Trump’s New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive Decline


Trump’s New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive Decline

I don’t care whether Michael Schmidt was tough enough. We’ve got bigger problems.


By Charles P. Pierce          December 29, 2017

On Thursday, El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago sat down with Michael Schmidt of The New York Times for what apparently was an open-ended, one-on-one interview. Since then, the electric Twitter machine–and most of the rest of the Intertoobz–has been alive with criticism of Schmidt for having not pushed back sufficiently against some of the more obvious barefaced non-facts presented by the president* in their chat. Some critics have been unkind enough to point out that Schmidt was the conveyor belt for some of the worst attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton emanating from both the New York FBI office and the various congressional committees staffed by people in kangaroo suits. For example, Schmidt’s name was on a shabby story the Times ran on July 23, 2015 in which it was alleged that a criminal investigation into HRC’s famous use of a private email server was being discussed within the Department of Justice. It wasn’t, and the Times’ public editor at the time, the great Margaret Sullivan, later torched the story in a brutal column.

Other people were unkind enough to point out that the interview was brokered by one Christopher Ruddy, a Trump intimate and the CEO of NewsMax, and that Ruddy made his bones as a political “journalist” by peddling the fiction that Clinton White House counsel Vince Foster had been murdered, one of the more distasteful slanders that got a shameful public airing during the Clinton frenzy of the 1990s. Neither of those will concern us here. What Schmidt actually got out of this interview is a far more serious problem for the country. In my view, the interview is a clinical study of a man in severe cognitive decline, if not the early stages of outright dementia.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen my father and all of his siblings slide into the shadows and fog of Alzheimer’s Disease. (The president*’s father developed Alzheimer’s in his 80s.) In 1984, Ronald Reagan debated Walter Mondale in Louisville and plainly had no idea where he was. (If someone on the panel had asked him, he’d have been stumped.) Not long afterwards, I was interviewing a prominent Alzheimer’s researcher for a book I was doing, and he said, “I saw the look on his face that I see every day in my clinic.” In the transcript of this interview, I hear in the president*’s words my late aunt’s story about how we all walked home from church in the snow one Christmas morning, an event I don’t recall, but that she remembered so vividly that she told the story every time I saw her for the last three years of her life.


In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart. (My father used to give a thumbs up when someone asked him a question. That was one of the strategies he used to make sense of a world that was becoming quite foreign to him.) My guess? That’s part of the reason why it’s always “the failing New York Times,” and his 2016 opponent is “Crooked Hillary.”

In addition, the president* exhibits the kind of stubbornness you see in patients when you try to relieve them of their car keys—or, as one social worker in rural North Carolina told me, their shotguns. For example, a discussion on healthcare goes completely off the rails when the president* suddenly recalls that there is a widely held opinion that he knows very little about the issues confronting the nation. So we get this:

“But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.”

This is more than simple grandiosity. This is someone fighting something happening to him that he is losing the capacity to understand. So is this:

“We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.” O.K.”

In Ronald Reagan’s second term, we ducked a bullet. I’ve always suspected he was propped up by a lot of people who a) didn’t trust vice-president George H.W. Bush, b) found it convenient to have a forgetful president when the subpoenas began to fly, and c) found it helpful to have a “detached” president when they started running their own agendas—like, say, selling missiles to mullahs. You’re seeing much the same thing with the congressional Republicans. They’re operating an ongoing smash-and-grab on all the policy wishes they’ve fondly cultivated since 1981. Having a president* who may not be all there and, as such, is susceptible to flattery because it reassures him that he actually is makes the heist that much easier.

So, no, I don’t particularly care whether Michael Schmidt was tough enough, or asked enough follow-up questions. I care about this:

“I’m always moving. I’m moving in both directions. We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain. The chain is the last guy that killed. … [Talking with guests.] … The last guy that killed the eight people. … [Inaudible.] … So badly wounded people. … Twenty-two people came in through chain migration. Chain migration and the lottery system. They have a lottery in these countries. They take the worst people in the country, they put ‘em into the lottery, then they have a handful of bad, worse ones, and they put them out. ‘Oh, these are the people the United States. …” … We’re gonna get rid of the lottery, and by the way, the Democrats agree with me on that. On chain migration, they pretty much agree with me.”

We’ve got bigger problems.

Incoherent, authoritarian, uninformed: Trump’s New York Times interview is a scary read


Incoherent, authoritarian, uninformed: Trump’s New York Times interview is a scary read

The president of the United States is not well.

By Ezra Klein         December 29, 2017

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The president of the United States is not well. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, but it is an even worse thing to ignore.

Consider the interview Trump gave to the New York Times on Thursday. It begins with a string of falsehoods that make it difficult to tell whether the leader of the free world is lying or delusional. Remember, these are President Donald Trump’s words, after being told a recording device is on:

“Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion. There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.”

It almost goes without saying that literally zero congressional Democrats have said that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Zero.

What key Democrats are actually saying is closer to the opposite. On December 20, for instance, Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and thus the Senate Democrat leading the investigation into collusion, said, “despite the initial denials of any Russian contacts during the election, this Committee’s efforts have helped uncover numerous and troubling high-level engagements between the Trump campaign and Russian affiliates — many of which have only been revealed in recent months.”

Nor is Trump’s base strengthening, or even holding steady. In a detailed analysis of Trump’s poll numbers, FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten concluded that the president is losing the most ground in the reddest states:

In states where Trump won by at least 10 points, his net approval rating is down 18 percentage points, on average, compared to his margin last November. In states that were decided by 10 points or less in November, it’s down only 13 points. And it’s down 8 points in states Clinton carried by at least 10 points.

The fact that Trump has lost the greatest number of supporters in red states is perhaps the clearest indication yet that he is losing ground among some form of his base, if you think of his base as those who voted for him in November.

CNN took a different angle on the same question and also found slippage among Trump’s base. It looked at the change in Trump’s approval ratings from February to November among the demographic groups that formed the core of Trump’s electoral coalition — in every group, there’d been substantial declines. Trump’s numbers have fallen by 8 points among Republicans, by 9 points among voters over 50, by 10 points among whites with no college, by 17 points among white evangelicals. “It has become increasingly clear that even his base is not immune to the downward pressure,” CNN concluded.


As for Trump’s contention that “it’s been proven that there is no collusion,” it’s hard to even know how to begin responding to that. In recent months, Trump’s former campaign manager and national security adviser have both been charged with crimes by Robert Mueller, and the investigation is not just ongoing but apparently widening in its scope and ferocity. Yet here is Trump’s take:

“I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion. She’s the head of the committee. The Republicans, in terms of the House committees, they come out, they’re so angry because there is no collusion. So, I actually think that it’s turning out — I actually think it’s turning to the Democrats because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion.”

Sen. Feinstein has not said that she, or any of the ongoing investigations, has concluded that there was no collusion. What she has said is that investigators believe Trump may have obstructed justice in his efforts to derails inquiries into collusion:

The [Senate] Judiciary Committee has an investigation going as well and it involves obstruction of justice and I think what we’re beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice.

It speaks to Trump’s habits of mind, to the sycophantic sources from which he prefers to get his news, that he heard something Feinstein said and has come to believe she has absolved him — yet misses the actual thing she said that threatens him.

It would be comforting, on some level, to believe that Trump is simply lying, that he is trying to convince us of what he knows to be untrue. It is scarier to believe that Trump is delusional, that he has persuaded himself that Democrats have said things they’ve never said, that his base has strengthened when it has actually weakened, that it’s really his opponents under investigation for collusion, that his campaign has been cleared of wrongdoing when the circumstantial case for collusion has only grown stronger.

But that is far from the end of the interview.

Trump: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department”

A few paragraphs later, for instance, Trump offers this chilling comment when asked about Hillary Clinton’s emails (which, amazingly, we are somehow still talking about in December 2017):

NYT: You control the Justice Department. Should they reopen that email investigation?

TRUMP: What I’ve done is, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

Read Trump’s phrasing carefully: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” It’s a statement that speaks both to Trump’s yearning for authoritarian power and his misunderstanding of the system in which he actually operates.

And it’s followed by something yet scarier. “For purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter,” he says.

President Donald Trump Arrives At Walter Reed National Military Medical CenterChris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

Here, Trump offers insight into his own thinking. He appears to believe that he is engaged in some explicit or implicit quid pro quo with the Department of Justice: He doesn’t fire Jeff Sessions, or demand prosecution of his political enemies, or whatever it is he imagines doing with his “absolute right to do what I want to do,” so long as they treat him and his associates “fairly,” which likely means protecting him from Mueller’s investigation.

Imagine reading this comment on transcripts from Richard Nixon’s tapes. It would be the kind of comment that would leave us glad Nixon was forced from office, chilled that such a man ever occupied the presidency at all.

The interview, of course, is not done.

TRUMP: It’s too bad Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but it’s too bad he recused himself. I thought. … Many people will tell you that something is [inaudible].

NYT: Do you think Holder was more loyal to …

TRUMP: I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the I.R.S. scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems. When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.

Read that again. Trump’s premise in this section appears to be that President Obama engaged in a wide array of criminal, undemocratic, and negligent behaviors but his attorney general protected him from justice. And Trump’s conclusion is that Obama’s attorney general did his job well. To Trump, the attorney general doesn’t serve the country, or the Constitution, but the president.

Trump does not know what he doesn’t know, and he overestimates what he does know

The interview is not done:

I know more about the big bills. … Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred. … You ask Mark Meadows [inaudible]. … I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill. The first bill, you know, that was ultimately, shockingly rejected … I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

In psychology, there’s an idea known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. It refers to research by David Dunning and Justin Kruger that found the least competent people often believe they are the most competent because they “lack the very expertise needed to recognize how badly they’re doing.” This dynamic helps explain comments like the one Trump makes here.

Over the course of reporting on the Trump White House, I have spoken to people who brief Trump and people who have been briefed by him. I’ve talked to policy experts who have sat in the Oval Office explaining their ideas to the president and to members of Congress who have listened to the president sell his ideas to them. I’ve talked to both Democrats and Republicans who have occupied these roles. In all cases, their judgment of Trump is identical: He is not just notably uninformed but also notably difficult to inform — his attention span is thin, he hears what he wants to hear, he wanders off topic, he has trouble following complex arguments. Trump has trouble following his briefings or even correctly repeating what he has heard.

This is all perfectly evident if you listen to Trump discuss policy in public even momentarily. For instance, in this same New York Times interview, he tries to explain how he’s changed Obamacare:

So now I have associations, I have private insurance companies coming and will sell private health care plans to people through associations. That’s gonna be millions and millions of people. People have no idea how big that is. And by the way, and for that, we’ve ended across state lines. So we have competition. You know for that I’m allowed to [inaudible] state lines. So that’s all done.

Now I’ve ended the individual mandate. And the other thing I wish you’d tell people. So when I do this, and we’ve got health care, you know, McCain did his vote.

… We’ve created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didn’t have insurance. Or didn’t have health care. Millions of people. That’s gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So that’s a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people don’t even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. … With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate.

I can, with some effort, untangle what Trump might have been trying to say here, but it’s incoherent, so suffused with half-related ideas and personal obsessions (why did Trump feel the need to bring up McCain’s vote here?) that it’s hard to say for sure.

President Trump Speaks On The Passage Of The GOP Tax Plan At The White HouseChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

At best, Trump is saying something that is comprehensible but incorrect. He signed an executive order making it easier to form association health plans, which are health plans formed by groups of small businesses, and making it easier for those plans to skirt Obamacare’s insurance regulations and to contain small businesses from multiple states.

As of now, and Trump doesn’t seem to realize this, it’s just an executive order — the rules defining and implementing it have not been written, so it is not yet happening, and we don’t know how it will work in practice, much less how many people may eventually sign up. Nor does the order actually get rid of the prohibition on selling insurance across state lines for most people — it’s only for this one kind of plan, which will only serve a tiny minority of the health insurance market.

Whatever Trump is saying, it does not reveal much familiarity with health policy, or even with the status and limits of his own actions. And yet Trump believes himself, on policy, to be the most informed president in American history. As the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests, he doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know, and that, combined with his natural tendency toward narcissism, has left him dangerously overconfident in his own knowledge base.

Speaking of narcissism:

We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.”

What is one even to say about this? Is it a joke? If so, why is Trump taking this opportunity to make it? Is it an attack on the media? Is it Trump finding another way to compliment himself, to give himself credit for the media’s success?

Imagine how we would react to literally any other president speaking like this. Trump has bludgeoned us into becoming accustomed to these kinds of comments but that, too, is worrying.

This is the president of the United States speaking to the New York Times. His comments are, by turns, incoherent, incorrect, conspiratorial, delusional, self-aggrandizing, and under-informed. This is not a partisan judgment — indeed, the interview is rarely coherent or specific enough to classify the points Trump makes on a recognizable left-right spectrum. As has been true since he entered American politics, Trump is interested in Trump — over the course of the interview, he mentions his Electoral College strategy seven times, in each case using it to underscore his political savvy and to suggest that he could easily have won the popular vote if he had tried.

I am not a medical professional, and I will not pretend to know what is truly happening here. It’s become a common conversation topic in Washington to muse on whether the president is suffering from some form of cognitive decline or psychological malady. I don’t think those hypotheses are necessary or meaningful. Whatever the cause, it is plainly obvious from Trump’s words that this is not a man fit to be president, that he is not well or capable in some fundamental way. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, and so many prefer not to say it, but Trump does not occupy a job where such deficiencies can be safely ignored.


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Trump Administration Repeals Obama Rule Designed to Make Fracking Safer 


Trump Administration Repeals Obama Rule Designed to Make Fracking Safer 

Lorraine Chow      December 29, 2017

                                                               Bureau of Land Management California / Flickr

The Trump administration is rescinding Obama-era rules designed to increase the safety of fracking.

“We believe it imposes administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified,” the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wrote in a notice published Friday in the Federal Register.

The 2015 rule required companies drilling for natural gas and oil on public lands to comply with federal safety standards in the construction of fracking wells, to disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process, and required companies to cover surface ponds that store fracking wastewater.

The regulation, however, never took effect after a Wyoming federal judge struck it down last year.

Fossil fuel groups, which sued to block the Obama regulation, unsurprisingly cheered the decision.

“Western Energy Alliance appreciates that BLM under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke understands this rule was duplicative and has rescinded it,” Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma said in a release. “States have an exemplary safety record regulating fracking, and that environmental protection will continue as before.”

But environmentalists and public health advocates have long warned that fracking—which involves pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to extract oil and gas—causes groundwater contaminationputs human health at risk and releases the potent greenhouse gas methane.

“The Trump administration is endangering public health and wildlife by allowing the fracking industry to run roughshod over public lands,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Fracking is a toxic business, and that’s why states and countries have banned it. Trump’s reckless decision to repeal these common-sense protections will have serious consequences.”

Maryland, New York and Vermont have banned fracking. Ireland, France, Germany and Bulgaria have also banned the practice on land.

Here are some major findings of a 2016 study by Environment America Research & Policy Center on the impact of fracking on our environment:

  • During well completion alone, fracking released 5.3 billion pounds of methane in 2014,a pollutant 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years.
  • Fracking wells produced at least 14 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. Fracking wastewater has leaked from retention ponds, been dumped into streams and escaped from faulty disposal wells, putting drinking water at risk. Wastewater from fracked wells includes not only the toxic chemicals injected into the well but also naturally occurring radioactive materials that can rise to the surface.
  • Between 2005 and 2015, fracking used at least 23 billion pounds of toxic chemicals. Fracking uses of vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne.
  • At least 239 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005, an average of 3 million gallons per well. Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well—water that is often needed for other uses or to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Infrastructure to support fracking has directly damaged at least 675,000 acres of land since 2005, an area only slightly smaller than Yosemite National Park. Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure built for fracking turn forests and rural landscapes into industrial zones.


Fracking Threatens Public Safety and Health | Debate Club | US News ›

Trump Shuts Down Funding For Already Approved Obama-Era Rail Tunnel Deal


Trump Shuts Down Funding For Already Approved Obama-Era Rail Tunnel Deal

by Lance Perriman   December 31, 2017

After the passage of his controversial tax bill, President Donald Trump said he plans to kick off 2018 with a renewed push for a massive infrastructure spending program, a key campaign promise which he recently described as “the easiest of all.” However, his administration has shut down an Obama-era deal to have the federal government help fund a $13 billion rail tunnel project between New York and New Jersey.

In a letter obtained by Crain’s New York Business, an administration official calls the deal for the federal government to fund half of the project “non-existent.”

“Your letter also references a non-existent ’50/50′ agreement between USDOT, New York, and New Jersey. There is no such agreement,” Federal Transit Administration deputy administrator K. Jane Williams wrote in Friday’s letter, which came after New York and New Jersey requested federal loans to cover their part of the deal to split the cost of the work.

“We consider it unhelpful to reference a non-existent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where nine out of 10 passengers are local transit riders,” Williams continued.

The project would have funded necessary repairs to an Amtrak tunnel between New Jersey and New York City, as well as fixing a damage dual-tunnel conduct and rebuilding New Jersey’s Portal Bridge.

The federal government often helps to cover the cost of necessary infrastructure projects.

This is yet another sign that Trump’s agenda is driven by hate for Barack Obama. The list of what President Trump has done is staggering in its clear focus on undoing what was accomplished by the former president.

Trump hasn’t attempted to build on what is working to make things better. He instead is very specifically attempting to wipe out the legacy of President Obama, from healthcare to the Paris Climate Agreement, from protecting the rights of transgender people in the military to protecting our federal lands he is determined to leave no accomplishment by the former President untouched.

His pathological pre-occupation was demonstrated once again.


Trump halts $13 billion Obama Amtrak plan despite calls for infrastructure spending in 2018

By Grace Guarnieri        December 31, 2017

President Donald Trump and his administration halted a $13 billion federal spending plan to rebuild a crucial Amtrak passageway from New Jersey to New York. The administration said there was “no such agreement” to pay half of the cost to rebuild the commuter tunnel that services tens of thousands of New Jersey commuters despite Trump’s calls to spend more money on infrastructure in 2018.

Top Federal Transportation Authority officials pulled the plug on an Obama-era agreement with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Friday, Crain’s reported, after the governors sent a proposal to receive half of the project’s costs in loans from the federal government. The gateway tunnel project aims to rebuild a tunnel that brings New Jersey commuters into Penn Station, which sees about 600,000 commuters in a single day.

The White House plans to introduce President Trump’s infrastructure plan in January 2018. After signing the tax bill, Trump said that that he believed infrastructure agreements could be bipartisan.

GettyImages-895064974President Trump tweeted about the need for infrastructure spending after an Amtrak train derailed, killing at least six on December 18. PHOTO BY STEPHEN BRASHEAR/GETTY IMAGES

“Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it — Republicans and Democrats. We’re going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure, as you know,” Trump told reporters after signing the GOP tax bill into law.

Earlier this month, after an Amtrak train derailed in Washington state, killing at least three people and injuring 100 more, Trump tweeted about the necessity of fixing roads and railways.

“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” President Trump tweeted “Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”

Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams of the Federal Transportation Administration, an agency under the federal Department of Transportation, responded to Christie and Cuomo’s Amtrak proposal in a letter. “Your letter also references a non-existent ’50/50′ agreement between USDOT, New York, and New Jersey. There is no such agreement,” Williams wrote.

Trump Exposed Ignorance During Trade Talk With Merkel, Leaving White House Aides Humiliated

Newsweek – Politics

Trump Exposed Ignorance During Trade Talk With Merkel, Leaving White House Aides Humiliated: Report

Greg Price,   Newsweek     December 29, 2017 

President Donald Trump appeared to know little, if anything, about international trade deals during an exchange with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March this year. White House officials reportedly characterized the talk as “humiliating.”

The Republican Trump asked Merkel about creating a new, bilateral trade deal between Germany and the U.S., even though, as a member of the European Union, Germany cannot strike such a deal without the other 27 members of the union, according to The New York Times.

Merkel was afraid to fully correct Trump since White House aides told German officials the four-term chancellor had been condescending to Trump during one of their first phone calls.

Instead, Merkel eased into an explanation that an agreement could be reached in concert with the EU.

“So it could be bilateral?” Trump asked Merkel, who nodded, according to those in the meeting. Trump responded: “That’s great.”

Trump then turned to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and said: “Wilbur, we’ll negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Europe.”

Don’t miss: Trump Said Postal Service Is Enriching Amazon While Losing Billions. Is It True?

German officials were reportedly relieved that no incident occurred, but White House officials told The Times they saw the exchange as “humiliating.”

GettyImages-810766324President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a panel discussion titled “Launch Event Women’s Entrepreneur Finance Initiative” on the second day of the G20 summit on July 8 in Hamburg, Germany. Getty Images/Ukas Michael

Before they sat down, Trump claimed not to have heard photographers’ requests for he and Merkel to shake hands, a terse moment captured on video that later was used as an example of Trump’s attitude toward dealing with Europe altogether.

Three months later at a campaign rally, Merkel was candid about Europeans needing to rely on one another rather than other allies.

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“We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands—naturally in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain, as good neighbors with whoever, also with Russia and other countries,” she said.

Merkel added: “But we have to know that we Europeans must fight for our own future and destiny.”

Crying “America First,” Trump’s takes on foreign policy and his administration’s work abroad have received vast criticism throughout his first year in office. He challenged members of NATO to pay their “fair share” of defense spending and routinely exchanged ominous threats of “fire” and war with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un–going so far as to call the leader “rocket man” at the United Nations General Assembly.

Trump also pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord meant to combat global warming. Most recently, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital–much to the dismay of the rest of the Middle East.

More from Newsweek

Norway is building the world’s first ship tunnel by smashing through a solid rock peninsula


December 25th.

Norway is building the world’s first ship tunnel by smashing through a solid rock peninsula

Norway will spend $315M on world's first ship tunnel

Norway is building the world's first ship tunnel by smashing through a solid rock peninsula

Posted by CNN on Sunday, December 24, 2017

“Bussed Out”: How Cities Are Giving Thousands of Homeless People One-Way Bus Tickets to Leave Town

Democracy Now

From The Guardian

“Bussed Out”: How Cities Are Giving Thousands of Homeless People One-Way Bus Tickets to Leave Town

WRFG Democracy Now! 12-28-17 #1

"Bussed Out": How cities are giving thousands of #Homeless people one-way bus tickets to leave. The story today (Thursday) at 5 pm on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.#WRFG #CommunityRadio #Atlanta

Posted by WRFG 89.3 FM on Thursday, December 28, 2017

Story   December 28, 2017
“Bussed out: How America moves its homeless”

A major new investigation by The Guardian examined how cities are struggling to solve the problem of homelessness throughout the year, and found many have come to rely on an old solution: a one-way ticket out of town. Relocation programs that offer homeless people free bus tickets to move elsewhere have been around for at least three decades. But as the homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession, relocation programs are becoming more common and are expanding to more cities. We speak with The Guardian’s homelessness editor, Alastair Gee, about many people who were bused out, remained homeless and eventually returned to the city they had left.

Guest: Alastair Gee, Homelessness Editor for The Guardian


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As much of the Midwest faces winter snowstorms and the East Coast faces freezing temperatures this week, many cities have issued Weather Emergency Alerts that allow them to place people who are homeless into emergency shelters. Well, today we talk about a new investigation by The Guardian that looks at how cities struggle to solve the problem of homelessness throughout the year, and found many have come to rely on an old solution: a one-way ticket out of town. Relocation programs that offer homeless people free bus tickets to move elsewhere have been around for at least three decades. But as the homeless population rises for the first time since the Great Recession, relocation programs are becoming more common and are expanding to more cities.

AMY GOODMAN: In its investigation, The Guardian closely examined these homeless relocation programs by compiling and analyzing a database of more than 34,000 bus trips or flights taken by homeless people out of their cities. They found the journey provided a route out of homelessness for some, but many eventually returned to the city they had left. This is 27-year-old Quinn Raber, who traveled nearly 2,300 miles over three days from San Francisco to Indianapolis by bus, only to return.

QUINN RABER: I wasn’t expecting to come back to San Francisco as soon as I did, but I knew I was going to end up coming back eventually. The roughest part about being homeless is the wear and tear from the concrete and the constant walking. And it’s hard to use the restroom, because a lot of businesses don’t want homeless people in their restrooms and messing them up. You know, it really breaks you down. I don’t know if I would ask Homeward Bound for a ticket again, just because I know that you’re not really supposed ask for more than one. But if they—you know, if they would be willing to help, I’d ask them. You know?

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined in San Francisco by Alastair Gee, the homelessness editor for The Guardian, the new investigation by the Outside in America team headlined “Bussed out: How America moves its homeless.”

Alastair, welcome to Democracy Now! Just lay out what you found.

ALASTAIR GEE: Thank you so much for having me.

Well, we made dozens of public records requests. And our goal was to really understand what effect these bus programs were having on the homeless population in America. Cities, of course, would say that these programs are a really great way to offer people more stability. It’s a way to reconnect people with family or with friends in other locations and perhaps offer them a route out of homelessness. And we found that while in some cases that was certainly what happened, for some people it certainly was a way to greater stability, for others it wasn’t quite that simple. We found cases where people simply became homeless at their destination. In some instances, they even became homeless again in the city from which they had departed. So, the story really isn’t quite as simple, and it really isn’t quite as rosy a picture as cities would portray.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to a new federal study, the U.S. homeless population, as we said earlier, rose this year for the first time since the Great Recession. What do you know about why that is and what the impact of that has been?

ALASTAIR GEE: Right. That’s a really good point. Well, the rise has been driven, in particular, by the trends that we’re seeing on the West Coast, and that’s to do with a rental affordability crisis. Everywhere from Seattle down to Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s simply becoming impossible for people earning, certainly, minimum wage, but even wages above that, it’s just—it’s very, very difficult to afford somewhere to live. So that’s what’s really driving the trend. And I think the picture, though, is in the background here, and it’s been a constant element of the homelessness crisis in the U.S., is a long-term federal underinvestment in affordable housing, something that was really begun, these cuts, in the Reagan era and, in the opinion of advocates, has never really been properly redressed since then.

AMY GOODMAN: This is 62-year-old Willie Romines, who took a bus from Key West to Ocala, Florida. He told The Guardian, because he accepted a free bus ticket from the shelter he was living in, he was barred from returning.

WILLIE ROMINES: It’s like, “Close the door. Get out of here. We bought you a bus ticket. You can’t come back.” That put a hurting on me. I feel like I was swindled. Since I’ve been banned from the shelter, I’ve stayed on Smathers Beach, behind buildings, behind bushes, hedgerows. I’ve slept next to dumpsters and stuff like that. They tell you anything, because they want you out of here. They want all the homeless out of Key West.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Rose Thompson, a 58-year-old woman who relocated from Florida to West Virginia. She told The Guardian she went back to Key West only three weeks after leaving.

ROSE THOMPSON: I had a seizure and my heart stopped at the soup kitchen. So I wanted to go back to West Virginia and stay with my daughter. They were staying, it’s like, in a three-bedroom trailer. And then her little boy slept on the couch, where I was sleeping, so they wanted me to go to a homeless shelter. And I didn’t want to stay in a homeless shelter in West Virginia, because I don’t know anybody up there anymore. And from the time I left here to the time I got back, it was exactly three weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can talk about these people, Alastair Gee, and talk about, you know, what their circumstances were? And also, how much are taxpayers paying for all of that, simply for them to return?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, Willie was a person that one of our reporters met in Key West. And as you mentioned earlier, the Key West scheme is really unusual. Of the 15 or so programs from which we received data, Key West was the only one that had this stipulation. They essentially made you sign a kind of contract. If you went to the program and requested a bus ticket, they would ask you to essentially declare that should you return to Key West, that you wouldn’t avail yourself of homeless services there on the island again. And so, what this means is that you have people like Rose, for instance, who are sleeping on beaches, sleeping outdoors, because, essentially, they have taken a ticket. It didn’t work out, where they came from, and they’ve just ended up back in Key West.

So, in the case of Rose, for instance, she wanted to travel back to West Virginia, where she’s from, to stay with her daughter. She got back there. It turns out that her daughter simply wasn’t able to offer her the kind of support that she needed to find her way out of homelessness. Rose would be living in an overcrowded trailer. She was sleeping on a couch. And eventually, her daughter had to take her to a homeless shelter in West Virginia. So Rose ended up coming back to Key West, and that’s where she is now. And so she simply has no shelter. She has nowhere to stay. And so, she, unfortunately, is sleeping outdoors there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Alastair—

ALASTAIR GEE: And I think you also—oh, please, go ahead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: No, please, go ahead.

ALASTAIR GEE: Could you remind me of your other question?

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, talking about, you know, the cost to taxpayers, since what we’re talking about now is people who take these journeys, whether bus or plane, some feeling coerced, and then they end up back in the city they’re in.

ALASTAIR GEE: Right, right. Well, we have figures from the city of New York, for instance, which budgets half a million dollars per year for its program. And cities around the country, while not quite—they don’t have programs that are quite as large as the one in New York, I think we can safely assume that over the course of years, that cities are spending millions of dollars on these kinds of things. And it’s interesting because the efficacy of these programs. While cities would say that these are a good way to help people get out of homelessness, there really isn’t very much long-term research that testifies to that.

So, for instance, we spoke to the city of San Francisco and requested data from them. And they provided many, many years’ data, going back to the 2000s. But, for instance, for a 5-year period, between 2010 and 2015, when the city offered thousands of people bus tickets and thousands of people left the city, the city could only provide us records showing that it had been able to follow up with only three of those people to find out if their situation at the other end had improved. And that was really—that was a similar situation across the board. While a few smaller cities did have some long-term follow-up data, mostly they did not, and the cities really had no idea what happened to the people who had taken tickets out of their cities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alastair, what did you find out about the percentage of people who opt to leave the cities they’re living in, the homeless people who opt to leave, and those who are, in some sense, coerced or forced to leave?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, that’s a really good question. And I think it’s important to mention from the outset that the majority of people who are homeless in any given city are from that city. Whenever cities do their homeless population counts, they often do surveys, and they find this trend that’s replicated across the board. And so, it is actually a myth that—as is common in many cities in the West, that somebody is drawn there for the services or for the weather. Most people are actually from that city. But for the percentage, the small percentage, that aren’t from that city, these programs can be a good choice.

In terms of coercion, it wasn’t something that we found very often. These programs generally are voluntary. And the way it works is that someone would take themselves to a ticket office, and they would make a request for a ticket. And that’s how it would work. But in the case of one family in New York, the Ortiz family, we did find that they felt that they had been given no other choice than to take a ticket. Jose Ortiz, he told us that he had gone to the city’s homelessness department in the summer this year. His family, his young family, had been homeless in the city of New York, and he had requested some help, just in time, really, to help him get his family back on his feet. He says that the city determined that because he had, in their words, a better housing option on the island of Puerto Rico, that he wasn’t eligible for homeless services in the city of New York. And in his terms, as it was laid out to him, he was given only one choice, which was to take the plane ticket out of town.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening in San Francisco right now, which is experiencing a homeless crisis, looking at the impact that the number of people bused out of the city have? And also, right here in New York City, if you can talk about one of the first places to adopt this so-called relocation program?

ALASTAIR GEE: Yeah. So, to deal with the second point first, New York, as far as we could tell, was the first major city to launch a program. Its program came about in around 1987. And it hasn’t continued without pause since then. It was relaunched in its current form under Mayor Bloomberg. But it certainly has a lot of history there.

The program in San Francisco came about later, in around 2005. And officials in San Francisco told me that—in fact, a police commander told me that they were looking to the example of the city of Sacramento, and they thought, “Why can’t we have a program like that?”

And so, the effect, as you mentioned, on San Francisco’s homeless population has been quite dramatic. We looked at the homeless counts in San Francisco over many years, and we tried to calculate what the population in the city, the homeless population, would have been had this program not existed. And we did a very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation. And over the years, around 10-and-a-half thousand people have received bus tickets from San Francisco’s Homeward Bound program. And its homeless population today, on any one night, is around 7,000 to 8,000 people. And so, of course, our calculation doesn’t take into account people who might have come into San Francisco through other bus programs, for which we don’t have data, or people who have been—become homeless in San Francisco while living in San Francisco. But, very roughly, we estimated that the population of San Francisco could have been 18,000 homeless people on any one night, had this program not existed. So, that’s more than double the current population of around 7,000 to 8,000.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Key West, Florida. You spoke also to a former shelter official there in Key West who defended the policy of banning people who have been relocated from returning. This is Mike Tolbert.

MIKE TOLBERT: The reason for a one-way ticket, we don’t want a revolving-door travel agency. If you let them come back, they’re going to want another ticket. And then you got the people, everybody wanting a ticket, everybody wanting to come back. And it’s just not going to work. The program will not work. The folks who take the bus ticket and complain about it, they think we owe them something. We gave you all we can give you. There is nothing else we can give you. I’m good with it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Mike Tolbert in Key West, Florida. Alastair, can you say how representative his example is of other homeless people in Florida and even elsewhere?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, the Key West program, they were certainly the most, I would say, forthright about that kind of thing. As I mentioned, the Key West program did seem, in some senses, to be an outlier, I would say, because other programs emphasize more that this was more of a humanitarian effort to assist people. And Key West came down quite squarely—I suppose they would say that it was both a humanitarian thing, but also they were doing a good thing by reducing the population and by giving these people one-way tickets out of town. And so, I wouldn’t say that that attitude is extremely representative, but it is very, very unusual. And that’s why we sent some reporters there to meet people like Willie and Rose and, certainly, to hear more about their stories.

AMY GOODMAN: And the story of the person who was flown from New York to Puerto Rico, explain that program, and particularly now, after Hurricane Maria.

ALASTAIR GEE: Right. Well, the Ortiz family, as I mentioned, they took a plane to get back in August. And as they felt, it was under duress. They really didn’t want to go. It was a man, his wife, their two young children. And our reporter noticed that the parents were doing their best to put a brave face on it when they were at JFK. The kids were very, very happy to be getting on a plane. But the parents, they were really trying to mask their feelings about it. And so, they traveled back to Puerto Rico in August. We were able to stay in touch with them a little bit over Facebook. When Jose Ortiz returned to Puerto Rico, he messaged us to say that he had a job interview as a security guard, and so he was feeling optimistic about that. But once the hurricane had been through, it became hard for us to get in touch with him. And we really, despite our efforts, haven’t been able to get back in touch with them since then, and so we don’t know now how—how that family is doing, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, taxes. That’s the big news of the Christmas and holiday weekends, as President Trump has just signed this and said that this helps poor and working people. What are your concerns about taxes and homelessness?

ALASTAIR GEE: Well, all the advocates that I spoke to were hoping, maybe vainly, I think they would say, that tax reform might be a boon for affordable housing, for the construction of homes that really the most impoverished Americans could afford. And there was particular focus on the mortgage interest deduction, which is this tax break that you can take. Essentially, it goes to the wealthiest Americans, who use it to help them buy more expensive homes. That’s the verdict of tax analysts, even though it’s intended as a kind of middle-class tax break. And so, experts were hoping that this would be reformed and that the revenues from that would be channeled into affordable housing construction.

As it stands, the government spends twice as much on that tax break for the wealthiest Americans than it does on rental assistance, the Section 8 program, for the poorest Americans. And so, in the reconciled version of the tax bill, as it appears now, there has been a little bit of reform of that deduction, but it doesn’t seem that that money—at least it hasn’t been stated it outright that that money is going to be channeled into affordable housing production, which is what advocates would really like. So, I think there’s a broad sense of disappointment that this was an opportunity here to really, potentially, transform the landscape, and that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And the freezing weather?

ALASTAIR GEE: The freezing weather is—extreme elements are really the bane of a homeless person’s life. We reported back in the summer, the burning temperatures in Arizona during that heat wave was extremely difficult for homeless people, who couldn’t even walk on the asphalt because it was burning. And it’s the same with the cold weather today. Unfortunately, it’s very, very hard to make it on the streets if you’re trying to simply stay alive because of the elements. I’m sure in Washington, D.C., as is always the case and as has been the case for decades now, we’ll see people trying to warm themselves on grates, because that is, for many people, simply the only source of heat that there is. And so, I know that advocates across the West, in particular, are just looking out for that and watching for snowfall and trying to help people as best they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Absolutely astounding weather from International Falls, Minnesota, 37 degrees below zero. Erie, Pennsylvania, over five feet of snow has fallen there, and they expect more. Alastair Gee, thanks so much for being with us, homelessness editor for The Guardian. His team’s latest article, based on an 18-month investigation, is headlined “Bussed out: How America moves its homeless.” We’ll link to it at

When we come back, we’ll be speaking with a journalist about her own memoir. It’s called Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind. Stay with us.

Extreme poverty in America: read UN special monitor’s report

The Guardian

Extreme poverty in America: read UN special monitor’s report

Homeless people sleep in the pews at St Boniface Catholic Church in the San Francisco Tenderloin area, as part of the Gubbio Project. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian Homeless people sleep in the pews at St Boniface Catholic Church in the San Francisco Tenderloin area, as part of the Gubbio Project. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has spent 10 days touring America. This is the introduction to his report: A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America

Philip Alston     December 17, 2017

I have spent the past two weeks visiting the United States, at the invitation of the federal government, to look at whether the persistence of extreme poverty in America undermines the enjoyment of human rights by its citizens. In my travels through California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington DC I have spoken with dozens of experts and civil society groups, met with senior state and federal government officials and talked with many people who are homeless or living in deep poverty. I am grateful to the Trump administration for facilitating my visit and for its continuing cooperation with the UN Human Rights Council’s accountability mechanisms that apply to all states.

My visit coincides with a dramatic change of direction in US policies relating to inequality and extreme poverty. The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world, and will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans. The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by Donald Trump and speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes. It is against this background that my report is presented.

The United States is one of the world’s richest and most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.

I have seen and heard a lot over the past two weeks. I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers, I saw sewage-filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by opioids, and I met with people in Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them, bringing illness, disability and death.

Of course, that is not the whole story. I also saw much that is positive. I met with state and especially municipal officials who are determined to improve social protection for the poorest 20% of their communities, I saw an energized civil society in many places, I visited a Catholic Church in San Francisco (St Boniface – the Gubbio Project) that opens its pews to the homeless every day between services, I saw extraordinary resilience and community solidarity in Puerto Rico, I toured an amazing community health initiative in Charleston, West Virginia that serves 21,000 patients with free medical, dental, pharmaceutical and other services, overseen by local volunteer physicians, dentists and others (Health Right), and indigenous communities presenting at a US-Human Rights Network conference in Atlanta lauded Alaska’s advanced health care system for indigenous peoples, designed with direct participation of the target group.

American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations. But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.

In talking with people in the different states and territories I was frequently asked how the US compares with other states. While such comparisons are not always perfect, a cross-section of statistical comparisons provides a relatively clear picture of the contrast between the wealth, innovative capacity, and work ethic of the US, and the social and other outcomes that have been attained.

Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US south. Why?

  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined.
  • US healthcare expenditures per capita are double the OECD average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly five times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league”. US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.

To read to full report, click here.

Paul Ryan is coming after our Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security

If we defeat Paul Ryan and swing the massive arm of change back toward working people, even a little, it will be worth the fight.

This is the story of how we’re going to win.

Watch the new video, then chip in to help us build this campaign:

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If we defeat Paul Ryan and swing the massive arm of change back toward working people, even a little, it will be worth the fight.This is the story of how we're going to win. Watch the new video, then chip in to help us build this campaign:

Posted by Randy Bryce on Tuesday, December 26, 2017

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Randy Bryce is the Army veteran, cancer survivor, and union ironworker who is running to give working people a voice in Congress.
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