Saturday, March 25, 2017

Trump tastes failure as U.S. House healthcare bill collapses

President Donald Trump suffered a stunning political setback on Friday in a Congress controlled by his own party when Republican leaders pulled legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a major 2016 election campaign promise of the president and his allies.

House of Representatives leaders yanked the bill after a rebellion by Republican moderates and the party's most conservative lawmakers left them short of votes, ensuring that Trump's first major legislative initiative since taking office on Jan. 20 ended in failure. Democrats were unified against it.- More, Reuters

Trump tastes failure as U.S. House healthcare bill collapses

What Failure On Obamacare Repeal Means For Tax Reform

Even as they lick their wounds from a failed Affordable Care Act repeal effort, Republican leaders in Washington are looking ahead to the next battle — over taxes.

"I would say that we will probably start going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform," President Trump told reporters Friday. "That will be next."

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed, though he conceded that the defeat on health care was a setback.

"This does make tax reform more difficult," Ryan said. "But it does not in any way make it impossible."

The challenges are both political and procedural.

White House aides insist the health care debacle won't spread to other parts of the president's agenda. - Read More

What Failure On Obamacare Repeal Means For Tax Reform

Republicans Admit Defeat On Health Care Bill: 'Obamacare Is The Law Of The Land'

House Republicans scrapped a vote on their health care replacement plan on Friday after defections from both the right and center that made it clear the bill would not pass.

"Obamacare is the law of the land. It is going to remain the law of the land," House Speaker Paul Ryan admitted shortly after he pulled the bill. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future. I don't know how long it's going to take us to replace this law."

Ryan may have admitted defeat, but President Trump chalked it up to a "learning experience." Trump also tried to spin the setback as an opportunity for a potential "bipartisan" bill in the future.

"Both parties can get together ... and have a better bill," he said, adding, "Having bipartisan would be a big, big improvement."

But Trump and Ryan both said health care is being put on the shelf for the time being. They're moving on to tax reform.

The failure of the health care bill is a major setback for Trump's leadership and Ryan's ability to control his conference. That control was something that eluded his predecessor, John Boehner, and eventually led to Boehner's ouster. - More, NPR

Thursday, March 23, 2017

While Nobody’s Watching, Paul Ryan Is Taking A Sledgehammer To Medicaid’s Promise To Seniors

WASHINGTON ― While the debate over Obamacare repeal focuses on insurance subsidies, coverage equity and tax cuts, a far more radical attempt is quietly underway to end the Medicaid program as we know it.

As currently structured, Medicaid guarantees a set of benefits to everybody who qualifies. Most people associate Medicaid with the poor and working class, but historically the program has spent as much or more money on elderly and disabled people who qualify. They use it to pay for things like nursing-home care that Medicare doesn’t cover.

The new version of the program would upend this arrangement. It would devolve Medicaid to the states and reimburse them using a predetermined formula that, as the Congressional Budget Office and other experts have concluded, would not actually keep up with the cost of care. As the federal contribution toward Medicaid eroded over time, states could make up the difference on their own or ― more likely ― they could make cuts in whom or what the program covers. The federal guarantee would be over, and with it, the Medicaid program as we know it. - More, huffingtonpost

While Nobody’s Watching, Paul Ryan Is Taking A Sledgehammer To Medicaid’s Promise To Seniors

GOP Health Bill Changes Could Kill Protections For Those With Pre-Existing Conditions

When House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act so that people can buy insurance that's right for them, and not something created in Washington, part of what he's saying is that he wants to get rid of so-called essential health benefits.

That's a list of 10 general categories of medical care that all insurance policies are required to cover under the Affordable Care Act.

Getting rid of that requirement, or trimming it, is central to the Republican strategy, because they say those benefits drive up insurance premiums so much that healthy people won't buy coverage.

But if Republicans repeal that list, they essentially renege on a promise they've repeated over and over to voters, that they will protect people with pre-existing medical conditions.

"Protections for pre-existing conditions only work as long as plans have to cover the services you need because of your pre-existing condition," says Rodney Whitlock, a vice president at the consulting group ML Strategies who was a Republican staffer on the Senate Finance Committee when the Affordable Care Act was passed. "By repealing [essential health benefits], a plan may no longer have to cover those services, making the protection potentially meaningless." - Read More, NPR

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

U.S., Britain Restrict Electronics On Flights From Mideast Countries

Airline passengers coming to the U.S. and Britain on direct flights from a number of majority-Muslim nations must now place most electronic devices, including laptops, tablets and cameras, in checked baggage under stepped-up security measures, the Trump administration and the British government said.

Passengers can still carry smartphones into the plane's cabin, but nothing larger, officials from the two countries added.

The measures took effect Tuesday morning, and in the U.S. they cover about 50 incoming flights a day from the eight countries on the list — Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

All are traditional U.S. allies and none is among the six majority-Muslim nations on President Trump's controversial executive order that seeks to temporarily suspend immigration. The president issued a revised executive order on March 6, and that one, like the original in January, has been halted by the courts.

The six countries cited in Trump's order all have fraught relations with the U.S., and several are plagued by unrest or civil war, including Syria, Libya and Yemen.

In contrast, the countries on the new U.S. airline list are mostly stable, have generally good relations with the U.S. and include four wealthy states in the Gulf.

Britain, meanwhile, has six countries on its list — Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Tunisia.

The differences appear to be based on the different airlines that fly into Britain and the United States. The two countries held consultations before making their separate announcements.

"We have been in close tough with the Americans to fully understand their position," the British government said in a statement.

The U.S. officials said the airplane restrictions are based on intelligence indicating that terrorist groups are still plotting to blow up civilian planes. The officials stress that the latest measure is not related to the president's executive order, but it's certain to draw comparisons amid the ongoing political and legal battle over Trump's immigration order. 

The U.S. action covers 10 airports in the eight countries — Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; Jiddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

That list appears to include every airport in the region that offers direct flights to the U.S. except one — Israel's main airport just outside Tel Aviv. - More, NPR

U.S., Britain Restrict Electronics On Flights From Mideast Countries

New Device Restrictions On Some Flights: Few Facts, Many Questions

U.S. Limits Devices for Passengers on Foreign Airlines From Eight Countries - nytimes

Passengers on foreign airlines headed to the United States from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries have been barred from carrying electronic devices larger than a cellphone under a new flight restriction enacted on Tuesday by the Trump administration.

Hours after the American action, the British government announced its own ban on electronic devices on flights.

The Department of Homeland Security said the restricted items on flights to the United States included laptop computers, tablets, cameras, travel printers and games bigger than a phone. The restrictions would not apply to aircraft crews, officials said in a briefing to reporters on Monday night that outlined the terms of the ban.

The new policy took effect at 3 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, and must be followed within 96 hours by airlines flying to the United States from airports in Amman, Jordan; Cairo; Istanbul; Jidda and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

The American ban on electronics applies only to flights on foreign carriers, and not American-operated airlines, which do not fly directly to the United States from the designated airports. Officials did not say how long the ban would remain in place or if other airports would be added.

In all, an estimated 50 flights each day into the United States would be affected. One of the world’s busiest airports, in Abu Dhabi, already requires American-bound passengers to undergo strict screening by United States customs officials before boarding flights. Abu Dhabi is one of 15 airports in the world to employ the Homeland Security preclearance techniques.

The British ban affects domestic and foreign airlines, including British Airways, the country’s largest. Foreign airlines affected by the order include Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir and Royal Jordanian, among others, and it affects direct flights to the United Kingdom from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The new bans on electronic devices have prompted a round of protests from passengers who now face the prospect of flying long hours without the use of laptops or tablets. - Read More

U.S. Limits Devices for Passengers on Foreign Airlines From Eight Countries

Big L.A. earthquake could cause beach areas to sink up to 3 feet in seconds, new study finds

One of Southern California’s most dangerous faults caused land on the Orange County coast to sink between 1½ feet to 3 feet in a matter of seconds during prehistoric earthquakes, according to a new study that suggests the seismic risk is greater than previously believed.

“It’s not just a gradual sinking. This is boom — it would drop. It’s very rapid sinking,” said the lead author of the report, Robert Leeper, a geology graduate student at UC Riverside who worked on the study as a Cal State Fullerton student and geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study of the Newport-Inglewood fault focused on the wetlands of Seal Beach. But the area of sudden dropping could extend to other regions in the same geologic area of the Seal Beach wetlands, which includes the U.S. Naval Weapons Station and the Huntington Harbour neighborhood of Huntington Beach.

Leeper and a team of scientists at Cal State Fullerton had been searching the Seal Beach wetlands for evidence of ancient tsunami. Instead, they found buried organic deposits that they determined to be the prehistoric remains of marsh surfaces, which they say were abruptly dropped by large earthquakes that occurred on the Newport-Inglewood fault.

Those earthquakes, roughly dated in 50 BC, AD 200 and the year 1450 — give or take a century or two — were all more powerful than the magnitude 6.4 Long Beach earthquake of 1933, which did not cause a sudden drop in the land, Leeper said.

As a result, the observations for the first time suggest that earthquakes as large as magnitudes 6.8 to 7.5 have struck the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault system, which stretches from the Westside of Los Angeles through Long Beach and the Orange County coast to downtown San Diego.

The newly discovered earthquakes also suggest that the Newport-Inglewood fault is more active than previously thought. Scientists had believed the Newport-Inglewood fault ruptured in a major earthquake once every 2,300 years on average; the latest results show that a major earthquake could come once every 700 years on average, Leeper said.

It’s possible the earthquakes can come more frequently than the average, and can arrive spaced as little as 300 years apart from one another.

If a magnitude 7.5 earthquake did rupture on the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault system, such a temblor would bring massive damage throughout Southern California, said seismologist Lucy Jones, who was not affiliated with the study. Such an earthquake would produce 45 times more energy than the 1933 earthquake. - More, latimes
Big L.A. earthquake could cause beach areas to sink up to 3 feet in seconds, new study finds

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Stands By Unproven Wiretap Claim At Joint News Conference With Merkel

At a wide-ranging and occasionally tense news conference after their first in-person meeting Friday, President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed trade and border policy — and had one notable exchange when Trump was asked about his unproven claims that former President Obama tapped the phones at Trump Tower last year.

Trump declined the opportunity to retract the claim, telling the media that "we said nothing" when he tweeted, "How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process," and that he was merely quoting a "very talented legal mind" he had seen on Fox News.

But first, when addressing the question about wiretapping from a German reporter, Trump told Merkel: "At least we have something in common, perhaps" — making an implied reference to the 2013 revelations that the National Security Administration had spied on European leaders, including Merkel.

Merkel did not reply.

The moment punctuated remarks that focused predominantly on trade and training the countries' workers for manufacturing in the 21st century. In his statement at the start, Trump praised Germany's apprenticeship program that trains people to join the industrial workforce.

He also took a moment to thank Merkel for Germany's continued support of the war effort in Afghanistan, and for its role as a "counter-ISIS coalition member."- NPR

Trump Stands By Unproven Wiretap Claim At Joint News Conference With Merkel

Prince William tells French that Brexit won't hurt friendship

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate were greeted by French President Francois Hollande as they began a two-day trip to Paris aimed at highlighting strong Franco-British ties despite Britain's looming exit from the European Union.

It is William's first official visit to Paris since his mother, Princess Diana, was killed when the limousine carrying her and her lover Dodi al-Fayed crashed in a Paris tunnel in August 1997.

A smiling William and Kate stood on either side of Hollande as he welcomed them on their first visit to the Elysee palace, where they discussed the Syrian conflict and the fight against terrorism as well as Franco-British relations, according to a French presidential source.

Noting strong links between the two countries, William told a reception later: "This partnership will continue despite Britain's recent decision to leave the European Union. The depth of our friendship and the breadth of our cooperation will not change."

After last June's vote to leave the EU, Britain is about to embark on two years of difficult exit negotiations on whose outcome EU founder member France will have a strong influence. - More, Reuters

Prince William tells French that Brexit won't hurt friendship

Trump reiterates NATO support, presses Merkel on spending targets

President Donald Trump reiterated his strong support for NATO on Friday and pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to meet NATO's military spending target, in the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.

The meeting between the leader of Europe's largest economy and the U.S. president was billed as one that could help determine the future of the transatlantic alliance and shape their working relationship.

"I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense," Trump said at a joint news conference with Merkel.

Merkel said she told Trump Germany needs to meet NATO spending goals. The two also discussed Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Earlier, the new U.S. president greeted the long-serving stateswoman at the White House with a handshake before they began talks in the Oval Office. Both leaders described their meeting in brief remarks to reporters as having been very good. - More

Trump reiterates NATO support, presses Merkel on spending

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dutch PM cheers EU leaders by seeing off far-right's Wilders

EU leaders lined up on Thursday to congratulate Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on beating far-rightist Geert Wilders in the first of a series of European elections this year in which populist insurgent parties are hoping to rock the establishment.

The center-right prime minister had trailed in opinion polls for much of the campaign but emerged the clear victor of Wednesday's election, albeit with fewer seats than before. - Read More, Reuters

Dutch PM cheers EU leaders by seeing off far-right's Wilders

Europe's governments signal relief after Dutch election defeats far right - The Guardian

European governments facing a rising tide of populism heaved a collective sigh of relief after the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, swept aside the challenge of the anti-Islam, anti-EU, populist. Geert Wilders, in the parliamentary elections.

Angela Merkel was among many EU leaders to congratulate voters on what she called “a good day for democracy”. The German chancellor said she was “very glad”, as she thought many people were, “that a high turnout led to a very pro-European result”.

The French president, François Hollande, hailed “a clear victory against extremism”, while the EU commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, spoke of a vote for “free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe” that would be “an inspiration for many”.

With nearly all votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, the national news agency ANP said.

Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to stay in second place but a long way behind – having won 20 seats – and only just ahead of the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal-progressive party D66, which both ended third with 19 seats.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said Dutch voters had “made a show of responsibility and maturity ... in a key moment for Europe as a whole”. Denmark, Sweden and Norway said the country had opted for “serious politics”, “responsible leadership” and “a rejection of populism”.

After Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US presidential elections, a first-place finish for Wilders, who had pledged to “de-Islamicise” the Netherlands and take the country out of the EU if he won, would have sent shockwaves across the continent in a potentially critical year.

In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has also pledged a referendum on EU membership, is expected to make the runoff round in presidential elections in May, while Germany’s Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is on target to win its first federal parliament seats later in the year.

The eyes of the world had been on the vote, Rutte told a cheering crowd of supporters at the VVD’s election night party. “This was an evening when … the Netherlands said ‘stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.”

Rutte is now set to begin the often lengthy process of building a new coalition, most likely based around the VVD, CDA and D66 – a combination that falls five MPs short of a 76-seat majority, leaving him seeking a fourth coalition partner. - Read More

Europe's governments signal relief after Dutch election defeats far right

Trump Unveils 'Hard Power' Budget That Boosts Military Spending

The Trump administration's new budget blueprint aims to quantify the president's nationalistic agenda in dollars and cents. The plan, released Thursday morning, calls for significant increases in military and border-security spending, along with corresponding cuts in many other parts of the government.

Like any White House budget, Trump's blueprint is more of a political document than an accurate predictor of government spending. Congress controls the purse strings and lawmakers may have very different priorities. As a statement of presidential intention, though, the blueprint is crystal clear.

Trump wants lawmakers to boost military spending in the coming fiscal year by 10 percent, or $54 billion. Rather than raise taxes or increase the deficit, the president is calling for equivalent cuts in other areas. Foreign aid would be especially hard hit, with the State Department's budget cut by about 28 percent.

Alongside Defense, the agencies for which the White House proposes spending increases are almost entirely military- and national security-related. The Department of Homeland Security would see a hike in funding of 6.8 percent, as would the Department of Veterans Affairs (5.9 percent) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (11.3 percent). - More

Trump Unveils 'Hard Power' Budget That Boosts Military Spending

Read President Trump’s first budget proposal

The plan, named "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Read more about what's in the proposal

Read President Trump’s first budget proposal - Washingtonpost

What the budget would mean for each agency

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Early returns give Dutch PM Rutte big lead over far-right Wilders

The Netherlands' center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte roundly saw off a challenge by anti-Islam, anti-EU Geert Wilders in an election on Wednesday, early returns showed, a huge relief to other EU governments facing a wave of nationalism.

"It appears that the VVD will be the biggest party in the Netherlands for the third time in a row," a beaming Rutte told cheering supporters at a post-election party in The Hague. "Tonight we'll celebrate a little."

Rutte received congratulatory messages from European leaders and spoke with some by telephone. 

The result was a relief to mainstream parties across Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where right-wing nationalists hope to make a big impact in elections this year, potentially posing an existential threat to the EU.- Read More, Reuters

Early returns give Dutch PM Rutte big lead over far-right Wilders

U.S. lawmakers seek more visas for Afghans who helped U.S. forces

A group of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would provide an additional 2,500 visas for Afghans who have assisted U.S. forces by working as interpreters or in other support functions, often risking their lives.

The U.S. State Department said last week it would soon run out of visas for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, designed to help bring to the United States those who have worked for the government during the decade and a half that U.S. forces have been engaged in the country.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul has stopped scheduling interviews for applicants seeking a visa through the program.

The bill was introduced by Republican Senators John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Thom Tillis, and Democrats Jack Reed, the committee's top Democrat, and Jeanne Shaheen. Tillis and Shaheen are also members of the panel.

The four senators led efforts in the Senate to extend the Afghan SIV program last year.

"This legislation would ensure the continuation of this vital Special Immigrant Visa program, and send a clear message that America will not turn its back on those — who at great personal risk — stand with us in the fight against terror," McCain said in a statement. - Read More, Reuters

U.S. lawmakers seek more visas for Afghans who helped U.S. forces

Prosecutor orders release of Egypt's ousted leader Mubarak - miamiherald

Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak was ordered to be freed from detention on Monday, according to the prosecutor who signed his release order. The decision ends nearly six years of legal proceedings against Mubarak and seems certain to revive the ongoing debate over whether the goals of the 2011 uprising that ended his reign were ever realized.

The prosecutor, Ibrahim Saleh, told The Associated Press that he ordered Mubarak's release after he accepted a petition by the former president's lawyer for his freedom on the basis of time already served.
Mubarak, 88, was acquitted by the country's top appeals court on March 2 of charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolution. That verdict, according to Saleh, cleared the way for Mubarak's lawyer to request his release.
A criminal court ruled in May 2015 to jail Mubarak for three years and fine him millions of Egyptian pounds following his conviction for embezzling funds earmarked for the maintenance and renovation of presidential palaces. The ruling was upheld by another court in January 2016.

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"There is not a single reason to keep him in detention and the police must execute the order," Saleh said. "He is free to go."
News of Mubarak's imminent release was greeted jubilantly by his supporters on a Facebook page entitled "I am sorry, Mr. President." - Read More

Prosecutor orders release of Egypt's ousted leader Mubarak 

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Read more here:, according to Saleh, has already served a three-year sentence for embezzling state funds while in detention in connection with the protesters' case.

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Russian Agents Were Behind Yahoo Hack, U.S. Says

In a development that can only heighten the distrust between American and Russian authorities on cybersecurity, the Justice Department on Wednesday charged two Russian intelligence officers with directing a sweeping criminal conspiracy that broke into 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014.

The Russian government then used the information it obtained from the intelligence officers and two others named in the indictment — a Russian hacker and a Kazakh national living in Canada — to focus on foreign officials, business executives and journalists, federal prosecutors said. The targets included numerous financial executives, executives at an American cloud computing company, an airline official and even a casino regulator in Nevada.

Details of the wide-ranging attack come as the United States government is investigating other Russian cyberattacks against American targets, including the theft of emails last year from the Democratic National Committee and attempts to break in to state election systems. Investigators are also examining communications between associates of President Trump and Russian officials that occurred during the presidential campaign.

That American and Russian authorities are often at loggerheads in their approaches to criminal breaches was made clear in the indictment. The two Russian agents were supposed to be helping Americans hunt for hackers but were instead working against them.

And one of the outside hackers, a Russian named Alexsey Belan, had been indicted twice before for three intrusions into American e-commerce companies and had been arrested in Europe, but escaped to Russia before he could be extradited. Prosecutors said they received no response to their requests to the Russian government to turn over Mr. Belan to the American authorities. - Read More, nytimes

Russian Agents Behind Yahoo Breach, U.S. Says

Dutch voters go to the polls; early indications show poor performance for anti-Islam politician - latimes

Voters in the Netherlands headed to the polls Wednesday in a closely watched election that is being seen as a key barometer of the political mood in Europe and strength of the far right.

The contest is the first of three crucial elections taking place in the continent this year — ahead of France in April and May and Germany in September.

It comes after the British referendum decision last June to leave the European Union, which encouraged those with nationalist and anti-immigration sentiments and has raised questions about the long-term viability of the 28-member bloc.

Previous Dutch elections have not attracted as much attention as this one, but many observers around the world have their eyes on the outcome to see if Europe will swing right, despite its fraught history fighting fascism.

After voting ended Wednesday, the country’s main exit poll suggested that anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders had an unexpectedly poor showing, the Associated Press reported.

The race has been bitter and divisive with immigration dominating the discourse.

During the final televised debate of the campaign Tuesday evening, more than 3 million people tuned in to hear the main candidates thrash it out.

In one particularly heated exchange, Deputy Prime MinisterLodewijk Asscher of the Labor party attempted to defend the rights of law-abiding Muslims who live in Holland.

"The Netherlands belongs to all of us, and everyone who does his best," he said.

But Wilders retorted: "The Netherlands is not for everyone. The Netherlands is for the Dutch."

Wilders' main opponent is Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, who has been in power since 2010.

After casting his vote Wednesday, Rutte urged people to try to imagine the global reaction if the Freedom Party secured the largest percentage of votes. - Read More

Dutch voters go to the polls; early indications show poor performance for anti-Islam politician