The first presidential debate will include: some topics.

Today, NBC’s Lester Holt, who will moderate the first debate, announced the topics he selected. They are as follows:

  • America’s Direction
  • Achieving Prosperity
  • Securing America

These topics are topics in the most generous sense of the word. Forget things like Social Security, Syria, or paid leave. This debate will answer: What’s the deal with America, man? Even my fourth grade American history teacher (a class that still exists, despite David Brooks’s insistence otherwise) wouldn’t have accepted these as topics for a paper on presidential debates. In fact, they would fit better as part of a BuzzFeed quiz titled, “Presidential Debate Topics or Names of Super PACs?”

If these are the topics that Lester Holt chose, then the real question is, what are the ones that he nixed?

March 29, 2017

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The Trump Organization is planning to expand its hotel empire, which surely is just a coincidence.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s company is readying a “nationwide expansion,” including a second hotel in Washington, D.C.:

Representatives of the Trump Organization, now run by the president’s adult sons, have inquired in recent months about converting one of several boutique, medium-sized hotels in upscale neighborhoods in and near downtown and reopening it under the company’s new Scion brand.

Unlike the luxurious Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Trump and his family own, the more affordable Scion hotels would be owned by other developers who would pay the Trumps’ company for licensing rights and management.

The head of the Trump Organization’s hotel division told the Post that he’s signed “over 30” preliminary agreements for similar licensing deals around the country, suggesting the Trump brand name might not be as commercially toxic as some reports have suggested.

A second D.C. hotel would give Trump even more opportunity to personally profit by doing business in the nation’s capital. The existing Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue is raising ethics concerns for providing paying guests—including foreign diplomats—with proximity to the president, who makes routine visits. Though Trump turned over management of the Trump Organization to his adult children, he is still the owner, and thus would profit from the planned Scion expansion.

As this latest news proves, Trump’s rapid ascent in politics has been good for business. “Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview recently that he familiarized himself with other markets—and potential partners—while on the campaign trail for his father,” the Post reported. “The sons have said they are minimizing contact with their father except to provide basic updates on the business.”

Those “basic updates,” however, include quarterly financial reports about the company—so President Trump will know exactly how well his self-enrichment scheme is going.


The Mercers will spend millions to try to save Trump’s presidency.

Bloomberg reported this morning that the Mercer family, the cat-loving billionaires who helped get Trump elected to the White House, are reaching into their deep, deep wallets to try to bail Trump out. (If you want to know more about the Mercers, Jane Mayer’s latest is a must-read.) Making America Great, the non-profit run by Rebekah Mercer, the Mercer daughter dubbed “First Lady of the alt-right,” is reportedly spending $1 million in TV ads and $300,000 in digital campaigns to boost Trump. According to Bloomberg, they are focusing their money in D.C., along with “ten states Trump carried in the presidential election where a Democratic senator is up for re-election in 2018.”

The ads run through his purported accomplishments: the new job numbers, reducing EPA regulations, Keystone XL, and withdrawing from TPP. Health care, of course, is not mentioned.

With an impressively low approval rating of 36 percent, the president needs all the help he can get. It only looks like it’s going to get worse for the biggest boy in the land—the hole that the administration has dug with Russia is getting deeper, not helped by Devin Nunes’s latest bungles. And, staring down the barrel of a potential government shutdown next month, Trump might have to stall on plans to build the wall, his other big campaign promise to his voters.

The Mercers have their work cut out for them. But don’t underestimate the power of literal bags of money. After all, last time the Mercers invested in politics, they pulled off the biggest dark money swindle this country has seen and put Trump—along with Mercer buddies Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway—into the Oval Office.

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It’s amazing that Britain is going to spend the next two years doing this crap.

Theresa May, keeper of one of the best chains in the rap game, formally began Brexit on Wednesday by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The divorce proceedings between Great Britain and the EU must now end in two years. “This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws,” May said.“We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain—a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.”

This, of course, conveniently overlooks the fact that young Britons voted overwhelmingly—by a 3-1 margin—to remain in the European Union.

Immediately after the surprise vote to leave the European Union in July, there was some hope that those who wished to remain in the EU would be able to ultimately prevail and stop the divorce. But that never came to pass (to be fair, neither did the recession many predicted).

Nigel Farage, the living embodiment of every imaginable British stereotype (particularly the colonial ones), is happy and that’s never a good thing.

Despite the hopes of May and Farage, leaving the EU will be a costly process, sucking up valuable resources that could be spent in less self-destructive ways. The list of things that must be done is daunting, including fashioning a whole new immigration system and negotiating a new treaty with the EU. It will also be a lengthy one—two years is a long time to continuously punch yourself in the face.

It’s tempting to feel superior in moments like this, but Brexit will theoretically be over on March 29, 2019. We’ll have to wait another 20 months for our version to Brexit to (maybe) end.

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Devin Nunes’s defense of Trump might lead to an ethics investigation.

At a press conference last Tuesday Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “First, I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting. Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. And fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities, or of the Trump team.”

These words, and follow-up comments in which Nunes confirmed the existence of foreign surveillance warrants, revealed classified information. As such, they seem to put Nunes at odds with the rules of the House Intelligence Committee. Citing legal experts, the Daily Beast notes that Nunes might have run afoul of rules stating, “The Committee on Ethics shall investigate any unauthorized disclosure of intelligence or intelligence-related information.”

If Nunes does in fact have to answer to an investigation, that could intensify the push from members of both parties to have him recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government during the last election.

March 28, 2017

Via Giphy

Uber’s first diversity report confirms what we already know: It’s bro heaven.

The ride-sharing company has been in extended damage control mode. Its reputation has taken a steady beating in recent months for workplace harassment and corporate espionage charges, not to mention the apparent (and potentially lethal) failure of its self-driving vehicles. But the company’s diversity report, released Tuesday, does little to dispel the image of the company as a white male–dominated bro-zone. It isn’t a surprise that a company whose CEO once called it “Boob’er” (because it helped him get dates) would not be able to transform its culture overnight. Still, the numbers illuminate how pervasive its diversity problem is.

Before we can even get to the numbers, the report foreshadows how its efforts might go south. The names of the “employee resource groups” tasked with addressing diversity concerns appear to burden the very people most affected by Uber’s lack of diversity. UberHUE (for black diversity and inclusion), Los Ubers (for Latino and Hispanic employees), UberABLE (for employees with disabilities)—you get the picture. If this is the beginning of efforts to transform the company culture, then perhaps these names should also be sent to the chopping block.

Now for the numbers: Uber’s global tech leadership is nearly 90 percent male, and in the U.S. it is 75 percent white. It isn’t much better across the board, as men hold a staggering 85 percent of tech jobs all over the world; in the U.S., just 1 percent of its tech workforce identified as black and 2 percent as Hispanic. Men hold more than two-thirds of the jobs in the U.S. workforce alone.

True to its macho roots, the company’s new human resources officer spun the company’s travails to The New York Times in blindingly aggressive terms: “Every strength, in excess, is a weakness.” There was no word, of course, on the diversity numbers of Uber’s massive driver fleet, which the company does not count as its employees.

Mark Wilson / Staff

Appalachia is trying to diversify its economy. Trump isn’t helping.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced today that it has invested a further $2.4 million to support economic diversification projects in its service area. According to an official press release, ARC has now invested $75.5 million to help the region transition from a coal-dominated mono-economy to a more robust economic environment.

ARC could do more if it was properly funded. From the press release:

Since March 2016, when ARC first announced funding availability through the POWER Initiative, the Commission has received more than $280 million in funding requests for ideas to revitalize Appalachia’s economy.  With funds made available to date, the Commission has been able to fund only one-quarter of these proposals.

These funds help local diversification projects, often started by grassroots environmental activists determined to help their communities survive the death of coal. And that death is inevitable, despite Trump’s executive order today, which he claims will bring coal jobs back. 

The order won’t save coal. The industry has been in decline since World War II due to a combination of factors that include competition from other energy industries and automation. The latter problem isn’t likely to disappear; in fact, it’s probably going to get worse. Coal is reaching the end of its poisonous life, and Trump’s so-called “Energy Independence” order effectively sentences Appalachia to more poverty. 

It also sentences the region to more environmental degradation: The order rolls back environmental regulations that banned the development of coal mines on public land.

As Virginia Senator Mark Warner tweeted earlier this afternoon, there is another way for Trump to help miners: 

If miners are that important to him and to the GOP, they’d get behind the Act—and fund ARC instead of threatening to kill it. But Trump doesn’t care about miners, and neither does the GOP. They care about coal companies, they care about profit, and they care about using these people as political props. The Energy Independence order will destroy the communities ARC is trying to save. 

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Fox News is making a habit of racist attacks on Maxine Waters.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly mocked the California congresswoman on Tuesday during a Fox & Friends segment about remarks she had made against President Donald Trump on the House floor. As footage showed Waters talking earnestly about the dangers Trump poses to democracy, O’Reilly mugged for the camera in a split-screen, patronizingly mouthing “that’s right” and “right on.” He pumped his fist and smiled smugly. Then, when the clip ended, O’Reilly declared, “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

The “wig,” of course, is Waters’s hair. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt challenged O’Reilly for “going after a woman’s looks,” but it only got worse from there.

“I love James Brown,” O’Reilly said, “but it’s the same hair James Brown—the godfather of soul—had. Whatever it is I just couldn’t get by it.”

Perhaps feeling defensive, he then went on a condescending riff about how Waters is “a sincere individual—whatever she says she believes. She’s not a phony, and that’s old school. We’re giving Maxine a break here.”

Hardly. O’Reilly may have had playful intent—he professed to love Waters before the segment ended—but it’s totally disrespectful. (Update: O’Reilly has reportedly apologized.)

This isn’t the first time Fox News has used racism to mock Waters. In 2012, The Five co-host Eric Bolling said this about her: “Congresswoman, you saw what happened to Whitney Houston. Step away from the crack pipe. Step away from the Xanax.”

Donald Trump eats salad?

At the White House press briefing today, Sean Spicer delivered what was clearly a rehearsed quip to respond to questions about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. “If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection,” Spicer asserted.

His joke fell flat for a variety of reasons. First, it’s hard to imagine Donald Trump eating salad, given his generally unhealthy diet. Second, in trying to underscore the point, he became belligerent and rude to reporter April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks. “Report the facts!” Spicer commanded. “I’m sorry that disgusts you. You’re shaking your head.” While Spicer tried to joke it off, it’s almost as if this whole Russia story is hitting close to home.


The White House says it’s “not familiar” with the economic impacts of climate change.

The whole reason President Donald Trump is releasing a wide-ranging executive order today to dismantle a bunch of America’s climate change policies is because he says it will be good for the economy. On a call with reporters Monday night to discuss the executive order, one unnamed senior White House official said Trump is “not going to pursue climate or environmental policies that put the U.S. economy at risk.”

But when this official was pressed with the fact that climate change poses grave economic risks of its own, he froze. “I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about,” he said, challenging the reporter to show him the research. Here’s the full exchange:

REPORTER: What about all the scientists who are saying climate change is going to have adverse economic consequences—things like rising sea levels, more hazardous hurricanes—how do you address those economic arguments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, you’ll have to talk to those scientists.  Maybe I can talk to you afterward.  I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about.  But again, the President’s policy is very clear about addressing—making sure we’re addressing the economy, providing people with jobs, and we’re making sure that EPA is sticking to its core mission.

REPORTER: Are you saying you’re not aware that scientists are concerned about rising sea levels or more violent storms might impact the economy—

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would want to see the research.  Sure, that would be good.  Show it to me.

Think about this for a second. The Trump administration is unraveling the best chance we have at slowing human-caused climate change, solely because he says it will improve the economy. But Trump’s advisers have apparently not considered how climate change’s impacts on agricultural productivity, human health, and property value will hurt the economy. Hell, they’re not even “familiar” with the idea that it might.  

This isn’t just some environmental talking point: Huge public companies regularly file risk disclosures saying climate change threatens their bottoms lines. Big insurance companies like Allianz, Liberty Mutual, and SwissRe warn the government must prepare for climate-fueled extreme weather events to avoid passing costs on to them. In the 2014 report “Risky Business,” bigwigs like billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson warn of dire economic consequences if warming isn’t tackled. By 2050, it says $106 billion worth of coastal property could sink below sea level, while crop yields could be reduced by up to 70 percent in some states because of extreme heat.

For a presidential administration that is basing its climate policy on the idea that it’s good for the American economy, these seem like ridiculous things to not be “familiar with.”

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Are Republicans seriously going to try to repeal Obamacare again?

On Friday, Paul Ryan said that Obamacare was “the law of the land.” Donald Trump indicated that he was going to move on to tax reform and that health care would be shelved. But on Tuesday—four days after the American Health Care Act was spared a humiliating, resounding “no” vote in the House at the last minute—there are signs that Obamacare repeal is still on the table.

Members of the Freedom Caucus spent the weekend saying that they weren’t ready to move on. On Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks, a member of the Freedom Caucus—the group that Trump blamed for blowing the Obamacare repeal bill—said he was planning on filing a discharge petition to force a vote on full repeal of Obamacare, an extraordinary move from a member of a majority party in Congress.

But Brooks may not need to. Later Tuesday morning, The New York Times reported that the White House is still pushing Obamacare repeal: “House Republican leaders and the White House, under extreme pressure from conservative activists, have restarted negotiations on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with House leaders declaring that Democrats were celebrating the law’s survival prematurely.” Vice President Pence is leading talks.

It’s too early to tell how seriously to take this report. Congressional Republicans and the White House are indeed under an enormous amount of pressure from conservative groups who believe that they reneged on a promise to repeal Obamacare. (Which they did!) But they were under that pressure when the bill fell apart as well. The activist groups that are pushing for full repeal, as the events of the last month have shown, also appear to be at odds with the rest of the country—there’s no indication whatsoever that a different repeal bill would fare any better in opinion polling.

Republicans face an existential problem when dealing with health care: To please extremists they alienate many so-called moderates; while Trump remains popular with Republicans, his overall unpopularity weakens his ability to hold the congressional coalition together. That calculus means that for a bill to pass either chamber of Congress, let alone both, it would probably require Democratic support, which is simply not going to happen while Donald Trump occupies the White House.

Trump is also signaling that he wants to move on to infrastructure and tax reform—and to do both simultaneously. If true, he clearly doesn’t have the bandwith to do health care as well. And that leads to what is probably the inevitable conclusion here: The GOP is keeping the door open on health care to have something to run on in 2018, or at least to minimize the damage it took from the disastrous attempt to repeal Obamacare.