// 100 days under President Trump //
––>> MARCH, every entry
71. (Fri, 31 Mar 2017) – NOT IMMUNE TO THE… TRUTH?
At the end of the day, D.C. is really nothing more than one big cattle auction: very few people are really calling the shots, and everyone else wants to shine in the brightest light to sell his (in most cases) or her skin for the highest price.
Yesterday evening, a rather unexpected statement got passed around. The opening line? A quick wink towards the highest bidder: “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”
Speaking, or writing, on Michael Flynn’s behalf was Robert K. Kelner, the sacked National Security Advisor’s Washington attorney, and with that he outlined Fynn’s willingness to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as part of an immunity deal with both the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees (just after the WSJ broke the story). In exchange, the article suggested, the ousted White House advisor would testify before the investigations into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, which Kelner indirectly confirmed with his statement.
It seems like a sweet deal for Flynn, who is currently under FBI investigation on counterintelligence charges after his communication with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. became public. The catch: granting this kind of deal benefits him but doesn’t actually tell us if he truly knows anything regarding the Trump campaign and the Russians.
So, don’t hold your breath till he’ll be granted immunity. After all, the cattle can’t auction themselves off. Not even in D.C.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “It’ll all work out”
70. (Thu, 30 Mar 2017) – GOING ROUND, TAKING NAMES
Me Tarzan, you Jane: In another chest-pumping move to establish who’s boss, Donald Trump fired off a friendly reminder today that he is prepared to wage civil war within its own party:
The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
Straight after the vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act fell through last week, the President was quick to pass the blame: “We were very close, it was a very tight margin. We had no Democrat support, no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare.”
Behind the scenes, dishing out the blame must’ve sounded somewhat different. Paul Ryan, by many made out to be the Karl Lagerfeld of policy-making in D.C. (handsome, elegant, smart, turns anything into gold), didn’t deliver on the reputation that precedes him. His replacement bill, the American Health Care Act, made a rattling sound when it came crashing down last Friday. It turned out to be more tinplate than golden.
Trump, in turn, gave a lofty shout-out on Twitter for people not to miss a Fox News programme in which host Jeanine Pirro later called on Ryan to step down for failing to deliver enough votes to pass the AHCA. (Ryan claimed, the President had apologised to him: “He said, ‘I had no idea she was going to talk about that. I thought she was going to talk about something else.'”)
Now entering Trump’s crosshairs: the Freedom Caucus. As the debacle became apparent last week, the New York Times wrote Bannon kept on pushing Trump to make an “enemies list” with all those who voted against Ryan’s bill.
And it was Ryan who tried to convince the President to do otherwise since Trump would almost certainly need to rely on fellow Republicans in Congress to help him pass other legislation later on. According to the article, Trump went with Ryan’s idea, not Bannon’s.
The President throwing down the gauntlet to the Freedom Caucus now seems like a sudden change of mind after the GreNegOfAT (Greatest Negotiator Of All Time) was caught with his pants down by this bunch of hardline conservatives.
The burn the Freedom Caucus seems to have left on Donald Trump: most definitely not covered by the AHCA.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Emil Germ, “Tease and burn”
69. (Wed, 29 Mar 2017) – A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Quick update from the family that has us all at the edge of our seats and sanity: After reports that she would get her own office in the West Wing, it was announced today that Ivanka Trump, feminism’s very own Apprentice and first daughter, will officially become a White House staffer.
“I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the President in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees,” Ivanka Trump said in a statement. “Throughout this process, I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.”
There is no official title attached to her role inside the White House, but she has begun the process of obtaining a security clearance and government-issued communications devices.
How serious she means all of this we don’t know. Does she just want to watch and learn? No! When things got heated in Congress, she stepped up and stood her ground for American women:
Breaking: Ivanka Trump releases statement demanding #FreedomCaucus cover maternity care
(just kidding she’s skiing)
— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) March 23, 2017
Yeah, I know. All just a joke, innit?
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Paul Simon, “Father and daughter”
68. (Tue, 28 Mar 2017) – COAL GETTING FIRED UP
It doesn’t take an environmentalist to see that coal mining is a dying industry. Yet, Donald Trump did what he promised during the campaign and signed an executive order today that looks to slash regulations implemented by Barack Obama’s administration to battle climate change.
The move, in effect, is designed to revive the coal industry. The President, accompanied by miners and company executive, signed the order at the Environmental Protection Agency. He had long promised to undo some of the EPA regulations put in place during the Obama years that put America at the forefront in the global campaign against greenhouse pollution.
By signing the order, Trump directed the EPA to start “the complex and lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms”, as the New York Times writes. The CPP was said to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 32 percent by the year 2030.
For Trump, this step is a commitment to job creation over environmental protection. For the coal industry, this is a gift — one that will probably benefit the corporations, not the coal miners.
Robert Murray, founder and chief executive of Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal miner in the US, is hopeful that his industry “will soon be freed of ‘fraudulent’ green legislation that has hampered his industry,” he said in an interview with the Guardian.
Murray blames the CPP for shuttering coal-fired power plants and freezing new constructions during the Obama presidency: “We do not have a climate change or global warming problem, we have an energy cost problem,” Murray told the Guardian.
It was at a rally in Kentucky two weeks ago that Trump said, “we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work. The miners are coming back.”
While he said that President’s election has been a boon to coal, funnily enough, it’s the same Robert Murray that warned Trump he should “temper” expectations for jobs growth in the industry. “I would not say it’s a good time in the coal industry. It’s a better time,” Murray said. “I suggested that he temper his expectations. Those are my exact words. He can’t bring them back.”
Trump has vowed to bring back jobs to the mining industry. However, a number of jobs have been lost due to technological advances, less to regulation, and to competition from renewable energy sources. Trump’s call for deregulation will make the coal executives and their companies happy, though the prospect for significant job creation in the coal industry still seems rather unlikely.
And so the ink under Donald Trump’s latest executive order has dried — just like the industry benefitting from it, which eventually will also run dry.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Earth, Wind & Fire, “Boogie Wonderland”
67. (Mon, 27 Mar 2017) – PUT IT ON KUSHNER’S PLATE
For us, who are merely looking in from the outside, the current White House holds the strangest job opportunities for the strangest kind of people. (Im not just talking about making the former executive chairman of Breitbart News your top advisor and putting him on the National Security Council.)
Dissect the reasons for some of the more curious choices made to fill positions within the administration (and their dubious qualifications to run education, housing, the EPA, etc) as much as you want, most interesting remains one thing: guessing if we’re talking about a pro- or demotion here.
Take, for example, Jared Kushner: Good-looking guy, investor and developer by trade, and also husband to Ivanka Trump. Being married to her makes him obvious White House material (but of course!), and so he’s become the West Wing’s serial title collector. It all started when Donald Trump came into office. Kushner was named “senior advisor to the President” by the President.
“Jared has been a tremendous asset and trusted adviser throughout the campaign and transition and I am proud to have him in a leadership role in my administration,” Donald Trump said in a statement. That was January.
Since then, Kushner has been given one task after another as part of his role in the White House:
Most people I know would have their fair share with brokering a deal to end the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. So, why not put some more on that man’s plate?
The last two tasks listed above are part of his brand new responsibility that was announced just today: Kushner is poised to head the so-called White House Office of American Innovation, a superhero-style “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievement,” as the Washington Post put it that broke the story.
The idea is to run the government more business-like in its operations, thus overhauling federal bureaucracy to deliver key campaign promises, such as taking care of veterans, and ending the opioid epidemic that is taking its toll on American society.
All of this then begs the question: Why are all these important issues placed in the lap of one man who previously dealt in real estate and tried his hand at publishing? Is he the one-eyed among the blind? Or is someone trying to busy Kushner out from exerting influence in other places?
On top of that, it was announced today that Kushner is said to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to shed some light on possible ties between Trump associates and Russian operatives.
Anything this guy is not asked to do? Yes. Giving nepotism a good name.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Brother Beyond, “The harder I try”
66. (Sun, 26 Mar 2017) – CANCEL YOUR REQUESTED RIDE
A lot of theory is outnumbering the facts in the never-ending question whether the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Russians. Could this story, a lot of people in D.C. wonder, turn out to be Trump’s very own Watergate?
With Watergate, is was less the crime than the cover-up that brought Richard Nixon to his knees in what essentially amounted to a constitutional crisis. Trump’s Russia conundrum is, so far, still only a detective story. We know of a few people who have spoken with Russian delegates during the campaign (Flynn, Sessions), but it’s not enough to get a clear idea of what actually has been going on between the two sides.
Especially, as fresh pieces get added to the puzzle on a nearly daily basis. Cue Devin Nunes. The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee investigating the alleged links with Moscow is, just to reiterate, also a former Trump advisor. In a surprise press briefing on Wednesday, he pulled an oversized white rabbit out of the hat.
Nunes alleged that members of Donald Trump’s transition team were under inadvertent surveillance, possibly even the President himself, following November’s presidential election: “The intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters, but didn’t inform his Democratic counterpart on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who subsequently challenged Nunes’ claims in a statement in which he also criticised the Republican for not sharing the information with him or other committee members after Nunes had “reviewed dozens of reports”.
Nunes didn’t name his source, but added that “this information was legally brought to me by sources who thought that we should know it.” Straight after the press conference, Nunes left for the White House to brief the President, making a mockery of the idea of separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Today, The Daily Beast writes that “hours before the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee announced his shocking claims about surveillance of the Trump transition team on Wednesday morning, he practically disappeared.”
“Rep. Devin Nunes was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts.”
The morning after said incident Nunes held his press conference.
One theory is that it must’ve been the White House that acted as Nunes source, thereby throwing a welcomed smoke grenade into the continuing investigation to divert from Monday’s revelation made by Director James Comey before the intelligence committee that the FBI is indeed investigating whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
Nunes mysterious nightly foray, his failure to share those documents with the committee, and his decision to brief the president instead add yet more speculation and certainly don’t contribute much to an independent investigation regarding Trump’s Russia ties.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Strokes, “Last night”
65. (Sat, 25 Mar 2017) – A LESSON IN D.C. MASCULINITY
It’s the day after the failed attempt by Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare with what Erin Gloria Ryan coined “Trumpcare, or Ryancare, or, perhaps more aptly, TheyDontCare”. Washington is still busy sweeping up the shattered porcelain that the different factions hurled at each other in an effort to divert the blame.
Much has been made of Donald Trump’s apparent lack of dealmaking instinct. Where was the orange Mozart of Signing the Dotted Line when his obviously incapable Congressmen needed him to get everyone in line? Busy honking the horn in big ass truck, thanks for asking.
But these discussions are missing a crucial point. Yes, maybe this red-letter day in D.C. yesterday did indeed hamper the reputation for the closer as being a skilled negotiator. Most of all, though, the tale of Trump, Paul Ryan, and House Republicans trying to pass legislation provided us with one thing: a valuable lesson in masculinity.
Go through the media coverage leading up to the days before the scheduled vote on Thursday, revel in the hot takes from Friday as much as you like: you won’t come across a single female name (with one notable exception, which we will reveal in a minute) mentioned in the process of shaping the American Health Care Act or whipping votes to get it passed.
Which is odd, given how much the AHCA’s policy details would have affected women. The first draft Congress was supposed to vote on sought to defund Planned Parenthood (by blocking Medicaid reimbursements to PP clinics), restrict access to abortions, and cut back on Obamacare’s essential health benefits, including maternity care and preventative services like birth control.
When it became clear that Republicans would struggle to find the required number of votes to pass the bill, the so-called “manager’s amendment” was introduced to sway the ultra-conservatives. This amendment was designed to restrict women’s access to lifesaving care, particularly if they’re unemployed. A Medicaid work requirement that would’ve allowed states to revoke coverage from new mothers who haven’t had found a job within 60 days after going into labour. Essentially, instead of allowing the mothers to care for their babies and recover from giving birth, Republicans wanted them to go job hunting.
And who might have come up with such punishing legislation? Believe it or not, a bunch of men who won’t shut up about family values come election time, yet make it a living hell for most Americans but the wealthiest to have children in the first place.
That was the outset of getting the bill to pass in order to finally repeal and replace Obamacare, something Republicans verbally jerked off to for years and years and years. Sure, Obama’s Affordable Care Act is by no means perfect. However, it introduced essential health benefits to beef up insurance coverage and make one’s plan more transparent. By design, this leads to an inflation of costs: certain consumers pay for a number of included essentials they may not need.
If you ever put any thought into what the benefits are for a society to raise healthy children, revoking the rights from women to do so wouldn’t strike you as the most plausible option. Right? Maybe we just let a D.C. legislator explain the notion behind such a move, why don’t we:
I asked Sen. Roberts if he supports scrapping Essential Health Benefits. “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,” he snarked. #AHCA
— Alice Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) March 23, 2017
Senator Roberts later apologised for the remark in a statement. “I deeply regret my comments on such an important topic,” Roberts said. “I know several individuals whose lives have been saved by mammograms, and I recognise how essential they are to women’s health. I never intended to indicate otherwise, and I apologise for my comments.”
All well and good. But, if he claims lawmakers know how important these essentials are, why aren’t more women involved in shaping legislation? There is an argument that invokes the old case of the American double standard: When perplexed Congressmen looked into the angry faces of their constituents at town halls across the country in February, they saw a lot of white angry faces that feared to repeal Obamacare without a viable replacement might pull the plug on grandma. As a consequence, so the argument goes, Ryan’s bill was D.U.A. and was never meant to pass anyway at a time when Obamacare hit its highest approval rating ever recorded.
All of which doesn’t change the fact that Washington was still engaged in its usual masculine power play before the AHCA dropped dead on Friday. Just take the example of Mark Meadows: One of the biggest obstacles in getting the right number of votes to pass the new bill was apparently the so-called Freedom Caucus. Meadows, as the chairman for the “rambunctious, ideologically charged collection of GOP legislators”, acted as the buffer between Trump and the hesitant Freedom Caucus, as Tim Alberta writes in his extensive Politico story analysing yesterday’s happenings:
“Meadows campaigned extensively with Trump last fall and struck up a relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who communicates with him almost daily by text. Meadows knew the health care fight would be viewed as a test of his independence from Trump, and the moment the president called him out, he was boxed in.
‘That was the biggest mistake the president could have made,’ one Freedom Caucus member told me. ‘Mark desperately wanted to get to yes, and Trump made it impossible for him. If he flipped after that he would look incredibly weak.'”
And with that last sentence, we have the process of law-making in D.C. in a nutshell. Trump, according to Alberta, barged into the meetings with the Freedom Caucus flexing his muscles as the chief negotiator with the reputation of striking up any deal.
— Cliff Sims (@CSims45) March 23, 2017
It seemed as if the one muscle that needs the most delicate training was not deployed here much: the brain. Because if the legislative process becomes a mere matter of not flinching and not showing weakness, we’re talking about just another example of the self-congratulatory caste of white men in generic black suits living a cosy life within the realm of the well-established Washington system, shaping the world according to their fancy. Or as a Trump voter from Wyoming told me this week: “If these politicians had to sign up to the same programs as we do, they would’ve sorted out that mess in no time…”
When the whole plan to repeal and replace Obamacare finally collapsed Friday afternoon, President Trump was quick to offer his take on the failed attempt: “We had no Democrat support. Obamacare is exploding — with no Democratic support we couldn’t quite get there,” he said. “I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare.”
And there we have it: Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, is the only women mentioned in our tale of how Republicans failed to get rid of Obamacare.
Her role in this? Getting the blame.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Eleanor Friedberger, “My mistakes”
64. (Fri, 24 Mar 2017) – THE ART OF THE REPEAL
As the sun is setting on this turbulent day, we are no closer to answering the question if this administration is set for a Greek tragedy, a Shakespearean drama, or a soap opera.
“Hello, Bob,” Trump began. “So, we just pulled it.”
That’s how Robert Costa begins his story in the Washington Post to explain how the President called him to pass his view on the failed attempt today by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“President Trump called me on my cellphone Friday afternoon at 3:31 p.m. At first I thought it was a reader with a complaint since it was a blocked number.
Instead, it was the president calling from the Oval Office. His voice was even, his tone muted. He did not bury the lead.
‘Hello, Bob,’ Trump began. ‘So, we just pulled it.’
Trump was speaking, of course, of the Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, a plan that had been languishing for days amid unrest throughout the party as the president and his allies courted members and pushed for a vote.
Before I could ask a question, Trump plunged into his explanation of the politics of deciding to call off a vote on a bill he had been touting.
The Democrats, he said, were to blame.
‘We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,’ Trump said.”
– Robert Costa, Washington Post, 24 March 2017
There were a lot of clever, insightful hot takes being written this afternoon that tried to fathom what went wrong – the scope of the Republicans’ inability to repeal and replace Obamacare, and the political implications for the personnel involved.
But Costa’s story was probably the most telling account of what had happened in Washington today. Not necessarily just because the President had called him personally.
The American Health Care Act fiasco had originated some days ago. Actually, that’s not true: Barack Obama had signed the ACA into law on 23 March 2010. On the eve of its seventh anniversary, Republicans failed not only to repeal it (they had to postpone yesterday’s vote until today, when they failed once more, to get the numbers). They outright failed, over the course of those seven years, to come up with a viable alternative that they could comfortably pass, now that they had a lock on the White House and both houses of Congress.
AHCA left in place many of the ACA’s regulations but cut back the subsidies and gutted its Medicaid expansion. Had it been enacted, twenty-four million people fewer than now would have been insured over ten years, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.
What Republicans did come up with, the New York Times called “a cruel flimflam, a huge tax cut for the rich disguised as a health care bill.”
So, instead of fixing what they had been lamenting about all those years, what did Republicans actually do? Take the first hurdle like a blind man — stumble and fall. Republicans couldn’t even drag themselves over the finish line.
Enter Trump: “Hello, Bob.” – The President told Costa he would “not put the bill on the floor in the coming weeks,” Costa wrote in the Post. “He is willing to wait and watch the current law continue and, in his view, encounter problems. And he believes that Democrats will eventually want to work with him on some kind of legislative fix to Obamacare, although he did not say when that would be.”
“Hey, we could have done this,” Trump said. “But we couldn’t get one Democrat vote, not one. So that means they own Obamacare and when that explodes, they will come to us wanting to save whatever is left, and we’ll make a real deal.”
Essentially, the President said, he wants Obamacare running into the ground with the Democrats’ name attached to it, yet assumes that they’d be willing to then get on board with him after letting them go down in flames with the remainder of the ACA.
We couldn’t get one Democrat vote. Trump acted surprised when he made no serious effort to reach out to Democrats, nor did House Republicans. All the more revealing about the President’s call to the Washington Post reporter is the apparent lack of detail showcased by Trump. At no point did he exert a deeper knowledge of the AHCA. Without a clear understanding of the AHCA’s policy technicalities, the self-proclaimed dealmaker had little chance to convince the different factions to work out a solution. Maybe Trump got played by the Freedom Caucus, maybe he played them, maybe he played Paul Ryan. One way or another, “the closer” has what he made out as a sure deal during the campaign to forfeit.
In Washington, in the meantime, the blame game has already started. Democrats on one, Ryan and the House GOP on the other hand, President Trump somewhere down the middle. The finger pointing will take some time, all at the expense of the American people and a messed-up health system.
Curious detail after all the chest-beating GOP talk of finally repealing the much-maligned Obamacare, especially during the run-up to the election: When Republicans had the chance to freeze hell over, they went in armed with nothing but a flamethrower.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Talking Heads, “Burning down the house”
63. (Thu, 23 Mar 2017) – ROARING ENGINES
Washington was still busy preparing for Friday’s big showdown on the Hill after the President issued an ultimatum to Republicans today to get behind American Health Care Act. It became clear throughout the day that there would be no majority for Paul Ryan’s health plan, so the President demanded a vote on the bill on Friday to deliver on the opportunity to finally repeal the Affordable Care Act. As of now, it appeared to lack a majority to pass.
White House staff told Republicans that the President was done negotiating over legislative details –– either the House of Representatives would vote on the bill tomorrow or he would leave the Affordable Care Act in place.
And then something else happened amid all the political tug-of-war-ing: Donald Trump let out his inner child for everyone to see. After an industry meeting, he hopped onto a truck with the joy of boy that had been given his toy back.
For your pleasure, after all that earnestness of the last few days, without comment:
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Morrissey, “The last of the famous international playboys”
62. (Wed, 22 Mar 2017) – AN ACT OF LOVE FOR THE NATION
He looked perfectly happy and content. The right hand raised, the left resting on no other than the book of books (the bible, not The Art of the Deal), ready to take the oath of office. Moments before that, his boss had said, “this is where you were meant to be, right here today, at this crossroads in history… May god bless you in this journey.”
In hindsight, the burden must’ve been unbelievable. What is a man to do, other than put on a very brave face in these circumstances? I feel bad putting a question mark there. After all, it’s a rhetorical question we all know the answer to: pretend, just pretend. Wing it as long as you can. Breaking down now is not an option. Maybe it’s an on-the-job learning experience. Give it a try, see if you like it.
Is Rex Tillerson the weakest secretary of state of all time? I am not asking this, but The Guardian is. After all, they argue, “Donald Trump has been moving America’s foreign policy decision-making power away from the state department, and into the hands of a coterie of advisers, including Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon; and the national security council and the Department of Defense.”
When he was sworn in, he didn’t look pressured. In fact, he looked ready. That’s why it’s a little surprising to see then that Tillerson, a man President Trump called “much more than a business executive, he’s a world-class player”, seems to be forgoing the unique chance of becoming employee of the month by saying this about his role as secretary of state in the Trump administration: “I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job.”
Come again? You didn’t want homework. You don’t seek a job. And yet, you still turned up at school. Why? Well, he didn’t have a choice, did he? Poor soul.
Jokes aside, there is obviously a very serious matter behind his words. What dark sorcery is responsible for all of this then? Simple, very simple. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this,” Tillerson said in an interview today. As this is a diary about Trump’s presidency, I can only provide words, not tissues for your laughter-induced tears.
He has given an excuse. Nevertheless, she persisted.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: ELO, “Sweet talkin’ woman”
61. (Tue, 21 Mar 2017) – WORDS DO MATTER, SURPRISINGLY
The idea was to give Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch a smooth rollout for his hearing before Congress. FBI Director James Comey must’ve thought otherwise. A day after he confirmed at his own hearing before the House Intelligence Committee that there is an active investigation into possible ties between Team Trump and the Russians during the campaign, the new administration found itself navigating in unchartered waters: the shallow ends in politics of being responsible for your words.
Comey hadn’t just confirmed the existence of the investigation. On live TV, he refuted the President’s unsubstantiated claims that President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower phones. In the past, his loose twitter tongue hadn’t hurt Trump much. A certain discrepancy between candidate Trump and President Trump has only become apparent in recent weeks.
It was press secretary Sean Spicer who called on Congress to investigate the case after Trump’s twitter outburst. The consequence: Both, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, concluded last week that they couldn’t find any evidence supporting Trump’s allegations. “Based on the information available to us,” they said in a joint statement, “we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”
By not letting go of the issue, we know now, the Trump administration managed to anger one of their closest allies. Spicer, in one of his briefings, insisted that Trump “stands by” the wiretapping allegations. He cited Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano comments that President Obama had asked the British intelligence agency G.C.H.Q. to wiretap Trump Tower to cover his tracks. Another claim without evidence.
G.C.H.Q came out of its usual shell feeling compelled to issue a rare statement in which is said that Napolitano’s statements were “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored”. A spokesman for Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, repeated the word “nonsense”. “We have made this clear to the administration, and have received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated.”
The consequence: Napolitano lost his job, and the Trump administration was embarrassed for having dragged the UK, historically one of the United States’ closest allies, into the mud with them.
This was only one example of why words do matter for President Trump and his White House staff. Take the revised travel ban: the judge that halted it just hours before it was going into effect, cited the administration’s public record “includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order.”
What we get from this is simple: words do matter, and consequences are real. Also, holding the administration’s feet to the fire is not entirely in vain.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Eddie & the Hot Rods, “Do anything you wanna do”
60. (Mon, 20 Mar 2017) – A DAY OF RUSSIAN DOLLS
Recent moments to illustrate the absurdity of U.S. politics are aplenty. Equating the size of one’s hands with the size of the Trump Tower down one’s pants? The Podesta treasure trove? Mocking a disabled reporter and pretending it never happened? Showing Hispanic voters your love by posting a picture of a taco bowl? It goes on and on. Be my guest, take your pick.
Today, however, was somewhat special. It was a day in Washington that had you reeling in a warm bath of farce while blowing soap-bubbles of insanity. In the end, once you pulled the plug, no swamp was drained. Of course. All that was left at the bottom of this bathtub of revelations was a headline that nearly got overshadowed by all the day’s craziness: “It’s official: The FBI Is Investigating Trump’s Links to Russia“.
It was a mere two sentences that could ultimately turn out to be this election’s coup de grâce once all the cards are on the table. But for now, the lines that FBI Director James Comey read from a prepared statement before the House Intelligence Committee simply were unsettling news for the Trump campaign: “I have been authorised by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said in this testimony. And with a spellbinding pause to pack an extra punch he added: “That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
There you have it, it’s official then: the FBI is probing Trump’s involvement with the Russians. Comey said the start of the investigation dates back to late July 2016. He failed to mention why he chose to “publicly discuss the bureau’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the closing days of the 2016 election but did not reveal it was also investigating the Trump campaign and Russian meddling”, which is a fair point The Atlantic makes about Comey’s remarks before the Committee.
With that statement, on the other hand, Comey also denied any knowledge of President Obama wiretapping Trump during the election, a claim that the current President spread via Twitter a couple of weeks ago without giving any evidence.
“I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said and explained that he had surveyed his entire department and was told that the answer was “the same for the Department of Justice and all its components: The department has no information that supports those tweets.”
Of course, there is a big BUT. But that’s not all, not nearly.
Much like a Russian doll, this day unpacked itself with more and more surprises. As the Comey hearing went on over the stretch of five hours, broadcasted live on TV, the President once again displayed his shrewdness on social media: Trump live-tweeted the event to his 16 million followers under the @POTUS handle, bending the facts as much as he could in the process.
The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process. pic.twitter.com/d9HqkxYBt5
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
FBI Director Comey admits Obama’s White House had ability to “unmask” American citizens. https://t.co/gIo6it9NcQ
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017
And still, this wasn’t the extraordinary part. While the President gave the testimony his own spin as it unfolded, things took a turn for the surreal as Comey was then asked to fact-check Trump in real time.
What he made of the tweets by the President, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut wanted to know from Comey. “I’m sorry,” he said, visibly baffled. “I haven’t been following anyone on twitter while I’ve been sitting here,” he said. Himes read the tweet out for him. “This tweet has gone out to millions of Americans, 16.1 million to be exact,” he said. “Is the tweet, as I read it to you, is that accurate?”
“It’s hard for me to react to that. Let me just tell you what we understand,” Comey said. “What we’ve said is, we’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s never something that we looked at.”
Himes then asked Comey: “So, it’s not too far of a logical leap to conclude that the assertion that you’ve told the Congress that there was no influence on the electoral process is not quite right.”
“It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today,” he said, contradicting the president. “We don’t have any information on that subject. That’s not something that was looked at.”
Here’s the video of the conversation:
Comey on Trump tweet that he testified Russia “did not influence electoral process”: “It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today.” pic.twitter.com/21ASPvFzh1
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 20, 2017
As is has become custom, the man to pull out Trump’s accuracy-popping chestnuts out of the fire is Sean Spicer. Shortly after the hearing, the White House press secretary had to show another masterclass of his tactical relationship with the truth.
It wasn’t just that he tried to make out that Hillary Clinton’s Russia ties were significantly more important than Trump’s. No, he also tried to convince the press that “General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign.”
As in, Michael Flynn, the man who was a top adviser during the campaign, the man who, at one point, was vetted to become Trump’s running mate, the man who later accepted the job as national security adviser with top security clearing, but was also the man who had to resign 24 days into the new administration, after it was revealed that he had lied about meeting Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Had enough yet? There is more. Remember Paul Manafort? Trump’s former campaign manager, replacing Corey Lewandowski to turn Trump into a more presidential general election candidate? That guy, according to Spicer’s alternative universe, “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time”, the press secretary insisted during the White House briefing.
Incidentally, this Paul Manafort, who once worked for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, is right now sought for questioning by the House Intelligence Committee to help them with their ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
But someone who only “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time”, what use is he? “Of all of the characters in and around the Trump campaign and administration, Paul Manafort’s relationships with Russians are by far the longest-standing and the deepest,” Rep. Jim Himes, who is a member of the committee and who we heard earlier questioning Director Comey, told Politico. “And he has some pretty unsavoury contacts.”
This all happened today, don’t you know –– #exhausting, indeed. Lastly, bear with me, there was this small matter: Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, has secured her own office in the West Wing. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance and is set to receive government-issued communications devices. What she doesn’t have, though, is an official title justifying her being here.
And so this eventful day in D.C. draws to an end. The Russian dolls we unpacked are all lined up. Some are small, some are way bigger than others. But are we closer to the core? Hardly, it seems.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Alexander Ebert, “Truth”
59. (Sun, 19 Mar 2017) – BEING TOLD OFF
Donald Trump kept a low profile after spending the weekend at this Palm Beach golf club. Across the Atlantic, however, someone hit him with an iron 4.
“Anyone with any knowledge of the intelligence world knew the suggestion was absurd,” Peter Westmacott, Britain’s former ambassador to the US writes in today’s Observer regarding new accusations that the British intelligence agency GCHQ assisted then president Barack Obama in tapping Trump’s New York phones. This theory was first spread by Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News, judicial analyst, and then got repeated by press secretary Sean Spicer during a briefing.
“First, the president of the United States does not have the power to order the tapping of anyone’s phone,” Westmacott wrote. “Second, the idea of the British foreign secretary signing a warrant authorising such an intrusion into domestic US politics was unthinkable.”
“Gratuitously damaging the unique and precious intelligence relationship between Britain and America by peddling falsehoods and then doing nothing to set the record straight would be a gift to our enemies they could only dream of,” Westmacott, who left the British embassy in D.C. in January 2016, continued in his op-ed.
On Thursday, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee joined the House intelligence committee in the conclusion that they had seen no evidence to support the president’s accusation that President Obama had wiretapped Trump’s phone during the campaign. Westmacott’s scathing putdown of the President’s so far unsubstantiated claim indicates a growing anger on the British side for being dragged into the mud.
“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” Donald Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in an interview on Wednesday. The President, having access to intelligence like no other, could end this story by releasing his evidence. Instead, he finds himself increasingly alone in his defence of his wiretapping claims.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Tiffany, “I think we’re alone now”
58. (Sat, 18 Mar 2017) – SPEAK NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL
As it has become ritual, eventually someone had to throw him- or herself on the grenade. That Sean Spicer had the honour and ruin his Saturday by adding yet more ridiculous excuses to his treasure trove of dubious statements, came as no real surprise.
“I don’t think he heard the question,” the Press Secretary told Der Spiegel.
So, while was taking the hit by having to cover for the childishness his boss exudes, Trump made sure he had more fires for Spicer to put out when he tweeted that “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
Of course members contribute to Nato, not to other member states. Spicer has yet to comment on that fact.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Rolling Stones, “Almost hear you sigh”
57. (Fri, 17 Mar 2017) – NOT TOUCHED BY ZE HAND OF GOD
She’s not quite Elizabeth II, who so far has seen 13 U.S. Presidents during her reign as Queen of England. But Angela I, the current Queen of Europe, has already met two of them during her time as the German Chancellor before Merkel headed to the White House today to be greeted by Donald Trump.
They sat in the Oval Office, the hungry sound of cameras clicking away at every gesture the two politicians made, drowning out some of the light chatter between the two. If Donald Trump requested from the attending photographers to “send a good picture back to Germany”, he certainly made sure they got their shot when he daydreamt (possibly) about a worthwhile pussygrabshake during the moment Angela Merkel asked if he wanted to shake hands for the cameras.
The photos of the snub, fully intentional or not, went around the world. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, a few weeks ago, got the full 19 seconds of awkward handshaking during his meeting at the Oval Office. Merkel got all but a cold whiff of disregard.
On the other hand, no one expected an exact meeting of minds when a woman who earned a doctorate in physical chemistry met the man who ran his own university seemingly just to make a quick buck for himself. A little chemistry of the personal kind would’ve still not been too unusual.
Merkel remained her wonderfully stoic, cool-as-a-cucumber self, and let the moment pass by without a fuss like a subway train that you hear approaching while you are still at the turnstile but simply can’t be bothered to run after. If you handled and outlived the petty machismo of someone like Silvio Berlusconi, and even survived a shock back massage from W., then not getting too up-close-and-personal with the notorious women’s advocate is obviously a bit of a bummer.
Maybe sitting next to Ivanka Trump made up for the unfortunate incident. What, wait a minute: Ivanka Trump? Why was the President’s princess daughter sitting at the desk right next to the German Chancellor when the American and German delegations talked world politics?
Like the past 57 days, it was another ‘Bring your kid to work’-day at the White House.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Music, “Ghost hands”
56. (Thu, 16 Mar 2017) – PUZZLING MOVE
It’s a simple calculation: Melania Trump staying at Trump Tower instead of the White House apparently amounts to the cost of $182,500,000 per year. The Budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is a mere $149,849,000 per year. If the First Lady moved to Washington instead of residing in New York, the thinking goes, the National Endowment could be saved.
Saved because Donald Trump’s first federal budget plan, released earlier today, proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the same time, President Trump also proposed scrapping the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps to fund PBS and National Public Radio stations, as well as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
To make up for the increase in defence spending, the budget proposal is looking at $54 billion in cuts to large parts of the federal government, such as the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency. Only Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs are spared, in fact their budgets are set to be increasing.
Typically, budgets are wishful thinking. The final say over these proposals lies with Congress. It seemed unlikely, even in a Republican-led Congress, that all these cuts will go through in the end, and some lawmakers have already voiced concerns over some of these cuts.
In the grand scheme of things, it makes perfect sense though. That the cost estimate for Melania Trump staying in New York with her son is dubious, at best, is a whole other discussion. But she was never meant to save the arts anyway. This budget is the missing piece of the puzzle to an old Steve Bannon quote: “I am a Leninist,” he once proclaimed, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Now, how do you break the establishment, albeit slowly? Decimate the sciences, take away indulgent, gratuitous things like arts and culture, and you are certainly one step closer.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Cat Stevens, “The first cut is the deepest”
55. (Wed, 15 Mar 2017) – BANNING THE BAN, AGAIN
Here is a question for you: Was it meant as a running gag, was it pure incompetence, or was it grossly negligent from the judge to go ahead with his decision?
Whichever option you may pick, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order tonight blocking President Trump’s revised ban on immigration for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, just hours before it was set to go into effect.
Judge Derrick K. Watson, of Federal District Court in Honolulu, wrote that a “reasonable, objective observer” would view even the new order as “issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.”
Donald Trump promptly reacted to the decision at a campaign-style rally in Nashville. The President said the judge’s ruling was made “for political reasons”. “This ruling makes us look weak, which by the way we no longer are, believe me,” Trump said.
Is this incompetence on behalf of the administration, or why can’t they get it right, not even the second time around?
Maybe it all happened on purpose. God forbid, but after the slightest incident, the cries of “hate to say I toldcha so” would only ring louder, possibly calling for an even more hard-line approach.
This juridically not very tight travel ban could turn out to be their Reichstag fire: we don’t know who did it or why, but we sure know who benefitted from it in the end.
Stabbing freedom in the back and front? Beware the ides of March.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Grover Washington Jr., “Just the two of us”
54. (Tue, 14 Mar 2017) – CRUNCHING NUMBERS
It was supposed to be the day that Angela Merkel touched down in Washington D.C. to talk to the President. Their meeting was rescheduled Monday afternoon for later on this week as the capital was said to be bracing itself for a winter storm today. But instead of being covered in snow, two numbers were laid bare. At around 7:35 p.m. ET MSNBC host Rachel Maddow dropped a supposed bombshell on twitter:
BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET. MSNBC.
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) March 14, 2017
It took almost two more hours until, 20 minutes into the show, Maddow finally let the cat out of the bag. The numbers stripped down to their glorious nakedness looked rather unimpressive, in fact, they seemed pretty favourable for Donald Trump: According to the 2005 tax document that was leaked to a reporter, President Trump earned $153 million and paid $36.5 million in income taxes, which amounts to paying a roughly 25 percent effective tax rate.
Bottom line here: he earned money, paid taxes, and there was no Russia connection to be found in the disclosed documents. The bigger the build-up, the heavier the let-down, it seemed. On the other hand, seeing these numbers and how they came into the world reveal quite a bit in what they mask to make sense of the bigger picture (well, hopefully, eventually, anyway):
a) If the numbers are so unspectacular, why did Trump never release them himself? (well, actually, he did release them just minutes before Maddow and MSNBC had come to it –– but why not earlier, why not months ago?) He is the first presidential candidate since the Watergate era to withhold his tax returns.
b) On the document, it said “Client Copy” – did Trump himself leak the document to David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who has been reporting on Trump for over twenty years? If so, why? What was he trying to distract us from? What was he trying to point out by that?
c) The sources of income are not listed, as Trump’s 1040 form is not business return. So the question that remains is: where does the money come from?
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted shortly after the scoop that “watching the media aka #fakenews implode on tv now because they got what they wanted is simply awesome. #thankyoumaddow #TrumpTaxReturns”.
Well, DTJ, what we would’ve wanted was to see Trump’s return from 2008, the year you said business dealings in Russia “make up a disproportionate cross-section of our assets.”
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “More news from nowhere”
53. (Mon, 13 Mar 2017) – FAMILIAR TO MILLIONS
On the campaign trail last year, it wasn’t just the wall that got frantic applause from supporters at Trump rallies. His promise to “repeal and replace Obamacare” was often just as much of a crowd pleaser. “The worst thing that has happened to this country in years,” said one man at a Trump event in Illinois to me. After all, mind you, he could’ve picked from a wide range of classics there: the endemic spread of opiate addiction, the Iran deal, NATO, NAFTA, TPP.
That man’s choice is by no means representative. Still, Obamacare is certainly something most Americans have a strong opinion about. I didn’t get the man’s contact details, but I’d interested to hear is take on the CBO’s estimate that came out today.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finally published its analysis, according to which as much as 24 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 if the House Republican Obamacare repeal bill gets enacted in its current draft form. According to the CBO calculations, 14 million more would be uninsured by next year alone.
These numbers make it all but certain that the bill will pass, as even a number of Republicans take issues with the proposed American Health Care Act. For the GOP and Paul Ryan, who already bears the brunt from Conservatives and right-wing media outlets dubbing it Ryancare, quickly repealing Obamacare will almost definitely have a say in deciding their political future.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Traveling Wilburys, “Handle with care”
52. (Sun, 12 Mar 2017) – WISHING WELL
A chain of unfortunate misunderstandings, it seems, has been broken. Finally. It took the White House quite some time, but here it is: the unlikeliest subterfuge rabbit to be pulled out of a hat since Eddie Murphy kindly invented Uber for transsexual prostitutes.
“The president reached out to Preet Bharara on Thursday to thank him for his service and to wish him good luck,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said in an email to the New York Times today.
That of course was meant to clear up the speculation behind Donald Trump’s call to the former attorney for the Southern District of New York, a mere 24 hours before the President’s order to dismiss Bharara and 45 colleagues from their job as federal attorneys.
It’s perfectly logical statement from the White House: First, they promise someone to let him stay on, then they ask him to resign. That happens. So, thanking that person and wishing him well is only the decent thing to do. Right? That move, however earnest it was meant by Trump, merely constitutes a gesture, not an explanation.
One thing it completely blanks out: the political masquerade behind the decision to oust the attorneys. No surprise, given what’s at stake as we discussed yesterday.
And so, once more, politics proves to remain the dirtiest of trades.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Terence Trent D’Arby, “Wishing well”
51. (Sat, 11 Mar 2017) – NO KIDDING, GOTTA GO
If you are an attorney and possess this thing called spine, then you don’t tend to go down without a fight. There is no need to place Preet Bharara on a podium for heroic deeds (for all I know he might have just wanted to save his career), but shining a bit of spotlight on the U.S. attorney
What’s so special about Bharara? His tough guy reputation somewhat precedes him: The attorney is known for aggressively going after public figures in corruption cases as well as investigating insider trading. After the election, Donald Trump set up a meeting with Bharara at Trump Tower. Afterwards, he told reporters that both the then president-elect and Jeff Sessions, who later became attorney general, “had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do,” as the New York Times writes.
At the time that statement in front of the cameras was seen as a very public concession to Democrats. Being a former counsel to him, Bharara was seen as a close associate to Senator Chuck Schumer, the current Senate minority leader. Which makes the firing all the more surprising. If it weren’t for the aforementioned twist to this story.
After refusing to tender his resignation, Bharara was effectively kicked out. “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara wrote on Twitter this afternoon. “Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honour of my professional life.”
Now, wait for it, here comes the catch: On Wednesday, two days prior to the mass resignation, three government accountability groups asked Bharara to investigate whether Trump was illegally receiving benefits from foreign governments.
On Thursday, Trump demands to speak to Bharara in person. This office, however, refused to put the President through to the attorney. Bharara then let the White House and the Justice Department know that speaking to the President would be a breach of protocol, according to the New York Times. The next day, on Friday, Sessions asks for the attorneys’ resignations.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Bharara may have been investigating Fox News Channel’s parent company for not reporting settlements related to sexual harassment cases to the Securities and Exchange Commission, an attorney representing a former Fox News host said in open court on Wednesday, as Politico reports. The lawyer, Judd Burstein, said that he had received a federal grand jury subpoena from the office of Preet Bharara.
Burstein is representing former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros, who is suing Fox News executives for sexual harassment. At the hearing, Burstein suggested “that the subpoena appeared to be related to the company’s efforts to discreetly handle sexual harassment allegations,” Politico writes.
Who is the acting CEO of Fox News? Rupert Murdoch, the man New York Magazine described as someone who “throughout his six-decade career working on three continents, has used his media properties to advance the prospects of politicians whose policies help his business interests”.
Murdoch has been close to Trump on a number of occasions, he even secretly sat in on Michael Gove’s recent interview with the President at Trump Tower. Any potential legal action against the cash cow that is Fox News may have serious consequences. The last laugh in the Bharara saga could be Murdoch’s.
In other news: today’s morning headline “Intruder arrested on White House grounds” after an incident last night is a serious story, and yet a joke that is obviously on us.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Charli XCX, “Break the rules”
50. (Fri, 10 Mar 2017) – RESIGN, PLEASE
San Francisco’s tech industry may be as far away from D.C. as can be, but if we’re honest Donald Trump didn’t make a name for himself during the campaign for not shaking up the system anyway. So the magic word on Friday in Washington was a Silicon Valley favourite: disruption.
On Trump’s 50th day in office, he got the broomstick out to sweep up the remaining crumbs left by the Obama administration and asked a total of 46 holdover U.S. attorneys to tender their resignations immediately. To be precise, the call came from Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and even if U.S. attorneys are political appointees, which makes the process of replacing them nothing too unusual, the President’s message was clear: I’m the king of my castle.
The fact that Trump confidant Sean Hannity, less than 24 hours before Sessions’ move, had called on his Thursday evening show for a “purge” of “deep-state Obama holdovers embedded like barnacles in the federal bureaucracy” apparently “hell-bent on destroying President Trump” (“it’s time for the Trump administration to purge these saboteurs,” he said), seems like a minor cutting room floor-type coincidence, probably only a strange detail we will have forgotten about in a few days. Maybe hours, more likely minutes.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Communards, “Don’t leave me this way”
49. (Thu, 09 Mar 2017) – “UH, NO.”
What to make of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then?
Laughing in someone’s face as you admit that your president will not keep promise on one of his biggest campaign vows… I don’t know if the flat-out “Uh, no.” is all you need to know about him and the self-righteous bigotry his Republican party stands for.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Game feat. 50 Cent, “Hate it or love it”
48. (Wed, 08 Mar 2017) – NOT COMING ACROSS
Good news from across the border. Oh, no. Good news from the border. If you ask Donald Trump, at least. The administration had new figures to report: The number of undocumented immigrants caught along the southwest border fell significantly last month, Customs and Border Protection said in a statement today.
Usually, the number of people trying to cross the border increases in February as temperatures rise. In a reversal of a yearslong trend, the number went down by 39 percent as compared to January. Still, 23.589 people were caught entering the U.S. from Mexico last month, which equates to about 842 people per day.
Not surprisingly, the Trump administration is taking credit for the numbers after their hard line on illegal immigration. “The early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters, and that comprehensive immigration enforcement can make an impact,” John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement.
Because that initial policy of deterrence might not hold up forever, the Trump administration is obviously still bent on building the wall. To finance it, they are looking into significantly cutting funds for the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies focused on national security threats, according to a draft plan.
The Coast Guard’s $9.1 billion budget in 2017 would be cut 14 percent to about $7.8 billion, while the TSA and FEMA budgets would be reduced about 11 percent each to $4.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively.
Or as one commentator said on the web, trying to finance the wall by cutting these budgets would be like paying for your new burglar alarm by selling off your front door.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Al Stewart, “On the border”
47. (Tue, 07 Mar 2017) – THE ASSURED INSURED
He vowed to fix it for months, then came the “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated” line, and now here it is: after weeks and weeks of talking without releasing any details, yesterday House Republicans finally unveiled their plan to replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
It was the President’s big promise throughout the campaign, to big cheers and applause at his rallies, but the American Health Care Act was a joint effort, developed in conjunction with Senate Republicans and the White House. Just don’t call it Trumpcare (more on that later).
The plan is still lacking some details; so far, a number of questions remain in the open. An indispensable source to understand the indeed rather complicated subject matter that is American health care is Sarah Kliff of vox.com. “Two big questions — how many people it will cover and how much it will cost — are still unresolved,” Kliff writes in a good explainer on the plan. “It will likely cover fewer people than the Affordable Care Act currently does, but we don’t know how many. And the Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the legislation, so its price tag is unknown.”
But what we can say for sure is this:
- Some of Obamacare’s signature features are gone immediately, such as the tax on people who don’t purchase health care. Other protections, including the ban on discriminating people with pre-existing conditions and the provision that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ plan through age 26, would survive.
- The plan maintains the Medicaid expansion — for now. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid to cover millions of low-income Americans. And, in a big shift from previous drafts of the legislation, which ended Medicaid expansion immediately, this bill would continue to that coverage expansion through January 1, 2020. At that point, enrollment would “freeze,” and legislators expect enrollees would drop out of the program as their incomes change.
- The replacement plan benefits people who are healthy and high-income, and disadvantages those who are sicker and lower-income. The replacement plan would make several changes to what health insurers can charge enrollees who purchase insurance on the individual market, as well as changing what benefits their plans must cover. In aggregate, these changes could be advantageous to younger and healthier enrollees who want skimpier (and cheaper) benefit packages. But they could be costly for older and sicker Obamacare enrollees, who rely on the law’s current requirements.
- The bill looks a lot more like Obamacare than previous drafts. A curious thing has happened to the Republican replacement plan as it has evolved through multiple drafts: it has begun to look more and more like Obamacare itself. The bill keeps some key features of Obamacare, like giving more help to lower-income Americans and the Medicaid expansion, in a scaled-back form. This speaks to how entrenched the health care law has become since its enactment seven years ago, and how difficult it will be for the GOP to repeal it entirely.
– “The American Health Care Act: the Republicans’ bill to replace Obamacare, explained” –– Sarah Kliff, vox.com, Mar 6, 2017, 10:25pm EST
Health Care is about choices. In all likelihood, there will always be trade-offs, affordability versus availability, while keeping an eye on the coast. Even given the fact how unpopular the ACA seemed to be throughout the country, repealing and replacing it never meant it would be an easy task to pull off for Republicans. And so, shortly after the plan was unveiled, the backlash came in –– from Republicans. “It’s Obamacare in a different format,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview with the Atlantic.
Two groups, Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, came out against the proposal. “Many Americans seeking health insurance on the individual market will notice no significant difference between the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act,” the group’s president, Michael Needham said. “That is bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy. Rather than accept the flawed premises of Obamacare, congressional Republicans should fully repeal the failed law and begin a genuine effort to deliver on longstanding campaign promises that create a free-market health-care system that empowers patients and doctors.”
The bill is up against angry conservative activists and advocacy groups. “Lawmakers that make up the hard right of the GOP caucus are building a wall of opposition against what they swiftly branded ‘Obamacare-lite’ and they are particularly fired up that the bill retains tax credits to subsidise insurance, although they are less expensive than Obamacare’s,” Politico pointed out in an article. “President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and the House GOP leadership joined to show support Tuesday. But without the hardball-playing Freedom Caucus on board, the odds the House can pass an Obamacare replacement plan are effectively nil.”
The President, who seems to be avoiding any kind of nominal association with the bill, might not be putting his favourite five letters in front of it (“It’s not Trumpcare,” a White House spokesperson said, “we will be calling it by its official name”) in case the policy backfires with voters. And yet, one thing is for sure: after keeping his fountain pen busy signing executive orders, Donald Trump will have to show his deal-making ability for the first time to get the American Health Care Act passed.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Strokes, “Hard to explain”
46. (Mon, 06 Mar 2017) – TRAVEL BAN BACKDOOR
It was the line-up of the usual suspects, dressed in the common attire of white men with something important to announce. The dull shades of their dark suits reflected the sobering news: Donald Trump had signed a new executive order.
His second travel ban prevents immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, dropping Iraq from January’s previous order, and reinstates a temporary blanket ban on all refugees. But here to do the dirty deed and explain it was not the President himself but three middle-aged men: secretary of state Rex Tillerson, attorney general Jeff Sessions, and Department of Homeland Security secretary John Kelly took it into their hands to defending the revised version of the immigration ban.
“It is the president’s solemn duty to protect the American people,” Tillerson said on Monday morning at a press conference. “This order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamists terrorists can and will exploit.”
Let’s not forget, since 9/11, about 400 individuals were charged with or credibly involved in jihad-inspired activity in the United States. Just under half (197) were U.S.-born citizens, according to research by the nonpartisan think tank New America Foundation. An additional 82 were naturalised citizens, and 44 were permanent residents.
“Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents. Moreover, while a range of citizenship statuses are represented, every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident. In addition, about a quarter of the extremists are converts, further confirming that the challenge cannot be reduced to one of immigration,” the report continues.
“We do not make the law but are sworn to enforce it. We have no other option,” John Kelly said. “Our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us.”
Who are these enemies? Well, according to the new executive order, they potentially come from anywhere: A part of the executive order actually calls for a review of U.S. visa relationships with every country, according to the original text of the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist entry into the United States”:
“The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall conduct a worldwide review to identify whether, and if so what, additional information will be needed from each foreign country to adjudicate an application by a national of that country for a visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual is not a security or public-safety threat.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, may submit to the President the names of any additional countries recommended for similar treatment (…). “
So there is a little backdoor buried in the small print of this new order. If the Trump administration thinks that another country beyond the six specifically mentioned ones does not do enough to comply with U.S. visa regulations, it can ban citizens from these countries from entering the United States, too.
The President, seemingly preoccupied with assembling his evidence to prove Barack Obama’s involvement in Trump’s allegedly being wiretapped, let the three grey men announce the bleak outlook for diversity in American society.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Visage, “Fade to grey”
45. (Sun, 05 Mar 2017) – COME FOR THE TRUTH, STAY FOR THE COMEY
Ah, here it is, the inevitable update on yesterday’s revelations: In the great big saga that this election cycle has been so far, it seems certain that when just about everyone is involved, BOOM!, the F.B.I. comes along and reshuffles the cards.
“James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday,” the New York Times reported today. “Mr Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.”
Comey’s request came just after Donald Trump levelled his allegation on Twitter, the article explains. The F.B.I. director “has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law”.
To reiterate, in other words: Donald Trump’s twitter outburst has woken a sleeping giant. Well, not exactly. Again, the F.B.I. always seems to pop up in this hive of intrigue, whether we’re talking Clinton emails, Priebus trying to rebut new leaks on Russia, or now in Trump’s wiretapping accusations. But anyhow, dragging the nation’s top law enforcement agency into this – so far – untenable claim can’t be good news.
And so, soon there will be even more fires to be put out.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: The Rolling Stones, “Play with fire”
44. (Sat, 04 Mar 2017) – BOY IN DA CORNER
It was a funny old week in Washington. On Tuesday it rained applause that lasted till Wednesday, on Thursday clouds gathered, by Friday a storm was brewing that suddenly changed direction and unloaded itself on the lightning road called @realdonaldtrump.
At around 8:30 a.m. this morning Donald Trump unleashed a twitter tirade few would’ve predicted:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
In essence, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama, without providing any evidence, of tapping into his phone at Trump Tower. There was talk about Trump picking up the story from a Breitbart News article that circulated on the net yesterday, which might explain the lack of evidence he provided in his tweets. A lot of people were quick to point out that Obama’s denial statement merely said the White House under Obama didn’t order it:
“Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” the statement read.
We are talking nuances here, obviously: normally, if there seems to be a case for it the order has to go through the DOJ, and they have to get it from FISC. So, Obama’s statement only states he or his administration didn’t order it.
On the other hand, however, it means that if Donald Trump is right and he was indeed wiretapped, the could be knee-deep in trouble. Again, supported by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act the court usually only grants these orders if there is substantial evidence, meaning something rather suspicious must have come up in the investigation if there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
We will hear more on this, for sure. After what was spun as a partial reboot of this still very young presidency, we went from that on-message speech before Congress on Tuesday to a restless twitter storm in a matter of a few days. As soon as Trump or his administration are criticised (in this case, Jeff Sessions was given the treatment for a number of days, reflecting badly on Trump’s government), Trump behaves like someone backed into a corner –– defensive, ready to lash out at any given moment.
What are we learning about his judgement then? Trump, it seems, is still very much his predictable, paranoid, thin-skinned, twitchy, impulsive self after all.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Blondie, “Hanging on the telephone”
43. (Fri, 03 Mar 2017) – THINGS ARE HEATING UP
It is easy to pick out the signal words from Donald Trump’s curiously much-lauded speech on Tuesday night. Just a few of the key mentions in the address that outlined the issues his administration will tackle in the following years of his presidency:
– United States / America: 90 mentions
– Russia: 0 mentions
– Mexico: 0 mentions
– the wall: 1 mention
– immigration: 8 mentions
– border: 6 mentions
– crime: 4 mentions
– security: 5 mentions
– trade: 5 mentions
– military: 6 mentions
– jobs: 14 mentions
– taxes: 12 mentions
– environment: 0 mentions
“Finally, the chorus became an earthquake — and the people turned out by the tens of millions,” Trump said in the speech, “and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand, that America must put its own citizens first … because only then, can we truly make America great again.”
The zero mentions for environment presumably go in line with the next sentence following from there: “Dying industries will come roaring back to life.” Trump promised his administration had “undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job‑crushing regulations” and would stop “a regulation that threatens the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.”
The environmental impact of fossil fuels has been widely discussed. Strengthening these industries will almost certainly be at the expense of the environment. Which brings us to today’s news: “White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency” read a Wahington Post headline this evening.
According to a four-page budget memo obtained by the Washington Post the White House is planning to cut the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a leading government agency on climate science, by 17 percent. NOAA is part of the Commerce Department, which would be hit by an overall 18 percent budget reduction from its current funding level.
“The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs,” the article continues, “including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and ‘coastal resilience,’ which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas. ”
During the campaign Donald Trump was very outspoken against increasing protective environmental measures, even vowing to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form”. Since taking office President Donald Trump and his administration have repealed Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and proposed the expected cuts to the EPA.
In his address before Congress, the President spent a great deal of time to talk about the future, how he and the government would fight for Americans “to advance the common good, and to cooperate on behalf of every American child who deserves a brighter future.”
A couple of days ago, Antarctica hit record high temperature at a balmy 63.5°F. How bright that American future will be under those clouds of burned coal remains to be seen.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Martha Reeves & the Vandella, “Heat Wave”
42. (Thu, 02 Mar 2017) – WELL RECUSE ME, PLEASE
One can only imagine how that must’ve riled him: A day full of praise, plus those cute attempts at interpretation –– Is that the new Donald Trump?, the pundits wondered throughout the day after his performance at the Joint Address before Congress on Tuesday, and the following hours must have been exactly to his taste: all eyes were on Trump who bathed in the certitude that he landed a political masterstroke by accurately reading from a teleprompter.
And then along came Jeff Sessions and singlehandedly ruined Trump’s moment of triumph.
Attention is a big jewel in Trump’s crown of importance. But Sessions taking away the spotlight while Trump was basking in a rare moment of glory of those first weeks of his often tumultuous presidency wasn’t something the President will have liked much, presumably.
On the other hand, Trump owes Sessions. There is a template for a number of policies the Trump campaign has adopted, and that template comes right out of the Alabama Senator’s office. Sessions, if you will, is the ideological (and somewhat intellectual) godfather to Trump’s trade and immigration proposals, to name but a few.
But now this man finds himself in a political hot seat. Sessions did not disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign when he had his confirmation hearings as attorney general before Congress.
For a number of reasons Trump was quick to defend his AG:
“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional. This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election, and now they have lost their grip on reality. The real story is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total ‘witch hunt’!”
– Donald Trump, via twitter, 2 March, 6:22 pm
“It is, at best, very misleading testimony,” said Richard Painter, formerly the top ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s White House, in an interview with Politico. “I don’t go so far as to say that it’s perjury, but there is a lesser charge of failing to provide accurate information to Congress. A nominee at a confirmation hearing has an obligation to provide full and complete information to Congress,” Painter continued. “Conduct that might be just short of perjury in a deposition in a typical civil case is entirely inappropriate in front of Congress.”
At the confirmation hearing, Senator Al Franken (D–MN) asked Sessions: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
Sessions replied: “Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
Perjury is very hard to prove, and the fact that several grown men from the Trump campaign all lied (or tip-toed around) about meeting with the Russians during the run-up to the election, will not be enough of a straw to break the camel’s back.
Sessions took himself out of the line of fire by announcing in a press conference today that he will recuse himself from any investigations related to campaigns for president, including any probe into contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
“I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign,” Sessions said at the Justice Department. Sessions said he consulted senior Justice Department staff for their “candid and honest opinion” about what he should do. “My staff recommended recusal,” he said. “They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation. I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation. I believe those recommendations are right and just.”
So far so good. And yet, after proceedings that afternoon at Justice Department, in the evening another piece of the puzzle emerged: “Jeff Sessions used political funds for Republican Convention Expenses: Records show attorney general used his campaign account for travel expenses to Cleveland, where he met Russian envoy,” read a Wall Street Journal headline later tonight, suggesting but ultimately not proving that Sessions acted on behalf of Trump’s interests in this meeting.
Whatever the outcome, right now Sessions and the piece-by-piece revelations are blocking Trump’s sun.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: a-ha, “The sun always shines on TV”
41. (Wed, 01 Mar 2017) – FAR FROM OVER
It might have been a thumbs-up all around from the pundits yesterday, but the positive reaction to Donald Trump’s speech on Tuesday could not topple the fact that a number of issues still remain widely unresolved.
There are policy matters that Donald Trump touched upon in his address, like immigration and health care, that the administration hasn’t tackled. “He was silent on the details that I think will be very, very important to legislative remedy,” said Mark Sanford (R-S.C.). “We need more definition and detail from the executive branch.”
Trump sat down with top lawmakers at the White House earlier today to talk about health care, and the President is expected to announce more details in the coming months as his team studies individual proposals, an administration official said.
And yet, one issue is looming large on the day after Trump speech. That issue is still the small matter of possible ties between Russia and Trump’s team during the campaign. How come? The Washington Post revealed today that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had also met with the Russian ambassador in the months leading up to the election.
What makes this an extra delicate affair: these were meetings Sessions did not disclose during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and the Russians. According to the article, Sessions, an early Trump supporter and regular surrogate during the campaign, met with ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice, “in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention”, and “in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee”.
Sessions was quick to respond, late Wednesday evening, when he issued a statement: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn talked to Kislyak, too. In the end it cost him his job. That statement raises more questions than it answers. If it turns out Sessions lied under oath, he is likely to get the sack.
To be continued, for sure.
–> SONG SUGGESTION for the day: Harry Nilsson, “Everybody’s talkin'”