GOP unveils TrumpRyanCare Plan: Get sick, die

Much more about RyanCare this week, but here’s the bottom line:

The proposal defunds Planned Parenthood. No federal funding can be made, either directly or indirectly, by Medicaid to a healthcare organization that “provides for abortions,” other than those done in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

[…]

Essential health benefit rules are repealed. As of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted. That’s likely to make maternity coverage, among other services, immensely expensive, if available at all. State could maintain the standards if they wish, but the federal standards would be eviscerated.

[…]

Income-based premium subsidies would be replaced by age-based subsidies, which will hurt working-class families in many states. Under the ACA, subsidies to help individual buyers afford premiums and (for poorer households) deductibles and co-pays were based on household income. The GOP measure will base them on the buyer’s age, instead, with older buyers receiving more help than younger. The GOP plan limits subsidies to $4,000 per individual; under the ACA, which also keys subsidies to the cost of benchmark insurance plans in the buyer’s home market, the subsidies theoretically could be several times higher.

This scheme will reduce subsidies to many of the people who need them the most, while awarding them to recipients who don’t need them.

[…]

The Medicaid expansion is killed. As of Dec. 31, 2019, the Medicaid expansion is repealed. Traditional Medicaid will be block-granted, a system almost certain to result in less federal funding for the joint state-federal program than it would have received, over time. The neediest and sickest Americans will increasingly be on their own, as states get less federal help to provide them with medical services.

All of Obamacare’s taxes are repealed, another boon for the rich. Everything from the tax on tanning salons and medical devices to the surcharge on high-income taxpayers will be gone. As we explained earlier, this amounts to an enormous tax cut for the wealthy — at least $346 billion over 10 years, every cent going to taxpayers earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for couples). The proposal would sharply raise the limits on contributions to tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts — another gimme for the rich.

To summarize, RyanCare will take away health insurance from millions of non-affluent people, make the insurance people do have much worse, and open a major front in the War on Women in order to pay for a massive upper-class tax cut. In conclusion, Both Sides Do It but Hillary Clinton is worse — right???

 

That didn’t take long.

So much for “put America First!”

A few weeks ago, when President Trump signed a directive clearing several hurdles out of the way of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the White House touted a new requirement — that the pipeline be made with American-produced steel.

Never mind.

The requirement to use domestic steel posed a potential conflict between the administration’s populist agenda and it’s pro-business stance. Apparently, business won.

Friday, a White House spokeswoman said Keystone would be exempt from the buy-America requirement because the pipeline was already partially underway.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-trump-won-t-require-keystone-pipeline-1488585551-htmlstory.html

Trump in bed with Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Adam Davidson, an investigative journalist writing for The New Yorker, has traced a complicated financial arrangement involving Trump and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard — the IRG is a major supporter of worldwide terrorist organizations.

Here are the opening paragraphs of the article.  You need to read the whole article at this link.

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal

The President helped build a hotel in Azerbaijan that appears to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Heydar Aliyev Prospekti, a broad avenue in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, connects the airport to the city. The road is meant to highlight Baku’s recent modernization, and it is lined with sleek new buildings. The Heydar Aliyev Center, an undulating wave of concrete and glass, was designed by Zaha Hadid. The state oil company is housed in a twisting glass tower, and the headquarters of the state water company looks like a giant water droplet. “It’s like Potemkin,” my translator told me. “It’s only the buildings right next to the road.” Behind the gleaming structures stand decaying Soviet-era apartment blocks, with clothes hanging out of windows and wallboards exposed by fallen brickwork.

As you approach the city center, a tower at the end of the avenue looms in front of you. Thirty-three stories high and curved to resemble a sail, the building was clearly inspired by the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, but it is boxier and less elegant. When I visited Baku, in December, five enormous white letters glowed at the top of the tower: T-R-U-M-P.

The building, a five-star hotel and residence called the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku, has never opened, though from the road it looks ready to welcome the public. Reaching the property is surprisingly difficult; the tower stands amid a welter of on-ramps, off-ramps, and overpasses. During the nine days I was in town, I went to the site half a dozen times, and on each occasion I had a comical exchange with a taxi-driver who had no idea which combination of turns would lead to the building’s entrance.

The more time I spent in the neighborhood, the more I wondered how the hotel could have been imagined as a viable business. The development was conceived, in 2008, as a high-end apartment building. In 2012, after Donald Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, signed multiple contracts with the Azerbaijani developers behind the project, plans were made to transform the tower into an “ultra-luxury property.” According to a Trump Organization press release, a hotel with “expansive guest rooms” would occupy the first thirteen floors; higher stories would feature residences with “spectacular views of the city and Caspian Sea.” For an expensive hotel, the Trump Tower Baku is in an oddly unglamorous location: the underdeveloped eastern end of downtown, which is dominated by train tracks and is miles from the main business district, on the west side of the city. Across the street from the hotel is a discount shopping center; the area is filled with narrow, dingy shops and hookah bars. Other hotels nearby are low-budget options: at the AYF Palace, most rooms are forty-two dollars a night. There are no upscale restaurants or shops. Any guests of the Trump Tower Baku would likely feel marooned.

 

Here’s the Trump hotel in Azerbaijan.  Notice the road network — you cannot get there from here or anywhere else!!

Trump has spent 31% of his presidency on vacation, playing golf

Donald Trump is that guy—the guy who treats the company credit card like it’s his personal mint and who buys the most expensive item on the menu because he knows someone else is picking up the bill. And who is paying for Trump’s extravagance? You are.

Over the last five weekends, the president has visited his luxury resort four times – each trip costs American taxpayers about $3 million – and as of last night (Saturday, March 5), Trump had spent 31% of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago.  He’s now played golf eight times since taking office six weeks ago.

“We have an administration in free-fall!”

Dan Rather nails it.

At some points words fail, or they are starting to fail me. We have an Administration in freefall. Have we passed through the circle of chaos? Are we at the circle of havoc?

The real Donald Trump has stood up, once again. Let no one ever be fooled. Let there be no doubt. The man who sends out a twitter tirade accusing a former President of crimes for which he provides no evidence, the man who doubles down when everyone with any sense pushes back, that man is our Commander in Chief. Every one who normalizes Mr. Trump now, or has in the past, will have to answer to future generations for their acquiescence, silence or sophistry—if, indeed, not outright cowardice.

How hollow do all those pundit plaudits (including from many progressives) sound now for an average and disingenuous speech of someone else’s words read from a teleprompter to Congress and the nation a week ago? A “presidential” Trump is a punchline to a joke no one wants to have told. Conspiracy theories are corrosive in society at large. When they dictate national policy, they can be lethal.

This is a man who challenged the citizenship of President Obama, with lies, innuendo, and no evidence. This is a man who claimed widespread voter fraud with lies, innuendo, and no evidence. This is a man who has taken a rhetorical blowtorch to our Constitutional principles with lies, innuendo, and no evidence. Those who rose in Congress to applaud his turns of phrase bear responsibility. Those who cynically use his presidency to push forward unpopular giveaways to the rich and well connected bear responsibility. Those in the press who meet insults with explanations bear responsibility.

Even the most grounded of presidents must fight to keep themselves moored to the real world. The Oval Office can be a bubble. Power attracts sycophants and cynics. But I have never seen anything like this. The sheer level of paranoia that is radiating out of the White House is untenable to the workings of a republic. I have a real question if President Trump actually believes what he is saying. Even Richard Nixon, the most paranoid president to date, ruled for years with a relatively calm hand. This Administration has been an off kilter whirlwind since the inauguration, and news reports suggest that seething anger from Mr. Trump is only getting worse. There is a growing consensus that the President may be “unhinged.” It’s a serious allegation, but even if it is not the case, Mr. Trump only has himself to blame.

To call a drama Shakespearean or operatic is usually an overreach. But I imagine artists of the future, and even the present, will find ample inspiration in our moment in history. Doesn’t Steve Bannon strike you as an Iago whispering in the ear of an Othello-like Trump, consumed by jealousy and paranoia?

As the questions mount around Russia, as the circles of defense begin to falter, the determination to create diversions will escalate. But if the President hoped he could create a distraction, I think he misjudged the will of the American people. We have woken. We are paying attention. And we love our country too much to let it falter without a fight.

https://www.facebook.com/theDanRather/posts/10158306303030716

Trump is deeply in debt to Wall Street as well as to the Russians

Wells Fargo. JPMorgan Chase. Fidelity Investments. Prudential PLC. Vanguard Group. These are among the major financial institutions that own business debt held by Donald Trump, according to an investigation just published by the Wall Street Journal.

While the president-elect’s finances remain murky, due largely to his refusal to release his tax returns, the newspaper reports that he owes at least hundreds of millions of dollars, that the debt is held by more than 150 institutions, and that some of it is backed by his personal guarantee. “As a result, a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president,” it states. “If the Trump businesses were to default on their debts, the giant financial institutions that serve as so-called special servicers of these loan pools would have the power to foreclose on some of Mr. Trump’s marquee properties or seek the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Trump personally guaranteed on the loans.”

One wonders whether to be more worried about Big Finance using its leverage to influence the president or the president abusing his power in order to thwart his creditors.

Either way, Trump’s decision to hold on to his opaque business empire while president, rather than liquidating his interests to focus on the good of the country, has created unprecedented conflicts of interest that even a saint would have difficulty navigating in office. In a prior column, I noted a New York Times investigation into a portion of Trump’s business dealings in foreign countries, arguing that in India, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, and other countries besides, there will be countless occasions where the interests of the United States and the interests of the Trump organization diverge.

If the Times story was the best look we’ve gotten at specific conflicts of interest abroad, the Wall Street Journal article is the domestic analog, highlighting facts like this:

Wells Fargo & Co., for example, runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt, according to an analysis of mutual-fund data conducted by Morningstar Inc. for the Journal.

The bank also is a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump. And Wells acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns, according to securities and property filings.

Wells Fargo is currently facing scrutiny from federal regulators surrounding its fraudulent sales practices and other issues. Once he takes office, Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.

The article lists other specific conflicts.

And then there’s this alarming detail: “It is impossible to identify all the firms or individuals that now hold Trump businesses’ securitized debt, as these investments often don’t have to be disclosed.” As a result, it is easy to imagine Trump covertly benefitting or punishing one of his creditors (depending on his analysis of what’s preferable). He needn’t be in a position to directly appoint regulators to do so. He often posts tweets that laud or vilify corporations with huge consequences for their stockholders. How many corporate leaders would quietly forgive debt if the stock of their biggest competitor would be tanked, rather than their own?

This should concern even Americans who voted for Donald Trump. The underlying case here isn’t that he is unusually corrupt, but that the extreme power of the presidency requires a responsible country to put anyone who rises to the position under a microscope. Trump’s unusually big business conflicts create even more problems than usual, temptations to which the vast majority of humans might succumb. If Trump merely behaves as most people would, the country will lose, bigly.

Tens of millions of people will be harmed.

Trump is nevertheless offering less transparency than any predecessor in the modern era, and entering office with both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans who show no inclination to fulfill their responsibility to scrutinize his conflicts. Until members of Congress launch a full probe into Trump’s financial assets and debts, so that at the very least they can understand where his interests and America’s interests diverge, there is no way that they can adequately represent their constituents.

And it is particularly ironic that their historic abdication of responsibility is rooted in partisanship, given that it will benefit a man with no loyalty to the Republican Party.

Trump’s many, many ties to Russia

Since late may, extending up to the November election, Russian intelligence agencies digitally broke into four different American organizations that are affiliated either with Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party since late May. All of the hacks were designed to benefit Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations in one fashion or another.

When asked about this, and his affection for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump said any inference that a connection exists between the two is absurd and the stuff of conspiracy. “I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted after the Democratic National Committee was apparently hacked by Russia and the emails released by Wiki Leaks on the eve of the DNC convention to nominate Clinton as its 2016 presidential candidate.

Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.

The truth, as several columnists and reporters have painstakingly shown since the first hack of a Clinton-affiliated group took place in late May or early June, is that several of Trump’s businesses outside of Russia are entangled with Russian financiers inside Putin’s circle.

So, yes, it’s true that Trump has failed to land a business venture inside Russia. But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What’s more, several of Trump’s senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians.

“The Trump-Russia links beneath the surface are even more extensive,” Max Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.”

 What’s more, three of Trump’s top advisors all have extensive financial and business ties to Russian financiers, wrote Boot, the former editor of the Op Ed page of the Wall Street Journal and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Trump’s de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014. Manafort also has done multimillion-dollar business deals with Russian oligarchs. Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has his own business ties to the state-controlled Russian oil giant Gazprom. … Another Trump foreign policy advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin.

Manafort denounced the New York Times for a deeply reported story that broke over the weekend showing that secret ledgers in Ukraine contained references to $12.7 million in payments earmarked for him. The Times report said that the party of former Ukraine president and pro-Russia ally, Viktor Yanukovych, set aside the payments for Manafort as part of an illegal and previously undisclosed system of payments.

“Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report,” Manafort said in a statement first reported by NBC News. Manafort said that he has never done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia—but that “political payments directed to me” in Ukraine were for his entire political team there that included operatives and researchers.

In response, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, issued a statement: “Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them.”

But it is Trump’s financing from Russian satellite business interests that would seem to explain his pro-Putin sympathies.

The most obvious example is Trump Soho, a complicated web of financial intrigue that has played out in court. A lawsuit claimed that the business group, Bayrock, underpinning Trump Soho was supported by criminal Russian financial interests. While its initial claim absolved Trump of knowledge of those activities, Trump himself later took on the group’s principal partner as a senior advisor in the Trump organization.

“Tax evasion and money-laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model,” the lawsuit said of the financiers behind Trump Soho. The financing came from Russian-affiliated business interests that engaged in criminal activities, it said. “(But) there is no evidence Trump took any part in, or knew of, their racketeering.”

Journalists who’ve looked at the Bayrock lawsuit, and Trump Soho, wonder why Trump was involved at all. “What was Trump thinking entering into business with partners like these?” Franklin Foer wrote in Slate. “It’s a question he has tried to banish by downplaying his ties to Bayrock.”

But Bayrock wasn’t just involved with Trump Soho. It financed multiple Trump projects around the world, Foer wrote. “(Trump) didn’t just partner with Bayrock; the company embedded with him. Bayrock put together deals for mammoth Trump-named, Trump-managed projects—two in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a resort in Phoenix, the Trump SoHo in New York.”

But, as The New York Times has reported, that was only the beginning of the Trump organization’s entanglement with Russian financiers. Trump was quite taken with Bayrock’s founder, Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan.

“Bayrock, which was developing commercial properties in Brooklyn, proposed that Mr. Trump license his name to hotel projects in Florida, Arizona and New York, including Trump SoHo,” the Times reported. “The other development partner for Trump SoHo was the Sapir Organization, whose founder, Tamir Sapir, was from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.”

Trump was eager to work with both financial groups on Trump projects all over the world. “Mr. Trump was particularly taken with Mr. Arif’s overseas connections,” the Times wrote. “In a deposition, Mr. Trump said that the two had discussed ‘numerous deals all over the world’ and that Mr. Arif had brought potential Russian investors to Mr. Trump’s office to meet him. ‘Bayrock knew the people, knew the investors, and in some cases I believe they were friends of Mr. Arif,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘And this was going to be Trump International Hotel and Tower Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, etc., Poland, Warsaw.’”

The Times also reported that federal court records recently released showed yet another link to Russian financial interests in Trump businesses. A Bayrock official “brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians ‘in favor with’ President Vladimir V. Putin,’” the Times reported. “The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a ‘strategic partner,’ along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”

Trump Soho was so complicated that Bayrock’s finance chief, Jody Kriss, sued it for fraud. In the lawsuit, Kriss alleged that a primary source of funding for Trump’s big projects with Bayrock arrived “magically” from sources in Russia and Kazakhstan whenever the business interest needed funding.

There are other Russian business ties to the Trump organization as well. Trump’s first real estate venture in Toronto, Canada, was a partnership with two Russian-Canadian entrepreneurs, Toronto Life reported in 2013.

“The hotel’s developer, Talon International, is run by Val Levitan and Alex Shnaider, two Russian-Canadian entrepreneurs. Levitan made his fortune manufacturing slot machines and creating bank note validation technology, and Shnaider earned his in the post-glasnost steel trade,” it reported.

Finally, for all of his denials of Russian ties, Trump has boasted in the past of his many meetings with Russian oligarchs. During one trip to Moscow, Trump bragged that they all showed up to meet him to discuss projects around the globe. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room” just to meet with him, Trump said at the time.

And when Trump built a tower in Panama, his clients were wealthy Russians, the Washington Post reported. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., said at a real estate conference in 2008, according to a trade publication, eTurboNews.

The only instance that Trump acknowledges any sort of Russian financial connection is a Florida mansion he sold to a wealthy Russian. “What do I have to do with Russia?” Trump said in the wake of the DNC hack. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida… for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions.”  (NOTE:  At the time Trump sold this mansion to his Russian friend for $100 million, he (Trump) had a $40 million loan payment coming due that he was not able to cover — until he got the money for the sale.)

But it should be obvious to anyone trying to pay attention to these moving targets that Trump is saying one thing and doing something else. When it comes to Trump and Russia, the truth may take awhile to emerge.

Bloomberg reported in June that the Clinton Foundation was breached by Russian hackers. “The Russians may also have acquired the emails that Hillary Clinton sent as secretary of State. Putin might be holding back explosive material until October, when its release could ensure a Trump victory,” it reported.

In the 1970s, burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, was forced out of office for the White House cover up of its involvement in the DNC break in.

Now, a generation later, a digital break in to the national headquarters of one of our two major parties by a foreign adversary in order to leak information that benefits the other national party’s presidential candidate seems to be just the normal course of doing business. The Trump era, it is safe to assume, is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.