Friday, April 28, 2017

An unprecedented president

I'm often asked how Donald Trump's presidency has affected our work here at The Week, and my honest answer is that it's made it immeasurably more ... challenging. We published the first issue of this magazine 16 years ago this month, and never have I seen a White House generate news and controversy at this pace and volume. The moment we send a completed issue off to the printers, with fresh perspective on the latest policy initiatives and reversals, internal infighting, Twitter pronouncements, court battles, and investigations, our unconventional new president suddenly muses aloud that, say, he might cut off funding to ObamaCare or launch a pre-emptive strike on nuclear North Korea. Covering him is like riding a raging rodeo bull; you can only hold on for dear life.
Trump has clearly fulfilled at least one promise — to turn Washington on its head. That's created another challenge: The political commentary we curate and distill has changed course, the way a river might after an earthquake. Conservative columnists and editorial writers who once reliably applauded Republican presidents aren't clapping for this one. Indeed, many small-government, free-market conservatives are appalled by Trump's many heresies and unnerved by his undisciplined tweeting and the flexibility of his rapidly shifting views. Roughly two-thirds of all the commentary about Trump we see in most weeks has been negative or deeply ambivalent. That includes what we find in both liberal sources and conservative sources such as National Review, Commentary​, and The Wall Street Journal — a reality accurately reflected in our pages. If Trump succeeds in replacing ObamaCare with something Americans like better, disarms North Korea, reforms the tax code, stimulates 3 percent growth, and revives the Rust Belt, the commentary will become mostly positive, and we'll reflect that too. Our nation is only 100 days into this grand adventure, and anything, evidently, is possible. We live in interesting — and challenging — times.
by William Falk

Thursday, April 27, 2017

People reporting extraterrestrial sightings to Trump's new 'criminal alien' hotline

The White House launched a new hotline on Wednesday for people to report crimes committed by "criminal aliens," but some of the callers instead are using the line to report cases of extraterrestrial contact and UFO sightings.

The administration set up the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office on Wednesday, in accordance with President Trump's executive order in January. The office, folded within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, aims to "assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

"Alien" is a term used by the federal government to describe individuals who are not American citizens but who reside on U.S. soil.

"All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique - and too often ignored," said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in announcing the office. "They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place-because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the country in the first place."

The hotline will also serve as a resource for "victims to receive public information," an ICE official told The Atlantic.
Despite the line's intended purpose, callers have been reporting a range of abnormal activity.

The administration set up the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office on Wednesday, in accordance with President Trump's executive order in January. The office, folded within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, aims to "assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens," according to the Department of Homeland Security.

ICE denounced the calls, saying such actions hurt victims of real crimes. Callers have even mentioned spotting "muggle-borns," a term from the "Harry Potter" book series referring to magical characters with non-magical parents.

Their actions seek to obstruct and do harm to crime victims; that's objectively despicable regardless of one's views on immigration policy," an ICE official said.

Trump promised repeatedly on the campaign trail to combat illegal immigration, particularly undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the U.S.

The hotline could help the administration's efforts to gather data about people living illegally in the U.S. if it receives input directly from callers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trump’s Tax Proposal Would Be Ridiculously Good For Rich People

 President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers on Wednesday proposed trillions of dollars in tax cuts for millionaires under a plan billed as the biggest tax reform in over 30 years.

In a one-page statement of “principles” for tax reform provided to reporters, the administration offered few specifics. They did insist on three major perks for the wealthy, however ― reducing the tax rate on stocks, bonds and real estate investments; eliminating inheritance taxes for millionaire heirs and heiresses; and bringing down the tax rate on the largest corporations to less than half of what it is now.

The inheritance tax ― disparaged by conservatives as a “death tax” ― only applies to millionaires. Magnates must will at least $5.49 million to their heirs ($11 million for couples) to qualify for the tax. Heirs and heiresses pay an average rate of 16.6 percent on these inheritances, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, generating about $275 billion for the government over 10 years.

Trump would also repeal the 3.8 percent tax on stocks, bonds and real estate investments that Obamacare imposed on individuals making at least $200,000 a year. A full 90 percent of this tax break would accrue to households making at least $700,000 a year, which would receive an average tax cut of $25,000 a year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Corporate tax cuts also disproportionately favor the wealthy, because corporate profits flow to the owners of corporate stocks, who tend to be rich. More than 92.8 percent of households making at least $250,000 a year own at least $10,000 in stock, according to research from New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, compared with just 19.1 percent of households that earn $25,000 to $49,999. Households in the top 1 percent receive an average of 36 percent of their income from capital gains (stocks, bonds and other financial investments), according to the Congressional Budget Office, while those in the lowest 20 percent receive an average of about 5 percent of their income this way.

Slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent would cost the federal government $2.4 trillion, according to the Tax Policy Center.

The Trump team also said they want to “simplify” the number of tax brackets from seven to three, reducing the top rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. Trump’s team did not specify what income levels would apply to the new brackets, but fewer tax brackets typically result in lower taxes on upper-income individuals. They further said they would protect deductions for mortgage interest, a perk that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, delivering larger benefits to people who buy bigger houses. And Trump said he would double the standard deduction, which would exclude more household income from taxation.

The 15 percent corporate tax rate would also apply to so-called “pass-through” corporations. Some pass-through corporations are small businesses. Others, however, are hedge funds, law firms, or vehicles for wealthy people to collect specialty income like book royalties.

The plan would also eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, a move which would generally benefit the well-off.

Other details of the tax plan will be hashed out in negotiations with Congress. The administration did not offer a legislative timeline for its tax agenda, which will almost certainly meet with staunch opposition from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Trump’s advisers claimed that economic growth of 3 percent would pay for the trillions of dollars in proposed tax cuts. It would not

All in the Family: Trump mixes family, governing, business

WASHINGTON (AP) — Not since John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby to be attorney general and his brother-in-law as director of the Peace Corps has a president leaned so heavily on his family. Even Donald Trump's 5-year-old granddaughter Arabella has pitched in.

As the administration nears its 100-day mark, Trump has established a White House operation with such an unusual commingling of blood, business and government that it has surprised even his own family.

Ivanka Trump, who once said she'd stick to the role of daughter, now has a West Wing office and the title of assistant to the president after she discovered that "having one foot in and one foot out wouldn't work." Her effort to walk a fine line has not always been easy. During an appearance Tuesday at a women's empowerment conference in Germany, she drew hisses and groans as she defended her father's track record.

President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump in the Oval Office. Not since John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby to be attorney general and his brother-in-law to head the Peace Corps has a president leaned as heavily on his family as has Donald Trump. April 24, 2017

Her husband Jared Kushner is a senior adviser to the president with a bulging and growing portfolio that includes everything from brokering Mideast peace to restructuring the federal government.

And there was the president's son Eric, in the unofficial role of spokesman, declaring his father would stand up to North Korea's provocations. In an interview, at the White House Easter egg roll no less, saying on behalf of the president: "You don't want there to be death and destruction and turmoil around the world but, again, you have to have massive backbone when it comes to dealing with awful, awful dictators."

Another Trump son, Don Jr., enhanced his profile during the campaign and early months of his father's presidency to such an extent that there is speculation he'll make his own run for office. And he's leaving that door open, saying the New York governor's seat could be a tempting destination at some point.
Jared Kushner, right, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, receives a gift from Iraqi Defense Minister, Ifran al-Hayali, at the Ministry of Defense, Baghdad, Iraq. Kushner is a senior adviser to the president with a bulging and growing portfolio that includes everything from brokering Mideast peace to restructuring the federal government. April 3, 2017

The president's wife, Melania, meanwhile, has been a largely distant presence so far, remaining in New York for the most part while their 11-year-old son Barron finishes out the school year. But she is gradually spending more time in Washington and did give her husband a gentle nudge to put his hand on his heart during the playing of the national anthem at the Easter egg roll.

Little Arabella chimed in to the Trump team effort by charming Chinese President Xi Jinping by singing a tune in Mandarin during the leaders' recent meeting at Mar-a-Lago.

There are both pros and cons in staffing up from within one's own family, as Trump is learning.

The family dynamic has added extra intrigue to the jockeying between rival power centers that is typical in the early days of any White House. The more moderate contingent led by Kushner and Ivanka Trump appears to be ascendant in recent days over those allied with senior strategist Steve Bannon, the former media executive and radio host who's a favorite of conservatives.

Princeton historian Julian Zelizer says family members may be able to give a president a tough assessment that other staff members would shrink from providing, but they also can become "so enmeshed in the identity of their family and protecting their father that they can't give honest advice or can't even see problems as they emerge."
President Donald Trump, accompanied by first Lady Melania Trump, introduces their son Barron Trump from the Truman Balcony of the White House during the annual Easter Egg Roll. Melania has been a largely distant presence so far, remaining in New York while their son Barron finishes out the school year. But she is gradually spending more time in Washington. April 17, 2017

Ivanka Trump has been criticized for not speaking out more forcefully when she disagrees with her father. But that doesn't necessarily mean she's not making her views heard.

"I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence," she said earlier this month.

During her appearance this week in Berlin, she said she's still "rather unfamiliar" with her new role as first daughter and presidential adviser but hopes to bring advice and feedback "back to both my father and the president — and hopefully that will bring about incremental, positive change."

Her husband, meanwhile, has traveled to Iraq with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and has been advising the president on relations with the Middle East, Canada and Mexico.

The extent of Ivanka Trump's sway with her father is suggested by Eric Trump's recent comment that she likely weighed in before the president decided to bomb Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. Eric Trump told London's Daily Telegraph: "She has influence. I'm sure she said, 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.'"

The blurry line between the Trump family's business interests and its government connections is another unusual complication of this presidency. Even with sons Don Jr. and Eric tasked with running the Trump businesses while Kushner and Ivanka Trump tend to government affairs, the continuing public-private overlap has generated lots of questions about conflicts of interest.

The separation between business and government is "totally artificial," says Zelizer.

Eric Trump's admission to Forbes magazine in February that "nepotism is kind of a factor of life" in the Trump family didn't help dispel the impression of an insider's clan, although he stressed that "if we didn't do a good job, if we weren't competent, believe me, we wouldn't be in this spot."

For all the questions about Trump's reliance on family, some see it as a net positive.

The value of having a son or daughter on the inside "is honesty and love," says former George H.W. Bush administration staffer Doug Wead, author of books on presidential children and the 2016 campaign. "They care if your shirt-tail is hanging out. If your hair is messed up, they'll tell you. When everybody else is trying to hide from you, they're going to let you know."

The power — and peril — of Kushner's place in Trump World is hinted at by Washington graybeard Henry Kissinger in a write-up for Time's list of 100 most influential people. Kissinger said Kushner's broad education and business background "should help him make a success of his daunting role flying close to the sun."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort promoted on State Department website in apparent ethics violation

Trump’s Florida golf club Mar-a-Lago, in another apparent ethics violation by the administration.

The US Embassy in London's website, which the department is responsible for, featured an article titled “Mar a Lago: Winter White House”.

It said Mr Trump “is not the first president to have access to Mar-a-Lago as a Florida retreat, but he is the first one to use it”. It goes on to detail visits from dignitaries, most recently Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the club's history. 

The State Department removed the article's content late on Monday, replacing it with a short statement saying its intention “was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”
Mr Trump bought the golf club in 1985, and since becoming President it has come under increasing scrutiny.  After the 2017 inauguration, its annual membership fees doubled to $200,000 (£156,000), and the President has spent almost every weekend of his presidency there.

Norm Eisen, former chief ethics counsel for Barack Obama, told The Independent that the post is a violation of the federal regulations that prohibit using “public office for private gain”.

“This is outrageous—more exploitation,” Mr Eisen said, adding that the State Department and Embassy are using an official channel “to promote a private business, which happens to be that of their ultimate superior”. 
Mr Eisen said this incident is in line with Kellyanne Conway's promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line in February, which was widely condemned by ethics lawyers at the time.

Ms Trump’s line was eventually pulled from Nordstrom’s stores around the country, allegedly due to poor sales.
The Office of Government Ethics found Ms Conway’s behaviour to violate standards, but she was only “counselled” by the White House and “not punished,” according to Mr Eisen. 

Richard Painter, who served in an ethics role for President George W. Bush, has called the State Department's Mar-a-Lago post a violation of the federal regulation “pure and simple".

Most Travel-Restricted Places in the World

Fort Knox 

US Bullion Depository (Kentucky)

Fort Knox has served multiple purposes throughout US history and plenty of conspiracy theorists have come up with pretty fantastical ideas of what actually lies inside (alien space ships, anyone?). However, what we do know about Fort Knox is that it’s an important safeguard for America’s gold.

It holds 2.4% of the world’s refined gold – that doesn’t seem like a lot but that’s more gold holdings than any other country. (Yeah, UAE and your gold bar vending machines, looking at you!)

During WWII, the depository had the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. It also held the Magna Carta and other documents from across history. During WWII and into the Cold War, morphine and opium were held at Fort Knox because synthetic pain killers had yet to be invented and the US was worried it would be cut off from sources of opium.

If you’d like to take a tour of Fort Knox, well that’s too bad. It has been opened once for the news media and Congress in 1974. And that’s it.

There are separate doors and vaults but the gold vault is surrounded by granite walls and a 25-ton door. The depository has fences guarded by a special US Mint Police force and because it’s within the army base Fort Knox, it also has extra Army members for security.

Just a few of the security measures you’ll run into if you are crazy enough to try and break in: alarms, mine fields, barbed razor wire, electric fences, cameras, armed guards and all of the Army units based at Fort Knox who have things like Apache helicopters ready at their disposal.

Diet soda may raise your risk of stroke and dementia

People who drink diet sodas daily have three times the risk of stroke and dementia compared to people who drink one less than once a week, researchers reported Thursday.

It's yet another piece of evidence that diet drinks are not a healthy alternative to sugary drinks, and suggests that people need to limit both, doctors said.
While the findings do not prove that diet drinks damage brains, they support other studies that show people who drink them frequently tend to have poorer health.

The researchers, led by Matthew Pase of the Boston University School of Medicine and colleagues, studied more than 4,000 people for their report, published in the journal Stroke.

"We found that those people who were consuming diet soda on a daily basis were three times as likely to develop both stroke and dementia within the next 10 years as compared to those who did not consume diet soda," Pase told NBC News.

"Our study provides further evidence to link consumption of artificially sweetened beverages with the risk of stroke," the team wrote.

"To our knowledge, our study is the first to report an association between daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drink and an increased risk of both all-cause dementia and dementia because of Alzheimer's disease."

The team did not ask people which artificial sweetener they used. Some of those in the diet drinks were likely saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame or sucralose, the researchers said.

To their surprise, the team did not find the same risk for sugar-sweetened beverages. But they found other troubling signs. "In our first study we found that those who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as fruit juices and sodas had greater evidence of accelerated brain aging such as overall smaller brain volumes, they had poorer memory function and they also had smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for memory consolidation,"

Trump threatens Canada over dairy trade, slaps tariff on lumber

Trade tensions spiked between Washington and Ottawa Tuesday as President Donald Trump accused Canada of being “very rough” on its southern neighbor and threatened to retaliate against new restrictions on U.S. dairy products.
Trump also touted his administration’s surprise decision late Monday to rekindle an old trade conflict with America’s second-largest trading partner by slapping new tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber.
“People don’t realize, Canada has been very rough on the United States. Everyone thinks of Canada of being nice but they’ve outsmarted our politicians for many years,” Trump told a group of farmers at the White House.
He said Canada was hurting American dairy farmers near the border, from Wisconsin to New York, by blocking dairy exports “and we’re not going to put up with it.”
Trump’s aggressive comments echoed a tweet he sent earlier in the day, just hours after the Commerce Department announced it was imposing tariffs of up to 24 percent on Canadian softwood lumber, which it says is improperly subsidized.
Addressing reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the twin disputes underline the problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement linking the United States with Canada and Mexico, which Trump has vowed to renegotiate.
“If NAFTA were functioning properly, you wouldn’t be having these kinds of very prickly and unfortunate events back to back,” Ross said. “They are generally a good neighbor. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to play by the rules.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the unexpected burst of tough rhetoric by vowing his government would be “very firm in defending Canada’s interests.”
But Trudeau also said his officials “will work constructively together” with the United States to find a solution.
Canada’s dairy sector is protected by tariffs on imports and controls on domestic production as a way to support prices for the country’s farmers.
The latest row was triggered when Canada extended those policies to apply to ultrafiltered milk, a product used in cheese production and at the center of a thriving U.S. export business.
The US Dairy Export Council said the extension “blatantly blocks American dairy exports,” urging Trump to “take immediate action” to protect the business of dozens of U.S. farmers.
While no other immediate retaliation was planned against Ottawa, Ross said Washington was looking into measures to “correct” what it says is an effective block on a new class of U.S. dairy exports.
“The problem with dairy isn’t that they’re dumping dairy products in the U.S. The problem is worse. They are prohibiting U.S. dairy producers from selling their products in Canada,” Ross said.
The softwood lumber dispute between Washington and Ottawa has also seen many twists and turns for nearly 35 years, with U.S. producers accusing their Canadian counterparts of exporting lumber at subsidized prices, harming American businesses.
In the long-standing dispute, the Commerce Department announced late Monday that after talks with Ottawa failed to yield an agreement, it would impose duties of between 3 and 24 percent on softwood lumber, used for flooring, siding and other building products.
Ross justified the duties by saying Canadian firms “charge a subsidized low price when the products hit the U.S. border.”
The Commerce Department said it will conduct a thorough investigation and confirm its position on the lumber tariffs by Sept. 27. If confirmed, the tariffs would then have to be approved by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Officials in Canada rejected the claims and called the duties “unfair and punitive.”
“The accusations are baseless and unfounded,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a statement. “We remain confident that a negotiated settlement is not only possible but in the best interests of both countries.”
Softwood lumber imports from Canada last year totaled $5.66 billion, and were regulated under a bilateral agreement reached in 2006, which expired in 2015.
Producers north of the border reacted furiously to the ruling.
“These duties are unwarranted, and this determination is completely without merit,” said Susan Yurkovich, president of the British Columbia Lumber Trade Council.
“The allegations made by the U.S. lumber lobby are the same arguments they made in prior rounds of litigation, all of which were rejected and overturned by independent NAFTA panels,” she said, denouncing a “protectionist” attempt to “create artificial supply constraints on lumber and drive prices up.”

Judge blocks Trump order on sanctuary city funding


SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked any attempt by the Trump administration to withhold funding from "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the preliminary injunction in two lawsuits — one brought by the city of San Francisco, the other by Santa Clara County — against an executive order targeting communities that protect immigrants from deportation.
The injunction will stay in place while the lawsuits work their way through court.
The judge said that President Donald Trump cannot set new conditions for the federal grants at stake. And even if he could, the conditions would have to be clearly related to the funds at issue and not coercive, Orrick said.
"Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves," the judge said.
A Justice Department attorney, Chad Readler, had defended the president's executive order as an attempt to use his "bully pulpit' to "encourage communities and states to comply with the law."
The Trump administration had further argued the lawsuits were premature because the government hasn't cut off any money yet or declared any communities to be sanctuary cities.
Meanwhile, mayors from several U.S. cities threatened with the loss of federal grants emerged from a meeting Tuesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying they remain confused about how to prove their police are in compliance with immigration policies — a necessary step for them to receive grant money.
During a recent court hearing, the Trump administration and the two California governments disagreed over the order's scope.
San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued that the order threatened billions of dollars in federal funding for each of them, making it difficult to plan their budgets.
But Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said the threatened cutoff applies to three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants and would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco.
In his ruling, Orrick sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara, saying the order "by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing."
"And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," the judge said.
The Trump administration says that sanctuary cities allow dangerous criminals back on the street and that the order is needed to keep the country safe. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes trust that is needed to get people to report crime.
The order also has led to lawsuits by Seattle; two Massachusetts cities, Lawrence and Chelsea; and a third San Francisco Bay Area government, the city of Richmond. The San Francisco and Santa Clara County lawsuits were the first to get a hearing before a judge.
San Francisco and the county argued that the president did not have the authority to set conditions on the allocation of federal funds and could not compel local officials to enforce federal immigration law.
The sanctuary city order was among a flurry of immigration measures Trump has signed since taking office in January, including a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a directive calling for a wall on the Mexican border.
A federal appeals court blocked the travel ban. The administration then revised it, but the new version also is stalled in court.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Details emerge of Melania’s misery as first lady

Melania Trump is secretly miserable as first lady, a new report claims.
Private, self-conscious, and smarting from some harsh, even mocking press, Melania is “struggling with the realities of her new role and the scrutiny that comes with it,” US Weekly says in its Feb. 27 cover story, citing family sources.

“This life wasn’t her dream. It was Donald’s,” a Trump family friend, stylist Phillip Bloch, told the magazine.
“Truthfully, it’s a lot to cope with.”
Since Inauguration Day, Melania has spent almost all her time hiding inside the “gilded cage” of the family’s lavish, $100 million Trump Tower penthouse on Fifth Avenue — where treasured son Barron, 10, has a whole floor to himself.

And she won’t be pressured into giving up her privacy.
Recently, the White House team begged her to come to Washington and give her husband a PR boost by presiding over the traditional first lady tours at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — and posing for press photos, sources told US.

“She was told, ‘All you need to do is show up on one day and take photos,’” one family source said. Melania declined.
Melania couldn’t even be cajoled into accompanying the Japanese prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, on the traditionally first lady-hosted Capitol tour for spouses of visiting dignitaries.

Negative scrutiny from late-night hosts — Jimmy Kimmel quipped last week that she’s “trapped like Rapunzel” in Trump Tower — and from her libel suit against the UK’s Daily Mail have not helped.

In the much-covered lawsuit, Melania sued the Mail for implying she’d once worked as a high-end escort, an implication that the newspaper later retracted.
Celebrities and fashion designers, critical of her husband’s policies, have publicly shunned the Trumps, another blow.

And while she’s fluent in five languages, Melania is self-conscious of her heavy Slovenian accent, US claims, an accent that has also been fodder for late-night jibes.
With pickets surrounding her building, she’s even given up her chauffeured trips escorting Barron to and from his private school.
Melania has the Secret Service take Barron to school and retrieve him,” claimed one family friend not quoted by name.
After school, they both stay in, with Barron doing his homework and watching cartoons, US said.

She’s happiest at Mar-a-Lago, the Trump estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where she joins her husband on most weekends.
But while she did entertain Akie Abe in Florida — smilingly posing for the requisite photo op at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in nearby Delray Beach — it was a struggle.
“Don’t let her smile [in the photographs] fool you,” the source said. “She hates this.”

The source added, “Melania is unhappy with how her life ended up.
“She is miserable.”

Why Trump Still Hasn't Taken A Foreign Trip

As Trump's first 100 days in office come to a close next week, he has not once been where Pence or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have gone — on foreign trips representing the United States, preferring instead to visit the states that helped propel him to the presidency and of course spending many weekends in Florida at Mar-a-Lago. Trump's first announced foreign trip will be in May to Brussels for a NATO meeting.

His decision not to travel abroad reflects a combination of an election that focused on a return to "America First," and on the homebody ways of a 70-year-old who spends a lot of time golfing at clubs he owns. But it also marks a new era in American relations with its allies and enemies alike, and the emergence of a world with a smaller American presence, or at least one where if you want to meet the president of the United States, you're coming to him — not the other way around.
At the same point in April in his first term, Barack Obama had visited nine countries including the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Iraq and Mexico. George W. Bush had visited Mexico and Canada, as well as 23 states compared to Trump's 7.

"Part of it is that he's so deeply unpopular overseas, which is the exact opposite of Obama," a source close to the administration said of the stay-at-home POTUS. "Does it really serve him to go over and face massive protests? After he ran on America First it can be challenging to go to rest of the world."
A Trump administration official disputed that his America First approach has played into his lack of travel, noting that comparing him to past presidents doesn't work precisely because he came to Washington to shake up traditional approaches.

Trump's meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders have been robust, the official said, and he trusts Pence, Tillerson, homeland security chief Gen. John Kelly and secretary of defense James Mattis to meet with foreign leaders.
"Obama liked to micromanage everything, he thought he was the smartest person in the room," the administration official said. "This president has a lot of faith in his team."
While some of Obama's travel involved events that were already scheduled before he became president like the April 2009 NATO summit, which Trump will attend in May, former officials say Obama still prioritized traveling abroad, despite difficulties getting foreign travel on the books as the country emerged slowly from recession.

"He thought it was important because the Iraq war had eroded our standing in the world and he thought he had to do the real work of public diplomacy not just with leaders but with people that live in those countries," said Tommy Vietor, who worked on foreign policy issues for Obama during his two terms. "He saw value in that when you need support from an ally or not quite an ally like the Chinese or Russians."

"Trump hasn't gone abroad or to many other states in the first 100 days, because it's coincided with the Palm Beach social season," said GOP strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro of one of the few places Trump has traveled to often, his private club in Florida. "He has been busy entertaining, holding court, golfing, jacking up membership prices and hiring foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago. Not much time left to go to Montana or Argentina."

Kevin Madden, a former senior advisor on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, said so much of Trump's appeal to his supporters was concentrated around domestic policy promises so the lack of travel isn't too much of a surprise. But while he isn't interested in matching the cadence of past presidents, the emergence of a new crisis may force his hand.
"It's too soon to say whether the change has hurt just yet, since this approach is only beginning to be tested with recent developments in North Korea and Syria," Madden said, adding that "in times of crisis, presidents don't outsource their responsibility, so the approach may very well change and adapt as circumstances around the globe change and adapt."

A White House official with knowledge of Pence's role said there's been "a pretty consistent pattern" on foreign travel of Tillerson and Mattis traveling to a region to lay the groundwork for the administration. Those visits are then followed up by Pence delivering a message from Trump, who will ultimately be "the closer" when he travels to the region like he will in May and to Southeast Asia for three summits in November.

"You can send Pence places, that’s good, its useful," Vietor said. "It's reassuring, he stays on script, and probably understands the issues that are at stake more than Trump ever will but there’s no substitute for sending the president."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Donald Trump has worst poll approval rating at 100 days than any President since 1945

As Donald Trump approaches his 100th day in the White House, the Republican is suffering the lowest approval ratings of any President since 1945.
Compared with his Democrat and Republican predecessors since the Second World War, no President has dipped as low so early
on in their first term as Mr Trump, who has an approval rating of 42 per cent.
When Barack Obama was approaching his first 100 days, he had 69 per cent approval, exactly the same as the average approval rating for past Presidents at this stage in their first term.
Business tycoon Mr Trump also has significant challenges ahead. While six in 10 people surveyed doubt his honesty and trustworthiness, and see him out of touch with their problems, more than half of Americans (56 per cent) believe he has not achieved a lot in his first 100 days.
The first 100 days is normally seen as a President’s honeymoon period. Although Mr Trump’s low rating at 100 days is significant, it is not necessarily predictive of his ratings for the rest of his time in office or whether he will win a second term.
The ABC News / Washington Post poll, conducted between 17 and 20 April among a random, national sample of 1,004 adults, found that 96 per cent of Trump supporters who voted for him in November would do so again today.
The figures were compiled after the President failed to push through a replacement for Obamacare – a key campaign pledge – and he declined to investigate former rival Hillary Clinton for allegedly misusing her personal email server, as well as admitting that the US would have to pay about $20bn (£16bn) for the wall along the Mexican border.
He has also refused to release his tax returns, despite half of his own supporters demanding to see them, according to a separate poll.
His voter base, leaning towards white, non-college educated men, remains intact, the data showed, with Mr Trump’s popularity much lower among women and people of colour.
The survey also found that if another election was held today, he could possibly win the popular vote among the same 2016 voters – whereas last November Ms Clinton won the popular vote by more than three million – as fewer people said they would vote for Ms Clinton a second time around.
Relief is found for the President in areas such as employment – his badgering of US companies to stay in the country is supported by most groups – and foreign policy. Mr Trump was supported by more than half of those surveyed when he launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base – despite Syrian planes still taking off from the base within hours of the attack – and almost half of those polled supported his stance against North Korea.
He also benefits from a strong decline in trust for the opposing party. The same survey found that 67 per cent believe the Democrat Party is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans, a 19 per cent fall in three years.
But some of his most unpopular decisions are clear.
Only 34 per cent approve of his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, having senior roles within the administration.
A slightly higher number – 37 per cent – approve of his changes to federal spending, which saw slashes at many departments including cutting all funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which supports women and children all over the world.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Trump sons take helm of company, eye domestic expansion

Apprentices no more, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are now at the helm of the Trump Organization and adjusting to the reality presented by their father's presidency. They're eyeing ways to use the new lease on the family fame by expanding the brand into parts of the United States that embrace him.
Some business has slowed as a result of the pledge to stall international dealmaking while Trump is president. But a U.S. push is planned, and two new hotel chains are being considered — a four-star brand and a less luxurious line — possibly in states where Trump triumphed over Democrat Hillary Clinton last November.
"I think it makes it naturally easier if you're going into a place that's not adversarial to you," Donald Trump Jr. said in a recent interview.
The Trump Organization is a private, family-run business that owns billions of dollars' worth of hotels, office buildings, golf courses and management and licensing agreements. Although foreign deals are on hold, the company will complete existing projects, including ones in India, the United Arab Emirates and the Dominican Republic.
Because overseas markets have been hotter for the Trump brand, the company could lose some new revenue, the president's sons suggested.
Last fall, the company announced the creation of a four-star hotel chain called Scion, which is meant to offer upscale service in U.S. cities that could not support a full-fledged Trump luxury property. More than two dozen letters of intent have been signed, though no ground has been broken yet.
Among the possible locations being considered: Texas, parts of the South, and perhaps the nation's capital, where the hotel would exist with the Trump luxury property in the former home of the Old Post Office not far from the White House. The company is also in the very early stages of considering a three-star hotel chain.
Experts said the plan would not seem to run afoul of any ethics standards, even if the hotels ended up in some of the economically depressed regions whose voters rallied for Trump and may not be able to afford a luxury brand. It would be no different from cashing in on the name of a nonpolitical celebrity, they said.
Similarly, daughter Ivanka Trump has made a pitch for Trump's blue-collar supporters by replacing her high-end jewelry line with a mass-market brand.
"It would not seem to blur any lines with the presidency," said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University. She said that while "questions can be raised" about some of some of company's behavior, a pitch into Trump-friendly states seems like "a reasonable business strategy."
Any new investment, particularly if it involves foreign funds, will face additional scrutiny, including a review by an in-house and outside ethics counsel, Donald Trump Jr. said.
It's a complicated procedure that changes the dynamic. There are plenty of deals that two years ago or eight years from now, 'Oh, yeah, you can do this,'" he said. "Today, we have to take that much more seriously. There is an optical component that has to be taken into account."
He bristled at the idea that his father ran for president to enrich himself or his family, as some critics contended during the campaign.
"He spent $75 million of his own money to run against 17 incredibly seasoned Republican candidates to then go against Hillary Clinton," Donald Trump Jr. said. "No one in their right mind would do that. That's not a good business model! I get it, it sells papers, it creates headlines. But it's ridiculous."
Donald Trump Jr. said he barely spoke to his father during his first weeks in office. That changed after the younger Trump's 5-year-old son, Tristan, was hurt in a skiing accident.
Eric Trump said he does talk to his father more regularly but insists that any discussions about the family business are limited to broad strokes and adheres to the guidelines the president laid out in January.
"We don't talk about the business. At most it's 'How's Turnberry? Turnberry's great,'" Eric Trump said, referring to a Trump golf property in Scotland. He would tell his father, if asked, "A profit or loss in a quarter, that's it."
"That doesn't talk about any business sectors, that doesn't talk about any assets, that doesn't talk about anything specific in the business. That is a pure number, one number on a piece of paper," Eric Trump said. "That's more than permissible. None of these laws even apply to him — he's the president — but that is more than permissible in a trust structure
Experts disagree, noting that it is not a true trust structure because Trump retained ownership of the company.
"As long on President Trump insists on owning the Trump Organization, the conflicts of interest that may occur run directly to him and the so-called firewall plays no role in preventing them," said Fred Wertheimer, head of the ethics watchdog group Democracy 21. "It's an illusion and does not protect the American people."
Both Eric and Donald Trump Jr. said they missed their father's presence. Eric Trump said he sometimes looks upon the stack of $1 bills that he won during a series of friendly business bets with his father.
The winner would give the other a dollar bill with a note scrawled upon it. The elder Trump would use the bills, or a newspaper clipping about a Trump property, as a means of communicating to his sons, and his trademark scrawl would carry his congratulations — or his wishes — to those he was training to someday lead his company
"It was his way of saying 'Get this done' or 'Great job, ET - this is going to be amazing,'" said Eric Trump. "It's a simple way of communicating but I learned a lot. I miss that

Jeff Sessions: I do not regret calling Hawaii 'an island in the Pacific'

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he does not regret criticising the attorney
general of Hawaii for blocking President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Mr Sessions and Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin engaged in a war of words after Mr Sessions criticised Mr Chin for his temporary restraining order that blocked Mr Trump’s revised travel ban.
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power,” Mr Sessions told conservative talk show host Mark Levin.
Mr Chin bristled at the characterisation of Hawaii as simply "an island in the Pacific," and hit back in a statement about the importance of a strong, independent judiciary.
“Our Constitution created a separation of powers in the United States for a reason. Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President,’ he said. “It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”
Mr Chin bristled at the characterisation of Hawaii as simply "an island in the Pacific," and hit back in a statement about the importance of a strong, independent judiciary.
“Our Constitution created a separation of powers in the United States for a reason. Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President,’ he said. “It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”
Mr Chin bristled at the characterisation of Hawaii as simply "an island in the Pacific," and hit back in a statement about the importance of a strong, independent judiciary.
“Our Constitution created a separation of powers in the United States for a reason. Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President,’ he said. “It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”
The Department of Justice attempted to walk back Mr Sessions’ comments on Thursday, calling Hawaii a “beautiful island” and focusing on what they called a “flawed opinion” by a “single judge.”
Mr Sessions, however, declined to apologise for his statement.
“I don’t know that I said anything I would want to phrase differently,” he told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “...It is a point worth making that a single sitting district judge – out of 600, 700 district judges – can issue an order stopping a presidential executive order that I believe is fully constitutional; designed to protect America from a terrorist attack.”
The concept of judicial review, or the ability of the courts to check the power of the president, was established in the landmark Supreme Court case Marbury v Madison and affirmed in multiple cases thereafter.
Congress members from Hawaii jumped to Mr Chin’s defence, tweeting their disdain for Mr Sessions’ comments.
“Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It's my home. Have some respect,” wrote Senator Brian Schatz.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The new TrumpCare is even worse than the old one

Like some zombie out to devour Americans' health care, TrumpCare is back from the dead.

Sources tell CNN that House Republicans have a new version of their bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare. The negotiations are mostly occurring between two tribes: the hard-right Freedom Caucus, represented by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and the more moderate 50-person Tuesday Group, represented by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.). The Trump administration hopes this updated version can pass the House and move on to the Senate.

The original TrumpCare was such a mess, in terms of both policy and politics, that the Republicans ditched it before they even had a vote on the House floor. So you'd think there'd be nowhere to go but up.

Unfortunately, the new TrumpCare is even worse than the old one.

First off, here's what hasn't changed: As far as I can tell, the new proposal would still massively cut Medicaid. It would also offer the same inadequate subsidies — which were much lower than ObamaCare's already-underpowered subsidies — to help customers on the insurance exchanges afford their premiums.
The new twist is that states can opt out of two key ObamaCare regulations: The essential health benefits, and the law against charging people different premiums based on pre-existing conditions.

The essential health benefits (EHBs) are a package of 10 needs — like maternity care, prescription drugs, substance abuse disorders, etc. — that all insurance plans are required to cover. To justify abandoning the EHBs, states would simply have to demonstrate to the federal government that doing so would raise the number of insured people in their state, make premiums cheaper, or somehow "advance" the "public interest."

The EHBs have long been the target of right-wing ire. Why should men have to pay for maternity care, when they will never need it by definition? What this complaint misses is that no one pays insurers for the care they use. They pay insurers for the care everyone in the insurer's customer pool uses. Those are the costs that in turn drive the premiums that insurers charge. It is inherent to the nature of insurance.

So yes, ditching the EHBs could make premiums cheaper — but at the cost of leaving some Americans out in the cold and unable to get coverage for services they need.

The problem with the pre-existing conditions provision is basically the same.

The reason insures don't like to cover people with pre-existing conditions is they're expensive. Covering them raises costs, which raises premiums, which can drive away other customers. Before ObamaCare, the insurers dealt with this problem by often just refusing to offer coverage to sick Americans. The Democrats' health reform put a stop to that practice.

But even then, insurers could still charge sky-high premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. Either the customer pays, and the insurer makes up the cost, or the customer doesn't pay and doesn't get the coverage, and the insurer just avoids the costs entirely. Either way, the insurer can avoid raising premiums on healthy customers to cover the costs of sick customers.

ObamaCare put a stop to that, too. It set limits on how much insurers could differentiate between customers on price. So insurers have to cover everyone, and they have to raise everyone's premiums to pay the additional care costs for people with pre-existing conditions. That's where ObamaCare's subsidies came in. They were meant to make sure everyone in the system could afford their premiums. (Though, as I mentioned, the subsidies aren't generous enough.)

But the new TrumpCare would allow states to opt out of that second regulation: the one preventing insurers from charging wildly different premiums. It comes with a catch, though. States that opt out would have to join "high-risk pools" — systems for subsidizing sick customers, so they can afford the much higher premiums they'd be charged.

So instead of raising everyone's premiums a bit, and then subsidizing everyone a bit, states that went this route would raise sick people's premiums a ton, and then subsidize them a ton. That's the theory, anyway.

In practice, the scheme still falls afoul of conservatives' hatred for redistribution. The spending in the high-risk pools must be paid for somehow, after all. The switch from ObamaCare to TrumpCare 2.0 wouldn't change the need for redistribution — it would just change the route the money takes to get from point A to point B.

History shows how conservative get around this problem: High-risk pools have never been adequately funded when they've been tried at the state level. It's unclear how much money TrumpCare 2.0 would provide — it has previously ranged from $15 billion over 8 years all the way up to $100 billion over 10 years. Unfortunately, to actually save Americans with pre-existing conditions from crushingly high premiums, the high-risk pools would need $250 billion to $500 billion over 10 years.

White House 'confident' government shutdown can be avoided but still tells agencies to prepare for it

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is “confident” that the Trump administration will avoid a government shutdown as a result of a battle with Congress over funding the border wall with Mexico and healthcare.
Donald Trump thinks the White House and Congress are “in good shape” to avoid any work stoppage.
“Obviously we don't want the government to shut down, but we want to make sure that we're funding the priorities of the government,” said Mr Spicer.
Federal agencies are only funded until 28 April – the day before Mr Trump’s 100th day in office – and Congress is in recess until 24 April, so the race is on to pass a spending package that would cover the last five months of the fiscal year ending in September.
“I think we want to keep the government open,” Mr Trump said. But as part of a routine procedure, the Office of Budget and Management has asked all federal agencies to submit their work plans in case the government is forced to shut down.
Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, making this ability to continue governing a basic test of their abilities.
Garnering Democratic support for the spending bill will be dependent on what provisions Republicans want to include.
Democrats have already said they would not support any spending bill that would allocate taxpayer money to pay for a border wall with Mexico, one of Mr Trump’s core campaign promises.
For several months he said Mexico would pay for the construction project, but after taking office he included line items in his initial proposed federal budget to cover repairs to sections of the existing border fortifications and some new construction.
There have been no accurate cost estimations of how much the entire wall – over 2,000 miles long – would be because of varying prices of materials, labour, land clearing, and other factors.
Republicans have also floated a provision to end subsidies for low-income people to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare
Democrats do not support any such legislation and the Republican replacement to Obamacare failed to even come up for a vote in the House of Representatives in March 2016 because of strong dissent within the Republican party.
Another point of contention is Planned Parenthood, a nationwide women’s health organisation.
The group receives federal funding and Democrats would like to see that continued but Republicans oppose it since Planned Parenthood offers abortion services in some of their clinics.
Only about three per cent of all medical services offered by Planned Parenthood are abortion-related.
Perhaps one of the thorniest topics on the agenda is Mr Trump’s proposed $54bn (£42bn) increase in defence spending while cutting an almost equivalent amount in environmental, housing and urban development, the Coast Guard, and diplomatic programmes at the State Department.
The last time the federal government shutdown was in October 2013 during former President Barack Obama’s second term. Republicans orchestrated the 17-day shutdown in an effort to repeal Obamacare, which was ultimately unsuccessful in that goal.
A short-term extension could be passed by the House but ultimately the discussions will have to continue.
Republican Representative Tom Cole, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that “even our most recalcitrant members understand that if you shut down the government while you're running it and you control the House and the Senate, you can't blame anybody but yourself.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

             Trump's Excuse for Not Releasing His Tax Returns Is Ludicrous

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Tuesday being Tax Day, it's an apt time to remind everyone that not only is President Donald Trump breaking with decades of tradition in refusing to release his tax returns but that his reason for doing so is ludicrous and that the whole exercise is stupidly self-defeating.
While Trump has been, ahem, inconsistent about his willingness to release his taxes, he has been fairly steadfast in his reason for not doing so – he claims that his returns are under audit by the IRS.
But this excuse is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter nonsense. Let's for a moment take him at his word (and given both his credibility and refusal to release even so much as an audit letter, there's not a reason in the world to do so) and assume that he is in fact under audit. That's not actually a reason to decline to release his returns. Per an IRS statement from more than a year ago, "nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information." In fact President Richard Nixon released his tax returns when he was under audit.
So Trump cannot even reach the subminimal standard of transparency set by Tricky Dick. Trump saying he won't release his returns while under audit is like my refusing to discuss my lunch because I'm still digesting; both arguments involve loosely related sets of facts, but lack any actual logic-based connection.
As my friend Jack Farrell, author of the New York Times bestseller "Richard Nixon: The Life," says: "It takes considerable evasiveness, arrogance, or paranoia – or maybe it's just plain scandalous behavior – to rival Richard Nixon on the secrecy front but, well, there you have it."
Is there any chance that's going to change any time soon? White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in ritually regurgitating the "audit" excuse Monday, was asked if we can't just admit that Trump's never, ever going to give up his returns, audit or no. "We'll have to get back to you on that," Spicer replied. That's the political equivalent of Don't call us, we'll call you. It's a non-answer in service to a farcical excuse all meant to distract from an old-fashioned stonewall.
The "audit" excuse is so risible that conservative Sen. Tom Cotton drew boos in ruby red Arkansas when he trotted it out at a town hall meeting Monday.
Indeed, this is where Trump's obstinacy goes from being stupidly self-serving to potentially damaging for his party's and his own prospects. Spicer tried to dismiss this Monday when he argued that "the American people understood when they elected him in November." They don't care, in other words, a variation on a talking point Trump himself has employed. But this is whistling past the graveyard – and not just because the American people voted for someone else.
Poll after poll (after poll after poll) has indicated that most Americans want Trump to release his returns. And it's an issue that's generating intensity, judging by the protests that sprang up around the country this past weekend.
As conservative opinionator Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post Monday:
"This will be one more item — along with conflicts of interest, filling his Cabinet with Goldman Sachs alumni, violating the emoluments clause — that Democrats will use in the 2018 midterms. The argument is simple: Trump is more secretive, more indifferent to corruption than his predecessors — and Republicans are too meek and unprincipled to object. Trump's conduct cries out for divided government; without it, his contempt for clean, transparent government grows with each passing year."
And beyond the broad question of general principle, this could develop into a very specific political issue as well. As The New Republic's Brian Beutler points out, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen's term runs out in November and his departure "will create a major new conflict of interest for Trump, and, one imagines, a huge political problem for congressional Republicans: If we take Trump at his word that he's been under continuous audit for a long time, he can't be entrusted with the obligation to nominate a new commissioner."
The politics matter here. The more potent this issue becomes the more it becomes self-fulfilling, right up to the possibility that it becomes a main Democratic talking point in a successful bid to flip either the House or the Senate. That happening in either chamber remains a long-shot – Democrats have many more vulnerable Senate seats to defend next year than do Republicans, and the House battlefield is also unfriendly – but it's not out of the question.
If Democrats retake either chamber, they will have the power to subpoena Trump's taxes. And even if they don't, there are other avenues available to them. At some point, Rubin writes, "the investigation into the Trump team's association with Russians, either the intelligence community or members of the House or Senate intelligence committees likely will want access to the tax returns and/or other financial records. After all, how can investigators determine the extent of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians without examining financial records (up to and including tax returns) of the candidate?" Or New York could arrange to release Trump's state taxes (h/t Hot Air's Allahpundit). The more this issue builds, the more pressure there is to find some way to get the information.
Even if you put aside the electoral politics of it, there's evidence that it's hurting Trump's agenda. As The New York Times' Alan Rappeport wrote Tuesday, Democrats are increasingly promoting Trump's obstinacy as a reason to block any tax reform he pushes. And not unfairly: It seems reasonable for the public to know the extent to which a president's proposed tax overhaul would benefit himself and his family. And, Rappeport points out, "more than a dozen Republican lawmakers now say Mr. Trump should release" his returns.
All of this makes the big question that much more tantalizing: What is Trump hiding that he's willing to put his position so much at risk?
There's actually a danger here for Democrats, as Moira Donegan writes in The New Republic: "The problem with using the tax returns as a symbol for all of Trump's corruption is that the returns themselves may be less than earth-shattering." Suppose – as Occam's razor suggests – that Trump has merely been lying about the size of his bank account, that he's merely a super-wealthy millionaire and mediocre businessman instead of the super-duper-wealthy billionaire and business wiz he styles himself? Suppose the returns don't show him as being in hock to Russia or other foreign entities? Is it possible Trump's really playing a long game here to whip his opponents into a frenzy and then deflate them?
Such strategic thinking does not, ahem, seem to be a Trump strength.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trump targets visas program for highly skilled workers

President Donald Trump heads to the politically important state of Wisconsin Tuesday to sign an order aimed at curbing abuses in a visa program used by technology companies that rely on high-skilled foreign workers.
The order, dubbed "Buy American, Hire American," marks a return to the populism Trump seemed to all but abandon with a series of recent reversals on economic policies.
Trump will sign the directive at the headquarters of tool manufacturer Snap-on Inc. in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a state he narrowly carried in November on the strength of support from white, working class voters. But Trump is currently facing a 41 percent approval in the state.
Trump is targeting the H-1B visa program, which the White House says undercuts American workers by bringing in large numbers of cheaper, foreign workers, driving down wages.
The tech industry has argued that the H-1B program is needed because it encourages students to stay in the U.S. after getting degrees in high-tech specialties — and they can't always find enough American workers with the skills they need.
The order would direct U.S. agencies to propose rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse in the program. They would also be asked to offer changes so that H-1B visas are awarded to the "most-skilled or highest-paid applicants," said administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity despite the president's frequent criticism of the use of anonymous sources.
The officials said the order also seeks to strengthen requirements that American-made products be used in certain federal construction projects, as well as in various federal transportation grant-funded projects. The commerce secretary will review how to close loopholes in existing rules and provide recommendations to the president.
The order specifically asks the secretary to review waivers of these rules in free-trade agreements. The waivers could be renegotiated or revoked if they are not benefiting the United States.
Trump's visit to Wisconsin takes him to the congressional district of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who won't be joining the president because he's on a congressional trip visiting NATO countries.
Trump campaigned on populist promises to stand up to China, which he claimed was manipulating its currency and stealing American jobs, and to eliminate the Export-Import bank, which he billed as wasteful subsidy. In a series of interviews last week, Trump reversed himself on both positions
And while he has long pledged to support American goods and workers, his own business record is mixed. Many Trump-branded products, like clothing, are made overseas. And his businesses have hired foreign workers, including at his Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago.
During his campaign, Trump said at one point that he supported high-skilled visas, then opposed them. At one debate, he said: "It's very bad for our workers and it's unfair for our workers. And we should end it."
The officials said potential changes could be administrative or legislative and could include higher fees for the visas, changing the wage scale for the program or other initiatives.
Critics say the program has been hijacked by staffing companies that use the visas to recruit foreigners — often from India — who will work for less than Americans. The staffing companies then sell their services to corporate clients who use them to outsource tech work.
Employers, such as Walt Disney World and the University of California in San Francisco, have laid off tech employees and replaced them with H-1B visa holders. The U.S. workers are sometimes asked to train their replacements to qualify for severance packages.
Ronil Hira, a professor in public policy at Howard University and a critic of the H-1B program, said Trump's planned order is "better than nothing." But he added, "It's not as aggressive as it needs to be."
Trump has traveled to promote his agenda less than his recent predecessors. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump wanted to visit "a company that builds American-made tools with American workers."
Trump carried Wisconsin in November by nearly 23,000 votes — less than 1 percentage point — making him the first Republican to win the state since 1984. He campaigned on the promise of returning manufacturing jobs that have been lost in Upper Midwest states.
Snap-on makes hand and power tools, diagnostics software, information and management systems, and shop equipment for use in various industries, including agriculture, the military and aviation. It has eight manufacturing sites in North America and employs about 11,000 people worldwide.


If you can’t turn away from Facebook, Snapchat or other social media, you aren’t alone. And now, there are therapists who can help you with a digital intervention.
If you can’t seem to resist a scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed during working hours, or if you feel anxious when you can’t check your smartphone or have no signal, you might need a digital intervention.
In the last few years, social media users who find it impossible to stay off their devices when they would like to resist them are seeking treatment via professionals. And they’re responding. Therapists are offering counselling, mindfulness coaches are hosting detox retreats, and corporate-wellness startups are all vying to help you get through the day without constant, compulsive scrolling.
The result is a wide array of options that social media users are willing to try to break their habit. Hour-long sessions can cost from $150 per hour, with longer detox camping-style retreats costing more than $500 for several days.
We give people driving lessons and swimming lessons, but everyone just gets a smartphone and off they go,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, a research nonprofit, in Newport Beach in California in the US. “There are skills needed to navigate any social space.”
In the last few years, the number of patients seeking help from Nathan Driskell, a therapist in Houston, Texas in the US, for so-called social media addiction rose 20% and now make up almost half of his patients, he says. Interestingly, clients asking for help with computer-game addiction have somewhat declined, he says.
Unrecognised, but treatable
To be sure, social media addiction is not recognised as an official disorder by medical classification texts such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered the gold standard in diagnosing mental disorders. Whether or not it should be is controversial. Yet, some therapists including Driskell treat patients with the same methods they would use to treat other addictions.
In some ways, the psychological impact caused by Facebook, Snapchat and other digital platforms can be more difficult to treat than other recognised addictions, Driskell says. “It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it,” he says. Driskell charges $150 per hour and works with patients on a weekly basis for at least six months.
Fighting fire with fire
New York-based start-up Talkspace offers on-demand online counselling from 1,000 in-network therapists. In 2016 the company started tailoring offerings that address social media usage, launching a 12-week social media program to help those navigating their online addictions as part of more comprehensive therapy, says Linda Sacco, Talkspace’s vice president for behavioral health services. Therapists who participate work with patients to increase mindfulness and track their progress over several months, says Sacco, who declined to give the number of users currently in the program.
The company offers text-message-based therapy starting at $138 per month, with $396 for live-talk therapy. And, while clients use their smartphone to hold therapy sessions, they are being taught how to use the phone in a more mindful way, she adds. Most people turn to therapy after many failed attempts to control their impulses on their own, Sacco says.
“By the time they are thinking they need treatment they have tried [limiting screen time]—were unsuccessful—and [are] feeling even worse,” says Sacco. “Those coming forward actually recognise that this is taking over their life.”
A duty to help
Others say poor social media habits can be treated as a workplace problem. In London, Orianna Fielding founded the Digital Detox Company in 2014, after researching a book about unplugging. Fielding now works with companies to help employees navigate their social media use rather than leaving them to manage on their own. Programs start with an in-person workshop and then employees go through custom online modules that cater to their own digital triggers, which include interruptions from social media.
“We’re reframing our relationship to technology,” says Fielding who charges £600 ($748) per day on average. A firm’s executives can sign up for additional workshops that focus on increasing productivity, she adds.
Getting it right
Experts warn of over-relying on mindfulness or digital detox retreats without additional follow-up. Weekend or week-long detoxes, which often involve spending time in a natural setting to help users disengage from devices, can be a good first step, says Driskell.
But like other addictions, clients typically visit for at least six months to a year in order to fully understand how to manage their own behavior when not in a detox program, he says. “It’s good to detox to get your mind away, but then you go back into the same life as before,” which can hinder progress, Driskell says.
When self-therapy works
Some firms are looking to attract social media users who aren’t quite ready for an onslaught of one-on-one therapy but who still want to try logging off.
In Berlin, Offtime, a company that describes itself as the first “post-tech start-up” devoted to “focus and digital rebalance,” works with users to control their social media use via apps while also offering various face-to-face detox workshops
The result is a crutch of sorts, to help those who are seeing a rise in their own media use but want to tackle it on their own, says psychologist Alexander Steinhart, who co-founded the company in 2014.
Rather than waiting until someone has a problem, it’s important for users to seek out a healthy routine after learning best practices. Rutledge says that good technology habits need to be put into place as soon as new technology emerges.
“People tend to go right to calling it an addiction,” she says. “Rather than thinking about it as a lack of balance.”

Despite talk of a military strike, Trump’s ‘armada’ was a long way from Korea

As tensions mounted on the Korean Peninsula, Adm. Harry Harris made a dramatic announcement: An aircraft carrier had been ordered to sail north from Singapore on April 8 toward the Western Pacific.
A spokesman for the Pacific Command linked the deployment directly to the “number one threat in the region,” North Korea, and its “reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters on April 11 that the Carl Vinson was “on her way up there.” Asked about the deployment in an interview with Fox Business Network that aired April 12, President Trump said: “We are sending an armada, very powerful.”
The U.S. media went into overdrive and Fox reported on April 14 that the armada was “steaming” toward North Korea.
But pictures posted by the U.S. Navy suggest that’s not quite the case — or at least not yet.
A photograph released by the Navy showed the aircraft carrier sailing through the calm waters of Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java on Saturday, April 15.
In other words, on the same day that the world nervously watched North Korea stage a massive military parade to celebrate the birthday of the nation’s founder Kim Il Sung, and the press speculated about a pre-emptive U.S. strike, the U.S. Navy put the the Carl Vinson, together with its escort of two guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser, more than 3,000 miles southwest of the Korean peninsula — and more than 500 miles southeast of Singapore.
Instead of steaming towards the Korea peninsula, the carrier strike group was actually headed in the opposite direction to take part in “scheduled exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean,” according to Defense News, which broke the story.
Neither Pacific Command nor the Pacific Fleet responded immediately to requests for comment. On Monday, Pacific Fleet spokesman Cdr. Clayton Doss said only that the USS Carl Vinson and its escorts were “transiting the Western Pacific,” declining to give a more precise location except to rule out the waters around South Korea or Japan.
The presence of the U.S. carrier strike group, and the threat of a U.S. military strike on North Korea, had weighed heavily on Chinese minds and in the media here. Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned “storm clouds” were gathering and the risk of conflict rising.
The news that the ships weren’t where everyone assumed them to be was greeted with some glee in the Chinese media Tuesday.
“Tricked badly!” the Global Times exulted on its social media account. “None of the U.S. aircraft carriers that South Korea is desperately waiting for has come!”
Was it all a misunderstanding, or deliberate obfuscation?
Cai Jian, an expert from the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the whole episode was part of an elaborate game of “psychological warfare or bluffing” by the United States, arguing that Washington never really intended to launch a military strike on North Korea right now.
“At the peak of the standoff, psychological warfare is very important,” he said.
Ross Babbage, a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on the military, said the move may be “military signalling” from the U.S.
“It’s more than a bluff,” he said. “A bluff suggests you’re not serious. My understanding is that this U.S. administration is dead serious, it’s been 40 years of trying to get the North Koreans to back away from the nuclear weapons.”
Babbage said it was also possible the United States administration had decided to give China a little time to put its own pressure on North Korea before sending the carrier strike group north: Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on April 6 and 7 and spoke by phone on April 11, and may have wanted to give the Chinese some breathing space to before “rattling the bars,” Babbage said.
Nor should the aircraft carrier’s presence, alone, be given too much weight, he added, since any early strikes on North Korea would likely have been carried out by long-range aircraft.
While the belief that the Carl Vinson was heading towards Korea was reported as fact by media outlets around the world, there were hints it was perhaps not steaming there as fast as many supposed. On April 11, USNI News reported that although the carrier had cancelled port calls in Australia, it had not canceled training events to move faster toward the Korean Peninsula, and would still take more than a week to enter waters near Korea — a point that was lost amid heated talk of “war.”
In any case, the carrier strike force may indeed be finally heading north now.
The Korea Herald reported Monday that the USS Carl Vinson is due to arrive in South Korea’s eastern waters on April 25, in time for another important date in the North Korean calendar: the anniversary of the army’s foundation. Quoting unnamed South Korean officials, the Herald said “the strike group will join the South Korean Navy in a massive maritime drill designed to counter provocation from the North.”
CNN also cited U.S. defense officials as saying the aircraft carrier will arrive off the Korean Peninsula at the end of April.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Chinese Media Can’t Stop Making Fun Of Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s recent flip-flops aren’t just making headlines in the United States ― they’ve also been noticed in China.

One of Trump’s reversals came on the issue of Chinese monetary policy. While he had previously accused Beijing of being “world champions” of currency manipulation, he reversed that position after a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 
Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen, who is based in Beijing, showed how the press there was covering the sudden change of heart:  
Te-Ping Chen ✔ @tepingchen
How the news Trump won't label China a currency manipulator plays here:
"Eating his words!"
"Trump slaps self in face, again"
Those headlines come just days after Chinese media criticized Trump’s air strikes in Syria, and after a long series of anti-Trump stories and headlines in the state-run media.

Chinese media has referred to Trump’s election a “democracy malfunction,” compared him to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, called him “as ignorant as a child” and mocked his spelling problems. During the presidential campaign, media in the country called Trump “big-mouthed” and “abusively forthright,” and even compared him to a clown.  

8-Year-Old Learns How To Drive From YouTube, Takes Sister To McDonald’s

Police in eastern Ohio say an 8-year-old boy drove his 4-year-old sister to a local McDonald’s in their father’s van after learning how to drive by watching YouTube videos.

The unidentified youngsters snuck out of their home in East Palestine at 8 p.m. on Sunday after their parents went to sleep.
During the mile-and-a-half long journey to the fast-food restaurant, the boy successfully navigated railroad tracks and multiple intersections. Concerned witnesses called the police despite the fact that the young, unlicensed driver had remained under the speed limit and obeyed all other traffic laws.
On pulling up at the outlet’s drive-thru window, the boy used cash that he’d taken from his piggy bank to pay for the cheeseburger.
“The workers thought that the parents were in the back, but obviously they weren’t,” East Palestine police officer Jacob Koehler told The Weirton Daily Times. A family friend who was eating inside the restaurant contacted the children’s grandparents and the children ate their meal while waiting for their parents to pick them up.
No charges will be filed in the case, The Associated Press reported. Koehler later described the incident as “a good teaching point.”
With the way technology is anymore, kids will learn how to do anything and everything,” he said. “This kid learned how to drive on YouTube. He probably looked it up for five minutes and then said it was time to go.

Second Week of Congressional Hearings Increases Pressure on Trump US President Donald Trump faces the threat of further testimony that ...