Trump’s dangerous ‘good cop, bad cop’ foreign policy

Kathleen Parker, writing in the Washington Post:

Foreign leaders and local interlocutors, a.k.a. pundits, might as well take a vacation for the next few minutes until President Trump’s next foreign policy “strategy” surfaces from deep within his amygdala.

For to presume a strategy when Trump toys with potentially lethal nations — threatening to tear apart the nuclear agreement with Iran or putting North Korea on notice that doom may befall it any moment — is to imagine that a toddler has given grave consideration to the gravitational aspects of toppling his brother’s Lego edifice.

Theories, nevertheless, abound as the world wonders, no doubt with fear and loathing, what the president of the United States is going to say or do next. It does seem at times that Trump won’t be satisfied unless and until he has managed to prompt a nuclear confrontation with some nation — or two.

One theory goes that by talking tough, Trump is alerting the world that the United States is no longer the weak sister, if I may use an old expression, it had become under President Barack Obama. They’ll tremble at the thought of engaging the United States except to please her, goes such thinking.

Let me clarify: Trump is rattling his borrowed saber because that’s what he does. The bully in chief no longer has to file lawsuits to try to evict widows from their homes for monetary gain. Now he has a military — the world’s most powerful, to be precise — and can decide over chocolate cake to fire missiles at Syria.

Another extant theory concerns the contradictions within his administration. While U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley talks tough on Russia, Trump protects his benign bromance with President Vladimir Putin. This surely has nothing to do with a recent Reuters report that a Russian government think tank came up with a plan to influence the 2016 election.

One at least finds solace in Trump’s recent conclusion that NATO does, in fact, matter. But what happened to the candidate who criticized opponent Hillary Clinton for being too hawkish, and who said we can’t fight two wars at once? How about World War III?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, pounds Iran with one fist, saying it’s not complying with the nuclear agreement fashioned by his predecessor, John F. Kerry. With the other, he pens a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) saying that Iran is in full compliance. Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, rather than quaking, tweeted Friday: “We’ll see if US prepared to live up to letter of #JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] let alone spirit. So far, it has defied both. Should I use my highlighter again?”

This isn’t to make light of the Iran agreement, about which Trump may be right. It was a lousy deal. But it apparently was the only one possible in July 2015 after months of negotiations among Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union. What, pray tell, does Trump think will happen if the United States unilaterally shreds the deal?

More here.

The ‘Oh, never mind’ president

George Will, writing in the Washington Post:

In his first annual message to Congress, John Quincy Adams, among the most experienced and intellectually formidable presidents, warned leaders against giving the impression that “we are palsied by the will of our constituents.” In this regard, if in no other, the 45th president resembles the sixth.

Donald Trump’s “Oh, never mind” presidency was produced by voters stung by the contempt they detected directed toward them by the upper crust. Their insurrection has been rewarded by Trump’s swift shedding of campaign commitments, a repudiation so comprehensive and cavalier that he disdains disguising his disdain for his gulled supporters.

The notion that NATO is obsolete? That China is a currency manipulator? That he would eschew humanitarian interventions featuring high explosives? That the Export-Import Bank is mischievous? That Obamacare would be gone “on Day One”? That 11.5 million illegal immigrants would be gone in two years (almost 480,000 a month)? That the national debt would be gone in eight years (reducing about $2.4 trillion a year)? About these and other vows from the man whose supporters said “he tells it like it is,” he now tells them: Never mind.

The president, whose almost Sicilian sense of clan imparts new meaning to the familiar phrase “family values,” embraces daughter Ivanka’s belief that America suffers from an insufficiency of entitlements, a defect she (and he, judging from his address to a joint session of Congress) would rectify with paid family leave. Her brother Eric has said (to Britain’s Telegraph) that he is “sure” that 59 cruise missiles flew because Ivanka said to her father about Syria using chemical weapons, “Listen, this is horrible stuff.”

Although a senior Trump adviser, Stephen Miller, has stipulated that presidential powers to protect the nation “will not be questioned,” still they persist, those impertinent questioners. They do because when candidate Trump’s open-mic-night-at-the-improv rhetoric of quarter-baked promises and vows is carried over into the presidency and foreign policy, there are consequences, especially when his imprecision infects his subordinates.

One cannot erase with an “Oh, never mind” shrug Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement that the “message” foreign leaders should take from the Syrian attack is “if you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.” It is not true that the United States will respond, other than rhetorically, to all crossings of those four red lines. If, as Tillerson says, the United States is committed to “holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” the United States is going to need a much bigger military than even the president’s proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending would purchase.

Much more here.

Even in red states, Republicans feel free to criticize Trump on his taxes and travel

Philip Rucker and Sen Sullivan, reporting in the Washington Post:

Oklahoma may be Trump country, but that did not prevent James Lankford (R), the state’s junior senator, from criticizing President Trump this week by saying he ought to “keep his promise” to release his tax returns.

Nor did Trump’s popularity in Iowa stop Sen. Joni Ernst (R) from telling her constituents there that she is perturbed by the president’s frequent jaunts to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

“I do wish he would spend more time in Washington, D.C. That is what we have the White House for,” Ernst said at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Wall Lake, Iowa. She said she has not spoken to Trump about “the Florida issue,” but it “has been bothering not just me, but some other members of our caucus.”

As Republican lawmakers face questions from their constituents back home, some elected leaders have been willing to break with their party’s president. Although they generally support Trump’s agenda on such priorities as a tax overhaul and health care, these Republicans are criticizing the president over his continued refusal to make public his tax returns, as past presidents have, and his costly trips to Florida.

Some of those criticizing Trump are not moderates eager to establish political independence, but rather conservatives from red states who are popular with the voters who propelled Trump into office.

The ease with which a GOP favorite such as Ernst has separated from Trump — she has criticized his Florida travel and his defiance on taxes — underscores the weak grip the president and his political operation have on the Republican Party.

“It is hard to defend in today’s world not releasing your tax returns, and it’s hard to defend playing golf at a seven-star resort when it’s a busy time and people are anxious about problems being addressed,” said Ed Rogers, a GOP operative and lobbyist.

David Carney, a GOP strategist, said finding ways to break with Trump on issues such as tax returns and travel “is a smart strategy” — especially at a moment when Trump opponents are galvanized.

“Back in 2009 and 2010, if Democrats had not been drinking Kool-Aid, saying ‘Obama makes no mistakes,’ and actually called him out on a few things, they would have had a better chance to survive the onslaught in the midterm elections,” Carney said.

White House officials say that although they wish GOP lawmakers would be fully supportive of Trump, it matters more that they back him on policies.

“The president has been pretty clear about where he is on releasing his tax returns,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “People knew that before they voted in November, and he still won overwhelmingly. The American people are a lot more concerned about their own taxes than President Trump’s, and that’s what he’s focused on.”

More here.

Paging the Trump Armada

Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times:

Let’s consider the case of the wrong-way warships.

Last week, North Korea was planning a big celebration in honor of its founder’s birthday. For North Koreans, holiday fun is short on barbecues and high on weaponry. The big parade in Pyongyang featured monster canisters that theoretically contained intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s possible they were actually empty and that right now, North Korea only has bragging rights in the big-container race.

But its intentions were definitely bad, and the United States was worried there might be a missile launch or an underground nuclear test.

What should Donald Trump do? “We’re sending an armada,” said the president. Possible confrontation? As a concerned citizen, you had to be very worried. North Korea is, in every way, a special and dangerous case. It has a leader who is narcissistic to the point of psychosis, with a celebrity fixation and a very strange haircut.

O.K., maybe not entirely unique.

Trump was talking about bringing in four warships, one of them an aircraft carrier. Was this going to mean real shooting? His critics back home had to decide whether to protest, wave the flag in support or simply stock the fallout shelter. (This would be the fallout shelter you repurposed a couple decades ago as a wine cellar, but lately you’ve been thinking it can work both ways.)

Everybody was talking about the dangers. If North Korea sent up a missile, would the U.S. retaliate? Then what would happen to South Korea and Japan? People debated all the variables. The only thing that did not come up was the possibility that the American flotilla was actually no place near the neighborhood.

Yet, as Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt reported in The Times, at the moment the president was announcing his armada, the warships in question were actually going in the opposite direction, en route to a destination 3,500 miles away, where they were to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy.

Whoops. The official response was that the administration was sending an armada eventually.

“We said that it was heading there. And it was heading there, it is heading there,” said press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday. Under this theory, the president could have responded to North Korea’s latest saber-rattling by announcing that he was going to China, since chances are he’ll get there someday. Sooner or later. Especially if the Chinese can come up with a gold coach like the queen of England’s.

Poor Sean Spicer. Every day a new official fantasy to defend. Tonight the president will go to bed and dream that he’s actually the true heir to the principality of Liechtenstein. Tomorrow Spicer will come into the pressroom on skis and announce we’re declaring war on Switzerland.

* * *

We’re really not asking for a lot, but can’t the president at least be clear about the direction our ships are headed? Concerned citizenry has already adapted to the idea that half the things Trump said during the campaign have now been retracted. NATO is great, the Chinese don’t manipulate their currency. And the Export-Import bank is, well .…

Pop Quiz: Which best describes your feelings about the president’s attitude toward the Export-Import Bank?

A) Happy when he denounced it during the campaign.

B) Glad when he said it was a good thing after all.

C) Worried when he nominated an Export-Import Bank head who seems to hate it.

D) I don’t care about the Export-Import Bank! What about all those bombs?

O.K., O.K. In the end, the North Koreans did test a missile but it exploded right after launch. It is possible this was due to a long-running American cybersabotage program. If so, Trump couldn’t have mentioned it as a matter of security. Otherwise he’d certainly have been out there expressing his gratitude to the Obama administration for having done so much work on it. Hehehehe.

When it comes to Trump and foreign affairs, the big problem is that you want to be fair, but you don’t want to encourage him. A lot of Americans liked the idea of responding to a chemical attack in Syria by bombing a Syrian air base. But if the president thought it was popular, wouldn’t he get carried away? It’s like praising a 4-year-old for coloring a picture, and the next thing you know he’s got his crayons out, heading for the white sofa.

More here.

Retired Miners Lament Trump’s Silence on Imperiled Health Plan

Noam Scheidet, reporting for the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump made coal miners a central metaphor of his presidential campaign, promising to “put our miners back to work” and look after their interests in a way that the Obama administration did not.

Now, three months into his presidency, comes a test of that promise.

Unless Congress intervenes by late April, government-funded health benefits will abruptly lapse for more than 20,000 retired miners, concentrated in Trump states that include Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Many of the miners have serious health problems arising from their years in the mines.

In mining areas like Uniontown, Pa., and surrounding Fayette and Greene Counties, which Mr. Trump carried 2 to 1, it is an upsetting and potentially costly prospect. “It’s just a terrible, terrible feeling,” said one of the retirees, David VanSickle, who spent four decades at work in the mines. “I think about that 25 times a day.”

The president has offered no public comment on the issue, even as he has rolled back regulations on mine operators, an omission that has not escaped the notice of Mr. VanSickle and other retired miners.

“To me, that was kind of a promise he did make to us,” Mr. VanSickle said about Mr. Trump, whom he supported last fall. “He promised to help miners, not just mining companies.”

Responsibility for the retirees’ health plans has increasingly shifted to the federal government in recent years, as struggling coal companies have shed their liabilities in bankruptcy court. Congress voted last fall to finance benefits for a large group of retirees for several months, but House and Senate Republican leaders have yet to agree on a longer-term solution.

The benefits can easily mean the difference between a middle-class retirement and economic hardship, since many retired miners are too young to qualify for Medicare. Others have chronic or debilitating health problems that would require expensive supplemental coverage — currently provided by the retiree plan — even with the Medicare benefit.

Much more here.

Donald Trump must follow through on his earlier promises to miners, or lose whatever support they provide.

A month after dismissing federal prosecutors, Justice Department does not have any U.S. attorneys in place

Sari Horwitz, reporting for the Washington Post:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making aggressive law enforcement a top priority, directing his federal prosecutors across the country to crack down on illegal immigrants and “use every tool” they have to go after violent criminals and drug traffickers.

But the attorney general does not have a single U.S. attorney in place to lead his tough-on-crime efforts across the country. Last month, Sessions abruptly told the dozens of remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations immediately — and none of them, or the 47 who had already left, have been replaced.

“We really need to work hard at that,” Sessions said when asked Tuesday about the vacancies as he opened a meeting with federal law enforcement officials. The 93 unfilled U.S. attorney positions are among the hundreds of critical Trump administration jobs that remain open.

Sessions is also without the heads of his top units, including the civil rights, criminal and national security divisions, as he tries to reshape the Justice Department.

U.S. attorneys, who prosecute federal crimes from state offices around the nation, are critical to implementing an attorney general’s law enforcement agenda. Both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations gradually eased out the previous administration’s U.S. attorneys while officials sought new ones.

Sessions said that until he has his replacements, career acting U.S. attorneys “respond pretty well to presidential leadership.”

But former Justice Department officials say that acting U.S. attorneys do not operate with the same authority when interacting with police chiefs and other law enforcement executives.

“It’s like trying to win a baseball game without your first-string players on the field,” said former assistant attorney general Ronald Weich, who ran the Justice Department’s legislative affairs division during Obama’s first term.

“There are human beings occupying each of those seats,” Weich, now dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law, said of the interim officials. “But that’s not the same as having appointed and confirmed officials who represent the priorities of the administration. And the administration is clearly way behind in achieving that goal.”

Filling the vacancies has also been complicated by Sessions not having his second-highest-ranking official in place. Rod J. Rosenstein, nominated for deputy attorney general — the person who runs the Justice Department day-to-day — is still not on board, although he is expected to be confirmed by the Senate this month. Traditionally, the deputy attorney general helps to select the U.S. attorneys.

More here.

Trump’s Unreleased Taxes Threaten Yet Another Campaign Promise

Alan Rappeport, reporting for the New York Times:

President Trump’s promise to enact a sweeping overhaul of the tax code is in serious jeopardy nearly 100 days into his tenure, and his refusal to release his own tax returns is emerging as a central hurdle to another faltering campaign promise.

As procrastinators rushed to file their tax returns by Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, emphasized again on Monday that Mr. Trump had no intention of making his public. Democrats have seized on that decision, uniting around a pledge not to cooperate on any rewriting of the tax code unless they know specifically how that revision would benefit the billionaire president and his family.

And a growing roster of more than a dozen Republican lawmakers now say Mr. Trump should release them.

“If he doesn’t release his returns, it is going to make it much more difficult to get tax reform done,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, pointing out that the president has significant conflicts of interest on issues such as taxation of the real estate industry and elimination of the estate tax. “It’s in his own self-interest.”

With Republicans sharply divided on a path forward and the administration unable to come up with a plan of its own, the Democratic resistance is only the newest impediment.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump declared that he understood America’s complex tax laws “better than anyone who has ever run for president” and that he alone could fix them. But it is becoming increasingly unlikely that there will be a simpler system, or even lower tax rates, this time next year. The Trump administration’s tax plan, promised in February, has yet to materialize; a House Republican plan has bogged down, taking as much fire from conservatives as liberals; and on Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told The Financial Times that the administration’s goal of getting a tax plan signed by August was “not realistic at this point.”

A tax overhaul could be the next expansive Trump campaign promise that falters before it even gathered much steam.

“If they have no plan, they can’t negotiate,” said Larry Kudlow, the economist who helped Mr. Trump devise his campaign tax plan. “In that case, tax reform is dead.”

The first pitfall for Mr. Trump was the debacle of his health care plan, which burned political capital and precious days off the legislative calendar. But his administration saw repealing the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act as an important step that would allow for deeper tax cuts later. Mr. Trump even suggested last week that he might return to health care before tax cuts.

Republican leaders in Congress also failed to create momentum. Speaker Paul D. Ryan built a tax blueprint around a “border adjustment” tax that would have imposed a steep levy on imports, hoping to encourage domestic manufacturing while raising revenue that could be used to lower overall tax rates. But it has been assailed by retailers, oil companies and the billionaire Koch brothers. With no palpable support in the Senate, its prospects appear to be nearly dead. Heading into a congressional recess, Mr. Ryan admitted that Republicans in the House, Senate and White House were not on the same page.

The president’s own vision for a new tax system is muddled at best. In the past few months, he has called for taxing companies that move operations abroad, waffled on the border tax and, last week, called for a “reciprocal” tax that would match the import taxes other countries impose on the United States.

But it is Mr. Trump’s own taxes that have provided the crucial leverage for his opponents. More than 100,000 of his critics took to the streets over the weekend in marches around the country, demanding that the president release his returns. Tax legislation, they say, could be a plot by Mr. Trump to get even richer.

More here.

The number of Americans who think Trump keeps his promises is plummeting

Jenna McGregor, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump‘s setbacks on campaign promises such as repealing the Affordable Care Act and his shifting positions on other stances look like they’re catching up with him — bigly.

A new poll from Gallup released early Monday finds that a majority of Americans no longer view Trump as keeping his promises, with poll numbers on that question falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent in early April, a stunning tumble of 17 percentage points. The drop was seen across every demographic group: women, men, millennials, baby boomers and people with political leanings of all kinds. While numbers sank the furthest among respondents who identified as a Democrat or liberal, independents who said they thought Trump kept his promises fell from 59 percent to 43 percent; even among Republicans, the numbers fell, from 92 percent to 81 percent.

The poll, which was taken between April 5 and April 9, showed that Trump’s ratings fell on all six presidential leadership characteristics that Gallup measures. The percentage who think he is a “strong and decisive leader” also took a big hit, falling from 59 percent to 52 percent. So did the share of people who think he can “bring about changes this country needs,” which fell seven percentage points, too, to 46 percent. Just 36 percent see him as “honest and trustworthy,” compared with 42 percent in February.

On two other measures, whether Trump “cares about the needs of people like you” and “can manage the government effectively,” the president’s numbers also fell, although Gallup noted those declines were not statistically significant.

The ratings dive was most stark when it came to women who think Trump keeps his promises — just 40 percent now say he does, compared with 65 percent in February, a striking 25 percentage-point plunge. In a write-up of the results, Gallup explained that the numbers came after Trump’s defeat over repealing the Affordable Care Act, as supporters have become unhappy he hasn’t done more on taxes and immigration while detractors are upset he hasn’t protected middle- and working-class Americans.

What may be most remarkable is that the poll was performed before Trump dramatically flipped his positions on multiple other stances in the days that followed, as The Post’s Fact Checker column recounted last week. After saying he’d move on to tax reform after the GOP‘s stinging defeat on its health-care bill, Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview on April 11 that he would “do health care first.” And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said guidelines on rewriting the tax code would come only after a new health-care bill passes, although his budget director later said the two were “on parallel tracks.”

* * *

“Strong and decisive leadership” is the only characteristic in the Gallup survey for which a majority of U.S. adults (52 percent) still give Trump positive grades. But even that majority is slim, dropping seven percentage points from February. It followed other polls that have shown a similar trend. For the past three weeks, the Economist/YouGov poll has found that just 50 or 51 percent of U.S. adults said Trump was either a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” leader in a question about leadership qualities, down from 61 percent in the results after his inauguration.

That attribute — a leadership style that’s “strong and decisive” — was said to be extremely important to voters in at least one poll after the last election. A Morning Consult/Politico exit poll from November showed that voters said being a strong leader was the most important characteristic they used when choosing a president, with 36 percent saying it mattered most, compared with just 18 percent who said the same in 2012.

More here.

Trump’s no populist. He’s a swamp monster.

Dana Milbank, reporting for the Washington Post:

Last year, Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the tea party movement, had concerns about Donald Trump but gave the Republican nominee the benefit of the doubt, because Trump “at least says he’s going to attack” the crony-capitalist system.

Now the conservative activist has revised his opinion. Trump “said he was going to D.C. to drain the swamp,” Meckler said in a recent Fox Business interview, but “now it looks like we’ve got the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the White House.”

For everybody else who believed Trump’s populist talk about tackling a rigged system, it’s time to recognize you’ve been had. The president of the United States is a swamp monster.

The billionaire has embraced a level of corporate control of the government that makes previous controversies involving corporate influence — Vice President Dick Cheney’s attempt in 2001 to keep secret the names of industry officials who participated in his energy task force, for example — seem quaint by comparison.

In the quiet of Good Friday, President Trump’s White House announced that it would end the practice of releasing White House visitor logs, giving the public no way to know which corporate suitors have the ear of Trump and his staff. Trump was already insulated from such disclosure during the disproportionate amount of his presidency he spends at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties.

Trump seems to think people won’t care about this any more than they do about his refusal to release his tax returns and other disclosures that would reveal his conflicts of interest. It’s true that “transparency” is the sort of subject that usually excites only good-government types. But in this case the opacity is obscuring the rise of a new American plutocracy.

Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said Trump’s actions are testing “the character of the U.S. government” and raise the possibility of the government “devolving into some kind of corporate mutation where the wealthy and well-connected rule.”

Trump has made a series of policy reversals in recent days from his populist campaign positions — on Chinese currency, trade, the Export-Import Bank and more — as the nationalist influence of Steve Bannon fades. This isn’t solely because Trump has stocked his administration at the highest levels with fellow billionaires, corporate types such as son-in-law Jared Kushner and veterans of Goldman Sachs.

ProPublica and the New York Times reported over the weekend that the Trump administration is being populated with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who are making policy for the industries that had been paying them. The arrangement has violated Trump’s (already weakened) ethics rules, and the administration is secretly issuing waivers exempting the former lobbyists from rules blocking them from working on issues that would benefit their former clients. Trump White House officials had more than 300 recent corporate clients and employers, the Times reported, and more than 40 former lobbyists are now in the White House and federal government. The director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics says even he has “no idea how many waivers have been issued.”

And these corporations are set to get what they paid for.

My Post colleague Juliet Eilperin reported Sunday on some of the 168 requests corporate interests have made, and are likely to be given, for regulatory relief, many of them seeking reduced environmental protections and worker rights. BP wants to make it easier to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. The pavement industry wants a halt to research on the environmental impact of coal tar. And my favorite: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s request that employers no longer be required to report their injury and illness records electronically to the Labor Department.

More here.

Sorry, Republicans, but most people support single-payer health care

Catherine Rampell, reporting for the Washington Post:

Despite the rise of the tea party and unified Republican control of government, one decidedly anti-free-market idea appears ascendant: single-payer health care.

And it’s no wonder, given that a record-high share of the population receives government-provided health insurance. As a country, we’ve long since acquiesced to the idea that Uncle Sam should give insurance to the elderly, veterans, people with disabilities, poor adults, poor kids, pregnant women and the lower middle class.

Many Americans are asking: Why not the rest of us, too?

A recent survey from the Economist/YouGov found that a majority of Americans support “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.” Similarly, a poll from Morning Consult/Politico showed that a plurality of voters support “a single payer health care system, where all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan.”

Divining the longer-term trend in attitudes toward this idea is difficult, as the way survey questions on the topic are asked has changed over time. Views of a health-care system in which all Americans get their insurance from the government single payer vary a lot depending on how you frame the question. Calling it “Medicare for all,” for example, generally elicits much stronger approval, while emphasizing the word “government” tends to depress support.

But at the very least, some survey questions that have remained consistent in recent years show support has been rising back up over the past few years for the broader idea that the federal government bears responsibility for making sure all Americans have health-care coverage.

In a way, stronger public support for single payer is the logical conclusion of recent health-insurance trends.

Since 1987, the share of Americans who receive some sort of public insurance has roughly doubled, to about 4 in 10 as of 2015. That’s not even counting the people who receive subsidies to buy private insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

The increase in the share of Americans on government insurance is partly due to demographics (baby boomers aging into Medicare) and partly due to deliberate policy changes growing the pool of Americans eligible for government insurance (such as the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion).

Expansions of government coverage have been cheered on by many liberals, but they have also bred suspicion and jealousy.

In both the recent YouGov and Morning Consult polls, for example, the age group most opposed to single payer was the only one that basically already has it: those 65 and up. In other words, single payer for me but not for thee.

That’s not because older Americans hate their experience with Medicare and wouldn’t wish something similar upon their worst enemy. To the contrary, those on Medicare are more satisfied with how the health-care system works for them than people on private insurance are, according to Gallup survey data.

Rather, seniors are probably worried that expanding government coverage to more Americans could put their own generous benefits at risk. That is, they want single-payer enthusiasts to keep your government hands off their Medicare.

Many of those not among the growing pool of public-insurance beneficiaries, on the other hand, have become resentful of the fact that everyone else seems to be getting a big fat government handout. Or so they perceive.

Many of the stories in the booming “blue-state reporter ventures into Trump country” genre have featured Trump supporters with deep hostility toward Obamacare, among other government programs. Some of these Trump supporters are, perhaps puzzlingly, themselves Obamacare beneficiaries, receiving government subsidies for private insurance on the individual exchanges. But often what these Trump voters say they want is not a return to pre-Obamacare days; rather, they want in on the great insurance deal that they think their lazy, less-deserving neighbors are getting.

In fact, that recent YouGov poll found that 40 percent of Trump voters support expanding Medicare to all Americans. Among Republicans overall, the share rises to 46 percent.

More here.

With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’

Via The New York Times:

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government.

This revolving door of lobbyists and government officials is not new in Washington. Both parties make a habit of it.

But the Trump administration is more vulnerable to conflicts than the prior administration, particularly after the president eliminated an ethics provision that prohibits lobbyists from joining agencies they lobbied in the prior two years. The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret, discontinuing the release of information on corporate executives, lobbyists and others who enter the complex, often to try to influence federal policy. The changes have drawn intense criticism from government ethics advocates across the city.

Mr. Trump’s appointees are also far wealthier and have more complex financial holdings and private-sector ties than officials hired at the start of the Obama administration, according to an Office of Government Ethics analysis that the White House has made public. This creates a greater chance that they might have conflicts related to investments or former clients, which could force them to sell off assets, recuse themselves or seek a waiver.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah H. Sanders, declined repeated requests by The Times to speak with Stefan C. Passantino, the White House lawyer in charge of the ethics policy. Instead, the White House provided a written statement that did not address any of the specific questions about potential violations The Times had identified.

“The White House takes its ethics pledge and federal conflict of interest rules very seriously,” the statement said. “The White House requires all of its employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance and has aggressively required employees to recuse or divest where the law requires.”

The Trump administration’s overhaul of personnel lays the groundwork for sweeping policy changes. The president has vowed to unwind some of the Obama administration’s signature regulatory initiatives, from Wall Street rules to environmental regulations, and he has installed a class of former corporate influencers to lead the push. Administration supporters argue that appointees with corporate ties can inject a new level of sophistication into the federal bureaucracy and help the economy grow. And efforts to trim regulations in some areas have attracted bipartisan support.

But in several cases, officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years.

Trump White House officials had over 300 recent corporate clients and employers, including Apple, the giant hedge fund Citadel and the insurance titan Anthem, according to a Times analysis of financial disclosures. (The White House has released disclosures for only about half of its roughly 180 current senior political employees.) And there are more than 40 former lobbyists in the White House and the broader federal government.

Walter M. Shaub Jr. is director of the Office of Government Ethics, which advises federal agencies to help them and their employees — including the White House — comply with federal ethics laws, such as a prohibition on using a government post to personally profit.

He said that Mr. Trump’s own ethics executive order in late January eliminated a requirement, first adopted by President Barack Obama, that executive branch appointees not accept jobs in agencies they recently lobbied. That weakened standards applying to approximately 4,000 executive branch hires.

Mr. Trump also made it easier for former lobbyists in the government to get waivers that would let them take up matters that could benefit former clients.

During the Obama administration, these waivers were given only under a narrow set of circumstances, and had to be filed and explained in an annual report for public inspection, Mr. Shaub said. The waivers were also previously posted on the Government Ethics website. None have been posted since Mr. Trump became president, as sharing them is no longer required.

“There’s no transparency, and I have no idea how many waivers have been issued,” Mr. Shaub said in an interview, adding that he could not comment on any individual matter until a complaint had been filed and investigated.

Much more here.

Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around the World

Via The Intercept:

The ShadowBrokers, an entity previously confirmed by The Intercept to have leaked authentic malware used by the NSA to attack computers around the world, today released another cache of what appears to be extremely potent (and previously unknown) software capable of breaking into systems running Windows. The software could give nearly anyone with sufficient technical knowledge the ability to wreak havoc on millions of Microsoft users.

The leak includes a litany of typically codenamed software “implants” with names like ODDJOB, ZIPPYBEER, and ESTEEMAUDIT, capable of breaking into — and in some cases seizing control of — computers running version of the Windows operating system earlier than the most recent Windows 10. The vulnerable Windows versions ran more than 65 percent of desktop computers surfing the web last month, according to estimates from the tracking firm Net Market Share.

The crown jewel of the implant collection appears to be a program named FUZZBUNCH, which essentially automates the deployment of NSA malware, and would allow a member of agency’s Tailored Access Operations group to more easily infect a target from their desk.

According to security researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, the significance of what’s now publicly available, including “zero day” attacks on previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, cannot be overstated: “I don’t think I have ever seen so much exploits and 0day [exploits] released at one time in my entire life,” he told The Intercept via Twitter DM, “and I have been involved in computer hacking and security for 20 years.” Affected computers will remain vulnerable until Microsoft releases patches for the zero-day vulnerabilities and, more crucially, until their owners then apply those patches.

“This is as big as it gets,” Hickey said. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyberweapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”

Hickey provided The Intercept with a video of FUZZBUNCH being used to compromise a virtual computer running Windows Server 2008an industry survey from 2016 cited this operating system as the most widely used of its kind.

Much more here.