News Digest for Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Republicans fear political risk in Senate races as House moves to extend tax cuts

The Washington Post
Erica Werner

Heading into a contentious campaign for control of Congress, Republicans are increasingly divided over how to bolster their signature legislative achievement — a $1.5 trillion tax cut — amid signs it is not the political gift they had expected it to be last year.


Trump administration must accept new DACA applications

The Washington Post
Maria Sacchetti

A D.C. federal judge has delivered the toughest blow yet to Trump administration efforts to end deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants, ordering the government to continue the Obama-era program and — for the first time since announcing it would end — reopen it to new applicants.


Mulvaney, watchdog bureau’s leader, advises bankers on ways to curtail agency

The New York Times
Glenn Thrush

Mick Mulvaney, the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told banking industry executives on Tuesday that they should press lawmakers hard to pursue their agenda, and revealed that, as a congressman, he would meet only with lobbyists if they had contributed to his campaign.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lending industry officials at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”


Rouhani insults Trump as Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance

NBC News
F. Brinley Bruton

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday dismissed Donald Trump as unqualified to deal with important international issues amid U.S. threats to potentially walk away from the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran.

Rouhani, a reforming cleric, unleashed a series of insults during his speech.

“You don’t have any background in politics,” Reuters quoted him saying in comments directed at Trump. “You don’t have any background in law. You don’t have any background on international treaties.”

Rouhani added: “How can a tradesman, a merchant, a building constructor, a tower constructor make judgments about international affairs?”


Giuliani reopens negotiations about presidential interview with Mueller, but cautions special counsel that Trump remains resistant

The Washington Post
Robert Costa and Carol D. Leonnig

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s new personal lawyer dealing with the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, met with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday to reopen negotiations for a presidential interview, according to three people familiar with the talks.

Giuliani, who joined Trump’s legal team last week, conveyed the ongoing resistance of Trump and his advisers to an interview with federal investigators, but did not rule out the possibility, the people said, adding that Giuliani pressed Mueller for clarity on when the probe is expected to end.


Paul Krugman on Twitter –

It’s interesting — and encouraging — that this time around the GOP strategy of deficit-boosting tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy with a few crumbs for the middle class seems to be a political bust.

If anything the tax cuts are getting less popular over time, despite low unemployment.

This is somewhat different from the Bush tax cuts, which were fairly popular. Interesting to ask why. The crumbs are even smaller? Years of deficit-scare rhetoric have made the public more skeptical? Anything with Trump’s name attached is devalued?

Anyway, this does seem as if one particular kind of policy scam has reached the end of its road.


How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews

The Washington Post
Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg

On Amazon, customer comments can help a product surge in popularity. The online retail giant says that more than 99 percent of its reviews are legitimate because they are written by real shoppers who aren’t paid for them.

But a Washington Post examination found that for some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews. Such reviews have certain characteristics, such as repetitive wording that people probably cut and paste in.

Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers.


 

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News Digest for Sunday, April 22, 2018

Paul Krugman on Twitter –

I’ve been pretty much staying out of the Trump scandal business, bc it’s being well covered by other people, and I think I add more value added by concentrating on my comparative advantage. But I remain deeply puzzled by Putin’s obvious hold on DJT.

I mean, let’s be realistic: everything, and I mean everything, indicates that the president of the US is a Russian puppet; it almost has to be blackmail. But then the question is, blackmail with what? What could be worse than what we already know?

I mean, by now it’s clear that key Trump support groups don’t care about any of it. In particular, evangelical leaders have made it perfectly clear that his personal morality doesn’t matter; they’d stick with him if there was video of … actually, use your imagination

Oh, and Republicans in Congress have also made it clear that no scandal, financial or otherwise, will cause them to break with Trump. So what can Putin possibly have?


Scott Pruitt before the E.P.A.: Fancy homes, a shell company and friends with money

The New York Times
Steve Eder and Hiroko Tabuchi

Early in Scott Pruitt’s political career, as a state senator from Tulsa, he attended a gathering at the Oklahoma City home of an influential telecommunications lobbyist who was nearing retirement and about to move away.

The lobbyist said that after the 2003 gathering, Mr. Pruitt — who had a modest legal practice and a state salary of $38,400 — reached out to her. He wanted to buy her showplace home as a second residence for when he was in the state capital.

Soon Mr. Pruitt was staying there, and so was at least one other lawmaker, according to interviews. Mr. Pruitt even bought Ms. Lindsey’s dining room set, art and antique rugs, she said.

A review of real estate and other public records shows that Mr. Pruitt was not the sole owner: The property was held by a shell company registered to a business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Mr. Wagner now holds a top political job at the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Pruitt, 49, is the administrator.


It’s becoming clear that Trump won’t run in 2020

The Washington Post
Joe Scarborough

It is true that GOP leaders stand silent as President Trump trashes the rule of law, attacks federal judges and declares America’s free press the “enemy of the people.” These lap dogs even remain muzzled as younger Americans are chained to a future of crippling debt. And they shame the memory of the first Republican president — who gave his life ending slavery — by marching alongside a bumbling bigot who labels Hispanics“breeders” and “rapists,” seeks to bar tens of millions of Muslims from entering the country, and defends white supremacy in the ugly aftermath of Charlottesville.

And yet these same morally enfeebled enablers have become muted when asked whether they’ll support their fearless leader’s reelection bid.


Richmond

The Washington Post
Melanie D.G. Kaplan

A Virginia city stuck in the middle is full of superlatives, with noted architecture, natural wonders (white water inside its confines!) and thriving scenes involving food and the arts.


Democrats say looser marijuana laws attract young voters, and some Republicans are catching on

The Washington Post
Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim

Democrats are increasingly embracing looser restrictions on marijuana — and a growing number of high-profile Republicans are joining them, marking a shift in the politics of cannabis.

As Democrats try to regain control of Congress in the November elections and make gains in state races, some strategists are wagering that being firmly on the side of easing marijuana laws will help boost turnout among millennials, a key bloc in the party’s coalition. Many of those voters have sat out recent midterms.

While pot enthusiasts celebrated their unofficial “4/20” holiday on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his support for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. Echoing others who have revised their positions, Schumer said his thinking had “evolved.”

Democrats are not alone in moving toward greater acceptance of a drug once broadly seen as taboo. Schumer’s new stance came a week after a top Republican senator announced an agreement with President Trump to keep his state’s legalization of recreational marijuana protected from federal interference.


These whales will be extinct in 25 years, scientists say — unless we act now to save them

The Washington Post
Sarah Kaplan

Lately North Atlantic right whaleshave acted in strange and disturbing ways. Females are having fewer calves; not a single newborn was seen this year. The whales are skipping favored feeding grounds and showing up in unusual places. And in the past 11 months, 18 whales have been found floating, dead — the worst mortality event since scientists began keeping records decades ago.

In an era when species are vanishing 100 times faster than usual, “the whales are a metaphor for what we have done to the planet,” marine biologist Charles Mayo says.

A century ago, humans had slaughtered nearly every right whale in the Atlantic. Now climate change seems to be shifting the animals’ food source. Their habitat has been polluted with sewage and made noisy by construction and seismic tests. Speeding ships and tangles of hard-to-break fishing rope pose deadly threats.

New technology and tightened regulations could protect the whales from some of the biggest hazards. Yet political efforts have stalled, lawsuits linger unresolved, and fishermen fear what potential remedies might cost them.

Fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales remain, including just over 100 breeding females. With so many dying and so few being born, it is thought that the population will no longer be viable in 25 years unless something changes.

For the first time in his career, Mayo, 74, is using a word he had long avoided: “Extinction.”


Michael Cohen, once at pinnacle of Trump’s world, now poses threat to it

The Washington Post
Michael Kranish, Tom Hamburger, and Rosalind S. Helderman

When Donald Trump won the presidency, his longtime attorney Michael Cohen seemed in position for a coveted spot in the senior ranks of the White House.

At one point, Cohen topped a list of five candidates for White House counsel, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post. He suggested to some Trump allies that he might make a good chief of staff.

But when Trump built his West Wing team, the brash New York lawyer did not make the cut.

Some in Trump’s inner circle worried about blowback from Cohen’s associations and un­or­tho­dox tactics in fixing the New York developer’s problems, Trump associates said.

Among those opposed, the associates said, were Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. For his part, Cohen had warned Trump against giving Ivanka Trump and Kushner White House jobs, saying the president would be hammered by complaints of nepotism, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The rebuff wounded Cohen, according to people familiar with his views, although he continued to publicly express admiration for his longtime boss.

Now, the bond between the president and his self-proclaimed fixer is under much more punishing pressure: a wide-ranging criminal investigation into Cohen’s business dealings and actions he took to quash negative stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign.

The outcome — and Cohen’s response to the investigation — could determine the fate of both men, who have relied heavily on each other for years.


Amazon’s typical worker is in a warehouse making $28,446 a year

The Wall Street Journal
Georgia Wells, Rachel Feintzeig, and Theo Francis

When Amazon.com Inc. revealed its workers’ median annual salary of $28,446 last week, the predominantly blue-collar nature of its workforce became clear.

The figure puts Amazon on par with chocolate manufacturer Hershey Co., slightly above retailer Home Depot Inc.—and miles below the $240,430 median annual compensation at Facebook, according to the companies’ latest proxy statements.

Amazon is often compared with Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, but a vast logistical apparatus separates it from its tech peers.

Most of the roughly half-million employees at Amazon.com Inc. don’t make six figures and spend their workdays writing code. They unload trucks, drive forklifts and walk miles collecting products to fill orders—all for around the same pay as workers in other companies’ warehouses.

One researcher likened Amazon to the child produced by a three-way merger between Google, United Parcel Service Inc. and Walmart Inc.


 

News Digest For Saturday, April 21, 2018

toles


“This president is not in command of himself. He’s obsessed with his own problems. He seethes with rage and resentment for all the world to view—and those emotions are visibly distorting his decision-making.” @davidfrum on a president unfit to command: theatln.tc/2H0tJXR


Reading aloud to young children has benefits for behavior and attention

The New York Times
Perri Klass

It’s a truism in child development that the very young learn through relationships and back-and-forth interactions, including the interactions that occur when parents read to their children. A new study provides evidence of just how sustained an impact reading and playing with young children can have, shaping their social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and early literacy skills. The parent-child-book moment even has the potential to help curb problem behaviors like aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention, a new study has found.

The researchers, many of whom are my friends and colleagues, showed that an intervention, based in pediatric primary care, to promote parents reading aloud and playing with their young children could have a sustained impact on children’s behavior.


Michael Cohen has said he would take a bullet for Trump. Maybe not anymore.

The New York Times
Maggie Haberman, Sharon LaFraniere, and Danny Hakim

For years, a joke among Trump Tower employees was that the boss was like Manhattan’s First Avenue, where the traffic goes only one way.

That one-sidedness has always been at the heart of President Trump’s relationship with his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who has said he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump. For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired, according to interviews with a half-dozen people familiar with their relationship.

Now, for the first time, the traffic may be going Mr. Cohen’s way. Mr. Trump’s lawyers and advisers have become resigned to the strong possibility that Mr. Cohen, who has a wife and two children and faces the prospect of devastating legal fees, if not criminal charges, could end up cooperating with federal officials who are investigating him for activity that could relate, at least in part, to work he did for Mr. Trump.


President Trump: Don’t let history repeat itself

Republicans For the Rule Of Law

Firing Mueller, Rosenstein or Sessions would be a fundamental blow to the rule of law in the United States. Trump should learn a lesson from President Richard Nixon, who in 1973 fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, in an attempt to curb or end that investigation. Instead, that move marked the beginning of the end of Nixon’s presidency. An assault on the Mueller investigation would have the same disastrous outcome for Trump.


‘Imploding’: Financial troubles. Lawsuits. Trailer park brawls. Has the alt-right peaked?

The Washington Post
Terrance McCoy

Eight months after a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville ended in the death of a counterprotester, the loose collection of disaffected young white men known as the alt-right is in disarray.

The problems have been mounting: lawsuits and arrests, fundraising difficulties, tepid recruitment, widespread infighting, fierce counterprotests, and banishment from social media platforms. Taken together, they’ve exhausted even some of the staunchest members.

One of the movement’s biggest groups, the Traditionalist Worker Party, dissolved in March. Andrew Anglin, founder of the Daily Stormer, the largest alt-right website, has gone into hiding, chased by a harassment lawsuit. And Richard Spencer, the alt-right’s most public figure, canceled a college speaking tour and was abandoned by his attorney last month.


Lobbyist whose wife rented to Pruitt lobbied EPA despite denials

Politico
Theodoric Meyer and Eliana Johnson

The prominent lobbyist whose wife rented a condominium to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt lobbied the agency while Pruitt was leading it, contrary to his and Pruitt’s public denials that he had any business before the agency, according to a Friday filing by his firm.

The disclosure from the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen contradicts Pruitt’s public statement last month that the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, had no clients with business before the EPA, and comes hours after Hart’s resignation from the firm.

It’s the latest blow to Pruitt, whose job is already in jeopardy because of multiple investigations into his stewardship of the agency, ranging from spending on a 20-person security team and first-class travel to the installation of costly office furniture and a soundproof phone booth. The Government Accountability Office said earlier this week that the purchase of the booth, which cost $43,000, violated federal law.

Trump’s miserable crew has never been so desperate

The Washington Post
Joe Scarborough

These are desperate times for the quislings of Trump. The cost of collaborating with President Trump in the continued debasement of American democracy is becoming far too high. Fifteen months into his presidency, Trump has seen a national security adviser, a former campaign chairman, a foreign policy adviser and another high-ranking campaign official face charges of serious crimes. This Last week, the president must have felt the walls closing in even more tightly around him when FBI agents searched the home, office and hotel room of his longtime personal lawyer, whom associates call Trump’s “fixer.”

The president’s response to the Michael Cohen search, duly authorized by an independent federal judge, was to reflexively trash law-enforcement officers, undermine the rule of law and slander a Vietnam War hero who has committed his adult life to the service of America. By now, of course, few should be surprised by the depths to which Trump sinks when attacking law enforcement personnel. But this last week provided insight into just how desperate Trump and his courtiers have become in their defenses of an indefensible administration. The president promoted a Fox News show via Twitter that starred a steady stream of sycophants who slandered special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Paul Ryan and the end of an era

The Weekly Standard
Stephen F. Hayes

It’s fitting that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced his retirement during what was a very disturbing week in the White House, even by the chaotic standards that have prevailed under President Trump. Some suggested Ryan’s leaving means the Republican party has now become a Trumpist party. But that happened long ago. Ryan’s departure is not some kind of inflection point; it is an exclamation point.

Ryan is leaving for a variety of reasons. Anyone who has known him even casually believes him when he says he wants to spend more time with his family. Ryan would prefer, as well, to spend his time on policy innovation, rather than dealmaking. Even in better times that would have made the speakership an awkward fit. But the position has evolved into a job with virtually all downside. At a time of extraordinary polarization between the two parties and internecine conflict inside the GOP, the House speaker is the face of a deeply unpopular institution, with limited power to change it.

Trump sees inquiry into Cohen as greater threat than Mueller

The New York Times
Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, and Eileen Sullivan

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

As his lawyers went to court in New York on Friday to try to block prosecutors from reading files that were seized from the personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, this week, Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.

The raids on Mr. Cohen came as part of a monthslong federal investigation based in New York, court records show, and were sweeping in their breadth. In addition to searching his home, office and hotel room, F.B.I. agents seized material from Mr. Cohen’s cellphones, tablet, laptop and safe deposit box, according to people briefed on the warrants. Prosecutors revealed in court documents that they had already secretly obtained many of Mr. Cohen’s emails.

What’s so bad about firing Mueller or his bosses? Plenty.

The Washington Post
Jennifer Rubin

Should President Trump decide to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and/or Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in order to curtail Mueller’s investigation, it will fall to defenders of the Constitution to explain why such action is an impeachable offense. Fortunately, some commentators have already begun to lay out the case.

Ian Bassin, executive director of the nonpartisan Protect Democracy, tells me: “If Trump takes steps to remove Mueller or Rosenstein or interfere in the investigation, he would be attacking the very foundation of our country: the Constitution and the rule of law. Interfering to protect himself or his associates would also be a sign of guilt — that he has something he’s desperate to hide — and at a minimum be grounds for opening impeachment proceedings.” In short, “In America, everyone — including presidents — ultimately must be held responsible for their actions.”