Pro-Trump Republican charged with felony theft

Danielle Stella was arrested twice this year in Minneapolis suburbs over allegations that she shoplifted items worth more than $2,300 from a Target and goods valued at $40 from a grocery store. She said she denied the allegations.

Stella, 31-year-old special education teacher, was reported this week to be a supporter of the baseless “QAnon” conspiracy theory about Donald Trump battling a global cabal of elite liberal paedophiles.

This week Stella also described Minneapolis as “the crime capital of our country”. She has in the past complained that local police were “overworked and overburdened” and said that, if elected, she would work to reduce crime.

In a series of text messages, Stella said: “I am not guilty of these crimes. In this country I am innocent until proven guilty and that is the law.”

She added: “If I was guilty of crimes, I would never run for public office, putting myself in the public eye under a microscope to be attacked by all political sides.”

An attorney for Stella, Joshua London, declined to comment.

Stella is accused of stealing 279 items valued at $2,327.97 from a Target store in Edina, to the south-west of Minneapolis, on 8 January this year. She was arrested for the alleged theft after security staff called the police.

A criminal complaint filed to Hennepin county district court alleged Stella was seen leaving the store without paying for most of her haul, after “scanning only a few other items” that were valued at about $50.

Stella’s candidacy has attracted interest from the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars, which broadcast an interview with her this week. Stella laughed and nodded as the host, J Owen Shroyer, called Omar “a witch” and said: “Everything about her is a fraud.”

Describing Minneapolis during the interview as America’s “crime capital”, Stella falsely claimed that crime in the city had risen by 80% over the past year. According to Minneapolis police data, there has been a 10.7% uptick in serious crime year-on-year, following a 16.5% decline in 2018.

Court records say that in 2009, Stella pleaded guilty to driving while impaired from alcohol and fleeing a police officer. The latter charge was prosecuted as a felony but later classified as a gross misdemeanour as part of Stella’s plea.

Read the complete article in the Guardian newspaper here.

Trumped-up Memo backfires on Donald Trump

The meaning of ‘trumped-up’ according to the Cambridge Dictionary is: “deliberately based on false information so that someone will be accused of doing something wrong and punished:
Example: She was imprisoned on trumped-up corruption charges.

The fact that the phrase ‘trumped-up’ contains the name Trump is most evident by the unbelievably high number of tweets and statements by Donald Trump which are ‘trumped-up’. Now there is the ‘Memo’ being touted by Trump.

The controversial GOP memo alleges that the warrant the FBI obtained in October 2016 to track Page relied on unvetted information provided by a former British spy working for the Democrats.

While Republicans presented the memo as evidence that the investigation was tainted, the document indicates that law enforcement officials had sufficient worries about the energy consultant that they felt it was necessary to continue to monitor him.

Page had been on the radar of the FBI at least as far back as 2013, when a bureau wiretap caught suspected Russian spies discussing their attempts to recruit him. Even after being interviewed by the investigators in that case, Page continued to have extensive contacts with Russians, including trips to Moscow in July and December 2016.

It is not clear what the FBI learned about Page’s late-2016 travel abroad, which occurred just weeks after Trump’s election. But five senior Justice Department and FBI officials signed off on three requests for extensions of the foreign intelligence surveillance warrant for Page; all the requests were approved by a federal judge, according to the Republican memo. (Full article)

For months, Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser who was under government surveillance as part of the Russia investigation, has been shunned by Republicans and dismissed by the White House, which portrayed his campaign stint as inconsequential.

But now Mr. Page is the linchpin in a conservative effort to discredit the F.B.I. and the special counsel inquiry. He is at the center of a divisive memo written by Republican committee staff members that was released on Friday and accuses law enforcement officials of abuses in obtaining a warrant to surveil Mr. Page in 2016.

The memo falls short of the case that some Republicans promised — that the document would show bias against Mr. Trump by investigators in opening the Russia inquiry and possibly undercut the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

But for the past year, Mr. Page himself has been pitching that narrative to journalists, politicians, investigators and almost anyone who will listen. Though Mr. Trump’s allies have repeatedly sought to dismiss him as a bit character in the 2016 campaign, Mr. Page’s role could now be political fodder in the president’s efforts to discredit Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.

In 2013, Mr. Page struck up a professional friendship with the operative, Victor Podobny, who was working undercover in New York City. Mr. Page — who at the time did not have any role in American government — gave documents to Mr. Podobny about the energy sector.

Mr. Podobny was picked up by the authorities on a wiretap calling Mr. Page an “idiot” to his Russian intelligence colleagues. He was charged by the Justice Department and spirited back to Moscow before he could be arrested. Mr. Page was questioned by law enforcement officials about his contacts but never charged in the case.

Mr. Page has openly acknowledged he is the unnamed male referred to in federal court documents about Mr. Podobny.

A dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative hired to investigate Mr. Trump’s links to Russia, claimed that Mr. Page maintained deep ties to the Kremlin, including with officials sanctioned by the United States.

Mr. Nunes’s memo claims that the dossier, whose research was funded in part by Democrats, was improperly used to justify surveilling Mr. Page after he had cut ties with Mr. Trump. But the memo left out that the research was initially funded by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website.

For months, Mr. Page showed up regularly, uninvited and unannounced, at the secure offices of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, where he dropped off documents he had compiled himself. One was his own dossier in which he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime by the Hillary Clinton campaign because he was a Catholic and a man. ( Full Article )

All in all the memo confirms the legitimacy of government surveillance of Carter Page and his ties to Russia. In an attempt to discredit the FBI and others Donald Trump has exposes himself once again as a person who will go to any length to avoid public scrutiny of his ties to Russia and/or his involvement with Russian activities.

The Republicans who urged Trump to pull out of Paris deal are big oil darlings

James Inhofe: climate change’s biggest enemy in the Senate, and the co-author of the letter. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A withdrawal by Donald Trump from the Paris climate accord would go down as a hallmark of his presidency. It would be unilateral, reckless and splashy – trademark Trump. The president has said he will announce his decision at 3pm ET (8pm BST) on Thursday.

But while Trump has often stood on a range of issues as a maverick outlier from mainstream Republican politics, on climate change he is at the centre of the party’s orthodoxy. Trump’s disbelief in climate change and imminent decision on whether to support the Paris agreement reflects an area of unusual agreement between the president and elected Republicans, whose track record of climate change denialism is plain and long.

Unmissable behind the elected Republicans stand other interests: the oil, gas and coal industries, which together are some of the most influential donors to Republican candidates.

The big-money supporters got a return on their investment last week, when 22 Republican senators whose campaigns have collected more than $10m in oil, gas and coal money since 2012 sent a letter from the president urging him to withdraw from the Paris deal.

Donations from oil, gas and coal interests to the signatories of the letter are Open Secrets that seemed ready for a new review. A Guardian survey of Federal Elections Commission data organized by the Center for Responsive Politics found that the industries gave a total of $10,694,284 to the 22 senators over the past three election cycles.

Visible donations to Republicans from those industries exceeded donations to Democrats in the 2016 election cycle by a ratio of 15-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that does not include so-called dark money passed from oil interests such as Koch industries to general slush funds to re-elect Republicans such as the Senate leadership fund.

At least $90m in untraceable money has been funneled to Republican candidates from oil, gas and coal interests in the past three election cycles, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here is a breakdown for the past three election cycles (2012, 2014 and 2016).

James Inhofe, Oklahoma

Oil & gas: $465,950

Coal: $63,600

Total: $529,550

John Barrasso, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $458,466

Coal: $127,356

Total: $585,822

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $1,180,384

Coal: $361,700

Total: $1,542,084

John Cornyn, Texas

Oil & gas: $1,101,456

Coal: $33,050

Total: $1,134,506

Roy Blunt, Missouri

Oil & gas: $353,864

Coal: $96,000

Total: $449,864

Roger Wicker, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $198,816

Coal: $25,376

Total: $224,192

Michael Enzi, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $211,083

Coal: $63,300

Total: $274,383

Mike Crapo, Idaho

Oil & gas: $110,250

Coal: $26,756

Total: $137,006

Jim Risch, Idaho

Oil & gas: $123,850

Coal: $25,680

Total: $149,530

Thad Cochran, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $276,905

Coal: $15,000

Total: $291,905

Mike Rounds, South Dakota

Oil & gas: $201,900

Coal: none

Total: $201,900

Rand Paul, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $170,215

Coal: $82,571

Total: $252,786

John Boozman, Arkansas

Oil & gas: $147,930

Coal: $2,000

Total: $149,930

Richard Shelby, Alabama

Oil & gas: $60,150

Coal: $2,500

Total: $62,650

Luther Strange, Alabama

(Appointed in 2017, running in 2017 special election)

Total: NA

Orrin Hatch, Utah

Oil & gas: $446,250

Coal: $25,000

Total: $471,250

Mike Lee, Utah

Oil & gas: $231,520

Coal: $21,895

Total: $253,415

Ted Cruz, Texas

Oil & gas: $2,465,910

Coal: $103,900

Total: $2,569,810

David Perdue, Georgia

Oil & gas: $184,250

Coal: $0

Total: $184,250

Thom Tillis, North Carolina

Oil & gas: $263,400

Coal: $0

Total: $263,400

Tim Scott, South Carolina

Oil & gas: $490,076

Coal: $58,200

Total: $548,276

Pat Roberts, Kansas

Oil & gas: $388,950

Coal: $28,825

Total: $417,775

Sum total for all 22 Republican signatories: $10,694,284

Perhaps the only reason Donald Trump promoted ‘Drain The Swamp’ was to make it easier for oil & gas companies to drill.

Read the complete story on The Guardian web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump had been said to be on the fence about the deal. Members of his inner circle, including his daughter, were reported to favor staying in.

“We strongly encourage you to make a clean break from the Paris Agreement,” read the letter, drafted by Wyoming’s John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and public works, and Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, a longtime climate change denier and senior member of that committee.

The letter argued that the Paris deal threatened Trump’s efforts to rescind the clean power plan, an Obama-era set of regulations and guidelines that include emissions caps and other rules deemed onerous by the fossil fuel industries.

It was not as if Trump wanted for advisers urging him to withdraw from the Paris deal even before the letter was sent. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Stephen Bannon urged withdrawal, while energy secretary Rick Perry favored renegotiation.

Updated Trumpcare Bill Will See 41 Million Americans Be Health Care Losers

Sick people would probably have to pay more under the health bill passed by the House, the Congressional Budget Office reports. Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

The Senate now has a clearer sense of the 41 million Americans who would lose under the health bill the House sent them by Donald Trump and the Republicans. It also got a startlingly direct message from government analysts about how destabilizing one of the House ideas could be.

The Congressional Budget Office published its assessment of the House health bill on Wednesday, and warned that a last-minute amendment made to win conservative votes would result in deeply dysfunctional markets for about a sixth of the population. In those places, insurance would fail to cover important medical services, and people with pre-existing illnesses could be shut out of coverage, the budget office said.

It found that about half the country would face thinner coverage for people who buy their own insurance, as it would be unlikely to include mental health and addiction treatment services, maternity care or rehabilitation services. Medical deductibles would also increase.

As in the original version of the bill, winners would include people who are young, healthy and earn higher incomes. They would be better off, assuming they didn’t develop serious health problems. The bill makes big cuts to taxes on payroll and investment income for those earning more than $200,000, and provides more subsidies to buy insurance for people earning between about $50,000 and $150,000. On average, premiums for health plans people buy for themselves would decline over the 10-year period, as coverage becomes less generous.

The report was sharply critical of the idea that sicker patients could be protected in a system that allowed insurers to charge them higher premiums. In the minority of states it predicted would pursue broad waivers of Obamacare’s insurance regulations, the office said that sick customers would face far higher prices and many would be priced out of the market altogether.

The bill would save the federal government $119 billion in a decade.

The largest savings would come from cutting Medicaid and reducing tax credits for middle-income insurance buyers.

Projected cumulative change in deficit, in billions

Because Republicans are using a special legislative process to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, the bill had to comply with special rules. They include saving the federal budget at least $2 billion over 10 years.

An initial version of the bill would have saved the federal government $337 billion over a decade, and a subsequent version would have saved half that amount. House Republicans pulled an earlier bill from the floor because they did not have enough votes to pass it.

In the final bill, however, lawmakers added more spending in various areas to get enough votes to pass, including $8 billion over five years to help cover insurance costs for people with pre-existing conditions.

One of the bill’s most expensive items is a provision that would eliminate about $600 billion in taxes imposed under the Affordable Care Act, including taxes on investment income, prescription drugs and indoor tanning.

23 million more Americans will be uninsured in 10 years.

The budget office projected that in 2018, the number of uninsured would increase to 41 million and would continue to grow. In 10 years, it would become closer to what it was before the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health law, took effect.

Number of uninsured

People with Medicaid coverage would take the largest loss. In a decade, 14 million fewer people would be enrolled in the program.

The C.B.O. estimates that the increase in the number of uninsured would be disproportionately larger among older people with low incomes.

Cost of insurance could rise more than nine-fold for some older people with low incomes.

The House bill included last-minute amendments that let states seek changes to certain insurance regulations.

The C.B.O. estimates that premiums could go down about 10 to 30 percent for people in states that make moderate changes to these regulations. This is largely achieved by offering skimpier plans and pricing out the old and sick from the insurance market.

Senate leaders, aware of the criticism already leveled at the House bill, say they are writing their own bill. This analysis is likely to offer guidance in where they will and won’t want to go.

Read the complete articles in the New York Times here and here.

Donald Trump’s budget ignores what is ailing American workers

Cuts to social programmes are unlikely to improve the health or employment prospects for struggling Americans

PRESIDENTIAL budget requests are worth exactly nothing. They carry no force of legislation. They land, heavy, bound and shrink-wrapped, so they can be immediately binned as Congress continues its now yearly stumble toward a “continuing resolution”—a supposedly temporary legislative act that in recent decades has almost entirely replaced the statutory budget process. The request from the President is the least consequential part of something that is completely broken. It functions like a bumper sticker on an old car. It only tells you about the person who’s driving.

Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who won his seat in the Tea-Party wave of 2010, runs Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. Mr Mulvaney has created the budget his wing of the Republican party always wanted: government as a service, paid for by its clients, the taxpayers. If you receive more than you pay, the system has failed, and must be fixed. The marketing copy that accompanied the budget calls this “respect for people who pay the bills”.

This respect consists, mostly, of cuts to social services. Mr Mulvaney finds most of his savings by reducing what the federal government spends on health insurance programmes for the poor by $616bn over the next ten years. He wants to cut subsidies for student loans, for a savings of $143bn. He wants to make cuts to a programme that supports poor families with children ($272bn), and another that provides an income for those sick or injured who can’t work ($72bn). His aim is to encourage people to get back to work.

To fix disability insurance, then, Mr Trump must pull off an impossible trick: he has to fix rural America. He has to provide better, cheaper health care, and public health programmes to prevent obesity and smoking. He has to provide jobs—to replace the poultry slaughterhouse and copper wire and fishing boat manufacturing plants that have left Van Buren County, for example. He could make it easier to move, or train for a job at a desk.

 

House May Need to Vote Again on GOP Obamacare Repeal Bill

House Republicans barely managed to pass their Obamacare repeal bill earlier this month, and they now face the possibility of having to vote again on their controversial health measure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t yet sent the bill to the Senate because there’s a chance that parts of it may need to be redone, depending on how the Congressional Budget Office estimates its effects. House leaders want to make sure the bill conforms with Senate rules for reconciliation, a mechanism that allows Senate Republicans to pass the bill with a simple majority.

Republicans had rushed to vote on the health bill so the Senate could get a quick start on it, even before the CBO had finished analyzing a series of last-minute changes. The CBO is expected to release an updated estimate next week.

“Unaware,” said Representative Jeff Denham of California, with noticeable surprise Thursday, when advised that his party leaders still hadn’t sent the bill over to the Senate. Denham was one of the House Republicans who ended up voting for the measure, after earlier in the week opposing it.

“I am on the whip team and we have a lot of conversations, but we have not had that one. So I am going to look into it,” said Denham, a member of the party’s vote-counting team.

In the Senate, the bill must hit separate $1 billion deficit reduction targets in the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee and the chamber’s health committee. Republican aides said failing to meet those numbers would force the House to fix the bill even if the legislation meets the overall cost-savings target.

If Republican leaders hold onto the bill until the CBO report is released, then Ryan and his team could still redo it if necessary. That would require at least one more House vote of some sort.

Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday that he doesn’t think the House will need to vote again on the health law. “We just want to, out of an abundance of caution, wait to send the bill over to the Senate when we get the final score,” Ryan said.

It’s unclear what assumptions the CBO will make about what states will do with that newly created flexibility. If millions of people sign up for much cheaper, minimal insurance, that could trigger billions — and potentially even hundreds of billions — in costs over a decade because of the House bill’s health insurance tax credits.

Read the complete article on Bloomberg web site.

Why Trumponomics won’t make America great again

The impulsiveness and shallowness of America’s president threaten the economy as well as the rule of law. Graphic: The Economist

Accordng to this article in The Economist: DONALD TRUMP rules over Washington as if he were a king and the White House his court. His displays of dominance, his need to be the centre of attention and his impetuousness have a whiff of Henry VIII about them. Fortified by his belief that his extraordinary route to power is proof of the collective mediocrity of Congress, the bureaucracy and the media, he attacks any person and any idea standing in his way.

Just how much trouble that can cause was on sensational display this week, with his sacking of James Comey—only the second director of the FBI to have been kicked out. Mr Comey has made mistakes and Mr Trump was within his rights. But the president has succeeded only in drawing attention to questions about his links to Russia and his contempt for the norms designed to hold would-be kings in check.

Just as dangerous, and no less important to ordinary Americans, however, is Mr Trump’s plan for the economy. It treats orthodoxy, accuracy and consistency as if they were simply to be negotiated away in a series of earth-shattering deals. Although Trumponomics could stoke a mini-boom, it, too, poses dangers to America and the world.

Trumponomics 101

In an interview with this newspaper, the president gave his most extensive description yet of what he wants for the economy (see article). His target is to ensure that more Americans have well-paid jobs by raising the growth rate. His advisers talk of 3% GDP growth—a full percentage point higher than what most economists believe is today’s sustainable pace.

In Mr Trump’s mind the most important path to better jobs and faster growth is through fairer trade deals. Though he claims he is a free-trader, provided the rules are fair, his outlook is squarely that of an economic nationalist. Trade is fair when trade flows are balanced. Firms should be rewarded for investing at home and punished for investing abroad.

The second and third strands of Trumponomics, tax cuts and deregulation, will encourage that domestic investment. Lower taxes and fewer rules will fire up entrepreneurs, leading to faster growth and better jobs. This is standard supply-side economics, but to see Trumponomics as a rehash of Republican orthodoxy is a mistake—and not only because its economic nationalism is a departure for a party that has championed free trade.

The real difference is that Trumponomics (unlike, say, Reaganomics) is not an economic doctrine at all. It is best seen as a set of proposals put together by businessmen courtiers for their king. Mr Trump has listened to scores of executives, but there are barely any economists in the White House. His approach to the economy is born of a mindset where deals have winners and losers and where canny negotiators confound abstract principles. Call it boardroom capitalism.

That Trumponomics is a business wishlist helps explain why critics on the left have laid into its poor distributional consequences, fiscal indiscipline and potential cronyism. And it makes clear why businessmen and investors have been enthusiastic, seeing it as a shot in the arm for those who take risks and seek profits. Stockmarkets are close to record highs and indices of business confidence have soared.

In the short term that confidence could prove self-fulfilling. America can bully Canada and Mexico into renegotiating NAFTA. For all their sermons about fiscal prudence, Republicans in Congress are unlikely to deny Mr Trump a tax cut. Stimulus and rule-slashing may lead to faster growth. And with inflation still quiescent, the Federal Reserve might not choke that growth with sharply higher interest rates.

Unleashing pent-up energy would be welcome, but Mr Trump’s agenda comes with two dangers. The economic assumptions implicit in it are internally inconsistent. And they are based on a picture of America’s economy that is decades out of date.

Contrary to the Trump team’s assertions, there is little evidence that either the global trading system or individual trade deals have been systematically biased against America (see article). Instead, America’s trade deficit—Mr Trump’s main gauge of the unfairness of trade deals—is better understood as the gap between how much Americans save and how much they invest (see article). The fine print of trade deals is all but irrelevant. Textbooks predict that Mr Trump’s plans to boost domestic investment will probably lead to larger trade deficits, as it did in the Reagan boom of the 1980s. If so, Mr Trump will either need to abandon his measure of fair trade or, more damagingly, try to curb deficits by using protectionist tariffs that will hurt growth and sow mistrust around the world.

A deeper problem is that Trumponomics draws on a blinkered view of America’s economy. Mr Trump and his advisers are obsessed with the effect of trade on manufacturing jobs, even though manufacturing employs only 8.5% of America’s workers and accounts for only 12% of GDP. Service industries barely seem to register. This blinds Trumponomics to today’s biggest economic worry: the turbulence being created by new technologies. Yet technology, not trade, is ravaging American retailing, an industry that employs more people than manufacturing (see article). And economic nationalism will speed automation: firms unable to outsource jobs to Mexico will stay competitive by investing in machines at home. Productivity and profits may rise, but this may not help the less-skilled factory workers who Mr Trump claims are his priority.

The bite behind the bark

Trumponomics is a poor recipe for long-term prosperity. America will end up more indebted and more unequal. It will neglect the real issues, such as how to retrain hardworking people whose skills are becoming redundant. Worse, when the contradictions become apparent, Mr Trump’s economic nationalism may become fiercer, leading to backlashes in other countries—further stoking anger in America. Even if it produces a short-lived burst of growth, Trumponomics offers no lasting remedy for America’s economic ills. It may yet pave the way for something worse.

A complete transcript of The Economist’s interview with Mr Trump is available here.

Palace whispers in the court of King Donald

Image from The Economist magazine article.

IT IS too soon to know whether Donald Trump’s sudden, regal dismissal of the FBI director—“Off with his head!”—will trigger a constitutional crisis. Much depends on who is appointed to succeed James Comey, and on the fate of FBI probes into Russian meddling in the election of 2016.

It is not too soon to make a more general observation. Less than four months into the reign of King Donald, his impetuous ways are making it more likely that his presidency will be a failure, with few large achievements to its name. That is not journalistic snark but a statement of fact, based on warnings from prominent Republicans and Democrats, notably in the Senate.

The 100 members of the Senate have a touchy relationship with every president. They are grandees, with a keen sense of superiority over the toiling hacks who serve in the House of Representatives and the here-today-gone-tomorrow political appointees who run the executive branch. Senators are treated as princes when they travel overseas, briefed by grizzled American generals and treated to tea by local potentates. In their dreams, election campaigns might still involve addressing crowds from the flag-draped caboose of a private train. Small wonder, then, that senators often resent the still-grander life of a president. Yet their dismay over Mr Trump sounds different.

As the Trump era began, Democratic senators recalled how this populist president had scorned both parties on the campaign trail, and wondered whether he might seek new, bipartisan coalitions to help hard-pressed working Americans. Democrats would muse, off the record, about the terms they would demand for supporting policies like a vast infrastructure programme. Perhaps, for example, they might seek union wage rates for workers building Mr Trump’s new airports and bridges. Republican senators worried, privately, about the same thing from the other side. They fretted that their new president would strike bargains with the new Democratic leader in the Senate, the canny, deal-cutting Charles Schumer of New York. To comfort themselves, Republicans imagined Mr Trump as a sort of salesman-CEO, selling comprehensive tax reform and deregulation to the masses while delegating day-to-day government to conventional conservatives such as his vice-president, Mike Pence.

Not any more. Increasingly the mood among Senate Republicans is a mixture of incredulity and gloom, as each political success (the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice, deftly handled cruise-missile strikes on Syria) is followed by a momentum-killing outburst from the president.

Some cast Mr Trump’s woes as a crisis of messaging and of White House staff discipline. At a recent lunch for Senate Republicans , Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the owl-like majority leader, scolded Mr Pence over a Trump tweet that suggested a government shutdown might be a nifty idea. You don’t believe that, we don’t believe that, and that sort of tweet only makes our lives harder, Mr McConnell reportedly told the vice-president. Prominent Republicans and Democrats have offered Mr Trump the same advice: find a chief of staff in the ferocious mould of James Baker, chief enforcer in the White Houses of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Some senators have still more specific counsel to offer. They urge Mr Trump to create a domestic policy team that apes the professionalism of his national security team. They praise his second national security adviser, Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster, for turning around a group left in chaos by his ill-starred predecessor, Mike Flynn, and hail the way that his defence secretary, James Mattis, works with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Not only do the chieftains of the Pentagon and State Department meet on their own at least once a week for breakfast to share their thinking, when recommending policies they try to present the president with a single option.

At the root of each fresh crisis lies Mr Trump’s character. If he were a king in velvet and ermine that would matter less. But he is an American president. Party loyalty may save him from a revolution. But, startlingly early on, his own colleagues are starting to wonder what King Donald is for.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

Trump discovers politics isn’t like business

Donald Trump listens to a speaker in the East Room of the White House on Friday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump is used to running private companies with him as President, and enjoying the Presidential power private companies provide. Now he finds being President of the United States isn’t the same as being President of Trump Organization.

Republicans, who voted more than 60 times to repeal or alter Obamacare over the past few years only to be vetoed by Obama, had got their big chance and blown it. The party’s deep ideological and factional divisions, temporarily papered over amid the euphoria of last November’s surprise win, were back with a vengeance as it struggled to go from opposition to governance.

In Trump’s rambunctious election campaign, the 70-year-old novice promised to repeal and replace the ACA “immediately”. It was a bad choice for an opening offensive. Healthcare reform is to American presidents what the Russian winter was to Napoleon.

Trump has said tax reform is next, and years of Republican planning might allow for that legislation to pass more easily. But his ability to work with Congress is in grave question. His unique selling point, as a dealmaker, has taken a huge hit.

Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer, said of Trump’s supporters: “They voted for a guy who could fix it, the CEO, on The Apprentice for 10 years, who could make a deal with anybody.”

But the tactics that served Trump so well in business – playing the alpha male, holding one-on-one meetings – did not translate to politics, she said.

“Now he’s up against 535 other people [in the House and Senate], other people who have their own independent power base and are not really interested in rolling over. The model of taking one person in a room and beating up on them doesn’t work with 535.”

But as the health care bill negotiations gathered steam, it was clearly not going to be plain sailing. Last month, Trump admitted: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” The bill was, in the eyes of many, rushed and deeply flawed, falling well short of Trump’s campaign pledge to provide insurance for everyone.

Grassroots protests erupted across the country, citizen activists hitting the phones and constituents berating congressmen at town hall events. Groups representing hospitals and medical professionals derided the legislation. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the AHCA would lead to 24 million fewer Americans having health insurance over the next 10 years. The bill achieved the rare feat of uniting the far left and far right in opposition.

Friday’s failure was a fillip for the anti-Trump “resistance” but it was hardly grounds for complacency. The president looks set to press ahead with his agenda on everything from rolling back Obama-era protections on the environment to building a wall on the Mexican border to firing off tweets that alienate allies and embolden enemies.

He may also ensure that his prediction of Obamacare’s explosion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Move fast and break things” will continue, even it if means breaking his own party.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

If you are middle class, or poor, or sick don’t read this. You may get sick or sicker.

affordablecareact

House Republican leaders on Thursday presented their rank-and-file members with the outlines of their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, leaning heavily on tax credits to finance individual insurance purchases and sharply reducing federal payments to the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility.

What does ‘expanded Medicaid’ mean?

ACA Medicaid Expansion – What is it?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) called for a nationwide expansion of Medicaid eligibility, set to begin in 2014. Under health care reform law, nearly all U.S. citizens under 65 with family incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three in 2012) will now qualify for Medicaid.

Some states opted in to expanded Medicaid, some states did not. An interactive map by state of Medicaid and expanded Medicaid recipients is available here.

As of January 2016, 72.9 million people were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. Over two-thirds of enrollees resided in states that have implemented the ACA Medicaid expansion.

Between Summer 2013 and January 2016, there was a net increase of nearly 15.5 million or 27% enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP among the 49 states reporting data for both periods. Most of this growth occurred in year one. Most of this growth was in large states in the West that implemented the Medicaid expansion.

Expansion states experienced significantly greater enrollment growth over the two year period, although there was variation across states. States that implemented the Medicaid expansion experienced over three times greater enrollment growth compared to states where the Medicaid expansion is not in effect (36% vs. 12%). Over the period, growth ranged from a high of 95% in Kentucky to slight decline in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Children account for a greater share of total Medicaid and CHIP enrollment in nearly all states that have not expanded Medicaid compared to states that have expanded. Reflecting higher eligibility levels for children, children accounted for a greater share of total Medicaid and CHIP enrollees in non-expansion states compared to states that have implemented the expansion to adults (68% vs. 44%). Read complete report from Kaiser Family Foundation here.

The federal government now pays more than 90 percent of the costs for newly eligible beneficiaries in states that expanded Medicaid. Under the House Republican plan, the federal share would decline to 50 percent in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, resulting in a significant loss of federal revenue.

In a number of states that have expanded Medicaid, Republican governors and Republican members of Congress have made clear that they do not like the idea of a block grant or a per-beneficiary allotment.

The Congressional Budget Office says that 12 million people have insurance because they became eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and it estimates that federal spending for this group will be $70 billion this year. This 12 million figure differs from the 15 million reported by Kaiser Family Foundation. The KFF figure is net amount, the CBO doesn’t state how they arrive at their smaller figure.

The House Republican plan would immediately eliminate tax penalties for people who do not have insurance and employers that do not offer it.

It would also eliminate taxes and fees that help pay for the expansion of coverage under the 2010 health care law. These include fees collected from health insurance companies and manufacturers of brand-name prescription drugs and an excise tax on makers of medical devices.

The Republicans are removing any fees or taxes charged medical related companies which went towards providing funding for at least 12 million Americans.  They are also shifting the cost of providing health care away from the federal government and pushing costs onto the states. This means you the lucky taxpayer will have to pony up more cash in the way of taxes or fees or other costs to cover the lost revenue from the federal government.

So if you are middle class, poor, sick or may become ill during the time the Republicans are in office my word of advice to you or your family or your childen is ‘you can’t afford to get sick‘.

Read more about the Republicans health care plans on the New York Times web site. State Mandated Benefits map and legislation information by state.

U.S. Department of Education office needs grammar and spelling lessons

The US Department of Education suffered an embarrassment on Sunday, when a tweet published to its official account misspelled the surname of the African American author and civil rights activist WEB Du Bois.

“Education must not simply teach work,” the tweet said, “it must teach life. W.E.B. DeBois.”

The error, coming during Black History Month, did not go unnoticed. Chelsea Clinton, daughter of beaten presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, asked: “Is it funny sad or sad funny that our Dept of Education misspelled the name of the great W. E. B. Du Bois?”

The department later issued an apology: “Post updated,” read a tweet followed by a corrected version of the “DeBois” tweet. “Our deepest apologizes [sic] for the earlier typo.”

The apology was subsequently corrected, and the first apology tweet deleted. The first tweet about Du Bois was not immediately deleted.

The invented quote and misspelled name were the latest Black History Month embarrassments for the Trump administration. At a White House “listening session” with African American community leaders on 1 February, Donald Trump appeared not to be aware that Frederick Douglass, the 19th-century champion of emancipation, was dead.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” he said.

Even the Vice-President tweeted some embarrassing errors.”

Lincoln was being tweeted about by Republicans again on Sunday, the 208th anniversary of his birth. The Twitter account of the Republican party posted a quote that it falsely attributed to the 16th president.

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count,” wrote @GOP. “It’s the life in your years.”

There is no evidence that Lincoln said this. The quote has been traced only as far back as 1952 speeches by former Illinois governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and to advertisements from the 1940s, rather than to Lincoln’s lifetime in the mid-19th century.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site here.

Specter of election day violence looms as Trump spurs vigilante poll watcher

 Militia groups have called on members to be less overt in their poll monitoring on election day, by not carrying guns and attempting to blend in. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

Militia groups have called on members to be less overt in their poll monitoring on election day, by not carrying guns and attempting to blend in. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

Donald Trump’s claims of “large-scale” voter fraud have prompted officials across the political spectrum to warn about the dangers of vigilante poll monitors amid fears of confrontations or even violence on US election day.

As opinion polls tightened this week between Trump and Hillary Clinton ahead of Tuesday’s presidential vote, there are concerns of chaos following his claims, without serious evidence, that the election could be “rigged” and his refusal to say if he will accept the outcome.

Republican leaders in some battleground states are reporting a surge of volunteers signing up to serve as official poll watchers, and in an unprecedented move, the Trump campaign itself has since August been requesting that volunteers sign up as “election observers” to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”. Stone, meanwhile, has said he has helped recruit people to do “exit polls” to tackle voter fraud and denies .

The nation’s most prominent anti-government militia and a neo-Nazi group have also announced plans to send their members to monitor for voter fraud outside the polls.

The Democratic party has launched a series of legal challenges around the country alleging voter intimidation, and on Friday in the battleground state of Ohio a judge issued a temporary restraining order against Trump’s campaign and his unofficial adviser Roger Stone. The ruling said anyone who engaged in intimidation or harassment inside or near Ohio polling places would face contempt of court charges. (Read my post about this here.)

The Guardian revealed last month that a Republican operative, Mike Roman, notorious for stirring allegations of voter intimidation in the 2008 election, would coordinate the Trump monitor program, but the campaign has declined to provide details on the size and scale of the program and it remains unclear how many people will show up.

Voting rights advocates have focused on the potential threat posed by Trump supporters like the Ohio man who told a reporter he wanted to keep a close eye on “people who can’t speak American” at the polls.

While having trained partisan observers inside polling places is a normal part of the voting process, “Trump has encouraged people to go on their own and check out what’s going on in polling places”, said Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California Irvine law school and one of the country’s leading election law experts. “These are going to be untrained people hyped up on what Trump has said.

“I’m worried that there are going to be confrontations and potential violence at the polls,” he said.

An attempt to blend in

The fringe groups that have announced plans to monitor for voter fraud said their members should be dressed in plainclothes and quietly watching for illegal behavior – not engaging in confrontations.

Democrats and voting rights advocates argue that poll-watching efforts are only one part of a larger Republican effort to discourage or block racial minorities from voting – and that Republican concerns over “voter fraud” are simply a mask for a broad campaign of racial disenfranchisement. The spread of laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls, restrictions on early voting times, and poll location closures are all designed to disadvantage racial minorities who tend to vote for Democrats, advocates say.

The NAACP filed a new lawsuit against North Carolina this week alleging that black voters were being disproportionately purged from the state’s voter rolls. “This sounds like something that was put together in 1901,” a federal judge said at an emergency hearing, calling the purging process “insane”.

The judge issued an order Friday finding that the purge likely violated the National Voter Registration Act, and ordered that state elections officials “take all steps necessary to restore the voter registrations that were canceled.”

Trump’s repeated, unprecedented claims that the election has already been “rigged” against him have given new fuel to conservative claims that non-citizens are voting and that votes are being stolen on a massive scale. In a “new effort”, the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist, neo-Nazi organization, is planning to send out hundreds of members to watch for voter fraud outside polling places in 48 states, with a focus on California, Illinois, Florida and Michigan, Butch Urban, the group’s chief of staff, said.

Members would not be wearing their uniforms or National Socialist Movement gear. “They’re going to look like everybody else that’s going in there to vote,” Urban said.

He called voter fraud “so rampant”, and said the group would have lawyers on call.

The president of one of America’s largest anti-government armed militia groups, the Oath Keepers, called on members last week to take part in undercover poll-watching under the moniker of “Operation Sabot 2016”.

In a bizarre set of instructions to the group’s reported 30,000 members – an organization of “current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders” – Stewart Rhodes, a former US army paratrooper, also encouraged members to “blend in” among voters and attempt to record evidence of widespread voter fraud.

“That may mean wearing a Bob Marley, pot leaf, tie-die [sic] peace symbol, or ‘Che’ Guevara T-Shirt, etc,” Rhodes, who declined to be interviewed, wrote in an online callout to members.

Rhodes wrote that members should not openly carry their guns – “We do NOT want open-carry (remember, again, that this is a covert operation)” – and that they should be aware of laws barring even concealed gun carrying in polling places.

*****

A rigged election? Nyah. Intimidation, blockades, delays, etc can’t possibly be considered rigging an election if you are a Republican doing it.

Read the complete article in the Guardian newspaper online here.

trumpbushgoodluck

At least comedians will have something to laugh about for the next four years if Trump gets elected.

Statue of Liberty about to be changed?

The Statue of Liberty is famous for the quote upon it, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The quote may have to be revised after Republican members raised concerns about some refugees entering the United States following the Paris attacks.

statue of liberty conditions

Barack Obama’s economic record: End-of-term report

Excerpts from The Economist magazine.

NOT since 1933 had an American president taken the oath of office in an economic climate as grim as it was when Barack Obama put his left hand on the Bible in January 2009. The banking system was near collapse, two big car manufacturers were sliding towards bankruptcy; and employment, the housing market and output were spiralling down.

Hemmed in by political constraints, presidents typically have only the slightest influence over the American economy. Mr Obama, like Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Ronald Reagan in 1981, would be an exception. Not only would his decisions be crucial to the recovery, but he also had a chance to shape the economy that emerged. As one adviser said, the crisis should not be allowed to go to waste.

Did Mr Obama blow it? Nearly four years later, voters seem to think so: approval of his economic management is near rock-bottom, the single-biggest obstacle to his re-election. This, however, is not a fair judgment on Mr Obama’s record, which must consider not just the results but the decisions he took, the alternatives on offer and the obstacles in his way. Seen in that light, the report card is better. His handling of the crisis and recession were impressive. Unfortunately, his efforts to reshape the economy have often misfired. And America’s public finances are in a dire state.

Seven weeks before Mr Obama defeated John McCain in November 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. AIG was bailed out shortly afterwards. The rescues of Bank of America and Citigroup lay ahead. In the final quarter of 2008, GDP shrank at an annualised rate of 9%, the worst in nearly 50 years.

The elephant in the second term

… Mr Obama is likely to move closer to the centre if he wins a second term. His principal legislative goals—health care and financial reform—are achieved. The Republicans are almost certain to control at least one chamber of Congress, precluding big new spending plans, regardless of the state of the recovery.

That leaves the public finances. There is little to commend in Mr Obama on that front. True, he inherited the largest budget deficit in peacetime history, at 10% of GDP. But in 2009 he thought it would fall to 3% by the coming fiscal year. Instead, it will be 6%, if he gets his way. Back in 2009, he thought debt would peak at 70% of GDP in 2011. Now it is projected to reach 79% in 2014 assuming his optimistic growth forecast is correct.

This is not quite the indictment it seems: normal standards of fiscal rectitude have not applied in the past four years. When households, firms and state and local governments are cutting their debts, the federal government would have made the recession worse by doing the same.

Read the complete article on The Economist here.

U.S. political debate stuck in the past.

Excerpts from an article by Chrystia Freeland in the Globe & Mail.

In choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney swapped his Massachusetts pragmatism for a proudly ideological commitment to limited government. The Democrats, by contrast, believe in the essential role government plays, and are willing to raise taxes, at least on the rich, to pay for it.

Thanks to smart machines and global trade, the well-paying, middle-class jobs that were the backbone of Western democracies are vanishing. The paradoxical driver of this middle-class squeeze is not some villainous force – it is, rather, the success of the world’s best companies, many of them American.

It took more than the spinning jenny or the steam engine to transform local, agrarian, family-based communities into national, urban, individualistic ones. New political and social institutions will be needed to midwife the latest shift into global and virtual communities. Inventing those institutions is difficult, and talking about them can be frightening, but that is the political conversation the Western world should be having.

Read the full article here.