Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Short Takes

North Korea missile test fails.

Report: Laptop ban sparked by ISIS threat.

Paul Manafort hid a $750,000 payment from Ukrainian lawmaker.

Tweaks to GOP healthcare bill are panned.

Dow Jones begins to sink after figuring out Trump promises are falling flat.

Happy birthday, CLW.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Reading

Sesame Street Isn’t Just For Affluent Kids — Gene B. Sperling and Danielle Lazarowitz in The Atlantic.

When the Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested that parents in struggling rural and urban areas might not consider funding public television through the Corporation for Public Broadcast a good use of taxpayer dollars during an appearance on Morning Joe on Thursday, he may have thought his statements reflected their feelings and were backed by up evidence. He was wrong on both accounts.Mulvaney was likely parroting the long-held conservative belief that PBS – with cultural programming like Masterpiece Theater and Antiques Roadshow – is too highbrow, and geared solely towards “coastal elites.”  Yet he may have seemed woefully out of touch with the needs and desires of economically struggling families to Vicenta Medina, an immigrant mother from Mexico. While she and her husband Gilbert struggled to raise their family on the South Side of Chicago forty years ago, she says Sesame Street helped teach English to their young son David. They watched him go on to collect degrees from both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and then work in the Obama White House—where I first heard his story from a mutual friend.

 The Medina’s story of a hard-pressed family benefiting from public television is hardly anecdotal. Strong research shows that PBS programs such as Sesame Street have proven academic benefits for young audiences — especially those from more underprivileged households. According to a 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research study by University of Maryland’s Melissa Kearney and Wellesley College’s Phillip Levine, exposure to Sesame Street is an extremely low-cost intervention that has increased grade readiness for children living in economically disadvantaged areas. The effect is especially pronounced for boys and minority children, who have seen their likelihood of being below grade level decrease by as much as 16 percent.
A number of earlier studies have also discovered positive academic impacts. One study found that children who watched Sesame Street frequently in pre-school earned high-school grade point averages almost 16 percent higher than those of children who didn’t grow up watching the show. Another from the University of Wisconsin concluded that children who watch international versions of the program gain nearly 12 percentile points on learning outcomes, as compared to those who don’t watch the show. In Bangladesh, 4-year-old viewers of the local version of Sesame Street were found to have 67 percent higher literacy scores, as compared to those who don’t watch.And the benefits of programs like Sesame Street are not limited to academic achievement. A report from the Future of Children, a collaborative effort from Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, indicated that kids who watched Sesame Street formed more positive attitudes toward people from different backgrounds. That finding was replicated in Ireland, where exposure to the show promoted an increased propensity toward inclusiveness among Catholic- and Protestant-raised children. A study that examined Israeli and Palestinian children had similar conclusions. This is no small deal at a time when the country is seeing the number of hate incidents rising.

 If there is an out of touch or elitist attitude toward PBS, it is the one implied by the OMB Director: The notion that lower income parents don’t value this free educational television in the way suburban parents do, or that they and their families cannot appreciate the historical and educational documentaries that appear on PBS—covering topics from Lewis and Clark to the Civil War to Jackie Robinson—just doesn’t match up with the facts. Surveys found that nearly two-thirds of poorer families reported that PBS KIDS “helps a lot” to prepare their children for school. PBS stations reach more kids ages two to five, more moms with young children, and more children from low-income families—9 million in fact—than any other kids TV network. And parents have confidence in PBS, with 66 percent saying they completely trust PBS KIDS to provide high quality programming—that’s 12 percent higher than the next closest competitor.
The trade-off proposed in the budget is a dubious one. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting cost the federal government just $445 million last year—approximately one hundredth of one percent of the entire federal budget, and only about one-seventh of the $2.8 billion in annual health care tax cuts the current Republican plan gives to the top 400 families alone—a group with average incomes of $300 million.In a nation divided by inequality in income, schools, and neighborhoods, PBS is one equalizer—providing all kids, regardless of economic background, the chance to watch and learn for free from the likes of Elmo, Bob the Builder, and the impressive show, Sid the Science Kid. Families with a lower household income report having fewer resources for school preparedness, and PBS can help fill that gap by providing free, academically-proven educational experiences.

It is difficult to imagine that the White House can defend the deep and painful cuts to programs that are vital to middle class and working poor families. But one way they can’t defend the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is by suggesting that its efficacy lacks evidence, and has no support from working parents in hard-hit urban and rural areas who rely on this educational programming to improve their children’s future.

Seriously Funny Al Franken — Karen Tumulty profiles the junior senator from Minnesota.

It was a half-hour before one of the sparsely attended committee hearings that take place almost every day on Capitol Hill — in this case, a session on energy infrastructure so dry it would not merit even the presence of a C-SPAN camera.

But in Al Franken’s suite of offices in the Hart Senate Office Building, the man still known best as one of the early stars of “Saturday Night Live” was going through an intense rehearsal with four aides.

How much, Franken wanted to know, are the Chinese spending on clean technology research? Where do things stand on the University of Minnesota’s study of torrefaction, a roasting process that produces better fuel for biomass energy production? And might there be a chance to ask a question about one of his favorite causes, loan guarantees for Native American reservations?

“I just want to keep bringing it up, so they keep hearing it,” Franken said, with a trace of a sigh.

Everyone is hearing a lot more from Minnesota’s junior senator these days.

At the dawn of a presidency that stretches the limits of late-night parody, and at a moment when an out-of-power Democratic Party is trying to find its voice, the former comedian and satirist may be having a breakout moment as a political star.

He is also finding it safe to be funny again.

Franken, now 65, barely made it to the Senate, taking his oath in July, 2009, after a ballot recount that took eight months to resolve. So he spent his first term trying to prove he was not a joke — buttoning up his wit, buckling down on esoteric issues and sidestepping all but his home-state media.

“I won by 312 votes, right?” he said in an interview. “I had to show people that I was taking the job seriously, and I had come here for serious purposes, and I am still here for serious purposes. So I think I just felt like I was on probation.”

That diligence paid off in 2014, a disastrous year for Democrats nationally, when Franken was reelected with a double-digit margin.

In between, he developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for policy chops and penetrating questions — skills that have been on display during confirmation hearings of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

Franken “had an instinct for the legislative process, but the one talent that surprised me a little bit beyond that was his talent for cross-examination,” said political scientist Norman Ornstein, a close friend. “He has that Perry Mason quality.”

An exchange with Franken tripped up Jeff Sessions, then a fellow senator and now the attorney general, during his appearance before the Judiciary Committee.

Franken inquired what Sessions would do if he learned that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in 2016.

He was trying to nudge Sessions into recusing himself, and he was startled when the Alabama senator offered information he had not asked for.

“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said.

After The Washington Post revealed that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador twice last year, the attorney general did indeed have to promise to step aside from any Justice Department investigations of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Franken later declared it “one the most embarrassing performances by a nominee in the history of the United States Senate.”

“We wouldn’t accept a secretary of defense who couldn’t name the branches of the military,” he argued as the Senate prepared to vote. “We wouldn’t accept a secretary of state who couldn’t find Europe on a map. We wouldn’t accept a treasury secretary who doesn’t understand multiplication.”

Although one had to withdraw (Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary), all of Trump’s other nominees have been approved by the Senate, a reflection of two realities: Republicans have 52 votes, and Democrats, when they had the majority in 2013, did away with the power to filibuster Cabinet picks, a procedure that requires 60 votes to surmount.

But Franken’s questions have left a mark. He will be at it again starting Monday, when Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch goes before the Judiciary Committee.

When he met privately with Gorsuch, Franken said, the nominee “seemed evasive, on pretty much everything I asked him.”

So given the chance to grill Gorsuch publicly, “I’m really going to be going to certain areas that serve what I consider his pro-corporate bias, which I think has been the bias of the court, the Roberts court,” Franken said.

The Minnesota senator spent the last eight years proving that he’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like him. (Don’t groan. Reporters who write about him should be allowed the indulgence of using at least one of his signature lines from SNL.)

Nearing the halfway mark of his second term, Franken said, he feels “a little freer to be myself, and so every once in awhile, something comes out.”

At the end of May, Franken has a book coming out — part memoir, part policy prescriptive — that he has wryly titled: “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”

Franken has a laugh that bursts like a Tommy gun, and it does not take much to get it going. His staff keeps track of him on the Senate floor by listening for eruptions on their office televisions.

But the best stage to see Franken-style legislative improv is the hearing room. One recent exchange went viral.

“Governor, thank you so much for coming into my office. Did you enjoy meeting me?” he asked former Texas governor Rick Perry, who was up for confirmation as energy secretary.

“I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch,” Perry replied. In the awkward laughter that followed, Perry added: “May I rephrase that?”

“Please,” Franken said, shuddering. “Oh my lord.”

Those moments aside, and with Donald Trump in the White House, “I don’t think my role to play here has anything to do with humor,” Franken said. “I don’t think humor is the tool I’m supposed to be using.”

By one measure, Franken’s career has come full circle. In a 1991 “Saturday Night Live” skit, he played a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A week ago, on an episode of SNL’s “Weekend Update,” cast member Alex Moffat portrayed Franken in what is now a real-life role on that panel.He has many sides. During slow periods in committee hearings, Franken sometimes sketches elaborate portraits on a notepad. If he does not take them when he leaves, Senate staffers scoop up the Franken doodles as collector’s items.

But celebrity is a tricky thing in the Senate chamber, a place already well stocked with ego and ambition.

Franken said he found an early mentor in Tamera Luzzatto, who was Hillary Clinton’s Senate chief of staff at the time. Luzzatto had previously worked for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), another famous name.

Luzzatto advised Franken to keep a low profile, take care of his state and always show up well prepared.

“What we really talked about is, there is still an opportunity in the Senate to get to know each other, and impress one another with your work ethic,” Luzzatto recalled. “The way one handles fame as an elected official — senators in particular — can help or harm you.”

When Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), then the minority leader, made a speech on the Senate floor in 2010 opposing the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, he noticed Franken rolling his eyes. The impropriety was made worse by the fact that Franken was presiding over the Senate at the time.

“This isn’t ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al,” McConnell said.

Franken apologized.

As it happens, Franken’s arrival in Washington marked the very moment that Democratic power reached a pinnacle.

His belated arrival in 2009 gave the party its 60th vote in the Senate, the one that made their agenda filibuster-proof and opened, among other things, the possibility of passing President Obama’s health-care law on Democratic support alone.

But that dominance did not last long. The following January, Republicans picked up a Massachusetts Senate seat and began a long march back to the majority, which they won in 2014, the year Franken was reelected.

And with Trump’s election, the party is shut out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Franken brings a set of skills for navigating the wilderness they are in, Ornstein said. “It’s clear they need focused champions who can use the tools available to the minority to make points and frame issues and put people on the defensive and unmask things that need to be unmasked.”

Where it took Franken nearly six years to agree to his first Sunday show appearance as a senator, he now shows up on them frequently. There has even been talk of his potential as a presidential candidate.

“No. No,” he said. “I like this job. I really like this job. I like representing the people of Minnesota. I feel like I’m really beginning to know this job.”

Voters in Minnesota — a traditionally Democratic state that Trump lost by only a point and a half — also are paying attention to Franken’s emergence.

With another celebrity in the White House, “the context has completely changed,” said Kathryn L. Pearson, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota. “There’s no question that his Democratic constituents are enthusiastic about his high-level role at the national level, but it certainly is riskier [with] Republicans in Minnesota, and even independents.”

The night before a hearing, Franken takes the prepared testimony of witnesses home and pores over it for weaknesses and inaccuracies. If a study is cited in a footnote, he will read that too, he said.

“Very often, when I think someone isn’t being truthful, that gets my ire up,” Franken said. He cited a skirmish in the Sessions confirmation hearing over a questionnaire in which the Alabama senator claimed to have “personally” litigated several important civil rights cases when he was a U.S. attorney. Other lawyers involved said Sessions’ role had actually been minimal.

Pressing Sessions on the discrepancy, Franken got him to admit that his role in some of the cases had consisted of “assistance and guidance” and that he “had been supportive of them.”

Republican senators objected to such rough treatment of one of their own. “It is unfortunate to see members of this body impugn the integrity of a fellow senator with whom we have served for years,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said.

But for Franken, the moment was sweet: “That was fun for me.”

But he is also part of the club. When the bells rang for a vote on a recent afternoon, Franken and four colleagues crowded onto a Senate subway car.

“We have Franken here to make us laugh!” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) announced.

Which they all did.

“The first time Franken presided,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told them, “I was sitting and looking at his profile, and all I could think was ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”

Franken smiled. All that seemed like a long time ago.

Words Matter — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump led a charmed existence. Whatever he said, no matter how outrageous, it didn’t seem to hurt him. He could insult his Republican opponents, make misogynistic comments about female journalists, call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, describe Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, trot out blatant falsehoods by the dozen, encourage the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account—none of it proved damaging to his candidacy. As he famously remarked, it was as if he could go out and shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue “and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Now things have changed. He might never admit it, but Trump has belatedly discovered a basic principle of politics: words matter. They matter so much, in fact, that they can make or break a Presidency. That’s why every one of his predecessors—during the modern era, at least—has chosen his words carefully. It took a few weeks for it to become clear that President Trump, as opposed to candidate Trump, would be subject to this principle. But, at this stage, there can be no doubt about it. Virtually every day brings a fresh example of his own loose words coming back to hurt him.

Take the legal setback to the Administration’s revised travel ban, which was supposed to go into effect on Thursday. Derrick Kahala Watson, the federal judge in Hawaii who, on Wednesday, halted the measure on constitutional grounds, said that the public record “includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order.” Among other things, Watson cited a Trump campaign document that said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” On Thursday, another federal judge, Theodore D. Chuang, of Maryland, issued a separate injunction against the revised ban. Citing statements from Trump and his advisers, Chuang said that they indicated the new executive order represented “the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.” (My colleagues Benjamin Wallace-Wells and Jeffrey Toobin have more about both judges’ orders.)

It doesn’t stop there. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has pointed out, even a staunchly conservative judge who has taken the Administration’s side in the fight over the travel bans has criticized some of Trump’s public statements. Earlier this week, in a dissent from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the original ban, Judge Jay Bybee strongly condemned the President’s attacks on James Robart, the district-court judge in Seattle who originally halted the ban. (On Twitter, Trump had referred to Robart as “a so-called judge” and called his ruling “ridiculous.”)

“The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties,” Bybee, who worked in the George W. Bush Administration, wrote. “Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.”

So far, then, the words that Trump has used to bully and berate the judiciary have succeeded only in encouraging judges to display their independence, with disastrous results for his Administration. And something similar has happened in response to his effort to divert attention from his Russia woes by accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of bugging Trump Tower.

Two weeks ago, in a series of early morning tweets, Trump declared that “President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Perhaps he thought that no one would interrogate his words. Or perhaps he wasn’t thinking at all. In any case, the White House spokesman Sean Spicer later compounded the error by calling on Congress to investigate Trump’s charges. The House and Senate intelligence committees did what Spicer asked, and on Thursday the heads of the Senate committee—the Republican Richard Burr and the Democrat Mark Warner—issued a joint statement that said, “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

After that, you might have thought that Trump and his aides would decide to exercise a bit more caution in what they said. Not a bit of it. At his daily briefing on Thursday afternoon, Spicer said that the President “stands by” his bugging accusations. By way of trying to prove that these accusations were reasonable, Spicer also read out some comments made by Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News commentator, in which Napolitano claimed, without citing any evidence, that Obama had asked G.C.H.Q., Britain’s version of the National Security Agency, to bug Trump.

Spicer’s briefing created yet more embarrassment for the White House. G.C.H.Q. issued a rare public statement, in which it said that Napolitano’s claims were “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” In response to reporters’ inquiries, a spokesman for Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, repeated the word “nonsense,” and added, “We have made this clear to the administration, and have received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated.” On Friday morning, there were reports, subsequently denied by Trump aides, that the United States had issued a formal apology to Britain.

What can’t be denied is that, yet again, the White House is in the soup. The President and his aides now know that words and truth do matter. Yet they continue to act as if they are oblivious. At a press conference with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, on Friday afternoon, a German reporter asked Trump, “Why do you keep saying things you know are not true?” Trump didn’t answer directly. When another German reporter asked Trump about the White House citing claims that the British government bugged him, he refused to take responsibility. “We said nothing,” he said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” And, once again, Trump refused to back off the discredited claim that Obama bugged him. Looking at Merkel, whose phone the N.S.A. reportedly tapped for years, he said, jokingly, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”

Of course, it’s no joke. But will he ever learn?

Doonesbury — What a job.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Showing Their Hand

Trump’s budget proposals are just that: proposals.  They’re not law, they’re not actually in place, and if history is any guide, the chances of what OMB director Mike Mulvaney and his minions came up with have as much chance of becoming reality as do I of flying to the moon on gossamer wings.

But it does tell us a lot about the mindset of Trump and what they really think of America.  For one thing, they have a really strange concept of “compassion.”

Via Mother Jones:

At a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did little to alleviate the impression that the most vulnerable would suffer under these budget cuts. “You described this as a ‘hard power budget.’ Is it also a hard-hearted budget?” asked CNN’s Jim Acosta. “No, I don’t think so,” Mulvaney responded. “I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.”

Yet compassion was in short supply as Mulvaney tried to explain the administration’s budget priorities. Here are four of his most heartless statements:

Meals on Wheels doesn’t work. A reporter asked Mulvaney about proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant Program, which would lead to cuts on Meals on Wheels in some states. He responded that the program, which feeds elderly people, and ones like it are “just not showing results” and “don’t work.”

Afterschool programs for hungry kids don’t work. Mulvaney said that afterschool programs that feed low-income kids don’t help them do better in school. “There is no demonstrable evidence they are actually doing that,” he claimed.

Fighting climate change is a rip-off. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mulvaney said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

Starvation and famine? Yawn. Another reporter asked Mulvaney about the administration’s plans to reduce spending on the United Nations and foreign aid, despite famine and starvation facing 20 million people—a “humanitarian crisis,” according to the UN. “Are you worried that some of the most vulnerable people on earth will suffer?” the reporter asked. “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs,” Mulvaney said. “That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.”

I never doubted that these were the kind of people we are dealing with.

I honestly don’t know what kind of “results” he expected with a program like Meals on Wheels.  The elderly and disabled aren’t starving, but since they’re being fed by a government program, they’re “takers”?  Better that they die and decrease the surplus population?

Meanwhile, we’re paying how much to fly Trump back and forth to Palm Beach every weekend while the city of New York pays how much to protect his wife and son?

Historical footnote: This month marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Russian revolution.  It began when the people rose up to demand the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II who lived a life of incomparable luxury in Moscow and St. Petersburg with his foreign-born wife and children while the poor were starving.  (Digby compares Trump to Saddam Hussein.  Okay, whatever works; they were both authoritarian nationalists who came to a bad end.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Worse Numbers

The White House disputed the CBO scoring of the GOP tax cut masquerading as a healthcare bill, saying that the headline of 24 million people losing their health insurance is way wrong.

They’re right; their own estimates are that even more people will lose out.

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

[…]

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

“This is not an analysis of the bill in any way whatsoever,” White House Communications Director Michael Dubke told POLITICO. “This is OMB trying to project what CBO’s score will be using CBO’s methodology.”

According to documents viewed by POLITICO, the OMB analysis intended to assess the coverage and spending outcomes of the legislation.

The analysis found that under the American Health Care Act, the coverage losses would include 17 million for Medicaid, 6 million in the individual market and 3 million in employer-based plans.

A total of 54 million individuals would be uninsured in 2026 under the GOP plan, according to this White House analysis. That’s nearly double the number projected under current law.

So when the White House ran the numbers using the CBO methods, it made it worse.  Oops.

At some point even they will have to admit that this attempt at repeal-and-replace for Obamacare is a bomb that won’t make it through Congress.

The much-maligned Obamacare replacement bill will face its biggest test so far on Thursday, as a House of Representatives committee filled with conservatives could derail the legislation backed by Speaker Paul Ryan before it gets to the House floor.

If four Republicans join Democrats in voting against the bill in the House Budget Committee, the legislation will fail.

Okay, fellas, what’s Plan B?

No News Taxes

After a big build-up and a long lead-in, Rachel Maddow released two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal tax return.  The White House actually scooped her by releasing it first.  It shows he made a lot of money and paid 25% in taxes after a bunch of write-offs, which anyone with a lot of money and a decent accountant would do.

Trump’s defenders are saying “nothing to see here, move along,” and they’re probably right.  But if Trump had followed the lead of every other president in the last forty years and released all of his taxes without making up flimsy excuses like “I’m under audit” or “the dog ate them,” then there would be no news about no-news taxes from twelve years ago in the first place.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

24 Million

That’s a big number no matter how you slice it.  It’s about 90% of the population of Canada.  It’s also the number of people who are estimated to lose healthcare coverage if the GOP has their way.  (Not to worry, Canada; you have a real healthcare system that works.)

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its long-awaited analysis of the Republican plan to replace Obamacare — and it contains some very bad news for supporters of the American Health Care Act.

CBO projects that the Republican plan would cause 24 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026. This is a much bigger drop in coverage than experts had expected. Republican legislators will now be forced to answer questions about why tens of millions of Americans will lose coverage and how those people will fare under the new system.

The CBO projections also show that a promise President Trump and his advisers have made multiple times — that Trump would draft a bill that covered everyone, or that no one would lose coverage under his plan — to be flatly false.

Just this weekend, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said, “We don’t believe that individuals will lose coverage at all.” CBO says this is not the case whatsoever.

The Republican bill offers less help to people who buy their own insurance than Obamacare currently does. It also hugely pares back the Medicaid expansion, which covers millions of low-income Americans.

The CBO report lays bare that, taken together, those changes mean million fewer Americans would have coverage.

Or, to paint a picture of it:

The initial response to this news from the GOP is “well, everybody knows that the CBO is partisan.”  Except it’s not; and the head of the CBO is a Republican appointed by Tom Price, the Secretary of HHS.

The next thing that will happen is that the Republicans will come out and tell us how much money this will save the country by getting rid of Obamacare, especially by giving tax cuts to rich people because we all know that they will invest it in jobs to hire people.  Except they never do, and the people that they say they’re going to hire will either be too sick to get a job or dead.

I thoroughly expect Trump to go around the country saying how wonderful this new plan is and telling his base that this is why they voted for him; to free them from the tyranny of having affordable healthcare and that no one within the sound of his voice will be burdened with freedom-crushing Obamacare, and only the other guy will be sick, but then he deserves it because he voted for Hillary.

The sad part — aside from the 24 million people who will lose their healthcare insurance — is that no matter what happens, the Republican base will still keep churning out the votes for the Republicans.  Because that is the most important thing to them.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For

At the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday Trump called for the repeal of the Johnson amendment, the law that prohibits churches from supporting individual political candidates and still be exempt from paying taxes.

The logic behind the amendment is clear: If a church wishes to be a tax-exempt entity which can receive tax-exempt contributions, then it also must steer clear of participation in partisan politics. Not that it doesn’t already. It clearly does, as can be easily seen just by the list of church-backed organizations supporting the Gorsuch nomination. But by and large, it separates the political activity by carved-out nonprofit organizations which are separate from the church entity itself.

Churches should be careful about what they wish for, because gutting this amendment would put their tax-exempt status at risk. The Catholic Church would be ponying up a lot of money if this amendment was gutted, and that would be the beginning.

I am totally in favor of churches paying taxes.  And that means all of them, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to that little brown church in the vale.  At the very least pay property taxes on the land they own that isn’t used specifically for worship services or non-partisan church business.

If they want to go around telling people about mythical history and warning of retribution from some mean magical sky faerie if we don’t vote for their favorites, they should have to pony up for the privilege.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Talking Turkey

Via Raw Story:

In a preview of a Newsweek article due to be released Tuesday morning, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained that writer Kurt Eichenwald has uncovered evidence that President-elect Donald Trump may have already been compromised by a foreign leader holding the power to threaten his overseas holdings to gain a political advantage.

According to Maddow, Trump has a business relationship with the Doğan family, owners of Doğan Holding, which is building twin towers in Turkey bearing the Trump name for which the Trump family stands to make millions of dollars.

“The day after our presidential election in this country, one of the world leaders who called up Trump tower and spoke with the president-elect was the president of Turkey,” Maddow explained. “And one of the perk up your ears strange things reported about that call is that while Donald Trump was on the phone taking that congratulatory phone call from the president of Turkey, in that same call, Mr. Trump brought up to the president of Turkey by name that executive from the Doğan company, the guy who was the key guy on Trump’s big twin towers in Istanbul.”

Noting that Trump praised the man to Turkish President Erdoğan, Maddow continued.

“Now Newsweek reports that Turkey has figured out how to turn that to their advantage and how to put the president of the United States over a barrel in the process,” Maddow explained.  “On December 1st, the top representative of the Doğan company, in Turkey’s capital city, got arrested by the Turkish police. Again, Trump as president-elect had taken an official call from the Turkish president and used that occasion to tell the Turkish president how much this one particular company meant to him, going so far as to name specific executives.”

According to Maddow, President Erdoğan had the founder of the Doğan Holding, as well as an executive arrested on “threadbare” charges that  both were involved in an attempted military coup that happened in turkey this past summer.

Maddow then got to the heart of the matter.

“Turkey desperately wants the U.S. government to extradite an imam [Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen],” Maddow explained. “They [the U.S.] have said that they are not extraditing him. But if that’s what you wanted, what if you could squeeze the personal financial interests of the American president as a way to get what you want from the American government?”

“I mean, the Trump family and the president-elect themselves, they stand to make millions of dollars from their relationship with the Doğan group in Turkey. That will stop if they get locked up,” she continued. “So they started locking them up. Nice leverage, right? it would be one thing if it was business leverage — but it’s leverage against all of us as Americans.”

As Eichenwald notes in his article: “If Erdoğan’s government puts more pressure on the company that’s paying millions of dollars to Trump and his children, revenue flowing from that tower complex in Istanbul could be cut off. That means Erdoğan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gulen extradited.”

So it’s not just the Russians who are making Trump their bitch.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Plane Truth

Trump got twitterpated about the “$4 billion contract” to replace the aging Air Force One planes and sets off the bullshit meter.

Maybe Trump has information that is unavailable to our best news sources, but the planes are supposed to cost about $800 million each, not $2 billion each, as Trump’s tweet suggests. It’s hard to see how there could have been cost overruns this significant in so short a time, especially since the deliverable date isn’t until 2024 and the contracts that have been awarded so far add up to barely more than $150 million.

Of course, the contract could well be cancelled now that the president-elect has recommended it. Boeing’s stock began to plummet immediately. But, again, the only alternative to Boeing is Airbus, and Airbus is already looking to poach Boeing business from China if Trump follows through with belligerent anti-Chinese polices (as he has already begun to do).

So we’d “make America great again” by flying the president around in a plane built by the French?

Josh Marshall thinks he knows what set Trump off.  It’s got nothing to do with the price of the contract and everything to do with wounded egos and hurt fe-fe’s.

The article recounts a speech Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave before the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association on Friday in which he was mildly critical of Trump’s plans both for the Export-Import Bank and more protectionist trade policies. The Tribune story wasn’t the first time the speech was reported on. The Puget Sound Business Journalwrote up the speech on Friday. But a Google search (which is obviously an imperfect measure) suggests that the Tribune story was the only published mention of the speech in the last 24 hours prior to Trump’s tweet. It seems at least plausible that the Tribune story was the first or one of the first reports of the speech Trump or his team saw.

The Constitution says the president must be at least 35 years old.  Sadly, it doesn’t specify how mature he must be.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ms. Colebrook Regrets

I’m shocked, shocked.

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Donald Trump named his Treasury secretary, Teena Colebrook felt her heart sink.

She had voted for the president-elect on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington. And she knew Trump’s pick for Treasury — Steven Mnuchin — all too well.

OneWest, a bank formerly owned by a group of investors headed by Mnuchin, had foreclosed on her Los Angeles-area home in the aftermath of the Great Recession, stripping her of the two units she rented as a primary source of income.

“I just wish that I had not voted,” said Colebrook, 59. “I have no faith in our government anymore at all. They all promise you the world at the end of a stick and take it away once they get in.”

Less than a month after his presidential win, Trump’s populist appeal has started to clash with a Cabinet of billionaires and millionaires that he believes can energize economic growth.

The prospect of Mnuchin leading the Treasury Department drew plaudits from many in the financial sector. A former Goldman Sachs executive who pivoted in the early 2000s to hedge fund management and movie production, he seemed an ideal emissary to Wall Street.

When asked Wednesday about his credentials to be Treasury secretary, Mnuchin emphasized his time running OneWest — which not only foreclosed on Colebrook but also on thousands of others in the aftermath of the housing crisis caused by subprime mortgages.

“What I’ve really been focused on is being a regional banker for the last eight years,” Mnuchin said. “I know what it takes to make sure that we can make loans to small and midmarket companies and that’s going to be our big focus, making sure we scale back regulation so that we make sure the banks are lending.”

But the prospect of Mnuchin leading the Treasury Department prompted Colebrook and other OneWest borrowers who say they unfairly faced foreclosure to contact The Associated Press. Colebrook wishes she could meet with Trump to explain why she feels betrayed by his Cabinet selection after believing that his presidency could restore the balance of power to everyday people.

“He doesn’t want the truth,” she said. “He’s now backing his buddies.”

Not to be too cruel to Ms. Colebrook, but it’s not like the warning signs weren’t there from long before Trump ran for president.  But no, you decided to go with him anyway.

The reason she’s a news story is that the vast majority of Trump voters who got screwed by the system he flaunts and sells will not recognize that they’re the ones still getting screwed.  When Obamacare goes away and their insurance either goes through the roof or just plain goes away and when the deficit soars back up to 2008 levels thanks to the ginormous tax cuts whooped through by the GOP, they’ll find a way to blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.  The next recession — and there will be one — will be called “Obama’s Recession.”  The next hurricane will be Obama’s Katrina.  And when Russia takes over Ukraine, Syria becomes an ash heap, and China hikes their tariffs on their stuff sold here, guess who will get the blame.

We told you that, too, Ms. Colebrook.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Fine Print

So Trump was able to get Carrier to hold on to some jobs in Indiana.  That’s truly great for those people who might have been unemployed.  But with anything from a great deal on a car loan to “join free for a month!”, there are always some hidden traps that take the joy out of it and make you wonder if it was worth it.

Steve Benen has the details:

1. Carrier jobs are still moving to Mexico. While the company will receive $7 million in taxpayer money to keep roughly 800 jobs in Indiana, the Wall Street Journalreports that Carrier “still plans to move 600 jobs from the Carrier plant to Mexico,” plus moving another 700 other jobs that will be lost when it closes a separate plant in Huntington, Ind. In other words, under Trump’s alleged triumph, the one that will teach a valuable lesson to American companies, Carrier is shipping 1,300 jobs from Indiana to Mexico, even as receives millions of dollars from the state.

2. This is the exact opposite of what Trump said he’d do. As a presidential candidate, Trump mocked government efforts to keep employers stateside with grants, tax incentives, and low-interest loans. Candidate Trump said that approach “doesn’t work,” which is why he’d use a stick rather than a carrot: “What you do is you tell them, ‘You move to Mexico, you`re going to pay a 35 percent tax bringing these products that you make in Mexico back into the country.’”

Except, with Carrier, Trump’s doing exactly what he promised not to do, ignoring the solution he assured voters would work “easily.”

3. Moral hazard exists. As we discussed yesterday, paying off companies that threaten to ship jobs out of the country is not the basis for a sustainable, national manufacturing strategy. On the contrary, it creates a problematic set of incentives: if companies are led to believe the government will give them money to stay in the United States, every employer, whether they have outsourcing plans or not, will have a strong incentive to routinely call up the Trump White House and say, “Give us a sweet, taxpayer-financed deal or we’re out of here.”

4. Beware of unknown incentives. We know about the $7 million. We don’t know for certain whether there are any as-yet-unreported parts of the deal. The Wall Street Journalpiece added the federal government is an important customer for Carrier’s corporate parent, United Technologies: “The U.S. military accounts for about 10% of United Technologies’ $56 billion in annual sales, for products like the engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, said he would be asking more about the Carrier deal and said he would inquire whether there were promises about defense contracts.

“I want to know whether the president-elect promised special federal tax breaks for a single company,” Mr. Wyden said Thursday. “I want to do everything I can to keep jobs in the United States, but there are some questions here.”

5. Conservatives should be howling: I’m so old, I remember when conservatives were disgusted with the idea of politicians using government money to pick “winners and losers.” Apparently, the right didn’t mean it.

The people who really got the fuzzy end of this lollipop are, in the long run, the American taxpayers and especially those in Indiana who are basically making up the difference to Carrier/United Technologies for what they would have saved if they had moved to Mexico.  Seven million dollars in “tax incentives” means either the taxpayers will pony up the difference somehow to balance the loss, or they will just go without whatever the $7 million was going to pay for in the first place, be it an infrastructure project or school funding or perhaps even a “tax incentive” to the taxpayers themselves.  But math is math; you cut something from one line, you’ve got to add it back somewhere else.

But apparently the good people of Indiana and Carrier were so taken with the idea that hey, Trump is coming to our town and saving us they really don’t notice — or care — that they’re the ones who will end up losing.  Will Trump come back and save them?  I wouldn’t count on it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gator Nation

No, this is not a post about University of Florida football.  It’s about Trump voters finding out that their hero’s plan to “drain the swamp” is bait and switch, and they’re the bait.

Case in point: the appointment of a bunch of Wall Street bankers — those wonderful folks who brought you the Great Recession — are being welcomed back to the table.  And they’re not happy.

Most importantly, this is a shining example of how Trump gaslit the nation. He pointed his finger at Hillary Clinton as the corrupt one for having delivered a few speeches, when his corruption was so deep it could have been seen beneath his thin, shiny orange skin.

Didn’t I just say that?

This flag-burning tweet is designed, pun intended, to inflame his white GOP base and deflect their attention from his once-vaunted promises to drain the swamp while he brings in fresh alligators.

 

claytoonz-gators-12-01-16Via.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hey, Middle Class, You Got Screwed

About 4 million people, mostly middle class workers, just got screwed out of a significant amount of money, and they can thank the Republicans — the ones who just promised them they’d have their backs — for the screwing.

A Texas judge blocked President Obama’s bid to expand overtime pay protections to millions of Americans on Tuesday, thwarting a key presidential priority just days before it was set to take effect.

The Labor Department rule would have doubled the salary level at which hourly workers must be paid extra for overtime pay, from $23,660 to $47,476. Siding with business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Texas District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III halted it.

The rule, finalized in May, represented the first such change in more than a decade and was hailed at the time as the most consequential action the Obama administration could take for middle-class workers without congressional involvement.

Plaintiffs had argued the Labor Department acted beyond its authority under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The administration said more than 4 million salaried workers stood to benefit from the change when it took effect Dec. 1.

The rule was already in jeopardy after the election of Donald Trump. Just as the Obama administration made the change through its rule-making prerogatives, a Republican administration could undo it.

Neither the White House nor the Labor Department had an immediate comment.

But Hillary Clinton used the wrong e-mail address so it’s all good.