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The concept of Manchester United has lost all meaning.

There was a time not so long ago when soccer fans took team integrity seriously. Back in 2010, when Wayne Rooney was considering taking his talents to United’s crosstown rival Manchester City, a few dozen United supporters in balaclavas showed up at his home with a big banner that read, “If you join City you’re dead.” Perhaps even more chilling was the severed pig’s head that was thrown at the feet of Luis Figo in 2002, when he returned to Camp Nou after joining Barcelona’s arch-nemesis Real Madrid.

This is in no way to condone terrible behavior. It is to note that the world of soccer has come a long way since then, to the point that Jose Mourinho, once bitterly loathed by United fans, can waltz into Old Trafford and it’s just the way the world works. Louis van Gaal revealed himself to be a demented despot, and no one is sad to see him go even if he did secure an FA Cup victory. But for a team to exist in any meaningful sense it must have some semblance of an identity. It was weird enough when Arsenal’s longtime striker Robin Van Persie moved to United in 2012. Mourinho, who made his name at Chelsea, has always been everything Manchester United isn’t, the anti-United. The only way this makes any sense is if Manchester United, metaphysically speaking, no longer exists.

March 30, 2017

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North Carolina replaces its transgender bathroom bill for the love of ... college basketball.

Not, you know, for its transgender citizens. The strategy of boycotting states that pass discriminatory laws seemed to pay off in North Carolina this Thursday, as the state House passed a new “compromise” bill that replaces HB2, its so-called transgender bathroom bill. The nail in the coffin seemed to be the NCAA’s threat to cross North Carolina off its list of championship hosting sites for the next five years if it didn’t repeal HB2. The bill is expected to be signed into law by the state’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who ran on a platform to repeal HB2.

However, what some are calling a repeal looks to many LGBT advocates like a bait-and-switch. The new HB 142 imposes a moratorium until 2020 that restricts localities from passing any new anti-discrimination ordinances, and leaves it up to the conservative state legislature to approve any new measures regulating access to bathrooms. This leaves trans people in a legal limbo, with no new protections and the status quo (where gender identity was not protected) enshrined. Ultimately, they still can’t use the bathroom in peace.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against HB2 said today that “lawmakers are choosing basketball over transgender rights.” But perhaps the clearest sign that the law is not exactly a step forward might be former Governor Pat McCrory’s endorsement of it.

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Devin Nunes’s dumb stunt is falling apart and he is pulling the White House down with him.

Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been under fire recently for declaring that he had information from an anonymous source claiming that the government “incidentally” collected some of the Trump team’s communications before the inauguration. It sure looked like Nunes was providing political cover for the president, who had claimed that Barack Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower—a claim that everyone (including Nunes!) has acknowledged is bunk.   

Nunes, who rushed to the White House with this information, refused to disclose who his sources were. But then it was reported that he had made a secret trip to the White House the night before his infamous press conference. Was the White House his source? Nunes tried to downplay this revelation, saying that he was indeed meeting his sources there, but that he only chose the White House because he needed a secure location (this is not a great excuse—the Capitol building would have worked just as well). This possible collusion was a pretty bad look for Nunes, who is supposed to be leading an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russian government. 

Today, the New York Times reported that two White House officials helped provide Nunes with information: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, national security lawyer at the White House Counsel’s Office and Nunes’s former staffer. Interestingly enough, Donald Trump recently personally overruled H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, to save Cohen-Watnick’s job. (Cohen-Watnick was a Michael Flynn hire.) 

The timeline is important here. Trump saved Cohen-Watnick’s job after he tweeted the allegation that Obama had tapped his phones, but before Nunes’s press conference. (It also appears that Nunes rushed to the White House with his information after receiving his information from ... the White House.) According to the Times, “The officials said that earlier this month, shortly after Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter about being wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.”

Furthermore, it appears the government wasn’t really monitoring Trump. The Times says the “reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.”

Chuck Schumer has already called upon Paul Ryan to push for Nunes’s recusal from the investigation. After previously denying that the White House was involved in Nunes’s stunt, Sean Spicer is now issuing non-denials. Nunes might have been trying to provide cover for Trump, but his massive bungle is pulling the White House down with him. 

Canada’s Lactate-gate scandal, explained.

Last Sunday, the Globe and Mail posted an article by columnist Leah McLaren describing how, approximately ten years ago, she almost breast-fed the infant son of Michael Chong, a prominent conservative politician. In the most embarrassing passage of an ill-conceived column, McLaren wrote:

I walked into a bedroom with coats piled high on the bed and noticed that in the corner, sitting wide awake in a little portable car seat, was the cutest baby I’d ever seen. On the table beside him was a monitor. I smiled at the baby, the baby smiled back. Now this was a connection.

I leaned over and gingerly picked him up and then sat down in a chair to give him a cuddle. He felt gorgeous in my arms, all warm and lumpy and milky-smelling in the way small babies are. Somehow, my pinky finger ended up in his mouth and I was astonished at strength of his sucking reflex. “C’mon lady,” said his eyes. And I suddenly knew what he wanted. And I of course wanted to give him what he wanted. The only problem was, I had no milk. But would it be so bad, I wondered, if I just tried it out—just for a minute—just to see what it felt like?

I looked at the baby monitor as if it might be watching me, but thankfully this was before monitors had cameras.

Then slowly, carefully so as not to jostle the infant, I began to unbutton my blouse. Just as I was reaching into my bra, a shortish man with in a navy suit walked into the room.

The man who walked in was Michael Chong. McLaren handed the baby over to him, bringing to a close an episode that she now acknowledges was “wrong and rude and frankly a bit weird of me.”

The Globe and Mail quickly removed the article but it still exists in a cached form and has garnered international attention. The Globe and Mail has now suspended McLaren and forbidden her from talking to the press.

But Lactate-gate, as the scandal deserves to be called, isn’t over yet. After all, there must have been editors who approved of the story before publication. What did they know about the attempted breastfeeding and when did they know it?

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John Conyers’s Medicare for All bill gains steam in the wake of Trumpcare’s failure.

The office of the Democratic representative from Michigan tells the New Republic that his Medicare for All bill now has 78 co-sponsors, with today’s addition of Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida.

“I have been introducing the Medicare For All bill every session of Congress since 2003, and I’m the longest serving member of Congress. I have never seen more enthusiasm and energy behind this issue than what I’m seeing today,” Conyers said in a statement. “I will keep introducing this bill as long as it takes because access to health care—not just health insurance, but quality, affordable care—is a universal right, not a privilege for those who can afford it.”

Conyers has introduced the bill yearly in the House since 2003, to varying degrees of support from fellow Democrats. Seventy-eight co-sponsors is the most it’s had since 2009, and though it’s DOA in a Republican-controlled government, its renewed popularity is a source of optimism for single-payer backers on the Hill. It comes at an auspicious time, as Democrats move from their tentative victory in keeping Obamacare alive to a new health care reform message for 2018 and beyond.

A congressional aide with knowledge of the situation tells the New Republic that single-payer is “a winning message.”

“The will is there at the grassroots. The will is there among progressives which are the Democratic base. The will is there among the constituents of more moderate and centrist Democrats,” he said. “It’s just a question of if the party wants to decide to do something smart for a change.”

He added, “I hope that the [Democratic] caucus decides to make it a campaign issue because I think it would work a lot better than some of the things we’ve been trying.”

Update: Conyers’s office now says that Reps. David Price and Gene Green have signed the bill, bringing the number of co-sponsors to 80.

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Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is coming to HBO, which could be a very good thing.

The Italian production companies Wildside and Fandango have planned a 32-episode series to cover all four Neapolitan Novels, while HBO has only signed on to eight episodes so far. The project will be filmed in Italian, with English subtitles, and will likely premiere in 2018.

Considering the novels’ explosive popularity around the world, it was probably inevitable that they’d be adapted to either film or television. Still, adapting a series that is not only widely beloved, but also the center of so many fraught conversations on gender and authorship and privacy, could be a recipe for a minefield. This is also the team (HBO and Wildside) that brought us The Young Pope earlier this year, so treading lightly may not necessarily be their strong suit.

Saverio Costanzo, the Italian director who will helm the series, called the books “very literary but also very cinematographic.” Indeed, the novels have been compared to soap operas, since they feature themes of jealousy and betrayal, as well as ever-rotating romantic pairings. This is not to diminish the intellectual gravity of Ferrante’s novels, but rather to grant those traditionally marginalized and feminized forms of narrative artistic weight. The reimagined soap opera has been having a good couple years in TV, with shows like Jane The Virgin (which plays off the telenovela) and the imminent return of Twin Peaks (which David Lynch styled off American soaps).

It is also a small comfort that Ferrante herself will apparently co-write the series. If it can balance those more TV-ready themes with the novels’ nuanced explorations of Italian feminism and class struggle, it could make for some pretty groundbreaking television.


House Republicans can’t even agree on a meeting. How do they hope to pass a health care bill?

The GOP has been a shambles since the epic failure of Trumpcare last Friday. Donald Trump clearly has no idea what to do next, except to be mad online at the hard-right Freedom Caucus. Now, Paul Ryan and House Republicans are kicking around the idea of resuscitating health care reform.

That is, if they can get different factions to even meet. According to Axios Presented by the Dharma Initiative, talks about health care moving forward have already deteriorated. There was supposed to be a meeting yesterday between the Tuesday Group, the Freedom Caucus, and the Republican Study Committee. It never happened. Actually, whether a meeting was ever on the table is also a subject for them to fight over. As reported by Axios: “A Tuesday Group source denied a meeting between the 3 groups was ever agreed to. But there were discussions between the 3 groups to have a meeting to hash it out, and a Freedom Caucus source believes the group reneged on the deal.”

We know the GOP is not playing 4D-chess. But at this point it looks like they are not even playing Connect Four.

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Donald Trump has no idea what to do next.

Immediately after House Republicans’ pitiful attempt at health care reform failed, the conventional wisdom—pushed by Trump himself—was that the White House was moving on, and fast. Trump talked about using budget reconciliation—a parliamentary maneuver that conveniently requires zero votes from Democrats—for tax reform, which, like Obamacare, has long been a goal of congressional Republicans and the special interests and superrich people who fund them.

But a few days later, it was reported that Trump was considering pushing tax reform and a huge infrastructure package simultaneously—perhaps to lure Democrats into some kind of Grand Bargain. Then it came out that Trump actually didn’t want to give up on health care reform just yet, and that Mike Pence had been dispatched to the Capitol to see if he could strike a deal with House Republicans. All this even though Mitch McConnell made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the Senate taking on Obamacare repeal after it bombed so spectacularly in the lower chamber.

Trump’s tenth week in office, in contrast to the feverish activity of his ninth, seems like a hangover week for everyone. Republicans are icing the bruises they got from repeatedly punching themselves in the face, and Democrats seem to have grown a bit tired of winning, as Trump, ironically, promised they would. On Thursday morning, Axios Presented By Alexander Strategy Group reported that Trump—whose inner circle consists of past business associates, old campaign hands, and his own family—wants to widen his net. “Friends who talk frequently to Trump,” wrote Mike Allen, “tell us the president will make one big change in response to the health-care fiasco: In the constant check-in phone calls for which he’s famous, he’s going to talk with a wider array of people—and include more Democrats.”

Democratic outreach has been pushed by Trump’s friend Chris Ruddy. Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is using it as a stick to keep Republicans in line: “What I worry about, Norah, is that if we don’t [pass a GOP health care bill], then [Trump will] just go work with Democrats to try and change Obamacare and that’s not—that’s hardly a conservative thing,” he told Norah O’Donnell of CBS News. “[I]f this Republican Congress allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I worry we’ll push the president into working with Democrats, he’s been suggesting that as much.”

Trump muddied the waters further on Thursday with a tweet castigating both his potential allies on the right and left.

Trump’s Democratic outreach might be in earnest or it might be a threat. But, like every other piece of Trump’s agenda, it is up in the air right now because Trump himself has no idea what policy to push or what coalition to form.

March 29, 2017

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Republicans’ sneaky plan to smother future environmental regulations just passed the House.

The Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act, which passed on Wednesday by a 228-194 vote, is a pernicious attempt to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from creating rules to protect the environment and public health.

The bill, introduced by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, requires the EPA to only use scientific studies for which all data is publicly available and the results are easily reproducible. This is much harder to do than it sounds. Many public health studies use private medical data, while others contain trade secrets and industry data. Moreover, public health studies are impossible to reproduce when, say, they’re based on one-time pollution events or on people who have died since the study was conducted.

David Stevenson, a member of Trump’s EPA transition team, told me last week that the HONEST Act would be instrumental in preventing regulations of carbon dioxide and other pollutions. “Almost everything that has been done in the last 10, 11, 12 years would not pass the standards [under the bill],” he said. “The Clean Power Plan, ozone regulations, particulate matter regulations—everything has been built on science that has not been peer-reviewed, that the data’s not visible, or that there’s only been one person doing the study.”

There isn’t yet a version of the HONEST Act in the Senate, and some of its leading opponents believe the Senate wouldn’t have the votes to pass it as a standalone bill. But they worry it could be slipped into a must-pass appropriations bill.


Are House Republicans really gearing up to get clowned on health care again?

Just five days after one of the most embarrassing self-owns in political history, Bloomberg reports that House Republicans are considering holding a vote on repealing Obamacare in only two weeks. Bloomberg says that “members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who helped derail the bill, have been talking with some Republican moderate holdouts in an effort to identify changes that could bring them on board with the measure.” One member, Oregon Representative Greg Walden, even joked that it was high time for a political resurrection. “We’re approaching the Easter season,” Walden said. “Some things rise from the dead.”

In sacred texts, yes—but the Capitol is about as far from the Holy Land as you can get. While the whispers that health care isn’t quite dead have been growing louder—I wrote about them yesterday—the probability of House Republicans going through with this plan seems to be slim, especially considering that no one has yet to offer any changes to the American Health Care Act, one of the most hated bills ever.

That Republican House members would be risking failure mere weeks after a colossal blow to their credibility makes this even less plausible. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are moving on: “It’s pretty obvious we were not able, in the House, to pass a replacement. Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place, and I think we’re just going to have to see how that works out,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “We believe it will not work out well, but we’ll see.”

These should not be comforting words to House Republicans who wish to hold a vote. It’s possible that the point is to send a bad bill up to the Senate, where it will die. This would kill two birds—the bill and the ability to claim that the House passed a repeal bill—with one stone.

But that is a 4D chess explanation, which does not fit the blundering political maneuvering that we’ve seen from House Republicans. (If this was the plan, moreover, House Republicans would have passed the AHCA last week.) More likely than not, they are using this as an opportunity to quiet raging donors who are furious that they botched health care reform. “If both the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group can agree on some things, then we’re in good shape,” Representative Morgan Griffiths told Bloomberg. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the status of the bill—it will require hardliners and so-called moderates to come together and, from what we’ve seen over the past month, that’s not going to happen.


Ivanka makes the nepotism official.

This afternoon it was reported in the New York Times that daddy’s dearest daughter will become an official government employee: an unpaid adviser to her father. For all intents and purposes, Ivanka, who has shown up to a lot of meetings with foreign dignitaries, was already doing this job. Only a week ago, she moved into an office in the West Wing, and faced backlash for the questionable ethics of being an unofficial employee. (As Norm Eisen told Politico, “If she can voluntarily subject herself to the rules, she can voluntarily un-subject herself to the rules.”)

Making her role official is an attempt to sidestep this criticism. In a statement, Ivanka said, “I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.” But this is akin to putting a Band-aid on a bullet wound. The Trump family has already ignored a host of ethical guidelines, and the new position doesn’t solve Ivanka’s particular conflict-of-interest problems; while Ivanka put her fashion and jewelry line into a trust, she still owns it.