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Mon, 25 Sep 2017
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U.S. House GOP pushes healthcare reform vote after Trump intervention 'closes the deal'

© Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
The vote to repeal Obamacare will take place this week, the House Republican leadership has announced after meeting with President Donald Trump, seeking to dispel rumors of opposition within the ranks and brushing off criticism from Democrats.

"Seven years of this failed experiment is enough," Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) announced on Tuesday, telling reporters that the Trump administration and the GOP are "all in" on repealing and replacing the previous administration's sweeping healthcare mandate.

Trump met with the House Republicans on Tuesday and told them that failing to pass the healthcare reform could cost many of them their seats in the 2018 midterm election, The Hill reported, citing a source inside the meeting who wished to remain anonymous.

Trump was there "to do what he does best, and that is to close the deal," Ryan said afterward.

"The president just came here and knocked the ball out of the park," and explained to the representatives "what kind of rendezvous with destiny we have here," Ryan told reporters.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) explained that the repeal will proceed in phases, with the first applying federal anti-trust scrutiny to insurers, and the second allowing small businesses to pool their resources across state lines.

Stock Down

Forbes estimates Trump's fortune has decreased $1 billion over past year

© Joshua Roberts / Reuters
US President Donald Trump
The personal fortune of US President Donald Trump has decreased by $1 billion since last March, dragging the billionaire 220 places lower in the Forbes Rich List.

Trump's estimated net worth has fallen to $3.5 billion from $4.5 billion a year ago, according to the magazine's latest ranking published on Monday. As a result, the president is now 544th on the list.

Much of the decline in Trump's finances is caused by the softness in the midtown Manhattan real estate market, according to Forbes.

"Forty percent of Donald Trump's fortune is tied up in Trump Tower and eight buildings within one mile of it. What happens in that micro-market does more to affect the net worth of Donald Trump than anything else in the world. Lately, the neighborhood has been struggling," the magazine said.


Economic report: China sits on financial house of cards

© CHROMORANGE / Bilderbox
Financial risks are mounting in China despite government efforts to rebalance the economy away from low-value manufacturing, said the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

According to the OECD annual report, Beijing should urgently address rising levels of corporate debt, excess production capacity and frothy prices in property and other asset markets that add to the risk of "disorderly default."

It forecast China's economic growth is likely to slow to 6.5 percent this year and cool further to 6.3 percent in 2018.

The Chinese economy grew 6.7 percent last year, its slowest pace in a quarter-century, and Beijing has set a goal of about 6.5 percent growth for 2017.

"After decades of breath-taking expansion, the focus should be on making growth more resilient, sustainable and inclusive, and addressing risks to stability," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.


DHS bans large electronics for some Middle East flights to US

© Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters
Some electronics will not be permitted in the cabin of US-bound flights from eight Middle Eastern and African countries, the Trump administration has confirmed. The ban applies to non-stop flights and is the result of a security threat.

The restriction affects flights to the United States from 10 international airports.

Those airports include the cities of Cairo, Egypt; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Istanbul, Turkey; and Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The ban will prohibit passengers from carrying electronic items bigger than a cellphone in their cabin baggage. Larger devices such as tablets and laptops must be placed in checked luggage.


Trump's chopping block: The 10 largest programs he wants to cut spending on

President Trump requested an array of cuts in his fiscal 2018 budget to arrive at $54 billion in overall reductions in domestic agency discretionary spending.

He proposed eliminating entirely 19 independent agencies, though the real meat in terms of dollars came from inside Cabinet-level agencies. By the White House's estimate, Trump proposed cutting hundreds of programs entirely. More than 50 activities would be on the chopping block at the Environmental Protection Agency alone, though that accounts for only 0.6 percent of the total cuts.

The White House defended most of the program cuts by saying they have not lived up to their stated purpose, or they fail to demonstrate evidence of their success. In some cases, the programs simply do not align with Trump's priorities.

"Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people," Trump wrote in his budget.

Comment: Maybe Trump is doing this with the intention of sending the message that he is serious about cutting wasteful spending and doesn't expect these programs to be cut, but this reduction in budget (coupled with his recent increase in military spending) is strangely reminiscent of George W. Bush's moves early in his disastrous Presidency. Still, it may be that Trump sees the need to go backward a bit in order to go forward, and is looking to secure some confidence in his political base before he can make the sweeping change he ran his campaign on. We'll see...


Return of the zombies: Fiona Hill to take over President Trump's Russia desk

© johnhelmer.net
There is a Fiona Hill on each side of the Atlantic.

One is joint chief of staff for Prime Minister Theresa May in London. The other Fiona Hill (lead image, right) is also British. She was appointed this month to be senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington. Between 2006 and 2009, Hill was the Russia desk officer on the National Intelligence Council under President George Bush, then President Barack Obama.

The White House announced Hill's appointment by an anonymous leak to Foreign Policy magazine on March 2. The leaker claimed Hill had been selected at least a fortnight earlier by the NSC's chief of staff Keith Kellogg, a retired Army lieutenant-general, before Michael Flynn was forced to resign as the National Security Advisor on February 13; and before Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster was put in Flynn's place on February 17. The announcement of Hill sandbagged her position, but Hill was nervous about confirming it. "Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment," Foreign Policy reported.

Before Hill joined the US intelligence services, she held an operational post at the Eurasia Foundation; that is a State Department contractor for regime change operations in the former states of the Soviet Union. The State Department rationale for the Eurasia Foundation, its establishment documents show, was "to accelerate and broaden American engagement in the development of civil societies in the Commonwealth of Independent States."


Israel admits to downed drone in Syrian airspace amid rising tensions

© Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
An Israeli soldier launches a Skylark unmanned vehicle
Israel has confirmed that one of its drones crashed on Syrian territory, stating that the circumstances are being examined. It follows similar reports and photographs of the UAV by Hezbollah.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Tuesday that the 'Skylark' drone was shot down on Sunday. The statement reads that the "circumstances are being examined."

The army said there is "no risk of a breach of information" following the incident, AP reported.


Performance specialists like what they see in Trump's management agenda and efficiency reform

A surprising amount of text in President Trump's fiscal 2018 "skinny budget" released last Thursday was devoted to reforming agency management.

Among the proposals were calls to reorganize government to boost efficiency, to rely on data to judge program performance, and to free managers from overly prescriptive guidance to take advantage of private-sector practices.

"I'm glad that there is a section on management," Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, told Government Executive. "What's in there offers a commitment to a presidential management agenda early in his tenure, with some keen insights," he said. He cited the emphasis on "the importance of unleashing federal managers, who are subject to an ungovernable set of constraints." Federal workers themselves are subject to too much red tape, he added.

Comment: Government efficiency? What a novel idea!

Bad Guys

Thierry Meyssan: Trump's war on jihad means a radical geopolitical change - he'll need new allies in order to pull it off

President Trump's desire to fight Daesh and to put an end to international terrorism is going to be extremely difficult to implement. Indeed, it will cause damage to the states who organised it, and implies a reorientation of international politics. The new President of the United States does not seem ready to give his troops the order to attack until he has found and sealed new alliances.

The opposition against President Donald Trump is so strong that the plan to fight Daesh, which is scheduled to be presented on 22 March during a Coalition summit in Washington, is still not ready. Its political direction is still vague. Only the objective of eradicating jihadism has been agreed upon, but none of the implications of the plan have been resolved.

General Joseph Votel, the head of CentCom, still has not presented the options on the ground. He should do so only at the beginning of April.

On the ground, the plan is restricted to the exchange of information from the United States on one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other. In order to maintain the status quo, the three powers have agreed to prevent any confrontation between the Turks and the Kurds. And intensive bombing campaigns are being carried out against al-Qaïda in Yemen and against Daesh in Iraq. But nothing decisive. Orders are to hold.

Stock Down

$20 trillion federal debt deserves as much attention as Dow Jones hitting 20,000

© Getty Images
The media and Wall Street got all excited when the Dow Jones industrial average hit 20,000 earlier this year — and justifiably so.

But why not give the same sort of attention to the US federal debt, which will slip past $20 trillion later this year or in early 2018.

The symmetry of these two numbers is just too precious to ignore.

As of Monday afternoon, the US debt, according to usdebtclock.org, stood at $19.849 trillion — and was rising at the rate of $13,404,542 an hour.

That's $321,709,008 million a day.

At this pace, the first digit on the tote board will flip in 469 days — on July 2, 2018.

But don't trust me when it comes to predicting the exact circumstances of a future event — my bracket had Duke winning the NCAA tournament.