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E.g., 4/29/2017

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.28.17

04/28/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The government won't shut down tonight: "The House of Representatives passed a short-term extension Friday morning to keep the government operating for another week, one step in averting a shutdown as negotiators continue to work on an agreement to extend funding through the remainder of the year."

* Arkansas: "The lawyer of a convicted killer who was put to death by lethal injection Thursday has demanded an investigation after his client repeatedly convulsed during the "horrifying" execution."

* This is bad news for New Jersey's senior senator: "A prominent Florida eye doctor accused of political corruption was convicted of Medicare fraud Friday, increasing the odds that federal prosecutors could pressure him to testify against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez."

* NSA: "The National Security Agency has halted one of the most disputed practices of its warrantless wiretapping program: collecting Americans' emails and texts to and from people overseas that mention foreigners targeted for surveillance, according to officials familiar with the matter."

* Making China happy is suddenly a Trump priority: "U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday spurned the Taiwanese president's suggestion that the two leaders hold another phone call, saying he did not want to create problems for Chinese President Xi Jinping when Beijing appears to be helping efforts to rein in North Korea."

* Another gift to Big Oil: "President Trump will take a major step Friday to expand oil and gas drilling off U.S. shores, directing the Interior Department to lift restrictions that President Barack Obama imposed in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans."
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Image: Sam Brownback

Trump's tax plan 'would be Kansas on steroids'

04/28/17 04:55PM

Shortly after the 2012 elections, with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) radical economic experiment already underway, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of his former colleague's plan, "This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington, but can't, at least for now."

The Republican senator was referring, of course, to President Obama standing in the way of Congress imposing a Kansas-style experiment on the entire country.

That's no longer a concern for GOP policymakers. On the contrary, with Donald Trump in the White House, McConnell's dream of bringing Brownback's Kansas experiment to the nation is now possible, and the administration's ridiculous new tax outline suggests many Republican officials intend to follow Topeka's lead.

With this in mind, the Kansas City Star's editorial board offered some worthwhile advice this week.
Next week, Kansas lawmakers will once again try to figure out how to cover a massive shortfall in the state's budget.

We hope President Donald Trump will be in the gallery, taking notes. That's because the president's tax plan, unveiled by the White House Wednesday, strongly resembles the disastrous tax plan passed in Kansas in 2012.

Trump wants to consolidate individual tax brackets and lower the top rate. He would eliminate some deductions and, most crucially, dramatically reduce taxes for business owners, including millions of people who own businesses but pay taxes on their profits as individuals.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's 2012 tax reform blueprint was quite similar, and we know why. The same worn-out supply-side "experts" helped write both proposals.
The difference is, we know how things worked out in Kansas. Brownback effectively destroyed the state's finances, while failing to deliver the promised economic results in the form of jobs and growth. There's no need to wonder how this agenda would work on a national scale because Kansas has already flunked the proof-of-concept test.
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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Trump suggests Middle East peace should be easy, too

04/28/17 04:34PM

I had to check this latest Donald Trump a few times, to make sure it's exactly what he told Reuters, and by all appearances, it is.
"...I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- none whatsoever."
Well, actually, there are all kinds of reasons standing in the way of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It's one of the most difficult diplomatic challenges on the planet.

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum joked, "Sure, Donald. You can't even get Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon to stop squabbling, but the Middle East? Piece of cake. There's no reason to think this is a difficult problem that requires a lot of hard work. It's just that all the presidents before you have been really, really stupid."

Quite right. Trump probably has some rudimentary understanding of the fact that several recent presidents have tried to broker an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and he very likely believes that the only thing standing in the way of a breakthrough is the idiocy of his predecessors.

After all, there's "no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

Of course, it's not hard to imagine what would happen if the amateur president took direct steps to help bring about that peace: it'd be a notable addition to Trump's "it turns out" list.
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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

How Trump changes his mind (or how his aides do it for him)

04/28/17 12:57PM

Donald Trump's difficulties with the presidential learning curve are well documented. He didn't realize health care policy was "complicated"; he didn't know there are limits to China's influence over North Korea; he didn't understand how much he likes various policies he campaigned against; he had no idea being president would be so difficult; the list goes on.

It's worth pausing, though, to appreciate how Trump changes his mind about things. For example, the president apparently overhauled his entire understanding of Asia-Pacific after "listening for 10 minutes" to China's Xi Jinping.

And what about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the American president was poised to abandon tomorrow? Trump gave up on his plan and explained his reversal yesterday, saying he spoke with Canadian and Mexican leaders on Wednesday, and they asked him not to walk away from the policy. "I like both of these gentlemen very much," he said.

He added that terminating NAFTA "would be a pretty big shock to the system."

That's true, but it's not much of an explanation. Trump liked the Canadian and Mexican leaders before this week, and the effects of abandoning NAFTA would have been an equally "big shock" whenever the White House scrapped the agreement. Why decide on Tuesday to walk away from the trade deal, only to do the opposite on Wednesday?

The Washington Post offered a behind-the-scenes peek on how the president's team convinced him to change course.
As news of the president's plan reached Ottawa and Mexico City in the middle of the week and rattled the markets and Congress, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and others huddled in meetings with Trump, urging him not to sign a document triggering a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA.

Perdue even brought along a prop to the Oval Office: A map of the United States that illustrated the areas that would be hardest hit, particularly from agriculture and manufacturing losses, and highlighting that many of those states and counties were "Trump country" communities that had voted for the president in November.
We were told a couple of months ago that Trump "likes maps" with his briefings. Apparently, there's something to this.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.28.17

04/28/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, initially parlayed his presidential ties into a new D.C. firm. Now, Politico reports that Lewandowski "appears to have been pitching clients around the world by offering not only policy and political advice, but also face time with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and senior members of their administration."

* In apparent need of a dictionary, Trump said yesterday he's "a nationalist and a globalist," adding, "I'm both."

* A new national CNN poll shows the president with a 44% approval rating, down one point from last month. The same results found that only 37% of the country considers Trump "honest and trustworthy."

* In Fox News' latest national poll, released this week, 36% of voters said they'd be inclined to give Trump a second term. (It's obviously very early, but when the same question was asked eight years ago, 52% said they'd support giving Barack Obama a second term, and he ended up with a little over 51% of the vote in 2012.)

* Despite rumors to the contrary, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) announced yesterday that he will run for re-election next year. The Minnesota lawmaker, one of the House's most conservative Democrats, told Roll Call, "This next election is going to be a good election for us."

* Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) prepared a post-2016 autopsy and presented it at a "members-only gathering" at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters last night, but the document apparently won't be released to the public, at least not anytime soon.
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Desks in a classroom. (Photo by Bob O'Connor/Gallery Stock)

The more Trump pushes for vouchers, the more evidence pushes back

04/28/17 11:25AM

The city of Washington, D.C., with the enthusiastic support of the Bush/Cheney administration, adopted a school-voucher program in 2004, hoping that using federal funds to subsidize tuition at religious and other private schools would boost student performance.

It didn't. The Washington Post reported late yesterday:
Students in the nation's only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.

The study, released Thursday by the Education Department's research division, follows several other recent studies of state-funded vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio that suggested negative effects on student achievement.
It leaves the Trump administration in an awkward position. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was nominated and confirmed despite her opposition to public education and ignorance about education policy, is one of the nation's leading advocates of privatizing schools through voucher schemes. It's a crusade she continues to pursue with great vigor.

The more the evidence mounts against the idea, the more Team Trump is left to argue that they want a policy that plainly doesn't work.
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Image: FILE PHOTO - Donald Trump gets a briefing before he tours the pre-commissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford in Newport News Virginia

Trump picks a pointless fight with a key ally at the wrong time

04/28/17 10:51AM

Donald Trump had already taken unnecessary steps to alienate South Korea, a key U.S. ally. The American president said he'd already dispatched an "armada," led by an aircraft carrier, towards the peninsula, when in reality, he hadn't. Trump added insult to injury by declaring, falsely, that the Korean Peninsula "used to be a part of China."

For reasons that don't appear to make any sense, Trump is apparently trying to make matters worse. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump threatened to terminate the U.S. trade agreement with South Korea in an interview Thursday night, declaring that the five-year-old accord with a key ally was "a horrible deal" that has left America "destroyed."

During an Oval Office interview about trade policy in North America, Trump served notice that he is looking to disrupt an important partnership in the tumultuous Asia-Pacific region as well — even with Seoul on edge because of North Korea's escalating military provocations.
For the record, there's no reason to believe the American president has any idea what's in the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as Korus. It's far more likely Trump simply assumes that any trade deal, practically by definition, must reflexively be rejected, unless he's helped negotiate its terms. (It's also quite possible that he'll announce today that "it turns out" he actually likes the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement after having a brief conversation with someone who tells him he should support it.)

Regardless, Trump didn't stop there. The president went on to say he wants to deploy a missile-defense system -- Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (Thaad) -- in South Korea to help protect against a North Korean attack,  but only if South Korea pays for the technology.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's self-defeating obsession with 2016 victory hasn't faded

04/28/17 10:16AM

Not quite two weeks ago, Donald Trump was bothered by national protests about his secret tax returns that he declared via Twitter, "The election is over!" Kellyanne Conway added a day later that Democrats should move forward "instead of still talking about the election."

Yeah, about that....
More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the 100-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on Trump's mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

"Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers," the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. "It's pretty good, right? The red is obviously us."

He had copies for each of the three Reuters reporters in the room.
This might be one of the saddest political reports I've ever seen. Here was a sitting president of the United States, in the Oval Office, talking to Reuters about China, when all of a sudden Trump thought it'd be a good time to not only think about his election victory nearly six months ago, but also to present the reporters in the room with their own copies of the map that makes him feel good about himself.

Remember, this isn't a joke. The Reuters report isn't satire intended to make the president appear ridiculous. There's actually a photo of Trump behind his desk yesterday, holding up the vote-totals map for the Reuters journalists.

It's sometimes hard not to wonder whether we're trapped in some cartoonish version of reality.
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Economic growth stalls in the early months of 2017

04/28/17 09:12AM

Economic growth was expected to be quite anemic in the first three months of 2017, and according to the latest Commerce Department report, it was: the new GDP figures point to an economy that grew at just 0.7%. The New York Times reported that the first quarter report "upset expectations for a Trump bump at the start of 2017."
The economy's weakness reflected new caution among consumers. Other sectors like housing and business investment turned in a stronger showing, but not enough to offset factors like weaker retail sales.

Most experts believe the economy is picking up speed now, with Wall Street looking for growth at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the second quarter. But initial hopes have been repeatedly proven too rosy lately -- just two months ago, economists predicted that first-quarter growth would be roughly 2 percent.
Today's report reflects the slowest quarterly growth in three years. That's not encouraging.

Because reports like these are inevitably seen through a political lens, Donald Trump and his allies will almost certainly say that his presidency is just getting started, so blaming him for the first-quarter GDP report is unfair.

That's not an unreasonable argument. In fact, as I've said many times, reacting too strongly to any individual GDP report is probably a bad idea, and holding a president directly responsible for quarterly fluctuations in the planet's largest economy is unwise.

That said, whether the White House is willing to admit this or not, Trump went out of his way to make it easier to blame him for the weak GDP data. On a nearly daily basis, the president brags about how much he's improved economic confidence and brought new investments to the United States. What's more, after encouraging job reports were released showing strong growth in January and February, Team Trump insisted that this president, not Barack Obama, deserves the credit.

In other words, it's a little late for the "it's too early" talking point. Trump can't easily say, "I want credit for some 2017 economic data, but only the good news, not the bad news."
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Image: Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan isn't quite done flubbing the health care fight

04/28/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump's White House desperately wanted the Republican-led House to vote today on the latest iteration of the GOP health care plan -- not for any substantive reasons, but because West Wing officials thought it'd be cool to pass a bill out of the chamber before the president's 100th day in office.

"Next Wednesday is OK," a senior administration official told the New York Times' Glenn Thrush, "but Friday is a lot better."

This is, of course, a rather ridiculous way to approach policymaking -- we are talking about the health security of tens of millions of American families, not some arbitrary, symbolic metric tied to a president's fragile ego -- and as it turns out, it's not going to work. House Republican leaders announced last night that there'd be no vote on their American Health Care Act today or tomorrow.

There are a handful of factors that contributed to this, but in the end, it was a matter of arithmetic: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) thought he might be able to pull together enough votes from his own caucus to get the bill through, only to discover that House Republicans still aren't on board with their own party's proposal.

The GOP leader, in other words, is managing to flub the health care fight for the second time in two months. Indeed, consider what the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) asserted Thursday that people with pre-existing conditions would be better off under Republicans' amended health care bill. [...]

"People will be better off with pre-existing conditions under our plan," Ryan said.
At the same press conference, Ryan defended a core provision of his plan by saying his home state of Wisconsin had a high-risk pool that "was pretty actually darned good."

As for the politics, the House Speaker added, "I think people's seats are at risk if we don't do what we said we would do.... We promised that we would do this. If you violate your promise, if you commit the sin of hypocrisy in politics, that's the greater risk, I think, to a person's seat."

Let's take these one at a time.
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