July 27, 2017 in 3,860 words

Why Putin chose Trump to get even with Clinton

A lesson in pipeline diplomacy

During a 2014 installment of CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) noted, “… without American leadership organizing Europe and the world, you see people like Putin, who has an economy the size of Italy — he’s playing a poker game with a pair of 2s and winning.”

Graham’s down-home analysis is both correct and more pertinent to today’s endless Trump/Russia news cycle than has been reported.

The Russian GDP is barely half that of France these days, despite the fact the Russians produce more natural gas than anyone on Earth with the exception of the U.S., while also being the third largest producer of oil.

The Russian GDP has contracted to less than one-tenth of that of the U.S. and it no longer ranks in the top 10 of global economies, according to the 2017 estimates of the International Monetary Fund.

A pair of 2s may be overstating it.

To Punish Putin, Economic Sanctions Are Unlikely to Do the Trick

President Trump met with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, during the Group of 20 summit meeting this month in Hamburg, Germany.

Kim Jong-un was still in college in 2006 when the United Nations Security Council, in a resolution drafted by the United States, imposed economic sanctions on his father’s regime to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power.

Washington enlisted the cooperation of China, the only country with the capacity to sever North Korea’s economic lifeline. Ratcheting up the punishment last year, Congress passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, aiming for the nation’s economic jugular.

It failed. This month, Mr. Kim — supreme leader since the death of his father in 2011 — tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that could feasibly deliver a nuclear warhead all the way to Alaska.

This week Congress is expected to add to its arsenal of international deterrents, writing into law a panoply of economic penalties against Russia and — critically — curtailing President Trump’s ability to lift them on his own.

Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the rich won’t make America great again

The president thinks lower taxes and deregulation will solve the US’s problems. They won’t work, because they never have.

Donald Trump smiles while meeting female small business owners.

Although America’s rightwing plutocrats may disagree about how to rank the country’s major problems – for example, inequality, slow growth, low productivity, opioid addiction, poor schools, and deteriorating infrastructure – the solution is always the same: lower taxes and deregulation, to “incentivise” investors and “free up” the economy. Donald Trump is counting on this package to make America great again.

It won’t, because it never has. When Ronald Reagan tried it in the 1980s, he claimed that tax revenues would rise. Instead, growth slowed, tax revenues fell, and workers suffered. The big winners in relative terms were corporations and the rich, who benefited from dramatically reduced tax rates.

Trump has yet to advance a specific tax proposal. But, unlike his administration’s approach to healthcare legislation, lack of transparency will not help him. While many of the 32 million people projected to lose health insurance under the current proposal don’t yet know what’s coming, that is not true of the companies that will get the short end of the stick from Trump’s tax reform.

Here’s Trump’s dilemma. His tax reform must be revenue neutral. That’s a political imperative: with corporations sitting on trillions of dollars in cash while ordinary Americans are suffering, lowering the average amount of corporate taxation would be unconscionable – and more so if taxes were lowered for the financial sector, which brought on the 2008 crisis and never paid for the economic damage. Moreover, Senate procedures dictate that to enact tax reform with a simple majority, rather than the three-fifths supermajority required to defeat an almost-certain filibuster by opposition Democrats, the reform must be budget-neutral for 10 years.

When the President Calls You ‘Sleazy’ on Twitter

Representative Adam Schiff reflects on a moment he probably knew was coming.

In some of his first public remarks since the president of the United States declared him “sleazy,” Adam Schiff denied the allegation, which Donald Trump made via Twitter this week. Trump “chose a poor descriptor because I don’t think that’s people’s impression of me,” the mellow Democrat from California told me. “I’ve been called a lot of things, but ‘sleazy’ isn’t one of them.”

Until, that is, the president branded him as the “totally biased Congressman looking into ‘Russia’” who “spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!” (“Sleazy” is a word that Trump has also affixed to Ted Cruz and Anthony Weiner.) And thus, in an instant, ended Schiff’s 57-year run of not being called sleazy. Schiff has since been widely described as such, in Twitter hashtags and by journalists reporting the day’s news, by legions of critics online, and even by some supporters hoping to reclaim the term. A colleague reached out to say he wanted to create a campaign button with the slogan, “I’m with sleazy,” Schiff recalled.

“My initial reaction [to Trump’s tweet] was I felt like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters—that I’d just been slimed,” said Schiff, who learned that the commander in chief had cast aspersions on his character shortly before boarding a flight from California to Washington, D.C.

“After being kind of amused by it, it really distressed me that the office of the presidency had sunk to this,” Schiff added.

When the White House Lies About You

Dan Scavino, center, at the White House in June.

Last week the White House told a lie. It was a small lie and, given the epic scale of this administration’s mendacity, an inconsequential one. It just happened to be about me.

On Thursday I interviewed Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo on a public stage at the Aspen Security Forum. We covered everything from Russian meddling in the U.S. election to the war in Syria and the nuclear deal with Iran. The director also broke some policy ground with a veiled suggestion that the administration might pursue regime change in North Korea.

There was one sour moment. Midway through the interview, Pompeo abruptly slammed The New York Times for publishing the name last month of a senior covert C.I.A. officer, calling the disclosure “unconscionable.” The line was met with audience applause. I said, “You’re talking about Phil Agee,” and then repeated the name. Pompeo replied, “I don’t know that name,” and the interview moved on.

My startled rejoinder was not a reference to the covert C.I.A. officer unmasked by The Times, but rather a fumbled attempt to refer to the law governing such disclosures. Philip Agee, as Pompeo and everyone in the audience knew, was the infamous C.I.A. officer who went rogue in the 1970s, wrote a tell-all memoir, and publicly identified the names of scores of C.I.A. officers, front companies and foreign agents. His disclosures led Congress in 1982 to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a.k.a. the “Anti-Agee Act,” which made it a federal crime to reveal the names of covert agents. Agee died in Havana in 2008.


Donald Trump’s secretary of energy, Rick Perry, once campaigned to abolish the $30 billion agency that he now runs, which oversees everything from our nuclear arsenal to the electrical grid. The department’s budget is now on the chopping block. But does anyone in the White House really understand what the Department of Energy actually does? And what a horrible risk it would be to ignore its extraordinary, life-or-death responsibilities?

LAYING WASTE: The Hanford nuclear site, in Washington State, which threatens to contaminate the groundwater of the Pacific Northwest.

On the morning after the election, November 9, 2016, the people who ran the U.S. Department of Energy turned up in their offices and waited. They had cleared 30 desks and freed up 30 parking spaces. They didn’t know exactly how many people they’d host that day, but whoever won the election would surely be sending a small army into the Department of Energy, and every other federal agency. The morning after he was elected president, eight years earlier, Obama had sent between 30 and 40 people into the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy staff planned to deliver the same talks from the same five-inch-thick three-ring binders, with the Department of Energy seal on them, to the Trump people as they would have given to the Clinton people. “Nothing had to be changed,” said one former Department of Energy staffer. “They’d be done always with the intention that, either party wins, nothing changes.”

By afternoon the silence was deafening. “Day 1, we’re ready to go,” says a former senior White House official. “Day 2 it was ‘Maybe they’ll call us?’ ”

“Teams were going around, ‘Have you heard from them?’ ” recalls another staffer who had prepared for the transition. “ ‘Have you gotten anything? I haven’t got anything.’ ”

“The election happened,” remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the D.O.E. “And he won. And then there was radio silence. We were prepared for the next day. And nothing happened.” Across the federal government the Trump people weren’t anywhere to be found. Allegedly, between the election and the inauguration not a single Trump representative set foot inside the Department of Agriculture, for example. The Department of Agriculture has employees or contractors in every county in the United States, and the Trump people seemed simply to be ignoring the place. Where they did turn up inside the federal government, they appeared confused and unprepared. A small group attended a briefing at the State Department, for instance, only to learn that the briefings they needed to hear were classified. None of the Trump people had security clearance—or, for that matter, any experience in foreign policy—and so they weren’t allowed to receive an education. On his visits to the White House soon after the election, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, expressed surprise that so much of its staff seemed to be leaving. “It was like he thought it was a corporate acquisition or something,” says an Obama White House staffer. “He thought everyone just stayed.”

The Justice Department Just Argued Against Gay Rights In A Major Federal Case

Lawyers under Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in federal court that a 1964 civil rights law does not protect a gay employee from discrimination.

The US Justice Department on Wednesday argued in a major federal lawsuit that a 1964 civil rights law doesn’t protect gay workers from discrimination, thereby diverging from a separate, autonomous federal agency that had supported the gay plaintiff’s case.

The Trump administration’s filing is unusual in part because the Justice Department isn’t a party in the case, and the department doesn’t typically weigh in on private employment lawsuits.

But in an amicus brief filed at the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, lawyers under Attorney General Jeff Sessions contend that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, does not cover sexual orientation.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” says the Justice Department’s brief. “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

The Justice Department also contends that Title VII only applies if men and women are treated unequally.

We Are Transgender Soldiers: What You Should Know

This morning, we all woke up to see a major shift in U.S. Defense Department policy unleashed via our president’s Twitter:

It feels a bit like being broken up with via text, but since it is a presidential statement, it’s more or less official. Instead of guessing what it’s actually like for transgender people in the military, we reached out to Emma Shinn, a trans woman and former Marine Corps platoon sergeant with extensive combat experience in Fallujah. We also spoke to several other current active and reserve duty trans soldiers. They told us …

#3. Trans People Are 2-3 Times As Likely To Serve As The General Population

In the wake of the president’s tweeted statements this morning, a lively debate over trans folks in the military has cropped up across the internet. One justification for the ban boils down to “There just aren’t that many of them!”

It’s true that transgender people aren’t a huge chunk of the military. But it’s also true that they serve at a higher rate than pretty much any other demographic. Generally speaking, only 10 percent of Americans have served in the armed forces. But studies show that 20 percent of all trans-identified Americans have joined up. And another study found that number increases to 30 percent for trans women — around triple that of the general population. To Emma, these numbers make total sense:

“I would say that a lot of people prior to transitioning feel the need to prove themselves as their birth gender, and especially for transgender women, that includes doing stereotypically masculine activities. Speaking personally, I know the Marine Corps was very attractive to me because I wanted to prove myself as a guy. Not only was I a guy, I was an uber guy. Not only as enlisted infantry but as a Marine Corps officer, I felt that would help assuage the disconnect.”

“It’s more important to be polarizing than neutralizing”: The truth about being divisive at work

Divide And Conquer

Does it actually pay to be a polarizing figure—adored by some and hated by others?

Actor and comedian TJ Miller is not afraid to get on people’s bad side. After leaving the hit HBO show Silicon Valley, he dissed his coworkers in a Hollywood Reporter interview. “I don’t know how smart [Alec] is,” he said of producer Alec Berg. “He went to Harvard, and we all know those kids are f—ing idiots. That Crimson trash.”

This week, his brash profile in New York Magazine further solidified his reputation as, well, kind of an asshole. And that would seem to be part of his career plan.

“People need a villain, and I’m occupying that space,” Miller says, going on to argue that negging Berg was a good publicity move. “If I’d just said it was an honor to work on Silicon Valley and was thankful to Alec Berg, I would have disappeared. Instead, by being just a little authentic, I infected the news cycle.”

Then, after misting his face, Miller adds, “It’s more important to be polarizing than neutralizing. That’s my position.”

Miller’s frequently-touted strategy may make sense for an entertainer who possesses a hefty scoop of white male privilege. In a highly competitive industry like Hollywood, it’s better to stand out than blend in. But for the average worker, does it actually pay to be a polarizing figure—adored by some and hated by others? Or is it better to be moderately liked by many?

Finally: An App That Can Identify the Animal You Saw on Your Hike

Take a photo of a mystery critter using your cellphone, and iNaturalist will try to tell you what it is.

“I’m going with tree orcha.”

The legendary naturalist John Muir once wrote: “Whenever I met a new plant, I would sit down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance, hear what it had to tell.” The first step to making an acquaintance is to get a name—and naming nature is not easy. This weekend, while walking through Great Falls Park, a butterfly landed on my friend’s leg. It was large, with yellow and black wings—clearly a swallowtail, but what species? That same day, a large black insect landed on a flower in front of me, and I snapped a portrait of it before it flew off. It was a dragonfly, but what kind of dragonfly?

Many of our experiences of nature take this form. You see something, but you don’t know what it is. You are surrounded by life, but much of it is anonymous. “People don’t identify as a naturalist but if you ask them if they’ve ever been outside, seen something, and wondered what it is, they’ll say: Oh yeah, sure,” says Scott Loarie from the California Academy of Sciences.

Loarie and his team have developed an app that can help. Known as iNaturalist, it began as a crowdsourced community, where people can upload photos of animals and plants for other users to identify. But a month ago, the team updated the app so that an artificial intelligence now identifies what you’re looking at. In some cases, it’ll nail a particular species—it correctly pegged the dragonfly I spotted as a slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta). For the butterfly, it was less certain. “We’re pretty sure this is in the genus Papilio,” it offered, before listing ten possible species.

Blowing Out Birthday Candles Increases Cake Bacteria by 1,400 Percent

But it’s okay, really!

I can identify the exact moment when my relationship with birthday cake changed forever, and it was last week, when I read a study titled “Bacterial Transfer Associated with Blowing Out Candles on a Birthday Cake.”

Of course, the more cautious (aka germophobic) among us have already thought about it in gruesome detail. One colleague said she scrapes off the top layer of frosting, a habit that suddenly made perfect sense but which I for some reason had never before considered. I had been living in ignorant, saliva-splattered bliss.

Intellectually, I knew it was fine. I’ve consumed countless slices of sheet cake finely misted with spit and suffered no particular consequences—and yet, the thought of eating another now sent visceral disgust through my body.

So I called up Paul Dawson, a professor of food safety at Clemson University and one of the authors of this study, to ask why someone would want to ruin birthday parties.


When it comes to Olympic level track and field events, history tends to only remember those who ran the fastest, jumped the farthest and pushed themselves further than their peers. Shizo Kanakuri is an apparent exception to that rule because he’s fondly remembered for having the worst official time of any Olympic marathon runner in history, taking over 54 years to finish a race he started in 1912.

Although mainly known in the west for his aforementioned Olympic record, in his native Japan, Kanakuri is regarded as one of the country’s finest athletes, often being referred to as “the father of the Japanese marathon”. In fact, Kanakuri was such an exceptional athlete that he entered the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm as a firm favourite to win the marathon after it emerged he’d set a possible world record in a qualifying round in Japan the previous year, achieving a time of 2:32:45. (Whether or not this was a true world record is debated as the distance Kanakuri ran was never officially measured and it’s believed by some that he only ran 25 miles instead of the requisite 26.2 for the record. Nevertheless, his long distance running ability was well known and established by the time the 1912 Olympics rolled around.)

One of only two athletes Japan sent to compete in the Olympics that year (the other being a sprinter, Yahiko Mishima, a lot of pressure was placed on Kanakuri to perform well as he, along with his teammate, represented the first Japanese athletes to ever compete in the Olympics.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Senate Republicans once again push for a repeal of Obamacare to no avail, and President Trump takes to Twitter to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

The opioid crisis has become a national emergency. Overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 — worse than car crashes or gun violence.

But the epidemic is more than just numbers. And to understand it, you have to go to the communities it’s tearing apart.

VICE News visits McPherson Square Park and Library in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. We meet a librarian who routinely revives dying addicts, a longtime resident who collects dozens of used syringes every day, and a former college athlete struggling with addiction.

Elements of this story were first reported by Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Mike Newall.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Now that Sean Spicer is gone, our normally restrained President is finally free to express his feelings.

The President’s deep, dark taint is absorbing principled conservatives at an alarming rate.

Turns out, cutting taxes for the rich IS good for the poor. Michael Rubens gets ghosted by the only guy who can prove it.

THANKS to TBS and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee for making this program available on YouTube.

Stephen makes a correction to the last two words of the President’s three-part Twitter announcement banning transgender Americans from the military.

Anthony Scaramucci appeared on CNN to discuss loyalty, leaking and his stabbing preferences.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth takes a closer look at how the GOP’s attempts to pass a health care bill without telling anyone what’s in it and the President’s attacks on his own attorney general are a threat to our democracy.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

In episode 2 of Season 7 of Game of Thrones…Come on Daenerys Targaryen, you’re our favorite! You’re the Khalessi! Please don’t break bad! We need heroes on this show! Please!!!

Max and his billyclub.


Time for the next step in health care

We have been told over and over that the United States has the best health care system on the planet. This notion is contradicted by numerous empirical studies over the decades. For many years, the Commonwealth Fund’s survey of health care systems in 11 wealthy nations has shown that the U.S. is an outlier among the advanced industrial nations. The fund’s 2017 report notes that the U.S. health care system ranks last in overall performance, and is at or near the bottom on access, administrative efficiency, equity and health care outcomes.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has helped many but it also has left 28 million Americans completely uninsured and tens of millions more with unaffordable gaps in their coverage, like co-payments and deductibles and uncovered services.

While the battle in Washington over Obamacare rages on, more and more Americans want a genuinely universal plan and are now backing a “single-payer” health care system, where one public health insurance program would cover everybody. The U.S. has one federal program like that for people over 65 called Medicare.

In the House of Representatives, a single-payer bill has gained the support of a majority of Democrats. Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) introduced the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676), which would provide every U.S. resident with free medically necessary care including primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, prescription drugs, emergency care, long-term care, mental health services, dental services and vision care.

Ed. Yup… I’m still working crazy hours and days. So… More tomorrow? Probably. Not?