious old man who is afraid the photos will offer a window to his empty, pitiless soul. 

Chris Mooney & Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "Scott Pruitt, the nation’s top environmental official, strongly rejected the established science of climate change on Thursday, outraging scientists, environmentalists, and even his immediate predecessor at the Environmental Protection Agency. 'I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,' Pruitt ... said on the CNBC program 'Squawk Box.'” -- CW ...

... Coral Davenport of the New York Times: "Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Thursday that carbon dioxide was not a primary contributor to global warming, a statement at odds with the established scientific consensus on climate change.... Mr. Pruitt’s statement contradicts decades of research and analysis by international scientific institutions and federal agencies, including the E.P.A. His remarks on Thursday, which were more categorical than similar testimony before the Senate, may also put him in conflict with laws and regulations that the E.P.A. is charged with enforcing.... Even executives of some of the nation’s largest fossil fuel producers said they were surprised by his comments.... Mr. Pruitt’s remarks come as the Trump administration prepares to roll back Mr. Obama’s two signature policies to address global warming: a pair of sweeping regulations intended to curb carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and power plant smokestacks." CW: Thanks, Comey!

Reuters: "The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has recused himself from issues related to TransCanada Corp’s application for a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, the state department said in a letter on Thursday to the environmental group Greenpeace.... Tillerson recused himself from the matter in early February..., [according to the letter]." -- CW ...

... Where's Rex? Carol Giacomo of the New York Times: Rex Tillerson's duck-and-cover act "risks diminishing his position, that of his department and possibly the influence of his successors." -- CW ...

... Kevin Drum: "The entire State Department is completely adrift.... Why is Tillerson doing this? Is he under orders from the White House? Is he too scared to talk to reporters? What the hell is going on here?" -- CW 

Eric Tucker of the AP: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested Thursday that he would be open to the appointment of an outside counsel to review actions taken by the Justice Department during the Obama administration. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Sessions in an interview if the new attorney general would consider designating an outside counsel 'not connected to politics' to take a second look at Justice Department actions that provoked Republican ire in the last eight years. Those include the Fast and Furious gun scandal and the decisions against bringing criminal charges over Hillary Clinton's email practices or the Internal Revenue Service's treatment of conservative groups." -- CW 

Judd Legum of Think Progress: "Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has quietly requested Congress to 'raise the federal debt limit at the first opportunity.' Notably, Mnuchin does not propose offsetting the debt limit increase with spending cuts or tax increases." When President Obama asked Congress to increase the debt limit, Trump tweeted that Obama was "destroying out country." When he was running for president, T"rump said he would be 'very very strong on the debt limit' and insist on 'a very big pound of flesh' before agreeing to any increase." Well, goodbye to all that. "... Trump is asking Congress to raise the debt limit without demanding any spending cuts in return. Instead he is seeking to enact a new health care plan (with no funding mechanism), a massive military spending increase and, in the near future, a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy." ...

     ... CW: In fairness to the SCROTUS, he has no idea what the debt limit means, and he never did. But Sean Spicer, in "explaining" Trump's 180, is still comical.

Josh Voorhees of Slate: "The ongoing spat between the White House and the Office of Government Ethics over what to do with Kellyanne Conway continued Thursday with the federal agency once again making clear its concern over the Trump administration’s non-reaction to what in the eyes of pretty much everyone else was a clear violation of federal ethics rules. 'Not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics program,' OGE director Walter Shaub Jr. wrote to the White House of its decision to give Conway a pass." -- CW 

Dan Merica of CNN: "Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday that the rise of nationalism worldwide over the last five years mimics the strife inside Israel that eventually led to the death of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Clinton, speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington [at an event honoring Rabin], said Rabin's assassination was one of the worst days of his presidency and suggested that the conflict between left and right in Israel that led to Rabin's death was a 'microcosm' of the rise of nationalism. 'This is a global deal. It is like we are all having an identity crisis at once,' Clinton said about nationalism in Europe, the United States and Asia. 'What happened 20 years ago is a microcosm of what is coming full bloom today. And these things are going to need to be worked out.'... Clinton didn't specifically mention President Donald Trump.... Steve Bannon, Trump's top strategist, said Trump used an 'economic nationalist agenda- to win." -- CW 

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post: "South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been removed from office, with the Constitutional Court unanimously upholding a parliamentary vote to impeach her for her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Elections for a new president must now be held within 60 days, and polls suggest there will be a change in political direction for South Korea, with the progressive candidate Moon Jae-in holding a strong lead over the conservatives who were once loyal to Park." -- CW 

News Lede

New York Times: "Howard Hodgkin, a British artist whose lush, semiabstract paintings, aquiver with implicit drama, established him as one of the most admired artists of the postwar period, died on Thursday in London. He was 84." -- CW

Thursday
Mar092017

The Commentariat -- March 9, 2017

Making the U.S. Less Safe Again. "How Trump Undermines Intelligence Gathering." Michael Hayden, in a New York Times op-ed: "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.... Whether Mr. Trump appreciates it or not, he, and the country, need an independent intelligence enterprise, not a compliant one." -- CW ...

... Greg Miller, et al., of the Washington Post: "The trove of documents exposed by WikiLeaks provides an unprecedented view of the scale and structure of [the CIA's digital] operation, which encompasses at least 36 distinct branches devoted to cracking the espionage potential of cellphones, communication apps and computer networks supposedly sealed off from the Internet.... The [WikiLeaks] documents also point to the CIA’s vulnerabilities. As much as it is organized to exploit the pervasive presence of digital technology abroad, the CIA’s own secrets are increasingly created, acquired or stored on computer files that can be copied in an instant." -- CW 

E.J. Dionne: "The current president of the United States has accused former president Barack Obama of committing a felony by having him wiretapped. But Trump refuses to offer a shred of evidence for perhaps the most incendiary charge one president has ever leveled against another. Trump recklessly set off a mighty explosion and his spokespeople duck and dodge, hoping we’ll pretend nothing happened. If our republic had a responsible Congress, its leaders would accept their duty to demand that a president who shakes his country and the world with such an outlandish allegation either put up proof or apologize.... Instead, Republican leaders think it is time for business as usual, which in their case means figuring out how to deprive low-income people of health insurance while cutting taxes on the rich and increasing the deficit." -- CW ...

... Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced GOP legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare on a party line vote, moving the process forward even as the bill faces headwinds. Republican leaders are pushing forward with the process on a fast timetable, even as many conservatives strongly object to the bill, and centrists harbor their own reservations." -- CW ...

... Josh Israel of ThinkProgress: "Throughout the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump blasted the Affordable Cart Act as a law that really only helped insurers. 'You know who makes the money with Obamacare? I don’t know if you know. The insurance companies.' But weeks after meeting with top health insurance CEOs, President Trump announced on Tuesday a replacement proposal that includes a massive tax cut for insurance companies that pay their CEOs more than $500,000 a year. Asked to defend this provision of the bill on Tuesday   his Secretary of Health and Human Services did not do so.... Secretary Tom Price responded, 'I’m not aware of that. I’ll look into that.'... But it is hard to believe that Trump’s health secretary  — himself an orthopedic surgeon  —  would not know that this provision is in the legislation.... [An identical provision was included in a 2015 budget bill passed by the House of Representatives. Its author: then–Georgia Congressman Tom Price." --safari ...

     ... safari: They really do treat us like we're all as thickheaded as their voters. I'm frankly insulted. And notice the "I'll look into that" headfake patented by Drumpf. ...

... Matthew Nussbaum & Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico: "He built his career in large part by plastering his name on skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, books, wines and steaks, but there appears to be one place President Donald Trump does not want his favorite five-letter word — the Republican health care bill.... But the White House, for all its messaging woes and infighting, has settled on the fact that — for the time being — it’s steering clear of Trumpcare.... Democrats, though, have been eagerly embracing the term." --safari

... Greg Sargent: "... little by little, as Trump seeks to make good on his promises, Trumpism — as sold by the man himself — is being revealed as fraudulent to its core. NBC News reports that health-care experts across the political spectrum agree that the new House GOP health-care plan, which Trump has now endorsed, falls short of his promises.... Trump’s only play is to fall back on the GOP trick of conflating 'health-care access' with coverage and robotically describing the plan as 'good health care,' in hopes that his magical Twitter feed and powers of salesmanship can envelop the specifics in impenetrable fog. And the fraudulence doesn’t stop there." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

He has leaned all the way in and has had a deft touch. We’ve had an open-arms, olive-branch, politely-nod-your-head mentality. -- Kellyanne Conway, on how Trump is shepherding the CAHCA bill through Congress ...

... Yeah, Trump Is Being "Presidential." Ha Ha. Robert Costa & Dave Weigel of the Washington Post: "Trump is quietly courting wary conservatives in private meetings and keeping himself somewhat out of the picture as party leaders and his Cabinet officials defend the plan. Trump is spending time listening to critics and on-the-fence lawmakers as they vent, which is what he did Wednesday evening when right-wing leaders stopped by and when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his wife joined Trump later for dinner, White House officials said. The president also may travel to Kentucky on Saturday, shining a spotlight on the bill’s most dedicated Republican foe, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — though Paul says he is not budging.

... Gail Collins: "The Republican replacement bill is very big on freedom. There’s freedom for wealthier Americans not to pay taxes that help subsidize health insurance for their low-income fellow citizens. Freedom for those who can afford coverage to refuse to buy it. Freedom for insurance companies to hike their prices for middle-aged customers. Freedom for the states to stop providing Medicaid-backed health insurance for maternity care, when nearly half of all the births in the country are currently covered by Medicaid." -- CW ...

... Abby Goodnough & Reed Abelson of the New York Times: "Millions of people who get private health coverage through the Affordable Care Act would be at risk of losing it under the replacement legislation proposed by House Republicans, analysts said Tuesday, with Americans in their 50s and 60s especially likely to find coverage unaffordable. Starting in 2020, the plan would do away with the current system of providing premium subsidies based on people’s income and the cost of insurance where they live. Instead, it would provide tax credits of $2,000 to $4,000 per year based on their age. But the credits would not cover nearly as much of the cost of premiums as the current subsidies do...." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Kevin Queally & Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times: "The biggest losers under the [GOP] change [to ObamaCare subsidies] would be older Americans with low incomes who live in high-cost areas. Those are the people who benefited most from Obamacare. For some people, the new tax credit system will be more generous. The winners are likely to be younger, earn higher incomes and live in areas where the cost of health insurance is low." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... CW: So, thanks, GOP voters. We're screwing you first! ...

... Abby Goodnough, et al., of the New York Times: "Influential groups representing hospitals and nurses came out on Wednesday against a Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, joining doctors and the retirees’ lobby to warn that it would lead to a rise in the uninsured. In a letter to lawmakers, major hospital groups wrote, 'As organizations that take care of every individual who walks through our doors, both due to our mission and our obligations under federal law, we are committed to ensuring health care coverage is available and affordable for all.' The groups, including the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States and the Children’s Hospital Association, said they could not support the bill 'as currently written.' The hospitals and the American Nurses Association joined the American Medical Association and AARP, which rejected the bill on Tuesday.” -- CW ...

... Alice Ollstein of TPM: "Opposition to the the GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act continued to emerge on Wednesday — the bill's second day in the public eye—with statements condemning the bill from groups representing doctors, nurses, hospitals, and the elderly. Mobbed by reporters as he emerged from casting an afternoon vote, the bill's author Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) brushed off the latest round of criticism, saying the thousands of hospitals and hundreds of thousands of doctors are part of a 'medical industrial complex' that opposes major reforms to Medicaid." --safari ...

... Elise Viebeck, et al., of the Washington Post: "House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) sought to quell a revolt on the right against the Republican proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, describing the plan as a 'conservative wish list' that would deliver on years of GOP campaign promises to reform the nation’s health-care system.... At the same time, Ryan’s effort faced another blow when a powerful lobbying group for physicians rejected the legislation, known as the American Health Care Act [on as Mrs. Unwashed would more appropriately call it, CAHCA, the Confederate American Health Care ACT -- see today's Comments], on the grounds that it could lead many Americans to lose their health insurance." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Burgess Everett of Politico: "Rand Paul is not backing down. Hours after President Donald Trump exhorted the Kentucky senator to get behind his Obamacare replacement plan, Paul reiterated his opposition in an interview with Politico.... The libertarian-leaning lawmaker insisted that Republicans should vote on stand-alone legislation to repeal the Democratic health care law and figure out later what would replace it." --safari ...

... GOP Launches Preemptory Strike against Healthcare Facts. Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico: "Republicans have railed for seven years against the 'budget gimmicks' and lack of transparency they say Democrats used to help pass Obamacare. But now as they start debate on their repeal bill, Republicans say the plan's price tag and estimates of how many people it will cover aren’t really important. Anticipating that their plan will leave fewer Americans insured than Obamacare and potentially cost the federal government more, Republican leaders on Tuesday launched a preemptory strike against forthcoming predictions from Congress’s independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Alexander Burns of the New York Times: "President Trump’s immigration policies faced a pair of new challenges in court on Wednesday, as the attorney general of Hawaii alleged that Mr. Trump had violated the Constitution with his redrawn executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries. And in California, the city attorney of San Francisco asked a federal judge to issue an injunction blocking another executive order, which threatens to withdraw funding for so-called sanctuary cities that do not extensively cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officials." -- CW ...

     ... Ed Kilgore: "It’s really not very easy to 'fix' since it is based on the president’s own words — and those of his closest associates." Trump's boy genius Stephen Miller is out & about sabotaging the administration's efforts to pretend the new ban is not like the old ban. -- CW 

Jose Delreal of The Washington Post: "The Trump administration has considered more than $6 billion in cuts at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to preliminary budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The plan would squeeze public housing support and end most federally funded community development grants, which provide services such as meal assistance and cleaning up abandoned properties in low-income neighborhoods. It’s the latest evidence that the administration is following through on President Trump’s goal to cut domestic spending by $54 billion to bolster the defense budget. HUD’s budget would shrink by about 14 percent." --safari

Jeremy Venook of The Atlantic: "When it comes to President Donald Trump’s constellation of foreign investments, properties, and companies, much of the attention so far has been on his business’s apparent violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars officeholders from taking gifts from foreign leaders...But some of the Trump Organization’s properties raise additional red flags due to the specific partners involved.... Such is the case in Azerbaijan, which Transparency International ranks as among the most corrupt countries in the world, where the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Baku remains unopened.... But what makes this story unique among the dozens of ethical questions surrounding the president is the Trump Organization’s partners on the project." --safari ...

... Allan Sloan of ProPublica: "Every week seems to bring yet another revelation about possible relationships between Russia and people close to Donald Trump... [so] you can see why lots of people seem obsessed with finding a supposed Russian connection in Trump’s tax returns. Hence the increased demands for Trump to make his returns public....[But because] Trump does business through hundreds of entities, including partnerships, corporations and LLCs .... it’s highly unlikely that evidence of that would show up in his personal tax returns." -- LT 

... Isn't He Supposed to Be a Business Genius? Phillip Bump of the Washington Post: "Among the 38 trademarks approved for the Trump Organization by the Chinese government over the past few weeks is one that seems likely to raise a few eyebrows: As of now, it is the only company that can legally operate Trump-branded escort services in China." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Akhilleus: You read that right. Trump Escort Services. The situation in China is this, apparently: if you apply for a trademark, they will issue licenese extensions of that mark on a first come, first served basis. Businesses looking for trademarks are urged to act defensively to protect their brand. Otherwise, others could jump on your back and use your name to...well, to advertise hookers. Guess who ignorned that advice? But he's a genius. This guy is more embarrassing by the day. Oh yeah ... Trump Escorts ... Love you long time.

... More Russian Stench. Kenneth Vogel & David Stern of Politico: "U.S. and Ukrainian authorities have expressed interest in the activities of a Kiev-based operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence who consulted regularly with Paul Manafort last year while Manafort was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, came under scrutiny from officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department partly because of at least two trips he took to the U.S. during the presidential campaign...Manafort summarily rejected questions about whether Kilimnik might be in league with Russian intelligence, declaring Kilimnik “pro-Ukraine,” and casting the inquiries into his associate as politically motivated '“smears.'” --safari

     ... safari: Sure, Manafort, because your financial dealings are so "pro-Urkaine" too you sniveling hypocrite. ...

... Nicholas Kristof tries to connect the dots. "One reason I’m increasingly suspicious is Trump’s furious denunciations of the press and of Barack Obama, to the point that he sometimes seems unhinged. Journalists have learned that when a leader goes berserk and unleashes tirades and threats at investigators, that’s when you’re getting close." CW: "sometimes seems unhinged"? Trump always seems unhinged, unless he's reading from somebody else's script. At first I thought it was all Trump's attempt at a tough-guy act, but now I just think he's nuts. ...

... AND Lisa points to the "Trump Watchdog" who lists 61 connections between Trump & Russia: "I started writing this because I thought it was important to have a clear list of what the hell is going on with the Trump – Russia connections. Some of these are just rumors or probably mean nothing (1, 22, 25, 31) but the sheer amount of Russian mobsters who have lived at Trump tower and the fact that 3 people have had to resign over connections to Putin is pretty alarming." -- CW 

Kevin Drum: According to a new consumer survey analysis, "James Comey Elected Donald Trump President.... We'll never know for sure if James Comey did this because he's terminally stupid and didn't realize what impact it would have, or if he did it knowing full well what impact it would have. But he did it. And that's why Donald Trump is president." -- CW: Thanks again, Comey! P.S. How are things working out for ya? (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Our Horror Story for Today. Coral Davenport of the New York Times: Scott "Pruitt, [the new EPA chief], has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business. Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

... AND Hundreds More Horrors. Justin Elliott, et al. of Pro Publica: "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." The list includes former lobbyists, conservative think tank members and "contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the 'swamp' Trump pledged to drain." -- LT (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Eli Stokols & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has been offered the job of U.S. ambassador to Russia and is in the process of submitting paperwork to accept the position, two administration sources have confirmed. Huntsman, who served as ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and then to China under President Barack Obama, was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump during last year's campaign. He was officially offered the Russia post earlier this week." -- CW ...

     ... Margaret Hartmann: "The position requires Senate confirmation. In 2009 Huntsman was approved unanimously to serve as ambassador to China." -- CW 

Emily Deruy of The Atlantic: "Residents of this western Michigan town are having trouble reconciling the Betsy DeVos they know with the Betsy DeVos who serves as President Donald Trump’s controversial education secretary.   The former is widely seen as pragmatic and generous, even by those who dislike her political leanings and devotion to charter schools. The latter? “Unprepared,” “tone deaf,” and “insulated” were phrases that came up more than once during interviews with people who either know DeVos or her family or are familiar with her dealings in this part of the state." A long piece on Devos' chameleon persona, if you care to read it. I don't.--safari

Mark Maremont & James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal: "President Donald Trump’s daughter [Ivanka] and her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner, are renting a Washington, D.C., home from a Chilean billionaire, Andrónico Luksic, who bought it after the November election and whose company is embroiled in a dispute with the U.S. government over a mine potentially worth billions of dollars. The Obama administration ... blocked [the] plan to build [the] giant copper-and-nickel mine adjacent to a Minnesota wilderness area, citing environmental concerns." -- LT (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Hate Rhetoric Has Consequences. Esme Cribb of TPM: "The Jewish Community Center Association on Wednesday urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take further action against bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the United States. 141 Jewish Community Center Movement leaders signed a letter urging the Justice Department to 'to speak out – and speak out forcefully – against the threats impacting communities across the country.'...The wave of threats was at least the fourth against Jewish organizations since January." --safari

World Without Women. Dana Milbank: "Wednesday was International Women’s Day, and to observe this annual commemoration House Republicans formally took up their legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of health services for women.... A USA Today analysis last month found that men outnumbered women by more than 2 to 1 among top White House aides. Trump named only four women to his Cabinet, the fewest in a generation, and none to the top jobs at the State, Treasury, Defense and Justice Departments.... Meeting with the nation’s governors recently, Trump welcomed the governors 'and their wives and daughters,' as if no women were governors. Trump’s vulgar statements about women, caught on tape, were a prominent part of the campaign, and, according to the media outlet Axios, he requires women working for him to 'dress like women.'” Et-cetera. -- CW ... 

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic: "For the past quarter century, [L.A.] Kauffman has been researching and writing a chronicle of post-1960s protest on the American left...The fruits of that labor — a concise and comprehensive book called Direct Actioncame out late last month. It is her luck that it was released during the most fervent period of progressive mobilization since 1968. Many of the tactics that Kauffman details, previously on the margins, are now being deployed for the first time at a massive, nationwide scale. Wednesday is one of those deployments.... I spoke with Kauffman about how protest movements become popular and how she has come to think change actually happens in the United States." --safari

Way Beyond the Beltway

Andrew Exum of The Atlantic: "Although there is much hard fighting to be done in Iraq, the fall of Mosul will effectively spell the end of the Islamic State’s eastern province. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will then be the Islamic State of Syria.... The campaign for Mosul in entering a new phrase, with Iraqi troops now pushing into the western half of the city.... The fight for western Mosul will take time and will further stress Iraqi forces exhausted from a hard fight for eastern Mosul. Yet the Islamic State is essentially surrounded in Mosul — a condition that's presaged its defeat in other cities as well." --safari

Tuesday
Mar072017

The Commentariat -- March 8, 2017

Happy International Women's Day. The Guardian has a live blog keeping you updated on today's events. --safari

Afternoon Update:

Mark Maremont & James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal: "President Donald Trump’s daughter [Ivanka] and her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner, are renting a Washington, D.C., home from a Chilean billionaire, Andrónico Luksic, who bought it after the November election and whose company is embroiled in a dispute with the U.S. government over a mine potentially worth billions of dollars. The Obama administration ... blocked [the] plan to build [the] giant copper-and-nickel mine adjacent to a Minnesota wilderness area, citing environmental concerns." -- LT 

Greg Sargent: "... little by little, as Trump seeks to make good on his promises, Trumpism — as sold by the man himself — is being revealed as fraudulent to its core. NBC News reports that health-care experts across the political spectrum agree that the new House GOP health-care plan, which Trump has now endorsed, falls short of his promises.... Trump’s only play is to fall back on the GOP trick of conflating 'health-care access' with coverage and robotically describing the plan as 'good health care,' in hopes that his magical Twitter feed and powers of salesmanship can envelop the specifics in impenetrable fog. And the fraudulence doesn’t stop there." -- CW 

Abby Goodnough & Reed Abelson of the New York Times: "Millions of people who get private health coverage through the Affordable Care Act would be at risk of losing it under the replacement legislation proposed by House Republicans, analysts said Tuesday, with Americans in their 50s and 60s especially likely to find coverage unaffordable. Starting in 2020, the plan would do away with the current system of providing premium subsidies based on people’s income and the cost of insurance where they live. Instead, it would provide tax credits of $2,000 to $4,000 per year based on their age. But the credits would not cover nearly as much of the cost of premiums as the current subsidies do...." -- CW ...

... Kevin Queally & Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times: "The biggest losers under the [GOP] change [to ObamaCare subsidies] would be older Americans with low incomes who live in high-cost areas. Those are the people who benefited most from Obamacare. For some people, the new tax credit system will be more generous. The winners are likely to be younger, earn higher incomes and live in areas where the cost of health insurance is low." ...

     ... CW: So, thanks, GOP voters. We're screwing you first! ...

... Elise Viebeck, et al., of the Washington Post: "House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) sought to quell a revolt on the right against the Republican proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, describing the plan as a 'conservative wish list' that would deliver on years of GOP campaign promises to reform the nation’s health-care system.... At the same time, Ryan’s effort faced another blow when a powerful lobbying group for physicians rejected the legislation, known as the American Health Care Act [on as Mrs. Unwashed would more appropriately call it, CAHCA, the Confederate American Health Care ACT -- see today's Comments], on the grounds that it could lead many Americans to lose their health insurance." -- CW ...

... GOP Launches Preemptory Strike against Healthcare Facts. Jennfier Haberkorn of Politico: "Republicans have railed for seven years against the 'budget gimmicks' and lack of transparency they say Democrats used to help pass Obamacare. But now as they start debate on their repeal bill, Republicans say the plan's price tag and estimates of how many people it will cover aren’t really important. Anticipating that their plan will leave fewer Americans insured than Obamacare and potentially cost the federal government more, Republican leaders on Tuesday launched a preemptory strike against forthcoming predictions from Congress’s independent scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office." -- CW 

Isn't He Supposed to Be a Business Genius? Phillip Bump of the Washington Post: "Among the 38 trademarks approved for the Trump Organization by the Chinese government over the past few weeks is one that seems likely to raise a few eyebrows: As of now, it is the only company that can legally operate Trump-branded escort services in China." ...

     ... Akhilleus: You read that right. Trump Escort Services. The situation in China is this, apparently: if you apply for a trademark, they will issue licenese extensions of that mark on a first come, first served basis. Businesses looking for trademarks are urged to act defensively to protect their brand. Otherwise, others could jump on your back and use your name to...well, to advertise hookers. Guess who ignorned that advice? But he's a genius. This guy is more embarrassing by the day. Oh yeah ... Trump Escorts ... Love you long time.

Our Horror Story for Today. Coral Davenport of the New York Times: Scott "Pruitt, [the new EPA chief], has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business. Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science." -- CW 

...and hundreds of more horrors. Justin Elliott, et al. of Pro Publica: "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." The list includes former lobbyists, conservative think tank members and "contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” Trump pledged to drain." -- LT

Kevin Drum: According to a new consumer survey analysis, "James Comey Elected Donald Trump President.... We'll never know for sure if James Comey did this because he's terminally stupid and didn't realize what impact it would have, or if he did it knowing full well what impact it would have. But he did it. And that's why Donald Trump is president." -- CW: Thanks again, Comey! P.S. How are things working out for ya?

*****

Sabrina Siddiqui & David Smith of the Guardian: "While the White House on Tuesday stood by Donald Trump’s assertion that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama during the 2016 presidential campaign, top Republicans on Capitol Hill provided little support to bolster his explosive and unsubstantiated claim. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said he had not seen any evidence to back up a series of tweets by Trump on Saturday that accused Obama of wiretapping his phones at Trump Tower...Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, also could not offer any proof of Trump’s allegations while speaking at a separate press conference...Nunes chastised the media for taking Trump’s words at face value. The president had merely posed a question about being wiretapped, Nunes argued, even as reporters said Trump’s statement had been far more definitive." --safari

**Jonathan Chait of New York: "The Republican Party in its modern incarnation is incapable of writing a decent health-care bill, if we define 'decent' to mean both some level of technical competence as well as morally decent...Republicans have fervently denied this, and probably believed their own denials...The best indication of the quality of the plan is that it has drawn almost universal scorn from the health-care-policy community...Eventually they had told the lie so long it became impossible for them to abandon it. And so Republicans have found themselves frantically scrawling out a hopelessly inadequate solution in order to meet a self-imposed deadline driven by their overarching desire to cut taxes for the rich." --safari ...

... John Cassidy of the New Yorker: "There are at least two ways to look at the American Health Care Act, the Obamacare-replacement proposal that House Republicans released on Monday. Looked at up close, it perhaps isn’t quite as extreme, in some respects, as previous G.O.P. proposals. But if you step back and consider what enacting this bill would mean for the health-care system as a whole, and for American society as a whole, it is far from moderate and reasonable...Much of the initial coverage of the bill has focussed on how much of the 2010 Affordable Care Act this Republican proposal would retain, rather than what it would demolish...[But] This 'shameful Republican assault on Medicaid,' as I referred to it a couple of weeks ago, isn’t a bit part of the House G.O.P. proposal, or an addendum: it’s a central component. 'Indeed,' Timothy Jost commented, 'the bill is not so much an ACA repeal bill as it is an attempt to change dramatically the Medicaid program.'"--safari ...

... Jonathan Chait: "Following the unveiling of the House Republican plan to shrink Obamacare dramatically, two surprising things happened. The first is that the conservative-movement apparatus has lined up rapidly against the bill...The second surprising thing is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch MicConnell announced his intention to jam the House bill through the Senate quickly. Rather than develop its own bills through committees and the normal debate process, McConnell declared he plans to bring it directly to the Senate floor. Neither of these decisions makes a great deal of sense on their own, and they make even less sense in conjunction with each other." --safari ...

... Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. And an historic health care initiative providing health care to millions of low-income Americans actually takes away their access to care. Confused? So, apparently, is the Secretary of Health and Human Services. At a press conference on Tuesday, HHS Secretary Tom Price claimed that 'Medicaid is a program that by and large has decreased the ability for folks to gain access to care.' In fact, nearly 70 million people receive health coverage through Medicaid. An Obamacare provision that expanded eligibility for the program extended coverage to 11 million people. A 2016 poll shows that 87 percent of these beneficiaries are 'satisfied with their Medicaid coverage and benefits.'" --safari

Craig Timberg of The Washington Post: "The latest revelations about the U.S. government’s powerful hacking tools potentially takes surveillance right into the homes and hip pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how a remarkable variety of everyday devices can be turned to spy on their owners. Televisions, smartphones and even anti-virus software are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, according to the WikiLeaks documents released Tuesday...While many of the attack technologies had been previously discussed at cybersecurity conferences, experts were startled to see evidence that the CIA had turned so many theoretical vulnerabilities into functioning attack tools against staples of modern life." --safari

David Sanger, et al., of The New York Times: "When the United States began deploying a missile defense system in South Korea this week, it was to protect an ally long threatened by North Korean provocations. But it was instantly met by angry Chinese warnings that the United States is setting off a new arms race in a region already on edge over the North’s drive to build a nuclear arsenal. China condemned the new antimissile system as a dangerous opening move in what it called America’s grand strategy to set up similar defenses across Asia, threatening to tilt the balance of power there against Beijing. The tensions are testing the new Trump administration and its uneasy allies South Korea and Japan." --safari ...

... safari: The idea of Kim Jong-Un vs. Donald Trump should scare the shit out of everybody.

Dan Lamothe, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Trump administration, searching for money to build the president’s planned multibillion-dollar border wall and crack down on illegal immigration, is weighing significant cuts to the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies focused on national security threats, according to a draft plan." --safari ...

     ... Akhilleus: So, to be clear, Trumpado is yanking funding from essential, real world services that actually help to keep Americans safe and alive, and pouring that money into a fantasy project designed to protect no one from made up bullshit, but a project, the primary intent of which, is to satisfy his own racist fantasies. What will his excuse be when FEMA, the TSA, and the Coast Guard are taxed with responding to some natural disaster and Americans die because he swiped their funding to stick it to brown people? It'll be Obama's fault. This is some unconscionable bullshit. It's like saying let's defund public school programs that teach literacy, math, and science so we can fund a national program to educate students about jackalopes and unicorns.

Bryce Covert of ThinkProgress: "On Tuesday, Exxon announced that it will spend $20 billion over the course of a decade at 11 proposed and existing refining and chemical manufacturing sites. In the process, the company anticipates adding more than 45,000 jobs. President Trump wasted no time in taking credit, even releasing a statement the same hour that copied many of Exxon’s own sentences and an entire paragraph word for word...In a Facebook video, Trump went further to take credit for the announcement. 'This is something that was done to a large extent because of our policies and the policies of this new administration,' he said. 'I said we’re bringing back jobs, this is one big example of that.' But Exxon itself said in its release that this isn’t really new...Many of them were announced and even in process before the election: one in 2012, two in 2014, and one last year; the most recent one in Corpus Christi, TX, was announced in July. At least one of them, a lubricant plant in Baton Rouge, LA, is already completed." --safari

The Russian Connection, Ctd. Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: "Donald Trump has claimed repeatedly that he has had no contact with Russian officials as a presidential candidate. He was lying. Trump personally met with the Russian ambassador [Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak] on April 27, 2016, prior to a major foreign policy speech. The Wall Street Journal, in a report that was little-noticed at the time but was recently picked up by AMERICABlog News, reported the meeting last year.... Kislyak, according to multiple contemporaneous news reports, was seated in the front row. It was an invitation-only event." --safari...

...The Russian Connection, Ctd. Rachel Maddow connects more webs. --safari

... The Russian Connection, Ctd. Josh Meyer & Kenneth Vogel of Politico: "Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would not be an official representative of the campaign, according to a former campaign adviser.... The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. Lewandowski told POLITICO he did not recall the email exchange with Page, but he did not deny that it occurred." --safari...

... The Russian Connection, Ctd. Tim Mak of The Daily Beast: "In March 2014, the U.S. government sanctioned Dmitry Rogozin — a hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia’s defense industry and longtime opponent of American power — in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Eighteen months later, the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump’s most powerful outside ally during the 2016 election, sent a delegation to Moscow that met with him. The meeting, which hasn’t been previously reported in the American press, is one strand in a web of connections between the Russian government and Team Trump.... Meeting with Rogozin, a target of U.S. sanctions, is not itself illegal — as long as the two sides did no business together — explained Boris Zilberman, an expert on Russian sanctions.... In retrospect, the second week of December 2015 is notable: In Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, now-disgraced Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn dined with Putin at a dinner held by Russia Today, a state-sponsored propaganda outlet. The NRA delegation’s 2015 trip to Russia took place the same week, lasting from Dec. 8-13 ... and included not only the people who met with Rogozin but a number of other NRA dignitaries, including donors Dr. Arnold Goldshlager and Hilary Goldschlager, as well as Jim Liberatore, the CEO of the Outdoor Channel." --safari

Beyond the Beltway

Mary Ellen Kustin of ThinkProgress: "The Senate voted Tuesday to block a rule that would have given Westerners more say in the use of public lands near their communities. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s “Planning 2.0” rule — meant to update a decades-old process that had been criticized for leaving out stakeholders during the early stages of planning  —  is no more...The Senate vote came a month after the House passed its version of the CRA, and the repeal will now go to President Trump’s desk." --safari

AP in the Guardian: "A new lawmaker in Rhode Island has condemned the 'insane amount of drinking' that goes on in the legislature as its members conduct the state’s affairs. Moira Walsh, a Democrat from Providence, said lawmakers had 'file cabinets full of booze' and described how they recently took shots on the floor of the House of Representatives to celebrate the Dominican Republic’s independence day.... 'It is the drinking that blows my mind,' she told talk show host Matt Allen on radio WPRO-AM. 'You cannot operate a motor vehicle when you’ve had two beers but you can make laws that affect people’s lives forever when you’re half in the bag? That’s outrageous.'... Nor are Rhode Island lawmakers alone in drinking on the job, though some other states have sought to curb the practice." --safari

No Words. David Edwards of RawStory: "A Virginia man is running for House of Delegates after spending 16 months in jail for threatening to kill then-President Barack Obama in 2009. Nathan Daniel Larson told WUSA that he is running for Virginia’s 31st House District. Election officials confirmed that Larson had collected the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot.... Larson, however, believes that women should not have the right to vote, and he is running on a platform of suppressing the rights of women. He also believes that fathers should be able to marry their daughters.... The Libertarian Party of Virginia has said that it will try to expel Larson, leaving the ex-convict to run as an independent." --safari

Monday
Mar062017

The Commentariat -- March 7, 2017

CW: Many thanks to Akhilleus & safari for keeping up the good fight. By accident (literally -- a tire on the trailer I'm pulling blew, which forced me to stay in the South an extra day), I've been able to catch up with Reality Chex. But I've not really had the time to update the news in any significant way.

Afternoon Update:

Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: "WikiLeaks on Tuesday released thousands of documents that it said described sophisticated software tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions. If the documents are authentic, as appeared likely at first review, the release would be the latest coup for the anti-secrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which maintains its own hacking capabilities to be used for espionage. The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first part of the document collection, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the group said. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, it said. Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect 'audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.'" -- Akhilleus

Another Possibility. Paul Wagenseil of Tom's Guide. "Worried about the hacking secrets revealed in the latest Wikileaks data dump? Here's what you need to know. The WikiLeaks revelation is likely part of a Russian disinformation campaign meant to undermine the U.S. intelligence agencies in general, and to more immediately lend credence to Donald Trump's allegations that former President Barack Obama spied on him.

Some of the CIA hacking tools mentioned in the WikiLeaks dump are real. Some of them probably are not. We may never truly know which is which. (But we are intrigued by the one about turning a Samsung Smart TV into a listening device.) WikiLeak says the cache of information, reportedly "8,761 documents and files," came from "a former U.S. government hacker [or] contractor." That's possible. It's also possible that it came straight from the Russian intelligence services, which is how WikiLeaks apparently obtained emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee."

...Akhilleus. This article comes from a tech blog but given the recent toxic connection between WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence, the possibility of Putin throwing a monkey wrench into things (again) in order to help Trump with a smoke screen of sorts is not an entirely unreasonable assumption.

Another Twitter eruption, methinks? Lisa Rein of the Washington Post "The National Park Service on Monday released hundreds of ground and aerial photographs that its staff shot of President Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. The agency also released photos of the swearing-ins of former president Barack Obama four and eight years ago. And it's pretty clear that the crowd size at the 45th president's inaugural was smaller than at the swearing-in of the 44th. The discrepancy is clear in the two photos displayed here,...

...Akhilleus. Oops. Some National Park Service people will be looking for a new job when the Glorious Leader sets his beady eyeballs on these snaps.

More Lies. Charlie Savage of the New York Times. "President Trump said on Tuesday on Twitter that '122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!"

Is that true? No, what Mr. Trump wrote is false. What is true? According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, of the 693 former Guantánamo Bay detainees who were transferred to other countries by July 2016 -- dating back to when the Bush administration opened the prison in Cuba in January 2002 -- 122 are 'confirmed' to have engaged in militant activity after their release. However, the overwhelming majority of those 122 men, 113 of them, were transferred under President George W. Bush, not President Barack Obama. -- Akhilleus

Seany, We Hardly Knew Ye. Martha Nussbaum and Hadas Gold of Politico. "After two flayings on Saturday Night Live, sustained mockings on late-night shows, and a series of televised confrontations with reporters, White House press secretary Sean Spicer is retreating from the harsh glare of the daily televised briefing. The White House has not held a televised briefing in seven days, after regularly holding the traditional on-camera event in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on weekdays when President Donald Trump was not travelling. Instead, Spicer and the press shop is increasingly turning to off-camera 'gaggles' that shield the embattled press secretary from scrutiny -- both from a fascinated national audience and a certain regular viewer in the Oval Office. There is a concern in the White House that a combative briefing can take away from the administration's attempt at orchestrated news, and the president prefers controlling the message himself, one White House official said."

...Akhilleus. Like all authoritarian regimes, the Trump gang is leaning quite quickly toward replacing one of the traditional staples of a democratic government, the opportunity for a free press to question those in power, with Soviet style bullet point declarations handed down from the Glorious Leader, keeping the hated media at bay. Can a Trumpy version of Pravda be far off? Oh, wait. He already has one: Tweetda.

Is Trump that smart? Peter Beinart of the Atlantic. "So why did Trump do it [charge former president Obama with surveilling him]? The [New York] Times ignored another, more plausible, theory: Trump isn't distracting from the investigation; he's seeking to discredit it. By alleging that Obama personally ordered his wiretapping, Trump is claiming that partisanship motivates the investigation into his campaign's Russian ties. The law enforcement agencies conducting that investigation, therefore, aren't independent and apolitical; they're Democratic plants. And by sowing doubt about their motives, Trump's lays the groundwork for discounting their findings, particularly if they ultimately implicate Trump or any of his associates.... By placing Obama at the center of the Russia investigations, Trump undermines the notion that the Justice Department and FBI are independent bodies seeking to enforce the law. Instead, they become Democratic front groups. The strategy resembles the one Trump has been employing against the press."

...Akhilleus. I doubt that Trump is that smart, but Bannon could be, especially given the outlines of the plot -- Obama and Democrats out to destroy the Glorious Leader -- as laid out in Breitbart. Hey, they're desperate. They'll try anything at this point to avoid the truth, whatever that might be, and they're counting on Trump's racist supporters to hate Obama enough to believe the most crackpot story.

Making America Less Great! Devon Haynie of US News and World Report. "The whole world was watching the U.S. election. And for the most part, it didn't like what it saw. More than 70 percent of survey respondents lost respect for U.S. leadership as a result of the toxic nature of the U.S. election, according to a poll conducted for the 2017 U.S. News Best Countries Rankings. That sentiment, combined with global distaste for Donald Trump, played a role in the U.S. falling from the No. 4 Best Country to No. 7." Akhilleus: Thanks, Donnie! Good job. And in only 6 weeks!

And now a word from the President of the...United, er, Exxon Mobil, um....States. Allan Smith of Business Insider. "President Donald Trump raised eyebrows after he posted five congratulatory tweets promoting a Monday announcement from the energy giant Exxon Mobil.... The company said earlier in the day that it was expanding its manufacturing operation along the Gulf Coast, creating more than 45,000 jobs in the region. Initially, the White House posted a press release reiterating the Exxon Mobil news. That press release contained a paragraph that appeared to be copied, almost word-for-word, from the Exxon announcement. Trump, who also wrote that the move from Exxon showed that 'we are already winning again,' posted a roughly minute-long video praising the company soon after the administration's release.... Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, made his objection to Trump's promotion of Exxon's move clear in a statement to Business Insider. 'The White House has now become the mouthpiece of the oil industry -- literally'... Adding to the appearance of an ethical conflict is the fact that Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was the CEO of Exxon Mobil until he was tapped to lead the State Department.

...Akhilleus: As usual, Trumpty Dumpty tries to take credit for Exxon Mobil's investment plan, and as usual, he lies. The plan was in the works back when the Glorious Leader was still firing people on his fake reality show.

*****

Amy Goldstein, et al. of The Washington Post: "House Republicans on Monday released long-anticipated legislation to supplant the Affordable Care Act with a more conservative vision for the nation's health-care system, replacing federal insurance subsidies with a new form of individual tax credits and grants to help states shape their own policies.... The debate, starting in House committees this week, is a remarkable moment in government health-care policymaking.... There is no precedent for Congress to reverse a major program of social benefits once it has taken effect and reached millions of Americans.... Even so, signs emerged on Monday that Republicans in Congress's upper chamber could balk either at the cost of the proposal or if it leaves swaths of the country without insurance coverage.... And four key Republican senators, all from states that opted to expand Medicaid under the ACA, said they would oppose any new plan that would leave millions of Americans uninsured." --safari...

... Robert Pear & Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times: "House Republicans unveiled on Monday their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, scrapping the mandate for most Americans to have health insurance in favor of a new system of tax credits to induce people to buy insurance on the open market.The bill sets the stage for a bitter debate over the possible dismantling of the most significant health care law in a half-century. In its place would be a health law that would be far more oriented to the free market and would make far-reaching changes to a vast part of the American economy." -- CW ...

...Sarah Kliff of Vox: "Two big questions -- how many people it will cover and how much it will cost -- are still unresolved: It will likely cover fewer people than the Affordable Care Act currently does, but we don't know how many. And the Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the legislation, so its price tag is unknown." Sarah Kliff runs down the known details. --safari

Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani of ThinkProgress: "On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning nationals from six Muslim-majority countries and halting all refugee resettlement...Under the new order, nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen will not be able to obtain visas to the United States for 90 days.... The order also suspends all refugee resettlement for 120 days, while the DHS reviews 'screening procedures to ensure refugees admitted in the future do not pose a security risk to the United States.' The United States will not take in more than 50,000 refugees for the 2017 fiscal year   60,000 less than planned under the Obama administration. " --safari...

...Nahal Toosi of Politico: "It's not just a few countries. It's not just about Muslims. And in some cases, it's probably won't be temporary, either. President Donald Trump's newly revised travel ban may at first seem to be more limited in its reach than his sweeping earlier order suspending refugee admissions and barring entry for citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries. But the new order, signed Monday, still contains provisions that could ultimately slow travel and immigration to the United States from every corner of the globe. The order could ultimately backfire on Americans wishing to travel abroad, and, for some countries, what appear to be temporary bans could effectively prove permanent." --safari...

...Drumpf's Spite. Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "Gold Star father Khizr Khan's 'freedom to travel abroad' is reportedly under review, and he says he doesn't know why. Khan was scheduled to speak at a luncheon in Toronto on Tuesday 'on what we can do about the appalling turn of events in Washington -- so that we don't all end up sacrificing everything.' But Khan was told late Sunday that his traveling privileges were under review, according to Ramsay Talks, which organized the luncheon. 'As a consequence, Mr. Khan will not be traveling to Toronto on March 7th to speak about tolerance, understanding, unity and the rule of law,' it said in a statement." --safari...

...Vivian Yee et al., of The New York Times breaks down who the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants are, and how they got here. --safari

MORE Conflicts. Trump's worst deal?. Adam Davidson of the New Yorker. "After Donald Trump became a candidate for President, in 2015, [several] publications ran articles that raised questions about his involvement in the Baku [Trump Tower] project. These reports cited a series of cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan in 2009 and 2010, which were made public by WikiLeaks. In one of the cables, a U.S. diplomat described [Trump partner] Ziya Mammadov as 'notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.' The Trump Organization's chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told reporters that the Baku hotel project raised no ethical issues for Donald Trump, because his company had never engaged directly with Mammadov...it [became] clear that the Trump Organization's story of the hotel was incomplete and inaccurate...the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps..." (Also linked yesterday)

...Akhilleus: Oops. Trump doing business with a family connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard? Just another example of how Trump greed promotes sloppy research. The Trumps see dollar signs and everything else disappears. Does anyone believe that Uday and Qusay, now the overlords of Trump Business World, are exercising due diligence in their business dealings? (Thanks to Lisa for the story tip)...

Adam Liptak of The New York Times: "The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that courts must make an exception to the usual rule that jury deliberations are secret when evidence emerges that those discussions were marred by racial or ethnic bias. 'Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns,' Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-to-3 decision.... Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion." --safari...

...safari: Tough place to be in for Chief Justice John Roberts since he already declared racism to be over in America. ...

...Hot potato, hot potato...you take it! Robert Barnes of the Washington Post. "The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a lower court's ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student after the Trump administration withdrew the federal government's guidance to public schools about a controversial bathroom policy. The justices were scheduled to hear the case later this month. But after the government's position changed, the court said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit should reconsider the dispute between the Gloucester County school board and 17-year-old Gavin Grimm. The 4th Circuit had relied on the government's guidance that schools should let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with the student's gender identity. The Trump administration withdrew that guidance, which was issued by the Obama administration. (Also linked yesterday)

...Akhilleus. Jesus, this poor kid. But I give him high marks for fortitude in the face of an entire administration that hates him and anyone like him. The Supremes don't want their name on it either. Now his fate will be in the hands of the 4th Circuit which has been freed by Trump from having to do the right thing. We'll see now how this plan of leaving it to the states will work out.

Eric Levitz of New York: "Early Saturday morning, President Trump found something alarming in his Daily Conspiracy Brief (a.k.a. Breitbart): Barack Obama had tapped the phone lines of Trump Tower...Notably, Breitbart's account does not claim that Obama, personally, ordered the FISA warrant.... Nor does the site describe an illegal procedure.... Which is to say: The administration amassed sufficient evidence to convince a FISA judge that there was reason to suspect illicit collaboration between Trump's associates and the Russian government.... The bureau's director, James Comey, pushed for the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump's claim over the weekend...But on Monday, the White House suggested that Trump trusts his own misreadings of Breitbart articles over the word of the FBI director... Meanwhile, Trump has ordered his chief counsel, Donald F. McGahn, to secure access to the alleged FISA order that would vindicate Trump's story -- a move that the Justice Department would view as a 'stunning case of interference,' according to the New York Times. So, perhaps the president genuinely believes he's calling Comey's bluff." --safari...

...Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post: "President Trump's explosive allegation that former president Barack Obama wiretapped him is based on -- what? That has been the question ever since Trump sent provocative early-morning tweets over the weekend, because he and his staff have provided no evidence. At The Fact Checker, we require the accuser to provide the evidence for a dramatic claim. We asked Saturday and received no answer.... However, a White House spokesman told The Fact Checker that the White House instead is relying on reports 'from BBC, Heat Street, New York Times, Fox News, among others.' He provided a list of five articles...Even if these media reports are accepted as accurate, neither back up Trump's claims that Obama ordered the tapping of his phone calls. Moreover, they also do not back up the administration's revised claim of politically motivated investigations...We're still waiting for the evidence. In the meantime, Trump earns Four Pinocchios." --safari...

... Aides Admire Emperor's New Clothes. Ashley Parker & Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "The White House on Monday attempted to defend President Trump's unfounded claim that former president Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower near the end of the presidential campaign, sending out several administration officials -- both on and off camera -- to reiterate the assertion without providing supporting evidence." -- CW ...

...Circle the Wacko Wagons. Mike Allen of Axios: "I have learned that some -- though definitely not all -- members of President Trump's inner circle share his belief that the Obama administration tapped his Trump Tower phones in October. And a White House official told me President Trump not only doesn't regret this weekend's fracas despite the lack of evidence for his astonishing claim, he is 'absolutely convinced' he'll be vindicated.... Towergate is a fascinating test of Trump's great gamble that he can do the job of president in a totally new way: largely improvisational, driven by whims, moods and obsessions; thinly staffed, like his campaign." --safari...

...Jamelle Bouie of Slate: "[T]he presidency has supercharged [Drumpf's] paranoia and conspiratorial instincts...This is another example of what should be a terrifying fact about the president: There is no independent truth for Trump. There are only assertions which, through force of will, he thinks he can make 'true' fantasies with a patina of truthiness that hold an unbreakable grip on his mind.... In a farcical turn in an already farcical year, we don't just have a conspiracy-minded president advised by a former purveyor of conspiracies. We now also have a conspiracy-minded White House, bolstered by an echo chamber of far-right media, aided and abetted by Republicans too afraid or too craven to break from an unhinged chief executive, even as his actions fuel more scrutiny and suspicion of his administration and its ties with Russia." --safari...

...Tom Boggioni of RawStory: "A former NSA intelligence analyst poured cold water on President Donald Trump's statements that former President Barack Obama has his phone lined taped, saying the intelligence community considers Trump's charges to be a 'kooky fantasy.'.... Writing for the Observer, ex-analyst John Schindler said that there are already enough questions about the Trump administration's ties to the Russians to warrant a full investigation, but that the president's foray into a massive conspiracy involving Obama and the highest levels of the intel community is absurd." --safari...

...Lawrence Douglas of the Guardian: "Perhaps what is so striking about the tweets is not their desperation, but their cynicism. In exclaiming 'This is McCarthyism!', Trump said something deeply revealing -- only about himself. McCarthyism was never in the first instance about wiretapping. It was about defaming public officials with charges of treason without a shred of evidence. Equally revealing was Trump's tweet: 'I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!' As Trump well knows, a good lawyer can make a case out of anything.... If there is something extraordinary about Trump it is how low he is willing to go." --safari...

...Drumpf's Bumpkins: Conway Again Brings Bullshit to New Heights. Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "In a tweetstorm he posted on Saturday, President Trumpaccused former President Obama of wiretapping him ahead of the election last year.... In response to the ensuing uproar, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested on Sunday that Trump's claim is based on 'reports' that are 'very troubling' to the president.... But on Monday, White House officials changed their story. During a Fox & Friends interview, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked about Trump's evidence. Instead of citing reports from right-wing media, she cited classified intelligence." --safari...

...Drumpf's Bumpkins, Ctd. Erin Corbett of RawStory: "Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas attempted to have Trump's back on the matter on Monday tweeting an article with the headline, 'Former Bush attorney general: Trump likely right about surveillance.' Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke with ABC's This Week on Sunday and agreed he believed there was likely surveillance at Trump Tower...However, Mukasey added that if there was a wiretap at Trump Tower, it's because there was suspicion of a Russian agent." --safari

Drumpf's Bumpkins, Ctd. Betsy DeVos Approved. Daily Beast: "While speaking with his employees on Monday, Ben Carson made a baffling claim that seemingly likened slaves to immigrants. Calling the United States a 'land of dreams and opportunity,' the newly confirmed housing and urban development secretary said, 'There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less.'" --safari

Drumpf's Bumpkins, Ctd. Annie Karni of Politico: "President Donald Trump has brought on Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to work in the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, two sources familiar with the hire told POLITICO...In his new post, Andrew Giuliani...helped organize the Patriots' upcoming visit to the White House after their come-from-behind Super Bowl victory, and also assisted First Lady Melania Trump's staff during Trump's speech before a joint session of Congress last week. The younger Giuliani has known the Trump family for years." --safari

Drumpf's Bumpkins, Ctd. Mattahias Schwartz of The Intercept: "The history of the 2016 election is up for grabs. Vying for posterity are two competing myths. One is the Russian conspiracy that elevated Donald Trump into the White House. The other is the 'deep state' conspiracy that is laboring to bring him down. The first relies on secret evidence; the second on naked speculation and paranoid hand waving...Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and bon vivant, has dealt in this epistemological netherworld for decades.... Stone and I spoke by phone twice, on February 26 and March 2. This interview is compiled from both conversations." Stone further proves his subhuman status.--safari

Drumpf's Bumpkins, Ctd. Alex Isenstadt & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "As the White House struggles to gain its footing almost two months into Donald Trump's presidency, administration officials increasingly put the blame on one person:Reince Priebus. In interviews, more than a dozen Trump aides, allies, and others close to the White House said Priebus, the 44-year-old chief of staff, was becoming a singular target of criticism within the White House.... The White House vigorously disputes the notion that Priebus is losing the confidence of senior West Wing staff. Senior officials say the president respects the chief of staff for his deep relationships on Capitol Hill and that no staff shake-up is expected in the immediate future." --safari

Drumpf's Bumpkins, Ctd. Steve M. : "I think the craziness, of this weekend has done more to shore up the Trump base than a speech was seen as successful. You and I see Trump as a half-mad king making wild accusations with no evidence. The base thinks he's going on offense against the most hated enemy of all. To the base, he's not vulnerable to a new cycle of bad news; instead, he's seizing bad news and jiujitsuing it to his advantage.... In the long run, I suppose this is still a mess for Trump. In the short run, in the Trump bubble, the president looks like a winner. He's the tough guy they wanted. Going after Obama is 'draining the swamp.' The chants are going to change to 'Lock him up' soon. To make base voters happy, Trump doesn't have to bring back manufacturing jobs or build the wall or defeat ISIS. He just has to give them their own facts, angrily and at the top of his lungs. " [Emphasis original] --safari

They have HAD IT with these undeserving poors getting heathcare! Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times: "Saying their patience is at an end, conservative activist groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and other powerful interests on the right are mobilizing to pressure Republicans to fulfill their promise to swiftly repeal the Affordable Care Act. Their message is blunt and unforgiving, with the goal of reawakening some of the most extensive conservative grass-roots networks in the country.... With angry constituents storming town hall-style meetings across the country and demanding that Congress not repeal the law, these new campaigns are a sign of a growing concern on the right that lawmakers might buckle to the pressure. 'We've been patient this year, but it is past time to act and to act decisively,' said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, which is coordinating the push with other groups across the Kochs' political network. 'Our network has spent more money, more time and more years fighting Obamacare than anything else. And now with the finish line in sight, we cannot allow some folks to pull up and give up.' (Also linked yesterday)

...Akhilleus: In other words, "We've spent too much money making sure those poor and brown people have no healthcare to let the American public have anything to say about it now!" says the guy from Americans for Prosperity (for the rich). Same 'ol, same 'ol, from the Kochs. "If it ain't for me, it ain't gonna be."

The Russian Connection, Ctd. Evan Osnos et al., of the New Yorker: "Earlier this month, The New Yorker published 'Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War,' an examination of what lay behind Russia's interference in the 2016 election -- and what lies ahead. On Facebook and Twitter, we asked readers to submit questions they had after reading the article. Below are some of our responses." --safari

Juan Cole: "Trump actually is changing the United States in a major way, with a massive assault on the environment." Prof. Cole lists some of the main ways Drumpf is destroying our environment. --safari

Beyond the Beltway

Bye-Bye Bibi? Luke Baker of Reuters. "Police questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth time on Monday in a corruption investigation that has prompted political rivals to start looking to a 'post-Bibi' Israel. Netanyahu, 67, is a suspect in two cases, one involving the receipt of gifts from businessmen and the other related to conversations he held with an Israeli newspaper publisher about limiting competition in the news sector in exchange for more positive coverage. No charges have been brought against Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009. A spokesman for the prime minister, who has denied wrongdoing, did not respond to a request for comment. 'We will finish soon, we are in the final stages,' Police chief Roni Elsheich told reporters earlier about the investigation. Once it is complete, police will decide whether to drop the case or recommend the attorney general bring charges. As speculation bubbles, politicians from across the spectrum have begun maneuvering, believing early elections will probably have to be called if Netanyahu is indicted. Such a move would most likely lead to his resignation - in 1993 the Supreme Court set a precedent for ministers to step down if they are charged with corruption. -- Akhilleus (Also linked yesterday)

Nukes for Everyone! Max Fisher of the New York Times. "An idea, once unthinkable, is gaining attention in European policy circles: a European Union nuclear weapons program. Under such a plan, France's arsenal would be repurposed to protect the rest of Europe and would be put under a common European command, funding plan, defense doctrine, or some combination of the three. It would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection. Though no new countries would join the nuclear club under this scheme, it would amount to an unprecedented escalation in Europe’s collective military power and a drastic break with American leadership. Analysts say that the talk, even if it never translates into action, demonstrates the growing sense in Europe that drastic steps may be necessary to protect the postwar order in the era of a Trump presidency, a resurgent Russia and the possibility of an alignment between the two." (Also linked yesterday)

...Akhilleus. A "European Nuclear Weapons Program." What a great idea! And when Le Pen and her far-right nationalists in France take over it'll be Katie bar the door. Like an ignorant, bratty little kid, Trump waddles onto the international stage and starts kicking the blocks out here and there from a delicate structure, threatening to bring the whole thing down, just because he can. Now Europeans, scared shitless of a Trump-Putin alliance, with Putin pulling the strings, are considering what could become a tactical nuclear arms race. How long before Trump revisits the idea, once popular with Reagan he-man hacks, of a "winnable nuclear war"?

Reuters in the Guardian: "Arctic sea ice could vanish in summers this century even if governments achieve a core target for limiting global warming set by almost 200 countries, scientists have said...'The 2C target may be insufficient to prevent an ice-free Arctic,' James Screen and Daniel Williamson of Exeter University wrote in the Nature Climate Change journal after a review of ice projections." --safari...

...The AFP in the Guardian: "One of Africa’s oldest and largest elephants has been killed by poachers in Kenya, according to a conservation group that protects a dwindling group of 'big tuskers' estimated to be as few as 25. Richard Moller of the Tsavo Trust said Satao II, about 50 years old, was found dead on Monday and was believed to have been shot with a poisoned arrow. Two poachers believed to be responsible for the killing were apprehended not long after his carcass was spotted in routine aerial reconnaissance of the Tsavo national park. 'Luckily, through the work we do with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, we were able to find the carcass before the poachers could recover the ivory,' said Moller." --safari

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