March 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM


Jeff Sessions greets guests at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club (Kristina Webb  3/04/17, Palm Beach Post)

Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions took a few moments from high-level meetings at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club to greet guests at the estate tonight.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


Trump angry and frustrated at staff over Sessions fallout (Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta, Jeff Zeleny, Sara Murray, John King and Gloria Borger,  March 4, 2017, CNN)

President Donald Trump is extremely frustrated with his senior staff and communications team for allowing the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions to steal his thunder in the wake of his address to Congress, sources tell CNN.

"Nobody has seen him that upset," one source said, adding the feeling was the communications team allowed the Sessions news, which the administration deemed a nonstory, to overtake the narrative.

On Thursday, Sessions recused himself from any current or future investigations into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign after it was reported he had met with the Russian ambassador to the US, something he had previously failed to disclose.

In particular, the renewed focus on Russia is seen as a major letdown after Tuesday when top officials were riding high, congratulating one another on Trump's speech to Congress. [...]

The President is showing increasing flashes of anger over the performance of his senior staff and daily developments about Russia overshadowing his message, multiple people inside the White House and outside the administration told CNN.

Trump voiced his frustration to his inner circle in the Oval Office Friday, sources said. He feels attacked by the media, former Obama administration officials and others, and frustrated that things are not going more smoothly. The President expressed his anger at non-stop leaks undermining his administration, the sources said.

One source familiar with the Friday meeting said Trump was angry at senior staff, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, about the state of affairs at the White House this week.

...he can't have a staff that both thinks he should be leading the country and is competent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 PM


More Americans say government should ensure health care coverage (KRISTEN BIALIK, 1/13/17, Pew Research)

As the debate continues over repeal of the Affordable Care Act and what might replace it, a growing share of Americans believe that the federal government has a responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Currently, 60% of Americans say the government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38% who say this should not be the government's responsibility. The share saying it is the government's responsibility has increased from 51% last year and now stands at its highest point in nearly a decade.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 PM


Is Russia Preparing to Cut Losses on Trump? : The heat has been turned up by Congressional Democrats on the Trump administration's ties to Russia. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has already begun to look elsewhere for friendlier ties, leading to speculation that it may be getting realistic about what it will get from the Trump administration. (John Batchelor, 03.04.17, daily Beast)

The chatter today is that hawks in the Kremlin understand the sensational allegations against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions as Kremlin dupes to be part of a potent Congressional blocking of President Donald Trump's steps toward détente with President Vladimir Putin.

To underline the case, gossip about Kremlin voices points to 1969-74, when President Richard Nixon's complex steps toward détente with then Soviet Union Premier Leonid Brezhnev were derailed by the grinding Watergate scandal that saw Congress drive Nixon from office. [...]

The fact that Trump did not mention Russia in his address to Congress on February 28 has raised still more questions about whether the president is either too unskilled or too vulnerable to manage détente. 

The Kremlin is not waiting for better days. Moscow is moving to deepen its ties to the Eurasian superpower, Beijing, and may leave Congress to its blame-shifting self-regard as Russian leaders brace for the international crises and brinksmanship that may be part of the failure of this round of détente, just as they were during and following Watergate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Trump's Wiretap Rant Betrays Ignorance of the Law : The president's conspiratorial Saturday-morning tweetstorm betrayed a shocking lack of understanding of how the American legal system works. (BRADLEY P. MOSS, March 04, 2017, Politico)

In either context, the president's remarks alleging his phones were "tapped" are simply preposterous and reflect his complete ignorance of how the various surveillance authorities retained by the government over which he now presides actually work. The president cannot, on his own, authorize surveillance of a U.S. citizen. Whether for domestic criminal purposes or foreign intelligence purposes, a court order is required, either through a standard Article III court or the FISC. There is no indication in any of the reporting that a FISA warrant was issued targeting Trump specifically. Even if collected records encompassed by the FISA warrant - whether the broad Heat Street claim or the more limited BBC/McClatchy claim - included phones calls, emails and/or financial records identifying Trump by name, the minimization procedures imposed by the FISC would have required - absent specific exceptions - that his name be deleted or "masked." The investigators and analysts would not be aware of the fact that it was the president's calls, emails or financial records they were reviewing, at least not without external information independent of the records themselves.

Trump is a political and government novice, and this is not the first time he has put his complete ignorance of governmental laws on show for the world to see via Twitter. It would be in his best interests - and in the best interests of the country - for him to start educating himself on the laws and procedures that apply to the government he now runs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Trump, Offering No Evidence, Says Obama Tapped His Phones (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MARCH 4, 2017, NY Times)

[A] senior White House official said that Donald F. McGahn II, the president's chief counsel, was working on Saturday to secure access to what Mr. McGahn believed was an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing some form of surveillance related to Mr. Trump and his associates. that the FBI was able to argue plausibly that one or more of them are agents of a foreign power.
Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


White House pushing back against Mattis appointment (ELIANA JOHNSON, 03/02/17, Politico)

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wants to tap the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, as his undersecretary of defense for policy, but the Pentagon chief is running into resistance from White House officials, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

If nominated and confirmed, Patterson would hold the fourth most powerful position at the Pentagon - and would effectively be the top civilian in the Defense Department, since both Mattis and his deputy, Robert Work, were military officers.

As ambassador to Egypt between 2011 and 2013, Patterson worked closely with former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist government. She came under fire for cultivating too close a relationship with the regime and for discouraging protests against it--and White House officials are voicing concerns about those decisions now.

The skirmish surrounding Patterson's nomination is the latest in a series of personnel battles that have played out between Mattis and the White House, with each side rejecting the names offered up by the other while the Pentagon remains empty. The White House has yet to nominate a single undersecretary or deputy secretary to the Defense Department, while Work, Mattis's deputy, is an Obama administration holdover who only agreed to stay on until the secretary taps a deputy of his own.

A similar tug of war has played out between the White House and other agency chiefs, most notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president denied his top choice for deputy secretary of state last month.

But it is Mattis who's dug in most stubbornly, insisting on staffing his own department. "Mattis is a guy who cares very much about personnel," said a Mattis friend. "He doesn't want people off the tracks that he has laid down and that he's running his train on."

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


In Twitter Tirade, Trump Appears to Confirm Exclusive Heat Street Report on FBI / Russia Surveillance Warrant (Heat Street, March 4, 2017)

In October, Heat Street's Louise Mensch was the first to report the existence of a secret "FISA warrant", approved by a court, which allowed FBI agents to do electronic surveillance of Trump's campaign and associates. According to Heat Street (and now President Trump), the FBI was first turned down by a court but was later successful.

The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia's Alfa Bank.

Heat Street's reporting contradicted earlier reporting by The New York Times which, citing FBI sources, said that the agency did not believe the private server in Trump Tower had any nefarious purpose. The Times' cautious reporting was later criticized by its own ombudswoman who argued that the "Paper of Record" should have been more aggressive. She was then directly rebuked in a rare breach of protocol by the Times' executive editor, Dean Baquet, who called her criticisms "fairly ridiculous."

In the months that have followed the election, new revelations about Trump advisors' contacts with and ties to the Russians have poured forth almost daily, and the Russia controversy has become a major distraction during the Trump Administration's crucial "first 100 days". In addition to the ongoing FBI investigation, which has been ramped up, there are now also burgeoning Congressional investigations and calls for a special prosecutor to be appointed.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Former Trump Adviser Carter Page Flip-Flops on Russia Meetings (Daily Beast, 3/03/17)

Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to President Trump, stumbled through an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Friday night, admitting to having met with a Russian official after previously denying it. As Trump's team faces increasing scrutiny over ties to Russia, Page admitted to meeting with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak but downplayed the significance of it, at one point questioning the meaning of the word "meeting." "Anderson, a great analogy is you and I were members of the same health club here in New York previously. And I remember walking by you even though we didn't know each other and I said, 'Hi, Anderson,' and you said hello and we, you know, a nice little exchange for half a second. Now, does that to you constitute a meeting?"

The Mystery of Trump's Man in Moscow : Reports of deep Russian ties swirl around Trump adviser Carter Page. Oddly, nobody in Russia seems to have heard of him. (JULIA IOFFE September 23, 2016, Politico)

One source suggested to me that Richard Burt, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, START treaty negotiator, and longtime lobbyist for Alfa Bank, was the nexus. It was Burt who helped draft Trump's foreign policy speech in April, and had been advising the Trump campaign, via Senator Jeff Sessions, on foreign policy. But when I met Burt at his office at the McLarty Associates lobbying shop, he looked at me and said he had never even met him. "The only person I talked to about Carter Page is this guy at the Washington Post," Burt told me. "And I told him I'd never met the guy. Let me put it this way: if I have met him, I've forgotten. He's the former Merrill Lynch guy, right?"

Someone else told me that the Page connection was Rick Dearborn, Sessions' chief of staff, who hired Page because Dearborn knew nothing about foreign policy but needed to put together a foreign policy staff for Trump's Alexandria, Virginia, policy shop and he happened to know Page. But Dearborn wouldn't return my calls, and someone who once worked for that policy shop told me it was neither Dearborn nor Burt, but campaign co-chair Sam Clovis who recruited Page. "If he was part of that original group of people, I can say with 70 percent confidence it was Sam Clovis," this person told me.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping His Office During Election (Radio Liberty, 3/03/17)

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping his New York office during the election campaign, but has not provided evidence of the charge.

"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the [election] victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" Trump wrote on Twitter on March 4.

Well, I guess we now know why the Democrats say Comey has transcripts of the Russian contacts. That the courts approved such wire-tapping and the FBI asked for it can't be hystericalled away.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Money for nothing: the case for a basic income : a review of Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There, by Rutger Bregman and Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght (Akash Kapur, 3/02/17, Financial Times)

The notion of a guaranteed income for all may appear counter-intuitive, even heretical in an era marked by anxiety over rising deficits and creaking welfare states. Opponents of the idea also worry that no-strings-attached free money could reduce incentives to work. Bregman is relatively sanguine about costs, suggesting, alternatively, that a universal income would be cheaper than existing welfare programmes, or that it could easily be paid for by new taxes on "assets, waste, raw materials, and consumption". Concerns about incentives are similarly unfounded, he argues, relics of old, patronising thinking about poverty and welfare.

The book includes a variety of empirical evidence to suggest that cash handouts do not, in fact, make people less likely to work. In many cases, they actually increase labour activity, for example by providing recipients with the financial security to quit unfulfilling jobs and launch entrepreneurial ventures. Bregman is at pains to dismiss stereotypes of the poor as lazy or unmotivated. As the economist Joseph Hanlon (whom Bregman quotes) phrases it: "Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It's not about stupidity . . . You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots".

Bregman is a champion of the randomised control trial (or RCT) in social sciences research; this increasingly popular approach to evaluating policy interventions borrows its method from the field of medicine. He cites a number of small-scale trials and experiments that indicate the many possible benefits of cash handouts. In countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil, Kenya, Namibia and Mexico, universal income schemes have been linked to reductions in malnutrition, crime and child mortality, along with improvements in indicators of education, equality and economic growth. Advocates also make several ethical arguments, pointing to the social and moral imperatives of providing citizens with an income floor at a time of rising concern over automation, structural unemployment and growing inequality. "This wealth belongs to all of us," writes Bregman. "And a basic income allows all of us to share it."

Bregman may be a particularly enthusiastic evangelist, but he is hardly the first to promote a universal income; the idea has a long, and in many ways somewhat surprising, pedigree. Thomas More, the godfather of utopia, envisioned something like a guaranteed income for the residents of his idealised world. Versions of the concept have also found favour among thinkers as varied as John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith. In the late 1960s, no less a conservative stalwart than Richard Nixon presented a basic income bill, labelling it "the most significant piece of social legislation in our nation's history". It passed the US House of Representatives before dying in the Senate.

The idea subsequently fell out of vogue, obscured by Reaganite-Thatcherite pieties about meritocracy, hard work and individual responsibility. But it has recently returned from the fringes to the centre-stages of policymaking, once again a respectable option backed by influential figures on both the left (who like its egalitarian impulses) and the right (who find it less paternalistic than the welfare state). Several European countries -- including Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland -- have seriously considered some version of a guaranteed income scheme. This year, India hinted at plans for its own programme. In many ways, the idea seems particularly well-suited to our fluid political times, cutting across existing ideologies and affiliations. Precisely because the benefit is universal, it appears to have widespread political acceptability. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Sessions to provide amended testimony on Russia ties (Times of Israel, March 4, 2017)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans on Monday to provide amended testimony regarding his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the US during the presidential election. [...]

Sessions has recused himself from any probe that examines communications between President Donald Trump's aides and Moscow. His decision came after revelations that Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so despite questioning from Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Amid firestorm, Trump appears to waver on Russia deal (AP, 3/03/17)

 Facing a new wave of questions about his ties to Russia, US President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve -- at least temporarily -- his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats.

It's obviously early yet, and he can do some damage as we go along, but thus far the deep state appears to be saving us from the worst impulses of Donald/Bannon.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Records show EPA's Pruitt used private email, despite denial (MICHAEL BIESECKER and SEAN MURPHY, 2/27/17, Associated Press)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt occasionally used private email to communicate with staff while serving as Oklahoma's attorney general, despite telling Congress that he had always used a state email account for government business.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Where millennials want to live might surprise you  (Phillip Molnar, 3/03/17, SD Union-Tribune)

A pair of studies released this week suggests that the majority of millennials want to live in the suburbs, have already started buying outside urban areas, and base their homebuying decisions mainly on affordability.

Reports by Zillow and Harvard break with stereotypes of America's largest generation, namely that they prefer to rent because they favor experiences over building equity and want to live in urban environments.

Such preferences could have an impact in San Diego, which has the one of the biggest concentration of millennials in the nation yet has moved away from building single-family homes to apartments and condos.

Millennials only make up roughly 10 percent of the nation's homeowners (the oldest millennials are about 35 years old). The majority who have made the leap decided to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents.

Nearly 50 percent of millennial U.S. homeowners were in the suburbs in 2016, 33 percent in an urban area and 20 percent in rural places, said Zillow's Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends. The report used Census data and a Zillow survey of more than 13,000 homebuyers, sellers, owners and renters.

Which is why demographics don't help the Democrats.