About Ted Summerfield aka punzhu puzzles

I'm a former member of the Radio Television News Directors Association and during the last 30 years I've written news stories, sports stories, stories for children, puzzles, and plays for puppets. Many of my ebooks are color picture books for children, and include printable black and white pictures at the end of a story. Please visit my blog for the latest information on my ebooks, and any updates or changes or comments. Ted. PS: Please help stop cruelty to animals and support your favorite humane society or organization.

Will the Trump presidency survive?

The young presidency of Donald Trump is in serious trouble. Mr Trump’s sacking of James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), set in motion a terrible two weeks for the administration. The president has suggested that his decision was politically motivated. A special counsel has been appointed to investigate potential links between several of Mr Trump’s advisers and Russian government and intelligence officials, as well as the role played by Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Members of Congress are calling for Mr Trump to be impeached. The Economist Intelligence Unit believes that the risk of impeachment has risen from low to moderate. Should the special counsel uncover a major obstruction of justice or the Republicans lose the House of Representatives (the lower house) in the 2018 mid-term elections, Mr Trump would be in a perilous position.

There are reasons why no sitting president has ever been removed from office after being impeached. The process needs broad agreement within Congress and requires some members to vote against their party’s interests. There are multiple steps. It begins with the House Judiciary Committee, which must put forward a case for why the president has committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”. This wording is deliberately vague to account for the many potential transgressions of a president. If the House votes by a simple majority on any article, the case is then passed to the Senate (the upper house) for trial. The chief justice presides and a select group of House members act as prosecutors. The 100 members of the Senate comprise the jury. Two-thirds of senators need to support a guilty verdict to remove the president from office. In the short history of attempted impeachments, Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before a vote could be held in the House, and the Senate acquitted both Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999.

Three and a half more years

Our central forecast remains that Mr Trump will see out his presidential term. This is for three reasons. First, Mr Trump will continue to be useful to the Republican Party. Congressional Republicans are focused on advancing their policy agenda, especially on tax reform and healthcare. Given that the party has majorities in both chambers of Congress, 2017‑18 represents a huge opportunity to make major changes. Mr Trump will be acquiescent on these issues, and therefore keeping him in the presidency would benefit Republicans. Launching an impeachment process would divert attention away from the Republican agenda and, we believe, damage the party’s prospects at the 2020 elections. Impeachment would reflect badly on the party, as well as on the president.

Second, Congress is highly polarised. There are various measures to assess the ideological positions of Democrats and Republicans, but according to the DW‑Nominate estimate, produced by two academics, Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, Democrats are drifting towards more liberal positions and Republicans, especially, towards more conservative ones. The two parties now sit further apart than at any point since the survey began in the 1870s. Polarisation matters because it means that the parties are less likely to co-operate on any given issue, including impeachment. In our view, this means that House Republicans are less likely to vote Mr Trump out. (It also means, we think, that Democrats are more likely to push for impeachment, but we do not believe that they will have this opportunity.)

This is because of our third reason: we expect Republicans to hold on to their House majority at the November 2018 mid-term elections. The party holds 238 seats, with 218 needed for control. This sounds like a relatively slim advantage, especially given that governing parties tend to lose seats at the mid-terms. But gerrymandering and redistricting mean that few House seats are genuine contests. According to the Cook Political Report, only 23 seats are considered “highly competitive”. Political polarisation also makes it more likely that seats will not shift from one party to the other, as the ideological change required would be greater. Unless there is a major, broad-based swing against the Republican Party over the next 18 months, the Republicans will be in a strong position to keep the House.

Dark deeds

But even though we are maintaining our central forecast that Mr Trump will remain in office, there are several major risks to this view. Taken together, they justify a rise in the likelihood of impeachment from low to moderate. The first, and most serious, is that Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate potential links between Mr Trump and Russia, uncovers evidence of wrongdoing sufficiently serious to turn Republican sentiment against Mr Trump. Were this to occur, senior Republicans, such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, would decide that the damage done to the Republican Party would be greater if it continued to support the president than if it decided to cut him loose.

At present, there is already some evidence of dubious behaviour on the part of Mr Trump, including his open admission that Mr Comey’s investigation into Russia prompted the president to fire him. Other building-blocks towards a case of “high crimes and misdemeanours” might include Mr Comey’s account of being put under pressure by Mr Trump to drop his investigation into Michael Flynn; Mr Trump’s failure to separate himself from his business empire; and his careless handling of classified information. So far, none of these behaviours has shifted Republican sentiment, but it is possible that Mr Mueller may uncover something that makes defending Mr Trump impossible.

Next, the Republicans might lose the House (and even the Senate, but this is highly unlikely) in 2018. So far, the government’s progress on its policy agenda has been lethargic. Healthcare remains a mess, with the House passing the buck to the Senate to sort this out. Tax reform amounts to a single-pager, with no costings or thresholds, nor any consensus on how a huge tax cut would be financed. The government has watered down rather than intensified its rhetoric on “unfair” international trade agreements. It is possible that legislative lethargy, combined with the chaos emanating from the White House, might prompt voters to shift allegiance at the mid-term elections and hand control of the lower house to the Democrats. This would vastly increase the chances of an impeachment vote in the chamber. (The likelihood of the Senate approving the impeachment would remain subject to a much broader range of factors.)

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Updated Trumpcare Bill Will See 41 Million Americans Be Health Care Losers

Sick people would probably have to pay more under the health bill passed by the House, the Congressional Budget Office reports. Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

The Senate now has a clearer sense of the 41 million Americans who would lose under the health bill the House sent them by Donald Trump and the Republicans. It also got a startlingly direct message from government analysts about how destabilizing one of the House ideas could be.

The Congressional Budget Office published its assessment of the House health bill on Wednesday, and warned that a last-minute amendment made to win conservative votes would result in deeply dysfunctional markets for about a sixth of the population. In those places, insurance would fail to cover important medical services, and people with pre-existing illnesses could be shut out of coverage, the budget office said.

It found that about half the country would face thinner coverage for people who buy their own insurance, as it would be unlikely to include mental health and addiction treatment services, maternity care or rehabilitation services. Medical deductibles would also increase.

As in the original version of the bill, winners would include people who are young, healthy and earn higher incomes. They would be better off, assuming they didn’t develop serious health problems. The bill makes big cuts to taxes on payroll and investment income for those earning more than $200,000, and provides more subsidies to buy insurance for people earning between about $50,000 and $150,000. On average, premiums for health plans people buy for themselves would decline over the 10-year period, as coverage becomes less generous.

The report was sharply critical of the idea that sicker patients could be protected in a system that allowed insurers to charge them higher premiums. In the minority of states it predicted would pursue broad waivers of Obamacare’s insurance regulations, the office said that sick customers would face far higher prices and many would be priced out of the market altogether.

The bill would save the federal government $119 billion in a decade.

The largest savings would come from cutting Medicaid and reducing tax credits for middle-income insurance buyers.

Projected cumulative change in deficit, in billions

Because Republicans are using a special legislative process to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, the bill had to comply with special rules. They include saving the federal budget at least $2 billion over 10 years.

An initial version of the bill would have saved the federal government $337 billion over a decade, and a subsequent version would have saved half that amount. House Republicans pulled an earlier bill from the floor because they did not have enough votes to pass it.

In the final bill, however, lawmakers added more spending in various areas to get enough votes to pass, including $8 billion over five years to help cover insurance costs for people with pre-existing conditions.

One of the bill’s most expensive items is a provision that would eliminate about $600 billion in taxes imposed under the Affordable Care Act, including taxes on investment income, prescription drugs and indoor tanning.

23 million more Americans will be uninsured in 10 years.

The budget office projected that in 2018, the number of uninsured would increase to 41 million and would continue to grow. In 10 years, it would become closer to what it was before the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health law, took effect.

Number of uninsured

People with Medicaid coverage would take the largest loss. In a decade, 14 million fewer people would be enrolled in the program.

The C.B.O. estimates that the increase in the number of uninsured would be disproportionately larger among older people with low incomes.

Cost of insurance could rise more than nine-fold for some older people with low incomes.

The House bill included last-minute amendments that let states seek changes to certain insurance regulations.

The C.B.O. estimates that premiums could go down about 10 to 30 percent for people in states that make moderate changes to these regulations. This is largely achieved by offering skimpier plans and pricing out the old and sick from the insurance market.

Senate leaders, aware of the criticism already leveled at the House bill, say they are writing their own bill. This analysis is likely to offer guidance in where they will and won’t want to go.

Read the complete articles in the New York Times here and here.

Donald Trump’s budget ignores what is ailing American workers

Cuts to social programmes are unlikely to improve the health or employment prospects for struggling Americans

PRESIDENTIAL budget requests are worth exactly nothing. They carry no force of legislation. They land, heavy, bound and shrink-wrapped, so they can be immediately binned as Congress continues its now yearly stumble toward a “continuing resolution”—a supposedly temporary legislative act that in recent decades has almost entirely replaced the statutory budget process. The request from the President is the least consequential part of something that is completely broken. It functions like a bumper sticker on an old car. It only tells you about the person who’s driving.

Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who won his seat in the Tea-Party wave of 2010, runs Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. Mr Mulvaney has created the budget his wing of the Republican party always wanted: government as a service, paid for by its clients, the taxpayers. If you receive more than you pay, the system has failed, and must be fixed. The marketing copy that accompanied the budget calls this “respect for people who pay the bills”.

This respect consists, mostly, of cuts to social services. Mr Mulvaney finds most of his savings by reducing what the federal government spends on health insurance programmes for the poor by $616bn over the next ten years. He wants to cut subsidies for student loans, for a savings of $143bn. He wants to make cuts to a programme that supports poor families with children ($272bn), and another that provides an income for those sick or injured who can’t work ($72bn). His aim is to encourage people to get back to work.

To fix disability insurance, then, Mr Trump must pull off an impossible trick: he has to fix rural America. He has to provide better, cheaper health care, and public health programmes to prevent obesity and smoking. He has to provide jobs—to replace the poultry slaughterhouse and copper wire and fishing boat manufacturing plants that have left Van Buren County, for example. He could make it easier to move, or train for a job at a desk.

 

White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll

Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, in his office on Monday. The White House has challenged Mr. Shaub’s authority to demand information on former lobbyists now working for the government. Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies.

The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.

Mr. Shaub returned a scalding, 10-page response to the White House late Monday, unlike just about any correspondence in the history of the office, created after the Nixon Watergate scandal.

Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.

Mr. Shaub, who is in the final year of a five-year term after being appointed by President Barack Obama, said he had no intention of backing down. “It is an extraordinary thing,” he said of the White House request. “I have never seen anything like it.”

Marilyn L. Glynn, who served as general counsel and acting director of the agency during the George W. Bush administration, also called the move by the Trump White House “unprecedented and extremely troubling.”

“It challenges the very authority of the director of the agency and his ability to carry out the functions of the office,” she said.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the Office of Management and Budget rejected the criticism and instead blamed Mr. Shaub, saying his call for the information, issued in late April, was motivated by politics. The office said it remained committed to upholding ethical standards in the federal government.

“This request, in both its expansive scope and breathless timetable, demanded that we seek further legal guidance,” the statement said. “The very fact that this internal discussion was leaked implies that the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics.”

Ethics watchdogs, as well as Democrats in Congress, have expressed concern at the number of former lobbyists taking high-ranking political jobs in the Trump administration. In many cases, they appear to be working on the exact topics they had previously handled on behalf of private-sector clients — including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks — as recently as January.

Read the complete article on The New York Times web site.

How Rollbacks at Scott Pruitt’s E.P.A. Are a Boon to Oil and Gas


Devon Energy’s Beaver Creek gas plant outside Riverton, Wyo. The company was prepared to install sophisticated equipment to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollution. Since Scott Pruitt assumed the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, the company has pulled back from its proposals. Credit Ryan Dorgan for The New York Times

FREMONT COUNTY, Wyo. — In a gas field here in Wyoming’s struggling energy corridor, nearly 2,000 miles from Washington, the Trump administration’s regulatory reversal is crowning an early champion.

Devon Energy, which runs the windswept site, had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases. It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

But something changed in February just five days after Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to Devon, was sworn in as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Devon’s pushback, coming amid an effort to ease a broad array of federal environmental rules, is the first known example under the Trump administration of an accused polluter — which has admitted violating the law — backing away from a proposed environmental settlement. It is already being hailed by other independent energy companies as a template for the future.

The E.P.A. has not yet made a public response to Devon’s new posture, and Mr. Pruitt declined to comment for this article. But the new approach follows a series of important victories for the energy industry in Washington that could reshape environmental policy on a national scale and undermine the Obama administration’s campaign to combat climate change.

In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long-planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas — a major contributor to climate change — and to collect more data on how much of the gas is spewing into the air.

”Devon is doing to the oil and gas industry what Donald Trump did to the Republican Party, pushing the whole agenda into a world of extremes,” said Mark Brownstein, a vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.

The rollbacks cap a carefully coordinated campaign over the last eight years led in part by Devon, which is based in Oklahoma City and is the nation’s eighth-largest natural gas producer, and Mr. Pruitt, who served six years as Oklahoma attorney general before Mr. Trump named him E.P.A. chief.

Devon and Mr. Pruitt, while he was still attorney general out West, teamed up to block new federal rules imposed by the Obama administration that required fossil fuel companies to more closely monitor oil and gas wells for leaks, and disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracking. Devon also poured millions of dollars a year into lobbying — and hundreds of thousands into campaign contributions to Mr. Pruitt and other Republicans — as it pushed regulators and lawmakers in Washington to do away with the restrictions.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

House May Need to Vote Again on GOP Obamacare Repeal Bill

House Republicans barely managed to pass their Obamacare repeal bill earlier this month, and they now face the possibility of having to vote again on their controversial health measure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t yet sent the bill to the Senate because there’s a chance that parts of it may need to be redone, depending on how the Congressional Budget Office estimates its effects. House leaders want to make sure the bill conforms with Senate rules for reconciliation, a mechanism that allows Senate Republicans to pass the bill with a simple majority.

Republicans had rushed to vote on the health bill so the Senate could get a quick start on it, even before the CBO had finished analyzing a series of last-minute changes. The CBO is expected to release an updated estimate next week.

“Unaware,” said Representative Jeff Denham of California, with noticeable surprise Thursday, when advised that his party leaders still hadn’t sent the bill over to the Senate. Denham was one of the House Republicans who ended up voting for the measure, after earlier in the week opposing it.

“I am on the whip team and we have a lot of conversations, but we have not had that one. So I am going to look into it,” said Denham, a member of the party’s vote-counting team.

In the Senate, the bill must hit separate $1 billion deficit reduction targets in the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee and the chamber’s health committee. Republican aides said failing to meet those numbers would force the House to fix the bill even if the legislation meets the overall cost-savings target.

If Republican leaders hold onto the bill until the CBO report is released, then Ryan and his team could still redo it if necessary. That would require at least one more House vote of some sort.

Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday that he doesn’t think the House will need to vote again on the health law. “We just want to, out of an abundance of caution, wait to send the bill over to the Senate when we get the final score,” Ryan said.

It’s unclear what assumptions the CBO will make about what states will do with that newly created flexibility. If millions of people sign up for much cheaper, minimal insurance, that could trigger billions — and potentially even hundreds of billions — in costs over a decade because of the House bill’s health insurance tax credits.

Read the complete article on Bloomberg web site.

Fact Check: Trump Is Contradictory on Comey and Misleading on Russia


At a news conference on Thursday, President Trump exaggerated the scale of his proposed tax cut and made a dubious comparison between Israel’s West Bank barrier and his proposed border wall. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump defended his conduct related to the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia and made several misleading claims on Thursday afternoon.

In a joint news conference with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Mr. Trump denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials, explained why he had fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director and trumpeted his legislative agenda. Here’s an assessment.

Mr. Trump contradicted Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and his own earlier statement on firing Mr. Comey.

Explaining the ousting of Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump again pointed to Mr. Rosenstein’s “very, very strong recommendation,” adding that he believed it had resulted from Mr. Comey’s “poor, poor performance” in a congressional hearing this month.

But just hours earlier on Thursday, Mr. Rosenstein told the full Senate that Mr. Trump had made his decision before Mr. Rosenstein wrote the memo. Mr. Trump himself claimed full responsibility a week earlier.

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News on May 11. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

He misleadingly claimed that ‘everybody, even my enemies, has said there is no collusion.’

Mr. Trump may have been referring to testimony from James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, but if so, he is distorting Mr. Clapper’s words.

In a March interview on NBC, Mr. Clapper said that, “to my knowledge,” there is no evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and stood by it in a congressional hearing on May 8. A few days later, he explained on MSNBC that “it’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, or even more importantly, the content of that investigation” because he always deferred to the F.B.I. on such matters.

He exaggerated his proposed tax cut as ‘the biggest tax cut in the history of our nation.’

The tax plan the Trump administration released on April 26 consisted of a single page with bullet points. More details may emerge, but for now, the publicly available proposal would not amount to the biggest tax cut ever by most measures.

Mr. Trump’s plan would reduce the highest marginal rate for individuals to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. This change pales in comparison to other rate reductions: 33 percentage points under President Calvin Coolidge, 22 points under President Ronald Reagan, 21 points under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and 15 points under President Warren G. Harding.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.