Tag Archives: president

NBC News: Putin Still Trying to Figure Out Trump’s Brain

Mother Jones

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Bill Neely of NBC News reports on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to understand the psyche of America’s reality-show president:

A dossier on Donald Trump’s psychological makeup is being prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser.

….Former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Fedorov told NBC News…”Very serious preparatory work is going on in the Kremlin, including a paper — seven pages — describing a psychological portrait of Trump, especially based on this last two to three months, and the last weeks.”

….Putin’s government is growing increasingly concerned about Trump’s battles in Washington, according to Fedorov and former lawmaker Sergei Markov, who remains well-connected at the Kremlin. Fedorov added that Trump’s “constant battle with the mass media” was “worrying us.” The U.S. president “is dancing on thin ice,” he said. “It’s a risky game.”

A former prime minister under Putin said the Kremlin is taking no pleasure at Trump’s struggles. “Absolutely not — not laughing,” Mikhail Kasyanov said. “The situation is very serious and the whole of Putin’s team, they are nervous.” Many in the Kremlin believe hardliners in America — in Congress and the military — want to sabotage the president and his plans for better ties with Russia.

From Putin’s point of view, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that Trump can’t control himself. Putin could literally publish his dossier on his Facebook page and it wouldn’t matter. Just as he did in the debates, when Hillary Clinton baited him in the most obvious ways, Trump will respond to provocations the way he always responds.

That’s also the bad news, of course: Trump can’t control himself. He lives in a delusionary world where everything is going great and the White House is a finely tuned machine. This divorce from reality is likely to become ever more cavernous as time goes on, and there’s no telling how long it will be until this produces a disaster of some kind. Eventually it’s going to become clear that trying to run the US government the same way he ran his business—Trump acting as the showman/marketing genius, while professional managers keep the gears turning—isn’t producing any results here in consensus reality. And then the whole delusionary edifice will come tumbling down.

But when? Next week? Next year? Whenever the economy turns down? There’s no telling. Putin better keep that dossier constantly updated.

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NBC News: Putin Still Trying to Figure Out Trump’s Brain

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Trump Pals Have a Plan For Lifting Sanctions on Russia

Mother Jones

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The president’s friends have a proposal for him:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

….Mr. Cohen said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office. Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.

The “Ukranian lawmaker” is a pro-Putin opponent of the current regime in Ukraine. Sater is, um, a guy with an interesting background: “mafia linked,” spent some time in prison, worked as an FBI informant, and spent several years as a close business associate of Donald J. Trump. Oh, and Sater was born in Russia and continues to have lots of contacts there.

And Cohen? Well, he’s the guy who could actually get inside the White House and deliver the letter. You remember Michael Cohen, don’t you?

Every time we turn around, there’s something new linking Trump to Russia. Just a few days ago, FBI Director James Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence committee about the ongoing investigation of Team Trump and its ties to Russia, and all the chatter afterward was about how the senators seemed kind of shaken by what they heard.

Who knows? Maybe it all turns out to be nothing. But there sure is a lot of smoke out there. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a fire too.

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Trump Pals Have a Plan For Lifting Sanctions on Russia

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From Tech Workers to College Kids, Trump is Also Taking on Legal Immigrants

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump’s opposition to illegal immigration is well known. But since his inauguration, he has also attempted to overhaul legal immigration, most notably with his executive order barring travel and immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Speculation about other ways the president could restrict legal immigration have been fueled by his statements as well as leaked draft memos. Additionally, there are concerns surrounding potential conflicts of interest between the president’s businesses and his immigration policy, since some of the Trump’s companies rely upon visas that he now controls.

Few people understand the United States’ notoriously labyrinthine immigration system. The confusion is understandable. The State Department lists 76 visa categories that fall under two umbrellas: non-immigrant visas, for those seeking to come to the country for a fixed period, and immigrant visas, for those seeking a path to citizenship.

Here are some of the visas issued by the US government and what we know about Trump’s plans for them:

EB-5: The “millionaire” or “investor” visa
EB-5 holders are required to make a minimum business investment of $1 million (or $500,000 in a “high unemployment” or rural area), creating at least 10 jobs. This visa is controversial: Some argue that it allows foreigners to buy citizenship. Others suggest that these visas are processed too quickly, potentially opening the door to money laundering and other security risks. Earlier this month, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) cosponsored a bill to end the program.

As Bloomberg reported, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, owns an apartment complex that has taken $50 million in EB-5 funds, mostly from Chinese investors. Trump has not commented on this visa program.

H-1B: Highly Skilled worker visa
H-1Bs allow foreigners who work in a “specialty occupation,” such as technology, engineering, mathematics, or business, to work in the country for three years. (They may renew their visas an additional three years so long as they remain employed.) The worker must have an employment agreement with an American company. The number of H-1Bs is capped at 85,000.

Trump’s stance on H-1Bs has varied. He used harsh language about them on his website, but then in a campaign debate said, “I’m softening the position on his website because we have to have talented people in this country.” He then hardened his position again in a press release, stating that “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.” In his inauguration speech, Trump said, “We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.” This has raised questions about how a “hire American” requirement might impact American businesses that rely on skilled foreign employees, particularly Silicon Valley.

According to a draft executive order obtained by Bloomberg, Trump has plans to overhaul this visa program. The draft order sparked a wave of panic in India’s technology sector, whose workers are the top recipients of H-1Bs. According to executive order drafts leaked to Vox, one of the ways Trump could alter this visa would be to stop the spouses of H-1B holders from working in the United States and restricting these visas to companies that are “the best and the brightest,” which presumably means only largest and most successful American companies.

H-1B3: The “model visa”
This visa is a subset of the “highly skilled workers” visa. When the immigration system was reformed in the 1990s, the modeling industry expressed concern that while supermodels were covered by the O-1 visa (see below), non-supermodels were left out. The “model visa” was created.

First Lady Melania Trump originally worked in the United States on such a visa, and has cited it as proof that she immigrated legally and that others should follow her example. Trump’s modeling agency, Trump Model Management, has benefited from hiring foreign models using this visa. However, as Mother Jones reported last year, some of the company’s models say they came to the United States on tourist visas, which did not allow them to work legally. A Trump Organization executive did not deny the claims.

H2: Seasonal worker visa
H2s allow companies to temporarily hire agricultural workers or other workers without advanced degrees, such as waiters and housekeepers, provided that employers prove that they could not fill these position with citizens.

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s vineyard in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently applied for six H-2A visas. As BuzzFeed reported last week, the vineyard applied for nearly two dozen more earlier this month. Similarly, Trump’s Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago resort requested 78 H2B visas for foreign servers, housekeepers, and cooks. When asked about this at a debate last March, Trump said, “It’s very, very hard to get people. But other hotels do the exact same thing…There’s nothing wrong with it. We have no choice.” Perhaps that was a signal that he’ll leave this visa alone.

F-1: Student visas
These visas allow students to travel to the United States to study at high schools, universities, seminaries, and other educational institutions.

Many students with F visas have been affected by the travel ban. As Mother Jones has reported, many college students were stranded by the ban while returning from winter break. Four thousand Iranian students will be affected should the ban remain in place. Fortune estimates that US colleges could lose $700 million annually if these students’ tuition money dries up. Though Trump hasn’t spoken specifically about changes to student visas, during his campaign, he has called for ending the J-1 visa program for visiting scholars and professors.

O-1: The “artist” or “genius” visa
This visa allows “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement” to come to the United States to work in their field of expertise. This visa covers everyone from athletes and musicians to famous authors and Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Athletes who are entering for a specific competition may enter on a P-1 “athlete’s visa.”)

If Trump’s travel ban is upheld, celebrities from the seven specified countries could be affected. International disapproval of the ban could affect major events, such as Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Olympics, which will be decided in September. According to ESPN, international soccer officials’ disapproval of the president’s travel ban could affect the United States’s chances of hosting the World Cup in 2026.

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From Tech Workers to College Kids, Trump is Also Taking on Legal Immigrants

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Gutting Obamacare Would Leave 3 Million Americans Without Drug Treatment

Mother Jones

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There’s no denying that America is experiencing the largest drug epidemic in its history: Around 2.5 million Americans are addicted to opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers. Last week, Alaska became the latest state to declare the opioid epidemic a public health disaster.

President Donald Trump has particularly strong support in areas that have been hit hard by the crisis. Yet if Obamacare is repealed, as Trump has repeatedly promised, thousands of Americans would lose access to their daily or weekly treatment for opioid addiction.

Here’s what gutting Obamacare would mean for the people who depend on it to fight America’s opioid epidemic:

What’s the connection between the opioid epidemic and Trump?

Shannon Monnat, Penn State

Kathleen Frydl, a historian and the author of The Drug Wars in America, recently found that in nearly every Ohio and Pennsylvania county with high drug overdose rates, Trump’s share of the 2016 vote was 10 points higher than Romney’s in 2012, Clinton’s share was 10 points lower than Obama’s in 2012, or both. While the link between the drug epidemic and Trump’s popularity is circumstantial, “When you’re dealing with counties that have overflowing hospital parking lots, the message that America is already great doesn’t resonate with people,” Frydl says.

It’s not just overdoses: Trump overperformed in counties with high rates of “deaths of despair,” or deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide, according to research by Penn State sociologist Shannon Monnat. Counties with high despair death rates and high Trump turnout weren’t necessarily the poorest, but they were, generally speaking, financially worse off than they were a generation ago. “They’re places that have been experiencing economic downturn for at least the last three decades,” Monnat says. “There’s been a heavy loss in manufacturing jobs, natural resource extraction jobs—there’s a sense in these places that there’s been a dismantling of the American dream.”

Where are people most reliant on Obamacare for addiction treatment?

What has health advocates particularly worried is that the states with the highest overdose rates also rely the most on Obamacare. West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Massachusetts, have the first, second, third, and seventh highest overdose rates in the country, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of uninsured residents in those four states would roughly triple if the ACA were repealed.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

These maps from the Department of Health and Human Services show this overlap. In the first map, red states have the highest overdose rates; in the second, red states have the most residents per capita who would lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed.

What would repealing Obamacare mean for addiction treatment?

If Obamacare disappears, nearly 3 million Americans with addiction disorders would lose some or all of their health insurance coverage, according to recent research by Richard Frank and Sherry Glied, professors of health economics at Harvard and public service at New York University, respectively. Of those, about 222,000 would lose opioid addiction treatment.

Last December, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, Congress enacted the 21st Century Cures Act, which will allocate $1 billion over the next two years to expand access to opioid addiction treatment. But Frank and Glied estimate that repealing the ACA provisions that address substance abuse and mental disorders would take away at least $5.5 billion annually from the treatment of low-income Americans with mental health and addiction disorders. A one-time $1-billion increase in spending would “not even serve as much of a bandage,” they write.

Why is Obamacare a big deal for opioid treatment?

The ACA has been particularly important for those seeking addiction treatment, says Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who advised the Obama administration on drug policy. “It was designed to be very broad, but at the same time we knew that if there was anything that this would help a lot for, it’s addiction,” he says.

Before the ACA went into effect, a third of individual market insurance policies didn’t cover substance abuse treatment, including medications like buprenorphine that have proven critical to keeping former opioid users off of drugs. The ACA deemed substance abuse and mental health treatment to be essential health benefits, and now insurance plans are required to cover them. In states that expanded Medicaid, 20 percent of hospital admissions for substance abuse and mental health disorders were uninsured in 2013, before the bulk of the expansion provisions kicked in. By the middle of 2015, the uninsured rate had fallen to five percent.

In addition, Obamacare covers Americans who are are most at risk of becoming addicted to opioids: People with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line have a 50 percent higher risk of having an opioid problem than people with higher incomes. Humphreys adds that most users start using heroin or pain-killers when they’re young. Since the ACA lets children stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26, it’s easier for young users to access treatment.

Without the ACA, says Humphreys, “We’re back where we were before: bad access, low quality of care, and a lot of patients being turned away.”

What could Obamacare do better?

The ACA hasn’t fixed everything. While it’s increased the number of people with coverage, there’s still not nearly enough treatment capacity, leading to big gap between the number of people who have treatment and those who need it. About 420,000 people who suffer from opioid addiction don’t have access treatment. Frank and Glied estimate that repealing the ACA would widen this treatment gap by 50 percent, bringing the number Americans who can’t get opioid treatment to 640,000.

Apart from the ACA, there’s the more general issue that federal funding for addiction treatment and services has flatlined over the past decade, says Andrew Kessler, founder of health policy consulting firm Slingshot Solutions. Overall, states get about two thirds of their funding for addiction prevention from Department of Health and Human Services block grants—and given the rate of inflation, those grants have lost about a quarter of their purchasing power. Under Mick Mulvaney, the former representative from South Carolina who was confirmed as Trump’s budget director last week, “we’re bracing for a very austere budget,” says Kessler.

What will come after Obamacare?

Congressional Republicans have long promised to repeal Obamacare. Many proposals that Republicans have put forward, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way,” would eliminate the requirement for insurance policies to cover essential benefits, including substance abuse and mental health treatment.

This has some GOP leaders worried. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose state has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, warned fellow Republicans in January about the implications of Obamacare repeal. “What happens to drug treatment, what happens to mental health counseling?” he asked. As Humphreys puts it, Republicans “ought to realize that they will really harm their own constituents pretty substantially if they took this away.”

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Gutting Obamacare Would Leave 3 Million Americans Without Drug Treatment

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Trump’s Thin Skin Is Keeping Him From Staffing the Federal Government

Mother Jones

Rex Tillerson’s choice of Elliott Abrams to be his deputy at the State Department was vetoed by the White House. Abrams had once said some bad things about Donald Trump, so he was out. The New York Times reports on what this means:

Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials….Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president’s choices.

….It is not just Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson who has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the heads of the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of 15 nominees have been named for deputy secretary positions. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Yes, Democrats are slow-walking Trump’s cabinet choices. You can decide for yourself if this is justified. But it’s the deputies who often really run things, and Trump has only managed to name three out of 15 candidates. After he interviewed all those cabinet nominees, I guess he got bored.

In other words, it’s not Democrats who are holding up the rest of government. The problem is that Trump has no idea what he’s doing, and his staff is too busy with Trump’s thin skin and chaotic management style to find qualified deputies that are acceptable to him. After the debacle with his National Security Advisor, I imagine this has gotten even harder. You could almost feel qualified conservatives backing away from Trumpland as that shitshow played out.

Trump has always had a pretty small set of people acceptable to him, and now a shrinking number of experienced players are finding Trump acceptable to them. This doesn’t bode well for basic management of government business, let alone the “change for the ages” that he promised last night.

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Trump’s Thin Skin Is Keeping Him From Staffing the Federal Government

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