Are Wheels Coming Off the ACA Repeal Bus?

There are signs congressional Republicans are beginning to get a clue that repealing Obamacare without a good plug and play replacement already in hand might come back to bite them. Jonathan Chait writes,

Something big is happening in the Senate right now: The Republican plan, affirmed again today by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is facing dire peril from Republican defections. Republicans need a House majority, 50 Senate votes, and soon-to-be President Trump to pass repeal and delay.

If Republicans lose three Senate votes, that drops them to 49, and repeal and delay cannot pass. At least three Republican senators (in addition to all the Democrats) now oppose repeal and delay. Rand Paul, of all people, has demanded that Congress repeal Obamacare at the same time it passes a plan to replace it. Paul has announced that he spoke with Trump and secured his agreement on this. Trump has not said so himself, confining his comments to date to a vague assurance, “That’s all gonna work out.”

Trump, of course, tends to change his mind frequently and agree with whomever he spoke with last. But other Republicans senators are taking the initiative. Fellow Republican Lamar Alexander says the same thing as Paul: “We have to take each part of it and consider what it would take to create a new and better alternative and then begin to create that alternative and once it’s available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare.” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said on MSNBC, “It would not be the right path for us to repeal Obamacare without laying out a path forward.” And Senator Bob Corker is walking right up to the edge of the same position, asking Trump to tweet out confirmation of what Paul claims he promised. “If it is his view, it would be really good if he would consider tweeting it out very clearly. There’s more and more concerns about not doing it simultaneously,” Corker says.

Over in the House, Paul Ryan is pushing a bill that would use budget reconciliation to kill significant parts of the ACA. But on top of the three senators who oppose “repeal and delay,” four more Republican senators – Portman, Collins, Cassidy, and Murkowski — joined Corker in sponsoring a bill that would delay Ryan’s Obamacare repeal for a month. They say they just want to be sure everyone is clear about what comes next before they go forward with repeal.

(And since when do we ask presidents to “tweet out” what their intentions are?)

Conservatives hate Obamacare because it redistributes too much money from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick. But they don’t publicly attack the law on that basis. Instead they attack it for high premiums, high deductibles, and narrow choice of doctors and hospitals — all flaws that any Republican plan would have in much higher doses. Republicans have yet to unify around a single, concrete, scorable plan because it is conceptually impossible to design a health-care plan that meets conservative ideological goals and is also acceptable to the broader public.

Ryan is talking about making repeal and replace “concurrent” —

“It is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,” said Ryan. “We already show people what we believe in, what we believe Obamacare should be replaced with. so we’re going to use every tool at our disposal — through legislation, through regulation — to bring replace concurrent along with repeal so we can save people from this mess.”

Hmm. Well, what they believe in is that people without money should just die already. But we really haven’t seen what they think Obamacare should be replaced with. They make noises about various things — high-risk pools, tort “reform,” selling policies across state lines — that don’t add up to a comprehensive whole. There is no way they’re going to fund high-risk pools enough to make them work. That’s a symbolic fix only. Their other ideas barely rise to the level of “tweaks.”

But then there’s this:

On Monday night at Tortilla Coast, a Mexican restaurant on the Hill, the House Freedom Caucus – a group of fiscal conservatives with a reputation for rabble rousing–came to a consensus that they wanted more insight into what the GOP’s replacement is before they vote on a budget resolution slated to be taken up Friday in the House.

 If the House Freedom Caucus is getting nervous about repeal, this is serious. I would have expected them to push for repeal, period, and don’t worry about the replace. But I guess some of them want to be re-elected.

A reconciliation bill requites only a simple majority to pass the Senate, but you can do only so much with a reconciliation bill — change taxes and spending, and that’s about it. Actually changing the system requires a regular bill, which would require some Democratic votes.

The idea behind “repeal and delay” was that by setting a deadline for a replacement, Democrats might be pressured into writing the bill. Republicans, as you know, are congenitally incapable of crafting legislation without help from ALEC. But if there’s no delay, there’s no pressure.

And then there’s the Trump factor. Greg Sargent wrote this morning,

When Trump holds his news conference tomorrow, he will likely be asked whether he still thinks that Republicans should repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act “simultaneously,” as he said in a post-election interview. If he answers in the affirmative, it could throw the current GOP strategy — repeal on a delayed schedule with no guarantee of any replacement later — into further doubt.

 So, we’ll see.

Russian Hacking: Should We Be Worried?

First, let me be clear that it’s sensible to be skeptical about anything ANYBODY is saying about the Russian hacking scandal. ANYBODY includes government agencies, news media and Julian Assange. ANYBODY includes the many nobodies crawling out of the internet woodwork who claim to be cybersecurity experts, or espionage experts, or both. Lots of people are pulling lots of “facts” out of lots of butts to serve their own ends. There are no disinterested parties here.

Let me also be clear that even if the assessment — that Vladimir Putin himself ordered the meddling of the election to favor Donald Trump — is true, it’s unrealistic to expect the intelligence agencies to explain what they know and how they know it. Assuming it’s true, this is an ongoing intelligence operation. “What they know and how they know it” must remain secret so that the Russians don’t know how the CIA is finding them out. So, the lack of “proof” is not in itself “proof” that the intelligence agencies are making it up. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. I’m astonished at the number of people I run into who don’t “get” that.

It’s also important to understand that we don’t know for a fact that the hacking changed the outcome of the election. Harry Enton of Fivethirtyeight analyzed polling data and said that one simply can’t see a clear pattern of Wikileaks releases moving the poll numbers. See also Matt Yglesias.

Opinions on who’s right or wrong on this matter seem to fall pretty much along predictable ideological lines. If you were a big Hillary Clinton fan before the election, you probably believe the intelligence agencies assessment, and more. Note that a Yougov.com poll found that 52 percent of Democrats believe Russian hackers somehow hacked into voting machines and changed election tallies. I’ve run into these people on social media. When you tell them no government agency or major media source has made any such claim, they don’t believe it.

On the other  hand, both the whackjob Right and the #DemExit Left tend to believe anything Julian Assange says, uncritically. I personally don’t trust Assange as far as I can throw him.

I see lots of opinions on the Web that boil down to, “So what? The U.S. has interfered with lots of elections.” True, and usually that’s come back to bite us. However, that’s no excuse to dismiss the Russian hacking scandal as something of no importance. That’s a bit like saying that it’s no big deal if someone drops a nuclear bomb on San Francisco, since we dropped one on Hiroshima all those years ago. It’s rather a big deal if you live in San Francisco, or downwind of it, at least.

So let’s hypothetically assume there is some truth to the claim that Russia at least intended to manipulate the U.S. into electing Donald Trump. And he got elected. Why should be we concerned?

There is lots of speculation about how much money Trump owes and who his debt holders might be. There seems to be widespread agreement that his debt is over $1 billion, much of which has been repackaged as bonds. But without his tax returns, everybody is guessing.

Ben Kentish of the Independent (UK) reports:

Donald Trump’s companies are almost $1.8 billion in debt to more than 150 institutions, a new report has suggested – raising fresh questions about potential conflicts of interests when the Republican takes office in January.

The new evidence exposes the extent to which the businessman will soon be responsible for regulating many of the institutions he owes sizeable amounts of money to.

Mr Trump has previously declared $315 million (£254 million) of debt owed to ten different lenders. However, a new study by the Wall Street Journal claims an additional $1.5 billion is owed by companies that are partly owned by the billionaire.

(Wall Street Journal articles are behind a subscription firewall, and I refuse to buy a subscription.)

Is any of that debt held in Russia? Last August Jeff Nesbit reported in Time:

Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.

The truth, as several columnists and reporters have painstakingly shown since the first hack of a Clinton-affiliated group took place in late May or early June, is that several of Trump’s businesses outside of Russia are entangled with Russian financiers inside Putin’s circle.

So, yes, it’s true that Trump has failed to land a business venture inside Russia. But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What’s more, several of Trump’s senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians.

(There’s an internet rumor that Trump owes the Blackstone/ Bayrock Group $560 million dollars. I can’t find any confirmation of that. A quick google didn’t turn up confirmation that Blackstone and Bayrock have ever had anything to do with each other. Blackstone’s CEO is cozy with Trump, but Blackstone is supposed to have stopped doing business in Russia a couple of years ago. Bayrock Group is a sleazy company with definite connections to both Trump and American crime families. The managing director, Felix Sater, is rumored to be the son of a Russian crime boss, but I can’t find a not-hinky source for that. )

On the other hand, Putin has a keen interest in jacking up the price of oil, and Trump’s election may be a critical part of making that happen. The selection of an Exxon CEO as Secretary of State does seem suspicious; see Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! on that point.

My larger concern has to do with the Middle East. If Trump is doing favors for Putin, how will this influence Middle East policy? There is an alliance between Russia and Iran. I don’t want the U.S. to be pulled into making that a threesome. Another concern regards the Iran Deal, about which Putin is said to be ambivalent.

So yes, I’d say there’s reason to be concerned.

Hey, Republicans: Put Up or Shut Up

Martin Longman sums it up:

The Republicans have had tremendous success with what they know best, which is being a very good minority party. They can counter-message and use procedural tools in obnoxiously innovative ways to obstruct. They can simply refuse to even hold hearings for presidential nominees or insist that those positions don’t even need to be filled. They excel at this stuff, but they do not excel at legislating or doing oversight of the federal government and its agencies.

Their plan here is the plan of a minority party. They want to force the Democrats to do something rather than figuring out a way to do it themselves. They have no idea how to replace Obamacare without blowing up the private insurance industry, costing hundreds of thousands of people their health insurance, and taking all the political blame. So, they’ll just try brinksmanship and maybe those clever law-writing Democrats will rescue them at the end of the day out of some bleeding heart do-gooder sense of decency.

So far, the Democrats appear to be happy to let the the Republicans twist in the wind.

Schumer is taking a hard line when it comes to Republican plans to repeal the law, and whether or not Democrats would work across the aisle on a replacement if Republicans are successful in rolling it back. “And if they think we’re going to come in and save their butts when they screw it up? No.”

Schumer also proposed “Make America Sick Again” as a new Republican motto.

The Trumpster issued a new tweetstorm in the wee hours in which, among other things, he called Chuckie Schumer the “head clown.” This was followed by a call for Republicans and Democrats “to get together and come up with a healthcare plan that really works – much less expensive & FAR BETTER!” Yeah, that’ll work.

Schumer fired back today.

“Now, we understand that President-elect Trump is in a difficult spot, that Republicans are in a difficult spot. They want to repeal ACA, and have no idea how to replace it,” he said. “But instead of calling names, [the] President-elect should roll up his sleeves and show us a replacement plan that will cover the 20 million Americans who gained coverage, that will cover students or post-college students, 21 to 26, who want to stay on their parents’ plan, that will show how we cover people with pre-existing conditions.”

“So I’d say to the President-elect and the Republicans that this is not a time for calling names. It’s time for them to step up to the plate if they want to repeal, and show us what they’d replace it with,” Schumer added.

Also, too, yesterday dear Bernie Sanders brought an oversized print of one of the Donald’s old tweets and put it on display in Congress.


Sanders said Trump should either admit he was lying or say he will veto any forthcoming cuts.

“Millions of people voted for him on the belief that he would keep his word,” he said. “If he was sincere, then I would hope that tomorrow or maybe today he could send out a tweet and tell his Republican colleagues to stop wasting their time and all of our time. And for Mr. Trump to tell the American people that he will veto any proposal that cuts Medicare, that cuts Medicaid or that cuts Social Security.”

And when Trump made those promises on the campaign trail, I suspect his followers assumed he knew how he would make it happen. But it’s obvious he doesn’t have a clue.

See this article by Drew Altman in today’s New York Times — “The Health Care Plan Trump Voters Really Want.”

Surveys show that most enrollees in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are happy with their plans. The Trump voters in our focus groups were representative of people who had not fared as well. Several described their frustration with being forced to change plans annually to keep premiums down, losing their doctors in the process. But asked about policies found in several Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act — including a tax credit to help defray the cost of premiums, a tax-preferred savings account and a large deductible typical of catastrophic coverage — several of these Trump voters recoiled, calling such proposals “not insurance at all.”

And it isn’t insurance at all.

One of those plans has been proposed by Representative Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services. These voters said they did not understand health savings accounts and displayed skepticism about the concept.

When told Mr. Trump might embrace a plan that included these elements, and particularly very high deductibles, they expressed disbelief. They were also worried about what they called “chaos” if there was a gap between repealing and replacing Obamacare. But most did not think that, as one participant put it, “a smart businessman like Trump would let that happen.”

However, they also said this:

They were unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing, and trusted that Mr. Trump would find a way to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions without a mandate, which most viewed as “un-American.”

I don’t find the need for the mandate that hard to grasp, and I’m not exactly brilliant when it comes to number things.

But it does seem to me that if these people get their insurance ripped out from under them, with nothing to replace it but some blah blah health savings account blah, even they may notice they’ve been had.

Republicans Scramble for a Plan. And a Clue.

The original plan to kill Obamacare was “repeal and delay,” meaning Congress would pass a repeal bill that wouldn’t go into effect for at least a couple of years, thereby putting pressure on Democrats to help come up with a replacement. But that appears to be abandoned.

According to this article by Peter Sullivan at The Hill, the new plan is to go ahead and repeal Obamacare — there will be a repeal bill on Trump’s desk by February 20, they say — and then Trump will magically make all the rough transitional thingies go away by executive orders.

Seriously, that’s the plan.

The Feb. 20 target was put forward by incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.), said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), leaving a meeting with House Republicans and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence said Trump plans to take executive actions to start unwinding ObamaCare on day one, but did not get into specifics.

“It will be an orderly transition to something better … using executive authority to ensure it’s an orderly transition,” Pence told reporters. “We’re working now on a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place even as Congress appropriately debates alternatives to and replacements for ObamaCare.”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), an early Trump supporter, added that, “The president in his first day in office is going to do some level of executive orders related to ObamaCare.”

But Collins said there were “no details whatsoever” on the orders discussed in the meeting.

They have no idea what they’re going to do. They’re about to hit the Put Up or Shut Up Wall, and they’re flailing.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) tweeted this right after that same meeting.

They don’t have a plan. How many years have they been hollering about replacing Obamacare? I’m not good with big numbers.

The February 20 deadline is not completely impossible. Dylan Matthews at Vox explains how congressional Republicans have already paved the way for doing away with most of the ACA through reconciliation, which will allow them to pass the repeal with a simple majority vote in the Senate. For budget reasons they would have to retain the ACA’s cuts to Medicare providers, but everything else could go immediately. See also Sarah Kliff.

Lauren Fox at Talking Points Memo has a different take. I’m not sure if she’s talking about the same meeting, but it seems not everyone is on board.

In a closed-door meeting in the House basement Wednesday with the whip team, a Republican rank-and-file member rose to convey his deep fear that Republicans were making a big mistake by repealing the Affordable Care Act without any concrete plan to replace it with.

According to one source in the room, the member rose and got the room’s attention.

“You lose all leverage once you repeal this thing. There will be people on the left who will never help you replace it and there will be people on the right who aren’t going to help you either,” the member said. “We will own this thing and there will be consequences.”

(Consequences? What is this thing, consequences? We Republicans do not know this word.)

The House isn’t the only place where members are sounding the alarm. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), whose own state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, said earlier this week that Republicans will be making a mistake if they repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it at the same time.

The concern is that by moving rapidly to repeal President Obama’s signature accomplishment, Democrats may never work with Republicans on a replacement. That could leave Republicans with two options, either they could change Senate rules and jam through their replacement or they will never get one.

If they go the delay route, there are still those alien consequences things to deal with. Josh Marshall wrote,

The AMA, which has been rather comically pro-Trump to date, came out today and told Republicans that they shouldn’t repeal Obamacare without a clear replacement. Notably, even two of the most conservative health care economists at AEI, came out yesterday and said that ‘repeal and delay’ would be a disaster. The truth is that “repeal and delay” is the policy equivalent of taking off from JFK to Heathrow with 2,000 miles worth of gas and saying you’re going to figure it out en route. No one who knows anything about health care economics, even people who are staunch free marketeers and hate Obamacare, think that makes any sense.

Note that recent polls say only 26 percent of Americans want the ACA repealed.

This morning President-Elect Trump is out with an ambiguous and possibly meaningless (it’s sort of like Being There) series of tweets warning Republicans to “be careful” and make sure that Democrats “own” the “ObamaCare disaster.” …

… They simply have no idea what to do and now they’re being taunted by Trump not to blow and he doesn’t have any idea either. It would be funny if millions of people’s lives and well being weren’t on the line.

For the Democrats, the plan seems to be to let the Republicans hang themselves. CNN:

President Barack Obama delivered a mandate to Democrats on Wednesday: “Don’t rescue” Republicans on Obamacare.

Less than three weeks out from leaving the White House, Obama visited Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill with a mission to save his signature healthcare reform law as Republicans are moving quickly to unroll the Affordable Care Act.

In the closed-door meeting, the President urged fellow Democrats to not “rescue” Republicans by helping them pass replacement measures, according to sources in the room.

He also floated this idea: Start referring to the GOP’s new plan as “Trumpcare.”

The suggestion was a clear indication of the Democratic Party’s goal of turning the tables on Republicans, who are already facing pressure to quickly craft a replacement bill.

Regrettably, that may be the best plan.

Update: Apparently Trump (via the Mouth of Sauron, a.k.a. Kellyanne Conway) he can fix things so that everybody who has insurance will still have insurance, and that people with pre-existing conditions will still be covered. Heh.

Looking to Trump’s Katrina

There’s so much nonsense going on it’s hard to focus on any of it, but I will try.  Today I want to bring up something I read in the Guardian that I’m not seeing elsewhere: “The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials,” the Guardian says.

The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart. …

… “Career people are looking get out and go back to their agencies and pressure is being put on them to get them to stay. There is concern there will be a half-empty NSC by the time the new administration arrives, which no one wants,” said one official.

The NSC staffers want to get out before Michael Flynn takes over, and I can’t say I blame them.

Reports from the state department suggest most of its staff are taking a wait-and-see to the prospect of having the ExxonMobil oil executive, Rex Tillerson, at the helm. On Thursday, most of the Democrats on the House foreign affairs committee wrote to the current secretary of state, John Kerry, offering his staff protection against a “witch-hunt” by the new administration against civil servants who worked on Obama policies Trump wants to reverse. The letter was sent after the energy department refused to hand over to the Trump transition team a list of names of staffers who had worked on climate change.

I don’t know how those staffers are going to be protected once the Trump appointees take over. There will be witch hunts. The “old hands” will continue to leave.

Two words come to mind: Institutional memory. You might remember the wonder that was FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. It came to be realized that the massive incompetence that marked the response to Katrina was a combination of bad management and loss of institutional memory. So many old FEMA hands had left in disgust during Bush’s first term that the agency literally was staffed by people who didn’t know what they were doing. Not enough people remained who knew established procedures, what worked and what didn’t.

In the case of foreign policy, though, there’s another precedent that comes to mind. The McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s were especially  hard on the State Department. People with expertise in Asia were targeted in particular after Mao Zedong gained control of China. I have read that the loss of the old China hands in State left the U.S. largely blind when dealing with subsequent events in Asia, and this fed into the decisions that eventually got us more and more entangled in Vietnam. Loss of a critical number of professionals in any agency could have disastrous consequence long after Trump is gone.

So climate scientists may yet be purged, and foreign policy personnel, and I hate to think what’s going to happen to the Justice Department. It’s going to be very, very bad. And Trump may have a lot of Katrinas on his hands.

True Colors: Republicans Hate Poor Old People

You might remember that just about the day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, Paul Ryan started bleating about privatizing Medicare. He couldn’t wait. Nobody was talking about privatizing Medicare during the election, but Ryan acted as if the election gave him a mandate to do so.

Now Republicans are going after Social Security already. They aren’t even waiting to seat the next Congress.

A key House Republican on the issue of Social Security introduced a bill Thursday that would impose major cuts to the program. The bill, the Social Security Reform Act of 2016, was introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), the chair of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security.

It would, among other things, gradually raise the retirement age from 67 to 69 on Americans 49 or younger at the present. It would change the formula that determines the size of a retiree’s initial payments. And it would switch the program to a less generous formula for raising payments according to cost of living increases. …

… The cuts in the bill lean more heavily on high income-earners, but most workers would see cuts — some of them drastic — if Johnson’s bill became law.

They want to make Social Security more “solvent” by cutting it. Raising funds, such as by raising the cap on Social Security taxes, is not even considered in this bill.

If you’re a Republican, you screw old folks. It’s just what Republicans do.

See also How The GOP Social Security/Medicare Doomsday Machine Works

Up, Up and Away, or Not

Updating the last post, on the Republican “repeal and delay” plan for getting rid of Obamacare — members of the House “freedom” caucus are making noises that they won’t go along.

The Republican congressman who made his name as the instigator of John Boehner’s ouster last year was set to take the reins of the House Freedom Caucus on Monday night.

And first up on Rep. Mark Meadows’ to-do list: Torpedoing GOP leadership’s tentative plans to take as long as three years to replace Obamacare.

The proposal “will meet with major resistance from Freedom Caucus members,” the North Carolina Republican vowed in an interview, calling it “the first big fight I see coming for the Freedom Caucus.”

“It should be repealed and replaced, and all of that should be done in the 115th Congress” — the two-year period starting in January through 2018 — and “not left to a future Congress to deal with,” Meadows added.

Bless their empty little hearts and clueless little heads — that would actually be principled. And, look, GOP, the shit from cutting people off from healthcare is gonna hit the fan sometime. Do you want it to be before the 2018 midterm election or the 2020 general election?

In other news, Pathology-elect Donald Trump caused an uproar when he tweeted disapproval of the alleged costs for updating Air Force One:

Experts are a tad bewildered

Boeing won the contract to build the new Air Force One in January 2015, but no plane has been officially ordered by the Department of Defense.

Aerospace industry expert Richard Aboulafia says this is “complete madness.”

“I scratched my head and thought I might be asleep and might be dreaming … but it turns out I was alive, awake, and at my computer,” he told Seattle’s Morning News.

The cost for the planes was an estimated $3 billion, according to the Associated Press, but costs have reportedly been rising. Aboulafia says this isn’t Boeing trying to make a ton of money.

“It’s actually what it costs to have two airplanes that can survive a nuclear war and transport the president in times of national emergency, and any other time for that matter,” he explained.

See also “The Inaccuracies in Donald Trump’s Air Force One Tweet.”

It’s reported the Senate found this funny, but one Senator was not so amused

One senator who wasn’t laughing was Washington Democrat Patty Murray, who’s constituents have a direct stake in the contract to build the new planes, which would replace the aging aircraft now used for presidential travel. Aerospace giant Boeing is expected to build the planes in her home state of Washington.

“The workers of my state and the workers of Boeing across this country do an incredible job and build an incredible airplane,” she said. “I hope the president-elect takes the time to talk to the Pentagon and the Air Force and Boeing about how defense contracts work before he tweets.”

But there may be something besides frugality behind Trump’s tweet. Per Josh Marshall, the Chicago Tribune published this about 20 minutes before Trump tweeted:

The brain trust at Boeing, among the city’s largest companies and a global aerospace and defense powerhouse, must cringe every time President-elect Donald Trump riffs on foreign policy, especially when it comes to dealing with China. …

…”I’m not a political pundit or prognosticator — we have too many of those — but anyone who paid attention to the recent campaigns and the election results realizes that one of the overarching themes was apprehension about free and fair trade,” he [Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO] said.

Muilenburg argues that international trade is essential to the U.S. economy and its importance is reflected in the “large and growing percentage of our business” coming from international sales, including commercial jet orders from China.

Ooo, the giant talking yam is a tad sensitive, it seems. And, anyway, $3 to $4 billion ain’t nothin’ to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

See also Charles Pierce.

Update: See also “Did Donald Trump tank Boeing’s stock because he was mad about a news article?

Who Called Whom?

One of the more interesting aspects of the now infamous Taiwan-Trump phone conversation of Friday, is that nobody admits to initiating the call.

When criticism of the call broke out Friday, Trump quickly claimed that Taiwan called him:

Trump offered no apologies, nor did his transition team make any comments. Instead, he defended the discussion amid reams of criticism for having broken U.S. protocol by saying Tsai initiated it.

“The President of taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” Trump tweeted.

However, Taiwanese officials say otherwise.

Except, a spokesman for the Taiwan government quickly contradicted the U.S. president-elect, saying the call had been arranged in advance: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”

See also:

If he meant to imply that the incoming call was a surprise, then he either was lying or had been misled; Taiwan’s press had already published news of a “scheduled” call hours earlier. The Taipei Times reported, “Trump reportedly agreed to the call, which was arranged by his Taiwan-friendly campaign staff after his aides briefed him on issues regarding Taiwan and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, sources said.”

Josh Marshall:

Today we learn that the guy who arranged for Trump’s call with the President of Taiwan was none other than Stephen Yates. He’s currently in Taipei and working for the Trump transition team. Yates has a post at The Heritage Foundation while also running his own international consultancy – a typical arrangement for high level foreign policy hands of both parties when their party is out of power.

[Late Update: After I wrote this post but I think before I pushed the ‘publish button’, Yates has now denied reports that he arranged the call, while saying he thinks he was a great idea. I would suggest keeping an open mind about whether the original reports or the denial are more credible. If it wasn’t this Yates, it was likely another.]

For starters this leaves little doubt that this call was intentional – at least in the sense that Trump’s advisors put it together with a full understanding of the diplomatic implications. Just how much Trump understood this or understood the full ramifications of taking this call isn’t entirely clear. The fact that Trump’s twitter freak out pushed the point that the Taiwanese President had called him, not vice versa, suggests an element of defensiveness and incomplete understanding of the situation.

In other words, it’s possible Trump is being manipulated by advisors with their own agenda. Of course, it’s also possible that most of the people advising Trump are dumb as a box of rocks, also.

Back to Evan Osnos at The New Yorker:

In the hours that followed, it became clear that Trump may have been manipulated into doing something he doesn’t understand. Michael Crowley, of Politico, noted that the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who favors a tilt away from Beijing, visited Trump Tower on Friday for undisclosed reasons. Bolton has argued for “playing the Taiwan card” to pressure Beijing. In a January op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he wrote,

The new U.S. administration could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of U.S. representation in Taipei from a private “institute” to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior U.S. officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.

Further complicating matters, according to the blog Shanghaiist, Trump and his family are currently trying to win a lucrative contract with a Taiwanese city: “A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.” Did Trump break nearly four decades of diplomatic practice to sweeten his family’s business prospects with Taiwan? His supporters, of course, say no. But the President-elect has taken no steps that would defuse that perception.

It’s going to be a long four years, folks. News analysts are saying that China appears to be taking a low-key approach, possibly concluding that Trump must be an idiot. But apparently they had been willing to give him lots of benefits of lots of doubts, thinking he was someone they could work with, and now he’s blown that impression out of the water.

“This is a wake-up call for Beijing — we should buckle up for a pretty rocky six months or year in the China-U.S. relationship,” Wang Dong, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, said Saturday. “There was a sort of delusion based on overly optimistic ideas about Trump. That should stop.”

If they’re going to cause an international incident, though, I’d rather they do it now while President Obama is still running things. Perhaps even Trump can learn that actions have consequences. Otherwise it’s going to be one blunder after another until somebody finally has had enough.

How Trump Learned to Do Business

One of the most interesting commentaries on Trump’s so-called deal to save jobs at Carrier Corps. in Indiana was in CNBC, of all places.

Trump’s deal with United Technologies includes $7 million in financial incentives provided by Indiana to keep 1,100 jobs at Carrier, the company’s heating and air conditioning unit, in the state. However, Carrier still plans to move roughly 1,300 other jobs to Mexico and close another facility in Indiana.

Such a deal. With deal-making skillz like that, no wonder Trump went bankrupt, what, four times? I lost track.

Trump boasted about his deal to keep about 1,100 Carrier jobs in Indiana, and also took aim at other companies who may be thinking about moving jobs out of the country.

“Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences. Not going to happen. It’s not going to happen, I’ll tell you right now,” Trump said on Thursday.

To which an American Enterprise Institute fellow said,

“The idea that American corporations are going to have to make business decisions, not based on the fact that we’ve created an ideal environment for economic growth in the United States, but out of fear of punitive actions based on who knows what criteria exactly from a presidential administration. I think that’s absolutely chilling.”

And, y’know, that’s a point. Not that a lot of companies wouldn’t mind facing the same consequences Carrier had to endure, but it’s not the sort of talk corporate leaders are used to hearing from Republican presidents.

I mean, who talks like that? Wait … it’ll come to me …

I don’t know anything about the Mob beside what I’ve seen in movies, but it’s known that Trump cut his teeth as a businessman by working with the New York/New Jersey Mob. Even PolitiFact grudgingly admits this, although it wants you to know Trump may not have liked it.

Politico published an article last May that may need more reading

From the public record and published accounts like that one, it’s possible to assemble a clear picture of what we do know. The picture shows that Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.

Now that he’s running for president, I pulled together what’s known – piecing together the long history of federal filings, court records, biographical anecdotes, and research from my and Barrett’s files. What emerges is a pattern of business dealings with mob figures—not only local figures, but even the son of a reputed Russian mob boss whom Trump had at his side at a gala Trump hotel opening, but has since claimed under oath he barely knows.

See also “The Many Times Donald Trump Has Lied About His Mob Connections” by David Corn at Mother Jones and “The Donald Trump Story You’re Not Hearing About” by Todd Gitlin at Moyers & Company.

Most of the information in the Politico article goes back to the 1980s. Does The Donald still work with the Mob? I don’t know. But he learned to cut business deals by dealing with the Mob. And since he’s never worked for anyone else, no one’s ever told him that leaving bloody horse heads in people’s beds is not a standard negotiating technique.

Ooo, just wait until he gets to negotiate some nuclear treaty.

At the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt sees another model — our buddy Vlad Putin.

It’s good that about 1,000 Carrier Corp. workers will not be losing their jobs. But there is a whiff of Putinism in the combination of bribery and menace that may have affected Carrier’s decision — the bribery of tax breaks, the menace of potential lost defense contracts for Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies.

If this were to become the U.S. government’s standard method of operation, the results would be Russian, too: dwindling investment, slowing economic growth, fewer jobs.

On the same day that Donald Trump took a victory lap through the Carrier plant in Indiana, The Post published a coincidentally relevant article about Russia’s “fixer-in-chief,” Vladimir Putin.

The article, by Post correspondent David Filipov, describes how government-controlled television continually features Russia’s president interrogating or berating factory directors and petty officials. …

…The problem is that it doesn’t work. Russia’s economy is shrinking, year by year, and no matter how many factory directors Putin humiliates, it won’t start growing again without structural and political reform.

It also reminds me of Chris Christie’s method for improving New Jersey’s schools, which was to get himself videoed yelling at teachers.

See also “Trump’s Tough Trade Talk Could Damage American Factories.”

Speaking of salesmanship, Trump also has been cold-calling foreign heads of state to sell them on his new project, to be known formally as The Trump Administration.

Mr. Trump’s conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has generated the most angst, because, as Mr. Earnest put it, the relationship between Mr. Sharif’s country and the United States is “quite complicated,” with disputes over issues ranging from counterterrorism to nuclear proliferation.

In a remarkably candid readout of the phone call, the Pakistani government said Mr. Trump had told Mr. Sharif that he was “a terrific guy” who made him feel as though “I’m talking to a person I have known for long.” He described Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people.” When Mr. Sharif invited him to visit Pakistan, the president-elect replied that he would “love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.” …

…The breezy tone of the readout left diplomats in Washington slack-jawed, with some initially assuming it was a parody.

The next four years will be such fun.