Originally Published: 7/29/2017
The First Pitch: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) made good on his promise to bring a healthcare bill to the floor for a vote. It didn’t make any difference that senators said they didn’t know what they were going to vote on since they didn’t have a bill to review. (MSNBC) George Zornick at The Nation pointed out that whatever bill or bills are brought forth, “we can be sure they will not have passed through a single hearing, a single committee markup, and in most cases nobody yet knows what the Congressional Budget Office will say about them.”
Motion to Proceed: On Tuesday McConnell started with a motion to proceed which allowed them to begin debating, but still no one knew what they were going to debate. It passed 51 to 50 with VP Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. Senator John McCain (R, AZ), despite have just been diagnosed with brain cancer, flew in to cast his “yea” vote. (NY Times)
Repeal and Replace: Then Republicans brought out their complete version of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with something. It included the amendment by Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX), “that would allow insurance companies to sell stripped down, low-cost insurance plans as long as they also offer insurance policies that comply with the federal standards.” (NY Times) It failed 43 to 57. (Roll Call)
Clean Repeal: On Wednesday McConnell brought up a “clean repeal” bill which would have eliminated ACA’s individual and business mandates. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score for this bill, which means there must have been some text for it somewhere. CBO reported it would mean 16 million fewer people would have health insurance and there would be a 20% increase to premiums. See how your senator voted. (NY Times) It failed 45 to 55. (CNN)
Skinny Bill: On Thursday McConnell brought forth a pared down “skinny” bill which, as far as anyone could tell with no prepared text, would eliminate the individual and employer mandate and repeal the “cadillac” tax on expensive insurance plans offered by employers. (Guardian) But by Thursday afternoon chaos had ensued. Even the health insurance lobby warned them not to repeal the individual mandate. (NY Times) House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) agreed to go into a conference committee to iron out the differences between the House bill and whatever got passed by the Senate. However, he didn’t want his members getting stomped on for another vote so he insisted that, whatever comes out of the conference committee, get passed by the Senate before he’d take it up in the House. (Roll Call) It didn’t make any difference. The “skinny” bill failed 49 to 51, with Republicans John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) voting “no.” (Reuters) See how your senator voted. (NY Times)
Retaliation Against Women: According to the Washington Post, female senators “whose disapproval of the GOP healthcare effort” hindered progress, have been receiving backlash from GOP men, “including a handful of comments that invoked physical retaliation.” In the past week Senator Susan Collins (R, ME) “has been challenged by a male lawmaker to a duel.” Both she and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) “were told that they and others deserve a physical reprimand.” Murkowski was attacked by Trump in a tweet and was told by a Cabinet official “that Alaska could suffer for her choice.” Murkowski was even contacted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pushing her to vote for the bill. Why the Interior Secretary? Apparently it was a threat to Murkowski and Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan (R), “letting them know the vote had put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.” (Alaska Dispatch News)
Kushner Deal: An investigation by the Guardian found that Jared Kushner “secured a multimillion-dollar Manhattan real estate deal with a Soviet-born oligarch whose company was cited in a major New York money laundering case now being probed by members of Congress.” The oligarch is “real estate tycoon and diamond mogul” Lev Leviev.
Kushner’s Testimony: Prior to his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jared Kushner released his opening statement. (CNN)
Paul Manafort: He met with Senate investigators on Tuesday and voluntarily turned over his contemporaneous notes of the meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with the Russian lawyer. (TWW, Russian Connection, 7/15/17) (Guardian)
Anthony Scaramucci: Considering Scaramucci has, in the past, been very critical of Trump (The Hill), I couldn’t understand why he was so anxious to get a job in the White House. Now we know. He’s trying to sell his hedge fund, SkyBridge, to a Chinese conglomerate. The sale was agreed to in January, when Scaramucci expected to be appointed to a White House position. The sale was supposed to close at the end of June but is under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States chaired by the Treasury Department. (CNN) Perhaps he figured being a presidential appointee would help the sale get approved. Scaramucci, nicknamed “the Mooch,” has been trying to oust White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who he blames for his not getting a job in January. He launched “a foulmouthed campaign fueled by months of brewing animus.” (Washington Post) His tirade is unbelievable. The Guardian wrote: “The profane language was shocking even by the standards of the Tump era and suggested that a major staff shake-up is imminent.” Watch Stephen Colbert’s take on it. It’s one of his best. (You Tube)
Reince Priebus: I guess Scaramucci knew something no one else did, or his clout with Trump is as great as he thinks it is. Yesterday Trump fired Priebus as his Chief of Staff and brought in Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. (Roll Call)
Rex Tillerson: The Secretary of State will be “taking a little time off” amid rumors of “a rift” with Trump and “a staffing shortage at the State Department, as well as several crises abroad.” (Think Progress) Think maybe his involvement with the Exxon thing has anything to do with it? (TWW, ExxonMobil, 7/22/17)
More Taxpayer Costs: In addition to the other additional costs we’re incurring for protecting Trump, we can add this one. The U.S. Coast Guard spent more than $6.6 million to protect Mar-a-Lago during Trump’s 7 weekends there this spring. (Washington Post)
Sam Brownback: Trump is nominating Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) as ambassador at large for international religious freedom. (Reuters) Yeah. I’m not kidding. You can’t make this stuff up. But, given the mess he’s made in Kansas (TWW, Kansas, 6/10/17; 3/4/17; 7/30/16), I’ll bet there are plenty of Kansans who’ll be glad to see his backside.
Torture: U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush in Washington denied a motion to dismiss the case against 2 psychologists who helped develop the CIA’s interrogation program used to torture people in the years following the 9/11 attacks. “The 3 plaintiffs had argued that they were detained and tortured in secret CIA prisons using techniques designed by the 2 former military psychologists who served as CIA contractors. Most of the techniques used against the detainees have since been banned by the United States government.” The judge’s ruling clears the way for the case to proceed to a trial in September. (NY Times)
Afghanistan: Trump has “found” a reason to extend our 16-year incursion into Afghanistan. He “has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.” Trump is being “informally” advised by Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire financier who “is looking into ways to exploit the country’s minerals.” (NY Times) They’re referring to rare-earth elements. As I told you before (TWW, Rare Earth Elements, 9/17/11), China produces about 97% of the world’s rare earth metals and, if they stop sharing, we’re in trouble. These elements are used in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), Blackberries and iPhones, wind turbines, guided missiles, and other “green” technology. (TWW Rare Earth Elements, 1/1/11)
Britain: It will ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2040 “in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of popular use of the fossil fuel-guzzling internal combustion engine.” (Reuters) If you remember, France also wants to do the same thing by 2040. (TWW, France, 7/8/17)
Israel: It removed the metal detectors that they had installed at the entrances to the compound that houses the al-Aqsa mosque. The move was announced by the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, “and is designed to end a crisis over the holy site. Days of violent confrontations have claimed 7 lives.” (Guardian)
North Korea: It launched another intercontinental ballistic missile. (NBC)
Pakistan: Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over accusations of corruption. (NY Times)
Poland: President Andrzej Duda announced that he is vetoing “a controversial law to replace Supreme Court judges with government nominees.” (BBC)
Russia: Congressional leaders reached an agreement on “sweeping” sanctions against Russia “for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors.” In what appears to be a slap at Trump, the new legislation limits the president’s ability “to suspend or terminate the sanctions - a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress 6 months” into Trump’s tenure. (NY Times) The White House signaled it would accept the legislation. “If it passes . . . the measure will represent the first time that Congress . . . has forced its will on Mr. Trump on a major policy matter.” (NY Times) The House and Senate both easily passed the bill and sent it to Trump for signature. (Washington Post) Russia immediately retaliated. They seized 2 U.S. diplomatic properties and ordered the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to cut its staff. (NY Times)
Georgia: More than 380,000 Georgia voters received a “purge notice” from their local board of elections under the direction of Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state. According to the notice, there are 3 reasons voters might be asked to verify their registration: “they filed a change of address request with the United States Postal Service, they have not voted in the past 3 years, or official election mail has been returned to the elections office.” (Rewire)
Kentucky: U.S. District Judge David Hale issued a temporary restraining order against “a group of anti-abortion protesters from a Christian fundamentalist group to stay away from a buffer zone outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville.” (Rewire)
Wisconsin: Foxconn, one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, said it would build a new factory in Wisconsin, “delivering a much-needed win” for Trump and Governor Scott Walker (R). However, how many jobs this will create is not clear. Walker said it would create 13,000 jobs with an average pay of $53,000 plus benefits but Foxconn said it would be hiring 3,000 workers over 4 years with potential for further growth. I hope Walker is right since he’s offered the company $3 billion in economic incentives for the deal, which must be approved by the legislature. (Washington Post) Isn’t that $1 million per worker? Hell, just give them the money and forget the job.
Voting: In a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) (TWW, Going to Court, 7/8/17), Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that it’s okay for the Voting Integrity Commission’s request for state voter data to go forward, saying EPIC “did not have grounds for an injunction in part because the collection of data by the commission was not technically an action by a government agency so was not bound by the laws that govern such entities can do.” She also pointed out that the commission was an advisory body “that does not have legal authority to compel the states to hand over the data.” (Reuters)
Sexual Orientation: AG Jeff Sessions filed an amicus brief in a federal civil lawsuit inserting the federal government into a private dispute between a worker and his boss. The Justice Department argues that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. (CNN)
Transgender: Trump announced via Twitter a ban on transgender people in the U.S. military. (Washington Post) He tweeted “After consultation with my Generals and military experts . . .” He said this was because their medical costs are too high. He offered no facts to back this statement but a study last year by the Rand Corporation funded by the Defense Department “provides exhaustive estimates of transgender service members’ potential medical costs.” The Rand study estimated that treatment of transgender members cost the military between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually. Sound high? Let’s put it in perspective. The military spends $84 million annually to treat erectile dysfunction. (Washington Post) Apparently Trump lied again and he never “consulted” with his generals. They were blindsided. (CNN) Defense Secretary James Mattis was described as “appalled.” (The Hill) General Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a letter to military service chiefs, said that transgender people will remain in place “until the White House sends the Defense Department a rules change and the secretary of defense issues new guidelines.” (NY Times) Trump’s announcement set Bustle off to release Trump’s deferment documents showing that he received 5 deferments during the Vietnam War.
Travel ID: As of January 22, 2018 travelers from 9 states “will no longer be able to travel with only their driver’s licenses.” Residents of Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington will have to use alternate forms of ID - like passports, military ID, or permanent resident cards - to pass TSA security checkpoints, even for domestic travel. This is because the IDs from these states “do not meet the federal government’s minimum security standards.” (Travel and Leisure)
Student Loans: Tens of thousands of people who took out loans to pay for college but haven’t been able to keep up payments “may get their debts wiped away.” Why? Because documents proving who owns the loans are missing. “Judges have already dismissed dozens of lawsuits against former students, essentially wiping out their debt.” (NY Times)
ACA Help: Trump really wants the Affordable Care Act to fail. He has now pulled help for signing up. Contracts “that brought assistance into libraries, businesses, and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities” is being eliminated. People will no longer have anywhere to go for help. (NBC)
Hot, Hot, Hot: It’s not your imagination. Summers are getting hotter. “Extraordinarily hot summers - the kind that were virtually unheard-of in the 1950s - have become commonplace.” This chart, changing from 1951 to 2015 and based on data from James Hansen, a retired NASA scientists and professor at Columbia University, “shows how summer temperatures have shifted toward more extreme heat over the past several decades.” (NY Times)
Fukushima: An underwater robot shot photos of “massive deposits” covering the floor of the damaged reactor that are believed to be melted nuclear fuel. They were found “on the bottom inside the main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel.” (Guardian)
CEO Pay: The Economic Policy Institute looked at trends in CEO compensation using 2 measures: stock options realized (in addition to salary, bonuses, restricted stock grants, and long-term incentive payouts) and the value of stock options granted, reflecting the value of the options at the time they are granted. By the first measure, in 2016 CEOs in America’s largest firms made an average of $15.6 million in compensation, 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker. This was 20 times the average worker in 1965 and 59 times in 1989. By using the second measure, CEO compensation rose to $13.0 million in 2016, up for $12.5 million in 2015.
Healthcare CEOs: A new analysis by Axios found that no matter what happens with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the CEOs of the large healthcare companies are going to continue with unbelievable incomes. The analysis found that the CEOs of 70 of the largest healthcare companies “cumulatively have earned $9.8 billion in the 7 years” since ACA was passed, “and their earnings have grown faster than most Americans’ during that time.” These companies’ stock prices have “boomed” and CEOs “took home nearly 11% more money on average every year since 2010, far outstripping the wage growth of nearly all Americans.” But the analysis also showed that “pay packages for the country’s influential healthcare executives don’t give them incentives to control healthcare spending - something that economists, policymakers, and even Warren Buffett have said is the most pressing problem in health care.” The main findings: “Total earnings amount to an average of $20 million (median of $11 million) per CEO per year. A vast majority of pay came in the form of vested stock.” The largest haul was John Martin, former CEO of Gilead Sciences, a pharmaceutical company. He made $863 million “in the ACA era,” the most of any healthcare CEO. And the big takeaway: “Healthcare inflation continues to blow away general economic inflation, and a big reason why is because healthcare executives are not paid to slow spending.”
H-2B Visas: This is the guest worker program “that allows employers to temporarily hire migrant workers in low-wage nonagricultural occupations, such as landscaping, forestry, hospitality, construction, and seafood process, when no U.S. workers are available.” Last May Congress included language in the 2017 omnibus spending bill allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Labor Department, to double the number of H-2B visas that can be issued if it sees fit. The cap is currently set at 66,000.” (Economic Policy Institute) Now DHS has increased the cap by 15,000. (Connecticut Business & Industry Assn.) But during Trump’s “Made in America” week, his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago applied for more foreign worker visas to hire 70 migrant workers. “Trump, who ran on a promise to increase the number of jobs for Americans and decrease immigration, has applied for foreign workers to fill service positions at Mar-a-Lago several times since he announced his presidential bid in 2015, including a request for 64 workers at his resort in February.” (UPI)
Corporations First: According to the Economic Policy Institute, Trump’s regulatory agenda released last week but now removed from their website, “throws out hard-fought protections for workers” and puts corporations first. “Its proposals to rescind regulations that protect workers’ safety, paychecks, and retirement savings reflect an ambitious agenda that consistently puts corporate interests first.”