Jared Kushner’s “SWAT Team”: Early Contender for Dumbest Idea of the Week

I admit that’s a high bar in these turbulent days, but this new Trumpstunt is such a shining stinking exemplar of every half-bright, wholly-dishonest sackful of grift and self-deception that I’m not sure it won’t have been declared inoperative by the time this is scheduled to show up on the front page. From the Washington Post:

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements…

In a White House riven at times by disorder and competing factions, the innovation office represents an expansion of Kushner’s already far-reaching influence. The 36-year-old former real estate and media executive will continue to wear many hats, driving foreign and domestic policy as well as decisions on presidential personnel. He also is a shadow diplomat, serving as Trump’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico, Canada and the Middle East.

The work of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has drawn considerable attention, especially after his call for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” But Bannon will have no formal role in the innovation office, which Trump advisers described as an incubator of sleek transformation as opposed to deconstruction…

Bannon’s a mucker and a mean drunk, but he’s not dumb or vicious enough to let his name be associated with this disaster-in-the-making. Take it away, internets!…



Monday Morning Open Thread: The End of the Beginning

A BFD win, if we can keep it — and for once, it looks like we just might. Per the NYTimes, “Democrats, Buoyed by G.O.P. Health Defeat, See No Need to Offer Hand”:

Invigorated by the Republican dysfunction that led to a stunningly swift collapse of the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and relieved that President Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment remains intact, Democrats are in their best position since their embarrassing loss in the November election.

While it is far too soon to suggest that the House Republican majority may be imperiled, Democrats are newly optimistic about picking up seats in 2018, hoping to ride a backlash against Mr. Trump. Seeing an opportunity, they say they will not throw Mr. Trump a political life preserver at what they sense could be the first turns of a downward spiral.

The president’s approval rating was already mired below 40 percent in some surveys, and is likely to remain low after the health bill’s failure. He has no prospects for legislative victories on the immediate horizon, given how complicated and time-consuming his next priority, an overhaul of the tax code, would be even for a more unified party.

And while his electoral success in states represented by Democrats in Congress had been thought to put such lawmakers in a vise between their party and their president, Mr. Trump demonstrated no ability to pick off centrist Democrats in his first significant legislative push. Democrats — red-state moderates and blue-state liberals alike — formed an unbroken front of opposition to the repeal-and-replace campaign…

Though the ability of Democrats to do much more than say no remains limited, their success in helping to thwart Mr. Trump will not only embolden them to confront him again — it will also inspire activists to push them to do whatever it takes to block his path.

“Having tasted victory, the resistance forces will feel even more empowered to insist that Democrats continue withholding any cooperation and not granting Trump any victories when he is so wounded,” said Brian Fallon, a Democratic strategist…

Cult-of-the-Savvy high priest and Politico founder Mike Allen, at his new brand Axios:

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the Day 64 defeat. President Trump, who made repeal-and-replace a central theme of his campaign, and House Republicans, who made it the central theme of every campaign since 2010, lost in a publicly humiliating way despite controlling every branch of government and enjoying margins in the House rarely seen in the past century.

This virtually guarantees no substantive legislative achievements in the first 100 days. And it creates rifts and suspicions and second-guessing that make governing much harder.

What’s on the agenda as we start the new week?



So now what?

So now what?

That is a hell of a question but I think the right way to start probing towards some of boundaries of the possibility space is to ask what happened.

As I see it, the winning coalition that blocked the bill was a combination of unanimous Democratic opposition plus state level Republicans who actually have to balance a state budget and deal with real issues plus Republicans in districts that make them inherently vulnerable during a mid-term swing against the incumbent party plus the reactionaries of the House Freedom Caucus. We were also aided by the ineptitude of the wank “wonk” Paul Ryan and his coterie of enablers.

We told our stories. We mobilized. We stiffened the spine of Democrats whose spines probably did not need much stiffening. We put the fear of god into vulnerable Republicans. We scared the people who have to balance a state budget. We had on our side almost all of the interest groups that had bought into the ACA — doctors, insurers, hospitals, big drug makers and everyone else that gave a bit to get a bit. The only people who were not aghast at the AHCA were high income tax cut fanatics and policy illiterate decision makers.

We had a huge and unusual coalition pushing back against a bum’s rush. Most of this coalition was assembled in 2009 and 2010 to push the ACA through. And it was re-activated days after the election as everyone recovered from their shock, dismay and hangovers. Any time something changed, wonks were ripping through the documenation and making fast, rough and directionally right analysis with maps, figures, graphs and other hooks to allow advocates to tell personal, powerful stories that landed. And we kept on iterating powerful and emotionally connecting truth on every iteration of the bill.

We won. And our win helps our community:

Does it mean I finally can breathe again? That my health care won’t be pulled in a matter of weeks or months, on the eve of my starting biologic therapy for my Crohn’s?

This is why we fight. We’re not going to win every time. But we have to fight for conceding defeat and defeatism without making an effort means throwing ArchTeryx and others to the dogs. We’re not going to win every time, but we need to fight for both the chance to win as we did this week and to be able to look at our friends, our countrymen and ourselves with honesty as we say that we are doing everything that we can. We will need that for immigration. We will need that for global warming. We need that for our LBG and especially T allies. We might not win every time, but we can mitigate some damage, impose some delay, inflict some cost, and build effective coalitions for future action and progress every time that we hold to our values and our ideals.

So what does this mean for policy? The fear is that the ACA is here, but that the Trump Administration will sabotage it. This is a real fear, and it is one that the coalition that won this week will need to be engaged on to protect the implementation of the ACA.

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On The Road

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Balloon Juicers who are on the road, travelling, etc. and wish to share notes, links, pictures, stories, etc. from their escapades. As the US mainland begins the end of the Earth day as we measure it, many of us rise to read about our friends and their transient locales.

So, please, speak up and share some of your adventures, observations, and sights as you explore, no matter where you are. By concentrating travel updates here, it’s easier for all to keep up-to-date on the adventures of our fellow Commentariat. And it makes finding some travel tips or ideas from 6 months ago so much easier to find…

Have at ’em, and have a safe day of travels!

Should you have any pictures (tasteful, relevant, etc….) you can email them to picstopost@balloon-juice.com or just use this nifty link to start an email: Start an Email to send a Picture to Post on Balloon Juice

Just a few pictures to start out the week, to ensure a good supply throughout!

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Late Night Open Thread: How You Like Me NOW?….



Sunday Later Evening Open Thread: Baby Pygmy Hippo!!!!

Here’s the Taronga Zoo’s baby pigmy hippo (h/t: IO9)!

Open thread!








Sunday Evening Open Thread: Perspectives


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What’s on the agenda as we buckle up for another week?
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The Maskirovka Slips XII: Anti-Corruption Protests in Russia Edition

Protests are underway in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Here’s the video that Weiss linked to:

And here’s an English translation (via Google Translate) of the caption and statement below the video:

He’s not Dimon to us.

Protest action in Moscow

In dozens of Russian cities on March 26, anti-corruption protests took place. They involved from several dozen to several thousand people. The rallies took place even in those cities where the authorities officially banned their conduct. Radio Liberty conducted a live broadcast of protest actions.

In Moscow, the uncoordinated action took place in the format of a walk. According to various sources, eight to 20 thousand people took part in it. The human rights project “OVD-Info” reports more than 600 detainees. The police used force against activists. Despite several injured at the hands of law enforcement officials, in the mayor’s office of Moscow, the police called “impeccable.”
The Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in early March published an investigation of the undeclared real estate of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his possible involvement in corruption. The film “He did not give you a Dimon” typed more than 10 million views on YouTube, but neither the Prime Minister nor his representatives responded to the charges, no federal Russian television channel told about the investigation of FBK. In this regard, Navalny appealed to his supporters across Russia on March 26 to go to protest rallies with the demand to investigate information about Medvedev’s real estate.

Apparently even the cows are fed up!

After several years of Putin directed propagandizing of his own citizens, crackdowns on dissent, and the consolidation of power in Putin’s hands it is encouraging to see that Russia’s Gray Zone, its civic culture still has some antibodies left to fight back.

We’ll keep an eye out in case things turn ugly.



Oy Vey! Transactional Politics Edition

Apparently the President tried to dun Angela Merkel and Germany for what he thinks are Germany’s unpaid NATO dues.

The Independent reports:

The US President is said to have had an “invoice” printed out outlining the sum estimated by his aides as covering Germany’s unpaid contributions for defence.

Said to be presented during private talks in Washington, the move has been met with criticism from German and Nato officials.

While the figure presented to the Germans was not revealed by either side, Nato countries pledged in 2014 to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence, something only a handful of nations – including the UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia – currently do.

But the bill has been backdated even further to 2002, the year Mrs Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, pledged to spend more on defence.

Mr Trump reportedly instructed aides to calculate how much German spending fell below two per cent over the past 12 years, then added interest.

Estimates suggest the total came to £300bn, with official figures citing the shortfall to be around £250bn plus £50bn in interest added on.

As you might imagine this did not go over well with the Germans.

The bill — handed over during private talks in Washington — was described as “outrageous” by one German minister.

“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

A couple of important points to keep in mind here, which the President and whichever senior advisors he’s listening to on this stuff do not seem to know:

  1. NATO is not a club. It is an alliance. The US does not own it. None of the member states pay due.
  2. Each member state has agreed to dedicate at least 2% of their budgets to defense. The vast majority of NATO member states, including Germany, do not meet this pledge. The US and its NATO allies have spent years working on how to resolve them. While it is still not resolved, progress has been made. That progress is now in jeopardy because of a stupid, dominance* politics stunt like this
  3. There is a very American reason that Germany in particular does not meet its 2% pledge: we taught them not to. That’s right, after WW II as we were working with the Germans to rebuild Germany and then basing significant US forces there during the Cold War, one of the initiatives we spent the most time on was teaching the Germans to think about and use the other, non military forms of National power (diplomatic, information, and economic power). As a result the Germans in 2017 are acculturated and socialized to the concept that they do no need to be and should not be a military power, that they should resort to the use of military power last, and that it should always be through the NATO alliance. We have been very successful in working with the Germans to break the socio-cultural systems that contributed to WW I and WW II so as to keep them from happening again. The downside, if it is one, is that Germany doesn’t get close to its 2% NATO budgetary commitment.

* Just a brief note about these dominance displays from the President and members of his senior staff/some of his senior advisors: if you have to constantly, loudly, and publicly tell everyone that you are tough, you aren’t. What you are is insecure and weak. Chancellor Merkel is the current leader of the free world because the President of the United States has abdicated that responsibility. She’s not scared of the President. The body language during last week’s photo spray in the Oval Office demonstrates that is the case. If anything, it is the other way around. Americans, through the mechanisms of the electoral college, may have decided that it didn’t want a woman as the leader of the free world, but they got that result anyway.



Just another word for nothing left to lose

I’m not a fan of the Freedom Caucus, but let me get this straight: Paul Ryan writes a health care bill that only 17% of voters support (with 56% opposing), that is projected to cause 24 million people to lose health care, that calls from constituents oppose 35-to-1….and it’s all the fault of the Freedom Caucus that the piece of shit didn’t become law?

Paul Ryan, like conservatism itself, can never fail, he can only be failed.








Believing Your Own Bullshit

This cracks me up:

President Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon sought to use the healthcare vote this week to make an “enemies list” of lawmakers who would vote “no” on the GOP initiative, The New York Times reported Saturday.

A Hill GOP aide involved in last-minute negotiations told the Times that Bannon and White House legislative affairs director Marc Short pressured the president to let the House vote on the ObamaCare replacement bill.

And that is on top of this:

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

“Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

They, of course, said “fuck you.”

The problem with all these little Hitlers in the Trump administration, including Trump himself, is that these pocket authoritarians are used to being in charge of minions who offer complete obeisance. Bannon in the military where people HAVE to do what you say, and then running Breitbart, where everyone there is such a suck-up and toadie that the virgin Ben comes across as a profile in courage.

With Trump, it’s basically everyone he’s ever encountered his entire life, and this was reinforced by all the yes men throughout his campaign who never once tried to tether him to reality and always had Fox news to feed his delusions.

And so when they go in all sure of themselves, flinging the bombast that has worked with weaker folks or people not in positions to resist, they look like idiots. Steve Bannon may think he is the Sith lord, but the Freedom caucus looked at him and saw this:

A fat retirement age alcoholic in rumpled clothes stinking of yesterday’s gin with bloodshot eyes, a mean streak a mile wide, who has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

There are pockets in this country where believing your own bullshit and being the legend in your own mind is rampant (DC obviously, with Silicon Valley a close second, but also Hollywood, Wall Street, upper levels of corporate America, the Catholic church, and upper levels of academic administrations), but when you come slinging a piece of shit and people see you for what you are, you get laughed out of the room.








Sunday Morning Garden Chat: Hurry Up, Spring!

Faithful gardening commentor Marvel:

Deep Spring? Okay. I kid. Most days, it ain’t any kind of Spring out there. I’m grateful that our Winters are mild, here in the Pacific Northwest…but DANG, they do seem to last a long time. This year especially.

Lately our weeks of showery days have been punctuated with the odd sunny one (and we’re all miles of smiles, believe me — positively giddy). Everything’s coming in late – the flowers, the Winter veggies (our asparagus is at leat two weeks late).

Last week we finally (FINALLY!) had a warm sunny day and BOY were the crocuses (croci?) happy to dry out & turn their sweet faces to the sun.

The few sunny times have been short-lived, so between these magical days, we’re putting our indoor time to good use: plotting the what/where/whens for the raised beds & green house. Today? SEED TAPES!


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Saturday Night Open Thread: Old Man Yells At Crowds



How Many Terrorists Did We Just Create?

What happens when you take the “gloves off,” unlike that sissy boy Obama:

The U.S. military acknowledged for the first time Saturday that it launched an airstrike against the Islamic State last week in the densely packed Iraqi city of Mosul where residents say more than 100 people were killed.

“An initial review of strike data … indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” the task force leading the coalition said in a statement.

Previously, the U.S.-led coalition had said that officials were unsure whether the United States had conducted air attacks targeting the affected site in Mosul al-Jadida where local officials say they have so far pulled at least 60 bodies from one destroyed building.

This is a disaster on so many levels. Hopefully Adam can discuss what is happening in Yemen, which is also being dialed up and will lead to more incidents like this.



Excellent Read: “How Obamacare Became a Preexisting Condition”

Charles P. Pierce, at Esquire:

You knew things had gone sideways when they locked up the House. The corridors that lead through the heart of the Capitol, from Senate chamber to House chamber, were still an unnavigable mass of tourists and staffers and journalists, all clustered by the walls and in unruly knots below the various graven images in Statuary Hall. The echoes were an impossible gabble of crying children, overmatched tour guides, angry parents, and television stand-ups from many lands. At about 3:30, when the voting was supposed to start, a small, tough-looking woman from the Capitol Police turned out the lights in one of the small foyers leading to the chamber. She swung the big doors shut and slammed the locks down into the floor. And that was pretty much it. Until, of course, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, took to a podium in the bowels of the Capitol and said the following.

“Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”

That statement should have come with a sword for Ryan to hand over to Nancy Pelosi who, let it be said, is one legislative badass. She somehow kept her caucus united. There wasn’t even a hint of blue-doggery from her caucus as it sat back and let the Republicans rip each other to shreds, let the president* get exposed as a rookie who should be sent back to A-ball, and let the conservative movement expose itself as graphically as it ever has as the soulless creature of the money power that it’s been for 40 years. Usually, there are some Democrats who either want to make a deal so that Fred Hiatt will send them a Christmas card, or simply because Democrats occasionally can’t help themselves from trying to make the government, you know, actually work…

“We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” Ryan said. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get … people to agree with each other in how we do things.” Of course, since 2010, the House has had a Republican majority and a Republican speaker. There have been two of them—John Boehner and Ryan. The crazy caucus ran Boehner out of office and now, they’ve handed Ryan his head. Pro Tip: it’s not you, boys. It’s your party…

To be fair, the president* took the defeat rather better than I thought he would, which is to say he blamed the Democrats, repeated claim that the Affordable Care Act is gasping its last breath, and was so fulsome in his sympathy for Paul Ryan that, were I Ryan, I’d hire a food taster. Somebody’s going to pay for this. You can be sure of that. Meanwhile, as Paul Ryan said, Obamacare remains the law of the land. The Rotunda was still packed with tourists when the news came down and you wondered how many people there had somehow been helped by the Affordable Care Act. Maybe it’s that elderly gent looking up at the statue of Huey Long, or that kid in the wheelchair paused beneath Norman Borlaug. Obamacare is now a pre-existing condition, and a damned stubborn one at that.

Also too, Scott Lemieux at LGM on a “B.F.D.”:

It is ever more remarkable, in retrospect, that much of the discussion on the left following the passage of the ACA consisted of complaints about how Obama/Pelosi/Reid could “only” pass the ACA. This is, on one level, understandable, given that the ACA is unmistakably inferior to the baseline established by other liberal democracies… The coalition that passed the ACA included three senators from the Dakotas, one each from Indiana and Arkansas, and two each from Montana and West Virginia. Glib “BE MORE LIBERAL!” exhortations don’t really help you to get liberal governing majorities in an institution that heavily favors conservative rural interests.

Comprehensive health care reform is brutally hard, as Truman and Johnson and Clinton can tell you. In addition getting the list of legislators above, the Democrats also needed to keep in the fold every liberal who was well aware that the ACA was substantially suboptimal. Senators like Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown deserve enormous credit for working to make the bill as it could be and then supporting it. The Republicans just completely failed with a more homogeneous coalition in the more top-down chamber. What the Democratic leadership pulled off in 2009 is remarkable, and we now know that it is an enduring accomplishment.