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Donald Trump’s plan to keep his businesses separate from his presidency doesn’t do that at all.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that on December 15 he will announce that he is “leaving [his] great business in total,” because he feels that it is “visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”

As he insisted to The New York Times in an interview last night, he is not legally “mandated” to do this. “Visually” is a strange word to use here—could he have meant “vitally”?—but it’s a telling choice. Trump sees his numerous conflicts of interest as an optics problem. No such conflict actually exists in his mind, but because the media is insisting that it does, he has to make a change. The problem is that Trump’s plan is just as superficial as his reasoning.

If his children take over his businesses, which Trump has suggested they will, then the conflicts of interest won’t have gone away. As Noah Bookbinder told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “Even if he didn’t have the business interests and his children did, there would be a lot of incentive for companies and countries to try to influence him by giving financial benefits to his children or companies in the form of discounts or special deals that they wouldn’t receive otherwise.”

Any diplomatic negotiation with a country that has a Trump holding or building (or potential holding or building) would be suspect. Trump would effectively be simultaneously negotiating on behalf of the country and his pocketbook. The only way for Trump to truly avoid these conflicts of interest would be to sell his businesses. But Trump won’t do that. Instead, he’ll opt for obfuscation.

March 24, 2017

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Donald Trump is hilariously trying to blame the Democrats for how badly he and Paul Ryan bungled Trumpcare.

Trumpcare went down in flames on Friday and Trump had only himself (and, to a very slightly lesser degree, Paul Ryan) to blame. Trump did a terrible job selling the public and whipping congressmen, showing that he had no understanding of how health care or Congress works. He completely screwed up negotiations with a number of parties by repeatedly and transparently bluffing. It was, moreover, never clear, at least to the public, why Trump and Ryan were pushing health care so fast and why there were doing so now, before tax reform or Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package. Nothing about the American Health Care act made sense—not the content of the bill, not the timing, and not the series of dramatic escalations Trump made over over the past three weeks.

Its failure on Friday, though still shocking, was inevitable from the outset: This was a terrible bill being sold to a Republican Congress that has no idea what it means to be in the majority, by a president who has no idea how to govern. Which, of course, means that Donald Trump blamed the Democrats for the bill’s failure during a very strange press conference in which he was flanked by Tom Price and Mike Pence for some reason:

“We had no Democrat support. They weren’t going to give us a single vote so it’s a very difficult thing to do,” Trump said. “I’ve been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do politically speaking is to let Obamacare explode—it’s exploding right now. ... What would be really good is—when it explodes—if the Democrats got together with us and did a real health care bill. I’d be totally open to it. I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Because now they own it—they own Obamacare. 100 percent. They own health care. This is not a Republican health care. This is not anything but a Democrat health care.”

This is a very odd analysis of the situation. While it’s true that they had no Democratic support, Trump did not reach out to Democrats. More importantly, he and Ryan didn’t need to. The Republicans control the House: They should have been able to pass this bill with zero Democratic support. If they wanted to pass a bipartisan bill, as President Obama wanted to do with the Affordable Care Act in 2010, they could have reached out to negotiate. They didn’t.

That basic fact—that the Republicans are in control of the legislative branch as well as the executive branch—means that the rest of Trump’s statement is just as nutty. Because the Republican Party controls the government, they effectively own health care. They are the ones with the means to fix this system. That Trump is now actively rooting for Obamacare to fail only puts the burden of responsibility even more squarely on his shoulders.

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Ding dong, Trumpcare is dead.

The American Health Care Act, aka Trumpcare, aka Ryancare, aka the worst goddamn bill in living memory, died today, 19 days after it first emerged from its cold womb in the Capitol. The House was scheduled to vote on the bill at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, even though it had been abundantly clear for hours that Speaker Paul Ryan did not have the votes. He told Donald Trump that the bill was cooked over an hour before the vote was scheduled, and looked like he got popped in the jaw in the process.

It’s still not entirely clear who pulled the bill. Trump claimed credit first:

But it is more likely that this was a defensive maneuver, meant to make it look like he was in control of a situation spiraling out of his control. Ryan and House Republicans likely decided not to go through with the politically damaging process of voting on a bill they knew would not pass.

Trump’s decision to take credit for folding the GOP’s cards, however, will have consequences. The supposed master of the deal will begin the next negotiation (and probably every negotiation thereafter) in a weakened position because of it. Trump’s one negotiating tactic for this bill was to bluff and bluff and then bluff some more, going so far as to force his fellow Republicans to vote on something they hate to punish them politically. That bluff has been taken off the table for future use.

Trump and House Republicans have indicated that they simply want to move on and use reconciliation, which they were planning to use for health care, on tax reform instead. But it’s hard to overstate just how badly both Trump and Ryan played this situation. Republicans still control both chambers of Congress, so it’s possible that they’ll be able to pull something together on tax reform. But this debacle has been incredibly damaging to both of them, to the relationship bewteen the White House and Congress, and to the Republican Party in general.

After seven years of screaming about Obamacare, they essentially came together as a party and endorsed it. This is an amazing fact, likely inexplicable to Republican voters who were expecting a swift repeal of a law that was supposedly destroying America. It’s possible that these clowns will take another shot at health care, but given how badly this played out, it seems unlikely, at least in the near future.

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Who cares what John Boehner is doing right now?

As Trumpcare swirls down the toilet bowl of history, it has become fashionable to suggest, wryly, that Paul Ryan’s Obamacare troubles vindicate former House Speaker John Boehner, who faced widespread criticism for his own legislative failures.

Boehner wasn’t any more to blame for Republican problems than anyone else who might lead the party, the thinking goes, and must revel in watching someone else deal with them.

Allow me to politely dissent from this conventional wisdom.

Boehner is an affable guy, and less ideologically stringent than Ryan, which lends him afterglow in this particularly cruel and chaotic moment. George W. Bush benefits from this kind of revisionism, too. But neither man deserves it.

Boehner blew just about every call of his speakership, whether he was trying to lever President Obama into signing conservative bills, or limit losses when Democrats were operating from strength. His biggest accomplishments were budget sequestration, which everyone hates, and a modest agreement he struck at the end of his career with Nancy Pelosi to fix Medicare’s physician reimbursement formula. Not only did he leave no legacy, but he left the political system in far shabbier shape than he found it.

It isn’t a huge leap to think there would be no President Trump had Boehner simply put the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill on the House floor for a vote in 2013. He was widely applauded inside the beltway for mocking his own members, behind closed doors as a bunch of cowards, too scared to pass the bill they promised to pass…

…only to chickenshit out of forcing the issue himself.

The GOP’s current health care fiasco has its roots in Boehner’s unwillingness to insist that conservatives square their ambitions with reality. After Obama won re-election in 2012, Boehner sat down for a primetime interview and said, “Obamacare is the law of the land.” That was true! But within hours he’d allowed himself to be bullied into spending the rest of his speakership pretending repeal was still a viable option, essentially committing Republicans to a position that he knew would grow increasingly toxic as the ACA got implemented and more and more people began to enroll.

Boehner’s a great guy to have a drink with, and I’m sure he mows a mean lawn, but he’s entitled to no more absolution than any other powerful official who loses sight of the public interest.

Pictures of Trump signing things with white men, ranked.

The only thing Trump loves more than the Oval Office (which he likes to stare at) is signing things in the Oval Office surrounded mainly by white lads. Today, he authorized a permit to resume construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and the photograph of this auspicious event joined a growing body of such primary documents. Here are the best photos (so far).

1. Thumbs up for plastic men dumping coal in rivers!

2. When Dodd-Frank makes you feel :[

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3. Raise your hand if you love space and have never seen Hidden Figures! 

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4. None of these boys know where babies come from.   

5. Receding 👏 hairlines 👏 are 👏 in.  

6. And then there was that time Trump got a special toy from the sheriffs. 

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Our country is going to crash and burn all because of these idiots. 

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Trump’s EPA transition leader just blasted Ivanka and Rex Tillerson over climate policy.

Ever since Trump’s election, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell has been leading the charge to permanently hobble the Environmental Protection Agency. He formed a transition team for the agency that included some of the nation’s most prominent climate science deniers, and created a policy document that recommends withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, defunding international climate programs, withdrawing regulations on carbon dioxide and methane emissions, and somehow reversing the Supreme Court’s ruling saying carbon dioxide should be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

But at a conference for climate science deniers on Friday, Ebell said there have been roadblocks to getting these things accomplished. “We do have a problem,” he said. “Swamp creatures are still there. They are trying to infiltrate the administration. And some of them are succeeding.”

Amazingly, Ebell said one of those “swamp creatures” is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil. Ebell blasted Tillerson for suggesting that the U.S. should remain a party to its international agreements to fight climate change, saying Tillerson just wants to “pal around” with diplomats on the subject. “Rex Tillerson may be from Texas, and he may have been CEO of Exxon, but he’s part of the swamp,” Ebell said.

Ebell also called out Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner, who have reportedly been trying to convince the president to not be so awful on climate policy. Perhaps realizing the perils of singling out his former boss’s daughter, Ebell was more restrained with that criticism. “I don’t know that they really want to be identified as swamp creatures, and I’m not willing to do so,” Ebell said. “But at some point it needs to be pointed out that the people who elected Donald J. Trump are not wealthy Manhattanites, including his children.”

The GOP’s frat boy comments about women’s health care are bad. They also highlight Obamacare’s weaknesses.

This week, the ghouls that run our country’s government have revealed a complete lack of understanding of how maternity care works. (Serious question: Do they know where babies come from?) The conservative Freedom Caucus has pushed to eliminate Obamacare’s requirement that insurance plans offered to individuals and small businesses cover “essential health benefits” (EHBs), a list of ten categories that includes preventative care and pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care.

When asked about cutting EHBs, Senator Pat Roberts reminded the world that he, as a man, does not need mammograms:

Then Sean Spicer told reporters that old men don’t need maternity care (despite the fact that his boss had Barron at the ripe old age of 59).

Earlier in the month, Representative John Shimkus asked, “What about men having to purchase prenatal care?”

None of these comments are surprising. They are the same lines these man-children pulled when Democrats were trying to cover maternity care in the Affordable Care Act. They don’t seem to understand that a) pooling risks is how insurance works and b) we shouldn’t put the financial burden of having a child entirely on the mother.

But these statements, however sexist and dumb, also reveal a fundamental weakness of Obamacare. Our current health care system has to stretch individual plans in convoluted ways (such as EHBs) so that they can function as adequate coverage for a variety of conditions. This allows Republicans to continue to spew the rhetoric of “why do I have to pay for x, y, z if I don’t need it,” which is a logical way to think about commodities, but not about health care. The problem is that, as opposed to a single-payer system, health care under Obamacare is more easily cast as a product, instead of a right. It makes it easier for conservatives to undermine the societal goal of pooling risk.

Obamacare pulled us out of the wilderness when it came to women’s health and maternity care. Today, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, said that pregnant women who want maternity care under their plan could just move to a state that mandates maternity coverage. But before the ACA, only nine states mandated maternity benefits. It’s clear that the GOP’s plan would be a disaster for women and that Republican simply don’t care. But their comments point to the way health care in this country could be strengthened.

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Here’s the scenario in which Trumpcare doesn’t crash and burn.

Opponents of the American Health Care Act had cause for optimism Friday morning. After days of wrangling, House Republicans still appeared short of the votes they’d need to pass President Donald Trump’s slapdash replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the Appopriations Committee, came out as a significant No vote.

Trump looked ready to accept defeat, gearing up to blame Speaker Paul Ryan for what would be a crippling debacle. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, was privately grousing that the bill “doesn’t drive down costs” and was “written by the insurance industry,” according to New York magazine. (Breitbart swiftly bannered Bannon’s comments in a splashy homepage headline.)

But as defeat becomes a more palpable reality, circumstances may change. All Republicans need to do is pass a bill in the House—any bill—to get over the toughest hurdle. After that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may totally rewrite it to make it more politically palatable for the Senate. MoveOn’s Ben Wikler has been tweeting as much:

Wikler’s assumption is that the House Freedom Caucus caves both later today and when the Senate sends back its McConnell-written bill. This is, needless to say, a large assumption. The question is whether these Republicans (and others) see their fate tied to Trump, in which case they will pass the bill, or feel that they are better off on their own—in which case it dies.

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Donald Trump does not seem to mind if Trumpcare goes down in flames.

Trump took to Twitter this morning for some last-minute whipping—including this snide shot at the Freedom Caucus.

But Trump’s main pitch still seems halfhearted, especially coming from someone who the right-wing press loves to breathlessly point out is a “marketer.” This is how you sell a $49.99 watch on the Home Shopping Network, not a health care plan that less than a third of Americans think is a good idea:

But even Trump’s more forceful pitch—his, “I thought you guys were against abortion?” quip at the Freedom Caucus—suggests someone who doesn’t really care about the fate of this bill. The abortion language in the bill wouldn’t make it through the Senate and almost certainly violates the Byrd Rule, i.e. it doesn’t meet the standard for passing the bill through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process. Every member of the Freedom Caucus must know that voting for the AHCA because of its anti-abortion language is folly.

Perhaps the weirdest development of the past few days is the fact that it’s become abundantly clear that Trump doesn’t seem to care if this bill lives or dies. The fact that 24 million could end up without health insurance is totally abstract to him. He’s barely been involved in selling the bill to Congress, and Mitch McConnell was reportedly leading the negotiations with the Freedom Caucus and others. (McConnell apparently thinks he can rewrite the bill to his liking as long as it gets past the first hurdle of the House.) When it became clear that Paul Ryan didn’t have the votes, Trump was literally playing with a truck—a reporter had to tell him that the bill wasn’t going to get a vote on Thursday.

Trump seems to know that he screwed up. Late Thursday The New York Times reported that Trump “has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans.” This seems genuine, though it also hints at where this story is going: Paul Ryan will be blamed for the bill’s failure when it fails.

I should say if it fails. Either way, the White House doesn’t seem to care. In fact, losing may be the outcome that they want. Steve Bannon reportedly hates the bill because it doesn’t “drive down costs.” Others in the White House seem ready to move on, and have begun spinning this as if it’s a good thing:

This bill has been out for 19 days. And if Trump thinks he can walk away from this unscathed, he’s kidding himself.

March 23, 2017

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A sexual harassment scandal casts a shadow on University of California, Berkeley and academic philosophy.

John R. Searle, one of the world’s most renowned philosophers, has been named in a sexual harassment lawsuit launched by a former student, Joanna Ong. As Katie J.M. Baker of BuzzFeed reports:

The lawsuit, which lists Searle and the Regents of the University of California as defendants, claims Searle groped Ong in his office after he told her “they were going to be lovers.” He also said he had an “emotional commitment to making her a public intellectual,” the complaint states, and that he was “going to love her for a long time.” Ong turned Searle down and reported him to other UC Berkeley employees, but they did nothing, the complaint states. Instead, Searle cut Ong’s salary and she was eventually fired, according to the complaint, which also claims Searle watched pornography at work and made sexist comments.

The story raises questions not only about Searle’s conduct, but also the possibly enabling environment of Berkeley (which has been rocked by similar scandals before). There might also be a cultural problem with the discipline of philosophy itself. An overwhelmingly male-dominated field, philosophy departments have seen more than their share of high-profile scandals in recent years.  

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I have never enjoyed anything so much as watching Trumpcare bite the dust.

It’s hard to think of a bill that’s had a worse rollout than the American Health Care Act, which was hated by pretty much everyone from its inception. It was a big, unwieldy play doh ball of terrible ideas about health care that would make pretty much everyone’s lives worse, but especially the lives of the old and the poor. That it would make people’s lives worse without making health care any better or more affordable was almost a weird kind of accomplishment. But for these reasons and for others—conservatives wanted it to be even worse—the bill was widely loathed, a giant tax cut disguised as a health care bill that would turn back the clock a decade or more.

The AHCA has now flatlined. The House delayed its vote on the bill on Thursday, a tacit acknowledgment that after three torturous weeks of incompetent negotiating, they did not have the votes to repeal the hated Obamacare in a chamber that they control. The bill appears to have fallen apart after the thirsty right-wing members of the Freedom Caucus went to the White House to demand even more concessions and were rebuffed. But even if the Freedom Caucus had gotten what they wanted, the bill still may not have passed the House. There were signs that moderates would have balked, unwilling to sign their names to something that would likely die in the Senate anyway for being insanely draconian.

Of course, the AHCA is not quite dead yet. The House will take it up again either on Friday or early next week, and probably with significant changes that will make the bill even more regressive. At the very least, it looks like the Republicans will be stuck on health care for much longer than Paul Ryan initially expected.

More than anything else, this is an indictment of Donald Trump’s leadership and his presidency. This was his first big test and he failed it miserably. He was unable to whip the votes, showing no command over the issue, the bill, or the legislative process. His own deep unpopularity, combined with multiple bombshells involving his campaign’s involvement with Russia, certainly didn’t help things. But no one hurts himself more than Donald Trump, who, far from being the greatest negotiator ever, clearly has no idea what he’s doing.

When he emerged to make his first public comment on the no-vote, he was wearing an I <3 Trucks pin. Like a big boy.