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At Least Three Dead, Twenty Injured, In Apparent Terror Attack In London

  • The suspected attacker was shot amid a range of casualties over some of the most famous streets in central London.
  • Crumpled bodies lay on the Westminster Bridge over the River Thames as a Foreign Office official — covered in the blood of the stabbed police officer — tried to save his life.
  • Even before full details emerged, the apparent attacks and chaos were certain to raise security levels in London and other Western capitals and bring further scrutiny on counterterrorism measures.
  • Meanwhile, authorities tried to piece together the sequence of events at one of the city’s most highly protected sites.
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | March 22, 2017, 1:53 pm

Freedom Caucus: There Are 25 Solid 'no' Votes On Trumpcare

  • Popular vote loser Donald Trump used his best negotiator skills Wednesday morning with the Freedom Caucus to convince them to vote for Trumpcare, and the Freedom Caucus says "no thanks."
  • xBREAKING: more than 25 Freedom Caucus 'No's' on AHCA -- group says "start over"— Alyssa Farah (@Alyssafarah) March 22, 2017
  • Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Wednesday that he's optimistic heading into this decisive 24-hour period.
  • Three of these guys (yeah, they're all guys) could potentially be arm-twisted or bribed into changing their votes.
rss@dailykos.com (Joan McCarter) / Daily Kos | March 22, 2017, 1:47 pm

Trump's Former Campaign Chairman's Tight Ties To Putin

During Monday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a strange assertion. This is not unusual; in fact, Spicer makes strange assertions on such a regular basis that this one barely made a ripple outside of the press corps. James Comey had confirmed that morning that his FBI was investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the presidential election.

Unbidden, Spicer brought up Paul Manafort, who had served as Trump’s campaign chairman during summer 2016. “Obviously there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” Spicer said. Reporters immediately reacted incredulously: Manafort had been the campaign chairman, after all!

The White House’s desire to preemptively distance itself from Manafort seemed more understandable Wednesday, after a big report from the Associated Press saying that Manafort worked for a Russian billionaire close to President Vladimir Putin in the mid-2000s, as part of an effort to advance Putin’s interests.

“Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse,” the AP reports.

Manafort confirmed he’d worked for the oligarch, who allegedly paid him some $10 million annually, but insisted his work was personal. “I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said in a statement. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia's political interests.”

This is a tough argument to make, because the AP acquired memos that Manafort allegedly wrote to Deripaska. One, for example, said, “We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success” and “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

The AP report is also in line with what was previously known about Manafort. The longtime Republican fixer worked as a consigliere to now-deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin client. In August 2016, The New York Times reported on a dossier of documents about Manafort emerging from Ukraine, including allegations that Manafort received almost $13 million in off-book cash payments. He was also part of a strange deal involving an investment fund he created backed by Deripaska to purchase a telecom company. But that deal apparently went south, and Manafort in 2014 sued in the Cayman Islands to recover some assets from Deripaska.

That New York Times story was the first of several over the course of a few days, showing more questionable Manafort ties, as well as suggesting he might have broken U.S. laws by not lobbying as a foreign agent. Within the week, Manafort—already sidelined inside the Trump campaign by Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway—had been asked to resign.

The new AP report also resurfaces one unresolved oddity about Manafort’s role on the Trump campaign: He was working as a volunteer. But Manafort’s eye-popping eight-figure contract with Deripaska and his history as a hired gun, working for figures around the world with bad reputations, shows that he is not the sort of man who works for free, nor the sort of man who seeks out idealists as clients. If Trump was not paying him, who was? And to what end?

The story of the Trump presidency so far has been an almost suffocating cloud of billowing of smoke but little in the way of visible flames. The Manafort story, too, has been more smoke than fire, though the AP story moves the story closer to solid findings.

There remain many important questions to answer, which will answer whether there really is a fire.

First, did the Trump campaign understand what it was getting in Manafort? Certainly, Trump and his advisers should have. Eli Lake summed the news up as “Trump just hired his next scandal.” Perhaps the Trump team was unaware, but if so that would suggest astonishing incompetence and negligence, even by the low standards of Trump vetting.

A second possibility is that they were aware of at least some of Manafort’s unsavory ties but decided to overlook them. When Manafort was hired, the Trump campaign was in deep turmoil: Leading all Republican rivals, but consumed by chaos and in danger of heading to the Republican National Convention without the nomination clinched, where a floor fight could lead to party elders crushing Trump the outsider. Manafort had been a part of Gerald Ford’s successful floor fight against Ronald Reagan in 1976, and so he was brought on as a fixer. But Manafort quickly expanded his ambit, muscling out previous campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and taking over himself. His role at the RNC, and the way Trump and other aides spoke about Manafort over the summer did not indicate a limited or small role in the campaign.

A third possibility, and one that runs closest to liberal fever dreams of a full-on Russian manipulation of the election, is that Trump or some of his closest aides were well aware of Manafort’s ties to the Kremlin and saw them as a feature, not a bug. If Trump was trying to construct a Putin-friendly campaign, whether for purposes entirely innocent or nefarious, Manafort would have been an obvious hire.

Trump had made a habit of praising Putin for years before he hired Manafort. Nor was Manafort the only figure in the Trump orbit who had ties to Moscow. Former foreign-policy aide Carter Page has a tangle of Russian business ties. Several Trump advisers met with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the RNC in Cleveland, including now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who misled Congress about the contact, and J.D. Gordon, another Trump aide. Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser for about three weeks before being forced to resign for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with Kislyak, has become a full-on Russophile, and Flynn was close to Bannon, not Manafort.

One strange episode that occurred in Cleveland was the writing of the GOP’s platform on Ukraine. The Republican Party has historically taken a hard line on Russia, and been critical of Russian expansionism around its borders. That included pushing back on Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea after Yanukovych’s overthrow, a seizure that almost the entire international community views as unlawful. Some members of the platform committee wanted to insert a pledge to send defensive weapons to Ukrainians facing Russian incursion. But others steamrolled them, making sure the plank was not included.

Trump aides were widely blamed for the move, though the campaign denied it. Certainly, it seemed fishy that the party would reverse its stance on a matter where Manafort had been working on behalf of the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian faction.

Comey confirmed Monday only that the FBI was investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He did not indicate who, if anyone, was on the bureau’s radar screen. While the AP report does not say so directly, today’s story would strongly suggest that Paul Manafort is under investigation, as has been previously reported. But is he the only one? And if not, who else? Longtime on-and-off Trump adviser Roger Stone is reportedly under investigation. Is Carter Page? Or J.D. Gordon? How about Michael Flynn, who recently disclosed he had lobbied for the Turkish government immediately before joining the administration? What about Sessions, who has recused himself from the investigation? Or even Trump himself?

It will take time for answers to these questions to emerge, and even the White House does not seem to know who might be in FBI sights. The White House believed as late as Monday morning that there was no FBI investigation, according to Ryan Lizza, and Spicer said on Monday he was unaware of any contacts between Manafort and Russian agents or suspected Russian agents.

Meanwhile, despite Trump pushing Manafort out in August after the damaging stories, the AP reports Wednesday, and The Daily Beast reported last year, that Manafort remains in regular touch with Trump.

After the AP published its story on Wednesday, Spicer made another strange assertion. Having been eager to downplay Manafort’s role on Monday, he was far more tightlipped two days later, telling NBC’s Peter Alexander it would be inappropriate to comment on someone who was not a White House employee. The abrupt change in policy notwithstanding, the matter of just whose employee Paul Manafort was is not going away.

Breitbart Is Tagging Articles With A Bigoted "Alt-Right" Meme That Attacks Swedish Multiculturalism

  • Breitbart’s xenophobic “Sweden YES” tag is a dog whistle to the “alt-right,” and the misleading articles marked with the label serve as the foundation for the outlet’s anti-immigrant campaign in both Europe and the United States.
  • In a March 17 interview with NBC News, Breitbart.com’ Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow attempted to distance his site from the “alt-right,” claiming that it’s “not a hate site.” But one of the website’s new favorite content tags -- “Sweden YES!” -- is an “alt-right” catchphrase that began as an effort to mock Sweden’s multiculturalism, gender equality, and positive stance on immigration.
  • According to Know Your Meme, “Sweden Yes” began on a German international messageboard, Krautchan/int/, in 2012.
  • The Breitbart content organized under the “Sweden Yes” tag is written almost exclusively by Chris Tomlinson, a Breitbart London contributor who often retweets far-right French political leader Marine Le Pen and far-right, anti-Muslim Dutch political leader Geert Wilders, as well as Lauren Southern, an “alt-right” media figure who was recently allowed into a White House press briefing.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | March 22, 2017, 11:15 am

Gorsuch Sails Through First Day Of Questioning

  • Judge Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, sat through more than ten hours of hearings yesterday during which he was questioned by every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and by and large had what can be characterized as a very good, albeit contentious at times, day:
  • Judge Neil Gorsuch prepared for a third day of confirmation hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court Wednesday after a grueling day answering questions during which he stressed his independence and defended the integrity of the federal judiciary as senators pressed him about his judicial philosophy and what one senator called “the elephant in the room” — President Trump.
  • From the first question from a friendly Republican to a grilling by a Democrat hours later, Gorsuch was called upon on the second day of what is expected to be four days of hearings to state his impartiality and reassure senators that he would not be swayed by political pressure if he wins confirmation, which appeared even more likely after his marathon session.
  • Gorsuch reiterated in public what he had told many senators in private — that he is offended by attacks like the ones leveled by President Trump against federal judges who have ruled in the past year in cases involving him.
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | March 22, 2017, 10:51 am

Sean Spicer Will Not Be Talking About People Who Don't Work In The White House … Anymore

  • Sean Spicer will now give up making comments on the press, on Democrats, and even on Republicans in Congress.
  • xBREAKING: Re: Manafort, Spicer tells me: "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a person who is not a White House employee."— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) March 22, 2017
  • Well there’s a new policy, since that “person” would be the same Paul Manafort who Sean Spicer talked about on Monday.
  • Sean Spicer: There's been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.
rss@dailykos.com (Mark Sumner) / Daily Kos | March 22, 2017, 10:43 am

Trump Brags That He Cost A Man His Livelihood

During the 2016 election, dozens of voters told me they would vote for Donald Trump partly because they were sick of “social justice warriors” and political correctness. “There is no saying ‘Hey, I disagree with you,’ it's just instant shunning,” a 22-year-old told me in a long exchange on the subject. “Say things online, and they'll try to find out who you are and potentially even get you fired for it.”

Nothing was less popular among this cohort than those who targeted someone’s job, or took glee in their denying them the ability to earn a living, over their speech or political views.

And yet, as best I can tell, they are silent this week. There is no appreciable backlash among President Trump’s supporters to a Kentucky rally where he gleefully bragged about his role in publicly shaming a man for his political views, and the ongoing inability of that man to find a job because of his call-out.

The man is Colin Kaepernick, who became a subject of controversy during his time with the San Francisco 49ers. The quarterback would protest during the pre-game singing of the National Anthem, declaring that "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Many Americans took offense at the politically incorrect protest.

Today, Kaepernick is a free agent. It isn’t clear whether his bygone protests have prevented him from being signed or if he’d be having trouble finding a new job regardless.

Nevertheless, Trump is taking credit. In the past he has criticized Kaepernick. “And you know, your San Francisco quarterback,” Trump told that rally. “...it was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that. I said if I remember that one I’m gonna report it to the people of the Kentucky. Because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag.”

The crowd cheered.

“Social Justice Warrior” is a pejorative some use for people whose progressive advocacy on race, gender, or other identity issues strays into excessive attacks on perceived enemies. At that Kentucky rally, Trump behaved like a Social Injustice Warrior. And those who cheered him demonstrated that they have no principled opposition to political correctness––just a desire that their sensitivities dictate who gets punished. They just happen to be more sensitive to perceived insults to the U.S. flag than perceived insults to African Americans or Hispanics or gay people or women.

President Obama offers an instructive contrast. Though frequently criticized for political correctness, he didn’t use the bully pulpit to shame any individual on the right or left for peaceful political protest (unless you count calling Kanye West a jackass in a remark not intended for the public after the rapper  hijacked a Taylor Swift awards speech, among other shenanigans). Obama did once intervene in a political controversy when criticizing a police officer who handcuffed Henry Louis Gates in front of his house. But far from trying to get that public employee fired (then gloating about his dire job prospects), Obama invited everyone involved to a “beer summit” to smooth things over. Many on the right criticized even that gesture as an abuse of the bully pulpit—and no one can deny the singular power of the president and the unusual responsibility those who hold that office ought bear.

Perhaps I’ve even forgotten or failed to unearth another example of two from Obama. Yet many who upbraided Obama for criticism of individual citizens that was extremely rare and uniformly non-punitive remain untroubled, or at least silent, even as Trump regularly uses the presidential pulpit to bully private citizens, going so far as to openly brag about his personal role in keeping them unemployed!

Weeks ago I noted all the ways that Trump’s tenure is distorted by his embrace of political correctness. Add the attack on Kaepernick to his hypocrisy-filled rap sheet.

Trump's Former Campaign Chairman Had $10 Million Contract To 'greatly Benefit' Putin Government

  • President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned.
  • Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government … Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract ...
  • This latest revelation about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia may explain why White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to pretend they barely knew Manafort following Monday’s announcement by James Comey that the FBI was actively investigating Russian interference in our election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
rss@dailykos.com (Barbara Morrill) / Daily Kos | March 22, 2017, 7:42 am

What Hardcore Conservatives Really Want For Healthcare

To its critics, Republicans’ Obamacare replacement bill is not just a bad idea, it seems to reveal a dearth of ideas. The impression among some liberals (and even conservatives) is that, given seven years to come up with an alternative to Obamacare, the best the GOP could do was to water down the Affordable Care Act and throw in some personal-responsibility measures for flair.

But in fact, some hardcore conservatives do have pretty radical health-care ideas—they’re just not anything like the American Health Care Act. Over the course of several recent interviews, the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Haislmaier shared his vision for a fully market-based health system, in which people subscribe to their doctors like they would Netflix and low-performing general hospitals get crushed by scrappy, stand-alone specialty practices. Access to doctors and treatments would hinge on whatever the “the market” deemed best, with consumers the kingmakers.

His ideas probably won’t resonate with those who fear that vulnerable populations will slip through the cracks, but they are a stark departure from the typical Republican talking points on health care—like, say, selling insurance across state lines.

Haislmaier, the foundation’s senior research fellow for health policy, is influential in Republican circles: He worked on the Trump administration’s transition team, primarily on ways to stabilize the Obamacare marketplaces. He’s now back at Heritage full time. Like Heritage Action, the think-tank’s political arm, Haislmaier doesn’t like the AHCA, saying it doesn’t “undo a lot of what’s really wrong with the Affordable Care Act.” Most of his ideas would rise from the ashes of a long-gone ACA, or be rolled out gradually by enterprising states and cities.

First, Haislmaier and others at Heritage told me they’d like to see an end to certificate of need laws, which require health practices to get permission from a state board before setting up shop. Then, there could be an influx of, say, free-standing radiology practices that move in and compete with the radiology services a hospital provides.

“How many hospitals have you seen go under?” Haislmaier asked me.

“I mean, there’s been quite a few,” I said.

“Not enough,” he said. “Not the ones that need to.”

His point is that hospitals today resemble department stores like Macy’s: “It's a bit of everything for everybody, but they don't do any one thing really well.”

He sees them being replaced by independent specialists—think Sur-Le-Table and Foot Locker, except with orthopedic surgeons. Not only would these practices compete against each other, they would, theoretically, be free of the need to subsidize an expensive emergency room and other trappings of a hospital.

To that, Josh Bivens, the director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, said, “It’s not hugely persuasive to me that’s why healthcare is expensive.” (Because Heritage is conservative, I asked EPI, a left-leaning think-tank, to evaluate some of their arguments.) There are better ways, Bivens argues, to lower medical prices, like bringing in more foreign-trained doctors or loosening patent protections on medical devices.

All these Sur-Le-Table doctors would be paid for with insurance that would, in Haislmaier’s vision, be quite different from the insurance plans most people currently get through work. He suggested insurers could start charging their customers more if they go to doctors whose outcome measures aren’t very good. So if a doctor seems to do a lot of faulty joint replacements, and a patient picks that practice, the patient might be charged a higher co-pay by the insurer. Or, health insurance could function more like homeowner’s insurance. The insurer could say, “‘This is what we think a hip replacement is worth. This is what we'll pay you,’” Haislmaier said. “And, you take it and go shop.”

Bivens and other health experts believe threatening sick people with extra financial pain is the wrong way to go. “The big-ticket stuff in health care is long-term, chronic illnesses,” he said. “That’s not when people are at their best as thrifty shoppers.”

(Haislmaier counters that “it’s a reasoning error in thinking that everyone has to be a perfect consumer for a market to work.” In other words, insurers could tell patients what the best doctors are.)

In the conservative health-care future, not every procedure and test would go through health insurance. Haislmaier and some of his colleagues endorse “direct primary care,” in which doctors would be treated like internet service or a Chinese buffet: Pay a flat fee and get all the visits you want. Haislmaier said in most cases, these all-you-can-eat practices charge $135 a month or less. Some companies are already offering this service, he points out, like Qliance, a Seattle start-up that offers unlimited access to primary-care doctors for monthly fees ranging from $59 to $99.

These doctors would cut special deals with labs, adding blood-work to their patient’s monthly fee and avoiding what Haislmaier says is an unnecessary markup by the insurance middle-man. For specialty care, there would be a “wraparound” insurance policy that only kicks in if the patient needs surgery or evaluation by a niche specialist.

That “sounds a lot like HMOs,” in which primary-care doctors would be gate-keepers to specialists, said Elise Gould, a senior economist with EPI. But “HMOs didn’t take on so well. People really rebelled against them.”

(Haislmaier said the key difference is that patients would be paying their doctors, not the HMO company, which would incentivize doctors to make their customers happy.)

And what about people who can’t pay? Unlike many conservative groups, Heritage doesn’t just support block grants for Medicaid. Instead, they want to give Medicaid recipients subsidies to buy private insurance that would taper off as recipients got jobs and made more money.

But, before that can begin, it’s important to segregate different types of Medicaid recipients—the pregnant, the disabled—into different risk pools, Haislmaier says, “because they have very different needs and costs.”

The idea of breaking apart Medicaid recipients into different pools sets more liberal health wonks on edge. “Politically, I would worry that you’re putting a target on high-cost peoples’ back,” Bivens said. Eventually, policymakers might think, “this risk pool on Medicaid of low-income elderly people, they’re really expensive, so we need to put a cap on them.”

If ideas like Haislmaier’s came to pass, they have the potential to create a chaotic patchwork of health start-ups and experiments, all ruled only by the invisible hand. It would be pretty much the opposite of single-payer.

Unlike most people hawking a health plan in Washington these days, though, Haislmaier doesn’t promise that his will work—nor does he have all the details ironed out. He’s comfortable with states and localities trying things like this and failing. “I'm perfectly happy to be proved wrong and the regulations get removed and the market decides that the most efficient way to organize this is through a full-service general hospital,” he said. “But, I'm going to bet you that if you remove those regulations, that wouldn't be how the market would organize it naturally.”

And that brings us to perhaps the most important difference between systems like Obamacare and the AHCA and the ideas put forth by conservative groups like Heritage. “People on our side would say, you need to move the ... incentives in the system so people are rewarded for seeking and delivering better value,” he said.

The approach of the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, is to say, "The government can figure it all out and centrally plan it, but to do that, we've got to get everybody under one umbrella so that we've got the government's hands on all the levers," as Haislmaier puts it.

Of course, the Affordable Care Act was born out of some high-profile failures of the health-insurance free market. The less-regulated insurance industry covered 20 million fewer Americans than it does now, and 45,000 excess people died yearly as a result.

The House is set to vote on the AHCA Thursday, and it’s not clear it will pass, even with the addition of conservative-friendly amendments like work requirements for Medicaid. Because the AHCA was billed as an attempt to “replace” Obamacare, its authors had little choice but to build on Obamacare’s central-planning framework. That’s why the bill has so irked true believers in the Republican party, who don’t like its tax credits and other governmenty elements.

Heritage’s views reveal the real ideological split over the future of health care. On one side are people who want something like the AHCA or ACA—a delicate Jenga tower of government-driven incentives and penalties that coax people into buying insurance plans, force insurers to issue them, and protect consumers from wanton abuse. On the other side are more ardent conservatives—at Heritage, in the Freedom Caucus, and elsewhere—who trust capitalism to do it on its own.

The Reality Of Obamacare: A 'profit Spiral' For Health Insurers

  • Since March 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the managed care companies within the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index — UnitedHealth, Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana and Centene — have risen far more than the overall stock index.
  • UnitedHealth, the biggest of the managed care companies, with a market capitalization that is now more than $160 billion, returned 480 percent, dividends included.
  • “If Obamacare has been bad for the managed care stocks, why have they performed so well under it?” asked Paul Hickey, a founder of Bespoke Investment Group.
  • Sheryl Skolnick, director of United States equity research for Mizuho Securities, says there are some problems with Obamacare as far as the insurers are concerned.
rss@dailykos.com (Joan McCarter) / Daily Kos | March 22, 2017, 4:37 am

Can Trump Sell His Health-Care Plan To Congress?

It’s not exactly controversial to note that, when it comes to health care policy, the President of the United States doesn’t know his ear from his elbow.  His comment last month that “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated!” was, by Trumpian standards, an impressively frank admission of ignorance—not merely of the U.S. health care system itself, but of several decades of political attempts to tame the beast.

Nor is the famously scattered Trump much known for hunkering down and engaging in the legislative give-and-take necessary to move a complex bill through Congress. Trump fancies himself a primo negotiator but not that kind of negotiator. In his administration, such grunt work is left to aides and advisers. After all, why waste a perfectly good weekend talking policy provisions with Ted Cruz when he could be doing something more fun like—well, pretty much anything?

Trump has vanishingly little interest in the details—or even really the substance—of the policy product he is selling. What tickles this president’s fancy is making the actual sale. Salesmanship (of a sort) is what got him to the Oval Office, and it’s clearly what he regards as his chief mission now that he’s there. In many ways, that is exactly as it should be.

Whatever his personal thoughts on Ryancare (assuming he has any), Trump has spent the past couple of weeks hawking the plan with gusto. On numerous occasions he has sat down with GOP critics of the proposal—one-on-one, in groups, at the White House, on the Hill, at Mar-a-Lago—to do some combination of ego stroking and arm twisting. Monday night, he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a massive pep rally for the proposal in Kentucky, the home state of Ryancare’s chief Senate hater, Rand Paul.

Trump is not subtle with his political threats. At a closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday, he predicted that a failure to pass Ryancare would bring doom in the midterm elections. “I believe many of you will lose in 2018,” he reportedly warned. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

Trump even singled out Mark Meadows, the chairman of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members oppose Ryancare. Stand in the way of this overhaul, Trump ribbed Meadows, and “I’m coming after you.”

Say this for 45: If there’s one thing he relishes, it’s making life uncomfortable for anyone who thwarts his will.

This is a crucial skill for a president. Brains, heart, vision—these qualities are all well and good. But if a leader is a lousy salesman, he’s going to have a tough time getting anything done. And even when he does make progress, unless he can convince the electorate of the rightness of that progress, he’ll suffer massive—potentially fatal—blowback.

Just ask Trump’s predecessor. Barack Obama had many fine gifts, but even he acknowledged that he kinda stunk at hawking his agenda, to either the public or the Congress. His bone-deep aversion to schmoozing—with political friends and enemies alike—became a topic of endless criticism. Journalistic eminence Bob Woodward rarely missed an opportunity to smack Obama for not inviting Republican leaders over for a beer or a smoke or a fun-filled movie night.

Unlike, say, Bill Clinton, Obama radiated distaste for the dirty, messy nature of politics. Oh, sure, now and again he would try to whip up public support for a plan—or invite a handful of lawmakers over to watch the Super Bowl. But overwhelmingly he strove to stay above the fray and wasted little to no effort on cultivating relationships with members of Congress.

This had its obvious downsides. When, for instance, the Republican Party set its sights on convincing the American people that Obamacare was the root of all evil, Obama wasn’t really built to defend himself or his signature achievement.  That’s just not the kind of president he was.

Trump, by contrast, does not seem to care a fig about ideas. And he is really only happy when up to his comb-over in the political fray, punching and counterpunching and firing up his fans. He is also said to be quite the charmer in private. (No sexual predation jokes, please.) Already he has been inviting tough critics from both sides of the aisle over for tete-a-tetes. He even hosted Ted Cruz’s family for dinner earlier this month.

Convincing other people to accept his position, whether by charm or intimidation, is what drives Trump. Which suggests he will use his bully pulpit and salesmanship skills to a degree unseen in a president, perhaps ever.

Of course, this approach comes with its own risks. With Trump evincing so little interest in the content of what he is selling, what happens not when he fails, but when he successfully sells a big fat lemon to the American people? If it doesn’t happen on health care, it could happen on tax reform or infrastructure or trade or, if Paul Ryan has his way, entitlement changes.

Maybe Trump is counting on some mix of his gut instincts and the savvy of his inner circle to save him from such a fate. Or maybe he figures that, if his achievements prove unpopular, he can simply use his sales flair to deflect the blame onto Democrats or CNN or Paul Ryan.  

But that is a dilemma for another day. For now, Trump is employing his particular skill set to try to help his team realize its tricky 7-year quest to kill Obamacare. Win or lose, you gotta give the guy props for trying.

The Presidency Has Been Degraded Into Bad Reality TV

  • Every time Donald Trump appears behind this seal, the office it symbolizes is diminished
  • To a certain extent, modern culture is predicated on making everyone’s life into a story.
  • Unfortunately for us, someone in the latter category is now president of the United States and the world has to revolve around the crazy shit a former reality TV show host might tweet out every day, because he’s in charge of important things.
rss@dailykos.com (Doctor RJ) / Daily Kos | March 22, 2017, 1:32 am

America's Most Prominent Anti-Muslim Activist Is Welcome At The White House

On Monday night, Brigitte Gabriel, head of ACT for America, tweeted that she was, “In D.C, preparing for my meeting at the White House. What topics would you like me to address?” Among the replies: “Ban sharia law from US,”, “Officially identify Islam as a political system and not a ‘religion’” and “ask how we can get islam [sic] ed out our schools & universities?”

The Trump administration hasn’t confirmed the meeting, but no one familiar with Gabriel—a Lebanese-born Christian who distorts Lebanese history to incite hatred of Muslims—would find those replies surprising. Her organization, ACT for America, is the largest grassroots purveyor of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.

Many conservatives claim they oppose only “radical Islam.” Gabriel doesn’t bother with such euphemisms. “Islam,” she wrote in her 2008 book, They Must Be Stopped, “has created and unleashed an uncontrollable wave of hatred and rage, on the world, and we must brace ourselves for the consequences. Going forward we must realize that the portent behind the terrorist attacks is the purest form of what the Prophet Mohammed created. It’s not radical Islam. It’s what Islam is at its core.”

In 2007, she declared that “If a Muslim who has—who is—a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day—this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” After Khizr Khan held up a copy of the US Constitution in his speech at last year’s Democratic national convention, Gabriel accused him of lying. “Waving the Constitution,” she declared, “is a misrepresentation when one’s religion teaches that it and any other man-made law, for that matter, are to be removed and superseded by the Quran.”

As these quotes suggest, Gabriel does not consider Islam a religion like Judaism or Christianity but rather a totalitarian political ideology like Nazism or Soviet communism. Thus, she does not believe Muslims deserve the freedoms of worship and association enshrined in the First Amendment. ACT lobbies to ban the Council on American-Islamic Relations—a Muslim civil rights organization that Gabriel calls a front for the Muslim Brotherhood—from addressing state legislatures. In more than a dozen states, ACT has helped introduce legislation to ban the use of Sharia law by state courts. Such bans would prevent a Muslim prisoner from citing Islamic law to justify suing a state prison for not providing her Halal food. They would, argues the ACLU, have the effect of “denying Muslims the same religious accommodations afforded to people of other faiths.”

For ACT, that’s exactly the point. The organization has condemned cities with large Muslim populations for serving halal food in public schools. In 2013, its Houston chapter urged members to “protest” food companies that certify their meat as compliant with Islamic dietary law. ACT tries to dissuade Jews and Christians from conducting interfaith dialogue with Muslims. And in state after state, it has lobbied state legislatures and school boards to purge textbooks of references that create “an inaccurate comparison between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.” Gabriel’s agenda isn’t subtle. She wants to stigmatize, and to some degree criminalize, the practice of Islam.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Trump administration had not confirmed Gabriel’s meeting, but she later posted photos of herself at the White House on Facebook.

In February, she distributed a photo of herself with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, where she had delivered a “national security briefing.” Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn served on ACT’s board. CIA Director Mike Pompeo last year won the group’s National Security Eagle Award. Trump counterterrorism advisor Sebastian Gorka has spoken before ACT chapters.

Last December, Gabriel wrote that “ACT for America has a direct line to Donald Trump, and has played a fundamental role in shaping his views and suggested policies with respect to radical Islam.” Since Trump launched his campaign for president, the unthinkable has become not only thinkable, but pedestrian. The president and his aides have transgressed prior standards of decency and honesty in so many ways that it’s sometimes hard to remember what those standards even were.

Yet doing so is essential. A woman who leads an organization dedicated to persecuting people because of their faith just boasted about her access to the White House. If confirmed, her invitation will say something terrible about America’s president. If she can visit the White House without being greeted by protests, it will say something terrible about America’s people.  

Open Thread For Night Owls: Trump Administration Continues To Court Anti-Muslim Extremists

  • Courts looking for evidence of religious animus in the White House's "travel ban" directed against majority-Muslim nations will not have to look very far.
  • On Monday night, Brigitte Gabriel, head of ACT for America, tweeted that she was, “In D.C, preparing for my meeting at the White House.
  • No one familiar with Gabriel—a Lebanese-born Christian who distorts Lebanese history to incite hatred of Muslims—would find those replies surprising.
  • Gabriel's organization has been a prominent part of the extremist anti-Muslim movement for years; Gabriel not only promotes conspiracy theories of "sharia" infiltration but declares Islam itself to be incompatible with American citizenship.
rss@dailykos.com (Hunter) / Daily Kos | March 21, 2017, 10:30 pm

Trump's Credibility Crisis Arrives

Donald Trump’s first two months in office have obviously been rocky. But the disruptions have mainly been internally generated—Trump’s tweets, the tensions and shakeups in his staff, his battles with the press, the investigations—rather than responses to genuine external emergencies. By historic standards, not much has really “happened” in the outside world since January 20.

Sooner or later, something will happen, and Trump and his administration will have to respond.

In mid-April of his first year in office, the new president, John Kennedy, had to deal with Bay of Pigs fiasco that he had authorized. At the beginning of April of his first year, the new president George W. Bush had to manage the repercussions of Chinese and U.S. military planes colliding midair 70 miles off Chinese territory. (Not to mention what happened in September of his first year.)

In early October of his first year, the new president Bill Clinton oversaw the “Black Hawk Down” debacle when two U.S. helicopters were shot down over Mogadishu, whose purely political effects are with us to this day. (How? Until that weekend, Clinton’s ambitious “HillaryCare” health-plan proposal was controversial but still on track for likely passage. For reasons I discussed long ago in an Atlantic article and in my book Breaking the News, the Black Hawk Down episode was a major turning point in public support for Clinton and his ability to concentrate on this plan. It never passed; thus the next Democratic president spent two years laboring with Obamacare; and thus we have the politics of Congress this week.)

Something has happened to every new president, and something will happen to Donald Trump. It is inevitable. And when that something occurs, it is also inevitable that his administration will need to say, Trust us on this. That’s in the nature of foreign emergencies. It can take a long time to figure out the truth. And even when the truth is known, some of it remains too sensitive to reveal. (Who exactly were the Bay of Pigs invaders hoping to find as allies inside Castro’s Cuba? What exactly was aboard the U.S. surveillance plane that was forced down onto Chinese territory?) So without having all the facts on the table and in public view, and administration inevitably relies on a cushion of domestic and international trust that it is telling some version of the truth, that it is doing its best to weigh evidence and be straight about the results.

The inevitability of this moment, when a new president says Trust me, is why so many veteran officials have warned against Donald Trump’s habits of continuing to tell instantly disprovable lies. Some of them don’t really matter: “biggest inaugural crowd ever,” when photos showed it was comparatively small. Some of them obviously would, if true: millions of illegal voters, wiretapped by Obama. But of course they’re not true, and everyone except Trump and his coterie can look at the evidence and know that. Thus the problem: If an administration will lie about facts where the contradictory evidence is in plain sight, how can we possibly believe them on anything else?

It’s a point countless politicians have made—for instance, Representative Adam Schiff of California, the most effective questioner in yesterday’s testimony by James Comey of the FBI and Admiral Mike Rogers of the NSA. As Schiff put it last week:

If six months from now the president should say that Iran is cheating on the nuclear agreement, if he's making that up, it’s a real problem. If he’s not making [it] up and it’s true, it’s an even bigger problem because the question is: Would people believe him? Would the American people believe him? Would people around the world believe him? And that has real-world consequences.

Across the aisle, New York’s Representative Peter King echoed his concerns:

That’s what he has to worry about, yeah, that when a real crisis does come along. And we could well have a crisis with North Korea, we could have a crisis with China, we could have a crisis with Russia for that matter. Or just some terrorist group out there: where the president gets real intelligence, saying that a real attack could be occurring, and people may think it’s the same as his tweet about Obama.

* * *

“Six months from now” is now. Via a tweet from Royal Jordanian airlines yesterday, travelers heard about the latest “anti-terror” security restriction: the prohibition on computers and other large electronic devices in the cabins of certain flights from the Middle East.

Even by the standards of the “security theater” era, do these rules make sense? At the moment none of us on the outside can know.

There’s evidence in their favor. The Brits have followed up with their own version of the limitation, which is crafted more or less the way a restriction would be if it were based on real intelligence, with specific locations and flights. Perhaps most reassuringly at all, it was announced not in a pre-dawn tweet from Trump or in a rally ad-lib but in the understated way a bona-fide security change would go into effect.

On Tuesday evening, The Daily Beast reported that the ban was based on information seized in the January raid on al-Qaeda in Yemen, citing three intelligence officials. That reportedly included evidence of the group’s successful development of battery bombs that could fit inside a laptop, but which would need to be manually triggered.

But there’s also plenty of reason for skepticism, as security-minded writers like Zeynep Tufekci were quick to point out. If laptops are that big a threat, why only on these routes? If the worry is about bombs, wouldn’t they do just as much damage in checked baggage in the hold? (That is where the bomb that brought down Pan Am flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, was placed by Libyan agents in 1988.) Won’t this be a gigantic hit to business travel on the affected airlines, since travelers won’t be able to use computers and would worry about theft from or data interference in equipment they had to check? Since the affected routes involve Muslim countries, is this just the perfection of Rudy Giuliani’s vision of disguising a “Muslim ban” to look like something else?

You can read additional skeptical interpretations from Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman in The Washington Post (Trump, they say, is “weaponizing interdependence” and, purposefully or not, favoring U.S. carriers over their competitors) and Daniel Gross in Slate (who says this is “misguided and xenophobic,” as well as being “a giant middle finger” to the world’s business travelers.)

But here’s the real point: if this change had come from the Obama administration, whose policies I generally supported, I would have assumed there was some real-world evidence behind it. If it had come from the George W. Bush administration, whose foreign policy I generally disagreed with, I would still have thought, They’re probably not making this up. Indeed, one of the most intrusive security changes during the Bush years—the  ban on all but tiny quantities of liquids in planes—may  have been excessive, but had an argument behind it (and eventually a famed “underwear bomber” case as illustration, as Bruce Schneier explains here).

That is: I didn’t “trust” the second Bush administration in the largest sense, and I specifically disagreed with its Just trust us! claims about classified intelligence justifying its most disastrous strategic choice, to invade Iraq. But looking back I realize that on breaking-news security matters like TSA rules, even I assumed it was dealing in the real world of knowable facts.

After what he has said about crowd size, about wiretapping, about birtherism, about what James Comey was testifying (even as the rest of the world could watch it on TV), no sane person can assume that Donald Trump is operating in that same realm of knowable fact. The instant skepticism about the laptop ban is the first case showing why that matters: He needs us to trust him, and we can’t.

There will be another case. And it will matter more.