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« Reply #5565 on: Today at 06:09 AM »

Mosul's children were shouting beneath the rubble. Nobody came

Coalition bombs buried more than a hundred people in the ruins of three houses and raised fresh questions about US rules of engagement

Martin Chulov in Mosul
Saturday 25 March 2017 05.58 GMT

By the time rescuers finally arrived no one was left alive. For almost a week desperate neighbours had scraped through the rubble, searching for as many as 150 people who lay buried after three homes in a west Mosul suburb were destroyed by coalition airstrikes.

The full picture of the carnage continued to emerge on Friday, when at least 20 bodies were recovered. Dozens more are thought to remain buried in what could turn out to be the single most deadly incident for civilians in the war against Islamic State (Isis).

Rescuers at the scene in the suburb of Mosul Jadida said they had driven the 250 miles from Baghdad but had not been able to enter the area until Wednesday, five days after airstrikes hit the houses where local residents had been sheltering from fierce fighting between Iraqi forces and Isis.

Neighbours said at least 80 bodies had been recovered from one house alone, where people had been encouraged by local elders to take shelter. Rescuers were continuing to dig through the ruins, and the remains of two other houses nearby, which had also been pulverised in attacks that were described as “relentless and horrifying”.

The US military said it was launching an investigation. Cololnel Joseph Scrocca, from the US-led command in Baghdad, said “the coalition has opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment on this allegation” from Mosul.

The destruction took place in a district that was last week a frontline in the battle for Mosul. Locals said militants had positioned a sniper on the roof of the home that had sheltered the largest number of people. It has raised fresh questions about rules of engagement in the war against the terror group, after two recent US airstrikes in Syria resulted in at least 90 casualties, nearly all of them thought to be civilian.

Residents in Mosul Jadida say no Isis members were hiding among the civilians, although dozens of militants had been attempting to defend the area from an attack by Iraqi special forces.

“We all know each other, and most of us are related,” said Majid al-Najim, 65, as he stood next to the corpse of his nephew in a local cemetery. Gravediggers prepared the man’s grave as people wept around him. “And all of the families were in one of three houses. We are from the Jabour, Dulaim and Tai families. On that day, the airstrikes started around 8am. We originally hid in that house, but we left before the planes came back. There was three hours between us and death.”

“The days after were horrible. There were children shouting under the rubble. Nobody came to help them. The police told us yesterday that there was nothing they could do.”

Another man, Thanom Hander, who sat watching a digger scrape through twisted piles of masonry and metal, said his son and daughter-in-law had been the only two survivors locals had been able to rescue. The couple’s two children died in the attack, and his daughter-in-law had lost both her legs.

“They thought the basement was safe,” he said. “That morning, I heard the bombing, and I ran to the house. There were civilians shouting. There was nothing I could do.”

Speaking from the clinic where he was being treated, the man’s son Ali Hander said: “There was a lot of bombing above us, and then I started to feel everything collapse around us. We were buried for 10 hours until the neighbours dug us out. I lost my children.”

Isis has been widely accused of using civilians as human shields by positioning guns and fighters on top of houses. Most residents at the scene said that while the group’s members were indeed on the roof of at least one of the homes, those who took shelter below did so willingly.

Mustafa Alwan, a local shopkeeper disagreed. “My cousin and my sister went to that house,” he said, pointing at hulking ruins being methodically probed by diggers. “Isis forced them to go there. They pointed guns at them and made them enter. I lost them both.”

Another man, Subhan Ismail Ibrahim, said his wife and three children had been killed in the same house. “One child was four, the other one year old and the third less than three months. Speaking with a stony calm, he added: “I have lost them all, and the world must know what happened to them.”

Iraqi officers have been largely responsible for requesting airstrikes, which are then coordinated with US-run operations centres after approval from senior commanders. Coalition air spotters often guide the bombs to designated targets.

Donald Trump earlier this year ordered a review of rules of engagement set by his predecessor, which had insisted on “near certainty” that there be no civilian casualties before airstrikes could be sanctioned. While it has not yet been completed, there are mounting concerns that the very fact a review has been ordered may have already led to the threshold being lowered.

In response to an earlier query about the reported mass-casualty airstrike on Raqqa this week, the US military command in Iraq denied any “recent changes in operational procedures for approving airstrikes under the past or current administration”. But it said that in December, the war’s commander, Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, “delegated approval authority for certain strikes to battlefield commanders” in order to accelerate aid to Iraqi forces facing a grueling battle in Mosul. Those strikes “were still subject to the same scrutiny and due diligence,” the command said.

At the graveyard, Majid al-Najim said: “Is an Isis sniper being on a roof enough of a reason to send a plane with a large bomb to destroy a house? They hit it many times. They wanted to destroy everything inside.

“Then after that, we needed equipment to rescue the people. Just one bulldozer. Anything. The corrupt government officials could not help us, and would not if they could. This is an enormous crime.”

In a nearby Iraqi base, a special forces major shifted uncomfortably when details of the disaster were relayed to him. “This is not in our area and we know nothing about it,” he said. “We have lost people too, around 20 colleagues fighting an enemy of all the people.” After a while, he shrugged and said: “What can we do? It’s war.”

Additional reporting by Salem Rizk and Spencer Ackerman in New York

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« Reply #5566 on: Today at 06:11 AM »

Europe must not 'close herself off in false forms of security', says pope

Speaking to leaders of 27 EU member states at the Vatican, Pope Francis warns that Europe has forgotten the tragedy of past divisions

Daniel Boffey in Rome
Friday 24 March 2017 20.02 GMT

Pope Francis has urged European leaders to resist the “false forms of security” promised by those who want to wall themselves off, just days before Theresa May triggers article 50 negotiations.

In a speech at the Vatican, the pope warned that Europeans appeared to have forgotten the “tragedy” of the divisions of the past.

He also suggested that unless the EU showed a vision for its future, it could fall apart. “When a body loses its sense of direction and is no longer able to look ahead, it experiences a regression and, in the long run, risks dying,” the pope said.

Francis was speaking to the 27 leaders of the EU member states that will remain once the UK leaves, on the eve of a summit in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the European Union.

He claimed that politicians were being guided by fear and crises but warned of the dangers in egotistical populism that “hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and looking beyond their own narrow vision”.

He said: “Europe finds new hope when she refuses to yield to fear or close herself off in false forms of security. Politics needs this kind of leadership which avoids appealing to emotions to gain consent but instead, in a spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity, devises policies that can make the union as a whole develop harmoniously.”

He added that the leaders of the six countries who founded the European Economic Community on 25 March 1957 had shown faith in the future in the aftermath of a destructive war.

“They did not lack boldness, nor did they act too late,” he said. “It was clear from the outset, that the heart of the European political project could only be man himself.

“The first element of European vitality must be solidarity,” he added, describing the principle as “the most effective antidote to modern forms of populism”.

Francis didn’t mention Brexit by name, though he spoke of the solidarity owed to Britain to mourn this week’s attack on Westminster Bridge and at parliament that left five dead, including the assailant.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, also insisted that Europe continue to open its doors to migrants fleeing war and poverty.

He said: “Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.”

At the end of the audience, Francis greeted each of the leaders, giving a hug to French president Francois Hollande. The leaders then posed with the pope for a photo in the Sistine Chapel in front of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

Britain is due to formally notify the EU of its intention to exit the union in a letter on 29 March.

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« Reply #5567 on: Today at 06:15 AM »

'I will never be free of it': Auschwitz survivor recalls horror 75 years on

On 25 March 1942, 999 girls and women were taken to the camp from Poprad, Slovakia. Now just one is still alive. Edita Grosman tells her story as she prepares to return to her home city

Kate Connolly
Saturday 25 March 2017 06.03 GMT

“I’m sure I’ve survived for a reason,” says Edita Grosman. “One of us had to still be here to tell you what happened. And even if I was lying on my death bed, as long as my brain was working, I’d have to keep talking about it, especially because there are so many people who say it never happened.”

The 92-year-old has travelled from her home in Toronto to her native Slovakia. On Saturday she will return to the railway station in the city of Poprad, from where, 75 years ago to the day, she was one of 999 girls and women driven in windowless cattle cars to Auschwitz.

It was the first mass transport of Jews to the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Edita, who was 17 at the time, is the last remaining survivor.

“Only about 15 of those 999 came out alive,” she says. “And now I am afraid I am the only one of those left.

“I will make the journey back one last time to try to keep alive the memory of all those girls who were together with me.”

Grosman was living in the eastern Slovak town of Hummené, where about 60% of the 6,000 residents were Jewish, when a crackdown on Jews and the Jewish way of life began in 1938.

“It was a gradual process of dehumanisation over several years,” says Grosman. “They took our jewellery from us, then our fur coats. Then we couldn’t live on the main street, we couldn’t own a cat. We had to wear a yellow band – the yellow stars were introduced later – and then we were prevented from going to high school and the non-Jewish neighbours stopped greeting us.”

One day her family was informed that she and her sister Lea, who was two years older, and all the non-married girls aged between 16 and 30 had to be at the school at 8am on 20 March 1942. Their families were told they were to be taken off to work for the war effort. “We were allowed luggage weighing no more than 20kg. There was no way we could have carried anything like as much. We packed warm sweaters, shoes, I had two dresses, hygiene items, chunks of thick bread for the journey”.

They were rounded up by members of the Hlinka guard, the military arm of Catholic priest Jozef Tiso’s First Slovak Republic, a satellite to Nazi Germany. She recalls how the families cried and ran after the cattle car she and around 50 girls were packed into as it travelled to the spa town of Poprad. “There were no windows. Just one empty vegetable tin can as a toilet.” Arriving that same day in Poprad, they were joined by hundreds of other girls from around the region, all of whom were kept in a holding pen near the station.

Numbering 999, they left Poprad for Auschwitz on 25 March at 8.20pm.

She vividly recalls the conversation among the girls in her wagon. “My sister, all my school friends and neighbours, people with whom we ate and played and went to the synagogue, lovely girls – from the Jakobovic, Grossmannova, Marckovicova, Reicherova families,” she says, reeling off their names at a great speed. “We asked ourselves: ‘Where are we going? Why only girls?’

“We had never heard of Auschwitz – it was a complete unknown to us.”

One girl is believed to have leapt from the train as it made its way through Hungary, although whether she survived is unknown. They arrived at the camp, which was still in the process of being set up as a death camp, after an estimated 12 hours, on 26 March.

The SS guards had not yet arrived. Instead they were met by female German prisoners classified as convicted criminals and prostitutes who had been ordered to inspect the transport, shave the women, give them uniforms and prepare them for work. While the prisoners had been given the numbers 1-1000, the Slovak women were numbered 1001 to 2000; Edita was tattooed with 1970, her sister with 1969.

They were given a red bowl and spoon, an itchy sack-like uniform, and wooden shoes the prisoners nicknamed “clappers”. “They made such a racket we had to take them off and walk bare foot whenever we went through the gate, so as not to annoy the SS,” she says. They slept four or five to a wooden bed, one blanket between them, were woken at 4am and brushed their teeth using a finger dipped into the tea they received for breakfast.

When her group was ordered to stand outside for a roll call on the first day she recalls seeing the snow stained with blood. “Bizarrely quite a large number of us had got our periods at the same time,” she says. “We had no underwear, no sanitary protection. But then that never happened again because of what they put in the water to prevent us from menstruating.”

One day in winter Heinrich Himmler of the Nazi leadership came to inspect the camp. “An SS guard suggested it was too cold for us to be outside working. I heard Himmler reply: “Für Juden gibt’s kein Wetter there’s no such thing as weather for Jews.”

Their bodies and clothing were infested with lice. “I took off my blouse and put it on the ground one day and it walked off,” she recalls. The lice also carried disease including the typhoid fever, which claimed her sister’s life. “When they took her away she was in a coma. I said to her: ‘don’t be angry with me that I survived and you didn’t.’”

The cleaning job Grosman was assigned to undoubtedly helped her to survive. Most prisoners not sent directly to death in the gas chambers on arrival lived only a few months, while she was there for nearly three years.

In January 1945 she was among the 58,000 forced on death marches as the Nazis tried to flee the approaching Red Army. “I had tuberculosis in my knee and could hardly walk. My friend Elsa was pushing and pulling me, urging me on, because anyone not strong enough was shot. It was the second time I saw blood in the snow, watching people who had survived that whole time with me, now dying.”

She was in Ravensbrück when the Russian troops arrived to liberate them, but the soldiers proved a new threat. Warned that they were raping prisoners, she and Elsa hid during the day and walked at night as they made their way homewards to Slovakia.

Edita had managed to get word to her mother that she was coming home so she had gone to meet her train in Hummené. “When I arrived I couldn’t see her as she’d fainted on the platform,” she says.

Only later did she find out her family had received exemption orders, which could have prevented her and Lea’s deportation. Her father, a glazier, was working on a government project and was deemed vital to the war effort. “But the exemptions only came after Lea and I had been rounded up.”

New York filmmaker Heather Dune Macadam, who has dedicated her life to reconstructing the biographies of those on the first transport, has crowdfunded Edita’s return to Slovakia and will make a film of the journey as they retrace the route to Auschwitz together with her granddaughter Naomi, and the children and grandchildren of others from the first transport.

On her return to Slovakia in June 1945 Edita found it rife with antisemitism. With her husband Ladislav Grosman – the author of The Shop on Mainstreet, which dramatises the nazification of a small Slovak town and won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1965 – she moved to Prague, where she became a biologist. They fled to Israel after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Following her husband’s death in 1981, she moved to Canada to be near her only son.

“It has been a life of fighting against the fear,” she says. “To have spent so many years where every second you have been in a state of danger, it stays with you and it’s so big.

“I dream about it, I speak about it, I read everything I can about it, and I know I will never be free of it.”

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« Reply #5568 on: Today at 06:18 AM »

Isolated Poland threatens to spoil party at EU summit over two-speed Europe

Poland and Hungary expected to bridle at plans to empower core group of member states as bloc marks 60-year anniversary

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The role of leader of Europe’s awkward squad, played with aplomb by the UK for the past 45 years, will be handed to Poland and Hungary at the weekend when European Union leaders meet in Rome to celebrate 60 years of the EU’s existence and map out a new future after Brexit.

With Theresa May absent, leaders from Warsaw and Budapest will puncture any mood of self-congratulation. They are also expected to bridle at any plans to empower groups of member states to choose to integrate more deeply, in effect creating a two-speed Europe.

But Poland’s assertiveness, says Gavin Rae, an associate professor at the Kozminski University in Warsaw, “reflects a fear about a wider potential change in the balance of power in the wake of the Brexit referendum” as it loses one of its closest allies and “finds itself more isolated than ever”.

It fears a two-speed Europe might institutionalise this process of marginalisation. “We cannot accept any announcements of a two-speed Europe,” said Jarosław Kaczyński, the chair of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, who met May this week. “This would mean either pushing us out of the European Union or downgrading us to an inferior category of members.”

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, has dismissed a two-speed Europe as an affront to eastern Europe. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – the Visegrád Four – joined the EU to be at the core of Europe, not its periphery.

The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, on Thursday threatened not to sign the Rome declaration if it did not include issues that were priorities for Poland, including EU unity, the priority of Nato, strengthening national parliaments and a unified single market. A form of words may be found to paper over the cracks, but according to Piotr Buras, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Warsaw, the trajectory is one of divergence.

Poland and Hungary regard their role as telling home truths to the old European elite in the interests of the EU’s own survival. From the perspective of Szydło and Orbán, it is they who been proved right about what the Hungarian prime minister called the “terrorist Trojan horse of mass migration”, the impracticality of compulsory migrant quotas and the necessity of asylum camps, hard borders and national self-determination.

Far from being isolated nationalist mavericks, they believe themselves to have been leading a necessary counter-revolution. In a recent interview in the Hungarian weekly Heti Válasz, Kaczyński said that cooperation among the countries of central and eastern Europe could serve as a counterweight to the current leadership in Brussels.

Yet at first glance, the revived idea of a flexible or multi-speed Europe, promoted by France and Germany, with “different circles for cooperation” might be an idea Poland could welcome. No country is being ordered to cooperate. Countries might choose to pool greater sovereignty on issues such as defence, Euro governance or migration.

This live and let live approach appears to have been rejected by Poland and Hungary. Buras describes the Polish position as “completely inconsistent”. They favour flexibility in theory, but fear that if the core group cooperates more, they will lose out.

The Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, said this week: “The risk is that the eurozone will create its own structures, its own budget and will dominate over the rest of Europe.”

Desperate for the EU to be seen to deliver, Germany and France want to remove roadblocks to effectiveness, and are losing patience with the east. The French president, François Hollande, warned the Poles at the last EU summit: “You may have your principles, but we have the structural funds.” The fact that Angela Merkel is willing to countenance a two-speed Europe, something she seemed reluctant to back previously, is an indication of her frustration with Poland.

Some commissioners are calling for the EU to withdraw Poland’s EU funding unless it drops judicial reforms seen as flouting democratic norms and, for good measure, accepts the 6,200 migrants it was allocated by Brussels. Such threats are not trivial. Poland is by far the EU’s largest net recipient of funds. It receives almost a quarter of all EU funding, accounting for 2.3% of its gross domestic product.

The leading liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt said this week: “The EU is a community of the rule of law. We must not stand aside and watch this any longer.”

But Poland so far does not look like a country preparing to back down in the face of what it regards as blackmail. Its attempt to block the reappointment of fellow Pole Donald Tusk as EU council president bordered on fiasco, with no country, not even the Visegrád Group coming to its support.

The Poles responded to the rebuff by refusing to sign the summit conclusions, an unprecedented step. It promised in future to “bare its sharp teeth” while the nationalist paper Gazeta Polska ran a cover story with Tusk wearing the uniform of the Wehrmarcht.

The best hope for Brussels may be that there is an internal political reaction after years in which both governments have consolidated power around growing economies, conservative social reform and nationalism.

Faint stirrings of internal dissent are visible in both countries. In Poland, one poll published on Monday showed support for PiS had fallen five points to 29%, while Tusk’s Civic Platform was up 10 points to 27%. The possibility of Tusk returning to contest the presidency in 2020 is not far-fetched.

In Hungary, due to go to the polls next year, a new party vowing to be neither right nor left has been formed called the Momentum Movement, led by 28-year-old András Fekete-Győr. Momentum stopped Budapest’s bid for the Olympic Games in 2024, attracting 260,000 signatures, and already has the whiff of a party capable of usurping a tired political establishment.

But Rae argues that for the conservative forces to lose popularity requires the EU to adopt an economic strategy to help those in Poland and Hungary that want to cooperate with it.

A crude version of a two-speed Europe, in which only the euro countries prosper, might just encourage the sense of grievance on which populism thrives.

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« Reply #5569 on: Today at 06:21 AM »

Pig Putin welcomes Piglet Le Pen to Moscow with a nudge and a wink

Much like with the Trump allegations, the Kremlin denies any meddling in the French election while simultaneously revelling in the suggestion

Shaun Walker in Moscow
Friday 24 March 2017 15.52 GMT

The expression said it all. Even by Vladimir Putin’s standards, it was a knowing smirk of epic proportions as he shook hands with Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday.

In his remarks, Putin noted that France was currently involved in an election cycle and that Russia did “not want to influence events in any way”. The sentiment sounded slightly less than genuine given that it came as part of a one-on-one Kremlin meeting with the far-right presidential candidate one month before the vote.

The mixed messaging appears to be a deliberate strategy, and is similar to some of the Russian rhetoric around the allegations that the Kremlin intervened to get Donald Trump elected. There is both an outburst of fury at those who would dare to voice such allegations, and a simultaneous revelling in them.

Back in December, Putin first said it was absurd to suggest Russia intervened on Trump’s behalf, but immediately followed up by saying “nobody believed in him, except us”.

Le Pen’s surprise visit to the Kremlin was accompanied by similar mood music. The website Life News tweeted an opinion column with the tag “Russia will help Le Pen win” and then deleted the tweet a few minutes later.

The news agency Interfax released a snap news item: “The Kremlin announces financing of Marine Le Pen’s election campaign by Russian banks.” Two minutes later there was another snap: “Correction: Kremlin announces it has no information about the financing of Marine Le Pen’s election campaign by Russian banks.”

This may well have been a simple slip-up, but the statement and swift retraction fit the pattern of Putin’s wink-nudge denial policy.

Whatever the veracity of claims that Russia has financed Le Pen in exchange for policy concessions, or of allegations of Russian links to Trump, the scandals are helping to make a useful political point for the Kremlin at home.

“I think by this point Russians probably know the names of the candidates in the French election better than they know the names of their own regional governors,” said political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, noting the level of coverage on state television.

With the Russian economy still struggling, Putin has retained support among Russians due to his aggressive foreign policy moves in Ukraine. With a presidential election coming up next year, the image of Putin pulling the strings across the globe is a useful one.

While the Kremlin will always formally deny direct meddling, hinting at it helps prop up the idea of Putin as “the most powerful man in the world”, as a recent CNN documentary put it.

“He represents a sovereign nation ... a new vision ... a new world,” Le Pen said in Moscow shortly after meeting Putin. Expect to see those words featured prominently on Russian news reports.

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« Reply #5570 on: Today at 06:33 AM »


The Shitstain blames Democrats for stunning failure to repeal Obamacare

Weeks of negotiations over American Health Care Act fail to build a GOP consensus, forcing president to pull legislation from House vote

Ben Jacobs and David Smith in Washington
Saturday 25 March 2017 10.13 GMT

Donald Trump suffered a major legislative reversal on Friday as Republicans were forced to pull their repeal of the Affordable Care Act from the House floor.

After weeks of contentious negotiations over the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Republicans had to admit defeat as they could not gain sufficient support from their own side for the plan to overhaul US health insurance.

Speaking afterward in the Oval Office, Trump blamed Democrats for the failure of a bill to repeal the signature achievement of Barack Obama. “If [Democrats] got together with us, and got us a real healthcare bill, I’d be totally OK with that. The losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because they own Obamacare. They 100% own it,” he said.

Trump refused to bash the House speaker, Paul Ryan, but declined to answer a question about policy changes he would like to see in health reform. Instead, he said he was ready to move on to tax reform, saying: “We’re probably going to start going very strongly on big tax cuts. Tax reform that will be next.”

He added: “We all learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty.”

Earlier on Friday, as it became clear that Republican resistance to the bill was hardening, Ryan went to the White House to tell Trump in person that he did not have the votes to pass the bill.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, had insisted the vote would go ahead at 3.30pm ET. “Has the team put everything out there, have we left everything on the field? Absolutely,” he told reporters at his daily briefing. “But at the end of the day this isn’t a dictatorship and we’ve got to expect members to ultimately vote how they will according to what they think.”

However, Spicer’s imagined 3.30pm deadline slid by, ignored by Republicans on Capitol Hill, and the first reports emerged that Trump had asked for the vote to be pulled. Minutes later House Republicans, short of votes, had withdrawn the health bill.

At a press conference soon afterward, Ryan admitted: “Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains and, well, we’re feeling those growing pains today. I will not sugarcoat this: this is a disappointing day for us.”

He said “doing big things is hard” and conceded that after almost a decade of saying no to everything in opposition, the Republicans had failed to come together and agree on something they have opposed for seven years. “We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Ryan said he had recommended the bill be pulled when he realized the votes were lacking. But he praised Trump’s role in the negotiations, adding: “The president gave his all in this effort; he’s really been fantastic. Still, we’ve got to do better and we will.”

Asked how Republican members could now go back to their constituents having failed to keep their promise, Ryan replied: “That’s a really good question. I wish I had a better answer for you.”

Separately, a Washington Post reporter described a call with Trump in which he said the bill would not return any time soon.

Ryan also conceded that Republicans would now move on to other priorities – securing the border, rebuilding the military and tax reform. “Now we’re going on to move on with the rest of our agenda because we have big, ambitious plans to improve people’s lives in this country.”

Although speculation had grown on Friday afternoon that the bill would be pulled, the announcement came as a surprise to Republican members.

An emergency meeting of the House Republican Caucus was called shortly before the scheduled vote. As it was announced, the House went to recess, with Democrats shouting in a taunting manner, “Vote, vote, vote”, daring Republicans to bring the bill up. They did not.

In a short meeting, Ryan announced that the bill was being pulled from the floor in a terse statement to members.

Many moderates in swing districts were wary of supporting the legislation, which included major cuts to Medicaid and was estimated by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to lead to 24 million fewer Americans having health insurance over the next 10 years.

Conservatives also objected to the legislation for keeping too much of the architecture of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), frequently referred to as Obamacare. Although the Republican leadership made a major concession to them on Thursday by removing the federal mandate that health insurance plans cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care and mental healthcare, this was not enough to win them over.

As the Nevada Republican Mark Amodei put it, the GOP caucus “didn’t spend a lot talking about a unified Republican vision for what we should do with healthcare in the House”. Paul Gosar, a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, which was instrumental in this setback, pointed a finger at White House staff.

The result is a major political blow to Paul Ryan, a healthcare policy specialist who led the effort in pushing the AHCA. It also leaves Trump in a vulnerable position. The president ran on a platform of repealing the “disaster” of Obamacare and replacing it with “something terrific”. However, Trump, author of the Art of the Deal, failed to accomplish that goal in his first major attempt to negotiate on Capitol Hill.

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, called Friday “a great day for our country”, adding: “What happened on the floor was a victory for the American people.”

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement: “Ultimately, the Trumpcare bill failed because of two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office: incompetence and broken promises. In my life, I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House today.

“They can’t write policy that actually makes sense, they can’t implement the policies they do manage to write, they can’t get their stories straight, and today we’ve learned that they can’t close a deal, and they can’t count votes.

“So much for The Art of the Deal.”

Members of the Republican caucus took different lessons from the failure to even bring the AHCA to the vote.

Louie Gohmert of Texas, an arch-conservative who was opposed to the bill, pointed fingers at House leadership, which he implied had left both rank and file and Trump boxed in with no alternative.

“The president didn’t really get involved until after they created this bill and he was fighting for it,” Gohmert said.

Bradley Byrne, a loyal Republican from southern Alabama, expressed his readiness to still vote for the AHCA after it was pulled. He mourned the fact that House Republicans fell just short, in his opinion. “There were 200 plus ... ready to do whatever it takes and ... with that group of people we can do a lot,” said Byrne. He didn’t blame anyone for the setback, praising both Ryan and Trump, who he described as doing a “great job”.

Republicans wondered whether this doomed any hope of healthcare reform. Gohmert seemed to sympathize with Trump’s desire to move on to tax reform, adding: “If I were president, I wouldn’t deal with healthcare any more, but as a legislator it is a problem and we should pick it back up and do it right.”

Speaking before the bill was pulled, the North Carolina congressman Mark Walker, chair of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters: “I can’t pretend that this is a win for us. I’m sure our friends on the left, this is a good moment for them. In fact, probably that champagne that wasn’t popped back in November may be utilized this evening.”


Shitstain Trump tried to burn down Obamacare. He set his hair on fire instead

Ross Barkan

It was a humiliating defeat, which Donald Trump tried to blame – unbelievably – on the Democrats
donald trump

Friday 24 March 2017 20.51 GMT

Burning Obamacare to the ground was always a House Republican obsession that Trump, in the heat of the campaign, took up to spite the president while tossing a little red meat to Republicans. “Repeal and replace” is alliterative, after all: it sounds nice enough on an arena stage. It’s just hard to pull off in the real world, as Donald Trump found out on Friday.

Blessed with total control of government, Republicans can only think of how best to burn the house down – and they’re not even doing a good job at that. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, unjustly heralded as a policy wonk, tried to rush his healthcare bill to the floor for a vote on Thursday, only to find the moderates and extremists in his party rebelling. On Friday, Donald Trump was forced to pull the bill, due to lack of support from his own party.

It was a humiliating defeat, which he tried to blame – unbelievably – on the Democrats.

Ryan’s Trumpcare was a horrendous concoction and should disabuse fawning congressional reporters of the notion that the speaker is a man of deep intellect and self-reflection. Had the bill not fallen flat on its face this Friday, it would have had little chance of passing the Senate.

What remains is the fact that Donald Trump couldn’t close the deal. He is hoping everyone blames Ryan, and Trump is lucky that his supporters might do just that. The diehards, inhabiting his post-factual universe, will simply write Ryan off as a loser – they hated him anyway – and hail their king for the bounties he’s still promising.

But healthcare will ultimately be Donald Trump’s problem. That’s how our politics work. So far, the president has been more fatuous than fascistic, though he belatedly realized what an albatross the bill had become. His negotiating powers, whatever they ever were, failed.

Were Trump the deal-making genius his ego tricked himself into believing he was, he would never have taken up this healthcare venture. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 17% of Americans approved of Trumpcare. Trump’s poorest and least educated supporters had much to lose and nothing to gain from the legislation.

That’s why demolishing Obamacare never made sense. After all, Trump, via Steve Bannon, promised economic nationalism, a robust spending plan for those who he believed deserved it most: the white and native born. Trump wasn’t going to lose any votes by focusing on immigration and infrastructure spending at the expense of Obamacare, which rank-and-file conservatives resent less now that Obama himself has been removed from the equation.

Far from upholding the most basic protections for the working-class, the Trump administration has, instead, evolved into one of the most rightwing in recent memory. It is stocked with the kind of appointees (Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price) who could have been plucked from Congress by Presidents Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

This is the difference between Trump and someone like the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader who identifies closely with the billionaire. Le Pen’s fiscal platform is unapologetically leftist, rejecting the austerity measures embraced by Europe’s financial class.

Trump rages with all the hate of Le Pen and none of the savvy. Blaming Ryan for Trumpcare’s failure will not absolve him of trying to do a very stupid thing. If he chooses to weaken healthcare in other ways – to somehow prove Obama left the country with a self-destructing system – he’ll still be the president when premiums skyrocket as insurers struggle to adapt to this instability.

In 2018, 2019, and 2020, screaming Obama’s name won’t matter anymore. The country will just know President Trump and the damage being done.


Why the Republican healthcare bill was doomed: a failed political balancing act

With hardline conservatives pulling in one direction and moderates in the other, the party leadership had no choice but to withdraw the measure

Jessica Glenza in New York
Friday 24 March 2017 19.47 GMT

Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, looked a lot like a tall man trying to stay warm under a short blanket. When Republicans pulled in one direction, they lost coverage at the other end.

Hardline conservatives wanted to change regulations that define health insurance, such as a requirement that health plans cover maternity care. But when they got the concessions, the Republicans lost moderate members, who were concerned their constituents would lose basic services. That left the party leadership with no choice but to pull the bill or risk a humiliating defeat.

What would the bill have done if it had passed?

A late amendment to American Health Care Act struck at the heart of Barack Obama’s ACA, allowing states to define the health benefits that insurance policies must cover, called “essential health benefits”.

Just as they sound, these benefits define American health insurance. They require companies to cover the expense of having a baby, catching a cold, or breaking a leg.

Republicans argued that people should “choose” the coverage they want, but because health insurance is interconnected, such a policy was likely to harm all patients.

Think of the health insurance system as a tower of blocks – if you remove one from the middle, it makes the entire structure less sound. That is a good analogy for how removing essential health benefits works. Once one benefit is removed, it makes plans which continue to offer that benefit more expensive, meaning only really sick people will buy them – which further drives up the cost.

For example, before the protections were passed, 62% of insurance plans bought on the open market did not include maternity care, according to the health and human services department. Often, maternity care was offered as an expensive add-on. Another 34% of plans did not cover substance abuse (think: opioid crisis), and 9% did not cover prescriptions (remember that cold?).

That kind of federal plan could be hard for states to decide on by January 2018, and could tempt them instead to certify “bare bones” plans as eligible for federal tax credits.

Hollowed-out protections for sick people

With the essential health benefits gutted, some experts believed insurance companies would have an incentive to offer a narrower list of benefits. Why?

Because Republicans maintained a requirement that insurance companies sell policies to even very sick people. Experts believed that would push companies to offer skimpy plans, to keep sick people off their rolls.

Imagine a world in which some health plans did not cover chemotherapy. Plans that that did would be much more expensive, because people who had cancer in the past, or whose family had a history of cancer, would be more likely to sign up and use those services.

The effect would be that so many sick people would sign up, the cost of coverage would increase for everyone under that plan.

But wouldn’t people still get help to buy insurance?

Yes – and that was one of the reasons the health plan was always going to be difficult for a broad base of Republicans to support. Giving Americans tax credits to buy health insurance looked to conservatives too much like Obamacare, while huge overhauls to Medicaid – public health insurance for the poor – left moderate Republicans worried about constituents who depend on those services.

Further, Republicans’ last-minute amendments actually increased the price tag of their bill, without insuring more Americans. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that the changes still left 24 million Americans without insurance and reduced savings over the next decade, from $337bn in the first draft, to just $150bn.

The age tax

On the moderate end, the very powerful American Association of Retired Persons was upset at what it called the “age tax”. That was a plan to allow insurance companies to charge Americans aged over 50 five times more than the young.

Combined with Republicans’ plans to offer less financial help to the poor, it meant a 64-year-old earning $26,500 per year would pay $12,900 more every year for their insurance. Republicans added an $85bn slush fund to the bill to try to counter these costs, but it was unclear how much that might have helped older Americans. Currently, insurance companies are allowed to charge older Americans three times more than the young.

Under the Republican plan, the less money you made, the worse off you would be. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that people who make less than $10,000 per year would have lost $1,400 per year because of cuts to Medicaid. People earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would have seen a small tax break of about $60.

However, the very poorest would probably suffer the most. A vast $880bn cut to Medicaid would result in 14 million fewer people using the service, Congressional analysts found.

By contrast, rich Americans would have seen a significant tax benefit. People who earn $200,000 per year or more would see an average tax break of $5,640, or about 1.1% of their income. Nearly all of that is from tax breaks Republicans included in the bill.
But wouldn’t this bill spur competition?

Some analysts think it would, especially for young people. But it would still leave many more people, 52 million by the end of the decade, uninsured.

That is not just an inconvenience. Lack of health insurance could result in more than 44,000 deaths per year, researchers at the American Journal of Public Health found. That is more than kidney disease causes.


Democrats Are The Big Winners After Republicans Self-Destruct On Health Care Bill

By Jason Easley on Fri, Mar 24th, 2017 at 7:05 pm

There were clear winners and losers in the aftermath of the Republican health care bill fiasco, with Democrats having all of the reasons to celebrate.


1). Donald Trump – Trump personally lobbied 120 House Republicans. He held numerous meetings with House Republicans on the Hill and in the White House, and at the end of the day, he couldn’t get enough votes to pass a health care bill that he supported. Trump was exposed as being politically weaker than anyone could have imagined. He has no ability to sway members of Congress within his own party. Trump still has not signed a major piece of legislation. His first major attempt at getting a bill passed resulted in total humiliation. The implosion of his health care bill confirmed the impression that Trump is a failing president.

2). Paul Ryan – For years, Speaker Ryan has been dreaming of a Republican-controlled federal government that would pass his agenda. Ryan got his government and then completely failed to keep his caucus unified, as the same dysfunctional ideological forces that paralyzed the House for years took apart his health care bill. Paul Ryan showed no leadership, no ability to round up votes, and was powerless to hold Republicans together. Ryan made John Boehner look like a strong Speaker with his performance on health care. It turns out that Ryan isn’t a wonk, or a good leader, or respected among his peers.

3). The Republican Ability to Govern – Even with control of Congress and the White House, Republicans still can’t govern. Republicans wanted control of everything. They got it, and then promptly fell on their faces. This is a black eye that Republicans will not soon get over. House Republicans have been screaming loudly and proudly since 2011 that they have no interest in governing. The same Republicans who want to vote against everything killed their own health care bill. Repealing Obamacare was supposed to be the easy issue for Republicans. If they can’t keep it together on health care, they may not pass a single major piece of legislation that becomes law this year.


1). Nancy Pelosi – For years as Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi has demonstrated an ability to hold Democrats together. Trump and Ryan picked up zero Democrats on any of the procedural votes for the health care bill. No Democrats supported the bill, and zero Democrats would have voted for the bill. While Paul Ryan was unable to get enough votes for passage as Republicans split in an at least three different directions, Democrats were a united front, and the credit for that unity goes to Nancy Pelosi.

2). The Democratic Party – Trump and Ryan did Democrats a gigantic favor when the came up with a health care bill that was so unpopular it ended up with a 17% approval rating. The bill was so offensive to everything that Democrats stand for. As Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said during his speech on the House floor, “I will fight any bill that turns the clock back to a darker time. I will fight every single attempt to turn a deaf ear, a blind eye, and a cold shoulder to the sick, to our seniors, and to working families.” Democrats rediscovered their heart, soul, and purpose in this health care fight, and they emerged as a stronger opposition to Trump and the GOP.

3). Barack Obama – For numerous reasons, Obama is a winner. His signature legislative achievement is alive and well. While the ACA is not as popular as Medicare and Social Security is getting more popular by the year, and is already viewed by many as a cherished right. Obama looks great compared to the way that Trump has bumbled and fumbled on health care. The nation took for granted the steady competence of Obama, but they have gotten a crash course in presidential incompetence, thanks to Donald Trump.

4). The American People – Someday the American people will look back on this day and realize that they dodged a large bullet. Republicans are still going to try to take health care away from millions, but the good news is that 14 million people won’t be losing their health care next year, Medicaid isn’t about to be destroyed, and control of health care won’t be handed back to the insurance companies. This is a great day for America, as a horrible piece of legislation met its deserved fate.


If Shitstain Trump Thought Losing On Health Care Was Bad, Wait Until He Sees What Democrats Do To Gorsuch

By Jason Easley on Fri, Mar 24th, 2017 at 10:26 pm

During an interview on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made it clear that Democrats plan to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Schumer is going to force Gorsuch to get 60 votes or be replaced by a new nominee.

Schumer said that Senate Democrats weren’t impressed by Gorsuch, and he warned that it is going to be hard for him to get 60 votes. Schumer said, “Everyone should have to get 60 votes.” He added, “If a judge can’t 60 votes, you don’t change the rules, you change the judge or the nominee.”

Senate Democratic Leader Schumer made it clear where this is going. Senate Democrats are going to filibuster and require Gorsuch to get 60 votes for confirmation. Since there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate for Trump’s nominee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to have an interesting decision to make. Either McConnell will change the rules to require a simple majority for Supreme Court confirmation, or Gorsuch will sit in Merrick Garland limbo land until there are 60 Republicans in the Senate, or Trump picks a new nominee.

The House win on health care has emboldened Democrats. Senate Democrats were already planning on stopping Gorsuch, but with momentum on their side, they are now looking to hand Donald Trump a devastating series of defeats that will crush his presidency, and make it clear that despite his promises of winning, Trump is nothing but a loser in the Oval Office.


Democrats Introduce the Mar-a-Lago Act to Force Release of Shitstain Trump Visitor Logs

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson on Sat, Mar 25th, 2017 at 7:56 am

"It’s simple: the American people have a right to know who has access to the president and who has leverage over this administration.”

It was a rather pointed statement aimed at Donald Trump when Democrats named their bill the Mar-a-Lago Act, or Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Jack Reed (D-RI), requires the release of visitor logs to the public wherever Trump holds court, though it is named after Trump’s self-styled “Winter White House.” A House version of the bill is being introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin’s response says it all:

    Bill. Of. The. Year.

    Senate Dems introduce the MAR-A-LAGO Act: Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness. pic.twitter.com/aoLlz7mxgr

    — Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 25, 2017

The Obama administration made visitor logs public. As Sheldon Whitehouse said, “if [Trump] won’t adopt that policy himself, Congress should require it.” He addded in a tweet,

    If we’re going to take "#draintheswamp" seriously, we need to know who has access to Mar-a-Lago, @POTUS' self-described "Winter White House" https://t.co/eAR5AcXPQk

    — Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) March 24, 2017

Tom Carper said in a tweet that “The business of the President of the United States is the business of the people of the United States.”

Senator Reed issued a statement saying,

“Access to the President, in any setting, presents a serious array of national security issues. There should be transparent process for Americans to find out, when appropriate, who has access to the President.”

Donald Trump’s administration, you have to admit, has a good reason to not follow in this practice, what with Russians sneaking in back doors at odd hours.

And yes, that was at Trump Tower, you say. Worry not: The Mar-a-Lago Act also covers Trump Tower and the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.

Tom Udall said in a statement,

“It’s simple: the American people have a right to know who has access to the president and who has leverage over this administration.”

And who might be taking photos of the nuclear football, you know, besides folks who’ll post their photos online in contrast to sending them to…oh, maybe the Kremlin.

Udall added that,

“By refusing to release the White House visitor logs, President Trump is only validating the rampant concerns about who may be pulling the levers in his administration.

“The President should end his administration’s disturbing pattern of stonewalling information and immediately reinstate the previous administration’s policy of publishing White House visitor logs.”


Because the Obama visitor logs became available 3-4 months after the fact, Democrats say they expect to see the first Trump logs on April 20.

Admittedly, getting the bill passed will be tough because it’s going to need Republican support. If the GOP was serious about their calls for transparency under Obama, they would support it. But the reality is that all too many Republicans still have hands dirtied in the Trump swamp.

Nevertheless, it was a step that needed to be taken. The point had to be made because as John Wonderlich, Executive director of the Sunlight Foundation put it in a statement,

“As long as President Trump continues to conduct public business in his private business, the same standards of disclosure should apply to Mar-a-Lago as the White House.“

Democrats are keeping the pressure up on Donald Trump. The Mar-a-Lago act is a necessary step in holding this reckless president to account.

While many Republicans are willing to permit or even commit treason to get their agenda passed, no one will be able to say the same of the Democrats, who, as Rep. John Lewis said, fought to their last breath for freedom.

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