There’s only one way to end the opioid epidemic, and the White House isn’t talking about it

Business Insider

There’s only one way to end the opioid epidemic, and the White House isn’t talking about it

Linette Lopez March 29, 2017

There’s only one way to end the opioid epidemic, and so far – despite all the noise around Wednesday’s meeting of a White House commission on the issue – it doesn’t look as if the White House wants to touch it.

You see, what was discussed by the commission isn’t just a plan in its early stages; it’s a clear step in the wrong direction.

In a Wednesday press briefing following a meeting of this White House commission, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, blamed the crisis on “cheap heroin” flooding the market, and he credited President Donald Trump with already taking action against drug cartels. He framed the battle against the epidemic as one for the Drug Enforcement Administration and law enforcement.

If that’s what the White House is focused on, it has the situation all wrong.

The problem here isn’t with drug cartels; the problem is big pharma and its multidecade campaign to normalize the prescription and sale of highly addictive opiate pain medication. It’s usually only after prescriptions for this medication run out, or become too expensive, when addicts turn to cheap heroin.

If Trump isn’t going after big business, he’s not going after this problem. Period.

Serious

Since the 1990s, big pharma has paid off doctors to encourage them to write prescriptions for opioid painkillers, it has generated studies that made the effects of these drugs seem way less destructive than they are, and it has greased the wheels of the US healthcare system to make insurance payments easier to collect.

Here’s an example of this behavior. Last month two Alabama doctors were found guilty of making millions by running an opioid “pill mill.” They were getting patients addicted, overcharging them and their healthcare providers for treatment, and accepting payments from Insys Therapeutics, a maker of fentanyl.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Another one: In 2009, the American Geriatrics Society created guidelines recommending that doctors use opioids to treat all kinds of pain. Of the 10 experts on the panel, however, at least five had ties to big opiate producers.

More serious

You may recognize some of the names in this game, and you might not: Purdue, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, Insys, Mylan, and Depomed, to name a few.

More companies are involved in the rise of the opiate crisis, but those five are a start. At least, they’re a starting point for Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who on Tuesday announced an investigation into the marketing practices of companies that manufacture opioids and the drugs that are meant to treat opioid overdoses. According to the press release announcing the investigation, McCaskill requested from those five companies:

  • Documents showing any internal estimates of the risk of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, diversion, or death arising from the use of any opioid product or any estimates of these risks produced by third-party contractors or vendors.
  • Any reports generated within the last five years summarizing or concerning compliance audits of sales and marketing policies.
  • Marketing and business plans, including plans for direct-to-consumer and physician marketing, developed during the last five years.
  • Quotas for sales representatives dedicated to opioid products concerning the recruitment of physicians for speakers programs during the last five years.
  • Contributions to a variety of third-party advocacy organizations.
  • Any reports issued to government agencies during the last five years in accordance with corporate integrity agreements or other settlement agreements.

AP Photo/J. Scott ApplewhiteSen. Claire McCaskill.

“All of this didn’t happen overnight – it happened one prescription and marketing program at a time,” McCaskill said in the statement. “The vast majority of the employees, executives, sales representatives, scientists, and doctors involved with this industry are good people and responsible actors, but some are not. This investigation is about finding out whether the same practices that led to this epidemic still continue today, and if decisions are being made that harm the public health.”

Not serious

Of course, the ways a White House policy could deflect blame for the opioid crisis away from the pharma companies have been out in the ether for a while, and no one has articulated them better than Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin, a Democrat, would have the government focus on the Food and Drug Administration’s classification of opioids, maybe have the agency slow down approval for new opiates, and have a “one-penny fee on every milligram of opiates that are produced and sold in America” to be collected for treatment.

As a side note, Manchin’s daughter Heather Bresch is the CEO of the drug company Mylan, one of the five companies McCaskill is going after.

Manchin also called marijuana the gateway drug to opioids.

This is a joke, and it’s an insult to the people whose “gateway” to addiction was a doctor who said these medications would be safe.

Please stop joking.

The Senator from ground zero of the opioid crisis has no idea what he’s talking about

Linette Lopez March 28, 2017

In fighting the opioid crisis that is taking lives across the country, it would be helpful if the Senator from ground zero of the crisis, West Virginia, knew what he was talking about when it comes to solving it.

But sadly, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has demonstrated that he has little to no grasp of what’s causing and exacerbating the problem.

In an interview with STAT News, Manchin offered nothing but pithy solutions and ideological dog whistles to the White House. He talked about educating people about the dangers of the drug, decried marijuana as a gateway drug, and called for a “one-penny fee on every milligram of opiates that are produced and sold in America” to be collected for treatment.

That’s all very nice. But that’s all it is — nice.

Manchin said nothing of the true driver of the opioid crisis — the pharmaceutical industry’s greed and the lack of transparency in our healthcare system. What this requires is regulation, and there was none of that talk in Manchin’s interview.

And that’s sad, because West Virginia is the poster child for how big pharma used its power and influence to shove drugs down people’s throats. Addiction to opioids doesn’t start with marijuana. It starts with a doctor’s prescription, and in West Virginia, that has been all-too readily available.

Back in October, David Armstrong of STAT News wrote a mind-blowing report detailing how West Virginia health and insurance officials tried to slow the pace of prescriptions in their state, but were thwarted at every turn thanks to collusion between Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and pharmacy benefits manager, Merck Medco (which is owned today by PBM giant, Express Scripts).

Here’s the short version of events: In early 2001 West Virginia coroners noted a big uptick in deaths related to Oxy. Since 1996 state spending on the drug had jumped from $11,000 to $2 million in 2002 as Purdue and its partners used office meetings, lunches and dinners to convince doctors of the wonders of the drug. Court records show that one surgeon was won over by a bunch of donuts and snacks arranged to spell OxyContin.

By 2004 officials had had their fill. So they asked their pharmacy benefit manager to limit prescriptions or slap a prior authorization on the drug. They were refused.

Merck would ultimately claim that it was trying to help officials, but internal memos from the company and from Purdue told a different story. The two companies were in league together.

From STAT:  “Contrary to the picture of helpfulness and cooperation Purdue attempts to paint, Purdue’s employees were actively and secretly trying to prevent West Virginia from imposing any control on the sale of OxyContin,” the state claimed. The case with Purdue was settled in 2004 when the company paid $10 million to West Virginia. Portions of the case file, including documents about marketing of the drug and Purdue’s attempts to ward off limits on prescribing, remained sealed until STAT filed a motion in May to open the records.

Senator Manchin, this isn’t about marijuana, and it’s not about how opioids are classified by the federal government, but it is about pennies — a lot of them. It’s about greed.

He should be more familiar with the business. Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch, is the CEO of Mylan. Her company is best known for jacking up the price of life-saving EpiPen anti-allergy medication, but it also manufactures naloxone, a drug meant to treat opioid over-doses. In June, the Senate Committee on Aging demanded that Mylan explain eye-popping price moves for that drug.

So maybe Senator Manchin does know more than we’re giving him credit for. If he does, though, he’s holding it really close to the vest.

Primary Care Doctor Explains: “The Problem Isn’t Obamacare…It’s The Insurance Companies”

Blue Dot Daily

Primary Care Doctor Explains: “The Problem Isn’t Obamacare…It’s The Insurance Companies”

By cpowell   Posted on March 28, 2017

With premiums increasing for those with coverage through the ACA marketplace, a lot of people are criticizing Obamacare. But many doctors and healthcare professionals are saying that isn’t really the problem.

Cathleen London is a primary care physician in Milbridge, a rural town in Maine. She claims the problem isn’t Obamacare itself, but rather, the entire health insurance system and insurance companies are to blame.

Writing for the Portland Press Herald, London explains she is a a primary care physician who is on the front lines every single day, as  her town is very remote, which means it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get to the emergency room, which is why her office operates as an urgent care facility as well as a family medical practice.

It’s takes an ambulance about 20 minutes to get to her clinic and specialist care about 2 hours away, so Dr. London is trained to handle about 90 percent of medical problems.

Dr. London explains the following, which will show you exactly what’s wrong with health care:

One evening I was almost home after a full day’s work. Around 7:30, I got a call on the emergency line regarding an 82-year-old man who had fallen and split his head open. His wife wanted to know if I could see him, even though he was not a patient of mine.

Instead of sending them to the ER, I went back to the office. I spent 90 minutes evaluating him, suturing his wound and making sure that nothing more sinister had occurred than a loss of footing by a man who has mild dementia. When I was sure that the man would be safe, I let them go.

I billed a total of $789 for the visit, repair, after-hours and emergency care costs. Stating that the after-hours and emergency services had been billed incorrectly, Martin’s Point Health Care threw out the claims and reimbursed me $105, which does not even cover the suture and other materials I used.

I called them about their decision, said that it was not right and let them know they’d lose me if they reimbursed this as a routine patient visit. They replied, “Go ahead and send your termination letter” – which I did.

The same day, Anthem Blue Cross kept me on the phone for 45 minutes regarding a breast MRI recommended by radiologists on a woman whose mother and sister had died of breast cancer. She’d had five months of breast discharge that wasn’t traceable to anything benign (and it turns out the MRI is highly suspicious for cancer).

Anthem did not want to approve the MRI unless it was to localize a lesion for biopsy, even though the mammogram had been inconclusive! This should have been a slam-dunk fast track to approval; instead, dealing with Anthem wasted a good part of my day.

Then Aetna told me there is no way to negotiate fees in Maine. I was somewhat flabbergasted. I do more here than I did in either Brookline, Massachusetts, or New York. The rates should be higher given the level of care I am providing. I have chosen not to participate with them. This only hurts patients; however, I cannot keep losing money on visits.

I do lose money on MaineCare – their reimbursement is below what it costs me to see a patient. For now, that is a decision that I am living with.

I had thought those losses would be offset by private insurance companies, but their cost shifting to patients is obscene. I pay half of my employees’ health insurance, though I’m not required to by law – I just think it is the right thing to do.

My personal policy costs close to $900 a month for me and my sons (all healthy), and each of us has a $6,000 deductible. This means I am paying rack rate for a policy that provides only bare-bones coverage.

Something is wrong with the system. In one day, I encountered everything wrong with insurance. I am not trying to scam the system. I am literally trying to survive. I am trying to give care in an under-served area.

This is not the fault of Obamacare, which stopped the most egregious problems with insurance companies. Remember lifetime caps? Remember denials for pre-existing conditions? Remember the retroactive cancellation of insurance policies? Returning to that is not an option.

Indeed it is not an option, Dr. London.  If Republicans get their way eventually by repealing Obamacare, it may be where we end up again. If Republicans really get their way, it’ll be even worse than it was before.

‘The Great, Bait and Switch, Flim Flam, American Not So Healthy Care Act’

John Hanno,      March 23, 2017

‘The Great, Bait and Switch, Flim Flam, American Not So Healthy Care Act’

Trump and the Republi-cons have finally been forced to put their health care cards on the legislative table. The Donald trumpeted countless times, that his health care plan would be a “beautiful thing,” that “everyone would be covered,” even the poorest 25% who can no way afford health insurance; and that his plan would be “much better” and “much cheaper” than Obamacare.

We’ve all been subjected to the typical bait n switch tactics salesmen use to hawk their products. Ryan and the Republi-cons were forced to divulge some of the fine print in the deal; America donned it’s reading glasses but don’t like what they see. “Everyone would be covered” has morphed into, minus 24 million and eventually 52 million desperate souls, who for the first time, have life saving health care through Obama’s ACA. A “much better plan” changed into, except for the 10 basic T1 Article requirements now covered under Obamacare, including outpatient care, emergency room trips, in hospital care, pregnancy, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse care, prescription drugs, emergency services, rehabilitation and habilitative services, lab tests, preventative care and pediatric services. In other words, this plan basically provides no health care at all. And thrown in for good measure is the speedup of the tax cuts for healthcare executives making over $500,000 and on tanning beds and also shifting to block grants for Medicaid.

But the fish are balking at this boondoggle, so Paul Ryan has turned the buyer over to his sales manager, Art of the Donald, to try to close the deal.

Everyone will lose on this deal except for the dealership owners (er insurance companies, millionaires and billionaires).

Hospitals, nursing homes, cities, communities, states and most importantly, the American health care consumer will all be stuck with a clunker that will break down before the first oil change. Even the Republi-cons in congress with Trump blinders on realize they must walk away from this bad deal.

And the bottom line reveals that much cheaper, actually means, America will be paying for decades on a piece of crap they can’t use, can’t trade in and will steer them towards default, repossession and bankruptcy.

And anyone in congress who votes for this bill will suffer at the polls in the next election. American’s have seen this Insurance Industry Health Care Act sham before; been there – done that. President Obama and the Democrats, threw the un-insured and the under-insured a credible lifeline in 2010; 63% of America favors sinking some cash into the old model to bring it up to snuff; 60% of the buyers don’t want to trade Obamacare in on a shinier new pig in a poke. Only 17% of America (and only 7% strongly) believe TrumpCare is a viable plan; I’m guessing most of them work in the health insurance industry.

Some Republicans have stated they will stand firm because it’s a bad deal for those who elected them. They’re under a lot of pressure; we’ll have to see how much integrity they really have. I think the Donald and Paul Ryan will come to the conclusion that, President Obama and Speaker Pelosi were the real closers.     John Hanno

Update!    America 1 – Trump/Ryan 0.

It’s not surprising that the Trump/Ryan American Health Care plan went down in flames. The Republi-cons were never in favor of crafting a health care plan that would improve on Obamacare, only in fostering another tax cut for millionaires and billionaires. They don’t believe in giving poor folks health insurance; never did, never will. But after 7 years, and thanks to President Obama and the Dems, America has come to the conclusion that health care for everyone is a right, not a privilege. Obamacare gets more popular every day because real people are being favorably impacted by life saving care. And they refuse to go back to what we had before the ACA.

Thanks to everyone who stood up to Trump and the Republicans in Congress, and especially to all the folks who showed up at the Republican town hall meetings and demanded to be heard. It made all the difference. Real folks telling their real stories. America is closer to universal, single payer healthcare than anytime in our history.

So we can take a little time to celebrate; but this is not over. The Repubs in charge will do everything they can to cripple and defund the ACA, attempting to prove their wild claims that Obamacare is failing.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act attempted to nudge the American Health Care System into the 21st Century. These Republi-cons are pulling back on the reins with all their misguided might. Stay informed and engaged. Our job now (as Bernie keeps preaching) is to improve the PPACA by making it Medicare for all single payer, just like the rest of the developed world.    John Hanno

Reuters

How Republicans can hobble Obamacare even without repeal

By Julie Steenhuysen,  March 26, 2017

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Republicans may have failed to overthrow Obamacare this week, but there are plenty of ways they can chip away at it.

The Trump administration has already begun using its regulatory authority to water down less prominent aspects of the 2010 healthcare law.

Earlier this week, newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stalled the rollout of mandatory Medicare payment reform programs for heart attack treatment, bypass surgery and joint replacements finalized by the Obama administration in December.

The delays offer a glimpse at how President Donald Trump can use his administrative power to undercut aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion that Republicans had sought to overturn.

The Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare, at least for now, means it remains federal law. Price’s power resides in how to interpret that law, and which programs to emphasize and fund.

Hospitals and physician groups have been counting on support from Medicare – the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled – to continue driving payment reform policies built into Obamacare that reward doctors and hospitals for providing high quality care at a lower cost.

The Obama Administration had committed to shifting half of all Medicare payments to these alternative payment models by 2018. Although he has voiced general support for innovative payment programs, Price has been a loud critic of mandatory federal programs that dictate how doctors should deliver healthcare.

Providers such as Dr. Richard Gilfillan, chief executive of Trinity Healthcare, a $15.9 billion Catholic health system, say they will press on with these alternative payment plans with or without the government’s blessing. But they have been actively lobbying Trump officials for support, according to interviews with more than a dozen hospital executives, physicians and policy experts.

Without the backing of Medicare, the biggest payer in the U.S. healthcare system which Price now oversees, the nascent payment reform movement could lose momentum, sidelining a transformation many experts believe is vital to reining in runaway U.S. healthcare spending.

Price “can’t change the legislation, but of course he’s supposed to implement it. He could impact it,” said John Rother, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, a broad alliance of healthcare stakeholders that has been lobbying the new administration for support of value-based care.

The move Friday to pull the Republican bill only reinforces the risk to the existing law, which Trump said on Friday “will soon explode.”

“It seems that the Trump Administration now faces a choice whether to actively undermine the ACA or reshape it administratively,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter.

“The ACA marketplaces weren’t collapsing, but they could be made to collapse through administrative actions,” he added.

NEW PAYMENT PLANS AT RISK

The United States spends $3 trillion a year on healthcare – more by far than 10 other wealthy countries – yet has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate, according to a 2013 Commonwealth Fund report. Link to Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2nkTWoC

Health costs have soared thanks in part to the traditional way doctors and hospitals get paid, namely by receiving a fee for each service they provide. So the more advanced imaging tests a doctor orders or pricey procedures they perform, the more money he or she makes, regardless of whether the patient’s health improves.

“We have a completely broken economy in healthcare,” said Blair Childs, senior vice president at hospital purchasing group Premier Inc. “Literally, all of the incentives in fee-for-service are for higher cost.”

Alternative payment models are designed to remove incentives that reward overtreatment of patients. Private insurers are on board, with Aetna Inc, Anthem Inc, UnitedHealth Group and most Blue Cross insurers announcing plans to shift half of their reimbursement to alternative payment models to control costs.

To promote the shift to alternative payments, the ACA created an incubator program at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS innovation center is funded by $10 billion over 10 years to test payment schemes aimed at improving quality and cutting the cost of care.

The Obama administration’s decision to make some of these payment programs mandatory has drawn the ire of Price, a former U.S. senator and orthopedic surgeon. In response to a mandatory payment program for joint replacements last September, for example, Price charged that the CMS innovation center was “experimenting with Americans’ health.”

In his January 17 confirmation, Price said he was a “strong supporter of innovation,” but said he believed the CMS innovation center “has gotten a bit off track.”

TRUMP SETS WHEELS IN MOTION ON DAY 1

President Trump has already signed an executive order directing the HHS to begin unraveling Obamacare. In the early hours of his presidency, Trump directed government agencies to freeze regulations and take steps to weaken the healthcare law.

The order directed departments to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of provisions that imposed fiscal burdens on states, companies or individuals. These moves were meant to minimize the costs and regulatory burdens imposed on states, private entities and individuals.

David Cutler, the Harvard health economist who helped the Obama Administration shape the ACA, said Price could do all sorts of things to undermine the law.

“If he wants to blow it up, he can,” Cutler said in an email. But if they do, he added, “they alone will own the failure.”

 

Politico

Will Obamacare Really Explode?

Health-care expert Larry Levitt says it’s the Republicans who own Obamacare now—and here’s what they can do with it.

By Katelyn Fossett     March 24, 2017

“Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode,” President Donald Trump said on Friday afternoon after House Republicans pulled their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a stunning defeat seven long years—and 18 sudden days—in the making. A glum House Speaker Paul Ryan, the architect of the doomed bill, was forced to acknowledge “Obamacare is the law of the land,” but likewise warned that the current system is unsustainable.

But is it? It’s true that the big problems of skyrocketing premiums in certain states and insurance companies backing out of the exchanges set up under the 2010 law have yet to be solved. Even Democrats admit that. But will Obamacare really explode in one big death spiral? Trump has repeatedly said Republicans would be better off letting it fail in the hopes that votes will blame Democrats when they next go to the polls in 2018.

We tried to pare back some of the spin and grandstanding in the wake of Friday’s no-vote and talk to someone who knows health care inside and out: Larry Levitt, senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation and former senior health policy adviser to the White House. He told us what might really become of Obama’s signature health law in the months and years to come.

Politico Magazine: What do you think is next? Do you think they will just let Obamacare go, and what will that look like?

Larry Levitt: The Trump administration faces some tough decisions over what to do with the Affordable Care Act. The president has talked in the past about how the law is collapsing, and he has said maybe he’ll just let it collapse. The general consensus is that the law is actually not collapsing, and the Congressional Budget Office recently said that regionally, the insurance market would be stable under the ACA or the alternative the House GOP was considering. But the Trump administration could actively undermine the Affordable Care Act marketplaces or own them and work to improve them, from their perspective, and work to reshape it in a more conservative mold. I think the insurers are going to be watching very closely how the Trump administration approaches this in the next weeks and months.

Politico: You said they could reshape it. What would that look like?

Levitt: The administration has a lot of authority to reshape the law, both on the Medicaid side and the insurance marketplaces. There’s been this big fight over the essential benefits that insurers are required to provide, and the administration has some flexibility in altering those benefits administratively. There’s a lot the administration could do with state waivers, both to Medicaid and under the ACA.

Politico: So with the essential benefits, for instance, they could exempt some things from those?

Levitt: Well, so the statute lays out the 10 benefits that insurers have to provide, but within those broad categories, it’s up to the secretary of HHS to define the details. So HHS could allow insurers to set more limits on those benefits, could give states more leeway in defining them. There’s some limits to the authority: The benefits have to be comparable to a typical employer insurance policy, but you know, there’s still a lot they could do to alter the benefits. So the Pottery Barn rule does apply here: If they break it, they own it. From this point forward, anything that happens to the ACA belongs to the Trump administration.

Politico: So you’re saying, for instance, that they can’t take maternity care out of the essential benefits, but they can say what falls under that umbrella?

Levitt: Well, maternity care is a tough one. Prescription drugs, there’s probably a little bit more flexibility—allowing insurers more leeway in defining which drugs they cover. Or in some benefits being able to set limits on the number of physical therapy limits an insurer has to cover.

Politico: The case that Obamacare is collapsing is driven by this uncertainty, which is making insurers pull out. What does this fight do that uncertainty?

Levitt: The uncertainty insurers had been facing was what would come next after the Affordable Care Act, after this repeal-and-replace debate. It now looks like, for the foreseeable future, the Affordable Care Act is what’s coming next. So in some sense, there is greater certainty for insurers now in knowing that the ACA is here to stay. The big uncertainty has come in what the Trump administration may do administratively.

The most immediate risk is what happens with cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers. These are the payments that are at issue in the lawsuit that the House filed against the HHS, challenging their authority to make these payments. If the administration decides to stop those cost-sharing subsidy payments, you could see insurers running for the exits.

Politico: So there is a case that in some ways this uncertainty is at a new low after this. So that’s a case the marketplaces might do better, right?

Levitt: Right, so those insurers know that the ACA is here to stay. But what they don’t know is what the administration might do to undermine the law or allow it to collapse. This is a program that has to be operated for it to succeed. So, for example, for insurers to be profitable in this market, there has to be active outreach to bring in new customers. The Obama administration was active in doing that outreach, including the president himself. It’s hard to imagine President Trump going on “Between Two Ferns” to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance through the ACA.

Politico: So you mentioned the cost-sharing subsidies to undermine Obamacare. What other tools can the Trump administration use to undermine it?

Levitt: The individual mandate, as we heard recently from the Congressional Budget Office, is key to keeping insurance markets stable. And the Trump administration has a lot of administrative authority to undermine the individual mandate. They could grant waivers to large groups of people because they could lead to hardship under the individual mandate. They could announce they’re not going to enforce the penalties under the individual mandate, so there could be an open invitation for people to flaunt it. You know, it is the individual mandate that is the stick to try to get young, healthy people to sign up to balance out the sick people who know they need insurance.

Politico: So when you were looking at the disagreements that sank the bill, did you think there were any kind of creative workarounds or middle-ground options that you thought people had left unturned?

Levitt: There was this idea of a stability pool—the hundred million dollars in grants to states that would go a long way toward keeping some markets that are now fragile. That hundred-million-dollar pool could go a long way toward stabilizing fragile markets around the country. This was the kind of thing that Republicans in the past called a bailout to insurers, but was a part of their own bills. It’s hard to imagine any congressional action at this point to shore up the ACA, but a grant pool like that could shore things up.

Politico: So what problem would that get around?

Levitt: So, by and large, insurance markets are stable under the ACA, but insurance risk is pooled at the state level, and there are some states where the markets are fragile, where premiums have increased substantially and in some cases, enrollment has started to drop. These markets are still well short of a death spiral, but there could be bigger premium increases to come in these places. And a pool of money that states could use to help cover the cost of a very expensive and sick people could help stabilize those markets. This is what I think people will be watching for in how the Trump administration responds. For example, in Tennessee, which is one of those markets that’s fragile, [the insurance company] Humana recently announced it is pulling out, and it will leave a number of counties in the state with literally no insurers participating. Now, under the Obama administration, there would be a lot of jawboning going on to try to get an insurer to offer coverage there—it’s not clear that will happen under this administration. That happened in Arizona this past year when there was a risk there might be no insurers participating.

Politico: So let’s say the Trump administration pulls out all of its tricks and goes after Obamacare. Do you think it could collapse?

Levitt: The worst case is there are parts of the country where there are no insurers offering coverage, and that could certainly happen, but it’s not going to be the case in the vast majority of the country. I don’t think that in the vast majority of states there’s a risk of collapse. But things could absolutely get worse, with fewer people enrolled and premiums rising fasters.

That’s insurance markets, but with Medicaid—the Medicaid expansion continues as long as states continue to get federal money.

Politico: Would there be a Trump way of undermining the Medicaid expansion?

Levitt: Not so much undermine, but the Trump administration has already signaled it would grant waivers to states that want to experiment more broadly with how they run the Medicaid programs. So things like work requirements, things like requiring more low-income people to pay premiums to enroll in Medicaid. I think those are likely to change.

Katelyn Fossett is a web producer for POLITICO Magazine.

‘Republi-conicare’

John Hanno March 14, 2017

‘Republi-conicare’

Don’t be bamboozled; this ‘pig in a poke’ health insurance farce is not a ‘health care plan.’ It’s first of all, a ‘tax cut plan’ for the richest Americans and an ‘un-health plan’ for the rest of us. Senator Bernie Sanders believes this (1% er, American Health Care Plan) is simply a “$275 billion tax cut plan, transferring enormous amounts from the poorest and oldest Americans to the very rich.”

These Republi-cons have been lying to voters for the last 8 years. Obamacare is not collapsing; is not in a death spiral. 63% of folks think Obamacare is good, want to keep it and want to improve it, not destroy it. West Virginia, our poorest health care state went from 17.6% uninsured to 7%. A success by anyone’s standards. And dozens of other poor, particularly Red states, have also benefited from the ACA. 45 states had statistically significantly reductions in the uninsured. Arkansas dropped from 23% to 9.6%, Kentucky, with arguably the most successful ACA implementation, dropped from 20.5% to 7.5% and Oregon dropped from 19.5% to 7.3%.

The Republi-cons cried over and over that the Democrats pushed the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) through without any input from the Republicans; but President Obama, his experts and the Democrats worked extremely hard, through endless Republican obstruction, holding more than 70 meeting over 14 months to cobble together that bill. President Obama begged the Republicans to come up with credible amendments instead of obstructing the process. This high-pocritical Republican crew just held a couple of bull crap closed door hearings and are attempting to rush this bill straight to the House floor with not one hearing with the Democrats.

King Donald repeated throughout the campaign that he would repeal and replace Obamcare on his first day in office and that his replacement plan would be much better and far cheaper, “a beautiful thing.” He said he would do something “unlike any of the other Republicans running,” that “its a very un-Republican thing to say,” but he would make sure everyone was covered, even the bottom 25% of the poorest Americans who can’t afford private health care. He said no one now covered by the ACA would lose their coverage. But during the last few weeks, he’s flipped his rhetoric (no surprise) to now say everyone would have ‘access’ to his health care plan.

Having ‘access’ to health care is not the same as having health care. I have access to Four Seasons Hotels and many exclusive vacation resorts but the only accommodations I can afford is staying with Tom Bodett at the Motel 6 or in a tent at a State Park camp grounds. I have access to some really nice golf clubs, some of which Trump might own, but the only ones I can afford are run by our local park districts. I have access to cars at exclusive Mercedes and Audi auto dealerships, but with my budget restrictions, I shop for 5 or 10 year old used vehicles.

The 50% of American’s who live on $16,000 a year or less would not be able to purchase health insurance under any circumstances, whether they’re able bodied workers or not. They can’t afford even the cheapest insurance unless it’s heavily or fully subsidized.

We already suspected, that under this phony Paul Ryan Republi-con plan, millions of Americans would lose coverage or, as was common before the ACA, pay more for less and less care, while the wealthy haul in billions through tax breaks. Yet the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) analysis portrays even more punitive consequences than we imagined.

Under the Paul Ryan’s proposed American Health Care Act, supported by billionaire Trump, the CBO claims 24 million Americans would lose their health care by 2026 and 14 million by next year alone. Insurers would be able to substantially raise premiums on older enrollees and could charge them 5 times as much as younger folks. Premiums will rise between 120 and 125% for those between age 50 and 64. And because this plan would also defund Planned Parenthood, clinics that provide critical women’s health services throughout the country would have to close.

The experts believe up to 14 million folks dependent on Medicaid would lose their coverage. 1.5 million of those folks on Medicaid are cancer patients undergoing treatment. This plan will cut 25% ($880 Billion thru 2026) from Medicaid and limit it’s growth. Children, poor people, the elderly receiving long term care, folks with mental health problems and the disabled are the beneficiaries of Medicaid and will suffer so that billionaires and multi-millionaires can get their tax breaks.

More than 50% of American, those low income folks who don’t pay federal income taxes, would not benefit at all from health insurance tax incentives proposed by the Republi-cons.

The Republi-con, con job is in full spin mode, led by ‘Con Man In Chief,’ Donald Trump. The Donald promised the far right skeptics of his plan, that if they vote against Drumpf-care, he will let the ACA go down in flames. Typical Republi-con ‘my way or the highway.’

House Speaker Ryan claims he’s really encouraged by the CBO estimates (he’s the only one), and believes it’s actually better than he thought it would be. He’s become very adept at making these statements with a straight face.

And the Republi-con promise, that merely having the ability to purchase insurance policies across state lines, will make a big difference in costs, is another big lie! There are no Federal restrictions on companies selling across state line! The companies and the states control where they will sell. And the lack of competition, caused by insurance companies leaving the ACA in some states, is because of a backroom deal, by Sen. Rubio and other Republicans, designed to cripple the ACA by cutting reimbursements to insurance companies in the first 3 years of the plan.

The Republi-cons say this plan will reduce costs. Bull Pucky! The 10% reduction scored by the CBO means that policy prices will rise, as always, but the rise will be 10% less than under the ACA. But those savings will be more than offset by large increases in deductibles and out of pocket costs and by large losses in subsidies, especially for those between 50 and 64 years of age. Bottom line-Billionaires will reap a windfall of at least $275 billion (and much more in the future) on the backs of children, women, the poor, the elderly who need extended care, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the 10’s of millions of Americans addicted to legal and illegal drugs and who need life saving treatments.

The Nation’s John Nichols wrote on his Twitter feed about the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer press briefing spin job that went viral. “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to be imitating Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live imitation of him when he tried to make the argument for replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare by placing a copy of the final version of the 974-page law next to the sketchy Republican substitute. Forget about the contents, argued Spicer. “Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123—much smaller, much bigger—so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion. We’ll undo this. And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part. So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.”

“Say what?” said Nichols.

“[Look] at the size. This is the Democrats, this is us. You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not,” said Spicer during Tuesday’s press briefing, as he moved back and forth, hovering over the two stacks of paper. “And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.… I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.”

As if the most important thing about a bill passed by Congress is the number of pages. I’m so looking forward to this Saturdays SNL skit showing McCarthy’s version of Spicer’s PB. Please, Please, Please!

Alas, every credible health care expert, not paid by insurance companies and or big pharma, believes the only way to improve Obamacare is to make it single payer universal health care. No matter if these Republi-cons are somehow able to repeal the ACA, and against all odds, get some similar ACA replacement clone passed through congress, 5 or 7 years down the road, we will, no doubt, have universal healthcare. Every single developed country has universal health care except the U.S. There is no place in the world where a free market based health care system exists. We’re at the bottom of the list for health care outcomes considering the enormous money we spend. Most developed countries spend half as much with better health outcomes. In this category, America is in the third world neighborhood. The Republi-cons like to say that most Canadians come across the boarder to access health care. All big lies. Canadians love their system, live longer and spend much less for better outcomes.

Agreed, our health care system is too expensive. We have too many folks who must do a better job of staying healthy; they must eat better and stay more active. Obamacare made big strides in attempting to help by emphasizing preventative care. But make no mistake, unless we transition to universal health care, America’s economy will never recover. Living wage jobs will not spring forth in ‘Trump World’, because we will not be able to compete with the rest of the world on a level playing field. We must also force our elected officials, to demand fair treatment from the drug and health care industries benefiting from our out of control health care system, instead of demanding more campaign largess in return for their indifference. There are no checks and balances on drug and medical suppliers. America pays the brunt of these inflated costs for much of the worlds medical research.

Obamacare is not perfect, but an awful lot of smart folks spent a lot of time, effort and capital, on attempting to mitigate America’s bastardized health care calamity. It took a lot of compromise. The Dems had to give up on single payer, and a public option and had to incorporate the Republican idea of a mandate so that the plan wouldn’t blow up the national debt. They had to accommodate health care providers, the insurance industry and big Pharma, in order to drag the plan over the finish line. It wasn’t pretty but they passed a comprehensive health care plan, something most U.S. Presidents have been trying to accomplish since Teddy Roosevelt more than a hundred years ago. It was a start.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act focused on covering as many uninsured Americans as possible and also, at the urging of our best and brightest health care providers like the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics and others, finally focused on preventive health care. Since the ACA was passed, the customary double digit yearly insurance increases, slowed to the lowest rate in 2 decades. It also wrested the insurance industries stranglehold on consumers, which punished women and folks with pre-existing medical conditions and lifetime cap problems. It was a valiant beginning on the road to a universal health care system, already embraced by the rest of the developed world.

But this Republi-con crew in charge, don’t know how to govern. All the conservatives who knew how to legislate and compromise have been drummed out of the party. All that’s left are the bomb throwers who are only good at throwing sand into the gears of American progress.

The Donald finally realized that getting comprehensive health care passed is “complicated.” He could saved a lot of grief and simply placed a call to his predecessor. Trump vows to “come after” congress-folks who vote against Trump-Care. But the Koch brothers pledge to defend them against Trump’s retaliation. Even if this wounded duck stumbles through the House, the Senate will no doubt put it out of it’s misery. The only ones still pushing this bad bill, are those who lied to the voters about being able to fashion a much better alternative to Obamacare. Rubber, meet the road!

Even though this plan has Paul Ryan’s finger prints all over it, the blame will be heaped on Trump. He will, as usual, try to blame someone else, probably the Congress (or the media), but this bogus TrumpCare buck, passed or failed, will stop at the Donald’s desk for sure.                                        John Hanno

 

Medscape March 15, 2017

State of the Union and Healthcare:

100 Years of Good Intentions

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): The Origins of National Healthcare

We must go back more than 100 years to Theodore Roosevelt’s administration to find the nidus of national healthcare. In his 1907 address, he said, “There is a constantly growing interest in this country in the question of the public health. At last the public mind is awake to the fact that many diseases, notably tuberculosis, are National scourges. The work of the State and city boards of health should be supplemented by a constantly increasing interest on the part of the National Government. The Congress has already provided a bureau of public health and has provided for a hygienic laboratory. There are other valuable laws relating to the public health connected with the various departments. This whole branch of the Government should be strengthened and aided in every way.”

The following slideshow tells the very long, difficult story that defines American healthcare through 70 years of presidential State of the Union addresses, with a final bow to an earlier president. Beginning with FDR’s address, every US president (with one exception), whether Democrat or Republican, has communicated during a State of the Union address a proposal for improving the nation’s health. The purpose of this slideshow is not to debate whether such programs were achieved or are even achievable but to briefly illustrate the typically good — but usually thwarted — intentions of nearly all of our recent presidents and to demonstrate how long the Executive Office has wrestled with this massive challenge.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): Healthcare Is a Right

In his 1944 address, FDR announced “…a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.” Among these rights he included employment, housing, and good education. He also spoke of “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” Public health had been a major federal effort since Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, but with this proposal FDR became the first president to explicitly suggest that medical care itself was a right for each American and should be addressed by the federal government.

 

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): Advocates a National Healthcare System

During his administration, Harry Truman consistently advocated a national healthcare system, and it was during his time in office that Congress enacted new programs to improve mental health, the health of mothers and children, and hospital construction. In his 1948 State of the Union address, Truman said, “We are rightly proud of the high standards of medical care we know how to provide in the United States. The fact is, however, that most of our people cannot afford to pay for the care they need.” He went on to advocate a “national system of payment for medical care based on well-tried insurance principles. This great Nation cannot afford to allow its citizens to suffer needlessly from the lack of proper medical care. Our ultimate aim must be a comprehensive insurance system to protect all our people equally against insecurity and ill health.”

 

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): Establishes the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

Dwight Eisenhower continued to advocate for a more comprehensive national plan for healthcare. In his 1956 State of the Union address, he said, “We must aid in cushioning the heavy and rising costs of illness and hospitalization to individuals and families. Provision should be made, by Federal reinsurance or otherwise, to foster extension of voluntary health insurance coverage to many more persons, especially older persons and those in rural areas. Plans should be evolved to improve protection against the costs of prolonged or severe illness. These measures will help reduce the dollar barrier between many Americans and the benefits of modern medical care.” Although such efforts failed to materialize over the course of Eisenhower’s time in office, he strengthened the US Food and Drug Administration and increased funds for medical research.

 

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): Calls for Healthcare for the Elderly

Fifty years ago, in his 1961 State of the Union address, Kennedy said, “Medical research has achieved new wonders — but these wonders are too often beyond the reach of too many people, owing to a lack of income (particularly among the aged), a lack of hospital beds, a lack of nursing homes and a lack of doctors and dentists. Measures to provide healthcare for the aged under Social Security, and to increase the supply of both facilities and personnel, must be undertaken…” And he continued to advocate reform in his final address: “Our working men and women, instead of being forced to beg for help from public charity once they are old and ill, should start contributing now to their own retirement health program through the Social Security System.”

 

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): Enacts Medicare/Medicaid

It was in 1965, under Lyndon Johnson’s administration, that Social Security Act amendments were passed which resulted in the creation of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Although snarled in Vietnam, Johnson made a case for health reform in his 1967 State of the Union address: “We have brought medical care to older people who were unable to afford it. Three and one-half million Americans have already received treatment under Medicare since July.” He also sought to improve global health in his 1966 address: “I will also propose the International Health Act of 1966 to strike at disease by a new effort to bring modern skills and knowledge to the uncared-for, those suffering in the world, and by trying to wipe out smallpox and malaria and control yellow fever over most of the world during this next decade.” (This bill was never enacted.)

 

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974): An Unexpected Reformer

Although not known for a stand on healthcare reform, in his 1971 address, Richard Nixon, a Republican, proposed major reforms that are echoed in today’s Affordable Care Act, including the following:

  • A program to ensure that no American family will be prevented from obtaining basic medical care by inability to pay;
  • A major increase in aid to medical schools;
  • Incentives to improve the delivery of health services, particularly in low-resource areas;
  • Greater use of medical assistants;
  • New programs to encourage better preventive medicine;
  • Incentives to doctors “to keep people well rather than just to treat them when they are sick”; and
  • An additional $100 million to find a cure for cancer.

During his address he asserted, “America has long been the wealthiest nation in the world. Now it is time we became the healthiest nation in the world.”

 

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977): Confronts the Growing Costs of Healthcare

Gerald Ford, who inherited the presidency after Nixon’s resignation, wrestled with the problems of illness and individual financial hardship in the face of rising healthcare costs, not only for patients but for the nation as well. In his 1976 address, Ford sought to deal with these issues by proposing “catastrophic health insurance for everybody covered by Medicare.” To finance it, he suggested raising fees for short-term care and lowering costs for senior citizens: “[N]obody after reaching age 65 will have to pay more than $500 a year for covered hospital or nursing home care, nor more than $250 for 1 year’s doctor bills.” But Ford also made clear in his speech that he did not support a national healthcare program, although he suggested that “we combine 16 existing Federal programs, including Medicaid, into a single $10 billion Federal grant. Funds would be divided among States under a new formula which provides a larger share of Federal money to those States that have a larger share of low-income families.”

 

James “Jimmy” Carter (1977-1981): Pushes Harder for Universal Healthcare Coverage

In his 1891 address, Jimmy Carter pushed even harder than his predecessors “to reach the goal of comprehensive, universal healthcare coverage.” Features that he proposed included:

  • Fully subsidized and comprehensive coverage for 15 million additional poor persons;
  • Prenatal and delivery services for all pregnant women and coverage for all acute care for infants in their first year of life;
  • A limit of $1250 on annual out-of-pocket medical expenses and no limits on hospital coverage for the elderly and disabled;
  • Mandated employer coverage of health insurance for all full-time employees and their families, at least for major medical expenses; and
  • Medicare and Medicaid combined and expanded into an umbrella federal program.

His proposals for healthcare cost control included voluntary hospital cost guidelines and moving away from the fee-for-service payment model “toward a system of prospective reimbursement, under which healthcare providers would operate within predetermined budgets.”

 

Ronald W. Reagan (1981-1989): Ignores Healthcare Reform and Focuses on Cost

Ronald Reagan raised the issue of healthcare in 3 of his 8 addresses, but only briefly, and mostly focused on cost cutting, without detailing any programs for extending coverage. His 1982 speech urged a need to reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs, with a focus on weeding out fraud. He also said, “I signed a bill to reduce the growth of these programs by $44 billion over the next 3 years while at the same time preserving essential services for the truly needy.” In 2 other addresses, Reagan briefly acknowledged the problem of catastrophic illness but without outlining any specific ideas. In his 1983 address, he said he would “submit legislation to provide catastrophic illness insurance coverage for older Americans.” And in his 1986 speech, he directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to recommend how the private sector and government could work together to address the problems of affordable insurance for those threatened with financially catastrophic illness.

 

George H. W. Bush (1989-1993): Re-Engages the Healthcare Reform Battle

The elder George Bush mentioned healthcare as a problem in 2 of his early speeches, and he tackled the issue in more detail in his last address, which was in 1992. Recognizing the need for reform, he said that there were 2 options: implementing a national healthcare system, which he opposed, or providing insurance security for everyone while preserving choice. To accomplish this, he proposed to make basic health insurance affordable for all low-income persons who were not currently covered by providing a health insurance tax credit of up to $3750 for each family, and to ensure that all Americans had access to basic health insurance even if they changed jobs or developed serious health problems.

 

William J. Clinton (1993-2001): The Attack Dog for Healthcare Reform

The movement toward true healthcare reform began under Bill Clinton, who proposed significant changes in the healthcare system in every one of his presidential addresses. Despite Hillary Clinton’s failure to achieve consensus on an enactable healthcare plan, Clinton pushed on. In his 1995 address, he said, “[L]ast year we almost came to blows over healthcare, but we didn’t do anything…Let’s do whatever we have to do to get something done. Let’s at least pass meaningful insurance reform.” Congress did extend health coverage to 5 million children, and Clinton ended his administration with a budget surplus, which he hoped would ensure the future of big entitlement programs like Social Security. In his 1999 address, he proposed, “Listen to this: If we set aside 60% of the surplus for Social Security and 16% for Medicare, over the next 15 years, that saving will achieve the lowest level of publicly held debt since right before World War I, in 1917.”

 

George W. Bush (2001-2009): Keeps the Healthcare Debate Alive

George W. Bush may have had his hands full with preventing terrorism and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he continued the discussion on healthcare in every presidential address with some very aggressive proposals. In his 2005 address, he urged Congress “to move forward on a comprehensive healthcare agenda with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance, a community health center in every poor county, improved information technology, association health plans for small businesses and their employees, expanded health savings accounts, and medical liability reform that will reduce healthcare costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need.” He expanded on these ideas in later addresses and continued to push for major changes in healthcare.

 

Barack Obama has taken ideas from every past president — Republican and Democrat — to try to create a solution to the American healthcare challenge. His signing of the Affordable Care Act has been criticized by the left for not going far enough and by the right for going too far. In his 2011 address, he summed up the current situation: “Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new healthcare law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you…What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition…So I say to this chamber tonight: Instead of refighting the battles of the last 2 years, let’s fix what needs fixing, and let’s move forward.”

The Fight to Save the Affordable Care Act Is Really a Class Battle

Starting to mitigate America’s yawning class divide is exactly what the ACA did. And that’s exactly what the Republican plan would undo.

By Angela Bonavoglia   March 10, 2017

The escalating battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act—heightened now that House Republicans have released their Obamacare-repeal legislation—is revealing a fundamental fault line in American society. Even the most vociferous opponents of the ACA defend some features of the law, like parents’ ability to keep children under the age of 26 on their insurance and the ban on insurance companies’ refusing coverage for people with preexisting condition. Those defenders include Republican lawmakers, who incorporated both of those features in their repeal bill. What we rarely hear defended is the ACA’s role as an instrument of social justice. Yet, at its most basic, starting to mitigate America’s yawning class divide is exactly what the ACA did. With this proposed legislation, that is exactly what the Republicans are trying to undo.

Prior to passage of the ACA, most low-income adults could not receive Medicaid because income-eligibility limits were downright draconian in most states—well below the current federal poverty level (FPL) of $11,880 a year for an individual. In a blatant gesture of discrimination, federal law excluded non-elderly, non-disabled adults without dependent children entirely from Medicaid eligibility. How sick you were, what health crisis you were facing, did not matter. If you suffered, you suffered. If you died, you died, as an estimated 20,000 to 45,000 Americans did each year because they did not have health insurance. That had become the American way.

The ACA began to change that. With Medicaid expansion, the ACA went a long way toward increasing access to health care for many of America’s forgotten poor, near poor, and disabled. The expansion made 11 million non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,394 a year for an individual) newly eligible for Medicaid, with no or very-low-cost premiums, leaving them responsible only for other nominal health-care costs. It opened the door to Medicaid for adults who had no dependent children. And it expanded Medicaid eligibility for more people with disabilities. That not only made them healthier; it also protected them from lives of forced institutionalization. Medicaid is the primary payer for the cost of long-term support services that are critical to the ability of low-income people with disabilities to live, work, and be active in the community; private insurers and Medicare provide precious little support for these or related services.

The ACA also brought more of the uninsured into the health-care market by giving a financial leg up to people who earned too much to be eligible for Medicaid but still much less than would enable them to buy private insurance independently. It enabled those with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,880 to $47,520 for individuals, $24,300 to $97,200 for a family of four) to buy health insurance on the public exchanges with the aid of premium tax credits—as long as they didn’t have access to a qualified plan through an employer. An estimated 85 percent of the 11 million people who bought health insurance on the state or federal marketplaces did so with the aid of tax credits that lowered their premiums. In addition, more than 6 million of the lowest-income people, those with incomes from 100 percent to 250 percent of the FPL, also became eligible for cost-sharing reductions, which cap out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and co-pays.

The structure of the ACA extended health insurance to 20 million formerly uninsured low- and moderate-income people, sending our uninsured rate to a record low of less than 9 percent. While that has been an enormous achievement, controversy accompanied the law from the start. It was passed without a single Republican vote. Major computer snafus made the inaugural sign-up for individual policies on the federal exchange a disaster. In time, premiums rose for those buying without credits or subsidies, as high as 145 percent in one location. But premiums on the individual market had been rising pre-ACA too, up 20 percent in 2010 over the previous year. In fact, according an analysis by Brookings researches, average premiums in the individual market actually dropped significantly upon implementation of the ACA, even as coverage improved. The combined amount a person could be responsible for in deductibles and co-pays with the ACA climbed as well: In 2016, the ACA capped those out-of-pocket maximums for all insurance plans on and off the exchanges at $7,150 for an individual and $14,300 for a family. But deductibles had been on the upswing, too; Kaiser reported that more than a quarter (26 percent) of the people who bought their own insurance in 2010 faced a $5,000 or higher annual deductible. Finally, the number of insurers willing to participate in the exchanges dropped precipitously in many locations, and many people could no longer find the doctors they trusted in their networks.

With people just beyond the cutoff for Medicaid or premium subsidies being required to pay full freight for their health care, some resentment was inevitable. One Kaiser survey focusing on the experiences and opinions of those who buy their own health insurance within or outside the exchanges found that the majority of those who got a tax credit (58 percent) were more likely than those who did not get a tax credit to feel they benefited from the law (even though they did, from such features as no-cost preventive care and requirements that insurers cover 10 essential services). Another Kaiser poll found that, while 50 percent of the public thought low-income people were better off under the ACA, only 27 percent thought those who bought their own health insurance were better off.

Newly eligible Medicaid recipients came in for resentment, too. In late December last year, Kaiser held six focus groups with Trump voters in three Rust Belt states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan). Three groups were held with those on Medicaid and three with those who had marketplace insurance with subsidies. Some of those with marketplace insurance, especially those battling severe health problems, saw the subsidies as insufficient and felt left behind by the law. Some, wrote Kaiser President Drew Altman in The New York Times, “saw Medicaid as a much better deal than their insurance and were resentful that people with incomes lower than theirs could get it.” But, despite their resentment, reported Kaiser, those participants felt that expanded Medicaid coverage “was important and should be retained.”

An unanticipated consequence of the ACA may be a change in the American mindset about government involvement in healthcare.

In fact, an unanticipated consequence of the ACA may well be a change in the American mindset about government involvement in health-care provision. The American public’s position on Medicaid appears to be gradually shifting from a grudging acceptance of what has been seen as an expensive, unearned handout to a greater recognition of Medicaid’s crucial place in our social safety net. By 2005, pre-ACA, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of adults said Medicaid was a very important government program, ranking close behind Social Security (88 percent) and Medicare (83 percent). However, as the authors of a seminal review of 25 years of public opinion on health-care policy published in 2006 observed, “Medicaid is often discussed both positively and negatively. It is seen as the country’s safety net program for low-income people, but also a program that is becoming too expensive and is threatening the stability of future federal and state budgets.” As a result, they reported, polling in 2005 found that 61 percent of respondents believed that Medicaid was in a financial crisis or had serious problems; 44 percent favored reducing the number of people qualifying for the program as one solution.

Contrast that to the responses to the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid—a program that today covers over 70 million children, adults, people with disabilities, and seniors, one in five Americans. A just-released Kaiser tracking poll found that 84 percent of those polled believed it was important for states that expanded Medicaid with federal funds to continue to receive those funds, including 69 percent of Republicans. While only 12 percent of Americans said they wanted to see Medicaid funding decreased, nearly half (48 percent) wanted funding to stay the same and more than a third (36 percent) wanted funding increased. Faced with Republican proposals to replace open-ended Medicaid funding to states with limited block grants, nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) said Medicaid “should continue largely as it is today, with the federal government guaranteeing coverage for low-income people, setting standards for who states cover and what benefits people get, and matching state Medicaid spending as the number of people on the program goes up or down.”

As for those premium tax credits based on need, there have been complaints, both from those who make too much to receive them and from those who receive them but feel they are insufficient. Still, no one is suggesting abolishing them. A Kaiser poll from November of last year found that 80 percent of those polled favored providing financial help to low- and moderate-income Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage—including 67 percent of Republicans.

But an even more telling finding emerged in January from a Pew Research Center Survey. Asked if it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health-care coverage, 60 percent of Americans said yes, the highest percentage in nearly a decade. While far more Democrats than Republicans agreed with that statement, there were significant changes by income: A majority of Republicans (52 percent) with incomes under $30,000 agreed with the proposition (up from 31 percent in 2016), as did over a third of Republicans making $30,000 to $74,999 (up from 14 percent in 2016). Those making the most (over $75,000) agreed the least: 18 percent, up from 16 percent the year before. Even though a majority (67 percent) of Republicans said that the government does not have a responsibility to ensure health-care coverage, more than half (56 percent) said it should continue both Medicare and Medicaid.

Despite all of the controversy around the ACA, the most recent polls show that it has reached its highest approval level ever.

Despite all of the controversy that has grown around the ACA, the most recent polls show that the health-care law has reached its highest approval level ever, 54 percent in the latest Pew Research Center poll, and another high, 48 percent, in the latest Kaiser poll. The message may well be that, despite the ACA’s shortcomings, a growing group of Americans don’t want the federal government out of the health-insurance business; they want it to do a better job.

This picture speaks to a powerful coalition in the making. By guaranteeing coverage to a much larger share of the American public through Medicaid, and by convincing Americans of the justice implicit in providing financial assistance to those who cannot afford health insurance on their own, the ACA began to move us closer to a commitment to universal health coverage. While those words have become hopelessly politicized, what they refer to, according to the World Health Organization, is simply a system whereby “all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.” Ours is a patchwork system, but it is a system nonetheless. In terms of paying for that system, interestingly, while there is widespread resistance to the ACA mandate that fines those who don’t sign up for insurance—viewed favorably by only 35 percent of Americans—there has been widespread acceptance of the current system of paying taxes for guaranteed care under Medicare (70 percent in 2015 when the program turned 50).

The Republicans’ new American Health Care Act (contained in two bills, one from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the other from Ways and Means) would repeal major provisions of the ACA that made health insurance a reality for those 20 million people, while leaving an estimated 28.5 million people who still have no health insurance, mostly low-income families with at least one worker, untouched.

It would greatly diminish opportunities for people to receive Medicaid at all and for that coverage to be adequate. It would end the current federal support for Medicaid expansion in 2020. It would turn Medicaid into a one-size-fits-all program, replacing open-ended federal payments to states with fixed payments capped per person, which may or may not meet a person’s actual health-care needs. And it would make it impossible for Medicaid recipients to use their insurance at Planned Parenthood, because the legislation bans Medicaid payments to “prohibited entities,” a description tailored in the legislation, without naming it, to Planned Parenthood.

The proposed law would end the cost-sharing subsidies that help very-low-income Americans pay deductibles and co-pays. It would replace the ACA credits based on need with credits from $2,000 to $4,000 based on age alone, which would only begin to phase out for earners above $75,000. People could put more money into their health savings accounts, which benefit only higher-income people. Obamacare fees that helped support the health-care expansion would be repealed, like those on health-insurance companies and manufacturers of brand-name prescription drugs. And the legislation would eliminate the requirement that larger companies provide their full-time employees with affordable insurance as well as the individual mandate. However, it would replace the individual mandate with a back-door penalty—a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for anyone who lets their insurance lapse.

The stakes are higher now than ever. Get The Nation in your inbox.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet provided the numbers; we do not know how many people will gain or lose coverage as a result of this legislation or what the program will cost. Yet the two House committees reportedly plan to vote on the bill even without those estimates, and hope to get it to the full House for a vote before their Easter recess begins on April 7.

At their town-hall meetings and in the streets, Republican lawmakers have witnessed the angry backlash against their disorganized efforts to repeal Obamacare, which led some prominent Republicans these past few months to express grave concerns about the risks to consumers, the insurance industry, and their own political lives. “We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created,” Representative Tom McClintock of California was quoted in the Washington Post saying at a closed-door meeting back in January. “That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”

We cannot know now if the emerging cross-class coalition will hold, if ordinary people will challenge Republican efforts to protect the wealthy and corporate interests while leaving the poor, near poor, and struggling middle-class to once again fend for themselves. What we do know is that with the ACA we took a few small steps into a future inhabited by the rest of the developed world, which sees health care as a right. To go back to the bad old days when empty pockets meant living in terror of an unexpected illness, unrelenting suffering, and early, preventable death would be nothing if not a national shame.

Angela Bonavoglia, MSW, is a journalist and health communications consultant and the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church.

 

Yahoo News –

Why the Republican health care bill is doomed to fail — even if it passes

Matt Bai’s Political World March 16, 2017

The old Superman comic books used to feature a character named Bizarro, who looked exactly like the Man of Steel, except for his blocky, Frankenstein-like features and the fact that everything about him was reversed. Whereas Superman could burn things with his eyes, the lumbering Bizarro could freeze them; while Superman’s X-ray vision couldn’t handle lead, Bizarro’s could penetrate only lead. You get the idea.

That’s the image that kept popping into my head this week as I watched Republicans hurtle their way toward an ill-conceived overhaul of the health care system. In a sense, what Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan — a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

They now seem bent on making exactly the same mistakes Democrats did in 2009, but in exactly the inverse way.

At about this time eight years ago, I was hanging around Capitol Hill and the White House, putting together a preview of the looming health care fight for the New York Times Magazine. (The piece holds up pretty well, I think, but judge for yourself.)

The pivotal Democrat on the Hill then was Max Baucus, the Montana senator — and later President Obama’s ambassador to China — who chaired the Senate Finance Committee. Like Obama, Baucus thought CEOs, health care providers and politicians who had once opposed reform could now be persuaded to support it, as long as the plan promised to get soaring costs and federal spending under control.

And Baucus told me that any new law had to have at least some measure of bipartisan support, even if that required painful compromises. That’s because no piece of massive social legislation had ever been perfect from the start, and in order to preserve and fix it, you needed at least a few members of the minority to be invested in its success.

A transformational law of this size, Baucus said, would be “unsustainable” if one party decided to enact it alone.

What Republican leaders are frantically trying to push through Congress is the Bizarro health care plan – a mirror image of the law it would replace, patched together from spare parts and castoff ideas.

The problem for Baucus was that most Democrats, especially in the House, didn’t care at all about corporate competitiveness and public debt. They cared about bringing down the number of poorer Americans who couldn’t afford insurance, and they weren’t open to painful fiscal choices in order to get that done.

So while Obama and his congressional allies sold their plan to industry and the public as an economically necessary reform that would “bend the cost curve,” the law they ultimately passed was really more a wealth transfer program that birthed new regulations and taxes in exchange for expanded coverage for the poor and some middle-class protections — a program very much in the tradition of the Great Society.

The most difficult decisions involving public spending were pushed off years into the future, for some other group of politicians to worry about. And of course, as it turned out, Democrats ended up passing the law along strictly partisan lines, using a budgetary gimmick known as “reconciliation” to help it along.

This wasn’t their call, to be fair; they really weren’t given a whole lot of choice. But what all of this meant, practically speaking, is that Baucus was right — the law was probably politically unsustainable from the start.

What came to be known as “Obamacare” was wildly successful in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by more than 20 million, but the public saw little of the economic benefit it was promised. (Although in truth, health care costs have risen more slowly than they might have otherwise.) Democrats couldn’t make necessary fixes in the sprawling law, because no one on the Republican side had any interest in seeing the law fixed.

Jump ahead now to where congressional Republicans are this week with their American Health Care Act — which is precisely the upside-down version of where Democrats were eight years ago. Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.

They may advertise their bill as a market-based solution to health care inequities, but in fact, what Republicans really care about right now is shedding the new revenue and spending in Obama’s health care law — specifically by repealing taxes and eliminating subsidies for the poor and the Medicaid expansion in the states.

President Trump has promised that “you’ll see rates go down, down, down and you’ll see plans go up, up, up,” and, in distinctly Trumpian terms, that the new system will be “a thing of beauty.”

But the Congressional Budget Office, which is led by a Republican appointee and has a slightly better record than Trump when it comes to veracity, estimates that the plan will cost 24 million Americans their health insurance while saving the government more than $300 billion over the next 10 years.

This time there’s not even a question of bipartisanship. Republicans have been plotting a three-stage legislative process, including a reconciliation measure of their own, to pass their plan without a single Democratic vote — although it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that they will settle anytime soon on a plan that wins over both House conservatives and Senate moderates.

The problem — especially if you’re one of those moderates who actually care about governing and have to get elected statewide — is that the Bizarro health care bill wouldn’t be any more lasting than its predecessor.

Before long, the public would figure out that the law isn’t going to do anything to make coverage more affordable or the choices more vast, as promised, but rather the opposite. Eventually, the popular protections that Republicans say they’ll keep are likely to become unworkable without mandates and subsidies.

Whereas Democrats took a bill that was principally about expanding health care and dressed it up as an economic measure, Republicans are taking a plan that’s almost entirely about economics and pretending it has something to do with health care.

Mostly the bill would spare some small businesses and wealthier Americans from paying additional taxes and cut back the Medicaid rolls. The issue of what to do about the uninsured would roar back into the public debate.

And good luck trying to amend the bill in ways that would mitigate its harshest effects, because Democrats may well gain seats in the ensuing elections, and they’re not going to feel the slightest motivation to help clean up the mess.

In some ways, Republicans are in a more precarious position with the Bizarro bill than Democrats were in 2009. Obama, at least, managed to cobble together support from insurers and providers, which muted some of the criticism when premiums started to rise. Trump and Paul Ryan, the House speaker, haven’t even tried to assemble a coalition.

You have to remember, too, that Republicans are playing with something here that neither party has ever attempted on such a scale before: a rollback of benefits the public already has. It’s one thing to ram through a program with lots of subsidies and new rights attached. It’s an untested proposition to unilaterally take that stuff away.

Here’s what we do know: With a policy area as complicated as this one, and as reliant on theories about how the markets and consumers will respond to various incentives, you’re never going to pass one law and be done with it. Responsible governing in Washington — if we can still conceive of such a thing — means being able and willing to reassess and adjust to reality as time goes on.

Democrats were never going to be able to do that because of the dubious ways in which they sold and enacted their law. And Republicans won’t have that option, either, even if they manage to come up with something that satisfies their dueling factions.

Superman and Bizarro never actually resolve anything. They just retreat to their parallel universes and live to fight again.

The Humanist.com

Christcare: What Would Jesus Do about the GOP Healthcare Plan?

by Patrick Hudson  March 15, 2017

“This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus said of his follower Lazarus, as he heard of the latter’s ailment. Lazarus had fallen ill and subsequently had passed away. Jesus—let’s call him the heroic symbol of universal healthcare—arrived in Bethany near Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead. After Lazarus did reportedly rise four days after his death, he surely never fretted over deductibles or co-pays, nor had he been forced to decide whether to feed his family or live.

The Lazarus tale is one of a number of parables in the Bible where Jesus heals the sick, cures the blind, and saves lepers, all at no cost. I would love to sit here and say that our government stands in agreement and that Jesus’s example of universal healthcare had ossified, but that’s simply not the case.

Just this week House Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act (AHCA), known in some parts as “Trumpcare.” Even though he jumps at the chance to plaster his name on just about anything, Trump distances himself from that moniker, while Breitbart News has nicknamed the plan “Ryancare.” No matter where you look, it seems as though this bill is so bad, its nickname is being passed around like a polio-potato. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that twenty-four million people will lose insurance in ten years under the AHCA, with the sixty-five and older age group standing to lose the most. The sad reality is that age group overwhelmingly voted for the individuals who introduced this bill, conned by lies that Obamacare was hurting them and wrapped up in the idea that their values were being attacked by non-Christians. The religious right ensured that Christians headed to the polls, fearful that their lifestyle was under attack from rabid secularists hell-bent on persecuting them.

What’s amazing to me is the religious right’s ability to dismiss certain parts of the Bible, while wholeheartedly accepting other passages. Last week in the Humanist.com we saw how sandwiched in between Leviticus’s two verses condemning homosexuality was a passage urging Christians to accept immigrants and refugees as if they were native-born. How many people were aware of that passage? How many times did conservative politicians and religious right leaders stand before their constituents and congregations and proclaim: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born”? Both the Freedom Caucus and the Liberty Caucus remained silent then, just as they remain silent now, as twenty-four million Americans face losing their insurance under the AHCA. As Liberty Caucus member and chair of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said, they’ll have to avoid getting an iPhone to pay for it. This fundamental detachment from the reality of the working class is what drives this bill. Health insurance costs roughly $10,345 a year (though the deviation is quite wide), while the cost of a brand new iPhone 7 costs $729. The reality that Chaffetz does not understand is that the choice is whether to get health insurance or put food on the table.

However, the most damning assertion came from Republican Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents Kansas’s First District (and is an embarrassment to my ancestral home). Marshall affirmed in full confidence that poor people would not only reject “free” healthcare, but would also reject health care altogether, “just like Jesus said.” Now, ignoring the grossly inappropriate manner in which Marshall invoked religion in his official capacity, this argument is fundamentally flawed. Marshall insultingly stated that poor people “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.” This is verifiably incorrect; as a Harvard study reported last August, Obamacare’s insurance and Medicare expansion led to more working-class people receiving primary and preventative care. Insurance incentivizes people to go to the doctor, as they don’t fear financial repercussions. But lo, Marshall says Jesus said, Harvard is but an academic institution! We must learn about our current system of healthcare from those who lived over 2,000 years ago.

While I won’t go so far as to say that everyone in the GOP holds such disdain for the working class, I do believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the working-class experience and a sickening amount of pandering from both political parties. Hillary Clinton attempted to link her father’s business to her understanding of the working-class culture, while Donald Trump feigned empathy. And the GOP has consistently conned the religious working class, pushing a fake “war” on Christianity and Christian values, and instilling a persecution complex within them, all while cutting taxes for the top 1 percent. The religious right will always exist—their fear tactics will always exist. It is up to all American citizens to demand a government that works for us all.

Patrick Hudson is the Communications Assistant at the American Humanist Association.

 

Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump’s Health-Care Debacle

The White House falsely claims the Trump/Ryan Obamacare replacement scheme is what “everyone has been asking for.”

By John Nichols Twitter March 2017

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared to be imitating Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live imitation of him when he tried to make the argument for replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare by placing a copy of the final version of the 974-page law next to the sketchy Republican substitute.

Forget about the contents, argued Spicer. “Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123—much smaller, much bigger—so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion. We’ll undo this. And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part. So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.”

Say what?

“[Look] at the size. This is the Democrats, this is us. You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not,” said Spicer during Tuesday’s press briefing, as he moved back and forth, hovering over the two stacks of paper. “And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.… I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.”

Support for the Affordable Care Act has soared, as Americans say they want it expanded—not repealed.

Needless to say, the Spicer “size” video went viral.

But it was another Spicer statement—or, to be more precise, alternative fact—that should have gone viral, that should have been noted by the reporters in the room, and by the commentators on the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a scheme that Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva says “ends affordable healthcare,” and that Congressman Keith Ellison says “hurts nearly all working Americans by gutting Medicaid, defunding Planned Parenthood, stripping protections and benefits and increasing costs.” “At the same time,” notes Ellison, “it provides a huge handout to the wealthy and insurance corporations. Which begs the question: who exactly are the Republicans trying to help with this legislation?”

The Spicer alternative fact that ought to be reported, and addressed, is a repetition of the spin that has been used by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to peddle their latest scheme to redistribute wealth upward.

“This is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for, the plan that the President ran on, and the plan that will ultimately save the system,” the White House press secretary announced in the takeaway quote of the day.

Apart from the fact that the plan proposed by Trump and Ryan makes things worse (as opposed to saving the system), and apart from the fact that Trump ran on roughly a dozen different health-care platforms (flirting with everything from single-payer to survival-of-the-fittest, but always promising to make things “great”), there is no truth to the statement that “this is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for.”

To be clear, if Donald Trump “ran on” this plan, then it was not the choice of everyone. It was not the choice of the majority of voters. It was not the choice even of a plurality of voters. Fifty-four percent of American voters rejected Trump last November; his main opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, beat him by almost 3 million votes.

The claim that everyone was asking for this plan, or even for a replacement of the Affordable Care Act, is an alternative fact. It’s fake news. It’s a lie.

Poll after poll after poll provides an illustration of the truth. And so, since Spicer is so enamored of illustrations, let’s turn to them. Check out the headlines that appeared in the weeks before the Republican plan was released:

NBC News (January 17): “As GOP pushes repeal, Obamacare has never been more popular.”

CNBC (January 20): “New poll shows Obamacare is more popular than Donald Trump.”

Business Insider (February 2): “Obamacare getting more popular.”

Politico (February 22): “Support for Obamacare is rising.”

CNN (February 24): “Support for Obamacare at all-time high.”

The Hill (February 27): “More than 6 in 10 oppose Obamacare repeal.”

Survey research tells us that the popularity of the Affordable Care Act is rising. Rapidly.

New polling from the Pew Research Center finds that 54 percent of Americans approve of the ACA, while 43 percent oppose it. That, reported CNN, is the highest level of support for President Obama’s health care–reform measure ever recorded by Pew. The latest polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that the ACA has “the highest level of favorability measured in more than 60 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls conducted since 2010.”

Polling numbers fluctuate. But here is the interesting twist: Surveys frequently show that, among those who favor altering the ACA, most want it to be made stronger—not weaker, as Trump, Pence, Ryan, and Spicer propose.

The stakes are higher now than ever. Get The Nation in your inbox.

A new McClatchy/Marist survey, released a few days before Spicer’s press conference, found that 65 percent of Americans would like to see portions of the Affordable Care Act retained. According to The Hill, “Twenty percent say lawmakers should let the health care law stand as is, while 38 percent want any changes to enable it to do more and 7 percent hope alterations make it capable of less.”

Only 31 percent supported complete repeal.

Why would Spicer peddle the fantasy that Americans called for the Republican plan, when that is clearly not the case?

Maybe Spicer is lying because the truth is inconvenient.

Maybe Spicer is lying to himself.

Whatever the excuse, Spicer is peddling alternative facts and, as Chuck Todd so ably explained on the day that the Trump team first floated the phrase, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

John Nichols Twitter John Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent. He is the co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of  People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizens Democracy, published in March 2016 by Nation Books.

 

ABC  Good Morning America

Major health groups oppose proposed changes in ‘Trumpcare’ bill

GILLIAN MOHNEY, ABC News, March 9, 2017  

Physician and hospital groups are voicing opposition to the new health care bill, the American Health Care Act, over concerns that many patients could lose health coverage.

Those opposed to the bill include the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Dr. James Madara, the CEO of the AMA, said the bill could harm vulnerable patients in its current form, especially those covered by the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which provides federal matching funds for states who choose to opt-in and offer Medicaid to adults who are up to 138 percent above the poverty line.

“While we agree that there are problems with the ACA that must be addressed, we cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations,” Madara wrote on behalf of the AMA, the largest association of physicians and medical students in the U.S.

He cited concerns about the plan outlined in the AHCA to stop Medicaid expansion in 2020. Under the AHCA, states that offer the Medicaid expansion would continue receiving federal funds for those already enrolled, but would not receive federal funds as of 2020 for new candidates who only qualify for Medicaid under expansion rules.

“Medicaid expansion has proven highly successful in providing coverage for lower income individuals,” Madara said.

The American Hospital Association also sent a letter voicing “significant concerns” about the current bill. Specifically, it believes the bill could lead to “tremendous instability” for people seeking affordable health insurance.

“Absent Congressional Budget Office analysis, our assessment of this legislation as currently drafted is that it is likely to result in a substantial reduction in the number of Americans able to buy affordable health insurance or maintain coverage under the Medicaid program,” officials from the American Hospital Association said in the letter.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 physicians specializing in medical care for children, teens and young adults, opposed the bill in a letter to members of Congress, saying it would undo recent gains in health insurance coverage for children. The group estimated that 95 percent of children are now insured, including those covered through Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act.

The AAP opposed Medicaid changes under the American Health Care Act, such as moving away from an entitlement program, with states receiving open-ended federal funds for Medicaid recipients, to block grants, with states receiving per person allotments that cannot exceed designated totals.

“Medicaid has been a crucial source of health care coverage for children for over 50 years,” the group said, reporting that 36 million children are currently covered via Medicaid. “Per capita caps would degrade the quality of care offered in the Medicaid program and would hinder the ability of states to respond to public health crises and other fluctuations in health care costs and the need for services.”

 

How Marco Rubio is quietly killing Obamacare

By Marc A. Thiessen December 14, 2015

There’s a Cuban American first-term senator running for president who has done more than any Republican to stop Obamacare.

No, I’m not talking about Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

I’m talking about Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The battle against Obamacare has been Cruz’s signature struggle. In 2013, Cruz took to the Senate floor and promised to speak out against Obamacare “until I am no longer able to stand.” To fill the time, he even read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” His filibuster, and the government shutdown over Obamacare it sparked, launched Cruz into the political stratosphere — inspiring conservatives eager for a principled fighter who does not back down.

But while the shutdown may have helped boost Cruz into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders, it had zero impact on undermining Obamacare.

Rubio, by contrast, didn’t read Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor, but he has quietly pushed Obamacare into what may prove to be a death spiral.

When the Obama administration was crafting Obamacare, it came up with a crony capitalist solution to entice reluctant insurers to join the exchanges. Many insurers worried that there would not be enough healthy people paying in to cover the costs of sick people. So the administration created a “risk corridor” program to help prop up insurers who lost money in the first three years of the law. Profitable insurers would pay some of those profits into a pool to help insurers who lost money. If the amount insurers lost exceeded what the companies paid in, the government would step in and make up the difference.

Calling this “a taxpayer-funded bailout for insurance companies,” Rubio last year quietly inserted language into the omnibus government spending bill that barred the Department of Health and Human Services from dipping into general funds to pay failing insurers. “While the Obama administration can still administer the risk-corridor program, for one year at least, they won’t be able to use taxpayer funds to bail out insurance companies,” Rubio said.

His provision sparked little opposition at the time, but it has proved to be a poison pill that is killing Obamacare from within.

Last year, insurers lost $2.9 billion more than expected on Obamacare. But insurers had paid only $362 million into the program — leaving it more than $2.5 billion short. Thanks to Rubio’s provision, the administration was allowed to pay only 13 cents of every dollar insurers requested. Without the taxpayer bailouts, more than half of the Obamacare insurance cooperatives created under the law failed. One, Health Republic of Oregon, was expecting a $7.9 million bailout from the government. Instead, thanks to Rubio, it got only $995,000 — not a penny of it from the taxpayers. The Oregon co-op announced in October it was closing its doors. Soon, two other insurers — WinHealth Partners in Wyoming and Moda Health in Washington state — pulled out of the exchanges. And United Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest insurers, announced that it may leave the Obamacare exchanges in 2016. If that happens, and other insurers follow United’s lead, that could spell disaster for Obamacare.

The Hill newspaper called Rubio’s provision “the biggest blow in the GOP’s five-year war against Obamacare.” The New York Times declared in a front-page story, “For all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican presidential hopeful has actually done something toward achieving that goal,” adding that Rubio’s provision has “tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law.”

Now that the Obama administration understands the grave threat Rubio’s provision poses to Obamacare, Democrats are pushing to block it from this year’s omnibus spending bill so that they can bail out the insurers. According to Politico, “HHS officials . . . maintained that insurers will eventually receive the requested payments during the next two years of the temporary program.”

The insurers are joining the fight. In talking points obtained by BuzzFeed, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s chief executive, Scott Serota, warned congressional Democrats that Rubio’s provision “will result in massive premium increases and could cause private insurers to become insolvent.” In other words, Rubio’s provision poses a mortal threat to Obamacare.

Rubio maintains that if it takes a taxpayer bailout of big business to save Obamacare, that alone proves the law is unsustainable. He is pushing to keep his bailout ban in the final bill. “Let’s be clear, the reason these health insurance companies are enduring a financial loss is that Obamacare is a disastrous law,” Rubio declared in a letter to House and Senate leaders. “It broke the promise to lower health insurance premiums . . . Now the very architects of this law are attempting to place taxpayers on the hook.”

He’s right — and now it’s up to GOP leaders to back him by refusing to agree to any omnibus spending bill that allows a taxpayer bailout for insurance companies that made a bad bet on Obamacare.

And Rubio deserves credit at Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate as the only candidate on the stage who has done more than talk about killing Obamacare.

 

Raw Story

Trump supporter credits Trumpcare — which hasn’t taken effect — for dramatically lower health costs

Travis Gettys March 17, 2017

A Tennessee woman who backs President Donald Trump credits God and the Republican health care bill — which hasn’t been voted into law — for her family’s dramatically lower insurance costs.

Charla McComic’s son recently lost his job, and his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to $88, which she described as “a blessing from God” and a gift from the new president, reported the Washington Post.

The 52-year-old former first-grade teacher thinks the change is due to tax credits that would be offered under the so-called “Trumpcare” law, if and when it’s approved by Congress and signed into law — but the price drop is actually a feature of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Workers who lose their jobs and employer-based health care coverage may enroll in Obamacare, which offers coverage based on income or possibly Medicaid for those with little or no income — like McComic’s son.

McComic, who attended Trump’s rally this week in Nashville with four family members, told the Post she’s not worried that her 33-year-old son or 3-year-old granddaughter will lose their Medicaid coverage under the GOP plan.

“So far, everything’s been positive, from what I can tell,” she told the newspaper. “I just hope that more and more people and children get covered under this new health-care plan.”

McComic, who campaigned for Trump with some relatives by forming a motorcade and driving through their hometown shouting his name, said she’s never trusted a president as much as the real estate developer and former reality TV star.

“We said: ‘Who else would we do this for, besides Trump?’” McComic said. “We agreed on the Lord. We would stand here for the Lord, but that’s about it.”

 

Trump Promises Tea Party Groups He Will Punish America: If TrumpCare Fails, He Will Let ACA Fail

By First Amendment March 9, 2017

Title of this diary is stark, but it’s true and we must frame our arguments in these stark terms. Donald Trump literally wants to harm Americans, by sabotaging it’s current healthcare system.

Truly unbelievable. Donald Trump is a President that is willing to harm millions of Americans, because he might not get his way on his disastrous TrumpCare plan.

What’s striking here, Trump has no problem punishing Americans for political gain and yet, he will never, ever criticize Vladimir Putin. He will go out of his way not to criticize his Putin. Even calling Putin “very smart”, yet he treats Americans like they were dumb. This is Trump at his elitist, narcissistic best. I got mine, so I could give a damn about you America.

He would allow our healthcare system to fail, so he can blame Democrats and in turn this would destroy the lives of millions and millions of Americans. Make America Great Again or screw it over constantly?

Make no mistake folks, Trump will attack America and Americans at will every single chance he gets. Whether it’s the enemy press, the enemy former President and now the enemy healthcare system, etc. No other way to put this, but Donald Trump is just pure evil and no other way to spin Trump’s response on healthcare.

This should be a huge story.

 

Raw Story

‘I grew up in Canada’: MSNBC host whoops GOPer for claiming people hate universal health care

David Edwards March 9, 2017

MSNBC host Ali Velshi clashed with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) over the popularity of universal health care systems.

Jordan argued during a Thursday interview on MSNBC that Republicans should do a “clean” repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law before trying to replace it.

“This is so logical,” Jordan insisted. “We know Obamacare is a mess: fewer choices, higher premiums, higher deductibles. It’s a complete disaster.”

“I hear this talking point all the time,” Velshi interrupted. “There have always been higher premiums. Higher premiums every year. And under Obamacare, the premium increase has been lower. I heard you guys at your press conference yesterday sort of mincing words with that one.”

“We do have to acknowledge that,” the MSNBC host continued. “There were higher premiums before Obamacare, there are higher premiums during Obamacare. But the rate of increase has been slower.”

Deflecting Velshi’s point, Jordan complained that the current law meant “more taxes, more regulations, drive up the cost of insurance, mandate people buy it, and if they don’t they get penalized.”

“There was never affordable insurance,” Velshi observed. “Nowhere on the face of the Earth is there a free health insurance market that works. If you could point me to one and say that a free market works — it’s just one of those areas that a free market doesn’t work.”

“It will work much better than it’s working now under complete government control!” the Ohio Republican promised. “Do you think that people are satisfied now? How about people in the individual market who went from paying $100-200 a month to paying $500-600 a month.”

Velshi, who is from Canada, stepped in to defend the success of universal health care systems throughout the world.

“You know, sir, in all those countries, in all those countries that have single payer systems or universal health care, happiness about health care is actually substantially greater than it is in the United States.”

“Then why do they all come here?” Jordan asked.

“They don’t all come here!” Velshi shot back. “Republicans say that all the time. They don’t all come here. People in Canada, people in Norway, people in the United Kingdom, people in Sweden, people in Denmark — they don’t all come to the United States for health care. Why do you say that?”

“Because you see it all the time,” Jordan opined.

“It’s just not true!” Velshi pointed out.

“People in Canada come her for extensive surgery,” Jordan said. “They come here and get it done in the United States.”

“I grew up in Canada,” Velshi revealed. “I lived in Canada, my entire family is in Canada. And nobody I know ever came to the United States for health care. I’m sure you have a handful of stories about things like that. It’s not actually statistically true.”

“You think Obamacare is great?” Jordan quipped.

“No, I’m not arguing Obamacare,” Velshi noted. “I’m arguing the fact that you keep on saying that a free market works. Just name me one country, one country in the world where a free market system for health care works.”

Instead of answering the question, Jordan said that Republicans have a mandate from voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Watch the video below from MSNBC, broadcast March 9, 2017.

 

How the House Republicans’ proposed Obamacare replacement compares

On Monday, House leaders released legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act. If it passes, here’s what would change.

By Darla Cameron and Leslie Shapiro  March 7, 2017

Who would be covered

Under two plans drafted by separate House committees, the government would no longer penalize Americans for failing to have health insurance.

OUT

Enforcement of the individual mandate requiring coverage

IN

30 percent surcharge on premiums that insurers would be able to impose on consumers who purchase a new plan after letting their previous coverage lapse — a strategy to encourage people to remain insured

OUT

Employer mandate on larger companies to offer affordable coverage

How they would pay for coverage

The plans would replace federal insurance subsidies with a new form of annual individual tax credits.

OUT

Income-based premium subsidies to lower- and moderate-income consumers would end as of 2020.

IN

Age- and income-based refundable tax credits

How the new tax credits would work

The new legislation would break people into five age groups, each receiving a different amount in tax credits to purchase health insurance: Age Tax credit 20 – 29: $2,000 30 – 39: $2,500 40 – 49: $3,000 50 – 59: $3,500 60 and older: $4,000

These credits begin to phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and joint filers making over $150,000. Other restrictions include:

  • For each $1,000 in additional income above the limits, a person would be entitled to $100 less in credit.
  • Credits would be limited to a maximum $14,000 per family.
  • Credits could be used for any health plan allowed in a state, including ones providing only catastrophic coverage.
  • Credits could not be used to buy health plans that cover abortion.

OUT

Insurers can charge older customers up to three times what they charge younger customers.

IN

Insurers would be able to charge older customers up to five times what they charge younger customers.

OUT

Individuals can contribute up to $3,400 and families up to $6,750 to pre-tax health savings accounts.

IN

Starting in 2018, individuals could contribute up to $6,550 and families could contribute up to $13,100 to pre-tax health savings accounts.

OUT

Cost-sharing subsidies, which were provided to insurers to help their ACA customers cover deductibles and co-payments (ending in 2020)

IN

States would receive $100 billion over 10 years through a new Patient and State Stability Fund for safety-net needs and possible “high-risk pools” for consumers with expensive medical conditions.

Proposed changes to Medicaid

Here’s how the legislation would address Medicaid.

OUT

Medicaid as an entitlement program with open-ended, matching federal funds for anyone who qualifies

IN

Medicaid would be funded by giving states a per-capita amount based on how much each state was spending for the fiscal year that ended in September.

How Medicaid expansion would be affected

Under Obamacare, 31 states broadened their Medicaid programs to cover people making up to 138 percent of poverty-level income.

Under the GOP plans, the states would continue getting enhanced federal funding until 2020. After that, the government would keep paying 90 percent for beneficiaries already on the rolls as long as they remain eligible.

After 2020, new beneficiaries would be funded at a lower level.

NM IN KY LA AR OH WV MI NJ CO MN IL NY IA ND MT WA OR CA AK HI AZ NV PA MA NH VT RI CT DE MD DC

Other key elements of the plans

The legislation would preserve some of the most popular features of the 2010 health-care law, while targeting Planned Parenthood.

IN

Insurers would still be banned from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

IN

Dependents would still be able to stay on parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

IN

Caps on annual or lifetime coverage would still be banned.

IN

Insurers would still have to cover certain categories of specified benefits first covered by the ACA.

OUT

Planned Parenthood is eligible for Medicaid reimbursements or federal family-planning grants (but federal money cannot fund abortions)

IN

Planned Parenthood would face a one-year funding freeze

Source: The American Health Care Act, House Republican briefing.

 

Business Insider

The GOP’s Obamacare replacement is going to disproportionately affect one group

Lydia Ramsey and Andy Kiersz, Business Insider  March 13, 2017

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its report on the American Health Care Act, the healthcare bill proposed by House Republicans.

The CBO estimated that under the Republican healthcare bill as many as 24 million more people could be uninsured and the federal budget deficit would shrink by more than $300 billion over the next decade.

As part of the report, the nonpartisan agency also detailed its estimates for what premiums might look like under the proposed legislation.

The net premiums — that’s accounting for tax credits — for different age groups might look quite different under the proposed AHCA compared to the Affordable Care Act.

Under the AHCA, premium tax credits would solely account for age, rather than factoring in both age and income as it exists under the ACA. The effect, according to the CBO, is that older people with lower incomes would see a significant increase in their net premiums.

(Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from CBO)

 

How the Republican plans to replace Obamacare could affect you

Michael Phelan  Social Security Works

Many analysts doubt whether the plans Republicans put forward would have provided coverage that was adequate or available to enough people.

More Americans are insured than ever before. But the political consequences for both sides may not have been worth it.

Republicans have wasted little time declaring war on seniors.

The new GOP plan to gut the Affordable Care Act will give massive tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, elderly and sick. It does this by raiding $346 billion from the Medicare trust fund to pay for giveaways to the wealthy, and in turn intentionally weakens Medicare’s finances.

Immediately after Election Day, Paul Ryan “justified” his plan to gut Medicare by saying, “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. ACA has in fact extended the lifespan of the Medicare Trust Fund. But the GOP’s plan is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Weaken Medicare in order to destroy the program through privatization.

The bill removes protections that limit the amounts health insurance companies can charge older Americans. This would be particularly devastating to people in their fifties and early sixties, who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare.

The bill also threatens the financial security of millions of families due to cuts in Medicaid. About 10 million seniors are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid―with Medicaid covering the majority of long-term nursing home costs for low-income seniors. Cuts to Medicaid would deprive millions of seniors of needed nursing home coverage, forcing families to scramble to either make up the difference or provide in-home care instead. The bottom line is that this bill would make insurance more expensive and lower quality for millions of Americansstarting with seniors.

Together we must fight any attempt to destroy Medicare and Medicaid―threatening the healthcare and financial security of millions of Americans.

 

The Independent

Texas woman changes homeless man’s life after he stood on same street corner for three years

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith,The Independent March 2017

A woman has helped to change a homeless man’s life in a matter of months by setting up a Facebook page, after discovering why he stood on the same street corner every day.

Ginger Sprouse, who runs Art of the Meal in Clear Lake, Texas, drove past 32-year-old Victor Hubbard on the corner of El Camino Real and Nasa Road 1 four times a day, no matter the weather.

The corner was the last place Mr Hubbard saw his mother and he would wait there for her to return. He was homeless and suffering from mental health issues when Ms Sprouse first started first started to offer him help, and had been waiting on the corner for three years.

“I began to get more and more concerned as I knew winter was coming and I thought, ‘So what’s going to happen now?’” Ms Sprouse told MyBayArea Radio, explaining that she had started visiting Mr Hubbard on her lunch break and they had struck up a friendship. “So he and I started talking about maybe how would he feel about sometimes coming to my house to get out of the bad weather, and that’s how we started.

“It’s been quite the journey,” she said.

She created a Facebook page called “This is Victor” as a way for the community to get to know Mr Hubbard better and to take part in getting him the help he needed. In her first post Ms Sprouse wrote: “I drove by Victor’s corner at least four times a day. I listen to people talking around town and keep hearing, ‘Someone needs to do something about that guy’. So, I will be the organiser and hope that we as a community can be ‘someone’ together.”

Since taking action in December, Ms Sprouse has managed to get Mr Hubbard into mental health clinics, helped him off the streets and has given him a job in her business’s kitchen. A GoFundMe page raising money to help with Mr Hubbard’s living costs has seen more than $15,400 (£12,700) donated and over 200 people showed up to a recent block party to show their support for the man they had seen on the same corner every day.

“She came around and she kind of saved me. It’s like grace,” Mr Hubbard said of Ms Sprouse on KHOU.com.  

The Facebook page has been liked by more than 15,000 people and has a stream of comments from locals expressing their relief that Mr Hubbard is receiving care, while updates are regularly posted by Ms Sprouse, including videos about his improvements and messages he has recorded for his friends.

The community has also responded by helping Mr Hubbard get clothes, eye tests and to be seen by doctors, and the local fire station has vowed to oversee his medication needs. Ms Sprouse and her family are currently working to get him sheltered accommodation.

Since the publicity of the Facebook page and community project, Ms Sprouse was able to get in touch with one of Mr Hubbard’s uncles and was eventually able to help him see his mother again.

“I got to talk to her and I really feel like I accomplished something,” Mr Hubbard told the TV station.

Standing Rock Tribes ask judge to stop Dakota Access oil from flowing

Tribes ask judge to stop Dakota Access oil from flowing

BLAKE NICHOLSON,   Associated Press  March 13, 2017

 

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Two Native American tribes who are suing to stop the Dakota Access pipeline have asked a judge to head off the imminent flow of oil while they appeal his decision allowing the pipeline’s construction to be completed.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg last week rejected the request of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes to stop construction of the final segment of the pipeline under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota from which the tribes get their water. The pipeline’s developer, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, expects to have the work done and the pipeline filled with oil as early as this week.

The tribes maintain that an oil pipeline under the lake they consider sacred violates their right to practice their religion, which relies on clean water. In his decision last week, Boasberg said the tribes didn’t raise the religion argument in a timely fashion and he questioned its merits.

Cheyenne River attorney Nicole Ducheneaux on Friday appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She also asked Boasberg to “prevent the flow of oil through the Dakota Access pipeline” until the appeal is resolved.

“Should construction continue during the appeals process, the last opportunity for Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to defend its tribal members’ free exercise of religion will be lost,” Ducheneaux wrote.

Boasberg on Monday gave ETP and the Army Corps of Engineers until Tuesday to file their responses to the request. The Corps is a defendant in the lawsuit because it manages the Missouri River system and authorized the Lake Oahe work last month at the urging of President Donald Trump.

Government attorneys didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal case.

The 1,200-mile pipeline would transport oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois.

The tribes filed their lawsuit last summer, after which hundreds and sometimes thousands of pipeline opponents began camping on federal land near the Lake Oahe drill site. Many clashed with police, resulting in about 750 arrests from August to late February, when the main camp and two others were shut down in advance of spring flooding season.

A Corps contractor late last week finished cleaning up the camps, Corps Capt. Ryan Hignight said Monday. A total of 835 industrial-size trash bins were filled and removed. An unknown amount of material such as lumber and propane tanks was set aside for reuse or recycling.

“After the spring thaw, fencing will be put back up out there, like was there originally, and the land will have to be regraded and reseeded so we can get grass cover,” he said.

The total cost of the operation isn’t tallied yet, but the Corps has said it could cost taxpayers more than $1.1 million.

The Russian Tarbaby

March 9, 2017     John Hanno

 

‘The Russian Tarbaby’

One advantage of growing older is that you acquire the ability to quickly recognize bull pucky when you hear, see or smell it. King Donald and his Court of Putin wannabe’s has spun a tangled web indeed. Is the Trump Inc. cover-up worse than the crime, or is all this thick smoke just the tip of a massive conspiracy worthy of a blockbuster David John Moore Cornwell, alias John le Carre novel. Forget “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” the next le Carre opus arriving at Amazon.com will be “The Trump Double Spook who got Stuck to the Russian Tarbaby.” Move over George Smiley, former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, may soon be talking to American intelligence investigators (and consulting on a big screen project), about the 35 page dossier he compiled on Trump and his associates collaboration with the Russian Autocrat.

Their obfuscation and bold faced lies have super-charged every investigative journalist to turn over every rock that might uncover which Trumpet is sleeping with which Russian operative.

At the top of that list is The Rachel Maddow team of sleuths at MSNBC, who nightly present the latest chapter of that tangled web of double agents. They remind one of a hungry bloodhound devouring a round bone chock full of creamy marrow. And dozens of  journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Daily Kos, The Nation, Esquire, Politico, Raw Story, Foreign Policy, The National Memo and all the ones I forgot, have undertaken what the Grand Old Party’s Congressional pretenders have failed to do, get to the bottom of this administration’s obvious collusion, Comrade Putin’s interference in our Democratic election and Trump’s and his comrades dodgy business interests.

U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Ca) House Intelligence Committee has asked for an independent investigation into the Trump administrations ties to Russia and has put together a flow chart of the connections of more than a dozen members of this cabal. See following article.

It’s hard to keep up with all the twists and turns but everyone who fancies themselves a patriotic American (or a spy novel aficionado), owes it to themselves and their family to pay attention.

Why does Trump “love” Wiki leaks and Vladimir Putin? They are not America’s friends. Why has every member of Trumps campaign, his transition team and cabinet, who has or had ties to Russia, including Trump himself, lied about their contacts with the Russians? Why was Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page kicked to the curb as soon as their implications with the Russians became public? Why did Michael Flynn’s direct line to the Kremlin cause his resignation? Why didn’t Jeff Sessions tell the Russian ambassador to stop trying to hack our election during his three meetings with the Russian Ambassador? Why did the Russian oligarch pay the Donald $100 million for a property he had just purchased for $40 million, never used it and then tore it down without ever visiting the property? Was the Donald involved with best friend and new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in the Russian laundering business? Why did Trump insist countless times he had no dealing with Putin and the Russians when his own son said they had an enormous amount of investments and deals with Russians?

Trump quickly fired numerous senior career State Department staff and proposed a 37% cut in the State Department’s budget, while Trumps new Secretary of State, ex Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillison, who also has close ties to Putin, hasn’t said a word about the carnage in his department.

America’s longest serving diplomat, Ambassador Daniel Fried, who served 6 presidents over 40 years was not retained by the Trump State Department. You have to ask, where is this administrations attention focused? Proposing increasing the defense budget by $54 billion dollars and cutting the State Department budget by 37% in Trumps first few weeks, is apocalyptic. We should have two peace makers at State for every soldier at the pentagon.

Yet no matter what new revelations spill out from this White House, Trumps supporters only stiffen their support. 88% of Republican supporters approve of his administration and a growing number of these dupes even approve of the murderer Putin.

What if President Obama and or Hillary Clinton were as embedded as this Republi-con cast of characters? What if they failed to turn over their obviously conflicted tax returns? What if, instead of eight years of scandal free Obama governance, they offered up this daily dose of conflicts and scandals? There would be investigations in every committee in the Republican controlled House and Senate and every member would be so apoplectic that they wouldn’t be able to talk out of the other side of their mouths.

Putin hates everything about America. They hate that we caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, hate that we support NATO and a United European Union, hate that no matter how hard despots like Trump and Bannon try to turn America into a failed Russian state, our entrenched free democratic institutions and the intrepid journalists within our fact based media keep standing firm.

The sooner the Republi-con Congress puts aside its partisanship and lives up to their oath of office, the sooner we can get to the bottom of this constitutional crisis. As usual, this tar will leave a stain on the GOP.   John Hanno

 

Raw Story

‘Everyday, a new piece falls into place’: Maddow brilliantly spells out the Trump-Russia connection

 

Elizabeth Preza  March 8, 2017

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday continued her brutal takedown of Donald Trump’s repeated denials that he or anyone in his campaign were involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election, arguing, “Everyday, a new piece of it falls into place.”

Maddow described a Politico report, released Wednesday, that revealed authorities investigated Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, over Kilimnik’s suspected ties Russian intelligence.

Maddow explained that authorities are “looking into a Russian citizen in conjunction with one of the incidents on the Trump campaign last year which defied explanation at the time.” That incident, Maddow said, was the Trump campaign’s decision to gut a GOP party platform that encouraged a hardline approach against Russia.

“This was one of the first direct signs that something strange was up,” Maddow said, explaining that while much of the GOP party platform last year didn’t “seem very Trumpian,” the campaign “let everything else in the platform slide” except for the adversarial stance against Russia.

Maddow said it was “weird at the time,” but it wasn’t until recently that we learned the platform change was made “specifically at Donald Trump’s request.”

“You can feel the pillars sort of start to sway here, right?” Maddow asked.

Maddow then turned her attention to the bombshell Trump dossier, a 35-page document released on Jan. 11 that alleged misconduct and direct ties between the president and the Russian government. The MSNBC host said she was bringing up that unverified dossier because the “baseline allegations of [it] actually appears to be about that platform change.”

“Everyday a new piece of it falls into place,” Maddow said, later adding, “all the supporting details are checking out.”

According to the MSNBC host, everyday another part of the “increasingly corroborated dossier” is verified, while the Trump administration’s “previous denials are all falling apart.”

 

Daily Kos

By Liberal in a Red State, March 6, 2017

Rachel Maddow delivering exceptional Journalism on Trump and Russian ties-digging in deep

The Rachel Maddow Show-Doing amazing reporting on Trump / Russian ties

I can’t say enough about how outstanding Rachel Maddow’s recent reporting has been. She has a way of digging in on stories and laying them out in a very engaging, informative, effective and understandable manner. She is truly worth watching at 9:00 PM ET on MSNBC.

On Friday, March 3, 2017 her entire episode was a riveting deep dive into Russia and peeling back more and more layers of that corrupt, toxic and dangerous onion. One segment she did should be front page news in every newspaper and top story on every broadcast — yet it is crickets.

Intriguing overlap in paths of Russian oligarch, Trump campaign

Rachel Maddow looks at a line of investigation into the intersections of the travel of a prominent Russian oligarch’s plane and the Donald Trump campaign … “Nice place, Concord, NC …www,msnbc.com/…

As she previously reported, Dmitry Rybolovlev, known as the “King of Fertilizer” is the obscenely rich Russian oligarch who in 2008 bought Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion in Florida for nearly $100 Million dollars, making it the most expensive house sold in the US.  money.cnn.com/…

And Trump had bought the mansion just two years earlier for only $40 million and had never lived in the house — made zero upgrades. en.wikipedia.org/…

So fast forward to 2016 and apparently, during the campaign Dmitry Rybolovlev has been flying his luxury private jet to several places that Donald Trump was also flying … ending up in places like Concord, NC, Charlotte, NC, Las Vegas, and most recently in January 2017 in Miami — ON THE SAME DAY AND TIME THAT DONALD TRUMP WAS IN THESE PLACES. They are tracking the flight numbers and even have photos of their planes on the same airport on the same day.

She ends her report with, “is Dmitry Rybolovlev an emissary for Putin?”

Again — very much worth the watch. www.msnbc.com/…

Can’t wait to see what she reports tonight. Trump is in deep with the Russians and we need an independent investigation to connect all these threads. In the meantime, we need to help her get this excellent reporting exposed even more … more outrage, more eyes, more questions… We need to beat the drums that he was meeting with the Russians during the campaign — at least at half a dozen airports.

This should be national news on every channel.

 

Raw Story

Trump keeps finding himself in the same city as Russian billionaire who paid him $95 million for mansion

Travis Gettys  March 10, 2017   

Russian billionaire paid Donald Trump $95 million for a Palm Beach mansion nearly a decade ago — a substantially higher price than the future president had paid several years earlier and more expensive than any other home for sale at the time.

Dmitry Rybolovlev paid Trump an unusually high $50 million premium to Trump in 2008 for the property, which the Russian billionaire bought as an investment rather than a residence, reported the Palm Beach Post.

The mansion, which Trump had bought for $41.35 million in 2004, turned out to have a mold problem and was torn down last year and divided into three lots, once of which sold afterward for $34 million — although that buyer remains a mystery.

Rybolovlev, who made his fortune selling fertilizer potash, denied “directly or indirectly” owning any property in Florida during divorce proceedings a couple years after purchasing the mansion through an LLC.

Somebody paid me $100 million,” Trump told a reporter in February 2011.

At the time, the purchase was the highest price paid for any single-family home in the country.

Rybolovlev, who recently lost $150 million in an art deal, claims he has never met Trump — but he has often flown his private plane to cities where Trump is visiting.

Federal Aviation Administration records show Rybolovlev’s private plane arrived in Las Vegas in October, an hour after a Trump campaign event began.

The following month, Rybolovlev’s plane arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, 90 minutes before Trump’s plane arrived for a campaign event five days before the election.

The two men’s planes were both at Miami International Airport last month, on the same weekend Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

Trump also denies ever meeting Rybolovlev, an investor in the Kremlin-friendly Bank of Cyrus — which came up in the confirmation hearings of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a vice-chairman of the bank since 2014.

“No member of the Trump campaign or Mr. Trump met with Mr. Rybolovlev during the campaign or any other time,” a White House official told Business Insider this week.

“No one was even aware of the plane until receiving a similar email about this (Monday),” the official said. “For a press corps so obsessed with evidence, proof and feigning a general disgust at even the hint of conspiracy, this is pretty rich.”

Democratic senators were unhappy with the response of Ross to questions about whether the Bank of Cyprus had extended loans to the Trump campaign or Trump Organization, although the investor verbally told lawmakers he didn’t know of such transactions.

 

Hey, Look, Another Russian Connection in Trump’s Cabinet

How many does that make now?

Charles Pierce   February 27, 2017

I have to say that, judging from his press availability, and as a first impression, Congressman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a very impressively arrogant fellow. From contemptuously shuffling the Logan Act aside (“You a Logan Act guy?” he asked one reporter.) to his arch dismissal of the calls for a special prosecutor, to his clammy misuse of the word “McCarthyism,” to his robotic insistence that the real problem here are the leaks about possible Russian influence over the administration—rather than, say, Russian influence over the administration—Nunes is going to be someone to watch going forward. But let’s write something new about Russia anyway.

The essential folks at McClatchy have raised some questions about the ownership stake in a Cyprus bank held by Wilbur Ross, who by eight o’clock tonight likely will be your Secretary of Commerce. The bank that does a lot of business with various Russian oligarchs, including, it is alleged, as a spin cycle for money that the Russian kleptocracy would like to have cleaned.

More recently, he led a rescue of Bank of Cyprus in September 2014 after the Cypriot government — in consultation with Russian President Vladimir Putin — first propped up the institution. “Cyprus banks have a long and painful history of laundering dirty money from Russians involved with corruption and criminality,” said Elise Bean, a former Senate investigator who specialized in combating money laundering and tax evasion. “Buying a Cyprus bank necessarily raises red flags about suspect deposits, high-risk clients and hidden activities.” The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system. Oligarch Dmitry Ryvoloviev took a nearly 10 percent stake in Bank of Cyprus in 2010. Two years earlier, amid the U.S. financial crisis when real-estate prices were softening, Ryvoloviev purchased Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $95 million. The transaction generated questions because of its inflated market price, about $60 million more than Trump had paid for the Florida property four years earlier. When Europe’s debt crisis spread and affected Cyprus in 2012 and 2013, that nation’s second biggest bank, Laiki Bank, was closed. The government imposed losses on uninsured deposits, many belonging to Russians.

As you might imagine, this whole business came up to no great effect during Ross’s confirmation hearings.

Ross had little history in global banking, but in 2011 he took an ownership stake in Bank of Ireland, the only bank in that nation the government didn’t seize. Ross tripled his investment when he sold his Irish stake in June 2014, then months later, he took a gamble on Bank of Cyprus. Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus, including Viktor Vekselberg, a longtime Putin ally, and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former vice chairman of Bank of Cyprus and a former KGB agent believed to be a Putin associate. Aides to several of the senators confirmed late Friday that Ross hadn’t responded to their questions. The White House sent McClatchy to a Commerce Department transition aide, who didn’t respond to questions.

(David Cay Johnson’s DC Report adds that, when Ross took over the Bank of Cyprus, he installed as chairman a guy who had left Deutsche Bank under a cloud, including a $650 million fine for laundering Russian money. Deutsche Bank, Johnson reminds us, is the president*’s largest known lender.)

It is nothing close to McCarthyism to point out that the entire Cabinet will be full to the gunwales with people who have done serious business with the Russian kleptocrats. At least they’ll all have a lot to talk about over vodka at lunch.

 

Daily Kos

Ouch! Newsweek exposes Trump as the business fraud he is.

By Fokozatos Siker   August 2, 2016

Trump’s big line is he should be president because he is a successful businessman. After reading this devastating Newsweek story, no Trump apologist can ever say that again.

The story goes through the bankruptcies of course, but there are defaults, people ripped off, and lie upon lie upon lie upon lie.

My favorite stuff from the article:

  • Trump lied to Congress.
  • Trump was publicly insulting Native Americans while other real business people were making deals to help manage their casinos.
  • Trump signed a deal with one Native American casino, and they paid him $6 million to go away.
  • Trump punched his second grade teacher
  • Trump lied in his books, then blamed the same woman he blamed for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech.
  • Trump lied in a filing with a bank where he was trying to get a loan about how much he was worth.
  • Trump lied about how much money he got from his dad.
  • Trump’s dad gave him illegal loans by taking cash to his casino, turning it over at a craps table, loading up a suitcase with $5,000 chips, and leaving.
  • Trump’s earliest deals all lost money and he only did well when his dad guaranteed loans.
  • Trump spent $1 million per plane to turn a shuttle into a luxury trip that no one wanted to take. The planes were only worth $4 million each.

There is just so much more. I want to give a few quotes:

Lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults, deceptions and indifference to investors—Trump’s business career is a long, long list of such troubles, according to regulatory, corporate and court records, as well as sworn testimony and government investigative reports. Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.

He is also pretty good at self-deception, and plain old deception. Trump is willing to claim success even when it is not there, according to his own statements. “I’m just telling you, you wouldn’t say that you’re failing,” he said in a 2007 deposition when asked to explain why he would give an upbeat assessment of his business even if it was in trouble. “If somebody said, ‘How you doing?’ you’re going to say you’re doing good.” Perhaps such dissembling is fine in polite cocktail party conversation, but in the business world it’s called lying.

Trump tells everyone he is a gazillionaire. How does he decide his net worth?

Trump is quick to boast that his purported billions prove his business acumen, his net worth is almost unknowable given the loose standards and numerous outright misrepresentations he has made over the years. In that 2007 deposition, Trump said he based estimates of his net worth at times on “psychology” and “my own feelings.” But those feelings are often wrong—in 2004, he presented unaudited financials to Deutsche Bank while seeking a loan, claiming he was worth $3.5 billion. The bank concluded Trump was, to say the least, puffing; it put his net worth at $788 million, records show. (Trump personally guaranteed $40 million of the loan to his company, so Deutsche coughed up the money. He later defaulted on that commitment.)

And the money quote:

Trump’s many misrepresentations of his successes and his failures matter—a lot. As a man who has never held so much as a city council seat, there is little voters can examine to determine if he is competent to hold office. He has no voting record and presents few details about specific policies. Instead, he sells himself as qualified to run the country because he is a businessman who knows how to get things done, and his financial dealings are the only part of his background available to assess his competence to lead the country. And while Trump has had a few successes in business, most of his ventures have been disasters.

It’s a long article, but it puts the lie to Trump’s lie that he is a successful businessman. He’s just a guy who inherited money.

 

LA. Times

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell wants an independent probe into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia — and he has charts

Phil Willon March 9, 2017

Check out the flow chart on Phil Willon’s web page at the LA Times.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-california-congressman-wants-an-1489087000-htmlstory.html

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) created a webpage detailing the Trump administrations ties to Russia. (Office of Rep. Eric Swalwell)

Northern California Rep. Eric Swalwell really wants an independent investigation into President Donald Trump and his administration’s ties to Russia.

And he has some handy charts and graphics to prove his case.

Swalwell, a Democrat from Dublin, launched a new page on his official congressional website— which he titled “Protecting our Democracy” — detailing the alleged web of connections between Trump administration officials, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian interests.

Swalwell is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating Russia’s alleged election meddling.

“President Trump has also surrounded himself with people who do business with and are sympathetic to Russia,” his site declares in boldface type.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Putin had authorized an operation to try to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

Trump has rejected calls for an independent investigation of his ties to Russia.

 

 

The Global Politico

‘Don’t Be So Desperate to Rub up Against Russia’

America’s longest-serving diplomat has some parting advice for President Donald Trump.

By Susan B. Glasser  March 06, 2017

America’s most senior diplomat just hit the exits from President Trump’s melting-down State Department after 40 years of being the man in the room when Russia was involved.

And now Daniel Fried, a career Foreign Service pro who spent decades holding his tongue publicly while serving six presidents of both parties, is speaking out forcefully for the first time amid an escalating scandal here in Washington over the new administration’s Russia entanglements, warning about the threats posed by President Vladimir Putin’s aggression – and Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

“Russia despises the West. And it is doing what it can to weaken the West,” Fried says in a new interview for The Global Politico podcast, his first extensive comments since leaving government. I had asked Fried, who until a week ago was the top diplomat responsible for overseeing American sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its 2014 armed takeover of Crimea and ongoing military incursions in Ukraine, about the Russian intervention in last year’s U.S. presidential election, an intervention now the subject of multiple congressional and law-enforcement inquiries as to whether the Trump campaign knew about or colluded with the Russians in any way.

Fried, known to his colleagues as an indefatigable negotiator and history buff, warned that the Russians are intent upon reconquering more former Soviet territory and won’t stop unless strongly countered by the U.S. “They are rapacious, because they want back as much of their empire as they can grab. And we need to resist that.”

The last serving member of a generation of Foreign Service officers who saw the Cold War to a successful ending in Russia and Eastern Europe, Fried closed his career with the State Department he loved in what many officials have described as nothing short of demoralized turmoil, and he rallied the increasingly disgruntled diplomats with a rousing goodbye speech that warned both of a Cold War victory “under assault” by a resurgent Russia and of the new Trumpian vision of American nationalism. “The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox,” he said, in remarks that were widely shared afterwards.

Tony Blinken, the State Department No. 2 under President Barack Obama, called Fried’s exit speech a “powerful defense of the liberal international order.” Damon Wilson, a colleague from President George W. Bush’s administration, said it was a “clarion call for the U.S. to lead.”

It came as foreign policy hands in both parties are increasingly concerned about the marginalization of the State Department under Trump. The president has already cut his new secretary of state, longtime ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, out of key meetings; proposed a massive cut of up to 37 percent of the department’s budget; fired top career officials while refusing to allow Tillerson to name his own staff for key positions; and turned to a national security staff long on uniformed generals and short on diplomats and civilian expertise.

Even the fact that Fried left as America’s most senior diplomat reflected the Trump-imposed tumult; until a few weeks ago, he was the third most senior career official at the State Department, but then Trump cashiered the two top officials ahead of Fried, dumping them unceremoniously in his first week in office and leaving key posts open.

 

 

Washington And The World

The State Department is Already Running on Fumes

By Ilan Goldenberg

In the interview, Fried recounts his close dealings with presidents and secretaries of both parties (he considers both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton “wonderful”), recalls being in the White House Situation Room on 9/11 and the “ill-considered” Iraq war that followed, and notes the “weak hand” Obama gave Secretary of State John Kerry on Syria. Now, he says he is as worried about Trump’s foreign policy course correction as he is about the institutional threats to a State Department that has often been a “punching bag” in American politics.

“What does it mean to say ‘America First’? … Are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals others kids’ lunch money?” Fried asked. “Apart from the nervousness about budgets and personnel and all the rest of it, there’s an underlying concern that we’re losing sight of what, to use the phrase, made America great.”

But it is Fried’s warnings about Russia that are the most striking. He has watched presidents in both parties over the last 25 years try and fail to come up with a workable post-Cold War policy toward a Russia that has now turned, once again, to becoming “an aggressive, revisionist power.” Fried said he hadn’t heard directly from the new Trump White House and found “puzzling” Trump’s repeated admiring comments about Putin and indications during the campaign that he wanted to lift the sanctions Fried has worked so hard with America’s European allies to impose after the Crimea takeover.

What would he have told Trump if asked?

“Don’t be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.”

He might find Trump puzzling but this latest strange twist in the U.S.-Russia relationship is one that Fried the Kremlinologist has been watching coming for years now – over a career that gave him a front row seat among America’s Russia watchers for the last four decades.

Fried has made a professional study of Russia since the late 1970s, when he joined the Foreign Service at the start of the Carter administration. He was posted to Soviet Leningrad in the early 1980s and tells me he considers President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz to have been the gold standard of the secretaries he worked under, because he was able to pursue a “walk and chew gum” policy of opening negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev while also pushing back on the Soviets aggressively.

By the late 1980s, Fried had become the Poland desk officer at the State Department, when he ran up against a bureaucratic obstacle: He couldn’t get the higher-ups to listen to his increasingly pointed analyses warning that Polish Communism was coming unraveled. He reached out to an up-and-coming National Security Council official in George H.W. Bush’s White House, a Soviet expert named Condoleezza Rice. She told him, “Meet me at the checkpoint with a plain brown envelope” containing the papers he wanted approved. In the flurry of the next few years, Fried would go on to become ambassador to Poland as post-communist economic reforms were enacted and a top NSC official dealing with the former Soviet Union for President Bill Clinton.

 

 

Washington And The World

How Anti-Democratic Propaganda Is Taking Over The World

By Christopher Walker

A key assignment was helping to outline options for the eventual expansion of NATO to include countries in the former Soviet Union such as Poland and the three Baltic states – a key complaint these days of the Kremlin, which argues that NATO’s encirclement of Russia once those countries joined is a major factor in the region’s current tensions.

Not so, insists Fried, who remembers that, at the time in the mid-1990s, the United States was in fact pulling its troops out of Europe and even potentially envisioning a NATO that could include Russia. “This Russian notion of encirclement is, let us say, an alternative fact,” he said. “It’s just flat wrong.”

After a little more than a decade of post-Soviet tumult, Fried would be sitting next to Rice, by then the national security adviser to Bush’s son, as President George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time and famously looked into his “soul.” (“Not in the talking points!” Fried noted in our interview.) Ever since, he has watched as Bush and Obama struggled – and often failed – to figure out how to deal with the former KGB spy in the Kremlin.

Rice, as he recalls it, was one of many to make the wrong – but “reasonable” at the time, Fried says – “case that Putin was going to be one of these reassemblers of a Russian state which had fallen on hard times, that he would be a czar-restorer in a way. He may be mildly authoritarian, but a modernizer, and able to work with the West.” Obama, too, proved eager to work with the Russians, but wrong in hoping that Dmitry Medvedev, his temporary placeholder in the Russian presidency, would prove more than an interim seat warmer for Putin.

The Global Politico

Ambassador Dan Fried: The Full Transcript

By Susan B. Glasser   March 06, 2017

For the fifth episode of Politico Magazine’s Susan B. Glasser’s new podcast, The Global Politico, she sat down with Ambassador Dan Fried, who recently retired as America’s longest-serving diplomat. A transcript of Glasser and Fried’s conversation, and the podcast, follows:

Hi, I’m Susan Glasser. Welcome back to The Global POLITICO. This week, we have a very special guest who’s joining us: Ambassador Dan Fried. One week ago, he retired as America’s longest-serving diplomat. For 40 years, he’s worked as an American Foreign Service officer, a career that has spanned the arc of the Cold War at its coldest, the remarkable end of the Cold War in 1989, and the years of disillusionment and difficulty that followed.

Dan left office as he has occupied it, with incredible insight and clarity about the nature of America’s position in the world. He gave a rousing speech. I’ll read you a few quotes from it to start off our conversation. He talked about his experience of 40 years in the American Foreign Service, and the long arc of it covering the Soviet Union, and then the remarkable collapse of the Soviet Union, and everything that’s come since over the last 25 years.

“Nothing,” he said, “can be taken for granted. And this great achievement is now under assault by Russia. But what we did in my time is no less honorable. It is for the present generation to defend, and when the time comes again, extend freedom in Europe.” Dan, thank you so much for being with us today. I’m really—I’m—I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. You are a man liberated, if not entirely at least partially, so I’d love to talk to you a little bit about what that going away speech was like for you, why you decided to speak out and say what you did.

Fried: Well, thank you for the opportunity. My farewell speech really took 40 years to write, and it turned out, I did have something to say. I wanted to speak out about what I consider to be America’s grand strategy in the world, and we often talk about what the United States did after 1945, building the liberal world order on the ruins of World War II. And after 1989, when we extended freedom in Europe to help the hundred million liberated Europeans, and that’s all good.

But the American tradition of foreign policy exceptionalism, our grand strategy as a nation, reaches back much further. Really at the turn—the end of the 19th century, when we achieved power a generation after the Civil War, the outlines of an American vision came into focus, and what we—it was based on two things. One, our realization that our values and our interests were the same, and that our business interests would advance as our values advanced in the world.

And the second precept of the American grand strategy is that our security and prosperity didn’t work unless other nations were also secure, and prosperous. There had to be something in it for them, so we weren’t looking simply to grab territory, or widen our sphere of influence, or anything like that. We wanted to make the world a better place, and get very rich in the process. That’s the American grand strategy; a combination of breathtaking ambition, apparent naivete, but actual insight, and it worked out in the 20th century. I wanted to talk about that, and I also wanted to talk about America’s identity.

Glasser: A lot of people here in Washington have been worrying not just since President Trump came into office, but certainly with an accelerating or escalating decibel level since President Trump came into office, that this is a moment that is the end of the liberal order that you celebrate. You wrote in your goodbye speech: “our mistakes, blunders, flaws, and shortcomings notwithstanding, the world America made after 1945 and 1989 has enjoyed the longest period of general peace in the west since Roman times, and decades of prosperity.”

A lot of people now think it’s on the way out the door. Tony Blinken, who was the deputy secretary of state, called your speech, “a powerful defense of the liberal international order.” “Clarion call for the United States to lead,” is what Damon Wilson, one of your colleagues from the Bush administration, had to say about it. How worried are you that this is the end of the liberal international order?

Fried: I don’t believe it’s the end. I believe the liberal international order is under assault from Russia, and from other authoritarian regimes, and it is being questioned from within the West by nationalists, by nativists, and by people who doubt our—doubt the values of the West. We’ve gone through periods like this before; in the ‘70s, after Vietnam and Watergate, and certainly in the ‘30s, when people thought liberal democracy was dead, and the future belonged either to the fascists or the communists.

Glasser: But the thing that’s surprising about this, right, is that it is now at least a faction of the party that controls the American White House, including potentially the President of the United States himself, who seems to be the ones attacking the liberal order, that in fact, the United States, not only largely built and secured, but has benefited disproportionately from. That’s different.

Fried: It is different, and it’s unusual, because Republicans—Reagan but also George W. Bush—believed in freedom, and they believed in America’s role. To have the governing party speak in terms of a zero-sum world, or speak in terms of America’s purpose as no more than grabbing the largest share possible in the short run, goes against our foreign policy tradition that goes back to 1900, really…

Glasser: So, that’s again, this is what’s so remarkable about this moment here in Washington. It’s hard to convey fully to people who are outside of it, right, that’s why you see a very almost non-partisan reaction, right. You know, you have conservatives, liberals, people who are used to arguing with each other, who are now making common cause in their concern about this potential break with decades of American foreign policy. Give us a little bit of a sense about what things are like inside the State Department these days. Trump not only ran against the foreign policy establishment, there’s a lot of questions about his proposed budget cuts of up to 37 percent of the State Department’s budget, he hasn’t hired a lot of people; there’s a lot of uncertainty. What is it like to feel that your profession is under attack by the leadership?

Fried: Well, the Foreign Service and the State Department have always been a punching bag for a certain part of the political spectrum; I don’t take that too seriously. Yet. The issue is a larger one: we hear the phrase America First, and that from the president. Of course, of course we should keep our country’s interests uppermost in mind. No argument there. But what does it mean to say America First? How do we understand our interests?

In a narrow, short-term sense, are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money? Or do we think in bigger, more ambitious terms? And it seems to me a broader, not a narrow vision of America’s interest, is one which suits our nation, and has worked out for us well. So, I think apart from the nervousness about budgets and personnel and all the rest of it, there’s an underlying concern that we’re losing sight of what to use the phrase, made America great.

Are we merely going to be a schoolyard bully that steals other kids’ lunch money? Or do we think in bigger, more ambitious terms?”
Glasser: Well, I should point out, and it’s really a very crucial point, you are a classic representative of a kind of person who may or may not exist 20 years from now in Washington, but has a long tradition in the Foreign Service. You’ve served presidents of all parties, starting, I believe, back in 1977. You joined the Foreign Service when Jimmy Carter was still president. You worked under Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, the second Bush, Obama, and very briefly under Donald Trump. You worked very closely with many of those presidents, and you know, it’s interesting that you were able to have high-ranking positions in both the administration of Bill Clinton, but also the administration of George W. Bush. How is that possible in this partisan age?

Fried: I didn’t change my views, and I didn’t change the kinds of policies I recommended to both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush—did the same thing in Europe. Both of them, very different personalities, advanced freedom, and they did so not to hem in Russia, but to respond to the interests and—both of America, the West in general, and those 100 million Europeans from the Baltic to the Black Sea—the Poles, the Czechs, the Balts and others, who wanted to live in security.

And both presidents helped realize a Europe whole, free, and at peace. That was a pretty good achievement, and I was proud to be part of it.

Glasser: And they weren’t suspicious of you?

Fried: Oh, well, the Bush people, at first, thought I was a Clinton person; the Obama people thought I was a Bush person. God knows what the current team thinks; I don’t think they’ve thought about me at all. But it’s interesting, George W. Bush did not care about partisanship, not at all. It’s interesting that the Bush administration kept on holdovers from the Clinton administration, and treated them quite well.

President Bush once teased me about not being a Republican, which I will not confirm or deny, because partisanship is not part of my professional makeup, but he didn’t care. What he cared about is: Are you going to do your job? Are you serious about it? And what are your policy values?

Glasser: Probably he wanted to know what was really going on behind the scenes in the Clinton White House anyways. Was he trying to get the scoop out of you?

Fried: Well, I didn’t have much idea about the Oval, but I did know President Clinton, and I thought he made some crucial right decisions, and it is just interesting that both Presidents Clinton and Bush came out the same way on the crucial issues of the time.

Glasser: Defined as what?

Fried: Well, I mean about NATO enlargement; about support for European Union enlargement, and support for the—in Clinton’s time, the newly liberated peoples of Europe.

Glasser: All right, so I want to roll up our sleeves and really talk about Russia, because that is the thread that runs through a lot of your career. I should say that you really—you started out when it was the Soviet Union; you were in Leningrad before it turned back to St. Petersburg; you met with and knew the Refusniks, back in the beginning of your career as a Foreign Service officer. You then switched—you became the ambassador to Poland, and were a key figure in that country’s transformation from its communist days to maybe you couldn’t have even envisioned its role as a pillar of both NATO and the EU today.

But, you know … then you came back here to the United States. You basically mastered and worked inside the National Security Councils under Clinton and Bush, and then of course, were the assistant secretary for Europe in the middle of a very difficult period during the Iraq war, as well as some key moments during the U.S. relationship with Russia, I think, when George W. Bush was really souring on, or changing his view about Russia.

And then of course in the Obama administration, in many ways, right, the last few years of your portfolio have been some of the toughest jobs handed to you. You have been working both on the closure of Guantanamo Bay—I want to ask you about that, and getting prisoners to be accepted by other countries as part of the effort—the unsuccessful effort by Barack Obama to close it. And then of course, the last couple years you’ve worked on perhaps the even harder issue of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and takeover of the Crimea and its activities in eastern Ukraine.

So, basically, you’ve had a knack for getting in the middle of some very difficult issues, and Russia is the common theme throughout. Let’s start at the end first, though, and talk about sanctions. What is going on with them and President Trump?

Fried: Well, our sanctions policy remains intact, and it will remain intact until it changes, if it does, and I’m not sure it will. It is certainly true, and it is puzzling to me that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke both consistent—in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions. It’s puzzling to me.

It is puzzling to me that during the campaign, the Trump people spoke … in consistently positive terms about President Putin, and in skeptical terms about sanctions.”
Russia committed an act of aggression in Ukraine, and that’s the first time since 1945 a European country has seized the territory of another European country. That’s serious business. They started a war with their neighbor. Their troops as well as the separatists funded and controlled by Russia are killing people just about every day.

The West responded with sanctions, and the West responded with unity. I think that unity probably kept things from getting worse, and they could have been much worse. They gave the Ukrainians time to resist. And I think the sanctions have helped push the Russians into accepting at least in theory a framework for solving the eastern Ukrainian problem, if not the Crimean problem.

So, sanctions are a strong and agreed element of the West’s response to Russia’s aggression. It is, as I said, puzzling to me that there is so much skepticism about the sanctions. I don’t understand it.

Glasser: Well, it goes back to this question of A, how seriously do you view Russia’s intervention in the American elections? Is this something that we should really be spun up to Defcon 5 over here in the United States, and in our political system, which is right now pretty much in a tizzy over this?

Fried: I don’t have any particular inside knowledge. I’ve read the unclassified and the classified version of the report, but I don’t have any inside knowledge. But I will say this: Russia despises the West. And is doing what it can to weaken the West. What they did in our election is no different from what they appear to be doing with respect to a number of European elections coming up.

They are using the tools at their disposal to weaken Western solidarity, to create doubt, to support nationalist parties, just as the old Soviets supported leftist parties. We need a united Western response to this multi-pronged threat. Now, I am not against working with Russia in areas of common interests at the same time. We’re smart enough, or we should be smart enough to have a dual track policy. You know, walk and chew gum at the same time.

George W. Bush tried working with the Russians after 9/11; Obama had the reset. Both presidents achieved less than they wanted, but they both achieved something. Those policies made sense, and it’s to the credit of both Presidents Bush and Obama that even as they reached out to Russia, they did not sacrifice core American interests, or core American values. We didn’t give the Russians on the altar of better relations other countries. We were able to do two things at once.

And that reminds me of what Reagan did; best Soviet policy we ever had. Ronald Reagan reached out to Gorbachev. At the same time, we were pushing back against the Soviets all over the world. He was able to do two things at once, and it worked out very well for us.

So, there is nothing wrong when the Trump administration says it wants to find areas of common ground to work with Russia—perfectly reasonable. The question is, are you willing to pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of working with them in areas that are supposed to be of common interest, and that—I don’t see the American interest in doing so.

Glasser: Did you have anyone ever explain this to you? Were you able to ever have any time where you heard from former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his 24 days in office?

Fried: No. I never met with him. I won’t go into any details of meetings I was in while I was still in office, except to say that I never heard any explanation—I didn’t even hear an explanation with which I disagreed. I heard no explanation for why it would be in our interest to unilaterally abandon Ukraine, or unilaterally weaken the sanctions. Now, let’s take for a moment what might be—and I’m not saying it is, but might be the Trump administration grand strategy.

Let’s say that ISIS—that they’re right. That ISIS is the near-term threat, and that the longer—or the mid-term challenge is managing the rise of China. There’s some evidence that that’s the thinking of the administration. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach. Well, if that’s the case, then you surely want to have a united West to deal with both, and you want to have Russia alongside, but maybe not this Russia while it’s busy trying to undermine your chief asset, which is a united West.

You want to be able to push back against Russia now, the better to work with them later. So, show some patience and don’t be so desperate to rub up against a Russia which is busy trying to do us in all over the world.

There is nothing wrong when the Trump administration says it wants to find areas of common ground to work with Russia—perfectly reasonable. The question is, are you willing to pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of working with them in areas that are supposed to be of common interest?
Glasser: Well, it’s interesting, they didn’t consult with you, obviously, and it sounds like you haven’t even heard from their own formulation of this shift that they have talked about, but only in very general terms. If President Trump had come to you for the exit interview that you and I are now having—

Fried: Unlikely.

Glasser: What would you—unlikely. Let’s stipulate. Perhaps it’s not unlikely that, you know, you’ll hear from General McMaster now that he’s the national security adviser. What would you tell them? What is it that you think is missing from the understanding of Russia? You talked about Russia as basically putting under assault the liberal order, as it’s been constructed.

Fried: I would say that Russia is—comes from a place of deep resentment against the West, in general, and the United States in particular. They are rapacious, because they want back as much of their empire as they can grab. And we need to resist that. At the same time, we should be able to look for areas of common interest. Again, this is the Bush policy and it’s the Obama policy.

And we should think about the future. That is, Putinsim is not necessarily the end state for Russia. Russia has moved in many directions since the early 1980s. We should not assume that Russia is doomed to live according to its worst traditions. In fact, in Russian history, failed efforts at external aggression, when they fail, usually bring on areas of internal reform.

And internal reform in Russia would require a better relationship with the West. So, why should we assume that that historical pattern in Russia has ended? I’m not talking about regime change; it’s not our responsibility and it’s not our objective. But if we blunt Russian efforts now to be aggressive, we may be pleasantly surprised by the policy options that become available to us, in terms of working with a better Russia. Remember, the American grand strategy works when other countries feel secure. But it doesn’t work if we acquiesce in the aggression of other countries.

Glasser: Well, I think you would never really define Russia as secure in its post-Cold War state, right? I mean, it’s almost the definition of a kind of a swaggering—an insecure power looking to go outwards.

Fried: The Russian myth that they broadcast to the world, and have their various surrogates in the West repeat, is that somehow the West took advantage of them, that we were mean to them. That writes out of history everything Strobe Talbott and Bill Clinton tried to do with Boris Yeltsin. Strobe Talbott leaned forward doing everything he could to help the Russians, and frankly, I have little patience for the notion that we gave them nothing but bad advice.

The same people the Americans sent over—that we sent over to advise the Russians, we also sent over to advise the Poles about how to build a post-communist economy. Same people, same advice, with radically different results, which leads to suspicion it’s not our advice which was the crucial variable. It was the Poles, on one hand, and the Russians on the other. The Poles succeeded; the Russians didn’t. Don’t blame us.

Glasser: You know, it’s interesting. You were involved very directly in another key aspect of the Russian complaint today, right, their complaint which is that NATO was expanded, and enlarged in a way that was meant to threaten and surround them, and you hear this from Putin, you hear this from his top lieutenants. It’s been a consistent complaint and theme of Russian nationalists.

Fried: That’s true.

Glasser: What was your thinking, and tell us a little bit back in the Clinton administration how that played out? There was a real debate at the time whether that was a good idea or not.

Fried: Debate—I would say at the beginning, about 95 percent of the foreign policy establishment was against it. The argument against was, well, the Russians won’t like it, and you don’t really need it, because it’s a new world. And that is attractive until the consequences begin to emerge. So, what message would we have given under this scenario to the Poles, the Czechs, and others?

That you—we’re going to hang a sign around your neck: property of Russia to be reclaimed when convenient? That they were going to live in a gray zone? That their reward for having been under—having overthrown communism peacefully was that they become part of Russia’s outer empire? How is perpetuating the line of the Cold War in America’s interest?

In political terms, I’ll tell you a story. We were in the middle of this debate when Bill Clinton took his first trip to Europe. It was January, 1994; he goes to Prague and he meets with the Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and Slovak leadership separately. And you have all four of them pounding him on this very issue. [Polish President] Lech Wałęsa and [Czech Republic President] Vaclav Havel—very different people with exactly the same message delivered in somewhat different ways. They said, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding? You’re going to take this moment in history, and you’re going to retreat because you’re worried about hurting Russia’s feelings? We’re 100 million Europeans, and you have a chance to finish the work of World War II, of the Atlantic Charter, and you should take it.” And the policy that Bill Clinton decided on after getting pounded by these guys—

Glasser: And how did he react to the pounding, by the way?

Fried: Well, he reacted politically, and I mean that as a compliment. He basically said, “Man, this policy is not going to work. You know, I cannot tell these guys to be patient. You got to get me something else,” he said, basically, to Tony Lake, and Tony Lake turned to me and some other—some close colleagues like Nick Burns and Sandy Vershbow, and we came up with a dual track strategy: NATO enlargement, but in parallel working the NATO/Russia relationship.

And the theory was, these two tracks could proceed as quickly as possible as these countries were ready, and we put no artificial limit on the NATO/Russia track. I even thought it was conceivable, and you didn’t want to shut the door, that Russia could become a member of NATO. You didn’t want to rule it out. This was an open period. We didn’t know what was going to happen.

Now, in the end, it worked out the way it worked out, but there was an open-ended policy, not one designed to hem in Russia. And by the way, while all of this was happening, American military forces in Europe were beginning to be drawn down. This Russian notion of encirclement is, let us say, an alternative fact. It’s—well, it’s just flat wrong.

The United States pulled back on its military deployments in Europe, and it was perhaps ironic that the Obama administration, which starts off with a reset with Russia, is the administration that then leads NATO to put in forces into the Baltics and Poland, after Russia has started its second war against its neighbors—Georgia in ’08, Ukraine in 2014, and that was enough.

Glasser: So, okay, you’re skipping ahead a little bit.

Fried: Yes, I am.

Glasser: Okay, so we have NATO enlargement. You’re right in the thick of it. Bill Clinton says, “Give me another policy. Give me another policy.” You give him another policy, but it’s bet hedging, because you don’t really know, as you said, where things are going to turn out. Now, flash forward to the surprising ascent of Vladimir Putin. A lot of people would say that America’s experts got Putin wrong, or at least enough of them did that our policy basically was not successful in dealing with him.

Fried: Well, you know, I was there in the early days after 9/11, when Putin reached out to Bush.

Glasser: You were at the National Security Council.

Fried: I was at the NSC. I was responsible—I was the senior director for Europe and Eurasia, which it—for a while, included Russia. And I remember these conversations with Condi Rice. She knew Russia very well, and it was possible to make the case that Putin was going to be one of these reassemblers of a Russian state which had fallen on hard times; that he would be a czar-restorer in a way.

He may be mildly authoritarian, but a modernizer, and able to work with the West, and we would be able to work with him. Now, it didn’t turn out that way, but you could, in those early days, make a reasonable case for that. And so, I’m certainly not going to criticize a policy that at the time I supported. And Condi Rice made that case, and, you know, President Bush had his famous meeting in Slovenia where he looked into his soul. It was not in the talking points.

Glasser: By the way, did—you must have known at that moment that it would forever be associated with Bush?

Fried: I would say this: I was sitting in the sort of bleachers watching this with Condi Rice, and when he said that, you could see her just sit up a little bit, very understated. If you didn’t know her, you would have missed it. But I thought, right. That’s a novel way of putting it, but President Bush was reaching out to Vladimir Putin. You have to understand what he was trying to do, and it was a reasonable position to take.

Glasser: When did your view of Putin change? When did you understand just the nature of his project, both in terms of restoring a more authoritarian government inside Russia, and also the nature of his views towards the West?

Fried: When Putin started going after the independent media.

Glasser: Well, that was pretty early on.

Fried: That was. That was 2002, 2003. And I’ll tell you another story: I think that President Bush was ahead of most of his government, in realizing that Putin was not the person we thought he was. And I remember a conversation he had with Tony Blair, basically, in October ’03, about that. And they were ahead of their advisers.

I think that President Bush was ahead of most of his government, in realizing that Putin was not the person we thought he was.”
I think President Bush and Prime Minister Blair had understood Putin pretty early. Now, we were still trying to work with them, and there was, as I said, good reason for doing so. I think the real turn came with Putin’s very aggressive speech at the Munich security conference; that was ten years ago. It was ’07, and I think Putin—I think if we made a mistake of judgment, it was that we didn’t fully understand Putin’s reaction to the Color Revolutions. Those were the democratic movements in Georgia and Ukraine, and a little bit Kyrgyzstan, which the Russians thought we had orchestrated.

We knew we hadn’t, and we dismissed it, but I think we should have understood that Putin took this seriously. I mean, the whole thing is laughable, to think that at the time, we were unable to master political developments in Iraq, despite resources and American troops; that with no budget at all, we would manage a Ukrainian political revolution? I mean, we’re not that good. I wish.

But Putin thought we were, and it took—I think we did not fully appreciate that.

Glasser: Well, and both Bush and Obama, right, at various periods of time, believed in scenarios that didn’t come to pass when it came to Putin’s own behavior in office, right. So, Bush and his—at least some of his top advisers, including Condi Rice, at times believed that Putin would step out of power, and here we are, all these years later, and he’s still in power. President Obama clearly hoped that Dmitry Medvedev could be built up to be more of a real leader, and not just a leader in name or a placeholder for President Putin. Tell me a little bit about, you know, were they getting bad advice from people? You know, what—

Fried: I went through the—I wasn’t part of it, but I was watching President Obama’s reset, and Mike McFaul, our ambassador to Russia, and a real Russia expert, was behind that. That was based on an assumption that Medvedev, who was for a time the president of Russia, was a new generation figure, and more and better disposed to the West. And frankly, there was some evidence for that. It didn’t turn out that way, I realize, but I’m not going to go back and criticize them.

There was a reasonable basis for that, and we—the reset with Russia achieved something, especially, by the way, because Joe Biden, at the very beginning, abounded the reset by saying, “Yeah, we’re not going to recognize Russian dismemberment of Georgia; we’re not going to give Russia a veto over NATO membership, but under those conditions, we can do a reset.”

So, the Biden corollary to the reset meant that the Obama administration could proceed with the reset without ever messing up our policy, and they—Mike McFaul did a pretty good job. He—it was—it didn’t work out, but there are a lot of policies that don’t work out that are nevertheless worth doing.

Glasser: Well, that’s an interesting question when you look at this issue of where Putin and Russia are today, and this restoration of them as, at least on the European continent, our main adversary. Do you think that was inevitable? I mean, Trump maybe doesn’t speak in fully realized policy terms when he talks about this, but he is representing a critique that exists on both the right and the left that somehow the United States, if we’d been more successful in understanding what Putin was doing, and in countering it, we wouldn’t be in this position today. Is there anything to that? As you retire, are you doing any soul-searching on this front?

Fried: There is a rhetorical question; what would you have had us do? Not enlarge NATO and the European Union? Well, in that case, we’d be dealing not with the People’s Republic of Luhansk, but quite possibly the People’s Republic of Narva in Estonia. The Russians were going to come back.

I would have regretted it had Strobe Talbott not been so forward-leaning. He was right to do so. It didn’t work out but we were right to try. Could we have done things differently? Maybe as I said, we should have been more sympathetic to Russia’s alarm over the Color Revolutions. I think that that was—I don’t know what we would have done in operational terms different, but we might have realized that earlier.

Had we not—Fiona Hill, a smart, wise Russia hand—said—

Glasser: Who is now going to be President Trump’s senior director at the National Security Council.

Fried: That hasn’t been announced, but I’ve read the press accounts, and I hope it’s true, because she’s just top rate. She’s excellent and commands respect of just about all the people in the field. But she made the case that American support for Kosovo independence in 2008 was so opposed by the Russians that they were going to take revenge, and this might’ve been a contributing factor to the Georgian war.

And I understand where she’s coming from on this, but Russia didn’t have real stakes in Kosovo. We had troops there as part of the United Nations-mandated mission. Had we not acted in Kosovo, we would have gone from being liberators to being occupiers of a radicalizing population. I’m not going to put our—policy which puts our troops at risk, and other countries’ troops at risk for the sake of not offending the Russians where they don’t have any real interests other than sentiment. Can’t do it.

But anyway, Fiona is great. That was the best thing to hear that she might take that position—best news of the day.

Glasser: All right, so you worked really pretty closely, or you certainly had a bird’s eye seat to watch a number of presidents both at the crucial period at the end of the Cold War, and all the way up to—

Fried: George H. W. Bush I don’t think has been given sufficient credit for the way he handled the year 1989. He just nailed it. At the time, he was criticized for being too reserved, and not triumphalist, but his cool tone, yet forward-leaning support for Poland and Hungary who were sort of the first people that were busting through the bars, so to speak, just nailed it. He just nailed it.

I’ll give you a specific. The way he was able to calm some of the Polish communists, his low-key conciliatory approach, I think, gave Jaruzelski the confidence to go ahead and surrender power, which turned out to be—I don’t know that ____ could have reversed it, but it could have been bloodier, it could have been I didn’t work in the Bush 41 White House.

I was the Polish desk officer. I was in a low position but at—I got—I met Condi Rice, and every—I was the one saying communism is coming down in Poland this year. Just watch this space.

So, she sort of brought me over. I started—I’ll have to tell you a story. I couldn’t get any papers cleared out of the State Department, because I was saying things like “communism in Poland is coming down,” “[Solidarity] is going to win.” I couldn’t get that stuff cleared. So, one day, I said to her, “I can’t get anything to you. From this moment forward, I work for you. If you want papers to appear on your desk as if by magic—this is a pre-email era—you just let me know.” She said, “Hmm. Meet me at the checkpoint with a plain brown envelope.” And I started feeding her papers.

Glasser: That’s amazing. And that’s how the bureaucracy, right—you have to find ways around it.

Fried: Well, the only excuse for the insubordination I demonstrated in the spring of 1989 is when you win.

Glasser: Well, tell me a little bit about the different secretaries of state that you saw. Which ones would you go back and work for again?

Fried: Well, I think George Shultz, who was Reagan’s secretary of state, put together the best Soviet policy we ever had. And I still go back to some of his precepts. The way he cut through a lot of the nonsense about linkage—that you couldn’t work with the Soviets in any area until everything was fine, he just dismissed that. He was wonderful to watch.

He said, “No, we either link or we don’t link; that’s our business. That’s our policy. We’re going to advance our relations where it is in our interests.” It was terrific, so I think George Shultz was one of the great secretaries of state. I think Madeleine Albright understood in her guts the challenge of the moment, which is—was to extend freedom in the institutions of the West and central Europe, while we had that chance. And she leaned forward. She was the right person at the right time. Just terrific.

And honestly, I think Condi Rice was a wonderful secretary of state. She—the Bush administration was unpopular in Europe and around the world, and so every time she walked—it’s as if every time she walked out of the door, she’s in the—she’s in a gale, you know, an ice storm beating on her, and she just went ahead. And she’s an example of how a secretary of state can capture the building and the respect and affection of the whole Foreign Service, which she did.

Glasser: Well, she was also an example, though, of—obviously, she was very close to the president himself, and that was a key asset for her when she was going out around the world and representing the White House. People knew that she was speaking for the president; obviously, that was also something that Jim Baker had during Bush 41’s presidency.

Fried: That’s right.

Glasser: How important is that in the end, in getting things done?

Fried: Well, it was—her closeness with the president and her closeness with Steve Hadley, who was the national security adviser, meant that the president trusted the State Department, and Condi trusted the Foreign Service. She had the confidence to know that people would follow her.

Glasser: But that—it’s so interesting, too, because you’ve seen—that’s a very different approach than the new Trump White House, in the sense that they just, like the Bush White House, must’ve known that historically the Foreign Service probably wasn’t really on their side; that the invasion of Iraq, as you said, was very unpopular in Europe, but it was also unpopular with your colleagues.

Fried: Sure, but look what Condi Rice was able to do. Sure, the Iraq war was unpopular, but I’ll tell you, the State Department people would’ve walked 100 miles barefoot through snow for her, and she led them.

Glasser: And how much were they willing and able to speak their mind when they disagreed with a policy?

Fried: She was open to all kinds of views. She was—she had the advantage of being secure, both bureaucratically—her relationship with the president—but intellectually secure, and she knew perfectly well what the criticisms were. And she wanted loyalty of service, but not subservience intellectually.

Glasser: Now, you were actually—if I have the chronology correct—inside the White House and the NSC during the period when the Iraq war was decided upon, and then you moved over to become assistant secretary—

Fried: Yes, during the second term.

Glasser: So, what was that like? People talk a lot now about Trump—is he blowing up the inter-agency process, and you know, the regular decision making, but there’s evidence that Bush sort of bypassed that process in making the decision to go to war in Iraq anyways. What was it like to be there at that time?

Fried: I was not part of that decision-making process. I was responsible for trying to assemble as big a coalition as we could get, so we wouldn’t do it alone. After 9/11, there was kind of an inner war cabinet established, and there were a number of, frankly, bad decisions made, and I think if you read Condi Rice’s memoirs closely, you will see that she recognizes that.

But I will say this: these were bad decisions made in the wake of 9/11. That wasn’t made up.

Glasser: Where were you on 9/11? Were you in the White House?

Fried: I was in the White House. I was in—when the second—when the news of the second plane hitting the, you know, the towers came through, I was in the regular senior staff meeting, and the word came through. Condi Rice stood up, dismissed the meeting, and things went into motion.

I saw the vice president being evacuated. It was a bad day. I spent several hours that day in the Situation Room helping out, but I didn’t have a particularly important role. I was just doing what I could.

9/11 was a genuine trauma, and President Bush rallied the country. I think the Iraq war was ill-considered, but there—it was done in the wake of a national trauma. And that the errors made under such circumstances are different than errors made in the cold.

Glasser: So, coming back to the cold: Russia today. This current controversy here in Washington may be a lasting one or not—we don’t know. But it certainly risks papering over what’s happening in Russia itself and in Europe with the expansionist tendencies that you now see in Russia, which was not the case just a few years ago.

Fried: Russia is an aggressive revisionist power. And they are working—there’s evidence they’re working to interfere not just in our electoral process, but the electoral processes of Europeans with the same toolkit—money, fake news, propaganda, and what those Soviets used to call aktivniye meropriyatiya, active measures. This is serious.

Glasser: Well, you’ve talked about, I mean, not just those kind of measures, but also poisonings, killings, assassinations.

Fried: Yeah, they have—this was also what the Soviets did.

Glasser: If you Google Dan Fried and Wikileaks, you will find that the one thing that came up that got a lot of attention was a cable in which you discussed the poisoning of Litvinenko in Great Britain, and that was obviously an early indicator, perhaps, of the more aggressive outside the country measures that the Russians were taking. You said in this account that was included in these cables that you believed that Putin was a very hands-on leader of the country, and that he would not have, you know, something like that wouldn’t have happened probably without his knowledge.

Fried: Wikileaks. I will neither confirm nor deny, but I certainly will not discuss the contents of a cable that shouldn’t have been leaked, but I’ll say this, that the character of Russia has been clear to a number of us for some years. And I am not one of these people that believes that Russia is doomed, or somehow, you know, inevitably disposed to act according to its worst traditions. But all the more reason, therefore, to resist their aggression and take it seriously.

Glasser: Russia could be, in fact, it would have to be a different Russia, but it could be a splendid ally. I will say this for the Russians: on their—in their favor, they have the intellectual capacity and the habits of mind to act in the world on a strategic scale, and were they do to so in service of a better cause than their current set of grievances, they would be a natural partner. And to that degree, the Trump administration is right, but don’t mistake the Russia you want to exist for the Russia that there actually is. Be realistic.

Glasser: Well, you know, you talked in your going away speech, and that’s a good way to bring it back, about the so-called realists. Your critique of them, basically, is that they have an unrealistic view of Russia.

Fried: Well, realism is important in foreign policy. You have to be realistic about what you can achieve, and about the pitfalls, and problems along the way, of which there are plenty. Nothing is easy. It’s always rough. Be careful about a policy generated with enthusiasm in the rush of a moment. It usually doesn’t turn out well, but I’m talking about—in my speech, I was talking about realism as a foreign policy doctrine.

Which means basically you don’t care about values; you consider them a luxury, and it leads to a kind of acquiescence in spheres of influence. Now, spheres of influence sound good if you’re a graduate student, or a certain kind of—an academic with a certain habit of mind. But in fact, spheres of influence don’t work out very well, certainly not for the victims, and there are always victims.

But they don’t work out for the great powers in the end, because no great power is ever satisfied with its sphere of influence. They never are.

Glasser: But you’ve seen many secretaries of state who are seduced by this idea that they’re going to have this sort of Kissingerian grand bargains and deals between great powers, arguably even your most recent secretary, John Kerry, was attracted to that vision of diplomacy.

Fried: Well, John Kerry tried to work with the Russians on Syria, and the man was honorable, because he was trying to do the right thing, and frankly, playing a very weak hand, a hand that was weak not because of him, okay. He did the best he could, but I will say this to his enormous credit: he never offered a dirty deal. You can have Ukraine if you only help us out on Syria. Never—he never did that.

Glasser: And when you say he was playing a weak hand, that was because you believe that President Obama had constrained him by making so clear that he was not willing to consider other options in Syria.

Fried: I remember in the—that week in which it looked like we were preparing military action in concert with some of our European allies, John Kerry made not one but two speeches in favor of it. It was pretty clear, and those were compelling speeches; that was powerful stuff. And I think he was right, and the fact that we changed our mind meant that his diplomacy was a lot weaker.

Diplomacy is not merely talking somebody into something; it’s talking to somebody from a position of strength. You put your power on the table to open up the conversation; that’s diplomacy.
Diplomacy is not merely talking somebody into something; it’s talking to somebody from a position of strength. You put your power on the table to open up the conversation; that’s diplomacy. That’s when you can have a productive discussion. Secretary Kerry did the best he could, and his stamina and determination was probably responsible for getting us the Iran deal, which I think is certainly in the national interest, and a good achievement. So, I admire and respect what Kerry was doing. No, I don’t think he’s guilty of that kind of sphere of influence grand bargain thinking. It’s usually attributed to Kissinger, but Kissinger was working in a different era. He was working to manage a Cold War that people thought would go on forever.

Glasser: So, one name that hasn’t come up at all, is Hillary Clinton. A lot of people think that she was more hawkish, quote-unquote, on Russia than Barack Obama, and that there would have been a different policy towards Russia, had she come into office. The Russians certainly are more critical of her. What was your view of Hillary Clinton, just as a boss, and then also, on Russia?

Fried: She was a wonderful boss. She was a wonderful boss. I’ll tell you a story. I had the job—in fact, she gave me the job of being the special envoy for trying to close Guantanamo.

Glasser: Yes, you know, that doesn’t seem like such a prime job, Dan.

Fried: Yes, it’s not a great job. But I will say this for her: she knew when she hired me that I would push hard, that I wasn’t going to go through the motions. By God, I would bear down on it, and I pushed, and when I pushed, she backed me all the way, and I am grateful to this day. She didn’t have to do that.

There are lots of secretaries who send off special envoys and yes, say, “Do a great job,” and that’s fine until it costs you something. And then they cut you off. Never—she never did that. She backed me all the way.

Glasser: Were you aware at the time that this was pretty much of a hopeless cause?

Fried: She was aware of it. The trouble is, in foreign policy, you have to mean it. You can’t go through the motions. Don’t start something if you’re not serious. As Napoleon said, “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” If you set out to close Gitmo, close Gitmo, which means, you’re going to have to stare down the opposition. She was willing to do so.

But it became clear that the new Obama administration had miscalculated the politics; they thought that because the Bush administration wanted to close Gitmo, which it did, by the way, and because John McCain wanted to close Gitmo, that there was a bipartisan consensus. Well, wrong. That fell afoul of politics. And they hesitated. Now, there’s more of a story to that.

There were some people in the Obama White House, like Greg Craig, who were determined to do it, and other people let us say less determined. And in the end, we were—we did not stare down the opposition, and some of the Republicans smelled weakness. But she backed me all the way, which says something about her, and it was—there was no political profit whatsoever for her to do that. It sometimes—she’s sometimes accused of being calculating. There was no profit whatsoever in her support for my efforts to close Gitmo, and yet she backed me up 100 percent, all the way.

I’m one of the many people who has said that the Hillary Clinton we know in private was effective, strong, courageous, and funny. And the campaigner we saw was less so, more scripted. Many people have made that observation, and it was my observation, too, but I’m grateful for what she did. She didn’t have to do that.

Glasser: So, what about her, quickly, on Russia?

Fried: Well, I was there when she gave the misspelled reset button to Lavrov. It was worth a try. I think she was properly careful not to cross any lines, and I do think she was on the more hawkish side. I think that she has an appreciation that American power needs to be put in the service of American values, which is an American tradition and a pretty good one, and I think she was willing to do that.

The Russians—it’s said that Putin can’t stand her. I don’t know that for a fact, but it certainly looks that way, but I think her approach to Russia stands up pretty well.

Glasser: So, in many ways, we’ve talked a lot about Russia, but I think it’s striking to me that in your goodbye speech, you ended it by coming back to America, and your conclusions about what kind of a country we are, and you said—and I’ll read this. “America’s grand strategy did not come from nowhere. It followed from our deeper conception of ourselves, and our American identity. Who are we, Americans? What is our nation? We are not an ethnostate with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”

Who are we, Americans? What is our nation? We are not an ethnostate with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”
Fried: Yeah. Isn’t it odd that simply channeling Lincoln’s political thought is regarded as some sort of a statement, but there we are. And Lincoln is quoted more often than he’s understood, and he understood that the founding principle of our nation is, in fact, the Declaration of Independence. We are a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That’s what makes us Americans.

When we sign onto that belief, we sign onto the core American identity, and that’s very deep in us. That makes us who we are, and it means that we are not an ethnostate. We are not rooted in blood and soil. The Civil War was fought, in a sense, over whether that sentence—all men are created equal—is to be taken literally. And the southerners in the 1850s argued that it was not.

And I thought it’s important—I thought it was important to remind people of that, because our grand strategy doesn’t come from nowhere; it comes from that conception of ourselves. We have a deep sense of American equality and opportunity, and that informs the way in which we brought our American power to the world, because we thought that other nations were entitled to that same opportunity in a rules-based system.

Now, George Kennan, who is basically a realist as well as one of the great American diplomats of all time, called it our moralistic, legalistic tradition, and he didn’t have much use for it. But I disagree; I think that’s our glory.

Glasser: A lot of people thought George Kennan was a greater analyst of the Soviet Union than of the United States.

Fried: George Kennan was dead right when he analyzed the Soviet Union and punctured the liberal illusions we had about them. He was dead right, and the containment policy that he articulated, but that Acheson and Truman and Marshall put into effect, was the grand strategy that wins the Cold War two generations later, absolutely brilliant. That is George Kennan’s great contribution. He nailed it. But in terms of understanding our country, Lincoln was—Lincoln understood who we are, and then Lincoln redefines the way we think about ourselves, so much so that we assume that that’s who we are.No, we think of ourselves that way because Lincoln taught us to think that way, and I wanted to make that point. We are not a white man’s republic.

Glasser: Dan, you came to serve your country 40 years ago in the midst of the Cold War. You leave it with the Cold War having been over for 25 years, but America as or more divided politically than at any time since you’ve been serving the country. We are grateful, all of us, to you, and for sharing this time with us, and I hope that all of you listeners out there will not only thank Dan, but keep listening to The Global POLITICO, and subscribe to our podcast. I hope you’ll rate us, and please, any time, send me an email at sglasser@politico.com, giving us feedback, ideas for guests, or just telling us what you thought of the episode. Thanks again.

Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.

 

Trump Takes on The Blob

By Susan B. Glasser

Was there any soul-searching to be done, I asked Fried, about why the West was confused for so long about Putin, despite his years of cracking down on domestic opposition, reconsolidating power in the Kremlin and making increasingly muscular demands on independent neighbors he still sees as part of Russia’s rightful sphere of influence?

“What would you have had us do?” Fried responded. “Not enlarge NATO and the European Union? Well, in that case, we’d be dealing not with the People’s Republic of Luhansk” in embattled eastern Ukraine, “but quite possibly the People’s Republic of Narva in Estonia. The Russians were going to come back.”

Still, Fried like other Russia experts in the United States in recent years, believes that much of Putin’s motivation has been to shore up his own support at home – both by demonizing the West and by making sure he is not vulnerable to the fate of other leaders in the region who have been toppled by what Putin considers to be U.S.-funded revolutions.

“If we made a mistake of judgment,” Fried said, “it was that we didn’t fully understand Putin’s reaction to the Color Revolutions” in former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Georgia. “We knew we hadn’t [made those revolutions], and we dismissed it,” Fried said, “but I think we should have understood that Putin took this seriously.”

Susan Glasser is POLITICO’s chief international affairs columnist and host of its new weekly podcast, The Global Politico.

 

FP     Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him

Max Boot, Foreign Policy Magazine, March 6, 2017

It didn’t last long.

Immediately before and after his well-received speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, President Trump curtailed his use of Twitter. “For precisely four days, eight hours and five minutes, Trump refrained from tweeting anything inflammatory,” the Washington Post noted. “That’s 6,245 consecutive minutes!”

That self-restraint began to break down on the evening of March 2, just two days after his big speech, when Trump accused Democrats of having “lost their grip on reality” and engaging in a “total ‘which hunt.’” Just before 1 p.m. the next day, he tweeted a picture of Vladimir Putin and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) having coffee and donuts, lifted directly from the Drudge Report, accompanied by the mock demand for “an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!” Then a few hours later came a picture of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2010 underneath the caption: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” (It took the president with the “very good brain” three tries to spell “hereby” correctly, having first tried “hear by” and “hearby.”)

The presumption behind those tweets was that there was some kind of ethical or legal equivalence between the public meetings that Democratic lawmakers held with Russian leaders and the lies — in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s case under oath — that Trump aides told about their own private meetings with Russian representatives while Putin was intervening in the presidential election to help Trump. This notion can only be credible to the most purblind Trump partisans — the same people who would take seriously Trump’s even more sensational allegations, soon to come.

At 6:35 a.m. on Saturday, March 4, the president of the United States tweeted from his weekend getaway, Mar-a-Lago: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” A few minutes later: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” Followed by: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” (“Tapp”? “Hearby”? Doesn’t Trump’s phone have a spell-checker?)

Having supposedly uncovered a scandal comparable to Watergate, what did the president do next? He took a respite from Twitter for more than an hour, until 8:19 a.m., when he sent out an insult against the actor who replaced him on The Celebrity Apprentice: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.” (So much for Trump’s premature claim to Congress on Tuesday night that the “time for trivial fights is behind us.”) And then he headed out for a nice round of golf.

It was left to Trump’s aides, the news media, and members of Congress to answer the “Huh??? What???” questions. Had Trump actually gotten his hands on classified information that the FBI had wiretapped him during the Obama administration? There are only two ways this could have occurred: Either the FBI had presented a court with evidence that Trump was engaged in criminal activity or was an agent of a foreign power, or Obama had ordered an illegal wiretap. Either conclusion would be scandalous. But after a frantic weekend of fact-checking, no evidence whatsoever was presented by the White House to support Trump’s allegations, which were denied by everyone from Obama’s spokesman to James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, and FBI Director James Comey.

It’s possible that Trump aides were wiretapped as part of a broader FBI probe into the connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin or were simply recorded, as had been the case with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, during the routine monitoring of Russian officials. But there is no reason to think that Trump himself had been a target of the wiretapping, nor that Obama interfered in the lawful workings of the FBI. It appears that Trump had gotten his information not from a top-secret briefing but from a Breitbart article long on innuendo and short on verifiable facts.

One would be tempted to say that the president’s reliance on “alternative facts” to smear his predecessor is the real scandal here were it not for the fact that an actual, honest-to-goodness scandal — one that may conceivably rival Watergate — is at the bottom of this ruckus. Why, after all, did Trump have a midweek meltdown that dashed pundits’ hopes that he would act in more sober fashion? The answer is as obvious as it is significant: On the evening of March 1, the day after his lauded speech, major new revelations emerged about the mysterious links between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.

The New York Times was first out of the gate that evening with a story reporting: “American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”

The Times story would have been big news were it not almost immediately overshadowed by a Washington Post article with an even more alarming finding: “Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.”

Smaller but still significant revelations followed the next day. The Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump Jr. “was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.” (What could Trump Jr. say that would possibly be worth $50,000?) J.D. Gordon, Trump’s national security advisor during the campaign, admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had directly intervened at Trump’s instigation to remove the language in the 2016 Republican platform which had called on the United States to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. And campaign advisor Carter Page admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had met with the Russian ambassador at the Republican National Convention. It is hard to imagine why so many people would lie if they didn’t have something pretty significant to cover up.

Out of all of these revelations it was the news about Sessions — which may open him to perjury charges — that was the most significant. In response to the Post report, the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Kremlingate inquiry, much to the fury of President Trump, who was not consulted about this decision. This is what led to Trump’s wild-eyed rants on Twitter, designed to distract from the real scandal and to convince his more credulous followers that he is the victim of a plot by his predecessor.

But why would Sessions’ recusal make Trump so unhinged? The president must have felt relatively confident that the “Kremlingate” probe would go nowhere as long as it was in the hands of Trump partisans such as Sessions, Rep. Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But with Sessions out of the picture, the way is now clear for the deputy attorney general — either the current placeholder, career Justice Department attorney Dana Boente, or Trump’s nominee to replace him, Rod Rosenstein, another career government lawyer — to appoint a special counsel because of the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding this case.

A special counsel would not have the same degree of autonomy as the independent counsels who in the post-Watergate era probed executive-branch misconduct until the law authorizing such appointments expired in 1999. Independent counsels were appointed by, and answerable to, a three-judge panel; special counsels can be appointed, and fired, by the Justice Department. But a special counsel would be expected to investigate much more aggressively than the White House would like, and firing a special counsel would only aggravate the scandal. In addition to a special counsel, Congress could and should appoint a joint select committee to look into Kremlingate and issue a public report, but a special counsel would be likely to conduct a more professional investigation and, unlike lawmakers, would possess the power to indict, which may help loosen the tongues of suspects.

There is a good reason why Trump and his partisans are so apoplectic about the prospect of a special counsel, and it is precisely why it is imperative to appoint one: because otherwise we will never know the full story of the Kremlin’s tampering with our elections and of the Kremlin’s connections with the president of the United States. As evidenced by his desperate attempts to change the subject, Trump appears petrified of what such a probe would reveal. Wonder why?

 

The Atlantic

President Trump’s Untruths Are Piling Up

Conor Friedersdorf  March 3, 2017

The need for Congress to figure out why he and his team keep misleading the public about Russia grows more urgent by the day, even if they are ultimately exonerated.

Let’s be clear from the start: There is no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign coordinated with Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee’s emails or funnel them to Wikileaks; no evidence that they are puppets of Vladimir Putin; and no proof that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president.

There are suspicions voiced by members of Congress, leaked by parts of the intelligence committee, held by journalists at respected publications who are investing lots of time and money chasing down leads, and of concern to millions of Americans.

And that status quo is unhealthy for American democracy.

I would welcome proof that Trump is innocent of any wrongdoing in this matter, because the alternative is a compromised president, the possibility of a constitutional crisis, and consequences that are hard to predict.

If he is guilty of anything I want the truth to out.

Either way, the major obstacle is Trump’s untrustworthiness. He is a frequently mendacious man, and many of his associates possess the same deficiency in character. I do not know if the many untruths Trump and his team have uttered on this subject are making them appear guiltier than they are or obscuring a shocking reality.

But the contradictions cannot be ignored.

A couple weeks ago, Trump gave a lengthy, combative press conference where he was asked, “Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?”

He said no, aside from Mike Flynn, who ostensibly resigned from the Trump administration for misleading Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Then Trump went much farther.

Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me a few days ago. We had a very good talk, especially the second one … I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine.

Even two weeks ago,  Trump’s claims were highly dubious.

Now consider what we have learned in the last 24 hours.

“Three weeks before Election Day, Donald Trump Jr. left the campaign trail and the country to speak at a private dinner in Paris organized by an obscure pro-Russia group that promotes Kremlin foreign policy initiatives and has since nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize,” ABC reported.

Then CNN reported that J.D. Gordon, a former national security adviser to Trump, attended an event with the Russian ambassador at the GOP convention. Trump national-security advisers Carter Page and Walid Phares were there, too. And Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn met with Russia’s ambassador at Trump Tower in December.

One can imagine non-nefarious explanations for all of these meetings. USA Today’s writeup of the Cleveland RNC event makes it sound especially innocuous.

But they inevitably create suspicion when they directly contradict bygone untruths told by the president and his team; follow Manafort and Flynn resigning over matters related to Russia; concern a president who will not release his tax returns; and dovetail with a dossier that alleges alarming ties between Trump and the Kremlin.

Look again at Trump’s words from his press conference: “I have nothing to do with Russia,” the president said. “To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.”

That is bullshit. Among many other things, Russia’s ambassador clearly made a concerted effort to interact with many on the Trump team and succeeded spectacularly.

Nor do the contradictions end there.

On CNN, Jim Acosta reported more about his phone conversation with J.D. Gordon.

“Gordon said he was part of the effort pushed by the Trump campaign to put some language in the GOP platform that essentially said that the Republican Party did not advocate for arming the Ukrainians in their battle against pro-Russian separatists,” Acosta related. “He said that his is the language that Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March at a meeting at the unfinished Trump hotel here in Washington D.C. J.D. Gordon says then-candidate Trump said he did not want to ‘go to World War III over Ukraine,’ and J.D. Gordon says at the Republican convention in Cleveland he advocated for language in that Republican Party platform that reflected then-candidate Trump’s comment.”

In my view, there was nothing substantively wrong with softening the language in the Republican Party platform. I find establishment Republicans and hawkish Democrats like Hillary Clinton terrifying when they seem eager for conflict with Russia.

But Team Trump’s behavior surrounding the change was very odd.

After The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign orchestrated the change in the GOP platform, the Trump campaign denied any involvement. Paul Manafort went on Meet the Press, where he could not have been any clearer about the matter:

Chuck Todd: There’s been some controversy about something in the Republican Party platform that essentially changed the Republican Party’s views when it comes to Ukraine. How much influence did you have in changing that language, sir?

Paul Manafort: I had none. In fact, I didn’t even hear of it until after our convention was over.

Todd: Where did it comes from then? Because everybody on the platform committee had said it came from the Trump campaign. If not you, who?

Manafort: It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign. And I don’t know who everybody is, but I guarantee you it was nobody that was on the platform committee–

Todd: So nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?

Manafort: No one, zero.

That seemed even more unlikely later that month when Trump gave an interview to George Stephanopolous:

George Stephanopolous: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

Donald Trump: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

Stephanopolous: Your people were.

Trump: Yeah. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

Stephanopolous: Do you know what they did?

Trump: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

Stephanopolous: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves. Why is that a good idea?

Trump: Look, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

Stephanopolous: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

Trump: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.

Trump appeared to acknowledge that his team pressed for the change. And days later, The Daily Beast quoted four sources in the room who confirmed the campaign’s involvement. Eric Brakey, a Maine delegate who favored the change, told the web site, “Some staff from the Trump campaign came in and … came back with some language that softened the platform. They didn’t intervene in the platform in most cases. But in that case they had some wisdom to say that maybe we don’t want to be calling … for very, very clear aggressive acts of war against Russia.”

That’s where the matter rested … until Thursday, when CNN’s Jim Acosta filed his standup dispatch in front of the White House suggesting that Trump was, at the very least, involved in the matter directly, and more deeply than he led us to believe.

Gordon’s story doesn’t reveal any nefarious plot, or even any surprising view. Trump was constantly touting his desire to get along with Russia and avoid World War III. He repeatedly said things about Russia and Putin on the campaign trail that were far more controversial and eyebrow-raising then a desire to soften platform language. So why did Team Trump strain itself to obscure its involvement?

For months I’ve urged Congress to assert itself more on this matter.

As the weeks pass, the press continues to uncover contradictions, and Team Trump’s demonstrable untruths pile up, making it impossible for the public to trust their president when he denies inappropriate contacts with a foreign adversary because they can’t trust anything he says, the need to get to the bottom of whatever they are hiding only grows more urgent—whether to exonerate a president who creates the appearance of serious impropriety with every absurdity he utters about Russia, or to uncover whatever nefarious truth he is contorting himself to hide.

 

Top Trump Advisor Reveals HORRIFIC Plan On Live Television, Constitutional Experts Are Disgusted

Allan Davis, 3 weeks ago

People are waking up, and Americans are really showing that we do indeed have the capacity to protest on a large scale! There has even been a viral post making the rounds on the internet about the best and most effective ways to resist Trump and create a meaningful opposition that will surely be triumphant.

And in some ways, it’s almost as though Trump himself is helping out the protests…because the absurd things he is doing are turning even more people away from him, even some that initially supported him! No one likes totalitarianism, after all. And now Stephen Miller, one of President Trump’s top advisers, told a national TV audience on Sunday that his boss’s power is absolute.

In an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, Miller argued to host John Dickerson that the federal court overturning Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries and halting the refugee resettlement program was unfair and should be reversed. To make his point, Miller made an unusually despotic claim:

“[O]ur opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial, and will not be questioned,” Miller said. Um, yeah, that is incredibly disconcerting and not at all something that should be tolerated.

This is terrifying, and there’s never been a more important time to stand up to fight and defend your country. If you are ready to join the opposition but aren’t quite sure how to get involved, take this grassroots call to action today!

 

Daily Kos

Garrison Keillor

Author and beloved radio producer/personality of Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor has been on a social media roll for months. He seems to have the right words when describing and destroying Donald Trump relaying his prose with a twist of humor — and a whole lot of truth.

Below are some excerpted highlights from two of his op-eds in The Denver Post. The first titled, What Mark Twain Killed, Donald Trump has revived. Keillor starts off with “The Constitution does not allow 13-year-olds to become president and after last week we can see why.” and in most of his pieces he addresses Trump as “the Boy President.” Keillor writes about how Trump “proudly holding his latest executive order up for the cameras, to show that he knows right-side-up from upside-down.” (The image Keillor is referring to has been mocked countless times showing the words of the EO saying things a elementary child would write and phrases like “I don’t know what I’m doing” — or really anything that makes Trump look like the ass he is.)

Garrison Keillor brings up Trump hanging up on Australia’s prime minister, his clueless and callous reference to Frederick Douglass, and the ‘so-called judge’ who interrupted his travel ban. Keillor says:

“You think, let the man be president but please don’t put him in charge of the Weather Service or Amtrak or the TSA.”

In response to Trump’s tribute to the Navy Seal Ryan Owens last month (before his March Joint Session speech to Congress), Keillor writes:

“His homage to the Navy SEAL killed in the botched raid in Yemen showed off his style. He has only one, the Jerry Lewis Telethon style: ‘Very, very sad, but very, very beautiful. Very, very beautiful. His family was there. Incredible family, loved him so much. So devastated — he was so devastated. But the ceremony was amazing.’ Bill Murray destroyed this style, so did Ray of Bob & Ray, Ring Lardner, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain and every satirist who ever lived, and here it is, still walking around, and it will be the voice of our government for years to come.”

With snark and disgust, Keillor mocks the pieties in Trump’s administration. Keillor writes:

“Every elected official must now wear a flag pin; more and more public meetings now begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, grown people whose allegiance used to be assumed now required to stand and salute the flag, like obedient grade-school pupils. Why not recite the multiplication tables and the parts of speech? And then there is the official prayer breakfast, which shows the reason for separation of church and state: because politicians corrupt the church. Jesus was rough on those who pray for show, but there was the Boy President complimenting the Senate chaplain for his fine prayer, as if it were a performance.”

Keillor brings up how Trump cites his agent and his TV show and how 45 said “as long as we have God, we are never alone” adding he supposed grew up in a “churched home.” Keillor seemed entertained when Trump said “We each have a soul.” Keillor writes:

“I’d like to believe that he does have one and that we just haven’t seen it yet. I would’ve been moved if he had said a prayer at the prayer breakfast. A classic Christian prayer, such as “Lord God, You know that I am unworthy to be here as president. You know that I have lied and worked hard to incite fear and intolerance and to capitalize on it politically. I have seduced your believers and made myself their Great White Hope, even though I am not one of them and never was. You know that I am not capable of executing my duties as the American people deserve. Lord, I come to You in my unworthiness and shame and I ask You to take this cup from me.”

Trump didn’t use those words, says Keillor sarcastically, but “there will be more opportunities.” (Let’s hope not too many more.) In his second op-ed by Garrison Keillor titled, Donald Trump’s tremendous Sermon on the Mount, Garrison Keillor decides to write a mock “Sermon on the Mount” as if he himself were Jesus (as he’s been described by some of his supporters — or second to Jesus).

‘Religious Trump’ begins:

The Lord is my shepherd. OK? Totally. Big league. He is a tremendous shepherd. The best. No comparison. I know more than most people about herding sheep. And that’s why I won the election in a landslide and it’s why my company is doing very well. Because He said, “I’m with you, Donald. You will never want.

It gets worse and funnier.

’Religious Trump’ says:

So He was saying to me, Blessed are the deal-makers for theirs is the kingdom. Big time. Blessed are they who scorn: for they shall be comfortable. Blessed is machismo for it wins again and again. Blessed are they who are persecuted by the dishonest press for they shall continue down the paths of righteousness and that’s what is going on here. We are bringing righteousness to Washington for the first time and making incredible progress. I’ve done more in the past month than most presidents do in a year. Washington was without form and void and I issued an executive order, “Let there be light” and did I get credit for it? No, the dishonest press said, “It hurts our eyes.”

Even on Trump’s Sermon on the Mount, he attacks the media.

‘Religious Trump’ says:

I tell you, I have been walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death. I have to say that. Terrible. Because of the dishonest Midianites, or, as I call them, the media, including a lot of you here in this room, writing stories about chaos. Where’s the chaos? We’ve got light and darkness, day and night. There is no chaos. I know what’s true and the level of dishonesty is unbelievable. The story about the rich man in hell and the beggar Lazarus in heaven — fake news. Totally fake. … I am not a bad person. You don’t get to 306 electoral votes by being a bad person.

Keillor mocks Trump’s insecurities we see every day.

‘Religious Trump’ says:

I inherited a mess, the instability, divisiveness, darkness, iniquity, leprosy, madmen, but nonetheless the Lord has prepared a tremendous table before me in the presence of my enemies. Beautiful table. Steaks, seafood, tremendous wines, anything I want, …  but the media is still bitter about Hillary losing in a landslide and the Lord anointing my head with oil which people make fun of and that’s OK, let them laugh at my hair, I got 306 Electoral College votes. They said there’s no way to get 222. No way, Jose. I got 306. That’s what I call the cup running over. Filled the cup and then it ran over. The overflow was tremendous. Huge overflow. Biggest overflow ever. Fantastic. Through the ceiling.

Keillor ends his second piece with Trump saying. “So it looks like I am going to be dwelling in the house of the Lord forever and I’m having a good time. I love this. I am having fun.” These are just samples of Garrison Keillor’s two op-eds. To take a look at them in full (encouraged) or others your can visit The Denver Post.

It’s hard to stomach Donald Trump, a man of such chest-beating, pompous evil, but Garrison Keillor helps get us through. Many of us need, at minimum, a daily dose of humor to keep our simmering internal pressure cookers from blowing our tops. In reading his words, Keillor helped me make it through one more day. Cheers to Mr. Keillor for continuously calling out a madman.

 

Who Will Save Us From The Conspiracy Theorist In Chief?

Gene Lyons,  March 8, 2017

You know, along with having the impulse control of a seven year-old boy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald J. Trump just ain’t real smart. He’s a cunning self-promoter, but dim. He did manage to go bankrupt in the casino business, you know. That’s really hard to do.

Trump showed losses of close to a billion dollars operating his grandiose gambling dens in Atlantic City. In the process, he stiffed investors and contractors alike, right down to the guys who installed the toilets and slot machines. Around the same time, Trump Air — his personal airline — also went bust. U.S. banks basically quit lending him money.

So he turned to the Russians.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Trump eventually made good playing a tycoon on a scripted “reality program,” dabbling in professional wrestling on the side. If he hadn’t inherited a fortune, odds are he’d have ended up a sideshow barker luring hayseeds to see the bearded lady. Instead, with a little help from Vladimir Putin they made him president of the United States.

Anyway, let’s keep it real simple. A smart person, if he wanted to accuse his predecessor as president of the United States of a serious felony — such as an illegal wiretap against Trump himself, which would constitute the worst crime against American democracy since 1860 — that person would assemble an airtight case before opening his mouth. Only an impulsive fool would blurt out such an incendiary charge with no evidence whatsoever.

A man not fit to lead the Mayberry PD, much less the USA.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You think that Obama, that two-faced Muslim pretender, maybe did it. Fine, then show me the proof. Not some desperate rationalization cooked up to convince yourself Trump’s playing with a full deck. Face it, he’s not.

Meanwhile, ever wonder what it must be like for the White House flaks — Spicer, Conway, Sanders — tasked with explaining away Trump’s overnight Twitter-storms? Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago:

 

The whole country is learning how exhausting it can be to live with a seriously mentally ill person: the constant feeling of apprehension and unease over what kind of manipulative, delusional nonsense is coming next. The uncertainty about how to react…Will calling the police make things better, or worse? Is it too early to seek an order of commitment? Or too late?

My fellow Americans, we’re there.

So am I saying Trump’s mentally ill? Not in the sense of having a treatable brain disease, no. Nor am I a psychiatrist, although I spent years writing a book (Widow’s Web) about a couple of characters like Trump, one a politician who eventually sabotaged himself by making wild allegations he could never prove.

Most professionals who have weighed in on Trump’s mental health mention Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic’s website says about it:

If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful, or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having ‘the best’ of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club, or medical care.

At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.

So did you read about President Trump screaming and cursing at White House aides last week before flying off to his Florida castle to launch a bizarre Twitter-storm against Obama? Or as the inimitable Charles P. Pierce put it, “Ensconced in Camp Runamuck, the president is a voracious consumer of angry paranoid junk food. We are all now living in Talk Radio Hell.”

So now what? Writing in Columbia Journalism Review, Lee Siegel put it this way:

We don’t need to be told by a doctor that the guy who is coughing and sneezing at the other end of the train car is probably sick…All we know is that the safe thing to do is to stay away from him.

When someone is compulsively lying, continuously contradicting himself, imploring the approval of people even as he is attacking them, exalting people one day and abusing and vilifying them the next, then the question of his mental state is moot. The safe thing to do is not just to stay away from him, but to keep him away from situations where he can do harm.

Barring some unpredictable (if quite likely) disaster, it’s basically up to the Republicans, who have it in their power to keep the presidency while saving the nation from Trump.

I am not holding my breath.

 

Heavy

Christopher Steele: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Tom Cleary January 11, 2017

The former British spy who wrote the unverified report on President-Elect Donald Trump’s alleged activities and connections in Russia has been identified as Christopher Steele, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Sources told the Wall Street Journal, that Steele, 52, wrote the dossier, which includes accusations that Russian officials have blackmail on Trump, and that his campaign staff maintained close ties with Russian connections during the election.

Steele, a former intelligence officer who was based in Russia in the 1990s, now runs an intelligence firm in London.

Trump has denied the allegations and said the information in the report is fake. Russia has also said the information in the report is not true and is a “hoax.”

“It’s all fake news,” Trump said at a Wednesday press conference. “It’s all phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

At a press conference, Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said, “The Kremlin has no compromising dossier on Trump, such information isn’t consistent with reality and is nothing but an absolute fantasy,” the New York Times reports.

The full report was published Tuesday by Buzzfeed News, after it was reported on by CNN, which said Trump and President Barack Obama had been briefed on a synopsis of the document. Another report, by NBC News, disputes that Trump was briefed about the synopsis. NBC reports that U.S. intelligence leaders were prepared to brief Trump on the synopsis, but did do so.

The 35-page document had been circulating among Washington D.C. insiders for several months, dating back to before the election. Its release came 10 days before Trump’s inauguration.

The document, made up of memos apparently written by Steele from June to December 2016, contains many spelling errors and other mistakes, and some of the information has already been proven to be untrue.

Here’s what you need to know about Steele and the report:

1. Steele Runs a London-Based Intelligence Firm & His Partner Would Not Confirm or Deny That They Were Behind the Report

 

Chris Steele, of Surrey, runs a London-based intelligence firm called Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd.,  The company was founded in 2009.

His business partner, Christopher Burrows, would not “confirm or deny” Orbis produced the Trump dossier when contacted by the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper reports.

Orbis, “a leading corporate intelligence consultancy that provides senior decision–makers with strategic insight, intelligence and investigative services. We then work with clients to develop and implement strategies which protect their interests worldwide,” Christopher Burrows is Christopher Steele’s business partner and co-founder of Orbis.

According to the Journal, Steele’s neighbor told a reporter Steele would be away for a few days. The newspaper reports that Steele has declined “repeated requests for interviews” because the subject is “too hot.”

Steele’s London-based company provides corporate intelligence, along with investigations and insight, according to its website:

The team now draws on extensive experience at boardroom level in government, multilateral diplomacy and international business to develop bespoke solutions for clients.

Our tailored approach means the Directors are closely involved in the execution and detail of every project, supported by an in–house team of experienced investigators and professional intelligence analysts.

Our global network of senior associates is made up of regional, industry and academic experts, as well as prominent business figures. We call upon their expertise and closed network of contacts to help our clients frame business decisions, protect our clients’ reputations, and problem–solve for companies facing complex issues worldwide.

Ethical business practice is a fundamental value for the Orbis Business Intelligence team. Our documented procedures, developed in conjunction with external legal counsel, ensure compliance with relevant UK, US and EU legislation.

Burrows, 58, told the Journal that the company’s “the objective is to respond to the requirements set out by our clients. We have no political ax to grind.”

Speaking generally about corporate intelligence, he said when a client asks Orbis to investigate something they “see what’s out there,” and later do a “stress test” of their findings against other evidence, according to the Journal.

 

  1. He Was Stationed in Russia for Several Years & Has a ‘Good Reputation’ in the Intelligence World

Steele in British intelligence and was stationed in Russia for several years, the Wall Street Journal reports.

John Sipher, who retired from the CIA in 2014, told the Wall Street Journal that Steele has a “good reputation” in the intelligence world. Sipher specialized in Russia and counterintelligence while in the CIA, the Journal reports.

Steele’s Linkedin profile does not provide details of his career prior to working for Orbis Business Intelligence, but CNN reported the author of the report is a former MI6 agent who worked in Russia in the 1990s and is considered to be credible.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Intelligence officers often use diplomatic postings as cover for their espionage activities.”

He is named on a diplomatic service list published by the British government as being posted at its Moscow embassy in 1990 with the title “Second Secretary (Chancery),” Forbes reports.  

It does not say how long Steele was stationed in Moscow, but he is also listed as having been a “First Secretary” with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2003, and as “First Secretary (Financial)” at the British embassy in Paris in 1998, according to Forbes.

Steele is also listed as a “former intelligence officer” as a speaker at a black tie gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of MI6, according to Forbes.

Forbes reports that Steele is also a director of Walsingham Training, a company that according to its website provides “understanding and mitigating the cyber and physical risk posed by hostile states, criminals and companies,” in “how to gain traction in complex markets like Russia” and “how to recognize misinformation.”

The Guardian describes Steele as “a retired western European former counter-intelligence official, with a long history of dealing with the shadow world of Moscow’s spooks and siloviki (securocrats).” But the newspaper did not name him in its report on the dossier.

One of Steele’s first assignments in the private sector was helping the FBI bring down corruption in FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, Reuters reports.

U.S. officials told Reuters they gave credence to his memos on Trump because of his work with the FBI in the FIFA case.

Emails seen by Reuters indicate that, in the summer of 2010, members of a New York-based FBI squad assigned to investigate “Eurasian Organized Crime” met Steele in London to discuss allegations of possible corruption in FIFA, the Swiss-based body that also organizes the World Cup tournament.

People familiar with Steele’s activities said his British-based company, Orbis Business Intelligence, was hired by the Football Association, Britain’s domestic soccer governing body, to investigate FIFA. At the time, the Football Association was hoping to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. British corporate records show that Orbis was formed in March 2009.

According to Reuters, Steele was looking into corruption allegations surrounding the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Moscow and the 2022 competition to Qatar. Steele met with FBI investigators leading to a major investigation that led to dozens of indictments in the United States, including several prominent soccer officials, and the eventual resignation of FIFA’s longtime president Sepp Blatter.

Chris Burrows, the co-founder of Orbis, worked as a first secretary with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1990 to 1999 and as a counsellor with the same office from 2000 to 2009.

3. Steele Left His Cat With a Neighbor & Went Underground, Fearing ‘Potentially Dangerous Backlash’ From Russia

The Telegraph reports that that Steele went underground prior to his name was released, fearing “potentially dangerous backlash,” from Russia.

He left his cat with a neighbor and said he would be gone “for a few days,” disappearing on Tuesday after realizing his name would be released, according to The Telegraph.

A source told The Telegraph that Steele was “horrified” when he learned his nationality had been published in the CNN report and is “terrified for his and his family’s safety.”

He is married and has children. They were also not at his home Wednesday, according to The Telegraph.

“He asked me to look after his cat as he would be gone for a few days,” his neighbor told The Telegraph. “I’m not sure where he’s gone or how to contact him. I don’t really know much about him except to say hello. We’re all pretty secretive round here to be honest. All I know is he runs some sort of consultancy business.”

After Christopher Steele’s name was published Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal, the British media received a “D-Notice,” from Andrew Vallance, the Air Vice-Marshal of the Defence and Security Media Secretariat, according to the Register.

A “D-Notice,” essentially a gag order, is a “peculiarly British arrangement, a sort of not quite public yet not quite secret arrangement between government and media in order to ensure that journalists do not endanger national security,” according to The Guardian.  

The notice relating to Steele says that “in view of media stories alleging that a former SIS officer was the source of the information which allegedly compromises President-Elect Donald Trump, would you and your journalists please seek me for advice before making public that name. Irrespective of whether or not the stories are true, the public disclosure of that name would put the personal security of that individual directly at risk.”

At least one British-based news organization, The Telegraph, appears to have deleted its story on Steele, while another, the Financial Times, does name the former spy in its report.

But the notice was later lifted and British outlets have published Steele’s name.

According to The Mirror, Steele worked with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was fatally poisoned with polonium-210 in 2006 in London. Litvinenko was a former FSB agent who fled from Russia after criticizing Vladimir Putin.

A source told The Mirror that emergency measures were taken to secure Steele after he was named:

Once his name came out the view was that he could be under threat so steps are being taken to protect him and put him in a more secure environment. The safest place for him is in Britain but it’s highly probable that MI6 will want to distance themselves from this as it was done commercially. He will likely plug into a well-established network of contacts and disappear for a while to a safe place or safe house with friends or contacts. Any protection will almost certainly be a police matter in terms of security but it is possible MI5 may be consulted about whether there is a threat to him here from Russia. Russia does have a history of exporting violence against people who act against its interests as we saw with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

According to The Mirror, the “D-notice” asked British newspapers and media outlets not to name Steele until after 10 p.m. on Wednesday, to allow for more time for him to be made safe. Sources told the news site that it is possible he was taken to an emergency safe house, possibly in a different country.

4. Trump Has Said the Unverified Report Was Funded by His Political Opponents & Is a ‘TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE’

Trump has claimed the document was paid for by his political opponents.

His first reaction to the report came in a tweet on Tuesday, which read “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

He took to Twitter again Wednesday morning to fire back at the report, tweeting, “Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” Very unfair!”

He then followed that with a series of tweets in which he asked, “are we living in Nazi Germany?”

CNN has reported that the report paid for first by anti-Trump Republicans during the presidential primary, and then was also funded by Democrats.

The BBC reports a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s campaign first commissioned the report from the D.C. firm FusionGPS. Steele continued working for Fusion GPS after Trump’s win, and his research was passed on to Democratic Party figures, and eventually the media.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “No presidential campaigns or super PACs reported payments to Orbis in their required Federal Election Commission filings. But several super PACs over the course of the campaign have reported that they paid limited liability companies, whose ultimate owners may be difficult or impossible to discern.”

According to The Telegraph, Orbis was hired by a Washington, D.C. firm, and Steele gave his information to them. He also passed along the information to the FBI, The Telegraph reports.

At the same time, Steele began providing the dossier to several journalists, including David Corn, of Mother Jones. Corn wrote about the report in October 2016, but did not reveal any details of the report, saying it came from an unnamed “former spook.”

The Guardian, which did not name Steele in its story, reports that the former agent grew frustrated at the lack of action taken by the FBI after he gave them the report. The Guardian also reports, however, that the FBI applied for a warrant through the FISA court to monitor members of Trump’s campaign as part of an investigation into the campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, but the application was denied.

According to The Guardian, the report was first paid for by a Republican opponent of Trump, but by the time Steele completed his investigation, the primary was over. A Democratic client of the D.C. firm that contracted Steele to investigate Trump’s Russian ties then paid for further research, according to The Guardian. It is not clear if the person who purchased the report was connected directly to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“Opposition research is frequently financed by wealthy individuals who have donated all they can and are looking for other ways to help,” according to The Guardian.

The Guardian reports that Steele collected his information from Russian sources he trusted, including those in Moscow and oligarchs living in the western part of the country.

“He delivered his reports, but the gravity of their contents weighed on him. If the allegations were real, their implications were overwhelming,” The Guardian reports, so he went to the FBI as well. He never heard back from them.

He later met with Senator John McCain after a former senior western diplomat who had seen the documents told the Arizona senator about them, according to The Guardian:

The emissary hastily arranged a transatlantic flight and met the source at the airport as arranged. (The Guardian has agreed not to specify the city or country where the meeting took place.) The meeting had a certain cold war tradecraft to it, as he was told to look for a man with a copy of the Financial Times. Having found each other, the retired counter-intelligence officer drove the emissary to his house, where they discussed the documents and their background.

The emissary flew back within 24 hours and showed McCain the documents, saying it was hard to impossible to verify them without a proper investigation. McCain said he was reluctant to get involved, lest it be perceived as payback for insulting remarks Trump had made about him during his rambunctious campaign.

McCain later gave the documents to the FBI, despite hesitation about getting involved because he had been targeted by Trump in the past.

“Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the Director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue,” the senator said in a statement to The Guardian.

 

5. The Lurid Details of Alleged Sexual Activities Involving Trump & Prostitutes at a Moscow Hotel Blew Up on Social Media

The detail getting the most attention in the report is a detailed description of alleged sexual activities involving Donald Trump and Russian prostitutes at a Moscow hotel.

The report says that while Trump as visiting Moscow in 2013, he stayed in the Ritz Carlton’s Presidential Suite, where President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had previously stayed. The report alleges that Trump wanted to defile the bed out of hatred for the Obamas, and employed “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

The report claims the hotel was under surveillance by the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, with microphones and concealed cameras. The allegation is that Russia could use that video as kompromat, or compromising information, to blackmail Trump.

That detail claimed the most attention on social media, with “golden showers” and “GoldenShowerGate” trending on Twitter.

Trump addressed “Golden Shower Gate” during his press conference Wednesday. He said when he went to Moscow, on a trip for the Miss Universe contest, he knew cameras would be watching him, and he said he tells people all the time to be careful of that.

“I told many people, be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place,” Trump said. “Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me.”

The document also contains allegations that Trump campaign staffers had close ties to Russia officials and were coordinating with them during the election.

Russia has been accused of hacking emails of Democratic officials in an effort to interfere with the election. The report claims Trump had been cultivated for years by Russia.

At least one Trump staffer named in the report, his attorney, Michael Cohen, has denied the allegations and has said he has proof information in the report was not true.

The report claimed Cohen had met with Russian officials in Prague, but Cohen said he has never been to Prague, and was on a trip with his son at the time the report says he was in the Czech Republic, visiting the University of Southern California. Reports have confirmed Cohen was at USC with his son at the time.

On Wednesday morning, CNN reported that it was actually a different Michael Cohen who went to Prague in 2016.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement Wednesday night that he does not believe the document was leaked by a member of the U.S. intelligence community, and said he spoke to Trump about the issue.

“We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC,” Clapper said. “The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”

Clapper said he told Trump, “I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.”

Trump, who earlier criticized the intelligence community, “again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the intelligence community,” Clapper said.

 

Tom Cleary is a reporter and editor for Heavy.com. Tom was a breaking news reporter at the Connecticut Post and an editor at the Register Citizen and New Haven Register.

 

IBT

Nigel Farage visits Julian Assange’s Ecuadorian embassy hideout after WikiLeaks CIA dump

Josh Robbins,  International Business Times  March 9, 2017

Former Ukip leader turned radio host Nigel Farage was photographed leaving the Ecuadorian embassy on 9 March. It is the building where Julian Assange has been holed-up since 2012.

Farage reportedly spent 40 minutes in the building and left at noon. He was said to be with Christian Mitchell, head of operations at LBC radio, the station where Farage now hosts nightly call-in shows.

Quizzed by reporters as to the nature of his visit to the West London embassy, Farage said he could not remember. When asked directly if he had been to see WikiLeaks figurehead Assange, Farage replied: “I never discuss where I go or who I see.”

There are no known ties between Farage and Assange. But Assange is regarded to have aligned himself with Donald Trump in the run-up to the US election and Farage likes to think of himself as part of the US President’s inner circle.

Trump told a campaign rally in Pennsylvania: “I love WikiLeaks!” in October 2016 after the organization released troves of documents that were damaging to Hilary Clinton’s campaign. The US accused WikiLeaks of being part of a plan – potentially with Russian state involvement- to destabilize the Clinton campaign and ensure that Trump got the keys to the White House.

On Tuesday WikiLeaks dumped a cache of files known as Vault 7, believed to be genuine CIA hacking technique manuals including details of how to remotely transform smart televisions into listening devices. Once again there are suspicions of Russian involvement in the leaks.

Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge since mid-2012 when Swedish Police announced that they wanted to question him in relation to two allegations of sexual assault.

A spokesperson for Farage confirmed to IBTimes UK that he had visited the embassy but would not give any details as to why.

Donald Trump’s Worse Deal

Adam Davidson Interview by Rachel Maddow, MSNBC

The New Yorker

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal

The President helped build a hotel in Azerbaijan that appears to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

By Adam Davidson, A Reporter At Large, March 13, 2017 issue

The Trump Tower Baku never opened. Trump partnered with an Azerbaijani family that U.S. officials called notoriously unethical. Photograph by Davide Monteleone for The New Yorker

Heydar Aliyev Prospekti, a broad avenue in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, connects the airport to the city. The road is meant to highlight Baku’s recent modernization, and it is lined with sleek new buildings. The Heydar Aliyev Center, an undulating wave of concrete and glass, was designed by Zaha Hadid. The state oil company is housed in a twisting glass tower, and the headquarters of the state water company looks like a giant water droplet. “It’s like Potemkin,” my translator told me. “It’s only the buildings right next to the road.” Behind the gleaming structures stand decaying Soviet-era apartment blocks, with clothes hanging out of windows and wallboards exposed by fallen brickwork.

As you approach the city center, a tower at the end of the avenue looms in front of you. Thirty-three stories high and curved to resemble a sail, the building was clearly inspired by the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, but it is boxier and less elegant. When I visited Baku, in December, five enormous white letters glowed at the top of the tower: T-R-U-M-P.

The building, a five-star hotel and residence called the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, has never opened, though from the road it looks ready to welcome the public. Reaching the property is surprisingly difficult; the tower stands amid a welter of on-ramps, off-ramps, and overpasses. During the nine days I was in town, I went to the site half a dozen times, and on each occasion I had a comical exchange with a taxi-driver who had no idea which combination of turns would lead to the building’s entrance.

The more time I spent in the neighborhood, the more I wondered how the hotel could have been imagined as a viable business. The development was conceived, in 2008, as a high-end apartment building. In 2012, after Donald Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, signed multiple contracts with the Azerbaijani developers behind the project, plans were made to transform the tower into an “ultra-luxury property.” According to a Trump Organization press release, a hotel with “expansive guest rooms” would occupy the first thirteen floors; higher stories would feature residences with “spectacular views of the city and Caspian Sea.” For an expensive hotel, the Trump Tower Baku is in an oddly unglamorous location: the underdeveloped eastern end of downtown, which is dominated by train tracks and is miles from the main business district, on the west side of the city. Across the street from the hotel is a discount shopping center; the area is filled with narrow, dingy shops and hookah bars. Other hotels nearby are low-budget options: at the AYF Palace, most rooms are forty-two dollars a night. There are no upscale restaurants or shops. Any guests of the Trump Tower Baku would likely feel marooned.

The timing of the project was also curious. By 2014, when the Trump Organization publicly announced that it was helping to turn the tower into a hotel, a construction boom in Baku had ended, and the occupancy rate for luxury hotels in the city hovered around thirty-five per cent. Jan deRoos, of Cornell University, who is an expert in hotel finance, told me that the developer of a five-star hotel typically must demonstrate that the project will maintain an average occupancy rate of at least sixty per cent for ten years. There is a long-term master plan to develop the area around the Trump Tower Baku, but if it is implemented the hotel will be surrounded for years by noisy construction projects, making it even less appealing to travelers desiring a luxurious experience—especially considering that there are many established hotels on the city’s seaside promenade. There, an executive from ExxonMobil or the Israeli cell-phone industry can stay at the Four Seasons, which occupies a limestone building that evokes a French colonial palace, or at the J. W. Marriott Abershon Baku, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking the water. Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, and Armani are among the dozens of companies that have boutiques along the promenade.

A former top official in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Tourism says that, when he learned of the Trump hotel project, he asked himself, “Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood.”

The Azerbaijanis behind the project were close relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister and one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful oligarchs. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt nations in the world. Its President, Ilham Aliyev, the son of the former President Heydar Aliyev, recently appointed his wife to be Vice-President. Ziya Mammadov became the Transportation Minister in 2002, around the time that the regime began receiving enormous profits from government-owned oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. At the time of the hotel deal, Mammadov, a career government official, had a salary of about twelve thousand dollars, but he was a billionaire.

The Trump Tower Baku originally had a construction budget of a hundred and ninety-five million dollars, but it went through multiple revisions, and the cost ended up being much higher. The tower was designed by a local architect, and in its original incarnation it had an ungainly roof that suggested the spikes of a crown. A London-based architecture firm, Mixity, redesigned the building, softening its edges and eliminating the ornamental roof. By the time the Trump team officially joined the project, in May, 2012, many condominium residences had already been completed; at the insistence of Trump Organization staffers, most of the building’s interior was gutted and rebuilt, and several elevators were added.

After Donald Trump became a candidate for President, in 2015, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and other publications ran articles that raised questions about his involvement in the Baku project. These reports cited a series of cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan in 2009 and 2010, which were made public by WikiLeaks. In one of the cables, a U.S. diplomat described Ziya Mammadov as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.” The Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told reporters that the Baku hotel project raised no ethical issues for Donald Trump, because his company had never engaged directly with Mammadov.

According to Garten, Trump played a passive role in the development of the property: he was “merely a licensor” who allowed his famous name to be used by a company headed by Ziya Mammadov’s son, Anar, a young entrepreneur. It’s not clear how much money Trump made from the licensing agreement, although in his limited public filings he has reported receiving $2.8 million. (The Trump Organization shared documents that showed an additional payment of two and a half million dollars, in 2012, but declined to disclose any other payments.) Trump also had signed a contract to manage the hotel once it opened, for an undisclosed fee tied to the hotel’s performance. The Washington Post published Garten’s description of the deal, and reported that Donald Trump had “invested virtually no money in the project while selling the rights to use his name and holding the contract to manage the property.”

A month after Trump was elected President, Garten announced that the Trump Organization had severed its ties with the hotel project, describing the decision to CNN as little more than “housecleaning.” I was in Baku at the time, and it had become clear that the Trump Organization’s story of the hotel was incomplete and inaccurate. Trump’s company had made the deal not just with Anar Mammadov but also with Ziya’s brother Elton—an influential member of the Azerbaijani parliament. Elton signed the contracts, and in an interview he confirmed that he founded Baku XXI Century, the company that owns the Trump Tower Baku. When he was asked who owns Baku XXI Century, he called it a “commercial secret” but added that he “controlled all its operations” until 2015, when he cut ties to the company. Elton denied having used his political position for profit.

An Azerbaijani lawyer who worked on the project revealed to me that the Trump Organization had not just licensed the family name; it also had signed a technical-services agreement in which it promised to help its partner meet Trump design standards. Technical-services agreements are often nominal addenda to licensing deals. Major hospitality brands compile exhaustive specifications for licensed hotels, and tend to approve design elements remotely; a foreign site is visited only occasionally. But in the case of Trump Tower Baku the oversight appears to have been extensive. The Azerbaijani lawyer told me, “We were always following their instructions. We were in constant contact with the Trump Organization. They approved the smallest details.” He said that Trump staff visited Baku at least monthly to give the go-ahead for the next round of work orders. Trump designers went to Turkey to vet the furniture and fabrics acquired there. The hotel’s main designer, Pierre Baillargeon, and several contractors told me that they had visited the Trump Organization headquarters, in New York, to secure approval for their plans.

Ivanka Trump was the most senior Trump Organization official on the Baku project. In October, 2014, she visited the city to tour the site and offer advice. An executive at Mace, the London-based construction firm that oversaw the tower’s conversion to a hotel, met with Ivanka in Baku and New York. He told me, “She had very strong feelings, not just about the design but about the back of the hotel—landscaping, everything.” The Azerbaijani lawyer said, “Ivanka personally approved everything.” A subcontractor noted that Ivanka’s team was particular about wood panelling: it chose an expensive Macassar ebony, from Indonesia, for the ceiling of the lobby. The ballroom doors were to be made of book-matched panels of walnut. On her Web site, Ivanka posted a photograph of herself wearing a hard hat inside the half-completed hotel. A caption reads, “Ivanka has overseen the development of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku since its inception, and she recently returned from a trip to the fascinating city in Azerbaijan to check in on the project’s progress.” (Ivanka Trump declined requests to discuss the Baku project.)

Jan deRoos, the Cornell professor, developed branded-hotel properties before entering academia. He told me that the degree of the Trump Organization’s involvement in the Baku property was atypical. “That’s very, very intense,” he said.

The sustained back-and-forth between the Trump Organization and the Mammadovs has legal significance. If parties involved in the Trump Tower Baku project participated in any illegal financial conduct, and if the Trump Organization exerted a degree of control over the project, the company could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution. Tom Fox, a Houston lawyer who specializes in anti-corruption compliance, said, “It’s a problem if you’re making a profit off of someone else’s corrupt conduct.” Moreover, recent case law has established that licensors take on a greater legal burden when they assume roles normally reserved for developers. The Trump Organization’s unusually deep engagement with Baku XXI Century suggests that it had the opportunity and the responsibility to monitor it for corruption.

Before signing a deal with a foreign partner, American companies, including major hotel chains, conduct risk assessments and background checks that take a close look at the country, the prospective partner, and the people involved. Countless accounting and law firms perform this service, as do many specialized investigation companies; a baseline report normally costs between ten thousand and twenty-five thousand dollars. A senior executive at one of the largest American hotel chains, who asked for anonymity because he feared reprisal from the Trump Administration, said, “We wouldn’t look at due diligence as a burden. There certainly is a cost to doing it, especially in higher-risk places. But it’s as much an investment in the protection of that brand. It’s money well spent.”

Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization had commissioned a risk assessment for the Baku deal, but declined to name the company that had performed it. The Washington Post article on the Baku project reported that, according to Garten, the Trump Organization had undertaken “extensive due diligence” before making the hotel deal and had not discovered “any red flags.”

But the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideologically driven military force. In 2008, the year that the tower was announced, Ziya Mammadov, in his role as Transportation Minister, awarded a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company. Keyumars Darvishi, its chairman, fought in the Iran-Iraq War. After the war, he became the head of Raman, an Iranian construction firm that is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The U.S. government has regularly accused the Guard of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, sponsoring terrorism abroad, and money laundering. Reuters recently reported that the Trump Administration was poised to officially condemn the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

I asked Garten how deeply the Trump Organization had looked into the Mammadov family’s political connections. Had it been concerned that Elton Mammadov, as a sitting member of parliament, might exploit his power to benefit the project? How much money had Ziya Mammadov invested in Elton’s company? Garten noted that he didn’t oversee the due-diligence process. “The people who did are no longer at the company,” he said. “I can’t tell you what was done in this situation.” He would not identify the former employees. When I asked him to provide documentation of due diligence, he said that he couldn’t share it with me, because “it’s confidential and privileged.”

A 2014 Instagram post of Ivanka Trump at the Baku tower. Photo Illustration by The New Yorker

No evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump, or any of his employees involved in the Baku deal, actively participated in bribery, money laundering, or other illegal behavior. But the Trump Organization may have broken the law in its work with the Mammadov family. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1977, forbade American companies from participating in a scheme to reward a foreign government official in exchange for material benefit or preferential treatment. The law even made it a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so. This closed what was known as the “head in the sand” loophole.

As a result, American companies must examine potential foreign partners very carefully before making deals with them. I recently spoke with Alexandra Wrage, who runs Trace International, a consortium of three hundred corporations that do business overseas. Trace helps these firms avoid violating the F.C.P.A., and it has a division that can be hired by individual clients to assess potential foreign partners. To comply with the law, Wrage noted, an American company must remain vigilant even after a contract is signed, monitoring its foreign partner to be sure that nobody involved is engaging in bribery or other improprieties.

Wrage pointed out that corrupt government leaders often use their children or their siblings to distance themselves from illicit projects. Such an official creates a company in the relative’s name which appears to be independent but is controlled by the official. To lessen the likelihood of an F.C.P.A. violation when working with a company that is owned by a child or a sibling of a government minister, Wrage told me, “you’d need to show that the child has real expertise, real ability to do the work.” Otherwise, Wrage said, “the assumption is that they are a partner entirely because of their ability to use their parent’s power.” Before Elton Mammadov became a member of parliament, in 2000, he was a maintenance engineer who had no experience in real-estate development. When the Trump Organization joined the Baku project, it barred a Mammadov-owned company from doing construction work, because it was deemed incompetent.

Wrage said that a U.S. company looking to make a deal with a foreign partner should be confident that the partner has a reasonable likelihood of making a profit from the venture. If the project seems almost guaranteed to lose money, it could well be a bribery scheme or some other criminal operation. The partner also should uphold modern accounting standards.

“It’s simple,” she said. “Will money flow through this business because it offers a compelling product at a decent price, or will the money come because of an illicit relationship with someone who uses their power?”

Wrage told me that, in 2009, an American entrepreneur was successfully prosecuted for his part in a corruption conspiracy in Azerbaijan. Frederic Bourke, the co-founder of Dooney & Bourke, the handbag company, had invested in a project in which a foreign partner paid bribes to Azerbaijani government officials and their family members. Bourke was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the F.C.P.A.; he appealed the conviction, claiming ignorance of the corruption. Two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction, saying that, regardless of whether he had known about the bribes, “the testimony at trial demonstrated that Bourke was aware of how pervasive corruption was in Azerbaijan.” The F.C.P.A., they said, also criminalized “conscious avoidance”—a deliberate effort to remain in the dark about any transgressions a foreign partner might be involved in. After Bourke’s conviction, Wrage said, U.S. companies were well aware of the dangers of making careless deals in Azerbaijan.

Even a cursory look at the Mammadovs suggests that they are not ideal partners for an American business. Four years before the Trump Organization announced the Baku deal, WikiLeaks released the U.S. diplomatic cables indicating that the family was corrupt; one cable mentioned the Mammadovs’ link to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigated the Mammadov family’s corruption and published well-documented exposés. Six months before the hotel announcement, Foreign Policy ran an article titled “The Corleones of the Caspian,” which suggested that the Mammadovs had exploited Ziya’s position as Transportation Minister to make their fortunes.

The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigation revealed that Baku XXI Century, the company controlled by Elton, had at least two other stakeholders. One of them was a company called zqan, an acronym for the family members of the Transportation Minister: Ziya Mammadov; Qanira, his wife; Anar, his son; and Nigar, his daughter. Anar is the official head of zqan. Another stakeholder in Baku XXI Century was the Baghlan Group, a company run by an Azerbaijani businessman who is known to be close to Ziya Mammadov.

Baku XXI Century, zqan, and Baghlan have so many overlapping interests that they often seem to operate as a single concern. According to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty investigation, the companies all prospered largely through contracts with the Transportation Ministry. The Trump Tower Baku complex was built partly on land controlled by the ministry. A Baghlan subsidiary received a contract from the ministry to import a thousand London-style cabs to Baku. Soon afterward, ministry inspectors began preventing competing taxi services from parking in the city center or at subway stops. Another new rule required all taxi owners to pay taxes and license fees at the Bank of Azerbaijan, a private entity that at the time was owned jointly by Anar Mammadov and Baghlan.

Anar’s net worth has been estimated at a billion dollars, but he is not a self-made man. According to the Associated Press, zqan was founded in 2000, when he was in his late teens. He began studying in England that year, and remained there until 2005; during that period, the company that he ostensibly ran experienced explosive growth. Trump Organization officials, as well as others familiar with the Baku project, told me that during the tower’s construction Anar was barely involved, and was often travelling abroad. (He flies on a Gulfstream G450 private jet.) An American who did business in Azerbaijan told me, “It’s common knowledge there that Ziya Mammadov controls zqan.”

One of the cables sent in 2010 by the U.S. Embassy in Baku noted that, “with so much of the nation’s oil wealth being poured into road construction,” the Mammadovs had become disproportionately powerful in Azerbaijan. Another cable suggested that Ziya controlled zqan, the country’s “largest commercial development company.” This cable described Ziya as being the object of “many allegations from Azerbaijani contacts of creative corrupt practices.”

Much of the land occupied by the Trump Tower Baku complex was once packed with houses. In 2011, residents received letters from the local government authority informing them that their homes were to be demolished to make way for a project of crucial government significance. Thirty families were evicted. One resident, Minaye Azizova, told me that the government gave her eighteen thousand dollars in compensation for a home that, by her estimation, was worth five times as much. After she discovered that her home had been condemned so that Baku XXI Century could build a luxury tower, she sued the government.

Construction of the building began in 2008. I have spoken with more than a dozen contractors who worked on it. Some of them described behavior that seemed nakedly corrupt. Frank McDonald, an Englishman who has had a long career doing construction jobs in developing countries, performed extensive work on the building’s interior. He told me that his firm was always paid in cash, and that he witnessed other contractors being paid in the same way. At the offices of Anar Mammadov’s company, he said, “they would give us a giant pile of cash,” adding, “I got a hundred and eighty thousand dollars one time, which I fit into my laptop bag, and two hundred thousand dollars another time.” Once, a colleague of his picked up a payment of two million dollars. “He needed to bring a big duffelbag,” McDonald recalled. The Azerbaijani lawyer confirmed that some contractors on the Baku tower were paid in cash.

Two people who worked on the Trump Tower Baku told me that bribes were paid. Much of the graft was routine: Azerbaijani tax officials, government inspectors, and customs officers showed up occasionally to pick up envelopes of cash.

The executive at Mace, the construction firm, told me that the Mammadovs handled payments and all interactions with the Azerbaijani government. “Were people bribed?” he said. “I don’t know. Maybe. We didn’t check.” (A spokesman for Mace said that the firm was “not involved” in any corruption.)

Pierre Baillargeon, the architect whom the Mammadovs hired to alter the tower’s original design, is a Canadian who runs a studio in London. He has often worked in parts of the world known for corruption, including Sudan and Syria, and has done several projects in Azerbaijan. In a phone interview, Baillargeon said that he knew nothing about corruption and was “just a designer.” I asked him why he thought the hotel had been built in such an inhospitable part of Baku. “Every project has detractors,” he said. When I asked him if he had seen large payments being made in cash, he hung up. (He did not respond to later calls.)

Alan Garten, the Trump Organization lawyer, did not deny that there was corruption involved in the project. “I’m not going to sit here and defend the Mammadovs,” he said. But, from a legal standpoint, he argued, the Trump Organization was blameless. In his opinion, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act doesn’t apply to the Baku deal, even if corruption occurred. “We didn’t own it,” he said of the hotel. “We had no equity. We didn’t control the project. The flow of funds is in the wrong direction.” He added, “We did not pay any money to anyone. Therefore, it could not be a violation of the F.C.P.A.”

“No, that’s just wrong,” Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in the F.C.P.A., said. “You can’t go into business deals in Azerbaijan assuming that you are immune from the F.C.P.A.” She added, “Nor can you escape liability by looking the other way. The entire Baku deal is a giant red flag—the direct involvement of foreign government officials and their relatives in Azerbaijan with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Corruption warning signs are rarely more obvious.”

Tillipman explained that the F.C.P.A. defines corruption as “the payment of money or anything of value” to a foreign official. Last year, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay two hundred and sixty-four million dollars to settle charges that it had violated the F.C.P.A.; the bank had given jobs and internships to relatives and friends of government officials in Asia. Tillipman, along with several other F.C.P.A. experts, told me that the Trump Organization had clearly provided things of value in the Baku deal: its famous brand, its command of the luxury market, its extensive technical advice.

In May, 2012, the month the Baku deal was finalized, the F.C.P.A. was evidently on Donald Trump’s mind. In a phone-in appearance on CNBC, he expressed frustration with the law. “Every other country goes into these places and they do what they have to do,” he said. “It’s a horrible law and it should be changed.” If American companies refused to give bribes, he said, “you’ll do business nowhere.” He continued, “There is one answer—go to your room, close the door, go to sleep, and don’t do any deals, because that’s the only way. The only way you’re going to do it is the other way.”

It is unclear how the Trump Administration plans to approach F.C.P.A. enforcement. Jay Clayton, Trump’s choice to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, co-authored a paper in 2011 arguing that American companies were at a severe disadvantage because of the U.S. government’s “singular strategy of zealous enforcement.” But Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that he will continue to uphold the F.C.P.A.

After 9/11, prosecuting financial corruption acquired new political importance. The C.I.A. and other intelligence services came to believe that preventing illicit money from flowing through the global financial system was a necessary tactic in preventing future terrorist attacks, and the U.S. led an international effort to enforce financial transparency. Banks and other financial entities were required to vet their clients aggressively and to report any suspicious activity. Prosecutions for money laundering, bribery, and other financial crimes rose significantly. In 2000, the government launched three prosecutions under the F.C.P.A. Last year, it initiated fifty-four.

Investigators of financial fraud like to say that government corruption, money laundering, and other illicit behavior often form a “nexus” with even more troubling activity, such as financing terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. This appears to be true in the Baku deal. As the Mammadovs were preparing to build the tower, the family patriarch, Ziya, was cementing his financial relationship with the Darvishis, the Iranian family with ties to the country’s Revolutionary Guard.

At least three Darvishis—the brothers Habil, Kamal, and Keyumars—appear to be associates of the Guard. In Farsi press accounts, Habil, who runs the Tehran Metro Company, is referred to as a sardar, a term for a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guard. A cable sent on March 6, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Baku described Kamal as having formerly run “an alleged Revolutionary Guard-controlled business in Iran.” The company, called Nasr, developed and acquired instruments, guidance systems, and specialty metals needed to build ballistic missiles. In 2007, Nasr was sanctioned by the U.S. for its role in Iran’s effort to develop nuclear missiles.

The cable said that Kamal and Keyumars were frequent visitors to Azerbaijan; Kamal had recently established “a close business relationship/friendship” with Ziya Mammadov, and, with Mammadov’s assistance, had been awarded “at least eight major road construction and rehabilitation contracts, including contracts for construction of the Baku-Iranian Astara highway.” (Keyumars also seems to have been involved in these deals.) The cable added, “We assume Mammedov [sic] is a silent partner in these contracts.”

Iran has two militaries. The Iranian Army is a conventional force whose mission is to protect the country. The Revolutionary Guard is an independent force of about a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, whose duty is to protect the country’s Islamic system and to preserve the power of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard has its own air force and navy, and it has a unit known as the Quds Force, which the United States has identified as a major supporter of Hezbollah and other international terrorist groups. The Guard has developed a shadow economy within Iran to fund its activities and expand its power. It controls all official border crossings and runs several unofficial ports, solely for its own use. The Revolutionary Guard smuggles into the country everything from consumer goods blocked by sanctions to drugs. It also owns seemingly legitimate companies in construction, energy, telecommunications, auto manufacturing, and banking. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Guard is linked “to dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of companies that appear to be private in nature but are run by [Revolutionary Guard] veterans.”

Matthew McInnis, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, who served as a consultant to Michael Flynn when Flynn was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told me that owners of Revolutionary Guard-related businesses often become rich. But there is a catch: from time to time, they should expect to be asked to serve the needs of the Guard. “When the Revolutionary Guard says, ‘We need to move some illicit stuff,’ or ‘We need new parts for our missiles,’ they reach out to these guys,” McInnis explained. “It’s a soft network that can do all sorts of things that are very hard to trace.”

Keyumars Darvishi once ran Raman, a construction firm that is owned by the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation. According to the United Nations, the foundation is a major financial arm of the Revolutionary Guard. Keyumars left Raman to run Azarpassillo, the putatively independent construction company that received multiple road contracts in Azerbaijan. According to Azarpassillo’s Web site, it was incorporated in 2008. In recent years, Keyumars has also served as the acting director of the Tehran Metro Company, filling in for his brother Habil.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, a political scientist at Syracuse University, who studies the political, economic, and military élite of Iran, said, “It looks like Azarpassillo is a front organization for the Revolutionary Guard.” He found it inconceivable that Keyumars Darvishi, after working for years in a company controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, would quit, raise large amounts of capital on his own, and then become the head of a fully independent company that competed against Revolutionary Guard fronts for contracts. Khatam Al-Anbia, an Iranian construction giant that is controlled by the Guard and is under U.S. sanctions, has subcontracted Azarpassillo on at least two major infrastructure projects in Iran. The Tehran Metro Company is also involved in both projects. McInnis told me, “If you see a connection with Khatam Al-Anbia, you would assume the connections to the Revolutionary Guard are there. The suspicion of Azarpassillo being a front company is certainly worth investigating. It would fit a normal pattern.”

Alan Garten told me that the Trump Organization checks to see if potential Trump partners are on “watch lists and sanctions lists,” and that the company knew nothing of Ziya Mammadov’s relationship to the Darvishis until 2015, when it learned that “certain principals associated with the developer may have had some association with some problematic entities.” And yet, by that point, the U.S. Embassy cables had been online for four years. Garten insisted that the Trump Organization still has no idea if the association between the Mammadovs and the Darvishis is real, or if it’s simply an allegation “spread by the media.” I recently spoke with Allison Melia, who until 2015 was one of the C.I.A.’s lead analysts of Iran’s economy; she now works for the Crumpton Group, a strategic advisory firm whose services include conducting due diligence for companies. She told me that her team could have compiled a dossier on the Mammadovs and their connection to the Revolutionary Guard in “a couple of days.” She said that any reputable investigative firm conducting a risk assessment would have advised a U.S. company to avoid a deal with a family connected to the Revolutionary Guard.

The U.S. has imposed various sanctions on Iran since the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. In recent years, U.S. and international efforts have focussed on isolating Iran from the global financial system, in order to prevent it from funding terrorist groups and contributing to worldwide instability. In 2015, the U.N., spurred by the Obama Administration, reached an agreement with Iran, and lifted some sanctions in return for a slowdown of the country’s nuclear program. However, according to the Congressional Research Service, many sanctions against Iran remain in effect, because of the country’s “support for terrorism, its human-rights abuses, its interference in specified countries in the region, and its missile and advanced-conventional-weapons programs.” In December, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives imposed additional sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and its associated businesses.

American companies must insure that they are not receiving funds that originated with any sanctioned entity. Ignorance is not a defense, especially if there is ample warning that a foreign partner could have a link to such an entity. Most firms, upon hearing of even a slight chance of Iranian involvement, conduct due diligence that is much more extensive than what is typical for F.C.P.A. compliance. Erich Ferrari, an attorney who specializes in sanctions-related legal cases, said that before the Trump Organization cashed any checks it should have been certain of “the source of the funds”—“not only the bank it was remitted from but how the Mammadovs actually earned the money they paid.” He said of the Baku deal, “It takes a lot to shock a lawyer, but I’ve had very few clients do so little due diligence.”

The nexus between the Mammadovs and the Darvishis suggests both opportunism and desperation. Ziya Mammadov is sixty-four, and in recent years the family’s position in Azerbaijan has begun to weaken. President Aliyev has systematically isolated, and then fired, longtime members of the regime in order to make way for his own cronies. From 2008 to 2014, Ziya Mammadov, perhaps fearing his ejection from political office, vastly increased his personal wealth.

During the same period, mounting international sanctions made it far more difficult for Iran to sell oil abroad, receive foreign funds, and import products. International banks became increasingly reluctant to accept funds from businesses owned by the Revolutionary Guard, severely limiting its ability to support allies such as Hezbollah and the Syrian government. At a moment when Iran was struggling to find ways to send money outside the country, Keyumars Darvishi joined Azarpassillo and began making one deal after another in Azerbaijan.

Ziya Mammadov apparently had complete discretion with regard to Azarpassillo’s projects. On April 6, 2007, Anne Derse, then the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, wrote in a cable that Charles Redman, at the time a senior vice-president for the American construction firm Bechtel, had recently met with Ziya Mammadov. Redman was looking for business, and knew that Azerbaijan was planning several major new roads. Bechtel could build them, he said, at an average cost of six million dollars per kilometre. Mammadov complained to him that this was too expensive. Bechtel ended up building nothing. Instead, much of the roadwork was done by Azarpassillo—at a much higher cost. According to a 2012 report by Azerbaijan’s Center for Economic and Social Development, an independent think tank, road construction during Mammadov’s tenure was “the most expensive in the world,” costing an average of eighteen million dollars per kilometre. (Derse declined to comment; Redman did not respond to e-mails.)

The available evidence strongly suggests that Ziya Mammadov conspired with an agent of the Revolutionary Guard to make overpriced deals that would enrich them both while allowing them to flout prohibitions against money laundering and to circumvent sanctions against Iran. Based on Ziya Mammadov’s past, it seems reasonable to assume that his main motive was profit. Like most Azerbaijanis, he is a secular Shiite Muslim, and he has no known ties to hard-line factions in Iran. Why did the Darvishis want to work with the Mammadovs? It might have caught their attention that the Mammadovs had their own private bank—one that had unfettered access to the global financial system.

While Azarpassillo was making deals with the Transportation Ministry, the Mammadovs were investing heavily in a series of large construction projects. Money launderers love construction projects. They attract legitimate funds from governments and private investors, and they require frequent payouts to legitimate subcontractors: cement factories, lumberyards, glass manufacturers, craftsmen. In the Trump Tower Baku project, money was going in and out of the U.S., the United Kingdom, Turkey, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries. With such projects, it can be exceedingly difficult to detect the spread of illicit funds.

At the same time, the Mammadovs’ money was flowing through holding companies in offshore banking centers. According to leaked documents in the Panama Papers, companies controlled by the family have opened accounts in such places as the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and Panama. The shell companies that list Mammadovs as beneficiaries or officers have bland names such as Trans-European Leasing Group and 1st Rate Investment, and many of them are owned by other shell companies.

In 2009, a year after Baku XXI Century began building the tower, the company opened the Baku International Bus Terminal, an enormous station that includes a shopping mall and a hotel. During this period, the Mammadov family also began building a hotel, a golf course, and a spa in the mountains north of Baku.

Meanwhile, the Mammadovs spent lavishly on themselves. Ziya built a mansion in one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Baku, and, on the beach, a villa whose walls are decorated to resemble ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs. Elton’s son, Aynar, became famous for having a collection of expensive cars, including a Ferrari, a Maserati, and a Lamborghini. Anar began using the Gulfstream G450, which typically costs forty-one million dollars, and bought a seven-bedroom home in London. He also spent millions of dollars on an effort to promote Azerbaijan in Washington, D.C., hosting galas for members of Congress and other powerful figures. A former associate of the Trump Organization told me that in 2012, on one of Anar’s trips to America, he visited Trump Tower, in New York, to meet with Donald Trump and company executives. (The Trump Organization would not confirm the visit.) Around this time, the contracts for the Baku project were issued.

Between 2004 and 2014, Mammadov family businesses spent more than half a billion dollars on large construction projects. They also poured money into a major construction-materials company, an insurance firm, and a new headquarters. It’s not clear how the Mammadovs funded such enormous investments while spending so much on themselves. They may have received loans, or secretly owned profitable businesses that supported the flurry of spending. Another explanation is that some of the investment money came from the Revolutionary Guard, through Azarpassillo.

Calls and e-mails to Azarpassillo, the Iranian Mission to the U.N., and the Azerbaijani government were not returned. Ziya and Anar Mammadov did not respond to requests for comment. Donald Trump has not addressed the Baku deal since becoming President. A Department of Justice spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of its investigating the Trump Tower Baku deal. The White House declined to comment.

If, as Alan Garten told me, the Trump Organization learned in 2015 about “the possibility” that the Mammadovs had ties to the Revolutionary Guard, it is striking that the company did not end the Baku deal until December, 2016. During this period, Garten told me, the Trump Organization never asked its Azerbaijani partners about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but it did send several default notices for late payments.

Throughout the Presidential campaign, Trump was in business with someone that his company knew was likely a partner with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In a March, 2016, speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump said that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Calling Iran the “biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world,” he promised, “We will work to dismantle that reach—believe me, believe me.” In the speech, Trump lamented that Iran had been allowed to develop new long-range ballistic missiles. According to Iran Watch, an organization that monitors Iran’s military capabilities, much of the technology to make the missiles was provided by Nasr, the company once run by Kamal Darvishi.

I asked Garten why the Trump Organization hadn’t cancelled the Baku contract in 2015. He said that there was “no rush,” because “the project had already stalled and was showing no signs of moving forward.” The Azerbaijani lawyer who worked on the project has seen the hotel’s interior, and told me that it is almost finished. In an interview with the magazine Baku, published in April, 2015, Ivanka Trump said that she was eager to enjoy the hotel’s “huge spa area,” and promised that the hotel would open “in June.”

Moreover, Garten said, the Trump Organization had signed binding contracts with the Mammadovs and couldn’t simply abandon its agreements. But Jessica Tillipman, the law-school assistant dean, told me, “You can’t violate sanctions just because you have a contract with someone.” According to Erich Ferrari, the lawyer who specializes in sanctions, companies that learn of a possible sanctions violation typically commission a “look-back” investigation that “reviews all payments you received, to make sure they didn’t originate with a sanctioned entity.” He added, “All the big four accounting companies do them routinely.” The Trump Organization did not commission a look-back.

The Baku deal appears to be the second time that the Trump Organization has turned a blind eye to U.S. efforts to sanction Iran. In 1998, when Donald Trump purchased the General Motors Building, in Manhattan, he inherited as a tenant Iran’s Bank Melli. The following year, the Treasury Department listed Bank Melli as an institution that was “owned or controlled” by the government of Iran and that was covered by U.S. sanctions. (The department later labelled Bank Melli one of the primary financial institutions through which Iran was funnelling money to finance terrorism and to develop weapons of mass destruction.) The Trump Organization kept Bank Melli as a tenant for four more years before terminating the lease.

The Baku project is hardly the only instance in which the Trump Organization has been associated with a controversial deal. The Trump Taj Mahal casino, which opened in Atlantic City in 1990, was repeatedly fined for violating anti-money-laundering laws, up until its collapse, late last year. According to ProPublica, Trump projects in India, Uruguay, Georgia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have involved government officials or people with close ties to powerful political figures. A few years ago, the Trump Organization abandoned a project in Beijing after its Chinese partner became embroiled in a corruption scandal. In December, the Trump Organization withdrew from a hotel project in Rio de Janeiro after it was revealed to be part of a major bribery investigation. Ricardo Ayres, a Brazilian state legislator, told Bloomberg, “It’s curious that the Trumps didn’t seem to know that their biggest deal in Brazil was bankrolled by shady investors.” But, given the Trump Organization’s track record, it seems reasonable to ask whether one of the things it was selling to foreign partners was a willingness to ignore signs of corruption.

To this day, the Trump Organization has not provided satisfying answers to the most basic questions about the Baku deal: who owns Baku XXI Century, the company with which they signed the contracts; the origin of the funds with which Baku XXI Century paid the Trump Organization; whether the Mammadovs used their political power to benefit themselves and the Trump Organization; and whether the Mammadovs used money obtained from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to fund the Trump Tower Baku.

At one point, Garten allowed me to review the Trump Organization’s original contract with the Mammadovs. It authorizes the company to order an independent audit of Baku XXI Century’s financial records at any time—a provision likely included to insure that the Mammadovs didn’t hide profits that were supposed to be shared with the Trump Organization. Such an audit could well have exposed illicit activity. Garten refused to say if an audit had been conducted.

In dealing with the Mammadovs, the Trump Organization seems to have taken them entirely at their word. Garten pointed me to a provision in one contract in which Anar Mammadov represented himself as the sole owner of Baku XXI Century. Given that Elton Mammadov told me that he controlled the company, and that its ownership was a “commercial secret,” what proof did the Trump Organization have that Anar’s claim was true? Garten could not say.

Garten has been the company’s chief legal officer only since January. His predecessor was Jason Greenblatt, whose name appeared on the contract I reviewed. Greenblatt was in charge of the Trump Organization’s due diligence and contracting work. He is now employed at the White House, as the President’s special representative for international negotiations. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In recent months, American officials have expressed concern that Trump Administration figures might be blackmailed by foreign entities. U.S. law-enforcement investigators and congressional staffers have probed claims that Russian government officials possess compromising information about President Trump, which might be used to blackmail him. (The President maintains that there is no such information.) In January, the Department of Justice informed the White House that Michael Flynn—then the national-security adviser—was vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians because he had lied about having spoken with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn subsequently resigned.

In Azerbaijan, the power and the influence of the Mammadovs has declined sharply. Elton lost his seat in parliament in 2015. In February, Ziya was abruptly removed from his ministry. Anar has settled in London, an associate of his told me, and is living on a fraction of his former wealth. Meanwhile, in Iran, government officials are likely facing additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If the Mammadovs or powerful Iranians have evidence that the Trump Organization broke laws, they might be tempted to exploit it.

The best way to determine if a crime was committed in the Baku deal would be a federal investigation, which could use the power of subpoena and international legal tools to obtain access to the contracts, the due diligence, internal e-mails, and financial documents. The Department of Justice routinely sends investigators to other countries to pursue possible F.C.P.A. and sanctions violations.

Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, said, in an e-mail, that a federal investigation was warranted: “The Trump Organization’s Baku project shows the lack of ‘extreme vetting’ Mr. Trump applied to his own business dealings in corruption-plagued regimes around the globe. . . . Congress—and the Trump Administration itself—has a duty to examine whether the President or his family is exposed to terrorist financing, sanctions, money laundering, and other imprudent associations through their business holdings and connections.”

More than a dozen lawyers with experience in F.C.P.A. prosecution expressed surprise at the Trump Organization’s seemingly lax approach to vetting its foreign partners. But, when I asked a former Trump Organization executive if the Baku deal had seemed unusual, he laughed. “No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached,” he said. ♦

Adam Davidson is a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Trump’s address to Congress was riddled with falsehoods about the energy industry

Think Progress

Trump’s address to Congress was riddled with falsehoods about the energy industry

No, the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines won’t create “tens of thousands of jobs.”

Ryan Koronowski, Research Director at ThinkProgress March 1, 2017

During his first joint address to Congress as president, Donald Trump did not linger on energy or the environment, but offered up falsehoods about the coal industry and tar sands oil pipelines. He also completely ignored the clean energy industry.

First, Trump returned to a familiar theme of his: saving the coal industry. He extolled his administration’s “historic effort” to cut regulations — specifically “stopping a regulation that threatens the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.”

That was a reference to the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule. On February 16, Trump signed a bill eliminating the rule, which protected waterways, largly in Appalachia, from coal mining waste. The rule would reportedly have created the same number of jobs it would have cost.

Furthermore coal jobs actually rose in the last half of 2016, proving yet again that the health of the industry has more to do with market factors than a regulatory “war on coal.”

(Taylor Kuykendall @taykuy  February 24, 2017, Coal jobs went on an upswing in last quarter of 2016 has production began to surge:)

After the election, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that ending the “war on coal” may not actually bring back jobs. Energy experts largely agree that coal jobs are not coming back as long as fracked gas and renewable energy both remain cheap.

Trump’s addressed energy one more time — ignoring the millions of jobs created by the clean energy industry — when he touted his attention to two stalled oil pipelines.

“We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines — thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs — and I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel,” he said.

First off, Trump’s directive that the pipeline be made with American steel is likely to have little effect, because the American steel industry is not equipped to meet the project’s requirements, and because the pipeline segments have for the most part already been purchased and constructed. What’s more, an investigation by DeSmogBlog found that a steel company with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin stands to gain should the project move forward.

Trump’s claim that the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines would create tens of thousands of jobs is false, but it’s not new. The industry, and the company that wants to build the pipeline, has been using numbers like this for years. Yet the State Department found in 2013 that the Keystone XL pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs, and 16,000 direct and indirect jobs that would not last far beyond the construction phase.

It would, however, pump oil equal to the carbon emissions of 51 coal plants every year. Similarly, the Dakota Access pipeline will create only 40 permanent jobs along the entire line when all is said and done.

Later in the speech, Trump attempted a note of bipartisanship, saying his administration wanted to work with members “in both parties” on childcare affordability, paid family leave, and “to promote clean air and clear water.”

Trump has yet to propose any action to promote cleaner air or water. Earlier on Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order aimed at dismantling the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule. He also reportedly wants to cut $2 billion from the already-underfunded Environmental Protection Agency, much of which is largely focused on cleaning the air Americans breathe.

LA Times

Trump gets ahead of himself with boast of creating tens of thousands of pipeline jobs

Evan Halper, reporting from Washington February 28, 2017

President Trump boasted Tuesday night that he has created “tens of thousands of jobs” by clearing the way for construction of two major oil pipelines.

That’s not necessarily true.

The bulk of those temporary, two-year jobs – 42,000 of them — would come from a project that may never get built, the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite Trump’s best efforts to move the project forward, there are serious questions about whether the economics pencil out for the plan to ship oil from the tar sands of Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. The project was conceived at a time analysts predicted that oil prices would be considerably higher than they are now. Amid the cheap barrels of crude flooding the market, investors are rethinking whether it is worth the expense of extracting and shipping the oil from the Alberta tar sands, a very costly endeavor.

And Trump’s own demand that the pipeline be built with American steel drives the cost up substantially.

That leaves the Dakota Access Pipeline project, which Trump has also moved to revive. Its prospects for completion are brighter. But it won’t create tens of thousands of jobs. It would create 3,900 short-term construction jobs and, according to the developer, roughly 12,000 indirect jobs for businesses in the region that will see a temporary boost in income while the project is in process.

Trump’s critics also point out that his analysis fails to account for the clean-energy jobs that don’t get created when more oil flows into the market.

“He repeated the same tired lies about creating jobs with Keystone XL and Dakota Access, but said nothing about the millions of jobs that could be created by a transition to 100% renewable energy,” said a statement from May Boeve, executive director of 350.org.

Dis-United States INC.

John Hanno February 24, 2017                                                 

 

                                       “Dis-United States INC.”

What’s become of America’s political leadership? The new White House wrecking crew has quickly reversed all progress made by the Obama Administration in rebuilding our damaged preeminence in the world, after the previous Republi-con administration employed false pretenses to invade a sovereign nation and turn security of the world upside down.

And the Republican controlled United States Congress has become so toxic and polarized that none of the nation’s pressing issues can be debated on a bipartisan basis or even fairly discussed. These public servants shirk their legislative duty to govern and serve all Americans, and then gripe that the President and the courts are over stepping their constitutional boundaries, when the executive and judicial branches attempt to pick up the slack for congress’s indifference to the other 99% of us. Our founding fathers gave enormous power to the legislative branch but the Republican controlled Congress has abdicated that power to a despot who demands their fealty and benevolence.

The problems seem endless and intractable. Those issues: a living wage jobs program that favors workers in every state, every industry, urban and rural — comprehensive health care reform based on what’s good for the consumer and the national economy, and not just insurance companies and big pharma — energy reform encompassing a credible debate on climate change, global warming, alternative energy and a sustainable future —  financial reform that doesn’t unleash the banksters to pillage our financial well being — tax reform that doesn’t reward corporate cronyism and the super rich while crippling Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs — comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for those who wiped their tired and weary feet on the welcome map America held out to cheap labor — sensible gun control that a great majority of us believe is reasonable — infrastructure that’s good for all Americans and not just the well connected political benefactors — credible reforms of the Military Industrial and Prison Industrial complexes — and now even Congress’s inability to protect America from a foreign interloper intent on undermining our free and fair elections — can’t be kicked down the road much longer.

No more glaring dereliction of duty, than the failure of Congress to pass campaign finance reform that might pass constitutional muster. Since our “Ult Right” Supreme Court stepped in and gave the rich and powerful carte blanche to undermine our Democracy, with their Citizens United decision (striking down the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act/ McCain Feingold), a political environment we thought couldn’t get any worse, did, and by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the voters who pushed Trump over the line and thus empowered him to name a Supreme Court Justice who will no doubt quell any attempt to overturn that Citizens decision, campaign finance reform may not be fixed for a decade or more.

None of America’s exigent issues will be addressed unless we take the corrosive money out of politics. The Republicans have historically held a big advantage in raising campaign money, so the Democrats have in turn felt compelled to bridge that gap by veering too close to those non-aligned with the bottom half of America, those who live on average $16,000 a year. And that disloyalty showed during this election. The political class, no matter how much they rant about having to spend more than half their time raising campaign money, just can’t forsake the largess heaped on them by the rich and powerful. Their addiction has undermined our democracy and tanked their reputations and approval rating.

What every patriotic American must do before the next election, is to ask themselves some important questions. Are they satisfied with the way the last presidential election was conducted? Was it worth the 3 billion dollars expended? Could America’s families have spent that money more productively? Are they satisfied with the results? Well, we know at least the 66 million who voted for Hillary aren’t; and I’m sure many millions more who voted for Trump and are now having second thoughts that “America Won’t Be Great Again,” for them, sure aren’t. And are voters satisfied with the ability of all national news broadcasters and cable companies (not the print media) to hold politicians accountable for failing to represent American politics honestly and with integrity?

Unless your politicians, no matter the party affiliation, agree to take the “Make America Democratic Again Pledge,” kick them to the curb. They don’t deserve our loyalty. They must pledge to vote for legislation to ban all special interest contributions, fully support public financing for campaigns (believe me, it’s cheaper than $3 billion), demand free access to our public airwaves (including 3rd party candidates), encourage voter participation and not voter suppression, support efforts to abolish gerrymandering, and above all, limit the time we have to endure these caustic campaigns. A two month campaign, as long as everyone is focused on the issues, should be plenty. A two year long campaign is an abomination.

Another example of Congress’s abdication of duty, is their refusal to listen to the boarder states decades long cries for help on the issue of illegal immigration. Bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform pressed by the “Gang of 12,” and many others before them, failed in spite of strong support from ex-border state Governor, George Bush. The staunchest opponent was then Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trumps newly confirmed attorney general (and panderer in chief), who derisively referred to the “Gang of 12” as “the masters of the universe.”

So now the Donald, who pumped up his supporters during the campaign with his promise to build the best wall ever, but failed to mention the $20 or $30 billion price tag, is contemplating using 100,000 national guard troops in border states to round up most of the 11 million undocumented and send them back whence they came. The Donald’s pandering to his alternative fact base, fails to take into account these folks are not nefarious characters, but hard working people who represent 1 in 10 workers and that these law abiding undocumented immigrants are also voracious consumers of the crap we import from China and Mexico, spending every penny of their typically substandard wages on the latest phones and electronics and the latest fashions. Retailers everywhere might have something to say about disappearing these lucrative customers.

As for the decade long attempt at comprehensive energy reform, The House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on the sweeping energy policy bill S.2012, before the end of the 114th Congress. There’s slim to no chance the bill will be revived in the new Congress, considering Trumps one track “fossil fuel” mind on the issue. The two-year fight to substantially revamp U.S. energy policy for the first time in a decade, broke down in the last days of the 114th Congress. After the November election, there was little incentive for finalizing the bill, especially in the House. Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, main sponsor of the bill, blamed the House for ignoring the Senate’s final attempts at negotiation. In her Senate speech, Murkowski accused the House of ignoring the Senate’s monumental efforts over 2 years to reach a final compromise on the reform bill and stated:

“The chairmen and the ranking members of the committees of jurisdiction, whether it is here in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee, the House Science Committee, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee—we have been meeting to resolve our differences. Again, staff has been working around the clock. Just this weekend, we went through hundreds of pages to close out all of the issues. Again, we did it by the book. We did what we were supposed to be doing. We were the team players here. We adhered to the regular order process.

Senator Cantwell said we were doing the ‘normal’ process. But I think what we are doing now is extraordinary. It is not normal—because it seems that, if there is guerilla warfare that is going on, that seems to be the way to move a bill nowadays. That does not send a very powerful message nor set a good example for how to advance a consensus measure such as we have with the Energy bill.”

Its clear the House felt it would have a better chance at implementing provisions more favorable to their fossil fuel benefactors in the Republican controlled 115th Congress, without the threat of President Obama’s veto. The House version called for reducing funding for the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research Program and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy. Their bill also placed restrictions on climate research funded by the Department of Energy and would have banned that DOE research to be used in regulatory assessments. The Senate version of the bill increased funding for the Office of Science and didn’t put any restrictions on DOE research.

I won’t go into the Republi-con congress’ obstruction during President Obama’s two terms, I’ve blogged on the issue often; and no need to recap their 60 plus attempts to repeal the ACA, which supposedly cost more than $200,000 for each attempt. But these unpatriotic public servants, only serve their campaign benefactors, not the middle class families and workers who’s lives depend on honest representation.

This dishonesty is all too apparent when it comes to our environment. Republi-cons and Democrats operate in different galaxies; the Republi-cons on Planet quaking, shaking and breaking and the Democrats on Planet “help before I explode.” A perfect example is the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline tarbabys we’ve fought over, front and center in the news, for most of the last 2 years. Trump barely took his hand off the inauguration bible when he signed the executive order allowing both of the pipelines President Obama had rejected as detrimental to the battle for preserving mankind. Trump said he received no complaints about the pipelines he quickly approved, proving he really doesn’t or can’t read. It’s not surprising the White House Complaint phone lines were conveniently turned off.

 

(ABC NEWS) “Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.”

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

The 35-page legal analysis of the pipeline’s potential environmental risks and its impact on treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous tribes was authored in December by then-Interior Department Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins, an Obama appointee who was — at the time — the top lawyer in the department.

“The government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Tribes calls for enhanced engagement and sensitivity to the Tribes’ concerns,” Tompkins wrote. “The Corps is accordingly justified should it choose to deny the proposed easement.”

But Donald “I’m a bigly environmentalist” Trump, previous governor Daltrmple and new governor Burgum couldn’t care less about public and Native American health and safety. North Dakota has spent about $20 million and borrowed almost $6 million from the Bank of North Dakota, employing tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, fire hoses, concussion cannons and other forms of intimidation trying to stamp out our prayerful Native American earth protectors. These funds will have to be repaid with interest, unless the Donald sends them some of his pocket change (good luck with that). Red states are joined at the hip with fossil fuel and will spend any amount to push their extractive agenda; maybe Oil Inc will cut a check to N.D. But the protectors will not go easily; the patriotic Veterans who’ve taken an oath to defend America from evildoers foreign and domestic have vowed to return to Standing Rock to support their Native American brothers and sisters.

And at the urging of Bold Nebraska, Bold Iowa, 350.org and many others, the landowners who’ve sold their souls to the oil and gas evildoers, may be waking up. Those onerous easements they’re required to sign, allows the pipeline companies to “abandon in place” when the oil spigots run dry or when alt energy makes Oil Inc. as bankrupt as the coal companies are today. Ten or fifteen years from now when the oil and pipeline companies are on life support, who’s going to pay to dig up the leaking pipelines contaminating the nations precious drinking water and fertile farm land. It won’t be the government because the fine print in those legal documents they sign granting eminent domain to pipeline interests, disavows them from taking any responsibility for damages. Do these landowners realize how much it will cost to dig up and mitigate their contaminated soil and water? At million of dollars per mile or more, landowners who’ve already spent their 40 pieces of gold will have to abandon their toxic family farms.

With a few exceptions, the cast of characters King Donald has tried to install in his court, to undo all the progress we’ve made in the last eight years, is truly scary:

Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor, who our intelligence agencies claim had a direct phone line to the Kremlin during and after the campaign, was forced to resign because he, like Paul Manafort and Carter Page before him, had become toxic to King Donald’s bromance with Putin; Flynn having lied to the vice president and the FBI about his involvement in Russian intelligence interference in the election and the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) voted against confirming Sessions, stating: “I have seen Senator Sessions at work in the Senate, and I have serious concerns about his commitment to standing up for the right of everyone in this country to be treated equally under the law. From his extreme stance on immigration, to his vote against the Violence Against Women Act and the Voting Rights Act, to his efforts to undermine women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights, and his positions on criminal justice reform, civil rights, and so much more— I do not believe that Senator Sessions is the kind of person, committed to the principles of tolerance and inclusiveness, who can do this critical job on behalf of every American.”

Scott Pruitt, EPA Director, who sued the Environmental Protection Agency more than a dozen times while he was Oklahoma attorney general, is now in charge of that department. The Sierra Club’s Michael Brune believes: “Scott Pruitt is now set to be the most dangerous EPA Administrator in the history of our country.”  The top items on Pruitt’s list will be to implement the Donald’s executive orders designed to cripple President Obama’s and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rules. This is the same Oil Inc. panderer who failed to protect Oklahomans’ by refusing to prosecute the companies responsible for the state’s exponential increase in earthquakes caused by fracking. Pruitt is also involved in two additional scandals, one involving the plagiarized clip and paste letters his office submitted supporting the fossil fuel industry and another one involving possible illegal actions his office took in a botched execution in Oklahoma.

Steve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, another wealthy donor to the Trump campaign, and  a 17-year-veteran of Goldman Sachs, was called “The Foreclosure King” when he was CEO of OneWest Bank.

Andrew Pudzer, labor secretary, was already on shaky ground when the POLITICO tape resurfaced of Puzder’s ex-wife appearing on a 1990 “Oprah” program in disguise, to accuse him of domestic violence. He then withdrew his nomination.

Alexander Acosta, Trump’s new pick for labor secretary should win Senate approval, but will probably face tough questions from Democrats about allegations that he cut a sweetheart plea deal with a billionaire accused of having sex with underage girls, when he was a prosecutor.

Tom Price Health and Human Services, may be guilty of insider stock trading, when he  reportedly made dozens of trades in health stocks when he was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He’s been implicated in a SEC investigation of the committee. And financial disclosures he submitted for the confirmation hearings revealed that Price invested in a medical device manufacturer a few days before he introduced a bill benefiting that company.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s new Education Secretary, a staunch opponent of public education and strong proponent of charter schools, may be a nice women who’s heart may be in the right place, but her primary goal might not be for the benefit of America’s century’s long    devotion to quality public education for all of it’s children. It’s hard to believe the Donald couldn’t have chosen one of the 10’s of thousands of highly accredited educators with decades of public school education experience to run that department. Was it because she was a major fundraiser and admitted her family contributed $200 million dollars to the  Republican Party? Every Democrat and two critical women Republican Senators voted against DeVos, so it took Vice President Mike Pence to cast the historic tie-breaking vote to get her confirmed.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget, admitted to the Senate Budget Committee that he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee.

Rick Perry, Energy Secretary, who thought he was accepting a job representing the oil and gas industry, found out he would actually be in charge of America’s national security complex, including our nuclear arsenal, which he knows nothing about.

I can go on and on about Trump’s cabinet and White House: Most of them, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve “Alt Right Supremacist” Bannon of Breitbart infamy, have no government experience.

Some couldn’t even get past the first step, like Christie and Giuliani. Others like Lewandowski, Page and Manafort, became too toxic and were fired. There were also those who turned down the offers because they thought accepting a job in this administration would be a career ender.

Throw in alternative fact propagandists like Kellyanne Conway and Jason Miller and it’s not surprising they can’t figure out how to turn on the lights.

But what’s most troubling is the conjoined cast of characters who hold a Gordian allegiance and affinity for Putin and the Russian oligarchs. Can our intelligence agencies get to the bottom of the dark and tangled web of business relationships between Trump, Page, Manafort, Tillerson, Flynn, Ross, Putin and the Russian oligarchs? To whom do they owe their loyalties?

These were supposedly the Donald’s “best and brightest.” How can anyone who is of sound mind (well that would explain it) believe this is the “best cabinet ever assembled in our history?”

This so-called American president will say, tweet or retweet anything that pops into his inattentive brain and:

Lies to the ACA health insurance clients, who believed his promises to make Obamacare much better and much cheaper,

Lies to the middle class workers, who’ve lost their jobs to globalization and automation, and brags that he’s the only one who can bring back their jobs,

Lies to all the desperate coal miners who believe he will rebuild the coal industry,

Lies and is using thoroughly debunked claims of widespread voter fraud to push legislation designed only to suppress the vote,

Will undoubtedly renege on his many promises to not attack Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,

Quickly rewarded the fossil fuel contributors by jump starting pipeline expansion and by allowing coal companies to resume dumping sludge into rivers,

Trump mounts a maniacal war on the media, in order to take the focus off his flagging campaign and the administrations involvement with Putin and Russian interference in the election; but this is actually a war on the American people and on our democracy and constitution. It’s step one in the “How to Make an Authoritarian Government” playbook. CNN’s Jake Tapper aptly calls it “Un-American,”

He marshal’s government forces, including the FBI, against whistle-blowers who shine a light on this administrations radical policies and misdeeds. Honest government should encourage courageous employees coming forward, instead of siccing the FBI on them,

He thinks nothing of engaging in serious and wide spread conflicts of interest involving his family businesses,

He ranted against President Obama for running up the debt, (which the Republi-cons actually caused by invading Iraq and crashing the economy), yet thinks nothing of the enormous bills being run up protecting him, his extended family and his business interests around the world. During the campaign, the Donald berated President Obama for playing too much golf. He said: “this guy plays more golf than people on the PGA Tour,” yet Trump has traveled to Florida every weekend in the last month to his Mar a lago resort to play golf,

All the Republi-cons in congress will turn a blind eye to the Kings Conflict of interests, just as long as he signs the documents, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations and taking away America’s social safety nets and environmental and banking regulations; but what they refuse to admit, is that regulations have been implemented to prevent serious problems and harm; just like fire and electrical code regulations, every one was the result of somebody losing their life or property.

Where are the keepers of the flame for the Grand Old Party? When will the constitution thumping conservative originalists stand up to the King’s dismantling of American democracy?

Trump said he wants to “bring the country together, maybe even some of the world together” but he denigrates and blames everyone and everything except Putin and of course himself.

I won’t recount the history of the Donald’s lack of truth telling again; I’ve already posted several times on the subject. He’s personally created an entire industry of fact checkers, apparently making good on his boasting as a job creator. I’ve heard the word pathological more times since he entered politics than in the last 50 plus years.

Trump and his Republi-con co-conspirator’s diabolical plan, to turn independent, democratic, free and critical thinking and scientific reasoning, into the alternative facts, alternative reality United States Inc., will require our daily vigilance, robust skepticism and tenacious dissent.

It’s the United States Congress’s job to move America forward, but these Republi-cons interpreted that as crippling responsible governance by doing nothing.

And because they failed to do their job, America and the world is saddled with a narcissistic, kleptocratic despot like King Donald, who uses Putin as a template for his radical far right autocratic kingdom. This Presidents Day is a very sad occasion. But I’m heartened by all the “Not My President” demonstrators who took to the streets.

John Hanno

 

ABC NEWS

Trump administration withdrew legal memo that found ‘ample legal justification’ to halt Dakota Access pipeline

By James Hill   February 23, 2017

Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.

The withdrawal of the opinion was revealed in court documents filed this week by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency that requested the review late last year.

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

The 35-page legal analysis of the pipeline’s potential environmental risks and its impact on treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous tribes was authored in December by then-Interior Department Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins, an Obama appointee who was — at the time — the top lawyer in the department.

“The government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Tribes calls for enhanced engagement and sensitivity to the Tribes’ concerns,” Tompkins wrote. “The Corps is accordingly justified should it choose to deny the proposed easement.”

Tompkins’ opinion was dated Dec. 4, the same day the Obama administration announced that it was denying an easement for the controversial crossing and initiating an environmental impact statement that would explore alternative routes for the pipeline. Tompkins did not respond to a request by ABC News to discuss her analysis or the decision made to withdraw it.

On his second weekday in office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum that directed the Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve” the pipeline in an expedited manner, to “the extent permitted by law, and as warranted, and with such conditions as are necessary or appropriate.” “I believe that construction and operation of lawfully permitted pipeline infrastructure serve the national interest,” Trump wrote in the memo.

Two weeks later, the Corps issued the easement to Dakota Access and the environmental review was canceled.

The company behind the pipeline project now estimates that oil could be flowing in the pipeline as early as March 6.

The analysis by Tompkins includes a detailed review of the tribes’ hunting, fishing and water rights to Lake Oahe, the federally controlled reservoir where the final stretch of the pipeline is currently being installed, and concludes that the Corps “must consider the possible impacts” of the pipeline on those reserved rights.

“The Tompkins memo is potentially dispositive in the legal case,” Hasselman said. “It shows that the Army Corps [under the Obama administration] made the right decision by putting the brakes on this project until the Tribe’s treaty rights, and the risk of oil spills, was fully evaluated.”

Tompkins’ opinion was particularly critical of the Corps’ decision to reject another potential route for the pipeline that would have placed it just north of Bismarck, North Dakota, in part because of the pipeline’s proximity to municipal water supply wells.

“The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservations are the permanent and irreplaceable homelands for the Tribes,” Tompkins wrote. “Their core identity and livelihood depend upon their relationship to the land and environment — unlike a resident of Bismarck, who could simply relocate if the [Dakota Access] pipeline fouled the municipal water supply, Tribal members do not have the luxury of moving away from an environmental disaster without also leaving their ancestral territory.”

Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, has said that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on local water supply are unfounded” and “multiple archaeological studies conducted with state historic preservation offices found no sacred items along the route.”

The decision to temporarily suspend Tompkins’ legal opinion two days before the easement was approved was outlined in a Feb. 6 internal memorandum issued by K. Jack Haugrud, the acting secretary of the Department of the Interior. A spokeswoman for the department told ABC News today that the opinion was suspended so that it could be reviewed by the department.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes are continuing their legal challenges to the pipeline. A motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard on Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The Corps has maintained, throughout the litigation, that it made a good faith effort to meaningfully consult with the tribes.

The tribes contend, however, that the Trump administration’s cancellation of the environmental review and its reversal of prior agency decisions are “baldly illegal.”

“Agencies can’t simply disregard their own findings, and ‘withdrawing’ the Tompkins memo doesn’t change that,” Hasselman said. “We have challenged the legality of the Trump administration reversal and we think we have a strong case.”

 

EPA chief Pruitt’s newly released emails show deep ties to fossil fuel interests

Michael Walsh, Reporter Yahoo News  February 22, 2017

A batch of 7,564 pages of emails and other records from Scott Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma attorney general — made public Wednesday morning — show that he worked with the fossil fuel industry in its efforts to roll back environmental regulations.

The documents were handed over to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) Tuesday night as a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit. Many liberals and environmentalists are outraged that the records were withheld until after Pruitt’s confirmation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday.

CMD said a number of documents were redacted, and additional documents are still being withheld as “exempted or privileged.” The attorney general’s office has been ordered to hand over records related to five other CMD requests by Feb. 27, according to the watchdog organization.

Nick Surgey, a research director at CMD, said Pruitt and the attorney general’s office tried multiple times to have the records request scuttled.

“The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events,” Surgey said in a statement. “And our work doesn’t stop here — we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released.”

CMD focused on several exchanges that appear to confirm what critics have long said about Pruitt: He was willing to use his elective office as a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry.

In 2013, The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a trade association for the fossil fuel industry, worked with Pruitt’s office to oppose the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS), which requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace heating oil or petroleum-based fuel for transportation. AFPM provided Pruitt with the language to file an Oklahoma petition against the RFS, noting that “this argument is more credible coming from a State.”

Other emails show more evidence of Pruitt’s close relationship with the oil and gas production company Devon Energy. In 2014, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton exposed how Devon Energy would draft letters Pruitt would send out on his state government letterhead. A newly uncovered email shows the energy corporation helping Pruitt write a letter to the EPA about limits on methane emissions.

There’s an August 2013 email from Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, thanking Pruitt and others for “all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states.”

Last week, an Oklahoma County district judge criticized Pruitt’s “abject failure” to abide by the state’s Open Records Act by improperly withholding public records and ordered the attorney general’s office to release thousands of emails by Tuesday, the day of his inaugural speech as EPA administrator.

Though the ruling drew attention to Pruitt’s relationships within the traditional energy sector, there was tremendous pushback from progressives and environmentalists the moment President Trump nominated him to lead the EPA — an agency he sued more than a dozen times.

Environmentalists say that Pruitt’s history of alliance with the fossil fuel industry runs counter to the EPA’s mission of limiting pollution and protecting public health. Oil and gas companies contend that the Obama administration and the EPA’s efforts to protect the environment amount to government overreach and place undue regulations on their industry.

During his inaugural address, Pruitt argued that choosing between supporting jobs and the environment is a false dilemma — although without mentioning the renewable energy industry, which environmentalists say provides jobs while limiting carbon-dioxide emissions.

“We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment. That we don’t have to choose between the two,” Pruitt said in his address to EPA staff. “I think our nation has done better than any nation in the world in making sure that we do the job of protecting our natural resources and protecting our environment, while also respecting the economic growth and jobs our nation seeks to have.”

On Wednesday morning, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a Freedom of Information Act request for materials and communications related to the drafting of a press release issued by the EPA on the day Pruitt’s appointment was confirmed. The statement was filled with criticism of the agency’s activities and policies under the previous administration, calling it “tone deaf” and a “runaway bureaucracy largely out of touch with how its policies directly affect folks like cattle ranchers.” Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., for instance, is quoted calling the EPA “one of the most vilified agencies in the ‘swamp’ of overreaching government.”

Neither the EPA nor the Oklahoma attorney general’s office responded to requests from Yahoo News for comment.

 

DeSmog

Thousands of Emails from Oklahoma Office of Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Published

By Steve Horn, February 22, 2017

By Steve Horn, Sharon Kelley and Graham Readfearn

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has published thousands of email obtained from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Trump Administration.

Housed online in searchable form by CMD, the emails cover Pruitt’s time spent as the Sooner State’s lead legal advocate, and in particular show a “close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry,” CMD said in the press release. CMD was forced to go to court in Oklahoma to secure the release of the emails, which had sat in a queue for two years after the organization had filed an open records request.

Among other things, the emails show extensive communication with hydraulic fracturing  (“fracking”) giant Devon Energy, with Pruitt’s office not only involved in discussions with Devon about energy-related issues like proposed U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rules, but also more tangential matters like how a proposed airline merger might affect Devon’s international travel costs. They also show a close relationship with groups such as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Public Policy Council, the latter a member of the influential conservative State Policy Network (SPN).

On the BLM fracking rule, Priutt’s office solicited input from Devon, the Oklahoma City fracking company, which seemed to incorporate the feedback in the company’s formal legal response. Pruitt’s office was aiming to sue the BLM on the proposed rules, a case multiple states eventually won, getting indispensible aid in the effort from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).

“Any suggestions? ” Pruitt’s office wrote in a May 1, 2013 email to a Devon vice president. Attachments missing from the FOIA response make it unclear to what extent edits suggested by Devon were actually inserted into the AG’s correspondence, although Pruitt’s deputy later wrote “thanks for all your help on this.”

In two other emails dated May 1, 2013, a Devon Energy director replied with suggested changes to Pruitt’s office. The next day, Pruitt’s office sent the final draft of the letter to Devon, which replied, “I’m glad the Devon team could help, and thanks for all of your work on this.”

This batch of emails was not among those published by the New York Times as a part of its investigation into the correspondence Pruitt and other Republican state-level Attorneys General had with energy companies, which revealed that Devon and ghostwritten letters which Pruitt’s office sent to federal officials and agencies.

“Cut and Paste”

Another section of the emails (page 562) shows that an official from Edison Electric Institute (EEI) emailed Pruitt’s office to solicit an article for the Air and Waste Management Association Journal on the topic of regional haze. When Pruitt’s spokesman said the office will not be able to make the deadline, the EEI official told them not to worry because it can “be cut and paste from past editorials and court filings, language that has already been approved in the past.”

It does not appear Pruitt’s office ever wrote the article, however. But that same month, Stuart Solomon, President of Public Service Company of Oklahoma (a subsidiary of American Electric Power), thanked Pruitt “personally” in a February 2014 email for its help fending off the EPA’s proposed regional haze rule.

“We are pleased the EPA has approved a plan developed by PSO and state leaders,” Stuart Solomon, President and Chief Operating Officer for Public Service Company of Oklahoma, said in a press release at the time. “I want to thank Governor Fallin and her administration for their leadership and assistance in helping develop this plan along with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.”

Pruitt and his office were not thanked within the press release. In July 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals issued  a stay on that rule and it was never promulgated.

Koch Ties

The emails also shed new light on the relationship between Pruitt and the sphere of advocacy outfits and legal groups funded by Koch Industries’ billionaires Charles and David Koch.

For example, Pruitt and many other Attorneys General — plus industry actors at companies such as Southern Company, ConocoPhillips, Chesapeake Energy, TransCanada, Devon Energy, Marathon Oil and others — received an invitation (see page 560) to an event hosted by George Mason University,  the Koch-funded libertarian bastion, at its Mason Attorneys General Education Program. That invite came from Henry Butler, Dean of the George Mason University School of Law.

Harold Hamm, President Donald Trump’s campaign energy adviser, was also included on the list of those invited, as well. An email attachment of the invite was not included in the batch.

Beyond George Mason, the emails also show Pruitt’s office maintained communications (see page 683) with Americans for Prosperity Oklahoma State Director, John Tidwell, as well as with SPN member Oklahoma Public Policy Council. SPN receives Koch money.

Too Little, Too Late?

These are some of the highlights found within the massive batch of emails. CMD argues, as the Democratic Party’s Senate leadership posited, that these emails would have been useful in doing their constitutional “advise and consent” confirmation process work for Pruitt.

“There is no valid legal justification for the emails we received last night not being released prior to Pruitt’s confirmation vote other than to evade public scrutiny,” said Arn Pearson, general counsel for CMD. “There are hundreds of emails between the AG’s office, Devon Energy, and other polluters that Senators should have been permitted to review prior to their vote to assess Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.”

 

 

EPA chief Pruitt appeals to ‘civility’ but fails to quell environmentalists’ concerns

Michael Walsh 7 hours ago

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first speech to employees of the EPA at midday on Tuesday did little to assuage the concerns of environmentalists over his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

At the EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Pruitt called for civility and listening in his highly anticipated, tense inaugural address to the staff of an agency that he sued more than a dozen times as Oklahoma attorney general.

“You don’t know me very well. In fact, you don’t know me hardly at all, other than what maybe you read in the newspaper or [have] seen on the news,” he told the crowd. “I look forward to sharing the rest of the story with you as we spend time together. But this is a beginning.”

President Trump’s decision to nominate Pruitt, who has made it clear he has no confidence in mainstream climate science, to lead the EPA immediately incited a backlash from liberals and environmentalists. More than 770 former EPA officials— including scientists, engineers and managers — signed a letter to all the members of the U.S. Senate, urging them to reject Pruitt. Despite near-unanimous opposition by Democrats, he was confirmed last Friday.

On Thursday, an Oklahoma County district judge ordered Pruitt to hand over thousands of emails he exchanged with the energy industry to the Center for Media and Democracy  watchdog group by Tuesday — the day of his EPA speech.

“Why did we have to rush and have this vote before we had this information?” Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, asked Yahoo News. “Everything we know about Scott Pruitt makes abundantly clear that he is unsuitable to be the EPA administrator, and it really begs the question, ‘What was he hiding?’”

In the speech, Pruitt urged EPA staff members to conduct themselves according to values laid out in two books on the American Revolution and its underlying philosophies: “Founding Brothers,” by the American historian Joseph J. Ellis, and “Inventing Freedom,” by a British politician, Daniel Hannan. The values he singled out included civility, rule of law, federalism and listening.

“Civility is something that I believe in very much. We ought to be able to get together and wrestle through some very difficult issues in a civil manner,” he said. “We ought to be able to be thoughtful and exchange ideas.”

Sittenfeld said the speech did not address environmentalists’ concern that Pruitt has always acted to protect the interests of industry. She characterized him as antithetical to the EPA’s mission to protect the environment and human health.

“The speech was pretty much a nothingburger, and given that everything about him is antithetical to the EPA, the onus was really on him to somehow convey if he had different plans that would somehow contradict his record to date,” Sittenfeld told Yahoo News.

As well as suing the EPA at least 14 times, Sittenfeld said, Pruitt has received $350,000 from fossil fuel interests. He also copied letters from oil industry lobbyists and pasted them almost verbatim onto his Oklahoma attorney general letterhead for messages to the Obama administration.

“All of that is extremely concerning and makes clear to us he’s unfit to be the EPA administrator. And nothing about what he said gave us any reason to think otherwise,” she said.

Pruitt’s supporters in the fossil fuel industry, as well as among conservatives opposed to regulations, see him as a corrective to what they consider the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach.

Pruitt quoted Sierra Club founder John Muir toward the end of his speech: “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in.”

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, was none too impressed by this reference.

“John Muir is rolling over in his grave at the notion of someone as toxic to the environment as Scott Pruitt taking over the EPA,” Brune said in a statement.

The Hill

This Isn’t Just Trump. This Is Who the Republicans Are.

By Dave Johnson February 18, 2017

It’s not just Trump, Republicans as a party are using Trump to engage in a general assault on protections from corruption, pollution, corporate fraud and financial scams.

So far President Donald Trump has signed very few bills. One lets coal companies dump waste into streams. Another lets oil companies bribe foreign dictators in secret. Now he is moving to block a Labor Department “fiduciary rule” that requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients when advising on retirement accounts.

“Are Republicans dismayed that they have put a loathsome, deranged, misogynistic, racist, psychopathic, uninformed, self-promoting, corrupt, insulting, genital-grabbing, conspiracy-theory-peddling, Jew-baiting, narcissistic-behaving, country-destroying, Putin-loving, generally disgusting, fascist, loofa-faced sh*t-gibbon into power in our White House? No, they are not.”

Here’s the thing: this isn’t just Trump doing this. The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed those two bills, and the Republicans have been fighting that fiduciary rule tooth and nail.

It’s not just Trump, Republicans as a party are using Trump to engage in a general assault on protections from corruption, pollution, corporate fraud and financial scams.

This is who they are.

“We Just Need A President To Sign This Stuff”

This is not just Trump. What we are seeing happening to our government is the end result of a decades-long effort by the corporate-and-billionaire-funded “conservative movement” to capture the Republican party, and through them to capture the country — for profit. And here we are.

Are Republicans dismayed that they have put a loathsome, deranged, misogynistic, racist, psychopathic, uninformed, self-promoting, corrupt, insulting, genital-grabbing, conspiracy-theory-peddling, Jew-baiting, narcissistic-behaving, country-destroying, Putin-loving, generally disgusting, fascist, loofa-faced sh*t-gibbon into power in our White House?

No, they are not. They like it that he’s squatting in the Oval Office.

Grover Norquist, one of the key leaders and strategists of the conservative movement, worded it clearly and succinctly, “We just need a President to sign this stuff.” “Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become President of the United States.”

Stream Protection Rule

After waiting eight years, (yes, they waited that long), the Obama administration finally put a rule in place to protect “streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations.”

The stream protection rule requires the restoration of the physical form, hydrologic function, and ecological function of the segment of a perennial or intermittent stream that a permittee mines through. Additionally, it requires that the postmining surface configuration of the reclaimed minesite include a drainage pattern, including ephemeral streams, similar to the premining drainage pattern, with exceptions for stability, topographical changes, fish and wildlife habitat, etc. The rule also, requires the establishment of a 100-foot-wide streamside vegetative corridor of native species (including riparian species, when appropriate) along each bank of any restored or permanently-diverted perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral stream.

Sounds great right? Well protecting the environment and protecting people costs money that would otherwise go into the pockets of executives of and investors in coal companies, so…uh uh.

By the way, the rule would have created at least as many jobs as it might have “cost.”

Oil Company Transparency Rule Repeal

Saying, “We’re bringing back jobs big league,” Trump signed a bill repealing a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule written under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule required oil companies to disclose if they are bribing dictators who steal form their country.

The Hill reports on this, in Trump signs repeal of transparency rule for oil companies,

The legislation is the first time in 16 years that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation, and only the second time in the two decades that act has been law.

…[The CRA] was meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies on United States stock exchanges disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments.

THIS was the priority of the Republican congress.

Retirement Advice Fiduciary Rule

When people ask financial advisers and brokers for retirement advice they get sold high-priced “products” that do not benefit them, but benefit the financial advisers and brokers a lot. (For more on this phenomenon, read Motley Fool’s Where are all the customer’s yachts?)

These scams siphon an estimated $17 billion a year from the retirement accounts of working people.

So Obama’s Labor Department staff (after waiting years and years) wrote a rule requiring these advisers and brokers to act in their clients’ best interest. The Washington Post explained the new rule last year, in Labor Department rule sets new standards for retirement advice.

The Labor Department announced sweeping rules Wednesday that could transform the financial advice given to people saving for retirement by requiring brokers and advisers to put their clients’ interests first.

The long-awaited “fiduciary rule” would create a new standard for brokers and advisers that is stricter than current regulations, which only require that brokers recommend products that are “suitable,” even if it may not be the investor’s best option.

For obvious reasons ($17 billion swiped from working people each year) Wall Streeters didn’t like the new rule one bit. They put a ton of money into killing it. And now Trump is gutting the rule.

This is the classic way people get fucked by a rigged system. Trump is giving Wall Street the freedom to go back to screwing people.

Here is the Google link to a fact sheet on the rule. Click it to see how your government works for you in the Trump era: Fact Sheet: DOL Finalizes Rule to Address Conflicts of Interest …www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fs-conflict-of-interest.html

This Is Who They Are

Up next on the agenda is gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The government agency’s name sort of says it all, doesn’t it? Of course Wall Street and the Republican Party want it gone.

The New York Times explains, in Consumer Watchdog Faces Attack by House Republicans,

The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee will move forward on legislation to neuter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its power to crack down on predatory business practices, according to a leaked memo that emerged on Thursday and infuriated Democratic defenders of the bureau.

THIS is a top priority of the Republican-dominated Congress and the Republican president. It’s not just Trump.

What else is there to say? This is who they are.

 

EcoWatch    Climate Nexus

Assault on the EPA Begins: Trump to Sign Two Executive Orders

The Trump administration is expected to begin attacks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and climate science at the executive level now that the administration has a leader in place at the agency.

Multiple outlets have reported that President Trump may be planning a visit to EPA headquarters as early as this week, where he could sign executive orders targeting Obama administration climate policies and the agency’s structure.

The Washington Post added additional details yesterday evening, reporting that two executive orders being prepared target the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S rule for a revamp, while also lifting a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land. Congress is keeping busy with climate rollbacks too, as the Senate eyes a vote on methane regulations this week.

As the Washington Post noted:

One executive order—which the Trump administration will couch as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy—will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities. It also instructs the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.

A second order will instruct the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revamp a 2015 rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule, that applies to 60 percent of the water bodies in the country. That regulation was issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gives the federal government authority over not only major water bodies but also the wetlands, rivers and streams that feed into them. It affects development as well as some farming operations on the grounds that these activities could pollute the smaller or intermittent bodies of water that flow into major ones.

 

Leonard Pitts: Open letter to our so-called president

By Leonard Pitts Jr. The Miami Herald

February 16 2017

Dear Mr. So-Called President:

So let me explain to you how this works.

You were elected as chief executive of the United States. I won’t belabor the fact that you won with a minority of the popular vote and a little help from your friends, FBI Director James Comey and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The bottom line is, you were elected.

And this does entitle you to certain things. You get your own airplane. You get free public housing. You get greeted with snappy salutes. And a band plays when you walk into the room.

But there is one thing to which your election does not entitle you. It does not entitle you to do whatever pops into your furry orange head without being called on it or, should it run afoul of the Constitution, without being blocked.

You and other members of the Fourth Reich seem to be having difficulty understanding this. Reports from Politico and elsewhere describe you as shocked that judges and lawmakers can delay or even stop you from doing things. Three weeks ago, your chief strategist, Steve Bannon, infamously declared that news media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

Just last Sunday, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

What you do “will not be questioned?” Lord, have mercy. That’s the kind of statement that, in another time and place, would have been greeted with an out-thrust palm and a hearty “Sieg heil!” Here in this time and place, however, it demands a different response:

Just who the hell do you think you are?

Meaning you and all the other trolls you have brought clambering up from under their bridges. Maybe you didn’t notice, but this is the United States of America. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Nation of laws, not of individuals? First Amendment? Freedom of the press? Any of that ringing a bell?

Let’s be brutally clear here. If you were a smart guy with unimpeachable integrity and a good heart who was enacting wise policies for the betterment of all humankind, you’d still be subject to sharp scrutiny from news media, oversight from Congress, restraint by the judiciary — and public opinion.

And you, of course, are none of those things.

I know you fetishize strength. I know your pal Vladimir would never stand still for reporters and judges yapping at him like so many poodles.

I know, too, that you are accustomed to being emperor of your own fiefdom. Must be nice. Your name on the wall, the paychecks, the side of the building. You tell people to make something happen, and it does. You yell at a problem, and it goes away. Nobody talks back. I can see how it would be hard to give that up.

But you did. You see, you’re no longer an emperor, Mr. So-Called President. You are now what is called a “public servant” — in effect, an employee with 324 million bosses.

And let me tell you something about those bosses. They are unruly and loud, long accustomed to speaking their minds without fear or fetter. And they believe power must always answer to the people. That’s at the core of their identity.

Yet you and your coterie of cartoon autocrats think you’re going to cow them into silence and compliance by ordering them to shut up and obey? Well, as a freeborn American, I can answer that in two syllables flat.

Hell no.

 

Vox

A Russian newspaper editor explains how Putin made Trump his puppet

“They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician.”

February 22, 2017

Mikhail Fishman is the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times, an English-language weekly newspaper published in Moscow. The paper is critical of Vladimir Putin; indeed, it was targeted twice in 2015 by Russian hackers and has been attacked repeatedly by pro-Kremlin pundits.

Fishman, a Russian citizen and himself outspoken critic of Putin, has covered Russian politics for more than 15 years. For the past year, he has monitored the increasingly bizarre relationship between Putin and Trump, with a particular focus on Putin’s strategic aims. In this interview, I ask Fishman how Trump is perceived in Russia, why Putin is actively undermining global democracy, and what Russia hopes to gain from the political disorder in America.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Sean Illing

From your perch in Moscow, how do you see this strange relationship between Putin and Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

It is strange. It looks a bit irrational on Trump’s part to be sure. Why does he have this strange passion for Putin and Russia? I have to say, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories about “golden showers” and blackmailing. I don’t believe it exists and I don’t believe it’s a factor. But this, admittedly, makes the whole thing that much stranger.

Sean Illing

What makes you so skeptical of the claims in that Trump dossier?

Mikhail Fishman

Two things. One, I’ve been a political journalist for 15 years working and dealing with sources in Russia and elsewhere. And frankly, a lot of this appears shallow to me. I’m sure Russia has plenty of dirt on Trump, but I can’t accept without hard evidence much of the what I’ve heard or read.

Second, this still has the ring of a conspiracy theory, this idea that the Kremlin has blackmailed Trump into submission. I’m generally opposed, on principle, to conspiracy theorizing. So I’m just skeptical until there’s concrete evidence.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about Trump and Putin as individuals. How are they different? How are they similar?

Mikhail Fishman

I would prefer to talk about how they’re different, because those differences are so obvious and extreme. They come from very different worlds. Putin is an ex-Soviet intelligence officer with all that that implies. Trump is a colorful American businessman and showman.

In their habits, they’re radically different. Trump is a posturing performer, full of idiotic narcissism. He appears to be a disorganized fool, to be honest. Putin, on the other hand, is calculating, organized, and he plans everything. He also hides much of his personal life in a way that Trump does not.

Then there’s also the fact that Putin is so much more experienced than Trump. He has more than 15 years of global political experience. He knows how to do things, how to work the system. He makes plenty of mistakes, but he knows how to think and act. Trump is a total neophyte. He has no experience and doesn’t understand how global politics operates. He displays his ignorance every single day.

Sean Illing

What is the perception of Trump in Russia? Is he seen as an ally, a foe, or a stooge?

Mikhail Fishman

The vision of Trump is basically shaped by the Kremlin and their propaganda machine — that’s what they do. During the election campaign, Trump was depicted not as an underdog but as an honest representative of the American people who was being mistreated by the establishment elites and other evil forces in Washington.

Sean Illing

The Kremlin knew that to be bullshit, right? This was pure propaganda, not sincere reporting, and it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton.

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. All of it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton. Putin expected Trump to lose, but the prospect of a Clinton victory terrified him, and he did everything possible to undermine her.

Sean Illing

Why was he so afraid of a Clinton victory?

Mikhail Fishman

Because he knew that would mean an extension of Obama’s harsh orientation to Russia, perhaps even more aggressive than Obama. Putin has experienced some difficult years since his 2014 invasion of Crimea, but he didn’t expect this level of isolation. He saw — and sees — Trump as an opportunity to change the dynamic.

Sean Illing

A lot of commentators here believe the most generous interpretation of Trump’s fawning orientation to Putin and Russia is that he’s hopelessly naïve. Do you buy that?

Mikhail Fishman

That’s a good question. Why does he like Putin so much? I think Trump sees Putin as a kind of soulmate. Let’s be honest: Trump is not a reflective person. He’s quite simple in his thinking, and he’s sort of attracted to Putin’s brutal forcefulness. If anything, this is what Trump and Putin have in common.

Sean Illing

Has Putin made a puppet of Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. This is certainly what the Kremlin believes, and they’re acting accordingly. They’re quite obviously playing Trump. They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician. Putin is confident that he can manipulate Trump to his advantage, and he should be.

Sean Illing

In other words, they see in Trump a useful idiot.

Mikhail Fishman

Exactly. The Kremlin is limited in their knowledge about what’s going on in Washington, but they see the chaos and the confusion in Trump’s administration. They see the clumsiness, the inexperience. Naturally, they’re working to exploit that.

Sean Illing

What’s the long geopolitical play for Putin? What does he hope to gain from the disorder in America?

Mikhail Fishman

The first thing he wants and needs is the symbolic legitimization of himself and Russia as a major superpower and world player that America has to do deal with as an equal. He wants to escape the isolation of Russia on the world stage, which was what the campaign in Syria was all about. Putin has grand ambitions for himself and for Russia, and nearly every move he makes is animated by this.

Sean Illing

How much of this, from Putin’s perspective, is about discrediting democracy as such?

Mikhail Fishman

He didn’t believe Trump would win, so he was preparing to sell Clinton’s victory as a fraud. And this is part of his broader message across the board, which is that democracy itself is flawed, broken, unjust. Putin actually believes this. He doesn’t believe in democracy, and this is the worldview that he basically shares with Trump: that the establishment is corrupt and that the liberal world order is unjust.

Sean Illing

But Putin’s interest in undermining democracies across the globe is about much more than his personal disdain for this form of government. He wants to point to the chaos in these countries and say to his domestic audience, “You see, democracy is a sham, and it doesn’t work anywhere.” That serves as a justification for his own anti-democratic policies. In the end, it’s about reinforcing his own power.

Mikhail Fishman

That’s true. But again, this what Putin really believes. He does not believe a true and just democracy exists anywhere. This is the worldview they’ve been spinning for years and they’ve really internalized it.

For Putin, this is very much a zero-sum game. The West is the enemy. America is the enemy. Whatever you can do to damage the enemy, you do it. The more unrest there is in America, the better positioned Russia is to work its will on the world stage. He wants to divide democratic and European nations in order to then play those divisions to his advantage.

Sean Illing

A pervasive concern in this country is that Trump admires Putin’s strongman authoritarianism, and seeks to replicate it in America. Do you think this concern is well-founded?

Mikhail Fishman

I think it is. Again, it comes to back what Trump and Putin have in common. They’re both male chauvinists. Trump probably admires the fact that Putin is the kind of guy who feels the need to ride horses shirtless; it appeals to his authoritarian instincts. But this is about much more than imagery.

They are both illiterate people in a way. They’re not widely educated. They do not believe in institutions. They see democratic institutions as burdens, impediments to their will. They don’t believe that social and political life should be sophisticated; they think it should be simple.

And this sort of thinking naturally concludes in one-man rule. I think Trump will fail, but there’s no doubt that he shares these authoritarian impulses with Putin.

New York Times

What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

David Brooks     February 17, 2017

 

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

Vladimir Putin was born for a moment such as this. He is always pushing the envelope. After gifting Team Trump with a little campaign help, the Russian state media has suddenly turned on Trump and Russian planes are buzzing U.S. ships. The bear is going to grab what it can.

We’re about to enter a moment in which U.S. economic and military might is strong but U.S. political might is weak. Imagine the Roman Empire governed by Monaco.

That’s scary. The only saving thought is this: The human imagination is vast, but it is not nearly vast enough to encompass the infinitely multitudinous ways Donald Trump can find to get himself disgraced.

Esquire

President* Trump vs. His Environment

The Trump administration could be catastrophic for combating climate change.

By Charles P. Pierce   February 16, 2017

I wish there was something funny I could write about what’s going to happen to the Environmental Protection Agency once the Senate approves the absurd nomination of Scott Pruitt to head an agency that he is at the moment suing on behalf of the state of Oklahoma. I wish I could muster up a dudgeon of a height appropriate to how little this country will do under this administration to combat the existential threat of climate change. I wish I could say I was surprised by any of it.

But, more than any other set of issues, I find the current state of environmental policy simply exhausting. The environment was nearly a non-issue in the presidential campaign. One of our two major political parties—the one that controls two of the three branches of the national government and a fat share of the state governments around the country—takes as an article of faith that the climate crisis is a vehicle for shrewd scientists to get over on the rest of us. The ocean, as we continue to remind people, doesn’t much care who wins the debate on these topics. Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz, a freshman congresstwerp from Florida, has introduced a bill to do away with the EPA entirely. That seems to be DOA even in this Congress, but putting an extraction industry marionette like Scott Pruitt in charge of the agency, while not killing the EPA, is more like putting it into suspended animation for the foreseeable future.

And now, according to multiple reports, the president* is going to celebrate Pruitt’s eventual confirmation by signing a series of executive orders that virtually will take the EPA out of the climate crisis business. To the logical mind, this is tantamount to issuing an order that the CDC should temper its study of communicable diseases, but the logical mind has taken something of a holiday and apparently has been drunk since the end of January. From The Hill:

At that event, an administration source told Inside EPA that Trump will sign executive orders related to the agency’s climate work and that they could “suck the air out of the room,” according to the report. The official did not say how many orders Trump will sign or what they will address. But the planned event could be similar to one Trump held at the Pentagon after Defense Secretary James Mattis was sworn in. At that event, Trump signed an executive order cracking down on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and halting the U.S. refugee program for 120, including indefinitely banning Syrian refugees. An administration official said a potential Trump visit to EPA headquarters has yet to be confirmed.

Trump has vowed to roll back Obama-era EPA actions, including major climate change regulations like the Clean Power Plan and a water jurisdiction rule opposed by many conservatives. One executive order, according to Inside EPA’s report, could be aimed at the State Department, suggesting Trump will take a position on the United State’s participation in the Paris climate deal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate last month that he hopes to stay in that climate pact.

Outside of those people who have organized against police violence and, more recently, the movement surrounding the January marches around the country, the environmental movement has been more active in more places than any other oppositional force in the country. It has put together a vast and diverse movement mobilized against everything from pipelines to fracking. It emboldened the previous administration’s commitment to the Paris Accords and against the Keystone pipeline, which, in turn, emboldened people to take camp on the plains in North Dakota and made Standing Rock a symbol.

All of that energy now runs up against, yes, a big, beautiful wall made of special interests and anti-scientific denial. The allies that the movement has in government can do little but slow-walk the march into the past for which the majorities are warming up at the moment. Nowhere is the modern reality further detached from the nostalgic past than in the case of coal mining. It is a dying industry, caught between the hammer of cleaner energy and the anvil of automation. Yet, there are people in the government, right up to the Oval Office, who have promised glibly to bring this industry back. This is a cruel and stupid charade played on desperate people who have seen a way of life slowly withering for decades. And when the promises turn out to have been as empty as they obviously were, those same charlatans will point to environmentalists as the real villains of the piece.

We have an oilman for Secretary of State. We’ve seen the EPA commanded to delete climate material from its official website. Already, using an obscure procedural device, the Republicans in Congress, with help from a couple of Democrats, have opened things up for mountaintop removal mining and cut back on regulations designed to control mining waste that runs into rivers and streams. One can only imagine what gifts the administration plans to give to industry to celebrate putting one of the industry’s puppets in charge of environmental regulation, but whatever those gifts are, this president will sign for them.

That’s why this is so damned exhausting. There is an obvious crisis that everybody acknowledges one way or another. (Even the president* is building seawalls to protect his golf courses against the gigantic hoax fashioned in China.) The military is taking precautions. The intelligence community sees the crisis as a decades-long threat to national security at almost innumerable levels, from population migrations to epidemic disease to countries full of desperate people looking for food and water. There are red lights flashing everywhere in the government and the response of the current administration seems to be to turn as many of them off as they can get their hands on.

Environmentalism—what we called “ecology” when I was a kid—was one of the proudest achievements of 20th century American politics. It proceeded in fits and starts against the powerful economic and social forces arrayed against it, but from it, we got national parks, the Clean Water Act, a visible Los Angeles by daylight, and interstate highways that no longer looked like horizontal landfills stretching to the horizon. There was a bipartisan constituency supporting it.

Now, with an environmental threat comparable in scale to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, that constituency within the government is scattered and the forces arrayed against it powerfully concentrated. But wildfires do not yield to argument, nor does the winter heat offer to explain itself. (It was over 100 degrees in Oklahoma this week) Go ahead. Pass a law against the sea. Call a cop when it laughs at you.

 

GQ Politics

James Comey Has Some Goddamn Explaining to Do

 

By Jay Willis  February 20, 2017

As details surface of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, the FBI director’s pre-election letter about Hillary Clinton’s emails looks more breathtakingly irresponsible than ever.

You remember James Comey, right? The FBI director who dropped a live hand grenade into the toilet that was the 2016 presidential race by disclosing just eleven days before Election Day that the Bureau was investigating newly discovered evidence related to the Hillary Clinton email scandal in which she had been cleared of months earlier? The one who followed up on this inscrutable-yet-ominous-sounding announcement by concluding a few days later that, haha, just kidding, there wasn’t anything remotely relevant in these stupid emails, sorry if I torpedoed your election and maybe helped deliver the White House to a semiliterate social media celebrity? That James Comey? Good, because holy hell does this man have some explaining to do.

Bombshells about the Trump White House’s ties to the Kremlin have come at a dizzying rate of late, as news that erstwhile national security advisor Michael Flynn talked shop with Russian diplomats before the inauguration now gives way to the revelation that Trump campaign aides were chatting up Russian intelligence officials—who all along were tampering with the election in an effort to promote Trump’s candidacy—throughout the presidential race. Here’s a fun detail from the Times report about who knew what when:

The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, initially captured the calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.

The F.B.I. has closely examined at least three other people close to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear if their calls were intercepted. They are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative; and Mr. Flynn.

Hmmm, so when the FBI’s probe of the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal turned up a few stray Clinton emails, Director Comey felt the need to immediately share this vital information about the Democratic nominee with the American public. Meanwhile, when the FBI discovered that the other presidential candidate’s closest advisors were in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials, it said…nothing at all.

The agency’s investigation of [former Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort began last spring as an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It has focused on why he was in such close contact with Russian and Ukrainian intelligence officials.

I understand that the sensitive-to-national-security nature of the Trump-Russia investigation means that Comey and friends may have been unable to freely disclose their every finding. But even the fact that Comey was aware of both investigations reinforces the point. If he knew his agency had evidence that the Trump camp just might be colluding with a foreign government to swing the election, pulling the fire alarm on the inane Clinton emails story as he did is the height of irresponsibility, stupidity, partisanship, or some unholy combination thereof.

Just a week before Trump’s inauguration, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General launched an inquiry into Director Comey’s conduct during the election. Assuming it manages to survive under the new administration, the investigation just got a whole lot more complicated.

 

The Nation

This Is How the Republican Party Plans to Destroy the Federal Government

The Overthrow Project existed before Trump, but it may not survive his presidency.

By Hebert J. Gans

February 13, 2017

Before moderate Republicans became virtually extinct, the party advocated limited government. Today, however, President Trump is pursuing a radical shrinkage of the federal government that comes close to overthrowing it entirely. The goal of this project: to leave the country with a minuscule government that is basically an appendage to private enterprise. Call it the Overthrow Project.

The essence of the Overthrow Project is familiar: to reduce taxes on the very rich, free the business community from taxes and regulations that interfere with its money-making, and subsidize that community with public funds. In addition, the Overthrow Project aims to privatize as many governmental activities as possible. Left for government is the maintenance of the remaining public infrastructure that enables private enterprise to operate efficiently and safely, as well as the assurance of public safety through ever-higher funding of the military, the homeland-security apparatus, the police, and other forces of so called law and order.

Unlike conventional attempts by political parties to remain in power, the Overthrow Project also aims to obtain permanent control over all branches of the federal and state governments. That goal is pursued with an increasingly aggressive and norm-violating form of hardball politics only rarely seen in recent times.

The Overthrow Project also aims to obtain permanent control over all branches of the federal and state governments.

Whether the project is a thought-out strategy or the skillful use of every opportunity to implement its far-right ideology will have to be determined by future historians. Either way, much of the Republican program and strategy originated in the many right-wing think tanks created and supported by the donor class and the business community.

Understanding the GOP’s various activities as a single project makes it possible to see the unstated purposes of these activities and how they are connected.

Donald Trump campaigned as a populist outsider and frequently attacked the Republican establishment. Nonetheless, he has always supported its Overthrow Project, adopting its goals and its hardball methods. In fact, Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s most senior adviser, has been quoted as saying, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too.”

Now that Trump occupies the Oval Office, he will do all he can to lower taxes, deregulate the business community, and privatize a large number of governmental activities. Like other Republicans, he is eager to make life yet more difficult for America’s economically and otherwise vulnerable citizens. In addition, he has announced his intent to significantly beef up the military.

Even though Trump promised to bring back the jobs lost by the white working-class members of his base, his actual job-creation proposals appear to be limited to those infrastructure projects that would create profits for the business community.

The deregulation programs will, as always, increase the profits and stock prices of deregulated enterprises in many parts of the economy. The emasculation of the Clean Air Act, for example, will benefit the suppliers of coal, oil, and gas, even though it will require even Republicans to breathe polluted air.

The total or partial privatization projects now being implemented will target public education and the Veterans Affairs department, as well as Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs. Another attempt to divert part of Social Security to Wall Street can be expected. The further privatization of public lands, including in the national parks, is already being discussed.

The stakes are higher now than ever. Get The Nation in your inbox.

Existing privatized institutions, such as prisons and the military will undoubtedly be expanded. Private contractors have already taken over many of the military’s support functions. The possible elimination of cabinet departments and other federal agencies would generate additional privatization to replace some of the goods and services these have provided. A number of Trump’s cabinet secretaries and other top officials were chosen because they are intent on privatizing major government programs in the agencies they are to lead. Several have clearly been picked in order to decimate and perhaps eliminate their agencies.

The donor class has already gone far to privatize election campaigns, and a number of elected officials have always been at the beck and call of private enterprise.

Should the Overthrow Project be successful, government’s role would be limited to enforcing the rules and regulations for the newly privatized enterprises. Presumably, lawyers working for these enterprises will supply government with many of these rules and regulations and government would mainly protect money making and prevent unfair competition.

The business community would probably have government subsidize privatized public functions that supply what were once public goods. In fact, GOP ideology, which treats the market to as America’s dominant institution, suggests that additional institutions supplying public goods are eligible for eventual privatization.

A central part of the Overthrow Project seeks to enable the Republicans to obtain long-term political control of the federal and state governments. The systematic gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts has played a crucial role in the control effort, enabling the Republicans to put far more elected officials in office than the size of their majorities would justify. The various voter suppression, limitation, and discouragement schemes have helped to further increase the Republican vote in many places.

Partly as a result, nearly two-thirds of the state legislatures are now controlled by the GOP, almost enough to propose amendments to the Constitution. A handful more election victories would enable three-fourths of the states to approve the amendments after the Republican majorities in the Congress had passed them.

Gerrymandering and voter suppression often allow elected officials to disregard the wishes and opinions of all but a narrow base of their constituencies. The resulting autonomy frees them to advance party control as well as policies that are favored by only a small part of the population.

Other methods of advancing the party’s control over government are more indirect. These include cutting back funds for the Bureau of the Census and other federal data-gathering programs that implicitly but clearly criticize Republican policies. In years past, members of Congress have already proposed such informational cutbacks, notably those reporting the increases in racial, economic, and other inequalities that could hurt the party politically.

Further initiatives for party control include the intimidation of critics and the barring of access to critical news media. Presidential tweets can distract attention from important events and facts that could interfere with the pursuit of party control. Fake news can have a similar effect, for example by encouraging yet more distrust of the news media and influential political institutions. The recourse to “alternative facts” that seem to legitimize Republican ideology can threaten the country’s reliance on actual facts.

The attempt to achieve long-term party control is accompanied by the rejection of long-held political norms.

The attempt to achieve long-term party control is accompanied by new forms of hardball politics that include the rejection of long-held political norms. A significant example was the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, thus preventing the Democrats from attaining a liberal majority on the Court. Or consider the post-2016 election vote by North Carolina’s GOP legislators to reduce the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor. That coup is likely to be imitated in other states and could encourage conservative think tanks to invent yet other control schemes.

Yet the most dramatic example of the GOP’s norm violations may turn out to be President Trump’s refusal to sell his properties and financial holdings and put his monies into a blind trust. Since he will continue to collect profits from the businesses he owns, he is in effect telling the country that governing can coexist with, and perhaps be used for, money-making.

All of these actions support the Republicans’ attacks on the foundations of democratic government and thereby advance its overthrow.

Although the Overthrow Project may be revolutionary in the changes it could bring to the country, it will probably not include violence. Instead, its primary effects may include the normalization of the various party-control schemes, the constant violation of traditional norms, the toleration of nepotism, corruption, and the injection of alternative realities into the country’s political life.

Unless the currently widespread protest by large numbers of citizens, the media, and other cultural institutions continues, initiatives of the Overthrow Project and its various effects could become part of the mainstream culture. Even anti-democratic politics and authoritarian decision-making may then seem less and less abnormal.

Donald Trump’s belief that he has the power to implement his proposals by himself, his support of foreign dictators as well as his tolerance of the anti-democratic tendencies of the domestic and global far right all suggest that he may be ready to try some dictatorial methods himself if he cannot get his way by democratic means.

The Democrats may share the GOP’s aim to control all branches of government, but so far they have done little to achieve it. Although they have resorted to some of the same strategies and tactics as the Republicans—gerrymandering, for example—they have never gone about it as systematically as the Republicans.

While a handful of Democrats may support some of the GOP’s tax reform, deregulation, and other policies, the party is not interested in overthrowing the government—or private enterprise. Instead, it seeks to increase the well-being of the economically vulnerable population, particularly with a stronger safety net and an enlarged welfare state.

Yet the Democrats have not been as energetic and determined as the Republicans. Nor have they enforced party discipline. They have never received the level of strategic and tactical guidance the Republicans have obtained from their think tanks.

The Democrats have also eschewed the coup-like initiatives of the Republicans. They have not even figured out how to counter the GOP’s hardball politics, but then they have rarely resorted to its strategic guile and its anti-democratic actions.

Still, the Democrats could halt the Overthrow Project with a single landslide election, and end it if they obtained control of all branches of the federal government for several consecutive presidential and midterm elections.

Actually, the Overthrow Project could even be upset by Donald Trump’s failure to keep his promises to the so-called white working class. If its labor-market troubles and those of other citizens in red states continue, their voters could become politically more active—and in ways that could hurt the Republican Party.

Sooner or later, Republicans will find that decimating the government results in a mass of unintended consequences.

Although some may move further toward the totalitarian right, others might join the now ongoing liberal-left protest movements. However, these movements must transform themselves into a nationwide set of relatively like-minded local and state organizations before they can recruit enough disenchanted Republicans and independents to join them.

Above all, these organizations need to figure out how to persuade enough of the politically passive citizenry, particularly whites, to vote, and to vote Democratic, in the next election.

In order for their message and their proposed policies to be persuasive, significant ideological and class differences would have to be overcome or set aside. At election time, they would have to create a ground game that can also persuade disenchanted voters—and non-voters—to support them.

These tasks may be made a little easier by some systemic and self-destructive obstacles the Overthrow Project will face in the future. For one thing, many Democratic programs cannot be fully eliminated, and the federal government usually continues to grow regardless of which party is in power. In addition, the business community will realize that it cannot flourish or even survive without help from even the most hated federal agencies.

Sooner or later, the Republicans should discover that decimating the government will likely result in a mass of unintended consequences. For example, redistributing tax funds to the rich from the large number of middle- and working-class Americans could seriously damage the consumer economy on which the rest of the economy depends. Defunding programs that enable the poor and the working class to survive will further increase family breakups, domestic violence, drug addiction, suicide, and other human tragedies that even the Overthrow Project cannot totally ignore.

If the global economy continues to stifle the country’s economic growth, Trump’s protectionist fantasies notwithstanding, politics could become yet more adversarial. The resulting spread of governmental paralysis to state and local governments would also affect the Overthrow Project.

As always, much depends on the voters. If they continue to blame government for the decline in their standard of living, the Overthrow Project may muddle through. If, however, enough of the voters decide that private enterprise is making their lives miserable, they might realize that politics can help them. These voters could demand a governmental safety net that is securely anchored with entitlement, job creation, income support, and other programs that benefit them instead of the business community.

If the Republicans want to avoid the possibility of a long-term Democratic takeover of the government, they might not only have to call off the Overthrow Project but even participate in creating that safety net.

 

Trump’s in trouble. Is it Christie time already?

Matt Bai

Somehow, on Valentine’s Day, while he was trying to find a new national security adviser to replace the one he’d just fired, and while he was staring down multiple investigations over potential collusion with Russia, and while he was dealing with the fallout from having conducted missile diplomacy with the Japanese in the public dining room at Mar-a-Lago as if it were one of those party games where everyone got to dress up as a country in World War II … somehow, with all this swirling around him, President Trump managed to lunch with his old friend Chris Christie.

I don’t know what they talked about, exactly, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the opioid crisis, which was the stated reason for the meeting. If Trump’s half as smart as he always says he is, then he offered to send a moving van to Trenton.

Because Trump needs a guy like Christie to come in and grab the wheel of this careening presidency, and he needs it to happen now.

Oh, believe me, I know: Just the mention of Christie is enough to send his legion of critics into feral fits of rage and mockery. He came within inches of an indictment for having presided over the basest kind of political retribution, which ultimately undid both his presidential campaign and his second term as New Jersey’s governor. Even his supporters were stung by how brazenly he swung behind Trump and how small it made him seem.

We wouldn’t even be here were it not for Christie’s vengeful streak. If he hadn’t decided to publicly disembowel Marco Rubio in that last debate in New Hampshire, as payback for a raft of negative ads, Trump would probably be back on the “Apprentice” set right now, ogling the interns.

But whatever else you want to say about Christie (and I’ve always found him to be a more complicated and gifted politician than his detractors can stand to admit), the man knows how to bring focus to a political operation, and how to advance a governing agenda, and how to balance public bluster with backroom pragmatism.

And if there’s anyone on Trump’s senior staff who actually knows how to do any of that, by all means, get to the part of the ship that’s still above water and wave your hands frantically so we can see you.

I’m not saying Reince Priebus isn’t a decent guy in a difficult situation. But Priebus is a Wisconsin political operative who did a creditable job fundraising for the Republican Party. When it comes to running the vast federal government or navigating global alliances, he knows about as much as Omarosa.

Either Priebus deserves credit for assembling the rest of this misfit team or he’s too much of a supplicant to get control over staffing the operation. Whichever it is, he must know by now that he isn’t exactly fielding the A-team.

Kellyanne Conway proved herself to be an elite campaign strategist, for sure, but her descent into “alternative facts” has been painful to watch, and her rebuke from the government ethics office, three weeks into the administration, has to set some kind of record.

Sean Spicer, the press secretary, comes off so hostile and disingenuous that Melissa McCarthy’s impression is actually more sympathetic. Steve Bannon provides a whole lot of hifalutin neo-fascist craziness chaos theory, but that stuff tends to come in handier when you’re fomenting campus revolt than when you’ve got a Russian spy ship  menacing the coast of Delaware.

And let’s not leave out Stephen Miller, who not so long ago was a press aide for Michele Bachmann, and who is somehow now in charge of domestic policy (and occasionally presides over national security meetings, just because). In a typical moment from his startlingly bad debut on the Sunday shows last weekend, Miller told CBS’s John Dickerson: “I think to say we’re in control would be a substantial understatement.”

What does that mean, exactly? Are they declaring martial law? Have they mastered telekinesis?

All through the fall campaign, governing Republicans told me that Trump could be a fine president, because he would surround himself with all the smartest and most capable people. Really, they were telling themselves that. They hoped it was true, and so did I.

But that turns out to be the biggest Trumpian illusion of them all, and it’s not hard to see why. Since Trump had never run for even a seat on a condo board before, he didn’t have the kind of longtime, trusted political team that virtually every other president has counted on, for better or worse.

And since the party elite considered Trump’s candidacy a fringy exercise almost until the moment he won the nomination, his campaign mostly attracted fringy talent. And since Trump never really planned to win the fall election, he had no real plan in place to upgrade his entourage with some of the party’s more experienced hands.

So what we have now is basically a renegade campaign team trying to administer and reform the most complex government in human history. And they actually believe their rhetoric — about how lame politicians are, about how useless experience is, about how business is so much harder than governing.

They thought the whole thing would basically run itself. They literally threw Christie’s transition plan into a trash bin. (Um, hey … has that garbage truck come yet? Anybody up for some dumpster diving?)

The whole mini-debacle at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, when Trump and Shinzo Abe conferred on North Korea in full view of dinner guests, would never have happened if anyone sitting in that room had experience in crisis governing. Days of damaging headlines, all of which amounted to very little, could have been avoided by a modicum of expertise.

Instead, Trump finds himself, for the first time in his political life, in a position where he can’t just change the subject with one controversial tweet, and where he couldn’t just ignore the calls for Michael Flynn’s head. The days of being impervious to criticism are over.

If Trump wants his approval ratings to keep sinking, he should definitely stay the course. Or, like the Fonz in those classic episodes of “Happy Days,” he can admit he was wr … wr … wrong. And then he can make it someone else’s problem to fix the mess.

Why force yourself to fire another senior aide every few weeks or months, like a slow bleed? Better to replace poor Priebus now and let Christie deal with the unpleasantness of fixing things. (If there’s one thing Christie doesn’t mind, it’s unpleasantness.)

A chief of staff can elegantly reboot the system in a way a president can’t. A chief of staff can simply say: “I didn’t hire any of these guys, and I’m letting them go.” Done.

Look, it’s not my job to offer Trump advice on his presidency, and it’s not like he’d listen. Maybe it’s true that we’re all better off if the whole experiment craters in the first six months.

But that’s a pretty big risk to take, and if I were Trump, I’d call Christie back today and tell him I need some order and professionalism in the West Wing.

Which, by the way, is a substantial understatement.

 

The Salt Lake Trib

Washington Post Op-ed: Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the U.S. So why is no one protesting?

By Brian Klaas Special To The Washington Post

February 18, 2017

There is an enormous paradox at the heart of American democracy. Congress is deeply and stubbornly unpopular. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress – on a par with public support for traffic jams and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents – eight out of a body of 435 representatives – were defeated at the polls.

If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering.

In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe – not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.

Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition.

Gerrymandering, in a word, is why American democracy is broken.

The word “gerrymander” comes from an 1812 political cartoon drawn to parody Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s re-drawn senate districts. The cartoon depicts one of the bizarrely shaped districts in the contorted form of a fork-tongued salamander. Since 1812, gerrymandering has been increasingly used as a tool to divide and distort the electorate. More often than not, state legislatures are tasked with drawing district maps, allowing the electoral foxes to draw and defend their henhouse districts.

While no party is innocent when it comes to gerrymandering, a Washington Post analysis in 2014 found that eight of the 10 most gerrymandered districts in the United States were drawn by Republicans.

As a result, districts from the Illinois 4th to the North Carolina 12th often look like spilled inkblots rather than coherent voting blocs. They are anything but accidental. The Illinois 4th, for example, is nicknamed “the Latin Earmuffs,” because it connects two predominantly Latino areas by a thin line that is effectively just one road. In so doing, it packs Democrats into a contorted district, ensuring that those voters cast ballots in a safely Democratic preserve. The net result is a weakening of the power of Latino votes and more Republican districts than the electoral math should reasonably yield. Because Democrats are packed together as tightly as possible in one district, Republicans have a chance to win surrounding districts even though they are vastly outnumbered geographically.

These uncompetitive districts have a seriously corrosive effect on the integrity of democracy. If you’re elected to represent a district that is 80 percent Republican or 80 percent Democratic, there is absolutely no incentive to compromise. Ever. In fact, there is a strong disincentive to collaboration, because working across the aisle almost certainly means the risk of a primary challenge from the far right or far left of the party. For the overwhelming majority of Congressional representatives, there is no real risk to losing a general election – but there is a very real threat of losing a fiercely contested primary election. Over time, this causes sane people to pursue insane pandering and extreme positions. It is a key, but often overlooked, source of contemporary gridlock and endless bickering.

Moreover, gerrymandering also disempowers and distorts citizen votes – which leads to decreased turnout and a sense of powerlessness. In 2010, droves of tea party activists eager to have their voices heard quickly realized that their own representative was either a solidly liberal Democrat in an overwhelmingly blue district or a solidly conservative Republican in an overwhelmingly red district. Those representatives would not listen because the electoral map meant that they didn’t need to.

Those who now oppose President Trump are quickly learning the same lesson about the electoral calculations made by their representatives as they make calls or write letters to congressional representatives who seem about as likely to be swayed as granite. This helps to explain why 2014 turnout sagged to just 36.4 percent, the lowest turnout rate since World War II. Why bother showing up when the result already seems preordained?

There are two pieces of good news. First, several court rulings in state and federal courts have dealt a blow to gerrymandered districts. Several court rulings objected to districts that clearly were drawn along racial lines. Perhaps the most important is a Wisconsin case (Whitford v. Gill) that ruled that districts could not be drawn for deliberate partisan gain. The Supreme Court will rule on partisan gerrymandering in 2017, and it’s a case that could transform – and reinvigorate – American democracy at a time when a positive shock is sorely needed. (This may hold true even if Neil Gorsuch is confirmed to the Supreme Court, as Justices Kennedy and Roberts could side with the liberal minority).

Second, fixing gerrymandering is getting easier. Given the right parameters, computer models can fairly apportion citizens into districts that are diverse, competitive and geographically sensible – ensuring that minorities are not used as pawns in a national political game. These efforts can be bolstered by stripping district drawing powers from partisan legislators and putting them into the hands of citizen-led commissions that are comprised by an equal number of Democrat- and Republican-leaning voters. Partisan politics is to be exercised within the districts, not during their formation. But gerrymandering intensifies every decade regardless, because it’s not a politically “sexy” issue. When’s the last time you saw a march against skewed districting?

Even if the marches do come someday, the last stubborn barrier to getting reform right is human nature. Many people prefer to be surrounded by like-minded citizens, rather than feeling like a lonely red oasis in a sea of blue or vice versa. Rooting out gerrymandering won’t make San Francisco or rural Texas districts more competitive no matter the computer model used. And, as the urban/rural divide in American politics intensifies, competitive districts will be harder and harder to draw. The more we cluster, the less we find common ground and compromise.

Ultimately, though, we must remember that what truly differentiates democracy from despotism is political competition. The longer we allow our districts to be hijacked by partisans, blue or red, the further we gravitate away from the founding ideals of our republic and the closer we inch toward the death of American democracy.

Klaas is a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and author of “The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.”

 

Dems tap former Kentucky governor to counter Trump speech

DONNA CASSATA,   Associated Press     February 24, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have tapped former Gov. Steve Beshear to deliver the party’s response to President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, highlighting the Kentucky Democrat’s efforts to expand health care coverage under the law Republicans are determined to repeal and replace.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the announcement on Friday in which they also turned to immigration activist Astrid Silva to give the Spanish language response to Trump’s speech. Silva is a so-called Dreamer who came to the country at the age of five as an illegal immigrant.

Silva spoke at the Democratic convention and her selection is a reminder of Trump’s initial policies on immigration. While the Trump administration has cracked down on immigrants living in the country illegally, Trump has said he wants to spare the children.

Democrats’ choice of Beshear as Tuesday’s counterpoint to Trump underscored their desire to stress their support for former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which recent polling suggests is increasingly popular among Americans. It also comes as Republican leaders labor to craft a plan for replacing that law they can push through Congress — a problem that may have only intensified after GOP lawmakers held town hall meetings this week attended by boisterous backers of Obama’s statute.

Beshear, now 72, served as Kentucky governor from 2007 to 2015. He embraced Obama’s 2010 health care law and expanded the Medicaid program to cover around 400,000 Kentuckians, dropping the percentage of the state’s uninsured people from over 20 percent to 7.5 percent, one of the nation’s steepest reductions.

At a time when Democrats are trying to figure out how to reconnect with middle American voters who were crucial to Trump’s election victory in November, Beshear gives the party a face from that part of the country. He’s also from the same state as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily defeated Beshear when the Democrat challenged him in 1996 and is at the forefront of efforts to repeal the health care law.

“American families desperately need our president to put his full attention on creating opportunity and good-paying jobs and preserving their right to affordable health care and a quality education,” Beshear said in a statement. “Real leaders don’t spread derision and division — they build partnerships and offer solutions instead of ideology and blame.”

Republicans have repeatedly criticized the law as too costly and vowed to repeal and replace Obama’s overhaul.

House Republicans hope to roll out legislation in coming weeks to replace major elements of the Affordable Care Act with a new system involving tax credits, health savings accounts and high risk pools, but crucial details remain unknown.

Beshear’s successor, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, has asked the federal government to let Kentucky change its expanded Medicaid program. He’s said he would repeal the expansion if he’s not given permission to reshape it.

Bevin has said the existing program is too costly and he wants to require most recipients to pay monthly premiums and have jobs or volunteer for a charity to stay eligible for benefits.

Silva moved to Nevada as a child and contact with former Sen. Harry Reid helped to transform her into an immigration activist.

“President Trump would have people believe that all immigrants are criminals and that refugees are terrorists,” Silva said in a statement. “But like my family, the vast majority of immigrants and refugees came to this country escaping poverty and conflict, looking for a better life and the opportunity to reach the American Dream.”

LA Times

Betsy DeVos says it’s ‘possible’ her family has contributed $200 million to the Republican Party

Joy Resmovits January 17, 2017

Since Donald Trump picked Michigan fundraiser and school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as his secretary of Education, Democrats and other political observers have examined her generous political contributions and any conflicts they might pose.

On Tuesday, at DeVos’ confirmation hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders raised the issue again, but DeVos, who is married to the billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, said she didn’t know how much her family had contributed to the Republican Party.

Sanders (I-Vt.) wasn’t deterred.

“There is a growing fear that … we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic society, where a small number of very wealthy billionaires control, to some degree, our economic and political life,” said the former Democratic presidential candidate.

When DeVos still didn’t offer a number, Sanders said he’d heard that the family collectively had contributed $200 million over the years.

“That’s possible,” she said.

Would DeVos have been chosen to be secretary of Education without those $200 million in donations, Sanders asked?

DeVos said she thought she would have been.

During a three-hour hearing, Sanders and Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee grilled DeVos about her views on charter schools, sexual assault in colleges, funding, school vouchers and the enforcement of civil rights laws.

She provided few specifics about her plans, repeating that she looked forward to working together with representatives from both parties. DeVos focused on her support for providing families with a variety of education alternatives, though she said she supports public schools and the teachers who work there.

She said she is in favor of holding to the current timeline for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the major new successor to the controversial No Child Left Behind law that gives states more leeway to help assure student performance and teacher accountability.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked whether schools should be rated according to students’ proficiency — how much they know — and their growth — how much they learn each year. When DeVos didn’t respond immediately, Franken said: “It surprises me that you don’t know this issue.”

DeVos also had a pointed exchange with Sen. Christopher S.  Murphy (D-Conn.) about school violence. Murphy asked her whether guns had any place in schools. “I think that’s best left to states and locales to decide,” DeVos said.

When Murphy pressed her on that point, she referred to a school in Wyoming she had heard about from another senator that has a “grizzly bear fence.”

“I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she said.

Murphy asked whether she would support Trump if he were to end gun-free school zones. She said she would support the president, but school violence hurt her heart.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, said she remained “very outraged” by Trump’s comments made public last year about groping women without their consent. Murray described the behavior Trump had boasted about, and asked DeVos whether it would be considered assault if it occurred at a school.

DeVos said yes.

The committee is planning to vote on DeVos on Tuesday. Senators wanted more time to question her, in particular because they have not yet received a letter from the Office of Government Ethics outlining how DeVos would avoid conflicts of interest in connection with her financial interests and political contributions.

 

Huffington Post  Politics

Here’s How Much Betsy DeVos And Her Family Paid To Back GOP Senators Who Will Support Her

It’s good to be a donor.

By Paul Blumenthal February 3, 2017

WASHINGTON ― The nomination of billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education is one vote shy of failing in the Republican-controlled Senate. One thing that could come to her aid is that she and the entire DeVos family are massive Republican Party donors who helped fund the election of the remaining senators who will decide her fate.

Big donors often get positions in government, ambassadorships or ceremonial titles, but rarely do they come as big as DeVos. Sitting Republican senators have received $115,000 from Betsy DeVos herself, and more than $950,000 from the full DeVos clan since 1980. In the past two election cycles alone, her family has donated $8.3 million to Republican Party super PACs.

Campaign Contributions To Senators By The DeVos Family

HuffPost

Source: Center for American Progress; Every Voice; Federal Election Commission.

After Sens. Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced their opposition to DeVos, her opponents turned their sights on other potential no votes from Republicans. The last hope to scuttle her nomination appears to be Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Like a lot of his colleagues, Toomey has received financial support from DeVos and her family throughout his career.

Toomey received $60,050 from the DeVos family during his political career. He was also boosted by two super PACs in his successful 2016 re-election campaign that received DeVos money. Freedom Partners Action Fund, the super PAC founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, spent $7 million to support Toomey’s election while getting $150,000 from the DeVos family. Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), spent $15 million to back Toomey after getting more than $2 million from the DeVos family.

For now, it looks like Toomey is a DeVos supporter. He told a Pennsylvania paper, “I will absolutely be voting for Betsy DeVos,” and previously called her a “a great pick.” On Thursday night, he issued a statement declaring again that he’d vote to confirm her. Despite this, Democrats and other DeVos opponents have been pushing Pennsylvania residents to inundate his office with phone calls and letters calling for him to oppose the DeVos nomination.

Collins and Murkowski based their no votes on DeVos on the volume of opposition her nomination elicited from their constituents. They also said that DeVos had limited qualifications for the job and that she did not support public education. For what it’s worth, Murkowski received $43,200 from the DeVos family. Collins did not receive any DeVos contributions.

Campaign finance reform groups have called on senators who received money from DeVos and her family to recuse themselves from voting on her nomination.

“Most people can see that Betsy DeVos lacks the experience needed to succeed as Education Secretary, and it’s easy to assume under the circumstances that she is only up for the job because of her family’s history of generous political giving,” Laura Friedenbach, spokeswoman for the reform group Every Voice, said in a statement. “The only way for senators who have received donations from DeVos and her family to rid themselves of the appearance of corruption is to recuse themselves from voting on her nomination.”

The DeVos family has long been embedded in the firmament of Republican Party politics as donors, party leaders and candidates. Richard DeVos Sr. is the founder of the multilevel marketing firm Amway (now Alticor) and owner of the Orlando Magic. A supporter of free market capitalism and a backer of the Christian Right, the elder DeVos was one of a select few to fund the rise of the New Right in the 1970s. His money helped fund the American Enterprise Institute and found the Heritage Foundation.

Betsy DeVos came from a wealthy family herself, although not nearly as rich as the billions amassed by Richard DeVos Sr. Her father made millions in the car parts industry. Later, her brother, Erik Prince, would become a millionaire running the private security firm Blackwater. She was involved in the 2006 Michigan governor bid made by her husband, Richard DeVos Jr. She also served two stints as the head of the Michigan Republican Party in the late ‘90s and again in the early 2000s.

The effort that she has really poured money into is the cause of market-based education reform. DeVos ran the group American Federation for Children, which has spent millions to support pro-charter school candidates for school board and other state-level offices across the country.

In 1997, after facing years of criticism for her and her family’s campaign contributions, DeVos defended herself in Roll Call.

“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence,” she wrote. “Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

DeVos Questions If Schools Should Provide Free Lunch

Pranshu Rathi, International Business Times February 24, 2017

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a seemingly innocuous joke Thursday about no one getting a free lunch. But the comment came as DeVos, a staunch opponent of public schools, is taking over the nation’s free lunch program that provides nutrition to low-income students and is under attack from Republicans, raising questions about whether the administration of President Donald Trump will protect food aid programs for children, NPR reported.

During her opening remarks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in the outskirts of Washington, Devos jokingly said she is the “first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The debate over free lunch, however, is no joke. Last year, Republicans pushed to introduce a bill that could have stopped thousands of schools from offering free lunch to all public school students.

Republicans were unsuccessful in passing the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) bill that aimed to reform an Obama-era program called Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Republicans who pushed for the bill argued that the CEP is a waste of taxpayers’ money as it subsidizes the meals of kids who can afford to pay for them. In particular, the bill aimed to reform the minimum eligibility criteria for receiving free lunch, according to the Washington Post.

Under the program, schools or school districts where 40 percent of the students meet the requirement for a free lunch can also provide meals to all students for free. In turn, schools are reimbursed based on the percentage of low-income students. Republicans argued for hiking the 40 percent eligibility criteria to 60 percent.

But Democrats argue providing free lunch to all student reduces the stigma attached to getting free meals at school. “Students are free to eat without being categorized and stigmatized, and this has created a wonderful climate of equality and cooperation,” Pruitt Jill Pruitt, the eighth-grade counselor at Coffee Middle School in south central Georgia, told the Atlantic.

Betti J. Wiggins, executive director of Detroit Public School’s office of school nutrition, said students don’t like to admit they come from poor backgrounds. “Many students whose household incomes say they are full-pay may in reality be the household where our students are the most food insecure,” he said.

In most states, students that come from a family of four earning $44,955 or less qualify for reduced-price meals and student with families earning $31,590 or less get free meals. Roughly 31 million American school children qualify for free lunch.

 

McClatchy DC Bureau

Politics & Government   

Trump’s pick for commerce leaves Russia questions unanswered

By Kevin G. Hall February 26, 2017

WASHINGTON

Wilbur Ross is likely to be confirmed as Donald Trump’s secretary of commerce on Monday despite unanswered questions about his ownership of a Cyprus bank that caters to wealthy Russians.

Ross, a wealthy business turnaround artist, has not responded to a February 16 letter from six Democratic Senators asking him to explain his relationship with several Russian oligarchs who hold stakes in the once-troubled foreign bank.

Ross’s involvement with the Cyprus bank adds to a list of Russia connections that have dogged Trump’s tenure in the White House. Investigations are underway by the FBI, the intelligence community and Congress into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s plot to influence the U.S. election. The president has dismissed those suggestions as a “ruse.”

The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system.

Ross, who turns 80 in November and was a Democrat for much of his life, is a billionaire who has turned around high-profile companies in the steel, coal, textiles and auto-parts sectors. His manufacturing acumen is more relevant to his appointment as commerce secretary.

More recently, he led a rescue of Bank of Cyprus in September 2014 after the Cypriot government — in consultation with Russian President Vladimir Putin — first propped up the institution.

“Cyprus banks have a long and painful history of laundering dirty money from Russians involved with corruption and criminality,” said Elise Bean, a former Senate investigator who specialized in combating money laundering and tax evasion. “Buying a Cyprus bank necessarily raises red flags about suspect deposits, high-risk clients and hidden activities.”

The Russian business and government elite have often sought financial security in the Mediterranean island’s banking system. Oligarch Dmitry Ryvoloviev took a nearly 10 percent stake in Bank of Cyprus in 2010. Two years earlier, amid the U.S. financial crisis when real-estate prices were softening, Ryvoloviev purchased Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for $95 million. The transaction generated questions because of its inflated market price, about $60 million more than Trump had paid for the Florida property four years earlier.

When Europe’s debt crisis spread and affected Cyprus in 2012 and 2013, that nation’s second biggest bank, Laiki Bank, was closed. The government imposed losses on uninsured deposits, many belonging to Russians.

Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus.

The Cypriot response was partly negotiated with Putin, who the Russian media said wanted to punish wealthy Russians who protected their fortunes abroad. A consortium led by Ross took a majority stake of 18 percent in September 2014. Ross now serves as vice chairman, a post he promised to resign when the Senate confirms him.

Ross had little history in global banking, but in 2011 he took an ownership stake in Bank of Ireland, the only bank in that nation the government didn’t seize. Ross tripled his investment when he sold his Irish stake in June 2014, then months later, he took a gamble on Bank of Cyprus.

Six Democratic senators, led by Florida’s Bill Nelson, asked for details about his relationship with big Russian shareholders in Bank of Cyprus, including Viktor Vekselberg, a longtime Putin ally, and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former vice chairman of Bank of Cyprus and a former KGB agent believed to be a Putin associate.

Aides to several of the senators confirmed late Friday that Ross hadn’t responded to their questions. The White House sent McClatchy to a Commerce Department transition aide, who didn’t respond to questions.

Ross was involved with Russia during the 1990s when President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve on the U.S-Russia Investment Fund. The U.S. government set up an investment fund in 1995 to help push the new Russian nation toward a free-market economy after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The fund was converted to a nonprofit corporation in 2008 and many of its assets sold off. The banking investments were purchased by a subsidiary of German financial giant Deutsche Bank, led at the time by Josef Ackermann. Ross asked Ackermann to serve as chairman of the reconstituted Bank of Cyprus after his 2014 investment.

Ackermann left Deutsche Bank in 2012. The bank paid $7.2 billion in fines last year to the U.S. government over toxic mortgages it packaged and sold between 2005 and 2007. And last month, the bank agreed to pay almost $630 million to regulators in London and New York to end investigations into complex stock trades in Russia between 2011 and 2015.

Cyprus also features prominently in the Panama Papers, the massive leak of offshore company data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Journalists from McClatchy and across the globe, working together under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, showed last year how politicians, kingpins and the wealthy all used shell companies to hide their money.

Many in Putin’s inner circle were tied to foreign shell companies that received payments through Russian Commercial Bank in Cyprus and other bank operations there. In fact, Cyprus appears more than half a million times in the roughly 11.5 million files that make up the Panama Papers.

David Goldstein in Washington contributed.

 

Treasury Pick Steve Mnuchin Denies It, But Victims Describe His Bank as a Foreclosure Machine

David Dayen January 19, 2017

Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin kicked off his confirmation hearing Thursday with a defiant opening statement, mostly defending his record as CEO of OneWest Bank. He cast himself as a tireless savior for homeowners after scooping up failed lender IndyMac. “It has been said that I ran a ‘foreclosure machine,’” he said. “I ran a loan modification machine.”

But in stark contrast to his fuzzy statistics about attempted loan modifications, the victims of OneWest’s foreclosure practices have been real and ubiquitous.

A TV advertising campaign that’s been running in Nevada, Arizona, and Iowa features Lisa Fraser, a widow who says OneWest “lied to us and took our home” of 25 years, right after her husband’s funeral.

And on Wednesday, four women appeared at a congressional forum organized by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, relaying their stories of abuse at the hands of OneWest. Democrats had hoped to present the homeowners as witnesses at Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing, but were denied by Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch.

The women’s stories share a remarkable symmetry to those of nearly a dozen OneWest homeowners reviewed by The Intercept over the past several days. They paint a picture of a bank that did more to trap customers than to help them through their mortgage troubles.

Mnuchin complained to senators that he has “been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck. Nothing could be further than the truth.”

But the evidence to support that conclusion is considerable.

Heather McCreary of Sparks, Nevada, one of the four individuals in Washington to testify on Wednesday, was laid off from her job as a home health care provider in 2009. She and her family sought a modification from OneWest as they recovered from the lost wages. OneWest did modify the loan, one of the “over 100,000” such modifications Mnuchin touted in his hearing. But after six months of making modified payments, the bank denied McCreary’s personal check, claiming that the payment had to be made by cashier’s check. “I looked at the paperwork, and couldn’t find that on there,” McCreary said. “The Legal Aid person working with us couldn’t find it.”

OneWest told McCreary to re-apply for the modification twice, then cut off all communications and refused to accept payments. “A few months later we had a foreclosure notice taped to the window, with two weeks to get out,” she said. The bank was pursuing foreclosure while negotiating a modification — a practice known as dual tracking that is now illegal.

Tara Inden, an actress from Hollywood, California, couldn’t get a loan modification from OneWest after multiple attempts. Even after finding a co-tenant willing to pay off her amount due, OneWest refused the money and pursued foreclosure. Inden has fended off four different foreclosure attempts, including one instance when she returned home to find a locksmith breaking in to change the locks. “I took a picture of the work order, it said OneWest Bank on it,” Inden said. “I called the police, they said what do you want us to do, that’s the bank.”

Inden remains in the home today. OneWest gave her $13,000 as part of the Independent Foreclosure Review, a process initiated by federal regulators forcing OneWest and other banks to double-check their foreclosure cases for errors. Inden received no explanation for why she received the money, but sees it as a tacit admission that OneWest violated the law in her case.

Tim Davis of Northern Virginia had a mysterious $14,479 charge added to his loan’s escrow balance on multiple occasions, even after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court ordered it removed. “I don’t think that Mr. Mnuchin should be put in a position of government power without further scrutiny,” Davis said in an email.

Donald Hackett of Las Vegas claimed in legal filings that OneWest illegally foreclosed on them without being the true owner of his loan. He ended up losing the case, and the home. “They had to cheat to beat me,” Hackett alleged. “They came in like union busters to try to bust everybody up and scare you, make you afraid.”

While Hackett was unsuccessful, Mnuchin’s bank has been accused by investigators at the California attorney general’s office of  “widespread misconduct” in foreclosure operations, with over a thousand violations of state statutes. The state attorney general, now-Sen. Kamala Harris, decided not to prosecute OneWest for the violations.

Teena Colebrook, an office manager from Hawthorne, California, came to prominence as a Trump supporter disgusted by the Mnuchin selection. She lost her home to OneWest in April 2015, after a years long battle that began with the loss of renters who shared the property. Colebrook was informed that the only way she could receive help from OneWest was if she fell 90 days behind on her mortgage payments. This was not true: qualifying for the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, did not require delinquency, only a risk of default.

“They won’t tell you in writing and they’ll claim they never said that,” Colebrook said. She found robo-signed documents in her file, had insurance policies force-placed onto her loan unnecessarily, and kept getting conflicting statements about how much she actually owed. Late fees piled up, like outsized certified mailing costs of $2,000, all appended to her loan. She eventually ran out of appeals. “They wanted my property, wouldn’t accept any tender offers,” Colebrook said. “They stole my equity. That’s why I’m so angry. If [Mnuchin] can’t get one person’s figures right, how can he be in charge of the Treasury?”

Colebrook put together a complaint group on the Internet to share stories with other sufferers of OneWest. She found multiple people who said they were told to miss payments and then shoved into foreclosure. Others said they were put through year-long trial modifications (under HAMP they were only supposed to be three months long) and then denied a permanent modification, with an immediate demand for the difference between the trial payment and original payment, which could stretch into thousands of dollars. Others lost homes held by their families for decades.

These stories are familiar to those who experienced the aftermath of the financial crisis. OneWest was neither special nor unique in its urgency to foreclose and unwillingness to extend help to the broad mass of struggling borrowers. But Mnuchin’s nomination has put the spotlight back on a forgotten scandal of deception.

Wednesday’s unofficial hearing was the first in Congress in several years featuring homeowners. In the hearing room, Heather McCreary sat next to Colleen Ison-Hodroff, an 84-year-old widow from Minneapolis asked by OneWest to pay off the full balance due on her residence a few days after her husband’s funeral. Ison-Hodroff said OneWest could kick her out of her home of 54 years at any time. “Allowing an 84 year-old woman to be foreclosed on is not the American way,” McCreary said.

When OneWest foreclosure victims heard that Mnuchin was chosen to lead the Treasury Department, they were shocked. “When he was nominated, it was like the floor crashed underneath me,” said McCreary. “It brought back everything. His name was on my paperwork.”

Other victims offered similar remarks. “For someone who will be tasked with making sure that the economy is doing all it can for people like me, even when it seems the system is rigged against them, Steve Mnuchin is not that person,” said forum participant Cristina Clifford, who lost her condo in Whittier, California, after also being told by OneWest to fall behind on payments.

“I think the first thing is he belongs in a prison,” said Tara Inden.

The Mnuchin nomination can only be derailed through Republican opposition, which is relatively unlikely. But it has set off a new wave of activism nationwide.

Activists have been camped out at Goldman Sachs’s New York City headquarters since Tuesday, targeting Mnuchin’s former employer of 17 years. In an echo of a protest to save her home in 2011, OneWest customer Rose Mary Gudiel of La Puente, California, led a march in the rain to Mnuchin’s Bel-Air mansion on Wednesday night, placing furniture on his driveway before police dispersed roughly 60 activists. (Mnuchin famously scrubbed his address off the Internet after the 2011 protest, saying his family was subjected to “public ire at the banking industry.” But the same organizers found his house again.)

“I put it in the middle of a resurgence of housing justice activism,” said Amy Schur of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “Hard-hit communities are organizing across the country like they haven’t in years. Sometimes we might have kept eyes on the powers that be locally, but with the likes of Trump and this cabinet, we have to take this fight nationally as well.”

In These Times

Even Trump Can’t Stop the Tide of Green Jobs

BY Yana Kunichoff   February 22, 2017

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. (AdamChandler86/ Flickr)

Donald Trump was elected in November on a platform that included both climate denial and the promise of jobs for Rust Belt communities still hurting from deindustrialization. In the months since, his strategy to create jobs has become increasingly clear: tax breaks and public shaming of companies planning to move their operations out of the country.

Take the case of Carrier, a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis that produces air conditioners. Trump first threatened to slap tariffs on Carrier’s imports after the company announced it would move a plant to Mexico. Then, he reportedly called Greg Hayes, CEO of the parent company United Technologies, who agreed to keep the plant in the United States in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. (Carrier later admitted that only a portion of the plant’s jobs would remain in the country.)

The company’s decision to keep jobs in the United States was declared a victory for the Trump PR machine, but it’s unclear that it can create a major change in access to jobs in the long-term. Hayes, announcing that the tax breaks would allow additional investment into the plant, noted that the surge of money would go towards automation. And with automation, eventually, comes a loss of jobs.

“Automation means less people,” Hayes told CNN.  “I think we’ll have a reduction of workforce at some point in time once they get all the automation in and up and running.”

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. This past spring, for example, U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas, and a Rockefeller Foundation-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors study found that energy retrofitting buildings in the United States could create more than 3 million “job years” of employment.

That means green jobs remain one of the key hopes for revitalizing communities. But can they move forward under a climate-skeptic and coal-loving president?

Green jobs today

The Obama administration, for the most part, was a strong supporter of clean technology. In 2008, Obama wrangled tax credits for businesses that invest in wind and solar, which were extended in 2015 through 2020. The solar sector in particular saw huge growth. It grew 17 times faster than the overall economy in 2016, according to the National Solar Jobs Census, buoyed in large part by the 2009 stimulus funds that invested in solar energy.

Trump, meanwhile, has promised to place his investment in coal and oil jobs, as well as dismantle the Clean Power Plan that aimed to take on global warming by setting a limit on carbon dioxide pollution. The president has also declared an all-out war on regulation that encompasses rules designed to promote energy efficiency, a step that many see as the first volley in a war against green jobs.

It’s a bleak outlook, but experts say that even the wholesale destruction Trump threatens to bear on everything climate-related likely can’t entirely stop the growth of jobs in the clean energy sector (or unions’ efforts to organize those workers as the sector expands).

Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which seeks to bridge the divide between labor and the climate movement, says that Trump can’t singlehandedly stop the move toward wind, solar and geothermal.

“That train left the station 10-15 years ago and it’s growing at pretty high speed right now,” says Uehlein. “That’s going to continue.”

One key reason that Uehlein and other analysts are still guardedly optimistic is that so much green energy growth happens at the state level. A December 2016 study by the Brookings Institute concluded that with little to no future buy-in from the federal government, states and localities would become increasingly important in turning the economy toward green jobs.

Uehlein says he’s already seen that happen successfully at the state level and that it’s creating good, unionized jobs. He points towards the country’s largest offshore wind farm that was approved in January 2017 and will help New York state get 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2030.

“Labor and the environmental community worked with offshore wind companies and made this happen,” he says, “and it’s the action at state and local levels that is driving this, even under Democratic administrations who have been far better about the environment.”

That reality could be complicated by red states with ideologies that steer them away from investments in environmentally friendly policies. For example, Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s home state, in 2015 attempted to ad extra charges to the bills of people using solar energy. Tennessee’s bright sunshine hasn’t been captured by much solar power in large part because the state doesn’t have a renewable portfolio standard mandate that encourages utilities to use green power, as many other states that have benefitted from green energy do. Florida, meanwhile, banned the use of the term “climate change” in government communications, emails or reports.

But that doesn’t change that the interest in green jobs from voters is mostly bipartisan. Several polls in the last six months of Republican voters, many of whom backed Trump, have found support for renewable energy.

Dr. Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of Berkley, created the U.S. green jobs model to understand the future of the green energy industry through to 2030. The study found that green energy could create millions of jobs.

“It’s a pretty simple call the Trump team will need to make. Do they hang on to the technologies of the past,” Kammen asks, “or do you get more jobs by investing in these new technologies?”

An existential threat to the environment and labor

While the green jobs industry may still grow, Trump’s presidency has created a broader existential crisis both for labor and the environment.

In a report released after his election, the Labor Network for Sustainability put forward a plan called “How Labor and Climate United Can Trump Trump,” addressing the fears that Trump would accelerate the march towards cataclysmic climate change and, in the process, bring about right-to-work laws at the federal level that would spell doom for unions.

Uehlein says that many unions have an “all of the above” policy that supports work in all forms of energy, not only wind and solar but also oil and gas and coal. That is a “recipe for climate disaster,” he says.

Instead, Uehlein argues that labor and environmental groups must put together an alternative agenda around jobs and transitioning to a clean economy, develop a stronger alliance, target Trump’s base to convince them of the troubling nature of his agenda for both labor and the environment and commit to working through the inevitable tensions that will arise, like those presented by the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Most importantly, the report notes, labor can’t support the parts of Trump’s agenda that it finds helpful, and ignore those that are harmful. Climate groups, meanwhile, can’t ignore the economic realities of the communities that voted for Trump.

The report makes its case: “If the climate protection movement wants to have a future, it will have to find a way to appeal to the alienated Trump voters that not only gives lip service to their interests but actually wins them over.” Labor, meanwhile must “use good, stable jobs protecting the climate to challenge the growing inequality and injustice of our society.”

This work was funded in part by the Social Justice News Nexus program at Medill at Northwestern University.

Never has independent journalism mattered more. Help hold power to account:  Subscribe to In These Times magazine, or make a tax-deductable donation to fund this reporting.

Yana Kunichoff is a Chicago-based journalist covering immigration, labor, housing and social movements. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Reporter, Truthout and the American Independent, among others.

 

Wind Energy Will See More Tech Breakthroughs, Falling Costs, Experts Predict

Jeff McMahon,  Contributor, I cover green technology, energy and the environment from Chicago. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.  

February 27, 2017

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted the largest-ever survey of experts on energy last year, asking them to predict whether wind energy would continue to get cheaper toward 2030 and beyond.

When they plotted the 163 expert predictions against traditional analyses, they discovered the experts are more optimistic than their analyses.

“Our experts are somewhat more optimistic about future cost reduction potential than much of the existing literature,” LBL Senior Scientist Ryan Wiser said in Chicago last week. “That suggests our experts are not simply basing their estimates on the existing literature, but are bringing some new information—hopefully insightful information—to the table.”

The survey also collected opinions from a smaller group of 22 “leading experts.” These top researchers and technologists are the people who developed the wind industry over the last 20 to 30 years, Wiser said, and they proved even more optimistic than the larger group.

Their optimism may derive from technological advancements that have yet to be implemented, suggesting that wind energy is not as mature a technology as its slowly evolving turbines make it appear. Immature technologies, as solar energy has demonstrated, tend to enjoy steeper drops in cost.

“That was the question we were trying to get at with this expert survey,” Wiser said. “Is this a mature technology where only somewhat modest incremental improvements are plausible? Or instead do there remain significant opportunities for cost reduction?

“Onshore wind technology is fairly mature,” Wiser concluded, but the survey suggests that “further advancements are on the horizon—and not only in reduced up-front costs. Experts anticipate a wide range of advancements that will increase project performance, extend project design lives, and lower operational expenses. Offshore wind has even greater opportunities for cost reduction, though there are larger uncertainties in the degree of that reduction.”

In the median, the experts predicted on-shore wind energy would see cost reductions of about 35 percent by 2050. The cost of offshore wind would drop 38 percent to 41 percent, they predicted.

Cost reductions matter because wind faces stiff competition from natural gas, and that competition will stiffen further when wind loses its federal production tax credit over the next four years. But even without subsidy, Lazard estimates the cost of wind starts at 3.2¢ per kilowatt hour, making it the cheapest form of energy in America today.

Instead of asking the experts to predict that cost in the future, Wiser’s team asked them to predict each of the five elements that determine cost: up-front installation cost, capacity factor, design life, cost of financing, and operating expense.

“We forced people to think about all of the five components that ultimately go into the levelized cost of energy,” he told a gathering of scientists, economists and public policy experts hosted by the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago [watch the video].

Wiser’s team published the survey findings last fall in the journal Nature Energy.

Researchers traditionally predict future costs through learning curves, which anticipate how much costs will fall as capacity increases, or through engineering analysis.

“Learning curves and engineering analysis are perfectly useful, interesting ways of understanding cost reduction potential,” Wiser said. “We wanted to bring at this problem a somewhat new technique to see how it fit in with other existing literature that was out there.”

A summary of the survey findings released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

 

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The U.S. military is not in Iraq “to seize anybody’s oil”, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump at the start of a visit to Iraq on Monday.

Mattis, on his first trip to Iraq as Pentagon chief, is hoping to assess the war effort as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launch a new push to evict Islamic State militants from their remaining stronghold in the city of Mosul.

But he is likely to face questions about Trump’s remarks and actions, including a temporary ban on travel to the United States and for saying America should have seized Iraq’s oil after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Trump told CIA staff in January: “We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you’ll have another chance.”

 

Senator John McCain’s belated Valentine’s Day chocolate for the press – “We need you,” he told Chuck Todd on NBC’s  Meet the Press – was devoured by the Sunday Beltway programs today.

The Todd-McCain interview, released in tweeted snippets over the last couple of days but aired in full this morning, included the warning that the suppression of a “free and many times adversarial press” is “how dictators get started.”

Starting with a joke – seemingly – McCain told Todd, “I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.

“If you want to preserve, I’m very serious now, if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

Vice pres Pence in a speech in Brussels, Belgium attempted to reassure Europe to assure them we will still support NATO. Should they believe Trump or Pence.

How A ‘Farm Bust’ Could Help Renew American Agriculture

How A ‘Farm Bust’ Could Help Renew American Agriculture

Current farming methodologies aren’t just bad for land, community, and ecology—they’re increasingly bad for business. Something’s gotta give.

 

By Gracy Olmstead  February 13, 2017

The Wall Street Journal is predicting a farm bust on the horizon, as America’s role in the global grain market shrinks, and the price for corn continues to drop. Reporters Jesse Newman and Patrick McGroarty write

The Farm Belt is hurtling toward a milestone: Soon there will be fewer than two million farms in America for the first time since pioneers moved westward after the Louisiana Purchase.

This number definitely reflects a growing decline in farming. But what the Wall Street Journal doesn’t note is that the nation’s largest farms are only growing more powerful and large. We have fewer farms, yes, but largely because we have a greater share of larger, industrialized farms.

The WSJ interviewed a specific type of farmer for this article: the commodity crop farmer. Yes, they represent the greatest portion of farms in the American heartland. But many are also beginning to realize that government subsidies and cushy crop insurance premiums can’t save them forever: when their supply is abundantly overstepping demand, eventually reality is going to hit. And if this WSJ piece is any indication, reality is indeed about to strike.

How America’s Heartland Farms Are Hurting

As you read through the Wall Street Journal’s article, a general outline of the farmers interviewed falls into place: 50-plus years of age, farming more than 1,000 acres, dotted across America’s flyover country in states like Iowa and Kansas. They’re all struggling to make ends meet:

Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.

The U.S. share of the global grain market is less than half what it was in the 1970s. American farmers’ incomes will drop 9% in 2017, the Agriculture Department estimates, extending the steepest slide since the Great Depression into a fourth year.

Many of these farmers need a second career in order to keep their businesses afloat.

‘No one just grain farms anymore,’ said Deb Stout, whose sons Mason and Spencer farm the family’s 2,000 acres in Sterling, Kan., 120 miles east of Ransom. Spencer also works as a mechanic, and Mason is a substitute mailman. ‘Having a side job seems like the only way to make it work,’ she said.

The History Of American Agriculture’s Decline

How did we get to this point? The WSJ gives a mini history lesson midway through their article:

From the early 1800s until the Great Depression, the number of U.S. farms grew steadily as pioneers spread west of the Mississippi River. Families typically raised a mix of crops and livestock on a few hundred acres of land at most. After World War II, high-horsepower tractors and combines enabled farmers to cover more ground. Two decades ago, genetically engineered seeds helped farmers grow more.

Farms grew bigger and more specialized. Large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production. Most farms, even some of the biggest, are still run by families. As farm sizes jumped, their numbers fell, from six million in 1945 to just over two million in 2015, nearing a threshold last seen in the mid-1800s. Total acres farmed in the U.S. have dropped 24% to 912 million acres.

This short account of the jump from subsistence-style farming to today’s industrialized farming could easily fill thousands of pages (and indeed has—from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” to Wendell Berry’s novels).

Today’s Farms Still Follow an ‘Industrial Paradigm’

The Industrial Revolution shaped and transformed farming in seismic ways. As I wrote for Comment Magazine last year, “farming in the new, industrialized era began to favor quantity and specialization—because new machines worked most efficiently when farmers chose to harvest large, homogenous acreages instead of the small, diversified crops of the past. Farmers sought bigger and bigger swaths of land, seeing in them the promise of greater funds in the bank.”

American farms are still stuck in this “industrial paradigm,” says sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. “Just like the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial, and the industrial to the information, and now the information is giving way to the regenerative economy, agriculture is changing. Because farmers tend to be conservative, agriculture is the slowest of all economic sectors to embrace the new economy.”

When Salatin’s father bought their family-operated farm in Swoope, Virginia, the land was severely eroded, and soil health was poor. “When my dad, in the early 1960s, asked agricultural advisors to tell him how to make a living on this farm, they all encouraged him to abuse the land more aggressively,” remembers Salatin. “He eschewed that counsel and did the opposite of everything they said. Today, we are healthy and profitable. Every person must decide whose advice to follow.”

Incentivizing Farmers to Destroy Neighbors’ Businesses

The WSJ piece goes on, “For some, the slump is an opportunity. Farmers with low debts and enough scale to profit from last year’s record harvests could be in a position to rent or buy up land from struggling neighbors.” In other words, large (most likely government-subsidized) farms can use this opportunity to buy out their smaller counterparts. Sounds like a great thing for the economy long-term, doesn’t it?

One chilly afternoon in October, Mr. Scheufler steered his combine across the first field he bought. The machine’s giant claw spun through rows of golden soybeans. A hawk circled the combine’s wake, hunting for exposed field mice. He recalled farmers whose land he has taken over: Ted Hartwick ’s, the Matthews’, the Profits’, his father’s.

Yes, building a large and profitable business is usually seen as an integral part of free market economics. We don’t want to prevent successful farms from getting larger. But it’s crucial to ask a few questions here: first, are these farms growing via their own merits—or via the support of the federal government? (Often, the answer is the latter.) Is their business model truly sustainable (and therefore, “successful” long term)?

Too often, the growth of a commodity farm means taking diversity, sustainability, and community, and turning these goods into homogeneity, depreciation, and solitude. This may not be Scheufler’s story. But it is, increasingly, the story of America’s heartland.  As another interviewee tells the WSJ,

There were 28 students in Mr. Scott’s graduating class at Ransom’s high school nearly four decades ago. Most were farmers’ children. This year there are nine students in the school’s senior class. ‘Farms got bigger to be more efficient, but it’s caused these towns to die a slow death,’ Mr. Scott said.

It’s not just farm towns that are ill-served by the way agriculture currently works. Land erosion, water contamination, and soil pollution are just a few of the ecological consequences of bad farming practices. “The current debacle has been coming for a long time,” says Salatin. And, he adds, “It will not end quickly. Rectifying our decades of abuse will not be easy. Healing will be disturbing.”

Farmers Aren’t Encouraged to Diversify Their Operations

Part of the problem here is that farmers, rather than diversifying their farms to protect against commodity price drops, have been encouraged (largely by subsidies, sometimes by the market) to always produce more of the same.

“Rather than studying how nature works, the informational component of the agriculture sector tends to throw out historic templates and remake life in a mechanical hubris of fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper,” says Salatin.

Many farmers who’ve expanded their enterprises have continued to grow the same exact crops on all that land. Now, writes Newman and McGroarty, “Corn and wheat output has never been higher, and never has so much grain been bunkered away.” So when the price of corn, soybeans, and wheat drops—as it is now—farmers don’t have another crop to fall back on.

In the short term, diversifying your farm operation can be more expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. But it also creates job security. Long-term, it protects both your farm and soil health.

When we focus on producing a few commodity crops, any country can beat us at our own game. We produce a glut of grain that global markets are no longer buying. Meanwhile, Americans living in the heartland of Iowa buy their tomatoes and peppers from South America. It seems strange, doesn’t it?

How Can Farmers Adopt to a Changing Market?

“I am concerned about the trend of making farms bigger and bigger, and more impersonal,” Maury Johnson, owner of Blue River Hybrids, told me in an email.  “American consumers have more interest in how their food is grown and produced, and the impact our conventional food system has on the environment. I personally am troubled when I drive by the feed-yards and confinement buildings, and have found it difficult to eat the products coming from those environments.”

Promoting a different farming model could prove salutary for farmers. But it requires a drastically different way of thinking, and many are deeply (albeit understandably) opposed to it.

Interestingly, though, a younger generation is increasingly embracing new farming trends, seeking to build smaller, diversified, and local farming operations. As Philanthropy Daily reported last week, “All around the United States, young men and women are joining the ‘new food economy’ of small farmers and food producers. Since 2006, local food marketing channels have seen substantial growth: Farmers’ markets have grown by 180%, reaching 8,200 nationwide. 7.8% of farms in the U.S. are marketing locally, and local food sales have reached $6.1 billion.”

What Might Rebuilding a Local Food Economy Look Like?

These younger farmers, however, are struggling against the orthodoxies of their elders in the agricultural community. As author and farmer Forrest Pritchard noted in an email,  “it’s no accident that the youngest farmer cited in this article is 56; the U.S. average age for a farmer is 58 and rising.”

He adds, “It defies explanation that our nation’s food security receives such low priority in our culture. The aging of our American farmers reveals a crisis of neglect—a neglect of training young farmers, a neglect of overhauling our education system to promote alternatives to commodity-dependent agriculture, and a neglect of investing appropriate research and development for alternative types of agricultural models.”

Eduardo Andino’s article in Philanthropy Daily considers a promising shift in farming support, however. He profiles a farm loan business founded by Silicon Valley businessmen. These businessmen decided to leave the world of international business to go local. Their story, which directly addresses the plight of American’s grain farmers, is worth quoting at length:

… Sam and Scott are interested in helping Maine rebuild a local food infrastructure: By giving farmers loans to build grain mills, slaughter houses, distribution plants, and more.

Scott, who some years ago formed a social investing strategies division at TIAA-CREF’s investment department, says that infrastructure is key. ‘100 years ago, you would’ve had local financial institutions that understood how local farming worked,’ and who could help build up local processors and distributors. Today, however, everything has gravitated up to the level of big ads and ‘big food.’

… Based on their international experience, Scott and Sam have concluded that the best thing they can do for agriculture worldwide is to go local. Scott describes his desire to transition ‘from a very top down high level job to a very bottom up job’ as being partially motivated by seeing the work of Rockefeller impact investing in Africa. While observing their work on a sustainable agriculture program in Africa, Scott realized ‘the best thing anyone could do for agriculture all over the world, from poor peasant farmers in Bangladesh to anywhere else, is to fix American agriculture.’

To Survive, American Farms Need To Change

Farming in America is undergoing a series of shifts—hopefully for the better. But the challenges today’s farmers face should not be taken lightly. Salatin urges his fellow farmers to consider making some changes in the way they do business—not just for their bottom line, but for the sake of the next generation, and the long-term wellbeing of the land.

“I know change is difficult for everyone, but I think conventional farmers have to take a hard look at breaking out of the conventional farming scene,” Johnson says. “I understand there’s limitations … but the future does not look good for medium to small conventional farmers, and help will likely not be coming from the government and its farm programs.”

“The regenerative economy is now knocking on the door of agriculture, but nobody is listening,” Salatin says. “The soil does not enjoy being mechanized and industrialized. The agricultural orthodoxy has not asked how ecology works. … Now, nature is batting last. And all the cleverness in Wall Street ultimately can’t prevail against nature’s balance sheet.”

Gracy Olmstead is associate managing editor at The Federalist and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The American Conservative, The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life.